Today marks the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536 and the question on everyone’s lips is the same, I’m sure: “What does one wear to such an occasion?”
Henry’s second queen was not about to just throw on any old thing for the last morning of her life. Her choices were deliberate, if deliciously fashionable as well. To start with, Anne wore a heavy black damask robe for her “small, private” audience of about a thousand people. The damask she wore would have been a thick fabric made of silk (or possibly linen or wool) embroidered with a shiny satin pattern over top.
The robe was trimmed in ermine. Ermine is that white fur (sometimes with little black spots) so often seen in frou-frou portraits of nobility. There is even a portrait of Elizabeth I called “The Ermine Portrait,” in which the little critter is sitting on her arm instead of woven into her clothing.
The ermine, a type of weasel, is a symbol of royalty. You can interpret that as you like. Heck, even the members of the House of Lords wear robes trimmed in ermine today. Anyway, Anne certainly broke out the ermine to drive home the point that she was still the queen, damn it.
Underneath the weasel-trimmed threads, Anne wore a rich red petticoat. Red symbolized martyrdom at that time, so she was making a statement about her innocence. This message would have gotten across loud and clear to everyone watching.
Some accounts describe her as wearing a gable hood, that early-to-mid 16th-century fashion I find so strange and off-putting as it looks like there is a roof on your head. Beneath this, she wore a netted coif to keep her locks from getting in the swordsman’s way, because no one wants to hit a speedbump during a beheading.
Witness say she strutted to the scaffold in a composed way, with a bit of sass, even. (Well why not, in those clothes?) After she kneeled and her ladies removed her headdress, she prayed aloud for Christ to take her soul, and was distracted by the executioner’s call for his sword. Her pretty head turned, the man whipped the weapon from its hiding place in the straw on the scaffold, and that was the last this fashion plate and strong woman knew of this life.