Abstract: A political list reserving a fatal expense for the over – matched. A King’s lust against his Queen’s plea – bargain to reduce charges of obloquy and death. With the verdict hanging on whimsical malice and royal injustice. Legend assigns Anne Boleyn, the most infamous of the Henrician Consorts, a letter written in imprisonment, thirteen days before a French sword silted her “little neck” on 19th May, 1536. The letter addressed to King Henry VIII, bore the tragic conclusion of her short life and even shorter reign, giving an insight into those convictions concerning her downfall that she carried to the grave. The purpose of this paper is to review the nature and denotation of the text: was it devised to guarantee slaughter or mercy? Was it an outrageous condemnation of legal sanctity or a voiceless bow to the virility of corrupted power? What could have been its applicability – successfully solicitous or woefully derelict? Or was it a four – hundred and eighty year old living testimony to the phase – Death and Life are in the power of the tongue?

Keywords: Henry VIII; Anne Boleyn; letter; convictions; death.

by Unknown artist Unknown artist,painting,1570
Anne Boleyn – The heretic “Concubine”…

AnneBoleynsLastLettertoHenryVIIICopyPage1PossiblyFlickrThatBoleynGirl annetower2

Her Last Letter – ???


Your Grace’s displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me that what to write or what to excuse I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you send onto me (willing me to confess a truth and so obtain your favor) by such a one whom you know to be mine ancient professed enemy. I no sooner received this message by him than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if confessing a truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all willingness and duty perform your command. But let not your Grace imagine that your poor wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a fault where not so much as a thought ever proceeded. And to speak a truth, never a prince had wife more loyal in all duty and in all affection, than you have ever found in Anne Bulen; with which name and place I could willingly have contended myself, if God and your Grace’s pleasure had so been pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation, or received queenship, but that I always looked for such alteration as I now find. For the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than your Grace’s fancy, the least alteration was fit and sufficient (I knew) to draw the fancy to some other subject.

You have chosen me from a low estate to be your queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire; if then you found me worthy of such honor, good your Grace, let not any light fancy or bad council of my enemies withdraw your princely favor from me; neither let that stain, that unworthy stain, of a disloyal heart towards your good Grace ever cast so foul a blot on me and on the infant Princess, your daughter.

Try me, good King, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and as my judges; yea, let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open shame. Then shall you see either my innocence cleared, your suspicions and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped, or my guilt openly declared. So that, whatever God and you may determine of, your Grace may be freed from an open censure; and mine offence being so lawfully proved, your Grace may be at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me as an unfaithful wife, but to follow your affection already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am, whose name I could some good while since have pointed to, your Grace being not ignorant of my suspicion therein.

But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death but an infamous slander must bring you the joying of your desired happiness, then I desire of God that He pardon your great sin herein, and likewise my enemies, the instruments thereof, and that He will not call you to a strait account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me at His general judgment seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear, and in Whose just judgment I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me) mine innocency shall be openly known and sufficiently cleared.

My last and only request shall be that myself only may bear the burden of your Grace’s displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen whom, as I understand, are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favor in your sight, if ever the name of Anne Bulen have been pleasing in your ears, then let me obtain this request; and so I will leave to trouble your Grace any further, with mine earnest prayer to the Trinity to have your Grace in His good keeping and to direct you in all your actions.

From the doleful prison in the Tower, the 6th May,

Your most loyal and ever – faithful wife,

Anne Bulen[1].

High Treason. Incest. Adultery. Witchcraft.

Against these most heinous crimes of mankind, for over four centuries stood this poor solitary attorney whose dereliction cost its client her honor and life.

Allegedly drafted by the hand of the first infamously executed Queen of England on May 6, 1536 at the Beauchamp Tower (Tower of London): this letter known to history as the ‘[letter] To the King from the Lady in the Tower’[2] – was the decisive testimony of Anne Boleyn, soliciting her and her fellow convicts’ innocence and acquittal, in conflated notes of condemnation, excoriation and mendicancy; before that historic trial in English History that would escort a Queen to a traitor’s scaffold, for her appointment with the French swordsman. Unfortunately, to the authority it was commemorated , it appeared as a belles lettres – one of the many infelicitous genres woven by a perfidious quill, in anticipation of justice against foul certitudes and hence its very purpose – the final plea against a fatal deal of deception– was indulgently bypassed. However, so disputed was its content as well as scrivener that since its maiden publication in 1649[3], it has become the nuclei of an ever raging controversy, dampening even the intensity of the embroilment associated with first class polemic cases such as the Donatio Constanti, the Shroud of Turin, Shakespeare’s Lost Play, etc.

