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)



"Turn not, O Lord, thy face from me,
Although a wretched wight,
But let me joy in Thee all day,
Rejoice in Thee all night."
-- Francis Tregian

To his Most Christian Majesty, Henri, the
third of that name, king of France, etc., etc., give these.

Saving your majesty, after my hearty commendations. My letters of the 28 and 30 ultimo have informed your majesty of my talk past with this queen’s officers for the seas. Since then, we have spoken thrice more, and I do verily think that the English captains are as careful to drive their pirates from those havens as we are to have them dispersed. I dare assure your majesty that by All Saints’ Day next we shall have the relief we have looked for.

Other news have I none, but for one matter of some moment. Not long since I received a visit from a young nobleman of this realm who would seem to offer great service to your majesty. He is the earl of Oxford, who is a very brilliant youth, of a very noble house, and much beloved of the queen herself for his manifold charms. The earl told me upon his first entering my chamber that he is a Catholic, and that he has been sent to me by all the great Catholics of this country, who, he said, are almost all the nobility except this queen’s own special favorites. When I asked whom he meant particularly, he named an exceedingly large number of great persons, some of whom I know to be Catholics indeed, others I think who might be very surprised to find their names upon his list. I asked him politely, as if idly curious, who in particular had sent him, to which he replied that the brother of the late duke of Norfolk, who died in the cause of your majesty’s honorable cousin the Scottish queen, was one, and that there were many others he could name at a need.

After some complaints of the hard fate of Catholics in this realm, and many lamentations therefor, the earl fell into inveighing against some of the queen’s special counsellors, to whom he lays the blame for their present misfortunes. And then, without looking upon me directly, he said it was thought your majesty might do much to help them if you would. I replied that your majesty was always careful to relieve the unfortunate godly where lawfully it might be done. He then professed to be devoted to your majesty’s service, and said he thought that he and his friends, with your majesty’s aid forthcoming, might do much for the aid of the Scottish queen their mistress in her durance, whose only good they desire more than anything else.

I told the earl that many men do profess great love for kings and queens who only wish advantage to themselves, and that it was your majesty’s wont to require some signal piece of service in earnest of good faith before proceeding further with any man. To which he replied that it may be he could do such service. He said it was the common bruit in England that your majesty’s rebel the prince of Condé was on the very point of fleeing into England for his safety, and said that he knew a captain who might undertake an enterprise against the said prince at his coming over. I told him that the peace was nearly concluded and the prince would not need to seek refuge anywhere, but that were this peace to hold no better than the last and the prince should then be driven to this shore, your majesty might have no objection to the idea.

Whereupon he said that he had not known of a new peace and had meant further to have raised a squadron of five ships for service against the Huguenots at sea, and that he would do so if the peace were not to hold. I thanked him very earnestly and asked him what your majesty might do for him by way of recompense. He thought for a moment, looking like a man who has to go from one great rock to another and cannot bring himself to leap. Finally he said that he must consult with his friends, but that in the meantime I must consider him wholly at your majesty’s commandment. I thanked him for his love and gave him a small jewel as a token of your majesty’s esteem, and then he departed.

This morning the earl of Oxford has returned. He seemed very agitated and hastened to enter into his matter without any of the kind of idle speeches which commonly pass first between gentlemen. He told me he was ready to lead a rebellion of the Catholic part in England if he were assured of your majesty’s support. I told him that rebellions are very serious affairs ordinarily, that there are many ways to enter into them, but the way is very narrow to come honorably out thereof, and they are dangerous for the soul and body. Still he persisted by saying that all this kingdom is awaiting the proper direction to rise up against the favorites of the queen and their Protestant minions, and would do so if given good hope of success. The queen’s favorites, he insisted, would flee with no more ado than a few shots fired and a few bills broken.

I said he seemed assured of good success, but I did wonder what part your majesty might have in such an affair. I told him that as long as this queen did not support rebellions in your dominions, you might not lawfully do so in hers. The young earl replied that all the world did know that the English queen has many times aided your majesty’s unruly subjects of the other religion, and that in any case your majesty was freed of that restraint by the holy bull of excommunication by which this queen is no queen in the eyes of God but a usurper. I pointed out to him that the term of that deposition was expired two years past, to which he answered most cannily that a new bull might easily be procured, since she was the same queen still. But then, very ill at ease, he went on to say, with some default of logic, that he meant only to remove the counsellors who were leading their queen astray, and to name the Scottish queen her heir, not to attempt anything against Elizabeth herself, which he said would be less grateful amongst the gentlemen his supporters.

