Today, I will be raising a glass to Queen Anne Boleyn, who was executed on the morning of 19th May 1536, and also to all those caught up in those awful days in May 1536.

Poet and diplomat Thomas Wyatt the Elder was friends with a few of those who lost their lives that May, and he himself was imprisoned in the Tower of London. I’ll share one of the poems he wrote at that time with you, it is incredibly moving. Wyatt points out that it really did not help to plead your innocence at Henry VIII’s court:

V. Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei

Who list his wealth and ease retain,
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.

The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.

These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

The Bell Tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.

By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.

Rest in peace, Queen Anne Boleyn, Lord Rochford, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton and Mark Smeaton.

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22 thoughts on “These bloody days have broken my heart”
  1. Well, the sad day has come. The wrongful murder of a woman that Henry once loved so much that he turned England upside down is now gone. He got his way. How he could live with himself after being the catalyst for the spilling of so much innocent blood is beyond my comprehension. Something was seriously wrong with that boy. Anne very bravely and with much decorum went to her death. In many ways the proceedings failed. Some people were suspicious from the start, despite Cromwell’s best efforts (and thanks to Henry being a terrible actor) word got out to Europe and probably even further that the King of England executed an innocent woman. Despite Henry’s best efforts to remove the memory of Anne Boleyn from history 484yrs on it’s Anne we remember and try to forget Henry. I love sites like this blog or the flowers delivered every year to St. Peter ad Vincula to be placed on Anne’s memorial plaque or the 19th century sign above Katherine of Aragon’s tomb proclaiming her Queen because they all fly in Henry’s face. Rest in Peace Queen Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn Lord Rochford, Sir Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, Sir Francis Weston and Mark Smeaton.

    1. So beautiful words Michael… Thank you so much. My thoughts always go to Anne Boleyn this day, every year.
      Hope I can visit Tower some day, and Hever where she was living.
      Best regards
      Lisa Lebrija
      From Denmark

  2. Dear Clair
    For years ago I asked why Henry 8. couldn’t make living sons. You told why, but I have forgotten and can’t find your answer. You told it was something with his blood. Could you please tell me again what it was?
    Best regards
    Lisa Lebrija
    From Denmark

  3. When we come to this day, it really is poignant to pause and remember a Queen of England was beheaded on this day, was innocent and those executed four days earlier innocent as well.

    This wasn’t a case of Anne being guilty of trying to murder the King, her husband and stand as regent for some illegitimate sprog fathered by one of her lovers, for that would indeed be treason. This was the case of an angry man who merely wanted a new wife and to pretend to the world this was his first wife and now we have six people sacrificed because of that selfish desire. Anne was a woman Henry had claimed to love, he had cherished for so many years, he had gone through hell and high water to marry, breaking from Rome, been excommunicated for, passed legislation to protect from opposition for and whose marriage to was meant to be a golden future. He had named her his own darling, but the thrill was obviously in the chase, not the capture because within just over three years all of that had turned his heart to stone and Henry was desperately trying to get rid of a woman he no longer cared for. Anne was an innocent woman whose reputation was demolished by the lies of those false indictments, who at the end went to her death with great dignity and a wee bit of defiance. She looked every inch a Queen, dressed every inch a Queen and even her executioner was slightly unnerved by her composure and may even have felt some compassion. To kill an anointed Queen was no easy task and no doubt he felt that heavy on his soul. Anne made her farewells, committed herself to her Lord and prayed her last prayers. Then, her lips still moving, the sword blade swung and with one blow, Queen Anne Boleyn became a Queen in Heaven.

    That same day Thomas Cranmer met with Alexander Aleis who had had a vision of Anne’s severed head but didn’t know anything about what had actually happened that day because he had remained home for the last couple of weeks, in his garden in Lambeth. Cranmer told him the sad news and then burst into tears. He had been a close personal friend of Queen Anne and had reluctantly ended her marriage to the King. He had heard her last confession, the declaration of her innocence as she took the Bread and Wine, the sacred Body and Blood of Christ and he knew she spoke truly. Now he must pray for her soul and move on because the King had moved on. Henry awaited the signal of the dreaded guns at the Tower and moved on to Jane Seymour, his third wife in four years and didn’t even give a thought to the burial of his second.

    Anne Boleyn was laid to rest by her distraught ladies, left to wrap and carry her head and body in white linen and lay her in an arrow chest in the ground at Saint Peter ad Vincula in the Tower, next to her brother. Today her resting place is beautiful, a beautiful stone with Victorian writing marks her earthly remains and she has been buried as Queen. A small basket of flowers is given every May 19th as it has been for over 200 years. Others leave flowers on her grave. Anne Boleyn and the five innocent men who died with her are not forgotten. Around the throne thunder roars indeed, the thunder of anger and grief for such ill treatment of those men and this Queen from heaven and through Eternity.

    Rest in peace, Queen Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brererton, Sir Henry Norris and Mark Smeaton. Never Forgotten. YNWA. RIP.

    Eternal rest grant unto them, Oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

    1. May G-d give eternal rest to all the innocent directly murdered by order of Henry VIII .– not only Anne and the five who died with her, but also More, Cromwell, Lady Margaret Pole and the remainder, named and unnamed.

      I doubt that Henry really loved Anne … IMO, he was too selfish and egotistical to really love anyone,

  4. Somehow that lack of a coffin irritates me particularly. What was the protocol on provision of a coffin for those executed? I have never heard of the same situation happening to anyone else. They built a scaffold, you’d think they’d at least have some wood left over. Actually, with the number of executions, you would think the Tower would have a contract with a local carpenter.

    1. I don’t know what the convention would have been but not everyone was buried in coffin at this time, it depended on your status. However, you would have thought that a shroud at least would have been provided. It sticks out like a sore thumb. Henry paid almost £8000 in today’s money for the executioner, something like £8 and £12_for the scaffold on the day and put everything else in place, but ommitted a burial shroud or coffin. Anne’s own ladies had to carry the poor still bleeding corpse of their Queen to the Chapel, which with a limp dead body would be hard work, even across a short distance. The ladies may not have been her supporters, but they were still human and I cannot but think having just seen a young woman brutally slain right in front of them, having attended her over the last few weeks, that they cannot not have been deeply affected by this event. It was a terrible job to have to carry Anne’s remains, her blood soaked head and body in a sheet to the Chapel and hope someone had prepared a grave. Then with little or no ceremony, she was laid to rest without Christian rites, as far ad we know, the stone placed over her body and then she was gone. To put all of the other stuff in place and then to omit a coffin or shroud, that shows total disregard or at the very least negligence. Henry, of course was now off wining and dining his next conquest.

      1. I think possibly her ladies had discussed amongst themselves what to do with Anne’s remains without Anne overhearing of course, they declared they wanted no man to handle her, proof that they had grown quite close whilst locked up in the Tower, as I said before a certain camaraderie grows amongst those in close contact, especially in a situation like this, those few women knew their mistress was about to die very shortly and they could not help but be moved by her plight, immediately the sword struck her head flew in the straw and her body slumped forward must have been an horrific sight, yet her ladies rushed forward and picked up her head with the broken body and that must have been a dreadful task, these were women after all, not hardened soldiers who were used to dead bodies on a battlefield, but somehow they managed to see it through and took her to the chapel of St Peter, Cromwell reported back to his master the deed was done, and the king could now go ahead and marry his next queen, Anne’s own lady in waiting Mistress Jane Seymour, she too would be informed of her late mistresses death and we do not know how she reacted at this news or wether she said prayers for her, but we do know that she had no compunction in filling the seat left vacant by her mistress.

        1. Is there any record of how the bodies of the men executed the day before were disposed of? I always assumed the family would make arrangements for burial, if burial was to be permitted. (Bribes, of course, being exchanged.) Anne’s case is the only one I’ve ever heard of among the nobility in which no one thought of a coffin. But apparently someone thought of some sheets to carry off the body. Actually it is a practical way to carry an inert weight. Good Heavens! The more I think of it the more gruesome the scene becomes! A horrible job. BTW, preparing a body for burial (washing, shrouding) was traditionally the job of the women of the family, so women of that era would not have been as shocked by the idea as we are. But having to lug it around and down the stairs of the scaffold is above and beyond anything I’ve heard of elsewhere! (Sorry to bring in these awful details, but I can’t help thinking of them.)

        2. George Boleyn was laid to rest in the chancel of the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula and the others were laid to rest in the churchyard there. The churchyard no longer exists, and the remains that were exhumed were placed in the crypt.

      2. I think they would have performed a Christian service for Anne it would have been sacrilege not to in those days, here was a woman who had been an anointed queen consort, maybe there was a priest in the church who said the last rites but if not, I am sure the ladies would have prayed for her as she was lowered into the ground, it was a very sad dismal day for those who had loved Anne yet jubilation for her enemies, the next day Henry V111 her once devoted husband became engaged to Jane Seymour one wonders what she made of it all, as she was effectively stepping over her dead mistresses body to take her place.

  5. Could someone please supply a translation of the title of the poem? Online translations are just confusing.

    1. Innocence, Truth, Wyatt, Faith. My enemies have surrounded me. The refrain means “around the throne thunder roars” or ” thunder roars through the realms “. Viat is a classical character whose name Wyatt takes as his own. The second part is Latin paraphrase of Psalm 17: 9 “My enemies have surrounded me” or more correctly “My enemies surround my soul” . Sources are from Susan Binden, Thomas Wyatt: The Hearts Forrest and the Poetical Works of Sir Thomas Wyatt.

      The actual Bible quotation reads Psalm 17. 8 and 9 reads “Protect me like the apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who assail me, from my deadly enemies, who surround me.” Here again Wyatt has paraphrased the Latin, making the point that innocence is all he has left and the hope of deliverance. Being held in the Bell Tower at the time, Wyatt may well have had some assurances of his eventual release because of the patronage of Thomas Cromwell but he had just watched five innocent men beheaded from his window and knew that it was less than twelve months ago that Thomas More and Fisher had been held there, and may have become acutely aware of their fate and thus feared his own world soon follow.

  6. Did anyone else watch the Liv estream of the reading of the play ‘Fallen in Love’ last night? I very much enjoyed it and would like to hear what others thought.

  7. Just a little ripple in this tragedy memorandum here: Does anyone actually know for sure what date Queen Anne was executed on????

    I mean, we are now on the Gregorian Calendar and the Julian Calendar was 10 days off in 1536.

  8. One more thing…There is a weed that grows up this time of year in the mid-western states of the USA that has a large white flower of a delicate doily character. I always knew it as “Queen Anne’s Lace”. Are we talking of the same Queen Anne here as well?

    1. I believe that refers to Qeen Anne, the last Stuart monarch (1702-1707). Daughter of King James the II. The Stuart dyanst started in March 1603 with the death of Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and the ascession of James VI of Scotland who became James I of England.

    2. I have always assumed it was Queen Anne who reigned from 1707 to 1714 because she was queen when the colonies were in the process of growing. She would have been the Queen Anne people were most familiar with back then. But if anyone knows better I’m sure they will post.

      1. You very well could be right. I just did a quick internet search before I posted. I’m very happy to be corrected if I am mistaken.

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