On This Day in History – 19 May


White Tower at the Tower of London
White Tower at the Tower of London

Event– Execution of Anne Boleyn

Year– 1536

Location– Tower of London (England)

Anne Boleyn was arrested on 2 May 1536 and sent to the Tower of London, accused of adultery, incest and treason. She was tried and found guilty of all charges against her on 15 May 1536 with the sentence pronounced as burning or beheading at the king’s pleasure.

Anne’s so-called lovers were executed on 17 May – Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, William Brereton, Francis Weston and her brother, George Boleyn. All had been found guilty of adultery with Anne. Richard Page and Thomas Wyatt were arrested but never charged with anything. They were released after the executions.

It is generally accepted that Anne Boleyn wasn’t guilty of the charges against her. Perhaps she had been a little reckless in her speech, and a little too flirtatious, but that doesn’t automatically convert to adultery. From what I have read, the only historian who thinks it possible that Anne was in fact guilty was G.W. Bernard, though I personally don’t buy his arguments.

Anne was beheaded on Tower Green within the Tower of London on 19 May 1536 by the swordsman of Calais, rather than the more cumbersome English axe, and was buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower grounds. There is a memorial slab commemorating her place of burial there today.

Further Reading

Paul Friedmann, Anne Boleyn (1884)

Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (1986)

Retha Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989)

Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn (2009)

On This Day in History – 2 May


Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

Event– Arrest of Anne Boleyn

Year– 1536

Location– Greenwich Palace & Tower of London (England)

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn attended the May Day jousts at Greenwich on 1 May 1536. Henry left suddenly without warning and without saying goodbye to Anne. They wouldn’t see each other again.

Anne was with her ladies in her apartments at Greenwich on 2 May 1536 when a delegation from the Privy Council arrived to question her, and then escort her to the Tower of London under arrest. Mark Smeaton, a court musician, had already been arrested and taken to the Tower the day before and had confessed to adultery with Anne, possibly under torture. Henry Norris, Groom of the Stool, arrived at the Tower that morning, and Anne’s brother, George, followed her there just a few hours later.

She was accused of adultery with 5 men, incest with her brother, and plotting the king’s death. She would be condemned to death and executed.

There have been several suggestions as to what led to Anne’s arrest – was it her miscarriage in January 1536? Was it Henry VIII’s newfound love for Jane Seymour? Was it a conspiracy by Thomas Cromwell endorsed by Henry? Was it Anne’s own reckless behaviour?

Further Reading

Paul Friedmann, Anne Boleyn (1884)

Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (1986)

Retha Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989)

Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn (2009)

On This Day in History – 1 May


Event– Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

Year– 1464

Location– Grafton House, England

Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

Although the date of the wedding isn’t certain, it is generally accepted that Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville on May Day 1464, at the bride’s home of Grafton Regis, with only a few witnesses, including the bride’s mother, in attendance.

It is said that Elizabeth first met Edward when she went to petition him for the return of her dead husband’s lands. It was said that Edward tried to force himself onto Elizabeth so she threatened to take her own life with a dagger. Edward became so enamoured of her that he married her. Elizabeth bought no dowry or international connections, which would be expected of a Queen of England.

The marriage was significant because it was first time that an English king married a commoner without having a foreign wife first. Not only that, but Edward IV was the first Yorkist king, but the Woodville family supported the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses, and Elizabeth’s first husband, John Grey, had died fighting for the Lancastrians. It was the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville that gave rise to the idea that a commoner could marry a King – this was the idea from which the likes of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour managed to rise up from ladies-in-waiting to Queens.

Elizabeth and Edward’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married the future Henry VII, and their two eldest sons, Edward and Richard, became the ill-fated Princes in the Tower.

Further Reading

David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville (2002)

J.L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens (2004)

Amy Licence, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance (2016)

Charles Ross, Edward IV (1974)

On This Day in History – 20 March


Event- Execution of Thomas Seymour

Year- 1549

Location- Tower Hill, London

Thomas Seymour at the Royal Armouries at the Tower of London.
Thomas Seymour at the Royal Armouries at the Tower of London.

Thomas Seymour was executed on Tower Hill in London for high treason on 33 different counts. He was already being watched as he was considered untrustworthy and was openly envious of his brother, the Protector Somerset.

In January 1549 it was alleged that Seymour intended to kidnap his nephew, the young king Edward VI. On 16 January 1549 Seymour broke into the king’s apartments at Hampton Court and shot the king’s spaniel after it barked at him. It has also been suggested that Seymour wrote letters to Princesses Mary and Elizabeth encouraging them to rise up against his brother, the Protector.

The warrant was delayed in its signing, as both Protector Somerset (Seymour’s brother) and King Edward VI (Seymour’s uncle) were reluctant to sign it. Many people couldn’t believe the cruelty of Somerset and the King in signing the death warrant of a man of their own blood.

Possibly the most famous line on Seymour’s death was that uttered by Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I): “this day died a man of much wit and very little judgement”. This wasn’t an exaggeration as Seymour had a way with words from all sources, and wrote poetry, but he doesn’t seem to have understood government, which is possibly why Henry VIII didn’t include him in the regency council for his son.

Further Reading

John Maclean, The Life of Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley (1869)

Linda Porter, Katherine the Queen: the Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr (2010)

Chris Skidmore, Edward VI: the Lost King of England (2007)

Alison Weir, Children of Henry VIII (1996)

On This Day in History – 15 January


Event- Coronation of Elizabeth I

Year- 1559

Location- Westminster Abbey, London

On this day, 15th January 1559, Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England in Westminster Abbey.  She acceded to the throne on the death of her half-sister, Mary I, in November 1558. It has often been said that John Dee predicted the date for Elizabeth’s coronation, as being a prophetic day, but this is still debated among historians.

The day before, on her procession from the Tower of London to Westminster, Elizabeth had been faced with several pageants, one of which showed her father, Henry VIII, and mother, Anne Boleyn, together again after the latter’s execution in 1536.

At the coronation itself, it was said that Elizabeth took communion behind a curtain and that few people could tell how Catholic or Protestant the service was. Other historians disagree and claim that Elizabeth left the abbey before communion. She was crowned by Owen Oglethorpe, a junior bishop from Carlisle – the Archbishop of Canterbury was dead and the Archbishop of York claimed to be unwell. On exiting the abbey, she held the orb and sceptre in one hand and the imperial crown in the other.

It was alleged that Elizabeth I spent £16,000 of crown money on her coronation, and the London city fathers also contributed. The people celebrated and Elizabeth kept the hearts of her people throughout most of her reign.

Further Reading

Christopher Haigh, Elizabeth I (2001)

Anne Somerset, Elizabeth I (2002)

David Starkey, Elizabeth (2001)

Alison Weir, Elizabeth the Queen (2009)