Anne Boleyn.  The second and probably the best known of the six tragic wives of the notorious Henry VIII, she is subject to veneration and censure by historical scholarship as the ‘only cause of banishing the Beast of Rome with all its beggarly baggage’[4] from England and the aggressive patroness of a revolution as far reaching as the English Reformation. An outstanding intellect eloquent in several tongues as well as ‘a brutal and effective politician’[5], Anne was the first English Queen to step outside the threshold of royal domesticity and serve as the King’s fellow aviator in steering the Tudor state toward the reformed good of Anglican modernization, away from the decaying and deterrent clogs of conservative Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, the seat of her affection in her husband and her subjects rested on her ability to produce a male heir – the sole mission wherein she dismally failed. Moreover, for all her progressive doings, her supplanting of Katherine of Aragon as the Queen Consort and her truculent treatment of the Princess Mary earned her the wrath of the prominent factions of the nobility, for whom her term of ‘Reformation’ had always been synonymous to sinful heresy.  After a woeful obstetric career involving a daughter, a deformed stillborn and two miscarriages, she was sent to the Tower of London (with her five alleged lovers[6]) to be discarded and killed on the flimsiest of evidences. Four centuries later her crimes, even if negligently scrutinized, would betray their origins in ‘accusations rather than convictions’[7]. Indeed, modern historians including Eric Ives, David Starkey, and Alison Weir and alike believe that Anne Boleyn’s downfall was the tale of a coup d’état designed to thaw her ominous manipulations of the King’s conscience, by the exploitation of His Majesty’s darkest dread: a vain dynastic ambition!

Henry VIII – A victim of his Court & Lust?

But was the nobility solely to suffer the blame in this affair? What part did the lusting King of England play in the overthrow of the barren ‘whore’ of a wife; he became so exhausted of after her deplorable birth record? Did he instruct his Lord Secretary Cromwell to fabricate evidence to get rid of Anne so that he could marry the fresh fertility of Jane Seymour? Or did Cromwell construct a case against the Boleyn faction to persuade the King of the treachery of his wicked advisors? Or was Anne, in reality, guilty as charged?[8] Her last letter puts her in an ambiguous light, i.e., of a person who had perhaps known the answer to all these mysteries, either by hindsight or court gossip, but did not confess timely enough to reveal her knowledge. Given that scholars[9] have disputed over the authenticity of the letter – ‘the handwriting[10] and style alike indicated beyond reasonable doubt that this letter was not really written or composed by Anne Boleyn’[11] – many have questioned the authorship and the purpose of this opus in Anne’s trial and execution of 1536. The verdict on the nature of its service thus stands dubious: was it meant to magnify the popularly abhorred insolent spirit of a Queen[12] and in the process drive an outraged Henry to ruthlessly butcher her or was it scribbled by a distraught and hapless woman, desperately petitioning for her very existence? Is this letter really the derelict assignee it is thought to be or is it, in fact the silent triumphant page of its alleged petitioner’s death sentence?

Did the Letter face the ‘Cromwell – ian’ obstacle?

Provided that the letter was suspiciously found amongst Cromwell’s possession, either it was his handicraft to seal Anne’s fate or that it was intercepted before it reached the Sovereign to plead for a reprieve. After Anne’s execution, the King and his court, with barbarous alacrity, turned their back on the past; making Anne Boleyn the taboo that never should have existed. Her portraits were taken down or burned and the mention of her very name was banned: in such hostile circumstances Cromwell’s preservation of her last letter would obviously stand out. The Lord Secretary was the Queen’s ‘ancient professed enemy’[13] – why would he think that it was desirable to keep a letter from Anne protesting her innocence?[14] Or why would he give the letter of an accused traitor such a poetically romantic title? Either the writing was of great significance to the Tudor State or sentiments might have been at work: he had climbed to power with the aid of Anne and now had to destroy her in order to retain that power. It was the least justice he could do to the memory of the person who gave him his silk-stocking! The disappointing conclusion that the letter never made it to Henry’s hand leaves the modern reader in much speculation about what might have happened, had Henry VIII, in person, made the effort to revisit his cooled ‘Grand Passion’ in the Tower and hear her reticent alarm. Probably the climax would have as apocalyptic as the one that followed after Richard Burton sojourned a la Genevieve Bujold in Anne of the Thousand Days. All, from Anne’s arrest to execution was conducted with such celerity by Cromwell that Henry’s sympathizers contend that the King didn’t have the amenity to change his mind and grant pardon to the woman he once valued, sufficiently to change the face of England.

