Oh Death Rock me asleep
Bring on my quiet rest
Let pass my very guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast
Ring out the doleful knell
Let it sound
My death tell
For I must die.
-Written by Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London
Dreams in Which I'm Dying
I wonder now if Mary knew. Mary, my governess when I was but a child, the one who told me I was a witch and taught me magic in secret. She was given the gift of sight, and told me I had a great destiny. I knew that there was something she wasn't telling me, but I cared not.
I wonder if she knew that I was going to die.
Still, I probably wouldn't have listened, for I was a vain girl, and as an adult, I was constantly looking for more power.
It was this wanting of power that eventually led to my downfall.
A silent shiver ran down my spine. With shaking hands, I pulled my cloak
tighter around me, and crept onwards, not wanting to be caught. Today, I was to take a huge risk, one that could possibly jeopardize my position, threaten my life. It wouldn't do to be caught for a witch. Besides, what I had to do was too important to be interrupted. Suddenly, there was the sound of laughter around me, and I jumped in fear, certain that it was one of the many people who hated me catching me at what I was doing. Running into the corner, hoping the shadows would cover me and having my heart beat hard, I turned back. It was only the king, my husband, and his men drinking in a nearby room.
“My wife shall give me a son!” he cried as all the men burst into cheer, and my face blanched as I crept silently on to the outside world. A woman’s task is no easy one in this world. We are seen only as tools, used to raise other people, used to marry and bare sons, used to keep things neat and orderly, things to look at. Failure to comply could, and oftentimes were, be deadly. I had no doubt that much like Catherine before me, if I did not give Henry a son, I would be tossed aside for someone new.
Droplets of water began to fall on my face, and I squinted upwards, realizing that it was about to rain. I cursed my luck - it wouldn't do to have mud prints leading back to my quarters. Making up my mind in a moment, I hiked up my plain, plebian dress I had donned as a form of disguise and began to run, abandoning all grace, manner and etiquette that I had been born to portray.
At last, I reached my destination.
I knocked on the sorry wooden door, waited a moment, and then knocked more frantically. It was a small cottage, but it was to be expected for someone who didn’t wish to call attention to themselves.
The door opened, revealing an old woman with an expression of surprise on her face, and then of recognition. “Mary told me you would come,” she said.
"I had hoped she would," I told her. "May I come in now?"
“Yes, my lady, you may.” She said, giving another bow as she stepped aside.
“Did Mary happen to tell you what the nature of my visit was?” I asked as I sat down on a chair she offered to me.
“No my lady, she did not.”
“Then I shall get straight to the point. I'm having a baby soon, as you most likely know," I told her. I saw her take a quick glance at my belly that was quite noticeable by now. The belly that determined what my fate would be.
“Yes.” She said, for once leaving out the ‘my lady’. For once, I didn’t mind.
“I should like to see what the sex of the baby is.”
She took a longer glance at my midsection. "I can do that, yes."
“And of course you will be paid.” I said, reaching out for the bag of coins I had brought with me. She took a glance at the bag of coins, and hobbled over to the kitchen table, and began to prepare a potion. For fear of what it was I was meant to drink, I turned my head away until five minutes later the potion was complete, and then drank it all in one gulp. A minute later her rough and gnarled hand grabbed my smooth ones, and looked at my palm. The minutes seemed to be hours, and I knew that this was what prisoners awaiting their verdict in the tower must feel like.
She looked at me as if fearing she would be harmed for what the answer was, and my heart sank before she gathered enough courage to confirm my fears. “It is a girl, madam.”
I stood up abruptly and wrenched my hand out of her own. It took all my control not to become hysterical. “Is there a way to change it to a son?” I asked. Though I had not used it very much, magic had never failed me, and I prayed that it wouldn’t start now.
"I can't tamper with the human body," she told me, turning away from me and facing the potion on the fire.
“Is there no other way?” I ask, struggling even more to keep my composure.
“Yes there is, but I require one thing. Changing the gender of a baby tampers with the future. I can do it if I must, but you must first understand what the changes would be. If you consent, I shall give you another potion to see your future.”
When I gave my consent, I was handed another potion. As soon as I had finished it, the room around me changed.
My surroundings dissolved around me like a pool of water and reformed into my familiar bedchamber, only it was very crowded. The drapes were drawn tight and everyone looked like they were stifling, but I felt no difference.
The oddest thing was that when I looked at my bed, there I was sweating and screaming. I was in labor. But I was also standing right here! I looked down at my own self to make sure I was still there, and then looked up at the…person in the bed as with one last push, the baby was born. When the midwives announced that it was a boy, I understood. This must be some special form of pensive, something I had heard about but never seen. I could view the events that could happen and had happened without being noticed, and with the added bonus of not being a bigoted point of view.
As the other me collapsed on her pillows, clearly exhausted after such an ordeal, someone was sent to tell my husband the news. I was too busy looking at my face, my glowing, happy, triumphant face to pay attention on whom.
When Henry came, he also looked glowing, happy, and triumphant. His “greatest” task as a king, to provide a male legitimate heir, had succeeded at long last. Though he had too much pride to cry in front of so many people, his eyes were damp.
“My darling wife,” he said at last in a gentle voice, the gentlest I had ever heard it, bending down to kiss the other me on the cheek, also in a gentle manor. A nurse took the squalling, moving tiny bundle of blankets and handed it to Henry, who looked as if this was the happiest day of his life.
“Edward,” he said, “His name shall be Edward.”
The scene changed then, to that of a little boy playing in the palace courtyards. He had gotten ahold of a small kitten and was beating it senseless. In my heart I forgave him though, for I didn't know of a single small child who hadn't mistreated an animal in some way or another. Another flash, and another, and another. Each of Edward doing some sort of cruelty, be it to his subjects or to the ladies of the court or to animals. As any mother would, I came up with an excuse for each on, but as time went on I got more and more heart sick.
I had created a monster.
The next one was of me again, an aged woman alone and friendless, watching Henry with another woman. Since he was king, even at that age women loved him. Next scene, watching the subjects rebel and try to overthrow Edward.
"STOP!" I commanded, feeling dizzy. At my request, the imagery once again returned to the cottage. I put a hand to my stomach, feeling horrified. What kind of monster would I concieve?
"And if it were a girl?" I was surprised to find I had tears in my eyes.
"I'm afraid I cannot show you that. It's the true path, you see. I can only show you the consequences of other paths. For that you'd need a prophet, and even then they may not be able to help you."
I sighed, my heart heavy. I knew what the right decision was, even though I was hesitant to say it out loud.
"Then I will give him a son next pregnancy," I said, hoping that the terrible fate I foresaw would only happen if I changed this one.
"You will not have any more children," she told me. All the blood rushed out of my face. It was good that I was sitting down, or I might have collapsed. I decided to ask another question instead, to delay mu
"Will I die?"
"Everyone dies. It is the course of life."
"But shall I die of unnatural causes if I were to go through with this?"
"Then so shall it be."
May nineteenth, 1536, the year of our lord arrived. My death day. Soon I will leave my quarters in the Tower of London and walk to the Tower Green, where a french swordsman awaits me. The swordsman is supposed to be quite good, a sign of Henry's mercy. Mercy. The thought almost makes me laugh. It wasn't as if anyone had come back and said whether it really did hurt less than an ax.
I spent every minute of those last years enjoying the time I had left. I basked in every moment of my husband's love, dreading the day it would turn sour. I played with Elizabeth, my darling child, whenever I could. Still, it is a hard thing to know that you are a doomed woman. I was shorter sometimes than I should have been with him, particularly when it came to his other mistresses, and I mistreated my step-daughter Mary more than ever. She, along with a lot of my subjects, wouldn't miss me when I was gone. Would anyone? Would Elizabeth? Would she know what I had done for her? Would she know how much I loved her? I doubted it. I had a feeling I too would be erased from his life and memory as much so as Catherine was, going so far as to make it treason to speak of us. The only proof left we existed would be our children. I hope he wouldn't mistreat Elizabeth like he-we- had done with Mary. If only I had known then that I would fall just as quickly as I had risen.
The stone floor I was kneeling on to pray was freezing cold, but for once the cold didn't bother me. The first day or so of my imprisonment I had sobbed uncontrolably, threw things around in anger, and glared at the women assigned to stay with me, probably spies to report my every word and action. I wrote a poem I titled "Oh Death, Rock Me Asleep". Then I calmed down thinking that this wasn't how I wanted to spend my last days on earth. Ever since I appreciated everything, the wind in my hair, the sounds of the birds singing, the warmth of my covers, the coldness of the floor on the rare occasions I went barefoot, even the pain as I bumped into some furniture. I only paused for a minute to wonder how much more losing my head would hurt.
Before saying the amen that would end my last prayers, I prayed for forgiveness from Catherine and Mary, and for the three men, particularly my brother, who had taken the blame with me. I hope that the accusations against them hadn't affected their entry into heaven.
It was time at last. I took the offered hand of one of my ladies who helped me up, and then I smoothed the skirts of my finest black dress and adjusted my ermine cape. If anything, I would go out in style. The sound of the crowed terrified me, but I couldn't turn back. I couldn't go anywhere but forward. I took deep calm breaths, the way the midwife instructed me to in labor. Taking those calm breaths now was as hard as it was then. But I was used to putting on a different face in front of my people, I wouldn't be known as the queen who sobbed and begged for life in the history books. I would walk this death walk with my head up and with dignity. I made it to the block without collapsing. I took a deep breath, ready to give the speech I had spent most of the night practicing.
"Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, according to law, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I come here only to die, and thus to yield myself humbly to the will of the King, my lord. And if, in life, I did ever offend the King’s Grace, surely with my death, I do now atone. I come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that whereof I am accused, as I know full well that aught I say in my defense doth not appertain to you. I pray and beseech you all, good friends, to pray for the life of the King, my sovereign lord and yours, who is one of the best princes on the face of the earth, who has always treated me so well that better could not be, wherefore I submit to death with good will, humbly asking pardon of the world. If any person will meddle with my cause, I require them to judge the best. Thus, I take my leave of the world, and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me." My voice cracked slightly on die, but not enough to be noticeable.
I took off my cloak and gave it to one of the ladies, and proceeded to give each of them a death token, before turning to the executioner in his black death mask and giving him his own present. He knelt besides me.
"Will you forgive me, madame?" he said in a strong french accent.
"Yes, I forgive you." I took in the smells and sights of the world one last time before kneeling at the block and putting my head down.
"To Jesus Christ I give my soul!"
Some say that when facing your death, your entire life flashes before your eyes. The opposite seemed true for me. I saw what would come to pass in the future.
My Elizabeth will make a great queen, and my sacrifice will have been worth it.
A/N- The poem
The poem written above and Anne's death speech were all really things that she wrote/said. I wrote this story a few years ago, but I wasn't quite content with how it was, so I decided to rewrite bits of it. As with any fics, particularly difficult ones, there are always several people to thank. To the entire SAYS group, but particularly to Blaire, Pippi, Taryn, and Elena, and of course my beta Caroline (though she isn't on SAYS) for telling me what you think, helping me out, and hearing me complain. I love you all!