The chronicles of King’s Edward’s Privy Chamber Gentlemen
Part the Third….Friends In Deed.
By J. McDonnell Murphy
The sky is ice blue. The hills are amethyst. Shafts of winter sunlight fleck the moor gilding the scrub and heather before passing on. Their cool light warms nothing.
A man’s eye catches this fleeting instant. Instantly it passes. He looks down as if he reflects upon this vanishing-point.
He looks-up once more at the sky’s faded azure. It’s streaked white and orange by wisps of thin high cloud.
Inwardly, he smiles.
…As he’s not alone he doesn’t allow himself more than this composed restraint. He knows his companions are oblivious to the sky’s momentary magnificence. Their indifference to its trailing glories puzzles him….
And as the pallid sunlight plays on the moorland, finally, he permits himself the worldly indulgence of a wry smile…
He turns and looks at his three companions. Gaunt; grey-white; they’re trembling – perhaps with cold – perhaps – with fear. They pay no heed to the subtle beauties in the changing landscape…
The day is gently drawing on towards its close…
Unselfconsciously the man makes the sign of the cross. His gesture reveals all.
His companions see the sign and copy it.
The priest catches their response from the corner of his eye. Though he’s quietly amused by their copycat faith his composed features betray nothing.
…Despite the cold to him it feels as if time passes more quickly out here on the top of the world…passes on…passes more quickly than life itself passes…passes by…passes away…
The scenery sparks intense memories
The priest blinks a tear. He wipes it with a fine finger. He inhales the brittle air thoughtfully.
…. Memories…mementoes…more like thoughtful tokens…pictures from a past long lost flash by…shimmering briefly in his mind’s eye…images of his spiritual home glance his consciousness. There…there…he’s seen such skies and landscapes.
There, in Rome, the churches burst with frescos blazing this rapture – even the refectory ceiling in the poor English College has such a sky – dotted with cherubs and seraphs….
The priest looks up again…half-expectant…there are no angels….yet…
Yet this sky, in this here and now, outshines anything any artist might hope to capture on canvass. The Divine artist has painted this sky – the Divine brush has stippled this landscape with the sun’s gold. God’s artful strokes of genius have trimmed these hills with Imperial purple. Transforming glimpses of the Divine transfigure the sky – as God’s Son once transfigured himself to live in man’s world. All this is God’s. God’s hand paints man’s horizons…
The priest blinks.
As suddenly the sun is gone.
As suddenly thunder rumbles round…echoing around the hills….
Again inwardly the priest smiles…he knows this sound and fury isn’t thunder…rather it’s the hooves of horses ridden hard…
He sinks to the ground and with a simple movement of his hand waves down his companions. They drop down to the ground. He turns to them – a single finger to his mouth.
This is sign language they can lip-read….
…They may not be moved by the aesthetics that pull at the Jesuit’s emotions but they’ve been with him long enough to know his silent commands are to be complied with instantly.
All life’s suspended by the slender thread of obedience.
The sun clips a hill…everything darkens…
….The priest isn’t caught-out…. acutely observant…he’s sensitive to his surroundings. As the moor’s face darkens in the half-light his mood darkens in the shadow of the dying day….shades of gloom perhaps…though his intense faith bars the gateway to despair….
For now he knows they’re all safe….all safely hidden….hidden behind the great Stone…. although it may not hide them for long.
….Shrewdly he has already strewn signs further afield…to mislead…to distract…to delay…signs to confound the hunters who’ve chased them up here on to this cheerless, windswept spot….
The priest kisses the figure of Christ on a crucifix that hangs around his neck….
….The cross and chain are beautifully wrought. Gifted Spanish craftsmen have enlivened this silver from the New World with this oldest of Christian symbols… they’re a royal gift…from the royal Patron of his mission….
The priest mutters under his breath:
‘“Ego volo celebrare Missam et conficere Corpus et Sanguinem Domini Nostri Jesu Christi.” Let that alone be my beginning and my end. Amen.’
His companions can barely hear his words over the wind. But they see his hands join and his head bow. So, they too pray. They know from their recent travels over the past month that he prays like this only at moments of greatest danger. They’re behind their Jesuit master….as the Holy Apostles were behind Christ the Saviour in Gethsemane…when he was arrested.
They’re still. They’re absolutely still….
The moss mops-up the remains of the day’s dull light. It soaks it up, absorbs it, as if to blot-out the landscape from day’s darker side.
The wind picks-up. Wintry cold, it keenly whips across the bleakness of this bleak reality.
….About the moor the fading light arouses slumbering wolves. The packs have stirred…
They’re awake – somewhere nearby – like the Jesuit and his three followers – they’re hidden from easy sight. They’re restless.
They pace back and forth; they turn; their yellow eyes flash – each pair of eyes uneasily meets another’s – impatient. The females sniff the air…
Restlessness infects the pack…the younger yelp excitedly…their elders snarl back….
A loan howl…then they all howl….
They’re unsettled….their flickering nostrils catch something on the wind…a warning scent…danger….
…The wolves must wait for the cover of darkness.
Only then may they safely hunt their prey. Once night falls and blackness closes-in then their lupine revels may begin….their time’s night-time…
….The priest lies flat on the ground.
Resting on his elbows he looks through the stubby blades of grass from behind the Stone….
He’s completely hidden by the giant granite boulder that’s abandoned here on the moor and is strangely out of place in its place….
….Perhaps aptly the Jesuit considers this as he watches….perhaps…for he’s no longer watching the hills…..or listening to the wind….or bothered by howling wolves….something else has wholly taken his attention…
……Some distance from the priest…..
Maybe half a mile, maybe more….distances are distorted by the flatness of the moorland; by the breadth of the pale sky; by the priest’s position on the ground.
Five figures stand solitary: five men…
They’re darkly silhouetted against the hills’ deep violet….
They stand in an island of long swart grass set in the middle of a mossy sea of stones and heather. Some of this grass is waist high. It blows about in the blistering north-easterly wind….
One waves a sword about like a scythe. He holds up something. The others gesticulate excitedly…
There’s a shot.
The sound ricochets around the blasted moor. It silences the wolves. There’s eerie quiet.
Startled, the men flap about turning one way and then another.
….They’re dressed in dowdy brown leather jerkins. They’ve leather hose and high brown leather boots. All wear fur-trimmed woollen capes. Three wear caps; two of them sport gold badges pinned on one side of their brown serge.
…. These are badges of officers of the household of the Lord President of the Council of the North. Two others hold helmets – gold in the last rays of the sun. These are the Lord President’s men-at-arms. They’re accompanied by a capped forester in a duller, darker drab. His is the livery of a forester or bowbearer to the archbishop of York….
….They’re all far from the security of the city of York and the gilded comforts of its golden Minster. Official business brings them this far afield. The business concerns both the queen and her church. And, conveniently, since Matthew Hutton is both the Archbishop of York and the Lord President of Her Majesty’s Council in the North, the business is entirely his….