 The letter effectively summarizes how Anne herself saw her downfall: a political coup staged by a passel of power – gourmand counselors at the instigation of a lecherous husband to satisfy each other’s purpose: the latter’s to marry her handmaid and the former’s to neutralize a politically interfering Queen and her cause of Reformation. Investigation, spying, bribery and invention did the rest[15]. Her estimation was correct.

For some time, a notion existed that Henry VIII had Anne and her associates executed in fear that Catholic Europe would turn against him with arms for pursuing heresy under their influence. Undeniably, the Boleyn faction had been the most prominent servants of the English Reformation – an essence that endeared them to the English King whilst enraging those temperamentally inclined to Roman Catholicism, presumably the Tudor Court and the whole of Europe. The wave of arrest of the members of Anne’s innermost circle[16] and the blocking of their access to the King drew the teeth of the reformist heretics; in fact, the executions of May 1536 made sure that the Boleyn faction was never allowed to recover its balance and by the end of the month, it was effectively dismantled to pave the way for the rising stars of the Henrician court, the Seymours. Knowing that the eradication of her faction would halt her much cherished process of Reformation Anne reasonably asked Henry to spare the leaders particularly four of her ‘lovers’ who were ‘in strait imprisonment for [her] sake’[17] – a request he didn’t comply with. Yet, miserably for the cuckolded King and her Catholic enemies, their slanderous heretic Queen had the last laugh. The clients she had promoted would remain to hold and consolidate a bridgehead for the Protestant religion in England[18]. In a cruel twist of irony, Anne Boleyn would leave behind her heritage in her daughter Elizabeth I, whose ascendancy in 1558 would not only reinforce the Boleyn blood but also its reformist tendencies to the Tudor throne: the potency of this rejuvenated Boleyn legacy, stronger than the initial surge, would chisel perpetually the condemned Faith of a condemned Queen in the heart of country that so condemned them.

However, Anne’s injured, pious and reproving tone[19] made sure that Henry showed her little mercy. ‘Every word is a sting, envenomed by a sense of intolerable wrong.[20]’  In asserting she was in the Tower on account of her enemies and Jane Seymour and that her queenship had no ‘surer foundation’ than Henry’s ‘fancy’[21] – she was accusing him of fickleness. Her suggestion that he had already determined her death so he could marry Seymour was tantamount to insulting Royal Justice and an implication that Anne would be sent to the scaffold without a proper trial. Historians doubt this tone of psychological inconstancy – at such an extreme juncture, she was to reign in her sharp tongue in the interests of ameliorating his displeasure[22]; instead she aggravated him. Why?

Semper Eadem, ‘always the same’ was afterall, Anne’s motto. From the very beginning, she was a powerful but unpopular outspoken Queen, defiant in her beliefs and audacious in her enterprises.  She had never been the waxen wife of conventional expectation, to be molded or impressed at her husband’s will[23]. Accustomed to unhesitant speech, even to public upbraiding of the King, she displayed the same ardor in her final days. Battered by the demoralization and fragmentation of a prisoner under constant and unsympathetic scrutiny, as well as driven by her sense of injury, Anne might have let her thoughts flow, unchained, into the erudite petition. In her compos mentis or haste, she might have overlooked the fact that her pleas would fall into the deaf ears of a different Henry, much altered by the seductive promises of the Cromwell faction and his own capacity of self – pity. Nonetheless, her sharp wit had somehow gathered the new inimical constitution of his disposition towards her– for which she remitted the usual lavish title or any term of endearment that might be expected of a Queen while addressing her King Consort; and began her letter with the appellation of “Sir”, that was reserved for the commons to designate the King.

