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.
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.
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.
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