Cromwell in the Tower
Copyright © Isabella Dalzell 2017. All RIghts Reserved.
Once more I take up my quill in the hope of moving the heart of my sovereign, whom I have served unwaveringly through every gushing tempest of his will. Despair seeps, as tears, through my eyes as I throw down the quill and crumple the parchment. I know it is futile; I know him; his mind once made up is adamant. Unchanging. Cancer the Crab, softest jelly inside and hardest steel without; brittle with umbridge and hatred. Once the claw of his will has you in its grasp, he will not let go until you are crushed. I have only to look to the example of my Lord Wolsey, who served him devotedly before me. His crime was to be unable to achieve the impossible - though Lord knows he sifted through every law in the land and inveigled every Noble to his utmost.
No mercy will prevail, save maybe the small exchange of the scorch of fire for the sweep of the cool axe. Nan Bullen. How she trembled at the last, and my winter heart unmoved. Almost, but not quite outwitted me. Brave she was, to kneel before that swordsman in her bloom with such grace, asserting her innocence, and that of her brother and accomplices, vowing fealty to the Kings Majesty, Henry, until the end. And I, watching from a window, was glad to see her go. I, who contrived her death. She should never have made an enemy of me, oh no. And yet, her legacy is my undoing. I shiver, feeling the cool touch of her slender fingers upon my shoulder and hearing her rich, triumphal laugh. She has gone before me and has no more to fear, but I have yet to face it. Does she return once more as my ally, as in former days, or indeed to mock me?
The Wheel of Fortune turns and topples the implacable servant of the king. Do I deserve this? Probably. If truth be known, ten times over. For was not it I who, oh so slyly, suggested we rape and murder the monasteries? Loot the keepers of the old faith as thieving magpies do. There was no love of God then, no mercy neither. And now it is I who must prepare to meet my maker. Scant though it is, and without trial, I have more notice of my death than many of those who were driven from their sacred homes whilst we made merry on the spoils. Will my Lord God show me more mercy than Henry? Why should he, after I have slain his own and strung them up from steeple tops throughout the land? Cassocks flapping, flesh picked clean from bones, hung in cages from battlement walls. I have betrayed my countrymen to serve my King -- and help myself, of course. And yet, I was ever cognisant of helping my fellow man from the lower orders, to give him a hand up and break the rule of the Lords. But that was my undoing - to alienate and make enemies of them. I grew too confident and offended their sensibilities with my rough ways and barefaced cheek to challenge them.
And now I am entombed by silence. I hear nothing but my own rasping breath and the scratch of my quill as I drag it across the page. Everything here is poised between life and death, even the very mice hold their breath and listen, listen for approaching footsteps.
Precious little light passes through those slitted walls and the shadows gather from the four corners of this cold stone chamber. Cavern-like, without tapestries on the wall nor carpet on the floor I freeze as if it were very depths of winter, not Midsummer. I outstretch my hand to feel the trickle of moisture ooze from the casement, green to the touch of my fingertips. My fingers trace the mottos carved by those imprisoned here before me and read their drear and hopeless message on the walls. I feel their desperation etched for countless generations hence to rediscover. Will mine, too, be rediscovered here?
I swear I can see Henry’s shadow on the wall, projected by my flickering candle; massive, fickle, cold as the stone it wavers upon. And behind him, the laughing shadow of Nan and those countless hundreds tortured and slain in the Reformation of this great kingdom. I shiver at the remembrance, there is no fire to warm me and my garments are fit only for the council chamber, not this drear prison. I, who have feasted from the best tables in the land and drunk wines from the finest cellars, am given stagnant water and stale bread as my fayre, and share my board with mice and rats. But I must make peace, make peace.
Where is my son? God bless and save him. Wife, send me your spirit to sustain me in this my final, mortal hour. You, I am sure, reside in heaven with our two precious daughters, all gone before me. Bless me and make ready to receive me. Intercede with my Lord God, I beg you. Explain to Him how it was, how my Sovereign Lord Henry would brook no contradiction of his will most mighty. I only served to please him. And plead God’s mercy for me, for assuredly Henry he has none. Beseech him, do not let him send me to the devil for I fear the fire, the eternal fire and I fear the imminence of death. Oh, Good Lord, I hear the footsteps, they are coming for me now, or perhaps it is reprieve? I hear the brutal clanging as the door swings open and they enter, seizing me by both my arms and out I shuffle, fainting. This is no reprieve.