Anne Boleyn and how a Queen became a prisoner

One of the most famous prisoners of the Tower of London was Anne Boleyn – a Queen!

Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, his second wife, in January 1533. In advance of Anne’s coronation, they stayed at the Tower of London where the royal apartments had been refurbished and other lodgings rebuilt or erected for the joyous occasion.

Anne proved unable to provide Henry with the son he so desperately sought and by the end of 1535 he was anxious to marry again. 

On 2nd May 1536 Anne was arrested at Greenwich. She was accused of adultery with four men and incest with her own brother George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford.

In committing these crimes she was also accused of plotting the King’s death and indirectly damaging his health when news of her adultery was made known to him. 

Anne was tried in the Lieutenant’s lodgings on the site of today’s Queen’s House. Her judge was her own uncle, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk.  

Anne always denied the charges against her and the evidence was circumstantial to say the least!

Nonetheless, guilty verdicts were passed. Her brother and the other four men were executed on Tower Hill on 17th May.

Anne’s behaviour in her lodging became increasingly hysterical as she saw all hope fade.

Letters sent by the Constable of the Tower, Sir William Kingston, to Henry’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell, record that she would kneel down and weep, and in the “same sorrow” fall into a great laughing.  

By the day of her execution, 19th May 1536, Anne had regained her composure. 

A letter from Kingston describes how he found the Queen that morning:

“I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck”, then she put her hands about it, laughing heartily.  I have seen many men and also women executed, and that they have been in great sorrow, and to my knowledge this lady hath much joy in death”.

On the scaffold Anne accepted her fate with equanimity “I come hither to accuse no man, not 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 a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good a sovereign lord”

The Queen granted a special dispensation to be beheaded with a sword, an expert French executioner had been brought in, who carried out his task quickly and effectively.

The prayer book taken with her to the scaffold survives at Hever Castle. 

In it, Anne wrote “Remember me when you do pray, that hope doth lead from day to day”. 

The Queen was buried in the Chapel royal of St Peter ad Vincula, close to the scaffold site on Tower Green.

Locked Up In The Tower is supported by Historic Royal Palaces