Claire Ridgway reads her account of the execution


Dressed in an ermine-trimmed, grey damask robe, with an English style gable hood and a crimson kirtle underneath, the slight, dark-haired woman took her final walk. She went out of the Queen’s Lodgings, past the Great Hall, through Cole Harbour Gate, and along the western side of the White Tower to the black-draped scaffold. The Constable of the Tower of London, Sir William Kingston, helped her up the scaffold steps and she stepped forward to address the waiting crowd. Her coal-black eyes flitted over the crowd. As her gaze met those of her enemies – Thomas Cromwell, Charles Brandon, Henry Fitzroy and Thomas Audley – she didn’t so much as flinch. The people fell silent as they gazed at their queen, Anne Boleyn, who one witness described as being “never so beautiful”. The Queen took a deep breath and spoke:

“Good Christian people, I have not come here to preach a sermon; I have come here 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 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.”

Her ladies stepped forward to remove Anne’s mantle and Anne doffed her hood, loosening those famous lustrous dark locks before tucking them into a cloth cap to keep them off her neck – that “little neck”. As her ladies sobbed silently, Anne paid the executioner, the famous Sword of Calais, who begged her forgiveness for the deed he was about to commit. Even he was moved by the dignity of the woman who stood before him. She showed no fear. Then the eyes that Anne had always used so powerfully were hidden by a blindfold and she knelt, in the straw, praying all the while: “O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul. To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesu receive my soul.”

One by one, the crowd too sank to their knees out of respect for this woman whose courage and dignity spoke of her innocence. The Dukes of Suffolk and Richmond, stunned, watched the reaction of the crowd and refused to follow suit. Anne deserved this, in their opinion.

The silence was deafening as the crowd waited for the executioner to strike. The only sound was Anne whispering her prayers. The executioner, visibly shaken by the atmosphere and by Anne’s courage, noticed that the Queen kept turning her head slightly, anticipating the blow, so he called out to his assistant to pass him his sword. As Anne moved her head to follow what the assistant was doing, the executioner came up behind her unnoticed and beheaded her with one stroke. Her ordeal was over. Her head may have been in the straw, her blood flowing freely across the scaffold, but Anne’s soul was with her Father in Heaven.

Anne Boleyn was denied a proper burial with Christian service. Instead, her sobbing ladies gathered up her head and body, wrapped them in white cloth and took them to the Tower chapel, St Peter ad Vincula. Here, the Star of the Court was placed inside an old elm chest which had once contained bow staves. Anne Boleyn, the mother of the future Elizabeth I, was then laid to rest in an unmarked grave, buried as a traitor to the Crown.

It was the 19th May 1536 and a Queen of England had been executed.

Taken from the preface of The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown by Claire Ridgway.

38 Responses to “19th May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn’s Execution”

  1. Sandra Horn says:

    Dear Claire,

    so moving.

    Who were her ladies who attended Anne on the scaffold?

    • Claire says:

      We do not know who attended Anne on the scaffold, although legend has it that Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee, attended her. The ladies are unnamed but I think it is likely that they were some of those who attended her during her imprisonment in the Tower – Mary Orchard, Mrs Stonor, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Anne’s aunt), Lady Anne Shelton (another aunt), Margaret Coffin and Lady Mary Kingston.

    • stephanie says:

      My only problem with this account is that henrey fitzroy was already dead before anne boleyn was executed

      • Claire says:

        No, he attended her execution. Fitzroy died on the 23rd July 1536, two months after Anne’s execution.

        • Claire says:

          In The Tudors series, they had him dying as a child but that was one of the inaccuracies of the show. In fact, on the very afternoon that Anne Boleyn was arrested and taken to the Tower of London, Fitzroy visited his father, the King, and Henry VIII told him “that both he and his sister, meaning the Princess, ought to thank God for having escaped from the hands of that woman[Anne Boleyn], who had planned their death by poison, from which I conclude that the King knew something of her wicked intentions.” (Chapuys) Fitzroy’s death in the July was a real blow to the King as he was his only living son at that time.

  2. Karen says:

    This always moves me to tears, I just keep feeling how she would have felt. Henry VIII was a dreadful, dreadful man.

    • Claire says:

      Yes, he was good in so many ways but his treatment of Anne, and also Catherine of Aragon and Mary, was appalling.

