The Confession of the Lady Mary Tudor

Lady Mary played by Sarah Bolger in "Tudors" season 3. In this scene she is forced to sign the dreaded act which she says will haunt her to the end of her days.
Lady Mary played by Sarah Bolger in “Tudors” season 3. In this scene she is forced to sign the dreaded act which she says will haunt her to the end of her days.

On the 22nd of June 1536 the King’s eldest daughter, the Lady Mary Tudor, signed the document titled “The Confession of Me the Lady Mary” in which she accepted that she was never the trueborn daughter of Henry VIII of England but a product of incest born out of the unlawful union of her mother, Katherine of Aragon and her father the King. The Confession was signed twelve days after she had explicitly said no to her father’s ministers who had done the impossible and bullied her to get to accept. It was Chapuys and Cromwell who finally convinced her by telling her that if she didn’t sign then she would be deemed a traitor and tried as such. To her father, blood ties didn’t matter when the security of the realm was at stake. The articles of the confession go as follows:

  1. First, I confess and acknowledge the King’s Majesty to be my sovereign lord and King, in the Imperial Crown of his realm of England, and do submit myself to His Highness, and to all and singular laws and statues of this realm, as becometh a true and faithful subject to do.
  2. I do recognize and accept and take and repute and acknowledge the King’s Highness to be Supreme Head in Earth under Christ of the Church of England and do utterly refuse the Bishop of Rome’s pretended authority, power and jurisdiction within this realm heretofore usurped.
  3. I do freely, frankly recognize and acknowledge that the marriage, heretofore had between His Majesty and my mother (the late Princess Dowager) was by God’s law and Man’s law, incestuous and unlawful.

Signed Mary Tudor

The Confession would haunt Mary for the rest of her life. In signing it, she felt that she was not only betraying what she believed in, but her mother who never wavered in her faith and stopped calling herself Queen and fought for her daughter’s right to be her father’s heir. No doubt, Mary was doing this for survival and the two men must have made a point that she would do more good to her cause alive than dead, especially Chapuys who had grown very close to the young woman.

Lady Mary and her father Henry VIII at her re-introduction at court.
Lady Mary and her father Henry VIII at her re-introduction at court.

Following her surrender, she was welcomed back in court. Those who believed they had beaten the former princess would soon be disappointed. If anything, it reshaped her character making her prouder, more resilient and optimistic about her future.


  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Inside the Tudor Court by Lauren Mackay
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock

Lady Mary Tudor’s desperate cries to her Father on paper

Mary Tudor played by Sarah Bolger
Mary Tudor played by Sarah Bolger

On June the Tenth 1536 Mary wrote to her father and Cromwell, of the former she sent Cromwell a copy begging him to restore her to favor: “Most humbly I prostrate before your noble feet, your most obedient subject and humble child, that hath not only repented her offences hitherto, but also decreed simply from henceforth and wholly next to Almighty God, to put my state, continuance and living in your gracious mercy.”

In her letter to Cromwell she said she would submit to her father’s demands as long as they didn’t offend her conscience:
“I trust you shall perceive that I have followed your advice and counsel, and will do in all things concerning my duty to the King’s Grace (God and my conscience not offended) for I take you for one of my chief friends, next unto his Grace and the Queen.
Wherefore, I desire you, for the passion which Christ suffered for you and me, and as my very trust is in you, that you will find such means through your great wisdom, that I be not moved to agree to any further entry in this matter than I have done. But if I be put to any more (I am plain with you as with my great friends) my said conscience will in no way suffer me to consent thereunto.”

