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How Anne Boleyn Lost Her Head

How Anne Boleyn Lost Her Head

In 1536, England’s King Henry VIII accused his second wife Anne Boleyn, who had been crowned queen in 1533, of charges including adultery, incest and conspiracy against the king. At her trial, she was found guilty, and on May 19, 1536 she was taken to Tower Green in London, where she was beheaded by a French swordsman, rather than the standard axe-wielding executioner.

Historians believe the charges against her were false, issued by Henry VIII to remove Boleyn as his wife and enable him to marry his third wife, Jane Seymour, in hopes of producing a male heir.

Who was Anne Boleyn before she became Queen?

Boleyn was a member of Henry VIII’s court, serving as a maid of honor to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, to whom he was married from 1509 to 1533. The king became smitten with Boleyn and pursued her, but she refused to become his mistress.

Anne Boleyn, who came from an aristocratic family, had served in the courts of other European royals. She was educated and skilled at the diversions expected of a charming member of court, such as dancing, singing and the game-like art of flirting. But she also had political functions at court. Like her father, a diplomat, Anne played a role in greeting foreign dignitaries and had some influence on matters of international affairs. In that capacity, she engaged with political leaders, including Thomas Cromwell, a politician who rose to become Henry VIII’s chief minister in 1532.

Anne Boleyn played an important part in English history and the creation of the Church of England.

In order for Henry VIII to marry Anne Boleyn, his marriage to Catherine of Aragon needed to end. The king had found a new favorite in Anne, who he hoped would provide a son. (Catherine had not.) But Anne refused to be his mistress and held out for marriage.

Though divorce was not allowed under the Catholic church, Henry VIII persisted in seeking one. First, he argued to Pope Clement VII that his marriage to Catherine could be annulled because she had been married to his brother Arthur, who died shortly after their marriage. Henry based this argument on a Biblical passage in Leviticus that condemns marriage between a man and his brother’s wife. Therefore, Henry claimed, the Pope who granted the marriage had been wrong do so in the first place.

When Pope Clement VII refused to annul the marriage, Henry VIII took a step that would change the course of world history and religion. With the help and maneuvering of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII broke ties with the Catholic church in Rome, affirming the king’s view that the church should not have power over England’s sovereignty.

The king and Anne Boleyn were secretly married in January 1533, causing Henry and the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, Thomas Cranmer, to be excommunicated from the Catholic church. This in turn led to the establishment of the Church of England, a major step in the Reformation that added England to the list of Protestant nations.

Did Thomas Cromwell lead a conspiracy against Anne Boleyn?

Anne Boleyn fell from Henry VIII’s favor when she failed to give birth to a male heir. In 1533, she bore a female child, who would grow up to be Queen Elizabeth I. But Anne suffered miscarriages and her only male child was stillborn in January 1536.

At that point, Henry decided to make a change. He had been having adulterous relationships with two of the Queen’s maids-of-honor, Madge Shelton and Jane Seymour. The latter was fast gaining the king’s esteem.

Meanwhile, Boleyn and Cromwell were clashing on matters of foreign policy and the king’s finances. Historians are divided on the extent of Cromwell’s motives behind facilitating Boleyn’s demise, but in setting up the charges against her, he was certainly carrying out the king’s wishes.

Cromwell was part of a secret commission, one that included Boleyn’s father, to investigate her wrongdoing. Historians speculate that her father probably tried to warn her of the situation. But there was little she could do. Boleyn was accused of sexual affairs with male members of her court, who in some cases were tortured into making confessions. In addition, she was accused of incest with her own brother and of using sorcery to bewitch the king.

Boleyn was sent to confinement in the Tower of London and her trial took place on May 15, 1536. She was found guilty by a jury that included her own uncle and a former fiancé. By sending Anne to her death, Henry VIII cleared the way to marry Seymour, which he did on May 30, just a few days after Boleyn’s beheading.


10 Shocking Secrets You Didn’t Know About Anne Boleyn’s Grisly Death

BBC

Everybody knows about Henry VIII and his merciless conquest of women unfortunate enough to become his wife. Kids are taught from a young age the rhyme ‘Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’. For most, it’s the only thing they remember about history from primary school.

The most interesting wife he had was Anne Boleyn, and she was the first of his ladies to lose her head. Over the years she was blessed by delightful nicknames such as ‘concubine', 'whore' and 'charlatan', amongst other things (Personal favourite is ‘The Scandal of Christendom’). In essence, she was slut-shamed by people who didn’t like her. Thankfully, civilisation has evolved since those times.

But how did this hatred lead to her death and what went wrong for the woman that had originally turned Henry VIII into a lovesick puppy? Let's attempt to set the scene before her gruesome death: Henry had formed his own church so that he could marry Anne after marriage they had a baby girl but no boy Henry got bored of her and found a new lover. All while this went on, Anne ticked off a lot of people, and she was conveniently found guilty of adultery and lost her head.

