WEIRD SUFFOLK: Is poor Anne Boleyn’s heart buried in a Suffolk or Norfolk church?
- Credit: Lucy Taylor
In death, Anne Boleyn’s heart has led to more rivalry between county neighbours Suffolk and Norfolk: which county, if either, has claim to the unfortunate queen’s heart?
Behind Erwarton's gothic gatehouse lies a Tudor Hall forever linked to the most famous of King Henry VIII's wives: Anne Boleyn - she loved it so much, legend has it, that when she died she asked that her heart be buried there. The second wife of the King and the mother of future queen Elizabeth I, the two main players in the English Reformation, Anne was a regular visitor to Erwarton Hall where her aunt Amy and uncle Philip lived.
It's believed that Henry visited Anne at the Hall when they were courting and deeply in love: just three years after the couple married, Queen Anne Boleyn was executed by beheading within the confines of the Tower of London after being found guilty of high treason.
Her body was taken by her distressed ladies in waiting and carried to the nearby Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Placed in an old elm chest which had once contained bow staves from the Tower, her head and body were reunited and she was buried in the chancel close to the remains of her brother, Lord Rochford. And that was the end of Anne Bolyen. Or was it?
During Victorian-era renovations in 1837, a heart-shaped tin casket was discovered in the chancel wall of St Mary's Church at Erwarton, filled with dust. It was reburied beneath the organ with a small plaque marking the spot which made the claim that the former queen's heart had been brought to the church by her uncle, Sir Philip Parker following her execution on May 19 1536. Whether the heart was indeed buried at the church or not, the Philip in question is incorrect - Sir Philip Parker was a later owner of Erwarton Hall, Anne's uncle was Sir Philip Calthorpe, who had married her aunt Amy.
Speaking to the East Anglian Daily Times in 2014, churchwarden at St Mary the Virgin in Erwarton, Wendy Sadler, said she believed that the doomed queen's heart had returned to the village which she had loved in life. "Anne's aunt and uncle lived at Erwarton Hall. We know she came here as a child and we have a memorial inscription in the church which mentions Anne Boleyn, Queen of England," she said. "When work was being done to the crypt in the 19th century, they found a casket which contained dust which was believed to be the heart of Anne Boleyn.I am absolutely sure they brought her heart to this place. They used to take hearts out as a final request and I have every faith that the story is true."
In a twist, and a throwback to the county rivalry which spans centuries, a church across the border in Norfolk also lays claim to housing Anne Boleyn's remains.
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Author Agnes Strickland in her book Lives of the Queens of England, written in the 1840s, wrote of the lore that said Anne's remains had been removed from the Tower and interred at midnight with the full rites of Christian burial.
Marked with a plain black stone with no inscription, the queen is said to have asked to be returned to her ancestral home of Salle, near Reepham.
And no Weird tale involving Anne Boleyn is complete without mentioning the fact that the doomed queen's headless ghost is said to return to Norfolk's Blickling Hall every year on May 19 in a coach drawn by a headless horseman.