19 May is the anniversary of the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn. Was the heart of the Queen removed and buried somewhere besides the Tower? This gentleman says yes, in Erwarton Church, in Suffolk.
The Heart of Queen Anne Boleyn
By Sir W. Hastings D’Oyly, Bart.
The story as related to me by the Rev. Frederick Wood, Rector of Erwarton, is as follows: The present clerk of the church has held that office for many years. Before him his father and grandfather held the same appointment. He states that the story has been handed down from father to son that Queen Anne’s heart was buried in Erwarton Church in accordance with her last wish, “Let my heart be taken to Erwarton, where I spent so many happy days.” About sixty years ago the church was restored, and the clerk well remembers that the architect pointed out a bulge in one of the walls, which wall he said must be pulled down. The architect and the rector of the time then left the church. Shortly after, the clerk came rushing up after them in a great state of excitement, and begged them to return, “for,” he said, ” they have found something.” On returning to the church they saw a heart-shaped casket, which the workmen had found immured in the wall which they were pulling down. There was no inscription on this casket.
The rector had it opened, but it contained nothing but a handful of dust. The casket was then reclosed, and, together with some old armour, was reverently buried in the Cornwallis vault, which is under the place where the organ now stands. Surely if this casket contained the heart of anyone else but Anne Boleyn, there would have been some inscription on it, or a tablet on the wall in which it was immured. If it really did contain Queen Anne Boleyn’s heart, then it can be easily understood why no inscription was engraved on it or on a tablet in the church. Henry VIII had denied to his wife a Christian burial with the usual rites. Immediately after her execution her mangled remains were placed, without ceremony, in an unhallowed grave, alongside that of her unfortunate brother George, Viscount Rochford, in the Tower. If her relatives and friends wished to remove her remains, they could only do so secretly. It would seem that there are good grounds for the belief that her remains were so removed, for at Salle, in Norfolk, and at Horndon on-the-Hill, in Essex, near both of which places her father had properties, and also at Erwarton, where her aunt, Lady Calthorpe, lived, the tradition has been handed down from father to son. The placing of two black marble monuments without inscriptions in churches far apart [Salle and Horndon-on-the-Hill], but both adjoining estates the property of her father, might very probably have been done as a blind, to put King Henry VIII and his creatures “off the scent.” Moreover, as Agnes Strickland in her Lives of the Queens of England has pointed out. Sir Thomas Wyatt ends his memorial of Queen Anne Boleyn’s death with this mysterious sentence, “God provided for her corpse sacred burial in a place, as it were, consecrate to innocence.” Wyatt, as a boy, was in love with Anne Boleyn, and ever remained throughout all her troubles her stanch friend and supporter, and his sister Mary was one of those who attended her at her death and burial. It is clear from Sir Thomas Wyatt’s words that there was a secret, and naturally he would not reveal it….
Anne Boleyn’s aunt, Amata, was the wife of the Lord of the Manor of Erwarton; and it is believed that there is no place to which [Anne] was more attached, or which brought back to her more pleasant memories, than Erwarton Hall. Here, it is believed, it was that, according to her last wish, her heart was conveyed after the cruel deed which, by her royal husband’s commands, put an end to her short-lived greatness…It is worthy of note that this church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, for, as shown above. Sir Thomas Wyatt wrote in his memorial of Queen Anne’s death, “God provided for her corpse sacred burial in a place, as it were, consecrate to innocence.”
When Anne Boleyn returned from France, she lived at Hever Castle. Her father was frequently absent at the Court of Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn no doubt grew tired of the lonely life at Hever Castle. Her mother, the high-born daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, had died long before, when Anne Boleyn was eleven years old. Her father married, as his second wife, a lady of low degree, between whom and her step-daughter no love was lost. It is therefore quite possible that Anne Boleyn may have been happier with her Aunt Amata, Lady Calthorpe, and her cousin Elizabeth at Erwarton, and that there may be some truth in the belief that her last request to her friends was that her heart might be conveyed to Erwarton, where she had spent some of the happiest days of her youth.
It will be observed that all three claims are based on oral tradition ; that at none of the three places are there any inscriptions or records ; that, while in the case of Salle Church and in that of Horndon-on the-Hill, it is said the remains of the Queen were reburied there, it is only claimed on behalf of Erwarton that her heart was placed there in a casket. This last claim is the only one of the three which has been supported by other evidence than oral tradition. The finding of a heart-shaped casket in a place, where for generations it has been asserted that her heart was placed, is most decidedly superior evidence to any that can be claimed for the two other places. Moreover, it is quite possible that the Queen’s relatives may have thought it safer to bury her heart at Erwarton, than to take it to her birthplace, where naturally Henry VIII would first look for it, if he discovered that it had been removed from the Tower. It is quite possible. however, that if her body and head were taken to Salle Church, her heart may have been taken, in accordance with her wishes, to Erwarton.
Wherever her remains may be, Requiescant in pace.
The Antiquary, Volume 38, edited by Edward Walford, et al, 1902
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A thrilling historical mystery, indeed! Mrs Daffodil wonders if the author’s romantic name made him susceptible to a passion for the late Queen. Like Mary, Queen of Scots, Anne Boleyn had her post-mortem champions, some of whom seemed quite in love with her. She was not as frequent a séance attendee as the Queen of Scots, but one obsessed clergyman, W.S. Packenham Walsh, attended séances for many decades with mediums who “channelled” the dead Queen. Walsh believed that Anne was his guardian angel and wrote a book called A Tudor Story: The Return of Anne Boleyn in which he transcribes dialogues between himself and the lady, who, we are reassured to learn, has become friends with Catherine of Aragon in the afterlife.
Mrs Daffodil has previously written about Baron Astor’s disappointment at being snubbed by Anne Boleyn’s ghost at Hever.
As for the heart casket found in the wall, a few years before the article in The Antiquarian was published, that no-nonsense journal Norfolk Archaeology broke the hearts of many by denying that the casket had anything to do with Anne Boleyn:
A well-authenticated tradition of heart burial in the north wall exists in the parish. It was credited, at the time, as the heart of Queen Anne Boleyn, but in all probability was the heart of a nameless Crusader, whose effigy still remains among other monuments of ancient date.
Norfolk Archaeology, Vol. 9, 1880
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