Though that scene setting was an insult to Tudor history, it provides all necessary information for you to enjoy this article…


Critics might have lost their heads over Anne Boleyn's same-sex kiss - but the truth about history's bedroom brutality would be too much for today's woke millennials

At last we can all breathe a sigh of relief – a psychological onslaught has just passed through the nation’s living rooms as Jodie Turner-Smith’s exquisite Anne Boleyn finally lost her head.

Who knew the same old story could be cooked up in quite such sensational style? Netflix’s Bridgerton set the bar high. With its raunchy rainbow cast and eye-candy Regency costumes, it dared flaunt our contemporary tastes against a vague idea of the past, but never pretended to be anything other than ridiculous.

Anne Boleyn on the other hand was masquerading as real historical drama, with extra bits added on. Nowadays the past stays the same, but its retelling burns ever brighter. Spinning the truth has taken on a whole new meaning.

As the doyenne of televised history, Lucy Worsley recently told me that TV’s job is ‘to find a way of reflecting the world back at itself’. She gave the example of the Tudors’ most famous king. ‘Many would say: why are you talking about Henry VIII yet again? But every generation creates its own Henry, and the modern Henry VIII is an abuser of women in lots of ways.’

Last year Channel 5 fulfilled that mission by comparing Henry with Trump (oversexed and in charge) and this week the same channel broke new ground with Anne Boleyn in an ambitious feminist retake of our most famous femme fatale.

We were met with Love Island all trussed up in the oak-panelled Tudor period, and the result got people very hot under their velvet collars. Tuesday’s episode set the tone when, 27 years after Brookside broke new ground with that first televised lesbian kiss, it dared suggest Anne Boleyn sized up her rival Jane Seymour with a lingering moment on the lips.

Against the backdrop of Castle Howard in Yorkshire, the two female protagonists – one black and beautiful (Anne), the other white and wistful (Jane Seymour, played by Lola Petticrew) – were filmed in futile foreplay. Henry VIII, history’s favourite anti-hero, held all the cards, of course. Kiss or no kiss, Anne would lose her head.

Purists roll their eyes and claim colour-blind casting and heaving bodices are one thing, but a lesbian smooch is plain fanciful. It’s worth reminding these nay-sayers that although telly tosh, Anne and Jane’s intimate moment is not outside the realms of possibility.

Sixteenth century representations of same sex desire exist and relations between women were sometimes a prelude to heterosexual sex. Today’s ‘flexisexuals’ (girls who kiss girls but like boys) are not so novel after all. Channel 5’s Anne Boleyn is a timely reminder that when it comes to human relations, not much is new. However, things have definitely taken a turn for the better.

Women once walked a terrifying tightrope in a world where sex was not for female fun. Two years into their marriage, Turner-Smith’s Anne was enjoying her seduction scenes with Henry far too much. But then just as she looked nothing like the real Anne, Henry’s actor Mark Stanley was a cuddly pup in comparison with an increasingly corpulent and violent King.

Channel 5’s Cromwell delicately told Anne, ‘your influence lies in your belly, not your brain.’ It’s a message we shouldn’t forget. Petticrew assures us that the new series provided an intimacy coach for the more physically challenging scenes, but there was no such cushioning in Henry VIII’s day.

Anne won her crown (and lost it) the hard way. Here was a woman whose miscarriage cure was having her head chopped off. Hardly light entertainment. Telly has to soft soap the truth with pleasing sex scenes and girl kisses because life back then was far too ‘nasty, brutish and short’ for today’s sensitive young souls.


Anne Boleyn and the Problem of Providential History

On the morning of May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn lost her head. Literally! Convicted of treason and adultery, Anne was sentenced to death by beheading. The execution had been delayed to accommodate the arrival of the executioner, an expert French swordsman. The selection of a skilled executioner was one of the few mercies Henry VIII showed the woman who had once been his obsession.

Anne’s failure to provide a male heir condemned her, as it had her predecessor, to the status of irritating inconvenience in the eyes of her husband. The energetic efforts of Thomas Cromwell, Chief Minister to the king, elevated court rumors to the status of official attainders against five men who were accused of having carnal knowledge of the Queen. The most shocking of these charges was the allegation that Anne had committed incest with her own brother, George Boleyn. Anne was also accused of joking about the king’s death with Henry Norris, Knight of Berkshire and one of Henry’s close friends.

Most historians today generally reject the validity of these charges. Most of them appear to be based on rumor, comments taken out of context, and Anne’s own flirtatious demeanor with her favorites which seemed to go no further than playful banter. Thomas Cromwell utilized Anne’s inconvenience in Henry’s eyes, her general unpopularity with the English people, and the rumors circulating at court to engineer the downfall of his former ally.

Anne was certainly the sort of person who elicited strong responses from both admirers and detractors alike. Her rise to power had come at the expense of Queen Catherine of Aragon, a popular and pious queen. Anne had managed to secure Henry’s affection and to provide him with a second chance to produce a male heir for his throne. The price had been incredibly high. Henry transformed the ecclesiastical and political order of his realm through a series of Parliamentary Acts that made him Supreme Head of the English Church and the primary beneficiary of confiscated monastic wealth.

