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18 May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn prepares to die – The Fall of Anne Boleyn

Posted By on May 18, 2019

Queen Anne Boleyn’s execution was scheduled to take place on 18th May 1536 so Anne prepared herself for death.

How did Anne prepare herself?

Why was her execution postponed?

What exactly happened on this day in 1536?

I explain everything in today’s Fall of Anne Boleyn video.

I’m doing these “Fall of Anne Boleyn” videos daily until 19th May and I started on 24th April. You can catch up with them on the Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor Society Youtube Channel.

You can find out more about my book The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown at http://getbook.at/fallanneboleyn.

29 thoughts on “18 May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn prepares to die – The Fall of Anne Boleyn”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    Interesting that that they were concerned about foreign witnesses Was this out of concern for Anne’s dignity or because what they were about to do was suspect?

    Her line about having a ‘little neck’ always chokes me up. It seems that’s when the reality of what is about to happen sinks in.

    The delay is just one last cruelty in s long line cruelties. This wait must have been unbearable.

  2. Christine says:

    Anne was not treated well at all, what I find cruel of the King is that she was not allowed her friends company which would have helped her doleful state of mind I’m sure, to be surrounded by women she had never liked seems an act of pettiness, which she herself commented on, as Michael remarks it was just another cruel act, she had been moved to the Tower and had only time to gather her belongings, she was not allowed to see her daughter, she was in unpleasant company, had to endure a harrowing trial and then told she was to be put to death, either by burning or decapitation, she had also had to agree to the anullment of her marriage and now this must have seemed like the last straw for Anne, she had prepared herself to die on this day only to be told it was postponed to the following day, how she got through those last twenty four hours I will never know, she remarked to Kingston that she had hoped by this time she would be dead and past her pain, she then quite likely gave into hysteria and made a remark about her little neck, ‘I shall be known as Queen Lack head’ she giggled, she was correct however as she was to go down in history as the most famous of all Henry V111’s queens, the queen who lost her head and whose story the beefeaters regale in horrific detail to curious onlookers hundreds of years later, Kingston told her the pain would be little, she was lucky we know and Anne must have thought this that she had a French swordsman, highly skilled unlike the clumsy English axe, we do not know if Anne requested him or whether Henry decided as an act of unusual clemency to let her die by the sword but I think it was possibly Anne who had asked Henry for this one last gift he could give her, harrowing though it seems, she had been brought up in France and would have heard of the quick and painless deaths by the sword, it would have only been natural for Anne to have wanted that, and Henry knowing she was about to die in an act of remorse possibly granted her that last wish, it was also a request made years later by her daughter the Lady Elizabeth when, being inprisoned in the Tower like her mother before her, she declared she would have only a French sword if she were to die, Anne after being told the tortuous news of her postponed execution, then had to go through the whole day as much before, spending it in prayer with her almoner, she may have seen the dead corpses of the men pass by in the wagon the day before and she must have wept, she may not have been able to put it out of her mind, her brother was lying in his grave in the little church of St. Peter and soon she would join him, he was spared the final indignity of his head being displayed on London Bridge likewise his fellow victims, another unusual act by the King and which leads one to suspect he knew they were not guilty for which they died, for traitors who had dared to look upon the naked body of his wife the queen, who had indulged their lusts with her, Henry was showing remarkable restraint, and now his hated queen the whore who he proclaimed must have slept with a hundred men, was about to die by the graceful hand of the French executioner, it was as if he was saying we all know your innocent so I will make it as painless for you, and even the lowly Mark Smeaton did not suffer like low born traitors did, but it is believed that his death was in reward for his confession which had brought the queen down, Anne must have summoned all her strength of will and prepared herself to meet her death bravely the next day, what must it have been like for her alone in her splendid apartments which were her prison, and where she had stayed in pomp and glory merely three years earlier, knowing after the next day she would never see the sun rise again, she would never hear the birdsong or see another dusk, but she believed that her soul would be in heaven and therefore at peace.

    1. Michael Wright says:

      Henry certainly was petty but my own suspicious mind tells me that denying her the chance to see her friends also had to do with security. The king and Cromwell could not take the chance of doubt about her guilt leaving the tower. Though she would not be alone with anybody the risk was too great.