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Michel, Seigneur de Mauvissière de Castlenau, French ambassador to the English Court

Whereupon I asked again what role your majesty might have in such an adventure. The young earl fumbled again, but finally said you might dispatch ten thousand men to land upon the southern coast and thence proceed to the capital, whose presence there would assure a victory for the religion with the loss of no man’s life, upon which they might return unto your majesty more glorious in the sight of God for their holy succor given. I professed to weigh seriously his proposal, telling him I would consult your majesty in the matter and let him know your will. In the meantime, I said, we would be grateful for any bit of news from the court that the earl or his friends might pass to us, only for the good of religion, and I think in this we will profit greatly from his aid, for his father-in-law is the great Lord Treasurer and other his friends do sit in very high places in this realm. In earnest whereof I gave him a small jewel to signify your majesty’s great good will towards him. So, wishing me God speed, he departed.

In my judgment, your majesty would do well to humor the young earl and other his discontented friends, for we may gain much by their friendship. On the other side, however, your majesty must not take seriously his schemes, which in my opinion are chimerical, as also is his estimate of the might of the Catholic forces within this realm. I will do in this business as your majesty instructs me, as indeed in all other. With all loyalty professed, etc., I close, remaining your majesty’s humble servant at his post, in his house in London this fifteenth of June, the year of our Lord 1577.

Mauvissière de Castelnau

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Tom Phelippes, although a very young man, was Secretary Walsingham’s chief documents handler. Already an expert linguist and decoder, his main task was to see to the translation of the letters in ciphers and foreign languages that were brought in by the Secretary’s friends and agents from wherever they could be intercepted, found, bought, or stolen.

He completed his translations of the copies of various correspondences sent over by their man in the French embassy, setting most of them aside in a small pile for the Secretary’s perusal at his convenience. The last one he had handled, however, seemed important enough to be treated separately. Papers in hand, he hurried off through the corridors of the court to find his master.

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Similarly in June, Charles Arundell was away from town, at Golden Manor on the river Fal in Cornwall, two miles above Tregony. After some years in the queen’s bodyguard, Arundell, while still a young man, had risen into modest favor by his service, and had been granted in return a few suits which made his living. In 1572 he had been appointed lieutenant of the Isle of Portland and captain of the castle, in county Dorset, with the power to maintain a master gunner, five other gunners, five soldiers, and two porters to man the installation. Having acquitted himself well in the post, in October 1574 he was made receiver of crown lands in several western counties, in which position he received one hundred pounds by the year, with commissions of a hundredth part of all moneys he collected for the queen. This, with the revenues of his little lands, made him a comfortable if unostentatious living.

He had ridden out by the Oxford road to the city of Gloucester, and thence to Bristol, where he conferred with his deputies, went over their books, and oversaw the progress of the work. He meant afterward to travel to Portland Castle for a few days’ sojourn there; then to Pulham in Dorset where he held some land; finally to Salisbury and Southampton, where also he was receiver, and so to Greenwich where the court should be. In the meantime, he had turned aside from Bristol. Accompanied by his nephew, Sir Matthew Arundell’s son Tom, he had ridden west into Devonshire and Cornwall, where his family’s origins lay.

At Lanherne he met his cousin Sir John Arundell, one of the magnates in the district. Then, for the feast of Corpus Christi on the sixth of June, Charles and Tom made their way across to Golden Manor, where they reposed on holiday for several days more. Here was the home of Francis Tregian, Sir John Arundell’s nephew, which had become, after Lanherne and Sir Matthew’s family seat at Wardour Castle, one of the chief Catholic centers in the far west. Golden House was a pleasant, commodious establishment. Clustered behind on one side were the kitchens and ancillary huts, on the other side the beginning of the gardens that extended down to the river Fal at Golden Mill.

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Golden Manor (from Boyan & Lamb, Francis Tregian, Cornish Recusant, 1955)

Tregian himself was a small man of fewer than thirty years who had gone abroad for his conscience while still a youth. He had then reconsidered his scruples when the statute of 1571 had made him liable, if he remained out of the realm without license, to forfeiture of all his lands. Thereafter, following a brief career as a courtier, he had resided circumspectly in the country, as far as possible from a world increasingly disagreeable for adherents of the old faith. His wife Mary was if possible more devout than he was, and perhaps, with her brother Lord Stourton still in prison for religion, just as embittered.

Arundell sat in the gardens between his host and a man dressed in the attire of a steward. Nephew Tom had gone riding with a young servingman of his own age, and the women were within. The sun shone brightly upon the rough terrain, making objects a mile distant upon the hill stand out with astonishing clarity. Arundell was scarcely a country man himself; he had been too many years in town and in residence with the court. But he was glad now to retreat from his duties in the palaces, with their press of people and accelerated pace, and pass some days with his friends. The sunshine felt warm. In the afternoon, perhaps, they would fly hawks, and play at cards in the evening; last night it had been chess among the gentlemen and triumph among the ladies.

In the gardens by the nursery wall, a band of children from the neighborhood were playing noisily, their thin, high laughter seeming to enhance rather than disturb the effect of stillness. They were playing at Castle-Come-Down. Earnestly the strongest children set themselves upon hands and knees in the grass; the second rank climbed upon them and settled themselves in place, and the third rank scrambled up, to much shouting and swaying of the line, two small boys who in their bare feet stepped from back to back and with serious expressions readied themselves for the final assault.

The last boy, a small lad who looked thoroughly overwhelmed by the great role pricked out for him, swallowed hard and began his ascent. The line swayed under him; those upon whom he stepped called out childish oaths to him, others shouted encouragement and playful threats; his face grew red as he struggled up from layer to layer towards the bright sky. And finally, against his expectations, he made it to the top, where for the briefest second he relished his victory and spread his arms wide in triumph--when his cousin in the second layer buckled and nine boys beneath him dropped away and left him alone in the air; where he did not long remain, but plummeted to ruin amid a tangle of laughing and shouting and kicking youth. From the middle of the crowd of squirming bodies the top boy’s face shone out, with a smile that said, despite all this, it had been worth it to sit upon the top, however briefly.

Arundell and Tregian were in undress, shirts thrown open and heads bare. The steward was more correctly made, with a light jacket buttoned closely under his smooth chin. He was a small man of not much more than thirty, rather coarse in build but refined in his demeanor. One of his eyes was turned outward, gazing always to the right of anyone with whom he spoke, as if something more interesting were going on elsewhere. His name was Cuthbert Mayne, and he was not a steward but a priest. Born in the west country, he had been the chaplain of St. John’s College, Oxford, until at the age of twenty-nine he could carry on no longer in a Protestant post and retired to Douai to train for the priesthood. Two years later, in 1575, he had been ordained. In April 1576, he had entered London in disguise. Having successfully found his way to Sir John Arundell’s house in Clerkenwell, he was soon on his way back into the west, where thereafter he remained, serving all of the surrounding Catholic houses from his base at Golden Manor.

On the hillside to the west, towards Probus, a plume of dust appeared in the still air. The three men watched it idly as it entered the valley. Soon the sounds of many hoofbeats approached from far down the road, and came closer, and ceased in front of Golden Manor.

A servant appeared at the terrace door and called.

Tregian excused himself and hurried into the house. The great door was open and through it he could see a crowd of horsemen milling about in the bright courtyard. In the door of the ladies’ parlor, his wife and her friend Mrs. Truro stood peering out in alarm.

Tregian stepped halfway out into the light. Before him, astride an enormous black mare, sat Sir Richard Grenville, his ferocious buccaneer’s features bedecked with a full gray beard, his hand resting upon the hilt of his sword.

"Mr. Tregian, come forth of your house," Grenville shouted.

Tregian stepped down and gazed round at the courtyard filled with armed men. His face was ashen, and he failed at first to find his voice.

"We pursue a fugitive, Mr. Tregian, and we must search your house for him."

"What fugitive?" asked the master of the house. "We keep no fugitives here."

"One Bourne, who has escaped from St. Austell jail. Come, sir, we must search your house for him."

"We have no Bourne here, Sir Richard, and you will not search this house." Tregian was finding a courage to dispute the man that many Spanish seamen lacked.

Sir Richard motioned to his party and dismounted. As he approached the steps, his rough face drawn in contempt for the man who barred his way, Tregian shrank back but stood his ground in the door.

"You do forget yourself, Sir Richard. I must see your warrant ere you will search this house," he said.

"Warrant!" Grenville bellowed. "I am the sheriff, man, I need no warrant."

"You must excuse me, sir, sheriff or no I must see your warrant before you enter this house which is mine. So says the law, and so I say, too."

"Stand aside, Tregian," Sir Richard snarled, picking the man up and setting him out on the steps. He strode into the hall. Mary Tregian and Mrs. Truro ducked into their parlor and shut the door, the servants fled to the kitchens. Grenville’s men trooped into the house after him, their boots thundering upon the boards.

"Search," he commanded them, and they fanned out to the wings, peeking into every doorway, some ascending to the floors above, banging on the panelling in hopes of finding a hiding place behind the walls.

Outside in the garden the commotion was easily heard. The priest stood up in some alarm and started towards the house, but Arundell detained him with a hand.

"Father Cuthbert," he said. "Something is amiss. Let us walk rather to the river."

"No, Charles, I may be needed. Let me go and see," the priest replied. He struck off trotting towards the terrace.

Arundell called after him, "Father! If you are discovered it shall go hard with all of us!"

The priest turned around to face him. "Dear Charles," he said; "when the wolf enters the fold, then of all times must the shepherd be with his flock." He resumed hurrying towards the house.

Charles stared wide-eyed after him. Quickly, then, he stepped back among the shrubberies.

As Cuthbert Mayne ascended to the flagstones, three men approached him through the terrace windows. One, bearing a sword, commanded him to stop and called in to Sheriff Grenville.

Sir Richard and several others burst out of the house, followed by its master at a distance.

"And what art thou?" the sheriff shouted.

From across the yard Arundell could barely hear the priest’s reply, something to the effect that his attire might be thought a sufficient answer. The simple man refused to lie even to a scoundrel and pirate like Grenville.

The sheriff was not to be put off. Roughly he grabbed the man’s jacket and tore it open at the breast. Then in triumph he ripped something from Cuthbert’s chest, a cross perhaps, and held it aloft for his men to see.

Grenville gestured towards the priest and two men seized the fellow’s arms. Others seized Tregian, as the sheriff strode violently back into the house.

"Search everywhere!" he roared. "Find everything!"

Arundell waited to hear no more. Bent low, he scrambled round the shrubbery to a low hedge nearby and ran behind it towards the river. After thirty meters he came to an open space between him and the next hedge leading to the rear of the gardens. Arundell peered round at the house. Five or six men had spread out into the gardens, and two of them were approaching him at thirty meters’ distance.

Out of his belt behind him he drew his dirk and tossed it back into the bushes along the path he had just traversed. The men swung at the sound and darted to the place.

Arundell rose and bolted across the open ground. Though no longer a young man, he was agile and very quick, and he threw himself headlong over the hedge. On the other side, he rolled smoothly to his feet and sprinted behind the line of low bush. But he had been seen. From the terrace came a cry from Sir Richard Grenville himself.

The sheriff’s men ran to the center of the yard. Following Grenville’s upraised arm, they started through the hedge and caught a glimpse of Arundell as he gained the line of trees by the water’s edge.

They dashed after him with swords drawn. He found the riverbank and ran along it to a point that jutted forth into the stream. Here he leapt to the overhanging rocks at a full run and threw himself out into the water, which closed over him with a cold shock. The men behind him drew closer as his breaststroke brought him slowly to the center of the river, but thereafter as the current carried him down he moved away from their pursuit.

Some distance down the stream, Arundell drew himself out of the water and lay exhausted in the bushes a few meters up the bank. The sheriff’s men were ranging out along the other side of the river just above, evidently waiting for Sir Richard to arrive with the horses. As stealthily as possible, he passed out of the long grass into the line of trees, then jogged at a good pace a half mile further down. There he found another stand of trees that led him up a hill away from the river. The business of climbing left him panting painfully. From the ridge along the top, he could see Sir Richard and his men crossing at a ford about a mile off, branching out in pairs in all directions as they reached the nearer bank.

Arundell passed over the brow of the hill and surveyed the countryside before him. There, far below in the bottom of the next valley, he saw a pair of horsemen riding leisurely along towards the north.

Quickly, he tore off his shirt and began waving it, running towards the riders at the best speed he could make. Soon they saw him and veered in his direction, pricking their horses to a gallop as they recognized his distress.

Still he ran, his stertorous breathing making him begin to feel faint, expecting at any moment to hear the sheriff’s men behind him. Young Tom Arundell and the Tregian servant, Jamie Sharrock, met him halfway down the broad hill, pulled up and wheeled round him.

"Well, nuncle," shouted Tom. "Whither running?"

Charles grabbed Tom’s arm and swung up behind him on the horse, very nearly tumbling off on the other side. Sharrock leant far over and held him up.

"Tom!" he cried. "Ride on, and spare not!"

The horses leapt away down the meadow towards the valley bottom. Moments later, as they started up the next hill, the three men looked back at the way they had come. At the top of the slope, watching them from too far off, sat the horsemen they had eluded.

Two days later, after they had returned eastward, Sir John Arundell was arrested at Lanherne, upon information wrung from Francis Tregian, and transported to London with several other harborers of the priest. Tregian himself, after brief habitations in several prisons, fetched up finally in the London Fleet. In November 1577, Cuthbert Mayne, in whose room Sir Richard had found some matter of treason, as it was thought, was hanged, cut down, beheaded, and hewn into four parts outside the Launceston jail.

Charles Arundell had not been recognized in fleeing, and no one had mentioned his name thereafter.

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(The Narrative of Secretary du Foy)

I was watching forth of the windows in the first floor front.

Carefully, from behind the hangings, I surveyed the street towards the Fleet Bridge. Across the road, hard by the bridge, stood two youths, apprentices they should seem to be, holding conversation.

Almost directly across from us, half hidden by the conduit, an aged vagabond lay propped against the wall with his heels in the mud.

None of them had moved in three hours’ time. Yesterday, the prentices had been talking near the conduit, and the old one had been propped against Fleet Bridge. Sometimes, behind us, in the gate of Sackville House, sat another, whose prospect comprised the rear of our house from St. Bride’s to the Hanging Sword. Are we dim noddies to be gulled by this?

Even as I watched, a row of mercer’s men filed out from the city pushing barrows laden with our stores for the fortnight. Idly, the prentices glanced towards them, then took up their discourses once again. Beneath me, the bearers turned into Salisbury Courtyard and passed round to the back of the house. I went down to meet them.

When I reached the kitchens, the girl had already opened the door, and the men were offloading their barrows and carrying in the sacks and casks. I pointed out for them the places they should be set. To each man as he left I gave a small coin of their English money; the last one, however, touched his cap several times and backed towards the door very slowly, until the others had gone out. Then he swung round quickly and closed the door.

"I must speak to milord ambassador," says he.

"Must you?" said I. "Why then, you may speak first to me." "It is a matter of urgency," he replied.

"Well, you must tell me who you are, my man," I said, "and likewise what your business is."

"My name is Evans," he said freely; but went on, "my master’s name is for my lord to hear."

"And your matter?"

"Is for my lord to hear, saving your honor," he replied.

I confess I was somewhat ruffled. I am the ambassador’s chief secretary, and it is both my business and my right to bring visitors into my master’s confidence. Nonetheless, I understood the fellow’s plight, for I could guess at his matter right enough, and we knew ourselves that not every man in our house was altogether to be trusted. For everything he could know, I myself might be the Judas Iscariot among us.

I motioned the man to wait and ascended to the ambassador’s rooms on the next floor. He called me in as I tapped on his chamber door. He sat half in recline upon the settle with his writing table tilted across his lap. He looked tired, and his hair and beard were still uncombed. His shirt was open down to the rug he had spread across himself.

"Someone to see you, milord," I told him. "A servingman, as he should seem, to one of the Catholic gentlemen, though he will tell neither his master nor his matter."

Seigneur Mauvissière’s face fell at my words, which I would have spared him if I could; and he sighed and looked cross.

"Well," he said, "thank God they did not come themselves, du Foy."

"Yes, milord," I said.

He looked down at the page before him and sat silently for a moment.

"Give me five minutes, du Foy, and then show him up, if you please."

I returned to the kitchens to find the man Evans speaking amorously with our girl. All of our girls are more friendly with the ugliest carriers and servants of their fellow English than ever they are with me, who in France am reckoned as a gay knight among the ladies. But that is neither here nor there.

When I showed the man up to Seigneur’s chambers, my lord was seated gravely behind his desk. He motioned the man to a stool across from him, and then signed for me to take another.

Seigneur Mauvissière inquired politely of the fellow’s business and listened as the story bubbled forth. The man’s name was John Evans, he said again, servant of Mr. Charles Arundell. My lord asked whether this was a kinsman of the earl of Arundel who is a member of the queen’s Council. Evans replied that his master was a Queen’s Servant and a member of the house of Howard, but distantly related to the old earl, as well as to the queen herself. My lord asked what service he required, whereupon the man said that my lord was acquainted with the earl of Oxford. Seigneur replied that he had the honor of meeting the earl from time to time at court. His face wore no expression.

This Mr. Arundell was a friend of the earl of Oxford, Evans said. Was he indeed? replied my lord. He was, said Evans, and now he and other the earl’s friends instantly required a favor of my lord. Seigneur smiled very graciously and inquired what it might be. To remove a priest abroad, said this Evans, for he was in peril of arrest.

My lord, still smiling pleasantly, looked over to me, and I shook my head. I said in French that we must be wary of a trap of some description. You never know. My lord raised his hands and said, "My friend Evans, you must forgive me, but without further knowledge . . ."

Evans drew from his pocket a folded bit of paper and passed it to my lord. My lord glanced at it and smiled, then handed it to me. Upon it was written, in a strong, but careless and rapid hand, of the style they call "secretary," the words in English, "Please credit my man Evans as you would myself. Mr. J. Charles." Beneath that was written, in a tiny, beautiful italic, "We beg your aid and will requite it. Mr. J. Henry." This was sufficient warrant for my lord. Messrs. Charles and Henry had been recommended to us by the queen of Scots for the passage of her correspondence. For some months her letters, covertly removed by her servants, had been got to us through these two men and a few others, for inclusion in our diplomatic bags to her friends on the continent.

"Well," said the ambassador. "We know now who Master Charles is. Who, pray, is Mr. Henry?"

"My lord," replied the man, looking down at his boots.

"I understand," the seigneur said. "But you may tell me who my passenger is to be."

"His name is Richard Stephens, my lord."

Seigneur Mauvissière arose from his chair and gazed out of the windows into the courtyard below. Across the way a man appeared to be sleeping before the gate of Sackville House. After a few moments of thought, my lord returned to his desk and solemnly addressed the man named Evans.

"Tell Mr. Charles that he must take a room for his priest in the Hanging Sword in the next house. Let that be done tonight. Tomorrow early we will meet him there in his room."

Evans thanked my master for his courtesy. Then he told my lord that Messrs. Charles and Henry had bid him say that they understood the earl of Oxford had passed words of some importance with my lord, some of them in their names, as they guessed. They wished my lord to understand that the earl would not be troubling him further, and that it would be as well if now his speeches were forgotten and buried in the ocean. My lord thanked him for his message and said that he understood.

Evans then followed me down to the kitchens. There he hoisted a grocer’s basket to his shoulder and departed by the rear door, striding quickly across the yard towards Bridewell prison with the basket obscuring his face from the man in Sackville gates. The sentinel glanced up at him, then went back to sleep.

That afternoon, Seigneur sent me by barge down to the Pool below the bridge, where I found a French ship moored that had been bespoken to carry me across with our pouches two or three days hence. I informed the master of the vessel that my lord wished him to depart on the morrow. Seigneur spent the afternoon at the court, where he had audience with the queen and afterward dined, returning late from Greenwich.

That evening the guard without the house changed right as clockworks. I watched from the window, but marked no one entering the Hanging Sword whom I thought might have been a priest.

Early the following morning, we met in the front hall below. I donned my travelling clothes and swung the diplomatic pouches over my shoulder. Paul Bec, wearing a great cloak and a low-brimmed hat, lifted my light-trunk and opened the door. Jean, my valet, who wears a beard that is a prodigy, flowing out over the breast of his cloak, likewise topped by a slouched hat, took up my bags and followed us into the street. The three of us, laughing loudly at imaginary jests, strolled to the Hanging Sword and entered, sitting ourselves upon the benches in the rear with our burdens at our feet. One of the prentices from across the road entered behind us and took up a seat near the door.

As the host brought us stoups of ale, Jean stood up and stretched, then ambled into the rooms behind. We spoke loudly of our coming journey, until a few moments later he rejoined us, whereupon we drank off our ale and laughed at still more empty jests, feeling like asses as we did so. I was very distressed to see that the priest was rather smaller than middle size, but he had the good sense, as we departed past the spy, to draw himself to full height; little save hatbrim and great false beard were visible unto the man.

Once outside, it was an easy matter to reach the river and summon a waterman to the stairs. The prentice came down behind us to see us on our way, but gave no hint that he had tumbled to our little subterfuge. Moments later, we were shooting the bridge towards the Pool, where lay our ship and, beyond it, home.

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"Mary was a whore, and Joseph both a cuckold and a wittol."

"Damn me, Oxford, you cup-shotten nullifidian! Enough, man, I say enough."

Francis Southwell rose angrily from his cushion near the fire and helped himself from the jug on the sideboard, his back turned to the rest of the company. Young Lord Windsor sat staring at the earl with mouth agape.

"Ha, ha. No, I do protest, Frank, your glorious Trinity is but an old wives’ tale," Oxford laughed. "A learned man can never believe in such arrant trumperies--such a God as deals well with those that deserve evil and evil with those that deserve well; foh!"

Raleigh reclined with his feet up and a broad grin spread across his face--whether a grin of approval or derision was impossible to tell. Against the wall sat Arundell, nursing his cup with no expression at all.

"And your scripture, Frank, oh these vile, foully penned pages; why I could write you a better and more orderly scripture on six days’ warning. Confess it, Southwell, there is nothing so defensible by scripture as bawdry. Oh those old beasts with their thousand wives. In faith, man, it reads like the very Aretino. Why, for good religion, the Turk is only wise who wrote his own koran."

"Damn me, my lord! I tell you, enough!" Southwell’s face was reddening as he stood before the earl.

"What a passion is this, Frank," said Oxford sharply. "Do sit down, you tiresome altarboy."

"All right, Ned," interjected Harry Howard. "This really is excessive."

"What, you too, Howard? Come, come, you funny old thing. Well, I shall outface you all."

Oxford’s arrogant smirk was maddening to Southwell, who stood spouting in the middle of the chamber; but now Raleigh was chortling to himself.

"Look you, Harry, I shall prove you, from your very scripture, mind, that after this life we shall be as if we had never been, and that the rest was devised by a subtle priest but to make us afraid like babes and children of our shadows."

"I doubt not you can, Ned," said Harry, "but now is neither time nor place apposite."

ccd-oxford.jpg (16172 bytes)

Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford
(Marcus Gheeraerts portrait, ca.1586)

"Well, it may be you are right in that." Oxford lifted his cup aloft. "I drink to good fellowship, Southwell. Salutem in Christo!"

Raleigh snorted and laughed aloud. Southwell flashed angrily, then flung down his cup and bolted from the room. Arundell rose with a sigh and went after him.

"The devil comber him. Can he not bear a jest?" The earl refilled his cup and smiled round the room. Lord Windsor con-tinued to stare at him. Half a minute passed in restless silence. Then Oxford felt the advent of a thought.

"But in good sadness, Harry, these splenitive religious so quick to rise upon a jest, why do they not rise in earnest when there is greater cause?"

"How rise, Ned?" asked Lord Howard.

Here Arundell and Southwell re-entered and resumed their seats. Francis looked troubled but somewhat embarrassed by his show of bad temper.

