Why was Anne Boleyn buried in an arrow chest?

Anne Boleyn's resting place

Anne Boleyn was executed on 19 May 1536. Although the executioner from Calais was ordered even before she was tried and found guilty, no one took care of a proper burial for Anne Boleyn. After she was decapitated with a French sword, her distressed ladies wrapped the late queen’s head and body into a cloth and buried her in an arrow chest within the walls of St. Peter Ad Vincula chapel.

But why was Anne Boleyn buried in an arrow chest?

During her time as Henry VIII fiancée, Anne Boleyn was showered with magnificent gifts. As Retha M. Warnicke wrote in her book:

“Throughout 1530 Henry continued to purchase gifts for her, often for her amusement, as, for example, a shaft, bows, arrows and a shooting glove in May. Archery was a sport she seems to have especially enjoyed, since additional bows were obtained for her. “(p. 96)

Henry VIII loved hunting and Anne Boleyn shared his passion. But Henry loved hunting also in a symbolic meaning – he loved to chase the ladies of the court. And he chased Anne Boleyn for almost a year before she finally surrendered, and agreed to become his wife. For the whole year the king was “stricken with the dart of love”.

Henry’s love for Anne Boleyn caused him many frustrations.  He was consumed with passion that was fuelled with Anne’s refusal.  He wanted her and no other woman. But she was playing him to her own advantage, or perhaps she hoped that the king will soon forget about her and find a new mistress. In any case, even when Anne withdrew herself from the court life, the king was eager to have her. In one of his letters he wrote:

“(…) and, that you may the oftener remember me, I send you by this bearer, a buck killed late last night by my hand, hoping, when you eat of it, you will think on the hunter (…)”

The symbolic meaning of hunt played a huge part in Henry’s courtship. When Anne’s ardent admirer, love-struck poet Thomas Wyatt had to back off when he realized that his rival was Henry VIII himself, he wrote a poem comparing his beloved Anne Boleyn to a hunted deer.

Henry VIII was a hunter literally and symbolically. Did he want to play one last cruel joke on his once beloved Anne Boleyn? It is really sad that such a remarkable woman ended buried in unmarked grave, inside the arrow chest that once contained bow-staves for Ireland.

Author of the book “The Arrow Chest”, Robert Parry made a great point about Henry VIII and his association with archer-god Apollo. In his novel, Robert Parry relates to Anne Boleyn’s tragic death – but he moves the story from Tudor to Victorian England. The description from Amazon says:

“London, 1876. The painter Amos Roselli is in love with his life-long friend and model, the beautiful Daphne – and she with him – until one day she is discovered by another man, a powerful and wealthy industrialist. What will happen when Daphne realises she has sacrificed her happiness to a loveless marriage? What will happen when the artist realises he has lost his most cherished source of inspiration? And how will they negotiate the ever-increasing frequency of strange and bizarre events that seem to be driving them inexorably towards self-destruction. Here, amid the extravagant Neo-Gothic culture of Victorian England, the iconic poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’ blends with mysterious and ghostly glimpses of Tudor history. Romantic, atmospheric and deeply dark.”

This book seems like a very interesting read and perhaps it offers a further explanation of the meaning of arrow chest. I have not yet had the pleasure of reading it, but I certainly will do it in the near future. If you have read “The Arrow Chest”  please let me know what do you think.


Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn

Peeking Between the Pages: Guest post by Robert Parry

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8 Responses
  1. Kimberly Eve says:

    This was wonderful to read. I have read and reviewed The Arrow Chest and it has become a favorite! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
    Especially if you share a love for all things Tudor and Victorian eras!

  2. Anne Barnhill says:

    I like the connection you make between Henry being a hunter and Anne ending up in an arrow chest–I never got the symbolism until you pointed it out! Great job–thanks!

  3. Robert Parry says:

    Thank you so much for mentioning my story in your article, Sylwia. You raised some good points here. It is not perhaps widely appreciated the extent to which Henry associated himself with Apollo – for example the tableau designed by Holbein for Anne’s coronation procession. The poetry of Wyatt is key to understanding much of what went on – at least I believe so. The Tudor aristocracy lived a good deal of their mental life immersed in a landscape of religious symbolism, classical mythology and allegory. It provides a key to answering so many of the questions regarding the life and death of Anne Boleyn.

    • Sylwia says:

      Thank you for your comment, Robert. I am so happy you enjoy my article. I couldn’t agree more with you – people in Tudor times were all about symbolism, and Anne Boleyn&Henry VIII are probably the best examples. I’m looking forward to read “The Arrow Chest” – sounds really interesting.

  4. Deborah says:

    Loved the book! The connection between the Tudors and the Victorian times was excellent. Very unusual and spellbinding. I enjoyed every page!

  5. Amanda says:

    Awesome point about the symbolism. Wow. If true, how hard-hearted was Henry VIII? I loved the book The Arrow Chest. His previous novel Virgin and the Crab – about Elizabeth I and John Dee is also an amazingly good book. You should definitely read The Arrow Chest.

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