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)



"For this be sure, the flower once plucked away,
Farewell the rest, thy happy days decay."
-- Walter Raleigh

Some few held out hope. Captain du Bourg returned in March, de Vray joined him shortly afterward; letters passed back and forth across the channel. M. Simier kept in contact with his friends--but Mauvissière, the French ambassador, did not. When Lord Harry called at the French house, he was engaged; when accosted in the galleries at court, he was hurrying to the queen; when passed on the water in his boat, he was busily reading or observing the flights of various birds. The matrimonial ball had taken on a theme, which was the papist combination. The counsellors warned of it, the townsmen grumbled at it, the preachers thundered it out like Boanerges--and so perhaps, Mauvissière would now suggest, Monsieur was not really the papist he had been thought to be; perhaps he was on the point of conversion to the pure gospel; perhaps he needed but a nudge, or an inducement. Anjou himself wrote to the earl of Leicester, solicitous of his health, grateful for his friendship, assuring his friendship in the future when he as king-consort and the earl as his prime minister should make this island a fortress of the pure faith. Leicester passed these notes about like the latest corantos. From the French point of view, the Catholic courtiers had become an embarrassment.

At first the gentlemen were puzzled. The queen still looked to be in love. She still wrote lovingly to Simier, who assured them that one day all would be right again. Sussex bid them keep heart and be patient, for one day another opportunity would present itself and they should have Leicester over the hip at last.

And so, through the early months of 1580, they clung to their small hope. The strain told upon them. Quarrels arose among them. Petty differences magnified to a monstrous bigness brought occasionally the hotter blooded young men to blows. The Catholics in the country were coming in for a new scrutiny. Many were detained, in jails or bishops’ houses, for ecclesiastical retraining, and once again the prisons were becoming the best places to go for Catholic companionship.

In late spring of 1580, a new Maid of Honor was preferred at court. Her name was Anne Vavasour, the daughter of Henry Vavasour of Yorkshire. She found her place through the agency of her kinsfolk, to whom she was entrusted, and her aunt Catherine Paget in particular watched over her and introduced her to the ways of court life, while Thomas Lord Paget, Catherine’s brother-in-law, and Catherine’s brothers the Knyvets took a special interest in her welfare. Then Mistress Vavasour caught my lord of Oxford’s eye. He was seen with her in the galleries. He danced with her at the balls. Occasionally he wore her favor, and spoke dreamily of her beauties as the gentlemen played at cards. Her friends began to fear for her.

Nan was a tall girl, fully Oxford’s height, with a stern, forbidding face, long and sharp with an aquiline nose and a tiny, bitter mouth. In other dress than the fineries she wore, she might have made a good preacher’s wife, in appearance. Her attractions for an amorous dilettante like Oxford were not obvious. Her friends in the Howard clan admonished her of the perils of the earl’s attentions. Matters progressed, and the flirtations became openly known at court.

The Lord Treasurer sent to Lord Harry and Mr. Arundell and earnestly asked their counsel. They had no counsel for him. But something must be done, Burghley persisted, for his daughter was becoming the laughingstock of the court, with her husband leering after every drab in the palace. Lord Harry promised that they would try their uttermost to restrain the venerous earl.

That evening they met in Oxford’s house in Bread Street. Mr. Cornwallis was there as well, with Mr. Noel and Mr. Swift. After some talk passed of the meal and the wine, the earl fell to inveighing against French perfidy, and insulted upon Monsieur as the greatest villain in Europe at that time.

History stood as his witness, he said, that the French had a tradition of crowning none but jackanapes and cockscombs, and had Monsieur ever come to marry the queen they would all have lived to sorrow for that day, for he was but a faithless Frenchman and therefore naught. Mr. Arundell objected that if Anjou himself were but a temporizer, yet M. Simier, throughout his sojourn here, had been constant in his faith and meaning. But Oxford would admit of no exceptions and denounced the race of Frenchmen categorically. It was an empty conversation, listlessly pursued, for the matter seemed devoid of interest after all these months. Too near the surface lay recriminations for efforts untried, advantages unfollowed, words unsaid and deeds undone, all the thousand reasons offered why success had not been theirs.

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Lord Harry Howard, ca.1594, later 1st earl of Northampton in the next reign

When the other gentlemen had left, Lord Howard sat in the window paging through a book of prophetic pictures that Oxford had acquired in some obscure corner of the realm. Arundell was speaking solemnly to Oxford, instructing him in the duties of clan, which precluded the lascivious dalliance with young kinswomen newly come up from the country. The earl grinned impudently. Arundell was growing angry, as he began listing off the gentlemen who considered themselves her protectors, all of whom would take in very ill part any alteration of her feminine state. Oxford hinted that he might outface them all, and that in any case he was not the man to be threatened like a boy by the Howards, who were already deeply suspected and were besides an ineffectual brood whom he might please or displease as his fancy took him.

