For this post, I will use the execution speech quoted by Eric Ives in his biography of Anne Boleyn.[i] I have also quoted it below, for those without the book:
“Good Christian people, I have not come here to preach a sermon; I have come here to die. For according to the law and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak of that whereof I am accused and condemned to die. But I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never, and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.”
“Good Christian people, I have not come here to preach a sermon; I have come here to die.” – A typical trait of Anne was being straight to the point, with courage and conviction. Her final speech does not let her down in this respect. Perhaps she found it easier to die having faced up to what was happening to her. Referring to the people as ‘Christian’ to me seems to be Anne giving it one last attempt to win over the people, and leave behind at least one positive memory of her. Perhaps the sermon reference was because people associated the religious changes of the break with Rome and the Reformation with her.
“For according to the law and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it.” – Even though the law in Anne’s case had likely been manipulated and evidence falsified, she still bowed to it, possibly because she had no other choice. If she did not, it would probably have been taken out on her surviving family – particularly her daughter, Elizabeth, but also her parents and sister. By refusing to speak against the law, she was also implicitly refusing to claim she was either guilty or innocent.
“I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak of that whereof I am accused and condemned to die.” – She reiterates her point from above, refusing to speak of the charges against her, possibly because she would get angry, which would implicate others that she cared about. By refusing to accuse anyone, Anne was refusing to speak against Henry for ruining her reputation and killing her, and also refusing to speak against Mark Smeaton and his confession, probably obtained under torture, that he had sex with her.
“But I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never, and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, and sovereign lord.” – Henry had been very good to Anne, but possibly she felt that she had let him down by failing to give him the son he so desperately wanted and needed to secure the succession. Although that does not give him the right to execute her, possibly she did feel like she had failed. Although Anne probably was jealous of Jane Seymour, her successor, she probably did love Henry and wanted him to have a son, even if she had to die to achieve it.
“And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best.” – Most historians do seem to have judged Anne’s case in the best light. Aside from exceptions like G.W. Bernard, the majority of historians accept that Anne was innocent; that the charges were manufactured, and the evidence manipulated. Anne could not have known that the people actually believed that she was not guilty.
“And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.” – This line in particular demonstrates Anne’s composure when faced with her death for crimes she did not commit. If a Catholic asked the people to pray for her, it could be seen that she was trying to speed her soul through purgatory; but if Anne was in fact Protestant, possibly it was just appealing to their better natures, hoping that someone would believe in her innocence.
Weir adds several lines to this above example, which are also analysed below:
“I come here only to die, and thus to yield myself humbly to the will of the king, my lord.” – This was Anne’s last chance in a way to claim that the divorce and what followed was the king’s doing, and so yielding herself to the will of the king demonstrates that it was normal practice for her. Although people in the court probably saw it differently, people could be persuaded otherwise, particularly when it was generally accepted that the charges were false.
“And if, in my life, I did ever offend the King’s Grace, surely with my death I do now atone.” – Anne did offend the king, but not in an illegal way – she failed to live up to her promise to provide the king with a son. Henry saw her death as atoning for this sin, because it allowed him to remarry and hopefully produce an heir. This was about more than pleasing the king. It was the last chance for Anne to change the public opinion about her. Looking at sources from the time, it seems she succeeded.
[i] Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005) pp. 357-8
[ii] David Loades, The Boleyns: the Rise and Fall of a Tudor Family (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2011) p. 164 and Elizabeth Norton, Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s Obsession (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2009) pp. 160-1
[iii] Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn (London: Jonathan Cape, 2009) pp. 266-7