Remembering Anne Boleyn on the 487th anniversary of her death

Originally posted on May 19, 2023.

When Anne Boleyn rose on the morning of 19 May 1536, the fallen Queen was greeted by a chilly, late-spring dawn, the sun oozing its golden luster over the Tower of London. It would be the last sunrise Anne Boleyn ever witnessed on earth. 

The Queen now lived in hourly expectation of her execution – an end she eagerly awaited. Following the firm, regal dignity displayed at her trial, Anne’s behaviour now swung between erratic and poignantly resigned. At times, Anne appeared to crack jokes about her death. At others, she spoke at length about retreating to a nunnery, far from the troubles of misty, dreary London, ‘in hope of life.’

This was not to be.

17th century miniature of Anne Boleyn by John Hoskins

Anne’s execution was held, not on Tower Hill, but on the green inside the Tower – both private, and conveniently located next to the chapel where Anne would then be buried. She walked the short distance, only about fifty yards and slightly uphill, from the Lieutenant’s Lodgings to the scaffold, meeting her fate with gladness. According to one contemporary, Anne received her death as a ‘joyful release’ from her suffering.

The sword which would be used to strike the Queen’s ‘little neck’ was concealed in the straw surrounding the block, soon to be wielded by the elusive Swordsman of Calais, specially dispatched by Henry VIII from across the channel to deliver the fatal blow. Dressed in a modest gable hood, Anne delivered a short farewell address to the crowd. The swordsman, attempting to deter the Queen from looking instinctively backwards, rang out the words ‘bring me the sword!’ to someone standing on the nearby steps. 

Anne Boleyn turned her head to the gruesome sound. In an instant, the deed was done. 

The Queen’s ladies carried her broken body twenty yards to the Chapel of St  Peter ad Vincula, where she remains interred today. 

The Tower of London, where Queen Anne Boleyn met her end

‘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.’

After being blindfolded and kneeling at the block, she repeated several times:

‘To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesu receive my soul.’

Anne Boleyn’s execution speech

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