ccd-logo1.jpg (12597 bytes)Dwight Peck's lengthy tales


faith and doubt in the time of Queen Elizabeth I



"I have lost the pole and know
not in what climate I am shaken."
-- Charles Arundell

Late afternoon sunlight broke through heavy clouds upon the blank white face of Beauchamp Tower. Above the outer walls of the Tower of London, above the broad ditch separating it from the Byward Street and Eastcheap, semi-circular Beauchamp rose into the sky. From a narrow pair of windows, high up near the parapet, a pale face gazed upon the city. Francis Throgmorton sat in the window bay. His fingers played nervously with the chinks between the stones.

A sharp clangor burst in from the corridor, and the door swung heavily back. The lieutenant of the Tower entered and made a gesture. Throgmorton’s hands shook more violently; he tried to stammer something, then gave it over. He pretended to yawn, and shrugged. Climbing down across his bed, he dressed in his doublet and followed the lieutenant out of the cell.

Three yeoman warders stood waiting at the head of the staircase. In a file, the procession descended the tight spiral of stone steps, heads bowed beneath the low ceiling, and issued up onto the inner green. Here the prisoner, with an embarrassed smile all round, turned to the right, towards the council chambers in the Lieutenant’s Lodgings. Lieutenant Hopton took his arm and marched him straight across the yard instead. Throgmorton began to tremble and resist.

In the center of the green stood the massive keep of the White Tower. A huge square, terminated at its corners by towers, it rose higher than all the ancient buildings surrounding it; from its parapets, when the day was fine, one could see well into the countryside across the Thames. Now the stones dripped sadly from intermittent rains. Pigeons and ravens trotted carelessly about the ground. The party marched round to the far side of the White Tower and ascended the staircase to the first story. When they entered, the gloom of the interior fell in upon them, and Throgmorton became daunted. The warders had to drag him down the stairs.

In the cellars they came through a corridor lit only by two iron cressets on the wall. Three men, Secretary Walsingham, his assistant Thomas Phelippes, and Mr. William Waad, were waiting by a small door. The warders’ boots echoed on the stones and their sleeves brushed their doublets as they walked, but otherwise the place kept a hollow silence. Mr. Secretary nodded. As one of the guards held forward a lighted torch, Hopton unlocked the door and led the way into a tiny tomblike chamber.

In the center of the cell stood a long instrument made of heavy planks. At the head and foot of it, manacles and gyves were embedded in blocks of stained wood, and to one of the blocks a thick screw was bolted. The screw was attached to a winch with four great handles. The device was called a rack.

Throgmorton turned away from Walsingham and began to whimper into a warder’s chest. His knees failed him, and he had to be supported. His lips formed words soundlessly. The whites were visible as his eyes rolled frantically in all directions, except in the direction of the rack.

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"How horrible a sin against God and man sedition is cannot possibly be expressed according to the greatness thereof!

"For he that nameth treason nameth not a singular or one only sin, as is theft, robbery, murder, and such like, but he nameth the whole puddle and sink of all sins against God and man, against his prince, his country, his countrymen, his parents, his children, his kinsfolk, his friends, and against all men universally; all sins, I say, against God and all men heaped together nameth he that nameth treason."

Light rain pattered on the leaden roof of Paul’s Cross. The preacher paused again for breath, reached up and turned his hourglass, began again. Raised above the crowd by a stone foundation, he stood snugly within his wooden pulpit, his voice rising higher still.

"Their doctrines are the doctrines of Antichrist, as contrary to the holy word of God as is darkness to light, and infidelity to faith in Christ Jesus. Namely with most foolish and beggarly Romish trash, as bulls, pardons, indulgences, holy grains, with such other childish inventions, wherein truly I marvel that the beggarliness and folly of their popish religion is not more espied and held in perpetual detestation."

To the south and west, across the churchyard crowded with listeners, the walls of the transept of St. Paul’s Cathedral rose high into the dark sky. In galleries built against the walls, the greater citizens sat comfortably out of the drizzle, but the people in the yard were less fortunate. The great steepleless tower ran with cold rain.

"Now of this their deed particular, this plot or compact, which the Lord in his mercy has revealed to open day, this I say, that the manner is ungodly, the thing unsufferable, the cause wicked, the persons seditious, the purpose traitorous; and can they possibly by any honest defense of reason or any good conscience deny that this malicious and horrible fault is not only sinful afore God and traitorous to the queen, but also deadly and pestilent to the whole commonwealth of our country, and so not only overflow us with the misery, but also overwhelm them with the rage thereof!"

After two hours under the wet heavens, the auditory was sodden; the chill November breeze swept down Paternoster Row and set the healthiest to shaking. Still, as the preacher rose to his peroration, the flaps of his cloth cap flying about his head, they listened in sympathy now and with no little indignation.

"By Elizabeth, a woman," the preacher bellowed, "the goats of Italy, the wolves of Spain, the cormorants of Rome shall every one be overcome. The Irish colts, and the foxes of England that hide in their dens in France and Flanders, and all her other enemies shall be brought to shame and ruin. Go tell them," he screamed; "I require you; go tell them, that those goats, those wolves, those cormorants, those colts, those foxes, shall be so hunted and baited by an English grey, that not one of them--not one of them!--shall be left to piss against a wall!"

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Seven men plunged double-file down the lane, urging their horses to more haste wherever the going seemed safer. The way was dark through the forest, and the rain, falling heavily since the evening first came on, had turned the road to mud.

At intervals they emerged from the wood and splashed up the empty street of some small town, paused at a crossing of roads, then spurred on again, unseen by the sleeping villagers, unheard in the clatter of the rain. Their black cloaks they wore drawn close about them, and great slouch hats were drawn down against the chill of the dying year.

Once, after midnight, the leader drew up at a turning and wheeled his horse about. His wet plumes fell across his face. "I can stand no more of this," he shouted.

Walklate nudged his horse forward and peered about through the darkness, then pointed over the meadow to the left and said, "Billingshurst." Turning back and pointing the way they’d come, he said, "Horsham Market." Pointing obliquely to the right, toward a stand of trees that loomed blackly on the brow of a hill, he called, "Petworth."

Another rider, in a streaming hat with a wide drooping brim, pushed forward and shook his head vigorously. "Onward," he shouted, and set his horse in motion.

Another followed him out of the pack, calling, "To the sea."

The leader shrugged, whirled about and, with the other men, set off down the muddy road almost at a gallop. The thick night opened before them as they passed over low hills, splashed down into shallow valleys, forded dashing streams or clattered over stone bridges when they came upon them.

Dawn, rising over the gray channel, lighting the tops of little waves with flickering points like shattered glass, found them on a hilltop overlooking the strand. The cold breeze that had whipped them all the way from London ceased now and left the air damp and chill and heavy. Away to the west lay Fering, one of the tiny villages clustered along the beach in a half-circle of shoreline between Shoreham and the Selsey Bill.

At midmorning, round the center table in the Porpoise Inn in Fering, Thomas Lord Paget and Mr. William Shelley discussed their arrangements in low voices. Charles Arundell stared into the cheerful hearth with little cheer in his heart. Paget’s servingmen, Twinyho and Walklate, were still at their meal in the corner. John Deaws and Jamie Sharrock were on the docks searching out a certain shipmaster who had appointed to meet them.

Arundell reflected on the fate he had been led to. Three decades earlier, his father, Sir Thomas, had similarly fallen victim to a Dudley; then it had been to the earl of Leicester’s father, the duke of Northumberland, and Sir Thomas had gone to the block. Charles, then only twelve, with his older brother and his two sisters, had not been forsaken, for his mother’s family had been quick to take them in. And in those days, in those Catholic days of good Queen Mary, there were few houses in England better to be raised in than a house maintained by the Howards.

But gone now were those days of bright hopes and easy friendships. What Leicester’s father had begun, Leicester himself had perfected--the house of Dudley and the house of Howard, Dudley and Howard, the small, aggressive tribe of upstarts and financiers and fancy-dress favorites who rose into power by sprightly dancing at the holiday balls and stabs in the back below stairs, against the great, widespread, easy-going, ancient clan of poets, scholars, priests, soldiers and sailors, lords of old-fashioned hospitality, protectors of their tenants and maintainers of the old traditions in their country. But the world was in decay. Now all was war, and trade, and revolution, and the pure gospel, treaties made in order to be broken and statutes made to be ignored; the new men, the new preachers, the new merchants, the new courtiers with their quicksilver fashions and trappings, their doublets with collars so high and sharp in front as to cut one’s throat by daylight; foreigners flooding into the realm and throwing honest English yeomen out of work, infecting the hearts of simple people with scores of new religious aberrations bred up a week past and never so much as dreamed of by the ancient heretics of the primitive church. The world was in collapse, like a house long undermined and falling now to ruin, and England was on the crumbling edge. And all Arundell could do, lest he collapse with it, was flee to safer floors, and flee again to safer floors when the old floors were unsafe, and keep a step ahead of Robert Dudley, the earl of Leicester, the devil in his earthly shape, and the demons that pursued his enemies into all the corners of Europe.

Paget was turning over to Shelley a wallet of money, left at the inn with his travelling trunk a few days earlier by his man Ensor, for the care of his young son in his absence. Shipmaster Clynsall came in behind Sharrock and Deaws and greeted his lordship deferentially. To the questions urgently put to him, he replied, "Oh sir, not today, it will not be today, sir. There is not a breeze upon the water today, sir; the fishermen rowed out this morning, sir, and thought no wind good to wait for today."

The little man stared at Lord Paget’s purse and seemed reluctant to raise his eyes to his lordship’s face. Paget turned to the great window and stood looking up at the sky, as if he would have known the signs of sailing weather were they to be seen.

The shipmaster coughed and murmured into his beard. "But sir, if it were known that a gentleman such as yerself, sir, and an old coaster such as I be, were up to Spanish tricks in these bad times. Perhaps another’s boat, yer reverence, would serve yer turn as well as mine, if you take my meaning, sir."

Arundell stood and turned upon him. "We have struck a bargain with you, sirrah, and you will honor it accordingly. Now is not the hour for faint hearts. Let these thirty pound suffice, for it is more than any honest master may expect. As for danger, sirrah, your danger is great enough already."

Clynsall coughed again and seemed dejected.

Lord Paget turned from the window and said, "What my friend means, shipmaster, is that you have conveyed many gentlemen beyond the seas before this, and not all of them so free from suspicion as we are. Now if that were known in certain quarters, as it is surely infamous in others, your next voyage would be a long one, master, I warrant you that. Furthermore, your wife is a bawd, is she not, and keeps a house in Turnmill Street, and it is said, sirrah, it is commonly said that she keeps Jesuits there, and young boys bound for the seminaries beyond the seas, and that you gather them there to convey them thence. Now, sirrah, what think you? What would their lordships of the Council give to learn of this? Tomorrow we must depart; pray get you ready."

The captain’s face had hardened as he listened. He still looked downward, as if loath to see the countenances of the men he dealt with, but seemed firmer now in his course.

"Aye, yer reverence, ye’ve a saracen way with words ye have. We will not stand upon terms now, sir. If ye be Jesuits yerselves I am sure ye’ll both be paid for it. But not tomorrow, there is no daylight voyages for me. Tonight we shall be off, God willing and the wind rising, and over in the dark like Pacolet’s horse I’ll fly thee."

The master touched his cap again and backed towards the door. Then he was gone, scuttling across the innyard towards the great gate. Arundell called to his man Sharrock, who left his chair and set off after the seaman towards the docks.

Will Shelley arose now and stretched himself. He began dressing himself in his doublet as he nodded to John Deaws and brought the man to his feet.

"Well, my friends," he said. "I am off to London again. And as I sleep in my warm bed I shall think of you out upon the stormy sea. I wish you both a safe crossing, with God’s help."

"Many thanks, Will," said Paget. "And you won’t come with us then. Your peril is very great, you know."

"But not so great as yours by half. We shall all fare well enough, my lord, you’ll see. You must give the pope a fillip on the ear for me, you will remember, Charles."

Arundell shook Will’s hand warmly. "Aye, my boy, that I will, and I’ll inform the cardinal secretary whose fillip I bestow. Fare you well, Will."

"Do fare well, Will," said Paget, "and watch over my sisters, won’t you, and my young William for me. Tell them we shall all be home soon enough."

"All your friends wish well for your lordship, and we’ll await a word from you when you can write it. I’ll take my leave of you then. Goodbye."

Shelley paused at the door and looked back at his companions sadly, while Deaws waited for him to go out. After a moment, Paget waved him on his way and said, "Aye, go on, Will, go on. We’ll be home soon enough, we’ll all be coming home again, you’ll see."

Shelley shook his head solemnly, then turned and strode off with his servant across the yard to the stable.

By evening the fire had burned low and the host had come in to revive it. Walklate and his master had taken up the backgammon tables, and the sounds of their competition filled the room, cries of "Trilill" and "Liry up" from his lordship, grunts of satisfaction or disgust from his man.

Arundell stared still into the fire. Paget had the notion that in six months’ time they would be home again safe and sure and possibly back at the court within the year. Arundell, still the saturnist, disagreed. These were not like the times that had gone before. The queen, in the good old days, could smile privately, storm publicly, and teach everyone a lesson in palace etiquette. In the good old days, she could terrify her suitors, admirers, and kinsmen, and forgive them with a scowl and a wink. Here was treason, and these were the days of the gibbet and the axe. This was the time of fear, when Mr. Secretary hounded his spies harder and harder for more and more detailed informations, seemingly certain that at any moment, in any part of the kingdom, foreign fleets would appear in the offing, foreign troops would gather on the coast or march across the Scottish frontier and carry on to London. In the old court game, the stakes were immeasurably higher now, and having lost this hand they were out of play for good and all.

Footsteps approached without, and Jamie Sharrock thrust his head in the door and made a sign. Within moments the men were gathered on the darkened quay, Paget’s baggage about them, awaiting the shipmaster’s signal. No sound came either from the shore or from the sleeping town. A few lights from the upper windows of the Porpoise shone with a dull rose glow above the shadows.

Presently Clynsall and his two boys appeared and began casting off the lines. Paget, Arundell, and Twinyho clambered aboard and huddled down into the cockpit, turning to wave godspeed to Walklate and Sharrock across the black waters as the tiny boat drifted out from the dockside. The inn’s lights began dimming as the bark came under way, the light breeze swelling out the sails only just perceptibly; and as the eastward coast interposed itself between them and the Fering dockfront, the lights went out and the moonless darkness was nearly absolute. The water made a quiet rush beneath the bows. Clynsall knew his course by long experience, and turned the boat southeastward toward the black shore of France.

Lord Thomas Paget turned to Arundell in the darkness and murmured, "Jacta est alea." Charles shrugged his shoulders and nodded.

The die had been thrown, he thought, many years before; the dark continent lay now a night’s voyage ahead, awaiting the travellers with murder and treachery in its bosom.

Lord Paget, indeed all the others, spoke constantly of providence and trusted in God’s goodness at every pass. It was a faith for which Arundell had profound sympathy in its theory but a practical distaste. He wanted only to go home, and to be warm. But he had no home at this time.

Arundell stared into the tenebrous depths of the sea beneath the boat, where nothing was to be seen. The water made a quiet rush beneath the bows.

goback.gif (2185 bytes)Go back to the Preface and Table of Contents
gonext.gif (2192 bytes)Go ahead to Chapter II. At the Horsehead in Cheap (1583)

bookpen.gif (2870 bytes)Please 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.


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