May 15, 1536: Anne Boleyn is found guilty of treason.
Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife after Catharine of Aragon and the wife for whom the king broke away from the Catholic Church, was arrested in May of 1536 and charged with adultery, incest, and treason. Her arrest took place only three years after her marriage to Henry, which had so far produced no male heirs and only one healthy child; the king had meanwhile taken Jane Seymour, who was to become his third wife just weeks after Anne Boleyn’s execution, as a mistress. Anne was, according to contemporary accounts, intelligent, witty, and anything but submissive. all traits that Henry found desirable, even exciting, in a mistress, but not in a wife; her confrontational nature combined with her failure to bear male heirs healthy enough to survive past infancy caused their marriage to crumble.
Anne Boleyn’s arrest was based on accusations of her illicit sexual relationships with a court musician, several aristocrats, and Anne’s own brother George; she was charged with both adultery (a form of treason when committed by a queen) and plotting the death of the king (another form of treason). Of her accused lovers, five were found guilty of treason, including George Boleyn, and executed by decapitation on May 17, 1536. Anne was held in the Tower of London and remained there until her own execution on May 19, 1536; her final words were reportedly a prayer:
To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesus receive my soul.
Anne Boleyn was survived by one child, who was the only one of her siblings to survive birth and infancy, who was declared illegitimate and deprived of her birthright not long after her mother’s execution in order to clear the way for her father’s male heirs, and who eventually became one of England’s most famous, most influential monarchs.
Jessica Chastain for Elle Canada, 2011.