Where is Anne Boleyn Buried?

Posted By on March 20, 2010

I thought I’d write this article as a follow-up to Nancy’s article on “The Ghost of Anne Boleyn” because Nancy mentioned the legend that Anne Boleyn’s body was taken from the Tower and buried at Salle Church, and it’s not the only legend regarding Anne Boleyn’s resting place.

Anne’s Memorial Tile

St Peter ad Vincula

The chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, in the grounds of the Tower of London, is the official resting place of Anne Boleyn. After her execution on the 19th May 1536, her ladies wrapped her head and body and placed them in an elm chest which had once contained bow-staves. This chest was then placed in a communal grave, with other execution victims, in the chapel under the chancel pavement. Although Anne Boleyn was a queen, she was given no funeral and no proper burial, she had been executed as a traitor to the Crown and her body was treated as such.

A memorial tile on the floor of the chapel is the only memorial to Anne Boleyn and we don’t even know whereabouts in the chapel her body actually lies. If you have read my article “Anne Boleyn and the Tower of London” you will know that the Victorians dug up a number of skeletons while restoring the chapel in the late 1870s. Although the surgeon, Dr Mouat, identified one skeleton as Anne Boleyn, we can’t be 100% sure that the remains belonged to Anne, so we can only treat that tile as a memorial to her and not as a marker of her grave. Anne could be anywhere under that floor and Alison Weir wonders if Anne was actually buried by the Victorians as Lady Rochford, Anne’s sister-in-law.

Salle Church

There is a very interesting article about Anne Boleyn on the Salle Church website, where they present the “evidence” for the church being Anne Boleyn’s final resting place, although they don’t make any judgement on it. You can read it yourself at http://www.reephambenefice.org.uk/anneboleynsburial.html but the only evidence comes from 19th century sources. Here are the sources quoted by Salle Church:-

1858, ‘Notes and Queries’, written by B. B. Wiffen (page 119)

“It is said in Mrs. Strickland’s ‘Queen’s of England’ (Volume 4, page 203), that there is a tradition in Salle in Norfolk that the remains of Anne Boleyn were removed from the Tower and interred at midnight, with the rites of Christian burial, in Salle Church, and that a plain black stone without any inscription is supposed to indicate the place where she is buried. Sharon Turner, in ‘History of the Reign of King Henry VIII, volume 2, page 264, cites the following passage from Crispin’s account of Anne Boleyn’s execution, written 14 days after her death:

“Her ladies immediately took up her head and the body. They seemed without souls, they were so languid and extremely weak, but fearing that their mistress might be handled unworthily by inhuman men, they forced themselves to do this duty; and though almost dead, at last carried off her dead body wrapt in a white covering”.

The Salle Church website explains that Crispin was a contemporary of Anne Boleyn, a foreign dignitary who was in London at the time of her execution and therefore a primary source. However, although he is cited by Alison Weir in “The Lady in the Tower”, historian John Guy says that Crispin de Miherve is a phantom, he did not exist. Also, although his words state that Anne’s body was wrapped and carried off, he does not say that her body was carried off to Salle.

1842, “Life of Anne Boleyn” (Volume 4), by Agnes Strickland

Victorian author and historical writer, Agnes Strickland, wrote of the Norfolk legend regarding Anne’s resting place:-

“In Anne Boleyn’s native county, Norfolk, a curious tradition has been handed down from father to son for upwards of three centuries, which affirms that her remains were secretly removed from the Tower Church under the cover of darkness, and privately conveyed to Salle Church, the ancient burial place of the Boleyn’s; and there the body was interred at midnight, with the holy rites that were denied to her by her royal husband, at her first unhallowed funeral.”

However, Strickland does point out that it is a legend.

Agnes Strickland by John Hayes

In her 1852, “Lives of the Queens of England” Vol. IV, Strickland mentions Anne’s resting place again:-

“The mysterious sentence with which Thomas Wyatt closes his eloquent memorial of the death of this unfortunate queen, affords a singular confirmation of the local tradition of her removal and re-internment:

“God provided for her corpse sacred burial, even in a place as it were consecrate to innocence” – Thomas Wyatt. “

I’m not sure that Wyatt’s words can be used as evidence to back up the Salle Church legend though seeing as St Peter ad Vincula was and is a chapel and therefore a sacred place and hallowed ground. A communal grave in the chapel may not be the ideal burial place for a Queen of England but it was still a church and therefore “sacred burial”.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

1858, “The Queens of England” by Francis Lancelott

On page 398 of his book, Lancelott writes:-

“The remains of the unfortunate Anne Boleyn, covered with a sheet, were placed by her maids in an elm chest and immediately afterwards buried by the side of her fellow victims, in the chapel of the Tower, without singing or prayer; but her friends returned at midnight and disinterred them, and conveyed them away in secret, buried them in Salle Church, in Norfolk.”