Recently I engaged in a historical simulation with one of my classes at Dordt College in which we recreated the Reformation Parliament and the circumstances leading to Anne’s execution. As my students channeled the fractious personalities and events of the sixteenth century, I was reminded of the radically different interpretations of Anne Boleyn’s legacy in the sixteenth century.

Her role as a central figure at the beginning of England’s ecclesiastical transformation meant that she was readily adopted as a heroine by Protestant chroniclers such as John Foxe and demonized by Roman Catholic leaders such as Reginald Pole and Stephen Gardiner.

Catholic detractors suggested that she had bewitched Henry with dark magic, an idea that may have originated with Henry himself after her miscarriage in January 1536. Stories circulated that her internal evil was mirrored on the outside by physical deformity, including an extra finger. There is a fascinating and entertaining account of the legends surrounding Anne in Susan Bordo’s excellent book The Creation of Anne Boleyn (Houghton Mifflin, 2013).

After the rise of Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth I, writers attempted to craft a more honorable legacy for their new Queen’s mother. John Foxe praised Anne in his famous Acts and Monuments, more popularly known as the Book of Martyrs. He identified her contribution to the English Reformations through her presentation of Protestant writings to Henry and her promotion of Protestant officials such as Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer. Centuries of historical research have gradually chipped away at some of the more fantastic Catholic legends about Anne while also tempering some of the more heroic images advanced by Protestant writers.

What generally remains after historians have sifted through the ashes is a portrait of an interestingly complex woman who was neither witch nor saint. Historians, both academic and popular, have and will always have a variety of responses to Anne. Generally, they do agree that the worst of Anne is not true and the best of her needs some qualification.

It is true that Anne’s influence probably aided the influence of the Protestant faction at Henry’s court. She was most definitely sympathetic to Protestantism. Her charge to Matthew Parker, her personal confessor and later Elizabeth’s first Archbishop of Canterbury, to care for her daughter may have left a Protestant influence for the future queen. That Protestant influence would be cultivated by Elizabeth’s stepmother, Katherine Parr, and the influence of Protestant tutors such as Roger Ascham. She certainly had a genuine motherly affection for her daughter. And she was probably innocent of the charges that resulted in her execution.

But Anne’s status should definitely read “it’s complicated.” Protestant admirers often overlooked the fact that Anne achieved influence through the employment of what Henry referred to admiringly as her “French ways.” Her path to power was paved with the seduction of another woman’s husband, the displacement and humiliation of Queen Catherine, and the rejection of Henry’s daughter, Mary, by her father. One has to remember when admiring her many good qualities that her dark side could be very dark. She could be explosive and vengeful when things did not go her way. And would we really have it any other way? It is the explosive mix of virtue and vice, calculation and volatility that makes her story so interesting.

Historians often use the disastrous campaign of the Spanish Armada in 1588 as the perfect illustration of why strictly providential history is so problematic. I think the polarized interpretations of figures like Ann Boleyn illustrate the potential pitfalls of providential history as well.

Providential history could be defined as history which operates on the assumption that the interpreter understands divine agency in history and can relate every historical event to their interpretation of God’s plan for the ages. I see this kind of historical interpretation as different from the work that academic historians of faith do. A person can have a faith commitment in their historical studies and a general sense that the will of God or ultimate realities guide historical events in a coherent fashion without necessarily engaging in providential history.

Providential history pushes interpretation of historical events to the point of identifying precisely what God was up to in specific historical circumstances. Mature people of faith know that what God is doing is not always obvious nor does it make sense from a human perspective. What we judge to be evil God may intend for good, and what we judge to be good could have the unintended consequence of promoting evil in human societies. It is hard enough to see the divine plan in our present circumstances. It is just as hard if not harder to discern the hand of divine providence in the past.

Historical interpretation, much like Anne, is complicated. And that is what makes it fun! My students are most engaged in my classes when we move beyond the Joe Friday, “Just the Facts Ma’am” approach to history to actually engaging the interesting questions of historical interpretation. Those questions and issues are the stuff that makes history perennially relevant.


Final wave goodbye

Most recently, research has shown that even after the heart stops beating there is still activity in the brain, it finishes with a final wave of activity that sweeps across the brain occurring minutes after the heart finishes beating, termed “spreading depolarisation”. The activity detected in humans in these studies is large enough to be detected by an electroencephalogram (a device measuring electrical activity in the brain). Studies in other organisms have suggested that even 48-96 hours after death, gene expression and activity is still occurring and in some cases increasing in quantity.

Further research and understanding are needed in humans to truly establish what the activity being detected after death is and how this relates to function and the conscious versus unconscious activity.

The most famous case of surviving decapitation is probably that of Mike. Mike survived being decapitated for 18 months. How, you might ask? Well, it appears the supposedly fatal cut managed to cut at an angle through his brainstem, keeping the parts of his central nervous system that control his basic functions alive. A timely and well-placed blood clot stopped him from bleeding to death.

