Peck's lengthy tales
and doubt in the time of Queen Elizabeth I
1. ENGLAND (1577-1583)
II. AT THE HORSEHEAD IN CHEAP
of Black Bear Sevenoaks)
with good company
I love and shall, until I die.
Grudge who list, but
So God be pleased, thus live will I."
-- Henry VIII
Master Shelley, you are welcome. Make yourself at ease, sir.
are terrible news, sir, yes they are. But you must not be overmuch in the dumps
now, for, believe me sir, where there are bad times the good will come in soon
It is all ups and downs,
Mr. Shelley. I can prove so much from my own cases. For I have not always been
a drawer of ale, nor always lived in London. The gentlemen, they often ask me,
"Where dye hail from, Black Bear? Yre not a city man, Bear, sure.
Whence come ye, then?" And theyre right as usual, the gentlemen are,
I am none of your puny clarks and ostlers cityborn and huddled up very small and
crooked with snaking in and out othe lanes and alleyways. I am a countryman
am I, sir, give me the open field and a good days work and let me go.
father was a Kentish man. He was no rich man, my old dad, no great lord, but he
had his piece of land, a tiny corner that had come from his fathers before him,
all the way back from the Great Wars, when his grandfather had taken up arms for
the Red Rose and got his freehold for his pay.
father was a simple man, a simple man, but a good one. But he was no warrior for
those times. When Bob and me was only boys, the priests went off and the abbey
fields were sold away to all the gentlemen in the county. Now, my father was a
simple man, and he wondered where the priests had gone, but the gentlemen told
him to give no more thought to it and come to church like any good Christian man.
Then the duke of Northumberland rose up for war, and the gentlemen rode near to
the house and told my dad to come aflying and bring his sword, and they all marched
off to Maidstone and made their camp.
Queen Mary won the war, my father came home, and said to me, "Ned, weve
won the war." Though he had never left the Maidstone camp, sir, but that
was him. Then the priests came back, and my father was a happier man for the time.
But soon after that, the gentlemen
came riding up again, Mr. Shelley, and they told my father that the traitors were
forcing the queen to abominable acts with a Spanish dog. They told him the militia
was called to defend the realm, to come aflying and bring his sword.
old fellow," my father said then, "I must go and save the queen. The
traitors are forcing her to mate with a dog from the Spanish kingdoms." My
father marched off to Maidstone, and to Rochester, believing, I tell you sir,
the Spanish dog to be a dog in very truth. His band joined up with Wyatts
men and started off towards London. The poor old dad was as I said a simple man,
and he fought to save the queen and pope from the equatorial sodomists. But he
was no great fighter, though he kept his farm very well, and so did the other
simple men who perished with him. The sight of the queens troops before
him must have seemed but greater Spanish devilry, whole companies of horse disguised
by the queens red banners; or maybe he had a doubt or two. Or it may be
he had a doubt when he yielded up his arms in Fleet Street just without the gate
that was barred against them to the city. The queens officers hanged my
father up for a sample to us all, and piked his head upon the bridge, and soon
afterward the queen married her Spanish dog, King Philip that now is, and they
all forgot my fathers head, black and high upon the bridge.
we got my father back, without his muddled head, my father the simple Christian
farmer, my father the Protestant rebel, thirsting for blood, the evil hearted
satanical monster of sedition who broke the laws of God and man and rose against
his lawful queen. No, sir, those were evil times.
is how I left the farm, Mr. Shelley. We had my fathers body, in trade for
his freehold which escheated to the crown. My mother took the fever and died right
then. My brother Bob and me, sir, we found a stable to sleep in, and what with
a days wage here and another there, so we grew to age. I am not complaining,
mind. Bob and me, we were at a little bit of everything. Those were good times,
those long years.
sir, hold out your cup.
sir, Bob was in the north in 69, for Id sent him to my wifes
people for a horse we meant to buy, but he grew ill and passed the autumn beneath
their roof the most of it in a raging fever. But my wifes folks they saw
him through it, and we waited every day to see him cantering over the hill and
home to our farm in Norfolk. He never came. For when the rebel earls rose up and
all the bells were ringing backwards, sir, and all the men were flocking out and
yelling "For the queen and for the pope" and "Esperance!"