….And these men are entirely his servants….
…Archbishop Hutton has received secret intelligence from King James in Scotland in a series of letters, signed and sealed…
Letters patently warn Hutton of three Jesuits who’ve successfully infiltrated into the lakes and dales…
Letters from Scotland….
It is writ…the Jesuits travel under the guise of bringing the sacraments to local Catholics. According to King James’ version they’re recruiting traitors. They’re agents of the Spanish King – Philip III.
…Spain’s new king has wasted no time in resuming covert hostilities with England and sponsors Jesuit missions all over Britain and Ireland….
And these letters state that here in the North of England there are three missions – all led by renegade priests – and all, all they say, all are sons of local English gentry…
……Normally Archbishop Hutton would have been sceptical about such letters. But times are far from normal…the Irish rebels as yet are undefeated…Lord Essex’s great army is as yet not embarked to crush the Rebel Tyrone… and nothing pertaining to the security of the realm and the queen may be left to chance…..
….In England it’s widely believed that the Jesuits are agents of the Roman anti-Christ. The Pope’s creatures pass easily and secretly from place to place: from Rome to Spain; to Portugal; to the New World; to the Holy Roman Empire; to the Netherlands; to Poland; to Russia and even into France. Everywhere they slip and slide they sponsor treachery and treason. Everywhere they bring with them the evils of the Mass. Everywhere they disturb the Christian peace.
And is this any wonder?
After all the Jesuit order was founded by a Spanish soldier, Ignatius Loyola. Loyola’s Jesuits obey – as soldiers unquestioningly obey the orders of their superiors. Trained by spiritual exercises, over many years they perfect obedience. The Jesuits are fanatics; they’re spies. The pope’s mercenaries are in the pay of Spain. They’re part of a Catholic conspiracy that threatens the Protestant world…..
….King James’s letters say the Jesuits are sent to assassinate the queen. They’re in England to murder majesty. Just as their fancy lace corporals hide their gilt chalices so their mumbled Latin words disguise their guilty treason. King James has assured the archbishop that he writes as a friend.
What’s more, for once, this royal intelligence has proved as good as the words written.
The Scots king claims the time has come for him to prove by deeds his true friendship to the queen.
….The extravagant claim arouses suspicions from the archbishop – even more from Sir Robert Cecil, the queen’s Principal Secretary….
That King James’s word is good is therefore a puzzle and that’s a problem in itself…
The king has a quite a reputation for word-play. It’s a royal way that deceptively promises much and delivers little. The king of Scotland’s profligacy with easy promises has as long been matched by parsimony with hard measures.
Nevertheless, three Jesuit missions have been uncovered and two of them have been easily hunted down. Their ring-leaders languish in York. They await their fate with prayers. They’ll need them. Their future dangles….as their innards will dangle…before their disbelieving eyes. There’ll be no royal mercy for Jesuit treason.
….The third Jesuit has eluded capture. And the hunt for him has lasted a month. It’s known the renegade has the two or three companions with him…perhaps sons of local gentry. Twice the archbishop’s men have almost had them trapped. Twice they’ve escaped…saved… perhaps by some local knowledge…or maybe by the sympathies of some of the locals…or both….who knows? God knows, it appears the priest knows his way around…
…What else God knows or the Devil wills are nice points too dainty for debate out here on the top of Bowland Foris….for, today, on this Christmas Eve, the hunters have finally chased them out here on to the open moorland. Yet even so the Jesuit has managed to remain one step ahead of his pursuers. And, now, even as they close in on him perversely the day closes in on them…
….The wolves resume their howling. They’re now calling pack to pack. Their hunt’s beginning…
The other hunting party pauses…heads bowed. In the wintry dusk these men pray to God…to their Protestant God…invoking His help to catch these Catholic devils…
….Nothing of their doings carries on the even-handed wind….
At his safe distance the priest keeps his silent watch…his companions watching him…all are watching their enemies.
As they watch the archbishop’s men jump and flap about like startled grouse although these are no dull birds flushed-out by beaters. These are royal falcons, off the glove and on the wing.
They who watch are their prey. So, they too pray to God…to their Catholic God…praying daylight will quickly fade. They pray for a sunset that surely trades one certain danger for another.
…Disturbed…unsettled….the wolves the howl and call…
…On the edge of night…in the bitter cold….these bitter rivals say their opposite prayers to the same God….two contraries… just five hundred yards apart…separated by a world of difference…
The priest watches….
He sees four, no; he counts six men at arms as they gradually appear on his horizon. They’re on horseback. They’re dressed in black worsted slashed with scarlet. He knows these are uniforms of the queen’s guard. Their presence implies this is become a royal hunt…..
The riders canter to the others – trailing five chestnut horses behind by long leather reins. When they reach them familiarly they fall into conversation.
The priest is too near the ground to pick-up anything of what’s said…
The soldiers in their flashy livery who’ve joined the other five affect to look about from horseback. They see nothing but the flat moorland stretching away into the gathering gloom….
‘We’re called off…..’
The captain in his black and scarlet livery speaks as he takes off his cap. He shakes it.
‘The shepherds below…’
‘What of them?’
He puts his cap back on his head.
‘They say the weather closes in…’
One of the soldiers spits into the wind.
‘They said that before…’
‘It’s too late to go on further…’
‘The lights a-going fast…’
‘If they’re up here they’re dead men now. The winds turned into the north-east.’
‘Ay and plenty of it…’
‘You can almost taste it coming on the air.’
They pause…whether for tasting or reflection isn’t clear. One adjusts his jerkin and pulls a cloak about him. Another pulls his cap about his ears. Another dons his helmet…which up here amongst the empty hills looks more of an empty gesture than it might otherwise. Someone farts. This sets off a ripple of ribald laughter.
‘It smells like the devil himself.’
‘Well we know he’s up here…’
Further laughter…another belches…deliberately perhaps,
‘They’ve no horses now…’
‘But why did they leave them?’
They shrug non-committal. The captain points to his right.
‘There’s nothing that way before Slaidburn…’
‘That’s ten mile or more…’
‘Ten mile…them horses couldn’t walk a mile let alone be ridden ten cross this country.’
‘To cross the Hodder and maybes run back north to Scotland…’
‘The king of Scots waits for him…’cross the border…’
‘Ha! The king of Scots…who’d believe him..?’
‘He must be some Jesuit for King James’s interest.’
There’s a double meaning. The men share the joke with nods and winks. They snigger like schoolboys. The king has an unsavoury reputation amongst decent men.
‘King James is son of Mary Stuart…his interests are catholic…’
One of the Lord President’s men speaks,
‘King James worships in the Kirk, captain…’
The captain spits,
‘He’d worship the devil for the English crown…’
The comment arouses little reaction in the hunting party. The politics of archbishops let alone kings leaves them cold.
