Anne Boleyn lost her head on this fine spring day in May, 1536, put to death by the decree of her own quasi-husband, Henry VIII – I say, ‘quasi’, since Henry’s legitimate wife, Catherine of Aragon, was still very much alive when Henry married Anne in a secret ceremony of November 1532. Henry was at first besotted by the lady-in-court Anne – he later claimed he was ‘bewitched’, but the two are not contradictory. Henry put away Catherine, declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England, separating himself and his kingdom for the one holy Church, rending the seamless garment, and eventually put to death two of the noblest and best men of the realm, Bishop John Fisher, and his own former chancellor and counsellor, Thomas More.
Anne seems to have had her own hand all of this nefarious business of the King, and for a while she lived lavishly. Yet, after the disappointing birth of a daughter whomever everyone expected to be a son – the future Elizabeth I – Anne miscarried a male child, perhaps brought on by the shock of walking in to the sight of Henry with one of the ladies-at-court (as Anne had been) dangling on his knee, his next and sometime wife (and mother of Edward VI), Jane Seymour.
Ah, yes, as is the way of things, the King had tired of his paramour. On trumped-up charges, including sorcery, treason, adultery and even incest – they tortured a young musician into confessing an affair with the new queen – Anne was quickly condemned to death.
One must resist some degree of schadenfreude in her getting her comeuppance. Rather, the story ends better than it might, for we should rejoice that, before her unexpected death, Anne heard Mass, and received the Holy Eucharist, we may presume also saying her last Confession. Eyewitnesses say she went to her execution spot calmly and bravely, making an emotional speech which moved all hearers, then knelt upright in the French fashion to receive the swift blow of the sword that severed her head, and brought her soul to eternity.
We pray that she made her peace with God, and with His Church. After all, the Almighty brings good out of all things – all we must do is accept that good when offered, regardless of how much evil we may have – or think we have – done. There is nothing God cannot forgive, and cast into the depths of the sea. If that’s where our sins go, we just have to make sure we don’t go down there with them.