A Norfolk legend claims that after Anne’s execution her body was removed from the Tower and reburied beneath a plain black marble tombstone in Salle Church near Blickling Hall.
The church contains 15th century brasses dedicated to its patrons, including Geoffrey Boleyn and his wife (1440) who were Anne Boleyn’s paternal great-grandparents.
While researching this legend I came across a very interesting article on Salle Church’s website that presents the evidence in support of the Salle Church myth.
The author, Reepham Benefice, provides the evidence but makes no judgement, instead allowing the reader to decide for themselves on the validity of the evidence and the likelihood of this legend being born from truth.
The author states that Salle Church will not conduct excavations in order to confirm or negate this story and similarly, it seems unlikely that permission will ever be granted to, once again, examine those buried beneath the floor of St Peter Ad Vincula in the Tower of London. And so we are left to grapple with the stories, legends and what evidence we can find.
The following is a summary of the evidence provided by the church:
1858, ‘Notes and Queries’, written by B. B. Wiffen, page 119
“It is said in Mrs. Strickland’s ‘Queen’s of England’ (Volume 4, page 203), that there is a tradition in Salle in Norfolk that the remains of Anne Boleyn were removed from the Tower and interred at midnight, with the rites of Christian burial, in Salle Church, and that a plain black stone without any inscription is supposed to indicate the place where she is buried. Sharon Turner, in ‘History of the Reign of King Henry VIII, volume 2, page 264, cites the following passage from Crispin’s account of Anne Boleyn’s execution, written 14 days after her death:
“Her ladies immediately took up her head and the body. They seemed without souls, they were so languid and extremely weak, but fearing that their mistress might be handled unworthily by inhuman men, they forced themselves to do this duty; and though almost dead, at last carried off her dead body wrapt in a white covering”.
The author explains that Crispin, Lord of Minherve, was a foreign dignitary in London at the time of Anne Boleyn’s trial and execution. Benefice goes on to say that ‘Many historians have regarded Crispin as a reliable and unbiased witness, especially as he had no ties to the government or royal court at the time of Anne Boleyn’s execution. He offered an impartial and ‘first hand’ overview of the proceedings from Anne’s arraignment through to her trial and eventual execution.’
1842, “Life of Anne Boleyn” (Volume 4), by Agnes Strickland, page 293
“In Anne Boleyn’s native county, Norfolk, a curious tradition has been handed down from father to son for upwards of three centuries, which affirms that her remains were secretly removed from the Tower Church under the cover of darkness, and privately conveyed to Salle Church, the ancient burial place of the Boleyn’s; and there the body was interred at midnight, with the holy rites that were denied to her by her royal husband, at her first unhallowed funeral.”
1858, “The Queens of England” by Francis Lancelott, page 398
“The remains of the unfortunate Anne Boleyn, covered with a sheet, were placed by her maids in an elm chest and immediately afterwards buried by the side of her fellow victims, in the chapel of the Tower, without singing or prayer; but her friends returned at midnight and disinterred them, and conveyed them away in secret, buried them in Salle Church, in Norfolk.”
It would be interesting to find out what Lancellot’s source was and who the ‘friends’ were that returned to remove Anne’s body from the Tower.
In the article the author states that some sources point to Thomas Wyatt as being ‘the central figure in the plot to remove Anne Boleyn from the Tower Chapel’ as he had both the means and connections to execute such a plan.
I have never come across any evidence to suggest that Thomas was involved in such a plot. If we consider that Thomas was himself arrested in May 1536 (although he was never formally charged) and held in the Tower it seems unlikely that he would have been able to orchestrate such a plan from his cell.
1848, “Bentley’s Miscellany” by Charles Dickens, page 238
“[Anne Boleyn] had apprehended that her remains would be indignantly treated – that the rites of sepulture would be withheld from her, and that her grave would be where no memorial would be found of her; and therefore, her appeal to Wyatt, to save her, if possible, to the tomb of her fathers. Her desire had now, however, a prospect of fulfilment – a grave had been opened in Salle Church, which was the ancient burial place of her father’s family; and thither, on the second night after Wyatt’s arrival, the Earl proceeded, accompanied by his guests, ostensibly for the purpose of having midnight masses said for the repose of his daughter’s soul’ his daughter’s remains, however, went with him. They had, under Mary Wyatt’s care, immediately upon their removal from the Tower to her house, been most carefully embalmed, and wrapped in cere-cloth. In that state, and covered with a black velvet pall, she was placed in one of her father’s carriages, into which Wyatt and his sister entered; the Earl proceeding them in another carriage alone.
What the Earl’s thoughts and reflections were during the two hours he was slowly and unobservedly travelling by Aylsham and Cawston, to Salle, it would not be difficult to divine. He had within a month lost a daughter and a son by the hand of the executioner, – that son his only son, – that daughter the queen of England. Her name, besides, had been branded with infamy; and the prime mover of all this misery to him, – the most active agent to work him all this ill, – to bring his son and his daughter to the block was his own son’s wife, the infamous Lady Rochford. There ended all his dreams and ambitions, – all his influence and prosperity. His children beheaded, – his name dishonoured, – himself shunned. He was now alone, it might be said, in the world. One daughter, indeed, yet remained to him, his daughter Mary; but she had two years before incurred the anger of her father by marrying Sir W. Stafford; and he was, in consequence, utterly estranged from her.
The bitter reflections of those two hours, perhaps the better prepared the Earl for the solemn ceremonies that awaited his coming at Salle Church. He alighted there ad midnight. A few faithful servants bore the mangled remains of his daughter to the side of her tomb; but the perilous duty all there were arranged in would not allow of numerous tapers – of a chappele ardent – of a whole choir of priests, or of grand ceremonials. One priest was there, and the few candles that were lighted did no more than just show the gloom in which they were shrouded.
But all that could be done for the murdered queen was done, – mass was said for the repose of her soul – De profundis (Psalm 130) was chanted by those present, – her remains were carefully lowered into the grave, where they now rest, and a black-marble-slab, without either inscription or initials, alone market the spot which contains all that was mortal of Anne Boleyn – once queen of England.”
It is important to remember that this is a fictional account of the removal of Anne’s body from the Tower of London ‘spun’ by Mr Charles Dickens.
1852, “Lives of the Queens of England” Vol. IV, A. Strickland, page 213
“The mysterious sentence with which Thomas Wyatt closes his eloquent memorial of the death of this unfortunate queen, affords a singular confirmation of the local tradition of her removal and re-internment:
“God provided for her corpse sacred burial, even in a place as it were consecrate to innocence” – Thomas Wyatt.
I am unsure that this really does confirm anything as Wyatt could simply be referring to Anne’s burial in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, the parish church of the Tower of London, and one would assume, also a place of ‘sacred burial’.
I feel that it’s important to add that in The Lady in the Tower Alison Weir claims that this legend was debunked when some years ago the tombstone was lifted with no visible remains found beneath it (Pg. 323).
This is not the end of this mystery though, as I contacted Salle Church and was told that an archaeology team approached the church about 30 years ago asking for permission to excavate the nave floor but the request was denied.
I was also informed that the current Churchwarden has affirmed that the church “will never give permission for such evasive digging to take place within the church itself, regardless of the historical significance.”
So it seems that like so much of Anne’s life – and death – we are left to ponder the possibilities.
Weir, A. The Lady in the Tower, 2009.
Where was Anne Boleyn Buried by Reepham Benefice