HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

If little is known of the killer, that cannot be said of his victim. Anne Boleyn is famous, infamous some would say, hated and loved in equal measure. Without her, English history - World history - could have been very different. For had she not captivated the heart - and loins - of Henry VIII, that very Catholic king would probably have stayed loyal to the Church he loved. He was given the title: Defender of the Faith after all, for writing against Luther, a title the present Queen still holds. Instead, to get the divorce the Church in Rome would not grant him, he created his own Church. England became Protestant. And without the mother, Anne, there would have been no daughter - Elizabeth, one of the greatest of all English monarchs.

Annes place and date of birth is debated - some put it as early as 1500, others not until 1507 and she was born either in Norfolk, or at Hever Castle, Kent. Her father was Sir Thomas Boleyn, an up and coming man of business who married well, into the Howard family. Anne was thus the niece of the powerful Duke of Norfolk. She and her sister Mary Boleyn - who would precede her as Henrys mistress - were maids of honour to Mary, Henry VIIIs sister, who was married to Louis XII of France. Anne stayed in France for ten years, transferring to the household of the new French Queen, Claude. And, as in the novel, the French court spent its summers in the Loire.

By the time of her return to England, around 1521, Anne had acquired all the sophistication, the manners and coquetry of the French. She has never been described as beautiful. But her eyes were deep and dark, her skin olive, her hair black and lustrous, her hands long and slim - apart from her infamous sixth finger. It was said she had dresses specially designed to cover what many considered a flaw - or the mark of the Witch! She had an appeal many of the more proper English ladies lacked - and Henry fell. There were rumours of affairs with other men - Henry Percy, the poet Thomas Wyatt. But if they were consummated, the affair with Henry was not. She would not sleep with the King, to be discarded later as her elder sister had been. It became a situation of the throne or nothing!

Henry was infatuated. His letters testify to this. Cardinal Campeggio wrote to the Pope: This passion is the most extraordinary thing. He sees nothing, he thinks of nothing but his Anne; he cannot be without her for an hour. But Henry was also desperate for a male heir and his Queen, Catherine of Aragon, was now too old to provide one. These two forces - lust and the need for an heir - drove Henry to break from the Church he loved. And, after nearly five years of holding out, Anne played her final card in the game. She gave herself to the King and became pregnant, forcing Henry to act to make the son he expected legitimate. They were secretly married on January 25th 1533. The official divorce from Catherine came through in May. On the June 1st 1533 Anne was crowned Queen in Westminster Abbey.

Elizabeth was born on September 7th 1533. Anne knew she must produce a male heir. But during the next two years there were only miscarriages and one still birth - rumoured to be a boy. Annes sparkle and her looks began to fade, her famous sharp tongue to lash out at Henry. And his attentions were shifting elsewhere - to a Lady in Waiting, the young and pretty Jane Seymour, who was part of the court faction that hated Anne and her kin.

It was what Annes many enemies had waited for. She and her relatives were, essentially, ousted in a coup, a plot concocted by Thomas Cromwell, Henrys Chancellor, accusing her of incest with her brother and adultery with, amongst others, her musician, Smeaton, and the poet, and possible former lover, Sir Thomas Wyatt. And a Queens adultery was treason against the King. Some of the co-accused were tortured, confessions extracted. Anne and her brother George were imprisoned in the Tower of London - the same Tower she had gone to in triumph for her coronation less than a thousand days before.

Anne and George Boleyn were tried on May 15th. There could be no justice, only a sentence. They were condemned and George was executed on Tower Hill on the 17th.

Anne had to wait two days for the Kings last act of kindness. A French swordsman named Jean Rombaud, had been summoned from Calais - for death by the sword was the most merciful. It was said she burst out laughing when she heard of this favour and said, I have heard the executioner is very good. And I have a little neck. Strangely, when she died she was no longer married to Henry, as he had had the marriage annulled. By law, it never existed. So, technically, Anne couldnt have committed adultery and thus treason. She died innocent.

Anne went to her death on the morning of May 19th. She was afforded the dignity of a private execution on Tower Green. She went boldly to the scaffold, spoke well, blaming no one, asking God for mercy, blessing the King. Perhaps she was already thinking of her daughter, Elizabeth, barely two. She wore a dark grey gown of damask. Her still lustrous, long hair was put up under a simple white linen coif. She was blindfolded but knelt with her hands free, upright, for the sword required no block.

Jean Rombaud took her head with the single, swift stroke for which he had been hired. Her head and body were placed in an arrow chest and buried in an unmarked grave, in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula beside Tower Green. Cannon were fired so that Henry, waiting in his palace downriver at Greenwich would know he was a free man. It is said he immediately went riding.

During Queen Victorias reign, the Chapel was renovated and bones discovered and identified as Annes. She was reburied there, given a marking stone. And to this day, every May 19th, someone still lays a bunch of white roses on her grave.