Cromwell’s response was to submit to all of her father’s demands but Mary wrote back saying that she wouldn’t.
“Good Master Secretary,
I do thank you with all my heart, for the great pain and suit you have had for me for which I think myself very much bound to you. And whereas I do perceive by your letters, that you do mislike mine exception in my letter to the King’s Grace, I asure you, I did not mean as you do take it. For I do not mistrust that the King’s goddness will move me to do anything, which should offend God and my conscience. But that which I did write was only by the reason of continual custom. For I have always used, both in writing and speaking, to except God in all things.
Nevertheless, because you have exhorted me to write to His Grace again, and I cannot devise what I should write more but your own last copy, without adding or diminishing; therefore I do send you by this bearer, my servant, the same, word for word; and it is unsealed, because I cannot endure to write another copy. For the pain in my head and teeth hath troubled me so sore these two or three days and doth yet so continue, that I have very small rest, day or night.
Your assured bounded loving friend during my life,

With the same determination, she wrote to her father:
“I have written twice unto Your Highness, trusting to have, by some gracious letters, token or message, perceived sensibly the mercy, clemency and pity of Your Grace, and upon the operation of the same, at the last also to have attained the fruition of your most noble presence, which above all worldly things I desire: yet I have not obtained my said fervent and hearty desire, nor any piece of the same to my great and intolerable discomfort I am enforced, by the compulsion of nature, effstones to cry unto your merciful ears, and most humbly prostrate before your feet for some little spark of my humble suit and desire praying to God to preserve Your Highness, with the Queen, and shortly to send you issue which shall be gladder tidings to me that I can express in writing,
Your Most Humble and Obedient Daughter and Handmaid,

Mary’s boldness infuriated Henry further who was getting frustrated with her stubbornness and he sent a delegation of councilors to confront Mary. At the head of this council was the Duke of Norfolk who told Mary that if she was his daughter he would punish her behavior by bashing her head against the wall until it was soft like a boiled apple. Later Chapuys visited her and told her that her cousin the Emperor was also urging her to submit, if she did not then her father would surely killed her. Mary never believed her father would go to such lengths but recent developments had made her see otherwise. Henry was not the same man Mary knew as a child. Any man or woman who defied Henry’s position as Head of the Church would be put to death, Mary was no different.

On June 22, Mary finally signed. The document entitled “The Confession of Me the Lady Mary” stipulated that she was a bastard born of incest and her parents’ marriage had been invalid.

“I do freely, frankly recognize and acknowledge that the marriage heretofore had between His Majesty and my mother (the late Princess Dowager) was by God’s law and Man’s law, incestuous and unlawful.
(Signed) MARY”

Mary was quickly back in favor and reestablished in her father’s court. Her submission had saved her life but cost her dearly. The imperial ambassador wrote that “this affair of the Princess has tormented her more than you think” and indeed it had, but it had also made her stronger. Chapuys would later write that Mary had become more pragmatic and conciliatory than her mother and her good understanding of people and politics had left her with many friends and allies at court.


  • Inside the Tudor Court by Lauren Mackay
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter

Jane Seymour & Henry VIII’s Marriage: Reassessing the Phoenix

Jane Seymour (Wallis) and Henry VIII (Meyers) in
Jane Seymour (Wallis) and Henry VIII (Meyers) in “The Tudors” s3.

On the thirtieth of May 1536, Henry and Jane were married at Whitehall palace at the Queen’s Closet. The ceremony was officiated by none other than the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer who was Jane’s predecessor former chaplain. The wedding took place, according to Fraser “quickly and quietly”

Jane quickly established herself in her new role. Although she wasn’t vociferous like her predecessors, Jane did voice her opinion on several occasions. Her latest biographers Loades and Norton show that when she voiced them, she was very subtle. Had she lived, Norton believes Jane would have taken on “the political role that would have been open to her as the mother of the heir to the throne”. Jane Seymour appears as ‘boring’ or ‘conniving’ in popular culture, slammed for daring to take Anne’s position (which many view was rightfully hers). But history medieval and renaissance history is not about who was right or wrong. Laws could be changed or interpreted in many different ways. Ultimately who deserved the right to be called queen, or be revered, is to the reader.
Given Henry’s tastes it is hard to say whether he would have tired of Jane or not. She displayed herself as many other consorts before her had done, including Henry’s mother whom Henry revered and whom he seemed to judge his other wives on. Women were expected to take on certain roles, Consorts bore more responsibilities. They had to present themselves as the epitomes of virtue, and be prepared to rule in their husband’s absence or when their sons were too young to do so after they were crowned.
Would anyone be surprised if we were to find out that the “she wolves” Isabella of France and Marguerite of Anjou behaved like Jane Seymour before shit hit the fan? Thought so.
Isabella of France submitted herself to humiliation on the part of her husband and his favorites. During her coronation she saw her husband’s favorite’s arms displayed on the banquet instead of hers. She saw honors heaped on this man and then his replacement after he was executed by the Earl of Lancaster. Isabella said nothing, not a word while she lived. She obviously felt angry, but she never voiced her opinions. She did what Consorts did. She bore Edward II’s children, begged mercy for traitors, and appeared on state functions with her husband –including when they went to visit her father Philip IV “the Fair” of France. Isabella’s chance for revenge came when he sent her to France, to negotiate on his behalf with the new King of France, her brother Charles. There she met the exile Roger Mortimer and the two began a torrid love affair which ended with their alliance, their invasion to England in her son’s name, the deposition of her husband, and their regency for Edward III.

