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 Recollections of Lord Paget)

"Forget not yet, forget not this,
How long ago hath been, and is,
The mind that never meant amiss
Forget not yet."

The occasion of our gathering was a hanging. Myself had seen Campion twice or thrice before, notwithstanding which we might hardly recognize him on the cart, so changed was he by his rough handling.

Not many days earlier, when news of his trial had gone buzzing round the countryside, Mr. Arden and I had ridden up to town at Lord Harry’s beckoning, to the end that no means might be left untried to save him. Myself and Northumberland made earnest suit to Monsieur, who was returned with the queen from Richmond, but scarcely could we meet him out of her company, and when we could, he paid us little hearing. Especially also we sought out his special counsellor, M. Bodin, who has the great reputation of a lawyer and a scholar and also a Catholic, but he, though he entertains us with much courtesy and also concedes that in his opinion the priests are condemned without any color of law, yet he will not meddle, he says, in the affairs of a neighbor’s realm, for his commission is to deal for marriage, not for religion.

Likewise Mr. Tresham worked diligently upon his friend my lord of Sussex, who with many tears protested he could do nothing in this case (though he loved the condemned man well, when he thought of his great learning and good graces). For my lord of Leicester would have him to perish, and, says he, neither in Kent nor in Christendom (as the saying is) dwells there the man who may deny my lord of Leicester. Lord Harry sought the aid of the Spanish lieger here, Seņor Mendoza, with whom he had much sway, but his reply was that the matter had come too far for mortal help, and that only God must save the father now. For better to lose a part than lose all, was his meaning, for the Seņor had other matters in train which he must not danger by meddling for Campion at this time.

And so there was no help for it. Monsieur Simier was also in London at that time, who might have worked upon the queen, but wherever we might search him out we could not put our fingers in his doublet. In his own affairs he was in much peril of Monsieur’s cutthroats, and Simier was never to be so easily found except when the queen was by him.

But despair gives courage to a coward. No pains, no profit, is a worthy saying, and on the very eve of the execution, some few of us besought Monsieur at court where he played at tennis with his apish friends about him. He greets me coldly as we come to him and listens with a truculent air as I tell him what sad case we are in, and must have present help. Notwithstanding he is all of Leicester’s own, and little love between us, yet he is a Catholic, and on that account we beseech his merciful intercession like a prince. To which he gazes upon me with insolent demeanor and says in French, "My lord Paget, I cannot strike my ball while you stand before the net."

Well, it is hard to teach an old horse amble anew. Monsieur was ever a faithless miscreant and continues one still. It is too manifest to all of us then that Campion must have his crown upon the morrow.

At Tyburn, on the first day of December, 1581, was a vast assemblage made, despite the early hour of the day. The rain came pouring down like the angels pissing on us for our sins, when out from Holborn we see Campion coming drawn upon a hurdle and two others drawn upon another. Beside their horses walked a pious heretical minister, preaching to the fathers words they little wished to hear. The crowds pushed forward all along their way, and no matter what the guardsmen try, some rush forward here and there and crave a blessing, which liberally he bestows upon them all.

All covered in mud, the three are hoisted upon a cart beneath the gibbet. Lord Harry and myself are standing back amongst the rear, for recognition’s sake, and cannot hear all that is said, for the clatter of the rain and tumult of the mob is sufficient almost to fill our ears. Some of the standers by are pious souls, and cry out like lost sheep, wailing the name of our Lord and oftentimes falling to their knees in the muckish road, whilst also many stand among them just as loudly shouting execrations upon the priests, spewing out the names of "traitors" and "popish devils" and other foul denominations.

Upon the cart, Sir Harry Lee (my brother-in-law still, however he may comport himself now), he steadied Mr. Campion, and from below Sir Francis Knollys hurried the others aloft. These were the only great men we could find there, besides a gaggle of the ministers and preachers come to prove their last points of doctrine and triumph in their adversaries’ refutation. All three poor priests wore their prison gowns of frieze and, through the gloom and rain, their heads uplifted, faces and arms all broken and wrenkled up from the torturers’ devices, they looked like nothing so much as the blessed martyrs of the ancient church, standing amongst the Roman heathens.

