In the Days of QUEEN ELIZABETH
Eva March Tappan
(CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Jan. 21, 2015)
Two ladies of the train of the Princess Elizabeth were talking softly together in an upper room of Hunsdon House. “Never has such a thing happened in England before,” said the first. “True,” whispered the second, “and to think of a swordsman being sent for across the water to Calais! That never happened before.” “Surely no good can come to the land when the head of her who has worn the English crown rolls in the dust at the stroke of a French executioner,” murmured the first lady, looking half fearfully over her shoulder. “But if a queen is false to the king, if she plots against the peace of the throne, even against the king’s very life, why should she not meet the same punishment that the wife of a tradesman would suffer if she strove to bring death to her husband? The court declared that Queen Anne was guilty.” “Yes, the court, the court,” retorted the first, “and what a court! If King Henry should say, ‘Cranmer, cut off your father’s head,’ and ‘Cromwell, cut off your mother’s head,’ they would bow humbly before him and answer, ‘Yes, sire,’ provided only that they could have wealth in one hand and power in the other. A court, yes!” “Oh, well, I’m to be in the train of the Princess Elizabeth, and I’m not the one to sit on the judges’ bench and say whether the death that her mother died yesterday was just or unjust,” said the second lady with a little yawn. “But bend your head a bit nearer,” she went on, “and I’ll tell you what the lord mayor of London whispered to a kinsman of my own. He said there was neither word nor sign of proof against her that was the queen, and that he who had but one eye could have seen that King Henry wished to get rid of her. But isn’t that your brother coming up the way?” “Yes, it is Ralph. He is much in the king’s favor of late because he can play the lute so well and can troll a poem better than any other man about the court. He will tell us of the day in London.” Ralph had already dismounted when his sister came to the hall, too eager to welcome him to wait for any formal announcement of his arrival. “Greeting, sister Clarice,” said he as he kissed her cheek lightly. “How peaceful it all is on this quiet hill with trees and flowers about, and breezes that bring the echoes of bird-notes rather than the noise and tumult of the city.” “But I am sure that I heard one sound of the city yesterday, Ralph. It was the firing of a cannon just at twelve. Was not that the hour when the stroke of the French ruffian beheaded the queen? Were there no murderers in England that one must needs be sent for across the water?” “I had hardly thought you could hear the sound so far,” said her brother, “but it was as you say. The cannon was the signal that the deed was done.” “And where was King Henry? Was he within the Tower? Did he look on to make sure that the swordsman had done his work?” “Not he. No fear has King Henry that his servants will not obey him. He was in Epping Forest on a hunt. I never saw him more full of jest, and the higher the sun rose, the merrier he became. We went out early in the morning, and the king bade us stop under an oak tree to picnic. The wine was poured out, and we stood with our cups raised to drink his health. It was an uproarious time, for while the foes of the Boleyns rejoiced, their friends dared not be otherwise than wildly merry, lest the wrath of the king be visited upon them. He has the eye of an eagle to pierce the heart of him who thinks the royal way is not the way of right.” “The wine would have choked me,” said Clarice, “but go on, Ralph. What next?” “One of the party slipped on the root of the oak, and his glass fell on a rock at his feet. The jesting stopped for an instant, and just at that moment came the boom of a cannon from the Tower. King Henry had forbidden the hour of the execution to be told, but every one guessed that the cannon was the signal that the head of Queen Anne had been struck off by the foreign swordsman.