The Tudor Society

17 March – Alexander Alesius and his terrifying vision of Anne Boleyn

On this day in Tudor history, 17th March 1565, Scottish theologian and Reformer Alexander Alesius (also known as Ales, Aless), died in either Leipzig or Edinburgh.

Alesius wrote a huge number of theological works, was friends with reformers Philip Melancthon and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, but had a row with the Bishop of London at one point.

Let me tell you a bit more about Alexander Alesius and also a terrifying vision or nightmare he experienced in the early hours of 19th May 1536, the day of Queen Anne Boleyn's execution.

Here's a link to see a list of works by Alesius -

Also on this day in Tudor history, 17th March 1554, Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I, stalled her arrest by writing her famous Tide Letter. Find out more in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1473 – Birth of James IV, King of Scots, at Stirling in Scotland. He was the eldest son of James III and Margaret of Denmark, the husband of Margaret Tudor and the father of King James V. James' reign lasted from June 1488 to 9th September 1513 when he was killed at the Battle of Flodden.
  • 1570 – Death of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, soldier, courtier and landowner, at Hampton Court, aged sixty-three. Herbert was married to Anne Parr, sister of Catherine Parr. Herbert served Henry VIII as an Esquire of the Body, a 'gentleman spear' and a Gentleman of the King's Privy Chamber. When his sister-in-law Catherine Parr became queen, he was even more favoured, was awarded various grants and offices, and was promoted to be Joint Chief Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. He was also named as an executor of the King's will. Herbert was made a Knight of the Garter in Edward VI's reign and won favour with Mary I by helping to put down Wyatt's Rebellion in 1554. He continued to be in favour in Elizabeth's reign.
  • 1612 – Death of Thomas Holland, Calvinist scholar and theologian, at Exeter College, Oxford. He was buried in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, in the chancel. Holland, with six other scholars, helped to translate the prophetic books of the “Old Testament” for the “Authorised Version of the Bible”, and held the positions of Rector of Exeter College and Regius Professor of Divinity.


On this day in Tudor history, 17th March 1565, Scottish theologian and Reformer Alexander Alesius (also known as Ales, Aless), died in either Leipzig or Edinburgh, the sources differ.

Alesius was born as Alexander Allane in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 23rd April 1500 and was educated at the University of St Andrews, graduating BA from St Leonard’s College.

In 1532, Alesius enrolled at Wittenberg University and it was there that he became friends with theologian Philip Melancthon, and began to be concerned with making the Bible available in the vernacular. He published an open letter to James V of Scotland in 1533, appealing for him to annul recent legislation making it illegal to own or distribute the New Testament in the vernacular. When the Catholic Johannes Cochlaeus, countered this with a letter to James accusing Alesius of translating the New testament and sending it to Scotland, and claiming that it would cause unrest, Alesius answered with a further letter, emphasising how Continental reformers were simply trying to lead people back to the Bible and the teaching of the Early Church.

In August 1535, Alesius travelled to England with copies of Loci Communes by Melancthon for Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, and when he travelled there again in October, he was appointed King's Scholar at Cambridge University. Spring 1536 was a time of worry for Alesius, with the fall of Queen Anne Boleyn, a keen reformer, and resistance to reformist ideas, coupled with the fact that Cromwell hadn't paid his stipend, forced him to leave the university and train as a physician in London. This enabled him to keep in contact with friends such as Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and contacts like Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's Vicar-General.

In the early hours of 19th May 1536, the day of Anne Boleyn’s execution, Alesius had a terrible vision or nightmare. He was in London at the time and although he was aware of the Queen’s imprisonment he did not know that she was due to be executed that day, having, in his own words, “remained a sorrowful man at home”, worrying about what would happen to England’s religion if the Queen was put to death. He gives an account of his vision in a letter he wrote to Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, in 1559 to congratulate her on her accession:

“I take to witness Christ, Who shall judge the quick and the dead, that I am about to speak the truth. On the day upon which the Queen was beheaded, at sunrise, between two and three o’clock, there was revealed to me (whether I was asleep or awake I know not) the Queen’s neck, after her head had been cut off, and this so plainly that I could count the nerves, the veins, and the arteries.
Terrified by this dream, or vision, I immediately arose, and crossing the river Thames I came to Lambeth, (this is the name of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace,) and I entered the garden in which he was walking. When the Archbishop saw me he inquired why I had come so early, for the clock had not yet struck four. I answered that I had been horrified in my sleep, and I told him the whole occurrence. He continued in silent wonder for awhile, and at length broke out into these words, ‘Do not you know what is to happen to-day?’ and when I answered that I had remained at home since the date of the Queen’s imprisonment and knew nothing of what was going on, the Archbishop then raised his eyes to heaven and said, ‘She who has been the Queen of England upon earth will to-day become a Queen in heaven.’ So great was his grief that he could say nothing more, and then he burst into tears.”

It was a sad day for the two men.

In summer 1537, Alesius was involved in a public row with John Stokesley, Bishop of London, who protested against the view that Alesius put forward, as King's Scholar, regarding there being only two sacraments. This debate was published by Alesius in 1542.

Alesius left England suddenly in June 1539 after being warned, by Archbishop Cranmer, of the dangers of being a married reformer when the “Act of Six Articles” was about to be made law. This act demanded a vow of celibacy, but Alesius was married. He travelled back to Wittenberg and then became a professor of theology at Frankfurt an der Oder. After trouble there in 1542, he was forced to leave and take up a position at Leipzig. There, in 1547 during the siege of Leipzig, his house and library were destroyed, but it was the place where Alesius chose to end his days, visiting England during Edward VI's reign and translating for Cranmer Latin versions of the “Order of Communion” and the “First Prayer Book”.

He died on this day in 1565 and was survived by his wife, Katherine, and two sons and two daughters. During his lifetime, he wrote a number of theological works and I’ll give you a link to a list of them.

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17 March – Alexander Alesius and his terrifying vision of Anne Boleyn