Thanks for the question, it's an interesting one. In short, Henry had to order the swordsman before Anne's trial for Anne to be executed quickly. For the executioner to arrive on the 18th, the planned date of execution, he would have had to have been ordered by around the 12th or 13th and even as early as the 9th or 10th. He had to cross the channel and then make his way by horse from Dover to London. Weir is of the opinion that Cromwell wanted everything to move fast so that Henry didn't have the time to think about things and change his mind.

The fact that Henry ordered an expert French swordsman has been seen as an act of mercy because Anne could have been burned or beheaded in the usual way. Burning was an awful death as the victim could suffer quite a long time, particularly if the wood was damp. Beheading could also be a slow way to die if the axeman missed the neck and it took a few blows to finish you off. Death by sword, however, was very a very quick and clean death, so it could be seen that Henry was being merciful to Anne by letting her die in this manner.

However, the fact that the swordsman must have been ordered before Anne's trial even took place does call into question Henry's mercy and shows that Anne had been pre-judged as guilty and had no chance of being found innocent. Alison Weir points out that the ordering of the French swordsman before the trial shows that it had always been planned that Anne would die this way and that Henry actually showed cruelty in making Anne wait in suspense to find out how she would die. It is also likely that the promise of a more merciful death was used as a bargaining chip to get Anne to agree to the marriage annulment.

Anne's death by sword may also have been a political move. Anne was Queen and her execution was going to stir up a lot of controversy around Europe. If Henry could be seen to be acting in a merciful manner and giving her a dignified death then perhaps Europe would not be so horrified!


18 thoughts on “Why was the swordsman ordered before Anne’s trial?”

  1. TudorRose says:

    The swordsman was ordered over before Annes execution because he was a french swordsman from France and it would have took him over a days sail to get from France to England.Apparently Anne Boleyns execution had been ordered to take place on the 18th of May but the executioner had arrived by noon that day so thus it had to be resheduled until the 19th of May.

    1. Tidus says:

      The swordsman was ordered before the trial
      thus proving there would be only 1 outcome,
      guilty. There are numerous things pointing to
      Anne’s innocence, this included. Henry was determined
      to kill her.

  2. Zephra says:

    I believe after pondering this for many years that this was Henry’s was of saying “Sorry about the false guilty verdict”. I truly believe he knew she was not guilty. Of course the executioner was called for before the trial. The trial was just a formality. Anne defended herself so well, debunking much of the evidence against her that even the crowd (whom hated her for the most part) was starting to doubt. But when Henry wanted you dead…you were dead. Regardless of whether or not you were actually guilty.

    And didn’t she sign a paper saying the she and Henry were never married just before her death? That paper alone should have saved her neck because technically, she was not married to him so she could not have committed adultery. So unfair..

    BTW, I have spent the better part of last night and this morning on this site just reading. It is so nice to find a place that takes an in depth look at the woman. Thank you so much!

  3. Claire says:

    Hi Zephra,
    Thank you so much for your comment and I agree with you about Henry’s motivation regarding the French swordsman and I think it was his way of showing Europe that he could be merciful to a woman who had betrayed him.
    I’m so glad that you have found the site and that you have been enjoying reading it. Do get involved in the forum too as we have some great discussons there too. x

  4. La Belle Creole says:

    I don’t know that I agree the “early order” of the French executioner proves Anne’s case was already decided (although it probably was.) It seems to me that, in a time when travel delays had to be taken into account, it made sense to order the executioner because he could always be paid off and dismissed if, for whatever reason, the executio did not take place.

    I’ve often wondered if ordering the French swordsman was also a subtle attack upon Anne’s know pro-French politics. Sort of another effort to strip her of her Enlgish identity and queenship. She favored French fashions, spoke French, and promoted French interests, and was executed by a Frenchman via a French (non-English) method. That just seems more compelling to me than the possibility Anne would sign off on the annullment if she were bribed with a “merciful” death. Anne lacked the power and backing to successfully fight Henry, and Henry’s officials would have nullified her marriage after her death. It seemed more a way of singling her out and distancing her. It could be Cromwell feared a “messy” execution might grieve Henry while a “cleaner” one would comfort him should Henry experience one of his mood swings.

    I doubt it was intended to be a show of mercy or dignity to Anne’s rank. Catherine Howard got the axe.

  5. BKS says:

    La Belle Creole- I wonder if Catherine Howard got the axe because she was definitely guilty, whereas Anne possibly wasn’t guilty of her charges, and the sword was the Kings way of easing his guilt too (if that makes sense!)

    1. Jason says:

      I agree that Catherine Howard was guilty, so it was a different game completely. She even admitted it! Anne’s execution was a political move and very likely predicated on Henry’s fear that Anne was too independent-minded. She was hardly the quiet-mannered, woman in the kitchen type of girl.

  6. Christina says:

    I don’t know where I remember reading this, but I was always under the assumption that the Frenchman was ordered because Henry knew Anne’s fear of the axe. Again it goes with Henry’s having mercy on her but still I have never really look into this before. All the comments above give you something to really think about and make a lot of since..

  7. Traci Clayton says:

    I ve done much study of Anne Boleyn. It appears to me Anne was pushed into attracting the King’s attention by her father, after he’d done the same to his daughter Mary. This horrible man pimped out his own daughters to advance his social standing. The idea of Anne being murdered by Henry for adultery is also ridiculous b/c he openly cheated on all 6 of his wives. I feel Henry murdered Anne b/c she did not give him a son. I am certain Anne & Henry are not spending their after lives in the same place. But, wouldn’t it be wonderful for Anne to be able to tell Henry to his face that science has now determined that, in fact, HE did not give HER a son?

  8. Baroness Von Reis says:

    As I heard it he was orderd before the vertic and from France ,also he was one of the best in the land at his craft.

  9. Omaira says:

    Traci Clayton – although I agree with you that Henry was a seriously messed up possible sadistic King there has been a theory that although he didn’t have any legitimate sons, there was Henry Fitzroy and Catherine of Aragon simply didn’t carry her sons to full term. the same with Anne, and in her case it may have been she was rhesus negative

    1. Traci Clayton says:

      Yes, I should have said that Anne didn’t give birth to a living son. I know Henry had at least one living son, Fitzroy. I meant that the sex of the babies was not determined by his wives. I think the theory that Anne was RH neg and Henry was RH pos makes me sympathetic to Anne. I lost 2 babies (boys) between my daughters b/c the shots taken for me being RH neg & my husband being RH pos didn’t work. Happens 1 in 1/2 million women. Of course, my husband didn’t care he had daughters. We mourned our sons as our children.Period. Another factor to be considered is that Anne was past prime child bearing yrs when she was married, or soon after, due to the delay of Henry’s divorce.

  10. del says:

    Modern times & not guilty, A total set up, Anne was Innocent & even her own family had to turned against her in the end after torture.What do you say after that? .I pray for Anne’s soul and at least her death was quick rather than a botched axe on her neck.

  11. Gordon Thursfield says:

    According to Chapuys in 1534 AB did threaten to kill Henry’s daughter Mary with a sword? Maybe not such an act of mercy by Henry after all?

    1. Anna says:

      According to Chapuys Anne was the devil herself. I don’t believe even half of what was written from him… And in 1534, what letter are you referring to regarding the “sword” specifically. And all these things regarding Anne threatening Mary need to cool off and look at it from her side. She most likely made the threats out of rash anger because ha she really want3d Mary dead she would have somehow arranged for it. And lets not forget that Anne attempted several times to get along with Mary And Mary snubbed and disrespected her to her face. Any stepmother even in this age would dislike a stepdaughter like that. I’m not completely siding with Anne as I can see from Mary’s side too but seriously let’s not blame her for their hatred among one another.

      And we have no idea what was going on in Henry’s mind.I seriously doubt Henry just decided in May of 1536 that he no longer loved Anne and wanted her dead. I seriously doubt after he married her his affections waned that quickly especially after he waited so long to finally marry her. I feel that there were tensions among the two from the long divorce and all the anomosity and bickering from all the courtiers and his subjects lead a toll on their marriage but I don’t think he just stopped loving Anne by any means. I think they both were jealous and hot tempered. I think that they started to have issues and I believe the other people around them fueled the fire immensely. Anne may have flirted to make Henry jealous when she found out about Jane. This may have infuriated Henry over the top and then when everyone came with this huge conspiracy and jumped his gun and believed it at first. So, Cromwell moved as quickly and “mercifully” as possible to keep from Henry changing his mind. I think Henry acted on impulse and regretted that decision for the rest of his kife though he would never have admitted. Which is why he simply tried to erase her from his life and memory albeit terribly. I personally find it ironic that nearly each person that engineered Anne’s downfall met the axe shortly after demise and if they didntget the axe they died of their own before Henry could order it. I personally believe Cromwell lost his head because of this.I think Henry harboured this hatred for him And waited for the right opportunity . I don’t think it had anything to do with Anne of Cleaved other than the fact cromwell could not give Henry another Anne Boleyn. Henry I am sure realized he could takelives but he could not being them back. I think he regretted Anne and Wolsey most of all and maybe Moor but I doubt he did much after his obstinancy.

