Elizabethan London

Elizabethan London
Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...

The Jesuit Letter

Chapter The First

He hoped it had been a clean death.   Hugh Hall placed his feet with exaggerated care on the mud-caked slope and gripped the shoulder of his young guide as he slid down the embankment.

The thought of dealing with blood or a wound made Hall’s stomach churn.  He preferred his dead to be clean and laid out in the proper form, ready to pass on to their eternal rest with dignity and respect, not curled up in a twisted heap or blue and stiff with their limbs askew and eyes staring.  Hall shivered in the damp spring air.  Death before breakfast was tiresome.

“Where did you say Coburn passed?” Hall asked.  The white-haired woodcutter’s death was no surprise.  His hacking cough rasped off the garden croft’s walls each time he rolled his cart past the old stone building on his way to the manor.

“Not far now, Father”.  Thomas Clopton tugged his woolen cap lower over greasy blond hair, inwardly cursing the slow pace of the priest. 

A cock crowed, the sound raucous even at a distance.  The pair passed the laneway that marked the edge of the manor.  The estate spread much wider, encompassing fallow fields and woodland.   The manor’s owner and Hall’s patron was one of the largest landholders in Warwickshire, holding claim over a significant part of the gentle rolling slopes of the Midlands, the farms, pastures and the broken patchwork forest that was once the primeval Forest of Arden.   It was under his protection and influence Hall was able to maintain his secretive profession as a Catholic priest.

 “Thomas, I thought Master Coburn’s place was east of the road?  Are we astray?”

Thomas glanced back.  “He isn’t at home Father.  Not far now, just ahead,” he said in an encouraging tone.  Hall could see a thin trickle of smoke rising over the copse of trees. Thomas Clopton was the second son of one of the manor’s tenant farmers.  He was a thin and reedy youth with a consumptive pallor and nervous hands.  Even after two years of attending clandestine services at the manor, Thomas remained ill-at-ease speaking with the priest.

Hall carried a small leather bag containing the necessities of his profession.  He avoided the traditional priest’s garb.   To be found with Catholic vestments was tantamount to a death sentence.

Thomas led Hall down the rutted dirt road, deftly avoiding the soft glutinous mud patches that were all that remained of the previous day’s rain.  The verge was covered with a scattering of thin grass stalks and sedge, mixed with flowering sorrel and stitchwort.  The air smelled wet and cool and green in the morning, redolent with the early blooming plants.  A rabbit regarded the two passing men with wary eyes from the meadow before resuming his breakfast of clover. 

Thomas veered off the roadway onto a narrow sloping footpath that wound precipitously around the edge of a low hill, passing through a thick tangled hedgerow and into a straggling oak wood.  The tumbled stone ruins of a small Benedictine monastery, abandoned for the last two hundred-odd years, stood hard on the forest edge.  Only a handful of the larger stones remained marking the broken walls, the rest appropriated by locals for building materials and fireplaces.  The priest was huffing by the time they reached the oaks and paused to catch his breath. 

Hall straightened and silently cursed what was becoming an irritating cross-country odyssey.  The next time, he vowed to himself, they could bring the body to the road, where the man could be shriven with some degree of decency and ease, instead of making his betters slog through the spring mud.  A late-hunting owl hooted in the distance, returning home from a long nocturnal stalk of mice.  The noise always made him uneasy.  Owls were notoriously bad luck and although Hall despised the foolishness of the ignorant, he could not escape the slight shiver of foreboding the sound awoke in him.

Within a few minutes he could see through the thick trees to a grassy clearing within which a small fire was visible.  Thomas shuffled through the greasy accrual of leaves littering the copse floor, moving towards the fire.  Hall hesitated. 

A man sat in front of the fire on a mossy fallen log, his back to them as they approached, tending the fire with a long branch.  Thomas stepped closer and said something in a low voice.  The man straightened, set the branch aside and stood, brushing his hands fastidiously on his thighs.  Hall stopped, glancing about in sudden suspicion.  No wrapped body awaiting its final journey was in sight.  His stomach tightened.

“Well?” Hall said in a curt voice, “You’ve dragged me from my bed on what is obviously a fool’s errand.  What do you want?” he snapped, finding some momentary solace in his anger.

The man turned, smiling.  One look at that gravestone smile was enough to silence Hall.  The man was young, but tall and whip-lean, with tight dark hair and a short well-trimmed beard framing a cold mouth.  A long rapier hung on his left-hip, topped by an elaborate silvered decorative guard.  One gloved hand rested easily on the hilt.  The man wore a long travelers’ cloak but underneath a dark and richly embroidered doublet was visible.