when the earls rose up, the gentlemen came round and hoisted old Bob from
his bed and rounded all my wifes relations into the square, and gave them
great staves to fight withal and marched them off to the south.
when the earls and the gentlemen learned there was a horrible great army coming
out to meet them, why then they rode away, far into the north, and Bob and the
rest of them went home to await the troops. They were all hanged up as papist
rebels. So my brother for the pope, my father for the gospel, both hanged up for
And then my wife
died, do you see, and here I am. The farm was her own, not mine, worse luck, and
all her brothers rode in one morning to see me on my way. So, with no land of
my own, and the roads dangerous to be upon for masterless men, off I came to London.
we lose a father to the bad times, and then a brother, but there are good times
too, are there not? How do we go from good times to bad ones, and that so hastily?
I dont know, damn me if I do. What her majesty is thinking is not for us
to know; what the pope is scheming is not for us; what Monsieur Beza in Geneva
is preaching out from his mighty pulpit is not for us to question.
you must watch the gentlemen othe court, sir, that is how we know what we
must expect. They will become suspicious, and choleric. They watch one another,
they speak en garde, as they say. They are petulant and easily offended;
occasionally they fall silent and will not say a word at all. They walk in the
street with all their men about them. You will know when the bad times are coming;
watch the gentlemen as you would mark a cat before a thunderstorm.
years past have been good years, and good years will come again.
gentlemen from the court were sitting here, not long since, just where you are
sitting now. Master Cornwallis was sitting here, and, after some speech passed
by gentlemen that were likewise present, of some men apprehended and some executed,
and such like affairs, he brake forth into a great complaint of the present time.
do well remember," quoth he, as I recall him, "the first dozen years
of her majestys reign, how happy, pleasant, and quiet they were, with all
manner of comfort and consolation. There was no mention then of factions in religion,
neither was any man much noted or rejected for that cause, so otherwise his conversation
were civil and courteous. No suspicion of treason, no talk of bloodshed, no complaint
of troubles, miseries, or vexations. All was peace, all was love, all was joy,
all was delight.
now," he says, "there are so many suspicions everywhere, for this thing
and for that, as we cannot tell whom to trust. So many melancholic in the court
that seem malcontented; so many complaining, or suing for their friends that are
in trouble. Others slip over the sea, or retire themselves upon the sudden; so
many tales brought us of this or that danger, of this man suspected, of that man
sent for up, and such like unpleasant and unsavory stuff, as we can never almost
be merry one whole day together."
was that gentlemans discourse to his friends, and thus they speak amongst
themselves, and call for more wine, and sometimes sit and watch the door, sir,
as if they expected grinning Death to come striding through it with his black
bag. Howbeit not so long ago things were far otherwise.
will I illustrate my meaning. Not five or six years ago now--it was in 77,
I think it was, in spring or early summer is my recollection--the gentlemen your
friends were supping here and making merry. Mr. Arundell came in the afternoon
and bespoke a room, and said, "Bear, you must serve us yourself, for we shall
be many." The gentlemen trust me, you see, to be very prompt to their wishes.
remember me the night as if it were yesterday. My lord of Oxford was here first,
and he sat in the room with Meg our girl and fell to singing and having at his
cup and Meg together for an hour before the others came in.
the others came in together, such a fine lot of gentlemen they were then, too,
whatever has become of them severally now. Milord Harry Howard and Mr. Arundell
brought with them my Lord Philip, the late dukes son, and young Lord Windsor
came with them, and shortly after came Mr. Raleigh, and Mr. Francis Southwell
and Harry Noel, and later the Lord Compton arrived with two of his friends. And
then they fell to their dinner, and Meg and me were leaping with fetches and flings
and friscoes to keep up with them, them eating and drinking and singing, and clapping
shoulders and calling out "Drawer! Come, Black Bear, more wine here!"
At good length my lord of
Oxford sat back against the wall with his boots up on our table, with Meg now
seated next him and his cup in his hand, and began by calling out to the whole
company there assembled, "Have I ever spoken to you, gentlemen, of my adventures . . . ."
which words of his the other gentlemen fell to laughing and shouting him down.
