A short story from the point of view of Katherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry the Eighth.
I had to watch you die over two months ago, and yet you still haunt me. I watched from my tower, as your life was taken before the crowd of jeering, judging barbarians. I turned my head when the axe fell, but heard the chop and the heartless cheers. How can anyone cheer at a death so grotesque, as if the life was meaningless?
The room is dark with desolate night, and my heart is heavy in my fluttering chest. The ladies in my room are unsympathetic in innocence, wishing they were anywhere but here. At least that means we have something in common.
In the lonely hours I have nothing to do but reflect on my life. The short life of a girl, adored by the King of England and thrown away like a stained dress, or a bone for the dogs to devour. Did I mean anything to him? Yes, of course I did. He married me, didn’t he? Though, perhaps it may have been better to just be a mistress with no real responsibility, no obligation to him. I’m sure you would say so.
I wrote that damning note to you with such care, such grace, such affection. I am sure they already knew about us, and just needed proof of our relationship so we could be condemned. They treat it as if it were a crime, to not love your geriatric husband. He had his mistresses, why couldn’t he give me one joy in our short marriage? Of course not. He’s selfish, and possessive, and if little Katherine Howard couldn’t be his, then no-one could have her.
I’m ashamed to say I did beg him to spare us, and grovelled at his door. I became hysterical in my fear, when I should have just accepted my fate with grace, as my cousin had before me. I ran to him, screaming as a child would, but they wouldn’t let me see him. I’m sure that if they had just let me speak to him, things would have been different for us.
I never wanted to marry him. What girl would? But I was promised that my fate would not mirror that of my cousin Anne’s, and he would die soon enough. They wanted the power of my marriage, to control the guileless Queen of England. But it didn’t work, as Lady Rochford is imprisoned, just as I am. Her fate is the same as mine, the same as her husband’s. What use was my marriage to her?
My death draws closer, Thomas. I practiced all night, placing my head on the block with distinction and maturity. Who needs sleep when you are to die? The cold wood, so perfectly shaped for such a grim purpose, is hard for my small hands to grip. I do not think I will be able to hide my fear, but I will not lose my mind. I am the Queen of England!
They’re here to take me to my death. Take my hand, my love, and help me climb the scaffold steps. Guide me to the familiar block. Stand by me as I say my prayers, and ask the world for forgiveness, secretly cursing all who wronged me. This is it, no more practices. The cold, hard truth of my execution, the consequence of my betrayal. My executioner waits for me nonchalantly, uncaring or simply used to murder. Seventeen is such a young age to die...
I did it, Thomas. My neck lies exposed on the block and everyone waits for my signal. I see you, waiting for me so we can leave this world together. I close my eyes and let them know that I am ready, waiting for the axe to take my life. Maybe God will be more understanding. I take my last breath as I hear the sound of metal singing as it cuts through the air, ever closer to me.
Look away; you don’t want to see this.