Nearly five hundred years ago, on this day in 1536, Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, was arrested and imprisoned on charges of adultery, incest, treason and witchcraft. The second wife of King Henry VIII, Anne was Marquess of Pembroke in her own right and Queen of England from 1533.
The daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and Lady Elizabeth Howard, his wife, Anne was educated in France and the Netherlands, largely as a maid of honour to Claude of France. Returning to England in 1522, she planned to marry her Irish cousin – James Butler, 9th Earl of Osmond – but the plans ended in failure and she secured a job as maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife.
In early 1526, Henry VIII began his pursuit of Anne. His initial attempts were rebuffed as Anne did not wish to become his mistress, as her sister Mary had been. So strong were Henry’s desires to annul his marriage to Queen Catherine that, when it became clear that Pope Clement VII would not annul the marriage, the breaking of the power of the Catholic Church in England began.
Henry and Anne married on 25 January 1533 and Anne was crowned Queen of England on 1 June 1533. On 7 September, she gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I, whose gender disappointed Henry. He was not entirely discouraged, for he said that a son would surely follow. However, three miscarriages followed and by March 1536, Henry was courting Jane Seymour.
Henry had Anne investigated for high treason in April 1536. On 2 May she was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. There, she was tried before a jury of peers – which included Henry Percy, her former betrothed, and her own uncle, Thomas Howard – and found guilty on 15 May. She was beheaded four days later.
Historians today view the charges against Anne as unconvincing and, since she provided the occasion for Henry VIII to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and declare his independence from Rome, Anne has been referred to as ‘the most influential and important queen consort England has ever had’.