Marguerite of Anjou was less radical. She did not rebel against her husband, she stuck with him for better or for worse. Instead of replacing him with her son as Isabella had done, Marguerite decided to take the fight to Richard, Duke of York, the Earl of Salisbury, the Earls of March, Rutland, and Warwick. These were their number one enemies and when they forced her husband to sign a treaty where he acknowledged Richard’s right to be King, and made him his heir, passing over his son. Marguerite decided to take up arms against them again. Marguerite ended losing her war. Her son and husband died, ending the Lancastrian dynasty once and for all. There was only one last Lancastrian (although he descended from the Beauforts which were still considered by many illegitimate) and he ended up becoming King in 1485 after he defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field. He was Henry VII and his son Henry VIII was now Jane’s husband. Four days later, Sir John Russell wrote to Lord Lisle that in making Jane his wife, he had made a wise choice for “she is as gentle a lady as ever I knew, and as fair a queen as any in Christendom. The King hath come out of hell into heaven for the gentleness in this and the cursedness and the unhappiness in the other. You would do well to write to the king again that you rejoice he is so well match with so gracious a woman as is reported.”

Jane acted with tact, speaking when she felt was wise, and crossing the line only once when she voiced empathy for the pilgrimage of grace. Jane served two Queens, possibly three if the theory of her serving Princess Mary when she married Louis XII of France is correct; and under them she had seen many things, learned many things. The number one lesson she learned was not to get on Henry’s bad side, not just for her own safety but for her family.

“Could any female subject really give Henry a decisive refusal?” ~Amy Licence, Six Wives and the many Mistresses of Henry VIII

Marriage was like a business contract and it was the goal for many highborn at the time. As with Anne, Jane would have viewed the opportunity of becoming Queen a golden one. As with her predecessor, she was walking a fine thread with no friends in high places like Henry VIII’s first Queen, Katherine of Aragon. Had she said ‘no’ to Henry and genuinely refused all his attentions, Henry would have found someone else to replace Anne and that woman would no doubt be the one slammed instead of Jane.


  • Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s true love by Elizabeth Norton
  • Jane Seymour by David Loades
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence.

Who was the real Anne Boleyn? The True White Falcon

Anne Boleyn as played in TV, Film and Documentary.
Anne Boleyn as played in TV, Film and Documentary.

Anne Boleyn has been immortalized by historians, film and TV producers alike as this woman who gave birth to the savior of England (if not the world, according to many), Elizabeth I. While I do not wish to discredit Anne, I think she can stand well on her own without being given importance (uniquely) on the basis of her motherhood. Certainly Elizabeth I ushered in a golden age and is one of the most famous Queens in history, however to say she and her mother were the women who changed the course of global history and ushered in a new era of exploration, and technological advancements and broke the glass ceiling for women is something akin to saying that Sarah Palin is a feminist.

White Falcon Crowned. Anne Boleyn's royal insignia.
White Falcon Crowned. Anne Boleyn’s royal insignia.

