Anne Boleyn was born in England, in 1504, the daughter
of Sir Thomas Boleyn, and Elizabeth Howard, who was the daughter of the Duke
of Norfolk. She spent much of her childhood at the French court, after which
she returned to England in 1522.
At this time, Henry VIII, King of England was married to Catherine of Aragon of Spain, who was the still-virginal wife of his deceased older brother Arthur. Henry was a unique person, possessing a strong personality and high intellect. He loved to dance, and enjoyed archery and hunting, and had an interest in religion, but his passions were eating, gambling and women, and throughout his life, he continued to be unfaithful. His first wife Catherine had failed to provide him with the male heir he needed to assure the continuance of the Tudor Dynasty. All of their children died in infancy except a daughter, Mary.
In 1527, he met Anne Boleyn, a well-educated and quite tantalizing woman of 23. However, Anne had witnessed the king use her sister Mary for sexual favors, then discard her. Consequently, she was determined that should she yield to Henry, the price for her sexual favors would only be if he married her.
Infatuated with Anne, Henry now had to find a reason to get rid of Catherine. When English policies found France more important than Spain, which was her country, Henry decided to seek an annulment on the grounds of incest. He got what he wanted, and the annulment was granted, however only after a separation with the Church of Rome, an action that brought about the English Reformation.
Now free to pursue Anne, Henry did so and won her affections in August 1532, only because she was now sure he would marry her. By January 1533, Anne was pregnant with Henry's child, so a secret wedding was arranged for January 25, in spite of the fact that Henry was still not formally divorced from Catherine. That June 1533, Anne was crowned queen.
In a short time, their marriage displayed signs of trouble, for two reasons. The first was that Henry had been unfaithful to his first wife, and saw no reason to stop this behavior once he married Anne. Secondly, Anne was a strong-willed person, unlike the submissive Catherine, and voiced her objections to his carrying on with other women. Anne's downfall began on August 7, 1533, upon giving birth to their first child, a daughter, the future Elizabeth I. This did not please Henry who so desperately needed a son. In future attempts, Anne had three miscarriages, and the king was growing tired of her. Her only hope to revive their marriage would be in producing a son.
During the summer of 1535, while staying as guest's of the Seymour family, Anne's nemesis arrived in Jane Seymour, who had been one of Anne's maids of honor. Jane caught Henry's eye, but she like Anne, would not submit sexually until an offer of marriage was made. Anne, now pregnant again, gave birth to a stillborn male baby in January 1536. With this, her hopes of remaining married to Henry diminished.
Henry VIII now was sure he had to free himself from Anne, so that he could marry Jane, in the hope of producing a son. To get this accomplished, the king instructed Thomas Cromwell to devise a way to have her executed. Cromwell came up with a plan that charged Anne with witchcraft, and tacked on adultery, accusing her of having sex with five men in the household, all charges that were false and trumped up. The only evidence gathered against her was provided by a musician, whose testimony was elicited under torture.
Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of London, where she was imprisoned awaiting trial. In May 1536, at the same time that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was annulling her marriage to Henry, she was tried by twenty-six nobles. But, these nobles had been intimidated, and threatened with their own lives, should they not deliver a sentence desirable to the king. Anne was found guilty and her punishment was to be put to death. Her harsh sentence was pronounced by her own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk.
To further enhance Cromwell's and the king's trumped up plans, the five so-called lovers from the household were beheaded on May 17, 1536. Soon, it would be Anne's turn, but not before Henry called upon a master headsman from France, to ensure that his sword would cut off her head in one stroke. It is said that Henry had pity on her and wanted to ensure she did not suffer in the beheading, but rather it may be more true that he wanted to ensure her swift death for his own selfish reasons. Originally scheduled for May 18, her execution was postponed one day until this headsman arrived.
May 19 came with Anne still protesting her innocence. As she was preparing to leave the Tower, she was still wearing a gold pendant, her first gift from the king. In making her way to the block, she gave the pendant to Captain Gwynne of the Tower Guard. Legend says that as Anne was walking toward her fate, she kept looking back as though she would be rescued at any moment by the king's equestrians. Her innocence ignored, she was beheaded and died this day, 1536.
As she sat in the Tower awaiting her fate, she wrote her last letter to the king, protesting her innocence while reaffirming her continued devotion to him, as well as a plea to spare the lives of the five men, who were accused of having adultery with her.
So here are Anne's final words, believed to be written on or about May 15, 1536.
Sir; If, as you say, confessing a Truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all Willingness and Duty perform your Command. But let not your Grace ever imagine that your poor Wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a Fault, where not so much as a Thought thereof proceeded. And to speak a truth, never Prince had Wife more Loyal in all Duty, and in all true Affection, than you have ever found in Anne Boleyn. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an Alteration as now I find; for the ground of my Preferment being on no surer Foundation than your Grace's Fancy, the least Alteration, I knew, was fit and sufficient to draw that Fancy to some other Subject.
Try me good King, but let me have a Lawful Trial, and let not my sworn Enemies sit as my Accusers and Judges; yea, let me receive an open Trial, for my Truth shall fear no open shame; then shall you see, either mine Innocency cleared, your Suspicion and Conscience satisfied, the Ignominy and Slander of the World stopped, or my Guilt openly declared. So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your Grace may be freed from an open Censure to follow your Affection already settled on that Party, for whose sake I am now as I am.
But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my Death, but an infamous Slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired Happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great Sin therein; and likewise mine Enemies, the Instruments thereof; and that he will not call you to a strict Account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his General Judgement-Seat, where both you and my self must shortly appear, and in whose Judgement, I doubt not (whatsover the World may think of me) mine Innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared.
When the king's marriage to Catherine was annulled, the king was the head of the Church of England. In 1536, after Anne's execution, Henry's first wife Catherine died, and the king married Jane Seymour. She died in 1537, but with her they would produce his badly needed son, Edward VI. Henry remarried in 1540 to Anne of Cleves, who became his fourth wife, whom he married in the hope of securing the Protestant involvement of Germany. However, Henry VIII disliked her appearance which caused him to get a divorce within a short time of their marriage. That same year, 1540, Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, but had her executed two years later on the grounds of infidelity. In 1543, Henry would marry his sixth and last wife, Catherine Parr, who survived him.
Henry VIII died in 1547, and was succeeded by his son, Edward VI.