As was customary, Anne addressed the crowd and she kept to the usual execution speech format:
- An acknowledgement of the spectators’ presence.
- An acknowledgement that she had been condemned to death by the law.
- A confession of her sinful state – Even if the person was innocent of the crime, they believed that they deserved to die because they were a sinner. Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- Praise for the monarch – The monarch was, after all, God’s anointed sovereign.
- Request for prayers.
- Request for mercy from God, to whom she was commending her soul.
It may seem strange to us that people didn’t declare their innocence or criticise the justice system or monarch, but it was not strange at all in those times. It was important for your soul and for your remaining loved ones to die a good death. Anne knew that her speech and demeanour would be recorded and talked about, and she would not have wanted the reputations of her family suffer any further.
There are several versions of Anne Boleyn’s execution speech and here they are:
Chronicler Edward Hall:
“Good Christen people, I am come hether to dye, for accordyng to the lawe and by the lawe I am iudged to dye, and therefore I wyll speake nothyng against it. I am come hether to accuse no man, nor to speake any thing of that wherof I am accused and condempned to dye, but I pray God saue the king and send him long to reigne ouer you, for a gentler nor a more mercyfull prince was there neuer: and to me he was euer a good, a gentle, & soueraigne lorde. And if any persone will medle of my cause, I require them to iudge the best. And thus I take my leue of the worlde and of you all, and I heartely desyre you all to pray for me. O lorde haue mercy on me, to God I comende my soule.”
Chronicler and Windsor Herald Charles Wriothesley:
“Maisters, I here humblye submitt me to the lawe as the lawe hath judged me, and as for myne offences, I here accuse no man, God knoweth them; I remitt them to God, beseeching him to have mercye on my sowle, and I beseche Jesu save my sovereigne and maister the Kinge, the moste godlye, noble, and gentle Prince that is, and longe to reigne over yow.”
“GOOD Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am iudged to die, and therfore I will speake nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speake anie thing of that whereof I am accused & condemned to die, but I praie God saue the king and send him long to rcigne ouer you, for a gentler, nor a more merciful prince was there neuer, and to me he was euer a good, a gentle, and a souereigne lord. And if anie person will meddle of my cause, I require them to iudge the best. And thus I take my leaue of the world, and of you all, and I hartilie desire you all to praie for me, Oh Lord haue mercie on me, to God I commend my soule, Iesu receiue my soule : diuerse times repeting those words, till that hir head was striken off with the sword.”
The Vienna Archives:
“The captain gave her leave, and she began to raise her eyes to Heaven, and cry mercy to God and to the King for the offence she had done, desiring the people always to pray to God for the King, for he was a good, gentle, gracious, and amiable prince.”
Martyrologist John Foxe:
“Good Christian people! I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law, I am judged to death; and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I come hither to accuse no man, nor to any thing of that whereof I am accused and condemned to die; but I pray God save the king, and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler, or a more merciful prince was there never; and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, and a sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world, and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me! To God I commend my soul.”
Lancelot de Carles, in his poem “Sur le mort d’Anne Boleyn”. It is written in French but Paolo Dagonnier translated it for me:
“O my friends, friends and more than brothers,
Since with you I can no longer be,
And that the course of my years has expired,
I beg you not to be bitter,
And that your good heart will forgive me
If I was not always benevolent
Toward you all, as I should have,
Given the power and means which I had:
And I beseech you all by fraternity
Of Christianity and true love of God,
To include me in your devout prayers
To Jesus, so that my soul
Is not blemished by the stains
Of my sins, after I leave.
To tell you why I am here,
Would not be useful to you or me:
So I will stay quiet, but the world’s judge
In whom justice and truth abound
Knows it all, who by affection
I pray that he will have compassion
For those who sentenced me to this death,
And when I will be driven out of here,
Remember that I praised
Your good King in whom I have seen great
Humanity and who is gifted with all qualities,
Fear for God, love for his dear ones,
And great virtues, for which I assure you
That you will be happy if God lets him live.
So pray that God long keeps him
With you: and also that he grants me
His grace to withdraw toward him
And receives my soul today.”
Anne Boleyn died with courage and dignity. As Archbishop Cranmer said, “She who has been the Queen of England upon earth will to-day become a Queen in heaven”.
These speeches appear in the resources for my online course The Life of Anne Boleyn.
- Hall, Edward (1809) Hall’s chronicle: containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, J. Johnson, p. 819.
- Wriothesley, Charles (1875) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Volume 1, Camden Society, p. 41-42.
- Holinshed, Raphael (1807) Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, Volume III, J. Johnson, p. 797.
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume X, 911.
- ed. Cumming, John (1844) Fox’s Book of Martyrs: The Acts and Monuments of the Church, Volume 2 by John Fox, George Virtue, p. 406-407.
- Ascoli, Georges (1927) La Grande-Bretagne Devant L’opinion Française Depuis La Guerre De Cent Ans Jusqu’à La Fin Du XVIe Siècle. Paris. Translation prepared for Claire Ridgway by Paolo Dagonnier.