Today is the anniversary of the beheading of Anne Boleyn in 1536. While there are stories of that doomed queen leading a procession of the dead at St. Peter ad Vincula, where she is buried, and of her haunting, among other sites, Hever Castle, Blicking Hall and Salle Church, her spirit never achieved the cult status of, say, Mary, Queen of Scots, which we have previously covered in these pages. We do not even have a reliable portrait of Anne, let alone an immense collection of relics like those treasured by Mary’s fans. King Henry was as assiduous about erasing the physical record of his discarded bride as any Stalinist censor with an airbrush and a pair of scissors.
Still, Anne had her champions. Canon W.S. Pakenham-Walsh claimed to hold lengthy conversations with her in a series of séances. Gratifyingly, he said, she had become friends with Catherine of Aragon in the afterlife. Another aficionado who was privileged to speak with the late Queen Anne was Mrs. Russell-Davies, also known as the “clairvoyant diagnostician,” and, before her marriage, clairaudient Bessie Williams. She was quite the dead-royal watcher, meeting with four of Henry’s six wives, post-mortem. Her friend, W.T. Stead, the editor of Borderland, printed her chats with Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard. In her memoir, The Clairvoyance of Bessie Williams, Mrs. Russell-Davies tells how Catherine of Aragon (an even less well-travelled ghost) popped in for a visit to give veridical evidence about a ring Russell-Davies’son had seen in a vision. That story prefaced the following visit to the medium from Queen Anne Boleyn.
And now for the—shall I say sequel? The relating of the above experience reminds me very forcibly of another illustrious and, as I firmly believe, much ill-used lady—the aforementioned Anne Boleyn. So far back as I can remember my favourite character of English history was this lady, to whom I always felt singularly drawn, and to whom we owe so much, having, by her influence —though short-lived—over Henry VIII., brought about our freedom from the bondage of the Roman Catholic Church; and who, whether merited or not, is to this day most shamefully reviled. My husband one day, returning from a visit to town, said to me, “I have heard of a book which I think will please you immensely, a new one, by [James Anthony] Froude, called The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon.  It is not yet out, but I have ordered it for you.” I felt much gratified, for I have much pleasure always in reading anything pertaining to history, that of our own country especially.
A few days after this, as I sat sewing, I quite suddenly heard a voice say (this of course clairaudiently), “What injustice! Will they never know the truth? And after all these years the old, shameful lies are retold, and I am called a harlot.” I was, of course, rather surprised; but I said, “Who are you? What is this truth of which you speak?” Can anyone accurately describe my astonishment when the answer came—“I am Anne Boleyn”? I was amazed, dumbfounded, as may be well imagined; but she continued: “My trouble is, that man’s injustice follows me even after centuries have elapsed, and now a book goes forth to the world from the pen of one who never knew me, making my life appear even more hideous than it has already been painted.”
She spoke very mournfully, and I need hardly say how very greatly I sympathised with her. “Tell me what he has said of you, dear lady,” said I. “I wish I could give you some comfort, but be assured of my deepest sympathy.” I must now impress on my readers that this book was not yet published. I had not received my promised copy, so was quite ignorant of its contents.
“Said? Why he has laid every vile charge upon my poor soul which man can lay upon a woman. He calls me a harlot, a traitress, a wanton, and finishes with the old charge of incest. To prove all his charges, he tells the old story of how all my accomplices in guilt died without a word of denial or assertion of their innocence. And his authority is that no papers have ever been found in all the State archives, as they would certainly have been, if any statements or confession had been made. So much for Mr. Froude’s authority; and now for mine. “The whole charges were a vile conspiracy. My husband, Henry VIII., had grown weary of me, as he had wearied of many before me, but who, not being his wives, were easily got rid of; but I was his lawful wife, and a good excuse and grave charge would be required, before even Henry could divorce me; and so, with many able and willing assistants, the charges were made, and I, who in my young life had never known restraint, full of life and energy and gaiety, soon fell an easy victim to the malice of my enemies, and the vile treachery of Henry. So I fell, and with me those brave and true gentlemen, amongst them my own dearly beloved brother, as martyrs to the lusts of a king, and a gang of priests and sycophants.