“Father Hall.” The man gestured expansively.  “How kind of you to join us on this most auspicious of morns.”  The man’s smile faded like a winter’s sun.  “I can see we are going to be marvelous friends.”

 “Marvelous friends call on me at the manor house.  They don’t make me march all over God’s fine creation.  Why did you have poor Thomas drag me out to meet you, and through a subterfuge no less.” Hall shot a glance at Thomas, who looked away.  “Thomas, we shall be discussing this at length.”

“Come Father, sit with me by the fire.  Share our commons.” the man said.  He gestured at a small sausage-laden pan balanced on the edge of the fire.

Hall regarded the man with a stiff expression on his face.  “I think,” he said, “that I had best be going.”  He turned to follow the sodden path out of the clearing but stopped.  Two men were leaning with casual insolence against the moss-encrusted oak beside the path.  Both men held long wooden staves. 

The man spoke without turning.  “Best sit Father, we have matters to discuss, not the least of which is your bloody Papist profession.”   He pointed at the damp ground by the fire.  “Sit.”

Hall looked at him for a long uncertain moment, and sat on the fallen log as far as possible from the dark-eyed man.

“I am a gardener, not a priest.”

“Truly?” asked the man sardonically, “And you tend your hedges with this?”  The man plucked the small leather bag from Hall’s belt.  He drew out the small silver crucifix and rosary and gave them a cursory survey before tossing them with contempt on the ground.  “We went some considerable trouble to get you here, so don’t treat me like a fool.”

The man began to pace between Hall and the fire.  “You know,” he said in a conversational tone, “they burned Protestants under that bitch Mary not twenty miles from here?  Tossed them on the fire like so much kindling.”  The man turned towards the priest.  “You lack a good scorching Father,” he spat the honorific like an insult.  “Don’t try me or we’ll have you baking like a trussed roast.”

 “In God’s name,” Hall asked in a controlled voice, “what do you want of me?”

“What does any man want of a priest?  Knowledge.”

The priest’s face showed his confusion.  “You wish instruction in the True Faith?”

The man burst into laughter.  The comment drew grins from the man’s stave-wielding servants.

“By God, no one can claim you haven’t a wit about you.  You may keep your tepid, arse-kissing faith for that Italian catamite you call the Pope.  Instruction in your faith? No, I want something else.”

The man turned.  Hall’s tongue seemed to catch in his throat at the look on that razor face. 

He leaned close to Hall, his breath sour and hot and intense.  “I want your Master.  I want his correspondence.  I want to know who he corresponds with, when they correspond, I want to know the content of his every letter, I want to know his codes, his couriers, I want to know every back-alley whore he’s covered in all England if necessary but most of all I want to know all his Catholic fellows, and you,” he paused for a moment and dropped his voice so low the priest had to strain to hear him, “are going to give it to me.”

For a moment Hall felt suspended, the heart fluttering in his chest his only sensation.  He forced himself to look into the man’s level gaze.  There was something deep and feral and unsettling in the man’s dark eyes; crow’s eyes, sharp, predatory and hungry.  He shuddered. 

“In the name of Christ I will give you nothing.  I know nothing!”

The man reached up with his right hand and closed it around the priest’s throat.

The iron hand tightened.  Hall gagged.   He pulled at the man’s wrist and fingers. 

“I could give you that martyrdom you crave Father, all I need do is close my fist.”

Tears formed in the corners of Hall’s eyes and his peripheral vision blurred into formless grey and red shadows.  The lack of air was overwhelming, shattering, immersive.  He could feel nothing but crushing pain in his throat and hear nothing but the frantic cacophony of his pulse.  Hall tried to pray but found his panic rising.  He felt slow and stupid, buried in a sluggish fog that seemed to reach for him with hungry malevolence. 

An instant later he was kneeling on the damp ground, the tang of moss and woodsmoke in his nostrils, his body shuddering with each deep racking breath.  The pounding in his chest and ears subsided.  He lifted one muddied hand from the dirt and gently grasped his own throat.  Still alive, praise God.

Two fine leather boots stood in front of Hall’s face.  Hall looked up. Expressionless, the man looked down at him.

“No martyrdom, Father.  Sorry.  It would give me immense pleasure to send you footing it to the bowels of Hell, but not today.”  

Thomas watched the events unfold with growing apprehension.   He pushed his lank hair out of his eyes and glanced about, wiping his face with a nervous hand.  This was more than he had reckoned with when he had agreed to bring the priest to the glen.  He took a wary step backwards only to find himself shoved hard back to his position by the stave-wielding servant who now stood behind him.  Thomas shivered and by reflex crossed himself. 

