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)



(The Narrative of Francis Southwell)

"I see how plenty suffers oft,
And hasty climbers soon do fall;
I see that those which are aloft
Mishap doth threaten most of all."

We had, all of us, at the first, such great hopes.

When 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.

But we saw light in the east in the summer of ‘79.

Throughout the year of 1578, in the latter months of it especially, was all the talk of the marriage. The duke of Anjou’s agents fluttered about the court like housemartins, and on her majesty’s 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 cousin’s house at Kenninghall in Norfolk, he and M. Bussy d’Ambois 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. Stonor’s 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 lord’s great paw should fall upon him. My lord well knew how black should be the queen’s 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 queen’s marriage to Anjou, never ceasing to buzz in her majesty’s 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 queen’s own will, which was not forthcoming.

In January during Christmastide, M. Simier came up to court from France. He was then (though afterwards they have come to jars) the duke of Anjou’s 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 master’s 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.

My 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 Anjou’s secretary, with M. Rochetaillé, another of his envoys to the queen.

"My 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.

My Lord Harry replies that this is well and very good, and he for one wishes godspeed to the duke in his suit.

M. de Vray goes on to assure us that M. Simier, after Mr. Ambassador’s 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 ambassador’s house, where he lies, as soon as conveniently may be.

Lord 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 king’s 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.

Follows then, there is nothing else but we must come up to the ambassador’s privy chambers and sup good wine, and hear from M. Simier what he in good sadness expects shall occur when his master becomes the queen’s 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 Monsieur’s 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.

Mr. 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 the beach.

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.

Mr. Arundell then acquiesced in the wisdom of Lord Harry’s 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 brother’s 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 task.

I rode with Charles from Greenwich, and the earl receives us with so much grace we thought ourselves were the queen’s 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 God’s direction, end my lord of Leicester’s 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 queen’s ears without some of the poet’s 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 queen’s eyes.

And 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 Harry’s 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.

Slowly, as time passed, Mr. Arundell and Mr. Tresham (who was my lord of Sussex’s 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 queen’s 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?

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Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, ca.1575
(unknown artist)

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 lord’s 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.

Then, 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.

M. 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 man’s private hurts, however just, and so he leaves us.

Perpending 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.

Rather, 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 lord’s wife. What? says M. Simier, has not all of Europe known the tale of my lord’s wife these twenty years? I mean, sir, says Arundell, my lord’s wife that now is.

M. 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 haven’t 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.

M. 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 Leicester’s wife the widow of Essex would speak more favorably of marriage, having newly had a year’s 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."

This was our apogee, this our noon, here our midsummer’s 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 queen’s wrath somewhat, observing that in Christian countries marriage is not treason. Nonetheless, my lord is packed off to Humphrey’s Tower on Greenwich Hill, and the next day her majesty signs the duke’s 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 Michaelmas.

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.

M. 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. Simier’s head should come to grief my lord of Leicester had best look to his paternosters. And Simier’s lodgings were removed from the ambassador’s house to rooms next the queen’s in Greenwich Palace.

So 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.

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M. 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 Leicester’s malice, but that God for his holy purpose would preserve his life unworthy until this sacred marriage were effected. Leicester’s 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 queen’s 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 queen’s sake"--and delivers to the crowd a marvelous oration of an hour’s length on the subject of God’s mercy shown to them and his careful providence and this miraculous sparing of the queen’s 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.

My 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 earl’s hard usage and her majesty treads upon his foot, and so Walsingham too is forbidden the court. Leicester’s brother, my lord of Warwick, will not be seen; his father-in-law Knollys keeps his rooms; Hatton and Bromley lie low. Leicester’s sister, Sir Henry Sidney’s lady, leaves the court in a huff. And all is beer and skittles for us. Lord Harry pronounces us a victory.

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François, duc d'Anjou (drawing by François Clouet, Bibliothèque Ste-Geneviève, Paris)

Then, in August, the duke of Anjou arrived. His visit, at the queen’s 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 Anjou’s secretary, with his plumed bonnet and glittering traps; on another sits du Bourg, M. Simier’s 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.

This 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!

Oh my lord, says Harry in contrition, as he leaps to hold the duke’s horse. The duke dismounts with prodigious show of dignity, and Harry leads his horse away, deftly retrieving the new crown from the duke’s fingers as he passes him. I take the other gentlemen’s 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.

This was then our first sight of the queen’s 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.

But 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.

Then 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 lordship’s 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, Leicester’s 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 uncle’s 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.

The 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.

Mr. Sidney’s 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. Sidney’s 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 gallery’s 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.

Upon 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.

A 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 honor’s 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.

No 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.

Soon after, news arrives from France that Bussy d’Ambois is slain in a duel. Monsieur must leave his wooing off and hurry home to bury his friend in ground. Then Mr. Stubbs’s 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 only.

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.

We 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. 

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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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