Did I mention that Mike was a chicken? He was perhaps the longest-lived example of “running around like a headless chicken”. Sadly for humans, this would never be a possibility. Even the bits of the brain that control the most primitive functions are contained within the skull. As much as people might want to believe that Anne Boleyn tried to speak after being decapitated, the story is probably apocryphal.


ExecutedToday.com

Any queen decapitated by her king would of course rate an entry in these grim pages. But this does not quite explain Anne Boleyn‘s enduring appeal, relevance and recognizability for the most casual of modern observers, and her concomitant footprint in popular culture, even with the “Greek tragedy” quality of her life.

Anne stands at the fulcrum of England’s epochal leap into modernity. Whether she was that fulcrum might depend on the reader’s sympathy for the Great Man theory of history, but little more do we injure our headless queen to regard her as the woman for her time and place — the accidental hero (or villain) raised up and thrown down by the tectonic forces of her milieu.

Through Anne was born — for reasons of momentary political arrangements of long-forgotten dynasts, which seems a shockingly parochial proximate cause — the English Reformation, and through the Reformation was born the crown’s decisive triumph over the nobility, the broad middle class nurtured on the spoils of Catholic monasteries, the rising Britannia fit to rule. Most would take as an epitaph historical accidents of such magnitude.

Of course, by those same accidents, Anne was the instrument of thousands of deaths herself, and little did she appear troubled in life by the corpses upon which she ascended the throne.

Her own family maps the change wrought on England. An ancestor was beheaded in the Wars of the Roses, medieval England’s last great breakdown her uncle Thomas Howard was one of the throwback scheming Dukes, mastered by his sovereign to the extent of issuing Anne’s capital sentence from his own lips* the beheaded woman’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, set a recognizably centralized English state on the path of empire.

Fitting tribute that, from the Tower where she met her end** to lands undreamt-of in her time, people still, like Henry, find her captivating.

* Anne’s father also declared for her guilt. Unprincipled as these men undoubtedly were, it cannot have been a pleasant responsibility the question of whether she was actually guilty of adultery-cum-treason, the fatal charge extracted from a supposed lover by torture, has been hotly and inconclusively disputed by posterity.

** With a solemn speech submissive to Henry but not admitting any guilt — in an earlier moment of levity, she had famously remarked of the French swordsman hired to do the job, “I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck.”


The Boleyn family home - Hever Castle in Kent

Video exploring the authorship of "Oh death rock me asleep" by TheBullen1 aka Owen (YouTube)

"Martin Pope discovers whether Anne did write the attributed poem/ song 'O Death Rock Me Asleep' which history would have us believe that Anne wrote on her last night in the Tower of London, prior to her Execution on 19th May 1536. The video includes a very short clip of one of my heroes -- Dr Eric Ives, whose book 'The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn', has become something of a best friend to me! "

Anne's life would soon come to end following the arrest and torture of her musician, Mark Smeaton , sometime in the last week of April, 1536. All accusations were denied (adultery), but he soon confessed under torture. He provided another name, Sir Henry Norris. Henry was arrested on May Day, and being an aristocrat could not be tortured however, he denied any wrongdoing between himself and the Queen. Sir Francis Weston was arrested two days after Norris on the same charges as the two above-mentioned. William Brereton was arrested shortly after Weston. The final man to be arrested on charges of incest and treason was Anne's own brother, George Boleyn . Two other men were arrested and later released  Sir Thomas Wyatt & Sir Richard Page.


Anne was arrested on May 2, 1536 and taken directly to The Tower. On May 12, 1536, four of the men were tried in Westminster. Norris, Brereton, and Weston maintained their innocence. Only Smeaton confessed to the charges he was accused of committing. Anne and George were tried three days later in The Tower. She was accused of incest and adultery with a plan to kill the king and rule with her lovers as Regent for Elizabeth. She was executed for high treason.
(She was not executed for witchcraft).

On May 17, 1536, George and the four other men were executed, and two days later (May 19, 1536), Anne was beheaded. Her body and head were placed into an arrow chest and buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula inside the Tower walls.


Despite the Fact that Ambassador Chapuys was a member of the Aragonese Faction [ see the Tudor Court Politics page ] & there was no love lost between he and Anne, even he did not believe her guilt - 'condemned on the presumption and not evidence, without any witnesses or valid confession'was his conclusion.


Anne Boleyn 's Burial information:

The Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula
("St. Peter in chains") is the parish church of the Tower of London, dating from 1520 and is a Royal Peculiar, a place of worship that falls directly under the jurisdiction of the British monarch, rather than a diocese. The name refers to St. Peter's imprisonment under Herod in Jerusalem. Some of the most famous prisoners have been executed at the Tower. They include both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the 2nd and 5th wives of Henry VIII, along with Lady Jane Grey (who reigned for nine days in 1553). When Sir Thomas More and John Fisher incurred the wrath of King Henry VIII , they too were executed and buried here. Both were later canonised by the Roman Catholic Church.