I have not read this book and the Salle Church does not give any detail of Lancelott’s sources, so it is hard to pass any judgement on this theory but I wonder if he was basing it on the legend from Strickland’s book.

Charles Dickens

I actually didn’t know that Charles Dickens, one of my favourite authors, wrote about Anne Boleyn. Dickens does in fact write about the story of Anne’s body being taken from the Tower to Salle Church in his 1848 “Bentley’s Miscellany”. However, as Salle Church quite rightly points out, Dickens was writing a fictional account for entertainment, he was not saying it was a true story.

Here is the part about Anne Boleyn:-

“[Anne Boleyn] had apprehended that her remains would be indignantly treated – that the rites of sepulture would be withheld from her, and that her grave would be where no memorial would be found of her; and therefore, her appeal to Wyatt, to save her, if possible, to the tomb of her fathers. Her desire had now, however, a prospect of fulfilment – a grave had been opened in Salle Church, which was the ancient burial place of her father’s family; and thither, on the second night after Wyatt’s arrival, the Earl proceeded, accompanied by his guests, ostensibly for the purpose of having midnight masses said for the repose of his daughter’s soul’ his daughter’s remains, however, went with him. They had, under Mary Wyatt’s care, immediately upon their removal from the Tower to her house, been most carefully embalmed, and wrapped in cere-cloth. In that state, and covered with a black velvet pall, she was placed in one of her father’s carriages, into which Wyatt and his sister entered; the Earl proceeding them in another carriage alone.

What the Earl’s thoughts and reflections were during the two hours he was slowly and unobservedly travelling by Aylsham and Cawston, to Salle, it would not be difficult to divine. He had within a month lost a daughter and a son by the hand of the executioner, – that son his only son, – that daughter the queen of England. Her name, besides, had been branded with infamy; and the prime mover of all this misery to him, – the most active agent to work him all this ill, – to bring his son and his daughter to the block was his own son’s wife, the infamous Lady Rochford. There ended all his dreams and ambitions, – all his influence and prosperity. His children beheaded, – his name dishonoured, – himself shunned. He was now alone, it might be said, in the world. One daughter, indeed, yet remained to him, his daughter Mary; but she had two years before incurred the anger of her father by marrying Sir W. Stafford; and he was, in consequence, utterly estranged from her.

The bitter reflections of those two hours, perhaps the better prepared the Earl for the solemn ceremonies that awaited his coming at Salle Church. He alighted there ad midnight. A few faithful servants bore the mangled remains of his daughter to the side of her tomb; but the perilous duty all there were arranged in would not allow of numerous tapers – of a chappele ardent – of a whole choir of priests, or of grand ceremonials. One priest was there, and the few candles that were lighted did no more than just show the gloom in which they were shrouded.

But all that could be done for the murdered queen was done, – mass was said for the repose of her soul – De profundis (Psalm 130) was chanted by those present, – her remains were carefully lowered into the grave, where they now rest, and a black-marble-slab, without either inscription or initials, alone market the spot which contains all that was mortal of Anne Boleyn – once queen of England.”

Thuse ends the evidence as presented by Salle Church and they are not arguing that Anne Boleyn is buried at the church, they are simply asking “what if” and the legend does appeal to those of us who wish Anne had a more suitable burial place and that she was buried with love and with proper Christian rites.

St Mary’s Church, Erwarton, Suffolk

According to legend, Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII often stayed at Erwarton Hall in Suffolk and Anne loved the place so much that she gave instructions that her heart should be buried in the local church. In 1838, during renovations at St Mary’s church, a heart-shaped casket was found set into an alcove in the north aisle. A plaque at the church explains how this casket was reburied beneath the church organ. Legend has it that Sir Philip Parker of Erwarton Hall, Anne’s uncle,* was the one who buried Anne’s heart there. By the way, the local village pub is named “The Queen’s Head”!

St. Mary’s Church, Erwarton, Suffolk

I can’t say that any of these legends make me think that Anne’s body is anywhere but under the floor of St Peter ad Vincula, but I do enjoy a good legend!

