“With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm” by Stanley Holloway

“With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm” indirectly centers on the climax of the story of Anne Boleyn, who for a time during the 16th century was the Queen (consort) of England. She’s actually the mother of the first Queen Elizabeth. 

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Stanley Holloway's With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm at Lyrics.org.

But Anne’s personal reign was short-lived, as some three years therein she was convicted of treason and adultery and subsequently beheaded. However, as history, as well as this song, implies, she wasn’t actually guilty. She is said to have rather fallen out of favor with her husband, King Henry VIII, primarily due to the fact that she failed to birth him a male heir.

So this song is basically a comedic retelling of that account, albeit one which, once again, does so indirectly. 

The Lyrics

In the lyrics, Anne is presented as still being alive in a sense, i.e. her “ghost” traversing “the Tower of London”. And she appears “at night” to tell the spirit of King Henry that “he did her wrong”. And there are the ghosts of other royal associates from that era who are apparently present also. 

Interesting to note is that “gay King Henry”, even in the afterlife, comes off as a revelrous soul. So for instance, he entreats Anne, who is carrying “her head… underneath her arm”, not to “drop it in the soup”. 

Thus it can be said there is a horror element – for lack of a better word – imbued within this piece also, as this song for instance has been associated with the celebration of Halloween in the UK.

And since this is in fact a British novelty tune we’re talking about here, it isn’t overly surprising that embedded therein is a shoutout to Arsenal FC (the English football club) as well as one of the team’s stars of that day, Alex James. In fact Arsenal FC has been around since the late 19th century, and apparently Britons were accordingly devoted soccer fans since time immemorial.

All in all

Overall, perhaps the simplest way of describing this song is as one which is meant to memorialize Anne Boleyn, who met her fate in a very less-than-ideal way. 

Usually in such cases, i.e. a person having been the victim of an unjust execution, the situation wouldn’t be made light of. But this is someone who died centuries ago that no one in recent history actually knew. 

Furthermore, this track also does a successful job of villainizing Henry VIII, who is depicted as sort of a callous womanizer. 

So if nothing else, “With Her Head Tucked Under Her Arm” at least serves the purpose of introducing (in a somewhat-entertaining manner) contemporary audiences to the fact that Anne Boleyn – a relatable, real-world victim of the types of injustices that can transpire when a monarch is left unchecked – actually existed.

Facts about “With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm”

This song was written by R. P. Weston (1878-1936) alongside the equally-late Bert Lee (1880-1946). 

The first artist to drop a recording of “With Her Head Tucked Under Her Arm”, in 1934, was another Englishman by the name of Stanley Holloway (1890-1982). Holloway was a prominent actor whose career began in 1910.

And as we have noted before, back in those days it was more common for actors to also sing. In fact back during the early 20th century, the movie industry wasn’t nearly as pervasive as it has become since. And accordingly, Stanley actually got his start on stage.

This tune has retained some popularity throughout the years. So for instance, it was covered by The Kingston Trio in 1960. That rendition (under the title “Anne Boleyn”) is also referenced in an episode of NBC’s Frasier (2000).

To note, R. P. Weston wrote another song, “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am” (1970), which predates this one and also seems to make fun of King Henry VIII. This song was a big hit for Herman’s Hermits in 1965.

Media Appearances

“With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm” has appeared in many shows. Some of the shows include:

  • “Spin and Marty” in the late 1950s. This show was part of The Mickey Mouse Club produced by Walt Disney.
  • Season 7, Episode 17 of “Frasier” titled “Whine Club”.
  • Season 4, Episode 3 of “Agatha Christie’s Marple” titled “They Do It with Mirrors”.

Anne Boleyn’s Troubles with King Henry VIII

The three-year marriage of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn has been historically classified as one of the most tragic unions in the history of Royal marriages. Henry broke off his marriage to Catherine of Aragon after discovering his intense but short-lived admiration for Anne.

Their marriage was made official on the 25th of January 1533. Anne was crowned Queen of England on the 1st June of 1533.

Three months after her coronation on 7th September, Anne bore a daughter for Henry. The King was not very pleased as he had been expecting a son. Hoping that Anne will conceive a son for him soon, the King accepted his daughter, future Queen Elizabeth I. Almost three years into their marriage, Anne suffered three miscarriages.

Anne at this time was officially losing favor in the eyes of the king. He set his eyes on one handmaid, Jane Seymour, and started courting her. The King in his desperate need to break off his marriage to Anne, had her investigated and charged with treason and adultery. Anne was found guilty and beheaded by a French swordsman on May 19, 1536.

Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn

1 Response

  1. C. Wolf says:

    I can’t find the meaning of the term “queer the do” from the song.
    Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *