The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -1


Queen Anne Boleyn’s execution was scheduled for this day in 1536, 18th May, and the queen actually wasn’t told that her execution had been postponed until later that day. Can you imagine how that must have felt?

How did Anne prepare herself? Why was her execution postponed? What exactly happened on this day in 1536? Let me tell you more…

And today’s “on this day” video is about a Welshman who was executed for his part in Wyatt’s Rebellion:

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19 thoughts on “The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -1”
  1. Poor Anne. The stress she was under was beyond anything most of us can comprehend. She prepared herself for death and seems to have calmed herself. The black humor is completely understandable given the circumstances: If she didn’t laugh she’d cry. Then to find out she had 24 more hrs to think about it. How devastating. And the only kindness Henry shows her is in the manner of her execution. As to the self lighting candles on K of A’s tomb I’m sure someone lit them though they weren’t seen. How fortuitous though, to happen on the eve of Anne’s dispatch and in such a superstitious society. If it gave anyone chills at the time GOOD! What was happening was reprehensible.

  2. Yes she probably was a bit hysterical very nervy over her delayed execution, and it was cruel of Cromwell to have her execution delayed merely so he could clear the Tower of foreigners, I suppose we can understand this up to a point as he or the king did not want Annes execution being regaled abroad as dying gloriously or painting her as the stuff of martyrs, so poor Anne having prepared herself had to live through another night, it must have been dreadful yet somehow she would endure it, I thought ‘The Tudors‘ showed it very well, they were quite accurate over her last hours and her execution scene, Anne was given money to give to the executioner so as to ensure a good ending, it seems a strange custom and rather reminds me of the Greek myth of Charon the ferryman in Hades, who rowed the souls over to the underworld after he had been given payment, as luck goes Anne was extremely lucky she had a skilled swordsman not for her the English axe, some executions were botched as we know, karma came in the form of Cromwells execution when his own death was botched, and the ageing Lady Margaret Pole had a botched execution, but it was still a terrifying way to die and she must have been aware of a huge crowd scene, she must have thought with irony that had she been content to merely being Henry’s mistress years before, she would not be now in the Tower preparing for death, Anne had wanted power and glory not for her no cast off non entity, as Shakespeare himself wrote in his play Henry V111 in reference to Anne Boleyn, ‘ ‘Tis better to be lowly born and range with humble livers in content, than to be perked up in a glistening grief, and wear a golden sorrow’.

    1. I have to hand it to the Calais headsman that he didn’t make Anne suffer anymore than she had to. The way it is portrayed in “Anne of the Thousand Days” he distracts her. The accounts I’ve read of her execution describe just that. He acted as if he was requesting the sword from his assistant when in actuality he had it and struck when she turned away. I thank him for that.

      1. A small mercy for a desperately frightened woman. Imagine what went through the mind of the Calais swordsman, with Queen Anne speaking to him in fluent French when he asked her forgiveness; knowing this small, regal woman had been railroaded in the worst possible way – and he was the instrument of her death. It had to have had some effect on him.

        1. Until you mentioned it I had not considered the consequences for the executioner in this case. He was asked to execute an annointed queen. I’m sure he had never been required to do such a thing before but I wonder what he thought or was it just another job?

        2. I’m curious … why do you think the executioner would have known that Anne had been railroaded? He wouldn’t have had access to the ambassadorial reports or other evidence, from which we can conclude that she was, in fact, innocent.

        3. He probably had never executed a woman before and I heard that though it maybe false, that Anne unnerved him with her gaze, we do not know anything about the swordsman his name how old he was, or where he came from Calais or St. Omer as Claire states, all we know is he was paid handsomely for slicing Anne’s head from her shoulders and he was a very expert swordsman, we do not know either if Anne herself had requested the French sword but as he was already on his way before her trIal, it is more likely that it was Henry V111’s idea.

        4. I have to agree with Esther, I really don’t think we should get fanciful or romantic here. The executioner from Calais was sent for because he was skilled. Anne would certainly be the first and last Queen he would be asked to execute, the magnitude of that probably wasn’t lost on him. However, he didn’t care if she was guilty or not. Why would he? I am certain he tried to ensure his victims didn’t suffer any more than necessary, that is the execution was quick and he hid the blade until the signal was given. The executioner would have no access to the Court records, to anything official and was there merely to do his duty. He was skilled, the best, it would be clean and swift, as painless as possible. Anne was allowed to make her speech, to remove her gown and place her cap to hold her hair, to make her prayers and then it was over.

