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by Sophie Farrant
It’s all black.
The wool covers my eyes; I cannot find the block, my hands wave before me. A pair of hands takes hold of my arms and guides me forward, placing my hands on the wooden block. I hear voices murmur around me but I cannot tell whom. I kneel on; the hard scaffold floor is cold and wet. I am just sixteen and have achieved so much, more than women of my age would never have achieved. I married well and was crowned Queen, if only for nine days. I wonder how I will be remembered? I hardly had time to make my mark on the world. I hear him sharpen the axe, the soft glide, I am grateful for this sound; it will be over soon and be done quickly. I try not to think of the bad, only the good in my life. I will not suffer a blunt blade and die a painful death. I hear it scratch across the stone and the executioner grunt as he lifts the newly sharpened blade, I pray to God.
“Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit”
Her head falls to the floor, a pool of blood surrounds it, but, Jane’s head still has a consciousness, for a brief minute, memories of her life pour into her mind like the streams of blood pouring out of her headless body.
I walk along the green grass; I feel the breeze go through my hair, the sun glinting through the trees. I see my sisters ahead of me playing together. I go to my tutor, we discuss faith and talk of academic matters. He is kind to me. He takes interest in what I think. I, for once, feel valued and important. I know I must marry soon and become a wife. I will miss him; I will miss my studies and this small world of freedom. I must face my new future.
The colours are so beautiful; I follow mother’s footsteps softly and carefully like I am told. Everyone is so colourful and happy, the music so gay and I spot my three cousins, they are handsome and look so important. Edward takes my hand and dances with me.
I see my baby sister. “K… Kath… Kathuuurine… Kathrine. Katherine.” She is small, tiny, like a doll. She screams a lot.
My husband is a handsome man, I pray he will treat me well and we have a happy life together. But, this peacock of a man frightens me, what if he is like his father? What will happen?
The King has fallen; the game is lost, yet the player still continues. He takes his remaining game pieces and continues to play even though it is clear that he is lost, continuing a game few can win. Uniting his knight and newly appointed Queen who was nothing more than a pawn, I awake. Was all a dream? Ah, I remember, Edward. Edward is dead. Northumberland the game player still plays his part even though it is clear that he will lose. I assumed Mary, the other Queen in this game would be the victor, but Northumberland clearly has another strategy left to play. I am now the Queen, a powerful piece on the board, battling for the prize. I am no longer Jane Grey the pawn; I am Jane the Queen. I collapse as they bow to me, I cannot take the crown! Edward was so young, my age and I feel I have lost. I cannot help but feel a chill, a cold chill knowing that I am next to take that poisonous crown; that crown has a dark bloody history. This chill that goes through my spine, makes me shudder, it is an uneasy feeling. It carries with it strife, ambition, death and lust. Why would I want such a crown? I will be a puppet not a ruler; I do not have the ambition or lust like the short lived Queens before me.
Maybe children born of ambition and desire will live on, cousin Mary and dear cousin Elizabeth. The children born of innocence and kindness seemed to unable to survive, like dear cousin Edward. Maybe only the strong and ambitious survive, I may not be so lucky, but I must swallow my fears and keep this country strong and be a good ruler; continuing the legacy. I cannot believe that Mary has been cast aside after how much she has suffered, the vengeful princess. Elizabeth, poor Elizabeth, the abandoned princess who has grown to depend on herself. I must stay strong, be a good wife and ruler. I cannot rule, I was not raised to rule. I have no drive or ambition. I will not survive this. You must take your place as the next successor. You must become Queen in order to preserve the true faith. I hear these orders and I stand and try again with my plea. I have no desire to rule, I feel the anger pour onto me; I know I am not their first choice but their only choice. Their eyes glare at me, I suddenly feel even smaller, my stomach sinks, I sweat, I feel faint, like I am flying but I am falling, everything goes black…
I must go to the Tower, as is custom for ruling monarchs to reside until my coronation. I wear luxurious heavy robes and have that crown placed upon my head; it symbolizes everything that repulses me. Covered in jewels, symbol of prosperity, greed and power. As I walk into the cell that will be my quarters, I sit and wonder. This may be a tradition, but I find it strange that we must reside in a place where people have been imprisoned, people who were sent to die and my two young ancestors who mysteriously disappeared. These ghosts float around this place like a fog; they chill us and cannot be touched. I cannot bear to imagine the horrors these walls have witnessed. I know I must not fill my head with such fears but I am a prisoner here, not a royal. I am under guard and watched. All because of what rests on my head. That monstrous symbol, that crown which symbolises power and prosperity, I wonder at the history of this symbol. How many lives have been lost to even have a chance at holding that crown? The sheer weight of it makes me uneasy and I dread to wear it again, it feels wrong.
