Anne Boleyn had the misfortune of being both bewitching (though not beautiful) and conspicuously intelligent, with a complex personality which brings to mind a sort of proto Scarlett O’Hara. For six years she dangled her prize in front of Henry, never fully surrendering until the crown was in clear view. In 1532 she gave Henry what he so dearly wished, and quickly became pregnant with the future Elizabeth I. In a secret ceremony, with only a couple witneses, Henry married her. Reason being, is that he was still married to his first wife, Katherine of Aragorn, his marriage to whom the Pope refused to annul (for political reasons, the Pope was being held political hostage at the time by Katherine’s nephew, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor). But nevermind that, said Henry, and promptly cut all ties to Rome.
After the birth of Elizabeth Anne miscarried two male children, and while was not the sole reason for his ultimate displeasure (Anne was not making friends at court), had she had a male heir it is highly doubtful he would have casted her off. In 1536 charges of adultery were trumped up against her, involving several of Henry’s closest friends and even the Lord Rochford, Anne’s own brother. In a court of her peers, she had no chance. After three years as queen, Anne was to die.
In prison in the Tower, Anne became peculiarly unstable. She would swing from resignation to hilarity, and was frequently be heard to laughing, or making small jokes about her predicament. Here lies, I think, a clue to her beguiling character. Wits and people of vivacity always come to a good end, and Anne was determined to do just that.
Anne Boleyn’s “final request” was to import an executioner from France, as it was the french custom to utilize a finely honed sword for decaptitation rather than the crude and clumsy English axe. For even the most seasoned executioner it was not unlikely for the deed to be accomplished in two, three and sometimes four rather painful blows. Her request was mercifully granted.
Upon the morning she was to die she asked the Constable of the Tower if it would hurt. His reply was that the blow was very “subtle”. “I heard the executioner was very good. And I have a little neck.” she replied as she put her hand around her throat and burst out laughing.
Once upon the scaffold she turned to face her “audience”, hundreds of Londoners and Peers of the Realm come to watch a Queen die.
“Good Christian People, I have not come here to preach a sermon; I have come here to die…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.”
Click here for the Last letter from Anne to Henry, after she had been imprisoned in the Tower.