Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part VI-G
George Constantyne was a member of the entourage of Sir Henry Norris. As an eyewitness to Anne’s execution, he “was unfavourable to her innocence.” The opinion was not grounded in any information he received from Norris “nor upon any personal observations which he had enjoyed the opportunity of making while holding the situation [in Norris’ household].” His opinion had been “derived merely from the information or belief of those persons with whom he had conversed at the time of the execution” (“Transcript of an Original Manuscript” 54). Yet, it would have been difficult for anyone not to believe the heinousness of the accusations as it was “published in parliament that it might from thence spread abroad over all” (Cavendish II 209).
The Nidd Hall Portrait depicting a more careworn Queen Anne Bolyen.
Surprisingly, one person who leaned toward believing in Anne’s innocence was none other than her greatest adversary, Spanish envoy, Eustace Chapuys. The diplomat, while not revealing his source, claimed a lady from Court “sent to tell me in great secrecy that the Concubine, before and after receiving the sacrament, affirmed to her, on the damnation of her soul, that she had never been unfaithful to the King” (Gairdner X 908). Taking an oath on the sacrament was a very powerful ‘truth serum’ in the Tudor time-period. Recall that the Earl of Northumberland swore in the same manner that there was never a pre-contract between Anne and him. All contemporary chronicles believed his oath as they could not fathom that he could have lied on the sacrament in front of two bishops. Regardless of her innocence or guilt, Anne was scheduled for execution on May 18, 1536, but a delay in the travel of the expert executioner from France moved her death to the following day. Constable Kingston, always faithful in his reports to Master Secretary Cromwell, let him know that John Skip Anne’s “Almoner is continewaly with hyr, and has bene syns ii of the clock after midnight” (Gairdner X 910). Anne was preparing for death in the only way she knew.
Anne would have stayed at the Queen’s Lodgings (g) before her execution.
Events happened so quickly from the time of Anne’s arrest to her final hours it is difficult to imagine her true mindset. How could she have absorbed all the implications and possible repercussions? Was she simply tired of the fight? For many years she had had to watch for enemies, furrow out sycophants, and expend energy maintaining control. Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower, expressed confusion by her approach to death. He reported in a letter to Secretary Cromwell that Anne requested his presence to hear her speak of her innocence and told him of her disappointment in the delay in her death. “Mr. Kyngston, I hear say I shall not dy affore none, and I am very sory therfore, for I thowth to be dede by this time, and past my payne. I told hyr it shuld be no payne, it was so sottell” (Gairdner X 910). And then Anne “said, ‘I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck,’ and she 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 and pleasure in death” (Wroithesley 42). Kingston, being a practical, military man, perceived Anne’s pain as physical, whereas she perhaps was referring to emotional pain.
It would not be surprising if Anne would welcome release from the terror and sorrow she had experienced over her final few weeks. She had witnessed her brother’s death; she lived with the knowledge that innocent men had died on her behalf (from frivolous behavior that had been construed to condemn them all); she had lost the affection and protection of her husband through divorce; she had relinquished the status and role of Queen; she had been abandoned by many from her entourage –including her father; and, she feared for the safety of her daughter.
Anne’s Arrival at Tower Green
A Portuguese gentleman (who had gone into the Tower and stayed with English friends to circumnavigate the ban on foreigners) wrote to a friend in Lisbon “On the next Friday, which was the 19th of the same month, the Queen was beheaded according to the manner and custom of Paris, that is to say, with a sword, which thing had not been seen in this land of England” (Bell 105). The King had sent to “St. Omer for a headsman who could cut off the head with a sword instead of an axe, and nine days after they sent he arrived” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 70).
A modern marker at the execution site–although this is most likely not the exact site of Anne Boleyn’s execution. Note the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the background.
