Lady Arbella StuartThe Forgotten Uncrowned Queen of England
About four centuries ago, a princess lay dying within the walls of London Fortress, yearning for her freedom to be with her husband, reflecting on her life that would have been, if only… Lady Arbella Stuart was an English, born of royal blood who had a better right to be the Queen of England than her Scottish cousin, James VI, succeeding Queen Elizabeth I. Sadly, she became one of the royal prisoners at the Tower of London and over time, forgotten.
The following is what we know of the little known uncrowned queen, Lady Arbella Stuart who would have changed the course of history.
Who was Lady Arbella Stuart and her right to the throne?
Lady Arbella Stuart was born in 1575 and was the possible successor to Queen Elizabeth I.
She was the only daughter to Elizabeth Cavendish (only daughter to Bess of Hardwick) and Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox.
Charles Stuart was the younger son to Matthew Stuart and Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter and heiress of Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus and of Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of King Henry VII.
Therefore, Arbella was the great-great-granddaughter of King Henry VII and was in line of succession to the throne.
Charles’ older sibling was Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley who became the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots and father to James VI of Scotland.
Lady Arbella had many misfortunes in her life from the time she was an infant. Arbella’s father, Charles Stuart died in 1576 when she was barely two years old. Upon the death of her father, Arbella was meant to inherit the title “Countess of Lennox” along with all the Lennox lands in Scotland but she was denied her inheritance. The Scottish government seized the lands on the premise that as King James was still a minor he could not grant the title. Moreover, their reasoning also centred on the fact that Arbella was English by birth and therefore her claim on the title was invalid.
This unjust reasoning and decision drew the attention of the monarch and Queen Elizabeth herself wrote to the Scottish regency government asking for Arbella to be given her inheritance but nothing came of it. Over the years, Lady Arbella referred to her lost lands on many occassions but she was never formally granted the title of Countess of Lennox.
In addition, Arbella was due inheritance from her paternal grandmother, Lady Lennox – jewels set with a diamond, a ruby and an emerald with a great pearl. However, more misfortune was set her way. The entrusted guardian of Lady Lennox who should have handed the jewels over to Arbella failed to do so. Instead, the steward fled to Scotland where the jewels ended up with King James himself!
After the passing of her father, Arbella was raised by her mother, Elizabeth Cavendish, Countess of Lennox. Unfortunately, her mother passed away as well in 1582, leaving Arbella an orphan at the very young age of just seven. She became the ward of her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Hardwick, better known as the formidable “Bess of Hardwick” and went to live in Hardwick Hall.
Lady Arbella Stuart at Hardwick Hall
Within the protection of Hardwick Hall, Arbella received education fit for a princess. Proving herself as an able pupil, Arbella learnt philosophy, became an accomplished musician, and was fluent in Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish. She visited London and the royal court periodically in the summers of 1587 and 1588. There was one visit that lasted from November 1591 to July 1592.
She impressed Queen Elizabeth on her first visit and the Queen was noted as saying the twelve-year old Arbella may one day be Queen of England. However, with the execution of Arbella’s aunt, Mary, Queen of Scots and the possibility of the Spanish Armada, Arbella returned to the relative safety and protective isolation of Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire.
The ensuing years were frustrating ones for Arbella. As her grandmother spent her time designing and building Hardwick fit for a queen, Arbella felt increasingly isolated. Often talked of as being a suitable bride but she never came close to marriage, thereby prompting her to plot her own marriage. Stories of Arbella and her affairs circulated widely, so much so that in winter 1602-1603 the Queen herself sent her trusted courtier, Sir Henry Brounker to Hardwick to investigate the matter. Bess pleaded with the Queen to let Arbella leave but Elizabeth disagreed. The Queen ordered Arbella to remain at Hardwick and never to marry.
Lady Arbella Stuart – the uncrowned queen
The years preceding 1592, Arbella was considered the natural successor to the throne upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I. She was, after-all born in England and a direct descendant of Henry VII. She was fourth-in-line to the throne and had a better claim to be the crowned queen of the English throne than her cousin, James VI of Scotland. However, this was not to be.
From the end of 1592 and sometime spring of 1593, attention was diverted towards James VI of Scotland as being the preferred heir to the throne. The most influential people, namely the Queen’s Lord Treasurer, Lord Burghley and his son, Secretary of State, Sir Robert Cecil played a key role in this respect.
Soon thereafter, Queen Elizabeth I died. Lady Arbella’s cousin, James VI of Scotland became King James I of England, unifying Scotland, England and Ireland under one monarch, officially known as the Union of the Crowns on March 24 1603.
In May, Arbella was invited to the royal court in London to meet her cousin for the first time.
In November of 1603, there was a Main Plot, conspired by English courtiers and funded by the Spanish government to overthrow King James I and to replace him with Lady Arbella Stuart. The conspirators invited Arbella to participate and obtained her consent in writing to Philip III of Spain. However, Arbella reported the matter to King James I immediately.
Arbella was well received at the royal court of King James I. Arbella became state governess to Princess Elizabeth, eldest daughter of James I and later in 1605, godmother to Princess Mary.
Lady Arbella Stuart and her marriage
Arbella never suppressed her desire to marry. In 1610, she married William Seymour, known as Lord Beauchamp, later Duke of Somerset from the prominent Seymour family, who themselves had a claim to the throne.
William Seymour was sixth-in-line to the throne. He was the grandson of Lady Katherine Grey, granddaughter of Mary Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII.
James I had wondered whether the marriage between Arbella and William was a prelude to an attempt to overthrow him as King.
Arbella and William married in secret, on June 22, 1610 at Greenwich Palace, without the permission of the King.
Royal Warrant of Arrest
Within days, the secret was out and for marrying without the King’s permission, a royal warrant was issued for the arrest of Arbella, Lady Beauchamp and Lord Beauchamp.
William was arrested and brought to the Tower of London and Arbella placed on house-arrest in Sir Thomas Perry’s house in Lambeth. The couple had some liberty within the buildings and Arbella corresponded with William through letters. When James I learned of the letters, he immediately ordered for Arbella to be transferred to Durham, to the custody of Bishop of Durham far away from her husband, William Lord Beauchamp in the Tower. Arbella claimed to be pregnant (but she was not), so her departure was delayed.
Arbella and William’s plot to escape
The delay in Arbella’s departure to Durham gave the couple time to plot their escape. They agreed to meet at Lee, Kent to sail to France.
Early in June, dressed as a man, Arbella slipped out of her lodgings and made it to Lee, but William Lord Beauchamp did not meet her there. She boarded the getaway ship to France without her husband.
William did escape from the Tower and made it to Lee but Arbella had already set sail. He caught the next ship to Flanders.
The alarm had now been raised, and the King gave orders to search for and capture Arbella and William. Arbella’s ship was overtaken by the King’s men just before reaching Calais, France. They boarded the ship, arrested Arbella and brought her back to London. She was imprisoned in the Tower. Arbella never saw her husband again.
Lady Arbella Stuart | Lady Beauchamp final days
Arbella only sought freedom to live with her husband but she was kept in closed confinement in the Tower. She was never charged with a crime.
During 1612 and 1613, Arbella’s health deteriorated but she hoped to gain sympathy from her cousin, James I. She wanted to attend the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and went as far as ordering an elaborate dress and matching jewels for the wedding but she was not invited.
It appears that by 1614, Arbella had given up all hope of freedom and by autumn of the same year, she took ill and refused all medical attention. Her health deteriorated, and she died on September 25, 1615 at the young age of 39 in the Tower of London.
Lady Arbella Stuart – her funeral
Lady Arbella Stuart was refused a royal funeral and denied a ceremony by her cousin, King James I. She was placed in the vault of her aunt, Mary Queen of Scots in Westminster Abbey.
A visit to Westminster Abbey, you will find the vault beneath the south aisle of Henry VII’s chapel. In the 19th century a small grey stone was put in between the tombs of Mary Queen of Scots and Arbella’s grandmother Margaret, Countess of Lennox, recording burials in the vault. This gives her name and year of burial only. She has no other memorial.
…as she lay, yearning for her freedom, reflecting on her life that would have been, if only…
Born of royal blood and in England, with a better claim to the throne than her cousin James VI, Arbella fell foul of the very same cousin whom she helped protect from the conspiracies of the Main Plot and the Spanish government when he became King of England. She ended her days despairing in the Tower of London.
One wonders…if only she had succeeded Elizabeth I and became Queen of England, the course of history might be so very different – would the Union of the Crowns had taken place? The lines of succession of monarchs would also have been different.
The story of Lady Arbella Stuart is a sad one – another royal caught up in the politics and conspiracies of the day, but one deserving to be remembered, not Forgotten as she was the Uncrowned Queen of England.
Over one hundred letters written by Lady Arbella Stuart were found and some of these were published in 1993.
National Trust UK
Sarah Gristwood, Arbella: England’s Lost Queen, Bantam 2003
David N. Durant, Arbella Stuart: A Rival to the Queen, 1978
P.M Handover, Arbella Stuart: Royal Lady of Hardwick, 1957
Lady Jane Grey was an English noblewoman, who became queen of England for a very short time in history – 9 days to be precise. Though proclaimed a queen, she has hardly been referred to as one! Shrouded in conspiracies, political and religious conflicts, her path to greatness was short-lived. The story of Lady Jane Grey the forgotten queen is compelling. Her life, brief reign and tragic end remains one deserving of revisit. She was one of the three queens imprisoned at the Queen’s House in Tower of London.
This article is an introduction to the young, beautiful and intelligent Lady Jane Grey’s life and there are some resources embedded in this post, should you wish to delve deeper to learn more.
About Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey was the first daughter to Henry Grey, 3rd Marquess of Dorset (later 1st Duke of Suffolk) and Lady Frances Brandon. She was the great grand-daughter of Henry VII, through her mother who was herself the older daughter to the younger of Henry VIII two sisters, Mary. Hence, her direct link to King Henry VIII. She was the first cousin, once removed of Edward VI.
She was also known as Lady Jane Dudley following her marriage to Lord Guildford Dudley, the younger son of Lord Dudley, Duke of Northumberland who was the chief minister to Edward VI.
Lady Jane Grey – Her early years
The general view is, Jane Grey was born in October 1537 at Bradgate Park, Leicestershire. Her family were high status and were frequent at the royal court. Jane was the eldest of three siblings. Her second sibling was Lady Katherine and her youngest was Lady Mary.
Lady Jane received excellent but strict education. She could speak and write in Greek and Latin from an early age. She learnt French, Italian and Hebrew and spoke these languages in a highly skilled manner. Through the influences of her father and her tutors, Lady Jane Grey became a committed and devout Protestant.
Jane did not like sports or hunting parties very much, an activity typical of the era for young girls of her status. Instead, she preferred book studies, in particular, the works of Plato. She had seemingly said to have responded to a question by her tutor, as to why she is not outdoors with the others with the following:
I wist all their sport in the park is but a shadow to that pleasure that I find in Plato. Alas, good folk, they never felt what true pleasure meant.
Lady Jane Grey | Historic Royal Palaces
Jane also regarded her upbringing as harsh. She is said to have complained to her tutor, Roger Ascham, an English Scholar and Writer, of what is expected of her.
“For when I am in the presence either of father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it as it were in such weight, measure and number, even so perfectly as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs and other ways (which I will not name for the honour I bear them) … that I think myself in hell”
Lady Jane Grey | Ives, Eric 2009
Around February 1547, when Lady Jane Grey was barely ten years old, she was sent to live in the household of Queen Catherine Parr, the final queen consort to Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour, Uncle to Edward VI at Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire. It was customary in the Tudor era for children to be brought up in other households of higher status where they learn the etiquette and be in a suitable position for a patron to make good marriage. Jane attended to Catherine until Catherine’s death in September 1548.
After Catherine’s death, Lady Jane Grey was made ward of Thomas Seymour, who soon afterwards curated a plan to marry Jane to his nephew, Edward VI who was also Jane’s cousin. His plan did not go much further as Thomas Seymour was beheaded for treason in 1549. Thereafter, Lady Jane Grey returned to her childhood home at Bradgate.
Lady Jane Grey at Bradgate
When Lady Jane Grey returned to Bradgate, she resumed her studies. A couple of years later, her father was created the Duke of Suffolk resulting in a beautiful and talented girl frequenting the royal court.
Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley – “a wife who loves her husband”
Jane caught the attention of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, the most powerful man in the land at that time, advisor to Edward VI. He did not want to lose his favoured position. He curated a master plan, with the agreement of Jane’s father for his son, Guildford Dudley to marry Jane. His intention was to make his son and Jane, the King and Queen of England upon the death of Edward VI, whose health was already failing. Jane was just sixteen and Guildford, eighteen.
The couple were married on May 25 1553 at Durham House in a triple ceremony – alongside her sister, Catherine Grey and her sister-in-law, Catherine Dudley.
Not much is known of Guildford and Jane’s relationship but Jane is noted as saying that she is “a wife who loves her husband”
Lady Jane Grey and Edward VI
Edward VI inherited the throne at the very young age of nine following the passing of his father, Henry VIII. With just five years on the throne since, he contracted fever and cough in January 1553 (later suspected to be tubercolosis). He fell terribly ill and at times appear to recover only to succumb to his illness again. He realised that his health was volatile and he may not survive much longer. He wanted so much for his heir to be a male Protestant but this was not possible. The next in line to the throne in accordance to Henry VIII’s Will were Edward’s half-sisters, Mary who was Catholic and Elizabeth, along with Lady Jane Grey whose Protestant faith was strong.
Edward set about writing his instrument for succession – “Device for Succession”
Edward VI – ‘Device for Succession’
To ensure his successor would be a male Protestant, Edward VI devised a Will, taking inspiration form his own father’s Will, Henry VIII. He disinherited his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I) in favour of male heirs of his cousin, Lady Frances Grey or her children, Jane, Catherine and Mary.
When by June 1553, it became clear that Edward VI was terminally ill and none of his cousins had produced a male heir, he altered his instrument of succession in favour of Lady Jane Grey solely.
In this instrument of succession, Edward VI set out that although Lady Jane Grey would reign as queen, her successor would be a male heir. If Lady Jane were to die without male heirs to the throne, then the crown would pass to one of the sons of her sisters. This instrument was signed by the Privy Council, bishops, peers and at least ten of the country’s senior advocates of the time.
One can’t help but think that this is all part of a grand masterplan by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland who was also the Lord Protector to Edward VI. Afterall, he did marry-off his son with young Lady Jane.
A little background to Third Succession Act1544
The Third Succession Act 1544 restored Henry VIII’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession.
During the reign of Henry VIII, both Mary and Elizabeth were declared illegitimate by statute after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn were declared void. The Act also empowered Henry VIII to alter the succession by his Will. Henry VIII reaffirmed the succession of his three children but altered the succession to include the heirs of his younger sister, Mary should his children leave no descendants. No one knows why but he did not include Jane’s mother, Lady Frances Grey in the succession.
How did Lady Jane Grey become Queen of England
King Edward VI died on July 6 1553. However, his death was not announced till four days later, on July 10. Lady Jane was told she was now queen on July 9.
On July 10 1553, Lady Jane was officially proclaimed to be Queen of England, France and Ireland. She took up secure residence in the Tower of London as was customary of English monarchs to reside from the time of accession until the time of coronation.
Lady Jane Grey – from accession to execution
Meanwhile, with the death of the King now public, Mary, daughter to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon devised her own plan to garner support of the public. She was much popular amongst the people of England, especially Catholics and those who believed in her claim to the throne as Henry VIII’s daughter. On the other hand, Lady Jane Grey was unheard of. Seeing her popularity, the Privy Council switched allegiance and proclaimed Mary, the Queen on July 19th 1553.
On July 19th, Lady Jane Grey became a prisoners within the walls of the fortress, after taking residence in preparation for her coronation, and her husband, Guildford Dudley became prisoner at Beauchamp Tower in the Tower of London.
Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley was tried for high treason in November 1553 and were found guilty. Guildford Dudley was executed on February 12 1554 at Tower Hill.
Later the same day, February 12, 1554, Jane was granted a private execution within the Tower of London grounds – at Tower Green. Dressed in black, Jane remained calm, making her way to the scaffold. These were her final words:
‘Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same; the fact indeed against the Queen’s Highness was unlawful and the consenting thereunto by me…I do wash my hands thereof in innocency before the face of God and the face of you good Christian people this day.’
Anonymous (1997) . “1554, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley”. In Nichols, John Gough (ed.) The Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two years of Queen Mary, the Camden Society; Marilee Hanson
Lady Jane then read Psalm 51, in her prayer book, gave her gloves and handkerchief to one of her ladies, her prayer book to the Lieutenant of the Tower, her gown, headdress and collar to her ladies. She asked her executioner to ‘dispatch of her’ quickly and she tied a blindfold around her eyes. She scrambled blindly for the block, panic overtook her, and she cried, ‘What shall I do? Where is it?’
Someone helped her find her way, and she laid her head on the block and said her last words, ‘Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit’. The axe fell.
Jane was just 17 years old. Queen for 9 days.
Jane and her husband, Guildford are buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, on the northside of Tower Green in Tower of London.
Lady Jane Grey – her legacy
Following her death and the unsuccessful reign of Queen Mary I, Lady Jane became to be known as a Protestant Martyr, and as an innocent victim in the nineteenth century. Her story grew to legendary proportions in popular culture, producing romantic biographies, novels, plays, operas, paintings, and films.
In the Beauchamp Tower, to the right of the fireplace, there is a coat of arms, deeply cut into the wall, representing the Dudley family, possibly carved by Guildford or his brother, Robert when they were prisoners at the Tower. Across the fireplace, there is another graffiti that says ‘IANE’ which stands for ‘JANE’.
On a final note…
The story of Lady Jane Grey is both fascinating and a tragic one. A very young girl caught up in the political and religious conflict of her time but so little is known of her, that it is a challenging task to describe her completely. Nevertheless, her story is one worth revisiting – she was the Queen of England, France and Ireland for nine days, the shortest reigning monarch in English history.
Ives, Eric (2009) Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell.
Tallis, Nicola (2017) Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey. Oakhill Publishing
Cook, Faith (2004) Nine-Day Queen of England: Lady Jane Grey.
Tower of London is a fascinating landmark in the heart of the city that attracts millions of visitors a year but we are living in uncertain times these days. As means to keep you informed with inspiring stories of the iconic Tower, “What goes on in the Tower of London” brings together a set of TV series by the Historic Royal Palaces for you to view at your leisure – hear the stories on what goes on in the Tower from the very people who live, manage and are the heartbeat of the traditions at this magnificent Tower of London.
Quick facts about the Tower of London:
Location: St Katharine’s & Wapping, London EC3N 4AB | London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Area: 16 acres
White Tower: Height: 27 metres (89ft);
Expansion: Inner Ward: 1190s, rebuilt 1285;
Guard: Yeoman Warders;
Managed: Historic Royal Palaces (charity)
Learn more on What goes on in the Tower of London from these TV series by Historic Royal Palaces : Available to view until June 18 2025
Click on the images
HRP: Inside the Tower Ep 1
HRP: Inside the Tower Ep 2
HRP: Inside the Tower Ep 3
HRP: Inside the Tower Ep 4
TOWER OF LONDON
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Anne Boleyn Britain’s most well travelled ghost was strong willed, intelligent and charming Tudor Queen who stole the King’s heart, successfully kept him waiting for seven years until he divorced his queen and reformed the church. She tragically lost her life in 1536. Those who read her story cannot but fall in love with her courage and the eloquence with which she conducted herself on the day she was executed. She is a queen that lives on in many ways.
Reports of sightings of Anne Boleyn Britain’s most well travelles ghost
It had been reported that she is often seen as how she was in life, young, beautiful and happy. There are also reports of her as after her execution, headless, clutching her head and blood dripping from her severed head. There is no doubt that Anne Boleyn, Britain’s most well travelled ghost was unique and the impact she left us all with is a significant one. Perhaps, by taking a look at what happened to her may explain to some extent why she makes her “presence” so frequently.
History of Anne Boleyn – In a nutshell
Anne was born to Thomas Boleyn, later 1st Earl of Wiltshire and to Elizabeth Howard, daughter to Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and Elizabeth Tilney, around 1501 in Blickling Manor, Norfolk. She, along with her two other siblings received good education suited to their status. Her youth was spent in Netherlands and in France, She returned to England when she was twenty-two, and immediately secured herself a position as the Lady-in-waiting for Catherine of Aragon, Queen consort to King Henry VIII.
Anne is described as intelligent, headstrong, principled and the only person who could go head to head with the King. She dazzled the royal court with her charming French flair and stole the King’s heart.
Henry VIII fell in love with Anne and desperately wanted to be with her, believing also that Anne would give him a son that he so longed to have as heir to the throne. He was still married to Catherine of Aragon, and as Catholics, the Pope refused his request for a divorce. Henry took drastic actions, completely reforming the church, breaking away from Rome, creating a new branch of Christianity and making himself the head of church. Thereafter, his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was annulled. However, before the annulment was through, Anne discovered that she was pregnant. Henry and Anne married in secret first, then officially in July 1533. Anne gave birth to Elizabeth in September.
As Henry was desperate for male heir, he was disappointed when Anne gave birth to baby girl. Anne went on to have two further pregnancies but both failed. The relationship between Anne and Henry broke down and Henry began his courtship with Jane Seymour, wife number three. Henry wanted to get on with his life with Jane Seymour and wanted to be rid of Anne.
Henry, together with Thomas Cromwell, his chief minister, trumped up charges of incest, adultery, treason and witchcraft against Anne Boleyn. Anne was charged, tried and found guilty on all counts. She was beheaded by a highly skilled French swordsman at Tower Green on May 19 1536, just three years since becoming queen consort to Henry VIII.
Accounts of sightings – Britain’s most well travelled ghost
The following are some fascinating accounts relating to the legends of hauntings of Anne Boleyn. As with many stories passed down in folk tales, they can be elaborated and embellished with the telling. I have not personally experienced a sighting of Anne, and I shall leave it to you, the reader to make of it what you will.
Blickling Hall | Norfolk
Blickling Hall in Norfolk, England is a quintessentially English stately home with magnificent dusty pink brick walls and topiary garden surrounded by vast woodlands for pure enjoyment.
The current hall was built upon the ruins of Blickling Manor, which was former home to the Boleyns until 1505. Anne, along with her siblings Mary Boleyn and George Boleyn were born here.
Anne – Britain’s most well travelled ghost at Blickling Hall
At Blickling Hall, the tale has Anne as the occupant of a carriage, dressed in pure white with her blood drenched head resting on her lap. The carriage is drawn by a headless horseman and four headless horses. Once Anne arrives at the Hall, she is said to roam the corridors from sundown to sunrise. This manifestation takes place each year on the anniversary of her death, May 19th.
Anne was also sighted by the lake at Blickling. Sometime during World War II, the butler at Blickling witnessed a mysterious lady by the lake. She was dressed in grey, a white lace collar and a mob-cap. He asked her what she was looking for to which she replied:
“That for which I search has long since gone”
Although it has been said that this may not be Anne because the costume described appeared more seventeenth century – lace was extremely rare in 1530s. However, supporters of Anne point out that she was beheaded wearing something similar.
The mysterious chamber
Blickling Hall is also said to have a lost chamber! It was a study called the ‘Old Bullen’ associated with Anne Bullen. The room was said to have such an evil atmosphere. It was walled up and its whereabouts is now lost. As an aside, it is hard to imagine Anne, who was elegant and sophisticated would be an evil atmosphere, perhaps intense, but not evil.
The magnificent Hever Castle, the family seat of the Boleyns has strong connections with Anne. Hever Castle was where Anne grew up and her ghost is said to appear around Christmas time. Christmas was Anne’s favourite time of the year.
Anne is said to appear crossing River Eden, close to Hever Castle, heading home. Anne has also been seen walking around the grounds of the castle. There is an old oak tree, where Henry VIII and Anne spent many hours during their courtship. Anne has often been seen underneath the tree.
Tower of London | London and sightings of Britain’s most well travelled ghost
It is no surprise that Anne Boleyn has been seen many times at the Tower of London, a place where she spent her last days. One of the famous sighting of Anne was in 1864 by a guardsman on duty, attested to by one General Dundas.
The guardsman saw a woman clad in white emerging from the Queen’s house across the lawn. The guard, thinking that she was real, charged at her in an attempt to ward her off, and ended up charging through her ghost! Realising he had just encountered a ghost, the guardsman fainted. The military court wanted to court-martial the guardsman for fainting on duty and abandoning his post – the ghost of a Tudor queen is hardly a defence! The charges were dropped when General Dundas testified as a witness.
Another sighting of Anne at the Tower was at the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula. Late one night, the Captain of the Guard, saw a light flickering inside the chapel. In an attempt to find the source of the light, he took a ladder, and climbed up to view. He saw ladies and knights dressed in century old clothes in a precession led by Anne Boleyn.
The ghost of Anne Boleyn is frequently seen walking throughout the church at the Tower towards her grave.
