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1536: Anne Boleyn

May 19th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1536, Anne Boleyn lost her head.

Any queen decapitated by her king would of course rate an entry in these grim pages. But this does not quite explain Anne Boleyn‘s enduring appeal, relevance and recognizability for the most casual of modern observers, and her concomitant footprint in popular culture, even with the “Greek tragedy” quality of her life.

Anne stands at the fulcrum of England’s epochal leap into modernity. Whether she was that fulcrum might depend on the reader’s sympathy for the Great Man theory of history, but little more do we injure our headless queen to regard her as the woman for her time and place — the accidental hero (or villain) raised up and thrown down by the tectonic forces of her milieu.

Through Anne was born — for reasons of momentary political arrangements of long-forgotten dynasts, which seems a shockingly parochial proximate cause — the English Reformation, and through the Reformation was born the crown’s decisive triumph over the nobility, the broad middle class nurtured on the spoils of Catholic monasteries, the rising Britannia fit to rule. Most would take as an epitaph historical accidents of such magnitude.

Of course, by those same accidents, Anne was the instrument of thousands of deaths herself, and little did she appear troubled in life by the corpses upon which she ascended the throne.

Her own family maps the change wrought on England. An ancestor was beheaded in the Wars of the Roses, medieval England’s last great breakdown; her uncle Thomas Howard was one of the throwback scheming Dukes, mastered by his sovereign to the extent of issuing Anne’s capital sentence from his own lips;* the beheaded woman’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, set a recognizably centralized English state on the path of empire.

Fitting tribute that, from the Tower where she met her end** to lands undreamt-of in her time, people still, like Henry, find her captivating.

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* Anne’s father also declared for her guilt. Unprincipled as these men undoubtedly were, it cannot have been a pleasant responsibility; the question of whether she was actually guilty of adultery-cum-treason, the fatal charge extracted from a supposed lover by torture, has been hotly and inconclusively disputed by posterity.

** With a solemn speech submissive to Henry but not admitting any guilt — in an earlier moment of levity, she had famously remarked of the French swordsman hired to do the job, “I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck.”

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Gallows Humor,Heads of State,History,Infamous,Milestones,Nobility,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Notably Survived By,Political Expedience,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Royalty,Scandal,Sex,Torture,Treason,Women,Wrongful Executions

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21 Responses to “1536: Anne Boleyn”

  1. 1
    ExecutedToday.com » 1535: Thomas More, the king’s good servant but God’s first Says:

    [...] Anne Boleyn, who caused More’s fate, shared it less than a year afterwards. [...]

  2. 2
    ExecutedToday.com » 1425: Parisina Malatesta and Ugo d’Este, for incest Says:

    [...] can hardly fail to think of that more renowned decapitated queen of the next century Anne Boleyn. Like Anne, Parisina lost her head to an incest allegation after a few years’ failure to give [...]

  3. 3
    ExecutedToday.com » Nine Executed People Who Make Great Halloween Costumes Says:

    [...] Anne Boleyn [...]

  4. 4
    ExecutedToday.com » 1556: Thomas Cranmer, architect of Anglicanism Says:

    [...] middle-aged priest when happenstance acquainted him with the circle then endeavoring to engineer Anne Boleyn’s elevation from Henry VIII’s enamored to Queen of [...]

  5. 5
    ExecutedToday.com » 1542: Kathryn Howard, the rose without a thorn Says:

    [...] She was the second of Henry’s queens to face this fate, the other being Kathryn’s first cousin Anne Boleyn. This Hans Holbein miniature is generally thought to be Kathryn Howard, though the identification [...]

  6. 6
    keylee Says:

    i will translate this story in BM ..thanks

  7. 7
    ExecutedToday.com » 1461: James Butler, War of the Roses casualty Says:

    [...] Edward II; its succession fell to James’ younger brother Thomas, who was great-grandfather to Anne Boleyn. (Anne’s father Thomas Boleyn was the 8th Earl of [...]

