A Man Who Hides His Wives Away or Kills Them

The final thoughts from the wives of Henry the VIII


1. They Speak of My Drinking but Never My Thirst- Catherine Howard


                The lies tumble from lips like wine from a cup, falsities as rich as the perfumes I once doused myself in, although I doubted they were as intoxicating. My words, my final and most defining words, are lost in the general cheers and cries of the crowd. I have had enough time to talk, I allowed the years to slip through in a golden haze of laughter and flirting, yet these final words hold no more value to me than my others. They are but grains of sand on a beach, clouds in a morning sky, countless and worthless, yet they make a pretty sight. My life should end as it was lived, surrounded by beautiful fictions.

                ‘She is nothing but a fool, albeit a handsome one.’

                There is a hollow pleasure in the words that were used for me, beautiful, pretty, but they soon grew into slut, harlot, and whore as I did too. I suppose, what is the sorest point of these accusations is that they are true. I found my pleasure in the arms of another because the King was not enough for me, as I was not enough for him. How strange, that he allowed himself the illicit affairs, that they were not a breach of trust, but even previous transgressions of mine were abominable. My promises to another man, promises made before I had laid eyes of the King were a sentence of their own, my transgressions after that were not even seen as dastardly. He hid behind the story of my lying, my seduction, but simply withholding a story is different to denying it.

                ‘So beautiful, yet so corrupt.’

                Wooden splinters mark the path where jewels of the finest order had lain. I can feel them now, the heavy and cool weight of the finest diamonds, held together by spider webs of gold. They are nothing but a memory, but the memory is so strong it calms me. The dress I am now in is plainer than my usual finery; I should die as I had learnt to live- a Queen. It doesn’t matter what they will say, especially Mary, how they’ll titter and laugh at my lack of control- the king married me and I was, am, a Queen.

                ‘If I ever hear of you again I will condemn you.’

                Before the gentle lull of music and chatter embroidered the background of my life, I inspired many sonnets and they inspired me. Now the crowd yells, jeers, calls for blood, calls for a show. All my life I have been a performer, a dancer, story teller, and love maker- even now I play the role of reproachful sinner. Somehow my speech saunters on, I thank the King for his time and again apologise for crimes I cannot regret. Being caught, yes, I regret that. But it is hard to regret the act of passion itself.

                For, you see, they speak of my drinking and never my thirst.

                How long I wished to taste the lips of Culpepper, how desperately I yeaned to feel him in my arms, how hungry I became for the words of passion we would share. Then, simply, we did. I fell for him like snow falls from the sky, delicately, dancing and glowing, first so slowly then suddenly a storm. I fell for him, call it love, lust, foolishness, call it what you like, I still fell. The glaring eyes of a full court, which condemned me for a love I could not deny, nor fight any longer. I am young, perhaps I would have grown less passionate were I brought to court in sound of mine, but being a young girl who was bathed in jewels by the King was a form of drug to me.

                I do not truly wish to be remembered. What legacy will I leave? A foolish flirt, a simple minded child, a maid playing a Queen. It may be true, that may even be why it infuriates me so, but I would rather be forgotten. I do not care that I will be known as an adulterer, but knowing that Culpepper did not love me was worse than having Dereham betray me.

                ‘My beautiful little fool.’

                The smell of pine drifts from the block, I am glad there are no sickly traces of blood left behind. I have been granted the luxury of a new block, a final gift from my Liege. How I thrived on those gifts, so glorious and brilliant, expensive and magnificent. How long had I been kept at bay with simple presents? How long was I supposed to survive without the hands of another on me? I was kept as a pet, so I acted like one.

                ‘Hold your tongue or I will have those butchers cut it out of your head.’

                One of my final thoughts will remain an unanswered question. How long would I have continued in my dancer’s haze, how long would I have been draped in finery and held close to the heart of the King, had Dereham simply held his tongue.

                But I did not voice this question, finally concluding my performance of forgiveness to the King. It is never too late to face the torture chamber, until my head has left my shoulders.

                I cannot see the scythe being raised, but I know it has, as a perverse hush falls over the crowd.

                Kisses, promises, dances, songs, dresses, laughter, it is all life, everything is joyous and youthful, infinite pleasures and life is eternal, until it is not.

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