Hall massaged his throat, mumbling a prayer.  He knew he was down among the fallen. He glanced up.  He was afraid.  Hall tried to remind himself that what Christ endured on the Cross was far beyond his own suffering. 

But he was afraid.  Deeply afraid.  He felt it like a chill ember embedded in his chest.

Hall was no martyr.  Living in a comfortable lodging, with food, wine, clothes and the protection of patronage, he felt ill-equipped to endure the rigors of any martyrdom.  Comfortably ensconced in the heart of the Catholic supporters of Warwickshire for years and grown comfortable in his hidden practice, the priest had little to fear of pursuivants.  The worst fate he would face, he had thought, would be an exile to France, where he would join the growing community of exiled Englishmen in Rheims and live out his remaining years teaching a new generation of exiled priests.

But not death.  Not martyrdom.  Not like this.  To die for Christ should be easy for a man of faith.  But Hall did not wish to die.

The man smiled down at him.  “Now that we know where we stand, let’s have breakfast.” He gestured at the log and the small tin plate of links hissing in grease by the fire’s edge.  Hall levered himself up and sat on the mossy log, massaging his battered throat, a cold, sick feeling growing within in him.

“May I have the kindness of borrowing your knife?”

Startled by the polite request, the priest glanced up in surprise.  The man held out his hand.  Without thinking Hall handed over the short blade he carried on his belt.  The man smiled his thanks and proceeded to spear a sausage.

 “Father,” the man said through a mouthful of sausage.  “I am concerned that you not be too angry with poor Thomas here.” He gestured at the boy who stood rooted like a tree beside one of the grinning stave-wielders.  Thomas edged forward, a wary look on his long face.  He licked his lips. 

“I know the boy tricked you into coming to our little breakfast but he did so under the best intentions – mine.”  The man laughed.  “He’s a good lad, honest and attentive.  He earned his money bringing you here.”  The man stood and placed one arm around Thomas’s shoulders.  He handed Thomas two small coins with his free hand.  Thomas stared at the silver in his palm and then grinned, relieved and pleased.  “So Father, I want you to forgive this poor boy his trespasses.”

Hall stared forward with a stoic expression.  He was not a man inclined to forgive at the best of times and the pain and fear of the last hour was fresh in his mind.  “Thomas,” he said flatly, “is a betrayer and a liar.  I am not inclined to forgive that on the word of the man that paid him his thirty silver coins.”

“It was only tuppence, no’ thirty.” Thomas interrupted with a sullen tone.

The man looked down at the seated priest, a curious expression on his face.  “No forgiveness in your soul?” he asked mockingly.  “I know you think the boy lied to get you here but he was quite truthful.”

Hall looked up, puzzled.  The man smiled and with no change in his expression, thrust the short knife hard into Thomas’s throat. 

For a second, Hall didn’t believe his eyes.  Thomas gagged, both hands clutching at the small hilt.  The blade was rammed up deep under his chin.  Thomas staggered, grabbing at the hilt with frantic hands.  He pulled the blade out.  Red blood pulsed and sheeted down the front of his smock and he stared in horror at his bloodied hands.  He dropped the dripping blade in the dirt, turned and took several faltering steps towards the path from the glen, the vain and fleeting thought of returning home running through his mind.  One of the stave-men stepped forward and gave Thomas a gentle push back in the direction of the fire.  At the pressure, Thomas spun, sliding down to one knee.  His eyes, wide and astonished, gazed imploringly at Hall.  One eye rolled slowly back, trembling.  Hall sat unmoving on the log, frozen in shock and horror.  Thomas had both hands grasping at his torn throat.  Choking on blood, he slumped into the mud in a forlorn pile.  One leg twitched spasmodically, still trying to run. 

The priest could hear Thomas’s wet and laboured breathing gradually slow and mute into silence.  The stillness seemed to echo in his ears.  The morning breeze died down and the even the birds seemed to fall quiet.   Hall turned and vomited the acrid contents of his empty belly onto the damp ground.  His stomach twisted.  Death before breakfast.

“Didn’t I tell you he spoke the truth?” the man said.  His voice was soft and reasonable.  He picked up the blade from the blood-spattered grass.   “Best give him his rites Father, for what it’s worth.”

Hall looked up at the man as though seeing him for the first time.  The man sat, casually flicked the blood from Hall’s knife and leaned over to spear another sausage.

Hall shivered and looked away, but all he could see was those bleak, chill crow’s eyes, harrowing into his own.

“And now Father, I want you to tell me everything you know about your master, Edward Arden.  Everything.”


