The Memoirs of a Queen and Concubine
She sat on a raised platform. Her head was held high. She sat like a queen. And indeed she was a queen, she was Queen Anne, but the chair she sat upon was not a throne. It was but a small wooden thing in the centre of a parliamentary court. For she was summoned here to be tried for the crimes that had been imposed upon her – treason, adultery and plotting the king's death with her lovers. The charges were false. Cromwell was mistaken; adultery was impossible when at the time the act had allegedly taken place, she was no where near the man in question! It mattered not that Cromwell's facts simply not plausible; the king wanted her gone, and parliament were reluctant to disappoint him.It was her uncle, the earl of Norfolk that delivered her sentence. Whilst it is true that her arrogance and nature had previously alienated him, even he could not contain the few tears that escaped his eyes when he announced: "Thou shall be burnt here within the Tower of London on the Green, else to have thy head smitten off, at the king's pleasure."Her face betrayed none of her emotion. She remained calm, collected, as she had been taught.'Anna, a noblewoman would do better to keep her emotions under control. Do not let your temper stand between yourself and the greatness you can achieve.'She heard her father's voice as if it were whispered in her ear. She was but a child then, when those words first fell from his lips. It was before she had left for the French court, and yet it felt as though it were only days ago. It is curious, she thought to herself, how one looses one's sense of time when at the end of their days.She opened her mouth to speak. Her voice did not shake. Her breathing remained steady."God has taught me how to die, and He will strengthen my faith." The queen announced. She took a breath, and continued, retaining her composure. "As for my brother, and those others who are unjustly condemned, I would willingly suffer many deaths to deliver them, but since I see it pleases the King, I shall willingly accompany them in death, with this assurance, that I shall lead an endless life with them in peace."The court was silent. She raised herself from her seat – she was still queen, after all – and was escorted back to the Tower. She was taken to rooms in the Lieutenant's house, a building that overlooked Tower Green. She had thought that she would be taken back to the royal rooms. Finding herself mistaken, she felt the hysterical urge to laugh, or to cry. Her eyes rested upon the grass that lay outside. That is where I shall die, she said to herself. That is where I shall take my leave of this world.
It was Wednesday, the 17th of May when the Queen was roused and taken from her rooms. She first thought that the king had decided that her sentence was to be carried out immediately, and her heart gave a horrified flutter in her chest at the thought that he would allow her to die without first having a priest hear her last confession. She soon realised that this was not the case, for through the small, thick-paned windows she could see Tower Hill, and she could see a scaffold. This was the day that five men were to die. Lord Rochfort, Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton and the musician Mark Smeaton. She much desired to take her eyes away from the scene unfolding before her, as each man approached the scaffold and each man held out his arms as the executioner's axe was borne down upon them and their time on this earth was abruptly ended. As she watched, her breathing became more laboured, for though in her heart she still hoped that her husband would grant her clemency, she began to understand that she would soon stand on the scaffold herself.Upon the return to her rooms, she could see another scaffold under construction outside her own window. At least I shall not burn, she said to her ladies. She received no response.It was that afternoon that it was announced that she was not the lawful queen of England and she was to die as Marquess of Pembroke. Her daughter Elizabeth was a bastard."I am queen, I am Anna Regina! I will not have my Elizabeth reduced to what the Lady Mary was reduced to! I am queen of England!" She repeated to herself, nearing a state of hysteria. Her ladies were unable to console her. "I begin to feel now what Katherine felt all those years ago." She paused. "But it wasn't all that many years ago, was it? I feel my life slipping away from me, things that happened yesterday seem as if they were ten years ago or more." Tears welled in her eyes. She, who had always kept her composure, was beginning to unravel.She could not sleep that night. Nor could her ladies. The workmen building the scaffold outside worked into the night, and Anne could hear them, hammering wood together. The wood that she would stand upon the very next day to die. At 2am, she surrendered in her efforts and accepted that she was unable to succumb to sleep. She roused from her bed and moved to the window. They were still building her scaffold."Fetch my chaplain. I wish to pray." She said briskly, and at once one of her ladies left the room to fetch him.The moon outside was unnaturally bright, and for a moment it caught her off guard."I suppose it is the last time I shall ever see the moon." She said, as her chaplain entered. He did not seem angry with her, for rousing him in the middle of the night. Perhaps sleep evaded him, too."My lady," He said, bowing his head in a show of respect. "I was told I was summoned to join you in prayer.""Of course." She said as she knelt on the cold stone floor and clasped together her hands. She had not been addressed as my lady for some time now, she thought idly before joining the chaplain in reciting the Lord's prayer.
Shortly after dawn on the morning of the 18th of May, Archbishop Cranmer arrived to hear her confession. She had also summoned Kingston, to hear her swear upon her soul that she was innocent of what she had been accused of.She had resigned herself to death. She no longer feared it, and besides, the king had sent for a swordsman from Calais, who was reportedly extremely good. How can one truly know if he is good, she thought to herself, when those on the receiving end can not speak to comment on his prowess? Surely we, the doomed, are the only ones able to pass judgement on an executioner's skill if there be a brief few seconds in which life still lingers. Does life still linger? Or is death instantaneous? How can one be sure of this, without being subject to it themselves?