It’s the bowbearer who brings them back to their proper business:
‘That’s maybes… but why theys left them horses…a ruse…maybes…’
‘This Jesuit’s full of craft, the Lord President says, full of learning, wit and craft.’
‘He knows these lands; must have lived local, them shepherds below say…’
The captain whips the side of his horse. It whinnies and jumps about.
‘Christ’s Body the Jesuit devils…’
‘Local…I thought you said he were Irish born.’
‘Ay born there…but came here with the earl of Derby’s men.’
Again the captain whips his horse…
‘Christ’s wounds… them arse-cursed stage-players…’
The captain steadies the horse. The men are uncomfortable with his oaths.
‘Stop swearing Harry; you’ll turn the horses and spook ‘em all…’
‘Then we’ll need to get ye a goat to calm them.’
‘And where would we get the goat on Christmas Eve?’
The men laugh easily,
‘It’s the fucking Papist traitors… I hates them.’
A silence falls on the group. They look about. Some scrunch their eyes to try and see into the middle distance.
There’s little left to see. The flat inhospitable moor is overshadowed by the brooding hills. The light’s fading faster and faster…
‘Then leave them to their prayers.’
‘Put the soldiers up in the wick by Clapham ford….’
He points back the way they’ve just come.
‘We’ll hunt the renegades out in daylight.’
‘At dawn – if they live out the night.’
‘Well after morning prayer. It’s Christmas, Christ-sakes. We must keep the feast.’
‘Amen…we’re good Christian men not heathens…’
‘After prayers up here…for the Christmas game, eh?’
‘Maybes catch them on the wing of Latin prayers.’
There’s more laughter.
‘And cut out their tongues and flay their papist carcasses to hell.’
Their approval of this suggestion is confirmed by nodding and laughter. One illustrates their intent by using his sword to cut the grass; another cracks his whip into the air.
‘What if they’re already dead….?’
They silently consider the possibility.
‘Then carrion will mark what’s left of ‘em for easy sight….’
‘As easily as birds’ call we’ll pick their bodies…’
‘Thems all will call-up silver coin in Lancaster Assize.’
‘Dead or alive – a queen’s ransom’s promised by the Lord President.’
‘Thirty shillings for each of us….’
The men laugh.
‘A Judas price, for a Judas Jesuit…’
The men on foot mount their horses. The party turns away. One speaks,
‘Shall we look beyond yon Stone?’
They all stop and look back at the impassive granite outcrop. The Stone stands only half a mile from them.
‘They say beyond the Stone is only endless moor.’
‘They say, they say…’
‘I know, sometimes I don’t believe all they say.’
‘They don’t talk like Englishmen…you wonder what they are…’
They ponder the mysterious Stone….silently considering the reliability of their local intelligence.
They’re well aware it’s too late to resolve either mystery.
Decisively, the last of the sun falls behind the hills and as decisively the hills turn black against the sky…
‘Ah, it’s too late…’
…..The mounted group looks towards to the Stone….
It stands out in the claggy short grassland of the moor. It’s quite alone, solitary with nothing but its own shadow for company….
….There’s stories told by the locals….they tell the tale of Finn MaCool who, like David, threw a stone in his fight with the Scots goliath Benadonner. But Benadonner ducked and, so the story goes, the Stone fell from the sky and landed here on Bowland Foris…
Story-tellers tell tales of the Stone’s dark powers. If saying speaks to belief these tales are widely believed – though none openly confesses this faith. But the men of Bowland Foris avoid the Stone – whether from superstition or necessity; they’ll not let their women near the stone; they fear it makes them barren-stock; who’d marry such a maid?
The Stone has it uses – a marker for the herds as they move about the moors in spring and summer. But stockmen won’t graze their flocks nearby – it’s believed ewes who graze near the Stone will miscarry; it’s said the Stone drives the rams to wildness…a wildness that drives them to their doom….
…No, not even at the height of mid-summer’s madness when many foolish dares are done, not even then will any go near the Stone….
….These same stories have been told the common soldiers over mulled beer in taverns on many a night in the past month. Their officers have heard the self-same tales told by brightly burning fires in the houses of the gentry where they billet…
In a profound sense it’s this nonsense that informs their present sense as as they stare at the Stone. No one speaks – if asked they’d dismiss these old wives tales with snorts of contempt. But no one asks…and as suspicions crowd-out reason so superstitions defy faith.
England maybe a Godly land; the English maybe God’s people; they may be ruled-over by God’s anointed….but out here on this wild, blighted moorland….on this cold Christmas Eve…every sense, even common sense, is over-ruled……
‘Come on…Christ’s eyes…only fools or mad men‘d go near it….’
‘Then, by Christ them superstitious papists won’t dare….’
‘They’re all frit o’ Stones…’
They all laugh…nervously…
‘They’ll be hid….’
‘Lying in the grass…’
‘There’s nothing more to be done.’
‘Leave the traitors to God…’
‘And to the wolves…’
‘And to the Elements…’
The men are outwardly reassured by their common sense and their sensible faith.
They turn away and briskly ride from the moor….
……Only when sky and hills are uniformly charcoal does the priest finally feel it’s safe to stand.
By then the moon has risen high.
For a while it lights the moor while white stars shine almost as bright. Christmas night appears to have magnified their brilliance. Their light also lights dark shadows that loom in and out of their night vision.
These shadows watch.
The rustling grass tells its own tale. It tells them wolves are nearby – playing a sinister game of hide-and-seek. The three young men have swords. The Jesuit has a half-sword…a Scots’ blade….double-edged. When the wolves tack closer they grip their weapons tight. They loosen their grip only when the wolves slink away.
Tense, for a time they remain huddled behind the great Stone.
Each tightly wraps his black cloak over his doublet and hose. Between them there are two or three small improvised cloth knap-sacks. They didn’t see their persecutors turn tail. Only now, only in the dark night, do they feel it’s safe enough to stand.
As they stand they look about.
There’s nothing to see but the black peaks of Ingleborough, Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside cutting into the diamond night.
They’re not dressed for this cold. Indeed on winter nights like this any clothes would offer scant protection. Their teeth chatter uselessly. They’re almost too cold to move – yet if they don’t keep moving they know they’re doomed to die out here.
The waiting wolves instinctively know this too….there’s no need for them to waste their energy…this prey will be theirs soon without expending any wasteful effort.
The Jesuit speaks. His breath freezing in the air:
‘Look about. It’s beautiful. Think of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night.’
The other three say nothing. The Jesuit, cajoling,
‘Gentle brothers…I’ve some wine and a little bread.’
They still won’t speak. Silence brings guilty tears to their eyes. Uselessly, one of them chokes them back. In the dark they all know he’s crying.
The priest quietly,
‘It’s Christmas. Let’s share what we’ve left together…a Christmas feast in the fields like the shepherds of olden times.’
