[Throwback] On This Day In History – May 19th 1536 – Anne Boleyn is Executed

Life has been somewhat…strange…of late, as I’m sure each and every one of you can attest to. It’s weird for me to say this but I honestly think I’ve been busier since lockdown began than I ever was before!

Today’s post was written last year to mark the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution. She certainly was a remarkable woman who, in my opinion, did not deserve her fate.

May 19th 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn, who had been arrested and tried for the crimes of incest and treason, was executed at the Tower of London.

I’ve been quite open about my Tudor Burnout, however Anne Boleyn was one of the first historical women who I learned about. Her story has always struck a chord with me, and I have always admired her strength and determination. Many still see her as a villain in Tudor history and many still call her a witch who had six fingers. This is, of course, a complete lie. Anne Boleyn was a woman who had so much determination and courage, who sought change and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in. Unfortunately, despite giving birth to a little girl who would one day rule England, she was unable to provide King Henry VIII with what he truly wanted – a son. And, unfortunately, she made enemies of some of the most powerful men in Henry’s court.

At 9am on 19th May 1536, Anne Boleyn knelt down on the scaffold at the Tower of London. She was dressed in a grey gown with a crimson kirtle beneath and it was reported by a witness that she had “never looked so beautiful”. Before she knelt, Anne gave a speech to the gathered crowd, asking that they pray for the King as he had always been good to her. She then asked the crowd to pray for her, “And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me”

Then, with Anne kneeling and blindfolded, the headsman – a swordsman sent from Calais – asked for his assistant to bring him his sword. Anne moved her head to try and track the assistant’s movements. The headsman then stepped up behind the kneeling Queen and removed her head with one swing of the sword.

Her body and head was then gathered up by her ladies and placed in an arrow chest before being taken to the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, within the walls of the Tower. She was then buried in an unmarked grave beneath the altar, near the body of her brother – she would later be joined by another Queen, and her kin, Katherine Howard.

Today, her place of burial is marked by a simple yet beautiful slab by the altar in the chapel, along with those who were buried alongside her. It truly is a peaceful place, a place to sit and reflect upon the history of those who lost their lives and were buried within this sweet little chapel. Today you can visit the chapel and see the grave of Anne Boleyn and the others buried there, whilst on a guided tour of the Tower. I would highly recommend doing so, for anyone interested in the history of the Tudors.

Further reading:

The Life & Death of Anne Boleyn – Eric Ives
The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown – Claire Ridgway
1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII – Suzannah Lipscomb

[Review] The Spanish Flu Epidemic and its Influence on History by Jaime Breitnauer

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On the second Monday of March 1918, the world changed forever. What seemed like a harmless cold morphed into a global pandemic that would wipe out as many as a hundred-million people – ten times as many as the Great War. German troops faltered lending the allies the winning advantage, India turned its sights to independence while South Africa turned to God. In Western Samoa a quarter of the population died; in some parts of Alaska, whole villages were wiped out. Civil unrest sparked by influenza shaped nations and heralded a new era of public health where people were no longer blamed for contracting disease. Using real case histories, we take a journey through the world in 1918, and look at the impact of Spanish flu on populations from America, to France, to the Arctic, and the scientific legacy this deadly virus has left behind.

Given the current global situation with the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve been hearing a lot of comparisons between it and the Spanish Flu of 1918. Now, I knew that the Spanish Flu had decimated countries but other than that, I didn’t know all that much about it. When I found this book on sale in the kindle store, I thought I would pick it up and give it a read, to satisfy the curious itch that I’ve been having about this short, but deadly period in world history.

This book, written by Jaime Breitnauer, focuses on individual stories of those from across the world who were affected by the Spanish Flu. These are the stories of people from all levels of society – soldiers from the front lines of war torn France, children who lost their parents due to the illness, parents who knew that they would lose everything once they had the virus and ended up resorting to desperate message….the list goes on. It becomes very clear, very quickly, when reading this book that it didn’t matter whether you were pauper or royalty – the virus could and would strike. It affected everyone. Many of the stories are particularly heartbreaking – a father who became unwell knew that he was the only one able to work and provide for his family, so he kept on working until he was so bad that he was sent home. He knew that he had the Spanish Flu, and as he dragged himself home he decided that there was only one way out. His aim was to kill both of his daughters and then himself – whilst he managed to kill one of the girls, the other escaped. He then turned the knife he had used on his daughter upon himself. These were the actions of a very desperate man, who would rather kill himself and his family than have them suffer and starve because he caught the Spanish Flu and lost his job. When I read that little story I paused for a second and felt tears in my eyes – I couldn’t even begin to contemplate what was going through this man’s mind at the time.

We also see the impacts of the Spanish Flu on future generations. We see how Hitler’s rise to power could well have been accentuated by how the flu had affected the German population. We see how the author of A Clockwork Orange, as a child, lost his mother to the flu, and how the experience of being in the same room as her dead body for days influenced his later writing. We also see how public health procedures were stepped up in an effort to stop such a pandemic from ever happening again, up to the creation of the WHO and beyond. Of course throughout the work we also see the mistakes that were made both during the pandemic and after – in particular, the failure of certain governments to act quickly enough to halt the spread of the disease. This is something that many countries around the world are currently experiencing.

Whilst this book doesn’t aim to zero in on just where the Spanish Flu originated from, it certainly does give a short and concise overview of this huge event in history. It is exceptionally well written to the point I would call it a page turner – it gives the facts without sounding overly academic or pretentious – and let me tell you, it’s made me want to learn more about the Spanish Flu pandemic. More – I’m not sure I would say it’s negative – it has made me think a lot more about our current predicament, the mistakes that have been made and continue to be made. The second wave of the Spanish Flu was far more virulent and it honestly has me wondering whether we will end up experiencing the same with the current Covid-19 crisis.

A great read and highly recommended.

4/5