May 15 was the beginning of the end for a pair of 16th century queens. First, in 1536, Anne Boleyn was brought to trial on (almost certainly) bogus charges of adultery and incest and found guilty. Her brother, George Boleyn, who was accused of having a sexual relationship with her, was tried separately the same day and also found guilty. The trials came a day after Archbishop Cranmer had declared Anne’s marriage to Henry null and void, and three days after the other men accused of adultery with Anne—Henry Norris, William Brereton, Mark Smeaton, and Francis Weston—were tried and found guilty as well. Norris, Brereton, and Weston all maintained their innocence at trial, but Smeaton, who’d been tortured and may have been hoping to save his life, confessed.
George Boleyn and the other accused men were executed on May 17. Anne was forced to wait a little longer, though she was reported to be at peace with her fate. Henry commuted her sentence from burning to beheading and granted her a swordsman instead of an axman for the execution—a move that was considered a mercy, since swordsmen were typically more accurate. Anne was executed on May 19, after swearing on her soul that she’d never been unfaithful to her husband. Unlike the others, she was executed on the north side of the White Tower, instead of on Tower Green. Her body was placed in an empty arrow chest (Henry hadn’t bothered to get a coffin for her), and she was buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where her grave can still be seen today.
Thirty one years later, another queen with Tudor ties, Mary, Queen of Scots, married her third husband, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. The marriage was not a popular one, and hastened the end of her troubled reign. Bothwell was unpopular with both the nobles and the people of Scotland, and he was widely believed to have had a hand in the murder of Mary’s second husband, Henry, Lord Darnley, in February 1567. In April, Mary was abducted (or she may have gone willingly—nobody really knows) by Bothwell, to force their marriage. The ceremony, conducted according to Protestant rites, was carried out on May 15 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, only 12 days after Bothwell divorced his first wife.
Bothwell quickly made enemies of his fellow nobles, and they banded together to raise an army against him and the queen. The two sides met at Carberry Hill on June 15, and Mary gave herself into the Lords’ keeping on the understanding that Bothwell would go free. The Lords imprisoned her in Loch Leven Castle, where she was forced to abdicate the throne on July 24. She escaped Loch Leven in May 1568 and raised a small army, which was then defeated at the Battle of Langside on May 13. After that, she fled to England, where her cousin, Elizabeth, had her imprisoned until her execution in 1587. Bothwell, meanwhile, attempted to raise an army in Scandinavia, but he wound up being thrown into prison by the King of Denmark. The appalling conditions he was held in apparently drove him insane. He died in 1578.
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