‘Father, leave us we’re dead men.’
‘Then let’s die together like the brothers we’ve become. Let certain friendship be proved by certain deeds.’
‘And like the good Christian men God’s made us…’
He tallest of three wipes his eyes clumsily.
‘There’s nothing to be sorry for…’
One of the other two young men puts out his arm and touches him,
‘There, Francis, there’s nothing to be sorry for…’
The three young men hug each other and then the tallest, Francis speaks.
‘Father, let’s live and die together in the hope of heaven.’
‘Amen to that…’
The Jesuit speaks,
‘What a blessed place to keep Our Lord’s Nativity?’
As Francis replies to the priest his teeth chatter
‘Hardly a blessing….’
They all shudder involuntarily. The Jesuit, authoritatively,
‘No..? Is this not a glorious place to celebrate this first night of His earthly season?’
Illogically, the Jesuit’s unanswered question raises their spirits. He senses the change. He makes the sign of the cross over them. He mutters his earlier Latin prayer. Then he speaks aloud,
‘May Almighty and Merciful God, grant you pardon, absolution and remission of your sins…’
The priest reaches for one of the knap-sacks. He roots out a small gilt chalice. Then he finds some stale bread. Finally he takes a silver flask from his doublet. To the amazement of his friends he then takes off his gloves and joins his hands in prayer.
They know what’s to follow.
After a few minutes the priest raises first the bread and then the wine. This simple elevation on the moor, full of faith, in the shadow of the Stone, imbues his ritual gestures with strange power. They all feel elated. They stop shivering.
In the starlight he gives the bread and wine to his followers:
‘Corpus Domini Nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam.’
They find the strength to mutter ‘Amen’ as they receive this cold communion in the cold night. The priest then takes the dregs of the wine and the last of the bread. He prays,
‘Anima Christi, sanctifica me. Corpus Christi, salva me. Sanguinis Christi, inebria me. Aqua lateris Christi, lava me. Passio Christi, conforta me. O bone Jesu, exaudi me.’
Oddly though this seems certainly their last supper it lifts everyone’s spirits.
Afterwards the priest closes his eyes and joins his hands in silent thanksgiving. It feels to his three companions, quietly looking-on, waiting for him to finish, that he prays for an eternity. By now they’re all so exhausted; so cold; they feel so near death that eternity mercifully seems no more than a short breath away. Their shared rapture is likely the final precursor to unconsciousness.
The priest is lost in the intensity of his meditation.
Moonlight clips his face and the other three briefly catch sight of his wrapt ecstasy. Astounded, elated, and as suddenly, they’re wide awake.
They now share a sudden rush of energy…of hope…of joy…bizarrely…an almost infectious joy….
The wind picks up again.
Somehow the priest manages to stand. He wraps the silver cup and one of them tucks it into his doublet. The priest put the flask back inside his doublet.
‘Come brothers, the Lord is with us and in us and He’ll lead us safely home. He has work as yet for us to do.’
Mesmerised – perhaps awed as much as inspired by the priest’s willpower – the three younger men pull themselves to their feet holding on to one another. They all embrace. Then smiling they gather up their other bits and pieces.
They check for swords and daggers.
‘Ad Maioriam Dei Gloriam.’
They cross themselves.
‘To the greater honour and glory of God.’
The Jesuit looks around. He points and, putting on his gloves, he sets off. The three follow on. As they walk off the wind really picks-up…howling louder than any wolfish pack.
Black clouds roll in over the hills carried on the arctic wind. They flatten out the nightscape.
The men’s cloaks blow up around them. The wind almost blows them off their feet.
There’s only darkness and bitter cold.
The Jesuit stops for them to catch him up. They all hold on to each other. The wind subsides. There’s no moon and no stars. The thick, black, dark swallows even the Stone.
Impossibly it feels even colder.
The icy air is brittle.
Then a single snow flake drifts down….then another, and another, until, there’s nothing but soft swirling snowflakes. In minutes it’s denser than storm of duck-down plucked by a Michaelmas feather-wife.
The ground is quickly covered….the snow whitens the flat moor-top…soft drifts gently illuminate unsighted undulations….
The Jesuit walks-on. They follow…crunching snow underfoot as if their steps might leave footprints on the night.
After a while, again, the Jesuit stops. He waits. Once they’re together, like Lot’s wife, they turn to look back. But their footprints have disappeared. The snow-fall is so intense it covers their tracks.
‘It’s God’s helping hand.’
No one feels inclined to argue with the Jesuit’s explanation of this grace.
The Stone has mysteriously reappeared in the blizzard…as a giant’s snowball. The younger men laugh pointing…
‘A snowman for a Christmas game..?’
Heartened, they stumble on…the younger men playfully kicking up the snow now and then as if it might prove something to them.
The Jesuit soberly gestures them on with his whitened arm.
Despite the snow’s intensity they manage to stay on their feet. Finally, they make it to the edge of the moor. They can sense that the land drops away precipitately. One of the three younger men suddenly speaks.
‘I know where we are.’
‘I tell you I know the way down.’
The priest turns. Another speaks,
‘How can you know?’
‘I know. I just feel it. I know. I know how to get down to Lower Gill.’
The priest replies,
‘Ave Maria…there’s a safe house in Lower Gill.’
For over two hours they trudge the fields. It’s mainly downhill into the valley. The drop is steep. The snow has drifted on the valley’s sides and once or twice they tumble over and over in them. They pick themselves up and walk on – snow-dusted and laughing.
Eventually they hear the murmur of running water.
‘The river’s not yet frozen.’
Though the snow twirls about the wind has dropped away. It feels less cold. Snow gets inside their boots and under their doublets. It even gets inside the leggings of their hose. But they continue to walk, sometimes three abreast, sometimes in single file. The Jesuit has a small wooden rosary beads in his hand. He mumbles Ave’s between the odd words of their staccato small-talk.
Finally they reach the river…
‘Follow it along to the right.’
‘Are you sure…’
‘I’m sure… over there’s a chapel, not far, on the edge of Lower Gill.’
‘The Tirry chapel…’
‘Old Sir Walter is long dead but his son Matthew has the manor house.’
‘It’s that house we need to find…’
‘Then it’s hardly any further…the chapel’s by their orchard and kitchen garden.’
‘How do you know it?’
‘I was at school with Matthew’s son, William.’
‘Was he at St Peter’s School in York too?’
‘We all were…’
‘Ah, now, I understand.’
Before too long, they’re all standing in the courtyard of a stone manor house. It’s newly rebuilt and extended. It has fine mullion windows on the ground level and also on the first floor. Everything is now covered in a thick wash of white. The roof and chimneys are lost underneath two feet of snow.
One of the three younger men shouts:
‘Awake, in the name of God.’
The Jesuit tries to caution them but confidently they ignore him.