And milord waxed red in the face and shouted, "By my faith, gentlemen, I
shall speak and you will listen."
will recollect I am sure, sir, that milord had returned but the year before from
his sojourn in Italy and Flanders, and his tales of his travels there had been
common talk in the Horsehead since his landing on this shore. But here, awash
in his cup--pardon my saying, sir--as he now found himself, he proposed to add
new stories to the swelling saga, and Mr. Arundell, with his merry eyes crinkled
up in good mirth, signalled round to the others for their advertence to the telling.
good friends," quod the earl, "I am to tell you of the furious actions
in the Low Countries, wherein I showed myself to some advantage. For you must
know, gentlemen, that at my being in Flanders, his grace the duke of Alva, as
he will constantly affirm, grew so much to affect me for these rare parts he saw
in me--marry, I know not why--as he made me, all unworthy, his Lieutenant General
over all the army then in the Low Countries, and employed me forthwith in a notable
piece of service, where according to my place I commanded and directed Mendoza,
the ambassador of Spain that is now here, who was a brave captain in his time,
and the rest of the captains of the Spanish nation. But all others, too,"
said he, "were most glad to be commanded by me, for so valiantly I behaved
myself as I gained great love of all the soldiers, and no less admiration of my
valor of all sorts of men."
my Lord Harry winked at me, and I smiled at him very faintly, for I would not
have it thought I disbelieved the earls adventuresome tale in whole or any
part. But Mr. Arundell, who was hard by, leaned towards me and whispered, "Fear
not, Bear, he has forgotten we are here."
indeed seemed to be very true, for his lordship was staring dreamily upwards to
the ceiling and, whilst fondling Megs bodice from over her shoulder with
one hand and tipping his cup with the other, he continued.
this journey of mine," quoth he, "as I may have said before once or
twice to some of my friends here gathered, in this journey I passed many straits
and divers bridges kept by the enemy, which I beat them from with the loss of
many a mans life, but still, you see, I forced them to retire till at the
last I approached the place that I went to besiege. And using no delay the cannon
was planted, and the battery continued the space of ten days, by which time we
had made such a breach as by a general consent of all my captains I gave an assault;
and to encourage my soldiers, I held them thereto and through the force of my
murdering arm many were sore wounded, but more killed, notwithstanding, being
not well followed by the reiters, I was repulsed.
determining to give a fresh assault the next day, I had surely had that glorious
victory, but Mr. Bedingfield, as the devil would have it, came in upon his post
horse and called me from this service by her majestys letters, which was
I tell you, gentlemen, the greatest disgrace that ever any such a general received.
Here, Black Bear, cant you see man I have gone dry!"
leapt me up with my pitcher. Meg was staring up at his lordship rapt with admiration,
as he belabored her breast now loosened of her bodice. My Lord Harry I could hear
behind me, saying, "Do you see, Charles, all of this slaughtering of men
is thirsty work."
much unlike to this, gentlemen," my lord of Oxford said when I had sat again
upon my bench, "not much unlike was another time, at my being in Italy, there
fell discord and dissension in the city of Genoa between two families, whereupon
it grew to wars, and great aid and assistance given to either party. Now at this
time, for the fame that ran through Italy of my service done in the Low Countries,
I was chosen and made general of thirty thousand that the pope sent to the aid
of one party. In this action, I showed as I may say so great discretion and government
as by my simple wisdom the matters were compounded, and an accord made, which
is to be accounted more for my glory I think than if I had fought the battle."
This tale of the earls,
sir, is very rife with him, and in it he glories greatly; diversely has he told
it, and when once he enters into it he can hardly out, which made such sport as
Mr. Arundell and my Lord Harry were driven to rise from the table laughing.
my lord," says Mr. Noel then, "not Alexander could have held a field
against you, not Caesar could escape your bloody arm."
cries Mr. Raleigh, "neither Carneades for an ambassador could have argued
for the Athenians but half so well as you."
Compton here was beside himself with merriment and lay upon his bench holding
in his guts.
