Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

The Execution of the "Twelve-Days' Queen"


MONDAY, the r2th of February, 1554, the fatal day destined to terminate Jane's earthly sufferings, at length arrived. Excepting a couple of hours which she allowed to rest, at the urgent entreaty of her companion, she had passed the whole of the night in prayer. Angela kept watch over the lovely sleeper, and the effect produced by the contemplation of her features during this her last slumber was never afterwards effaced. The repose of an infant could not be more calm and holy. A celestial smile irradiated her countenance; her lips moved as if in prayer; and if good angels are ever permitted to visit the dreams of those they love on earth, they hovered that night over the couch of Jane. Thinking it cruelty to disturb her from such a blissful state, Angela let an hour pass beyond the appointed time. But observing a change come over her countenance, seeing her bosom heave, and tears gather beneath her eyelashes, she touched her, and Jane instantly arose.

"Is it four o'clock?" she inquired.

"It has just struck five, madam," replied Angela. "I have disobeyed you for the first and last time. But you seemed so happy, that I could not find in my heart to waken you."

"I was  happy," replied Jane, "for I dreamed that all was over—without pain to me—and that my soul was borne to regions of celestial bliss by a troop of angels who had hovered above the scaffold."

"It will be so, madam," replied Angela fervently. "You will quit this earth immediately for heaven, where you will rejoin your husband in everlasting happiness."

"I trust so," replied Jane, in an altered tone, "but in that blessed place I searched in vain for him. Angela, you let me sleep too long, or not long enough."

"Your pardon, dearest madam," cried the other fearfully.

"Nay, you have given me no offense," returned Jane kindly. "What I meant was that I had not time to find my husband."

"Oh you will  find him, dearest madam," returned Angela, "doubt it not. Your prayers would wash out his offenses, even if his own could not."

"I trust so," replied Jane. "And I will now pray for him, and do you pray, too."

Jane then retired to the recess, and in the gloom, for it was yet dark, continued her devotions until the clock struck seven. She then arose, and assisted by Angela attired herself with great care.

"I pay more attention to the decoration of my body, now I am about to part with it," she observed, "than I would do if it was to serve me longer. So joyful is the occasion to me that were I to consult my own feelings, I would put on my richest apparel to indicate my contentment of heart. I will not, however, so brave my fate, but array myself in these weeds." And she put on a gown of black velvet, without ornament of any kind; tying round her slender throat (so soon, alas! to be severed) a simple white falling collar. Her hair was left purposely unbraided, and was confined by a caul of black velvet. As Angela performed those sad services, she sobbed audibly.

"Nay, cheer thee, child," observed Jane. "When I was clothed in the robes of royalty, and had the crown placed upon my brow, nay, when arrayed on my wedding-day, I felt not half so joyful as now."

"Ahl madam!" exclaimed Angela, in a paroxysm of grief, "my condition is more pitiable than yours. You go to certain happiness. But I lose you."

"Only for a while, dear Angela," returned Jane. "Comfort yourself with that thought. Let my fate be a warning to you. Be not dazzled by ambition. Had I not once yielded, I had never thus perished. Discharge your duty strictly to your eternal and your temporal rulers, and rest assured we shall meet again—never to part."

"Your counsel shall be graven on my heart, madam," returned Angela. "And oh! may my end be as happy as yours!"

"Heaven grant it!" ejaculated Jane fervently. "And now," she added, as her toilette was ended, "I am ready to die."

"Will you not take some refreshment, madam?" asked Angela.

"No," replied Jane. "I have done with the body!"

The morning was damp and dark. A thaw came on a little before daybreak, and a drizzling shower of rain fell. This was succeeded by a thick mist, and the whole of the fortress was for a while enveloped in vapor. It brought to Jane's mind the day on which she was taken to trial. But a moral gloom likewise overspread the fortress. Every one within it, save her few enemies (and they were few, indeed), lamented Jane's approaching fate. Her youth, her innocence, her piety, touched the sternest breast, and moved the pity even of her persecutors. All felt that morning as if some dire calamity was at hand, and instead of looking forward to the execution as an exciting spectacle (for so such revolting exhibitions were then considered), they wished it over. Many a prayer was breathed for the speedy release of the sufferer, many a sigh heaved, many a groan uttered: and if ever soul was wafted to heaven by the fervent wishes of those on earth, Jane's was so.

It was late before there were any signs of stir and bustle within the fortress. Even the soldiers gathered together reluctantly, and those who conversed spoke in whispers. Dudley, who it has been stated was imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower, had passed the greater part of the night in devotion. But towards morning, he became restless and uneasy, and unable to compose himself, resorted to the customary employment of captives in such cases, and with a nail which he had found, carved his wife's name in two places on the walls of his prison. These inscriptions still remain.

At nine o'clock, the bell of the chapel began to toll, and an escort of halberdiers and arquebusiers drew up before the Beauchamp Tower, while Sir Thomas Brydges and Feckenham entered the chamber of the prisoner, who received them with an unmoved countenance.

"Before you set out upon a journey from which you will never return, my lord," said Feckenham, "I would ask you for the last time, if any change has taken place in your religious sentiments, and whether you are yet alive to the welfare of your soul?"

"Why not promise me pardon if I will recant on the scaffold, and silence me as you silenced the duke my father, by the axe!" replied Dudley sternly. "No, sir, I will have naught to do with your false and idolatrous creed. I shall die a firm believer in the Gospel, and trust to be saved by it."

"Then perish, body and soul," replied Feckenham harshly. "Sir Thomas Brydges, I commit him to your hands."

"Am I to be allowed no parting with my wife?" demanded Dudley anxiously.

"You have parted with her forever, heretic and unbeliever!" rejoined Feckenham.

"That speech will haunt your deathbed, sir," retorted Dudley sternly. And he turned to the lieutenant, and signified that he was ready.

The first object that met Dudley's gaze, as he issued from his prison, was the scaffold on the Green. He looked at it for a moment wistfully.

"It is for Lady Jane," observed the lieutenant.

"I know it," replied Dudley, in a voice of intense emotion. "I thank you for letting me die first."

"You must thank the queen, my lord," returned Brydges. "It was her order."

"Shall you see my wife, sir?" demanded Dudley anxiously.

The lieutenant answered in the affirmative.

"Tell her I will be with her on the scaffold," said Dudley.

As he was about to set forward, a young man pushed through the lines of halberdiers, and threw himself at his feet. It was Cholmondeley. Dudley instantly raised and embraced him. "At least I see one whom I love," he cried.

"My lord, this interruption must not be," observed the lieutenant. "If you do not retire," he added, to Cholmondeley, "I shall place you in arrest."

"Farewell, my dear lord," cried the weeping esquire, "farewell!"

"Farewell, forever!" said Dudley, as Cholmondeley was forced back by the guard.

The escort then moved forward, and the lieutenant accompanied the prisoner to the gateway of the Middle Tower, where he delivered him to the sheriffs and their officers, who were waiting there for him with a Franciscan friar, and then returned to fulfill his more painful duty. A vast crowd was collected on Tower Hill, and the strongest commiseration was expressed for Dudley, as he was led to the scaffold, on which Mauger had already taken his station.

On quitting the Beauchamp Tower, Feckenham proceeded to Jane's prison. He found her on her knees, but she immediately arose.

"Is it time?" she asked.

"It is, madam,—to repent," replied Feckenham sternly. "A few minutes are all that now remain to you of life—nay, at this moment, perhaps, your husband is called before his Eternal Judge. There is yet time. Do not perish like him in your sins."

"Heaven have mercy upon him!" cried Jane, falling on her knees.

And notwithstanding the importunities of the confessor, she continued in fervent prayer till the appearance of Sir Thomas Brydges. She instantly understood why he came, and rising, prepared for departure. Almost blinded by tears, Angela rendered her the last services she required. This done, the lieutenant, who was likewise greatly affected, begged some slight remembrance of her.

"I have nothing to give you but this book of prayers, sir," she answered, "but you shall have that, when I have done with it, and may it profit you."

"You will receive it only to cast it into the flames, my son," remarked Feckenham.

"On the contrary, I shall treasure it like a priceless gem," replied Brydges.

"You will find a prayer written in it in my own hand," said Jane, "and again I say, may it profit you."

Brydges then passed through the door, and Jane followed him. A band of halberdiers were without. At the sight of her, a deep and general sympathy was manifested; not an eye was dry; and tears trickled down cheeks unaccustomed to such moisture. The melancholy train proceeded at a slow pace. Jane fixed her eyes upon the prayer-book, which she read aloud to drown the importunities of the confessor, who walked on her right, while Angela kept near her on the other side. And so they reached the Green.

By this time the fog had cleared off and the rain had ceased; but the atmosphere was humid, and the day lowering and gloomy. Very few spectators were assembled, for it required firm nerves to witness such a tragedy. A flock of carrion crows and ravens, attracted by their fearful instinct, wheeled around overhead, or settled on the branches of the bare and leafless trees, and by their croaking added to the dismal character of the scene. The bell continued tolling all the time.

The sole person upon the scaffold was Wolfytt. He was occupied in scattering straw near the block. Among the bystanders was Sorrocold leaning on his staff; and as Jane for a moment raised her eyes as she passed along, she perceived Roger Ascham. Her old preceptor had obeyed her, and she repaid him with a look of gratitude.

By the lieutenant's directions, she was conducted for a short time into the Beauchamp Tower, and here Feckenham continued his persecutions, until a deep groan arose among those without, and an officer abruptly entered the room.

"Madam," said Sir Thomas Brydges, after the newcomer had delivered his message, "we must set forth."

Jane made a motion of assent, and the party issued from the Beauchamp Tower, in front of which a band of halberdiers was drawn up. A wide open space was kept clear around the scaffold. Jane seemed unconscious of all that was passing. Preceded by the lieutenant, who took his way toward the north of the scaffold, and attended on either side by Feckenham and Angela as before, she kept her eyes steadily fixed on her prayer-book.

Arrived within a short distance of the fatal spot, she was startled by a scream from Angela, and looking up, beheld four soldiers, carrying a litter covered with a cloth, and advancing toward her. She knew it was the body of her husband, and unprepared for so terrible an encounter, uttered a cry of horror. The bearers of the litter passed on, and entered the porch of the chapel.

While this took place, Mauger, who had limped back as fast as he could after his bloody work on Tower Hill, only tarrying a moment to exchange his axe, ascended the steps of the scaffold, and ordered Wolfytt to get down. Sir Thomas Brydges, who was greatly shocked at what had just occurred, and would have prevented it if it had been possible, returned to Jane and offered her his assistance. But she did not require it. The force of the shock had passed away, and she firmly mounted the scaffold.

When she was seen there, a groan of compassion arose from the spectators, and prayers were audibly uttered. She then advanced to the rail, and, in a clear distinct voice, spoke as follows:—

"I pray you all to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman, and that I look to be saved by no other means except the mercy of God, and the merits of the blood of his only son Jesus Christ. I confess when I knew the word of God I neglected it, and loved myself and the world, and therefore this punishment is a just return for my sins. But I thank God of his goodness that he has given me a time and respite to repent. And now, good people, while I am alive, I pray you assist me with your prayers."

Many fervent responses followed, and several of the bystanders imitated Jane's example, as, on the conclusion of her speech, she fell on her knees and recited the Miserere.

At its close, Feckenham said in a loud voice, "I ask you, madam, for the last time, will you repent?"

"I pray you, sir, to desist," replied Jane, meekly. "I am now at peace with all the world, and would die so."

She then arose, and giving the prayer-book to Angela, said, "When all is over, deliver this to the lieutenant. These," she added, taking off her gloves and collar, "I give to you."

"And to me," cried Mauger, advancing and prostrating himself before her according to custom, "you give grace."

"And also my head," replied Jane. "I forgive thee heartily, fellow. Thou art my best friend."

"What ails you, madam?" remarked the lieutenant, observing Jane suddenly start and tremble.

"Not much," she replied, "but I thought I saw my husband pale and bleeding."

"Where?" demanded the lieutenant, recalling Dudley's speech.

"There, near the block," replied Jane. "I see the figure still. But it must be mere fantasy."

Whatever his thoughts were, the lieutenant made no reply; and Jane turned to Angela, who now began, with trembling hands, to remove her attire, and was trying to take off her velvet robe, when Mauger offered to assist her, but was instantly repulsed.

He then withdrew, and stationing himself by the block, assumed his hideous black mask, and shouldered his axe.

Partially disrobed, Jane bowed her head, while Angela tied a kerchief over her eyes, and turned her long tresses over her head to be out of the way. Unable to control herself, she then turned aside, and wept aloud. Jane moved forward in search of the block, but fearful of making a false step, felt for it with her hands, and cried, "What shall I do? Where is it? Where is it?"

Sir Thomas Brydges took her hand and guided her to it. At this awful moment, there was a slight movement in the crowd, some of whom pressed nearer the scaffold, and amongst others Sorrocold and Wolfytt. The latter caught hold of the boards to obtain a better view. Angela placed her hands before her eyes, and would have suspended her being, if she could; and even Feckenham veiled his countenance with his robe. Sir Thomas Brydges gazed firmly on.

By this time, Jane had placed her head on the block, and her last words were, "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!"

The axe then fell, and one of the fairest and wisest heads that ever sat on human shoulders fell likewise.

by William Harrison Ainsworth

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