May 19th, 1536: A Tribute to Anne Boleyn

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I know I’m not supposed to be blogging during my official leave of absence, but as many of you know, today is May 19th, the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution. And I couldn’t pass up this occasion to pay tribute to someone I deeply admire and respect.

All the ladies had stunning hair thanks to Andrea and Jenna!

All the ladies had stunning hair thanks to Andrea and Jenna!

In November 2012, several of my friends and I got together and shot a short film regarding the extraordinary life of Anne Boleyn. The final result was approximately 20 minutes, depicting her life from her time with Margaret of Austria to her execution in 1536. Our budget was literally nothing. My camera is nothing special, and neither is the editing program I used. Everything we used in the film we previously owned or made. The costumes, the set, the weapons (we had swords, axes, arrows, bows…ninja stars…they didn’t make it into the film). Everyone chipped in and contributed (we had some amazing hair stylists and seamstresses), and I think it’s safe to say we all had a blast, and everyone, especially the star of our film, learned a great deal about Anne and what it was like during her final days.

The following clip is short and just a peek at what we accomplished that day.

The beautiful Anne Boleyn, played by the equally beautiful and talented Kenzie.

The beautiful Anne Boleyn, played by the equally beautiful and talented Kenzie.

There are so many things I didn’t include in this 90 seconds — George Boleyn’s execution, Anne’s time with Mary, Queen of France, the birth of Elizabeth. Each person involved in this project is so talented and ridiculously cooperative, enthusiastic, and helpful. I was such a bossy cow of a director it’s a wonder they didn’t kill me before the day was out — and most of them want to make another film this year!

I’ve been pestering Kenzie for years, saying that she shares a startling resemblance to Anne. When I asked her if she would like to play Anne in a film, she sort of laughed and sighed and said, “Do I really have a choice?” She was remarkable; she did everything I threw at her and then some. She brought Anne Boleyn to life, and I personally think she did a marvelous job.

So here it is. In memory of Anne Boleyn, Queen of England. May 19th, 1536.

Thanks to Kenzie, Greg, Maggie, Andrea, Sam, Devin, Zozie, Jenna, Emily, Melinda, Tim, and Joan for their cooperation, assistance, talent, and patience. I love you all!

For last year’s tribute to Anne Boleyn, click here.

The day has come: 19 May 1536

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Anne Boleyn prayed through the night of 18th/19th May 1536, preparing herself for her final walk — from the Queen’s Lodgings-turned-prison to the scaffold built only days before.

When the time came, the clever, dark-haired woman was ready. Aided by four young ladies, Anne climbed the scaffold steps, dressed, as always, for the occasion: grey damask gown lined with fur, red kirtle, ermine mantle and an English gable hood. Her choice of wardrobe has always fascinated, for her apparel was both bold and ironic, which Anne had been all her life. Red was the colour associated with Catholic martyrdom — essentially declaring herself innocent — and ermine was used to distinguish her royal rank (despite the fact that her marriage to Henry had been declared null and void two days earlier). Her choice of an English hood is also notable for a woman who favoured the more flattering French hood; she wanted to die an English queen, to be a woman of the people, which, frankly, she had never been.

Standing at the edge of the scaffold, she addressed the crowd in the etiquette that all executed are expected to give:

Good Christian people, I have not come here to preach a sermon; I have come here 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 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 a sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take leave of the world, and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.

The mother of a two-year-old girl removed her mantle and hood, shook loose her glorious, long, dark hair — said to be her most striking feature, along with her black eyes — and tucked it into a simple white cap. She had no almoner or priest with her on the scaffold, and no Biblical reading was made, but it can be sure that Anne reverently clung to these in her mind. Her only sign of nervousness was continually looking behind her at the executioner, to make sure that she wouldn’t die before she was ready.  

She bade farewell and thanks to her young ladies, who wept, and knelt, praying out loud all the while, “Jesu receive my soul; O Lord God have pity on my soul.” Some accounts say she was blindfolded, for the executioner was perturbed by her piercing stare.

Still glancing around and praying, the extraordinary life of Anne Boleyn ended suddenly, her lips still moving.