The day before “the Lieutenant of the Tower writ to the Lord Cromwell, that it was not fit to publish the time of her execution” (Smeeton 46). In order to preserve the solemnity of the occasion this was granted. It was also reported that Anne requested “that she might be executed within the Tower, and that no foreigner should see her (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 70). Consequently, a scaffold “having four or five steps, was then and there set up” (Bell 105). Anne was escorted from her lodgings by Kingston, she reportedly “looked frequently behind her, and when she got upon the scaffold was very much exhausted and amazed” (Gairdner X 911). Was she looking literally for an expected last minute reprieve? Did she think her merciful king would pardon her and allow her to retire to a convent? Despite her physical manifestation of these possibilities, she stated when pressed to confess, “I know I shall have no pardon, but they shall know no more from me” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 70). Anne was prepared for death. “When she arrived at the scaffold she was dressed in a night-robe of damask, with a red damask skirt, and a netted coif over her hair” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 70). The Queen, “assisted by the Captain of the Tower, came forth, together with the four ladies who accompanied her…” (Bell 105). Within the Tower Green “were present several of the Nobility, the Lord Mayor of London, some of the Aldermen, and several others, rather as witnesses, than spectators of her fatal end” (Smeeton 46). Those ‘several others’ mentioned were identified as men representing “certayne of the best craftes of London” (Wriothesley 41).
The grave markers as placed under the altar in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula.
Among the gentlemen on the scaffold was “the headsman, who was dressed like the rest, and not as executioner; and she looked around her on all sides to see the great number of people present, for although she was executed inside, there was a great crowd” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 70). Then Anne “besought the Captain of the Tower that he would in no wise hasten the minute of her death, until she should have spoken that which she had in mind to say; which he consented to” (Urban 56).
Anne’s Speech on the Scaffold
This blogger must ask for the indulgence of the reader at this juncture. Because Anne’s speech on the scaffold is her last, formal one, it is obviously important. Several variations exist from contemporaries and from later translations—many have been reproduced below. The consistency is surprising with differences mostly in the interpretations based on the perspective of the recorder (such as the Catholic Imperial view). The implications of the intent of her speech will be explored further although there will be no comment on the records as interpretation will be left to the reader.
Our Portuguese source recorded her words as: “Good friends, I am not come here to excuse or to justify myself, forasmuch as I know full well that aught that I could say in my defence doth not appertain unto you, and that I could draw no hope of life from the same. But I come here only to die, and thus to yield myself humbly to the will of the King my Lord. And if in my life I did ever offend the King’s grace, surely with my death, I do now atone” (Bell 105).
Her words arrived at the Imperial Court as: “And as the lady looked all round, she began to say these words, ‘Do not think, good people, that I am sorry to die, or that I have done anything to deserve this death. My fault has been my great pride, and the great crime I committed in getting the king to leave my mistress Queen Katherine for my sake, and I pray God to pardon me for it. I say to you all that everything they have accused me of is false, and the principal reason I am to die is Jane Seymour, as I was the cause of the ill that befell my mistress.’ The gentlemen would not let her say any more” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 71).
Lancelot de Carles, the French envoy conveyed the image of an unrepentant Anne unwilling to go into details of why she was facing death yet eager to promote the reputation of Henry as she “recommended your good king in whom I have seen such great humanity and the acme of all goodness; fear of God, love of his subjects” (Bernard).
The account offered later by George Constantyne was similar to de Carles. Anne declared “I do not intende to reason my cause, but I committe me to Christ wholly, in whome ys my whole trust, desirynge you all to praye for the Kynges maiestie that he maye longe regne over you, for he ys a veraye noble prince and full gently hath handled me” (Mackintosh 385).
The English Courier, Charles Wriothesley showed Anne as pliant, “Maissters, I here humbley submit me to the lawe as the lawe hath judged me, and as for myne offences, I here accuse no man, God knoweth them; I remit them to God, beseeching him to have mercye on my sowle, and I beseech Jesu save my soverienge and maister the Kinge, the moste godlye, noble, and gentle Prince that is, and longe to reigne over yow” (Wroithesley 41-42).