A full list of all who have been executed can be found on the west wall of the Chapel. The Chapel can be visited during a specific tour within the Tower of London.

The existing building, of typical Tudor design was erected in 1519-20 for King Henry VIII . It is thought that a chapel of some type may have stood in its position since before the Norman conquest.

The Chapel contains many beautiful monuments including a memorial to John Holland, Duke of Exeter, a Constable of the Tower who died 1447. Along with an effigy of Sir Richard Cholmondeley, a Lieutenant of the Tower who died 1521. In the sanctuary, there is a monument to Sir Richard Blount, who died 1564, and his son Sir Michael, died 1610, both Tudor Lieutenants of the Tower, who would have witnessed many of the executions.

A Victorian rendition of Anne and her ladies in waiting in the Tower of London, by Edouard Cib ot, c. 1835

O Death, O Death, rock me asleepe,
Bring me to quiet rest
Let pass my weary guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast.
Toll on, thou passing bell Ring out my doleful knell
Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
For I must die,
There is no remedy.

My pains, my pains, who can express?
Alas, they are so strong!
My dolours will not suffer strength
My life for to prolong.
Toll on, thou passing bell
Ring out my doleful knell
Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
For I must die,
There is no remedy.

Alone, alone in prison strong
I wail my destiny:
Woe worth this cruel hap that I
Must taste this misery!
Toll on, thou passing bell
Ring out my doleful knell
Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
For I must die,
There is no remedy.

Farewell, farewell, my pleasures past!
Welcome, my present pain!
I feel my torment so increase
That life cannot remain.
Cease now, thou passing bell,
Ring out my doleful knoll,
For thou my death dost tell:
Lord, pity thou my soul!
Death doth draw nigh,
Sound dolefully:
For now I die,
I die, I die.


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Due to her education, Anne's duties included greeting foreign dignitaries which meant she had a certain amount of influence on some international issues. In that role she mingled with politicians such as Thomas Cromwell, who in 1532 became the King's chief minister.

/>Hever Castle is a country house and castle built in the 13th century. It was Anne Boleyn's childhood home. Photo / Getty Images

The beginning of the Church of England

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The only way Henry VIII could possibly marry Anne was to end his marriage to Catherine. That was easier said than done because, under the Catholic Church, divorce was out of the question. But that didn't stop the King from trying.

His first attempts involved trying to persuade Pope Clement VII that his marriage should be annulled because Catherine was formerly married to his late brother, Arthur. Henry VIII used a biblical quote from Leviticus, condemning marriage between a man and his brother's wife. Henry reasoned that the marriage was wrong to begin with and so it should be immediately annulled.

The Pope disagreed and refused to annul the marriage. Little did he know what turmoil his refusal would cause. In a risky move that was partly engineered by Cromwell, Henry broke away from the Catholic Church forever. He declared that the church should have no power over England's sovereignty and he secretly married Anne in January 1533.

In doing so, both he and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, were excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

This led to the creation of the Church of England, headed by King Henry. It was a giant step in the Reformation that saw England become one of many Protestant nations. It was a move that angered many Britons who saw Boleyn as playing a role in the change because she was a supporter of England's Protestant reformers even before the Church's steadfast opposition turned her against it.

/>Anne Boleyn wasn't said to be a classic beauty but, still, she managed to captivate the King. Photo / Getty Images

A daughter is born

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In 1533, Anne gave birth to her first child — a daughter named Elizabeth — who would one day be crowned Queen Elizabeth I. This was a shocking disappointment for the King, as a woman had never ruled successfully before. In those days it was out of the question that a woman could have any kind of domination over men.

The King's dream of having a son quickly vanished as Anne suffered several miscarriages. She eventually gave birth to a child, believed to be a son, in January 1536, but he was stillborn.

Meanwhile Henry was busy having affairs with two of his wife's maids-of-honour, Jane Seymour and Madge Shelton. Yet it was Seymour that truly captured the King's attention.

/>Claire Foy played Anne Boleyn in the series, Wolf Hall. Photo / Getty Images

Anne Boleyn's downfall

Elsewhere in the palace, Boleyn and Cromwell were having disagreements on issues of finances and foreign policy. Some historians believe Cromwell was following the King's orders in trying to set up charges against her. What's not disputed is that Cromwell was part of a secret group that was investigating any wrongdoing of Anne's.

Interestingly Anne's own father was in this secret group but some historians believe he might have just been trying to warn her that the King was trying to get rid of her.

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Either way, Boleyn was powerless.

Once she was accused of having affairs with the men in her court (some were said to have been tortured into making confessions) there was nothing she could do to save herself. She was also accused of sleeping with her brother and also using witchcraft to "bewitch" the King.

According to historians, once Boleyn was officially charged on May 7, she was sent to the Tower of London to await her trial on May 15, 1536.

The jury that found her guilty included a former fiance as well as her uncle. Henry showed some mercy to his Queen, allowing her to be executed by a skilled French swordsman, the "hangman of Calais". Having your head removed by a sword was much less horrendous than an axe, due to the latter often taking multiple strikes before the head falls off.

