Henry VIII and Tudor Times

The Ax

"Circa Regna Tonat" (About the throne, the thunder rolls)  ~Thomas Wyatt, Tudor poet

In Tudor England, the king's will was law, and those who opposed it or were in the monarch's way were often disposed of. Henry VIII himself executed tens of thousands of people during his reign, often for religious heresy or treason. His most famous executions include those closest to him, namely his wives Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard and his Lord Chancellors Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. He also executed those in religious life such as Cardinal John Fisher and the Nun of Kent  (both of whom opposed his marriage to Anne Boleyn.) Thomas More and Cardinal Fisher have both been beatified (made saints) by the Roman Catholic Church. Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia and once very close to Henry VIII, was also executed due to the issue of the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn; he refused to take an oath that would denounce the marriage of Henry and Katherine of Aragon and that would make the marriage and heirs of Anne Boleyn true and lawful.  Deaths of noblemen, some churchmen, and Henry's wives were conducted by beheading (often by ax,) but less important persons could be executed in a much more gruesome and painful manner. 
Picture
Saint Thomas More
"I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me."
— A Letter to Erasmus, 1532.
Picture
Saint John Fisher
The only Roman Catholic Cardinal to be martyred


Below is the execution of Anne Boleyn (played by Natalie Dormer, who is actually a descendant of Queen Mary I's favorite lady-in-waiting, Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria,) as imagined on Showtime's The Tudors.  Note the French executioner (Henry sent for him from Calais.)  Anne famously stated, "I have heard say the executioner is very good, and I have but a little neck." Also note that the speech on the scaffold is very gracious, loving, and dutiful towards Henry VIII.  Scaffold speeches were expected to be thus, and Anne would not have wanted to risk any further ill will towards her daughter Elizabeth than she would already receive. 




O Death, Rock Me Asleep
A poem sometimes attributed to Anne Boleyn
 
Death, rock me asleep,
Bring me to quiet rest,
Let pass my weary guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast.
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Let thy sound my death tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

My pains who can express?
Alas, they are so strong;
My dolour will not suffer strength
My life for to prolong.
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Let thy sound my death tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

Alone in prison strong
I wait my destiny.
Woe worth this cruel hap that I
Should taste this misery!
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Let thy sound my death tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

Farewell, my pleasures past,
Welcome, my present pain!
I feel my torments so increase
That life cannot remain.
Cease now, thou passing bell;
Rung is my doleful knell;
For the sound my death doth tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy
.

More on "Oh Death, Rock Me Asleep" and Anne's execution