      1. Christine says:

        I should think the security was stepped up ten fold when Anne was in there Michael, the women were chosen I think as they were informed to spy on her and they would be more reliable as the king knew there was no love lost between them and his wife, though it does seem cruel to us I can see it from his point of view, he didn’t want her friends in the Tower as he probably would not get much information out of them, poor poor Anne, she had known such glory and now she was in prison preparing for her death all because she had failed to give the king a son.

        1. Michael Wright says:

          I’m not referring to physical security. I’m talking about information getting out by word of mouth that this was a set up. Anne could not he allowed to talk to anyone.

        2. Christine says:

          Yes I know but Anne was not stupid Michael I’m sure she had worked that out for herself, at least she had no awful example in her mind the way young Catherine Howard had, a queen executed had never happened before, and she could not have believed that the death sentence read out to her would actually take place, now with Catherine she had that dreadful example in her mind so no wonder she was hysterical.

    2. Anyanka says:

      The headsman was ordered before the trial had taken place.

    3. Roxanne says:

      My question is, did King Henry ever find out she was innocent of the crimes, as well as the 5 men who were executed?

      1. Claire says:

        I would say that he didn’t have to find out, he knew full well. You only have to consider his very different behaviour in 1536 and 1541. He was shocked when allegations were made against Catherine Howard and when they were proved true, he wept in front of his council, called for a sword to kill her himself, and was distraught. In 1536, he spent his time gallivanting with ladies on the Thames.

  3. Banditqueen says:

    Actually there are two reasons the execution was delayed, Cromwell wanted to clear the yard and area around the Tower precincts of foreigners, many of whom probably worked there as it was almost a small working town as well as a palace, fortress, prison and mint and the heads man of Calais had not arrived. He was delayed on the way. It was rather remiss not to inform Anne because she prepared herself by praying all night, by taking Mass and by confession and dressing for her execution. Her hair was carefully arranged, she put on a damask and dark velvet gown, her ladies had spent time to dress her and she had become accustomed to the idea of death and was very much prepared in her mind, her soul and her demeanour. She had made her peace and was anxious to be gone and “past her pain”. Now she feared her spirits would falter.

    It was not cruelty however to not allow friends to visit her. It was pretty much standard practice. She was allowed spiritual comfort and sometimes family members came or a wife or husband with special dispensation but Anne was a condemned traitor, no longer legally a person. We need to understand this before we condemn Henry and Cromwell for not allowing people who might be contaminated to visit her. We can’t get mushy about sixteenth century ideology and we have to understand that Anne was thought of as dead already from the moment she was found guilty and condemned with the axe towards her. Yes, it was cruel but it wasn’t personal, it was standard thinking and as a condemned traitor she had no rights as a person. She was only allowed to prepare her soul for death and make her farewells by letter or to have certain special requests such as the discharge of her few processions allowed or her debts to be paid. Remember even More had to say goodbye by letter. His family only visited because it was thought they could turn his mind towards the oath. Henry also could not take any chances of something going wrong and foreigners would certainly report what they saw and heard from their own perspective. It didn’t work all that well as someone left a gate open and some people sneaked back inside. Over 1000 people witnessed her execution the next day.

    Anne was now torn between wanting to be gone and trying to stay composed and she was joking with her ladies and she joked with William Kingston about having a little neck. She was very much ready to go, to face her Maker, she had discharged her conscience and now was ready to make a good death as a Christian and having received absolution. Waiting around she was upset about the reason for the delay but Kingston had his orders. Thomas Cranmer came and heard her last confession and before she took Holy Communion or the Blessed Sacrament she was asked if she had anything to say. She declared before witnesses, asking Kingston to remain and report her words to the world. She declared before and after taking the Body and Blood of the Lord (bread and wine) that she was innocent of betraying the King in any way with her body. This was mind blowing and she was declaring her innocence on the most sacred sacrament of her faith. She was swearing here on the risk of her immortal soul and everyone present was aware that she must be speaking the truth because she was about to face Divine Judgment and would be risking an eternity separated from God if she lied under such holy circumstances. Her words were conveyed back to Cromwell and to the King but it made no difference. Anne was still going to die.

