Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I Have But Such a Little Neck

I Have But Such a Little Neck

Today marks the anniversary, in 1536, of the execution of Anne Boleyn on spurious charges of adultery and therefore (by one argument) treason. While she would be included in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a 16th century effort at Protestant hagiography, all indications are that Anne died a Catholic; it is difficult to otherwise understand her request that the Eucharist be placed in her chambers at the Tower of London in the days before her execution.

Famously, Anne was executed not with the traditional English ax, but rather by a French swordsman. The chronology makes this suggestion questionable.  The “Calais Swordsman’s” participation does lend an interesting element to the consideration of Anne’s trial. Anne was consigned to the Tower on May 2, her alleged partners in adultery (other than her brother George) were tried on May 12; she and George were tried on May 15. The swordsman, normally resident in Calais, may have been ordered to come to England before her trial. Even though her trial had not yet taken place, the manner of her dispatch may have already been selected. Still she came out ahead (no pun intended); her sentence was commuted to beheading – the regular sentence for a woman convicted of treason was burning at the stake. 

The statement about having a little neck was made by Anne while being held in the Tower in anticipation of her execution.    Anne’s execution was rescheduled twice due to the delay in the arrival of the Calais Swordsman, and the delay was understandably rather rough on her nerves. Notwithstanding the recent (and excellent) PBS “Wolf Hall,” the statement was not made before her trial.

I have never found a satisfactory explanation as to why the swordsman was requested over the axeman; Friedmann suggested, and Ives admits it as a possibility, that it was at Anne’s request, she desiring the French manner of execution in light of her having been raised in the French court.  But if the “Calais Swordsman” was summoned to London before her trial, it is curious as to whether and how Anne was consulted about her manner of dispatch.

Anne was buried in St. Peter ad Vincula, the church on the grounds of the Tower of London.

Henry would marry Jane Seymour, his third wife, on May 30.

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