The Story Behind the Execution of Anne Boleyn

Candy Spilman By Candy Spilman, 6th Jul 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

Many atrocities were committed during the religious reforms during the 1500s. The execution of Anne Boleyn was just one example of an innocent victim who suffered the consequences during that time.

Sixteenth century background

The sixteenth century was a harrowing period in England’s history. It was a time of religious transitions, some of which were brought about by King Henry VIII. After the annulment of his first marriage, he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. This led to the separation of the Church of England into an entity apart from papal authority. The 1500’s were also the setting for the Spanish Inquisition and the Protestant Reformation, led by Martin Luther.

King Henry VIII, who reigned from April 21, 1509 until his death on Jan 28, 1547, was also known for his six marriages; some which had questionable endings. Two of the marriages were annulled, two ended by the natural death of the wives, but the other two were terminated when the wives were beheaded for adultery and treason.

Anne Boleyn enters the picture

One of the wives so accused was Anne Boleyn. Anne caught Henry’s eye around 1522, when she attended his first wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, as a lady in waiting. After repeated attempts to make her his mistress failed, Henry began to plot a way to make her his wife, although he was already married. Henry and Catherine had a child together; a daughter named Mary. Even so, he had the marriage annulled, and declared the child illegitimate.

Finally wed to Anne, he made no secret of the fact that he expected a male heir from her. When Anne became pregnant and delivered a daughter, Elizabeth I, Henry was scornful. In the meantime, Anne began showing an interest in some of the religious reforms, which earned her the hatred of some of her court. In 1534 and again in 1535, Anne became with child again, but both pregnancies ended in miscarriage or stillbirth. At least one of those children was said to have been a son, and the second of the two tragedies was perhaps induced by Anne’s state of mind when Henry was injured in a jousting accident. There is some speculation that she may have had a third miscarriage on the day of Catherine’s funeral, January 29, 1936.

The violent aftermath

After Catherine’s death, some believe that Henry began to plot ways to become free of Anne as well, leaving him able to legally marry someone else in pursuit of his male heir. It is believed that one of Anne’s enemies, Thomas Cromwell, the Earl of Essex, may have had an influence on King Henry to seek her execution.

While Anne was recovering from her final miscarriage, the king formally accused her of treason, adultery and incest. Witnesses avowed that she had had sexual relations with Sir Francis Weston, her musician Mark Smeaton, Sir Henry Norris, William Brereton, and her own brother, Viscount Rochford George Boleyn; all during her marriage to King Henry. Some of the confessions were obtained after torture. George Boleyn’s wife, Jane Parker Boleyn, appeared as a witness against her husband, stating that she had seen the incest herself. After her statement, she was rewarded by being reinstated as Lady to the Privy Chamber to her cousin-in-law, Catherine Howard, who later became Henry’s fifth wife. On February 13, 1542, Catherine and Jane were executed, and at her own execution, Jane admitted that she had lied about Anne.

All the men involved in the scandal were hung and quartered, and on May 19, 1536, Anne was beheaded by an expert swordsman brought in from Calais. The very next day, Henry became engaged to his latest mistress, Jane Seymour.

Anne as a martyr

Anne is listed as a Christian martyr in John Foxe’s book, Acts and Monuments, also known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Foxe referred to Anne as a worthy and Christian lady, both because of her teachings and also because of her lifestyle. At her execution, after making her speech, it is recorded that several times, she uttered the words, “To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesu receive my soul”.


16Th Century, Adultery, Anne Boleyn, Christian, Execution, Henry Viii, Martyr, Religion

Meet the author

author avatar Candy Spilman
Former journalist turned freelancer. I'm a mom and grandma and love to write about family or Christian topics.

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author avatar Sherri Granato
9th Jul 2015 (#)

Such extremes, and all in vane. Proof that affairs can be deadly.

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