May 18, 1536 – The Day of Anne’s Execution Dawns, or Does it?
Posted By Claire on May 18, 2009
Anne Boleyn’s execution was scheduled for 9am on the 18th May, one day after the executions of her brother, George Boleyn, and the other four men accused of treason.
It is said that Anne prepared for her execution by praying into the early hours with her almoner and then taking communion with Kingston just before dawn on the 18th.
Kingston confirms that she swore twice on the holy sacrament, once before taking it and once after, that she was innocent and he reported this to Cromwell:-
“This morning she sent for me, that Imight be with her at such time as she received the good Lord, to the intent I should her speak as touching her innocency alway to be clear.”
Anne also arranged for the £20 that the King had given her to be given out in alms to the people and then she prepared herself and waited for 9am – we can only imagine her thoughts and how she must have prayed.
Sir William Kingston returned not to walk Anne to the scaffold, and to her death, but to bring news that her execution was delayed until noon because the executioner had been delayed. Was this true or was Henry VIII being cruel to his wife?
Some historians believe that her execution was actually delayed because a crowd of Anne’s supporters had gathered and because Henry VIII was still waiting for Archbishop Cranmer to finalise the annulment of Henry and Anne’s marriage and the illegitimacy of Elizabeth. To ready yoursef to die and then be told you’ve got another 3 hours’ wait must have been awful, but all Anne said was:-
“Master Kingston, I hear say that I shall not die afore noon, and I am very sorry there for, for I thought to be dead by this time and past my pain. I have heard say the executioner was very good and I have a little neck.”
and then she laughed.
A Further Postponement
After three hours of what must have been complete hell on earth, Anne Boleyn was told that her execution had again been delayed because the Calais swordsman had still not arrived. Kingston confirmed that her execution would take place on the following morning at 9am.
We know from Kingston’s reports to Thomas Cromwell that, contrary to belief, Anne Boleyn had many supporters in London and that Kingston was worried about the growing unrest and a possible breach of the Tower’s security. Joanna Denny states that Kingston recommended that the execution time be kept secret and Cromwell may well have delayed her execution in the hope that her supporters would disperse.
A Marriage Over
On the 18th May, an ecclesiastical court convened by Archbishop Cranmer confirmed that the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn was null and void because of “certain just, true and lawful impediments unknown at the making and since that time confessed by the Lady Anne”. The issue of the marriage, Princess Elizabeth, was made illegitimate but Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry was not reinstated and Henry VIII now had no legitimate children as heirs to his throne.
The ecclesiastical court also issued a dispensation allowing Henry VIII to marry his new love, Jane Seymour, even though his great gransmother and her grandmother were cousins. Preparations then began for the Royal wedding.
Anne sent Henry VIII another message through one of the Privy Chamber:-
“Commend me to his Majesty, and tell him that he has ever been constant in his career of advancing me. From a private gentlewoman he made me a marchioness, from a marchioness a Queen; and now that he has no higher degree of honour left, he gives my innocence the crown of martyrdom as a saint in heaven.”
How could a man, who had once loved this young woman so much that he pursued her relentlessly for seven years and broke with Rome on her account, let her go to the scaffold so cruelly and needlessly? How can love and passion turn to such hate? Who can know the mind of Henry at this time?
We await the execution of Anne Boleyn, now a commoner and not a queen anymore. Until tomorrow, adieu.
**P.S. Thank you for all the entries to the competition – you still have until midnight tonight to send you article to firstname.lastname@example.org, don’t forget!**
**P.P.S. How are you commemorating Anne Boleyn Day tomorrow? Comment here or join the discussion thread at our Anne Boleyn Wiki – click here.**
**P.P.P.S. “The Tudors Season 3” is now available on our Resources Page for pre-order in the US – sorry UK and Europe!!**
18 thoughts on “May 18, 1536 – The Day of Anne’s Execution Dawns, or Does it?”
I always remember Anne Boleyn on May 19th and find the whole episode to be absolutely heinous as well as a feminine issue……….women were clearly absolutely nowhere in Tudor England.
