Today, January 15, 1559 is the coronation of Elizabeth, Queen of England. Since she came into her inheritance from the death of her half-sister Mary, on November 17, 1558, when she was just turned 25, it has been the talk of all Europe, and especially her at Calaisis (in England it is know as the Pale of Calais), where we have been back in France proper since January 1558 after being England’s last hold on the continent.
I am not a man of who feels much regret, melancholy, or thinks of the past very much, but on this day very day of the Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, I have something to do that I never felt I would ever do. I must bury and my past action with the sword in my hand, of what I did when I was about 22. The execution sword had the words still on there, and it reads on it “La main droite, c’est ,mon seigneur. La Vertu, L’Amour Le Mort” of which I was told meant in English “My Lord (as in Jesus/God) is the right hand. Virtue, Love, Death.” This is supposed to mean that I felt I was doing the Lord’s work and I, myself, am not to blame, to behead her mother, Anne Boleyn on May 19, 1558, in commemoration with the coronation of the Queen Elizabeth.
I am now, 40 years old, and have made enough money for my wife, Jaqueline, and my children are now grown. My name is Jean Rombaud, and am known as far back as I remember as just Jean.
When I was very young I learned the then the basic forms of fencing and the positions that would later become the fixed principles of fencing. The positions are: Prime, Seconde, Tierce, Quatre, and the lunge were defined. These would later become the fixed position on the first fencing school in France under Charles .
I learned the ways improve skills with minimal risk of injury very quickly as I seemed to have a talent for it. First came a safer weapon, which started with something like a single stick, which was a wooden dowel with a woven basket hand guard; and over the years developed into the Foil. The Foil had a very flexible blade, that would lower the risk of injury to almost zero. Second, came the mask, which started out as a piece of very thick leather, which was molded to the face, with the eyes cut out. This protected the face, but left the eyes exposed. Third, came the fencing uniform which started out being a leather vest.
In France, beginning in the early 16th century duels the new fashion. I became a duelist quite by accident, but my training provided me the best way of becoming one; so I became a professional in a very short time.
Almost anything could provoke a duel. It may be as simple as how a man chews his food, or as complex as insulting someone’s friends or family. Insults to a man’s integrity would once you have crossed the line of invading a man’s personal space, there was no way out of a duel, for touching a man in anger was the biggest affront to his honor.
The lives of the duelists were in the hands of their seconds. The seconds arranged the duel, and the details of the duel, such as: time, location, weapons to be used, and if the duel would be fought to the death. Since the seconds were negotiating for their friends’ lives, if they found there to be about danger whatsoever, they would try to negotiate a way out of the duel. If the duels were unavoidable, then the seconds would set the date. The rules went on from there, and death became part of some of the duels, and I had with one stroke watched men’s heads hit the ground as my experience grew quite superb.
My name became famous throughout Calaisis, although much to my surprise when I finally found out about my reputation. There was a rise in the need for duelists, sword masters and fencing salles. Sword masters during this time became renown for their skill, and were very popular amongst the ladies.
There were many aspects of the swords, besides being a weapon. A sword was also worn
like a piece of jewelry, reflecting a man’s social status and wealth. A man was not considered a man unless he fought numerous duels to parade his masculinity, and I had many of these. This is how I met my life Jaqueline.
My name must have become more well known than I thought. I was more than surprised and honored when I received an order from England on May 12, 1536 from Lord Cromwell, of whom everyone knew was the main lawyer of the King Henry VIII! I could not fathom the reality, but it was nevertheless true. I had to get my leather mask, and other things ready for departure that night!
The trip was made in very bad weather so we were late for our deadline , so on May 18, 1536 we were almost there when we were informed that the execution of a very great noble lady had been changed to the next day at eight o’lock in the morning. It was not’t until that night I was given the sword that was heavy enough, and just the right weight for me to sever a woman’s head in just with one on very swift stroke. It read “La main droite, c’est ,mon seigneur. La Vertu, L’Amour Le Mort” of which I knew it’s English meaning. I thought for a while and as time marched on. As the night wore on I learned that it was the Queen’s head I was to do the honor, as it was told to me. At the time, I had not the faintest idea of why the Queen of England would be decapitated, but I dared not to ask questions, and I made the very wise choice of staying very quiet about the whole thing. My mind was set, as it had to be set, to do the job I was hired to do and go home. That was it!
At eight o’clock on that morning of May 19, 1536, I saw this very calm lady, dressed in an ermine mantle with an English gable hood accompanied by Sir William Kingston and four, ‘wardresses’ walked the short way to the scaffold, with the grace and aplomb of a queen. I don’t know if she recognized the three other faces there save Thomas Cromwell. She climbed the steps and then with the help removed the mantle and hood, and she wore a gray damask gown lined with fur which provide a very nice long regal little neck with her hair pulled back and up, and thus making all that much easier for me to do my job. She followed all the etiquette of English executions. She addressed what little crowd there was, as the crowd was small due to a lack of knowledge that the execution date had been changed, and would be eight o’clock in the morning. She gave me her sack of money for her pardoning me of my task I was about to perform as she understood it was my duty and occupation as well.
She then faced the crowd and gave this most honorable, yet now knowing what she meant, and stated,
“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.’”
After being blindfolded and kneeling at the block, she repeated several times:
‘To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesus receive my soul.’
She kept turning her head in apprehension, and then she looked the other way, and in one swift stroke her head was severed. After her head was raised, and her body placed in a wooden box with her head covered in white satin. I took my leave.
My pay for this task was £23 6s 8d as per agreement. I left and went back to Calaisis the next morning with the sword with which I had completed my money for with my thoughts that I did not wish to think.
So it is this day of her daughter’s coronation, Queen Elizabeth of England, daughter of Queen Anne Boleyn, January 15, 1559, that I bury the sword and my past! I also looked at the sword before burying, read on it’s heavy weight, “La main droite, c’est ,mon seigneur. La Vertu, L’Amour Le Mort.” I reread it in a different light on this day, as to mean, “virtue, love, and death seem to follow me. Long live Queen Elizabeth! Long live the Queen, daughter of the innocent and most gorgeous woman who ever impressed me, Queen Anne Boleyn!
“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous our eyes…” Psalm 118:23