She was broken from her thoughts by the opening of the heavy wooden door to her rooms. A short man entered, bearing a rolled piece of paper, tied with red ribbon and bearing Cromwell's seal.Is this my clemency at last? Has the king relented? Her heart lifted a little in her chest at this thought. Her eyes gleamed with hope and her hands, still clasped in prayer, gripped themselves so tightly that the knuckles on her slender hands began to turn white."My lady," Kingston began, after running his eyes over the letter. "Master Cromwell bids me to inform you that the executioner has been delayed on the road from Dover. He shall not be here until noon. Your sentence is postponed, therefore, until then."Her eyes dropped to the floor. What little hope that had remained died quickly."My lady?" Kingston inquired. She had remained silent, staring only at the floor – a feat most uncharacteristic for the brazen queen."Forgive me," She said, steeling herself and her emotions. "Forgive me, I am very sorry to hear this, for I thought to be dead by now and past my pain!"Kingston looked sympathetically at the young woman."You shall not feel any pain, my lady. The executioner's blade is said to be very subtle."She smiled. Poor Kingston, I do not fear the pain of death, nor is that what I refer to, she thought to herself. Rather, I wish to be past the pain that life inflicts!"In any case," she said, a smile breaking out on her lips. "I have only a little neck." Then she began to laugh. At first a small giggle, and then all at once, hysterically.Kingston took her laughter to be a gladness regarding death, and thought her truly gone mad. When he and bishop Cranmer had left, she began to cry. Her ladies comforted her as she fell to her knees and cried heartily.
Noon arrived, and she had prepared herself as much as one can for death. Noon arrived, but the executioner however, did not. It was Kingston again that brought her the news."The executioner has been delayed again, madam. I regret to tell you that you shall have to wait until tomorrow morning. Your sentence will be carried out at 9 o'clock tomorrow.""I am not to die today?" She said, feeling rather numb."No, my lady.""Forgive me, it is not that I desire death," She said quietly "But I have found myself at peace with the fact, and I fear that a longer delay shall weaken my resolve."Kingston could only smile sympathetically and leave her. As he left, she sat slowly down into a chair by the window."The waiting shall drive her mad." One of her ladies whispered to another."I fear it already has." The other replied, glancing worriedly at the broken women that had been their queen.
The next morning followed another sleepless night. The queen was silent and appeared calm as she dressed. She glanced out of the window and saw that the scaffold had been finished and was ready and waiting for her. The low wooden block sat rather menacingly in the centre. A black cloth had been draped over the scaffold and the floor had been strewn with straw. Already there was a large crowd waiting.Kingston appeared once more and said: "Madam, the hour approaches. You must make yourself ready.""I have been long prepared." She replied coldly as he handed her a small purse containing £20 for her to pay the executioner and give alms to the poor.
He escorted her out of her rooms and out onto the green. More people had gathered – the crowd numbered two or three thousand – all of them waiting to see their queen.The swordsman stood on the scaffold in a black hood; his sword hidden beneath the straw. If she noticed the absence of the sword, she did not make it plain to see.She climbed the steps to the scaffold, smiling sweetly at the people below her."Master Kingston, I beg of you, do not give the signal for my death until I have said that which I have a mind to say." She asked quietly. Kingston nodded. She stepped forward and addressed the people that had gathered to see her die."Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, according to law and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I come here only to die, and thus to yield myself humbly to the will of the king, my lord. And if, in my life, I ever did offend the king's grace, surely with my death, I do now atone. I come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that whereof I am accused. I pray and beseech you all, good friends, to pray for the life of the King, who is one of the best princes on the face of the earth. I submit to death with good will, humbly asking pardon of the world. Thus I take my leave of the world, and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me."She finished her speech and turned to her ladies, who helped remove her long white cloak."Do not be sorry to see me die." She said, "I ask your forgiveness for any harshness I have had towards you and I pray that you find comfort." She handed the prayer book, that had been made for her in France, to one of her ladies, Lady Lee. The lady accepted the book graciously and turned to wipe a tear from her eye. The queen smiled sympathetically at her. "Remember me, when you do pray." She said softly.She turned to the swordsman. He knelt before her and asked for her forgiveness for what he must do. She granted him this, and handed him the purse containing his fee.She knelt, joined by her priest for final prayers. One of her ladies tied a blindfold about her eyes and then joined the others, who were weeping in a corner of the scaffold.As the world about her faded into blackness, and all her eyes could see was the darkness of the blindfold, and as her lips uttered her last prayers, she allowed her mind to wander and to remember.She remembered the letters, the letters promising eternal love from Henry, her husband, the king.She remembered his signature – not the formal Henricus Rex, but the H and the A inside a small heart at the end of his correspondence to her. She remembered how he had had entwined H's and A's engraved all around his courts, how he had displayed his love for her on a grand scale. He will have all of those removed now, she thought to herself. He will burn all my letters. As she lowered her head down onto the block, her only regret was that she did not live to see her daughter, her Elizabeth grow into a woman. And in her last moments, when she should have been praying for her immortal soul, instead she prayed for Elizabeth, and prayed that she too would achieve greatness in her life, and that she would not meet such an unfortunate end as her mother.
Her name was Anna, Anne Boleyn, and her supporters said amongst themselves that after the swordsman had brought down his sword, and after she had truly left the word of the living, when she reached the pearly gates of legend and stood before Saint Peter, he looked at his list and saw the name Anna Regina. Upon seeing her, he stood aside and allowed her passage to the eternal kingdom, where she could reign in peace until the end of all days.