Yes, probably I am going to get a lot of slamming from crazy die-hard fans who have never picked more than two Tudor history books. But let us speak history here, not fiction, but history. Was Anne Boleyn a great woman who stood out from all the rest? Yes and No. Yes, because she captured the attention of many notable men, courtiers and the King alike, because of her charm and intellect. And no, because Anne wasn’t the only intellectual courtier or Queen at the time. There were far many more women that were just as astounding that preceded her. In fact, two generations before her was Katherine of Aragon, her mother Isabella I of Castile and her grandmother-in-law, the late Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond. Although not a Queen, Margaret Beaufort was known as ‘My Lady the King’s Mother’.
She helped co-found and fund many colleges –some of which still carry her statue and her family’s symbol, the Beaufort porticullis; and she was considered one of the most learned women of her day. She translated many books and her chaplain who was later executed by her grandson Henry VIII, spoke very highly of her. Katherine of Aragon went even further, encouraging women’s education as her mother had done in her native Castile by becoming the patron of many humanist and scholars, most notably Juan Luis Vives whose books on the education of royals, opened up with a dedication for her. Katherine was no doubt influenced by her mother, the indomitable Isabella of Castile who sponsored many women scholars and who had one of them tutor her children. Beatriz de Galindo is the best known of these women scholars and Katherine would have seen her often in her mother’s court, lecturing her older siblings, and translating classical texts into Latin and Spanish. Her mother’s library was one of the most impressive in Western Europe and Isabella wanted her children to take advantage of it, to read as much they could and be given the educational tools that she was not given when she was growing up. Katherine and her sisters received an education similar to princes; and besides classical and religious texts, they also learned canon and civic law. When Katherine became Henry’s Queen, she took advantage of her position to further education, and her influence no doubt reached her ladies. Among them was Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard who briefly served her.

Anne Boleyn learned mostly from experience. Like her predecessor she was highly cultivated her, and unlike her, she got to visit more places and learn from different cultures. Katherine of Aragon was knowledgeable in history, but Anne got to see firsthand these customs she’d been told about or read about. When she came to England, having served one time when she was between 13-14 in the court of Mechelen of Archduchess Margaret of Austira, and another in France (first as maid of honor to Princess Mary Tudor, her future husband’s youngest sister, and then to the new French Queen, Claude Valois) she came back as a highly cultivated young woman who knew what she wanted and was determined to get it.

Anne Boleyn played by Genevive Bujold in "Anne of a Thousand Days" (1969).
Anne Boleyn played by Genevive Bujold in “Anne of a Thousand Days” (1969).

However, and this is where we get to dangerous territory, it is highly improbable that she wanted to be Henry’s Queen from the get go. In most movies, even the ones that are really good, about her, she is shown to be highly ambitious –a woman whose sole purpose was to take revenge on Wolsey for breaking up her engagement to Percy, and take on everyone that stood in her path to become Queen. In “The Tudors” this is the idea, and much as I did like the show, I had to laugh so many times because Anne is shown behaving anything less than what the real Anne behaved in that situation. Her mother is nowhere to be seen, so it must be assumed she is gone or the producers just felt lazy and didn’t want to waste any money paying an actress to take on her role. Her father is cold, calculating, disgusting and her uncle is no better. Thomas Boleyn was none of these things, any more than Anne was a monstrous figure plotting the death of everyone like one of those cartoonish villains you see on a Disney movie. Films and TV shows are done for one purpose and one purpose only: To Entertain. They are not there to educate. I love these TV shows but I take it as something of an alternate universe, or a fantasy, where you have all these characters and situations based on real life people and events, but nothing more.

Anne Boleyn played by Claire Foy in "Wolf Hall" (2015)
Anne Boleyn played by Claire Foy in “Wolf Hall” (2015)

We have to be very careful taking these shows to heart. In Wolf Hall, there is another interpretation to Anne, that is not that different. She is shown as a completely horrible person who has no other interest but to get herself rich and with male child so she can keep her crown. We do not see as we did see in other period pieces –even the Tudors- her interest in religion, or the commons, or her squabble with Cromwell over the misuse of the money gotten from the dissolution of the monasteries. Money which Anne wanted to go to charity, and be used for educational purposes as her predecessor had done. Cromwell on the other hand was eager to please the King and he knew that displeasing him would cost him his life, so he said no to her demands which in turn made her angry. This was an age where the King could not be directly blamed for his actions. If he was doing things that people did not agree on, then they would blame someone else for his actions. Cromwell got to be the target. Anne, being a religious woman, believed that it was time to start investing money on education to advance religious reform. From her point of view it was not Henry who was her enemy, but Cromwell who was misleading him and needed to be scared or done away with. She told her almoner John Skip to give a sermon preaching on Haman, the biblical arch-enemy of the glorious and devoted Queen Consort Esther who like Anne was just looking out for her people. When everyone heard the sermon, Cromwell did not miss the meaning of her message. He was next if she did not do his bidding.