Her ladies collected the head and body of their mistress and carried her to the chapel of St. Peter, where she was placed in a an elm chest  that had contained bow staves. Her beautiful clothes were taken, and the former queen was buried in an unmarked grave near the head and body of her brother.

In 1559, the Scotsman Alexander Aless recounted his own experience on the 19th May 1536 to Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth I. Aless, not leaving his home for several days, had heard nothing of Anne’s trial or execution, and after a particularly graphic dream on the night of 18th/19th May in which the queen’s head had been cut off, he paid a visit to Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer asked Aless, “Do you not know what is to happen today?” Aless answered that he knew nothing of the queen’s fate as he had little cause to leave his home for several days.

The Archbishop raised his eyes and said, “She who has been the Queen of England on Earth will today become a queen in Heaven.” Unable to say any more, Cranmer burst into tears.

The impact that Anne had on those around her — positive or negative — speaks of how unconventional she was for her times, her support and involvement in the religious reform, her arguments and reasonings with the King of England, even her French mannerisms and fashions. She was unique and strong in her opinions, even too strong, and it was her demanding personality that both gave and removed Henry’s love for her.

It is on this day that Anne is remembered on the deepest and most emotional level, though for those involved in the online Tudor communities, she is a daily and inspirational part of our lives.

Rest in peace, Anne.

Further Reading:

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Back in October, I wrote a short poem regarding Anne and her last days and moments. I remind you that this is my work and that it is not to be re-created in any form without my permission. Feel free to link it to your own blog or FB page.

The bell tolls,

The head rolls

From the bloody scaffold.

The axe is cleaned

— Oh, how the steel sheens! –

And it rises and falls again.

For the next three men

It falls again,

Dying in service to me.

 

Two tears slip,

A steady drip,

From the eyes that enchanted a king.

Turn from the window,

Ladies bowed low,

Praying for my brother and friends.

I kiss them sweet

On both pale cheeks, and join them in prayer on my knees.

Two days hence

The swordsman French

Arrives to release me from this Tower.

 

My ladies help me dress

In my very best,

A gown of gray damask and ermine;

For if a queen must die,

She must be a sight for eyes,

On this most joyful nineteenth of May.

Forth I shall be free,

Soon they will see

The mistake they made in condemning me.

Ladies four,

Assist me once more –

Don’t cry, ‘tis not a sad day.

I am ready, eager

— Though soon to be meagre –

To meet this man from Calais.

 

I admit to be scared:

Oh, neck, beware!

Hence Anne Bullen will be no more.

Eyes dry –

No need to cry –

I sink to my knees on the scaffold.

Praying aloud,

Glancing around –

And silver flashes and neck is cleaved.

O, the bell tolls,

My head rolls

Gently in the straw on the scaffold.

Anne Boleyn. c1501 – 19 May 1536

Marie R

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Wednesday February 8, 1587 – the execution  of Mary Queen of Scots in Fotheringhay.

Mary Queen of Scots

 

It took two swings of the axe, which was then used as a saw, to separate the forty-four-year-old Scottish queen from her head. The story of Mary is a sad one, as she heads off a month littered with the anniversaries of queenly executions — no pun intended.

Queen of Scotland at only six days old, raised in France (she signed herself ‘Marie R’), Dauphiness and then Queen consort of France at fifteen and sixteen, widowed for the first time at eighteen, Mary Stewart/Stuart is ‘One of the most romantic and controversial figures of British history.’

After her execution following a nineteen-year imprisonment by her English cousin Elizabeth I, the following account is re-told by historian Antonia Fraser on page 541 of her book Mary Queen of Scots (1969):

It was now time for the executioners to strip the  body of its remaining adornments before handing it over to the embalmers. But at this point a strange and pathetic memorial to that devotion which Mary Stuart had always aroused in those who knew her intimately was discovered: her little lap dog, a Skye terrier, who had managed to accompany her into the hall under her long skirts, where her servants had been turned away, had now crept out from beneath her petticoat, and in its distress had stationed itself piteously beneath the severed head and shoulders of the body.

While I don’t know that much about Mary compared to some other women of the sixteenth century, I still find her story incredibly tragic and my heart goes out to her. She died with dignity and grace and maintained her faith till the very end.

Further reading about this Scottish queen: