Executed queen

What were the real reasons behind Henry VIII’s decision to cut off Anne Boleyn’s head?

The official reason for Anne’s execution on 19 May 1536 was that she had committed adultery, which, in a royal wife, constituted high treason. Whether the charges against her were justified is a question that has divided historians ever since. Anne stood accused of betraying Henry VIII with not just one, but five lovers, including her own brother, George Boleyn.

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Henry apparently had little trouble in believing the rumours, but was there any truth behind them? Almost certainly not. Although Anne was a notorious flirt and loved to surround herself with attractive male courtiers, she was far too intelligent, shrewd and ambitious to risk throwing away everything that she had striven for during the long years of her courtship with Henry VIII.

Her downfall was more likely due to the machinations of her enemies, in particular Thomas Cromwell, who quietly gathered ‘evidence’ of her misdemeanours. And by 1536, after just three years of marriage, his royal master was already itching to be rid of the wife with whom he had been so besotted. It seems the thrill had been in the chase, and once Henry married – and bedded – Anne, he soon began to lose interest.

Anne had also failed to give him the one thing he needed above all else: a son. The birth of a daughter (the future Elizabeth I) in September 1533 had been a crushing disappointment, and when Anne then suffered a series of miscarriages, Henry became convinced that their marriage had displeased God. Cromwell gave him the perfect escape clause.

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Answered by: Tracy Borman, author of Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror (Jonathan Cape, 2011)