Peck's lengthy tales
and doubt in the time of Queen Elizabeth I
1. ENGLAND (1577-1583)
VII. SUMMER IDYLL
this be sure, the flower once plucked away,
Farewell the rest, thy happy days
-- Walter Raleigh
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.
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.
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.
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, Catherines brother-in-law, and Catherines
brothers the Knyvets took a special interest in her welfare. Then Mistress Vavasour
caught my lord of Oxfords 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
Nan was a tall girl, fully
Oxfords 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 preachers 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 earls attentions. Matters progressed,
and the flirtations became openly known at court.
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.
evening they met in Oxfords 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.
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.
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.
waved aside this fanfaronading and pressed on; he cited the Lord Treasurers
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.
his advantage by describing Raleighs 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 Raleighs poem neatly written out upon
"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. Raleighs advice
to Mistress Nan, we read; a pleasant title, Ned, a pleasant beginning."
he read aloud:
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
For this be sure, the fort of fame once won,
rest, thy happy days are done.
is more, Ned, can you bear to hear it?" smiled Charles unkindly. Oxford glowered
at him in a slow rage.
desire, but few or none deserve
To pluck the flowers and let the leaves to
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,
the rest, thy happy days decay.
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!"
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 weeks
see, Ned," said Arundell. "Hell never meet your challenge now,
for he is on the queens service."
face worked in drunken thought. "Well, then, if I cannot kill him honorably,
I shall have him slaughtered."
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?"
stood up and steadied himself.
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!"
he flew out of the room, shivering his shoulder as he lurched into the jamb of
Arundell and Lord
Harry Howard poured themselves a bit more of the earls 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.
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.
Francis Walsingham, 1532?-1590,
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 popes
army, which even now being expunged from Ireland would soon throw itself against
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. Peters, 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 queens laws in the matter of conscience, they little desired to be called
in conscience to take up arms against her.
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.
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. Gilberts 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 Pagets
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.
Jesuits met later with many of the gentlemen and older priests in Southwark, near
Lord Montagues 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.
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 Northumberlands 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.
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 brothers 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 brothers
titles, but his great fear was that he was being kept in convenient storage for
a scapegoat at any future need.
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 governments
response. Someone asked Lord Harry to report on the queen of Scotss 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.
Lord Harry spoke, Northumberlands man Pudsey came in to announce the arrival
of a latecomer, the earls 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.
was taken aback. "Only God knows such a thing at that, who shares his counsel
with no man," he replied.
Paget snorted, with a sneer writhing across his thick features and a gleam of
some queer triumph shining in his eye.
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.
will she ever be free if she depends upon the Englishmen her good friends, as
Shelley shifted uncomfortably on his bench.
so we are her friends. What would you have of us, my dear Paget?" he inquired,
to whom Paget was not dear at all.
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."
listened carefully, his rather dull eyes following Pagets gestures, nodding
his head slowly as belatedly he recognized the mans meaning.
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.
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."
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?"
do not agree," cried Paget.
say your mind," said Arundell, staring at him intently.
say your mind if you will," said William Shelley, "but it is for other
ears than mine to hear."
rose and started for the door.
stay," said the earl placatingly. "We are all friends here, Will, we
speak here to only walls and friends."
am sorry, my good fellows, but I have not that lions 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."
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.
Pagets 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 graces
willingness to undertake the enterprise was understood.
idea of the duke of Guises 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.
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 Leicesters 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.
on, rehearsing again to Northumberlands 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 Traitors 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 Gods 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.
were continuing without him. Lord Harry was demonstrating with unappreciated thoroughness
that the ancient fathers were unanimous in condemning insurrection against Gods
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. Pagets plans were like Arundells
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 Harrys
donnish quiddities must give room to action, only action.
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
Timing was all, was
Pagets 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 Guises 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.
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?"
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 Pagets 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 queens crown,
upon the battered throne of England.
was suffused with wrath, and he spluttered.
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!"
others, save Northumberland who had missed his implication, were dumbfounded.
"This whore!" cried
Arundell. "Damn me, Paget, you say this whore?!"
realized his admission and chose to face it through.
a Gods 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."
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 anothers 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 arms length as he sought an
opening for his thrust.
Harry propelled the earl violently out of the way and trod upon Pagets 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
Arundell arose and
adjusted his clothing.
must have her crown, indeed, but upon my life, she must wait her turn."
glared at the floor.
are treasonous speeches, and I will have none of them," said Arundell. "We
will have no talk of new queens here."
draw your treasons very nicely, Charles," said Howard. "We must take
arms against the queen, but take no arms against her."
you are right! These are misted matters; the queen is our mistress with all obedience
matters lawful," said Southwell.
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 queens 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."
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.
the morning, rain fell and the sky was gray, and the gentlemens 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.
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.
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 ones 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 Leicesters to
Of the gentlemen who
still looked to the Howards for their aid at court, one kind was predominant--the
Catholics. Not Arundells 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 Arundells 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
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 Arundells 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 harms way, and await a better day,
a better day which, he persevered in believing, must one day come.
past Epsom, Arundell came upon a party of farmers addressing themselves to the
roads 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.
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.
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.
chill came into Arundells bones. Three riders, or the same one? A vision
rose before him of a hideous, wicked little rodents 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.
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. Arundells 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.
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
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
"My God, Charles,"
cried Knyvet. "We are too late. Come, man, run."
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.
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 Pauls.
Walbrook, Knyvet cut off towards London Stone, where one of Oxfords houses
lay. Arundell, following Knyvets sign, bore on towards the other house,
in Bread Street, behind St. Pauls School, where he rode in through the side
gate and dashed up into the hall. Rafe Hopton scurried over, looking quizzically
up at his masters friend, but Arundell brushed him aside and started up
the great stairs.
sir," called the boy, "his lordship has retired."
I have done, Rafe, his lordship will have need of you."
the top of the staircase, the earls man Curtis appeared like a sentry from
a tiny room on the left.
you, sir," said Curtis, putting his hands up to restrain the intruder. But
Arundell flung off the mans arm and struck him in the chest, and Curtis
fell away groaning.
ran down the narrow corridor to Oxfords room and burst through the door.
To his surprise, the chamber was empty.
somewhere above, he heard a squeal of laughter, followed by the unmistakable sound
of a horse whinnying.
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.
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.
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
They came full round
the room again and stopped before him.
dear Charles," said Oxford. "Youve met my lady?"
stared at them. Here was Nans 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.
came to save you," Arundell said drily, "from my lords lecherous
She snapped her
reins again upon the earls arse and murmured, "Thank you, cousin Charles."
grinned back at them and said, a little sheepishly, "And now I must leave
you, friends. I am called away on the queens business."
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.
of lifes little jokes, thought Charles, as he rode home towards the Priory.
But life could be amusing, these little jests upon ones 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.
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 queens service was increasing, so were the Jesuits promulgating the
popes 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 Leicesters
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 Annes name came to mind, and they in turn
eschewed his company, for his unpredictability.
autumn, Arundell went down to Bristol to tend to his affairs. He alone of all
the gentlemen preferred to stay by Oxfords 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
Oxfords 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.
was thus with many misgivings that Arundell rode out from court, for whilst he
was in the country on the queens business, his nightmares might be taking
shape at home.
back to the Preface and Table of Contents
ahead to Chapter VIII. Leicester Triumphans (1581)
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.