The Month of May


In the Tudor world, the month of May tends to be seen as Anne Boleyn month where the internet (and me, I have to admit!) goes a bit bananas over Henry VIII’s second wife. Of course, she was executed on the 19th of the month in 1536 on what is now generally accepted as fabricated charges of adultery, incest and treason. Those hellish weeks were immortalised in verse by Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger:

“These bloody days have broken my heart.

My lust, my youth did them depart,

And blind desire of estate.

Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.

Of truth, circa Regna tonat.”

Thomas Wyatt, ‘Circa Regna Tonat’

Those chilling last words translate from the Latin to “thunder rolls around the throne” – well it certainly did when Henry VIII was sitting on the throne.

But what else happened in May in England in the Tudor period?

  • 3rd May 1544 – Thomas Wriothesley was made Lord Chancellor of England
  • 4th May 1547 – Katherine Parr married her fourth husband, Thomas Seymour
  • 6th May 1541 – Henry VIII ordered a new Bible placed in every church
  • 8th May 1559 – Elizabeth I assented to new Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity
  • 9th May 1509 – Henry VII’s body was taken to St Paul’s Cathedral from his place of death at Richmond Palace
  • 10th May 1533 – The Dunstable enquiry opened under Archbishop Cranmer which resulted in the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon
  • 11th May 1500 – Birth of Reginald Pole, later Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary I
  • 13th May 1516 – Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk at Greenwich Palace
  • 15th May 1567 – Mary Queen of Scots married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
  • 16th May 1532 – Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor of England
  • 17th May 1521 – Execution of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, for treason
  • 19th May 1499 – Katherine of Aragon was married by proxy to Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII
  • 19th May 1554 – Mary I released Princess Elizabeth from imprisonment in the Tower of London
  • 25th May 1553 – Jane Grey married Guildford Dudley
  • 26th May 1520 – Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon met the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Dover
  • 27th May 1541 – Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, for treason
  • 29th May 1543 – Katherine Parr’s ‘Prayers’ or ‘Meditations’ was published
  • 30th May 1529 – The court at Blackfriars opened to try the marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon
  • 30th May 1536 – Henry VIII married Jane Seymour

So why Anne Boleyn?

With all these other events happening in May, why the focus on Anne Boleyn? Possibly because her fall was so spectacular and her execution so unexpected. Never before had an English queen been executed, and there was so much controversy surrounding the charges and the men accused with her. I mean, incest? And not just adultery with one man, but five, one her own brother? Unparalleled and shocking and still so many unanswered questions which draw historians back to her time after time, year after year.

Fascination with the unanswered and inherently shocking will never go away, no matter how old the mystery, and this one is now 484 years old.

Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Portrait of Anne Boleyn kept at Hever Castle, Kent

Other posts which discuss Anne Boleyn

Undergraduate Dissertation Chapter – Why Did Anne Boleyn Fall from Power?

https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/undergrad-dissertation-chapter-1/

In Memory of Anne Boleyn – Why Does She Still Fascinate Us?

https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2019/05/19/in-memory-of-anne-boleyn/

The Legacy of Anne Boleyn

https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/the-legacy-of-anne-boleyn-died-19th-may-1536/

On This Day in History – 19 May – Execution of Anne Boleyn


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 – Arrest of Anne Boleyn


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)

Historical Inaccuracies in ‘The Tudors’ Season 2


Episode 1 “Everything is Beautiful”

Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon in 'The Tudors' 2007-2010
Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon in ‘The Tudors’ 2007-2010

Charles Brandon and his ward – Charles Brandon married his ward, Katherine Brooke, but in reality she was Katherine Willoughby. On TV, Charles married Katherine in 1532, but in reality they didn’t marry until after Anne Boleyn’s coronation, in 1534.

Assassination attempt – According to the TV show, Pope Paul III organised an assassination attempt against Anne Boleyn before her coronation. In reality he wasn’t even elected until after her coronation, and there is no evidence for an assassination attempt.

Episode 2 “Tears of Blood”

Margaret More – Margaret More is shown to be in her mid-twenties when Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, but at this point she was actually in her early thirties. Continue reading “Historical Inaccuracies in ‘The Tudors’ Season 2”

Analysis of a Letter Supposedly from Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII from the Tower of London May 1536


“Sir, your Grace’s displeasure, and my Imprisonment are Things so strange unto me, as what to Write, or what to Excuse, I am altogether ignorant; whereas you sent unto me (willing me to confess a Truth, and so obtain your Favour) by such a one, whom you know to be my ancient and professed Enemy; I no sooner received the Message by him, than I rightly conceived your Meaning; and if, as you say, confessing 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 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 found in Anne Boleyn, with which Name and Place could willingly have contented my self, as if God, and your Grace’s Pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forge my self in my Exaltation, or 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.

Continue reading “Analysis of a Letter Supposedly from Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII from the Tower of London May 1536”

The Legacy of Anne Boleyn, died 19th May 1536


Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

Anne Boleyn still fascinates us today, possibly more than she did at the time of her death. But why? She was executed for adultery, incest and treason. Possibly our interest derives from Anne’s own assertion that she was innocent, or even the success of her daughter Elizabeth I in ruling England. For me personally, what is so interesting about Anne Boleyn is that she was almost a modern woman. She did not seem to believe in what many men in the sixteenth century were saying – namely that women were superior and had no place in politics, religion or society, except to have children.

There has been a lot of talk about how popular Anne Boleyn is. Some people have spoken against the interest in her. Judging by the popularity of both fiction and non-fiction works written about her this criticism seems misplaced. The likes of Philippa Gregory, Hilary Mantel and Jean Plaidy have revolutionised historical fiction as a genre, proving that it can be done well and relatively accurately, allowing for some historical license. Historians like Eric Ives, G.W. Bernard, Alison Weir and David Loades have brought general interest to the Tudors as a period, rather than merely a scholarly interest. This has been magnified by the success of the TV show The Tudors, although of course its accuracy is hotly debated. Continue reading “The Legacy of Anne Boleyn, died 19th May 1536”

Thomas Wyatt’s Poetry Analysis


 

Thomas Wyatt Sketch by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Wyatt Sketch by Hans Holbein.

‘Whoso List to Hunt’ and ‘Sometime I Fled the Fire’

In this post, I will analyse two of Wyatt’s poems supposedly pertaining to Anne Boleyn, Whoso List to Hunt and Sometime I Fled the Fire. Later posts will examine They Flee From Me, And Wilt Thou Leave Me Thus and Circa Regna Tonat.

Whoso List to Hunt
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, helas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest come behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow.
I leave off therefore Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain Continue reading “Thomas Wyatt’s Poetry Analysis”

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