The following post is a guest post by Catherine Hunt. In this post she writes from the perspective of William Kingston’s wife, Mary Scrope, during the downfall of Anne Boleyn.
As I was transferring it into my blog from email I realized that the story had drawn me in. The life of Anne Boleyn gets me every time. No matter how many times I feel like I’ve over-dosed on Anne something like this draws me back in. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
Diary of Kingston’s Wife
It was a great day when my husband William became Constable of the Tower of London or was it? Personally, I hate executions because someone somewhere is deprived of a loved one and I avoid any involvement whenever I can. In fact, although I consider myself a dutiful wife, I usually forbid any discussion of the subject at meal times and William, bless him, has always complied.
Death is no stranger to him as he has graced the battle field on many occasions fighting for his country, but this time in the year 1536, on one May morning, it was different. Not only was the victim of great importance but I WAS involved, not only waiting on the prisoner, but also mounting the scaffold with her.
William changed too in the time leading up to the whole affair. Normally placid, he became grumpy. Also he is quite large with an appetite to match, but I knew for certain something was not quite right when one Wednesday night, when we always partook of his favourite supper of game pie with a rich gravy with cabbage and carrots, he apologised, saying his stomach couldn’t take it and he wasn’t hungry anyway . I feared some physical illness and was very surprised when his response was that he had no sickness of the body but was much discomforted in his mind. He also said he could give no further explanation as what was disturbing him was rumour rather than fact and at that point would speak no more about it!
I could no longer contain my curiosity!! On questioning him, he told me it concerned the King’s Great Matter which of course was the scandal of Christendom. That whore Anne Boleyn had split our church, broken us away from our Holy Father in Rome, but, what in my mind was her greatest sin, had caused holy men like Thomas More and Cardinal Fisher to go to the block, as well as breaking the heart of our dear Queen Catherine causing her death too. She was a witch who beguiled our King to allow all this to happen. However all these things happened so long ago it seems that I had to tell William that I wasn’t quite sure what he meant.
She had recently given the King a still-born son after previously giving him a daughter Elizabeth and William said that Henry VIII was getting more and more involved with a young lady by the name of mistress Jane Seymour. Also he was going through a crisis of conscience over allowing the death of More, who, after all had been his best friend.
I still wondered what that had to do with William. A few days later he told me all. Queen Anne was going to be tried for adultery and treason and incest with her brother George . William and I thought the latter charge was a bit far-fetched!
I didn’t think I could be more shocked but about a week later, when the May blossoms were out in all their glory, my husband said she was now a prisoner in the Tower and by the command of the King I was to wait upon her and be a sort of spy reporting all she said and it was almost certain she would be found guilty at trial and be executed! The fact that she was a Queen seemed to be irrelevant. My stomach turned over, as I knew that if this was to be so I would accompany her to the scaffold and definitely make the cap which would cover her long brown hair to give the executioner a bare neck to strike the fatal blow.
It all happened. She was hysterical most of the time but once she knew death was inevitable she began to calm down and prepare herself spiritually. The more William and I were in her company, the more we grew to like her even though we still had a strong devotion to our dear departed Queen Catherine. We gradually also came to believe that she had never committed the crimes, especially when she wanted my husband to be present at her last confession to Thomas Cranmer where she admitted perhaps being too overbearing to the King but denied the incest plus denying sexual relations with Norris, Weston, Brereton and her musician Mark Smeaton. Nobody lies when they are going to meet their maker.
William told me it was not to be death by the axe whereupon I shrieked with horror. Surely the King wouldn’t burn her! However it turns out that whilst she was in France she was made aware of death by the sword and wanted to die this way. The King had agreed.
I have to admit though that I thought about myself more than Anne as I dreaded mounting the scaffold with her. Another odd thing is that William and I grew to like her.
I loved her stories of her life at the French court where she had spent many years and the pageants she had both compiled and starred in whilst serving Margaret of Austria but perhaps more than that we grew to respect her. She had brought herself out of her fear and panic and was so pleased she would die by the sword.
William knew more about how her death would occur than she did. He had to organise breakfast for the swordsman and was presuming a block would be required but not so. No restraints and no block. Apparently the swordsman would have previously hidden the weapon. He brought a young man with him who was to stand in the crowd and there was to be a thick pile of straw all over the scaffold where Anne would kneel not seeing the sharp steel blade hidden under another batch of straw. She would naturally keep turning to look at her executioner wondering why he was not holding the weapon . Once my husband gave a very slight nod of the head which was Williams way of signalling it was time to strike the fatal blow he would shout to his assistant to fetch the sword so that Anne, not knowing where the weapon was would then think the boy had it and turn in that direction, making the perfect angle for a rapid blow.
I myself on that day did not want her dead . The swordsman was late so she didn’t die quite as soon as she thought. I was in tears after my husband told me she’d asked if it would hurt. I mean how could anyone really answer such a question? Worse than that in an almost childlike way she said it probably wouldn’t as her neck was so small.
How regally and boldly she mounted that scaffold . Some of the crowd muttered curses some blessings but once she was kneeling on the straw whispering her own personal prayers most of them started to kneel down in attitudes of devotion as though one continuous wave of prayer was paving her way to a better and more peaceful life.
I was standing at some distance from William, wondering what on earth was happening as the poor lady kept turning towards the executioner obviously wondering why she was still alive! It was then that it dawned on me that he could hardly bare to give the signal to strike! At last he did and it was really quick, so quick in fact that her lips were still slightly moving in prayer.
I hope I never attend another execution, especially one where I had definitely come to believe that Anne Boleyn was guilty of absolutely nothing at all!
Guest Post written by Catherine Hunt