Queen Anne Boleyn is Executed
In May 1536, Anne was arrested and charged with treason.
Anne was held in the Tower of London. The Constable of the Tower was William Kingston. He had four ladies stay with Anne at all times and they had to report directly to him anything said by the queen. Kingston's diary does tell us that Anne was hysterical when she arrived at the Tower through Traitor's Gate and had to be half-carried to her quarters.
Her actual ‘crime’ was that she had affairs with 5 men including her brother George. There was no proof of this but all six were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. In fact, Anne was unaware of what charges she faced until she actually arrived in the hall at the Tower of London where her trial was to take place. Her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, had to read out the court's finding: guilty of adultery and plotting to kill Henry. The court sentenced her to be burned at the stake or decapitated - the choice lay with Henry.
It is said that while in the Tower, Anne wrote a poem about her impending execution:
Rock me asleep
Bring on my quiet rest
Let pass my very guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast
Ring out the doleful knell
Let it sound
My death tell
For I must die."
However, there is no proof that Anne wrote this poem and it is almost certain that Kingston would have had some knowledge of it as Anne was constantly watched by her female 'guards'.
Anne was executed on May 19th 1536. As a final gesture, Henry gave his permission for Anne to be beheaded by a sword. She was terrified of the axe. Two specialists were brought over from France as no one existed in England who had the necessary skill to carry out the execution cleanly. Her execution was swift and her body was laid to rest in the Chapel of St Vincula at the Tower of London.
She had prayed for exile, to end her days in a nunnery, but now faced a more tragic fate. She met it with bravery and wit. She was brought to the scaffold at 8 o'clock in the morning on 19 May 1536. It was a heretofore unknown spectacle, the first public execution of an English queen. Anne, who had defended herself so ably at her trial, chose her last words carefully: '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.' She was then blindfolded and knelt at the block. She repeated several times, 'To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesu receive my soul.'
Although the evidence against them was unconvincing, the accused were found guilty and condemned to death by their peers, who were under pressure to do so from the king himself. George Boleyn and the other accused men were executed on 17 May 1536. Lord Kingston, the keeper of the Tower, reported Anne seemed very happy and ready to be done with life. The King commuted Anne's sentence from burning to beheading and employed a swordsman from St Omer for the execution, rather than having a queen beheaded with the common axe. They came for Anne on the morning of 19 May to take her to the Tower Green. Anthony Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, wrote:
"This morning she sent for me, that I might be with her at such time as she received the good Lord, to the intent I should hear her speak as touching her innocency alway to be clear. And in the writing of this she sent for me, and at my coming she said, 'Mr. Kingston, I hear I shall not die afore noon, and I am very sorry therefore, for I thought to be dead by this time and past my pain.' I told her it should be no pain, it was so little. And then she said, 'I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck,' and then put her hands about it, laughing heartily. I have seen many men and also women executed, and that they have been in great sorrow, and to my knowledge this lady has much joy in death. Sir, her almoner is continually with her, and had been since two o'clock after midnight."
Shortly before dawn, she called Kingston to hear mass with her, and swore in his presence, on the eternal damnation of her soul, upon the Holy Sacraments, that she had never been unfaithful to the king. She ritually repeated this oath both immediately before and after receiving the body and blood of Christ.
On the morning of Friday 19 May, Anne Boleyn was executed, not upon Tower Green, but rather, a scaffold erected on the north side of the White Tower, in front of what is now the Waterloo Barracks She wore a red petticoat under a loose, dark grey gown of damask trimmed in fur and a mantle of ermine. Accompanied by two female attendants, Anne made her final walk from the Queen's House to the scaffold and she looked "as gay as if she was not going to die". Anne climbed the scaffold and made a short speech to the crowd:
"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."
This is one version of her speech, written by Lancelot de Carles in Paris, a few weeks following her death; he had been in London, but did not witness either trial or execution. All the accounts are similar, and undoubtedly correct to varying degrees. It is thought that she avoided explicitly criticizing the king to save her daughter and family from further repercussions, but even under such pressure did not confess guilt, rather implying her innocence, in her appeal to historians who "will meddle of my cause."
She then knelt upright, in the French style of executions. Her final prayer consisted of her repeating, "To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesus receive my soul." Her ladies removed her headdress and necklaces, and then tied a blindfold over her eyes. According to Eric W. Ives, her executioner was so taken by Anne that he was shaken, and found it difficult to proceed with the execution. In order to distract her, he shouted, "Where is my sword?" just before killing her so that Anne could die thinking she had a few seconds more to live.
The execution was swift and consisted of a single stroke. Cranmer, who was at Lambeth Palace, was reported to have broken down in tears after telling Alexander Ales: "She who has been the Queen of England on earth will today become a Queen in heaven." When the charges were first brought against Anne, Cranmer had expressed his astonishment to Henry and his belief that "she should not be culpable." Still, Cranmer felt vulnerable because of his closeness to the queen. On the night before the execution, he had declared Henry's marriage to Anne to have been void, like Catherine's before her. He made no serious attempt to save Anne's life, although some sources record that he had prepared her for death by hearing her last private confession of sins, in which she had stated her innocence before God. However, on the day of her death a Scottish friend found Cranmer weeping uncontrollably in his London gardens, saying that he was sure that Anne had now gone to Heaven.
Despite the effort put into Anne's execution, Henry failed to have organised any kind of funeral or even provide a proper coffin for her. Her body lay on the scaffold for sometime before a man (believed to be working inside the tower) found an empty arrow chest and placed her head and body inside. She was then buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Her skeleton was identified during renovations of the chapel in the reign of Queen Victoria and Anne's resting place is now marked in the marble floor.