Arundell waved aside this fanfaronading and pressed on; he cited the Lord Treasurer’s concern, but received from the earl only his accustomed ‘father-in-law’ speech of blustering obloquy. Finally Arundell endeavored to convince the earl that he was making a laughingstock of himself as well. He spoke of a conversation he had overheard, in which two gay companions had twitted the earl for his having to descend to the cradle for his amorous triumphs, for his seeking out young virgins fresh from the country to overawe with his old-fashioned sonnets and powder-blue bonnets, whilst the real prizes of the court smirked behind their fans at his apish gracelessness. Oxford began seeing red, his choler inflamed by a goodly deal of sack.

Arundell pursued his advantage by describing Raleigh’s new poem, a witty courtly exercise which had now been read by everyone but Oxford, the butt of its conceit. The earl, who disliked Raleigh anyway, insisted upon hearing the verses. Charles called down to Lord Harry, who was dozing by the window, and Harry withdrew from his bosom a folded sheet of paper with Raleigh’s poem neatly written out upon it.

"Here it is, Ned; let us see, let us see," Arundell said, unfolding the paper with a needless flourish and peering closely at the lines. "‘Mr. Raleigh’s advice to Mistress Nan,’ we read; a pleasant title, Ned, a pleasant beginning."

And he read aloud:

Many desire, but few or none deserve
To win the fort of thy most constant will.
Therefore take heed, let fancy never swerve
But unto him that will defend thee still.
For this be sure, the fort of fame once won,
Farewell the rest, thy happy days are done.

"There is more, Ned, can you bear to hear it?" smiled Charles unkindly. Oxford glowered at him in a slow rage.

Many desire, but few or none deserve
To pluck the flowers and let the leaves to fall.
Therefore take heed, let fancy never swerve,
But unto him that will take leaves and all.
For this be sure, the flower once plucked away,
Farewell the rest, thy happy days decay.

"God’s blood!" cried Oxford, snatching the paper to see for himself that so much insolence could be written with pen. "I shall kill him! Not deserve! No man more deserving. And having killed Raleigh, so much more desert!"

"Who means to kill Raleigh?" asked the somnolent Lord Harry. "If so, Ned, haste were needful, for Raleigh departs for the Irish wars in less than a week’s time."

"There, you see, Ned," said Arundell. "He’ll never meet your challenge now, for he is on the queen’s service."

Oxford’s face worked in drunken thought. "Well, then, if I cannot kill him honorably, I shall have him slaughtered."

"But look you, Ned, he expresses in these numbers what every man would tell her to her face. You have not a friend so long as you persist in this. Will you slaughter every decent man at court then?"

Oxford stood up and steadied himself.

"I will kill Mr. Raleigh--I will baggle that false maid in her lap--and I will kill every man at court who says me nay. Especially the house of Howard!"

And he flew out of the room, shivering his shoulder as he lurched into the jamb of the door.

Arundell and Lord Harry Howard poured themselves a bit more of the earl’s hospitality. Howard wondered whether his friend had not proceeded too far with the man. Charles replied that he feared he had done, and that Raleigh must be warned and cousin Vavasour looked to more straitly.

Lord Harry said in jest that perhaps this book of painted pictures should tell them what will come of it at the last. And with that, they departed.

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Sir Francis Walsingham, 1532?-1590,
Principal Secretary

In June the news was all of Jesuits. At court, the Principal Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham, had learned of their dispatch from Rome, and rumors floated everywhere that ten had landed at Portsmouth; thirty had come ashore at Flamborough Head and escaped into the countryside; fifty were awaiting the winds at Calais, and the ports were laid for their coming over. Walsingham had captured some priests, but the assignment of the Society of Jesus here was an escalation in the international war for hearts. The Secretary, in his zeal, never doubted the Jesuits were coming in to counsel the traitorous papists to insurrection--that they were in the van of the pope’s army, which even now being expunged from Ireland would soon throw itself against the homeland.

The word was rife among the Catholics, too, and reactions were divided. Many pious souls, having heard that the renowned Campion was among those travelling hither, dreamed of meeting that great man, who (when Protestant) had charmed the queen at Oxford no less thoroughly than later he had charmed the pope at St. Peter’s, and they planned ways to hear him preach if only once. Many lonely priests, harried from house to barn throughout the realm and at nerves’ ends with the continuous fear of arrest, the rack, and the gallows, looked to the Jesuits for encouragement and renewal of their ebbing confidence. But on the other side were many papist gentry, already hard pressed by searches and fines and sometimes arrests, who feared that the Jesuits’ coming in would only excite the government to greater severity against them. Occasionally they expressed the doubt that these professional zealots, as it were, would come armed with large demands, requiring more sacrifice of them than they were able to give. These men, strong as they could be in simple faith, had oftentimes no taste for heroic deeds and martyrs’ deaths, for they were ordinary men like their neighbors and kinsfolk; and though many resisted the queen’s laws in the matter of conscience, they little desired to be called in conscience to take up arms against her.

In the middle of June, the first Jesuit arrived, a man named Parsons, highly thought of in Rome but little known in England. Coming over alone, disguised as a demobbed captain from the wars in Flanders, he reached London at midnight and searched all the next day for lodging. Suspicion of travellers ran high in the capital, and no innkeeper would trust him for a room. So he entered the Marshalsea prison in Southwark as a visitor, and through the Catholics interned there he made his contacts with the papist gentry in the country.

Another Jesuit, "Mr. Edmunds" the jewel merchant, came over two weeks later. He was the second and the last for some time; the thirty at Flamborough Head returned to the smoke of fearful or overly hopeful brains. When the word went round that Edmund Campion had come at last, excitement ran through the Catholics from family to family across the land. A band of young gentlemen, organized by Parsons in advance, met him and brought him up the river to London, where he was lodged secretly in Mr. Gilbert’s house in Chancery Lane. The feast of Peter and Paul was approaching, and everyone wished to hear him preach. The Catholic houses could never accommodate the crowd that would be flocking to him; the Bear Garden on the Bankside might never have held them all. Accordingly, Lord Paget hired a very large house in Smithfield especially for the occasion, and there on the 29th of June Father Campion preached his sermon. Trusted servingmen were posted round the house, and during the assembly they met in the street nearby one Sledd, a low man and an informer, whom they wrestled into an alley and held there till everyone had safely departed. Sledd made his report, however, and though Campion and everyone else went their ways unharmed, the investigations turned up Paget’s name on the lease and he fetched up in the house of the Dean of Winchester, until some fourteen weeks later he consented to go to the Protestant services.

The Jesuits met later with many of the gentlemen and older priests in Southwark, near Lord Montague’s house in St. Mary Overies by the bridge. There they gave assurances that they came with no political intentions and would thrust their presence upon no family uninvited. This put many an uneasy heart at peace.

But at this meeting, Arundell and Lord Howard were not in attendance, for they had ridden south for a meeting of their own, a holiday meeting in the country with friends. At Northumberland’s house, Petworth in Sussex, they encountered Francis Southwell, who had come down separately, Sir John Arundell of Lanherne, Mr. William Shelley of nearby Michelgrove, his cousin Richard Shelley, and the earl of Northumberland himself.

Henry Percy, the eighth earl, was eight or ten years older than Arundell, yet Arundell still thought of him as a younger man. He was a great, bluff man, moody and excitable, given to bursts of energy punctuating long periods of uneasy lassitude. Years ago he had been a carefree soul, but his brother’s rebellion in 1569 and execution a few years later had brought him up quite short. Since then, on best behavior, he had gradually rejoined the country society in the south--he was forbidden to reside in his ancestral territories in Northumberland--and to some extent he had made his way at court. Eventually he was restored in blood to his brother’s titles, but his great fear was that he was being kept in convenient storage for a scapegoat at any future need.

In the evening, the talk gravitated towards issues of concern. The first matter was the advent of the Jesuits, but there was little to be said of that; only time would instruct them in the fathers’ intentions and the government’s response. Someone asked Lord Harry to report on the queen of Scots’s affairs. Her correspondence continued to be channelled by himself and others through the French embassy, for conveyance abroad to her agents on the continent. What the agents did there in their negotiations with the French king, with her cousin the duke of Guise, with Philip II of Spain, her wellwisher, he could not say. Her spirit continued hopeful; her friends among the English spoke constantly for her greater liberty, so far to no avail.

As Lord Harry spoke, Northumberland’s man Pudsey came in to announce the arrival of a latecomer, the earl’s new famulus Charles Paget. He sat with the rest and listened impatiently, then interrupted to ask Lord Harry when Queen Mary would be free at last.

