Was Anne Boleyn blindfolded or not? And did the executioner really try and distract her by saying ” Boy! where is my sword?”

It was traditional for people to be blindfolded at executions and it is reported that Anne was blindfolded by one of her ladies - "A young lady presented her with a linen cap, with which she covered her hair, and she knelt down, fastening her clothes about her feet, and one of the said ladies bandaged her eyes." - LP x. 911 .
The Spanish Chronicle (p71) gives the story of the executioner distracting Anne by calling out down the steps to his assistant "Bring me the sword" and then signalling someone else to give him his sword, which was hidden under some straw on the platform, and striking the blow while Anne was looking towards the steps.

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12 thoughts on “Was Anne Boleyn blindfolded or not? And did the executioner really try and distract her by saying ” Boy! where is my sword?””

  1. Panne says:

    In recent years, Egypt has started to collect DNA from mummies in order to trace families and identify mummies; they have also started to re-create facial features through forensic imaging software with the same methods used by police in investigating unidentified skeltal remains. Knowing the location of many royal skeltons and their relatives, I believe much could be learned in a smiliar project throughout Europe if DNA samples were allowed to be taken and the skulls photographed for reconstructive images. A family that can be traced through multiple generations via DNA could teach us much in the evolution of disease and aging for instance, and being able to “see” what these famous people looked like would be awesome. How do you feel about a project such as this? Do you believe that prehaps William will allow this type of research once the reigning Queen and his father pass the throne to him? I certainly hope so although I doubt if I will live to see it!; Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know what Anne really looked like? Whether Henry 8 had a congential bone defect or just an infected abcess? What amaing things we could learn if we could complete this type of research and think of all the questions we could answer! Such as – Was Henry 8’s son, Edward VI, body replaced with a doppleganger to hide the fact he was administered arsnic in the last weeks of his life to prolong it?

  2. Chelsea says:

    I like the story that the executionar distracted Anne before slicing her head off, but if she was blindfolded why would he need to distract her??

    1. Claire says:

      To keep her head where he wanted it so that he could decapitate her quickly and easily. It must have been natural for her, when she was blindfolded and couldn’t see what was going on, to try and figure out what was going on and when the executioner would strike. Poor woman.

  3. Jessica says:

    I actually remember reading in a book somewhere that in fact she was blindfolded, but that he didn’t say anything. Instead he took off his shoes in order to not make a sound or alert Anne of when he was going to strike the blow.

  4. Jessica says:

    I actually read in a book at one point that Anne was blindfolded, but instead of saying something to distract Anne, the executioner took of his shoes in order to not alert her as to when he was going to behead her.

  5. Michelle_B. says:

    Hi Claire, I would be interested to know when the tradition of blindfolding people about to be beheaded began and why was this done? Was it more for decorum, so people couldn’t see the eyes of the decapitated head or was it for the victim’s sake, so that they wouldn’t see the executioner about to strike?

    There is a primary source that said her eyes and lips were still moving, which made me think that maybe she wasn’t blindfolded…would love to hear your comment on this!

    Thanks!

  6. GEA says:

    The blindfold was to keep victims from moving the head at the last second, which they might do if they could see.

    The moving eyes and lips belonged to Queen Mary, not Anne Boleyn. Reportedly, she was blindfolded, but the mask came off when her head was lifted after it was bodiless.

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  8. Sarah says:

    I have read that Anne’s lips continued to move for several seconds afterwards due to her head still having oxygen for several seconds after. It’s from the lady in the tower book. The book says if the blow of the sword didn’t knock her unconscious then she may have registered what had happened for several seconds afterwards due to the remaining oxygen. Not a nice thought for the poor woman

  9. Hadrian says:

    Durring the French Revolution some appalling experiments were performed by physicians and executioners on victims of the guillotine. The brain still has enough oxygen to be conscious for at least one and occassionally several minutes after beheading. Heads would open their eyes when called by name. One head bounced off the scaffold and hit a passing horseman– the head fastened onto his coat-by its teeth and upset the rider and the horse.

  10. Sojourner says:

    I think that consciousness would be lost very quickly indeed after decapitation due to the immediate massive drop in blood pressure in the brain. Any movement would be reflexes, I would imagine. The detached body also shows movement after according to some records. At the guillotine during the Revolution, victims were strapped to a battle because of this.

  11. Jim Dole says:

    It is probable that Ann was blindfolded to minimize flinching or movement at the last second. No matter how committed you are to remaining still it is likely that the victim would see and hear the approach of the swords blade, and a tensing, flinching or avoidance is inevitable. As far as whether the swordsman distracted her, it is possible although there is no hard evidence to suggest exactly what that distraction was. It would make sense for the executioner to want the neck to be upright, and the head to be turned away from the blade – this would present the clearest target – and the tensing and strain of the muscles as you turn the head would “stiffen” the neck and make for an easier slice through because a blade will go through a material under tension easier than the same material slackened. The “distraction” the executioner gave as portrayed in Wolf Hall – could very well have happened. As he approached from Anns back right he studies the target intently. He then slips off his slippers, moves to her left side – says “Boy fetch me my sword” in French (which Ann would have known). As she looks to her left, he quickly and deftly moves back to her right and delivers the blow. Loved the scene and it does not conflict with any accounts, although we just don’t know for sure. A counter to that depiction might be that the swordsman is taking a big chance – what if Ann does not turn to her left, or turns too much or looks to high or too low? Also as he moves back to her right he would need to almost deliver his stroke while in motion or as he’s moving which could reduce his accuracy. If he waited a moment to steady himself back to Anns right side – then how long would Ann have continued to look to her left. My guess is that if you are startled by a sound to your left – you would look for maybe 2-3 seconds and then return your head forward (again, too high too low too left too right?) – In that 2-3 seconds the swordsman would have to return to Annes right steadyhimself and ready, aim, fire. He would have had to have been both incredibly skilled and incredibly confident not to screw that up. For this reason, my guess is that if there was a distraction it came from an assistant to Anns left, while the swordsman too careful aim and swung.
    As far a how long she remained conscious – If the blow did not “knock her out” – the brain can remain conscious for 5-7 seconds following massive loss or blood pressure. I know this from flying fighter jets – and undergoing centrifuge training. You can put 9G’s on the jet – causing your blood pressure to drop to near zero – and be fully awake until 5-7 seconds and then its sudden lights out.
    So to sum up – my best guess is that:
    1. She was blindfolded
    2. She was distracted momentarily causing her to look left (probably by an assistant)
    3. The exectioner remained stationary and delivered his blow swiftly and professionaly
    4. Ann was aware that she had just been decapitated and 5-7 seconds to contemplate it.

    In the end we will never know for sure.

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