A Death to Remember By MC Moffat
Early in the morning of May 16th, in the year of our Lord, fifteen hundred and thirty-six, my apprentice, Michel de Savignon woke me in a terrible rush.
“Monsieur Le Morte! Monsieur Le Morte!’ I noted sleepily that Michel used my nick-name, a private joke between us.
“Reveil! Allez, allez!’ His small hands shook me awake from a most wonderful dream.
“What? What? What is it, Michel?” I fairly shouted at the young man whose face glistened with perspiration.
The out-of-breath youth came closer, and proclaimed loudly. “Monsieur, it is the opportunity that you have been waiting for. The opportunity that will make you the most celebrated executioner in all of Christendom!”
“Quickly, Michel, tell me the opportunity of which you speak.” I responded as I wiped the sleep from my eyes.
“C’est…c’est la Reine D’angleterre, Monsieur Le Morte. The Queen of England! She has been tried and is condemned to die for high treason.” Michel hurriedly exclaimed.
“La Reine D’angleterre? Mon Dieu! You are right, Michel. Such an opportunity comes but once in a lifetime!” I replied, a contented smile on my unshaven face.
“Word was just received via messenger pigeon that the King of England has requested a French swordsman, and not just any French swordsman. They have asked specifically for you, Monsieur R..Rombaud!” Michel carried on, speaking so quickly that he almost stuttered my surname.
“Michel, prepare my meal and pack our things, s’il vous plait. I shall make ready for the journey.” Michel knew what I meant by making ready for the journey. I would spend the next three hours polishing my sword, which had been made by master craftsmen in Toledo, Spain.
As I drew the sword from its scabbard, I could see my reflection in the shining silver metal that had been honed to perfection so many years ago. What I held in my hands was not only a sword, it was my birthright.
I had inherited the sword from my father, who had inherited it from his father before him. To think that such an intricately beautiful object would be used to smite the head of the most beautiful woman in the world, Queen Anne Boleyn.
Her name spilled over my lips like honey as I whispered to myself, “Anne….La Reine….Anne de Boleyn.”
“Monsieur le Morte.” Michel shouted as he watched me hastily polishing my sword, readying it for the trip across the Channel to Dover.
“Oui, Michel?” I asked, a little bemused.
“The captain of the English ship came looking for you; we cannot sail for England until the morrow. A terrible storm’s been sighted off the Coast, and they have postponed our sailing until then.”
“Merde!” I swore under my breath, anxious to meet this legend, this beauteous Queen, even if it were only for one moment.
I decided at that moment that I would dispatch her with all the dignity due a Queen. I would be the one taking her life. I would also be the one making her the stuff of legend, a heroine and a martyr. If the King of England wanted his wife dead, I would give him a death to remember.
Our sailing across the Channel was uneventful, and so it was that Michel and I had been billeted in the soldier’s barracks in that most formidable of fortresses, the Tower of London.
At seven o’clock in the morning on May 19th, fifteen hundred and thirty six, I asked my assistant, Michel to pass me some bread and cheese. “Remember, Michel, what we discussed last evening. After the Queen has given her speech, I will have her kneel. I will call your name, which I hope will distract her. When she looks toward you, I will fetch my sword and strike the blow.” What I did not say that was I wasn’t sure I could cut this beautiful queen’s head off.
Michel nodded, and wiped his mouth, obviously enjoying his breakfast. “Oui, Monsieur Le Morte.”
After we had finished our meal, Michel and I hurried to the site where a scaffold had been erected. It was covered in black cloth to denote the high rank of the person being executed. Michel bounded up the stairs with all the vigor of a youth his age. I, on the other hand, stepped slowly and carefully wishing I were anywhere else but here.
As I reached the top of the scaffold, Michel lifted up some of the straw that had been strewn about to catch the Queen’s blood once the deed was done. It was here that I hid my sword out of view.
We waited about ten minutes, and at exactly eight of the clock, the Queen and her entourage were led to the scaffold by the Constable of the Tower. I stood waiting for her, a spectral bridegroom dressed from head to toe in black.
From my vantage point, I could see that the Queen held her head high. Her low-cut gown of grey damask, which was the color of the sky on a blustery November day, had woven into it seed pearls to match those on her head-dress. She had chosen her manner of dress to reflect the somber mood that enveloped her. It was going to take great courage to die on such a magnificent May morning.
Those who had been invited to watch the execution would later comment that Queen Anne had died well. Her demise was akin to her fetes, a portrait of beauty and poignant elegance. They would speak of the high color in her cheeks, the clearness of her voice, as well as the courage and bravery she had displayed right to the end.
Queen Anne Boleyn, who was seemingly unaware of her surroundings, looked imploringly towards Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, and asked quietly, “Does it hurt, Master Kingston? I have such a little neck and His Majesty the King was so very thoughtful to send for the executioner from…” she looked up towards me, and I noticed the small shiver that shook her body.
Although she was outwardly calm, I could see that the Queen, like others before her, was almost to her breaking point, as the Constable of the Tower answered her reassuringly, “No, Madam,” his voice broke, “it is said not to hurt at all.”
The small entourage came upon the steps of the scaffold. “Do you require assistance, your Grace?” The Constable kindly enquired of her. Anne did not answer his query, but merely kept her dark eyes upon the steps of the scaffold. She lifted her skirts with slender hands, and mounted the scaffold, step by step, pondering her last moments on earth.
She reached the last step, took a deep breath, and approached the railing surrounding the scaffold. Holding it tightly, she made her obligatory last speech, “Good Christian people, I come hither to die according to the law, for by the law I am judged to die, and therefore, I will speak nothing against it. God save the King, and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler, no more merciful prince was there never. And to me he was ever a good and gentle and sovereign Lord. 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 to pray for me.”
Her speech would be later commented on by witnesses as being scathing and scalding. She may as well have stood up and shouted, “Look carefully at what is happening to me, make sure you give the King anything he desires, or you may one day be facing my situation.”
She turned away from the crowd and continued towards the straw that had been strewn to catch her head and body.
The Constable of the Tower read out the charges against her, then took her arm and led her towards me.
I knelt before her, tears streaming unashamedly down my face, and asked her quietly in French, “Madame, will you forgive me for what I am about to do?”
“With all my heart I forgive you, good sir,” she replied in a soft, slightly accented voice, “for by your hand, I shall leave this mortal coil, with all its pain and drudgery, and find solace in the arms of my Father in Heaven.” She handed me a purse full of coins, and prepared to take leave of the world.
One of her ladies-in-waiting came forward and helped her off with her overskirt, revealing a lovely white petticoat, and white satin vest. “Goodbye, my friend, think well of me,” Anne whispered to the lady, as she knelt upon the straw.
With arms clasped in prayer, she closed her eyes, and chanted, “Oh Jesu, have mercy on my soul. Oh, Jesu, have mercy on my soul,” when she heard a movement in the straw. She opened her eyes, and looked around to where the sound was coming from.
I called out to Michel, and grabbed my sword. She looked left towards Michel. Her wide-eyed gaze focused upon him, and I swung the sword thrice around my head to gain momentum, the final swing aimed towards her neck.
Polished steel, glistening in the sunlight, met with sinew and bone; severing her head clean through, as a rose is cut from its stem.
The Queen’s head landed two feet away from her body. Her body, twitched, became rigid, and fell over, slumping down like a bundle of forgotten rags.
I dropped my sword, and tenderly picked up her head. The eyes were darting to and fro, the lips still moving, as if she were trying to convey grief for her wretched body. The blood that was draining from her severed neck, spilled over onto my hands, as if it were holy water pouring out from a baptismal font.
“Thank you” her mouth spoke silently, as I lifted her head so that my eyes could behold hers one last time.
“So die all the King’s enemies!” I declared sarcastically.
I was suddenly disgraced by the sight of Anne’s poor head, and gently laid it next to her prostrate body, observing that even in death, she was still beautiful.
Michel covered her body with a black cloth so graciously provided by that murdering letch, King Henry VIII.
Michel and I made our way back to the barracks, and great sobs began to wrack my body. “Mon Dieu, Michel. What have I done? I have killed an innocent woman!”
Michel put his arm around my broad shoulder, and whispered so that no one else would hear him, “You have done what you came to do, Monsieur Le Morte. You have released a dove from her cage. Let her soar now forever in the minds and hearts of all men. For we, Monsieur Le Morte, know the truth. Queen Anne de Boleyn died a martyr for all woman-kind.”
I clapped Michel on the back, and swore I would never dispatch another soul after this day, one murder was enough to last me a lifetime.