Chapter The Second

The nudge in the ribs was short of a kick, but not by much.  Christopher Tyburn came awake abruptly, his right hand reaching for his absent sword even before his gray eyes snapped open, sweeping his dim surroundings.   Four years of mornings in Flanders had bred that habit into his very bones. 

Tyburn was wrapped in a frayed woolen blanket, secure under the leafy vault of a large shadowy oak tree that was barely palpable in the pre-dawn gloom.  A heavy wooden wagon stood hard by the spreading tree.  A horse gave a quiet nicker from the stable in the inn yard.  The air smelled damp and thick, heavy with the scent of the inn’s waste pile.  The inn was dark except for a faint yellow flicker in the kitchen window.  Dawn was a slender promise beginning to eclipse the stars still manifest in the eastern sky.

“Up, you base player…rouse yourself from the muck.”  The voice drifted down at Tyburn who sat up, cocked his head and glanced up at the shadow standing beside him.  Tyburn couldn’t see it, but he sensed Alec was laughing at him in the dark.

“I am up, you poxed bastard.”  Tyburn rubbed his neck.  “Not even dawn yet,” he said, “You know Oldcastle hasn’t even rolled off his whore yet.”

“He wants,” Alec observed with a dry voice, “an early start.”

“God’s bones…” grimaced Tyburn.  He shrugged his shoulders and rolled his neck to loosen the kinks left by the tree roots.   He threw off the blanket and levered himself to his feet.  Much the Elder was already busying himself shifting the trunks that weighed down the troupe’s well-traveled wagon while his son, Much the Younger, was feeding thin strips of bark and twigs into the embers, building the hot coals he had snatched from the inn’s fire into a steady and welcoming yellow flame.

“Too early even for the bloody rooster” Tyburn muttered.

The other man grinned, its gleam masked by the gloom.  “Don’t fool yourself, that old’un’s rooster has been risen all night with that mort.”

“It might shock an Oxford man like yourself, but I was speaking of the actual cock’s crow…” Tyburn commented, his voice sour.

“So was I,” laughed the man.  He turned and gave an abrupt gesture at one of the troupe walking past, “Robbie!” he called, handing a penny to the boy, “go filch us some breakfast like a half-decent servant should.” 

Robbie took the coin with deft hands and gave the two players a sardonic grin in reply.  “And hen’s eggs this time, Robbie, none of your goose eggs, you drigger, the bloody things give me the flux.”

Robbie waved a quick acknowledgement and vanished into the pre-dawn darkness.

Tyburn sat, pulled on his worn boots, yawned and ran one hand through his dark hair.  “Where away today?” he asked Alec. 

“North-east, along Evesham road, heading up towards Warwick.  Just four days from here to London, but I expect we’ll slip over to Coventry, loop north-east and back down through your old steading in Cambridge first.  Today, we’re for Stratford, up on the Avon.…”

“So why the early rise?” said Tyburn.  The sun was a low lambent glow pinking the eastern horizon.

Alec grinned.  “Oldcastle likes his luncheon.”  Tyburn looked puzzled.  Alec laughed.  “He’s a cheap bastard, but likes to eat well, Kit.  He arrives mid-morning in a nice market-town, befuddles the alderman with his charms and sophistication and gets…” he paused dramatically, “an invitation to dine.” Alec finished with a gaudy flourish of gestures, a flawless mimicry of Oldcastle’s flamboyant and overwrought mannerisms.

Tyburn grinned, unable to prevent himself in the face of Alec’s cheery demeanor.

A loud bellow rose from the innyard.  Alec winced.  “Speaking of roosters…”

“Up you poxed coxcombs, you coves, we’ve a road ahead of us!” It was a familiar deep voice, long practiced at projecting to the deepest recesses of an innyard or manor hall.  “By God’s Mother you are a lazy one Alleyn, roll out of that blanket you worthless jackanapes, we’ve a road to be on.”


The sun was cresting over the eastern horizon before the troupe was moving down the rutted road, the wagon creaking a weary rhythm behind them, drawn by a sway-backed mottled dun horse that had seen better days. 

Tyburn was chewing on a cold chicken leg as they walked, a breakfast courtesy of Alec’s largesse and his canny servant Robbie Hobson.  “So where did Robbie learn to filch chicken so well?” he asked distracted, trying and failing to contain a cavernous yawn.

“Robbie?” Alec chuckled, “Our Robbie’s no common draw-latch[1].  He was an angler in London, until he caught the wrong fish….”

“An angler?”

