Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The best axeman in England

Henry VI did not receive many visitors to his room in the Tower of London, so it was a surprise when the Duke of Gloucester entered and introduced himself.

Henry: Ah, the Duke of Gloucester. I remember the old Duke of Gloucester, of the line of the fifth son of Edward III. I don't think there are any of that line left now, except maybe the Buckinghams, but I think they came from a second marriage. Anyway, the old Duke was a dreadful warmonger. As soon as I came of age, I had him removed from the royal council. Oddly enough, he took it quite well, went off to his estate and took up book collecting. I wish we had left him in peace, but Margaret and Suffolk would have him charged with treason. He died in custody, and ever since there has been nothing but trouble. Your father York wanted revenge. We agreed to send Suffolk into exile, but that wasn't enough to appease his enemies. Suffolk was intercepted on the high seas as he travelled abroad and beheaded with a rusty sword. On it goes, even to this day. Why do we never learn? Oh, forgive me rambling on. I expect your visit is not purely a social one?

Gloucester: I bring grave tidings. Margaret of Anjou and her son Edward have been defeated in battle at Tewkesbury. Edward died in the fighting.

Henry: The poor boy inherited his mother's belligerent spirit. Would that they had accepted the Accord I made with your father. What will become of dear Anne?

Gloucester hesitated, blushing slightly.

Henry: But of course. I have heard good reports of you, Gloucester, and I don't doubt you will make her a far better husband. Your brother Edward has governed tolerably well. At least he seems to fight only out of necessity. I understand he is something of a ladies' man. Perhaps old Waynflete was right about celibacy after all. If so, beware the Lady Margaret Beaufort. To return to your tidings, if Edward is dead then the line of Lancaster has terminated, so may we not hope that the feuding must come to an end?

Gloucester: I fear that Margaret of Anjou will rally her forces in your name.

Henry laughed at the absurdity of this suggestion, but he was wise enough to realise that others would not find the notion so ridiculous.

Henry: You are right, Gloucester. There will be no peace while I live. I have been meditating much upon our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The prophecy was made of him that it was expedient for one man to die for the people rather than for the whole nation to perish. Our Lord was thirty three when He laid down His life for His sheep. Would that I had died when I was thirty three, in 1455. How much bloodshed would have been avoided. I still think about the twenty thousand who entered eternity on a single day at Towton. So much blood shed in my name. My only hope is that the blood of Christ can cleanse even my awful sins. Do not reproach yourself, Gloucester, we must put a stop to the killing once and for all. I must follow the Lord in obedience unto death. Thank God for the hope of the resurrection and a better world to come. Is there a priest?

Gloucester: I have brought Waynflete.

Henry: Dearest Waynflete. How thoughtful, Gloucester. Thank you.

Gloucester left the room to allow Waynflete to minister to Henry. Confession heard and absolution pronounced, Gloucester led the two men to the place where a block had been prepared. Upon seeing an executioner standing ready, Henry turned to Gloucester for a final request.

Gloucester nodded.

"It would be a great mercy if the task could be performed by the best axeman in England."

Again Gloucester assented silently, but this time with a bow, in deference not to any title which Henry held but to the majesty of his character.

Henry took his position.

Gloucester took the axe, and delivered a single clean blow.

Henry was dead.

Next Chapter

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