Henry and Anne

On the 19th May, 1536, at 8:00 am, Anne Boleyn was executed.

The second wife of notorious love rat Henry VIII, Anne spent her younger years observing the promiscuous French Court, before returning to England to dazzle the English nobility and more importantly, King Henry, with her wit, Continental sophistication and outstanding education,Their love letters have been saved for us to read to this day (link http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/resources/anne-boleyn-words/henry-viiis-love-letters-to-anne-boleyn/ )

This forbidden romance changed the face of Christendom forever.

Anne refused to become Henry’s mistress as her sister Mary had done years before; thus, Henry looked to get rid of his wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon. After being denied an annulment by the Pope of Rome, Henry took measures into his own hands, creating the Church of England – whereby the King received the word of God directly, without needing the approval of Rome.

Henry secretly married Anne sometime in early 1533, and her coronation took place on 1st June that same year. It is believed that Anne was already pregnant at this point, later giving birth to the Princess Elizabeth. This happy period did not last long, as after a miscarriage and a stillborn baby, Anne was unable to produce a living male heir.

Henry became resentful of Anne, having changed the religion of an entire country just to have her. Anne’s enemies took full advantage – in particular Cromwell, and the Seymour family, who all had reasons for wanting Anne out of the picture.

In April 1536, Anne was accused of adultery with court musician Mark Smeaton, who was tortured into a confession, along with Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, and later the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt (who would go on to write the famous poem ‘Whoso List to Hunt’ about Henry’s obsessive quest for Anne). Even worse than this, following the questioning of Lady Jane Rochford, Anne was accused of adultery with her own brother, George. Some even accused her of plotting to kill the King, creating rumours of witchcraft to ensnare the King, claiming that she had black marks upon her body, and a sixth finger upon one hand.

Weston, Brereton, Smeaton, Norris were all charged with adultery with the Queen, and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. George and Anne were also found guilty to be burnt at the stake (as punishment for incest), or beheaded at the king’s discretion. Henry summoned a French swordsman to do the job.

Anne, between hysterical tears and obsessive planning, requested a block to her room in the tower to practise her final steps, and is famously quoted as saying ‘I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck’. Anne went to the block on Tower Green and delivered a marvellous speech before her life was ended by one swing of a sword:

“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.”

Anne’s remains were laid to rest in an arrow chest, in an umarked grave in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in Tower Green: a common burial for the woman that changed the face of Christianity.

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Sarah Ashbridge

Office monkey by day, forensic archaeologist by night, Sarah Ashbridge is a jack-of-all-trades and the master of one: the forensic identification the War Dead. She trained originally as an Egyptologist, but interests in the history of death and burial saw her make the step into archaeology, completing an MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Investigation at the University of Bradford. Armed with an ever-increasing library of books, a handful of illustration pens and a brand new trowel, Sarah writes our regular #WWWednesday column, working towards her PhD in Forensic Archaeology.

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