    Anne must now undress and change her clothes and prepare herself again with prayer and final conversations with ladies who were the spies of Kingston and Cromwell but whom she may have won over and she even comforted them. Some of these women would accompany her in the morning and have the terrible responsibility of carrying her body for burial. Anne was sombre and took a morbid delight in her doom but she was ready to go. I don’t believe she hoped for any reprieve at this point despite speculation to the contrary. I believe she knew this was the end and didn’t want to appear afraid. Yet, this poor lady had one more night of worry and concern and small talk with women she hated. She was nervous but she did her best to talk of other things, her time at the Court of Marguerite of Austria in the Netherlands, perhaps and the time in France, her childhood, her now lost brother and she was prepared and dignified the next day when her time finally came. And yet one cannot but feel compassionate and desperate for Anne, wanting to rescue her. The delay was heart rendering, if necessary because things were not ready, but Anne was kept waiting for news which was unfair. She could have been told after Mass. The poor woman had been up all night, instead of resting and now she must repeat her last night over again. She made the best of it and again she prepared and prayed and distribution of alms was arranged. I just want to swing in through a window in my Tardis and rescue her but I would probably crack the universe or something, so I will remember her in reflection today. She must have gone through many emotions, fear, hope, desperate thoughts and comfortable hope in the next life, grief over her brother and family and her life may have gone through her mind, she was in prayer and in her past with the children they had all been together, she prayed for the souls of the men who had gone before and hoped in mercy and justice from a higher power, she felt peace, she joked and she felt delightful anticipation but also she feared the pain, although she was comforted about the skill of the swordsman; she may have wondered how the crowd outside world greet her, would they be hostile or show pity towards her?; and finally, she may well have thought about the little daughter she left behind. It is very hard for us to imagine what it was like to prepare for death on the scaffold in front of a potentially braying crowd. Thankfully in Britain we abolished the death penalty 55 years ago or thereabouts. I have to admit I was pro death penalty for a long time, in certain cases, not all but seriously we don’t have a perfect justice system even now and mistakes happen, even with DNA which can be cloned. Yes folks we can extract RNA from a person and manipulate it to leave their DNA stamp on a dead body, reading as they killed them. There are certain things we can do to look for other forensic proofs of course and clever stuff with DNA to distinguish markers but people have been wrongly convicted because older DNA testing was flawed. The nitro test for making bombs is flawed because nitro on your fingers can be found from several innocent things. I don’t want to seem soft on murders, I would love to see some really evil people executed but if you kill an innocent person, you can’t undo it and too many innocent people or people with diminished mental capacity are executed. Our society in Tudor times had the death penalty for numerous crimes, heresy, using magic to kill and maim, petty treason, against ones husband, high treason against the state, stealing items above a certain value, putting low value silver into coins or minting coins with low grade metal, for begging without a licence (third offence) and so on and in the eighteenth century over 200 offences brought the death penalty. It must be frightening for any individual about to step out before a lot of curious people, most of whom are hostile. Anne had a private execution and was still facing a thousand people. The members of the Council and the good and the great of London were there. She kept her dignity and outward calm but her heart and mind must have been racing wondering at how she would be received and remembered.

    At least we can remember her with balanced minds and that she was innocent. Her last confession was proof of her innocence more than anything else and caused people to comment and question. She wasn’t the world’s most saintly person in the world, she was a flawed and sinful human being as we all are, she had her moments, but she also had good points. She promoted education and was naturally interested in charity and social and religious change. She was fair when people asked her for help, actually refused someone who asked but turned out to be a fraud and a criminal. She had an international education and promoted the Renaissance and was interested in the French style reforming scholars. She wasn’t a Lutheran although she encouraged the Bible and works from Germany as well as France. She is rightly criticized for supporting the mistreatment of Mary and Katherine, but then so should Henry be as he went much further and continued to threaten his daughter after Anne’s execution. Whatever her flaws, we have an absolute duty of care to her character as historians to root out from original sources and to portray Anne with as much fairness and balance as possible. This may not be always possible because many main sources are hostile and support Katherine or Mary and we have to look for support elsewhere. We have more positive information from people who knew her well, her chaplain and family members, neutral chronicles, love letters and poetry and a set of petition letters from women she had helped. Anne’s after life has an interesting reputation and has swung back and forth over five centuries. The immediate reaction to her death actually brought a number of sympathetic responses from the international community and even Chapuys didn’t believe the charges against her. Historians haven’t always been either neutral or kind. More recent scholarship has tried to present the real Anne Boleyn but fictional drama and novels do her a great disservice. The Other Boleyn Girl, the worst portrait of Anne possible didn’t help her cause, raising again matters long proven to be nonsense and having her try to get a son by sleeping with her own brother. A rather naive public believe this rubbish. It’s fictional people, fiction. Anne of 1000 Days may not always be factual but at least Anne doesn’t come off too bad. A recent play by Benton shows Anne in a good light and emphasises her interest in reforms. The Tudors didn’t know what to do with her and showed a sex crazed and party girl with little to offer but unbridled ambitious hatred for Katherine. Season two had more input from Natalie Dormer who wasn’t happy about how her character was portrayed. Her queenship was well balanced, her interest in theology highlighted and her triumphant and her bad days brought out beautifully. Her quarrel with Cromwell, her desire to use the money from the monasteries wisely and her attempts to reach out to Mary who would not recognise her were all shown. We saw the turbulent reality of her relationship with Henry and the loss of unborn children. We saw her trying to cope with his infidelity and him rebuke her. We saw her growing isolation after the loss of their son and her growing danger as well as periods of emotional instability. Her last days and her preparation for death and finally her execution were shown beautifully and with great sensitivity. It was very moving her final scenes as her thoughts turned to being a child in Hever.