          Reports say Anne was blindfolded. Maybe she was distracted, but if she was blindfolded then she wouldn’t be distracted, but does it really matter? All we know is that the French swordsman was the last bit of mercy towards a woman who had been his wife and the mother of one of his children, the woman he had loved for many years, although he probably didn’t now: the last bit of mercy Henry could do for her. Besides, normally axe executioners were not trained, they were hangmen and so mistakes happened, it could take more than one stroke of an axe which wasn’t actually designed to remove heads. Henry wanted to avoid that and this was a Royal execution. Anne was a Queen, an axe wasn’t good enough for a Queen. In Ancient times, executions with a sword were more common, they also appear in several legends and as in King Arthur were magical, the symbol of knightly and kingly power. An article in the Spectator some years ago said something about a link between the method Henry chose to execute Anne and the legendary King Arthur. Henry was demonstrating pure Kingly power and honour over an adulterous wife, the symbol of justice and truth and of mercy because he chose to be merciful in the use of a sword rather than an axe. Now before you all shout Poppycock! this was the image Henry wanted to portray and the world was to see that with Anne’s execution. The executioner was there to do an effective and efficient job, but part of his skill was to be swift and quick, maybe he was gentler because she was a woman, maybe he put her at her ease, then at least he could do his office without the vision of a shaking a visibly frightened woman haunting him. Anne’s calm dignity helped matters and at least she died with composure and made a good end.

  3. Yes, as mentioned here, English executioners could be notoriously inept. The Countess of Salisbury, Mary Queen of Scots, Thomas Cromwell, Robert Earl of Essex, and James Duke of Monmouth all died after multiple strikes of the axe.

    As for the story of Anne Boleyn being played a trick upon her by the French headsman (as seen in ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’), it is later fabrication – from the so-called ‘Chronicle of Henry VIII’, originally written in Spanish and completed in the reign of Edward VI, which contains a lot of inaccuracies.

    Contemporary accounts of Anne’s death do not mention any trick at all. After she was blindfolded, the executioner quickly did his work, and that’s it.

    1. Thank you for the correction. I watched a documentary on YouTube a few years ago and one of the segments was on the execution of the Duke of Buckingham I believe in the 17th century. The executioner did a botched bloody job and was rightfully highly criticized for it. Later he wrote an account and blamed the victim. If true he was certainly not suited for the job.

      1. Michael, do you mean the Duke of Monmouth? Ketch, the executioner of James, Duke of Monmouth, the son of Charles ii, who led the rebellion against James ii, being his illegitimate son, was unskilled and probably drunk and botched the execution, using a knife in the end to finish him off. He was of course, a hangman.

        There were two Dukes of Buckingham in the 17th Century, both called George Villiers, neither of whom was executed.
        The first one was assassinated by his man servant in 1629 and the second died in bed in the late 1680s.
        The two Dukes of Buckingham executed were when the Stafford family held the title.
        Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham led a failed rebellion under Richard iii and was beheaded in the market place in Salisbury in 1483 and his son, Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, was famously beheaded by our beloved King Henry Viii in 1521.

        Just to make stuff more and more complicated whenever a title became vacant after the male heirs all died out or it was taken by the crown, a new creation gave it to someone with a different name and the numerical order began again.

        Some terrible executions with the axe happened, like Mary Queen of Scots and Thomas Cromwell and the unfortunate Margaret Pole. These people were not always skilled or experienced so Anne and even the men were lucky, the axe man was clearly skilled as it took only one stroke each, according to the reliable sources available, but Anne of course was beheaded with a sword. I also think he must have beheaded women before because his methods show experience. His fee also suggested experience and skill.

        1. Yes, the Duke of Monmouth. And as soon as you mentioned Ketch I knew that was right. I just find it appalling that if someone is trying to kill you and it’s botched it’s your fault. (I’m laughing under my breath at the ridiculousness of the whole idea).
          I think Buckingham came to mind first because it seems so many had an unfortunate tendency to lose their heads.

  4. Oh no, really Roland? How disappointing! No-one had been kind to Anne in a rather long time and I found the swordsman gesture moving – and now there’s no no act and no kindness………….

    1. Well at least it was quick, and we assume painless, for poor Anne!

      Anne’s execution as shown in ‘The 6 Wives of Henry VIII’ with Dorothy Tutin, is pretty accurate (except that no block was used).

      As I mentioned, the untrue story of the trick being played on Anne is from ‘The Chronicle of Henry VIII”. This also has the false account of Katheryn Howard saying that she would rather have died the wife of Thomas Culpepper, right before she was executed.

