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Anne Boleyn - beheaded by King Henry

Updated on December 13, 2011

Anne the Queen

Anne was crowned Queen on 1st June 1533 when she was almost six months pregnant. It was not every queen that was crowned and by doing so to Anne he was conferring a regal anointed status on her and her infant. Anne was taken for her coronation, dressed in the finest cloth, from Greenwich to the Tower of London by a fleet of 50 decorated barges. The barges were loaded with bands of minstrels who played music to the accompaniment of the sound of the guns saluting the coronation of Queen Anne who would soon supply the heir to the throne. The new queen progressed through London where a number of street scenes and pageants had been provided for her entertainment, and finally the next day to Westminster where she received her crown.

A baby is born

As preparations for Anne’s lying in began, the King’s advisors and physicians assured him that the Queen would give birth to a boy and Henry planned a tournament in celebration. The public were told that the King and Anne had married on 14th November 1533 so there was no need to pretend that the child that was born on 7th September 1533 was premature. The child may have been a legal heir to the throne, but the King was disappointed in the birth of a girl, Princess Elizabeth. The birth of a princess was greeted with some great surprise and a lot of disappointment. Such was the certainty that the baby would be a boy that the official document to announce the birth had already been prepared and additions of an” S” had to be made to feminise the announcement. The King’s herald announced the birth of Princess Elizabeth as the first legitimate child of the King, relegating the status of Princess Mary, who at the age of 17 years was forced to join her baby sister’s household. However the questions around the succession were not really changed, Henry still needed a male heir.

In January 1534, King Henry announced that his Queen was again pregnant, her baby Elizabeth was only four months old at the time and Anne was not given long to recover from her birth. By March of that year arrangements and modifications were being made in the royal nursery to receive the royal prince who would be born later in the year. At the same time the Pope at long last made a decision on the marriage of Catherine and Henry, finding in favour of Catherine and announcing that their marriage had been legitimate and legal. The Act of Parliament passed at the same time; the “Act of Succession” gave validity to the King’s second marriage and announced that the issue of this marriage would inherit the throne, although it did not go as far as disinheriting Princess Mary- perhaps with infant mortality rates so high, it was thought to be a wise move.

This plaque marks the spot of the Tudor Palace at Greenwich
This plaque marks the spot of the Tudor Palace at Greenwich | Source

Catherine's identity eradicated

Physical changes were made at the Royal residences to remove traces of Queen Catherine. Armorial symbols of entwined H&k were replaced by H&A. Palace apartments were remodelled to expunge every trace of Queen Catherine. Anne was a pious woman, of the protestant reformation model, she kept an English translation of the Bible near her bed for her ladies to read as they needed and welcomed and supported Lutheran scholars in her court. Queen Anne was educated, could read and was able to express and argue her own opinions, unlike her predecessor who had bowed to the King’s opinion on all things, except the divorce.

Relationships failing

The marriage between Henry and Anne was soon deteriorating, Anne was not like Catherine she had her own opinion which she tended to voice loudly. She was aware of how she had gained the King’s attention and was anxious to remove any attractive girls from her court, especially as she did not seem able to give birth to a son. The Kings eyes were straying, whilst Anne was pregnant with Princess Elizabeth there were rumours of his attraction to a girl and then in late 1534 he became attracted to Madge Shelton a lively and attractive young woman whom Anne managed to dismiss from her court. Henry’s eyes then strayed to Jane Seymour who may have seemed calm and kind against the tirade he received from his Queen. In the hot summer of 1535 the Venetian ambassador recorded that the King was already tired of his Queen. Anne was aged 35 years old and her beauty was fading, yet at the same time she was becoming less capable of giving the King the male heir he so desired. It is also thought by some historians that Henry suffered from periodic impotence which made the challenge of getting Anne pregnant even more difficult. Near the end of 1535 the miracle everyone had been awaiting, occurred, Queen Anne was with child!

January 1536 started well for Anne, she was pregnant and Queen Catherine had died; she was in a new beginning that was cruelly shattered at the end of the month when she lost the baby she was carrying, believed to be a boy.

Scaffold site at the Tower of London- the location of many executions
Scaffold site at the Tower of London- the location of many executions | Source

Anne and a conspiracy

The court musician Mark Smeaton was taken by the Kings men on the last day of April, a young man of common birth who had got his position simply because of his talent. There were rumours that he was tortured, but no evidence was found, however he made a confession. The next day the King was with Queen Anne watching a May day tournament at Greenwich. After receiving a message he rose, without word of explanation to the Queen, and left, he never saw her again. Arrests were made of the Queens brother, Lord Rochford and Henry Norris, Keeper of the Privy Purse and the next day the Queen herself was arrested. She was taken to hear accusations including adultery, incest and conspiracy to murder the King. After this she was moved from Greenwich to the Tower of London where it is reported that she began to scream at the sight of the tower. However she was treated kindly and given the apartments she had occupied before her marriage, rather than the dungeon she imagined.