    Now we wait with her again on this her anniversary and pray for her to find peace and her reputation to be restored. RIP Queen Anne Boleyn. YNWA

    1. Christine says:

      Very well said Bq, we have to try to give a balanced view of these much maligned historical figures, particularly Anne who has often been blasted for encouraging Henrys treatment of his first queen and daughter, Anne saw Mary as a disobedient unruly step daughter and many second wives have had a problem with those, Henry V111 was absolute King of his domain he did not let anyone tell him how to treat any of his children, I thought the execution scene was beautiful and haunting in The Tudors, and like in the film as she knelt in the straw she must have turned her mind to happier times, shut out the misery forget everything and just think of the days when she was young and carefree, in a second it would all be over, tomorrow we will remember her as an innocent queen whose blood was shed and of the baby daughter sleeping safely in her cradle, blissfully unaware of what was happening to her mother.

    2. Michael Wright says:

      Thank you for reiterating that this is the 16th century. The justice system was so different then and I just don’t think that way. I have to remember that everything was weighted in favor of the crown back then

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Thank you Michael and Christine, yes Henry was in total control and he certainly told Chapuys and later Jane Seymour when they tried to influence how he treated Mary i.e. restoring her to favour and the succession, what he thought and was determined to have obedience, even from his beloved daughter. Anne did see Mary as a disobedient step daughter, that is true, who refused her as Queen, for which you can’t really blame her. Katherine was her mother, the true Queen and she knew no other. Mary was very shocked that her father allowed some of Anne’s actions and demanded her total submission before he took her back into favour. Anne has been unfairly maligned, it is true and we have to as you say try to balance that out.

        All poor Anne could do was pray and put her soul in the hands of a merciful Lord and her faith and her thoughts were of that and her happiness and her hope of salvation.

  4. Michael Wright says:

    Hi Christine. I don’t know if we’re talking about the the same thing. I’m talking about this whole mess being a setup getting to the outside world. I’m sure Anne and the other five figured that out pretty quickly. The concern I was talking about was that it seems Henry and Cromwell assumed (wrongly) that they had covered their tracks pretty well and wanted to keep it that way. After reading BQ’s post however about no visitors being pretty normal for traitors I’m dropping this conspiracy theory. Anyway, that’s the security I was referring to.

    1. Christine says:

      Ok yes that’s fine Michael, I was not concentrating that well as have got a rotton cold should be resting really but I like to keep my mind active.

      1. Michael Wright says:

        I hope you get over it soon. Nothing is fun when you’re fighting a cold.

        1. Christine says:

          Thank you Michael this ones quite nasty, I’m shivering as well I hope everyone else keeps ok.

        2. Banditqueen says:

          Keep well, Christine, have some hot lemonade and brandy or whiskey or rum or hot lemon with paracetamol and whisky and honey and go to bed. Take care and drink plenty of liquids. Menthol is good for clearing the head. Hope you are feeling well soon.