The beheading

As the crowd gathered around Tower Green, 29 year-old Anne Boleyn calmly accepted her fate.

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Around 9am, Boleyn was escorted through the courtyard of the Tower by four devoted servants who moved in a "grim procession" towards the scaffold. Sobbing, the ladies watched as their Queen slowly climbed the steps. The Tower gates were kept open so members of the public could watch about one thousand people came to watch her die.

As Boleyn stood at the scaffold, a Portuguese witness later wrote that a "great murmur rose from the crowd" and "never had the Queen looked so beautiful".

The scaffold was covered in black cloth and straw but there was no block for the execution as Boleyn was to be executed by a skilled swordsman, which meant she only need to kneel for the strike.

Her final wish was to address those that had come to see her last living moments.

There are various eyewitness accounts describing what Boleyn actually said. In fact there are so many conflicting reports about exactly what happened on the execution morning, depending on whether the eyewitness was for or against the Queen.

But this is the most accepted version of Boleyn's speech according to Edward Hall, a member of parliament:

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Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, according to law, for by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I come here only to die, and thus to yield myself humbly to the will of the King, my lord. And if in my life, I did ever offend the King's Grace, surely with my death I do now atone. I come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of what whereof I am accused, as I know full well that aught I say in my defence doth not appertain to you. I pray and beseech you all, good friends, to pray for the life of the King, my sovereign lord and yours, who is one of the best princes on the face of the earth, who has always treated me so well that better could not be, wherefore I submit to death with good will, humbly asking pardon of all the world. If any person will meddle with my cause, I require them to judge the best. Thus I take leave of the world, and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. Oh Lord, have mercy on me! To God I commend my soul!

One witness claimed "the silence was deafening".

Another witness claimed Boleyn was "praying loudly and breathing loudly", as the crowd waited for the sword to strike.

Boleyn turned to her distraught servants, thanked them for their service and asked them to pray for her soul. It's claimed she also forgave the swordsman and handed him a sack of coins as his payment, asking that it be given to the poor.

Then, she was told to kneel and say her final prayers.

Death came quickly the executioner unsheathed his sword, the steel met the Queen's neck, decapitating her in one strike, and her head fell onto the straw.

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The moment her head fell, it was covered by a white sheet and the cannons along the Tower Wharf fired to signal her death to the world — and to the King who wasn't present for his wife's death.

Usually, it's customary for the executioner to hold up the person's head and say, "So perish all the King's enemies!" But there's no recording of this occurring at Boleyn's execution.

Lancelot de Carle, secretary to the French ambassador, wrote that Boleyn "went to the place of execution with an untroubled countenance. Her face and complexion never were so beautiful. She gracefully addressed the people from the scaffold with a voice somewhat overcome by weakness, but which gathered strength as she went on."

Free at last, King Henry married Jane Seymour just ten days after the execution of Boleyn. And, while Queen Jane gave her husband his long-awaited son, who became King Edward VI at the age of nine — it was his daughter with Boleyn who went on to become the most celebrated Tudor monarch of all: Queen Elizabeth I.


How a Queen lost her head: The beheading of Anne Boleyn

As the second wife of England’s King Henry VIII walked towards her executioner, witnesses say she was the most beautiful she’d ever looked.

The six-part series is an adaptation of two of Hilary Mantel's novels, Wolf Hall a fictionalised biography documenting the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court .

The six-part series is an adaptation of two of Hilary Mantel's novels, Wolf Hall a fictionalised biography documenting the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII through to the death of Sir Thomas More, followed by Cromwell's success in freeing the king of his marriage to Anne Boleyn.

Claire Foy playing Anne Boleyn before her beheading. Source:Supplied

As the second wife of England’s King Henry VIII walked towards her executioner, witnesses say she was the most beautiful she’d ever looked.

Wearing a grey damask robe with a hood, the slight, dark haired beauty took what were to be her final steps and soon, her final breath.

It was 483 years ago this month that Anne Boleyn had been accused by her husband of conspiracy against the King, incest and adultery. At her trial, just a week before the execution, she was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Many historians believe the charges against her were entirely fabricated, because the King wanted her dead. With Boleyn out of the way, the King would have the freedom to marry the latest object of his lust the woman who would become his third wife, Jane Seymour.

So what was Anne’s biggest crime?

Since she𠆝 been crowned Queen in 1533, Boleyn had failed to produce a male heir — something that was unacceptable if one was married to the King. So now he had high hopes Jane Seymour would be a better 𠇋reeding horse” for him and give him the son he desperately wanted.

Anne Boleyn Source:Supplied

Before Anne Boleyn was Queen

Anne Boleyn had been a maid of honour to King Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, to whom he was married from 1509 to 1533. But the King, who was known for his wandering eye, fell in love with Boleyn and wanted her to be his mistress. But that wasn’t good enough for Boleyn. She refused to join the line of other mistresses who had been used and tossed aside. Instead, Boleyn made it clear she preferred to wait until she was his Queen.

