Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Digging-up Dirt on Anne Boleyn?

As I visit various other Tudor and Anne Boleyn dedicated blogs and sites one of the topics which is raised quite often is the exhumation of those who were executed and buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula.

In 1876, Queen Victoria authorized restoration of the chapel and in doing so, the builders exhumed the remains of some of those buried just beneath the floor. Afterward, reinterring the remains in a place more difficult to reach (as protection from grave robbers). Here is a description from a Tower heritage website:

Many of those who died in the Tower or perished on the scaffold were buried here, often with no marker. Identification was therefore difficult when the chapel floor was lifted and the bones exhumed. Those remains found in the nave were reburied in the crypt, while those of people of distinction known to have been buried in the chancel - Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey and the Dukes of Northumberland and Somerset among others - were replaced there beneath marble paving giving their names and armorial bearings.

Upon examination of the remains, conclusions were drawn by extremely crude means. Scientists in 1876 certainly didn't have the forensic tools we have today. Their description of one of the skeletons claimed it to belong to a beheaded woman, a delicate frame of middling stature (approximately 5'3" - that was considered middle height in the 16th century) with proportionate limbs and small, tapering hands and feet. There is NO mention of a sixth finger. That's it. That's the extent of the review of forensic evidence.

This is a major disappointment to me.

There are many lively debates and discussions on other sites about whether or not to re-exhume Anne (and others) to have the remains extensively tested with the advanced forensic tools we have now. In order to open the graves again and do anything with the remains, permission from Queen Elizabeth II (or the sovereign) is needed. There are excellent arguments for both sides of this debate, however, I fall on the side of those in favor of another exhumation.

Plainly put: when Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England, she gave up privacy - even in death. Her person, her body, her daughter, her life were no longer hers, they belonged to England.
I understand that for many this may be a sensitive, spiritual or even religious topic. Some see the stirring of her bones to be an invasion and would prefer to allow Anne to finally rest in peace. I do not disagree. I pray that Anne's soul found peace and that whatever came after death is - for her - paradise. However, I do not believe that this, in any way, is impacted by her remains here on this earth. That body was just a vessel to display her unparalleled intellect, wit, humor, cunning, talents and fascinating spirit to the world and worlds to come. That body has been put through execution, unceremonious burial in an arrow chest, exhumation and then thrown together with the bones of other so-called traitors. Has this changed our love or fascination with Anne Boleyn over the past 500 years? No. Nor will exhuming and testing her skeleton change the way we feel.

It could, however, answer questions and give us still more insight into a woman who is such an enigma.

1 comment:

  1. Photos: I took them myself on my visit to the Tower of London on May 19, 2009 - the 473rd anniversary of Anne Boleyn's execution.