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May, 1536. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.
When Anne Boleyn falls to the executioner's ax on a cold spring morning, yet another Anne vows she will survive in the snake-pit court of Henry VIII. But at what cost?
Lady Anne Seymour knows her family hangs by a thread. If her sister-in-law Jane Seymour cannot give the King a son, she will be executed or set aside, and her family with her. Anne throws herself into the deadly and intoxicating intrigue of the Tudor court, determined at any price to see the new queen's marriage a success and the Seymour family elevated to supreme power. But Anne's machinations will earn her a reputation as a viper, and she must decide if her family's rise is worth the loss of her own soul . . .
London, Court of Henry VIII
May 19, 1536
The queen would soon be dead. Her head cropped short of her neck for a crowd on Tower Green to watch.
Poor, poor Anne.
The king’s pardon we’d heard whispers of had not yet come. But surely he must! There was no coffin prepared. Not even a discarded box. Rumors that the king’s secretary Cromwell had convinced King Henry VIII against a pardon ran rampant. A lack of coffin had to be evidence that Cromwell had not succeeded.
Even as Anne Boleyn emerged from the Tower, dressed in a gray gown, her red, quilted petticoat showing with each step she took, the genteel fabric swishing back and forth, I looked about frantically for the king’s man to say this was all a show, that she would be spared. Her skin was pale, her lips red. Her black as night eyes calmly scanned the crowd, searching for something—perhaps the king himself. My heart went out to her. That she could put on such a façade at the time of her execution only proved she was indeed a queen and of noble birth. Four of her ladies-in-waiting walked with her to the four-foot-tall scaffold. She passed out alms to the poor along the way, her movements slow and deliberate. Her last queenly duty. A shiver stole over my body.
Those who’d shunned her in life now greedily accepted her coin. How backward people were. Even I felt remorse for the events that would take place. For even though not a friend of mine, she did not deserve this.
Queen Anne, now dubbed Lady Anne—her marriage to the king annulled just hours ago—took the rickety steps slowly, regally, perhaps more like a queen now than I had ever seen her before, though she still did not touch the grace of the late Queen Katharine of Aragon—Henry VIII’s first wife—whose poise and decorum were unmatched at court. Lady Anne’s ladies appeared sullen, but in truth, not one shed a tear. Even my eyes stung, but these ladies were not her friends. They were ladies Henry had supplied her with in the Tower—women who would not sympathize with Anne.
“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die.” Her voice rang out over the hushed crowd. I swallowed hard, not certain that had I been in the same place I could have summoned the strength and found my voice.
I glanced briefly beside me at my husband, Edward. He stared intently before him and I wondered if he was seeing right through the spectacle, or if he watched every move, every person, as keenly as I did.
The crowd leaned in, some with hands covering their mouths, tears in their eyes. Others with brows furrowed, lips thinned in a grimace.
“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, for 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 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.” She looked up toward the heavens, her long slim fingers folded gracefully in front of her. “And 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 all to pray for me. Oh, Lord, have mercy on me! To God I commend my soul.”
Anne reached up and removed her headdress, replacing it with a white cap one of her ladies handed to her, the same one who helped to tuck in her long raven hair. She was still beautiful, hauntingly so. The four ladies hurried to surround her, removing her white ermine cloak, her necklace.
The executioner stepped forward, begging her pardon for doing his duty to king and realm. She nodded solemnly, told him she willingly gave him her pardon. Still, her eyes searched, and I found myself searching, too. I’d had a hand in this, but... Guilt and panic twisted my stomach. I had never wanted her to die, just to be set aside as was good Queen Katharine. That is what everyone said would happen. He would not truly kill Anne Boleyn. It was all to frighten her, and the rest of us, into obedience, wasn’t it?
And yet, no messenger with a pardon.
No one shouting for this debacle to end. Sweat trickled down my spine and yet I was cold all over.
The executioner bade her to kneel and say her prayers. She knelt on wobbly knees, her frame slender and stiff, eyes glazing over, perhaps a moment of fear when she realized her execution was truly eminent. She righted herself, both knees locked together upon the straw that had been laid to catch her blood when the deathblow should be struck. I stifled the urge to run forward, to shout for them to stop. To beg my husband to search for the messenger who was surely on his way with the king’s pardon. Another wave of panic seized me. I took deep, gulping breaths and tried to maintain my own noble bearing.
Anne Boleyn straightened her skirts, smoothing them down the front and covering her feet behind her. She turned toward her ladies, asked them to pray for her, then faced the crowd.
“To Jesus Christ I commend my soul. Lord Jesu, receive my soul,” she repeated over and over, her lips moving, twitching, her fingers clasped tightly in front of her.
A moment of panic seemed to take control of her. She looked about herself aimlessly, fingered her cap, muttered to the executioner that perhaps she should take off the cap. The man tried to console her that he would strike when she was ready. He went to put the blindfold on her, but she stayed his hand, shaking her head.
I failed to quell the sob that escaped my throat. I could picture myself kneeling there. One moment full of confidence and poise, and the next my mind slipping and utter fear taking over. Within those few seconds of her fumbling, I prayed heartily His Majesty would come to pardon her. The executioner motioned to one of her ladies, who gently tied a linen cloth to her eyes, her piercing gaze having unsettled both the executioner and the crowd, myself included.
Oh, dear God! Have mercy!
With her voice shaken but strong, Anne told the man she was ready. She began to pray again, “My God, have pity on my soul. Into thy hands, oh Jesu, have pity on me.”
The executioner silently pulled a four-foot, shining, steel blade from within the straw. He held it alight, the sun beaming off its length, drawing my eyes to the macabre sight.
“Bring me the sword,” he ordered loudly as he tiptoed behind her from the other direction. The man was tricking her about where he stood!
Anne turned her head, not aware he was no longer there. He lifted the sword high behind her, two-fisted, his hands trembling slightly, and then swung in an arcing motion down, severing her head from her neck in one swipe. I squeezed my eyes shut, my hands coming to my own slender neck.
It was done and could not be undone. This horrible deed was real. Not a dream. Not a lesson in anything except the cruelty of this world and the men in it. The cruelty of our king. And I wanted to scream. I wanted to scream, but could not, for I was sister-by-marriage to the next queen—Jane Seymour.