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On May 19th, 1536, Anne Boleyn became the first British Queen to be publicly executed.

The second wife of Henry VIII, she had been accused of incest with her brother, adultery with several gentlemen of the court, and high treason by plotting against the king. It is unlikely any of the charges were true.

Much more likely is that Henry had simply grown weary of her, and disappointed at her failure to produce a living male heir. They had a daughter together, but at least one miscarriage and a stillborn son followed, and by then the fickle Henry had become besotted by Jane Seymour, who would become his next wife.

Unfortunate Anne, Queen for a thousand days, had simply become an inconvenient annoyance which Henry wanted rid of. And so it was that 480 years ago today, Anne Boleyn was taken from her cell in the Tower of London and led to a scaffold erected outside. 

Taking strength from her unwavering faith, she gave a short address to the crowd in which she praised Henry, saying "a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never", and asked people to pray for her soul.

The end, at least, was quick and painless. An expert swordsman had been brought from France and severed her head with a single precisely measured swing of his razor sharp blade. This was in stark contrast to other public beheadings in England at the time, which were often gruesome affairs performed by inexperienced, and sometimes inebriated, axe men.

Though she couldn't know it, Anne Boleyn's influence would extend long after her death. The daughter she gave Henry would be crowned Elizabeth I, a hugely influential and revered English monarch who reigned for 45 years. Her popularity led to her mother becoming seen as a falsely accused martyr by many English people, while Henry VIII was increasingly remembered as a vain, cruel and destructive King.

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