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DOWNFALL: THE THIRTY DAYS THAT LOST A KING HIS CROWN

Portrait from the studio of Anthony van Dyck, 1636

In December 1641 Charles I prepared a fight-back against the populists who were using parliament to strip him of his powers. He hoped to gain the upper hand in THIRTY DAYS.  In the New Year of January 1642 the claims made by his enemies that they spoke for the people would be exposed as a lie. They would be tried and executed as traitors, and he would save his crown. 

The King’s supporters held a majority in the House of Lords. His enemies dominated the Commons. But they owed their majority to intimidation, with demonstrations keeping moderate MPs away. Charles’s plan was to force these moderates back.  To achieve this On 12 December a royal proclamation summoned ‘all members of both Houses of Parliament’ to return to Westminster by 12 January. 

The clock was now set ticking: on 12 January it would be clear if Charles could still rule England, or not. 

The irony was that divisions of 1641 owed much to King Charles’s efforts to ensure the opposite – consensus. His ambition was for his three kingdoms to practice the same moderate form of Protestantism, represented by the Church of England, which he judged to be ‘the best in the world’. But when, in 1637, Charles had tried to impose an English style Prayer Book on the Presbyterian Scots, who practiced a purer form of Calvinist Protestantism, it had led to riot, then rebellion and then war. 

The Scots rebels had formed a secret alliance with some of Charles’s leading opponents from the ‘Puritan’ party in England, who also preferred a more stripped down Calvinist Protestantism than Charles did, and in 1640 the Scots had invaded England. 

Charles had been obliged to call parliament to pay the Scots to leave, and his enemies had come to dominate it. They had achieved this by using the principle weapon of any populist politician – fear. They claimed that England faced a Roman-Catholic takeover and tyranny, from which only they could save its people. This ruling group, led by figures such as the ‘popular Lord’ Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick, and the Puritan MP John Pym, was now known as ‘The Junto’.  

John Pym MP

They had warned that the king, who had ruled without parliament for eleven years, could not be trusted to keep Protestantism safe. They said his leading servants, even the Catholic bashing former Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Wentworth Earl of Strafford, were in league with the Counter Reformation. They pointed to his Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria, and ancient prejudices about the seductive power of women made their claim that her influence was over-powerful the more believable. 

In the summer of 1641 MPs had had Strafford executed as a traitor by Act of parliament and Charles had been forced to make a humiliating peace with the Scots. 

Increasingly, however, there was a sense amongst moderate MPs that the king had conceded enough. He was obliged under the Triennial Act to call parliament every three years, and ‘innovations’ in the Church of England, that allowed un-Calvinsit additions like religious imagery and organs, were being rooted out.

The Junto tried to keep up the pressure, fanning the flames of fear, executing Catholic priests simply for the crime of being priests in England, in order to heighten the sense of threat. But moderates feared the Junto was becoming a potential oligarchy. Pym was sarcastically labelled ‘King Pym’. The Junto looked power hungry and many moderates feared the Junto were allied to extremists who threatened the social order,  as well as the Church of England they had grown up with.

Then, the Junto had a stroke of luck. That October 1641, Charles’s third kingdom – Ireland – had risen in a rebellion. 

The Irish Catholics wanted Charles to give them the same religious freedom he had granted the Presbyterians, and protect them from the anti-Catholic hatred of the Puritans and the Scots. But the rebellion had provoked vicious sectarian killing between the Catholic natives and Protestant settlers. This was a gift to the Junto’s propaganda. They used the fast moving new media of pamphlets and newssheets to spread atrocity stories from Ireland and so ramp up their Project Fear.  

Images of the babies of English Protestant settlers impaled on pitchforks were mass printed. Puritan preachers played the role of Shock Jocks, spinning tales of families burned in their homes. The numbers of victims quoted amounted to more than the entire Protestant population of Ireland.   

Meanwhile Henrietta Maria was trolled as the hate figure behind the rebellion. And again it was implied that the king could not be trusted. The truth behind these  ‘alternative facts’ was that Charles wished impose the same moderate Protestantism on Ireland, as he did in Scotland. He was as determined to crush the Irish rebels as the Junto. 

To this end an English army had to be raised – but the question was, who would control this army?  Armies were always raised in the name of the king, and the Junto feared that once Charles had defeated the Irish, he would use his army against them.  To save their lives they needed to reduce him to being their puppet. 

So, at the house of Warwick’s brother, Henry Rich, Earl of Holland, the Junto was plotting a means of raising an army that would be loyal to their wishes. Amongst the regular attendees a beautiful cousin of the Rich brothers: Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle. She had been a friend of the executed royal servant, the Earl of Strafford, and remained a favorite lady in waiting to Henrietta Maria.  

Lucy was a spy, but for which side was not yet clear. 

The Junto’s plan was to pass an impressment bill through parliament that would allow them to raise an army of draftees, who would fight in Ireland under their own hand-picked officers. To achieve this they first needed to remove the king’s majority in the Lords. THEN THEY NEEDED TO STOP THE MODERATES ATTENDING THE COMMONS, AS THE KING HAD ORDERED ON 12TH DECEMBER.

TICK TOCK: On 15 December, three days after Charles had issued his proclamation summoning MPs to London, the Junto ordered the printing of their ‘Grand Remonstrance’: a protest document drawn up by Pym. It showed that religion, liberties and law had to be defended together against a Popish plan to destroy Protestantism. The ‘actors and promoters’ of this threat included the Church of England’s bishops – on whom the king’s majority in the Lords depended

The publication had an immediate effect on the Common Council elections to the governing body of the City of London taking place on 21 December. Royalist councilors lost their seats to supporters of the Junto, giving the Junto control not just of the Council but also potentially of the City’s 8000 strong militia. Charles needed urgently to restore his ability to keep order in London. 

The following day, 22 December, Charles replaced the pro Junto Lieutenant of the Tower with his own candidate, Thomas Lunsford. The great fortress and its cannon would allow him to over-awe Londoners. But Lunsford was a hated figure, who liked to boast that he was ‘fierce enough to eat children’. Mobs of ‘factious citizens’, organized by City radicals in league with the Junto, descended on parliament ‘with their swords by their sides’. Charles tried to lower the temperature by replacing Lunsford with a less controversial figure, but it was too late. 

From Christmas Eve, 24 December, to Boxing Day 26 December, the riots continued and worsened. On 27 December, when the Archbishop of York, John Williams, got out of his coach at Westminster he had to fight off thugs with his fists. The Junto’s orchestrated violence had made it unsafe for any bishops to now attend the Lords – and so the royalist majority in the Upper House was lost. 

As moderate MPs had not yet answered Charles summons to attend parliament, the Junto were now free to push through the impressment bill, and strip Charles of the last of his powers. 

The king’s supporters had, however, begun to flood into London. On 29 December there were blows at Whitehall between Junto supporting ‘citizens carrying clubs and swords’ and royalist ‘gentlemen of the Court, who went over the rails striking at them with drawn swords’.  Civil war was growing ever closer.

The next day, 30 December, Archbishop Williams urgently petitioned the king for a suspension of parliamentary business, arguing that without the bishops the Lords was no longer properly constituted. This would have ensured the business of legislation would have stopped.  But that same night the Junto-packed Commons had ten of the twelve petitioner bishops arrested and imprisoned.

With Charles’s rule set to be dismantled long before the 12 January deadline he made a last ditch effort to reach out to his enemies. On I January he offered Pym the coveted post of Chancellor of the Exchequer.  ‘King’ Pym turned him down. 

Something drastic had to be done.  TIME WAS RUNNING OUT FOR CHARLES.

On 3 January king decided he would use the parliamentary process of impeachment to charge six of the Junto with acts of treason.   They included five members of the Commons: Pym, amongst them. The one peer, Viscount Mandeville, was Warwick’s son in law. Warwick himself was too powerful to be arrested just yet. But Charles hoped the legal proceedings against the six accused would clog up parliamentary business until the vital 12 January date.  

Instead, the House of Lords appointed a committee to decide if the charges were lawful. And, when the king’s Sergeant at Arms arrived at the Commons to arrest the five members, he was turned away. 

The Junto now struck as close to the king as they dared.  That night, news reached Charles that parliament was to deprive the queen of most of her household clergy. Henrietta Maria believed this was the prelude to her own arrest. 

Someone had told her the Queen of a plan laid at Holland’s house months earlier to hold her and the children hostage to the king’s actions, if it proved necessary. The informant may have been her friend, Lucy Carlisle. She had heard too that it was being said that a ‘queen was only a subject’: as such she could be executed on trumped up charges of aiding Irish rebels. 

She now believed that unless Charles intervened personally to have the five MPs were arrested, she would have to flee England forever.   ‘Pull those rogues out by the ears’ she warned Charles, or ‘never see my face more!’ Others also urged Charles to act. 

