Friday, February 14, 2014

The Executions of Katharine Howard and Jane Boleyn

Yesterday marked the anniversary of Katharine Howard and Jane Boleyn's execution. I received several emails asking me about the nature of their death and what actually happened that day on the scaffold. First off, we must have a basic understanding of the charges against the women, you can read about them here. There is a lot of debate amongst historians about Katharine's scaffold speech; The Chronicle of Henry VIII, a primary source records her last words as:

"Brothers, by the journey upon which I am bound I have not wronged the King, but it is true that long before the King took me I loved Culpeper, and I wish to God I had done as wished me, for at the time the King wanted to take me he urged me to say that I was pledged to him. I f I had done as he advised me I should not die this death, nor would he. I would rather have him for a husband than be mistress of the world, but sin blinded me and greed of grandeur, and since mine is the fault, mine also is the suffering, and my great sorrow is that Culpeper should have to die through me..."*
The Chronicle is moving and shows Katharine as much more brave and accountable for her actions that most  accounts do; there are however, doubts about it authenticity. The author continues to say that following Katharine's beheading Thomas Culpeper met the axe man; this is incorrect as Culpeper had been executed in December, over two months before Katharine. There is a first hand account of the executions by a London resident Sir Ottwell Johnson, which does not mention Katharine's alleged shocking speech, which is surely would have. His account says:
 "I see the Queen and the Lady Rochford suffer within the Tower, the day following, whose souls, I doubt not, be with God, for the made the most Godly and Christian end, that ever was hear tell of (I think) since the world's creation uttering their lively faith in the blood of Christ only, and with goodly words and steadfast countenances they desired for all Christian people to take regard unto their worthy and just punishment with death for their offences, and against God heinously from their youth upward, in breaking all his commandments, and also against the King's royal Majesty very dangerously: wherefore they being justly condemned (as they said) by the laws of the Realm and Parliament, to die, required the people to take example of them, for amendment of their ungodly lives, and gladly to obey the King in all things, for whose preservation they did heartily pray; and wiled all people so to do: commending their souls to God, and earnestly calling for mercy upon him: whom I beseech to give us grace, with such faith, hope and charity at our departing of this miserable world, to come to the fruition of his God head in joy everlasting. Amen."*
Retha Warnicke, Alison Weir and other revisionist historians believe that Jane had something to do with Anne and her brother George's fall from grace in 1536 and went to the block praying for forgiveness saying, "God has permitted me to suffer this shameful doom as punishment for having contributed to my husband's death. I falsely accused him of living, in an incestuous manner, his sister, Queen Anne. For this I deserve to die. But I am guilty of no other crime..."** Several historians have worked to restore the image of Jane Boleyn which I spoke about here.
In my opinion, it is safe to say that Katharine and Jane probably made no grand gestures or speeches, but went to the scaffold with quiet dignity professing their sins and claiming that they deserved their punishments.
Katharine and Jane were both laid to rest at the Tower of London in St. Peter ad Vincula near Anne Boleyn and much like Anne their memories have been smeared and damaged due to Hollywood and literary interpretations. It is vital that we investigate these historical events from a primary source perspective and draw our own conclusions.
*Quotes taken from The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
**Quote takes from The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir

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