‘Awake, William… awake I say…’
A window opens. Some snow falls from the window. It’s followed by some from the roof.
‘Jack and Kit, James and Christopher Wright that is, here, without…’
‘Jack and Kit….?’
The two young men reply
‘Down here in Lower Gill?’
‘The Wright brothers….?’
Now two women speak…
‘They must have flown…’
‘Right you are, daughter, they couldn’t walk or ride is this…’
The outsiders reply to those inside,
‘We walked off the moor.’
The women again,
‘God bless us…’
‘Bless us and save us…’
Candlelight darts about the rooms on the first floor. Then the stronger glow of rush torches illuminates the entrance hall. A window latch rattles. Another window flies open on the first floor of the stone fronted manor house. It bangs against the wall. More snow is loosened by the vibration,
Snow tumbles down in front of the window, then,
‘God save Her Majesty.’
The doors to the main house open. Three or four servants scurry out – it’s difficult to make how many in the thick snow – two are carrying torches. They’re quickly followed by three barking dogs that excitedly play in the snow.
‘God’s death what kind of men are ye to be out in this weather?’
It’s the woman’s voice again…and again the older woman’s voice, deeper over the first…
‘And at this hour…are ye off the moor?’
‘Fie mother, it’s no question to ask strangers…’
The strangers reply as they’re led in by the servants,
‘Well, God bless us and save us…’
‘Did ye hear that daughter…off the moor, they say…’
‘On Christmas morning….’
‘And in this…’
‘A miracle I’d say…’
The women’s noisy chatter continues on in the background as William shouts over them into the courtyard.
‘Kit is that ye?
The women again:
‘And still alive…’
‘God bless us all!’
‘Aye, William…I know yer voice…’
William from one window to his father at the other:
‘Father, these are friends I know them from St Peter’s….’
Matthew Tirry’s voice booms out from the middle window,
‘Ye lads are a long way from York…’
The Jesuit speaks…a deep bass,
‘But hope to be saved.’
The man from the window,
‘Amen to that, sir. Bring these men in sirrahs… hurry up they must be frozen half to death. Up woman…make-up the fires…’
The Jesuit, speaking slowly and deliberately:
‘Sit ergo tibi benedictionibus Isaac…’
The voice at the main window replies,
‘Et benedictioni super vos filii Jacobi.’
‘Thank God you’ve come and safely.’
A woman now by the door,
The older woman behind,
‘Why talk of Jacob and Isaac on Christmas day?’
The others turns and whispers,
‘From King James….’
‘Oh Lord….in our greatest need He has sent us a friend indeed.’
‘God’s good deed for His nativity, mother…’
They two women fall to their knees:
‘Oh Lord open up my lips….’
From above the older man crosses himself,
‘That my mouth may declare your praise…’
Morning Prayer for Christmas Day is said and done in St Alkelda’s church in Giggleswick. The Lord President’s men stand about the doors. The three bells are in full peel.
‘It’s the best bit of the service.’
‘Indeed…the man could hardly read…’
‘He could certainly speak…’
‘Only arrant nonsense…’
‘He’s one of our better ones.’
‘Ah, they’re all the same Reverend, village-men…not churchmen.’
‘Too many churchmen and too few preachers…that’s the trouble….’
‘What’s use is the Bible on its stand..?’
‘He should read from it and preach upon it…that’d fill the church…’
‘I doubt he reads that well…’
‘It all needs reformation…’
The captain of the party is speaking with a cathedral canon…
The Reverend Canon is dressed in a long black gown with a fur lined overcoat. His black pointed leather shoes are stained white from the snow. He carries a pair of extravagant gloves. He’s a black velvet cap and a plain silver cross around his neck….
Canon Job Pimlott is a man of importance, evidently a fact that’s as pleasing to the Reverend Canon as it may be pleasing to God.
He’s in his early fifties – or perhaps later fifties. Stout rather than portly; shorter rather than taller; fair-hair thinning to bald; clear skin and dark brown eyes: he’s not handsome. But he’s as attractive as any man with a diocesan canonry, a rectory and two sinecures from Beverley Minster and a royal pension might be…indeed as he’s unmarried he’s regarded as a very attractive prospect in the society of the archdiocese of York.
Canon Pimlott is of the modern school.
Born in London – the canon is decorously sparing with precise detail regarding his origins. His scholarship to Trinity Hall came via the unlikely patronage of Bishop White of Winchester – a notorious Catholic divine from Queen Mary’s reign. But Bishop White’s good faith wasn’t repaid…if repayment is measured by fidelity to the old faith.
At Trinity Hall Pimlott was a leading reformer. He was as able a debater. His theology was loyally pragmatic. This unquestioning loyalty was exceeded only by assiduous service to his clerical superiors. His masters’ religious causes he made his own. Young Pimlott quickly caught the eye of the University authorities.
…In those early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign – in consequence of the exeunt of many of the Marian clergy – there were unparalleled opportunities for an ambitious clerk to make his way. Canon Pimlott saw his opportunity to serve God whilst serving himself. It was a marriage made in heaven. Once appointed to a generous living outside Beverley other opportunities presented themselves.
In the North in general a lack of reformers was matched by an excess of recusants. Canon Pimlott singlehanded set out to redress the balance and in the wake of the duke of Norfolk’s failed rebellion he had made a career as an inveterate persecutor of Catholics.
The Reverend Canon wasn’t and isn’t squeamish about means and ends. And when it comes to others’ ends he has been assiduous in ensuring that just deserts are served on the scaffold.
Over the years Archbishop Hutton has found him diligent and reliable.
As a consequence of those rare virtues Canon Pimlott has come by that rarest of Elizabethan plums – an annual pension.
And as it happens on this Christmas morning he happens to be on his way back to York once again to serve justice. Two recently captured Jesuits have been sentenced at the crown assize and they’re due to be hung, drawn and quartered – at Childermas. The archbishop has appointed Canon Pimlott to preside on behalf of the Council of the North.
The Canon’s plenipotentiary status bestows on him all the condemned men’s movables and chattels and a year’s income from their family lands. They’re local Yorkshire men of good families…old families…Catholic families…whose landholdings are jeopardised by their sons’ treasons.
Consequently Canon Pimlott is disdained by the families of the predominant old gentry who govern matters out here in the dales. And in Giggleswick and Settle there’s no gentry family older than the Wickham.
Sir Gervase Wickham owns most of the countryside about the villages. No one does anything hereabouts without the nod from Sir Gervase. And Sir Gervase also owns the advowson of St Alkelda’s church. A snub to his incumbent will be a snub to Sir Gervase. And the Wickham take no snubs lightly – least of all from upstart cathedral canons…
Canon Pimlott has had many considerations on his mind this Christmas morning and their crowd has crowded out consideration of Sir Gervase Wickham. Overlooking the Wickham the nearsighted Cano eyes gains nearer to hand – and as he does his eyes one more meet those of the captain…
‘And Canon will you return to York?’