“You know, a hookman.  He lifts your goods with a hook on a pole.  Sneaky little buggers, every one of them.”  Alec shook his head in admiration.  “Robbie here got caught lifting some fellow’s bung[2] and had the catchpoles[3] on him right quick.  Ducked into the Boar’s Head yard in the middle of performance and stepped right onto the boards, pretending to be a player.  That tickled Oldcastle and he sent the bailiffs on their way.” 

Alec gestured back at Oldcastle, who had perched his oversized bulk with delicate care on the narrow bench beside the drover for the long slog between towns. 

“By Jesu, he might be a cheap bastard but if he likes you, he looks after you.”  Alec concluded.

Behind Oldcastle, the livery flag of the troop flapped disconsolately in the capricious morning breeze, announcing to the world that the Earl of Worcester’s Men were on the road.  Tyburn knew that the flag and its livery, along with the paper writ and vellum letters in Oldcastle’s trunk, were the only tangible protection the troupe had against town bailiffs and Puritan officials. 

The Poor Laws had outlawed the chronic vagrancy and poor endemic to many towns, pushing the indigent into workhouses or prison or more often into an uncertain wayward lifestyle of begging, haunting the highways and local parishes until either imprisoned or pushed on to a new locale by the bailiffs or sheriff.  In the eyes of many Puritan officials, players ranked considerably lower in status then even vagrants, despite the nominal patronage of the Queen and the nobility.  Only a troupe with influence, protection and patronage could safely tour the countryside and remain free of official interference.

The Earl of Worcester’s Men were one such troupe.  They had been touring since mid-May, following the great roads that threaded south and west, looping up through Bristol and Warwick, before swinging back around and heading back into London at summer’s end.  Death and Worcester’s mercurial personality had been the instigators of this season’s tour.  A brief outbreak of plague in London had provided all the excuse the city officials needed to summarily call a halt to innyard performances within the city.  By itself, Tyburn thought amused, that would have not been enough to rouse Oldcastle into considering a tour.  Oldcastle preferred to set up in Southwark, outside of London’s jurisdiction, and wait out the closure in comfort but a letter from the Earl had “requested, by their kindness” to perform in Winchester for a friend.  Oldcastle had acquiesced and so Worcester’s Men set forth.

Tyburn was aware he was fortunate just to be accompanying the troupe.  He had been performing with the troupe for just under a year, since his return from the Low Countries.  To Oldcastle, Tyburn was yet another irritant foisted on him by his unpredictable patron.  Christopher Tyburn, late of Her Majesty’s service in Holland, was a mere untried performer at a time when apprentice actors were starving in the London streets.   If not for the intervention of the Earl of Worcester, who had deigned to assist an ex-soldier for his own particular purposes, Tyburn would be one more ruffian scuffling for an existence in the London back-alleys.

As a paid performer rather then a “sharer” Tyburn also was under no illusions – Oldcastle would keep Tyburn in the troupe only so long as Tyburn could perform to his satisfaction.  Oldcastle was an old hand at balancing his patron’s whimsies with cold, hard practicalities and “losing” a player foisted on him against his will would have been an easy task after the first few months passed.  Oldcastle’s largesse could end at anytime.  Surprisingly thus far, it had not done so and Tyburn now trudged the dusty roads of Warwickshire enjoying the early morning sunshine and a well-roasted chicken leg for his breakfast.

The two walking men were a study in contrasts.  Alec Masterson was tall, elegant with fine, aquiline features topped by a shaggy mass of thick blonde hair that bespoke his Norse ancestry.  Well-dressed and cheery, Alec was the son of a wealthy London guild master, a man whose varied interests in properties and merchantry had purchased him rich lands in Surrey and Hampshire, a fine house in London on a fashionable street and a fat sinecure at Court. 

Alec’s chosen profession upon leaving Oxford had earned him his father’s lasting wrath, tempered only by the recognition that it could well have been much worse.  A steady stream of Oxford students were abandoning their education in England altogether and voluntarily taking the road to exile in Rheims and Douai to pursue their studies at schools established by exiled Catholic priests.    For the exiles, returning to England was a dangerous and difficult undertaking, in particular since the Pope had condemned the Queen as a heretic only a few years previous.   Even a public renunciation of the Catholic faith couldn’t guarantee protection for recusants and many who had departed on a whim or in a fit of rebellious student angst, found themselves adrift on the continent in lonesome exile or imprisoned with alacrity upon their return. 

Alec’s father provided his son a generous staple income, hoping for the day that Alec would come to his senses and abandon his wayward life as a player.

