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


faith and doubt in the time of Queen Elizabeth I

Part 1. ENGLAND (1577-1583)



(Narrative of Black Bear Sevenoaks)

"Pastime with good company
I love and shall, until I die.
Grudge who list, but none deny!
So God be pleased, thus live will I."
-- Henry VIII

Oh, Master Shelley, you are welcome. Make yourself at ease, sir.

These 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 again.

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 d’ye hail from, Black Bear? Y’re not a city man, Bear, sure. Whence come ye, then?" And they’re 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 o’the lanes and alleyways. I am a countryman am I, sir, give me the open field and a good day’s work and let me go.

My 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.

My 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.

When Queen Mary won the war, my father came home, and said to me, "Ned, we’ve 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.

"Ned, 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 Wyatt’s 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 queen’s troops before him must have seemed but greater Spanish devilry, whole companies of horse disguised by the queen’s 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 queen’s 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 father’s head, black and high upon the bridge.

So 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.

That is how I left the farm, Mr. Shelley. We had my father’s 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 day’s 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.

Another, sir, hold out your cup.

Now sir, Bob was in the north in ‘69, for I’d sent him to my wife’s 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 wife’s 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 wife’s relations into the square, and gave them great staves to fight withal and marched them off to the south.

And 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 traitors.

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.

Well, 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 don’t 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.

But you must watch the gentlemen o’the 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.

These years past have been good years, and good years will come again.

Some 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.

"I do well remember," quoth he, as I recall him, "the first dozen years of her majesty’s 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.

"But 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."

Such was that gentleman’s 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.

Here 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.

I 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.

Then 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 duke’s 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 . . . ."

At 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."

You 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.

"My 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."

Here my Lord Harry winked at me, and I smiled at him very faintly, for I would not have it thought I disbelieved the earl’s 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."

Which indeed seemed to be very true, for his lordship was staring dreamily upwards to the ceiling and, whilst fondling Meg’s bodice from over her shoulder with one hand and tipping his cup with the other, he continued.

"In 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 man’s 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.

"Thus, 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 majesty’s letters, which was I tell you, gentlemen, the greatest disgrace that ever any such a general received. Here, Black Bear, can’t you see man I have gone dry!"

I 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."

"Not 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 earl’s, 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.

"Oh my lord," says Mr. Noel then, "not Alexander could have held a field against you, not Caesar could escape your bloody arm."

"No," cries Mr. Raleigh, "neither Carneades for an ambassador could have argued for the Athenians but half so well as you."

Lord 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?"

"Well," 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 weep."

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 earl’s tale and his earnest business about her front, the poor girl had much ado to keep her wits.

"But, 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 a sword."

"But is 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?"

"By 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 earl’s wine.

"Here 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 fellowship’s sake now."

"Oh Ned, be not angry with me. Let me refill your cup. Here, Ned, let’s refill your cup."

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 seat again.

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 nobleman’s virgin daughter.

But my lord of Oxford had noticed the young baron’s 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 lordship’s 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.

"Here, Windsor, enough! You dishonor the woman, sir!" cries the earl.

"Oh daggers, why are you tarrying?" cries out Mr. Arundell. "Oh swords, why are you wasting time?"

Lord 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.

Then 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.

"I 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--."

"And 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.

"I 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 queen’s 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."

Here 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 Meg’s bosom and now said nothing, and there was some discomfort in the others, perhaps.

Then 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."

"Damn 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."

"No 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."

And 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?"

"Oh Walter, believe me," answered the earl, removing his head from between Meg’s 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."

The 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."

"Oh Harry, you don’t 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!"

And 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.

Do 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 come again.

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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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