If a 'skilled' (with sword) executioner was summoned from Calais, did he bring his own 'equipment' and, if so, is there record of him & it there?

Was the sword seized when Francis, Duke of Guise retook the area in Calais' fall of 1558? And if so, where would it have gone?

As the oldest known such executioner's sword dates from 1540, has it been lost, destroyed or 'archived'?

  • 1
    Welcome on History.SE. Right now, there are four (related, but different) questions in this question. Can you concentrate on one of them ? If need be, open a second question to ask for another point you are interested in...
    – Evargalo
    Oct 2, 2019 at 6:21
  • 1
    The scarcity of materials is incurring very confusion. Even @sempaiscuba 's execution list is not enough to say that the executioner Jean Rombaud is the line of official executioners' family ( Why on the earth Jean is standing alone in 1530 at Saint Omer as the executioner of Saint Omer? Only other 2 are from late 1700's to 1800's.
    – user12387
    Oct 3, 2019 at 5:21
  • Who was the assistant executioner seems of more interest to me somehow. Rombaud did not bring an assistant from France and as the English assistant did not speak French, he had to be rehearsed in his role beforehand. I believe that it was Thomas Cratwell, executioner for London who would otherwisw have gotten the task. (He was executed himself about two years later as a felon!). I believe that the breakdown in communication between himself and Rombaud almost snagged the execution at the last second and is alluded to in the 1969 movie "Anne of a Thousand Days". May 24, 2021 at 21:49

1 Answer 1


Neither in the Anne Boleyn - Wikipedia account or any other account that I have read has contained the name of the executioner.

William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, in his writings didn't use the name of the executioner.

Henry commuted Anne's sentence from burning to beheading, and rather than have a queen beheaded with the common axe, he brought an expert swordsman from Saint-Omer in France, to perform the execution.

All accounts state the French swordsman was well known, so you may assume that he used his own sword. Other than that, no further reliable information seems to be available.

Saint-Omer was outside in the Pale of Calais which was lost to England during Queen Mary's reign 22 years after Anne Boleyn's execution. It is situated about 45 km south east of Calais (north of Guinegate).

See also the question: Why was the swordsman of Calais chosen as Anne Boleyn's executioner?

The most interesting, in my mind realistic, comment on this topic is The French Sword - The Tudors Wiki

VerelaiR 9. RE: The French Sword Feb 13 2009, 11:36 AM EST
Jean Rombaud is listed in the rolls of France as the official executioner of St. Omer during the 1530s - nothing is actually known of his life, only the name and approximate dates of his tenure. And it's really a matter of deduction that he was the one who performed the execution, as English records do not mention a name. The execution of an English queen would have required exceptional skill; he would not have sent a substitute. The execution cost £23 - approximately £7,500 to 8,000 in today's money - a great amount of money.

The sword was probably one of many M. Rombaud had made for himself; heavy, sharp, two handed, highly specialized swords, and very costly; the beheading sword was unique.

Undoubtedly, he would have been a master at his grisly trade, having studied and practiced it for years with other masters. AB's execution would certainly not have been his only execution, only his most famous. Just the mechanics of beheading a individual kneeling upright, no block, in a split second instant, is difficult to fathom. However, many writers (Fraser, Weir, Chapman, etc.) give AB a block, as do a few novels and movies/series. Aside: she was not executed on Tower Green as these authors contend.

The executioner would have used his own sword, and taken it back to France; often such pieces were later melted down for new pieces, or given to the next official executioner. There is no record of what happened to it, or how long it survived.

  • £23 6s 8d
    • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn ChapterJudgement, page 351

This comment should answer most of the OP's question.

Further comments in Tudor Q and A: Questions from Daniel - Accuracy of portraits, etc. express doubt and/or surprise about the quoted name of the executioner :

PhD Historian said...
TudorRose, I am curious. Where did you read that the name of Anne Boleyn's executioner was Jean Rimbaud? I do hope it was not C.C. Humphrey's The French Executioner, since that book is total fiction.

I have checked every primary source I have at hand, and every online scholarly database I can think of, including quite a few that are by subscription only. Yet I find absolutely no indication that the name of Boleyn's executioner was ever recorded. Even those writing in the 1530s and 1540s refer to him as simply "a swordsman from Calais" or "the executioner of Calais."

And it makes logical sense that his name was not recorded ... to protect his identity and guard against retribution coming from his victim's families.
Foose said...
Per Anne's executioner, there is an interesting comment from the Queen of Hungary (the Emperor's sister) at the end of May 1536:

I hope the English will not do much against us now, as we are free from his lady, who was a good Frenchwoman. That the vengeance might be executed by the Emperor's subjects, he sent for the executioner of St. Omer, as there were none in England good enough.

The last quote also confirms, that at the time, it was common knowledge that the executioner came from St. Omer and not from Calais (where he probably crossed over to England from).

Eric W. Ives is quoted by some Blogs (both of which use the same text) to be the first historian to claim that Jean Rombaud was the person in question. These claims are, I believe, false.

According to Eric W. Ives, Rombaud was so taken by Anne that he was shaken. Rombaud found it so difficult to proceed with the execution that in order to distract her and for her to position her head correctly, he may have shouted, “Where is my sword?” just before killing her.

  • Anne Boleyn (1986)
  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy (2004)
    • the second book is an extended version of the first, incorperating new research results made since the first version.

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn neither names the executioner directly, or does he meantion that he came from St. Omer.

The king was at his most nauseous in makng arrangements - even perhaps in advance of the trial - to bring over the executioner of Calais to kill Anne.
Chapter Judgement, page 351

In Chapter Finale page 359, where the execution is discribed, the executioner is not meantioned at all.

An interesting book review can be read here: Reviews in History - The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

C.C. Humphreys The French Executioner series, which are historically based novels (and not historical research) were written in 2002 and 2003. The usage of the character name Jean Rombaud in these novels is probably the source of the name usage in some blogs.

The German Wikipedia uses the following source for the claim:

  • Sabine Schwabenthan: Enthauptung auf Französisch, P.M. History #2/2015, S. 31
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 5, 2019 at 7:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.