There has been further sightings of Anne as a ‘bluish figure’ floating across the green to the Queen’s house. On one occasion, there was a strange glow coming from one of the windows at the House, moving between rooms, believed to be Anne. Though many wardens and guardsman had witnessed it, few spoke of it.
There had been numerous sightings of Anne at the Tower of London and it appears she is very drawn to the last place she was alive, or perhaps because it was the place she felt most betrayed.
One legend has it that Anne strolls the grounds of Yewtree Walk at Marwell Hall, Hampshire.
Marwell Hall was home to the Seymours and Jane Seymour and Henry VIII spent many hours together here while Anne was a prisoner at the Tower. There are suggestions that Jane and Henry were secretly married here, prior to their official wedding in May 1536.
It is little surprise that Anne’s ghost is sighted at Marwell Hall, after all this is the place where she was betrayed by her husband.
Salle, St Peter & St Paul Church | Norfolk
There are stories that Anne is sometimes seen at Salle, St Peter & St Paul Church on the anniversary of her execution.
There is an unsubstantiated legend that Anne Boleyn is buried in the church cemetery which is why she is seen here. According to the legend, friends of Anne removed her body from the Chapel Royal at the Tower on the night of her execution and brought it to Salle to be buried there. She was buried at midnight, and a black slab placed over her grave.
The church was built in part by Anne’s paternal great grandfather, Geoffrey Boleyn. Earliest mention of the story is recorded by witnesses at two weeks after Anne’s execution. It has also been related by Charles Dickens, a novelist in his article in Bentley’s Miscellany, 1848 Vol 23 p.233
The mystery and truth of Anne’s final resting place will probably never be resolved. However, a permanent memorial for Anne Boleyn is erected in Tower Green, Tower of London.
Windsor Castle | Berkshire
Windsor Castle, home to the Queen and the oldest occupied castle in the land as well as the world has also been visited by the ghost of Anne Boleyn. Legend says, Anne has been wandering the halls on numerous occasions. Dean’s Cloister was home to Anne on a few occasions and story tells of her standing at one of the windows there.
Anne Boleyn’s ghost sightings are somewhat unique as she is seen in so many places, Britain’s most well travelled ghost. These places have verified connections to Anne’s life. She makes her “presence” probably because her last days were fraught with so much trauma that some of her energy are imprinted in each of the locations that had been important to her, either by way of happy memories or betrayal. Anne’s story is a sad one and her restless soul travels.
While some may be sceptical as to the ‘existence’ of ghosts and paranormal activities, others stand by their bona-fide sightings. Whatever the truth might be of these tales, the continued popularity of Anne Boleyn, demonstrates she still has the power to fascinate and captivate us as she continues to travel across Britain.
More on history of Britain
Learn more on the History of Britain for added value to your visits to historical sites:
The Boleyn family was one of the most respected and prominent family in English aristocracy. They reached the peak of their influence during Tudor rule when Anne Boleyn, the daughter to Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard became the second wife, Queen consort to King Henry VIII in 1533. Then in 1536, an incomprehensible tragedy fell upon them. The Boleyn family were almost destroyed! Two members of the family had their lives put to death and three fundamentally damaged.
This is their story.
This article on the Boleyn Family forms part of a series of articles on the History of Britain as an easy read on Sundays
May 19, 1536
In 1536, on the morning of May 19, a young courageous woman, dressed in a black robe and a white ermine trim was taken to the scaffold in Tower Green that was specially built for her. She was mercilessly executed by a single swipe of a sword by a skilled French swordsman on charges of adultery, incest, treason and witchcraft. She was not even given a coffin. She was wrapped in a white cloth, placed in an old elm chest, and buried at the Tower Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.
Anne Boleyn was one of the three surviving children of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and 1st Earl of Ormonde and Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Her siblings were Mary, older to Anne and George, her younger brother. Anne is said to be an intelligent, witty, proud and a principled individual.
Anne Boleyn | Early years and Education
Anne spent her early years at Hever Castle, the Boleyns family home before she went to Netherlands and France. Anne received good education, typical for woman of her status. She spoke French fluently and she dressed well, bringing French fashion to the English court. She also learnt music, dance and singing along with archery, horseback riding and hunting.
Anne Boleyn married King Henry VIII officially on June 1 1933 in an elaborate ceremony followed by a banquet and became queen consort. She was pregnant at that time and gave birth to Elizabeth on September 7 1533. Elizabeth would later inherit the throne and become Queen Elizabeth I. However, Henry desperately wanted a male heir, and he soon fell for Jane Seymour, Anne’s cousin.
Anne Boleyn | Charges, Trial and Execution
In May of 1536, Anne was arrested, charged with incest, adultery with four men, treason and witchcraft. She was taken to the Tower of London to await her trial. The charges were instigated by her former friend, Thomas Cromwell. These charges sat well with the King also as he wanted to be rid of Anne as well. Anne was found guilty on all counts at a trial held on May 15 1536.
Thomas Boleyn | 1st Earl of Wiltshire, 1st Earl of Ormonde (1477-1539)
Thomas Boleyn was an English nobleman, a diplomat and a politician. He was made Knight of the Garter in 1523, Viscount Rochford in 1525 and Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond in 1529. Father to Anne Boleyn (r. 1533-1536) and maternal grandfather to Queen Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603).
Born in 1477 at Blickling Manor in Norfolk, Thomas Boleyn was the son of Sir William Boleyn (1451-1505) of Blickling and Lady Margaret Butler (1454-1539), daughter of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond.
Blickling was owned by Sir William’s father, Sir Geoffrey Boleyn a wealthy London merchant who served as Lord Mayor of London. He purchased the manor of Blickling, Norfolk in 1452 from Sir John Fastolf. He also came to own Hever Castle in Kent in 1462.
Thomas Boleyn | Career and Marriage
Thomas was an ambitious man who was a successful diplomat and courtier. He was active in the court of Henry VII and in 1503, he escorted Princess Margaret Tudor to Scotland to marry King James IV.
He married Lady Elizabeth Howard, eldest daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and they had three surviving children:
Mary Boleyn (c.1499 – July 19 1543)
Anne Boleyn (c.1501 – May 19 1536)
George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford (c.1504 – 17 May 1536).
Thomas Boleyn was said to be a loving father, who had grand ambitions for his children. He ensured each received excellent education, both languages and skills, while he continued to build his reputation at court. While he was an ambassador to the Netherlands, he secured a position for his daughter, Anne at the court of the Archduchess Margaret of Austria.
Later, in 1514, he secured a position for both his daughters to accompany Princess Mary, Henry VIII’s sister to France for her marriage to 52 year old King Louis XII.
Thomas Boleyn | What happened after Anne’s Execution
After the execution of his children, Anne and George in 1536, he was stripped of his titles and removed from royal favour. However, it is said that he was soon back in favour in the royal court. He was active in squashing the rebellion of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. He was invited to Edward VI’s christening in October 1537. By 1538, he was rumoured to marry Margaret Douglas, niece to Henry VIII. When he died, Henry VIII ordered masses to be said for his soul, clear evidence that Thomas Boleyn was back in favour.
Before his death, Thomas Boleyn appears to have taken steps to reconcile with his only surviving daughter, Mary Boleyn. He allowed Mary and her husband to live in Rochford Hall in Essex, and upon his death, he left the Rochford estate to Mary.
Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire died on March 12 1539 at Hever Castle – just under three years after the death of his daughter, Anne and his son, George.
He was laid to rest at St Peter’s Church, Hever. Topped with an elaborate memorial brass depicting Thomas dressed in robe and insignia of a Knight of the Garter, a badge on his left breast and a garter around his left knee. The inscription on his tomb reads:
“Here lieth Sir Thomas Bullen, Knight of the Order of the Garter, Erle of Wilscher and Erle or Ormunde, which deceased the 12th dai of Marche in the iere of our Lorde 1538”
His tomb still survives today.
Note: the date of death is 1538 because the Tudor calendar started on March 25, and not January 1.
St Peter’s Church dates back to 12th century and is open daily throughout the year. Worship has been held here for over 875 years with Sunday services said in Traditional Language.
St Peter’s Church is located next to Hever Castle, in the heart of Hever, Kent.
Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire (1486-1538)
Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire was an English noblewoman, born in Arundel Castle, Sussex, the eldest daughter to Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and his first wife, Elizabeth Tilney. She was a direct descendant of King Edward I of England. Mother to Mary, Anne, George and maternal grandmother to Queen Elizabeth I. She is said to be of proud and ambitious in character.
