I am welcomed to the Tower, on this dark morning hours of 19th May 1536, by William Kingston, Constable of the place. He tells me his wife sends her apologies for not welcoming me, she is tending to Anne Boleyn, the queen who has betrayed the King of England. The lady I am sent to strike off her head.
‘You were chosen Monsieur Rombaud because of your renowned skills. The King has heard of your accomplishment in beheading two criminals with one stroke, and so His Gracious Majesty granted the lady her wish to have a quick death.’
I nod in reply but remain silent, my hand tightening around the hilt of the sword at my side. The dawn breaks, the hour approaches. I imagine this fallen queen pacing in her rooms in the White Tower, maybe weeping over her fate. The Constable leads me towards a room prepared for me, opens the door and lets me step in.
‘Be ready for your task Monsieur Jean Rombaud.’
I stare at him, with a smile. ‘Do not fear Monsieur Kingston, I am always ready, and pleased to fulfill the desires of Sa Majesté le Roi.’
I put delicately the sword on the table nearby the bed. It is still in its scabbard, but I can feel the urge to polish it, to take care of it and to prepare it for its noble task to come. The air rings with the sound of the steel as I draw the blade from its “bed”. The words La main droite c’est mon Seigneur. La Vertu. L’amour. La mort. gleam in the dim light of the morning.
Time flies and here I am, at 8 o’clock, ready to do my duty, dressed as the other men who will stand on the scaffold. I instruct a man to do as I say, when I will call for him. Constable William Kingston comes to fetch me and leads the way towards Tower Green. People are already gathering in front of the scaffold as I climb the few steps. My precious sword is hidden under a heap of straw behind me and I order a man to wait in the crowd. Suddenly, the crowd parts to let Lady Traitor pass. She is wearing an English hood, a short mantle of ermine fur over a gown made of damask. Her face is expressionless, her head held high, but she walks uneasily toward me the wooden platform. She looks like the legitimate queen of this country, not like a fallen queen. She locks her eyes on me, our eyes meet and her face seems to flinch. I feel some respect for this queen, who may not be guilty after all. I watch her take one step at a time, her shaking legs carrying her miraculously. The four ladies following her, Mrs Kingston nodding at me, strip of her mantle and replace the hood by a white linen cap covering her hair. I let the lady give her speech about the King, her husband and God. Then she turns to me. I kneel before her, asking her forgiveness for what I am about to do, and for the first time, I mean these words. She graciously puts her right hand on my head in reply and hands me with the other a purse, in payment for my services. But I know she prays for a quick death. I get back on my feet and look right into her eyes.
‘Do not fear Madame, I will wait until you tell me you are ready.’ I say confidently.
She nods and kneels down before the block, joining her hands in prayers, whispering continually ‘To Jesus Christ I commend my soul. Lord Jesus Christ, receive my soul…’, tears running down her cheeks.
When I see her look up at me, I watch ahead and call out to the man waiting in the crowd ‘Bring me the sword!’. Her eyes wide open, she stares at the crowd, spotting the man holding a sword covered by a linen. Without wasting a second, I take a deep breath and grab my sword hidden under the straw and in one stroke, the queen who has succeeded to handle her composure until the end is now the fallen and late queen of King Henry VIII.