Anne Boleyn played by Charlotte Rampling in "Henry VIII and his Six Wives" (1972).
Anne Boleyn played by Charlotte Rampling in “Henry VIII and his Six Wives” (1972).

Anne was ambitious, of this, there was no doubt. But she probably did not intend to be Queen in the first place. At the time it was known that Henry was probably thinking of divorcing his wife of many years because she had been unable to give him the son he wanted to secure the Tudor dynasty. But nobody would have thought he would end up with Anne. Her sister had been his mistress and Anne learned a lot from that experience, as well as being lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon. She heard and saw many dalliances and the consequences suffered because of them. There were many behavioral manuals (for women) at the time that spoke against women being led astray by men or their emotions. Anne was an avid reader, given her religious convictions, it is highly possible she had some of these manuals with her. Besides that, Anne like so many young women at the time, was looking for an advantageous marriage. Marriage was the key goal after all and the higher you married, the higher you and your family prospered. She wished to marry Henry Percy and that union never came to be because Wolsey broke it. And with good reason. At the time, he and the King were discussing with Thomas Boleyn to use Anne as a bargaining tool. To marry her to the Butler heir so she would secure the Ireland’s loyalty. That union never came to be and once again, Anne was in a political limbo like her predecessor had been; waiting in vain to be married.

Henry VIII (Richard Burton) and Anne Boleyn (Genevive Bujold) in "Anne of a Thousand Days".
Henry VIII (Richard Burton) and Anne Boleyn (Genevive Bujold) in “Anne of a Thousand Days”.

When Henry noticed her, she was probably looking for the next man who could become her next husband. Henry’s attentions changed everything. He wanted her to be his next mistress and Anne refused outright. She was not going to have her reputation in shambles because of this. But Henry was persistent. And you could not say no to the King. His letters do not speak of love any more than Christian Grey from fifty shades of Grey. Henry VIII was a king who was used to getting his own way, when he didn’t, he would lose his temper and for the first time here was a woman who was saying ‘no’ to him, who was writing to him saying she was not worthy and that he should not continue to write her. Instead of doing the mature thing and let her be, Henry continued to pursue her. Sending her more letters which some of them included little hearts drawn at the end of his signature so she could take his ‘love’ for her seriously. It got to a point where Anne finally realized that this was not going to go away. Henry was going to get what he wanted and if she continued to refuse him, then he would get angry and the angrier he got, the less prospects she would get. After all, who would be dumb enough to marry the woman the King was after? Eh … no one! And then there was her family. Her family would be cast out from court, and her father’s honors would be taken away.

It’s a cruel way to look at things. But it is the way things were back then, and with these limited options, Anne opted for the better of two evils. As the King’s wife she reasoned, she would have honors bestowed on her family; her niece and nephew could marry into great family, not to mention that her offspring could be the next King of England. It was a glorious prospect except for one thing … Katherine.

Katherine of Aragon. Henry VIII's first Consort. He sought to annul his marriage to her under the pretext that her first marriage to his brother Prince Arthur of Wales was consummated (though she maintained it never was).
Katherine of Aragon. Henry VIII’s first Consort. He sought to annul his marriage to her under the pretext that her first marriage to his brother Prince Arthur of Wales was consummated (though she maintained it never was).

Katherine was still his Queen. Anne counted on the pope giving him his divorce since Henry had been in high favor with the church since he wrote against Martin Luther which earned him the title “Defender of the Faith”. But Katherine’s nephew just happened to be the most powerful man in Europe and his soldiers ransacked the Vatican and took the pope prisoner. Charles, being the good politician that he was, claimed he had nothing to do with what his rogue soldiers did, but nonetheless took advantage of the situation by keeping the pope under house arrest under the guise that it was for his own ‘safety’. Because of this Anne had to wait over six years to become Queen of England. It is no surprise that during the course of this time, she grew frustrated. She directed her anger towards Katherine whom she spoke of with malice and scorn. When she heard her name, she claimed she felt nothing for her and that she would love to see her hanged rather than acknowledge her as her mistress.