  8. 8
    ExecutedToday.com » 1405: Richard le Scrope and Thomas de Mowbray, without color of law Says:

    [...] authorities. The pope was persuaded not to excommunicate Henry — that step would be reserved a later King Henry — but many contemporaries viewed the monarch’s subsequent (and ultimately fatal) bouts [...]

  9. 9
    ExecutedToday.com » 1537: Robert Aske, for the Pilgrimage of Grace Says:

    [...] Robert Aske, the barrister who had come to the fore of the Pilgrimage movement and had personally negotiated terms with Henry, was among about 200 to suffer death for their part in the affair. In Aske’s case, it was against the will of Jane Seymour, Henry’s demure third queen and also a Catholic-inclined traditionalist; she made an uncharacteristic foray into state policy by ask(e)ing for Aske’s life, summarily vetoed by the king’s reminding her the fate of her politically-minded predecessor. [...]

  10. 10
    ExecutedToday.com » 1538: John Lambert, “none but Christ” Says:

    [...] of the English Reformation is as an initial flowering of Protestantism followed — after the execution of Anne Boleyn — by a reactionary crackdown by the [...]

  11. 11
    ExecutedToday.com » 1540: Thomas Cromwell Says:

    [...] matter of importance in 1530’s England concerned Cromwell. He raised and then destroyed Anne Boleyn; he managed the realm’s religious turmoil so fearsomely that his ouster was one of the [...]

  12. 12
    ExecutedToday.com » 1536: William Tyndale, English Bible translator Says:

    [...] when the once-staunch Catholic Henry VIII broke with Rome over Anne Boleyn, the English manhunt for Tyndale continued: Henry’s reformation did not share radical [...]

  13. 13
    ExecutedToday.com » 1554: Thomas Wyatt the Younger, with the Queen’s life in his hands Says:

    [...] he not, the princess might have followed her mother to the scaffold, instead of becoming one of the realm’s most illustrious monarchs* — a [...]

  14. 14
    ExecutedToday.com » 1541: Thomas Fiennes, 9th Baron Dacre Says:

    [...] sat on the jury of peers that condemned Anne Boleyn, and also helped doom plotters in the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter [...]

  15. 15
    ExecutedToday.com » 1533: John Frith and Andrew Hewet, Protestants Says:

    [...] of course, was made possible by Henry’s insistence on ditching his first wife in favor of Anne Boleyn, and Cranmer’s support for that action. On July 11, both the king and his pliant prelate were [...]

  16. 16
    ExecutedToday.com » 1497: Michael An Gof and Thomas Flamank, leaders of the Cornish Rebellion Says:

    [...] “Henry Tudor’s” legitimacy on an English throne he had recently conquered was still a bit shaky, which is why he had to worry about pretenders to begin with (and also why his son would become so infamous looking for heirs). [...]

  17. 17
    Executed Today? « Histor Eidenai Says:

    [...] Anne Boleyn The most hated women in France meets her end. [...]

  18. 18
    ExecutedToday.com » 1535: Cardinal John Fisher Says:

    [...] jury including the father of the usurping queen who had occasioned all this trouble — Anne Boleyn, of course, bound for the block herself in less than a year — condemned the aged ecclesiastic [...]

  19. 19
    ExecutedToday.com » 1537: “Silken Thomas” FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare Says:

    [...] some allies to relieve it, hoping to play a Catholic-resentment card against Henry VIII’s rift with [...]

  20. 20
    ExecutedToday.com » 1586: Saint Margaret Clitherow, pressed Catholic Says:

    [...] assist him in securing the dissolution of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could wed Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII saw many of his religious policies undone by his [...]

  21. 21
    ExecutedToday.com » 1541: Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury Says:

    [...] Pole family fortunes crashed — as so many others did — after Anne Boleyn became the second wife of Henry VIII. Not surprisingly, Margaret had sided with Catherine and Mary [...]

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