"O Death, rock me asleep,
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; Let thy sound my death tell. Death doth draw nigh; There is no remedy."
Anne likely had trouble sleeping the night before her execution, and must have spent the night in prayer, continuing to pray for the swift deliverance of her soul and for the life of her precious daughter, Elizabeth. When Kingston came to her rooms to tell her to make ready, she was already waiting for him. According to a letter written by an observer from her execution, she was "wholly habitet in a robe of black damask, made in such guise that the cape, which was white, did fall on the outer side thereof. The cape was a short mantle furred with ermines," (1). This is significant, because by wearing ermine, Anne was emphasizing her rank as Queen. Also, another report has indicated that she wore a red kirtle - red being the color of Catholic martyrdom, so she may have been making a statement of her innocence during her last moments.
Anne was flanked by four servants as she followed Kingston out to the scaffold that morning at nine o'clock. She was escorted through the courtyard of the Tower to her new scaffold in a grim procession, and it was said that the Queen "went to her execution with an untroubled countenance," (2). Waiting for her at the scaffold was a vast crowd of roughly a thousand people, though her execution was deemed "private" in contrast to the others from a few days ago. This only means that, although the Tower gates were left open for witnesses to enter, the exact time of the execution was not announced. Still, Anne had a great audience when she mounted the scaffold steps.
She remained dignified and composed, and looked around at the people surrounding the scaffold, then turned to Kingston and "begged leave to speak to the people, promising she would not speak a word that was not good," (5). When he gave her leave to speak, she addressed the people. Here is one version of the speech she made to the crowd:
"Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, according to law, for by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I come here only to die, and thus to yield myself humbly to the will of the King, my lord. And if, in my life, I did ever offend the King's Grace, surely with my death I do now atone. I come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that whereof I am accused, as I know full well that aught I say in my defence doth not appertain to you. I pray and beseech you all, good friends, to pray for the life of the King, my sovereign lord and yours, who is one of the best princes on the face of the earth, who has always treated me so well that better could not be, wherefore I submit to death with good will, humbly asking pardon of all the world. If any person will meddle with my cause, I require them to judge the best. Thus I take my leave of the world, and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. Oh, Lord, have mercy on me! To God I commend my soul.
"She appeared dazed" (6) when she knelt down, upright on her knees in the straw. She faced the crowd and muttered several times "O Christ, receive my spirit," but later reports reveal that her fear was evident in her face.
Her ladies, "shedding many tears," (7), knelt down at the back of the scaffold and awaited their mistress' end. Reports differ on whether or not Anne Boleyn was blindfolded for her execution, but seeing as it was the normal thing to do in these cases, it is probably more likely that she was. Therefore, as she knelt in the straw and "awaited the blow," (8) she continued saying her quiet prayers until the headsman unsheathed his sword from underneath a heap of straw, and the Flemish steel met the Queen's neck - and "immediately, the executioner did his office," (8). Her head fell into the straw, and although at this point it would have been customary for the headsman to hold up the victim's head and yell "So perish all the King's enemies!", there is no record of this happening at Anne's execution.
When her head fell, it was immediately covered by a white handkerchief, and within seconds the cannons along the Tower Wharf were fired to signal Anne Boleyn's death to the world and the King.
So, today we can remember that "The Queen suffered with sword this day...and died boldly," (10). She had served as Queen for almost three years (only fourteen days shy), and had endured much sadness and hardship in her short life. All who saw her in her final hours commended her bravery. Her good friend (and perhaps onetime lover) Thomas Wyatt, captured the horror of Anne's situation in his last poem for her...
"So freely wooed, so dearly bought,
So soon a queen, so soon low brought,
Hath not been seen, could not be thought,
O! What is Fortune?
As slipper as ice, as fading as snow,
Like unto dice that a man doth throw,
Until it arises he shall not know
What shall be his fortune!
They did her conduct to a tower of stone,
Wherein she would wail and lament her alone,
And condemned be, for help there was none,
Lo! Such was her fortune.
Rest in Peace, Queen Anne Boleyn.
- Weir, Alison "The Lady in the Tower" - (1) page 274, (2) page 278, (3) page 279, (4) page 279, (5) page 280, (6) page 284, (7) page 285, (8) page 285, (9) page 288, (10) page 289.
- Anne's execution speech was also taken from "The Lady in the Tower," page 281.
- Thomas Wyatt's poem was taken from "The Lady in the Tower," page 290.
- Anne Boleyn's poem "O Death, Rock Me Asleep" was taken from PoetryArchive.com.