Lady Jane of Rochford sat in the confessional box her head bent in prayer as she waited for the priest to arrive. Her heart heavy with a burden she had carried heavily for the last year. Today was May 18th, a year and a day since her husband’s execution and almost a year since her sister’s beheading. A silent tear trickled down her face, her mind churned as she heard the priest open the door to his little box and sit down.
“Dear Father, I have sinned. I have sinned in a way I don’t know if the Almighty Lord Jesus will be able to forgive me for.” Lady Jane spoke out quickly, her voice ended with a soft sob.
“Dear child, the Lord Jesus is most merciful and whatever you have done can be forgiven. Now, dear sweet child, tell me what it is you have done.” The fatherly voice of the priest came through the fine mesh of the window between the boxes.
“Last year, during the fall of my husband’s sister, I was a witness. And I must confess why I had done such a thing…”
I never loved my husband, nor respected him as a wife should. But, though many suggest otherwise, I never hated him. If he had been my friend, I would have cherished him deeply, but he was not a man I wanted for a husband as he was too interested in becoming more and more powerful and I just wanted to be loved for who I was. I think I might have spent too much time in my youth admass the romance novels my mother so loved. The fairy tales they created in my head lead to my misconduct, as I believed the true love would always win out.
You see, my father had an arranged my marriage to George and my spite towards him came from that forced marriage. I know he was a kind man at heart, but from the start neither of us wanted to be married to each other and blamed one another for it. Looking back, however if we had both come to terms that neither of us could control this, maybe he would not be dead. Maybe none of this would have happened.
The forced marriage and the inability to stand one another made him leave me alone for long periods of time. Gone for months, at a stretch, I cared little about the lack of his presence for when he was there it was only fights and cold silences between us. But, I was lonely for companionship, my whole life I have wanted to have friend who could also be my husband and my lover. Someone I could confide in, and instead I ended up more alone than I had ever been. My husband did not let me bring my faithful servants from my parents’ home, and instead assigned me my women. I didn’t know who to trust, and at court I had few acquaintances and even fewer friends. Many of my friends I lost as the Boleyn family rose in favour, and me with them, but I never moved in with their circle I was always an outsider. Soon, it became that I had no friends, not one person to trust, and I was too high in status to be with the lesser nobles, yet not high enough to be with my husband and his family. I was alone, ever so alone. I cried myself to sleep, night after night. Wondering what I had done to displease the Lord God so much that he would cause me so much unhappiness.
And then I met him, my husband hired a new servant. A man servant to look after his books and his lands, as he felt he could not trust me to them. Though he was good with numbers and with words, he also was a fair hunter and a gentleman. I don’t think I had even been treated so kind. Even the other servants of the house treated me with disrespect, as their master detested the very bones I walked with even they could not see my worth to him. And as time went by I grew to hate them for never helping me with my misery, never understanding. My husband and his family looked down upon me and sprayed me with ugly words, and though eventually Anne would take me in as one of her ladies-in-waiting, she only did it for her brother’s sake; she even talked to me coldly in front of the other ladies, than they too would scoff at me. And Anne only trusted me because both she and I knew that the fall of her and her family, would be my undoing as well.
But he was kind, and gentle, and always there for me when George was gone for long periods, as someone would need to look after his books. This was all before the real rise of the Boleyn family, so I was often left alone with him, and though he never told my husband, he often asked me on matters of the household. I felt as if someone cared at last about me, about who I was. Who cared about my feelings, and I confess here today that he was the reason for my sins. I sinned with him, though I can hardly believe something so wonderful could be a sin. The intimacies between George and I had always been cold and done out of duty neither of us really enjoying it, we would turn away from each other afterwards, I would fall asleep with silent tears on my face, and he would disappear to drink and gamble. But with him, it was, pure and beautiful. Hours and hours we would spend together, both in intimate ways and just talking. Talking of the world, about books, about the court, about whatever fancies came upon us at the time. Sometimes we would just lay together, wrapped in the sheets and he would hold me in his arms. I knew; I knew that if anyone were to find out both he and I would be killed. For I was the wife of one of the greatest families of England, and he was nothing more than a servant in the eyes of the court and it would cost us everything if they were to find out. It is a sin after all, to betray ones husband and to be with another man. But I was so alone, I don’t think I could have cared less at times if my husband found out, because, after all, he slept with more women in the court than I could number, though some people tell me later it was men.
Even after I went to court to be Queen Anne’s lady-in-waiting, we would meet in secret when I knew Anne was asleep, and anyone that was awake in the palace was in a drunken stupor and couldn’t discern dreams from reality. We would meet in secret, never in the same place twice, lest someone found us out. We would spend all night together, talking and holding each other. I would then rise and dress and go back to the Queen, not having slept a wink but feeling better than I had in days. I would smile and nod to the Queen, and carry on with being nobody until our next meeting. We always planned them as we laid together, for we didn’t want to be seen in public, after all my husband didn’t think I need to help with the household matters so why would a servant dealing with the books need to speak to me.
But, as I have learned, nothing good happens for long. And all secrets get discovered and always by the people who we hope to God never find out. I will never forget that night, I had just snuck away from the Queen, the rest of the ladies where either asleep or off to their own dalliances. I was on the way to the small garden outside of the servants’ quarters, there was a small shed often used by the servants for their own night time fun, and we had planned to meet there. I could hardly breathe in my excitement to see him; my heart beat heavily in my ears nearly bursting out of my chest in the need to see him.
I saw the shed, and I knew something was wrong. It was a nagging; a small pull at the side of my heart like it knew the wrong that was waiting for me in that shed. But I didn’t stop, I needed to stop. I should have turned around, the moment I felt that tug at my heart, I should have listened, I will ask myself until the day of my death that if I had listened, would they all still be alive, would my husband and his beautiful sister still be alive? Would all those innocent men still be alive? Would they have been allowed to go home to their wives and children, to their lives?
Cromwell was there, and two of his men. They had tied and gagged him, my beloved; I could see the blood dripping from his wrists where they had pulled the rope so tight. His hand where turning purple from lack of blood flow. I remember looking into Cromwell’s dark eyes, my loathing boiled to the surface, the cruelty of this man knows no limits.
I remember his voice, the tone the same as what I imagined the devil has, “Take him away.”
“What has he done wrong?” I cried. I wanted to strangle Cromwell and his smug smile. I wanted to kill him; I wanted him to suffer like no man has ever suffered before for daring to harm my beloved.
“He’s committed treason, Lady Rochford, and he will be executed according to the law of state. Hung, but cut down while still alive and drawn and quartered.” He spoke so calmly, as my heart jumped into my throat, as my breath seized, I had never been so afraid in my life. I felt as if the walls of the world had fallen down, and instead of the land of England I stood before the Devil himself, and the world around me was Hell in all its damnation.
“Unless,” he started, he looked at me like I was a mare for sale in the market, “You tell me what I want to hear. Exactly what I want to hear, then you may see him again, but you will tell me every little detail you recall, and I will in turn not tell the court about the Great Lady Rochford and her dallies with a lowly servant.” His smile, with the white teeth, reminded me of the lions they keep in the Tower, always waiting to take a snap out of you, waiting to eat your very soul.
“What… what is it you want me to tell you?” I said, not thinking. I feared for him, I feared for myself. But by now, I knew someone was going to have to die to appease this monster. Someone would be thrown between the bars to be eaten alive by this lion, by all the people of England and their inappeasable appetites.
“You will come to me tomorrow and you will tell me all the meetings that Anne and her brother George had in secret, how often they were alone. You will tell me how they were too close for just a brother and sister relationship, you will swear this all before God, and you will testify in court against them. Or I will kill your servant, and then I will kill you with your husband and his sister after I sully your name too.” He turned on his heel and left me alone, alone with a horrid thought that someone I knew was going to die, and it would be my entire fault one way or another. I had to decide who was going to die and who was going live. And I am nothing but a mere mortal, and scared for my own life, I began coming up with the answer Cromwell wanted. I thought of all the times that they had been alone, and came up with more. I thought of dirty bed sheets that I had removed when I couldn’t remember the king coming for a visit.
The following day I went to Cromwell where he bombarded me with questions of the most foul kind. He asked if I knew of any intimate relations between the queen and any others, he asked questions so fast I found myself at a loss as to what I even answered, for he never gave me long enough to think through my thoughts. One after another he beat against my senses, dragging out information that could either be innocent or guilty; there was no way of knowing. I felt disgusted as his satisfactory smile grew and grew, as his questions slowed, they turned to the relations between the queen and my husband, and I found myself disgusted as I told him what he wanted to hear. As he dismissed me, I walked out of the room with a feeling of emptiness in me. He told me I would be allowed to contact my husband as a kindness towards me for helping him with his investigation. Till this day, I feel sick to my stomach as I think of what I had done. I betrayed my husband far worse than I thought possible, I betrayed all that I was raised to be. And I wasn’t even told if my beloved would be spared, and I spent the next couple weeks in a daze as they killed my husband, and then my sister by marriage. So many in the court dancing happily at Anne’s fall, and until I left the court I had to put on a mask, after all I was responsible for their deaths. Why would I be sad about it? And as a thank you from the court, they let me keep my title and would allow me back at court.
But, the following days as I got ready to leave the court for my mourning period, I learned of the true extent of cruelty that humans are capable. See, as I packed my belongings, I sent a letter with a small post script wondering if he, Cromwell, had heard if my bookkeeper would be allowed out of The Tower, as he didn’t know anything about the incest between my husband and his sister.
I got a note, short and brief, that they had beheaded him shortly after the beheading of his master. I think I might have actually died at that point, and now I’m wandering the halls of these courts with so many memories as my own Hell, because what would be worse for me than the constant reminder that I am the killer of those around me, and of my family, and that I still didn’t manage to save my beloved?
The priest sat very silent for a moment, not a word for him, than in a voice that trembled slightly, “ Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis (sespensionis) et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges.Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.” The priest crossed himself and exited the box. He looked sadly upon Jane Rochford as she to stepped out of her own box, “Child, you will say 5 Hail Mary’s, and 7 Our Fathers for this sin, and then you will put 20 gold coins in the penance box.” The priest than blessed her and walked out into his garden. The sun sparkled on the glass windows, and he sat silently down on the bench, and closed his eyes in prayer.
“Dear God, protect your children from the Devils worker that has perverted the heart of His Majesty the King, protect…” The priest stopped, he felt the cold chill of a steel blade press against his throat and a warm, sweaty hand across his mouth. And he knew no more.
Thomas Cromwell looked down on the priest, and then proceeded to make sure there was no blood on his clothing, after all, no one could know the truth about what happened about with the Great Whore, and her family, for that would be his undoing for certain.
He walked down the steps of the abbey back towards the castle, and the court, not a lick of guilt plaguing his heart. After all, what did the Devil’s own man have to fear?