A very brave lady indeed.
i heard that Anne Boleyn’s execution was supposed to have taken place on the 18th of may but was resheduled until the 19th of may because the executioner arrived in England late.The executioner wasn’t supposed to have arrived until noon.Annes jailor William Kingston received word that the execution wouldn;t be taken place because of the late arrival of the executioner.then Anne was notified.Anne begun to pray then waited for the next day.The next morning to come.The executions had to take place in the morning and no later,
How any human waits for execution is unfathonable, for it to be delayed for hours, then till next morning is surely a hell upon this earth. To wait for lethal injection, as we so often do now, [US] would be beyond our ken, to wait for ones head to be cut from the body is unimaginable.I read a book many years ago about Anne, a novel, and the suggestion was made that she may have been dosed with laudanum [spelling?], I can only hope this was a fact, that some soul had the decency to give her something to help calm her and to dull the pain she must have been desperately imagining was to come. Always I am struck with the inhumanity we as humans so blithely dole out, and still we do not learn, we still do the same things, just in different ways. More pertinantly we did and still do use God and religion as the excuse for inexcusible cruelty, God in his place must weep with the knowledge that we as humans do evolve, we have internet don’t we? but we have yet to learn the things that count the most.
Now 2 years after you posted this comment, I must say that you have phrased this so very well and are spot on with how little progress, if any, humanity has made. Your insight is spot on.
I’ve never heard fo Anne being given any type of drug to calm her and I think the calm and dignity she showed going to her death was from her faith and her knowing where she would be when she died. I shudder when I hear of the atrocities that Henry VIII carried out and the way that he treated his wives – no person should be able to treat others like that and what was it all really for? A son? So sad!
I just watched a show about hauntings and funnily enough Anne was one of the stories. It was said , and I have read this many times, that she comes back on her death anniversary to walk with her head in her hands. You commented on her dignity and calm at the time of her execution, and that coupled with her speech has always led me to believe she died at peace with herself. She was by all acounts a woman of faith, and because I believe her innocent and a pawn, she would have had faith that God knew her soul. Call me nuts, but I have had some paranormanl experiences, and just cannot bring myself to believe Anne has any reason to hang around and carry her poor head around with her! I believe she was at peace, or would have been so after her actual death. I read alot about her as a kid and teen, and one novel in particular mentioned her Ladies in Waiting, one in particular was a real friend to her and had access to the drug I mentioned and dosed her with it, I am sure it was just part of the story, but one I always hoped to be true.
No, I think Anne has better things to do than walk around anywhere carrying her head! I believe that Anne went to her death as a believer and a faithful servant of Christ and knew where she was going that day. She seemed at peace with her death and I believe she is in Heaven.
Laudanum was not used until the later part of the 16th century. I would think her calm demeanor was more from her faith and her “shock” at having to face what was to come.
Just curious, I dont mean this out of disrespect because Anne was a courageous and strong woman. However, I would be interested to find out if anyone plans on filming Blickling Hall the night of her execution anniversary as I have heard that the good lady comes back that night and roams the halls. Again, I do not mean any disrespect, I am simply fascinated with Anne and would like the chance to see her, and possibly put some truth behind these rumors.
I wonder if any one has ever done a facial reconstruction of Anne because lots of people wanted to know what she really looked like and they found her body right?
Nothing like being 7 years late, but I would like to share what little I know. Several years ago, I got to take a vacation to British Columbia, Canada. At Mme Tussaud’s (sp?) Wax Museum was an alleged death mask made following her execution. I’ve never discovered any information about someone making a death mask, and I have read copious amounts of books and articles over the years. However, it the death mask was authentic, it appeared that Anne Boleyn had a classic appearance with high cheek bones and was much more attractive than one would be led to believe looking at her official portrait.
henry was with catherine of aragon for 24 years before he broke with the roman church to marry anne boelyn. she vied and plotted to become the queen and send catherine into exile and strip her daughter of her rightful place as heir to the throne. men of power have no allegiance, it is as true than as it is now. anne boelyn was accused of affairs she had no part in but she placed herself in the position to be thrown away as easily as henry let go of catherine.
Once the reformation and angelical church began, supported by so many people, it continued to roll out of control. They gave the king permission to decided not only earthly rules and laws but then to decide church law too. They put too much power in one egomaniacs hands and then he ran right over the original supporters of it too. Once they stepped away from the truth and went with Man’s desire rather than the Church’s law from God, everything was up for grabs.