What a folly to ask me such a question! Make my spoilt brat of a husband King? This is a plot to ensure Northumberland’s position of power; well I will not allow such a thing! They must have mistaken me for a fool, I now have the power to say no to them. It will be a crime to put a Dudley on the throne. My fellow countrymen and I will never allow such an idea to come to life, a Dudley as monarch. I know that I now belong to a family of ambition. I may be Dudley’s wife but I am now their Queen, I now have a right to say NO. I do have the pride of my Tudor heritage and will not be bullied.
He now has complained to his crone of a mother and they try to wear me down, I will not let him be King! She may be a Duchess but I am her Queen, she must learn now not to push herself above her station. She will learn to obey her Sovereign! I will not allow him to embarrass me, he must stay by my side no matter if it pleases him or not. I now hold the power in our marriage. I am the Queen in this game; an agile piece to pass through where I please and have control of what lies ahead. I hear the herald leave the tower and pronounce me as the new Queen of England. Yes a Queen with a husband and young enough to bear heirs to the throne, but in reality rather an unlikely Queen with a childlike man for husband!
How could this happen to me? It is so unreal; it feels rushed. A desperate last plea, a last resort. I feel so out of place… I must swallow my fear and smile through the ordeal. Show my new subjects that I am not afraid.
What will happen to me? Mary is gathering her followers, supporting her claim. I can understand, she started life as a princess, raised to be great by her proud mother. Then it was taken away, she was stripped of her title, proclaimed a bastard and was at the mercy of her father and step-mother; treated as an inconvenient intruder with no prospects. She wants her time to rule and her time to be in control of her own life, like me and every woman in the land. With her powerful connection with Spain, I fear for my own life. We are so different and yet similar, being bound by the crown.
Mary’s support has grown; she will be here. I stand in the way of her inheritance, her birthright. She has her father’s cruel ambitions and her mother’s pride. She is a woman to be feared. She will make a strong ruler, a great Queen and would make her parents proud. I hope she will be merciful, I hope she will understand and be fair. We are family and the same blue blood runs through our veins. She must know that. I am still a prisoner. Punished for being who I am, for what I am and the threat I bring. I pray I will survive, I pray to continue with my studies and follow the true religion.
One week has passed, the plans of my coronation continue. I survived a week, I should be calm but I still feel a presence over my shoulder, a dark presence. I feel misplaced. I am not meant to be here, I know I should not be here. What can I do now? I may have all the power but I do not understand how to use it. Will I be accepted? Can I be a good ruler? Will I rule fairly or be a puppet to the whims of men? I, a small woman of sixteen, must rule over this empire, with great and cruel kings before me. I must follow their lead; I swallow and gulp, can I? Could I? Will I? I cannot think straight! I feel the stress take over my body; I cannot sleep, eat or think. But I can take solace that I can rest alone and not see my husband.
Father comes into my rooms; he pushes past me and rips down my royal seal. The sound of tearing, hurried steps and rushed voices surround me. I do not ask why, Mary has won. I wanted her to win, she will rule hard and I hope justly. She is an infamously devout Catholic; I can only pray she does not force her heretical views on the nation. I stand quietly as everyone rushes around me; it is finally over. I sigh with relief, I feel the sudden strain I have held on my chest float away. It is over. In the rooms, which I have reluctantly called my home, now become my prison, but in reality there is no difference to before except a few simple luxuries have been taken away. What am I to do now? I am free, but still a prisoner, no longer powerful and no longer a piece in the game of ambition. Northumberland’s Queen has fallen, the other Queen has triumphed. I feel suddenly cold, like a cold shadow has come over me. I have a terrible feeling that my life now hangs by a thread and my struggles have only just begun. The chill covers my body, the goose bumps cover my arms and I shiver uncontrollably. I am not cold; I am afraid, so dreadfully afraid. I am not a puppet but I am not free, my life is not under my control. I feel powerless like before; the strain comes to me and lies on my chest once more. I do not welcome it, but it gladly clings to me like the unwanted companion that it is.