Elizabeth Howard Boleyn | Relationship with her children
Not much is known of Elizabeth Boleyn except that she was a lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth of York, the mother of King Henry VIII. When Henry VIII was crowned King of England, she was again appointed lady-in-waiting to his queen, Catherine of Aragon.
Elizabeth Boleyn’s relationship with her daughter Mary, was a strained one, probably because of Mary’s unchaste behaviour. In contrast, her relationship with daughter Anne, is said to be a positive one. They shared a special bond and Elizabeth took an interest in Anne’s early education when they were at Hever Castle. Anne was taught music, singing, and dancing. Anne also became an expert at embroidery and enjoyed poetry under her mother’s guidance.
Elizabeth was a regular at court and acted as a chaperone to Anne and Henry during their courtship. She was present at her daughter’s coronation ceremony in 1533 and possibly rode in the first carriage with the Dowager Duchess, Anne’s step-grandmother (Ives, p. 177).
When Anne was taken to the Tower of London to await her trial, she was heard to exclaim, “Oh, my mother, thou wilt die with sorrow” (Weir, p. 317-319).
After the execution of her children, Anne and George, on charges of incest and treason, Elizabeth and her husband retired to Hever Castle.
Elizabeth Howard Boleyn | Her final days
Elizabeth died on April 3 1538. She is said to have suffered from a cough and cold, but it is believed she died of a broken heart. After Mary Boleyn’s disgrace and banishment from court, losing her children, Anne and George by execution for treason and incest, her husband striped off of his titles, it is more likely that she may have died of a broken heart. She died in a property near Baynard’s Castle, home to the Abbot of Reading. She was buried in the Howard aisle of St Mary’s Church, Lambeth on April 7 1538.
St Mary’s Church located next to Lambeth Palace, was decommissioned in 1972. It is now called the Garden Museum which re-opened in 2017.
The Garden Museum dates from the medieval era to present day. The Garden Museum was founded by Rosemary and John Nicholson in 1977 in order to rescue the abandoned church of St Mary’s at Lambeth, which was due for demolition. The church is the burial place of John Tradescant (c1570 – 1638), the first great gardener and plant-hunter in British history. His magnificent and enigmatic tomb is the centre-piece of the Sackler Garden, designed to reflect Tradescant’s life and spirit.
Address: 5 Lambeth Palace Rd, South Bank, London SE1 7LB
Elizabeth’s grave is not visible. It is under the wooden floor of the museum gift shop. The exact location is uncertain also as the memorial brass which marked the spot is now lost.
Mary Boleyn | Lady Mary Boleyn (c.1499-1543)
Mary Boleyn was the older sister to Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII Queen consort.
Mary Boleyn | Education and Career
She was likely to have been educated alongside her sister, Anne and her brother, George at Hever Castle, Kent and given the education essential for young ladies of her rank and status. She was accomplished in dancing, embroidery, etiquette, household management, music, needlework, and singing along with games of chess, archery, falconry, riding and hunting.
Mary remained in England for most of her childhood. Her first trip abroad was in 1514 when she accompanied Princess Mary to France who was marrying King Louis XII. When King Louis XII died just three days after being married, most of the Queen’s maids were sent away but Mary remained.
Mary is said to have had an affair with King Francis I of France for some period between 1515 and 1519. She returned to England thereafter and was appointed lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, queen consort to Henry VIII.
She was one of Henry’s mistresses for a period of time before Henry fell in love with her sister, Anne.
Mary Boleyn | Marriage and Children
As a way to concealing Mary’s affair with King Henry VIII, and her shameful banishment from France’s court, she was married off to William Carey, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Mary and William had a son, Henry Carey. However, William sadly contracted the ‘sweating disease’ and died, leaving Mary with considerable debt. Henry VIII granted Anne Boleyn ward-ship of her nephew, whom she ensured was educated at a Catholic monastery. Anne also ensured that Mary received an annual pension.
In 1534, Mary secretly married William Stafford, a soldier, a status considered to be far below her own. When her marriage was discovered, her family disowned her and was also banished from the royal court. Her financial circumstances became desperate but is reported she admittedly saying:
“I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen in Christendom. And I believe verily…he would not forsake me to be a king”
Anne stepped in to help her with some money but did not reinstate her to the court. This seems to be the closest they came to reconciling after Mary’s exile from the king’s court. There are no records of Mary between 1534 and Anne’s execution in 1536, or any records of visits with her parents or her siblings when they were imprisoned.
Mary and her father, Thomas Boleyn reconciled to some extent before he passed. Mary inherited the Rochford Hall and the Rochford Estate in Essex. .
Mary Boleyn is recorded to have four children, two carrying the name Carey and two by her second marriage, Stafford.
Catherine Carey (1524-1569) was lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. Married Sir Francis Knollys, Knight of the Garter in 1540. She became lady of bedchamber to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Her daughter, Lettice Knollys, was second wife to Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I.
Henry Carey 1st Baron Hunsdon (1526-1596), Knight of the Garter. Married to Anne Morgan and they had sixteen children. Anne Morgan was appointed to the office of Keeper of Somerset House, by Queen Elizabeth I of England.
Edward Stafford (1535-1545)
Anne Stafford (1536-unknown)
It was rumoured that Catherine Carey and Henry Carey were Henry VIII children, but there is no evidence to suggest that the King was the biological father.
Mary Boleyn Stafford | Final days
Mary Boleyn Stafford died of unknown causes on either on July 19 or July 30 1543 – the exact date is unknown. She is known to have spent her last days at Rochford Hall. However, her final resting place is unknown and remains a mystery.
George Boleyn | 2nd Viscount Rochford (c.1503-May 17 1536)
An English nobleman and courtier, he played a prominent role in politics in the early 1530s. He is said to be intelligent, persuasive, proud and arrogant in character. He was accused of incest with his sister, Anne Boleyn, queen consort of Henry VIII. He was beheaded on May 17 1536.
Only son of Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, George Boleyn was born in Blickling Hall circa 1503. His first couple of years was spent at Blickling estate, but the Boleyn family moved to Hever Castle, Kent in 1505 when Thomas Boleyn inherited the castle from his father, Sir William Boleyn.
George Boleyn | Education, Career Marriage
George received excellent education. Along with his sisters, he spoke French fluently. He also mastered Italian and Latin. George is thought to have stayed in England for most of his early years.
George’s diplomatic career took off in late 1529 when he was knighted. He undertook the courtesy title of Viscount Rochford. At the young age of 25, he undertook his first ambassadorial mission to France. In total, he undertook six missions, with the final being in May 1935 where he negotiated a marriage contract between the King of France’s third son, Charles II of Orleans and his niece, baby Princess Elizabeth. In addition to his diplomatic skills, George was much admired for his linguistic and poetic talent.
George married Jane Parker in 1524. There are not much information on Jane or if they had any children but it is thought that Jane may have played a role in the judgments against George.
George Boleyn | Charges, Trial and Execution
On May 2 1536, George was arrested on charges of incest and treason and stood trial on May 15 1536. Anne was tried a few hours before George and was found guilty. As Anne was found guilty of incest, amongst other charges, before George, he could hardly be acquitted. According to trial papers, George is said to have put forward an incredible defence and many thought that he would be acquitted. There was no evidence of incest and George was convicted on a presumption.
On the morning of May 17, 1536, George along with the other four who were accused to have adulterous affairs with Anne Boleyn, were led to Tower Hill scaffold to be beheaded. George Boleyn was the first to be beheaded.
George Boleyn | Final speech
On the scaffold, George delivered a lengthy speech. Several versions of this speech exist and the following is appended from Chronicles of Calais, taken from Weir, p243.
Christian men, I am born under the law and judged under the law, and die under the law, and the law has condemned me. Masters all, I am not come hither for to preach, but for to die, for I have deserved to die if I had twenty lives, more shamefully than can be devised, for I am a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully. I have known no man so evil, and to rehearse my sins openly, it were no pleasure to you to hear them, nor yet for me to rehearse them, for God knoweth all. Therefore, masters all, I pray you take heed by me, and especially my lords and gentlemen of the court, the which I have been among, take heed by me and beware of such a fall, and I pray to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, three persons and one God, that my death may be an example unto you all. And beware, trust not in the vanity of the world, and especially in the flattering of the court. And I cry God mercy, and ask all the world forgiveness of God. And if I have offended any man that is not here now, either in thought, word or deed, and if ye hear any such, I pray you heartily in my behalf, pray them to forgive me for God’s sake. And yet, my masters all, I have one thing for to say to you: men do common and say that I have been a setter forth of the Word of God, and one that have favoured the Gospel of Christ; and because I would not that God’s word should be slandered by me, I say unto you all, that if I had followed God’s word in deed as I did read it and set it forth to my power, I had not come to this. If I had, I had been a liv[ing] man among you. Therefore I pray you, masters all, for God’s sake stick to the truth and follow it, for one good follower is worth three readers, as God knoweth.
