On the 5th May, in just under one week’s time, Anne Boleyn will once again arrive at the Tower, a prisoner accused of treason, incest and adultery. It is certain to send shivers down your spine, as the veil between the past and present falls away. No, I am not crazy! Historic Royal Palaces are putting on a play through the summer of 2018 which will put The Last Days of Anne Boleyn, under the spotlight. This post is going to help you make the most of that visit…and if you can’t go, read on to uncover some of the most evocative buildings associated with this formidible woman!
The play will be performed on the very spot where all the traumatic events of Anne’s last 17 days on earth unfolded, the now lost royal appartements, built for Anne’s coronation by the man who had once professed to love her above all, Henry VIII. For the first time in 500 years, you can travel back in time and be a first hand witness as these tragic, final days unfold to their grisly end. Oh boy, this is a do not miss experience if you can possible make it!
To complete your experience, I want to open up the doors to the lost palace at the Tower and give you a tour of the external buildings, constructed to celebrate England’s summer queen. I’ll also be sharing with you one of my two favourite videos of all time – a reconstruction of the palace as it was at the time. So let’s find out more:
The Royal Apartments at the Tower of London
From Thursday 29 May to Saturday 31 May 1533 and from Tuesday 2 May to Friday 19 May 1536, Anne was accommodated in the queen’s lodgings (A), part of the royal apartments, which were situated in the south-east corner of the Tower. She was not, as a Victorian myth later propagated, accommodated during her imprisonment in the Queen’s House, which was built several years after Anne’s execution and can still be seen overlooking Tower Green today.
An engraving of the Tower taken from Old London Illustrated, by Brewer and Cox, shows the Tower as it would have looked in Anne’s day, including the royal appartments, which I have annotated with letters to help you orientate yourself.
There had been royal apartments on that site, in one form or another, since 1220. During the reign of Henry II, a permanent inner ward (C) was created and separate lodgings for both the king and queen were constructed, including a Great Hall (D) (later to bear witness to the trials of Anne and George Boleyn).
At the turn of the sixteenth century, Henry VII had significantly enlarged the king’s lodgings. Then, in 1532, Henry VIII ordered Cromwell to organise the construction of a whole new suite of rooms, in order to honour Anne as his queen-to-be.
Unfortunately, today the royal lodgings are all but lost, except a few foundation stones that give us an inkling of their former existence. However, if you find the south lawn, directly south of the White Tower, you will be looking over what was once the Tower’s inner ward, as described below. Here, once again, you will need your imagination!
Taking a Tour of the Royal Palace at the Tower of London
The entrance to the inner ward was through the mighty Cold Harbour Gate (B). Remnants of the gate can still be seen abutting the west wall of the White Tower today. Once inside the inner ward, in front of you would have been a complex of buildings arranged around an irregular triangular ‘courtyard’. Running diagonally from the Cold Harbour Gate toward the Great Hall was a line of brick-built Tudor lodgings/offices.
The thirteenth century Great Hall occupied the southernmost aspect of the courtyard (roughly where the modern-day café and bookshop are situated), while a series of buildings ran at right angles from the hall toward the south-east corner of the White Tower and the Wardrobe Tower, thereby completing the far side of the courtyard. These latter buildings formed the newly built queen’s apartments. Finally, abutting along the southern wall of the White Tower was the Jewel House (F). To help you visualise this, watch the video below (and if you want to get straight ot the reconstruction, you will find it from about 7mins 20 secs).
Anne’s new suite of rooms was palatial, consisting of six chambers, including a 70-foot by 30-foot great watching chamber, a presence chamber, privy chamber, closet/oratory, bedchamber and another large chamber (possibly a dining chamber). All rooms were decorated in the most fashionable Renaissance style. A flight of stairs led down directly from Anne’s privy rooms into the courtyard. It may well have been that it was down those stairs that Anne was led to her execution on 19th May 1536..
The lost royal apparments at the Tower are amongst some of the most significant building associated with Anne, even more so ,as unlike many other Tudor buildings, they were built specifically in honour of her, for her coronation in 1533. In just under a week, there will be the haunting spectacle of Anne arriving at the Tower and being escorted to the site of those now lost lodgings, where, once again, we can be a fly on the wall and listen as queen’s last days play out to their heart-wrenching conclusion.
If you visit the Tower, and want to share you photos with me, don’t forgot the hashtag #TTTG. I’d love to see you memories!
The Last Days of Anne Boleyn is a 35 minute play, staged by HRP at the Tower of London. It will run through this summer (weather permitting), twice a day, between 5 May – 28 August 2018, Friday-Tuesday at 11am and 2pm.
NB: Anne’s arrival by boat, will only be happening on the 5th May.
Tickets for the Tower (plus more information) can be found here.