At the time, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s production of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, was playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Beerbohn Tree’s production was enormously popular, accomplishing no less than 254 consecutive performances between September 1910 and April 1911. Naturally, such a success came to the attention of the mountebanks and puppet showmen, and a Punch and Judy show opened for business close to the theatre.
In Mr Punch’s version, the ‘Merry Monarch’ decided it would be great fun to host a beauty show. His eight wives were shepherded out to cast their vote, if they so wished. Seven of the wives were wise enough to turn down the invitation, but one was more than keen to have her say. This lady was none other than Anne Boleyn, who ‘longed for liberty’. To the dismay of the royal family, who formed an illustrious part of the audience, Henry decided that his seven wise wives, ‘being worthy English wives’ should be allowed to live. As to Anne Boleyn, she must be beheaded, the price of her outspokenness. As with all good Punch and Judy shows, the executioner appears on cue. All geared up to cut off Anne’s head, his axe slipped and he struck Henry in the face instead, taking his off head in a single stroke.
This allowed them to live - even Katherine Howard survives this story. Anne Boleyn, however, was different. She is every bit as strong-willed and independent as her historical counterpart, whose character of Perseverance continues to echo through the centuries since she first danced the part. She is depicted as the prototypical feminist fighting for the ultimate feminist cause, the Suffragette Movement. Her ‘outspokenness’, as it is called here, earned her the wrath of her husband, who decided she must be beheaded. No elegant and efficient French swordsman for Mr Punch’s Anne, she must make do with the axe. However, the executioner is as incompetent as ever he is. This reincarnation of Jack Ketch makes to behead Anne but accidentally kills Henry instead. Here is poetic justice. The historical Anne may have fallen victim to a cruel and tyrannical king, but, thanks to Mr Punch, she at last got her revenge.
He married half a dozen queens
For three called Kate they cried the banns
And one called Jane, and a couple of Annes.