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Execution of Anne Boleyn - Tales from History
1422    Dibyendu Banerjee    17/01/2021

Anne Boleyn was born to Lady Elizabeth Howard and Thomas Boleyn, a respected diplomat with a gift for languages and a favourite of Henry VII of England. Due to the lack of parish records, it is not possible to establish her exact date of birth, but it is generally accepted that she was born between 1501 and 1507 and spent her childhood and adolescence in Europe. After spending a part of her childhood at the court of Archduchess of Austria, she was sent to France to serve Mary, the sister of Henry VIII and the wife of Louis XII, the king of France.


She returned to England in 1522 to serve as a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, the wife of King Henry VIII. By that time, Anne’s married older sister Mary Boleyn became the mistress of the English King and in return, the Boleyn family was showered with royal gifts and titles. Nevertheless, Anne made her debut at the court on 4 March 1522 when she participated in a play arranged in honour of the imperial ambassadors and danced accompanying her sister, Henry's younger sister Mary, and several other ladies of the court. By 1523, she was betrothed to Henry Percy, the son and the heir of the Earl of Northumberland which did not materialize due to the objection of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. However, she soon became popular among the young men at the court, though she was not considered as an exceptional beauty, and said to have a mole on her neck and probably an extra finger on her left hand. But she was graceful, spoke French fluently, and her French dresses were stylish. Moreover, she danced with ease, had a pleasant singing voice, could play the lute and several other musical instruments.

execution of anne boleyn
Courtship of Anne Boleyn and the King

By 1526, Anne captured the attention of King Henry VIII, who became enamoured of her and began his pursuit. Anne, a skillful player at the game of courtly love, resisted his attempts to seduce her, refusing to become his mistress, and held out for marriage.


Finally, he proposed marriage, and she accepted. But to marry Anne, Henry VIII needed to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon. By that time, the king had grown tired of Catherine, especially as she failed to produce an heir to the throne. As divorce was not allowed under the Catholic Church, he asked Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage to Catherine, as a marriage between a man and his brother’s wife is condemned in the Bible, and before his marriage to Catherine, she was married to his older brother Arthur, who died shortly after their marriage. But the pope was unwilling to annul the marriage as Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the pope did not want to offend him. At that point of time, Henry VIII took a drastic step that would change the course of history and religion. On 14 November 1532, Henry and Anne married in a secret ceremony, and with the help of Thomas Cromwell, Henry broke ties with the Catholic Church in Rome and established the Church of England, which is a major step toward the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century Europe.

execution of anne boleyn
The Royal Couple

Anne soon became pregnant and was crowned queen consort on 1 June 1533, formally stripping Catherine of her title. Anne became the fifth wife of King Henry VIII when she was still a teenager, while the king was approaching 50. In September she gave birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth of England.


The marriage was altogether happy until Anne suffered miscarriages, and her only male child was stillborn in January 1536. By that time, the king has lost his passion for Anne and was having adulterous relationships with at least two of the Queen’s maids-of-honour, Madge Shelton and Jane Seymour. While Jane Seymour was fast gaining the king’s esteem, Anne was losing ground due to her arrogant behavior that made enemies at court who already started to plot her downfall. Even, Henry considered Anne as a failure as she could not give him a son, which to him was a betrayal. So he took help of his chief advisor Cromwell to hatch a plan to get rid of Anne Boleyn. Accordingly, a special commission was set up to investigate her wrongdoing.

execution of anne boleyn
The King and the Queen

After that, between 30 April and 02 May 1536, four men that included Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, Sir Henry Norris, members of the Privy Chamber, and a Flemish musician in Anne’s service named Mark Smeaton, were arrested on charges of treasonable adultery and accused of having sexual relationships with the queen. Along with them, Queen Anne’s own brother George Boleyn was also arrested charged with incest with the Queen, and plotting with Anne to kill the King. Anne Boleyn was arrested on 02 May 1536 and taken to the Tower of London by barge. The four of the accused men, except George Boleyn, were tried on 12 May 1536, when Weston, Brereton, and Norris publicly maintained their innocence and Smeaton was tortured into confessing and pleaded guilty. Anne Boleyn and her brother George were tried separately in the King’s Hall at the Tower on 15 May, before a jury of 26 peers, which included Henry Percy, the man who intended to marry her, and Thomas Howard, her own uncle. Anne Boleyn was charged with illegally sleeping with all those five men, including her brother George Boleyn, aka Lord Rochford, and conspired with them to kill her husband, the King of England. Although the evidence against her was unconvincing, she was found guilty and condemned to be beheaded by an expert swordsman, as a sharp sword was supposed to execute the job in a cleaner way than the traditional axe.

execution of anne boleyn
The Last Confession

George Boleyn and the other accused men were executed on 17 May 1536, and Anne was beheaded on Tower Green at 8 am on 19 May 1536, the first English queen to be publicly executed.

Later, Historian Eric Eves pointed out that Anne was not present at the places and times alleged in the indictments. It may be pointed out that she was accused of having an affair with Sir Henry Norris in Westminster in October 1533, but during that time, she was confined to her chambers at Greenwich after the birth of her daughter, Elizabeth. Again, when she was said to be seducing Mark Smeaton at Greenwich, she was actually in Richmond. In fact, the majority of the modern historians believe that Anne Boleyn was framed, either by her husband, who was desperate to get a new woman, with the ultimate hope to have a male heir, or by Thomas Cromwell, the chief minister to Henry VIII, who wanted to remove her, a threat and obstacle to fulfilling his plans for the monasteries. Her pro-French stance was also against his aim of an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire. Anne Boleyn was a victim of circumstances. After the brutal execution, she was buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, within the Tower’s Inner Ward.

execution of anne boleyn
The execution of Anne Boleyn
Sexual Life of Hitler Tagore’s Play in Warsaw Ghetto
Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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