She would regret her words years later when she would be the one in the same position as her late rival, and not only that, but facing a worse fate that her.

But when Anne realized it was time to show Henry what she really believed in, knowing this would benefit them both, she got her long wish and married him in January 1533. She was pregnant at the time and believing she was carrying the next King of England, made sure her joy was known. Henry wasted no time to crown her five months later in June. But to disappointment of many, when her child was born it turned out to be a girl. Henry showed no regret, but said in that same tone of voice he said to his predecessor that if they had a healthy girl, they will have a healthy son.

Anne Boleyn in the BBC documentary "The Last Days of Anne Boleyn".
Anne Boleyn in the BBC documentary “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn”.

For almost three years, Anne struggled in her position. Getting to the top was harder, staying there was even harder. The people did not like her, the Catholic fiction considered her a whore and though she was nothing more than an opportunist. And it didn’t help that her stepdaughter did not wish to acknowledge her as her father’s wife. Anne said to her aunt that she should box the Lady Mary’s ears if she continued rebelling against her, and refusing to acknowledge her bastard status and that she (Anne) was the true Queen of England. Anne did not get her wish. Doing this, would have made her more hated amongst the Catholics. Executions abounded during this period and the dissolution of the monasteries was just beginning. And yet, despite all this scorn we hear from Anne, we also hear some positive attitudes. As a deeply religious person, who took refuge in the faith she helped create, she encouraged her servants, including her ladies in waiting, to read from the English bible she kept on her chambers. And she gave alms to the poor and continued to push Cromwell to see that the money begotten from the dissolution of the monasteries be used for education and charity. The latter didn’t happen and when Henry grew tired of her, and she was unable to give him another son (her last miscarriage was in January 1536); he told Cromwell to get rid of her by any means necessary. No time was wasted. People were interrogated, threatened and it has been suspected that some were even tortured, to give them the kind of information they were looking for to condemn her.

The charges against her though, adultery, treason and incest, were so bogus that even the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys; scoffed at them. He told his master, Charles V, that it was ridiculous that she, her brother and the other four men accused of adultery, could be convicted under such bogus charges.

Anne was enraged at the charges, but she kept her dignity. She and her brother defended themselves well and walked to the scaffold to meet their fates, with little fear. Her brother, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, William Brereton, and Francis Weston were the first ones two go. Two days later on the nineteenth of May, 1536, it was Anne’s turn. Her speech was one which moved entire crowds to their knees and as she asked them to pray for her when it was her turn to kneel; they did. In one stroke, it was all over.

Twenty two years later her daughter, rises to the throne becoming one of the icons of her century. Since then the two have been immortalized, romanticized, but just who were they really? Are they who we want them to be because we are so desperate for heroines in today’s bleak world where we see so many problems in our society that we look back at the past with melancholy, wishing that it was like those times? Or is it because we don’t want to accept the truth, that the past was more brutal than today’s world, and that it was an alien world with morals, prejudices, and other attitudes which are so appalling to us now that if we accept that these existed, they will shatter the illusion we have over these women, especially the great icon, Anne Boleyn?

Is it not possible though, that we come to maintain our love for Anne Boleyn by accepting that she was a person of her time with the same prejudices as everyone else, and one who was determined, ambitious, religious and at times compassionate, and someone who can stand out on her own by all her other merits that have already been mentioned, without resorting to exaggeration?

Hever Portrait.

I leave that answer to you.


  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Henry VIII by Derek Wilson
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

Anne Boleyn: The White Falcon’s Last Flight

Anne Boleyn as played by two great actresses, Natalie Dormer and Genevive Bujold in
Anne Boleyn as played by two great actresses, Natalie Dormer and Genevive Bujold in “The Tudors” and “Anne of a Thousand Days”.

