Moved by pity

Recently, most excellent Tudor Historian and joint chief curator for Historic Royal Palaces, Tracy Borman, was pottering in the National Archives, reviewing the Anne Boleyn trial documents before her new Channel 5 documentary on the subject (life goals or what) when an archivist brought her attention to something he’d uncovered in a warrant book. Tudor warrant books are relatively common in the National Archives, and chock-full of relatively unimportant (boring) detail. However this one, from 1536, holds control-freak Henry VIII’s detailed instructions for his second wife’s killing.

In the document, Henry stipulated that although his queen had been “adjudged to death… by burning of fire… or decapitation”, he had been “moved by pity” to spare her the more painful death of being “burned by fire”. But he continued: “We, however, command that… the head of the same Anne shall be… cut off.” So I’d argue he wasn’t feeling too much pity. Henry goes on to detail exactly where the beheading should happen (“upon the Green within our Tower of London”), and being super clear that the Tower Constable, Sir William Kingston, should “omit nothing” from his orders.

This is such a great find – it really underpins the modern characterisations of Henry as having had a personality disorder – his need for control, for perfection in other people, and that – despite tradition which has blamed Thomas Cromwell for Anne’s downfall – Henry was clearly more than happy to wade into the administration around his partner’s murder.

Please read the Guardian’s article/interview with Tracy Borman, here.


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