From our distance we might hear Knollys shouting that they must confess their treasonous acts, to which Mr. Campion made a reply which fell into the crowd before us. This talk continued as they stood upon the cart with necks in noose, and ever and again we hear the queen’s men boom out with vile hecklings and detractions, with modest answers which are lost to us from Campion. What they charged upon him needs no telling, for it was the wonted cant of plotting to kill a queen or so, and Campion’s replies we might well guess, of all good loyalty usque ad aras, with praying for the queen and so on, for it was their whole cry, of all priests that ever I have met, obedience in all temporal matters to the queen and in all spiritual to the pope. Which to the queen’s men was just half good enough.

But care of soul must precede care of body, as the poets ever say, and so Mr. Campion looks no whit abashed by them, only inclining to anger that whenever he makes to address the audience they cut him off clean. Neither will they let him pray in peace to himself. At good length, Sir Henry Lee and the minister leap down into the mud, and the carter whips up his horse and his cart drives out from under the unhappy men, who swing and gawk and gurgle while the minister, who is Mr. Charke, screams to the executioner to cut them down in haste and begin his bloody work. But the executioner cannot free his sword from scabbard, or seems he cannot, and as Briant and then Sherwin hang limp he wrestles with his blade in vain. Sir Francis dashes up and hacks upon Campion’s rope with his thin rapier, but it will not take effect, and the crowd is in throes, some crying "let them hang until dead" and other shouting "cut them down, cut them down at once"; but it must be otherwise, and by the time the executioner has them down and the disembowelling begins, all three priests are gone to where there is no pain.

It goes with no saying that these events moved us deeply. That Walsingham’s men, with their Milesian lies and paid professions, might bring so noble a man to dust (within God’s plan for us though it be said) passes my poor understanding. According to the common saying, quae nocent, docent, what hurts us also teaches us, we must have learned a lesson of all this, and Lord Harry avers we have, but as I hope for mercy I cannot think me what it is. I have only darkness in my mind, and must only accept what I can never understand. Harry’s answer is that somewhat of force must have been done to save the fathers, for no good was ever to be expected of our friends in England, nor any humanity of their great lordships. But when death has once come, counsel is too late. In this as in other matters, I know not which way to turn, no more, I think, knows anyone else.

I am in my own case the shuttlecock of conscience. When I am suspected, the ministers speak me long lectures of divinity, all to prove what my poor fortunes incline me to already, that the queen cares not how I believe, but wishes me only to go to her churches in earnest of my loyalty towards her person. So that I do no act of religion, my soul is my own, and by this small compliance I save me all the fines, which waste my estate and diminish my son’s patrimony, and free me of their prisons. But yet, on the other side, the priests with whom I have had words in this do say clean contrary, that by the Council of Trent and the pope’s own mouth I must do no such attendance, for it gives (as they say) scandal to the Lord and makes the angels blush for my infirmity. Then plump I go to trouble again, and there stay, till this resolution weakens, then out I come, and walk my ways, till conscience pierces me, and in I go again; till now my muddled head is spinning, and no man trusts me for his own.

Likewise, anger and grief collect within me, and I feel I must do somewhat for relief, harried and pressed every way by spies and ministers, justices and councillors, priests and old women who deplore my vacillation, till I come anon almost to envy the fanatics and the martyrs who hold on their short courses with never a look behind.

I see no help for it. They say the longest night must come to an end, with day behind, but I see no end, only night. Passions grow daily greater everywhere, and more we are harassed, heavier our fines and closer our looking to, more violent the words of some of our hotter heads, more frightening the news brought us every day. Our ill wishers have as many heads as Hydra, and when we have detected the spy or informer among us and sent him out, another betrays us, another raid is set on, another priest is tortured and names unwillingly his hosts and harborers, another batch of us brought in; and more wistful talk of the queen of Scots and her good qualities, so much to be preferred in her kindly regime to this unloving queen that now sits on throne, this wistful talk becomes exhortation, with some among us looking black faces and swearing that we must have a new queen, and that soon. Oh, how I tremble when this talk comes on; for wisdom and folly do often dwell together, and what these desperate fellows, leaders among us (some of them) for their able counsel past, may bring us to, I cannot tell, but much fear.

