The Signal Gun





Anne Boleyn's arraignment took place in the great hall of the White

Tower, on the 16th of May, before the Duke of Norfolk, who was created

lord high steward for the occasion, and twenty-six peers. The duke had

his seat under a canopy of state, and beneath him sat the Earl of Surrey

as deputy earl-marshal.



Notwithstanding an eloquent and impassioned defence, Anne was found

guilty; and having been required to lay aside her crown and the other

insignia of royalty, was condemned to be burned or beheaded at the

king's pleasure.



On the following day, she was summoned to the archiepiscopal palace at

Lambeth, whither she was privately conveyed; and her marriage with the

king was declared by Cranmer to be null and void, and to have always

been so. Death by the axe was the doom awarded to her by the king, and

the day appointed for the execution was Friday the 19th of May, at the

hour of noon.



Leaving the conduct of the fatal ceremony to the Duke of Suffolk, who

had orders to have a signal gun fired from the summit of the White

Tower, which was to be answered from various points, when all was over,

Henry repaired to Windsor Castle on the evening of Thursday. Before

this, he had formally offered his hand to Jane Seymour; and while the

unfortunate queen was languishing within the Tower, he was basking in

the smiles of his new mistress, and counting the hours till he could

make her his own. On the Tuesday before the execution, Jane Seymour

retired to her father's mansion, Wolff Hall, in Wiltshire, where

preparations were made for the marriage, which it was arranged should

take place there in private on the Saturday.



On arriving at the castle, Henry gave out that he should hunt on the

following morning in the great park, and retired to his closet. But he

did not long remain there, and putting on the garb of a yeoman of the

guard, descended by the narrow flight of steps (already mentioned as

occupying the same situation as the existing Hundred Steps) to the town,

and proceeded to the Garter, where he found several guests assembled,

discussing the affairs of the day, and Bryan Bowntance's strong ale

at the same time. Amongst the number were the Duke of Shoreditch,

Paddington, Hector Cutbeard, and Kit Coo. At the moment of the king's

entrance, they were talking of the approaching execution.



"Oh, the vanity of worldly greatness!" exclaimed Bryan, lifting up his

hands. "Only seven years ago, last Saint George's Day, this lovely queen

first entered the castle with the king, amid pomp and splendour and

power, and with a long life--apparently--of happiness before her. And

now she is condemned to die."



"But if she has played the king false she deserves her doom," replied

Shoreditch. "I would behead my own wife if she served me the same

trick--that is, if I could."



"You do right to say 'if you could,'" rejoined Paddington. "The

beheading of a wife is a royal privilege, and cannot be enjoyed by a

subject."



"Marry, I wonder how the king could prefer Mistress Jane Seymour, for my

part!" said Hector Cutbeard. "To my thinking she is not to be compared

with Queen Anne."



"She has a lovely blue eye, and a figure as straight as an arrow,"

returned Shoreditch. "How say you, master?" he added, turning to the

king; "what think you of Mistress Jane Seymour?"



"That she is passably fair, friend," replied Henry.



"But how as compared with the late--that is, the present queen, for,

poor soul! she has yet some hours to live," rejoined Shoreditch. "How,

as compared with her?"



"Why, I think Jane Seymour the more lovely, Undoubtedly," replied Henry.

"But I may be prejudiced."



"Not in the least, friend," said Cutbeard. "You but partake of your

royal master's humour. Jane Seymour is beautiful, no doubt, and so was

Anne Boleyn. Marry! we shall see many fair queens on the throne. The

royal Henry has good taste and good management. He sets his subjects

a rare example, and shows them how to get rid of troublesome wives.

We shall all divorce or hang our spouses when we get tired of them. I

almost wish I was married myself, that I might try the experiment-ha!

ha!"



"Well, here's the king's health!" cried Shoreditch, "and wishing him as

many wives as he may desire. What say you, friend?" he added, turning to

Henry. "Will you not drink that toast?"



"That will I," replied Henry; "but I fancy the king will be content for

the present with Mistress Jane Seymour."



"For the present, no doubt," said Hector Cutbeard; "but the time will

come--and ere long--when Jane will be as irksome to him as Anne is now."



"Ah, God's death, knave! darest thou say so?" cried Henry furiously.



"Why, I have said nothing treasonable, I hope?" rejoined Cutbeard,

turning pale; "I only wish the king to be happy in his own way. And as

he seems to delight in change of wives, I pray that he may have it to

his heart's content."



"A fair explanation," replied Henry, laughing.



"Let me give a health, my masters!" cried a tall archer, whom no one had

hitherto noticed, rising in one corner of the room. "It is--The headsman

of Calais, and may he do his work featly tomorrow!"



"Ha! ha! ha! a good toast!" cried Hector Cutbeard.



"Seize him who has proposed it!" cried the king, rising; "it is Herne

the Hunter!"



"I laugh at your threats here as elsewhere, Harry," cried Herne. "We

shall meet tomorrow."



And flinging the horn cup in the face of the man nearest him, he sprang

through an open window at the back, and disappeared.



Both Cutbeard and Shoreditch were much alarmed lest the freedom of their

expressions should be taken in umbrage by the king; but he calmed their

fears by bestowing a good humoured buffet on the cheek of the latter of

them, and quitting the hostel, returned to the castle by the same way he

had left it.



On the following morning, about ten o'clock, he rode into the great

park, attended by a numerous train. His demeanour was moody and stern,

and a general gloom pervaded the company. Keeping on the western side

of the park, the party crossed Cranbourne chase; but though they

encountered several fine herds of deer, the king gave no orders to

uncouple the hounds.



At last they arrived at that part of the park where Sandpit Gate is now

situated, and pursuing a path bordered by noble trees, a fine buck was

suddenly unharboured, upon which Henry gave orders to the huntsmen and

others to follow him, adding that he himself should proceed to Snow

Hill, where they would find him an hour hence.



All understood why the king wished to be alone, and for what purpose he

was about to repair to the eminence in question, and therefore, without

a word, the whole company started off in the chase.



Meanwhile, the king rode slowly through the woods, often pausing to

listen to the distant sounds of the hunters, and noticing the shadows

on the greensward as they grew shorter, and proclaimed the approach of

noon. At length he arrived at Snow Hill, and stationed himself beneath

the trees on its summit.



From this point a magnificent view of the castle, towering over its

pomp of woods, now covered with foliage of the most vivid green, was

commanded. The morning was bright and beautiful, the sky cloudless,

and a gentle rain had fallen over night, which had tempered the air and

freshened the leaves and the greensward. The birds were singing blithely

in the trees, and at the foot of the hill crouched a herd of deer. All

was genial and delightful, breathing of tenderness and peace, calculated

to soften the most obdurate heart.



The scene was not without its effect upon Henry; but a fierce tumult

raged within his breast. He fixed his eyes on the Round Tower, which

was distinctly visible, and from which he expected the signal, and then

tried to peer into the far horizon. But he could discern nothing. A

cloud passed over the sun, and cast a momentary gloom over the smiling

landscape. At the same time Henry's fancy was so powerfully excited,

that he fancied he could behold the terrible tragedy enacting at the

Tower.



"She is now issuing forth into the green in front of Saint Peter's

Chapel," said Henry to himself. "I can see her as distinctly as if I

were there. Ah, how beautiful she looks! and how she moves all hearts to

pity! Suffolk, Richmond, Cromwell, and the Lord Mayor are there to meet

her. She takes leave of her weeping attendants--she mounts the steps of

the scaffold firmly--she looks round, and addresses the spectators. How

silent they are, and how clearly and musically her voice sounds! She

blesses me.--I hear It!--I feel it here! Now she disrobes herself, and

prepares for the fatal axe. It is wielded by the skilful executioner

of Calais, and he is now feeling its edge. Now she takes leave of her

dames, and bestows a parting gift on each. Again she kneels and

prays. She rises. The fatal moment is at hand. Even now she retains her

courage--she approaches the block, and places her head upon it. The axe

is raised--ha!"



The exclamation was occasioned by a flash of fire from the battlements

of the Round Tower, followed by a volume of smoke, and in another second

the deep boom of a gun was heard.



At the very moment that the flash was seen, a wild figure, mounted on a

coal-black steed, galloped from out the wood, and dashed towards Henry,

whose horse reared and plunged as he passed.



"There spoke the knell of Anne Boleyn!" cried Herne, regarding Henry

sternly, and pointing to the Round Tower. "The bloody deed is done, and

thou art free to wed once more. Away to Wolff Hall, and bring thy new

consort to Windsor Castle!"





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