Peck's lengthy tales
and doubt in the time of Queen Elizabeth I
1. ENGLAND (1577-1583)
VI. LEICESTER FURIOSO
Narrative of Francis Southwell)
see how plenty suffers oft,
And hasty climbers soon do fall;
I see that
those which are aloft
Mishap doth threaten most of all."
had, all of us, at the first, such great hopes.
M. Simier first arrived, almost indeed until he left again, we had great hopes
of him especially, so well he sped him with the queen. Now, as I write these,
it is three years later; how incomparably we are the worse for those three years,
I shudder to imagine it. Few think now we shall soon see the sun again, except,
some say, by rough means. From such hardy sayers I do keep me free.
we saw light in the east in the summer of 79.
the year of 1578, in the latter months of it especially, was all the talk of the
marriage. The duke of Anjous agents fluttered about the court like housemartins,
and on her majestys progress in the fall we saw progress being made indeed.
At Long Melford Hall, M. de Bacqueville had long audience with the queen. He would
not tell its issue, but grinned exceedingly. At my cousins house at Kenninghall
in Norfolk, he and M. Bussy dAmbois spoke again with her highness, and thereafter
he gave a jewel to my lord of Surrey (the earl of Arundel that now is), and another
to Lord Harry. We passed on, stopping in September at Woodrising, where dwell
my kinsmen the Southwells of that country, and so towards London again. At Mr.
Stonors house, Mr. Arundell rejoined us, and thence we came to Greenwich
whilst her majesty stopped with my lord of Leicester at Wanstead. My lord did
not tell her then that just before her coming he had been married of a secret
to the widow of Essex. It was not a great while before the whole court knew of
it, but none dared inform the queen, lest my lords great paw should fall
upon him. My lord well knew how black should be the queens brows, were she
ever to learn of a marriage among her special courtiers. My lord of Leicester
and his friends did much notwithstanding to thwart the queens marriage to
Anjou, never ceasing to buzz in her majestys ear what great perils lay with
France. The earl of Sussex, on the other hand, did what he could to soften her
mind to it, and before long many of the court were joining one side or the other.
But all must needs wait to learn the queens own will, which was not forthcoming.
January during Christmastide, M. Simier came up to court from France. He was then
(though afterwards they have come to jars) the duke of Anjous greatest friend
and the master of his wardrobe. He was a very handsome gentleman, tall and lean
with his long doublet cut in the French style, his long face, both solemn and
merry by turns, with a pickerdevant beard below his great feathered bonnet. A
swasivious tongue he had, with perfect English in it, and he wore his lands upon
his back; never had we seen such stuffs as he had made his clothing of. The queen
loved him at once, and paranomastically called him her monkey, and from his uprising
to his downlying he sat by her side and spoke matter of love in his masters
behalf. My lord of Leicester, the Great Bear, waxed furious, and mooned and moped
and made long faces at her majesty, which methinks she did enjoy surpassingly.
Lord Harry was then in Dacre House residing, and I with him on a day, when who
should come to us there but de Vray, the duke of Anjous secretary, with
M. Rochetaillé, another of his envoys to the queen.
lord," he says to Lord Harry; "Mr. Southwell," he says to me; "Mr.
Arundell, Mr. Cornwallis," he says, before we were introduced. By this we
were somewhat flattered, of course. He begs our ears for a piece of logic, as
he calls it, and he unfolds to us the manifold benefits to this realm of this
marriage that was toward.
Lord Harry replies that this is well and very good, and he for one wishes godspeed
to the duke in his suit.
de Vray goes on to assure us that M. Simier, after Mr. Ambassadors enlarging
upon our multifarious virtues, such as wisdom, discretion, valor, courtesy, and
what not, has conceived an inexhaustible love for us, and it will not do but he
must tell us so himself. And so we are required to meet with him at the French
ambassadors house, where he lies, as soon as conveniently may be.
Harry then tells the secretary that we will accompany him there, which accordingly
we do. And having arrived in Salisbury Court, the promise made is now made good.
