I Forgive… | Madelaine Smith

They would have me write – they wish for my words –
though they could have heard me in the court,
could have listened then to hear what I had to say.

Now they give me the chance,
now when the words I write will be my last.

Gentlemen, Friends and Neighbours,
It may be expected that I should say
something at my Death…

I have lived a long and good life
through turbulent times
and now I reach my turbulent end.

I forgive all persons that have wrong’d me.

How did I come to this?
My life has been small, I kept to my hearth,
though my husband played a larger part
than I would have liked on the stage of our times…
and paid the price.

I did as little expect to come to this Place
on this occasion, as any person in this Nation.

I concerned myself as a good wife should
with household matters –
the sunshine of domestic life –
the children, the land, the servants.
Chatelaine from an early age
I kept to my sphere, helped the poor,
tended the sick, welcomed in those in need.

My crime?       My crime was,
entertaining a man of God
who, I am since told,
has sworn to have been in the
Duke of Monmouth’s army…
an invader,      a rebel,                        a traitor.

Would not I, a good housekeeper,
a fair and generous lady of the manor,
mistress of my own demesne,
would not I welcome in one of God’s servants?

I welcomed in a man of God –
yet stand convicted of harbouring a traitor.

The jury, good men all,
found I had not committed a crime.

The judge – who sends me to my death –
would not accept innocence as a verdict.

My words were not heard.
He would not listen.
I felt surprise and fear.

Once, twice, three times
he demanded of the jury their decision.

On his third asking the jury,
eyes down, announced me guilty.

I forgive all persons that have wrong’d me.

The judge, eyes on mine,
announced I was to die…

at the stake…
to burn… like a witch.

I forgive all persons that have wrong’d me.

King James, the second of that name,
has saved me from the flames.
Instead I am to die
by an executioner’s axe.

He has given me the death
my husband did in some part
impose upon the King’s own father.

I acknowledge his Majesty’s Favour
in revoking my Sentence.

I forgive all persons that have wrong’d me.

The dawn is coming; my time is nearly up.
I must put aside my pen to pray one last time…

Pray for my soul…

Pray for a swift end.

I forgive all persons that have wrong’d me;
and I desire that God will do so likewise.


A found and enhanced poem based on the last speech of Madam Alicia Lisle,
beheaded in the market square, Winchester, September 1685.


Writer’s Commentary

In the Square in Winchester there is a plaque highlighting the spot where Lady Alice Lisle was executed for harbouring fugitives during the Civil War. She was 72 years old. For Heritage Open Days in 2018 the local Loose Muse group of poets put on a reading entitled ‘Extraordinary Women’ in a church just a few hundred yards from the execution spot. Lady Alice needed her voice heard. The line ‘the sunshine of domestic life’ is a reference to Sunshine of Domestic Life: Or, Sketches of Womanly Virtues, and Stories of the Lives of Noble Women by William Henry Davenport Adams

  Madelaine lives in Winchester. At the age of four when asked if she wanted to be a hairdresser or a nurse when she grew up Madelaine answered that she would rather be a poet. Having now grown up she thinks she ought to get on with it. Madelaine has worked in bookselling, publishing, theatre, museums, and was editor of New Writer magazine for five issues.

Madelaine has had work published on Ink, Sweat & Tears, Paper Swans (online and in print anthologies), Perverse Poems, and as a part of the Silent Voices project (silentvoicespoetry.wordpress.com/) in South Magazine, Reach, and Panning for Poems, as well as in local anthologies and exhibitions.

 Madelaine has three unpublished novels in a drawer. She can be found on Twitter @MadelaineCSmith and Instagram instagram.com/madelainecsmith/ 

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