The Tribune - Spectrum



Sunday, November 5, 2000

London’s terrible tower of death
By Pritam Singh Sidhu

THE name ‘Tower of London’ always aroused macabre feelings in my mind. When in 1941, as a young adolesent boy of 14, I read British History for the first time, Icame to associate the command, "take him to the tower", with certain death by the axe. It could even be death by half-hanging, evisceration, and torture.

The White Tower Henry VIII’s second and fifth wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, were both sent to the tower and exectued. And they were cousins. But how different they were and how differently they spent their last days in the tower!

When I visited London in 1989, I wanted to see the site in the Tower Green where private executions of the favoured few took place. A small board in the Tower Green read "Here Queen Anne Boleyn was executed on 19th May, 1536". I was facinated by the place. As I stood there oblivious to the other visitors all that I had read about Henr,. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard quickly flashed past my mind’s eye.

Henry’s first marriage was more of a political relationship. Catherine of Aragon was his elder brother Arthur’s widow. Henry was obsessed with getting a male heir, which she could not give, and in the spring of 1522 he came to know that she could no longer bear children. He had to have another wife who could fulfill his dream.


When she was about twelve years old, Anne Boleyn, like most noble ladies in those days had been sent to France in 1519, to the household of the French Queen for education. She stayed there until the outbreak of war in 1522, and then came home, by which time she was on the way to becoming an accomplished and mature girl. She does not seem to have been remarkably beautiful, but she had wonderful dark hair in abundance and fine eyes, together with a firm mouth and a head well set on a long neck that gave her authority and grace.

Her father, aided perhaps by her grandfather, the second duke of Norfolk brought her to the Court, as he had her sister, Mary Boleyn before her. There she caught the eye of Henry.

The exact chronology of Anne’s rise is impossible to discover. All that can be said is that by 1525-26 what probably had been a light dalliance by Henry with an 18 or 19-year- old girl had begun to grow into something deeper anddangerous. In the normal course of events, Anne would have mattered only to Henry’s conscience, not to the history of England. She would have been used and discarded, along with those others whom Henry may have taken and who are now forgotten. But either because of virtue or amition, Anne refused to become his mistress and thus follow the conventional, inconspicuous path of her sister; and the more she resisted, the more apparently Henry prized her. Anne would give herself entirely to him if he would given himself entirely to her.

To get her, he broke with Rome, himself, became the head of the Church of England, divorced Catherine and married her in January 1533.

Her coronation glistened in the beautiful May sunshine in England. Anne went by water from Greenwich to the Tower of London. Kingston, "the tall, strong and comely knight", received her at the water and escorted her to her special apartment. It had been a glorious entry into London; salvo after salvo maddening the pigeons, the windows near the tower actually rattled with the noise. The Thames had never been so full of strange and marvellous barges. All England seemed to have accompanied Anne, and her night at the tower was embowered in celebration.

On September 7, Anne delivered a girl. The brith of a daughter undeniably weakened her position. Again on January 27, 1536, she miscarried and was delievered of a three-and-a-half-month old child (probably a boy). She had also failed to give Henry a male heir.

Her position had already become insecure — perhaps as early as mid-1534 Henry had started flirting seriously with Jane Seymore. Her miscarriage was a disaster that he was not likely to forgive. He spoke little to her now. Cromwell, his Secretary, examined a possible ground for divorce in Anne’s alleged conduct before her marriage with Earl of Northumberland’s son, but received categorical refutation. But Anne had to go and if there was nothing wrong in the marriage itself then there must be someting wrong in her conduct as a wife. He tortured Mark Smeaton, the court musician, and obtained a confession from him of committing adultry with the Queen and this information was passed to the King on April 30.

A message was brought to Anne early in the morning of May 2. She was to come before Norfolk and others of the council in their chamber in Greenwich. What did they say to her? Her uncle presided. They told her that she was to go by the barge to the tower. Smeaton, they declared, had confessed to adultery with her.

She went from Greenwich to the tower, just after two in the afternoon. In full daylight, with her uncle and two chamberlains and a guard, she went up the river in the barge.Under many eyes that were already hard with curiosity, her grand vessel came to its final stop at a low dark gate. The solemn Sir William Kingston stood to received her as he had done three years before. In trepidation at the awful novelty, she faltered before him. "Master Kingston, shall I go into a dungeon?"

"No, madam, you will go into the lodging you lay in at your coronation". She gasped, "It is too good for me. Jesu have mercy on me!" Unable to stand, she found herself on her knees, weeping. And then she laughed at herself for being on her knees, and could not control her laughter.

To the name of Smeaton, were added three more of Norris, Weston and Brereton. She asked Kingston, "I hear Ishall be accused with four men. Master Kingston, shall I die without justice". With his customary gravity, the bearded gaint answered, "The poorest subject of the King has justice". Anne burst into laughter.

Anne was accused not only of adultery with four men but also of incest with her brother. Though adultery was the charge, failure to give Henry a son was the reason. She was to be tried at the tower by 26 selected peers on May 15.

At her trial, she almost won the day.Even after the peers pronounced her guilty, Northumberland felt so ill that he collapsed. She was able to stand firm and appeal only to God. During the evidence, such as it was, she had been "unmoved as a stone, and had carried herself as if receiving some great honour". Her face spoke more than words, and no one who looked on her would have through her guilty. "Her speed" said one outsider, "made even her bitterest enemies pity her".

Her last dawn on Friday 19, saw her awake. She had scarcely slept, but had prayed with her almoner and conversed all night. Kingston came to her early, gave her a purse of twenty pounds to distribute in the usual way as alms, and told her to get ready.

She came down to the little green where the platform with straw on it had been made purposely low so that she could not be seen from outside. No foreigners had been admitted but the English public had crowded in, with the coucillors headed by Cromwell and Suffolk, and accompanied by the boyish Duke of Richmond (her sister Mary’s and Henry’s illegitimate son). She was preceded by Kingston along the path, and followed by her four matrons. Her gray damask robe was cut low and trimmed with fur, a little crimson beneath. She wore a headdress embroided with pearls and a net to keep up her hair.

As she mounted the scaffold, Kingston handed her over to the Sheriff; she knew that her executioner was one of those standing by her. Her voice nearly left her, but in a low monotone, she said that she had not come to preach but to die. What else she said was breathless and not clear. She kept nervously glancing behind her. She asked everyone to pray for the King, who was so good. She asked God to remit her sins and asked forgiveness of all whom she had wronged.

As she finished her few words, she knelt down, while one of the matrons bound her eyes. "O God, have pity on my soul; O God, have pity on my soud; O God have pity.... The stroke of the sword severed her neck; her little head rolled to the staw. At once the matrons lifted her trunk, her blood still flowing. They gathered her broken body into a coffin, and bore her to her brother’s grave in the chapel. Thomas Cromwell had seen to her end.

As soon as Henry heard that Anne’s execution was accomplished, he entered his barge and visited Jane Seymore. Next day he was betrothed to her. On May 30, he was married scecretly. On October 12, 1537, Queen Jane was delivered by caesarean section of a son but she died 12 days later.

Then followed his disastrous marriage with Anne of Cleves on January 6, 1940, which was declared null and void by July 10.

His fifth marriage was with Catherine Howard. She came from the obscurity of the Norfolk household to the dazzle of the royal court at the end of 1539, when she was appointed a maid of honour to Anne of Cleves. As soon as Henry saw her, he took a fancy to her. She was about 19 and he was 49.

She was very small and well-rounded with a delighful open expression, vivacious, graceful, quick to dance, giddy and imperious. She dressed in a French style, and her hazel eyes and auburn hair gave her a coquettish brightness.

Catherine was a juvenile delinquent. She had enlivened her adolescence with the likes of Henry Manox, her music teacher, and Francis Dereham, a dashing gallant with whom she had romped and made love before she came to the royal court.

As a queen, Catherine drew around herself a coterie of flirtatious courtiers like Thomas Paston and Thomas Culpeper.

She had been unchaste before her marriage, she took to adultery soon after it. By the late summer of 1541, she and Culpeper were hopelessly compromised. They had been meeting frequently in secret places for some months and she had bestowed obvious favorus on him. Now, as Henry and his massive entourage ground their way northwards during August and September 1541, Culpeper broke into her apartment at almost every place. While Henry hunted and triumphed he was being cuckolded by an audacious courtier.

When the information was conveyed to Henry, both Dereham and Culpeper were caught and sent to the tower. She was, however, shut up in Syon and was guarded by four women and some men.

Dereham and Culpeper went to trial on December 1. Dereham admitted complete intimacy, justifying it as an engagement. He was sentenced to death at Tyburn, to be hanged, cut down alive, split open, his bowels burnt, and finally killed by beheading. This terrible sentence was also passed on Culpeper but the council sent word that he was only to lose his head.

On December 10, the two young men suffered at Tyburn as decreed.

Catherine was now cut off at Syon till parliament met in middle of January. During the first week a madness overwhelmed her but gradually, with the verve of a girl under 20 she recovered her spirits. She made no appeal to Henry.

Chapullys, the imperial amabassador reported, that towards the end of January, she was very "cheerful and more plump and pretty than ever". She was just as careful about her dress and just as wilful and imperious as when at court. But her cheerfulness had depths. She expected to be put to death. She said she deserved it. She only asked that the execution be secret and not before the eyes of the world.

This acceptance of her fate seemed to arise from her wealth of feeling. She could not excuse her own insincerity. She had given Culpeper tokens of her love: she wanted to give him herself: and still living in her young imagination, she felt in a sense she was giving him her life.

An evening before her execution, she asked to have the block brought to her, that she might know how to place herself. This was done and the young woman made a trial of it.

When she came to the block next morning, on February 13, it was set on the spot where her cousin Anne Boleyn had been executed. A large number of people had gathered at the Scaffold.

She spoke a few breathless words. A Spaniard heard them and wrote them. "Brothers, by the journey upon which I am bound I have not wronged the King. But it is true that long before the King took me, I Ioved Culpeper, and I wish to God I had done as he wished me, for at that time the King wanted to take me he urged me to say that I was pledged to him. If I had done as he advised me I should not die this death, nor would he. I would rather have had him for a husband than be mistress of the world, but sin blinded me and greed of grandeur, and since mine is the fault, mine also is the suffering and my great sorrow is that Culpeper should have to die through me." At these words she could go no further. She turned to the headsman, and said, "Pray hasten with thy office." He knelt before her and begged her pardon.

She said wildly "I die as a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpeper. God have mercy on my soul. Good people, I beg you pray for me."

Falling on her knees she began to pray. Then the headsman severed her neck, and her young blood gushed out in a terrible torrent. Her little body, covered with a black cloth, was lifted up and borne to the chapel, where it was buried near Anne Boleyn’s grave.

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