I knew; I knew deep down this would happen. I followed their rules, suffered their disappointment at not being the son they desired. I have not been the daughter they envisaged me to be. I allowed them to control me, to use me and wear me down. I am finally alone, I hope I will leave this place soon. I will feel the grass tickle my feet, the breeze and warmth of sunlight; I may continue my studies once more. Maybe, just maybe, I may experience the joy of marriage? I hear many stories of how wives come to like their husbands; I am fortunate with a man who is not thrice or even twice my age. He may have learned to be a fairer husband? We may be free of our families and live. I for once, have let my mind fill with hopes and possibilities. I may have my life again! Free to obey God and fulfil my duties. I may have a chance!
There is word that the Privy Council pledged their allegiance to Mary, as they should have. I sit by the window and look over the city. They would have declared Mary Queen of England. My reign is truly over, I am no longer Queen and I must admit, I am relieved. My life will no longer be at risk and I will no longer be a piece of somebody’s game for power. It is over; I have been spared from this cruel life. I feel so alone, any allies I may have had have left me and like a child I want my parents to protect me, to take me home again. Where are they? Why will they not come? I have done nothing wrong; I am no traitor! Let me go. I even crave the company of my husband, he may be a spoilt brute, but I would gladly have his company at this moment, someone else to comfort me, as my maids cannot help but look at me with pity. I need someone to help me, why am I still a prisoner? Everyone knew I was unwilling! This limbo is suffocating, the not knowing if I will leave these stoned walls to live. I feel consumed by this uncertainty…
I go to trial for high treason, as does my husband. I am found guilty as I signed documents ߢJane the Queen’. I am sentenced and I leave. I may live, I do not know, but I do not know how many days I have left to live? There is hope of a pardon, I see him next to me. My poor husband’s pride has now been shaken away. He is not as he was, I touch his hand in comfort, he grips it and for a brief moment I enjoy his touch. The warmth of his hand sooths me and keeps me steady throughout the trial. We seem to have bonded over our mutual suffering. Even with this small comfort, I feel this dark chill over me, a kind of knowing that I will not live to see my cousin rule England. A horrid feeling that I will not see the world outside these walls as a free woman ever again…
I am sentenced to die; how will I die? I must either be burned on Tower Hill or beheaded. I am too stunned, how could she let this happen? Even I thought she would have more courage than I to speak the truth and defend what is right. My cousin knows how it feels to be pushed around like a puppet; she has dealt with it all her life, as I have. My religion may offend her but her own sister is the same. I must pray to God that she will be merciful, my heart sinks and I know that deep down she will have no choice. She must have me killed to ensure her own claim to throne will not be threatened again. There is a torture in my mind, what will become of me? These questions of “what ifs”, and “how” swirl inside my head, they are like flocks of birds and, as one, they flutter around my head and cause me pain. Traitor… Traitor… You will die… What if you live…? What if you remain in prison forever…? Will you become a puppet once more…? What if you do become Queen again…? These endless possibilities hurt my head, I want peace but my head will not allow me such a luxury. My cousin Queen Mary must believe me; she will not call me a traitor. I have done nothing wrong or caused her harm. There must be some mistake…
There is word I may be spared. Praise the Lord! There may be hope; I had no desire to take that tainted crown. The blood spilled for that crown frightens me and I have no want for such a life. I have not the strength nor determination to lead this great Empire.
I had a small ray of hope of survival, a small but possible chance and now it has died, like a wind to a flame. A fool’s attempts to thwart Mary and now I must die. No one ever considers the consequences of their actions, now I must pay the ultimate price, with my life. Thomas Wyatt along with my father have practically signed my own death warrant! Why oh Lord do men continue to follow their bloodthirsty lust for power! Why do they take a foolish chance and not consider the reality? Now I am doomed to the block! The heretic abbot, Feckenham is sent to me, he wants to save my soul and reach eternal salvation…. I assure him firmly that I know my soul will be saved.
