For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday, I have chosen to write about Anne Boleyn yet again. This is important because today is the anniversary of her execution! On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded by the Swordsman of Calais after being found guilty of adultery, incest, and treason.
Her execution sent shock waves through the royal world, as this was the first time that a Queen of England was executed. Her downfall officially began in January of that same year, when she had her final miscarriage. During this time in her life, she had already had one successful pregnancy with her daughter Elizabeth and several miscarriages. This last miscarriage was a fetus that was far enough along that it was obvious that she had lost a son. At the time it was said that “She has miscarried of her savior.” That is a very true phrase, as it was at this time that Henry VIII had his paranoia grow over what ways he believed that Anne had betrayed him.
His advisors went about conducting an investigation into her life as Queen. Over the course of the next few months, they compiled testimony that stated that Anne Boleyn had been an unfaithful Queen, held treasonous will towards her husband, and even engaged in incestuous sex with her own brother George! Much of this testimony was acquired through torture, which right away should alert us to this being likely falsified information. Many historians have argued over how much knowledge of the actual events Henry VIII had at the time he signed the death warrant for his second wife. I know that many people believe that he was the true architect of her undoing. However, I personally believe that the architect behind the plot against Anne Boleyn was actually Thomas Cromwell.
I find this to be the most likely case for several reasons, some of which I will share with you here. Firstly, Henry VIII was a vain King obsessed with his own virility, one only needs to look at the Holbein portraits to see this. A man with this mindset would not be likely to want to show himself as less than an incredible lover! That is why I cannot believe he would have himself seen as a cuckold to his entire Kingdom unless he believed the accusations. Secondly, Thomas Cromwell was initially supportive of Henry and Anne because of his and Anne’s shared religious and political beliefs, but this relationship was deteriorating due to Anne’s greater sway with Henry. Cromwell simply wanted to be the second most powerful person in the country and wanted his rival in that area taken care of! Finally, Anne had many detractors at court and Cromwell ended up befriending them. He wanted to get as many powerful people on his side as possible and wanted to prove his loyalty to the King. The excellent historian Suzannah Lipscomb shares this belief and even did a whole two-part documentary mini-series on Henry and Anne’s love! It is titled Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History.
No matter who is most responsible, we know that Anne Boleyn was arrested on May 2, 1536, a day after she last saw her husband and he abruptly left the May Day festivities. Her time in prison and her trial came about swiftly, with her being found guilty a foregone conclusion. The sad truth is that she likely held out hope that the man that she loved would change his mind and realize that she could not have possibly been with all the men she was accused of bedding. After all, many of the instances of adultery put forth were times she was known to have been with the King, when she was pregnant, or when she had just given birth, all of which are times she could not have been intimate with other men (for there was great fear in pregnant women having sex in this era)! Her hopes were soon to be dashed, as her brother and four other men were put to death just days before she herself was beheaded. We know from William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, that her behavior became increasingly strange and erratic as she realized she would truly die.
That is why I chose to title this post referencing two famous quotes of hers. “La plus heureuse” was her coronation motto meaning “the most happy” and truly exemplified the best time in her life. “La Reine Anne sans tete” is what she said when speaking of her execution. She was calling herself “Queen Anne lack head” with her signature use of French! I wanted to finish off with this small explanation because I want people to remember her as remaining witty until the end, even when all hope was lost! I hope that you have enjoyed this post commemorating my favorite Queen of all time on the anniversary of her untimely death. Who do you think is most at fault for Anne’s unfair death? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a painting of Anne in the Tower. I found it on https://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Edouard-Francois-Berthelemy-Michel-Cibot/Anne-Boleyn-1507-36-In-The-Tower-Detail-1835.html.
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- The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
- The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir
- Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History (2014)