At ten pm Charles ordered that the canon at the Tower be armed and made ready to overawe the capital.  

The attempted arrest of the “Five members” by Charles I in 1642, painting in the Lord’s Corridor, Houses of Parliament, by Charles West Cope

London was eerily quiet the next morning, 4 January. TICK TOCK. At three o’clock in the afternoon, Charles emerged from his quarters at Whitehall. He called out to the multitude of armed royalist gentry who were standing around:  “follow me my most loyal liege men and soldiers’.  As they walked behind him he commandeered a carriage off a man in the street. He asked to be taken to parliament. 

MPs may have ignored the arrest warrant for the five members delivered by Charles’s Sergeant of Arms.  Charles had been persuaded they could not ignore an order from his own mouth. Henrietta Maria agreed, and told Lucy Carlisle that the king was poised to reclaim his realm, ‘for Pym and his confederates are arrested before now’. 

What the queen did not know was that Lucy had betrayed them the previous night, sending a message to Pym.  She liked to be close to power and had over the past few months become ‘King’ Pym’s intimate friend – some said his lover. 

Now, as the king’s carriage rumbled down the street, followed by four or five hundred armed men, a Junto supporter in the crowd ran ahead to warn the Commons. The five MPs fled the Commons Chamber and hid in the neighbouring Court of the King’s Bench.  At that same moment Charles’s cavaliers entered Westminster Hall and lined up on either side of the long room in order for the king to pass through between them. 

The MPs sitting in the Commons Chamber heard the clatter as the king came up the stairs, followed by his men. 

The MPs who remained seated could then see the king standing in the door, and behind a crush of soldiers. One held a pistol in his hand, already cocked. A false move and there would be blood on the floor of the Commons.

Charles walked centre stage to the Speakers Chair and addressed his MPs, who sat in stunned silence. He requested the five members be given up, looking around hoping to spot where they were.  ‘I do not see any of them’, he said, ‘I think I should know them’. There was nothing left to do but leave.  The humiliation was evident as Charles walked out.

The silence gave way to shouts of “Privilege! Privilege!”:  a reminder of the free rights of the Commons, the angry voices pursued him all the way down the stairs .  

Two days later, on 7 January, a petition was delivered to the king from the City Council, informing Charles that the fears prompted by the rebellion in Ireland, ‘were exceedingly increased by his Majesty’s late going into the House of Commons, attended by a great multitude of armed men’. As one royalist recalled sadly,  ‘All that [the Junto] had ever said of plots and conspiracies against Parliament, which had before been laughed at, [was] now thought true and real’. 

Henrietta Maria was blamed for the attempted arrests of the five members, and Charles, fearing for his family, informed the Junto that they would leave London.  Holland tried to persuade Charles to stay, while Lucy Carlisle spoke to Henrietta Maria. 

Lucy was now open in her support for the Junto to whom she had been communicating, ‘all she knew and more of the dispositions of the king and queen’. Nevertheless her advice to stay in London was worth listening to. Abandoning the ‘seat and centre’ of Charles’s empire, as they now did, was to prove a major error. 

The royal family left Whitehall on Monday 10 January, travelling by barge to Hampton Court. There the king of England arrived in a ‘most disconsolate, perplexed condition’. 

The cold at Hampton Court was bitter and there were few beds made up. Charles, Henrietta Maria and their young children, aged six months to ten years, slept together. There was surely some comfort in the warmth of their bodies against each other on that January night. Soon they would be separated forever and England would be in civil war. 

The moderate MPs that Charles had summoned on 12 December had never come, and the 12 January deadline had not been reached. Instead twenty-eight days later the game was up. 

King Charles would not see London again for seven years, and then only to face his trial. By then parliament had consumed its ‘own and everything the moderates feared had come to pass. The Lords was abolished and the Commons purged by the Puritan New Model Army.  Their king had lost his crown and it was as Charles Stuart, ‘traitor to the people’, that he would lose his head.

This article is the inspiration behind a 3 part BBC4 documentary coming out July/August 2019, provisionally titled Downfall and is also available as a podcast: Listen to Downfall: The Thirty Days that lost a King His Crown from 10 Minute Tudors 


Leanda de Lisle is the highly acclaimed author of three books on the Tudors and Stuarts, including the bestselling The Sisters Who Would Be Queen and Tudor: The Family Story and White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr, this years winner of the Historical Writers Association non-fiction crown. A former weekly columnist on the Spectator, Guardian and Daily Express, she contributes to numerous national publications. 