Below from the rear yards came the sounds of workmen busily engaged upon their labors. Christmastide was fast approaching, with its long round of puffpaste festivities, for which the palace at Richmond must be got ready. The weather continued foul; all along the Courtiers’ Row the gentlemen were indoors, concentrating before their fires upon cards or other pastimes, while far away, past Maids of Honor Row, in the Council’s chambers in the Privy Lodgings, the business of government went on. From Oxford’s windows, one could have viewed the Richmond Green and old Shene beyond the park. The court had just removed from Hampton Court, descending the Thames in a navy of barges filled with nobility and servants, tapestries and spoons, Privy Councillors and hunting dogs, to pass the Christmas season in a fresh house.

Here it was that Oxford had been holding his friends in unseasonable conversation concerning the mortality of Christ. But his talk was passing to other matters.

"When I use to say rise, why rise is what I mean. Why, by my faith, these Catholics are good Ave Mary cockscombs who will not rebel against the queen and her minions. Harried upon every side like game of the chase, hunted down by baseborn spies and clapped up in dungeons, I say I know not why they bear it, except they are women in men’s clothing!"

"Your lordship must remember that not every man is as full of blood as he is," said Raleigh.

"Marry, they are not," Oxford exclaimed. "I have said before, Harry, that my lord of Norfolk was worthy to lose his head for not following my counsel at Titchfield to take up arms."

"You did counsel well, milord," said Howard drily.

"I did that, believe as you list. Damn him for coming at the queen’s commandment, when he might have set his lady upon the throne and supped on cakes and ale. This is no queen, I tell you, she is but a b-b-bastard and an heretic." He swigged hastily from his cup. "I do love my lord of Balternig-Baltinglass, you know--pardon--for his letter that he wrote to the earl of Ormonde, wherein are many things to please me. But this above the rest, how he could not but wonder by what claim or by what color her majesty only a woman could challenge that authority of supreme governor of the church which Christ never gave to his own mother! Urp, pardon."

"My lord, these are dangerous words," said Howard, "and Baltinglass of Ireland an open and known rebel. You are too hot. Do not say that arms may justly be taken up ‘gainst princes which swerve from right."

"You cannot justify the contrary! Do we not see P-Protestants practice the same daily in Catholic nations, where they maintain arms? Whereas these simple Catholics are c-content to lay down their heads till they be taken off, and therefore for mine own part, I wish that for every one they lose, they may lose a thousand, till they learn to be wiser and take out another lesson."

"Ned, you speak in choler," said Arundell. "Do contain your manly feelings, and let us have good fellowship."

"Yes, yes of all, and let us sing. I shall sing you now a merry air. Southwell commends to us the queen’s singing at Hampton Court, but by the blood of God! gentlemen, she has the worst voice and does everything with the worst grace that ever any woman did!"

Oxford’s face was beetled up in drunken anger, and his hands shook before him on the board. Howard was nonplussed at these excessive speeches. He tried to placate the earl, but the man’s resentment and frustration were too great any longer to be restrained. He stormed on as the others stared at one another, how the queen was a foolish whore who abused her body with the earl of Leicester, how Leicester was a fat roué gone broken in his belly from excess of venery, how old Burghley was a puritanical hypocrite who loved nothing more than to keep a good man down. He commended to them firebrand schemes to prove by suborned witness that Leicester had murdered his wife by throwing her down the stairs, had murdered Essex, had tried to poison his mistress Douglass Sheffield when she would not leave him gracefully as soon as he would have wished. He would have evidence that the queen had borne five children. He knew where Burghley kept the moneys stolen from the Court of Wards and from the lotteries. He knew gentlemen in the country who waited for his sign, when they would ride to London with the queen of Scots and proclaim her heir in Cheapside. He knew a certain cutter, he said, who would dare a desperate act if paid for it, whereby they might all live the freer. His man Sanckie, he cried out, he knew to have been a spy set on him, and Weeks that killed him, later executed for the deed, had done it at his bidding. Finally, all this given vent, his cup dry, abruptly he fell asleep.

The fire crackled merrily upon the grate, throwing brilliant sparks, some of which, however, fell out upon the floor and threatened danger.

goback.gif (2185 bytes)Go back to the Preface and Table of Contents
gonext.gif (2192 bytes)Go ahead to Chapter V. A Disturbance in the Country (1578)

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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