Anne Boleyn at Erwarton – a story from East Anglian Shores

Yachtsman, journalist and author David Fairhall contributes this guest blog, detailing one of the many interesting stories he discovered from his exploration of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex’s coastal regions for his book EAST ANGLIAN SHORES (updated and republished on 26/9).

We all know the story of Anne Boleyn’s fatal liaison with Henry VIII, and its grim conclusion at the Tower of London. Much less familiar is the dramatic aftermath played out in the remote village of Erwarton, on the Suffolk coast.

Not that Erwarton is remote as the crow flies. Its tall-windowed fifteenth century church looks straight across the River Stour to the busy ferry terminals of Parkeston Quay; in nearby Harwich Harbour vast container ships load for China and the Far East. But since this is East Anglia, its low-lying coastline repeatedly perforated by rivers, creeks and canals (in a small boat you could actually circumnavigate the entire region by way of the Wash and the Thames), reaching the village by road usually involves a long detour through lanes whose origin as farm tracks is only too obvious.

Photo: Orwell Yacht Club (

In Tudor times people and cargoes might well have come by boat. East Anglia depended on water transport. At Erwarton, the remains of a wooden jetty are visible on the riverside shingle. Until quite recently, the local farmers even operated their own sailing barge, the miniature Cygnet, which is still afloat. And nowadays visiting yachts continue to drop anchor in the lee of Erwarton Ness, although the village pub they once patronised – the Queen’s Head – has reluctantly been closed.

How Queen Anne managed the journey from London I don’t know, but her uncle lived at Erwarton Hall (you really cannot miss the extravagant turreted gatehouse) and she loved to visit him there. So much so, she apparently asked that her heart be buried in the village church.

In 1838, workmen repairing St Mary’s church after a lightning strike had damaged the flint tower, came across a heart-shaped casket hidden in an alcove. On opening it, they found just a sort of brown powder, which they took to be the Queen’s pathetic remains – and which they carefully re-buried beneath the organ.

EAS cover

EAST ANGLIAN SHORES: History, Harbours, Rivers, Fisheries, Pubs and Architecture by David Fairhall is published by Adlard Coles Nautical on Thursday 26th September. It is available through all good bookshops at an RRP of £12.99. Alternatively you can order it direct from us here to take advantage of a 10% discount:

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