She will be speaking about Charles I at Chalke Valley History Festival this summer – tickets go on sale 30th April 2019.

🎧 WHITE KING: CHARLES I – TRAITOR, MURDERER, MARTYR

A recording from Chalke Valley History Festival 2018
Lauded by his friends, condemned by his enemies, remembered as a failed king, Charles I remains an elusive figure. Highly acclaimed author Leanda de Lisle uncovers a king who was radical, principled and brave, but also fatally blinkered, and who was loyally supported by his beloved wife, Henrietta Maria, a warrior queen and political player as impressive as any Tudor consort.

Henrietta Maria – The lost letters of Britain’s last Warrior Queen

Best selling historian Leanda de Lisle talks about Henrietta Maria of France, queen consort of England, Scotland, and Ireland and loyal wife of King Charles I.


Leanda de Lisle is the highly acclaimed author of three books on the Tudors and Stuarts, including the bestselling The Sisters Who Would Be Queen and Tudor: The Family Story. A former weekly columnist on the Spectator, Guardian and Daily Express, she contributes to numerous national publications.

Leanda will be speaking about the White King at Chalke Valley History Festival on Saturday 30th June about the WHITE KING: CHARLES I – TRAITOR, MURDERER, MARTYR. Tickets are available here.

HISTORY, FAKE NEWS AND MYTH

Myth has an insidious way of working into way into history. Stories that ring true, that appeal to our prejudices, become ‘fact’. Sometimes they are rooted in contemporary propaganda, the old lies giving a veneer of respectability to the new.  But they are also nurtured by attitudes hard-wired into us over centuries.

In my Tudor books I described how our patterns of thought have distorted the reputations of historical figures, particularly women. But in the case of my latest book, White King, a biography of Charles I, there was still more to do. The character of the king and the women around him have been so maligned that readers have turned away from one the most dramatic reigns in British history: a tale of court glamour and political populism, of misogyny and religious violence, that speaks to our time.

The title of this book – White King – is drawn from a sobriquet used by Charles’s contemporaries, and was inspired by the story that he was crowned in white. It is a sobriquet that is unfamiliar today. I hope it inspires curiosity and encourages readers to approach the biography of this damned monarch with an open mind.

Charles the Martyr, and Charles the Murderer, lauded by his friends, and condemned by his enemies, is now largely forgotten, but in popular memory something just as extreme remains. He is pinned to the pages of history as a failed king, executed at the hands of his own subjects, and now preserved like some exotic, but desiccated insect. In many accounts it seems that Charles was doomed almost from birth, his character immutable.

We like to believe we have turned our back on our old prejudices, but the way we remember him shows they lie just below the surface, still influencing the way we think.

In the past disabilities were seen as marks of man’s fallen nature. The twisted spine of Shakespeare’s Richard III was an outward sign of a twisted soul. We still use the same shorthand (think of the disfigured Dr Poison in the current film Wonder Woman). And it is common for Charles’s fate to be read back into the physical difficulties of his early childhood, as if his weak legs were physical manifestations of weakness of character.

The determination and resilience Charles showed in overcoming his disability, emerging as an athletic adult, is surely more interesting. But instead of the narrative of a courageous survivor we are told childhood stories that predict only failure.

Notable is the story that when Charles was badly behaved, his father, King James, insisted that another child – a boy called Will Murray – was beaten. The tale of the whipping boy even appears under Murray’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which is an important work of record.

Yet the first reference to Charles’s whipping boy dates to over seventy years after his death, in Gilbert Burnet’s ‘History of my Own Times’. There is an earlier reference, dating to only six years after Charles’s death, to the Tudor King Edward VI having a whipping boy. But there is no contemporary evidence for this either. Indeed the very earliest reference to any whipping boy (that I have found) appears in Samuel Rowley’s Jacobean play ‘When you see me, You know Me’ in which Henry VIII has a ‘whipping boy’, ‘Browne’.

The play was written the aftermath to the English publication of King James’s tracts on divine right kingship, with their assertion that no subject could legitimately raise their hand against God’s anointed – and this is the true origin of the myth. It has been accepted by repetition and because it fits the script that Charles alone was responsible for the suffering of the civil wars.

From the sickly child, for whose failings others were punished, the traditional story then has Charles maturing into an effete adult. There is little hint of the virility a king who sired a brood of children Henry VIII could only have envied. Indeed, the happiness of Charles’s marriage is grist to the mill.