Lord Harry was taken aback. "Only God knows such a thing at that, who shares his counsel with no man," he replied.

"Hannh!" Paget snorted, with a sneer writhing across his thick features and a gleam of some queer triumph shining in his eye.

The men stared at him in perplexity. Paget, ogling them one after another, bounced on the edge of his chair like a man awaiting a signal to be off and running.

"Nor will she ever be free if she depends upon the Englishmen her good friends, as they maintain."

Richard Shelley shifted uncomfortably on his bench.

"And so we are her friends. What would you have of us, my dear Paget?" he inquired, to whom Paget was not dear at all.

"This only will I say," quoth Paget with great asseveration. "The queen my lady is in durance and has been these twelve years or more, and one of these days this cunning beast Leicester will contrive to chop off her head. Daily our friends are similarly put in ward, and now it is his lordship my brother, tomorrow it shall doubtless be ourselves. The Lord helps those who first help themselves--I say no more."

Northumberland listened carefully, his rather dull eyes following Paget’s gestures, nodding his head slowly as belatedly he recognized the man’s meaning.

"Mr. Paget, it is my experience that hasty and precipitous actions do ever come to grief in the end, and unrestrained speeches find unwelcome hearers. Pray you, guard your tongue." Lord Harry was speaking slowly, as if to prevent exciting the man unnecessarily.

"Aye, milord, I know of your guarded tongues and your cautious circumspections, all the whiles our lady pines in durance," said Paget. "Let us guard our tongues for five years more, till not a man of us is free to speak her name among friends, nor she alive to be spoken of."

"What would you have, Charles?" asked Northumberland. "There is no man here who does not like you lament of this case, but we must learn to suffer what we cannot learn to change, is that not so?"

"I do not agree," cried Paget.

"Then say your mind," said Arundell, staring at him intently.

"Nay, say your mind if you will," said William Shelley, "but it is for other ears than mine to hear."

He rose and started for the door.

"Stay, stay," said the earl placatingly. "We are all friends here, Will, we speak here to only walls and friends."

"I am sorry, my good fellows, but I have not that lion’s heart to speak of changes and enlarging from durance and other matters fit for this time. I will leave you to your confabulations and badinage now, and seek my bed in good season. With all good will, gentlemen, I take my leave."

Sir John Arundell and the other Shelley similarly arose and made their farewells, and rode off with Will to Michelgrove. The rump parliament then resumed its debates. Paget’s solution to their present ills was simple: He, adventurous, would lead a band of dedicated men to free the queen of Scots, Northumberland would rally the Catholics in the south and then rendezvous on the coast with an army sent out of France from her cousin, the duke of Guise. The duke had already been in touch with certain special friends in England, he said, and his grace’s willingness to undertake the enterprise was understood.

The idea of the duke of Guise’s invasion was not entirely a new one. The Spanish ambassador Mendoza was said to have brought it up in selected company, in whispers. Guise was nothing if not Catholic, Catholic enough to seem more Spanish than French, and his alliance in this cause with Philip of Spain, if the terms should be advantageous to him, was not a preposterous notion.

Five years ago Arundell would have found such boyish plans merely laughable. Things had changed since then. The marriage talks had failed, the courtiers were far worse off than before them. Now he was afraid. Afraid for Queen Mary, afraid for Lord Paget, for all Catholics, for all old friends, for himself and Lord Harry, exposed as it were upon a rocky head facing out to the winter sea, Leicester watching his moment to engulf them, the French withdrawn and with them the cause which had been their chief stay and only foundation; Sussex himself beleaguered, wary of them, Burghley standing off high up the coast, murmurings in court of a mass said or an unkind word of great councillors: one wave, one breaking wave from the right quarter, striking upon just the proper angle, one wave only, would suffice. Arundell would be swept from his desolate promontory, into boiling waters, reefs and skerries, wards and keepers, oaths, charges and what proofs, a little true and much more feigned, and finally, to what end? Constraint? A dagger? A gallows? Where did Catholics end, when caught straggling friendless, beyond the help of great protectors? Where did Leicester’s enemies end, when once the Bear fell sedulously upon them with his claws that rend and tear? They end wherever he would have them end.

Paget droned on, rehearsing again to Northumberland’s labored questioning the details of his vapid, hysterical schemes. Arundell heard him only a little, and permitted himself to dream foolishly of an heroic day of conquest, Leicester defeated and led in gyves through Traitor’s Gate, Arundell astride a charger parading in Cheapside, his gleaming helm drawing gasps from the women, his avenging sword the admiration of all the men; eulogies read above Ludgate by solemn scholars, in Latin, to the gallant captain who had led God’s hosts against the heretics, who had with a handful of loyal English and the aid of some pious Frenchmen delivered this realm from atheism, from Machiavellian policy, from Aretinical license, who had liberated both the English queen from those base minds which ruled her and the Scottish queen to become her cousin, and sister, and trusted heir, as she always should have been. Captain Arundell, even as nets were spread to ensnare him, traps were laid to catch him up, arises and smites the pagan champions, routs the pagan hosts, saves his country on the brink of her ruin. Exsurgat Deus, et dissipentur inimici eius! Let God rise up! Let Leicester take to his heels or turn them up.

The debates were continuing without him. Lord Harry was demonstrating with unappreciated thoroughness that the ancient fathers were unanimous in condemning insurrection against God’s viceroys in the secular seat, while Paget was interrupting him by noting that such good doctrine did never apply to heretics. Harry, citing Augustine, was proclaiming the irrefragable conclusion of passive disobedience as the uttermost allowable, but Northumberland, having lost him in this patristic fog some ten or twelve sic probos earlier, was plainly rapt by this notion of action, this ill-thought plan for action, this vague and thrasonical promise of action, this call for action, some action, which Paget now posed against their waiting, as he phrased it, like chickens for the blow of the axe. Paget’s plans were like Arundell’s daydreams, full of glorious, gore-smeared entries into towns hard-won, with caps thrown high for the liberators, the queen of England grateful and the queen of Scots delivered, their oppressors chained neck to neck, marched in columns before their chariots. And to this music Northumberland must dance; Lord Harry’s donnish quiddities must give room to action, only action.

Southwell and Arundell felt some of this as well, and so, in fact, did Harry, whose dissuasions arose from habits begun in gentler years. Then it had been the hotheads who listened to such words of war, the fanatic or crazy man who uttered them. Now the hotheads spoke, and sober gentlemen listened. Half in the spirit of the thing, Arundell began to press this midlands Ajax with more pointed questions. He asked how the Scottish queen could infallibly be ensured. In ‘69, the first measure taken against the Northern Earls had been her prompt removal from their path. With no mark left to shoot at, their bows had never been drawn. The earls had reversed their headlong march and dispersed northwards, to their several fates, half into exile, the other half to heaven or hell. How to prevent a recurrence of this peremptory dealing?

Timing was all, was Paget’s reply, timing and communications. The Scottish queen is enlarged and scurried into hiding--a small force, with surprise, will suffice--then post is ridden to lather towards the coast, where the duke of Guise’s men and the English forces watch their opportunity. The signal given, the duke lands at Portsmouth, whence on to London. A two days’ war, ad majorem gloriam Dei, and victory.

"Well enough," said Arundell, somewhat pensively. "But now this. Put case the duke of Guise is now come to London, and all evildoers are shut away. What is to be done if the duke himself will not retire?"

"But that is an impossibility," cried Paget. "His grace wishes but one issue of this cause, to free his good cousin and all his Catholic brethren. Which accomplished, he must needs by goodness and reason then retire to his home beyond the seas."

Lord Harry snorted at this witless logic, and muttered that for his part he would rather suffer the kicks of an English tyrant than the slaps of a French one, and such a French one who could kick with any tyrant in Europe. He had no doubt that Paget’s play, however it was written down before, when it came to the acting out, would end with King Henry the Ninth, the duke of Guise in the present queen’s crown, upon the battered throne of England.

Paget was suffused with wrath, and he spluttered.

"That he will not do; I pledge me, he will not!" he cried intemperately. "Why, my lord, you must forgive me. Our Lady Mary is his very cousin, whom he has always loved before himself. He will find her crown for her wherever this schismatical whore may seek to hide it, and he will place it square upon her sacred head and kneel before her!"

The others, save Northumberland who had missed his implication, were dumbfounded.

"This whore!" cried Arundell. "Damn me, Paget, you say this whore?!"

Paget realized his admission and chose to face it through.

"What a God’s name is our travail to win?" Paget pleaded. "Our lady must be freed, and she must have her crown, not in ten years, nor twenty, but even now as right is."

Arundell growled and lashed out across the benches at him, striking him full in the face with his main strength. Paget dragged him backward as he fell; the two men grappled at one another’s throats across the boards, kicking out against the wainscots and striving for the upper hand in fury. Southwell, closest to them, shouting "Now, gentlemen!" leapt upon them and endeavored to stay their hands, but Paget had his dagger out, waggling it at arm’s length as he sought an opening for his thrust.

