Who was Anne Boleyn?
Perhaps the most infamous of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn was accused of a series of crimes and sentenced to be executed at the Tower of London on 19th May 1536. A key figurehead in the English Reformation, Anne’s marriage to Henry changed the landscape of law and religion, and their daughter, Elizabeth I, would rule for decades. Anne may not have been popular with her contemporaries, but she has captured the interest of historians around the world.
Here are eight widely unknown facts about the queen.
1. We don’t know much about her early life
There is very little known about Anne’s early life. We don’t even know what her date of birth is. Historians believe that she was born at some point between 1501 and 1503. However, there are no official records of an exact date.
Before serving as Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting, Anne had joined the courts of both Margaret of Austria and Queen Claude. She spoke fluent French, played the lute, and carried herself with the elegance and poise of the French courts, something that made her stand out considerably from her peers in the English court.
2. She was no stranger to the Tudors
Anne caught Henry’s attention when she became the lady-in-waiting to his first wife, Catherine. However, Anne was not unknown to the royal family. Before returning to England from France, she had served as the maid of honour at the wedding of Henry’s younger sister, Mary. Her father and brother were well known in the Tudor court, and the Boleyns held a considerable amount of power and wealth.
Anne’s sister, Mary Boleyn, was one of the King’s mistresses, rumoured to have given birth to an illegitimate son. Elizabeth Boleyn, Anne and Mary’s mother, was also rumoured to have had an affair with the king years earlier. Henry, however, denied this, stating ‘never with the mother’ when questioned about it.
3. Kissing cousins
The familial connections between Henry and Anne didn’t end with the Boleyn family. The day after Anne was executed, Henry announced his engagement to his third wife, Jane Seymour, Anne’s second cousin. Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was Anne’s first cousin on her mother’s side. Like Anne, she too was beheaded after being found guilty of adultery and treason.
4. She had only been queen for approximately 1,000 days
Henry and Anne were married in 1533, meaning that by the time he had her executed in 1536, she had only been queen for three years. During that time, she had given birth to a daughter.
However, Henry had grown impatient for a legitimate male heir. Anne suffered several miscarriages, the last of which was believed to be a boy. Rumours of witchcraft began to swirl after gossip claimed that the fetus was hideously deformed.
5. She was the first queen to be publicly executed
Henry dictated to the jailors at the Tower of London how he wanted the execution to go, even though he wouldn’t be there himself. Before Anne had even gone to trial, Henry had sent for an expert executioner from France. The swordsman was an unusual choice, as beheadings in England were typically performed with axes. Beheadings by axe were notoriously ineffectual and could often require more than one strike to complete the undertaking. Anne’s executioner removed her head with a single swing.
6. She was nearly burned at the stake
The typical death sentence for a woman charged with treason was being burned at the stake. Anne’s multiple charges, as well as the belief that she had been practising witchcraft, were viable reasons for her to have suffered such a fate.
It’s not known why Henry chose to behead Anne. However, many people believe it is because he wanted to protect his public image, and a merciful death for the woman who had supposedly cuckolded him would do just that.
7. She didn’t have a coffin or a proper funeral
Despite orchestrating the minute and very public details of Anne’s trial and execution, Henry had put relatively little thought into what would happen with her remains. In place of a coffin, it is believed that her body was put into an old arrow chest and buried in an unmarked grave in Salle Church.
8.She is the UK’s most prolific ghost
It’s no surprise that Anne is said to haunt the Tower of London. After all, it is where she lost her head! However, there are many other houses that all claim to be haunted by the ghostly apparition of Anne Boleyn. Hever Castle is another of her supposed haunting grounds, along with Bickling Hall, Marwell Hall, and Salle Church.
Her ghost is one of the most widely reported in the UK. Encounters have ranged from sights of the queen strolling the grounds at the Tower of London to her coach (driven by a headless horseman) pulling up outside Blickling Hall with the queen seated comfortably in the back, holding her head elegantly on her lap.