From the Salem witch trials to the bombing of Hiroshima, history is full of dates that shook the world and continue, decades and centuries later, to astound. Using eyewitness testimony – letters, diaries and archive interviews. Witness retells these watershed moments. Here, we round up 8 of the most shocking moments in history.
1. The execution of Anne Boleyn
On the morning of 19 May 1536, Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, became the first English queen to be publicly executed. Charged with adultery, incest and conspiring the king’s death, Anne was beheaded on a scaffold erected on Tower Green, within the walls of the Tower of London. Her death, says historian Suzannah Lipscomb, “is so familiar to us that it is hard to imagine how shocking it would have been”.
Anne and Henry had been married for little more than three years at the time of her death. For her, Henry had left his wife of nearly 24 years and the mother of his child (the future Mary I), and broken with the Catholic Church. By the spring of 1536, however, Henry’s affection had waned and he was hotly pursuing Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour.
Along with five courtiers, including Anne’s brother, George, Anne was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London in early May 1536. Mark Smeaton, William Brereton, Francis Weston and Henry Norris were tried and found guilty of adultery with the queen, and of conspiring the king’s death, while Anne and her brother were found guilty of high treason. By 19 May, all six convicted had been executed.