Tyburn was slightly shorter then Alec, but was Alec’s converse in both dress and appearance.  The dark-haired saturnine Tyburn was tall, lean and well-muscled.  His face was traced by a thin scar that edged along the left jaw line and curled, tapering up onto his lower cheek like an off-set frown.  The scar gave Tyburn’s face a sinister cast tempered only by his steady grey eyes. 

Tyburn, like Alec, had also walked away from his studies.  Ensconced at Cambridge, Tyburn had abandoned his charge five years previous to cast his fate in with Thomas Morgan and Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s expedition to Holland and Flanders.

Unlike Alec, Tyburn had no family largesse to fall back on, just the thin credit and the reluctant miser’s wage extended to him by Oldcastle.  Tyburn’s clothing was worn, his boots thin-soled and his doublet threadbare and torn.  To an outside observer the difference between vagabond and player was a narrow one at best.

The road the players traveled was rutted, uneven and poorly maintained, following a much older Roman road that had once traced a similar path through the low, rolling English countryside.  The landscape was dotted with small farming hamlets nestling together in quiet green hollows and crossroads.  The patchwork of old stone walls that had separated the landscape into small mixed plots and parcels had given way to larger allotments and grazing.   Sheep foraged in placid flocks across a far hillside and the distant lowing of cattle drifted through the air.

It was mid-summer and the air was redolent with the smell of fresh-cut hay.   A small group of men were scything away in the early morning sunlight, slicing through the tall grass and piling it into neat stacks, distance belying the intensity of the labour. 

The road itself was a well-trafficked one.  A heavy laden cart was trundling slow ahead of the troupe, carrying tight bundled tods of wool.  The fine dust swirled behind the cart, drifting back and catching in the throats of the players.   The winding path of the River Avon could be seen intermittently to the south, paralleling the road, bordered by a thick curtain of woods and revealed by the occasional gleam of cool water that shone through the distant trees like a promise.

A kite circled slow overhead and then arced away across the cloudless blue to the east.  Tyburn followed it with his eyes, envying its easy grace.  In the far distance, a church spire could be seen rising above a thin line of trees. 


Will gazed wistfully out the narrow shuttered window and shifted his weight on the hard wooden bench.  The blue sky hung cloudless and beckoning, just beyond the rooftops.  The clatter of a passing cart trundling through Church Street echoing off the stones while the indistinct voices of people passing floated up from beyond the window.  In the distance, a dog barked, barely heard over the din of the street and the endless cooing of the pigeon nestling under the wooden eaves.

Will sighed to himself and forced his gaze downwards to his hornbook.  The neatly copied Latin passage was still there waiting for his attention.  He felt a nudge on his foot.  His friend Richard sat to his right.  Richard grinned and pointed across the room at the teacher’s assistant, trying in vain to sort through a heavy bound Latin volume while balancing another and pointing out a passage to a smaller group of very young boys.  The group included Will’s tow-headed brother Gilbert, who was gazing with vacant boredom into the empty space of the rafters.

Dust motes danced in the sunshine, spiraling upwards from convection while a small dog lay sleeping in the far corner.  The heavy-beamed room was long and felt murky and dark, even with the shutters wide and the sunshine flooding in.  Lined with a series of long, dark wooden benches and tables, the room was occupied by some thirty-odd children of various ages between six and fourteen.  Another man sat at the end of the room laboriously writing on an old piece of vellum with measured care.  The continual sound and soft bustle of small bodies in constant motion rose throughout the room.  Legs kicked, fingers poked and whenever the occasional muffled giggle or mumbled sound was heard, the man in the long gown would glance up, his eyes sharp under his brow, glowering at his charges in unspoken reproach.  Moments after his head would drop back to the page, the soft noises would resume.

“Hsst.  Will, how’s this?” queried Will’s immediate neighbour, shoving a tattered piece of script in front of him.  Will glanced down at it.  The paper was tracked with several ink blotches and thin scratchy, elongated letters.

“God’s bowels, I can’t even read that Edward – is it Latin or a drawing of a pig?” Will whispered back.

Someone snickered quietly.  Edward had a pained look on his round face when Will glanced up from the sheet.  Will sighed in exasperation.

“First, it’s collis, not coleus.” began Will, speaking in a low urgent tone.  Edward looked puzzled and reached over to look at the tattered paper. 

“Are you sure?” Edward asked, his voice rising with his querulous tone.  Will and the others winced at the volume of Edward’s reply. 

“Shut it you ninny,” one hissed angrily, “You’re going to get us all in trouble.”

Collis.” whispered Will.  “Hill, right?”

“So what’s coleus?” asked Edward puzzled.  The other boys shrugged.  Will drew a deep annoyed breath.