In the early modern period, ‘effeminate’ was not a term of abuse for homosexuals. It described men who enjoyed female company. This attitude remains evident in the vogue for the ‘bromance’, with its philosophy of ‘bros before hoes’, and was expressed succinctly by the character in the movie Layer Cake who observes,  ‘f****** females is for poofs’.  Charles is judged less than a man because he loved his wife, and her reputation is itself shaped by misogyny as well as the anti-Catholic attitudes that are almost in British DNA.

Since Eve, women have supposedly seduced men into evil. So (according to the propaganda of their enemies) Henrietta Maria, persuaded Charles to become a Euro-Catholic-tyrant in Protestant, parliamentary, Britain, and sets him on the path to ruin. This propaganda is still embraced as fact and even inflated. In biographies of Henrietta Maria it sometimes seems she is never allowed to grow up from the child bride of 1625. She is depicted as silly and petulant, a reflection of the belief, drawn from ancient Greece, that women are creatures of emotion, not reason. The word ‘hysteria’ comes from the Greek word hersterika for uterus, the source, supposedly of women’s extreme and uncontrollable mood swings.

Conversely in appearance she is painted as the crone, even when only a bride of fifteen.  Contemporary comment on Henrietta Maria’s appearance in middle age, when she was sick and traumatized, is taken out of time and context and used to describe her when young, so that the beauty of her youth vanishes, as if it was only ever a witch’s spell that masked the hag ( for behind the seductive Eve lies the serpent). In one book published in 2017 the teenage Henrietta Maria is described with teeth ‘protruding like javelins from a fortress’, and her arms withered. That Charles would listen to a woman so worthless is another reason to despise him.

Yet Charles was a passionate Protestant, and the real Henrietta Maria a ‘lovely’ girl, with a ‘brilliant mind’, who rode with her own armies and proved every bit as remarkable as any of Henry VIII’s wives.

White King does not seek to restore Charles to the pedestal of the peoples martyr some placed him on after his death, but to rediscover the man of flesh and blood, to place him in the context of his times and amongst his contemporaries – the women who led events, along with the men. Principled and brave but also flawed, Charles inspired both great hate and great loyalty, and died on a scaffold loved in a way his son, the merry cynical Charles II would never be. In the truth lies his tragedy, and in myths we see only ourselves.

An edited version of this appeared in Waterstones earlier this year


Leanda de Lisle is the highly acclaimed author of three books on the Tudors and Stuarts, including the bestselling The Sisters Who Would Be Queen and Tudor: The Family Story. A former weekly columnist on the Spectator, Guardian and Daily Express, she contributes to numerous national publications.

Leanda will be speaking about the White King at Chalke Valley History Festival on Saturday 30th June. Tickets are available here.

Anne Boleyn’s last secret

Why was the queen executed with a sword, rather than an axe?

Anne Boleyn's SecretWith his wife, Anne Boleyn, in the Tower, Henry VIII considered every detail of her coming death, poring over plans for the scaffold. As he did so he made a unique decision. Anne, alone among all victims of the Tudors, was to be beheaded with a sword and not the traditional axe. The question that has, until now, remained unanswered is — why?

Historians have suggested that Henry chose the sword because Anne had spent time in France, where the nobility were executed this way, or because it offered a more dignified end. But Henry did not care about Anne’s feelings. Anne was told she was to be beheaded on the morning of 18 May, and then kept waiting until noon before being told she was to die the next day. At the root of Henry’s decision was Henry thinking not about Anne, but about himself.

When Henry VIII fell in love with Anne in 1526, he represented an ideal of chivalric kingship come to life: handsome, pious and martial. In Europe it was said ‘his great nobleness and fame’ was ‘greater than any Prince since King Arthur’. There could have been no greater compliment for Henry: Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur was woven into the Tudor family myths. The first Tudor king, Henry VII, had claimed the Welsh bloodline of the Tudors made them the heirs to King Arthur. He even gave the name to his eldest son. Only when the boy died, shortly after being married to Catherine of Aragon, did Henry VII lose his enthusiasm for the Arthurian myths. Henry VIII turned to them again.

In 1516 Henry VIII had the round table which still hangs in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle, and which it was believed dated back to Camelot, painted with the figure of Arthur bearing Henry’s features under an Imperial crown. It was Henry’s belief that England was, historically, an empire, and he Arthur’s heir, that later became the basis for his claim to an imperium — command — over church as well as state. It justified the break with Rome and the Pope that allowed him to marry Anne in 1533.