George Boleyn endured three strokes of the axe before his head was completely severed. He is buried in the Tower Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.
As brave as he might have been on that scaffold, it is difficult to imagine what George would have gone through – a young, successful, happy, proud and arrogant English nobleman reduced a criminal in a matter of days for crimes he did not commit. Much worse were what the other four ordinary men went through watching George being beheaded while awaiting their turn. Their mutilated bodies, striped off their clothes, loaded onto a cart and taken to their graves.
May George Boleyn along with Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton are now rest in peace, far away from the earthly injustice bestowed upon them.
Thoughts…on the Boleyn Family
In less than eight years since Anne Boleyn became Queen of England and Ireland, bringing with it the influence, the success, wealth and the ennoblement that Thomas Boleyn sought and enjoyed, the Boleyn family were virtually destroyed. None of the immediate family exist. The gruesome beheading, the lost of Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn must have broken Elizabeth who died less than two years later. As for Thomas Boleyn, who although returned to court, he too would have been a broken man having lost his entire family except for Mary who was estranged, and herself passed about four years later.
Are there any survivors of the Boleyn family around today?
The short answer is, YES! The Boleyn lineage continued under a different surname, inherited through marriages etc. Below is what I found out, with a brief look at how it all began with the Boleyns and how they may be around today.
The Boleyns are said to be the direct descendants of Charles the Great (Charles I) who was the King of the Franks in 768 AD and King of the Lombards in 774. He was also King of the Romans in 800.
For the Boleyns, it all began with Sir Geoffrey Boleyn (1406-1453) who was a successful merchant in London. He became the Lord Mayor of London and purchased the Blickling Estate in Norfolk in 1452 and Hever Castle in 1462.
Sir Geoffrey’s son, William Boleyn followed in his father’s footsteps. He was a successful merchant and Lord Mayor of London. Sir William Boleyn (1451-1505) married Lady Margaret Butler and they had three children – Anne, Thomas and James.
Thomas Boleyn, son to Sir William and Lady Margaret, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, 1st Earl of Ormonde married Elizabeth Howard and they had three surviving children, Mary, Anne and George, whose fate, we already know.
George Boleyn married Jane Parker and there are no evidence that they had any children.
Anne Boleyn married King Henry VIII and they had one child, Elizabeth. Elizabeth went on to inherit the throne in 1558 to become Queen Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland. She did not marry and did not have any children. She was queen until her death, on March 24, 1603.
Mary Boleyn married twice, and had two children with each of her marriage.
Mary’s first marriage was to William Carey in 1520 and they had two children, Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys and Henry Carey, 1st Baron of Hunsdon. Mary’s second marriage was to William Stafford in 1534 and they had two children, Anne Stafford and Edward Stafford. Unfortunately, both of the Stafford children passed at a very young age. This means, the only surviving children were the Careys.
Catherine Carey, married Sir Francis Knollys in 1540 and they had fourteen children. Henry Carey married Anne Morgan and they had sixteen children.
The Boleyn lineage – where are the Boleyns now
So, there you have it! It is likely that the Boleyn lineage is still out there through the Careys or some other surnames through marriage. Just so you know, on the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death each year, the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula Royal Chapel in the Tower of London where Anne Boleyn was finally laid to rest receives a bouquet of flowers sent anonymously. This tradition has been carried on for a century. Make of it what you will – is it from a Boleyn out there or could it be just a kind soul paying tribute to a queen who was so wronged by the society she lived in.
Recommended read: The Boleyn Lineage– find out how the present royal family are the direct descendants of the Boleyn.
September 8, 2021- A reader, Andrea has kindly contributed the following information. You can find Andrea’s comment and my response to Andrea’s comment by scrolling down to comments.
“Both the Queen and Queen Mother are/were direct descendants of Mary Boleyn through one of the Carey siblings. Have you seen the BBC documentary the Boleyns: a scandalous family?”
August 9, 2021 – A reader has kindly written in with the following comment which I share here:
“The earlier spelling of the surname was Bullen. This is still a surname found in Norfolk and Suffolk.” – Daniel Morgan
You can find this comment and my response to Daniel Morgan if you scroll down to comments.
As you may already know, the history of Britain is fascinating, intriguing and there is still so much we would love to know. These historical information adds value to our visits to some of the castles and historic buildings that still stands. As well, there are numerous authors who have written on the many aspects of our history which gives us a number of versions to ponder upon. The dates and some events may lack precise accuracy due to lack of documentary evidence. One such example, as we have seen with Anne Boleyn, where all her portraits and memorabilia were destroyed. It was illegal to own any during the reign of King Henry VIII.
In writing this article on the Boleyn family, as well as all related articles to Anne Boleyn, I have used the resources listed below in my research to ensure the information contained herein is as accurate as it can possibly be. There is a further careful selection of books written on the Boleyn which you may find interesting by navigating here.
Articles on the History of Britain which you may like to read also
Anne Boleyn The Most Magnetic and Enduring of Tudor Queens
Some say she was a predator, a sinner while others that she was so sadly wronged and the most courageous queen ever lived. She was the first English monarch to be executed publicly. After five hundred years, the name ‘Anne Boleyn’ and her tragic death still commands attention and further research. She haunts us and we don’t seem to have enough of her! We just do not know what to think of a girl who stole her King’s heart, did not sleep with him for almost seven years and was sent to the block, with no traces of her ever existing. However one thinks of her, I sum her up as Anne Boleyn The Most Magnetic and Enduring of Tudor Queens.
An intriguing figure in British history, and also known as Queen for Thousand Days, Anne Boleyn’s personality and her story draws you in. She did so back then, had done so for five hundred years and continues to do so now. She continues to inspire historians, writers, filmmakers and ordinary citizens. This, by far, makes Anne Boleyn the most magnetic and enduring of Tudor queens.
This is her story.
Anne Boleyn: Biography
Born: c1501 | Blickling Castle, Norfolk
Died: May 19 1536, Tower Green, Tower of London | Executed
Reigned: June 1533 – May 1536
Coronation: June 1 1533
Parents: Sir Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Duke of Norfolk
Spouse: Henry VIII
Children: Elizabeth I
Succeeded by: Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife
Anne Boleyn | The most magnetic and enduring of Tudor Queens
Anne Boleyn, was the second wife of Henry VIII of England and mother of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Shrouded in scandal. Henry VIII was denied a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon by the Roman Catholic church. The subsequent events surrounding the divorce led Henry VIII to break from the Roman Catholic church to marry Anne, eventually bringing about the Reformation of England.
Anne Boleyn’s Early Days
Anne Boleyn, the most magnetic and enduring of Tudor queens was born at Blickling Manor, Norfolk, c1501 to Sir Thomas Boleyn (later Earl of Wiltshire) and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Anne also had a royal connection. Her aunt was the youngest daughter of King Edward IV of England.
Anne’s exact date of birth is unknown because records are lacking in this respect.
Anne spent her childhood in her family home, Hever Castle in Kent. She was educated in Netherlands and at the age of twelve, she went to France. She learnt to speak French fluently, acquired a taste for French fashion, poetry and music. Anne returned to England in 1522. Soon afterwards, she established herself as a maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII queen consort.
About Anne Boleyn and her courtship with King Henry VIII
Anne Boleyn was dark-haired, slim, sophisticated and well educated. She captivated those around her and became one of the most admired ladies of the court. Women at court copied her sartorial style. She attracted much attention from men as well, including Henry VIII and Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland. She dazzled the court with her wit and her French flair. When the King heard of Henry Percy’s desire to marry Anne, he ordered against it. At some point Henry himself fell in love with Anne, who was introduced to him by Anne’s sister, Mary, one of Henry’s mistresses.
Around 1525, Henry VIII wrote love letters to Anne. In one of them, he wrote:
If you…give yourself up, heart, body and soul to me…I will take you for my only mistress, rejecting from thought and affection all others save yourself, to serve only you
King Henry VIII, 1525
Anne, did not want to become a pawn in a game of thrones, and she rejected King Henry’s proposition. However, she carefully explained her rejection, saying that she intends to be married and not be a mistress. She replied:
Your wife I cannot be, both in respect of mine own unworthiness, and also because you have a queen already. Your mistress I will not be.
