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10 Tragic Facts About the Downfall of Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn was a former lady-in-waiting who went on to become the second wife of Henry VIII of England and the mother of Elizabeth I. In history books, she is noted as bringing about the English Reformation and also becoming the first ever English queen to be publicly executed. Born most likely between 1501 and 1507, her downfall was one of scandal, tragedy, betrayal and brutality. In just three years; Anne went from Queen of England to beheaded at the Tower of London in 1536 for crimes she likely did not commit.

10. First Heartbreak

When Anne Boleyn was a young lady about the court, she won the affections of Henry Algernon Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland. During the spring of 1523, Lord Percy had secretly become engaged to a young Anne who was then a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon. Anne had already caught the eye of Henry VIII who was “distraught” to hear he might lose Anne to Lord Percy. The King urged Thomas Wolsey, statesman and a cardinal of the Catholic Church, to put an end to the engagement.

George Cavendish, Cardinal Wolsey’s gentleman-usher, wrote in his account, “When the lord cardinal had left the court and returned to Westminster, he remembered Henry’s request and summoned Lord Percy to his presence, saying in front of us, his servants: ‘I am amazed at your foolishness in getting entangled, even engaged, to this silly girl at court – I mean Anne Boleyn. Have you not considered your position?” The engagement was called off; Anne was left heartbroken and her tragic fate was sealed. (SOURCE)

9. Sibling Rivalry

The Boleyn family was very ambitious and they encouraged their eldest daughter, Mary, to become a mistress to the king so she could secure royal compensation. Mary was Henry’s mistress for an assumed two years between 1519 – 1521 but the fling ended when Henry turned his attention to Mary’s younger sister, Anne. Mary was married off to William Carey, a gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber and with Lord Percy already sent away – the King was able to advance on Anne.

Knowing she had little power over her fate, Anne used her wits to become much more than just a mistress. It took her six long years to secure a marriage to the King and in 1531, he separated from his loyal wife of 20 years, Queen Catherine. In the summer of 1533, a then-pregnant Anne married Henry – with Mary standing by to watch. During her late 20s, Mary had become a widow and she decided to run away and marry a man with no money or land. A furious Anne, shamed by her sister’s actions, banished her sister from the court. (SOURCE)

8. Vicious Rumors

Henry divorcing his loyal wife and marrying a young Anne did not sit well with many in the court and vicious rumors had started to spread. In 1533, Sir George Throckmorton, an English politician and a member of Parliament during the reign of Henry VIII, told the King that it was suspected Henry had previously engaged in an affair with not just Anne’s sister but also her mother, Elizabeth Boleyn. Throckmorton relayed to the King, “It is thought you have meddled both with the mother and sister.” In Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s book, ‘Life and Raigne of King Henry VIII’ it confirms that the King admitted his affair with the sister but “Never the mother.”

There was also the rumor that Anne had eleven fingers. George Wyatt, the grandson of court poet and ambassador Sir Thomas Wyatt, had spoken about an extra nail on one of Anne’s fingers. Nicholas Sander, a Catholic Recusant who lived in exile during Elizabeth I’s rule, also claimed Anne had a sixth finger on one of her hands. Despite these rumors, there has been no other historical reference to her deformities. (SOURCE)

7. Misunderstood Humor

Anne was met with much hostility when she took the court due to her twisted sense of humor. In the face of these complaints, she had her servant’s coats embroidered with a quote from Margaret of Austria “Ainsi sera, groigne qui groigne.” The Latin phrase translates to “Grumble all you like; this is how it’s going to be” and many interpreted her humor as arrogance.

Anne did have a kind and charitable side as she gave 14,000-15,000 of her annual expenditure to the poor. In 1851, John Foxe wrote in Book of Martyrs: Acts and Monuments of the Church in Three Volumes, Vol. II, “How bountiful she was to the poor, passing not only the common example of other queens but also the revenues almost of her estate; insomuch that the alms which she gave in three quarters of a year, in distribution, is summed to the number of fourteen or fifteen thousand pounds.” (SOURCE)

6. Disease Stricken

Since the early 1400s, the mysterious and highly contagious disease known as ‘The Sweating Sickness’ or ‘English Sweate’ plagued England. The symptoms were sudden; aches and pains in the head and neck, pain in the limbs, extreme physical weakness and violent shaking. Death often occurred within hours with a mortality rate as high as 70% even amongst healthy individuals.

Anne had fallen victim to the disease and in order to protect her King, she retreated to her family’s country home in Hever. Henry responded by only sending his second-best physician who was under great pressure to keep Anne alive or meet a terrible fate himself. Against all odds, Anne survived the disease and she soon returned to court. Many have speculated over the years that she never was ill, instead, feigning illness so Henry would fall even deeper in love with her. (SOURCE)

5. Miscarriages

Henry was desperate for a son and future heir to the throne. His first wife Catherine had provided him with one daughter, Mary I and a son, Henry, who died suddenly aged just 52-days old – the cause of his death has never been recorded in history books.

