On the 19th May 1536, Anne Boleyn – Henry VIII’s second wife and mother of the future Elizabeth I – was beheaded in the Tower of London, having been found guilty of adultery, treason, and incest.
Although found unanimously guilty by a jury of 27 peers, the evidence against her was questionable. Only one person accused of an affair with Anne admitted his guilt, and this was allegedly extracted under torture. Some historians believe that her involvement in court politics led the influential Thomas Cromwell to engineer her downfall. Meanwhile, other historians point to the problem of her not having bourn the king a male heir. A series of miscarriages in the months prior to her arrest further suggested she wouldn’t do so in the future. The lack of a son from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had originally driven Henry to find a new wife. Anne found herself in a precarious situation. She gave birth to a stillborn son in January 1536, and soon afterwards Henry took Jane Seymour – one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting – as a mistress.
Since she was queen, the Treason Act meant that the queen’s infidelity was treasonous. The punishment for a woman was burning alive, but Henry commuted it to beheading and had an expert French swordsman brought over to carry out the execution with a single stroke.
Anne maintained her innocence to the end. She was buried in an unmarked grave, but the site was identified in 1876 and is now marked with a marble slab.