Although many people feel that Anne Boleyn’s remains should be exhumed and reinterred in a place more befitting her status as Queen, I personally think that she should left at the Chapel. For one thing, I think it would be nigh impossible to figure our which remains were Anne’s and also I think that the tile on the floor at the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula speaks volumes about her story – the Queen who was executed on the orders of her husband and buried as a traitor and adulteress. Let that tile tell the story of Anne Boleyn to the many tourists who visit the Tower.

*Anne’s uncle was, in fact, Sir Philip Calthorpe of Erwarton.

Sources

37 thoughts on “Where is Anne Boleyn Buried?”

  1. Hannah says:

    Thanks for another great article Claire! I agree with you in that I can’t say I take these legends as fact, but they are very interesting. It makes me smile to think that even today, Anne is still provoking legends, rumors, and mysteries.

  2. emma says:

    Hi just read the article and it is great. In the article you say that we’re not sure where Anne’s body is buried. When I was at The Tower of London not long ago I was talking to a Yeoman Warder about Anne and he told me that her remains are under her memorial tile in the Chapel. Then to my great excitement he let me over the rope to have a moment as we was the only two there.

  3. Claire says:

    It’s Alison Weir (in the Lady in the Tower) who has questioned where Anne was buried because she thinks that the Victorians identified the wrong body as Anne. Whatever the truth of the matter, Anne is under that floor somewhere (unless you believe she’s at Salle Church!) so that memorial tile is doing its job. How wonderful that the Yeoman Warder let you near it, Emma, what a nice chap! I’m so looking forward to visiting the Chapel on the 19th May, I think it will be very moving.

  4. I think it will always be questioned where Anne body is and we will know if the wrong body is under Anne tile (but it be nice to) but i believe Anne is there at the Tower. It was very moving that i had tears in my eyes. He was and he was really good to talk to. Hopefully you might have the chance to when you are there in May. I am hoping to be there that day so i might see you.

  5. Nancy says:

    I frequently attend services at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula when I am in London, and I feel that it is a very appropriate place for Anne’s final resting place. Today it is not a place of horror or even sadness. It is a beautiful little church with a small town feel to it, used mostly by the residents of the Tower and some parishioners who live in the neighborhood of the Tower, with a few tourists mixed in. It is very peaceful now, separated from all of the hustle and bustle of London and even the Tower outside. I attended Christmas Eve services there in 2004, and Easter services there in 1998 and 2007 and it was beautiful. Unlike a large cathedral which tends to feel very impersonal, you felt that you were amongst friends. Even though I only visit there about once a year, when the chaplain sees me he recognizes me and asks if I’m here on my annual visit. I’m hoping that when we’re there in May we get to go over the rope like Emma did and get to see Anne’s memorial plaque – it’s usually hidden under the altar.

  6. Jane says:

    It would be wonderful if DNA could be extracted from the corpses buried at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula and compared with descendants. That may erase the doubts regarding victims, and give closure to the poor souls who lost their lives so long ago. A way of honoring and remembering them, too.

  7. Carol says:

    As a volunteer with Historic Royal Palaces I was priviledged to help out at the carol service held at the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula just before Christmas last year. It was a beautiful service and The Tower of London choir were wonderful. I agree with Nancy There is a very special atmosphere at the chapel.

  8. Jeanette says:

    Does Anne still has descendants to get there DNA to find out which
    corpse is hers
    And will there do it

  9. Jane says:

    When I visited the Tower, which was about ten years ago, I too was allowed a quiet moment alone with Anne, or where I believed her to be. I had taken a tour of the Tower with the last stop being the Chapel. I lingered after the other tourists left and was allowed by the Yoeman Warder who was our guide to place some red roses on the marker near the alter.
    They were very gracious there, and I will be forever grateful for their kindness. It is truly no longer a place of dread, but more a place of reflection and life.

  10. emma says:

    Hi Jane,

    When you were standing there did you get a sense of peace?
    Also DNA can be done but it not easy to do as they would have to first get consent from the crown (the Queen), then they would have to do the same to open the Boleyn grave for it to be done from the bone of her family. There are Boleyn descendants but from Mary so they are not much help. Anne would have her family DNA but she also has the Howard DNA too.