"Go on, go
on, old Ned," says my Lord Harry, "what else? What else? Your soldiering
and diplomacy being both so well known, what follows next?"
his lordship pouted, "you are pleased to find me funny, and I approve, so
indeed I do. We must take delight in what we can, when the world would have us
Here he drained
his cup and spanked it upon the table again, at which I hastened to refill him.
Meg was then the only person sober, for she understood but little of what passed,
and was perplexed by the general mirthfulness. But with the earls tale and
his earnest business about her front, the poor girl had much ado to keep her wits.
gentlemen," says his lordship, "for all your merriment, into which I
assure you I enter most heartily, but for all of it, gentlemen, I would not have
you miss the moral of my tale, for which reason I felt called to recount it to
you. Which is, you know, that the art of diplomacy is the nobler art to that of
war, and the able statesman is the most glorious soldier though he never draw
it true, milord, as I have heard it said," says my Lord Harry, very seriously,
"is it true that your lordship durst rather eat your scabbard than draw your
sword against any man?"
the mass, Harry, you will go too far!" cries out his lordship then, reddening
in countenance and leaping to his feet of a sudden, which propels poor Meg sprawling
upon the floor amid a torrent of the earls wine.
here, Ned, be calm," says Mr. Arundell, who comes forward to restrain him
gently. "Here is all good fellowship, and conviviality. Harry, let apologies
be heard, for good fellowships sake now."
Ned, be not angry with me. Let me refill your cup. Here, Ned, lets refill
I passed my
pitcher to Lord Howard, who commences to pour for the earl, and his lordship makes
a face, and grins sheepishly, and weaves about for a moment before finding his
In the meantime,
my young Lord Frederick, who was not then twenty years old I should not think,
is helping our poor Meg from her knees, and cannot keep his gaze from her swaying
teats, all bedewed with wine. Which she notices, and flushes ever so prettily
and covers them with her hands. She is a pert girl is our Meg, with a full figure
much commended and widely spoken of, and does no harm to our business here. It
is a much prized thing in these fallen times for an ordinary to have such a girl
as Meg, who will delight the customers and bring them back again. Most fortunate
we are to have Meg at our tables, for though she lacks her upper teeth she has
learned to smile the more sweetly with her mouth closed, with the innocency of
a noblemans virgin daughter.
my lord of Oxford had noticed the young barons captivity, and sought to
win him from it by drawing Meg back to her seat beside him on the bench. Lord
Windsor stood stock still and stared on, with his mouth open and hanging slack
and his eyes bouging out of his forehead. Mr. Arundell was grinning apishly and
began passing his hand before his lordships eyes. My Lord Oxford scowled
again and grew a little angry, as poor Meg much discomfited turned her back to
the boy and crossed her arms before her.
Windsor, enough! You dishonor the woman, sir!" cries the earl.
daggers, why are you tarrying?" cries out Mr. Arundell. "Oh swords,
why are you wasting time?"
Frederick started, and moved towards his seat, but could not shift his doglike
gaze. Mr. Arundell and Mr. Noel took up his arms and lifted him over the bench
to his place and sat him down smartly, just next my Lord Compton, still sick with
laughter supine upon the bench. My Lord Harry then takes up another pitcher and
pours for the young lord, whiles Mr. Arundell whispers something into his ear
which none of us hear, saving perhaps Lord Compton, whose laughter redoubled its
vigor and brought him writhing to the floor.
Bob Tyler, who is keeper of the Horsehead, thrust in his head and summoned me
to the common rooms, where the custom had grown that great that he had need of
me there. So it was I missed what next ensued, but somehow his lordship was off
again, for upon occasion I heard laughter and shouts from the Roe, which was the
room in which the gentlemen supped, and when later I returned, there was his lordship
flat upon the board, with his boots in a disused pannikin all smeared with sauce
and meat, with sitting upright on the table next to him our Meg gazing down upon
him, whom he little noticed, so enrapt was he in his telling of tales.
am to inform you further, gentlemen," quoth he, "of certain excellent
orations I have made, as namely to the state of Venice, where his dogeship rewarded
me very handsomely, and at Padua, at Bologna, and divers other places in Italy;
and one which pleased me above the rest to my army as we marched towards Genoa.