On the 19th of May, 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed. Anne Boleyn was the first Queen of England (or former if you want to get technical) to be executed.   Her execution was originally set on the eighteenth but it was postponed. Anne was deeply distraught. According to Kingston, the Captain of the guard, she would after be laughing and joking about her own mortality. And at other times she was jovial, engaging in conversation with her aunt, and the other women around her, including his wife. But on that morning of May nineteenth, Anne walked to the scaffold where she was immortalized by her next speech:

Anne Boleyn's execution in
Anne Boleyn’s execution in “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” (1970) where she was played by Dorothy Tutin

“Good Christian people,
I am come hither to die,
for according to the law
and by the law I am judged to die,
and therefore I will speak nothing against it.
I am come hither to accuse no man,
nor to speak anything 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 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 pray for me.
Oh Lord have mercy on me,
to God I commend my soul.”

Her words were fully remembered and recorded and they moved the crowd, who despite (some of them) their dislike for this maligned Queen, they knelt and did as she asked them to, pray for her.

Then she gave a pouch of money to her executioner –provided to her by Henry- and knelt, bracing herself for what was coming next. In one stroke, it was all over. Anne Boleyn was no more.

Some historians like Leanda de Lisle argue about the method of execution. Why did Henry VIII use a sword instead of an axe? Anne was afraid of fire and rightly so. Henry VIII saw himself as a cavalier, a knight in shining armor if you will. In his view death by the sword served the purpose to show that he was the purveyor of justice and the sword was also a symbol of Camelot, of righteousness and Henry always saw himself as the great purveyor of justice. Against what is shown on film and TV, there was nothing absolutely romantic about her end, it was tragic, it was sad, it was unfortunate. Period. And the sword was Henry’s long-stand view that nothing was wrong with this kingdom, and that justice had prevailed once more.


  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Anne Boleyn: A Life by Eric Ives

14th-15th May: The Beginning of the End

Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn from the BBC documentary
Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn from the BBC documentary “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn” and Showtime’s “The Tudors”.

On the 14th of May 1536, Henry declared his marriage to Anne Boleyn null and void which meant that she could no longer be accused of adultery since she had never been Henry’s wife. But this was Henry VIII. He wanted Anne gone, and it didn’t matter what legal mumbo-jumbo his muscle team had to conjure to get it done. There was also another reason why he wanted Anne done away with. He didn’t want another repeat of Katherine of Aragon. Katherine of Aragon as everyone knows was the wife he couldn’t divorce and annul his marriage to, from the Catholic Church’s perspective. And through that perspective, he was never legally married to Anne because Katherine was still alive, making his union with Anne invalid and their daughter a bastard. If he was to get a son from Jane Seymour, he had to make sure that there was no dispute (whatsoever) of his legitimacy. Therefore, the easiest solution as the priest tells you at the altar, “until death do us part”, was to kill Anne. But Henry was no murdered, he was a gallant chevalier who took after King Arthur. In his view, as Leanda de Lisle has argued, he was a man who was the purveyor of justice and the perfect embodiment of chivalry. Anne Boleyn as well as her alleged lovers’ executions had to come through legal means, and her execution (by a sword) was yet another representation of his chivalric ideals.

The day after her marriage was declared null and void, the trial against her and brother began.

“Her brother defied the charges and daringly read out the note he had been requested to keep secret, that Anne and Jane Parker had allegedly discussed the King’s inability in the bedroom, claiming he lacked ‘vertu’ and ‘puissance’, or ability and power.” –Licence

Although he never said that he agreed with what was written or that he believed the note was genuinely theirs, the simple fact that he had defied the order not to read it, was considered treasonous and a mockery against the King.

Anne Boleyn on trial played by Genevive Bujold in the movie
Anne Boleyn on trial played by Genevive Bujold in the movie “Anne of a Thousand Days”.

According to the Tudor chronicler Wriothesley, Anne composed herself during the trial and made “answers to all things laid against her, excusing herself with her words so clearly, as though she had never been fault of the same”. As for George, he also knew that he wasn’t going to get out of this alive. He had shadowed his father and uncle for many years, impressed the Imperial Ambassador for his brilliance and courteous behavior towards him; he had seen much of the two of the greatest courts in Europe, and with his sister being Queen, he had been a witness to many key events. He was realistic, pragmatic. And from the moment he had been arrested, he was aware that no one was going to get out of this alive or without their reputations dragged through the mud. Wriothesley added that he spoke “so prudently and wisely to all articles laid against him, that marvel it was to hear, and never would confess to anything but made himself as clear as though he had never offended.” Others were of the same opinion, including the Imperial Ambassador who wrote back to his master, telling him that the charges were so ridiculous that he was astonished that they were being taken seriously.

