“They say the Queen is dead. What say you of that old man?” The shopkeeper asked as he sliced a cut of cheese.
“Queen Catherine, poor thing, ignored by her husband while he cavorts with his mistress…” Adam shook his head wearily. He disapproved men who cheated on their wives.
The shopkeeper replied, “No, not our new Queen but the Queen of England…Mary.”
“Well she’s not our Queen anymore anyway and it’s no concern of ours. Lost us to King Henri. And ignored by her husband as was her mother and our new Queen Catherine.” Adam shook his head again.
The shopkeeper interrupted “The fate of married queens unless a swordsman takes off her head, ah Adam? Guess you’re relieved, who knows what the whore’s daughter might do to you if we still belonged to England.”
Adam nodded his head and picked the cheese off the counter and left the shop. The evening was clear but his head filled with memories he had suppressed for so long. Those eyes looking straight at him, he felt beads of sweat on his forehead though it was November. He shook his head to rid it of the memory. The whore’s daughter was now Queen of England. He doubted if she’d seek vengeance, she wouldn’t want to bring up those memories of her mother’s disgrace.
It started snowing lightly as he entered his home. His daughter, Catherine, glanced up from the table, “You heard Queen Mary died, poor woman so beset by such evil,” she crossed herself. It was still safe to do so now that they were part of France, regardless of what religion the new English Queen was. “Do you think the bastard will try to get us back?”
“England has no money to spend to get us back.” He thought that was Mary’s problem and Edward’s problem for their father had spent all the money he had.
“That never stopped wars before.” His daughter replied with a frown on her face.
“True,” he nodded, “so we’ll have to wait and see if she’s more like her father or grandfather. God knows he never spent a penny unless he had to or if it was someone else’s.”
“Grandfather! Father indeed!” Catherine replied indigently.
“Now daughter, Henry recognized her has his and we are in no position to know otherwise. Those that do know the truth are all dead.”
“With your help.” She pointed out, “You don’t think she was innocent, do you?”
“What I think didn’t matter then and doesn’t now.” Adam was tired and didn’t want to think this any longer.
“You mean you killed an innocent woman?” Catherine seemed astounded as though that never occurred to her before, though he had been Calais’ hangman for her entire life, only retiring last fall.
“Innocent or guilty, I don’t judge, We do what we are put on here on earth to do by God and my job was to kill those pronounced guilty by out betters.”
The door opened and Edmund came in, stamping off the snow “ I suppose you heard the news that good Queen Mary died, a lot of good she did us”
Catherine laughed “well she lost us to France so we can stay Catholic.”
“Aye yes that she did, if only she had an heir” Edmund grumbled.
“So England could have another War of the Roses? Nay, we don’t need that again.”
“He thinks she was innocent.” Catherine smiled.
“Who?” Edmund was confused.
“Anne Boleyn!” Catherine stated.
“Innocent – are you daft?” Edmund looked like he was going to give an entire sermon on the subject on Anne Boleyn’s guilt.
Adam cut off his son-in-law’s rant “I said nothing of the sort, only that I never judge those people I’ve beheaded”. It was no sense arguing with him, Edmund had lost his father during the Pilgrimage of Grace; his mother died of a broken heart and Edmund come to live in Calais after Henry the 8th had died and the boy Henry had killed so many for had become King. He glanced at Catherine, she looked so like her mother. He wondered if the new Queen of England was like hers.
Later that night the memories came back, the great honour given him, the King had sent for him to kill a traitor, a very high ranking person. He laughed softly recalling his mother thought it was the great cardinal, dear mother, she had forgotten that the cardinal had died already. She often forgot such things.
His wife thought it might be the princess; she whispered that to him the night after the Lord Deputy, Viscount Lisle, had come to tell him that he was to go to England on orders of the King himself. He had recoiled at the horror of killing a girl that young just to get her out of the way of the secession. But it hadn’t been the princess but the woman the King had turned the world on edge to marry! It was unbelievable that a man would order his own wife’s death merely for failing to provide him with a son.
He took a breath, had he thought that back that then? No, he had to admit he hadn’t. When he had arrived in London he was taken to meet with Cromwell. He shook his head and thought another soul killed for merely not providing the King with what he wanted. Well he had done his bidding quite well for longer than most before Henry turned on him. What a fool that man had been; got rid of wives until he got a son and what did that get him in the end. Nothing, his son died, leaving only the two daughters he had bastardized and humiliated over the years.
Cromwell was a solid looking man and very to the point, he recalled, the Queen had committed treason he said, and was to be executed and the King being generous had sent for him as his repute with the sword was quite renowned. Generous! To kill his wife; he recalled how disgusted he had felt even– though he truly never recognized the woman as Queen, no, a good Catholic would ever had thought of her as that. He told no one at the time of his true feelings and he signed all the oaths the King had required. A false oath for a false King, he thought now, and how false was he, a man who threw his true wife and child aside to marry a woman that he put to death.
Cromwell had asked “You have no qualms in executing a woman?” after recounting in detail the crimes committed.
“None my lord, a traitor is a traitor no matter what sex”. He was quite sure of himself in those days.
“Good, then tomorrow it will be done.”
“There is no chance of a pardon?” Adam had humbly asked.
Cromwell’s face glowed red, “A PARDON!!”
“I only ask, so I know how long I should wait before slicing off her head; sometimes it’s best to take the traitor unaware, by surprise. And sometimes women are forgiven and if there is a chance of a pardon, I would not want to be too hasty… you understand, sire,” Adam bowed his head, thinking best not anger this man too much.
Ah… yes, I see what you mean. No, there will be no pardon. Her crimes are too” he stopped “the King is quite determined on this. You have bought an assistant with you?” he indicated the lad standing beside Adam.
“Yes to distract the guilty, my lord, it’s often quite useful. He’s my cousin’s son, he is learning the trade.” Adam smiled over at the fifteen year old.
“You have no sons?” Cromwell asked.
“No, only daughters”, Adam looked up at Cromwell.
“Then you can understand the King’s urgency in this matter”. He must have looked puzzled for Cromwell continued, “to get rid of this impediment to an honourable marriage, one that will provide His Majesty with a male heir.”
Only daughters, he thought now, he had never regretted only having his six daughters, four of whom had lived. He almost laughed, six daughters and Henry had had six wives, four of his daughters had lived and only two of Henry’s wives had outlived the man.
He reached beneath the bed and withdrew a small box and unlocked it with the key around his neck. There he kept his wife’s wedding band that he had put there six years ago when she died. He hadn’t opened the box since then. He thought of her now and how appalled she had been on his return. She too had not recognized Anne Boleyn as Queen but she was horrified that Henry had had her killed. Was she innocent she had asked. She always asked that when it was someone unlikely to be put to death such an elderly person, or worse a child.
He looked back into the box where a small swatch of damask lay, almost as new as that May morning 22 years ago. He stared at the fabric recalling the sight of the woman who had worn it. She had walked gracefully into view, her head held high, arrogant some might have said, but he knew from all his years that it was a way to retain one’s dignity.
He stroked the fabric gently; He recalled kneeling before the lady, at that moment he looked up into her eyes and knew he would be haunted by them forever. It was at that moment he realized it was lies what he had been told, she wasn’t evil. The eyes were of an innocent woman. The foul crimes Cromwell had told him of were not committed. There had been times over the years that he had to kill an innocent person, he knew that, it was his job but not a part that he relished.
How many people had Henry killed to secure a son! Other Kings kill for wealth, land, but this one a son. Well, Henry may have won himself a son but in the end Anne had won, it was her daughter that was now England’s Queen.