Yet, at the end of the letter, she took to humility and dropped her cynical note out of – Convention? Religion? Circumstances? The metaphor is clearly visible – a condemned traitor being stopped midway by the clergy or the sheriff, while delivering his farewell scaffold speech because it had content defamatory to the State. The text is the evidence of the ‘blot of accusation’ that had defiled her mind, prior to her trial. It couldn’t have been guilt for she omitted, till her dying breath, to say she deserved death for the crimes alleged against her. Nor, was it a vulnerable resignation to her doomed fate. Keeping in mind that Anne was the source of her family’s prospects as well as the shield that protected the infant princess from the opposition that shrouded her since birth, she could be seen making a frantic attempt to wheel her associates away from the jeopardized future that was being contracted by her condemnation. Her death was impending and being the accountable woman she had been all her life, this draft was a silent supplication that the King’s personal displeasure against her would not manifest itself  in the treatment of those intimately yoked to her in person and patronage.  Indeed, convention and religion demanded of men facing eminent divine judgment to forgive and repent – railing against injustice was unacceptable[24]. Here, Anne followed both rubrics, albeit against her better judgment, as it would be Elizabeth who would suffer from the luxury of defying the King and his supposed Justice[25].

This was not the only instance where she would act threatened with the behest prescribed for a traitor. In the letter, Anne professed her faith on the apotheosis of Tudor law while discrediting its executors. Her writing mirrored the personal confliction of a reformist Queen against that obsolete part of the Law of the Land that incessantly upheld the Crown’s case to be unassailable. It was a laudable prophesy made ten days prior to her fictitious trial, where her ‘accusers’ would sit as her ‘judges’[26], delivering a formal approval of a death warrant signed fore by an adulterous husband. A stabbing verity de novo! The convicted Queen, however, would be seen praising the Justice redeemed to her, in her dying speech – “For according to the law and by the law I am judged to die and therefore I would speak nothing against it…”[27]

Evidently, Henry took to his heart his wife’s criticism and saw her deathbed wishes as an inflammatory plea bargain – for which while the other ‘troublesome queens’ of Europe like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Matilda of Flanders and Joan of Navarre were decreed to divorce, unceasing imprisonment or deportment to a nunnery for the crimes Anne was accused of; she was sent to the block. Regardless of the extensive pains taken to promise her a fair public trial, her death, as she had surmised, was a foregone conclusion. Decapitation had always been the intention[28]:

‘In mourning wise since daily I increase,

Thus should I cloak the cause of all my grief;

So pensive mind with tongue to hold his peace

My reason sayeth there can be no relief:

Wherefore give ear, I humbly you require,

The affect to know that thus doth make me moan.

The cause is great of all my doleful cheer

For those that were, and now be dead and gone.[29]

No wonder Henry VIII dissolved her Greenwich household, sent for an experienced swordsman from Calais days before she was to step in the Crown Court, and promised his beloved Jane the crown even before ‘the sword was reddened with the blood of her mistress’[30]!

Hence, notwithstanding the applicability of the letter – successfully solicitous or woefully derelict – Anne would be the valorous anodyne martyr of Anglican Tradition, the ‘righteous victim of Fortune or of unscrupulous, malicious schemers’[31]. A woman of great promise who risked everything for her royal ambition, only to ‘lose her head’ over the King…


[1] Note the repeated use of the Anglo – Saxon equivalent of the word ‘Boleyn’ (origin: Gallicized surname ‘de Boulaine’) – ‘Bulen’. Anne usually styled herself as ‘Anne Boleyn’ – hence this signature is inconsistent with her style. Also at the time of writing the letter, she was still Queen of England and it would have been customarily expected of her to sign herself as ‘Queen Anne’, which she did not. See Gareth Russell, May 6, 1536: The Mystery of the Queen’s Letter (Source: blogspot.com post, Confessions of a Ci-Devant, Thursday, May 6, 2010). The original draft, however, had the use of the equivalent ‘Bullen’.This article uses the excerpt in Lord Herbert’s publication of the original letter (quoted in Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn [London, 2010]) and substitutes the ‘Bullen’ for ‘Bulen’ for referential convenience.

