By Jon Sellars
An unfortunate accident leads King Henry VIII to make a potentially rash decision. However all is not lost as he stumbles across a solution to his marital problems.
Egbert Hillson was a giant of a boy. By the age of seven he could hold a fully grown pig above his head, by ten a bull and by thirteen a fully armoured knight and his horse.
When word of these achievements reached King Henry VIII he insisted on meeting the child. So impressed by what he saw he immediately demanded a feast be held in Egbert’s honour. He toasted the young man’s future and proclaimed that greatness lay before him, “My enemy’s must fear you my boy, as surely your strength will become my weapon. Return to me when you are eighteen for I wish to see the colossus you become.”
After the feast the King decided to treat his guests to a display of his musical talents. Following a thirty minute lute solo he brought his show to an end in his signature method; by smashing his instrument into pieces. He swung the heavy wooden lute around and around his head before finally crashing it down with a sickening thud into what he thought was a large stone pillar. Unfortunately the pillar in question was in fact young Egbert who stood watching in the front row. Caught unexpected the man-boy was knocked off his feet and he returned home that evening in some pain.
On the day of his eighteenth birthday Egbert returned to the royal palace as he had been instructed. The King insisted on meeting with him at once, expecting nothing less than a giant to appear before him. What he found however was quite the opposite, “My boy, I thought you would have doubled in size, you appear to have halved!”
You see the previous five years had brought a quite unexpected change upon Egbert. His body had not taken the blow of the lute well. No doctor in the land seemed able to reverse the damage that had been caused and his body had started to regress. Despite all attempts to retain his strength each passing year saw him become less and less of the boy he had once been.
Henry was immediately filled with guilt and remorse and was determined to make amends.
“You were destined for greatness on the battlefield and that I am afraid I cannot give you, I see you cannot even hold a blade aloft. However I will take responsibility for you. My enemies will still fear you and you will have power of a different kind to that which you once possessed. From this day forth, all execution orders in this land will be drawn up and signed by you, and you alone.”
“Thank you my Lord,” Egbert replied, “I do still long for the might of the sword, but the pen is lighter and for that I am grateful.”
Egbert’s role was simple. He had only to take the King’s list of victims for execution and write these up into formal orders. Whoever’s name Egbert wrote was, from that moment onwards, as good as dead. Unfortunately King Henry’s kind gesture overlooked one thing; Egbert was an idiot.
The attention to detail he showed was appalling. His handwriting was so poor that it was almost impossible to read the name of the intended victims. As his arm grew tired he would become lazier and lazier, sometimes writing only the surname of the condemned so that the soldiers assigned to the task were forced to execute several namesakes in order to ensure they fulfilled the King’s wishes.
Henry, still coming to terms with his guilt, did not think to enquire into Egbert’s performance. That was until, during one of their many quarrels, the royal couple were interrupted by a group of soldiers inquiring as to whether the Queen would like her execution before or after tea.
A brief investigation discovered the intended victim was in fact a suspected traitor (and rival lutist) named Ansel Bollen. The King, furious that he had allowed his guilt to place someone of such incompetence in so important a role, hid himself in his rooms immediately. The Queen tried to talk to him but her presence seemed only to make him angrier. It was only her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, who finally managed to calm him. Indeed so fine a job did she do that when the King eventually emerged he appeared most relaxed and at ease. Later that evening he called for Egbert and to everyone’s surprise simply thanked him for a marvelous idea and requested he be more precise in his spellings going forward.
The next day Egbert had only two orders to prepare. He made sure to double check these although he was confident everything was correct, perhaps because the names seemed so familiar to him; Anne Boleyn and Egbert Hillson.