A week or two from Campion’s lamented death, M. Simier and the Baron Viteau (who would murder his mother for a sly look) come to us at Arundel House, where we play at cards. Ho, my friends, he says, I am set upon by Leicester’s cutters and have hardly escaped with my life. The whole matter is his coming over unbidden, at great jars with Monsieur this year or more now past. There is a certain vile and loathsome fellow, Fervaques by name, who set Monsieur and him against one another, and had near killed him in France. Now Simier is come to challenge this far-ranger to the duel, or so he gives it out, but really he is sent from the king of France to bend our queen (who ever loved him) against too much speeding of Monsieur. His challenge duly made, it now appears, Fervaques and my lord of Leicester have had him set upon in the Royal Exchange, where they almost spilled all his precious blood, rather than meet with him in the field.

So Simier is now beseeching us to produce Mr. Arundell for his advising, but Mr. Arundell has not been seen abroad for a month or more. At Anjou’s coming over, in late October or thereabout, some great wrangling in the corridors of the court, all hidden from us without, had won for my Lord Harry and Arundell and the other their release from ward, whereupon the other, a certain Mr. Southwell, had (as I am informed) kissed his friends goodbye and returned to his people in the country, and whereupon also Mr. Arundell had disappeared no man knew whither.

ccd-elizabeth.jpg (26542 bytes)

Queen Elizabeth I, 1533-1603, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (Natl Portrait Gallery)

But in good time, this Simier accepts our advice instead of his not possible to be given, and he goes to the court and informs the queen of what has passed. Hardly she believes him, but jump upon the hour, by Providence no doubt--sufficing proof. For it is one little man of Monsieur’s, called Lafin, who warned this Simier of the assault intended and bade him flee, having learned which, this Fervaques meets Lafin by ill luck in the Privy Gardens and draws upon him. Lafin shrieks like an Irish sprite and dashes into the garden-house of Whitehall, hotly pursued by this mad Fervaques, and thence into the corridors behind, and up the great stairs, entering at length into the short gallery, running and shrieking like a man afire, bursting apace round the corner into the long gallery, where he careens bang into Sussex and they tumble headlong down the hall, and Fervaques rushes pell mell after him, dagger drawn, round the corner, right up to the queen.

All are too shocked to utter a word. Lafin scrambles behind my Lord Chamberlain’s skirts; Fervaques stands gasping and snorting and breathing fire before the queen, dagger brandishing. Only she is not out of countenance, and turns to the lords with her and says, "Hang this surly Frog." Whereat the Frenchman falls down in a swoon.

But my lord of Sussex explains to her that, assassin or cutthroat or whatever he may be, the man has a certain privilege from hanging, in his diplomatic capacities, and must not be proceeded against with full rigor of English law. The queen swears an oath at this, and tells the fellow she must never see his ugly features in the court again, and the upshot is she believes Simier’s tale and summons Leicester to the Presence Chamber, where she tells him before all the court that if a hair is hurt of Simier’s head the earl shall have ample cause to regret it.

What a long spring we passed then. Throughout the country, the justices and the bishops proceeded against our friends; some bent, some did not, but none were the better for their decisions, that I could see. Here in town, one by one our friends succumbed, if not to the force of these new laws, then to the wily stratagems of Leicester and his friends. Sir Thomas Tresham was sent up to the Fleet for refusing to pay his fines; in January of ‘82, his brother William, who was a special friend to my Lord Chamberlain, was threatened to be taken for I know not what atrocious crimes, invented in some feverish head, and fled the realm with never a farewell, fearing lest he be hung by the heels through the malice of his enemies. So also did another man of my own country, Mr. Fitzherbert of Swynnerton, who was fain to leave behind him his wife of not two years.

In February, Monsieur departed, but we scarcely marked his going. We had no hopes of him or his marriage, which was never aught but a barmecidal feast for us to drool upon. Then my lord of Oxford returned to the town, and straightaway a war erupted in the streets, for the Knyvets, those hot fellows, had never forgiven his carnal crimes upon their family, never caring for the fact that their good cousin Vavasour was now a proven harlot living in open luxury with one of Leicester’s worst friends, my sister’s husband Lee. In March, Oxford has to duel with Sir Thomas Knyvet, on Black Heath behind Greenwich, and both receive their hurt; but this which should have ended it does no such thing, for in June they battle in the streets of London, on two several occasions, with all their men about them, and in July a man of the earl’s is killed, though afterwards Sir Thomas, whom the queen loves well, received his pardon for the murder.