      Mary wrote Henry a pleading letter directly after Anne’s demise and Henry rejected her plea. I doubt he cared much for Mary at the time anyway after all he was angry with her after she took her mother’s side and refused all of his orders. That is why she was treated so poorlynot because of Anne. It was all Henry. If course, he was beyond pissed when she refused to obey him,the king,, her father. So of course he treated her as he did to try and make her relent. His intentions of Catherine’s treatment even wasn’t meant for her any harm but he gave her many chances to live a life grand just away form him and she just would not except the divorce. Though, I see her side as well but it would have been wiser for her daughter’s sakeor at least to advise her daughter to relent to her father whatever choice she decided to do for herself. I’m not blaming Catherine for hwr treatment. Only Henry can be blamed but let’s be honest in how many kings divorced their wives and were able to obtain it effortlessly. Catherine was a very proud woman and wanted the title Queen until the day she died even if that meant dragging Mary ing he mud with her. Anyhow,i dont blame Catherine but I bring it up because Catherine and Mary played their part as well in the game. They knew the stakes were high . I get their side too but at some point you hAve to let go..

      Anyhow, I doubt Anne ever specifically threatened Mary with sword.chapyuis claimed she wanted to poison her. So no,Henry didn’t snub anne because of that. That is way out in left field.

      1. Tidus says:

        I don’t believe anything Chapuys said. He was obviously biased.

      2. Monica Winnett says:

        Anna, you put that so well, thank you. I, too, believe that the toxic politics of the court took it’s toll on their marriage more than people often give credit for. With all those powerful people working against her, Anne would only be truly safe if her son had lived. So sad, because I feel that she and Henry worked well together as friends. She seemed to have had her faults, but living in that atmosphere must have been exhausting – always having to keep up appearances, stay vigilant, let alone the emotional toll of losing babies. Such a great site, by the way. Today is the first day I have been on here, so lovely to find people as interested as I am. xx

        1. Dr. Valarie Bell says:

          Anne Boleyn’s fate makes me wonder if Jane Seymour had not died how long would SHE have lasted, even giving Henry a legitimate male heir. Henry was a pious man who allowed the Catholic Church to constrain his behavior to the point of being named,” Fidei Defensor” — “Defender of the Church.” But the Boleyns showed Henry what power he really had over ALL aspects of daily life. Remember Sir Thomas More’s warning:” Never tell the King what he is able to do but only what he should do. For if he knew his true power no man could contain him.” Once Henry could get divorce at will as the head of his own church, he could simply dispose of a wife as he liked since he took his orders from God directly. Anne had to die because Henry, like the member of any usurping dynasty that knows they’re not genuinely entitled to the throne, had a real inferiority complex. Having a male heir in an era where generations in England never saw a peaceful transition from one king to the next, was a sign of heavenly favor & Grace. Once the lust & romance wore off, Anne didn’t keep her promise of a male heir & getting rid of her was easy. Remember his love & commitment to his wives was longest ‘ strongest with Catherine of Aragon; once he ended that two decade marriage, breaking emotionally with a wife of three years that was widely despised was easy for Henry. Anne had to die because after years of dealing with à quarrelsome, strong willed ex-wife, Henry was not about to go through that again with an even bigger fighter, Anne Boleyn. And he couldn’t afford to have another daughter whose mother would be pressing her claim too. So a dead Anne was necessary. As a trained social scientist, I see Henry moving on to the next candidate before he’d finished with the previous one. He did this repeatedly & it’s a sign of emotional immaturity and of insecurity. Cutting Catherine of Aragon out of his life was also symbolically cutting his youth out of his life too. Now having waited 7 years for Anne, and then going through three years of marriage, he’d invested a decade in Anne & more importantly in getting a son with nothing to show for it. By now Henry’s staring into the eyes of middle age with no male heir in sight. Anne’s faux pas was the opportunity & justification he needed to get out of the marriage without looking like he just cavalierly divorces without regard for the Christian institution of marriage. He always believed what was convenient for him to believe because the succession was all he cared about.

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