‘I will and tell his grace so far we’ve no success.’
‘A few more soldiers might loosen some tongues hereabouts.’
The canon looks at the snow on the ground and kicks it about.
‘Silver coin loosens tongues most readily hereabouts…’
‘We should have no need to pay for men’s honesty.’
‘Men have many loyalties….’
‘Indeed Reverend…you’re a worldly one to so believe…’
‘The old religion is hard to shift but silver coin can move men in ways that hunger can’t.’
‘What price for family and loyalty…’
‘A market price I’d say, Captain. We need to induce men back to their duty.’
‘Is there any honour in that..?’
‘Is there less honour in paying to destroy God’s enemies than hearing them destroy His word with such a Service as this morning’s?’
‘Not as God might judge, I grant you, Reverend.’
The Canon grants judgement by way of an approving nod as he grandly brushes himself off…as grandly as he often brushes aside opposition….
They’re all standing in soft snow by the church door as the vicar makes his way into the porch in his surplice and stole. Like a nervous field-mouse the vicar peers from the chapel door.
‘It’s stopped snowing at least…’
There’s a telling silence. The vicar continues as genially as he can,
‘What a Christmas day…’
The others don’t reply. The bells start a peel. It brings more snow off the church roof.
‘A fine peel you hear here eh, Canon Pimlott?’
The captain coughs,
‘With that I can concur…’
The Vicar nods as he points upwards and mischievously continues,
‘Them bells were put up in Queen Mary’s time you know….by…’
The canon snorts,
‘By heaven then they’re like to taint the air with a papist peel.’
The vicar shrugs,
‘By Sir Gervase Wickham’s father…’
‘You don’t say…’
The vicar looks about at the men gathered in the snow. It’s clear to him he’s as welcome as the plague. He affects to take no notice of this and goes on small-talking…some villagers now join him in the porch….
‘A comely service…’
‘Thank you…thank you…I do my best…’
Canon Pimlott curtly cuts across the seasonal cheer:
‘Your best is wanting in all respects vicar and I’ll ensure the archbishop knows…’
The vicar, unperturbed, genially,
‘As you will, Reverend Canon but I never cease to recall with gratitude that my living is from Sir Gervase…and if the Wickham are pleased with my efforts in this world I’ll please to please the bishop in the next.’
‘You watch your tongue, vicar, and show Canon Pimlott some respect.’
‘I’ve shown what hospitality we have, Captain, as indeed, I’ve shown the same to both you and your men. I require no sermons on my duty to the queen, sir. As for the rest, I keep my tongue to serve my masters in both earth and heaven and counsel you to do the same.’
He walks from the group followed by his parishioners who, as they pass-by, eye the strangers coldly….
….No one exchanges a further benediction for the season until they get out of earshot of the armed men….
Ten horses are brought along by a surly stable-hand from direction of the tavern. His face conveys just how unwelcome the strangers have been in Giggleswick these past few nights.
‘We best be off….’
The canon leaves but turns back, wrapping his voluminous fur lined cape about him.
‘I pass through Settle; I’ll send the queen’s guard on here to ride up on to the moor with ye. With God’s will, we’ll have the traitors by nightfall.’
The canon takes his horse. The stable-boy stands in his way,
‘My master…he say, two shillings for the hay and stabling.’
‘Tell your master he’s missed at church. Tell your master I know his prayers are said in Latin.’
The stable-boy moves aside. They all silently watch as the canon rides away. One of the villagers ventures
‘He’s flint-hard…that Reverend…’
‘And fierce rude…’
The captain turns on them
‘Off, sirrahs; off to your homes…the Reverend Canon has it hard with so many hereabouts paying lip service to the queen’s religion whilst your lips are moved to popish pray. And those papist prayers indeed are deeds of no true friend to Her Majesty…’
The soldiers draw swords:
‘Papists…where’s the papists?
The villagers melt away….
….Gradually, the soldiers take to horse. The wind picks up again…..
‘More snow on its way I’d say…’
They look about. The sky is leaden and heavy with more snow. As they wait for the contingent of royal troops to arrive the snow starts over and settles as fast as it falls.
As they finally set off for the moor….on the top of the hill on that’s just above the village it’s almost a white-out…they disappear in single file…into the snow…
Once they’re gone from sight the vicar once more comes out of his refuge in the church porch. He stands thoughtfully looking up the hill after them. He shakes his head. He can’t even make out the horses.
‘It‘ll be a miracle if one returns alive…’
He looks about. The hair on his head is already snow-thatched. He brushes it off with his cap….
By now the villagers who’ve also waited for the soldiers to leave are standing at their doors…looking silently up the hill…one or two hold rush tapers….what little daylight there’s been has been and is almost gone….
The vicar waves…some wave back. The vicar shouts:
‘Christus Natus hodie…’
They reply in a peel,
The vicar blesses them – making the forbidden sign of the cross. Then he puts on his velvet cap and wraps his cloak tight about him. He walks carefully along the path towards the gate.
…He’s off to keep Christmas feast with Sir Gervase and Lady Marjorie at the Wickham Manor. It’s an appointment every parish priest has kept in this season since time immemorial. In the village much has changed; many things are done differently; but traditions survive even in this most inhospitable of climates.
….It’s not until Stephen’s Day that Canon Pimlott makes it back to York and to the Minster.
The city’s officials are preoccupied with preparations for the executions of the Jesuit traitors.
The archbishop is too busy to see the Canon. Archbishop Hutton sees no reason to court more unpopularity than needs be and pragmatically leaves his deputy to preside over the bloody business. Public executions, much as they strike fear into the heart, are as apt to stir-up resentments…
Unsurprisingly in these circumstances….the unexpected arrival of Sir Gervase Wickham into York goes unnoticed…except at the archiepiscopal palace….
….On Christmas morning, good Canon Pimlott had apparently ruffled one rather important local feather too many…..
When Sir Gervase explodes into the library he catches the archbishop off guard. The archbishop is at his supper…a cold collation of pheasant and roast pork with bread and sage stuffing. The sage is having its windy side-effects on the archbishop – a fact that’s as startling to Sir Gervase as relieving to the archbishop,
‘God’s death man thou farts forth more than the sow thee eats.’
The archbishop, coolly,
‘It’s sage in me…’
‘Ha! Sage, eh, there’s little wisdom in eating that foulness and farting forth the poison.’
‘Et unum bumbulum, Sir Gervase, et unum bumbulum…’
‘Farting says my father and thus farting I shall say…’
Sir Gervase’s conversational opening gambit riles his host.
‘There’s some Latin you don’t choose to say then Sir Gervase?’
Sir Gervase’s eyes are popping from his head. He’s red with temper. The archbishop mildly smiles,
‘I wonder at your manners, Sir Gervase, to come on me unannounced, like some common rogue.’