  3. bobbi says:

    What an amazing woman. And such a woman of courage and dignity. She would be The Person in history. I would love to sit and talk to.May God Bless.

  4. NanBoleyn says:

    May she rest in peace. Her courage at the scaffold gets me thru my dark moments. If she could face death with such composure, then, by God I can face a little physical pain. My challenges are nothing compared to what she endured. She deserves to be remembered thorough the ages. We will not forget you, the world knows you are innocent as well as all who died with and for you. Rest in peace my Anne.

    • Gellygret says:

      Anne, we know you were innocent, may you rest in peace. My Prayers are with you, you were an inspiration to all. God bless you.

  5. NGB48 says:

    A beautiful reading Claire….I could picture the tragic scene in my mind as I listened. Very moving, thank you.

    • Claire says:

      I actually got choked up reading it! I always do because I keep thinking that they were spoken by a woman about to die and that hits me every time.

  6. Mickey says:

    Who wrote down her final words? Or had she prepared them in advance?

    I always wonder what would have happened if she had been spared and Elizabeth would have had the chance to really know her mother. Elizabeth often reference her father in the things she did. What if she could have reference her mother? What a powerful legacy that would have been.

  7. Janet says:

    I’m always amazed that Anne could say such nice things about Henry in her speech. I know it wouldn’t be ‘proper’ scaffold etiquette to say anything insulting, but she could have just not said much at all, rather than what she did say. It certainly showed who the bigger person was.

    Bless you Anne. There are so many of us thinking of you, especially today.

  8. Deborah Braden says:

    Claire, thank you for allowing us the opportunity to experience the final days of this most gracious woman. You have brought to life and made personal this horrific time in history as well as bringing Queen Anne her much deserved justice. I hope she is looking down from Heaven with a light heart and feels the love that is pouring from her devoted friends on this earth 476 years after this tragedy. What a deeply emotional experience. Deborah

  9. Bridgett says:

    Wow, Claire, your voice is so pleasant to listen to. It truly put me there as if I were watching it happen before me! I have to admit that I cried too. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Claire says:

      Thank you! I tried to read Anne’s words with meaning and it was an emotional experience actually reading them out loud.

  10. What an amazing description Claire and I agree with Bridgett, you’ve definitely got a voice that is so easy to listen to.

    I do hope you are planning on doing audio book versions of your books!! 🙂

    Listening to you describing it all brings it so much more alive and real…I found myself conjuring the scene in my mind.

    I am really glad you did this and shared it with us all Claire, thanks.

    Darren x

  11. Dawn 1st says:

    Today is a day to remember and pay respect to a woman, a mother, a Queen, whose execution was a brutal act of cruelty.
    But I also think it is a day to celebrate her life. I don’t think Anne would want us to spend the day in sadness, she would want us to remember her when in full bloom, full of life and vitality. Her happy childhood at Hever, her learning days in Europe, and her growing and exciting days at the court of Henry, when she was a rising star..all the wonderful things she did and saw.
    After spending a few moments in rememberence, I went out doors,it was a lovely sunny day (at last, the weather here in Scotland has been awful for weeks), and I planted my Anne Boleyn rose which was bought for me some weeks back, and saved to do on this day. I have placed it close to my back garden door, so it can be admired on a daily basis, this lighten the sadness of the day, and as I carried on gardening I thought about all the wonderful things she must have experienced . Tonight I have raised a couple of glasses of wine to her and the fascinating part of history that she has left us.
    To Queen Anne, God rest her soul!

  12. amlli says:

    I find the end of Anne’s speech ‘And thus I take leave of world’ really heart breaking.

  13. Trisha says:

    I thought Fitzroy admired and respected Anne? That he whitnessed her exicution as a friend and not a foe. Apparently what I have read is incorrect.

    • Claire says:

      Not by 1536. He had accompanied Anne and his father to Calais in 1532 and Anne had helped arrange his marriage to Mary Howard, but on the afternoon that Anne was arrested Fitzroy visited his father and was told that Anne had planned to kill him and his half-sister, Mary, by poisoning them. We don’t know whether he believed it, but he appears to have sided with his father and he benefited from the falls of the men.

  14. Ashley says:

    Anne was an amazing women I think to go to her death with such courage must have been amazing to the crowd what a brave women she must have been

  15. Meg says:

    Correction to the account of Anne’s execution; she was not a queen when she died. Anne died as the Marchioness of Pembroke.

