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The History Makers: Anne Boleyn

Meet Henry VIII’s most controversial consort, who charmed her way through the French court and onto the English throne only to end up at the mercy of an executioner’s blade…
THAT JE NE SAIS QUOI Fluent in French and, it seems, the language of love, Anne had a certain continental allure that drove England’s eligible (and not-so eligible) gents wild


Hoping to catch sight of Anne Boleyn on the morning of Friday 19 May 1536, was a small crowd that had gathered at the Tower of London’s Tower Green. Yet these onlookers – among them some of the most powerful men in the country – had not congregated to acclaim England’s Queen or bask in the glow of her reflected majesty. No, they had come to watch her die.

Many of them fell silent as Anne and her two female attendants shuffled past and climbed a scaffold erected especially for her execution. The condemned Queen, who was wearing a red petticoat under a fur-trimmed dark grey gown, gave a short speech in a faltering voice, praising the goodness and mercy of her husband, King Henry VIII, and beseeching her audience to pray for her. Then, uttering a brief farewell to her weeping ladies, she lifted off her headdress and knelt down. A blindfold was tied over her eyes and, a few seconds later, her expensive French executioner chopped off her head in one blow.

So ended the life of one of the most remarkable women in British history – one who mesmerised a king, helped redefine England’s relationship with Europe and changed the face of organised religion in the realm.


Anne Boleyn was probably born between 1501 and 1507 in the family home of Blickling in Norfolk. Hers was no rags-to-riches story. She was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, a successful courtier and diplomat, and Elizabeth, whose father was Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Raised in the lavish surroundings of Hever Castle in Kent, Anne would have been groomed for great things.

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The March 2016 issue of History Revealed.