This entry is from Alison Shiels.
Sarah’s Story – A Strange Tale at the Tower, “Non omnis moriar”
‘Please mother, I don’t want to go, please don’t make me go’. My words sound hollow and my head is pounding. ‘Nonsense Sarah’ my mother says, ‘You are 15 years old, besides, it’s not every day you get to see a Queen lose her head and the great whore deserves her fate. You know she bewitched His Majesty and I want to see if she really does have a sixth finger. I have no sympathy for the woman and neither should you. We’ll set off early and try to be right at the front. I’ve heard His Majesty has sent for a French executioner, who is good with the sword, but I think the axe is better, it can take several hacks and it’s more value for the crowd, but the sword will have to do. I wonder how long the whore’s speech will be? Maybe she’ll be hysterical and try to get away. Now that would make it worth our while’. I do not recognise my mother. She has never spoken like this before. Why does she speak like this?
I feel sick. I simply can’t do this, I just can’t. Oh God, please make mother change her mind, please. I promise I’ll go to the next one, but just not this one. I don’t know why I feel this way. ‘Mother, why does the King hate Queen Anne so much? She tried really hard to give him a son, surely it’s not her fault, why can’t he let her retire to a nunnery or just divorce her like he did Queen Katherine? I don’t understand’. ‘Now Sarah’, my mother takes hold of my shoulders. ‘Listen to me. Queen Anne has done dreadful, dreadful things. She has slept with her brother, her own flesh and blood, her own kin. Incest Sarah! They say she did it so she could become pregnant again but her plan didn’t work. And she slept with those other men, some of whom were in His Majesty’s Privy Chamber. She played him for a cuckold and now she’s paying the price’. Something inside me snaps. ‘I don’t believe that mother. I think the King wants rid of her because she cannot give him a son and those poor men who were executed were no more guilty than she is. Our King is a cruel and merciless tyrant and Lord Cromwell feeds his habit to save his own head from the block’. A sharp slap across my face makes me cry out. ‘You will never, never utter those words again Sarah’ my mother shrieks. ‘You will send us to our own deaths if you ever repeat that. No one is safe. His Majesty’s spies are everywhere. No, we are going and you will jeer and shout like the rest of us. Now come along’.
There is a chill in the air, though it is May. The Tower looms grey and stark, as are the walls surrounding it. Mother elbows her way to the front. We are directly in front of the scaffold, which is draped in black and and covered with straw. This is too near for me and I want to turn and run but I am already hemmed in by the crowd, which has suddenly doubled in size. I have a sense of impending doom and it is as if the sun has left us forever. The ravens are silent.
A hush descends on the crowd. She is here. She wears black with a crimson kirtle, a robe trimmed with ermine and her hair is swept up in an English style head-dress. She gives out alms and is in front of me. She looks directly into my eyes as I take her gift and she smiles at me. I cannot help my tears and I kneel in front of her. She passes on and slowly ascends the scaffold, whereon there are several people but there is no priest for her. She is alone with her God. Her executioner begs her forgiveness and she answers him in perfect French. Her ladies remove her robe, necklace, earrings, rings and prayer book. She removes her head-dress and we see her lovely hair swept up beneath a net of pearls. Again she seems to be looking directly at me and I attempt a smile through my tears. I am trying so very hard to be brave for her, yet she seems composed, almost as if she has left us already, as if the execution has happened and she is free and released from this world with its injustice and sorrows. She starts to speak, such a tiny voice, but one which gathers strength and momentum as she praises the King, and acknowledges the law that has condemned her to die. I want to reach up to her, to let her know I do not believe the things said of her and once again she sets her sight on me. She kneels upright, but keeps looking at me as one of her ladies ties a cloth around her eyes. I am the last person she sees. She begins to pray, ‘Jesu have mercy on my soul, God, have pity on my soul. To Jesus Christ I commend my spirit’. The executioner wields his sword and slices through the slender neck with one stroke. The end of Queen Anne Boleyn. May God forgive them. I close my eyes, I cannot bear to look. Tears fall hot on my face.
Suddenly I hear a soft voice, ‘Child, do not weep for me. I am at peace. A time will come when others will defend me without fear of reprisal and the truth will be known. My soul is free from all torment and anguish. Rejoice for me, Non omnis moriar’. (Not all of me will die) I open my eyes. It is my Queen. She touches my hand and she is smiling. I blink and she is gone.