Which when I had pronounced it, I left nothing to reply, but everyone to wonder
at my judgment, being reputed for my eloquence another Cicero and for my conduct
a very Caesar--."
for your senseless tales both a fool and a knave," says Lord Harry, but Oxford
hears him not, and went on, as if to himself.
tell you, sirs" (he said) "but what fame I might have had. Had Bedingfield
not come, I had surprised Buemle with but my little force, and been master of
that country. Had you, Harry," he said, shifting over onto his side to face
my Lord Howard; "had you not called me away by letters in the queens
name, I had now been governor of Malines. Always prevented! Sirs, I was in the
way to take Grave, with three thousand horse and ten thousand of foot, but the
cardinal took up the matter, and thus I lost the glory of that action also."
a tear, as it seemed, passed down his face. Lord Harry looked at me as who should
say, "We must have forbearance." The earl buried his face in poor Megs
bosom and now said nothing, and there was some discomfort in the others, perhaps.
Mr. Arundell raised his cup and said aloud, "Gentlemen, you must now hear
how I pulled the beard from the Great Cham of Tartary, who commanded upon me his
ten thousand janissaries whom I was forced to slay in my way to the court of Cathay."
me, Charles," cried milord Oxford, "I am not in jest! Do you hear, the
pope and the king of Spain preferred me to ten thousand pounds by the year if
I would but come over and serve the king henceforth! And I should have done, too,
for all the grace I have been shown in England."
grace in England!" shouts Mr. Noel. "Oh your lordship, you must pardon
me. No grace in England; you are the very darling of the court. Would the queen
might show me half the grace she bestows upon your lordship."
Mr. Raleigh too, saying, "Come now, milord, have you not to wife the daughter
of the Lord Treasurer, and now to complain of any want of favor?"
Walter, believe me," answered the earl, removing his head from between Megs
breasts. "Believe me, man, had you to share a bed with that puritanical boyish
stick of a girl; I tell you it is like bedding with the father. How she goes on.
We must ask my father this, we must learn what father says about
that. I will tell you plain, Raleigh, my Italian boy Aurachio would please
me more in bed matters than that girl ever will."
others fell silent again. They were good and open fellows all, you see, not sly
and guarded as the gentlemen sometimes are, but many of them I think depended
much upon the Lord Treasurer then, and they liked very little hearing such talk
at this time.
Lord Harry answered
in soft words, "Well, Ned, but you might return to her bed, you know, but
for show, and make her father your friend again, as he always meant to be."
Harry, you dont know," he cried. "That I, who once received messages
daily from the queen of Navarre desiring me to visit her in her chamber. I, to
whom the countess of Mirandola came fifty miles to lie with me for love--."
And here all was mirth again,
and Lord Harry stood above the prostrate earl to drink a toast to his amorous
powers and great feats of love. "To the noble earl of Oxenford," he
shouts, to general clamor of laughing and banging of cups upon the board; "to
his venerous lordship, whose exploits in arms are become legendary, whose Aretinical
battles show Sardanapalus for a very Puritan pulpiteer to his lordship,
the very god of Love!"
so they pulled him from the table, and Meg with him, and lifting both upon their
shoulders, out of the Roe with them and through to the common stairs, and up to
the chambers above, where his lordship and his fair Guinevere were nestled in
her bed and left to sort the matter out.
you see, sir, those were the good days, when the gentlemen were merry. When harmless
bragging tales of soldiering for the king of Spain were not treason. When the
gentlemen met alone and it was as friends not as conspirators, and every captain
was not a Catiline. But there are good times and there are bad, and where there
are good times, the bad will follow soon enough upon them. But then, Mr. Shelley,
will come the good again. You may wager all on that, sir. The good will always
back to the Preface and Table of Contents|
ahead to Chapter III. The Malcontent (1577)|
do not reproduce this text in any form for commercial purposes. Historical references
for events recreated in this story can be found in D. C. Peck, Leicester's
Commonwealth: The Copy of a Letter Written by a Master of Art of Cambridge (1584)
and Related Documents (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985). Feedback and
suggestions are welcome, .
Written 1973-1989, posted on this site 10 June 2001.