On the morning of May 2nd 1536 Anne Boleyn decided to go watch a game of Tennis. Anne was enjoying herself watching the game when a messenger arrived with an order from the King. She was to present herself to the Privy Council immediately.

Entering the Privy Council chambers there was not the King waiting for her nor the full council, but only three members: her Uncle the Duke of Norfolk, Sir William Fitzwilliam, and Sir William Paulet. It was there, standing before these three men, Anne Boleyn found out her fate. She was charged with adultery against the King of England – accused of having sexual relationships with Sir Henry Norris, the musician Mark Smeaton and a third lover whom the men would not name. It is said that Anne was furious at these charges and denied them completely and wholeheartedly proclaiming that the King was the only man who had ever touched her. Of course history tells us that her pleas fell upon deaf ears. Anne was told to return to her chambers and await further instructions.

After lunch they came for Anne, The Duke of Norfolk, Sir William Fitzwilliam, Sir William Paulet, the Earl of Oxford, Lord Sandys and Thomas Cromwell entered the Queen’s chambers with a warrant signed by the King for Anne’s arrest. There was probably little Anne could do, despite being Queen she was still a servant of the King and subject to his laws and commands. It is said that once presented with the warrant Anne replied: “If it be His Majesty’s pleasure, I am ready to obey.” (Weir 2009, pg. 134)

Anne was not allowed to take any of her dresses, jewellery or other belongings, nor any of her ladies in waiting with her. This must have been a huge humiliation as for years Anne had enjoyed the luxuries and comforts that being a Queen provided her with. She was taken down to the river Thames where a barge awaited her to take her to the Tower of London.

Anne must have looked a sight, Queen of England, dressed in crimson and gold, jewels glittering in the sunlight surrounded by men whom were to take her to the Tower. Her uncle the Duke of Norfolk was with her and it is said that the whole trip he tuttered and looked down upon her.

Common stories say that Anne entered into the Tower of London from the Thames through the ‘Traitors Gate’, but modern historians now know that she would have arrived through the Court Gate near Byward Tower – which was the common entrance for people of nobility and royalty. As she arrived at the Tower loud cannons were fired to signal to all of London that someone of great importance had just been imprisoned.

As Anne exited the barge and stepped onto the stone steps her legs gave way and she collapsed to the ground crying and praying furiously. She was helped to her feet by Sir William Kingston who was the Constable of the Tower. Kingston lead Anne through the tower and Anne believed that she was being taken to the Dungeons, so when Kingston turned in a direction that Anne was not expecting she was shocked.

Anne said to Kingston: “Master Kingston, do I go into a dungeon?” and he replied: “No, Madam, you shall go into your lodging that you lay in at your coronation.” (Ives 2005, pg. 334)

Anne Boleyn was lodged in the same rooms as she had stayed in on the night before her coronation less than three years earlier. Within three short weeks her life would be lost.

Anne Boleyn

(Anne Boleyn, image from wikipedia)


Ives, Eric 2005, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Weir, Alison 2009, The Lady in the Tower The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Jonathan Cape, London.


2 thoughts on “2nd May 1536

  1. In those days death by beheading was usually done with an axe., It often took 2 or 3 blows or more to do the job. Interesting that the King imported a flash French executioner who cld take off her head with one blow- which he did ..


  2. Bruce, it was probably an act of mercy – but whether it was at the order of the King or Cromwell, I don’t know. At the end of Wolf Hall I thought it was really chilling when the executioner took off his shoes so Anne couldn’t hear his footstep as he stepped towards her. Again, did this happen?? No idea, but it is great theatre.


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