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From a passage in a sixteenth-century book of Tudor warrants discovered last year by Sean Cunningham, the head of medieval records at the National Archives in England, and Tracy Borman, joint chief curator for Historic Royal Palaces. The text details Henry VIII’s instructions for the execution of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, and reveals the king’s elaborate premeditation, contradicting his common portrayal as a bystander to the political machinations of Thomas Cromwell.

The king to his trusty and well-beloved William Kyngston, knight, constable of his Tower of London, greeting. Whereas Anne, late queen of England, lately our wife, lately attainted and convicted of high treason toward us by her committed and done, and adjudged to death, that is to say by combustion/burning of fire according to the statute, law, and custom of our realm of England, or decapitation, at our choice and will, remaining in your custody within our Tower aforesaid. We moved by pity do not wish the same Anne to be committed to be burned by fire. We, however, command that immediately after receipt of these presents, upon the Green within our Tower of London aforesaid, the head of the same Anne shall be (caused to be) cut off. And herein omit nothing. Witness the king at Westminster XVIII day of May in the twenty-eighth year of our reign.

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February 2021

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