[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

Ripper Book Reviews – Double Bill!

Jack the Ripper is a name that everyone knows – he’s become a legend, a man who stalked the streets of Whitechapel murdering prostitutes. Except no one knows who he was, only what he did. There’s this huge mystery surrounding him that for over a century has had historians and the public alike scratching their heads and wondering just who he was. The Ripper has been an interest of mine for a while but until now I haven’t really sat down and read anything on him other than a little on the canonical five murders, so when the lovely Pen & Sword offered two Ripper books to review, I jumped at the chance. So today’s post is two very brief reviews of these books, both of which I devoured within just a few days.

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims – Robert Hume

This book took me about a day and a half to read – I just couldn’t put it down! Just as it says on the cover, this piece of work delves into the lives of Jack the Rippers victims and explains that, contrary to popular belief, they were more than just prostitutes who sold their bodies on the streets of Whitechapel.

Hume tells us the real stores of these women, their history and how they ended up in the poorest area of London. Each story is incredibly sad in it’s own way – each of these women had jobs, homes and families only to find themselves at the bottom of the ladder thanks to perhaps a simple mistake. One example being Annie Chapman. Despite being born out of wedlock (her father married her mother after she was born), Annie grew up in a respectable area and eventually married a respectable man in regular employment. Things started getting difficult when a little one was born. Then her husband was fired from his job, likely due to Annie stealing something from his employer. Heavy drinking then ensued and, when her husband left her, she ended up in the East End. There, with little money of her own, she became desperate and like many other women, resorted to prostitution to make ends meet.

The lives of these women are shockingly similar and reading their stories honestly filled me with sadness. They apparently never knew each other but were linked in so many ways – their lives, their falling from grace, and their horrific deaths at the hand of Jack the Ripper.

I highly recommend this book if you have any interest in women’s history, particularly around the Victorian era, and true crime. It is incredibly well written and Hume presents his subject with candour.

5/5

Who was Jack the Ripper? All the Subjects Revealed – Members of H Division Crime Club

This book, written by members of the H Division Crime Club, is basically a collection of essays around the main Ripper suspects and delves into the psychological profiling of the sort of man who could have committed such atrocities. Whilst this is certainly an interesting way of looking at the suspects, and probably the only way that a book of this type could be written, it does come across as if they expect the reader to have at least some basic knowledge of the time and the event.

Each chapter/essay focuses on a different suspect and argues as to why this individual is the most likely to be the infamous Ripper. Each chapter is well written and presents evidence behind the theories exceptionally well – only to then be totally discredited by someone in the next chapter. Of course, in a book like this there will be totally conflicting arguments and, at the end of the day, no solid conclusion as to who Jack the Ripper really was.

This was an interesting read but I do think you need at least some knowledge of the events (beyond the legends and films etc that have sprung up around the Ripper case) to be able to take it all in. Parts of it are a difficult read – the final chapter is written by a forensic psychologist and goes into some psychological profiling quite deeply.

A fascinating read but not one that everyone will enjoy. And ultimately this book just goes to prove that the identity of Jack the Ripper will forever remain unknown.

3/5