The Tudor dynasty rested on the shoulders of Anne and in 1533, she gave birth to Elizabeth I of England. In 1534, a letter from George Taylor to Lady Lisle states that the Anne was pregnant again and he wrote, “The Queen hath a goodly belly, praying our Lord to send us a prince.” There is also evidence that Henry ordered a lavishly decorated silver cradle but there was no mention of the pregnancy again.

In 1535, another letter from Sir William Kingston writes to Lord Lisle read, “Her Grace has as fair a belly as I have ever seen.” In another letter to Charles V in 1536, there’s evidence that Anne miscarried on the day of Catherine’s funeral. Unable to meet the King’s demands for a son – Anne’s marriage was in quick decline. (SOURCE)

4. Jane Seymour

The defiant traits that first attracted Henry to Anne were now beginning to turn him away from her. Then along came Jane Seymour; the exact opposite of Anne in that she was subservient and meek. Even one of Anne’s enemies, Eustace Chapuys, described Jane as “of middle stature and no great beauty, so fair that one would call her rather pale than otherwise.” However, she was the quintessential ‘English rose’ with fair hair and pale skin which would have peaked the King’s interest. Jane also was scandal free and the perfect ideal of exactly how a Queen should be.

There are those who speculate that Jane was active in the downfall of Anne and that she turned the King against her. After all, Jane’s wedding to Henry was planned whilst Anne was held prisoner in The Tower of London. In 1536, Jane had become Queen of England and fell pregnant. She gave birth to a son, who became King Edward VI, but she died of postnatal complications two weeks after giving birth. (SOURCE)

3. Witchcraft

It was widely believed that witches were masters of seduction and could use their powers to entice a man into marriage. A Catholic priest named Nicholas Sanders despised Anne’s sympathies toward the protestants. Sanders had described one of Anne’s miscarriages as the birth of a ‘shapeless mass of flesh’ which had awoken in the King his fear of witchcraft. A deformed foetus was also believed to be a sign of sexual sins.

Henry confided in one of his principal members of the Privy Chamber that he ‘had been seduced into this marriage by witchcraft’. This was in contrast to the facts that Henry had chased after Anne for many years and she was not in a position to refuse the King’s advances. However, accusing Anne of witchcraft would mean that Henry was free to remarry – once he had rid of her for good. (SOURCE)

2. False Charges


On April 30th, 1536, Henry postponed a trip with Anne to Calais and that same day a musician named Mark Smeaton was arrested and interrogated. The following day, one of Henry’s closest friends Sir Henry Norris, Anne and her brother George, Viscount George Rochford, were arrested. On May 4th and 5th, courtiers from the King’s court William Brereton, Richard Page, Francis Weston, Thomas Wyatt and Francis Bryan were also arrested.

Smeaton, Brereton, Weston and Norris were found guilty of adultery with the Queen and of conspiring to kill the King. In the King’s Bench Documents, Anne was accused of engaging in sexual relations with her brother and they were both found guilty of high treason. On May 17th, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer annulled Anne’s marriage to Henry and it was declared that she would be executed at the Tower of London. Now, 500 years later, the charges against Anne and her brother have been discredited as it’s believed she was wholly innocent. (SOURCE)

Smeaton, Brereton, Weston and Norris were found guilty of adultery with the Queen and of conspiring to kill the King. In the King’s Bench Documents, Anne was accused of engaging in sexual relations with her brother and they were both found guilty of high treason. On May 17th, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer annulled Anne’s marriage to Henry and it was declared that she would be executed at the Tower of London. Now, 500 years later, the charges against Anne and her brother have been discredited as it’s believed she was wholly innocent. (SOURCE)

1. Execution

In 1536, Anne was the first Queen to be executed in England. Awaiting her death, she wrote a poem about her pending doom that read: “O Death, rock me asleep, Bring me to quiet rest, Let pass my weary guiltless ghost. Out of my careful breast. Toll on, thou passing bell; Ring out my doleful knell; Let thy sound my death tell. Death doth draw nigh; There is no remedy.”

On the morning of May 19th, she walked with four servants to the scaffolding draped in black cloth and covered in straw on Tower Green within the walls of the Tower of London. Roughly a thousand people had gathered to witness her public execution. She gave a short speech to the crowd and repeated the prayer, “Jesu receive my soul; O Lord God have pity on my soul.”

Henry had ordered an expensive French swordsman to carry out the execution and with a single stroke, her neck was divided and Anne’s downfall was final. Her servants gathered her head and body from the straw, wrapped them in white cloth and she was buried at the Tower chapel, St Peter ad Vincula. (SOURCE)

About the author

Cheish Merryweather is the founder of Follow on Twitter: @thecheish

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