Lord Harry propelled the earl violently out of the way and trod upon Paget’s forearm. The man screamed out an oath and flung his weapon from him, and Southwell, lying across them both, smothered their attacks. Both men came only gradually to their senses.

Arundell arose and adjusted his clothing.

"She must have her crown, indeed, but upon my life, she must wait her turn."

Paget glared at the floor.

"These are treasonous speeches, and I will have none of them," said Arundell. "We will have no talk of new queens here."

"You draw your treasons very nicely, Charles," said Howard. "We must take arms against the queen, but take no arms against her."

"There you are right! These are misted matters; the queen is our mistress with all obedience after God."

"In matters lawful," said Southwell.

"In matters lawful," said Arundell. "To rise against the earl of Leicester may be good or ill, I stand not upon terms in that question now; but to rise against the earl for the queen’s own sake, and to have our Lady Mary declared successor in despite of the earl and his minions, these are on the one side--to rise against the queen herself is clean on the other, and I will hear no more of it."

"Then it is finished," said Lord Howard, "and we remain all friends."

And so, apologies said all round, albeit grudgingly, the gentlemen retired to their beds, where, lying taut in his like the bow lines of a galley in rough anchorage, Arundell dreamed fancifully of overthrowing the Leicestrian Bear before those great bloody claws came down upon them all.

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In the morning, rain fell and the sky was gray, and the gentlemen’s moods matched the day. The others proposed to reside with the earl until the weather turned more merciful, so Arundell took horse, said his farewells, and set off for London. He found himself reluctant to be too long away from the court. In their absence, anything might be said by malicious tongues; anything might be begun, traps set, actions started, rumors invented and sent flying and taken universally for sober truth before he had returned to scotch them. In the great circles, they had few favorers to protect their interest in their place. Sussex continued their friend and bade them continue his; the old earl was a good man, but still larger stakes lay in the pot, and to him a gaggle of suspected Catholics must always be expendable.

Who else might help them at a need? The French had left them stranded. Burghley sympathized with some of their hopes, but loved them little personally. Vice-Chamberlain Hatton did them kindnesses, but Arundell, though he liked Hatton for his wit and many parts, would trust him very little if push should ever unhappily come to shove.

Oxford they had little use for; his tergiversating spirit would one day cause them woe. He had once been in their bosom, but that only made him the more dangerous now, for his behavior since those days had been a kind of blackmail, in which he presumed upon his acquaintance with their secret faith, and ever stood, in the fullness of his pride, apart from them even in their closest camaraderie.

There remained no one else worth reflecting upon. Many of the younger gentlemen had grown away from them since the failure of the marriage plans. To live at court was a kind of profession, which brought its own responsibilities, not least among which was the duty to press one’s suits and seek after favor wherever it could be had; the aspiring young men, like Walter Raleigh in fact, were not to be blamed for finding their friends elsewhere, as many of them now began to do, in places where suits planted might grow fruit. And, increasingly since the routing of Monsieur, the blessings of patronage at court seemed all Leicester’s to bestow.

Of the gentlemen who still looked to the Howards for their aid at court, one kind was predominant--the Catholics. Not Arundell’s sort of Catholics, though, those who felt a little better after a mass, who distrusted the intellectual chaos of these burgeoning new sects; who simply felt a deep aversion, almost an aesthetic aversion, from these hard-headed, loudmouthed professors of the new gospel; who loved the old ways, the old hospitality, the old abbeys with their gorgeous vestments and their devotional arts painstakingly pursued. Rather many of these were the new Catholics, as zealous often for the pope as the wildest preacher was against him, a kind of puritanical papists who embarrassed Arundell’s sensibilities almost as much as the hot gospellers did. Would that men, he thought, would put aside these interpretings and inquirings and return a little to simple fellowship and common feeling, so that Englishmen might think and drink together with never a quarrel of creeds.

All this talk of violent redresses would come to no happy end. Arundell knew that, and yet he was tempted to think of them himself. To win England back to the faith were doubtless a noble and a godly deed, but Arundell’s ambitions were nothing so high as that. For him, it was his sense, in part only of a simpler age passing away, to be hauled back (it sometimes seemed) by any means at all, but more than that, his sense of impending doom, his shapeless sense that if he did not act now for himself, others would act against him, to his ruin. But violent means, and desperate talk of jars, were repugnant to his good nature, and he put such thoughts away from him. He would cross no swords, conspire in no alleyways or dark corners ever, murder no men, imprison none, bring no rabid Frenchmen in to win him any grace. He would strive to keep himself out of harm’s way, and await a better day, a better day which, he persevered in believing, must one day come.

Just past Epsom, Arundell came upon a party of farmers addressing themselves to the road’s decay. They worked despite the misting drizzle that had continued through the morning, and Charles wondered what threats some ferocious justice of the peace must have uttered to bring about such display of industry.

Otherwise the track was deserted. The climate sufficed to keep folk in at doors. Thus deprived of one of the few small pleasures of travelling, musing upon the travellers one sometimes passed, Charles was grateful for the sight of a single rider behind him, and slowed his pace in hope of company. But when he looked back again, the rider was gone from view, and he resumed his way.

Again, before Sutton, another traveller was visible behind him, and again he relaxed his pace, but once again, upon peering back through the mist, he found the man had stopped or gone off another path and was nowhere to be seen. He rode on. Near Mitcham, another rider behind, and Arundell halted and watched for his approach; far off, dimly perceived through the fog and falling rain, the black-draped man also halted, then turned about and receded towards the south again.

A chill came into Arundell’s bones. Three riders, or the same one? A vision rose before him of a hideous, wicked little rodent’s face, with one nacreous eye blind to the world of light, the other glowing supernaturally, peering everywhere, watching him through walls, through doors, through rainy mists on the highroads of Surrey, turning, following him, peering suspiciously, knowingly; accusing him, threatening him, understanding every secret he held--two eyes, one blind to his good, the other unnaturally alert to his sins, the spy, the informer, the demon sent to carry him into hell. Soiled with his recent talk of treasons, again he was being watched, or so, excitedly, he was convinced.

Arundell shuddered and tried to dismiss his nervous thoughts. He stirred his horse and made on for London. But it had been him, the loathsome one-eyed footpad, he was sure of it, his bad angel, this accursed thing sent out to haunt him even in his sleep. Arundell’s mind worked feverishly. Here was your new age, he thought, here was your godly reformation--one milked-over eye, blind to the good in men, another peering everywhere in their secret souls.

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Arundell arrived at Greenwich Palace late in the evening. He paused atop Black Heath near Greenwich Hill and stowed himself among the trees once more to await his following nemesis. No one appeared, and after a time he continued down the slope towards the Thames.

Striding a little later across the Privy Gardens, below the palace gatehouse, he came upon Tom Knyvet sprinting furiously towards the stables. The fellow dashed out of the darkness and nearly ran him down, but grabbed at his arm and tried to bear him along with him.

"My God, Charles," cried Knyvet. "We are too late. Come, man, run."

Arundell let himself be hurried into the stables he had just left. He saddled his second horse himself. Knyvet explained in breathless fragments that word had just been brought him: Oxford had been seen furtively departing upstream from the water stairs, some time since, in company with a cloaked and shrouded lady.

There was, to be sure, a futile humor in the situation, and Arundell considered leaving the earl to enjoy his venerous triumph, but Knyvet was spluttering with family honor and not to be called off. Certainly a violent scandal would turn unwelcome attention upon the entire clan. Together they clattered out of the stables and rode at a full dash through the palace yard onto the highway, through Bermondsey to the bridge. Up to the bridge they came at a gallop, the late passersby scattering before them, beneath the Great Gate, under the shops and tenement dwellings that arched above them overhanging the black race of water, past old St. Thomas chapel at mid-stream, clattering three hundred meters to the northern bank. Into Gracious Street on the other side they flung themselves, then westward up East Cheap and Cannon Street in the direction of Paul’s.

Approaching Walbrook, Knyvet cut off towards London Stone, where one of Oxford’s houses lay. Arundell, following Knyvet’s sign, bore on towards the other house, in Bread Street, behind St. Paul’s School, where he rode in through the side gate and dashed up into the hall. Rafe Hopton scurried over, looking quizzically up at his master’s friend, but Arundell brushed him aside and started up the great stairs.

"Please, sir," called the boy, "his lordship has retired."

"When I have done, Rafe, his lordship will have need of you."

At the top of the staircase, the earl’s man Curtis appeared like a sentry from a tiny room on the left.

"Pray you, sir," said Curtis, putting his hands up to restrain the intruder. But Arundell flung off the man’s arm and struck him in the chest, and Curtis fell away groaning.

Arundell ran down the narrow corridor to Oxford’s room and burst through the door. To his surprise, the chamber was empty.

From somewhere above, he heard a squeal of laughter, followed by the unmistakable sound of a horse whinnying.