My Lord Mauvissière himself comes out to take our horses, and here is M. Simier,
as jolly as when we have seen him with the queen, introducing himself and singing
placebo and protesting all his love for us in handfuls. Our English are
a noble race, he says, and he does affect them all as he does his own, but he
must feel a special love for those who are of his own religion. My Lord Harry
asks politely which religion he is speaking of (for the duke and his friends have
no good name for constancy in faith, since at home they are one day on the kings
side and the next day on the Huguenots against him). But M. Simier congratulates
him merrily for his witticism and assures us all that he has been traduced to
us and that no one loves the mass so much as the duke and he do.
then, there is nothing else but we must come up to the ambassadors privy
chambers and sup good wine, and hear from M. Simier what he in good sadness expects
shall occur when his master becomes the queens bedfellow. Eternal amity
with France, security from Spain, these only begin the list of commodities we
may expect of that match, he says, but what pleases him most of all, in his own
mind, is the vasty benefits it shall bring to his fellow Catholics. No longer
shall priest go to gallows, nor gentleman to prison for harboring him, nor nobleman
to confinement in house till he endanger his soul and compromise his name by going
to the church. When "Monsieur" (as the duke of Anjou was called, because
he was heir to his brother the king), I say, when Monsieur should become our king
consort, his own chapel should be as an example to the realm. Who should say that
Monsieurs coming in might not one day return our great nation in toto
to the church? But in any case, we who were still of that church would find ourselves
in very different case than now we did. Later, my Lord Harry enlarged upon this
theme to us his friends at Dacre House. M. Simier and the ambassador, he avowed,
had but confirmed that which all along had been his hope. Of general causes, he
said, this match is both honorable, convenient, profitable, and needful.
Arundell was somewhat in the dumps, whereat Mr. Cornwallis remarked, to which
Mr. Arundell said that for his part he could wish for nothing more than some little
toleration as was promised, but his fear was that no sincerity lay in these approaches.
He could see, he said, that the court was in a deadlock. On the one hand were
the innumerable friends of Leicester, who hated the French and hated no less all
Catholics, and hated most of all a diplomatic ending of the Dutch rebellions,
which would clean cut off all hope of an English army in aid of the rebels, with
Leicester in plumes and silver spurs at its head. On the other hand were Sussex
and Burghley and their friends at court, who pointed to the Spanish force in Ireland
and maintained that the Spaniard could not be fought in Ireland and Flanders at
once and the same time, and that therefore diplomacy must be tried to the uttermost--what
better way than this bond to the Frenchman, to put the Spaniard in a terror of
us. And in the middle, said he, sits the queen, whose true intent is known to
nobody. What more like, then, said Charles, than that the French should wish to
break this deadlock by recruiting new allies in the court, though they mean us
otherwise no great good, and at their embarkation (so to speak) may leave us on
Lord Harry commenced
to read a gloss upon this view, in which he agreed to all his friend had said
but added what of that? If we enter the game as pawns, nonetheless we may emerge
as kings, or rather (says he) as great knights alongside our new king. My Lords
Sussex and Burghley already are our friends in this cause, he said, and worse
enemies than Leicester and his fautors we can never have, and if by joining this
game we might join in the fruits of victory, well, that was sauce upon the meat.
Let us, says Harry, speak to all our friends, for the time is advantageous, and
it may be when all is done we will have our little toleration and may come openly
in the court in the colors of our faith. Then shall our lady the queen of Scots
be assured in life and freedom, and then shall her friends find reward for the
service we have done her at our risk.
Arundell then acquiesced in the wisdom of Lord Harrys courses, and so we
were resolved. For a while, we were the planets ascendant, and no men for the
times but us. My Lord Montague came up to stay in town, and at his house in St.
Mary Overies the Catholic gentlemen and ladies congregated freely. My lord of
Southampton, though he had put away his wife for certain causes and thereupon
had little love for Montague, her father, did join us when he could, in ill health
notwithstanding. My lord of Northumberland was now our constant friend, no longer
watched at every turning for a sign of his brothers old disaffection. Lord
Harry was never happier, and managed us all in our little efforts as a master
of the hunt will point his hounds, and the lords and gentlemen were everywhere,
speaking to this he, explaining to that she, how a new England was to land at
Dover any day. Harry wrote a book to show how great a thing that marriage would
be to the whole realm, and nothing would do but my lord of Sussex must write another,
and up he calls my friend Arundell to his house in Bermondsey to help him in his
I rode with Charles from
Greenwich, and the earl receives us with so much grace we thought ourselves were
the queens betrothed. He had always loved us well, he said, for the affection
he had always borne to his kin of the house of Howard, but never so much as now,
quoth he, when at last we made a common party and would, with Gods direction,
end my lord of Leicesters tyrannical rule forever. Charles must help him
write his little book, he said, for he was but a soldier, and could not honey
his words for the queens ears without some of the poets graces. Mr.
Arundell protested his great willingness to help, but said that it was Lord Howard
who might more fitly undertake the task. Oh Lord Harry is a scholar right enough,
said the earl with merry eyes, but damn me, Charles, his asiatic prose is more
than a good Christian Englishman can reach the end of. Whereupon they sat together
and shuffled up a book of advantages for the queens eyes.
the gentlemen were sanguine. Nothing joyed me so much as their faces, which is
poignant to me now, but then it was a pleasure to hear their free and happy speeches.
My Lords Windsor and Compton were more to be seen than ever in recent times; my
Lord Paget came up to town and dwelt among us; and so did Lord Harrys nephew
to dwell with him, my cousin Philip, then styled still my lord of Surrey. My lord
of Oxford, grown cold of late, was now our great companion, and the gentlemen
began again to trust him, if not in his sobriety at least in his good will. And
everywhere was M. Simier, bestowing gifts among us and leading us up and down
the town. Mr. Arundell particularly he sought after, and they were often to be
seen at court, even with the queen. Her majesty, for all her years, looked like
a girl again, and nothing pleased her more than to stand in idle conversation
with M. Simier, saying I know not what just to give free reins to his Frenchlike
graces and amorous toys. No man for speech of love but M. Simier. I think had
he been wooing for himself we had had our marriage that very spring.
as time passed, Mr. Arundell and Mr. Tresham (who was my lord of Sussexs
special friend) began to shed their misgivings and join in our more robust spirit.
Mr. Arundell particularly I have always loved, for his gentle and manly ways and
his dignified conversation and good will. I have always found him a true man to
his friends, with that much good grace and wit as I always desire his company.
But in the troubled times before, he had grown somewhat out of humor; he wished,
he said, only his small corner in which to worship, but here were cries and exclamations,
parties and factions, friendships of policy and betrayal of friends; here were
good man called up and bad men speeding well, spies abroad and houses watched,
suspicion everywhere, the queens head turned from her true friends, the
pulpits of England filled with execrations and blasphemy. I have watched as he
paced his rooms in the Priory, never sounding a word aloud but rather brooding
upon I know not what; and in special, when he returned from the country some months
before this, where had been a riot or melee and some man killed and others as
I believe condemned, how he sat before the fire and stared into it upon the hour,
while his friend Kate did fret and worry over him for his taking no food and little
sleep, saying to me, Mr. Francis, do speak with him, as you are his companion,
for he will poison all his goodness with this foul melancholy. But he would then
rise, and shake his head at some unspoken thought, and come to us with rueful
smiles, and we would play at cards by the candlelight, where his mind was not
upon his trumps. But now my friend was flourishing as the green bay tree. His
saturnian humor he had put aside, as the marriage to Monsieur seemed more and
more assured, and Kate; who was more lovely than his Kate was at that time?
Dudley, earl of Leicester, ca.1575
But my lord of Leicester
had not disappeared in smoke. He made his party strong. From the pulpits everywhere,
the preciser sort of preachers exclaimed against the French, and damned the papistical
traitors (meaning us!) to everlasting hellfire, who supported the Frenchman in
his suit. And so great was my lords authority that the most part of the
Council stood with him, only my Lord Chamberlain and Lord Treasurer excepted.
For they were all his kinsmen or near favorers, or else belike in terror of his
disdain of them. In May of 79, when the Council met in Whitehall, they would
not speak for marriage unless the queen herself commanded them. Monsieur must
come to England were any progress to be made, but Leicester employed his evil
devices to prevent a passport being made for him. M. Simier was beside himself,
as June passed with no helps.
in late June, the pot came to the boiling. M. Simier comes to us himself in Greenwich
Park, where Raleigh and myself are helping Arundell to rewrite his books. Mr.
Arundell was then a receiver of lands, but he had little head for figures, poor
man; but he would not have others do his work for him, very commendable in him
I am sure, and was forced to play long hours in the accounting books, which Raleigh,
who is a genius in mathematical matters, was his best savior in.
Simier finds us there, and says he has had word brought him that he must look
for a stab in his guts. He requires of us a privy doublet which will turn away
any blade. Mr. Arundell sends Sharrock his man to my lord of Oxford, who is possessed
of a privy doublet of fine mesh and strong as a dungeon wall, impenetrable to
cannon shot, he says. M. Simier thanks him heartily, but swears the affront does
give him greater hurt than any Italian stabado in the darkness; for in the point
of honor, he says, he is an ambassador of a great prince, whom no wife-murdering
luxurioso must threaten with impunity. At which we understand he means the earl
of Leicester. M. Simier begs our help in accomplishing his revenge. Mr. Raleigh
says then that he must beg our pardon, it is not his part to seek revenge for
another mans private hurts, however just, and so he leaves us.
this cause for several moments, Mr. Arundell says that for his part the matter
were better left alone, and that he and others would gladly walk with M. Simier
to save his life; but that if French honor did so require satisfaction, it were
never good to challenge the earl to the field, for it was well known in England
that the earl cared little for French honor.
Mr. Arundell says, if M. Simier is so hardy as to brave the bear in his den, he
might inform the queen of the tale of my lords wife. What? says M. Simier,
has not all of Europe known the tale of my lords wife these twenty years?
I mean, sir, says Arundell, my lords wife that now is.
Simier looks uncomfortable and ventures to say it appears we have been revenging
ourselves upon different earls, for he had meant the earl of Leicester, who was
his mortal enemy. No less do I mean the same man, says Arundell with a very big
grin. For it is an open secret, M. Simier, and I wonder that you havent
heard it, that my lord of Leicester has been married these nine months to the
earl of Essex his widow, whom aforetime he had known in the way of love, and she
is already delivered of a babe.
Simier sat back open-mouthed. Then he began to laugh apace and slap himself upon
the thigh and call out oaths in French. No English tongue in all these months
had been bold enough to tell the queen that her old lover was now wedded, and
to such a dame as Lettice of Essex was, whom her majesty hated anyway before Belial
and the Turk. But Simier was cut of a different cloth, and he had now found powder
for his gun.
It fell out thus.
Finding occasion the following day to speak with the queen on the terrace walk
at Greenwich, he asks her bluntly if it is only Leicester who dissuades her from
marrying so worthy a prince as Monsieur. Her majesty (he told us) murmurs something
about her people requiring time to accustom themselves to the idea. He persists
and says he believes it is Leicester who dissuades her highness from marrying.
She smiles coyly and observes that a certain amount of jealousy is only natural
in the earl. He says he only wonders how rare a thing it is the earl should dissuade
others from marriage while he himself enjoys that blessed state of matrimony.
She stares at him queerly and begins to look bilious. He affects all innocence
and remarks how he is quite sure that Leicesters wife the widow of Essex
would speak more favorably of marriage, having newly had a years experience
of its joys. The queen turns greenish and leans against the balustrade; she struggles
for breath and weaves upon her feet; she hides her face; she brushes back a tear;
she straightens up and looks him in the eye and says, "Damn me, my lord shall
die for this."
our apogee, this our noon, here our midsummers holiday. My lord of Leicester
was ordered to the Tower; only Sussex (and ask not me why he did it) saved him
that great peril by assuaging the queens wrath somewhat, observing that
in Christian countries marriage is not treason. Nonetheless, my lord is packed
off to Humphreys Tower on Greenwich Hill, and the next day her majesty signs
the dukes passport, and M. Rochetaillé and Mr. Stafford are sent off to
bring Monsieur over. But the tension now was unspeakable. Leicester goes off to
seclusion at Wanstead, where he sulks, forbidden the court. Some mutter that he
means to make a revolution. His brother Warwick said openly at his table that
this matter of a marriage, if it went forward, should cost many broken heads by
Then one evening,
myself and Mr. Arundell are conveying M. Simier through the Blackfriars in Greenwich
Park toward the water stairs, whence he meant to take barge back to the French
house, where it was his use to lie. We were speaking of versifying, for both Simier
and Mr. Arundell were wont sometimes to tickle the muse on sleepless nights. Here
out of a doorway steps me a guardsman, one Robin Tider as we after learned, and
we expect his qui vive right as clockworks, but instead, up comes
his piece to level and sights me his barrel on my nose. Oh Lord, cries M. Simier,
but Charles throws himself across him and both fly into the shrubberies, whilst
my knees turn to water and down I go, and boom! a caliver touches off like the
palace wall is coming down and up goes my new bonnet as if jerked from above by
pranksters. The guardsman stands there staring, but Mr. Arundell and M. Simier
whisk forth their rapiers and pose en garde, and then the miscreant
drops his caliver and bolts across the lawn. To no avail, for he was taken soon
after. When it was demanded of him why he had attempted so desperate an enterprise,
and who had trained him to it, his constant answer was that the French did always
much displease him for their effeminate ways. Such replies bring smiles to the
wise; yet was he never urged towards the truth, nor did Mr. Secretary even show
to him the rack. No man knows what happened to the fellow thereafter.
Simier was of sure opinion that my lord of Leicester had bespoken the assault,
and once Mr. Vice-Chamberlain Hatton hinted in my hearing that that might not
be far out. It is certain that someone wished the gentleman little good. In any
case, the queen said publicly in the Presence Chamber that if a tiny hair of M.
Simiers head should come to grief my lord of Leicester had best look to
his paternosters. And Simiers lodgings were removed from the ambassadors
house to rooms next the queens in Greenwich Palace.
M. Simier was safe now, and Mr. Arundell had his everlasting gratitude for the
saving of his life, and I had to sell my new hangers to replace my bonnet.
Simier was forever with her majesty. They dined together; they played at cards;
they danced, they exchanged love tokens and wrote verses. They rowed upon the
Thames together. Where one day, also in July if I do not misremember, a foolish
fellow shoots his piece from a boat nearby and knocks one of her watermen through
his arms. M. Simier believed himself was the mark they drew upon, and complained
it was the earl of Leicesters malice, but that God for his holy purpose
would preserve his life unworthy until this sacred marriage were effected. Leicesters
friends, likewise, said it was the papists who would rather kill the queen than
have her overthrow this devilish match. In truth, it was but a young fool rowing
upon the water with a cargo of silly choirboys, who meant to show them how one
cocks a gun and all unwitting shot the queens rower off his bench. Afterward
he received his pardon, even as, condemned for treason, he stood upon the gallows
with head in noose, crying and puling and knocking his forehead with his hands
and protesting afore God that he never meant no harm and finally bestinking the
place where he stood, until, as the clergyman backs away and the audience sough
in their breaths, at the instant of his turning off, him howling like the dervishes,
Mr. Vice-Chamberlain Hatton rides up apace crying "Hold for the queens
sake"--and delivers to the crowd a marvelous oration of an hours length
on the subject of Gods mercy shown to them and his careful providence and
this miraculous sparing of the queens life for their sakes--what jars and
broils, what scrambles and maraudings, would come upon us were the queen to die
untimely, who only stands between us and our ruin, praise the Lord heartily for
his care of our good lady; and tells them that the queen in her celebrated clemency
will have a care of her children, too, and young Appletree will have a pardon.
Whereupon he steps upon his horse and rides away, amid God save the queen! from
every throat, while the poor malefactor, all insensible, crying "Oh, oh,
oh," is carried off to his freedom.
lord of Northumberland is asked advice of. Oxford and Surrey must display our
English dances for the French commissioners. Mr. Arundell is with the queen, who
tells him she was never better friended than by the noble house of Howard. She
asks Mr. Ambassador how fares the Scottish queen, and what does she require for
her comfort? Bruits fly furious that Northumberland and Montague, and others of
the conservative cast, are to be sworn to the Privy Council; Sir Francis Englefield
and my lord of Westmoreland and other gentlemen in exile may be called for home
and restored to their forfeit lands. Leicester is forbidden the court. Mr. Secretary
complains of the earls hard usage and her majesty treads upon his foot,
and so Walsingham too is forbidden the court. Leicesters brother, my lord
of Warwick, will not be seen; his father-in-law Knollys keeps his rooms; Hatton
and Bromley lie low. Leicesters sister, Sir Henry Sidneys lady, leaves
the court in a huff. And all is beer and skittles for us. Lord Harry pronounces
us a victory.
duc d'Anjou (drawing by François Clouet, Bibliothèque Ste-Geneviève, Paris)
Then, in August, the duke
of Anjou arrived. His visit, at the queens commandment, was kept a close
secret, known only to everyone save the peasants of Cumbria. M. Simier had often
shown to us his portrait, in discoursing of his ample virtues, and I had always
thought him, God forgive me, the most ill- favored prince that ever I saw. On
a day in August, Lord Harry Howard and I are beyond the scullery buildings at
Greenwich, where my Lord Chamberlain had asked us in good friendship to oversee
the stocking of the larder. Up rides a party of men to the kitchen door. Lord
Harry and I are sitting on the steps wishing it were winter, as we often do in
summer. (In winter we grow wistful and speak only of the summer.) On one horse
sits de Bex, the duke of Anjous secretary, with his plumed bonnet and glittering
traps; on another sits du Bourg, M. Simiers man, resplendent in his clothes
and weaponry. Between them sits, upon a saddle gilt-inlaid with enamelled studs,
a hunchbacked peasant, stooped over, wrapped all about in a rag-tattery gray cloak
and overhung with a drooping felt hat the size of a wagon wheel.
peasant tosses Harry a new French crown and says, Here, my man, see to our horses.
Harry looks at me in astonishment. Then says he, I am a slave to no man, sirrah,
and least of all to a runagate and a vagabond. And he flings the crown back to
the peasant. The peasant shakes with sudden fury, still with his hat pulled down
over his shoulders. I tell you, you will see to our horses, cries he, or I will
make it good upon your body! Bepiss yourself, you foul son of a sow and a stallion,
says Harry; your appearance makes me wish to spew. De Bex and du Bourg have their
hands over their mouths to contain themselves. You wretched English noddy, cries
the man, whisking off his hat so violently that his hair starts up on end, and
stays there; I am no vagabond, cries he, I am the prince of France!
my lord, says Harry in contrition, as he leaps to hold the dukes horse.
The duke dismounts with prodigious show of dignity, and Harry leads his horse
away, deftly retrieving the new crown from the dukes fingers as he passes
him. I take the other gentlemens horses, they winking at me as I do, and
the three strangers enter the palace by the kitchen doors. As we marched the horses
round to the stables, I remarked to my Lord Harry that he must surely have known
whom he addressed. Peccavi, confiteor, he said with eyes adance.
was then our first sight of the queens great suitor. There can scarcely
have been an uglier man in Europe. Lord Harry loved to call him Thersites, when
he was out of our hearing. Mr. Arundell called him Faveolus, for his pitted,
poxy face. He was twenty-four years old but could have passed for seventeen. What
a villainous long, trenchy face he had, and a mincing walk, and pouty mouth. Oh,
we did fear for ourselves then, for no woman above or below the orbit of the moon
could ever marry such a man.
mirabile dictu, the queen seemed never to notice, and fell in love with
him at once. He was her gay Frog, she coyly said (though in truth he looked more
like a toad), and nothing would do but he must see her famous dancing, so we have
a great ball, and the duke, whose visit is of course a terrible close secret,
peeks out at her from behind the arras and makes gothic faces, with broad winks,
while she dances with all the gentlemen and lords of the court, and we pretend
we do not see him there. Her majesty specially selected the ugliest maids of honor
to attend her, and bade the fair ones keep their chambers.
was Leicester like a pagan god in his insurmountable wrath. It was thought most
certainly throughout the realm that he would have taken arms soon after if the
marriage had gone forward. My lord himself was reported to have given out as much
at Wanstead house, and Warwick had said openly at his table in Greenwich that
it was not to be suffered (I mean the marriage), which words of his once coming
abroad, every servingman and common companion took them up in defense of his lordships
part against her majesty. And while the queen played on, how affrontable we grew
at court. One example must suffice. On a day, my lord of Oxford knocks me up and
offers to play at tennis for our exercise. The earl I ever found a difficult man
to deny, however otherwise one might be engaged, and so off I go to let him pound
at me for sport.
As we come
into the court, with Mr. Cornwallis and Mr. Harry Noel, there we encounter upon
the floor Mr. Philip Sidney, Leicesters nephew, at play before us with his
friends. There be two men especially whom I have never loved. One of them is my
lord of Oxford, for although he is a pleasant fellow and wears his plumes very
well, yet is he a loose and faithless man, with no conviction to support or steady
him withal. The other is Mr. Sidney, for though he is the darling of his uncles
friends and, it must be confessed, a proper gentleman in his rare parts, yet is
he contrariwise too strict, for he is all conviction, without flesh and bone to
temper him like ordinary men; in short (to my poor lights), he is a bigot. He
does not always seem so, and I know many men do love him well. Yet I have seen
it in his burning eyes. Secretly I call him Fire-Eater, and Mr. Arundell says
he is Amadis of Gaul redivivus. For the treading on his toes without
leave, he would give a man his last stabado upon the point of honor. A poor papist
he would burn in his fireplace, upon the point of conscience.
earl of Oxford is an overbearing man at any time, but now, in our great days,
he was unsurpassable. He strides onto the floor and waves Mr. Sidney peremptorily
aside. Mr. Sidney stares at him with his jaw hung down from chains. My lord waves
his racquet to and fro, and feigns surprise the court is still inhabited. I asked
you, sir, to void this court, for we are now to play, he says. Mr. Sidney looks
to the galleries, and I see to my unspeakable horror the French ambassadors assembled
there, who have been watching the play, and I fear me, with an audience, we shall
run with blood before this day is done.
Sidneys friends walk towards the door, but he stays them with a motion of
his racquet. Oxford storms; he fumes; Leave this court at once, he shouts, for
an English earl would play upon it. Mr. Sidneys face is like a blocked chimney,
but he manages to stammer that if your lordship had been pleased to express your
desire in milder words, perchance you might have led out those whom you shall
now find will not be driven out with any scourge of fury. The Frenchmen crowd
to the gallerys edge. Then my lord of Oxford says Mr. Sidney is a puppy.
Mr. Sidney starts back, then asks my lord in a loud voice that which he heard
clearly enough before. My lord says Puppy once again. Mr. Sidney then gives my
lord the lie-impossible-to-be-retorted; for all the world knows, he says, that
puppies are gotten by dogs and children by men.
this invincible piece of lively wit, both men stand gaping. Finally Mr. Sidney
leads his friends from the court. The Frenchmen then depart, all aflutter with
these heroic preludes. It is understood that one of them will suffer with his
body. For two hours after, my game was off most vilely.
day passes, and Oxford frets and worries. At length he rises up and says this
traitor Sidney will never send the challenge, for he is a pusillanimous boy. Mr.
Raleigh smirks covertly and points out to his lordship that in these matters,
where once the lie direct is given, it is custom for the one so fronted to make
the necessary challenge. Just as he speaks, a messenger comes from Mr. Sidney,
who tells my lord that Mr. Sidney wonders whether honor is not dead amongst the
chivalry of England. Oxford says his antagonist would be a fool to meet him in
open field. Directly satisfying himself of this, he employs Raleigh and Arundell
with a message, to this effect, that the question might be honorably ended. Shortly
they return. Mr. Sidney accepts gladly thereof, they tell us, and desires much
it might not be deferred. Which when he hears, my lord tells us plainly he is
not to hazard himself, having received such a base injury and from a common man
at that, and therefore he has another course, and that is to have him murdered
in his lodging. He then embarks upon the manner how it will be done, for honors
sake, and my Lord Harry and Raleigh, Arundell, and myself are beside our wits
with laughter. Whereupon he angers and flings himself out of the room.
more came of this, for Mr. Arundell and my Lord Harry informed the Lord Chamberlain
of what was toward, and Sussex then informed the queen of it, who called the firebrands
to her severally and bade them behave henceforward as brothers would. But this
will suffice to tell what violent courses arose at that time when we thought our
victory was come at last, how deeply ran our differences at court and in the land,
which never would be so easily won for us, not then, not now, not ever.
after, news arrives from France that Bussy dAmbois is slain in a duel. Monsieur
must leave his wooing off and hurry home to bury his friend in ground. Then Mr.
Stubbss vile treatise against the French appears, and he is deprived of
his right hand in public execution, and the queen forbids by proclamation this
exclaiming against her marrying. But the city is against her, and the outcry unabated,
Mr. Stubbs the great only hero of the English nation, and, her lover now departed,
her majesty begins to wander in her orbit. My lord of Leicester returns to court
with surly glances; Leicestrian companions crawl up from the wainscots everywhere.
Again the Council refuses to advise for the match unless she commands they do
so. But her majesty will not stand alone against both Council and realm. In November
she permits M. Simier to draft the articles out, but hems and haws upon them and
will not stand by them and bids him display them to his king for considerations
M. Simier is in despair.
He nearly weeps as we conduct him on his way to Dover, and long he clasps the
hand of Mr. Arundell, his special friend, and says I fear my prince has let the
iron grow cold, when it is too late now for striking. And so Mr. Stafford and
Mr. Raleigh continue him on to Calais Roads, and we return to a court which has
now grown, in November time, too much colder.
had seen our sun rising in the eastern sky, and it has now set in the east again.
And the only thing miraculous in this is that, in our great hope, we like babies
mistook it for the dawn. It was but the beginning of long, Stygian night.
back to the Preface and Table of Contents|
ahead to Chapter VII. Summer Idyll (1580)|
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.