Queen Anne Boleyn was sentenced to death at her trial but it was left up to the King to decide how she would die. The normal death for a female traitor was to be burned at the stake; however King Henry VIII had decided to change this to beheading but at the hands of a French swordsman instead of the typical axe. With the manner of her death decided the date of her execution was set for the 18th May 1536.
Anne was prepared to die at 9am on the 18th May. John Skip, the Queen’s almoner arrived at 2am to pray with the Queen, they were still praying when Archbishop Thomas Cranmer arrived to perform mass and hear the Queen’s final confession. Anne also took the sacrament and swore twice in front of the Constable of the Tower, Sir William Kingston that she was innocent of all charges.
Eustace Chapuys reported to the Holy Roman Emperor that;
“The lady who had charge of her has 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.”
When 9am passed and no one came to collect the Queen to deliver her to her fate she called for Sir William Kingston again to try to learn what the cause of the delay was. However, Kingston had already been told not to inform the Queen that the execution had been delayed until the following day until the Tower was emptied of any diplomats. Instead he tried to comfort Anne about her upcoming execution and that it would not be painful. It was reported that Anne responded that; “I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck.”
Anne was informed after midday that her execution had been put off until the following day.
John Skip arrived at Anne’s room once again to perform mass and to offer the sacrament and at 8am Kingston informed the Queen to prepare herself as the time was approaching for Anne to climb the scaffolding to her death. Anne was already ready having dress herself in a ermine trimmed grey damask robe and a crimson kirtle, instead of her usual French style hood she wore an English style gable hood. Her outfit was planned to show her status as Queen as well as that of being a martyr.
Anne took the long walk to the scaffold where she climbed up to address the crowd that awaited her. Instead of protesting her innocence she simply followed what was expected of her in order to protect her daughter. She said to the crowd;
“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 sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.”
With her final words Anne paid the executioner his fee and her ladies approached to remove Anne’s hood and placed her hair within a linen cap. She knelt down in front of the executioner and one of her ladies covered her eyes. As Anne waited for her fate she began to pray by saying;
“O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul. To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesu receive my soul.”
The swordsman approached Anne and with some misdirection from an assistant he struck the Queen’s neck and Anne died.
With the execution over Anne’s ladies wrapped her body and head in white cloth and transported her body to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula for burial. As no coffin had been provided a guard found an empty chest that once stored arrows. With this the Queen was committed to the ground and buried. Henry was now free to move on to his next wife and Anne was free to be at peace.
Middle – The plaque to mark Anne Boleyn’s body in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London
Below – The monument to commemorate those who were executed within the Tower of London’s walls