Henry VIII desperately wanted to be with Anne and he found a way to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon.
Catherine of Aragon
Catherine was a Spanish princess whom Henry married in June 1509 when he was eighteen years old. Catherine had married his older brother, Arthur in 1501 but he had died the following year. Henry and Catherine were happy in the early years of their marriage. The queen had six children but only one survived infancy, a girl, Mary. Mary was born in February 1516.
Henry blamed Catherine for not having a healthy male heir to the throne. Catherine was also six years older than Henry and the age difference began to show by the mid 1520s. The King wanted to be with a younger person who could bear him a son, heir to the throne.
King Henry VIII set about annulling his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, which he called “a grave matter” one that proved to be difficult and had far reaching consequences.
In his petition for an annulment, Henry relied on an excerpt from the Book of Leviticus:
“If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing…they shall be childless.”
After many years of debate, the Pope Clement VII refused to annul the marriage. Finally, the marriage was decreed as invalid on May 23 1534 by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Thereafter, King Henry VIII broke away from Catholicism and Rome to set up Church of England.
While the debate on annulment was going on, Henry and Anne continued to meet discreetly. In early 1533, Anne discovered that she was pregnant. In January 25 1533, they were married in a secret ceremony, without the blessings of the Pope, by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.
In June 1533, a lavish coronation ceremony was held for Queen Anne. She stayed at her Queen’s lodgings during the days before her coronation. She rode in a golden carriage, and wore a scarlet robe heavy in jewels.
On September 7 1533, Queen Anne gave birth to Elizabeth, at Greenwich Palace. Elizabeth later became the renowned Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth would be the only child of Henry and Anne. (Anne would go on to have two more pregnancies, in 1534 and 1536, but each was unsuccessful)
Anne Boleyn | The most magnetic and enduring of Tudor Queens as Queen of England
In short, the public did not take to Anne due to their allegiance to Catherine of Aragon. The public saw Anne as a status seeker and sexually promiscuous. For her own part, Anne was not a passive element of the royal court. She was well-educated and supported church reform. She helped with the distribution of Bibles, translated to English. She played the traditional role of Queen and was sincere in her efforts to help the poor and social reforms. She was renowned for her stylish wardrobe which followed the French fashion trends of that time. Even so, England never warmed up to their queen and Anne remained disliked until her death. Her strong mindedness did not help her either, as she alienated a lot of powerful men, one being Thomas Cromwell.
As wife to Henry VIII, their marriage was a happy one for the first year or so. Henry pursued other women and was sexually involved with two of her maids-of-honour, Madge Shelton and Jane Seymour. Anne was enraged by her husband’s behaviour and promiscuity. In return, Henry blamed Anne for his adulterous behaviour in not bearing a son as heir to the throne. He did not like to be questioned of his whereabouts which resulted in resentment, eventually leading to the marriage falling apart.
Anne gave birth to a stillborn, a boy in January 1536 which finally led Henry to decide it was time for wife number three! He quickly set about to annulling his marriage with Anne and settled to taking Jane Seymour as his third wife.
Charges, Trial and Execution of Anne Boleyn | The most magnetic and enduring of Tudor Queens
The case against the Queen was trumped up by Thomas Cromwell, Chief Minister to the King and who was also one of Anne’s former friend.
Anne was accused of incest with her own brother, George also known as Lord Rochford, four adulterous liaisons, conspiracy to poison her husband and witchcraft. Confessions and implications were extracted under torture from all those named in the tale. All maintained their innocence and denied the charges brought against them except for Mark Smeaton, who confessed under torture.
Despite her innocence, Henry ordered Anne to be confined in her lodgings at the Tower of London on May 2 1536. Ironically, these were the same lodgings Anne stayed in before her coronation ceremony three years earlier.
While in prison, the saddened Queen wrote an impassioned letter to the King, pleading not to allow:
“that unworthy stain of a disloyal heart towards your good Grace ever cast so foul a blot on me, or on the infant Princess, your daughter”
Events moved very quickly and Anne hardly had time to protest. She was tried on May 15 1536. All charges were denied by Anne, as did all her ‘lovers’. Despite her plea and all the unsubstantiated evidence against her, she was found guilty by a court of noblemen and peers, headed by her uncle, Duke of Norfolk. It has been said that her father, Thomas Boleyn watched Anne being sentenced and did nothing to stop it. The Queen was sentenced to execution.
Anne was allowed to respond and voice her thoughts on her sentence and she responded with the following:
I think you know well the reason why you have condemned me to be other than that which led you to this judgement. My only sin against the King has been my jealousy and lack of humility. But I am prepared to die. What I regret most deeply is that men who were innocent and loyal to the king must lose their lives because of me.
Anne offered to retire to the nunnery if the King would show mercy, but he did not. The only ‘mercy’ Henry showed was for the queen to be beheaded by a sword instead of being burnt on a stake like witches were at that time. Anne was to have a skilled executioner from France who would behead her with a sword instead of an axe.
Her marriage to King Henry VIII was annulled on May 17 1536. Henry declared his daughter, Elizabeth as illegitimate.
Henry wanted a new scaffold built specifically for Anne’s execution. On May 18 1536, work began on the building of a new scaffold “before the House of Ordnance” which is believed to be between the White Tower and what is now the Waterloo Block, home to the Jewel House.
Anne’s execution was initially scheduled for May 18 but was postponed to the next day, awaiting for the skilled swordsman to arrive.
At 8 o’clock in the morning of May 19 1536, Anne Boleyn, was taken to Tower Green scaffold to be executed by a skilled French swordsman. Anne took care of her appearance. She dressed in a robe of black damask, an ermine trim on her robe to confirm her status, and wore a traditional English gable hood.
When on the scaffold, Anne made a simple speech:
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.
Before the blade fell, Anne said the following:
The king has been good to me. He promoted me from a simple maid to a marchioness. Then he raised me to be a queen. Now he will raise me to be a martyr
With a single stroke, the executioner beheaded the queen.
Anne Boleyn | Burial
Anne was not provided a coffin. Her body was wrapped up in white cloth, and placed in an old elm chest fetched by a Yeoman warder from the Tower armoury.
Queen Anne Boleyn was queen for three years and thirty seven days since her coronation and was buried in the chancel, near to her brother, Lord Rochford at the Tower Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula,
All involved in the tale were tortured, tried and found guilty. Anne Boleyn’s brother and her four ‘lovers’, musician Mark Smeaton, Francis Weston, William Brereton, and Henry Norris were all executed for committing adultery with the queen, two days prior to her own.
Henry VIII married Jane Seymour just eleven days after Anne’s execution.
No trace of Anne Boleyn | The most magnetic and enduring of Tudor Queens
Much has been written about Anne Boleyn, the most magnetic and enduring of Tudor Queens since her execution but very few indisputable facts remain. Her date of birth and her appearance remains a fascinating subject. Though there are portraits of Anne that exists today, these were commissioned during the reign of Elizabeth I of her mother. These cannot be relied upon as her true image. No one really knows what and how she looked like.
After Anne’s execution, Henry VIII ordered everything that reminded him and the people of England of Anne to be destroyed. They are no mementos or contemporary portraits of Anne when she was alive that exist today. Henry made it illegal for anyone to be in possession of anything ‘Anne’.
A few may have missed the path of destruction and exist here and there.
One such example and the only undisputed image of Anne Boleyn is on a 38mm lead disc in storage at the British Museum. The disc is known as “The Moost Happi Medal” which was created in 1534 as a prototype when Anne was pregnant, in anticipation of a male heir to the throne. However, the commission was abandoned when her pregnancy was unsuccessful.
As well, there are very little documentary traces of Anne Boleyn existing. What is known of her is mainly accounts of others which are mostly marred by prejudices.
Only a few letters written in her own handwriting were found. A letter written to her father in 1514 and one written to Wolsey, along with letters written to her husband, King Henry VIII while she was in prison.
In her day, Anne Boleyn was known as a ‘witch’, an evil scheming woman, a woman, whose name not to be spoken of.
Anne Boleyn – The Forgotten Queen Resurfaced | The most magnetic and enduring of Tudor Queens
This forgotten queen resurfaced when her daughter, Elizabeth, inherited the throne from Mary I in November 1558, to become Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland. Questions were asked then, about the validity of the lurid charges of adultery, and about Anne’s support for Protestantism which has become the State’s religion.