‘Rogue archbishop…manners archbishop…manners are betwixt gentlemen and as I’m shown no gentleness by the church, by Christ’s eyes, I’ll show no consideration to your grace…’
As if to emphasise the point Sir Gervase unsheathes his sword. Open mouthed, the startled archbishop lets out a half-strangulated cough…it propels a piece of chicken on to the doublet of his assailant. The projectile only serves to further rouse Sir Gervase…..
….Sir Gervase Wickham had saddled-up in the earliest hours of the early morning and ridden from Giggleswick. When he left he was already in the highest of high tempers. Its force spurred his horse and as night fell and curfew was observed it carried the furious knight into York. Sir Gervase rode roughshod over the curfew; he galloped through the city gates; he overturned the watch; he banged on the palace gate; he’d knocked over the archbishop’s stableman; he’d kicked over a chair in the hall and finally Sir Gervase threw a lighted taper at the archbishop’s steward….
By any measure measured by manners Sir Gervase has made an entrance.
The archbishop’s steward, having got two grooms to stamp down the flames and throw water on the mats, had fled the hall in alarm – to find his mistress – leaving Sir Gervase to find the archbishop….
……Sir Gervase’s sword-play quickly brings what poor pleasantries there have been to their abrupt conclusion….
It’s apparent to the archbishop that Sir Gervase is fizzing with indignation but the cause remains a mystery….
‘Ah stop thy nonsense ….list you….I’ve come here archbishop to have matters out once and for all.’
‘What wrong have I ever done ye?’
‘You, archbishop, are the church hereabouts and I, as well you know, I’m gentleman hereabouts. If you stand in the church’s stead your grace then never forget I stand in her majesty’s gracious stead in these parts. I’m gentleman to my own. And…..’
Sir Gervase has worked himself up somewhat and he starts to slash and cut the air with his blade whereas before he’d merely stabbed at it pointedly…
‘And no gentleman, and God’s my witness, archbishop, I’m not less than the sum of my parts than any gentleman… yes sir, indeed, sir, as my friends indeed will avouch, sir….and no gentleman, I say, no gentleman will stand to be disparaged in name and repute before his own tenants by a milky-mouthed sop of clerk from York minster….’
He thrusts towards the archbishop with his sword,
‘I’m sorry Sir Gervase I have no idea of what you speak.’
The archbishop alarmed seizes the bell on his table and rings it for all he’s worth. As he stands he knocks over his chair… and as he stumbles backwards the chamberers tumble into the library. They’re followed by some household lackeys from the kitchen carrying tapers and knives…to protect their mitred master.
There’s a mighty kerfuffle and shouting. Sir Gervase’s voice may be easily heard above all others.
Yet more candles are brought into the library by the palace guard. As Sir Gervase stabs the air with his sword and the wary archbishop keeps a safe distance from his unexpected guest the guard and servants form a defensive ring around him….
Mrs Hutton, forewarned by the steward and alarmed by the noise, comes down the stairs accompanied by her maid. From the bottom of the stairs they can see Sir Gervase with his sword drawn. Her shrieks awaken York; her maid screams,
‘God preserve us…we’re all to be butchered by papists.’
Sir Gervase turns, still sword in hand,
‘Who calls me a papist to my face?’
There’s yet more sword-play but seeing both women are in a panic, Sir Gervase begins to calm down,
‘What mischief you speak woman…I’m here on the queen’s business take no alarm.’
His injunction is about as useful as closing a stable door after the proverbial horse has bolted. It merely excites more shouting….
…..Eventually, after much hollering, Sir Gervase is persuaded to sheathe his sword; put-up his argument; calm down and after a quarter of an hour or so he agrees to share a cup of wine with the archbishop….
By the following day the mighty storm that’s blown into the city is the talk of the town. It’s all over the Shambles that swords were drawn and the archbishop has come off the worse in the exchange. Sir Gervase is briefly both hero and celebrity in York’s taverns. And it’s this tavern gossip that brings the good Canon dutifully to the aid of his Episcopal master…
…Archbishop Hutton appears unharmed by his close encounter with Sir Gervase…for which mercy Canon Pimlott invokes various saints, angels and the Good Lord in a series of prayerful invocations. However, if the archbishop’s person hasn’t been wounded by Sir Gervase his pride hasn’t made such a lucky escape.
He witheringly cuts across the canon’s benedictions,
‘We’ve no time for this… Canon your excess of zeal has placed us in a very awkward position… a very difficult position…we need not say…it’s disordered the whole diocese…and Sir Gervase isn’t without influence in the court. His son, you know, is one of Lord Essex’s close men….’
‘I didn’t know your grace…’
The archbishop looks sourly at his canon,
‘No, I expect you didn’t….you’ve no connections worth bearing with…for all this trouble…’
‘I will do what I can to make amends.’
‘We’ve travelled some way beyond apologies and amends Canon…there’s reputation at stake…there’s honour…and the wretched man has the ear of the queen’s favourite and her new made Lord Lieutenant.’
‘I’ll do as you suggest your grace…to my power…’
‘Your power, Canon, a mighty host indeed…’
‘Indeed “amicus certus in re in certa”….’
‘A true friend must prove himself with deeds…’
The archbishop, prepared for such an offer, accepts it,
‘And not only with fair words…’
The archbishop has already packed his plans.
Canon Pimlott is to be the steady ass that’ll bear them forth. He’s to be despatched to London on diocesan business. He’ll attend upon Sir Robert Cecil and the Privy Council. He’ll carry a series of letters…. including one for Essex House and another for Lambeth Palace.
‘I’ve several more to write, including one to the queen’s majesty. You will that to Whitehall Palace. This business will keep you from the diocese for two month at least.’
He looks up at Pimlott as he writes…
‘Take rest at my house in Westminster.’
‘Yes, your grace…’
‘I’ll send for you once matters settle….’
‘Yes, your grace…’
‘If they settle….’
The archbishop looks up once again from his large oak table. He’s holding a quill in his hand. He rolls it between his fingers before dipping it into the black ink.
His mouth is slightly open. His lizard-tongue flickers momentarily over his lips. Then he smiles…a thin-lipped smile full of calculation…
He speaks slowly – as if with spontaneity,
‘Lord Essex has an army in need of good chaplains…’
Canon Pimlott flinches noticeably. The archbishop waves his quill into the air
‘Paid positions, Canon… in the gift of Lord Essex…gold I’d say…straight into your hand.’
‘Ireland your grace…that’s a grievous punishment indeed…’
The archbishop plays persuasively disinterested:
‘No, Reverend Canon…this is merely an opportunity…a chance for you to do yourself some good…whilst you wait…’
He continues to write and speak as he writes,
‘And once in the Dublin Pale who can doubt that his lordship wouldn’t see you to a prebendary or better….as I know the Dean’s office is in the gift of the Lord Deputy….and Lord Essex is made the queen’s Lord Lieutenant…her viceroy. As he commands in Ireland, all must be.’