  5. So many myths abound at executions especially with the speeches made by the condemned, Lady Rochford supposedly stated she had made a false accusation about Anne Boleyn, and she believed her death would cleanse her of that sin, and as Roland says, Catherine Howard stated she would rather die the wife of Culpeper, Lady Pole was said to have refused to lay her head on the block and the irate headsman chased her around the green but in reality, although she must have been indignant at the way she was being told she had to die, she went to her death bravely but had an inept executioner, reports also.differ about Anne’s execution and wether she was blindfolded or not, her end was quick that we all know, a sudden sharp pain and then blessed oblivion,

  6. According to Eustace Chapuys Anne was informed of her execution on the morning of 17th May and later that Henry had sent for the Executioner from Calais and she would die by the sword and not the more clumsy English axe. It was a common practice to behead people of noble birth in Flanders or Belgium with a sword and lower born people with an axe. It was also a French custom and he was a professional executioner with skilled use of the heavy execution sword, clean and efficient. Margaret of Hungary later wrote that he came from St. Omer in Flanders. Therefore he was a very skilled executioner, his fee was £23 8 shillings and 6 pence or about £7800 in today’s money, so he certainly wasn’t a run of the mill executioner. His reputation apparently went before him.

    Anne herself remarked on the skills of the swordsman and even showed some dark and nervous humour by laughing about having a little neck. She remarked that she had heard he was good and then she began her preparations. She prayed with her Almoner, one of her chaplains and then heard Mass and required the Constable to remain as she made her last confession. It was here that Thomas Cranmer, the very man who had given her false hope the day before, albeit, then he may have believed she would indeed be spared, heard Anne swear as she received the Body and Blood of Jesus (Holy Communion) that she was innocent and had never offended the King with her body. This was seismic. Such a swearing on the Eucharist, especially on the eve of one’s death, of innocence was vitally important. Anne’s immortal soul would face Judgement in the next life, her soul might be damned for Eternity or live in Paradise. She risked the former by making a false confession now and if someone made an oath by the Blessed Sacrament, especially one claiming they were totally innocent of a capital crime before a death sentence was carried out, then such an oath was viewed as being sacred and the truth. Not only that but Anne made certain there were witnesses of good standing and gave permission for what they had heard to be made known “to the world” or in other words, to tell the authorities of her confession. Anne was hoping still, perhaps, hearing this would save her life, but it wasn’t to be: yes, Cromwell was informed but the King didn’t change his mind. Henry was off playing with his new sweetheart, having super with her and waiting for the Tower guns to tell him that he was a widower. Anne gave her hail Mary as we say today, but she wasn’t to have her last minute reprieve, but this confession is one piece of evidence that allows us to see her innocence.

    The next few hours Anne would have spent preparing and waiting for her time to come, at prayer, arranging for alms to be given to the poor, she awoke very early in the morning and began to dress, again heard Mass and then waited for the appointed hour. However, 8a.m came and went and still nobody came to escort the Queen to her execution. Anne was told at nine she was to die at noon. The executioner was now here but Cromwell needed to clear the Tower of foreigners for fear of how all this would be reported abroad. Anne sent for Kingston and demanding to know what was happening was finally told she was to die now the next day. Anne was distraught because she had prepared herself mentally and spiritually and was ready to die, not to mention the physical efforts of dressing for the occasion. Anne was dressed magnificently and would die as a Queen. However, now she feared least her resolve fail, she had put her brain in the right state of mind and now she felt stressed again and remarked that she had hoped to be passed her pain. Although she was assured that there would be no pain I believe she meant the psychological torment that she had endured this last two weeks. Anne even pleaded for her execution to go ahead. The poor woman must have been in a right state. It’s incredible that anyone would wish for death, not wanting to grasp those last hours, but Anne was in a different place, she was no longer here. She was ready to go and had made her peace with the torment ahead. Having to wait another night and being lied to that there was a delay meant going through the agony of not knowing, the agony of waiting, another night of fear and trauma, another night of stress and turmoil and preparing once again. It’s terrible when I think of what this poor woman was going through, as if she hadn’t been through enough, lying to her about her execution and then making her wait, giving her false hope, it was all too much.

    Anne must have again made her peace and spent her time in prayer and the next day her grace and dignity didn’t desert her. Her faith and courage sustained her to the end.

    1. Who was her almoner at this time.? My relation Bishop of Herfordshire John Skipp, was once her almoner.

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