But, like Catherine of Aragon, Anne failed to give Henry the son he wanted, and when she miscarried in January 1536, he lost hope that she would. He began complaining that Anne had seduced him into marrying her — an accusation carrying suggestions of witchcraft — and he showed a growing interest in her maid of honour, Jane Seymour.

Dissolving the marriage to Anne was a complex issue for Henry, who feared it would re-confirm ‘the authority of the Pope’. But Anne was also making an enemy of Thomas Cromwell, his chief minister, with whom she quarrelled over the burning issue of what to do with the money raised from the dissolution of the monasteries. Anne hoped to see the money go to charitable enterprises, while Cromwell intended to pour it into the king’s pocket.

On 2 April, the chaplain in charge of Anne’s charitable giving delivered a sermon at court that suggested a comparison between Cromwell and a character from the bible called Haman, the corrupt minister of an Old Testament king. The sermon noted threateningly that Haman had died on the scaffold. Anne’s anger with Henry was also evident during these weeks. Her brother, George, had let slip that she had complained Henry had ‘neither talent nor vigour’ in bed. Some wondered if she had a lover, a view encouraged by her sometimes outrageous flirting — and it was to be this that triggered her downfall.

On Saturday 28 April, when the king’s body servant Sir Henry Norris came to her household, Anne asked him why he had not yet married the maid of honour he kept visiting. When Norris shrugged that he preferred to ‘tarry a time’, Anne joked: ‘You look for dead men’s shoes, for if ought came to the king but good, you would look to have me.’ Imagining the death of the king was a treasonous offence, and Norris replied, aghast, that ‘if he should have any such thought, he would [wish] his head were off’.

The next day a young court musician called Mark Smeaton, who had been seen moping after Anne earlier on the Saturday, was taken secretly to Cromwell’s house for questioning. Anne’s conversation with Norris gave Cromwell a means of accusing her of treason. But Norris was unlikely to confess to adultery and so make a charge of plotting the king’s murder plausible. A weaker man was required if Anne’s chastity was to be besmirched — and Smeaton was to fill that role. Before that evening Henry had learned that Smeaton had confessed to adultery with the queen. He postponed, but did not cancel, a trip he had planned to take with Anne to Calais in June. He could not be certain what else Cromwell might uncover. The next morning, May Day 1536, he attended a joust with Anne at Greenwich Palace. As the tournament ended, a message was passed to the king. Abruptly, he rose from his seat and left for Westminster by horse, taking a handful of attendants. Norris was called to join him, while an astonished Anne was left to oversee the closing of the competition.

As the king’s party rode off, Henry asked Norris if he had committed adultery with the queen, offering to pardon him if he confessed. Norris, a fellow member of the Order of the Garter, Henry’s equivalent of the knights of the round table, found himself cast in the role of Lancelot to Anne’s Guinevere. He desperately asserted his innocence. It did him no good. He joined Smeaton in the Tower that night. Anne was taken there the following day along with her brother, accused of adultery with his sister. Two further courtiers would be convicted at trial of plotting Henry’s death with the queen.

As Henry’s sexual inadequacies were paraded during the trials, he responded by advertising his virility, staying out all hours, banqueting with beautiful girls. In private, however, he comforted himself in a different way, obsessing over the details of Anne’s coming death. In Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Guinevere was sentenced to death by burning. Henry decided Anne would be beheaded with a sword — the symbol of Camelot, of a rightful king, and of masculinity. Historians argue over whether Anne was really guilty of adultery, and whether Henry or Cromwell was more responsible for her destruction. But the choice of a sword to kill Anne reflects one certain fact: Henry’s overweening vanity and self-righteousness.

‘I heard say the executioner was very good and I have but a little neck,’ Anne said the day before her execution, and laughing, she put her hands round her throat. It was, at least, to be a quick death: her head fell with one blow, her eyes and lips still moving as it landed on the straw.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 17 August 2013


leanda-delisleAcclaimed author, Leanda de Lisle will be speaking at CVHF on 25th June 2014 –  Tudor: The Family Story.

Looking at the Tudor dynasty from before the Wars of the Roses up to the death of Elizabeth I, she will present new perspectives on key figures and show a family who will stop at nothing to secure and protect their own bloodline.


Tudor
The Family Story is published in paperback on 5 June 2014 by Vintage (£9.99)