    • Claire says:

      Meg, it depends on how you view the annulment but at her trial, on condemnation, Anne was stripped of her crown and all her titles, except that of “Queen”. So, she wasn’t Marchioness of Pembroke any more, but she was still Queen.

      • Lynn Donovan says:

        You are correct on that account. But I would have thought being found guilty she would have forfeited that title. Also it could be that Anne’s enemies never reconized her as queen therefore never thought it was important. Also if her annulment was based on her “pre contract to Northcumberland or her affinity to her sister, then she was never technically queen therfore she never had the title.(technicallities) But that wouldhave been the view then. The sticking point for me was that she was made Queen by statute not by marriage to the King.
        I will let the rest of you make your own decisions.

  16. Kat Greaves says:

    Thank you so much for doing a audio on her final moments. You should DEFO do a audio book!!! I could picture it and her final moments in this world. I am sure she would be amazed how much support and people fighting her corner there are even 700+ years? later. Thank you Claire for bringing the Tudor dinisty back to life

    Kind Regards

    Kat

  17. Vassiliki says:

    I had read a comment which declared that at Anne’s speech on the scaffold, the references to the king (”God save the king….for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never….”), were ironic. According to your opinion, is it true? Because I think that by these references to the king, Anne simply wanted to express her undiminished affection to him, despite the fact that he had the responsibility of her execution.

  18. Claire says:

    I don’t think that she was being ironic, I think she was simply doing what was expected of her and also protecting her daughter and her family.

  19. Jenny Elaine says:

    This moved me to tears. Thank you for reading it….and I am glad to have run into this site. This, and all of the comments, should be a reminder about how important it is not to forget history…as, here, we have the 1st black president in the US, and just 150 years after slavery…yet, instead of relishing in the moment…in the moment of seeing humanity perhaps move forward a bit….we just see more hatred.

    I am awed by Anne’s courage…amazing. I will hope to sit down with her in the next life and speak a bit.

  20. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Claire,Such a touching read,it has brought tears to my eyes,perhapes always will,Most beloved by many,aswell as hated by many.With that said ,QUEEN ANNE was as innocent as you and I our to this date.As all others were aswell,so unjust Praise ,QUEEN ANNE and all that were wrongly tried needlessly butsherd,all prayers go out to there souls. All AB Friends have a very Holiday Holiday to all and all the world .Peace Love and Joy be withand yours. Happy Holidays Barones Von Reis

  21. Rhynn says:

    Wonderful reproduction of this heartbreaking event. I’ve been fascinated with Anne since I was a kid, upon first reading of her hauntings of the Royal grounds and the story behind her.

    The depiction of the event (along with my adoration of Natalie Dormer) has often made me wonder if I could have stood there and watched her die. The Fourth Musketeer in me sees me putting a flaming arrow into the sword hand of the executioner as he begins his swing, and then pushing through the crowd to take Anne by the hand and lead her off to a new life of exile, outlaw, and adventure with me.

    Later I fret about what one good heavy machine gun could have done to persuade Henry and his guards to forget all about their plans that day. It’s all outlandish of course, but the wonder and mystery of Anne Boleyn inspires one to continue and even re-imagine her story all kinds of ways. Only memorable and very special people can do that.

    I salute your efforts to celebrate her.

    • Claire says:

      Thank you, Rhynn, for your kind comment. I know exactly what you mean about wanting to save her, it must have been awful for those who knew and loved her to watch her die like that. I find these last two verses of Wyatt’s “V.Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei” very poignant:

      The bell tower showed me such sight
      That in my head sticks day and night.
      There did I learn out of a grate,
      For all favour, glory, or might,
      That yet circa Regna tonat.

      By proof, I say, there did I learn:
      Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
      Of innocency to plead or prate.
      Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,
      For sure, circa Regna tonat.

      Circa Regna tonat, “about the throne the thunder rolls”, how very true.

    • mark says:

      well said sir!-im sure I would have done something similar!-I believe the ladies that accompanied her to the scaffold were the same as ”looked after”her in the tower,but after seeing her in her pain and sorrow in the last hour or so changed their opinion of her and felt she was/is innocent!…I find it still a shame anne didn’t have any of her close friends with her though!….also I have seen a couple of accounts where anne’s body was left on the scaffold for between hours and days after-how appauling and disgraceful!!

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