Over the years, plays written by Shakespeare after Anne’s death and Francis Bacon in 1580s seems to portray Anne as having been misunderstood. It was not until three hundred years later, in 1830 Donizetti opera, Anne was portrayed as a victim and tragically wronged heroin. In 1893, Agnes Strickland wrote Lives of the Queens of England, which denounced Henry as being selfish and sadistic. However, there were many historians in the nineteenth century who felt that there must have been some truth to the fornication charges laid against Anne, and they continued to write her off as a predator.
The twentieth and twenty-first century saw historians giving voice to Anne’s independence of mind, her interest in sex and a young woman whose desire was to do as well as she could. Her assertiveness was admirable, seen as modern and non threatening. Described as “brutal and effective politician” by historian, David Starkey, “intelligent” by Alison Weir and “clever, articulate, principled and highly educated” by Hilary Mantel, Anne certainly had numerous qualities admired today. She keeps us drawn to her fascinating story.
There has been so much written about Anne Boleyn and her relatively short life as Queen of England but it is hard to know exactly what she was like.
The other side to Anne Boleyn | The most fascinating of Tudor Queens
Apparently, there is a ‘other side’ to Anne Boleyn. She is said to be vindictive, bad tempered, and failed to conform to the expectations that of a Queen.
Anne persuaded Henry to summon the arrest of Cardinal Wolsey, her nemesis. As well, not only did she manage to unseat Catherine, Queen of Aragon but she bullied Mary, Catherine’s daughter mercilessly, to the extent that Lady Mary became convinced that Anne was trying to poison her. Lady Mary never saw her mother again.
Anne’s headstrong personality and quick temper won her few friends. She did not make alliances to encircle her, instead she quarrelled and distanced herself from almost every important person at court. Anne alienated her uncle, the powerful Duke of Norfolk. She also threatened the Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell.
By the time Cromwell retaliated and persuaded King Henry to commit Anne to trial, she was surrounded by enemies who were very happy to see her go.
Seeing all the support failing around her, Anne did not reinvent herself to bring long term success. She stood her ground and to her principles, which some historians say may have led to her own condemnation.
The theories behind the Execution | Why Anne Boleyn, the most magnetic and enduring of Tudor Queens was executed
Modern historians believe that Anne Boleyn did not have any affairs which led her to be executed by King Henry VIII. She may have been a notorious flirt but it did not go beyond that. There is absolutely no reliable proof that Anne was unfaithful to her husband, King Henry VIII.
It appears that Anne was an innocent victim framed by her husband, King Henry VIII who wanted to move on with his life with his mistress, Jane Seymour with whom he hoped to have a male heir, or Thomas Cromwell, the Kings loyal servant who felt Anne stood in his way of his plans for the monasteries.
Henry painted a picture of his wife being a reckless cheat and that he was a wronged husband so that Anne’s image, reputation and legacy was forever tarnished in his kingdom. However, historian Tracy Borman argues that research shows Henry VIII was a villain. His cold and calculated manner, to oversee every detail of Anne’s execution, giving precise orders to the Constable of the Tower of London exposed his real personality.
Cromwell wanted an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire but Anne disagreed with his plans. Her pro French stance on diplomacy was also a problem for Cromwell.
Whatever the theories are and which of these one may wish to believe, the underlying question appears to be:
Was she wrong in failing to produce a male heir and refusing to rein in her headstrong personality?
The fascination with the life and death of Anne Boleyn lives on, it is enduring. I cannot for a moment imagine what she would have gone through psychologically and emotionally while in prison awaiting her execution. Her glittering life, her fall from grace, her tragic end. She may have vanished from history for a while as the discarded wife of a heartless king but her enduring glamour lives on. What touches many, I am sure, is the grace with which she faced her tragic end. Her careful dressing to meet the end of her life, and her collected little speech on the scaffold speaks no less of her dignity, eloquence and bravery. She has the power to draw us in, to fascinate and captivate us.
Much is still not known…
Their marriage ensued a political and religious upheaval which led to the English Reformation, changing the course of British history, and Anne’s execution for adultery and treason made her a popular figure since. Yet, there is much that is not known of her, as a person, as a queen and as a mother. Photos and records of her are scarce. All of her portraits were cautiously created during the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth I.
Perhaps, out of all of Henry VIII six wives, Anne Boleyn is the most fascinating, intriguing and famous queen associated with the Tudor King – one that continues to have a magnetic pull by drawing us to her story, her life as she continues to be an enduring queen.
The following poem is attributed to Anne Boleyn, one that she wrote in the days before her execution. I shall leave her words to speak to you:
O Death, O Death, rock me asleepe, Bring me to quiet rest; Let pass my weary guiltless ghost Out of my careful breast. Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell; Thy sound my death abroad will tell, For I must die, There is no remedy.
My pains, my pains, who can express? Alas, they are so strong! My dolours will not suffer strength My life for to prolong. Toll on, thou passing bell; Ring out my doleful knell; Thy sound my death abroad will tell, For I must die, There is no remedy.
Alone, alone in prison strong I wail my destiny: Woe worth this cruel hap that I Must taste this misery! Toll on, thou passing bell; Ring out my doleful knell; Thy sound my death abroad will tell, For I must die, There is no remedy.
Farewell, farewell, my pleasures past! Welcome, my present pain! I feel my torment so increase That life cannot remain. Cease now, thou passing bell, Ring out my doleful knoll, For thou my death dost tell: Lord, pity thou my soul! Death doth draw nigh, Sound dolefully: For now I die, I die, I die.
How to learn more about Anne Boleyn the most magnetic and enduring of Tudor Queens
If you are as fascinated as I am regarding Anne Boleyn and the Tudors, there are plenty of resources for you to explore. I recommend the following:
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Guy Fawkes and 5th of November is a popular story in the history of England. Known also as Guido Fawkes, he was born and educated in York, England. His father died when he was eight years old and his mother married a devout Catholic.
As an adult, he was a British soldier but during the increased oppression of Catholics in England, Guy joined a group of provincial Catholics in England to protest against the Crown.
Guy was one of thirteen conspirators who wanted to blow-up Parliament in 1605. He was found hiding in the cellars of the Parliament surrounded by 36 barrels of gunpowder. Fawkes was imprisoned and tortured in the Queen’s House at the Tower of London.
Fawkes and the other plotters suffered a grisly traitor’s death: they were hanged, drawn and quartered, with their body parts then displayed throughout London as a warning to others.
Guy Fawkes and 5th of November
The conspiracy to blow-up Parliament became famously known as the Gunpowder Plot. The very night the plot was foiled, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night.
To commemorate the failure of Guy Fawkes, Bonfire Night in the UK is celebrated with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire. As it is celebrated outdoors, there are soups, sausages, baked potatoes and the traditional Parkin cake available. Parkin Cake, is a sticky cake containing a mix of oatmeal, ginger, treacle and syrup.
Beauchamp Tower London is one of the many hidden gems beyond the walls of the fortress of Tower of London. The Tower of London is an iconic landmark and significant in English history, which famously carried the tag ‘a fortress, a palace and a prison’ The Tower occupies an area of 18 acres along the Thames River in London and attracts almost 2.86 million visitors each year. The Beauchamp Tower played a key role in the history of the Tower of London as residence to high-ranking prisoners. This article takes you on a brief journey of its historical significance and the beautiful graffiti at Beauchamp Tower London which were left by these prisoners that you may find in this historical gem if you were to visit Beauchamp today.
Beauchamp Tower is easily missed as visitors seem focused on the White Tower and the Jewel Tower. Moreover, if you are limited to time, you may give Beauchamp a miss but I suggest that Beauchamp is worth a visit and deserving of a place on your list.
I discovered Beauchamp Tower on my visit as I retraced my footsteps in London. I have been to Tower of London many times before but had never visited this tower. I learnt so much of historic England from my visit here which I share with you here.
Beauchamp, pronounced as “beecham” is one of the twenty-one towers at the Tower of London and forms part of the inner defensive wall of Tower of London. It was built between 1275 and 1281 towards the end of the first leg of modernisation of the Tower, under the reign of King Edward I.
Built mostly of brick, but with stone externally, the tower takes its name from its first prisoner, Thomas Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick. Thomas Beauchamp was imprisoned here in 1397 by Richard II.
The tower’s close proximity to the Lieutenant’s lodgings (now, the Queen’s House) made Beauchamp Tower a significant and a perfect place throughout history to accommodate high-ranking important prisoners.
Amongst the important prisoners at Beauchamp were John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and his four sons. One of the sons was Guildford Dudley, the husband to Lady Jane Grey. Here’s a brief look at the Dudleys and Lady Jane Grey.