“No proof of George’s guilt was produced except that of his having once passed many hours in her company, and other little follies.” –Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador

As for Anne, once again ignoring the legal obvious that she could not be charged with something, since she had never been legally married to the King, according to the King himself; she was charged with twenty acts of adultery, three which were incest with her brother George and she was found guilty. The verdict was read aloud by none other than her first romantic interest, Henry Percy, who collapsed afterwards and had to be dragged out from the room for fear that he would get worse.


Anne’s fate was officially sealed. Anne would die four days later on May 19th, the other men -including her brother- two days before that.


  • Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay
  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • George Boleyn, Poet, Courtier, Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

The Queen vs Tudor Haman

Anne Boleyn threatening Cromwell  in "The Tudors"
Anne Boleyn threatening Cromwell in “The Tudors”

On the second of April 1536, Anne Boleyn’s almoner John Skip launched delivered a sermon attacking Thomas Cromwell. In his sermon, he quoted the Old Testament, reminding the people of evil councilors such as Haman who served King Ahasuerus. Haman got so powerful that people said he ruled. He started persecuting the Jews and was about to exterminate them when the Queen (Esther, who was a secret Jew and changed her name to hide her identity) stood up against him and expose him for what he was: a liar. The King rewarded his wife by stopping the persecution against her people and executing Haman, severing his head from his body. It was clear that by evoking the memory of the ill-fated Haman, Anne sent a powerful message to Cromwell: There was only room for one. Contrary to popular belief, that they were die hard enemies; the Tudor court was filled with allies who were often turned enemies and the other way around. Anne and Cromwell were initially allies but they differed on one big issue: what to do with the money begotten from the dissolution of the monasteries? As the King’s advisor. It was clear what Thomas Cromwell wanted: To make the King richer by filling up his coffers and reward his faithful subjects by giving them the lands he’d confiscated from the church, making them grateful to Cromwell as well. In great contrast, Anne wanted to use the money to fund educational programs and other charitable causes.

Esther accusing Haman of corruption and exposing his evil ways. Anne did the same, using her almoner John Skip, invoking this story to compare Cromwell with him.
Esther accusing Haman of corruption and exposing his evil ways. Anne did the same, using her almoner John Skip, invoking this story to compare Cromwell with him.

Both of them however, leaned towards Reform, yet they had different ideas of how to approach it. A lot has been said about Anne’s religious inclinations with many books and TV shows portraying her as a conniving, opportunistic woman who used the Reform to her own benefit. But we must remember that everyone, regardless of their background, was going to use his or her religion for their own benefit –and that of their families.

“Although Chapuys referred to Anne and her father as ‘more Luther than Luther himself’, it is more correct to say that both shared the humanist ideas of promotion of the scriptures in the vernacular.” (Norton)
“Although Chapuys referred to Anne and her father as ‘more Luther than Luther himself’, it is more correct to say that both shared the humanist ideas of promotion of the scriptures in the vernacular.” (Norton)

Interested by Luther but not entirely convinced by his ideas, she was influenced nonetheless by him and other Reformists. Once he made his intentions clear to marry her, she used her new position to influence the King and support Reform. Henry VIII however, was a Catholic at heart. Even though he separated from the Church, he wanted to keep the Church traditional. The separation from Rome however, must have seen for Anne, her brother and father like a small triumph. Anne kept a French bible with her and ordered an English translation of it and that she kept on her household for everyone to read it. Cromwell as the King’s servant, had to keep his loyalties in check. He had to be more cautious, and do everything in his power to make his sovereign happy. Yet he too showed Reformist sympathies, and while not popular among the nobles, he had merchant friends, and others on the common people he had helped, as well as investing most of his time building a network of spies that made him grow over confident in the late 1530s.

  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • Six Wives, the Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • Six Wives and the many mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton