The Queen’s Executioner – Juliana Cummings [Short story]

Our second post for the anniversary of Anne’s death comes from Juliana, and I feel like it is compliments Lisa’s submission quite well! What do you think? This is Julianas second submission, if you’re interested in reading her write up about Henry and the sweating sickness, click here!

The Queen’s Executioner

A short story by Juliana Cummings

I watched my daughter Marie as she twirled about in the grass. A huge smile played about her lips and her laughter warmed my heart.

“Again Father!” She cried right before I scooped her up by her waist and spun her about.

“Are you having fun Marie?” I asked although I already knew her answer.

I looked up to see one of my farmhands running towards me with a letter in hand.

“What brings you running Edward?” I asked as he came to a stop in front of me.

“From The English King Sir!” He handed me a letter and stopped to catch his breath.

The great seal of His Majesty, Henry Vlll held the small piece of paper together. I wasn’t sure what to think. What did he want with me?

I looked at my farmhand and then slowly opened the seal. I scanned the letter and took a deep breath.

“What’s wrong Father?” Marie asked, staring up at me.

I smiled at her big blue eyes that were filled with wonder. “Nothing is wrong. Come now.” I reached for her little hand and led her back to the house.

“Go on and practice your sewing Marie.” I said as we came into the foyer of the home.

My wife Jacqueline looked up at me from her chair.

I waited for Marie to leave the room before I sat down across Jacqueline and took a deep breath.

“Husband?” She said, reaching towards me and taking my hand. “Whatever is the matter?”

I handed her the letter. “I’ve been summoned to The Tower..”

“By His Majesty? What for?” I watched her eyes quickly scan  the letter. “Oh my.” she said.

I nodded. “I have no choice.” I said.

Jacqueline looked up at me. “But The Queen of England? What has she done to be condemned to death?”

I stood up and paced the floor. “There are rumors.”

For my bravery and excellent in battle I had become known to many as an expert swordsman.  Perhaps the most skilled executioner in all of France and England. All my life, I have been fearless in the eye of the enemy. I have driven my sword through the hearts of many men. I have brutally killed more men on the battlefield than I care to remember.  I have carried out countless executions, even beheading two men with one swipe of my sword.  And now I had been commanded to leave at once for my journey to the Tower of London to execute The Queen of England.

“I don’t care about rumors.” My wife cried. “Her Majesty does not deserve this.”

I shook my head. “I have no choice. I must leave today.”

“How will you ever carry this out? Pray Tell!” She put her hand on my arm.

“The same way I carry out every execution.” I said, and went to gather my things.  Although this execution would be unlike any other I had performed.

I instructed my farmhand to ready my fastest horse while I put together the things I would need to leave Calais. I made sure I had my best gloves and my leather mask and I asked that Jacqueline prepare enough food for my journey. I then went to fetch my executioner’s sword. This sword was unlike any I had used in battle. It was almost 90 centimeters long and the steel had been sharpened so perfectly that it glistened.

The King’s price had been generous. It would keep my family from needing much of anything for a long time.  I had to have faith that The King was justified in his decision to have The Queen executed. I was not sure if the talk of her infidelity was truth or lies but it didn’t matter anyhow.

I bid farewell to my wife and daughter and thanked Edward for his help with my horse.

“Thank you Edward.” I said as I climbed into the saddle.

“Everything is alright Sir?” He asked handing me the reins.

“Yes son, all is well.” I dug my heels into my horse’s side and he trotted off.

It was thirteenth May, the year 1536. I estimated it to be a four to five  days  journey to London if the weather held.

However, the weather did not work in my favor. Early in the morning hours of the 16th of May, a breeze  started to pick up and I felt the cold rain beginning to hit my skin. I encouraged my horse to walk on, but soon, the howling winds and pelting rain were too much for us both. He was tired and I knew he needed to rest, as did I. A kind husband and wife with a small home and stable were generous and offered to put my horse and I up for the night when I passed their land.

“Sir! Let me offer you my home for you and your horse for the night!” The older man yelled to me he saw me trying to convince my horse to continue into the rain.

I steered him towards the farmer and offered him my hand. “Thank you. You are most kind.” I hopped off my horse and handed the reins to a boy in his late teens, who promised to take him to the stalls.

I explained my situation to the man and his wife over a warm supper of mutton soup and bread.

“You need to rest. Let my son ride ahead of you to inform The King you are resting and will be on the way. He is young and carries no heavy gear. He has a fast horse.”

I thanked the couple for their generosity and after a glass of ale, I feel asleep as soon as my body hit the softness of the small bed they offered me for the night.

I arrived in London  quite early on the morning of Friday, 19th May. The skies were clear and the sun was making its way into the horizon.  The execution had been put off by one day. I am told it was because of the weather and my delayed arrival.  I  could not help but think of The Queen and how having to wait must have been agonizing.

I stroked my horse’s nose after the long trip and handed him to the stable boy. “Feed him well and see that he rests.”

“Yes Sir.” The boy nodded and quickly took my horse.

I took a deep breath and turned towards the entrance of the fortress.  It loomed before me and was unlike anything I had seen. It seemed to hold an ominous presence over the city with it’s intimidating towers.

“You’ve arrived!” I saw a tall gentleman in black jogging towards me. “I am Thomas Cromwell, His Majesty’s head legal counsel.”

“Good Morning Mr. Cromwell.” I nodded.

“Please, break your fast this morning, I trust you are famished.”

I was very hungry, my stomach had been grumbling for sometime.  “Thank you. What time is the execution?” I asked.

“Eight  O’clock.” I followed Mr.Cromwell inside the warmth of the tower and was presented with a wonderful breakfast of warm breath with butter and sage and many delicious fruits. Despite the knots in my stomach, I tried to eat most of it.

I was led to my chambers for my stay and changed out of my clothes and into my executioner’s cloak and hood.  I then knelt down by the side of the bed and asked God to forgive me.

A sharp knock on the door of my chamber’s caused me to jump.

“It is time Sir.” I looked up and nodded and then followed the messenger outside to the scaffold.

It had been constructed especially for Queen Anne’s execution and there was no executioner’s block as The King had asked that she not have to lay her head. I was to execute her on her kneesI climbed the stairs and looked out at the enormous crowd gathered before me. There was a silence I had not encountered before. I was used to the jeers of hated and the cackling of village people. But not today. Today there was silence.

I slid my sword underneath a bushel of hay and then motioned to the messenger boy at my intent. I had promised a swift, painless execution of The Queen and I wanted to be sure I did not startle her.

When Queen Anne Boleyn began her ascent upon the scaffold, I was in awe of what I saw. This petite beauty with her dark hair and stunning dark eyes showed no fear in her face. She was brave and held her head high. I had never seen The Queen before and I could not believe how beautiful she was. Seeing The Lady cloaked in her furs standing before me, showed me that Queen Anne was the epitome of the regal and elegant Queen who would show her people no fear.

She spoke briefly with her confessor and then stepped forward.

‘Good Christian people.” She began in a clear, feminine voice. “ 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.”

I watched her as she slowly removed her headpiece and it was only as she unfastened her pearl’s did I see her hands begin to tremble. Her sobbing ladies slowly removed her furs and placed a white cap on her head. Queen Anne fastened the strings of the cap and I saw her swallow forcefully.

I took a deep breath and stepped towards her. She smelled like lavender and rose and sweat was glistening on her brow.

I knelt down in front of her and reached for her hands. “Madame, “ I said. “Forgive me for what I am about to do.”

I looked up as Queen Anne smiled gently at me. “You are forgiven.”

I stood up and asked her to kneel.

“Will it hurt?” She asked, beginning to shake.

I had executed many people in my life but never have I felt such trepidation at what I had to do. This lady was small and childlike and appeared to me to be the picture of innocence.  But I knew this did not matter.  This was The King’s pleasure and I was just thankful that he chose to have mercy on His Queen.

“No My Lady. I assure you, you will feel nothing.” I said softly.

Queen Anne nodded and continued to speak.

 “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.”

I watched her close her eyes and then open them again and look up at me.  I gave her no intention that I was about to act.  I did not want her to see.

“‘To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesu receive my soul.” She repeated this over and over again and closed her eyes tightly.

“Boy!” I yelled “Fetch my sword!”

The beautiful and brave Queen Anne Boleyn looked sharply to her left as I reached down under the bushel of hay and drew my sword. With one swift, effortlessly stroke of my weapon, I removed her head.

I'm a lover of all things Tudor, and historical - fiction or fact. My aim is to bring together writers of all calibers to share their work with like minded people!

One thought on “The Queen’s Executioner – Juliana Cummings [Short story]

  1. This short story certainly does complement Lisa’s “story “Her Final Walk” and Juliana has captured the emotive tension which must have existed as Anne lived her final few minutes. Bringing a first class swordsman from Calais for this task seems to have been Henry VIII’s way of showing his considerate side for his doomed wife, doomed by him – letting her live would have been more considerate in my view -,though I do wonder how considerate he was to the swordsman who must have struggled with is conscience from the moment he received the order from the king. A high payment could never have compensated for having to commit such a deed, as duty, and refusal would have almost certainly have had him forfeiting his head, shortly after Anne, leaving his wife a widow and son fatherless. Throughout I felt as if I were with the swordsman (whose name, as far as I am aware, is still unknown) and the plight that awaited him and I look forward to reading more from both Juliana and Lisa.

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