[2] This title heading the letter was in Cromwell’s handwriting. The original letter was supposedly found with Sir William Kingston’s letters, lying among Lord Cromwell’s other papers in 1540. The original draft (Cotton MS. Otho CX 228), though damaged in a 1731 fire, is currently housed in the Cotton MSS of the British Library. See Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (London, 2010).

[3] Lord Herbert, The Life and Raigne of King Henry VIII (1649). See Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (London, 2010). Other sources include G. Smeeton, The Life and Death of Anne Bullen, Queen Consort of England (Britain, 1820); J.S. Brewer, J. Gairdner, R.H. Brodie, ed., Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII (1862 – 1932). See Claire Ridgeway, http://www.TheBoleynFiles.com (Web).

[4] John Almer.

[5] David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (London, 2003).

[6] Viscount Rochford (George Boleyn, Anne’s brother), Sir Henry Norris (Groom of the Stool), Sir Francis Weston and Sir William Brereton (two gentlemen of the Privy Chamber), and Mark Smeaton (a Flemish musician and a Groom of the Privy Chamber). All were executed on May 17, 1536. Others imprisoned on suspicion of adultery with the Queen were the poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt (Privy councilor and diplomat) and Sir Richard Page (vice- chamberlain to the Duke of Richmond, Henry VIII’s bastard son); but they escaped persecution and were acquitted.

[7] Philip Melanchthon, unquoted.

[8] Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (London, 2010).

[9] .i.e., Herbert, Agnes Strickland, J. Gairdner, Friedmann, Sergeant, etc.

[10] Savage, ed., Love Letters of Henry VIII. It is just possible that on 6 May, four days after her arrest, she was too agitated to write it herself and dictated it to someone else (quoted in Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn [London, 2010]). Hence, the discrepancy between the handwriting in this letter and the one in her authenticated letters.

[11] J. Gairdner, ed., Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII (1862 – 1932).  In his view, it is written decades later in an Elizabethan hand (quoted in Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn [London, 2010]). The injunction might be correct – the letter, its content so inconsistent with Anne’s handwriting and style, could be an emotional forgery scripted in an Elizabethan classroom.

[12] J. Gairdner, ed., Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII (1862 – 1932). He opines that the letter ‘bears all the marks of Anne’s character of her spirit, her impudence and her recklessness’ (quoted in Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn [London, 2010]).

[13] See excerpt.

[14] Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (London, 2010).

[15] E.W. Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (United Kingdom, 2005).

[16] All those arrested with the exception of Anne’s Ladies in Waiting, Duke of Wiltshire (Thomas Boleyn, her father), Lady Rochford (George Boleyn’s wife), Duke of Norfolk (Thomas Howard, her uncle), Matthew Parker and Archbishop Cranmer of Canterbury.

[17] See excerpt.

[18] E.W. Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (United Kingdom, 2005).

[19] Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (London, 2010).

[20]Agnes Strickland.

[21] Gareth Russell, May 6, 1536: The Mystery of the Queen’s Letter (Source:  blogspot.com post, Confessions of a Ci-Devant, Thursday, May 6, 2010).

[22] Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (London, 2010).

[23] E.W. Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (United Kingdom, 2005).

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] See excerpt.

[27] E.W. Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (United Kingdom,2005).

[28]In Reformation in England, J.H. Marle d’ Aubigny writes admiringly of the letter – ‘We see Anne thoroughly in this letter, one of the most touching that was ever written. Injured in her honor, she speaks without fear as one on the threshold of eternity. If there were no other proofs of her innocence, this document alone would suffice to gain her cause in the eyes of an impartial and intelligent posterity.’ See Gareth Russell, May 6, 1536: The Mystery of the Queen’s Letter (Source:  blogspot.com post, Confessions of a Ci-Devant, Thursday, May 6, 2010).

[29] Sir Thomas Wyatt, Poems, CXLIX {an elegy from May 1536} (quoted in E.W. Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn [United Kingdom, 2005]).

[30] Agnes Strickland.

[31] John Stow (quoted in Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn [London, 2010 ]).


  1. Starkey, David. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. New York: Harper Collins, 2003.
  2. Ives, E. W. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy. MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2005.
  3. Weir, Alison. The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn. London: Vintage Books, 2010.
  4. Russell, Gareth. “May 6Th, 1536: The Mystery of The Queen’s Letter”. Confessions of a Ci-Devant. N.p., 2010. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.



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