‘Not Ireland your grace…’
‘As you will…I’ll write any commendation for you…but as you will…’
Archbishop Hutton continues to write….looking up now then….as if considering which suitable words to pluck from his educated mind…as if he’d not already calculated each and every word he commits to paper… once again, he pauses….then he continues on….as if talking to no one in particular…
‘And many bishops will be put out. And one well placed man might easily find an opportune promotion. You see, Reverend Canon, we see Most Reverend would sit as easily on you as on any man. An Irish bishopric will grace as easily an English one and yet may be much more readily obtained….once Tyrone is crushed. And it may be obtained directly from Lord Essex’s hand….’
‘Yes…Most Reverend we might make bold to say…’
‘But will Lord Essex be minded to favour me if I’ve distempered his good opinion.’
‘Ah that we can make good….Lord Essex is many things but no lover of Jesuits or Popish trickery.’
The canon is doubtful…
‘I see…and meanwhile I’d be paid in London…’
‘What else, there’s an army of ten thousand musketed and horsed…the business is all but done and dusted…and victory must be prayed for by the church…and what’s prayed for in public must be paid for….there’s gold, enough for a chaplain’s fee…and if you turn yourself to composition we’ll see the Privy Council most likely publish your prayer too, for a fee I’ll warrant…’
Canon Pimlott is doubtful about Ireland but has fewer doubts about gold and prayers and preferment…What can possibly go wrong? Lord Essex, the hero of Cadiz, has ten thousand armed soldiers at his command. Wild Tyrone has but un-hosed rebels in their Irish plaid…
As Pimlott considers his opportunity Hutton considers the thorn in his side. Still thinly smiling he continues,
‘And if Ireland doesn’t suit your temper or make your fortune…you’ve got your livings here and place still in our Minster. What can ye loose?’
‘I expect your grace is right…’
‘We’ll compose a letter…you may chose as you will. But remember you’re not to leave London until we write you…We want no trouble – until Lord Essex is safely back victorious from Ireland and young Francis Wickham is safely home here and unable to whisper in the earl’s good ear…you hear?’
….Canon Pimlott is gone from York – with two grooms and a liveried serving-boy from the archbishop’s house – by the time news reaches the Minster of the mishap on Bowland Foris….
Ten men, including the captain of the palace guard, are lost on the moor. It’s a week before their blue bodies are dug out of the ice. By then they’re long dead. Their cold corpses are brought back to York for burial.
….By then it’s assumed the same fate befell the Jesuit and his followers…and the archbishop calls off the hunt….
…Over by Giggleswick things settle back to their former noiseless tenor. Soon Christmas is nothing more than a memory. Villagers return to their ploughs; as the season turns they turn the soil.
In the manor of Lower Gill early wild daffodils dot the fields and blow about in the breeze. Early lambs stick close to their mothers. Too timid to gambol they drink mothers’ milk as the ewes nibble their way over the hills.
There are also some cows in the fields…not many…mainly of the Tirry manor…though one of the yeomen grazes four cows on the common land.
Oats and barley are sewn around the sheltered fields near the bottom of the valley. The spring sun warms the crops; they spring to life; the burn, full of melt water, rushes noisily by fields as it quickly cuts across the valley. In this seasonal tumult…it all sounds much as it has since the Cistercians first came…
But sights and sounds may be deceptive.
The monks had come four hundred years before today with nothing more than their faith. They’d used local stones; cut wood and with their hands built the priory and the chapel of St Mary. They put sheep into the clearings. And over time both monks and the sheep reshaped this land in their image.
And it’s the image they wrought, that sight and that sound, which now appears to be timeless and unchanged….
Francis Wickham went home to Giggleswick no more than a week past Christmas. He was home in time to keep Twelfth Night with Sir Gervase and Lady Marjorie.
Kit and Jack remained in Lower Gill. The guests have been easily assimilated into the manor’s extended family. They hunt with the Tirry men and help to manage the small estate.
…The spring melt water has melted hearts and love has rushed into the valley. Young Kit proposes to Will’s sister, Amy, and, permissions obtained, the bans are read at St Mary’s church. The wedding is fixed to take place before Lady Day. By then the three young men, rejoined by Francis, will make their way to Lancaster to join the troops assembling for Ireland.
Their adventure causes consternation amongst the women.
‘Ireland…is fearful wild…’
Matthew Tirry’s wife – Eleanor – speaks…
The women of the manor are in the orchard in the early spring sunshine. The ground is uneven and they’re awkwardly seated on chairs taken from the Great Hall They’ve taken needlepoint with them and they sew and chatter with one another.
Two household girls in shabby blue serge dresses with cream aprons and flat white caps stand by….from time to time they fetch and carry this and that for the ladies.
The women stop sewing to fan themselves or to sip watered ale or small beer.
Eleanor Tirry wears a dark green kirtle with a red damask bodice over-stitched with dark red thread. The bodice is new, low-cut and barely contains nature’s generous bounty. Eleanor is blest with a fine pair of large milky-white breasts that are as much her pride as the new bodice….
Eleanor is sitting opposite the dowager lady of the manor. Lady Jane Tirry is above sixty. In the North this is a remarkable age. She’s a wiry woman. She wears a giant white cap and coif. She’s still spry. She walks in all weathers. Most days in spring and summer she fishes in the burn… tucking up her skirts and often wading up to her knees in the fast flowing water. She’d hunt but, Matthew, her son, now forbids her the chase. So she’s settled in the orchard. Old age isn’t easy on her…or on her companions…
‘Ireland’s a devil of a place…plagued with rain and dishonesty.’
‘Mother you speak as if you know…’
‘And shouldn’t I know?’
Eleanor waits knowing that her mother-in-law will fill the gap in nature in her own time.
The old woman spits.
‘My sister was married to an Irishman you know. There you have it all…he couldn’t abide her nor she him…she hated both the husband and the house…though it was grand enough for royalty, she said.’
As she speaks the young men topple into the orchard. They’re playing. They quickly start to fence with wooden swords. The women look-on for a while before returning to their conversation…..
‘Fit for royalty you say…?’
The dowager snorts.
‘And still she left him…’
Lady Jane spits once again – as if it’s a reply to her daughter’s enquiry, continuing,
‘She him, or he, her….does it matter much in the event? But, my, our ’Lizabeth was so handsome. Everyone said so, black hair and dark eyes and pink lips and the fairest of complexions such as since I’ve never seen…she was at court in her time…one of Queen Mary’s pretty maids…kept for the king.’
The old woman sighs momentarily lost her memories…
‘Why King Philip of course…’
‘King Philip was king of Spain, surely mother?’
‘The king of Spain was king here in England……….’