The chronicler Edward Hall presented Anne as coming to die, “for aecqrdyng to the lawe and by the lawe I am judged to dye, and therefore I wyll speake nothyng against it.” She would “accuse no man, nor to speake any thyng of that, wherof I am accused and condemned to dye” she would pray that God would save the king and “send him long to reygne over you, for a gentler nor a more mercyfull prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, & soveraygne lorde. And yf anye persone wyll medle of my cause, I require them to judge the best.” Anne ended by saying “And thus I take my leve of the worlde and of you all, and I heartely desyre you all to praye for me. O Lorde have mercy, on me, to God I comende my soule” (Hall 268).
Sources quoted later by Burnet and Wyatt claimed her words were as follows: “My honourable Lords, and the rest here assembled, I beseech you all, to hear witness with me, that I humbly submit myself to undergo the penalty to which the law hath sentenced me: as touching my offences, I am sparing to speak, they are best known to God: and I neither blame nor accuse any man, but leave them wholly to him: beseeching God who knows the secrets of all hearts, to have mercy on my soul. Now, I bessech the Lord Jesus to bless and save my Sovereign master the King, the noblest and mercifulest Prince that lives: whom I wish long to reign over you. He made me Marchioness of Pembroke, vouchsafed to lodge me in his own bosom, higher on earth he could not raise me, and hath done well to lift me up those blessed innocents above” (Smeeton 46).
With her address spoken to the crowd, which Antony Pykeryng reported to Lady Lisle in Calais was “a thousand people”, Anne readied herself for execution (Gairdner X 918). Although there are several different descriptions of her clothing, all accounts agree that Anne removed her mantle (or cape) of ermine and her English style hood. She was given a small linen, white cap to cover her hair and after kneeling “fastened her clothes about her feet, and one of the said ladies bandaged her eyes” (Gairdner X 911). Perhaps she and her ladies practiced these acts because tucking her skirts around her feet must have been done to ensure her modesty if she fell awkwardly—something they discovered during rehearsals? This blogger would like to remind readers that during execution with a sword there is no use of a block. Therefore, when chroniclers mention that Anne knelt, she was kneeling as if in prayer; she would not be resting her neck on a block. Granted execution by a sword was traditionally deemed as more merciful than the axe but the strength to remain kneeling upright awaiting the strike of the sword would require a tremendous amount of courage and self-control.
So Anne knelt “but the poor lady only kept looking about her. The headsman, being still in front of her, said in French, ‘Madam, do not fear, I will wait till you tell me.’ The sword was hidden under a heap of straw” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 71). Most sources agree on what happened. While kneeling Anne “said: ‘To Christ I commende my soule, Jesu receive my soule’ divers tymes” (Hall 268-269). While she prayed, the executioner called out for the sword to be brought to him and when Anne turned her blindfolded face in the direction of the steps, thinking the assistant would carry the sword up, he came up behind her. And “suddenlye the hangman smote off her heade at a stroke with a sworde” (Wroithesley 41-42). She died as she lived, boldly.
Anne’s Final Path to St. Peter ad Vincula
With foreigners banned from the execution and Eustace Chapuys, the ready source of information, absent from the thick of things due to illness, his reports were not as reliable as typical. He reported that Anne’s “head will be put upon the bridge, at least for some time” (Gairdner X 908). This was not the case. Immediately after her execution, the ladies attending Anne “fearing to let their mistress be touched by unworthy hands, forced themselves to do so” (Gardiner X 1036). They quickly wrapped her body in a white cloth and placed it along with her severed head “into a common chest of elm tree, that was made to put arrows in” (Bell 107). The usually efficient Kingston had not provided a coffin for the body and the case was the only option on hand. After Anne’s body was placed in the make-shift casket “the body was taken by the ladies, and the whole carried” (Gairdner X 911) the short distance to the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, “the church within the Tower and buried” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 71).
Exterior of the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula.
For References, please refer to Path to St. Peter ad Vincular Part I