Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and the brutal anniversary of a royal beheading
The British calendar is splattered with bloody anniversaries commemorating hundreds of years of violent battles and murdered monarchs. So finding an untainted date for the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle was fraught with historical land mines.
May 26? On that day in 946, King Edmund (The Magnificent) I was murdered at a party in Pucklechurch.
June 8? On that day in 1042, King Harthacnut dropped dead at a wedding banquet. Officially, he drank too much and had a stroke. But poisoning conspiracy theories abound.
June 14? That was the day in 1645 that at least 1,000 royalists were slaughtered at the Battle of Naseby.
How about July 1? In 1916, it marked the beginning of the Battle of Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in all of recorded military history.
And this Saturday? Come on, royals. You didn’t see this one coming?
May 19, the day fashionable and outspoken American actress Markle will marry redheaded Harry, is the same date that redheaded King Henry VIII had his wife, the fashionable and outspoken Anne Boleyn, executed.
Oh, and Harry’s real name is Henry.
In a royal court sodden with etiquette that dictates everything from the way a cup is held to the way legs are crossed, how did anyone rubber-stamp a wedding date on such a horrific anniversary?
Royal historian and Anne Boleyn biographer Claire Ridgway said “it would be tricky to find a date in English history that is not linked to something awful.”
(We didn’t even touch on the other queen beheadings in our previous list.)
“I don’t think the link to Anne Boleyn came into the equation when picking the date, it would have just been based on what worked out best with the busy lives of the royal family,” Ridgway demurred.
Sure, that’s possible.
Other historians believe the family did look at the date and all its connections between past and present, but decided to keep calm and carry on.
“I think the royal family would almost certainly have considered the fact that the date is the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution,” said Elizabeth Norton, a British historian who specializes in English queens and the Tudor period.
But she believes any bad juju has long since vanished with the passage of time. The British remember Anne Boleyn — the subject of countless books and movies — but not May 19th. It’s not marked on any calendars, the way Guy Fawkes Night is.
It’s not a May 8 — V-E Day, when World War II ended in Europe, which is still celebrated and remembered as a date, Norton said. Or like Sept. 11 in the United States.
“Anne Boleyn’s execution is obviously not an event that is still commemorated, but it is remembered to some extent; Anne’s story is very well known,” Norton said. “I expect that the royal family reasoned that it was long enough ago and not widely enough known to be a problem.”
Even so, she said, “it is hardly an auspicious date for a commoner to be marrying into the royal family and, as the 500th anniversary of Anne’s death approaches in 2036 there will be considerably more publicity about the coincidence of the date.”
“Hopefully Meghan will have considerably more luck than her predecessor as royal bride,” she said.
Henry VIII was already married when the ravishing Anne Boleyn caught his eye. He tried to make her part of his harem of willing mistresses, but she insisted on marriage.
The Catholic church wouldn’t let Henry VIII off the hook and annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He and Anne Boleyn carried on in secret until 1533, when she got pregnant. Then, the king simply abandoned the Catholic Church, and Catherine, turning to the Church of England so he and Anne could marry. And thus, the course of religious history and beginning of the English Reformation was launched with the lecherous desires of a 40-something monarch.
As queen, Anne Boleyn was recognized more for being a fashionista and an adulteress than for her sincere work to improve the lives of the poor. It took only three years of marriage and no male heir for Henry VIII to tire of her.
Where to go this time? Henry VIII was running out of churches to turn to. And the feisty and opinionated Anne wouldn’t quietly hide away after being discarded, as Catherine did. So, egged on by his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, the king manufactured a series of charges accusing Anne of adultery, incest and plotting to kill him.
She was calm and regal throughout the three-day trial, denying everything. But she was found guilty on all counts and immediately taken to the Tower Green on May 19, where she removed her headdress and her ermine and gave a speech that had a little bit of gaslight to it.
“ … I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.”
She was blindfolded and put her head on a block. A French swordsman — and expert executioner imported for the occasion — beheaded her in one swipe.
Henry VIII went on to marry four more times: to Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. When he died in 1547, he was buried in St. George’s Chapel. Hello! That’s where Meghan and Harry (Henry) are having their wedding on May 19.
They are modern and resilient pair, already having weathered the world’s gaze and commentary, and the future bodes well for them. Still, it’s a good thing that today’s royals have grown more comfortable with divorce.
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