“It’s…well. It’s..um…your sack.” Will mumbled.

“My what?” said Edward, confused.

“Your sack, your stones….you know.” Will pointed down.  The other boys tried and failed to stifle a quiet burst of laughter as Edward nodded, his face blushing furiously.

Coleus…what’s that?” whispered Richard in a mocking imitation of Edward.  “Will, can you tell me the difference between culum and cunnus?[4]  I really need to know?”

The other boys tittered, even the ones whose Latin was so indifferent that they didn’t know the meaning of the joke.  Horum, harum whore![5]” one chirped.

Richard snickered.  Will grinned and said “Pedagogue, peticatum.[6]   Several boys stifled their laughter by stuffing the ends of their sleeves in their mouths.  Emboldened Will ventured, “Scortum[7] sup..” 

The whip-crack of the long flat wooden paddle against the table brought the quiet sniggering laughter to an abrupt and startling halt.  Ashen, Will looked up and saw the teacher standing beside their table, looking down on the collection of boys.  The long stick was poised like a promise over the dark scarred wood surface. 

Verbaarum delectus orige est e lequentrai” the man intoned.  He pointed the stick at Will.  “Translate.” he said.

“Delight in the words and the origin of eloquence.” Will replied, watching the stick with wary eyes.  The man ventured a thin humorless smile behind his long beard. 

The remainder of the class had turned and was watching the scene soundlessly.  The assistant teacher had set down his tome and started over, halted by an abrupt dismissive wave of the man’s hand.  Even the dozing yellow dog had deigned to lift its head, yawned and then settled back down in its sunlight patch.

“The rest of you – begone – it is luncheon.” The teacher gestured to the door.  The boys scrambled off the bench, Gilbert hesitating for a moment before turning and joining the group as they tumbled out the door and down the exterior staircase, their voices fading.  “Not you.”  The teacher barred Will from moving towards the door.  “Sit.” He commanded, pointing with the wide, flattened end of the stick.

“Whatever am I to do with you young Will?”  The stern look in the eyes faded and a look of amusement stole across his face.  He stroked his long beard pensively. “I don’t think I want to hear you complete that Latin you were practicing, do I?”

“No, Master Hunt.  I should think not.” replied Will.

“You are a hell-wean, make no mistake Master Shakespeare.  Clever than any student I have ever seen but a hell-wean nonetheless.”  He paused.  Abeunt studia in mores [8]– do you agree?”

Will nodded.

“By the love of Christ but you do deserve a beating for abusing the Latin, but I am impressed with your vocabulary,” the schoolmaster arched a sardonic brow, “and beating you doesn’t seem to have much effect.  I sense I am plowing in the river, trying to restrain your fancies.”  Hunt stood and smacked the long flattened stick in his hand several times with ominious intent.

“Off you go Master Shakespeare, and try to be back in time for the afternoon lessons.”

Will slid off the bench and turned towards the door.



“There is more found here than your word games.  We school you for more than just rote recitation and parroting the Catechism.  Sin is all around us in this quiet land, and God… well God is oftentimes not seen or manifested in men’s hearts.  The world is a place of avarice and pain.  Only in God’s grace can we walk …” he paused, hesitated, and then continued more assurance, “Knowledge can be a path to salvation and understanding of God’s great mercies.  Remember that, when the time comes.”

Will paused, looking at the schoolmaster for a moment, then turned and clattered down the outside stairs.

“Well,” Hunt muttered to himself, “you could at least pretend you’d suffered a whipping for my reputation’s sake.”

Will turned right towards the stony confines of Chapel Street.  He hadn’t gone four paces when Richard popped out of the doorway he’d been leaning in and grasped Will’s upper arm.  A full head shorter, Gilbert hovered beside him, an uncertain grin on his face.

“Did you get another whipping?” Richard asked grinning.

“Not this time,” Will responded, “but I do think I’ve galled him enough today.”

“God’s Mercy on you Will, but your father won’t spare you the beating Master Hunt should have laid on you, if he finds out.” Richard laughed.

Will winced inwardly.  His father had little patience for what he termed “foolish flightings” and games and even less with Will’s continuing intransigence at the restrictions and rules of the King Edward Grammar School.  Will turned to Gilbert.

“You better keep that trap of yours shut,” Will said to Gilbert “or anything lands on me, you’ll be the worse for it.” 

Richard nodded in sage agreement as Gilbert, affronted, chimed, “Will!  I wouldn’t blow on you.”

“I find you cracking off, I’ll whip you good.”  Will gave Gilbert a hard look, one that failed to make an impression as Gilbert grinned in response.