With dark hair, an olive complexion and a long, slender neck, Boleyn wasn’t said to be a classic beauty but, still, she managed to captivate the King.

Highly intelligent, she was seen as superior to the other maids of honour in Henry VIII’s court because she was educated, as well as being a highly skilled dancer and singer, both important attributes for a potential bride. She𠆝 also been raised in an aristocratic family and spent years serving other European royals.

Due to her education, Anne’s duties included greeting foreign dignitaries which meant she had a certain amount of influence on some international issues. In that role she mingled with politicians such as Thomas Cromwell, who in 1532 became the King’s chief minister.

Hever Castle is a country house and castle built in the 13th century. It was Anne Boleyn's childhood home. Picture: Visit Britain Source:Supplied

The beginning of the Church of England

The only way Henry VIII could possibly marry Anne was to end his marriage to Catherine. That was easier said than done because, under the Catholic Church, divorce was out of the question. But that didn’t stop the King from trying.

His first attempts involved trying to persuade Pope Clement VII that his marriage should be annulled because Catherine was formerly married to his late brother, Arthur. Henry VIII used a biblical quote from Leviticus, condemning marriage between a man and his brother’s wife. Henry reasoned that the marriage was wrong to begin with and so it should be immediately annulled.

The Pope disagreed and refused to annul the marriage. Little did he know what turmoil his refusal would cause. In a risky move that was partly engineered by Cromwell, Henry broke away from the Catholic Church forever. He declared that the church should have no power over England’s sovereignty and he secretly married Anne in January 1533.

In doing so, both he and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, were excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

This led to the creation of the Church of England, headed by King Henry. It was a giant step in the Reformation that saw England become one of many Protestant nations. It was a move that angered many Britons who saw Boleyn as playing a role in the change because she was a supporter of England’s Protestant reformers even before the Church’s steadfast opposition turned her against it.

Anne Boleyn wasn’t said to be a classic beauty but, still, she managed to captivate the King. Source:News Limited

In 1533, Anne gave birth to her first child — a daughter named Elizabeth — who would one day be crowned Queen Elizabeth I. This was a shocking disappointment for the King, as a woman had never ruled successfully before. In those days it was out of the question that a woman could have any kind of domination over men.

The King’s dream of having a son quickly vanished as Anne suffered several miscarriages. She eventually gave birth to a child, believed to be a son, in January 1536, but he was stillborn.

Meanwhile Henry was busy having affairs with two of his wife’s maids-of-honour, Jane Seymour and Madge Shelton. Yet it was Seymour that truly captured the King’s attention.

Claire Foy played Anne Boleyn in the series, Wolf Hall. Source:Supplied

Anne Boleyn’s downfall

Elsewhere in the palace, Boleyn and Cromwell were having disagreements on issues of finances and foreign policy. Some historians believe Cromwell was following the King’s orders in trying to set up charges against her. What’s not disputed is that Cromwell was part of a secret group that was investigating any wrongdoing of Anne’s.

Interestingly Anne’s own father was in this secret group but some historians believe he might have just been trying to warn her that the King was trying to get rid of her.

Either way, Boleyn was powerless.

Once she was accused of having affairs with the men in her court (some were said to have been tortured into making confessions) there was nothing she could do to save herself. She was also accused of sleeping with her brother and also using witchcraft to �witch” the King.

According to historians, once Boleyn was officially charged on May 7, she was sent to the Tower of London to await her trial on May 15, 1536.

The jury that found her guilty included a former fiance as well as her uncle. Henry showed some mercy to his Queen, allowing her to be executed by a skilled French swordsman, the “hangman of Calais”. Having your head removed by a sword was much less horrendous than an axe, due to the latter often taking multiple strikes before the head falls off.

As the crowd gathered around Tower Green, 29 year-old Anne Boleyn calmly accepted her fate.

Around 9am, Boleyn was escorted through the courtyard of the Tower by four devoted servants who moved in a “grim procession” towards the scaffold. Sobbing, the ladies watched as their Queen slowly climbed the steps. The Tower gates were kept open so members of the public could watch about one thousand people came to watch her die.

As Boleyn stood at the scaffold, a Portuguese witness later wrote that a “great murmur rose from the crowd” and “never had the Queen looked so beautiful”.

The scaffold was covered in black cloth and straw but there was no block for the execution as Boleyn was to be executed by a skilled swordsman, which meant she only need to kneel for the strike.

Her final wish was to address those that had come to see her last living moments.

There are various eyewitness accounts describing what Boleyn actually said. In fact there are so many conflicting reports about exactly what happened on the execution morning, depending on whether the eyewitness was for or against the Queen.

But this is the most accepted version of Boleyn’s speech according to Edward Hall, a member of parliament:

Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, according to law, for by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I come here only to die, and thus to yield myself humbly to the will of the King, my lord. And if in my life, I did ever offend the King’s Grace, surely with my death I do now atone. I come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of what whereof I am accused, as I know full well that aught I say in my defence doth not appertain to you. I pray and beseech you all, good friends, to pray for the life of the King, my sovereign lord and yours, who is one of the best princes on the face of the earth, who has always treated me so well that better could not be, wherefore I submit to death with good will, humbly asking pardon of all the world. If any person will meddle with my cause, I require them to judge the best. Thus I take leave of the world, and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. Oh Lord, have mercy on me! To God I commend my soul!