He continues to see me, I obstinately refuse him but it has given me some comfort, someone who cares for me but I still question his own beliefs but it is no use. Even if I considered changing to heresy, I doubt that my life would be spared. I know in my heart, that I am heard and I am going to a better place. He asks to accompany me to the scaffold, I accept. I comfort myself, as there will be some in attendance who do care for me before I…
My husband wishes to see me, he truly has become a broken man. I cannot bear to face him. It will not bring him the peace he wants, he will not be comforted as he wants and he will not be any braver when facing the block. I cannot see him, I myself must remain strong and I know I will see him again, in a place far away, from games and ambition.
I rise slowly, taking in the view from my window, and I see my husband’s remains pass by. The hooves trot along the pavestones and the wooden wheels roll along, in the wagon is my husband. I do mourn for him. He was, like me, his father’s puppet, who has paid the price for being an obedient son. Knowing that my husband has left this world, I cry for him but I feel no guilt. Yet, a sense of loneliness consumes me, I feel cold and alone. Seeing him before he was sentenced to die would have added further misery. It was best I did not look upon his face again, as it would have been a bitter end for us both. We know we have to die, we know we lost this game, but others will continue to play. For now, I do mourn for him, an innocent chess piece, and a bargaining tool that has now been lost. Guilford, you poor fool, I wish I had been a proper wife to you. Who knows, I may have learned to tolerate or even like this man, or if God had permitted, may have fallen in love? A twist of fate has lead us down this path, a path that has lead to this… After seeing that bundled heap pass by my window, I know I do not want to die. I do not want to lose my life for this. I am innocent! Innocent!
“Oh, Guildford, Guildford”
I am going to die, the eternal end of my life. Is it part of God’s plan? In some way I believe that I will not die, but will move on. Will I see my husband there? Or will it be a timeless blackness, an abyss for souls. I believe that there is a place of peace, a soft safe place. Where ambition and power has no rule or importance, a place where I can be free. Free of marital ties and royalty. Where man is equal, where man can be at peace and be with God. I’d like to believe that this is possible. I cannot change who I am, I cannot control my destiny on earth, but in heaven I hope the Lord will see fit for me to rest. Where I will no longer come to harm or be a piece in the game of power. I pray that Guilford had been spared further pain and we shall meet again. I like to think death as an eternal sleep, where this horror will end.
A sudden pang of anger consumes me, I feel cheated, robbed of life! I had no chance to prove to all how great a wife I could have been, I would have beared children, educated them and been a faithful wife to my husband. I have been dealt an unfair hand by fate, why must I die? I have always, ALWAYS, expressed my displeasure for that crown! I have had a life stolen from me; my cursed blue blood has dealt me a wicked blow. I do not want to die! These people still control my life and decide I am a threat, they are fools! Fools! They are turncoats and liars, they cannot be trusted and they freely abuse the power they hold. Oh Mary, why must I die? Save me Mary, only you can…
Guilford, a spoilt man, a vain man, but still an innocent man, an innocent does not deserve to die this way. A pawn like me that died for his parent’s ambition. I will soon join him; I hope he has found peace before he died. I am escorted to the Tower Green; I walk up the scaffold… Men wait, my maid accompanies me. I feel a soft breeze; I swallow hard and face my fate. I am going to die soon, I am going to be free, I am terrified and ready all at once. I look around me; I have learned that in life, everyone has his or her part to play in this game, no matter how big or small. We are all pawns in life. All we can do is play to survive. I will be remembered for my short life, I hope I will be remembered as a woman who was played wrongly. A woman used in a game and had to pay with her life. My friend has sorrow in his eyes. I turn to face the executioner, he asks my forgiveness and I concede. I feel their eyes on me, full of sorrow. They know I am innocent, as was my husband before me, and yet, they cannot give me aid. For a brief moment, I allow myself to feel alone and scared. I shiver and breath, I calm myself and stay composed; I must be brave. It is time.
“I pray you dispatch me quickly.”
I face the block, the block that has killed so many; I think of the Queens before me who faced the same fate, Anne was lucky as she had a French sword to dispatch her swiftly, Catherine passed with one swift stroke. I pray I am as lucky. I pray that I… that I die swiftly. I dare not fill my head with hopes of being spared. It will be quick and I will join Guildford. I’ll be in a place of peace; I put the blindfold around my eyes. I face my fate.
I do not see the block. Where is it?
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