Saturday, February 14, 2009

Question from Jenna - Anne's execution, etc.

In the mini-series, The Tudor's", (I know, not the best source of history) Anne Boleyn is protrayed in her last days, maybe longer, as being very harsh and cruel to her servants and people around her, including other nobles. In the movie, which is based loosely on some history, she barked orders and threatened to have various people's heads cropped, at one time even Lord Chancellor Thomas Crowells. Yet in the book "A Short History of the Tower of London", it states, as if she was a beloved Queen, that her Ladies In Waiting were kneeling and weeping bitterly over her bleeding body not knowing what to do since no coffin had been made available, and that the crowd was horrified at what they had witnessed because everyone was probably expecting a reprieve.

What I would like to know is if King Henry had his marriage to Anne Boleyn annuled right before she was executed then (1) why is she referred to in history books as "Queen Anne" and (2) does anyone know if she ever had anyone executed while she was Queen?

Another thing that was in the book "A Short History of the Tower of London" was that after the King changed her execution from burning to beheading, she requested that a sword be used instead of an axe because she didn't have much faith in the skill of and executioner with so clumsy of a weapon as an axe yet an axe was the preferred weapon for executions in England at the time and many people had died at the hands of an axeman while King Henry was ruler. Wonder if she had ever tried to change that before it was her turn on the scaffold.

10 comments:

PhD Historian said...

Jenna, despite its title, both versions of A Short History of the Tower of London are less genuine "histories" and much more nearly tourist-oriented repetitions of the tall tales and ghost stories that tourists expect to hear. And the version by George Younghusband is rife with the kinds of overly sentimental nonsense that the late Victorians and Edwardians were so very fond of hearing. DO not believe half of what you read in those books.

Anne Boleyn is referred to as "Queen Anne" because, despite the later annullment, she had nonetheless been anointed and crowned as a Queen of England. Changes in marital status do cannot un-do that. The same is true with regard to Katherine of Aragon ... history continues to refer to her as Queen Katherine despite her later "divorce" from Henry.

As for your second question, no one individual ever had the power or authority to "have someone executed" on personal orders alone. The only way under English law for anyone to be executed is if they are charged with a capital crime, tried by a jury of their peers, found guilty, and sentenced according to the law. Shouting "off with their head" like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland simply did not happen.

But did Anne ever conspire with others to frame somoeone for a crime and to arrange their trial and conviction? (something Henry did on several occasions!) I am not aware that she ever did, though some of our Anne Boleyn experts may have better information in that regard. I am inclined to suspect that Anne was too busy worrying about producing a male heir and trying to remain in Henry's good graces to risk offending him by meddling directly in political and legal affairs. Anyone tried by a central court and executed in London would have come to Henry's attention, and he would likely have been unhappy to know that his wife was meddling in his own area of influence and control.

Denise said...

The problem with the annulment is how can you commit adultery if you weren't married? I know adultery is treason for a queen, so maybe the argument is that if she thought she was queen her acts were treasonous (assuming they were committed), therefore the execution is still valid. I don't know. It seems a bit of a stretch to me.

Tracey said...

Denise, I think that's why so many people at the time probably scratched their heads as to Henry's reasoning. But by this point, nobody was going to argue with him.

Tis true...if Anne was never married to Henry, then there couldn't have been any adultery. "Folks" say that this was the argument used for Kathryn Howard.

Supposedly there was a marriage between her and Dereham and some felt Kathryn would have been shut-away instead of executed, even after her fun-time with Culpepper was discovered, if she had just admitted to the marriage. But then again...you just didn't know what The King would take into his mind to do.

IMO...Henry would have lopped off her head, too.

Jenna said...

PhD Historian, I have read that some do believe that Ann's meddling and outspokenness in matters that didn't concern her probably led to her demise. Of course then there are those that believe that he just wanted her gone, but I tend to believe that it was more than that because he could have had their marriage annulled just like he did with Katherine of Aragon. And he didn't have her beheaded.

It's really hard to know what transpired since there seems to be a lot of Anne fans who just thought that she was mistreated by an adulterous husband who happened to be King. But, again I refer back to the era and how women were treated and what was customary behavior for the men. I don' think that we can put our today's logic and beliefs into the 16th century. I am not pro or con Anne Boleyn, I would just like to know how she was really viewed by others during her time as Queen.

Katherine of Aragon seems to have been loved by the masses but then again she was Queen for a very long time and maybe her parents had some influence on the respect that she got.

Elizabeth M. said...