  5. Globerose says:

    Oh yes BQ, thank you for the eulogy and for acknowledging our seemingly common desire, every year, in early May, when nature returns at her most verdant lush, birds sing and the sap has risen and flowers begin to bloom, and we want to “rescue” the Lady from her tower of grief – not perhaps literally so much as rescue her reputation, establish her definitively as a Queen of Thorns, pierced through with tarnishing lies and vulgar accusations, yet innocent of it all, a martyr to Henry’s crown.
    That she is, for all of us, a human being, strong and vulnerable, full of flaws and faults, even a woman most of us wouldn’t want as a friend or relative, but still a woman who fell in a bloody coup, which shocked, and still shocks, to this day.
    I hope vaguely, because I don’t get ‘faith’ or how people are able to ‘believe’, that Anne was able to pass from a state of hysteria and fright into a more serene place in her head, that she could come to terms with the death that would rock her to sleep, and be able to see that death as a gateway to a better place…………………..

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Thank you, Globerose that was lovely. I just hope she found some inner strength and was fortified by that, maybe thinking of times when things were better. It must have been a real struggle and I feel bad for her, even from this distance of time.

      1. Christine says:

        Thanks Bq I caught it of the decorator he’s wallpapering my lounge, he’s spluttering away downstairs and I’m spluttering away upstairs, got some lucozade and paracetamol and just resting.

  6. Jean North says:

    Queen Anne’s (Yes I know she had been stripped of her title) last night on this earth must have been full of mixed emotions, above all her innocence and that of the already deceased accused men who were murdered yesterday. She must have thought of Elizabeth, her parents and Henry.
    We can only imagine what she must have felt like……I’m not trying to belittle her feelings in ANY way because I have always been fascinated by her and The Tudor period in history from a very young age but I get scared when I go to the dentist, I would NEVER have been as brave as Queen Anne Boleyn.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Hi Jean, no I don’t think I could be either and I think I would be stuffing convention on the scaffold and saying why I am really being killed but of course, they knew what was expected and I suspect she thought of her daughter as well. She died with dignity bless her.

      1. Jean North says:

        Thank you for your reply Bandit Queen, I’ve only just started commenting on this wonderful site and it’s lovely to be with people who love Queen Anne as much as I. I’m now 67 but have loved Queen Anne since I first her of her when I was 7years old. My parents took me to places connected with the period and now I drag my husband around them! My children and grandchildren have all been taken to these wonderful places and when I was working in school I passed my love of the period onto the pupils. I dressed in period costume on one occasion to relay the happenings of King Henry’s court.
        When I visited Hampton Court last there were a group of actors celebrating Katherine Perry’s marriage to the King. I wore my Anne Boleyn charm bracelet and it was noticed by one of the actors who threatened to tell the King of my unseemly behaviour! We had really good fun and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’m not so sure what my grandchildren thought of their Nan being berated by a servant of the King. It was great. Jean.

        1. Banditqueen says:

          It’s a marvellous place, Jean, especially with the re enactments, the wedding of Katherine Parr and Henry Viii in his wine cellar or the costumed guides, the wonderful tapestries, its a lovely place, definitely Henry’s pad. Thanks for your kind comments.

  7. Globerose says:

    What we moderns are feeling perhaps is … why didn’t she faint, or duck, flinch or cower, with that ever so sharp sword at her neck? Could I, or you, in her place, be queen enough to remain upright and not suffer a collapse? Some of us maybe could, and some others of us maybe not and I would be one of those. I believe that what I see in this oh so tragic death is the spirit and courage and honour of a true queen, a queen of England, and a memorably lady. In this death she was not defeated. Death where is thy victory? RIP our queen, Anne Boleyn.

    1. Christine says:

      She was certainly possessed of remarkable courage Globerose, it was noted her speech never faltered she never cried nor fainted with the horror of her impending death, Cromwell her arch enemy described her later as being of intelligence spirit and courage, he could not have failed to be affected by how bravely she met her end, he himself was to face the same fate a few years later but his end was more terrible, having an inexperienced youth as his headsman he did not die quickly, some may call it poetic justice for the six people who had been judicially murdered who knows ?

    2. Alison says:

      They certainly regarded death in a concert way. They saw so much of it during their lives from disease to infant and mother mortality. But to face holding still while some fellow is going the cut my head off is amazing to me in this time, I know I couldn’t but it was ritual and every or anytime they beheaded as worse and in public. I think not my poor mind can understand the thoughts, she was an amazing woman in a time when woman had to be obediant. God bless Queen Anne.

  8. Michael Wright says:

    One reason Anne didn’t flinch at the actual sword strike is shown quite well in “Anne of the Thousand Days'”. The swordsman distracted her by pretending to ask for the sword from his assistant and when she turned her head he struck. Although in the movie it just shows him distracting her

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