Once they began the break, everyone could be in the path of that original bad decision. The king could then devour whoever he wanted and claims it was in his name and God’s name. As went Queen Catherine, so went Anne Boelyn, and St. Thomas More, Cardinal Newman, on and on.
What a waste and abuse of earthly power.
We continue to pray for peace and reconciliation here on earth as well as in heaven.
Before i comment further, i would just like to say how much respect and admiration I have for Anne Boleyn. Especially when I think of how she conducted herself in the hours leading up to and during her execution. But I also believe she had a hand in her own fate. She was ambitious, and was as bad as her farther and the rest of her family when it came to gaining power and manipulating the king. This is not to say I agree with what happened to her or her downfall. Just that she was aware and willing to take the risks. I do also believe she was used by her family with little regard for her wellbeing, especially when she suffered a still birth and a miscarriage, that must have been just awful to go through, never mind not having the support and kindness from your husband& family. But I do believe she died the way she did for a reason, this was a tough and lonely time for her daughter Elizabeth and I think it forged the great strength and cunning she showed as queen. She needed these experiences to be such a ruler and eventually protect this country from foreign powers and so on. So alas,I feel Anne’s death was not in vein. Unbeknown to her, she was martyred for England’s future. R.I.P Lady Boleyn.
Yes, I agree with you. In those days, women had nothing in terms of “rights”; they could be punished without cause, married off without even knowing their husbands and at very tender ages at that.
But in that Elizabeth went through what she went through, it did make her a strong and good ruler of her country.
Although I must confess, I wonder why Mary (Bloody Mary) did not conduct herself as well while she was queen. It appears she had some form of mental illness, perhaps stress-induced. But her reign is no where near as fondly remembered as that of her half sister, Elizabeth I.
Just makes for some interesting thoughts….
Mary I always conducted herself with dignity during her reign and I would also like to point out her reign wasn’t a failure, nor did she have a mental illness. She was far more merciful than the Protestant propaganda of the seventeenth century and John Fox have stated and it’s not as if Elizabeth was exactly a merciful Queen. Mary yes, did bring back the heresy laws, but that was to be expected and the majority of her people remained Catholic. The main bone of contention was actually her marriage to Philip of Spain, which she very cleverly negotiated to ensure the treaty restricted his role in English political life and decisions. Nobody can condone the burnings but one must also point out that Mary forgave several people involved in the conspiracy to put Jane Grey on the throne, she forgave several hundred ordinary rebels personally and was an able ruler. Had her reign been longer it would have been regarded as much mote successful. Her reign saw the reorganisation of naval finance, advanced help for social care, Church reform as well as beautiful shrines restored, a very charismatic and living Church, the gender free dignity of the crown, without which Elizabeth would never have succeeded, many ceremonies that are often associated with other rulers, the building of hospitals, homes for the poor and schools, the ending of mentally ill people being executed for treason, no witches being tried, help for the economy and expansion of contact with Russia and the East. I would recommend you read something modern like Anna Whitelock, Professor Edwards, Judith Richards or Linda Porter. These are all balanced modern scholarly works on Mary.
There are many ways in which women were marginalized throughout history. It seems to me, though, that when it came to execution and punishment, the sixteenth century gaolers played an equal opportunity game.
The entire travesty affirms a famous quote from Edmund Burke stating: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” For decades Henry ran amok igniting religious wars and creating a trail of collateral damage all to satiate his voracious sexual appetite and vanity. Sir Thomas More, Anne Boleyn and those accused of consorting with her, being just a few salient examples. As for Anne, true, we cannot downplay her coyness that led to the torturous existence for Catherine of Aragon, but as a special quote rom former US President Kennedy so poignantly pointed out, “he who attempts to ride the back of the tiger eventually winds-up inside,” and so it was with certain victims of Henry. Ultimately, Henry and his unbridled power were the real catalyst of these calamities. Anne’s father, Cromwell, et al, lacked character and honorable motive, but the unchecked power of Henry set those wheels in motion. The teaching point? Leaders and those in their service must be of honorable intention, sound character, and exhibit moral courage. They must be strong and say “no.” If enough do, future Henry the VIII’s will be stymied.
May Anne and all victims of failed moral courage occupy a special place in heaven.