And they—my friends who died —it is said, left no confession behind them. True, for there was nothing to confess. But it is false that they left no statement; they all left statements of their most perfect innocence. This I positively and solemnly declare. I, Anne Boleyn, the much maligned wife of Henry VIII.—I, who know, thus declare their innocence of the gross charges laid to them and myself. But do you think that Henry and his friends, who had made these accusations, would permit the world to know of their villainy? Not likely! A most minute search was made for any record or letter which would be likely to reach the people, and everything was most carefully destroyed, that Henry might never be accused of having brought about the murder of his wife, and those innocent and noble gentlemen. I have come to tell you this because you are going to read this book, written by one who knew me not, and because I knew of your sympathy with me.”
I could never explain my feelings when I heard this communication. It seemed very singular that it should occur just after this book had been ordered for me, and also after the visit of Catherine of Aragon, her predecessor. Instantly rose to my mind the words of Shakespeare, our grand poet, with which I have headed this chapter, and commenced these my experiences. Truly are we surrounded by unknown and mysterious forces, which, if cultivated and controlled, what might they not give forth? So much impression it made on me that I could not erase it from my mind, and last December I related it to Mr. W. T. Stead, who was much interested. Without my knowledge he communicated with Mr. Froude, and that gentleman wrote saying he “was sorry if he had hurt the feelings of a lady”; but declining an offer, which I infer from the tone of his letter Mr. Stead had made, that he (Mr. Froude) should have a séance; on the ground that he would not allow of the interference of a third party (I conclude this meant myself, as the medium), but that if Anne Boleyn would come to him in his own room he would be willing—eondescending—enough (italics are my own) to have an interview! Mr. Stead sent this letter to me, and with it I retired to my own room, and sat mentally wishing Anne would pay me another visit.
The spirit came to me, and this is what I heard: “And so he would see me? Kind. And if I go to him, will he know me? If I stood by his side, would he recognise my face or form? Or, if I spoke, know my voice? Or has he power which will enable me to come? Can he write his books without the medium of pens, ink, and paper? Tell him to give me suitable conditions, and I will come. In the meantime I will give you all which after this lapse of time could be recognized—my autograph. ”
I reached a piece of paper, and through my hand she wrote “Anne Boleyn” several times, and then bade me adieu. This paper I gave to Mr. Stead, and, I regret to say, it has been unfortunately lost; but I have asked Anne for her signature, which she has kindly given me, saying as she wrote it these words of the great Teacher, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” I send out these experiences to my friends, hoping they will interest and instruct, and induce many to investigate the grand and glorious truths our spirit friends will give.
The Clairvoyance of Bessie Williams, Mrs. Russell Davies, Related by Herself, edited by Florence Marryat, London: Bliss, Sands and Foster, 1893
That’s our feisty Anne, sharply defending her honor and exposing corruption and conspiracy like any woman of spirit would do! What a tragedy that the paper with her writing was, in time-honored tradition, lost. It would have put paid to the insinuations of that odious Mr. Froude. But what happened to the writing from her return visit where she quoted scripture? This squib from a profile of the medium says that the handwriting was, in fact, authenticated.
“You experience other forms of phenomena besides those mentioned, I suppose, Mrs. Davies?” “I really think that every known phase has, at one time or another, turned up.” “Direct writing, for instance?” “Plenty of it. This began when I was eight or more years old, and has continued ever since. We have had writing from Anne Boleyn with her signature, done in the light. The signature was verified at the British Museum.” Light 29 September 1894: p. 463
[You can see her actual signature here, along with portraits said to be of the Queen.]
I can hear the sceptics rolling their eyes at the delusion of the medium who admits her sympathies to Anne in the very first paragraph and yet thinks it “singular” that the communication should occur after a book on the subject had been ordered for her. Her communications from Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard are, somewhat curiously, at odds with the traditional interpretations of those ladies as modest and wanton, respectively, but they too bear the florid hallmarks of the medium’s personality. Just as we see anachronisms in 19th-century interpretations of “Tudor” costumes, it is easy for us to spot the machinery behind the medium’s curtain. Russell-Davies’s work is a period piece like The Tragedy of Anne Boleyn: A Drama in Cipher Found in the Works of Sir Francis Bacon by Mrs. Elizabeth Wells Gallup; or historical fantasy written in lavender ink for The Queen.
Any reports of visits from Anne Boleyn to other mediums or the paleographer’s report from the British Museum? Sympathetic spirits only to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com.