Probably a good reason for Anne's behavior in the latter part of her marriage to Henry lay in her wanting to survive, literally and figuratively. By the latter part of 1535, she had suffered one, possibly two miscarriages, and had not yet produced a son. She was well aware that her husband's roving eye was casting about and that his love for her was not as strong as it had been in the past. The loss of her male fetus in January, 1536 probably only increased her terror. The Seymour faction was aggressively promoting the cause of Jane Seymour, henry's latest obsession. Anne came to realize she was expendable. When henry had his riding accident and was unconscious for two hours, you can imagine how Anne may have been terrified. If he died, there would have been a fierce power struggle. Elizabeth was his only legitimate heir, but the faction for Mary was strong, and it is doubtful Anne would have been allowed to be regent during her daughter's minority. It would have been very easy for someone to become frightened and paranoid were they in Anne's position. She had failed in her primary function of producing a living male heir, her husband was looking elsewhere, and there were plenty of powerful people waiting like sharks in the water, waiting for any signs of weakness in Anne's position to promote their own. She was fighting not only for her own survival, but for the birthright of her daughter. I may have been somewhat snappish myself had I been in her position.

Jessica said...

You have to remember, Anne was not a very popular Queen. England loved Queen Catherine because they believed she represented the perfect Queen. She was pious, dutiful, and charitable. Not to mention, she was of royal blood. Anne came from a gentry class aka upper middle class. She was able to be anointed to Queen because Henry had risen her in status so that he could marry her and anoint her as Queen.

Some historians argued that Anne was jealous and needy, unlike Catherine, who allowed Henry to have mistresses. So, that was something he was not used to. And, also, there were other factions at court that wanted to bring down the Boleyn factions. It didn’t hurt that Anne was unpopular, Henry was getting annoyed with her, and she couldn’t produce a male heir. So, the Seymour faction took this opportunity and worked with bringing down Anne and the Boleyn faction. Thomas Cromwell, who helped the Boleyn into power, switched sides and helped the Seymours by trumping up charges against Anne.

She hasn’t ordered anyone’s execution because Anne doesn’t have that much power. She could have influenced Henry to execute someone, but I am not aware of any such plotting.

As for the sword instead of the ax, Anne was raised in the French courts. In France, they use swords instead of axes. She had heard horrible stories about axes not being sharp enough, therefore you would need more than one blow to cut the head off. Queen Mary of Scot is a good example of that. Swords were believed to be sharper and quicker. So, I doubt Anne would have changed her mind and asked for the ax. Also, women who committed treason were often hanged. There were only three women who were executed by beheading; Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Jane Grey. They were aristocratic women, so they received special circumstances. You might also say that Henry was a bit sympathetic to allow Anne to die by the sword instead of ax, though Anne sympathizers might not see that.

Elizabeth M. said...

I thought it was Henry's idea for the sword, not Anne's.

Anonymous said...

Yes she did threaten to have people killed, Thomas Cromwell, Queen Catherine, Princess Mary, in fact she threatened to kill/poson Mary and Catherine quite a lot, and even told Henry she couldnt concieve a son until Catherine and Mary were dead. Actually quite a lot of people died because they would accept her as Queen among them nuns priests common people a caredinal and even a SAINT!

Nasim said...

Anonymous – threatening to harm someone is different from actually enacting it. Anne did threaten to have Mary verbally and physically admonished for her defiance (though not killed), but this was never carried out. And whilst she exclaimed that she would rather see Katherine of Aragon ‘hang’ than acknowledge her as her mistress, she never actually specifically threatened to have her executed.

Furthermore the idea that Anne perceived that she could not conceive until Katherine and Mary died comes to us from a report written by the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. He claimed that Anne had seen a wise woman who predicted that she would not have a son until the pair were dead. As usual with Chapuys, any rumours that portrayed Anne in a negative light were to be readily endorsed regardless of the lack of sufficient evidence. Aside from his report we have no evidence of such a meeting occurring or any speech made by Anne supporting such an account. She certainly viewed Mary and Katherine as her political enemies and harboured no love for them, but the idea that she perceived that she could not conceive a son till they were dead seems absurd. Why, if she held such a belief, did she not make serious attempts to kill them? Instead we just have pieces of exasperated speech on her behalf that appear to have little weight to them. In short I suppose we could deduce that in regards to Mary and Katherine, Anne was ‘all talk and no action’.


I think it important to stress that Anne Boleyn was a rather outspoken individual and appears to have had a passionate temperament. Her statements are not easy for us to comprehend and we may find parts extremely uncomfortable. However we need to place the statements in context instead of seeing them as random acts of cruelty. But chiefly, to assert that Anne was able to have people executed is to make her appear more powerful than she actually was. She was ultimately a consort, albeit (in my opinion) a remarkable one, and so did not have the power to just order the deaths of individuals. As PhD Historian excellently describes, no individual had this power although I believe the monarch did reserve the power to pardon people from execution?

Anonymous said...

It's a minor quibble, to be sure. But...

"There were only three women who were executed by beheading; Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Jane Grey."

... isn't precisely true. Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford was beheaded with Katherine Howard. The Countess of Salisbury was also beheaded. So that makes five women beheaded at the Tower.