And in the meanwhile, is all the secret talk of plots and combinations. Now, be it said, I love the queen of Scots with all my heart, for her pious soul and tragical state of life, though with none of this Mariolatrous passion of these younger men, Babington and Throgmorton and Salusbury and the rest, but yet enough; enough I do tender her safety, too. And likewise I do hate these times we live in, and these burdens which we bear all for religion’s sake only, these manifold wrongs we suffer daily by the hands of odible and venal men. But yet, to me, this talk surpasses. Our lady may be in the greatest danger, but yet I cannot see how in loyalty to our present queen we may set about to free her. Still less do I see how we may aid these foreign armies to change her state, for if war comes between our queen and some other forces, there must never be a thought of standing against our queen anointed. But this was what was spoken, bold as white paint. These young fellows, ever and anon, gallop in with schemes of the duke of Guise, the Spanish king, the pope’s own banner, now on the coast of Sussex, now led in through Scotland, now to Flamborough Head, with our queen that now is no true queen, but a mere bastard, disabled from her crown. And at this time, the principallest talk was of the duke of Lennox, whose counsel was the only sought in Scotland, where the young king, so it was said by these men (how truly I cannot tell), would by his advising bring in the duke of Guise to cross the borders and bring his mother forth of her prison.

What folly did I hear! What folly did I not hear? Oh, invasions, and marching, and creeping up to castles in the midnight. But always I am told that, once our lady freed, these projected armies retire then and go their ways, off to fight the Turk or do some other notable deed for Christendom. But I know better than that; these young bloods think me a simple fool, and seek to enroll me in some noble act of chivalry for the freeing only of the Scottish queen, but I see through their passes and Hey, presto! Am I so doddering that I cannot see what is on foot, with all these mumbled traducements and disablings of the queen? They mean to overturn the realm quite.

Ah me. It may be that is what must, come time, be done. I am an Englishman, and I am loyal and true, I thank them very much; it behooves me to speak no treasonous matter; but maybe, when God has so decided, these heretics must be put down, and maybe by violent means. But what I ask only is a true sign, whereby I may know God’s will.

Lord Harry says nothing. Like me, he listens to this talk, but like me, he joins not in its speaking. But here, Lord Harry has something else in his book, which I may only guess at, for always he is closeted with the ambassador of Spain, considering of this and reporting of that and watching over everything, always silent of his doings, never to tell me all or any part of what has passed between them. I fear for him. When he speaks of the Scottish queen, it is as one may speak of his lover, or a poet of his lady.

Indeed, I fear for us all. I know not what this will come to, and dare not conjecture. There are spies everywhere. Still Arundell is gone, in hiding or in secret prison or made away by stealth, I cannot tell which. Still the Scottish queen’s letters come in and out of the realm, some (which I am often given to carry) of hello and thank you and God be with you, brought back and forth to the French ambassador’s house, but others, closely kept, which I have heard of but not seen, these others--what is in them? Not hellos--these pass by the Spanish way, as if (methinks) the French were but for diversion’s sake, and the other of some secret import. Ecce signum. I long for help, but fear its coming; I pray for relief, but tremble to think who will be my relievers. Would only that Mr. Arundell were here. Would that my Lord Howard would open with me, and let me taste what danger we are in, so that I might know how to defend me. Oh, the times! Oh, these great heads, these great policies. We are as in a war, where every army hides its banners, and no man can tell for whom he fights. I am wandered into paludal grounds, sinking to my boot-tops, deeper with each step I take to bring me out; I must stay with my friends to avoid sinking friendless, and together we sink deeper in a pack.

Well, the Lord sees all, and into all hearts, and knows who is true and who is not, and knows what doubt a decent man may fall in. Him I trust me to, and only him, for none else can help me if they would. God love and watch over us all unceasingly. Which I never doubt he will!

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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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