One witness claimed “the silence was deafening”.

Another witness claimed Boleyn was “praying loudly and breathing loudly”, as the crowd waited for the sword to strike.

Boleyn turned to her distraught servants, thanked them for their service and asked them to pray for her soul. It’s claimed she also forgave the swordsman and handed him a sack of coins as his payment, asking that it be given to the poor.

Then, she was told to kneel and say her final prayers.

Death came quickly the executioner unsheathed his sword, the steel met the Queen’s neck, decapitating her in one strike, and her head fell onto the straw.

The moment her head fell, it was covered by a white sheet and the cannons along the Tower Wharf fired to signal her death to the world — and to the King who wasn’t present for his wife’s death.

Usually, it’s customary for the executioner to hold up the person’s head and say, “So perish all the King’s enemies!” But there’s no recording of this occurring at Boleyn’s execution.

Lancelot de Carle, secretary to the French ambassador, wrote that Boleyn “went to the place of execution with an untroubled countenance. Her face and complexion never were so beautiful. She gracefully addressed the people from the scaffold with a voice somewhat overcome by weakness, but which gathered strength as she went on.”

Free at last, King Henry married Jane Seymour just ten days after the execution of Boleyn. And, while Queen Jane gave her husband his long-awaited son, who became King Edward VI at the age of nine — it was his daughter with Boleyn who went on to become the most celebrated Tudor monarch of all: Queen Elizabeth I.

LJ Charleston is a freelance historical journalist. Follow her on Twitter @LJCharleston


The series is set in Anne's final five months prior to her execution by beheading for treason in 1536. [4]

    as Anne Boleyn as Henry VIII as George Boleyn as Thomas Cromwell as Anne Shelton as Jane Seymour
  • Thalissa Teixeira as Madge Shelton
  • Isabella Laughland as Elizabeth Browne as Jane Boleyn
  • Kris Hitchen as the Duke of Norfolk as Henry Norris as Edward Seymour
  • Phoenix Di Sebastiani as Eustace Chapuys as Princess Mary as William Kingston as Thomas Cranmer
No. TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date [5] U.K viewers
(millions)
1"Episode 1"Lynsey MillerEve Hedderwick Turner1 June 2021 ( 2021-06-01 ) 1.3
2"Episode 2"Lynsey MillerEve Hedderwick Turner2 June 2021 ( 2021-06-02 ) 0.93
3"Episode 3"Lynsey MillerEve Hedderwick Turner3 June 2021 ( 2021-06-03 ) 0.88

Development Edit

Ben Frow of Channel 5 first mentioned the project at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in summer 2020. [6] The three-part "convention-defying" series from Fable Pictures was officially announced in October 2020, with Eve Hedderwick Turner as writer and Lynsey Miller as director. Faye Ward and Hannah Farrell of Fable produced and historian Dan Jones executive produced. The series "sets out to examine Anne Boleyn's life through a feminist lens as she struggles to conceive a boy heir and pushback against the society she was born into." [4] [7]

Casting Edit

In October 2020, it was announced with the series that Jodie Turner-Smith would star as Anne Boleyn with Paapa Essiedu, Amanda Burton, Thalissa Teixeira, Barry Ward, and Jamael Westman also set to feature. Mark Stanley joined the cast as Henry VIII in November. [8]

Filming Edit

Principal photography took place in Yorkshire over six weeks, finishing in December 2020. [7] Filming locations included Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, Bolton Castle in Wensleydale, Bolton Abbey in Wharfedale, Oakwell Hall in Birstall, St Michael's Church in Emley, Harewood House in Harewood, and Ripley Castle in Ripley. [9] [10]

The first episode premiered in the UK on Channel 5 on 1 June 2021. Sony Pictures Television is co-financing the project with Channel 5 and will distribute the series internationally. [11]

The Guardian and The Independent both gave the drama 3 stars out 5. Lucy Mangan of the former said the series "works" but criticised its "silly surplus of metaphors" and portrayal of Henry. [12] Adam White of the latter found the show a "soapy romp" but that it made sense for the story being told. [13] Turner-Smith's performance was widely praised. Beth Webb of Empire called the series a "showcase of Jodie Turner-Smith's resilience as a performer" and mentioned how the "small but well-assembled supporting cast elevates her performance". [14]

Audiences had more mixed and polarised reactions. [15] IMDb assigned an average score of 6.9 out of 10 using an "alternate weighting calculation" due to "unusual voting activity" 88% of votes gave the bottom score of 1 out of possible 10. [16] As of June 15, 2021 the show has not been available to be rated at Rotten Tomatoes.


Watch the video: how Anne Boleyns execution actually happened (January 2022).