Queen Anne was destined for death from the moment she entered the Tower. Her predecessor Queen Catherine had not gone quietly and had lived as a thorn in the side of the King for seven long years- this was not wanted again. The Kings great conscience came into play. This evil Queen Anne had dallied with his affections and taken him from his true wife, Queen Catherine, fortunately she was dead and he was not forced to remarry her. In the Tower Anne had a comfortable standard of living but it was becoming apparent that her sanity was slipping, her ravings were becoming incoherent and to those women appointed to look after her, a fertile ground for information to be passed on to Cromwell.

Anne’s followers, Smeaton, Norris, Weston and Bereton were put on trial on 12th May 1536. There were a long list of charges, mainly their adultery with the Queen and Conspiracy against the King. The case against Bereton was never clearly laid but all the men were found guilty of treason. Although given a trial by jury, Tudor law stated that no defence was allowed against treason charges, therefore they were dead from the start of the trial. The punishment was death, to be strung up at Tyburn and, when nearly dead taken down disembowelled, castrated and to have their limbs quartered. This was a barbaric and dreadful death.

Modern photograph of the forbidding walls of the Tower of London
Modern photograph of the forbidding walls of the Tower of London | Source

Trial and Sentence

Three days later, less than two weeks after her arrest, Queen Anne and her brother Lord Rochford, were put on trial. Anne answered all the questions clearly; her momentary insanity appeared to have left her. Her brother Lord Rochford came next and answered the charge of incest, a charge for which there was little evidence, but that did not prevent a guilty verdict. During the trial his wife, Lady Rochford quoted the words her sister in law Anne had said about the King, translated from the French as, “that the king was incapable of making love to his wife and he had neither skill nor virility”. It is perhaps viewed that this accusation was enough to seal the fate of the queen and the conviction of her brother on a trumped up charge would seal opinion on just how evul Queen Anne could be. After sentence both Anne and Lord Rochford insisted that they were innocent of all charges but in line with all those who were sentenced to death formally admitted that they deserved punishment.- this was a precaution as it always carried weight when the accused sought a reprieve from the King. Lord Rochford did not have to wait long for his punishment; he was executed along with the other four men whose sentences had been commuted to beheading, on 17th May 1536.

Anne lived in the Tower awaiting her death, the executioner had been summoned from Calais to kill her with a sword as this was more efficient and would lead to a swifter death. Anne was not to die as a Queen, her marriage to the King was annulled on 17th May by Archbishop Cranmer and was not officially dissolved until it was presented to parliament on 28th June, but Anne was long dead, she was beheaded on 19th May, two days after her brother, in a small ceremony in a courtyard in the Tower where few members of the public could attend.


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    • Just History profile image

      Just History 5 years ago from England

      joanveronica- thanks for your visit- colourful and intelligent compared to wife No 5 who was naive but wilfull! The result was the same- they both lost their heads!

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Enjoyed this Hub very much! I have always been fascinated by Anne's story, to me she is the most colorful of all the wives. Voted Up!

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      Could be, or more likely because she was the cause of the break of the church from Rome. Although it could be a case of first past the post(or first on the block) Thanks for your comment and an interesting thought!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 6 years ago from California

      Great hub! Perhaps Anne is the best known because she was the first beheaded of Henry's little bevy--

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      Bogtrotter- the what if's are so potentially amazing- I doubt they would have let Henry become a cleric until Arthur had produced a male heir- insurance value was always in the back of a Tudor mindset#

      Thankyou so much for your comment

    • profile image

      bogtrotter 6 years ago

      Imagine had Arthur survived & Henry had become a cleric as was planned for him! One of western civilizations big "what if's" He turned history on it's head if only to preserve a dynasty that lacked in the fertility department. Bluff King Hal's thunder rumbles to this day!

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      phdast7- thanks for your visit- this is the joy of the hub world- we can dip in and out of areas that we dont normally read... and enjoy!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Great Hub. Interesting and informative. Noy my area of history, but I enjoyed it. :)

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      Peggy W - Thankyou for your visit- I really enjoyed researching for this hub, he really was not the man to mess with.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      King Henry did not exactly have a stellar record with regard to his many wives. Amazing that others were always in line to be next on the list! I guess they lived well while in favor with the king. Interesting history of those days and you tell it well. Votes up!

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      Judi Bee- I am not sure that the King would have agreed with you! Her punishment did seem harsh but I expect that the King would not want another ex wife hanging around, especially one who was younger than him and could outlive him.

      Thanks for your visit

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 6 years ago from UK

      I suppose we could see it as Anne's just comeuppance after reading about Catherine of Aragon's treatment, but I still can't help but feel sorry for Anne. Her's is a sad story - an attractive, intelligent, vivacious woman who was nonetheless just a pawn in her ambitious father's game and a (faulty)cog in the Tudor dynasty's wheel. Even more ironic since her daughter was such a success.

      Voted up, naturally!