May 19th, 1536
A woman age around 35 walks her last walk. Up to the Scaffold she goes. With strength and dignity, Anne Boleyn kneels before a crowd of people. Formerly, Queen Anne. Second wife of King Henry VIII. She gives her final speech and kneels to wait for the sword to slice of her head.
Her crime? Legal documents list it as treason, adultery and incest. Her real crime? Failure to produce an a male heir for her husband the King. Henry waited seven long years to wed and bed Lady Anne. Rapidly, he grew bored of her. Particularly when she failed to produce the promised male heir.
As an amateur Tudor historian, I like to look deeper than what history records. I like to study the behavior of people. It is hard to say if Henry grew tired of her and his people handled the matter by taking Anne to her death. Looking at all his following wives, he was not married to any of them longer than Anne Boleyn. His final wife, Katherine Parr, he was married to almost four years, but he was so old and sick, that fathering another child was far from his mind and he did finally get a son from his third wife, whom he married 10 days after Anne Boleyn’s death.
There is historical record that shows Parr came close to getting beheaded. Only she got wind of the arrest warrant ahead of time and did what his other wives were unable to do. She got to him and was able to convince him of her mistakes. Anne and later her cousin, Katherine Howard were not given that chance and both were beheaded.
From all accounts, Anne died with strength and courage and acceptance. Only Anne and the men who died a few days before her know the real truth of what happened.
Do I believe Anne guilty? No. Could she have been? Of course. Anne was a woman ahead of her time. She was intelligent and witty. She was clever. A woman of her rank would know exactly what was at stake is she truly did what she had been charged with. Being a particularly religious time in history, people had the fear of God in them. Damning their souls was not something they took lightly. And Anne maintained her innocence until the end. So Anne had come to terms with her final fate whether it was Heaven or Hell as they believed then.
Did she keep silent to protect her daughter, Elizabeth? Possibly. She certainly was not going to say anything that would endanger or harm her daughter in the future.
Anne was beheaded with one swift swing of the sword. So quick, that her brain didn’t realize that her head was separate from her body. For several seconds, it was recorded that her lips and eyes continued to move.
Anne had been unconcerned with what happened to her mortal remains after death. It was her soul that she wanted to protect. After her death, her ladies in waiting that had cared for her, were left to clean up and bury the body. An old arrow chest had been found and her body was placed inside. It was too short for her, so her head was placed between her arm and body. Then she was immediately buried in an unmarked grave in the Church of St Peter ad Vincula in front of the altar.
Was she left to rest in peace? Apparently not. During the Victorian period, the Church was in need of some restoration and modern heating pipes installed. Part of the floor was removed and dozens of bodies where found. Based on records kept through the history of the tower, they were able to identify most of the bodies. Anne was found in the spot the records said she was placed. Only at some point in time, her bones had been piled together to make room for more bodies. The skeletons were examined and placed in new boxes and reburied or move to the crypt for burial.
Anne remains in the same spot beside her cousin Katherine Howard. According to reports from the time, Howard’s grave was empty. There was evidence of lime in the grave. So either her body decomposed completely which is not uncommon with younger bones, or the lime dissolved it away. Or the bones were removed and reburied elsewhere although this last theory is probably not likely.
480 years after Anne’s death, she remains in the forefront of history. Ask anyone what they know about the Tudor era and three names are said: Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn are among the first.
Henry VIII’s long struggle to get a son resulted in one short lived boy dying at age 15, and his two daughters proving that a woman could rule. But it was Anne’s daughter Elizabeth that went on to be one of England’s best loved monarchs. Anne Boleyn got the last laugh on history.
May Anne continue to RIP along with her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.