My husband is an alderman who was invited to attend the queen’s execution and I was permitted to accompany him. Though we had been told that it was supposed to take place at 9:00 am, we ended up waiting until nearly noon, and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy in this heat!
The headsman, who wore a black hood, and his assistant were already at the top of the scaffold when the queen was finally brought out. She walked ahead of those who accompanied her and was dressed in a grey gown with a mantle of ermine over it, with a gabled hood on her head. I was quite surprised at how calm and composed she appeared, as if she were out for an afternoon stroll rather than walking to her own execution! She stopped briefly at the foot of the steps of the scaffold and seemed to waver just a little when the Constable of the Tower offered her his hand and she began to climb the steps. Her ladies followed her.
Nobody in the crowd uttered a word as she began to speak, and by the time she was finished, some people were actually weeping. I must confess that my own eyes were not dry. I have never seen anything so sad! After that, her ladies helped her remove her mantle and hood and one of them began tucking her hair under a white cap. She embraced each of them, said a few private words, and handed her little prayer book to one of them. Then she turned to the headsman, who seemed a little shaken as he knelt to ask her forgiveness. I could feel a knot in the pit of my stomach because I knew what was coming.
It seemed strange that there was no block present on the scaffold, but I was not surprised since I had heard that the execution was to be done in the French manner, in which the condemned person kneels and keeps their head upright. The queen did exactly this and when she was settled, one of her ladies came forward and tied a blindfold over her eyes. Then the queen began to pray aloud, asking Jesu to receive her spirit, but the executioner hesitated. I began to wonder if he would ever get to it when he looked at his assistant and said “bring me my sword!” When the queen heard him, she moved her head slightly in the direction of the sound of the assistant’s footfalls. That seemed to be what the headsman wanted, for in the blink of an eye, he produced a sword from the straw and struck the queen’s head from her body in one blow, thank God! When he picked up her head, we could see that her lips were still moving. Nobody moved or spoke but many of us were weeping. May God receive the poor lady’s soul. I will pray for her as she asked us all to do.
By Morgan Ravenwood