  11. Sheena says:

    Mitochondrial DNA comes from the mother’s side of the family, so if there are descendants of Mary Boleyn or and of the Howards, it would be of help to help with identification. It would have enough Boleyn markers in it to prove it from the Howard markers that would be in Katherine Howard. Katherine’s mitochondial DNA would have markers of the Culpepper family (her mother, Joyce Culpepper) and Howard.

    I wonder how does one petition the monarchy for something like this? If enough people think it is important, and can provide the reasonable doubt to show that neither Anne nor Katherine (or any of the other victims for that matter) are buried under the wrong identifier, I think that they might find it important to partake in righting history in that respect, right? I would want to keep them all buried there at St. Peter ad Vincula, but at least under the correct tile marker.

  12. sylvia says:

    I have been going for years and years, since I was a little girl, when the story of Anne Boleyn was first told to me, to the Tower of London, and around and inside St Peter ad vincula, when a yeoman allowedmeto spend a few moments alone with Anne , over the ropes. I aöways feel close to her there. In the end , it doesn`t really matter if she is really interred there. She was in the Tower and she died there, with courage and dignity and in the end , we know her spirit is there and my prayers will reach her no matter what or where.

  13. This article and comments are fascinating. I visited the tower and chapel in 1970. We were told then by our tour guide that Anne’s body was dug up and reburied along with many others, by the Victorians. Seems the tour information has changed since then!

  14. TRISH WHITE says:

    WHEN I VISITED THE TOWER OF LONDON IN 1999 THE YEOMAN WARDER SAID HER HEAD WAS BURRIED IN THE CHAPEL AND THAT A DOZEN ROSES ARE STILL TO THIS DAY DELIVERED FOR ANNE TO THE CHAPEL ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF HER DEATH. THEY DON’T BY WHO?

  15. Claire says:

    Yes, I think the flowers have been delivered there for over 25 years and the Yeoman Warders always make sure that they are put by Anne’s tile.

  16. Sharon Miner says:

    It really is a shame that Anne can not be properly identified and properly laid to rest. There are so many people that would appreciate that gesture. it is also a shame that monarchs that have come after her have not taken the time to see that she was given the rites of her staus as Queen.
    Claire, all of your articles are so interesting and I am so glad to be a part of this website. I can’t wait to hear about the trip this May. I truly wish i was able to be there with all of you. 🙂

    1. Bobg says:

      I have just joined this group and read your post and I agree with what you say about the interest of the monarchs. There is so much rich history to be uncovered which I am sure would shed light on many historical details.

  17. Annie says:

    I feel that were it true that Anne was spirited away to Salle, wouldn’t her brother’s body have been taken too? Considering it was the traditional site of BOLEYN burial?

    1. bethany.x says:

      That is exactly what I was thinking…

  18. Linda Johnson says:

    Suggest that anyone interested in Her Majesty Anne the Quene (anointed by the Church of England) should read “The Return of Anne Boleyn” by Canon Pakenham Walsh.

    1. Karen Madsen Densford says:

      I, too, have read this book and treasure it. It is currently at the home of a friend in Souldrop who I plan to visit next summer. I have read and re-read the book and will again when we are reunited. I have visited several of the locales noted in the book and plan to visit as many more as I possibly can. I think this book is just marvelous!

  19. Chicky says:

    I don’t know. The Dickens account has a real ring of truth. He was a journalist as well as a novelist, and I’ve been in the news business for 21 years. One story does not truth make. However, when a plausible story is repeated by different, independent sources, it really makes me wonder if there’s not something to it. I suspect Dickens felt the same way, and he does tell a remarkably detailed story.
    In the end, the lack of a definite burial place for Anne only adds to her mystique, which she certainly cultivated during her lifetime. Any woman who found herself in Henry’s amorous clutches is certainly more to be pitied than reviled.

  20. Linda Saether says:

    If Anne had been taken to Salle Church, they would have taken George too! I believe they are both somewhere in St Peter’s ad Vincula.

  21. Bobg says:

    Interesting note by BB Wiffen; but fearing that their mistress might be handled unworthily by inhuman men, they forced themselves to do this duty; and though almost dead, at last carried off her dead body wrapt in a white covering”

    Almost dead strikes a ghastly site. Waiting for the queen to cease all function -if true – must have been a terrible strain on the attendants. The notes being written in 1858 allows for speculation on Wiffen’s part, but I’m sure he is correct to a degree since it was common for the head to be observed having movement for some time following removal. I just wonder if the authors presented above had documentation to rely on that has since been lost or if they simply speculated on what happened. Another mystery with the possibility of uncovering some documentation tucked away on a dusty shelf.
    I also find it interesting that portraits have survived when the victims were considered traitors. It leads me to believe that more documents survive and have yet to be discovered.

