Henry VIII Laid Out Details of Famous Execution

Tudor document shows the king's instructions on the fate of Anne Boleyn
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 27, 2020 12:16 PM CDT
Updated Oct 31, 2020 7:00 AM CDT
Behind Famous Execution, 'It's Henry Pulling the Strings'
Edouard Cibot's 1835 painting "Anne Boleyn in the Tower."   (Wikimedia)

A passage in a 16th-century record book is getting fresh attention as it shows that King Henry VIII planned Anne Boleyn's execution to the letter. "For years, his trusty adviser Thomas Cromwell has got the blame. But this shows, actually, it's Henry pulling the strings," Tudor historian Tracy Borman tells the Observer. Sean Cunningham, an archivist at Britain's National Archives, pointed Borman to the passage in a warrant book, usually filed with "the minutiae of Tudor government," says Borman. But this passage includes Henry's instructions for his second wife's execution as relayed to the Tower of London's constable. Borman calls it "one of the most exciting finds in recent years," though other historians say they were already aware of it. "We forget how deeply shocking it was to execute a queen," says Borman. "This is Henry making really sure of it."

The king's orders were for the "late queen of England, lately our wife, lately attainted" to be executed "upon the Green within our Tower of London," where Boleyn was imprisoned on charges of adultery in May 1536. She was ultimately convicted of treason, though most historians agree the true crime, in the eyes of the king, was failing to produce a male heir. (Her daughter became Queen Elizabeth I.) "Moved by pity," the king opted to spare his wife the pain of burning or decapitation with an axe, deciding her head should be cut off with a sword. This was a great kindness, according to Borman. Per Smithsonian, the executioner needed only one swing. Still, Borman says the document confirms Henry's reputation as a "pathological monster." "What it shows is Henry's premeditated, calculating manner," she says. (The king might've suffered a brain injury.)

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