The Liberty Bounds Pub, Tower Hill, London – 19 May 1536
The barkeep eyed the downcast foreigner at the end of the bar, slumped over in his stool and gazing emptily into his beer mug. He had been there all evening and was the last customer remaining. He had not said a word except to order another drink. The barkeep was reluctant to ask him to leave as he was clearly no commoner. He was impeccably well-dressed and, propped up against the bar beside him, was a very elegant sword which looked something like this:
“Sir, you’re not from around these parts are you”? asked the barkeep cheerily.
The stranger didn’t react for a moment, then lifted his head and stared up through misty, gray eyes. “No, I’m not from around here”.
“May I ask where you’re from? We’re always pleased to welcome new people here, you know”!
“I am Jean Rombaud from Saint-Omer, France”.
“France! What brings you to London, Mr. Rombaud? Business?”
“Yes. Business. But it’s all finished now”.
“What line of work are you in? Whatever it is”, said the barkeep heartily, “you look like you’re doing pretty well for yourself”!
“I am an executioner”, said Rombaud softly. “A very well paid one because I do it so well…”
The startled barkeep took a couple of steps back as Rombaud’s voice trailed off. “An… an executioner! I see! I… I don’t know that we’ve ever had an executioner in here before”.
“Now you have”, said Rombaud darkly, draining his beer mug. “Another one, please”.
“Of course, of course”, said the barkeep, only too happy to stay open now that deep curiosity was swelling within him. “There you are. May I ask”, he said, gesturing towards the sword. “Is that… is that…”
“Yes, it is”.
There was a long silence and then, abruptly, Rombaud straightened up on his bar stool, shook out his hair that danced around the fleur-de-lis on his epaulettes, cleared his throat and said, almost matter-of-factly: “I have executed dozens of people with this sword, from embezzlers to thieves to murderers to rapists – each time becoming more and more skilled in the art. Today I murdered a Queen. An innocent Queen”.
“You… You… Anne Boleyn!!! You…”
“Cut off her head with this sword earlier this morning. Yes”.
“I… I… I…” blathered the barkeep.
“Rome forgive me”.
“My God! I heard she seemed cheerful and gave a heartfelt speech to the crowd in honour of the King before she was… before you… is it true”?
“Sort of. She appeared composed before the speech but I could see in her eyes she was terrified – they all are. Who wouldn’t be bone terrified walking to their execution?”
Rombaud slumped over the bar again, sighed and pulled a crumpled up piece of paper from the pocket of his cloak. “Before she addressed the rabble, she pressed this into the palm of my hand”, he said, handing the barkeep the paper resignedly.
I am innocent of all the charges against me – I swear on the life of my daughter, Elizabeth. I was faithful to the King and I still am – I swear on the life of my daughter, Elizabeth. I am the mother of Elizabeth. She will be the greatest monarch the realm has ever known and will ever know. It has been foretold by God directly to me. The blood of Elizabeth’s mother is the blood you spill today. The King himself commits High Treason to his country on this day. God save England.
“Do… do you believe it”?
“I have no doubt. She fell to her knees on the scaffold of White Tower, upright in the proper French manner for execution. Her ladies removed her headdress and necklaces. I was so shaken by her note the sword trembled in my hands. I felt I couldn’t do it. Not even the hands of an amateur executioner tremble! Her lips were tight in desperate prayer. She was so frightened and the tears were falling from her beautiful haunted eyes. I pretended I wasn’t ready and shouted ‘Where is my sword’? so that she could relax just a few more moments and that’s when I struck. It was a clean kill and, as her head rolled across the scaffold, I could swear she blinked at me in gratitude. Rome forgive me”.
“Dear God”, whispered the barkeep.
“I had been convinced by the King and Cromwell of her guilt. But now I know”.
“And you really believe the note is true”?
“My sword. This sword was forged in Japan centuries ago by the very best swordsman of the day. He made about one sword a year for only the most elite Samurai. This sword was so sharp you could cut a lamppost down with it, barely even swinging it. It will never cut anything again after today”.
“What do you mean”?
Rombaud hoisted the glittering sword onto the bar. “Run your finger along the blade”.
“I… Um.. Okay…”
It was duller than a butter knife.