Saturday, February 28, 2009

Question from Anne's Fan - Timing on swordsman request for Anne's execution

How long would it have taken for Anne's request for a swordsman, to reach Calais and for that swordsman to return to England and behead Anne?

Could this have all been put in motion before Anne's trial and subsequent guilty verdict?


Elizabeth M. said...

It is more likely henry ordered the swordsman. Anne was tried and found guilty on the 15th of May and executed on the 19th. There would have had to have been time for a messenger to get to France for the request, and then time for the executioner to make the journey to London. This simply could not have been accomplished in only four days time. From the time of her arrest at the beginning of May,, to those of the King's inner circle--namely Cromwell--a guilty verdict at her trial was a forgone conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with Elizabeth M, partially, on the travel time issue.

We tend to assume today that travel in the 16th century took a long time. But it was indeed possible for an individual or small group to travel from Calais to London in little more than 48 hours, assuming the weather was favorable for crossing the Channel.

The distance from London to Dover is just 75 miles, easily traversed in a single day by a courier with access to the king's horses.

The distance from Dover to Calais is just 24 miles. The average speed of a sailing vessel of the period, with favorable winds, was about 3 miles per hour. The crossing could therefore be made in as little as 8 hours. The return crossing would probably have taken a little longer, perhaps by a few hours.

So it is conceivable that a courier dispatched on 15 May would result in the Calais executioner arriving in London 4 days later.

However, I agree with Elizabeth that the verdict was a foregone conclusion, and I suspect the executioner was summoned before the ended trial.

What do Ives or Warnicke say about the question?

Foose said...

Letters and Papers indicates the the headsman originally came from St-Omer, in the Emperor's territory. It might not have affected the timeframe, though. I'm interested in how this particular executioner was selected -- by reputation? Cost? Proximity? Referral?

This brings up another question: Were executioners employees of the government or freelancers? Would Henry have had to get the permission of the Emperor or the King of France (if the executioner were French) to bring him to England to do the job? Or could the executioner negotiate on his own?

I was thinking of a parallel with some of the artists that travelled about to different patrons -- they weren't exactly owned by the prince they served, but they usually had to get permission to work at another court, or would be "loaned" as a favor to another prince.

Anonymous said...

A bit out of context but...

Weren't the "Seymours" originally something like St-Omer? Through the years it became twisted into the name with which Jane and family are now recognized.

If this is the ironic that Anne would be executed courtesy of a past pronunciation of her successor's name.

Asking permission for a French headsman to lop off an English head...would there have been a French swordsman living in Calais? That territory 'belonged' to England, and thus Henry wouldn't have had to ask anyone's permission.

I've often wondered why the English continued with the axe, and didn't go to the sword. Too Frenchified, maybe?

Foose said...

You bring up a good point about Calais, Tracey. If the executioner was from that English outpost, permission wouldn't have been needed.

Seymour derives originally from "St-Maur," pronounced phonetically in French "Sahn-Mawr," emphasis on the first syllable. The writer Miranda Seymour wrote a memoir recently in which she recalls her father insisting that their English name was correctly pronounced "Semmer" and not "See-more." I found this interesting because Chapuys has been criticized for mangling English names, and his "Mistress Semel" for Jane Seymour is one of the popular examples. However, if the name was pronounced "Semmer" at the time and the English "r" was not rolled as it is on the Continent, Chapuys could be rendering an accurate version of the name as he heard it -- "Semma" -- and just supplied the final "l" because he heard no "r" at the end.

Bearded Lady said...

Foose - can you provide the specific location for the mention of the executioner being from St. Omer in the State Papers? I was under the impression that the executioner was from Calais, not St. Omer. In fact, Ives even makes a point to clear up this inconsistency in his source notes when he writes in reference to the executioner, “not from St. Omer”

Interestingly, under the same source note, Ives also states the same thing as Elizabeth M – that there simply was not enough time for BOTH a messenger to get to Calais and the executioner to get back to England.

But Phd Historian, you have me convinced that 4 days was enough time.

Anonymous said...

My estimation is based on ideal conditions, especially sailing weather. The probability is high that it did take longer, especially the westbound crossing of the Channel, which is why I agree with Anne and Elizabeth M that it is likely that the executioner was summoned before the trial ended.

Foose said...

The St-Omer statement comes from the Emperor's sister Queen Mary, who wrote to her brother Ferdinand on 25 May 1536:

"I hope the English will not do much against us now, as we are free from his lady, who was a good Frenchwoman. That the vengeance might be executed by the Emperor's subjects, [Henry] sent for the executioner of St. Omer, as there were none in England good enough."

If you look at Letters and Paper from May 1536 through about July 1536, you can see there's quite a lot of wild stories and rumors circulating through Europe. Queen Mary may have been mistaken or erroneously informed. Or the executioner may have had some past connection with St-Omer. That feeds into my question about how executioners were employed, whether they could travel around to do different jobs, etc.

Bearded Lady said...

I always thought that the French swordsmen were freelance executioners who traveled to various jobs because they were sought after for their highly unique skill vs. the cliché hooded ax man who were employed by the crown. But I am curious if others have a different opinion?

Perhaps this particular executioner grew up in St. Omer slicing his way to fame and that is what Mary of Hungary was referring to? Or maybe Mary confused this particular executioner with Jean Rombaud who is listed in the French Rolls as executioner for St. Omer? It seems more likely that at the time of the summons he came from Calais. For one, if the executioner came from St. Omer, then he probably would not have been paid 100 crowns in French money.

I think what confuses matters is that for privacy reasons the executioner may have always been referred to as that “executioner from Calais” or “the executioner from St. Omer” instead of their actual name.

Lydia said...

I am writing a fictional short story on Anne Boleyn's execution from the executioner's point of view, but I want it to be as accurate as possible, and it needs sources etc. I originally thought that the executioner was from St Omer, but Ives (very reliable, as far as I can tell) says Calais, and 'the sword of Calais' has been used, though I have not yet found where exactly. After trawling through Letters and Papers I finally found this, which is where Ives got his theory from. After looking at everything I can possibly find on which is true, I think this is the most reliable.

Letter from William Kyngston to Cromwell the day before Anne's execution. (Obviously 16th century spelling)

'I am very glad to hear of the "executur" of Cales, for he can handle that matter’ (From: 'Henry VIII: May 1536, 16-20', Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10: January-June 1536 (1887), pp. 371-391. URL: Date accessed: 06 January 2012)

Also, as far as I can tell, the name Jean Rombaud was only used in CC Humphrey's novel because he was an executioner at the time in St Omer, and may or may not be his real name.

Unknown said...

You maybe forgetting that a messenger had to get to Calais and then swordsman had to get to london.... doubles the time. 6 days is the very quickest it could have been.