"God’s nails," Charles muttered. He ran along the hall towards the next stairs, a sense of the ludicrousness of his task swelling up within him. The delighted squeals and improbable equine bellowing continued as he ducked his head and raced up the steps. Arundell reached the stairs’ head and threw open the door.

Two figures turned in surprise. Oxford, grinning foolishly, stood stark naked in the middle of the chamber. His erection cavorted gaily before him, and he bore a curtains-cord tied about his loins for reins. These were held behind him by Nan Vavasour, just as naked but still in her bonnet and slippers, her breast heaving in excitement, her eyes dancing and lit from within.

They stared at Arundell with broad grins across their drunken faces. Then Oxford whinnied again, lurched forward, and resumed prancing in a circle round the chamber, Nan following him, snapping the reins upon his arse and squealing again with pure happiness, her pendulous breasts and buttocks jouncing and swaying with each high-spirited step.

They came full round the room again and stopped before him.

"My dear Charles," said Oxford. "You’ve met my lady?"

Arundell stared at them. Here was Nan’s attraction, he thought, not in her pinched look (deceptively stern, as it turned out) and her long Howard nose, but in these big, saltatory breasts and the full, black patch between her thighs. Oxford seemed rather to be pitied than condemned.

"I came to save you," Arundell said drily, "from my lord’s lecherous intent."

She snapped her reins again upon the earl’s arse and murmured, "Thank you, cousin Charles."

Charles grinned back at them and said, a little sheepishly, "And now I must leave you, friends. I am called away on the queen’s business."

And Oxford whinnied again as Arundell shut the door upon their sport and descended the stairs. As he left the house, he found Curtis looking pallid and withdrawn, and tipped him generously.

Another of life’s little jokes, thought Charles, as he rode home towards the Priory. But life could be amusing, these little jests upon one’s heavy seriousness sparkling up out of the general gloom. He found he thought more kindly of both of them now than he had before. They could still laugh, at any rate. To be young again, he thought. He would describe the scene, with appropriate neighs, to Kate when he reached his rooms. They would laugh a little, too, and be young again, if only for a little while.

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Matters for Catholics, already bad, steadily became worse, suspicions of them deepened, as summer passed into autumn and the court returned to Whitehall. Rumors ran throughout the realm of a Holy League compacted on the continent, of Guise and King Philip and other Romish princes, for the reduction of England to the faith. Another papal force had landed in Ireland, and their reinforcements were expected daily. Accordingly, the government tightened its control upon the known English Catholics, and set about ferreting from their nests all the unknown ones. The conforming gentlemen were caught in an intensified dilemma, for just when official pressure to attend the queen’s service was increasing, so were the Jesuits promulgating the pope’s strict insistence upon their refusal. More rumors told of a Parliament forthcoming, in which new woes would be enacted. From France, there came still more bad news; Monsieur had been turned against Simier, had sworn him as an enemy, and the Howards’ last friend in the Anjou camp could be of no more help to them. Any progress Monsieur made in England now would only come at Leicester’s hands.

Oxford continued his inhabiting of Anne; their liaison had become a secret de polichinelle at court, but he was reckless, his courses became increasingly erratic; he grew more and more a stranger to his erstwhile friends, and when he joined their company as often as not it was to taunt them with rude and childish jests. At other times, he grew lugubrious, and sentimentally sincere, and complained to Arundell in maudlin tones of the happier years long lost, the shifting, treacherous sands upon which now they stood. Usually, he avoided his former companions as if they were embarrassments to him, or threats to him when Anne’s name came to mind, and they in turn eschewed his company, for his unpredictability.

In autumn, Arundell went down to Bristol to tend to his affairs. He alone of all the gentlemen preferred to stay by Oxford’s side, for whereas they thought safest to be away from his sight, Arundell was possessed of other doubts. The earl had always been unstable, to be feared for the damage he might do them in any little fit of pique; but additionally he had always been ambitious, and Arundell, wondering to see him so long in the shade, expected momently some new break from Oxford, some headlong, ill-thought jump into what he feebly might conceive to be glory or fame, or merely somewhat better odds. Like the others, Charles feared Oxford’s violence against them; what he feared, however, was not the puerile, aimless tantrums of which the man was sometimes capable, but the calculated betrayal, in which art he was no less competent.

It was thus with many misgivings that Arundell rode out from court, for whilst he was in the country on the queen’s business, his nightmares might be taking shape at home.

goback.gif (2185 bytes)Go back to the Preface and Table of Contents
gonext.gif (2192 bytes)Go ahead to Chapter VIII. Leicester Triumphans (1581)

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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