    1. Alana Forsyth says:

      bobg,

      I took “though almost dead” to have been meant to apply to the women who carried her away. After all, the next sentence says “”at last carried off her dead body…”

      1. Alana Forsyth says:

        In fact, here’s the complete paragraph: ““Her ladies immediately took up her head and the body. They seemed without souls, they were so languid and extremely weak, but fearing that their mistress might be handled unworthily by inhuman men, they forced themselves to do this duty; and though almost dead, at last carried off her dead body wrapt in a white covering”.”

        1. Christine says:

          It must have been horrendous for them I bet they never got over it, imagine having to carry her poor body and head still bleeding to the chapel, the poor women no arrangements had been made, I would have thought the lieutenant of the tower would have made sure that at least some gentlemen priests would have carried her body for them, had it not been for Anne’s ladies she would have been just lying in the straw, it’s a shame you never heard their account of what happened that day, as they are the only ones who knew were Anne was buried.

  22. Hugh says:

    A definite DNA match could, of course, be obtaned from the remains of her daughter, Elizabeth 1, but that would probably never be sanctioned

  23. Bobg says:

    I see what you are saying and I would hope your interpretation of the passage is correct. I read the passage without metaphor or allegory … literally taking it word for word. I read where she had tucked her dress under her feet so it would not fly up in a revealing manner as she passed into death giving me the impression she had some knowledge of lucid decapitation. It is far more comforting to believe that her passage was peaceful and without spectacle.

    1. Claire says:

      Anne fastened her clothes about her feet when she knelt down to prepare herself for the blow. This would have been a standard action for a woman, to protect her dignity after death. Alana is correct in saying that the description you mentioned was of the ladies, not Anne, they were said to be “bereft of their souls, such was their weakness” as they wrapped her body and head and took it to the chapel for burial.

  24. Bobg says:

    The majority rules and I concede to defeat in this matter. Since she is officially buried at St Peter ad Vincula, I can only wonder as to the reason why others would make a claim that she was moved if in fact she still remains at the Tower. Would there be a motive for making a claim that she was moved to consecrated grounds?

    1. Christine says:

      Anne is in St Peter Ad Vincula somewhere and I do believe she lies under Jane Rochfords memorial, the skeleton the Victorians identified as her doesn’t seem to fit her descriptions very well, she was described as having a square chin whereas Anne’s was pointed, oval faces do have pointed chins, I no because I have an oval face and also the skeleton was small and Anne was said to be rather tall, the age is wrong to, Anne was about thirtyfive ish when she died and yet the report said the skeleton was younger, then again the Victorians didn’t know much, the other skeleton they found fits Anne’s description better, the age and height, as for the extra finger Sir Thomas Wyatt said it was only a little fingernail but legends have woven around it and placed it out of all proportion, the marble slab in Salle was lifted up only recently and found to have no corpse there, so that was legend to, it was far to dangerous to have taken her body to Norfolk I doubt if anyone would have risked it, they would no doubt have been imprisoned in the Tower themselves

  25. Wyatt says:

    I wonder why her daughter, Elizabeth I, didn’t give her a proper burial…

    1. Chrsitine says:

      I think she probably thought it was best to leave her in peace it would only have resurrected all the old rumours about her alleged adultery and Elizabeth’s birth, something which she must have felt quite sensitive about, she had come thru the dark days and become Queen so she had triumphed after all, to suddenly disturb her mothers grave would have no doubt given her some nightmares, she didn’t want to give her catholic subjects anything to blacken her name with, the stain of illegitimacy had haunted her childhood and teenage years, to have her mother exhumed and re buried would have awoken fresh rumours, I think Elizabeth was right in leaving her be.

  26. err no says:

    I think that if the body, and the heart were moved in the 1800’s then why not move it now respectfully and give her a final resting place?

    1. Claire says:

      They weren’t exactly “moved”, her remains (just bones) were exhumed due to restoration work and then placed back where they were dug up. She is buried in a beautiful Chapel Royal under a lovely Victorian memorial tile. It really is a beautiful place to be buried and she’s with her brother and her cousin.

  27. Shelby says:

    Since everyone knows Anne is innocent, shouldn’t England give her the burial she deserves? We all know she did nothing wrong.

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