A squealing cart trundled past, its ungreased wheels squealing.  The cart was stacked high with heavy yellowing tods of wool and followed by a great buzzing mass of flies.  Will regarded it with a jaundiced eye, realizing it was probably bound for Henley Street and his father’s small barn. 

“Hey what’s that?”  Richard paused listening.

A low brassy bellow rose faint from the south-west. 

“Will, it’s a troupe!” Richard pulled hard on Will’s arm.  Another booming trumpet sounded and the rattle of a drum drifted down, tatting light and rhythmic in the distance. 

“Come on.” Will shouted at his friend and the two, leaving Gilbert gawping, shot past the heavily-laden carter, dodged a rooting pig and a heavy-set woman carrying a bundle of clothes and headed up Tinker’s Lane to where the Evesham Road met Stratford proper.    “Last one there is Jack o’ Lent.[9]  The boy’s excited shout bounced off the timber-framed buildings, blending with the ragged sound of a trumpet.

Worcester’s Men had arrived.


Chapter The Third

“By God’s teeth!  Much, you pestilent capon, where’s my ruff?” shouted Oldcastle, flinging open one of the traveling chests, almost knocking his servant to the ground in the process.

“Sorr, if’n you kindly wait but a …” the older man replied.

“Stop banting about and find my ruff box.” Oldcastle interrupted, “By Heaven, is too much to ask for a servant who can remember where he left things?  I should have you whipped, no – scourged, by God…”

Oldcastle’s empty tirade came to an abrupt halt when Much’s son, standing atop the wagon, pulled out the flat box from one of the chests and passed it down to his father.

Tyburn ignored Oldcastle’s endless bickering with his servants and concentrated on poking the loose threads on his embroidered doublet out of immediate view.  The doublet’s stitching was parting down one side.  Tyburn fingered it, doubting it would last much longer.

It was past mid-morning and the troupe had halted by a clutch of tall elms short of the town to prepare for their entrance.  The sun was high and the skies warm, blue and cloudless.  Several small farmhouses were scattered about, an easy distance from the road, and to the north a smaller hamlet was visible in the distance.  The Stratford church spire stood stolid in the south-east, a yellow-gray mass of stone and wood that stood apart from the main avenues of the market-town, marking where the domain of heaven touched the realm of the mortal. 

The road was steady with foot traffic as carts laden with local produce passed, plying their wares in the town.  Several mounted riders passed by, including a small band of liveried retainers who trotted past without even turning their heads to glance at the troupe.  A man herded a lone cow along the roadway, turning north to the smaller hamlet visible beyond the trees.  A small group of children who had been playing on the hillside had gathered together by a low stone wall, eyeing the troupe with fascination.  As he bustled about with the troupes various accoutrements, Robbie kept a sharp jaundiced eye on their small filching hands.

The wagon had made slower than expected progress on the uneven and heavily rutted road, the jouncing and bumping doing little to mend Oldcastle’s sour temperament.  At one point Oldcastle had begun calling out lines from the troupe’s play list.  It was an old traveling memory game, allowing the players to work on recalling their character’s lines.  The proper response was the next line of the play however Alec, irritated that Oldcastle was pressing them on a hot day, refused to cooperate and had insisted on bellowing out bawdy lines from the many tavern songs in his repertoire in reply.  After Alec worked his way through most of The Three Drunken Maidens, Oldcastle had given up and concentrated on the remaining players, leaving Alec free to whistle and contemplate the cheerful green hillsides.

Tyburn sighed and, his doublet problems at least rendered marginally acceptable, pulled out a long cylindrical object wrapped in some rough cloth from the bottom of a long chest.  He undid the ties and unrolled the cloth.  Several long swords were revealed.  Tyburn picked up two and turning to Alec, gave a low whistle.  Alec turned and Tyburn tossed him one of the rapiers.  Alec nodded his distracted thanks and turned to reshaping a large lavish hat that had been flattened in its travels.

Tyburn examined his own long blade.  The pommel was worn with use and the silver damascened guard, although once ornate, was now nicked and dull to the eye, no longer the showpiece it had been in the hands of a young Spanish bravo.  The blade however was well-kept, a long, razor-edged piece of elegant Toledo steel, thirty-four inches of fatal grace. 

It was one of the only blades the troupe carried that was kept sharp.  The majority of the troupe’s weapons were intended for use in performances and were dulled and corked to prevent accidents.  Tyburn insisted on keeping his own sword and had refused point-blank when Oldcastle suggested he dull the blade.  Tyburn used a troupe weapon for the staged swordfights, although even Oldcastle acknowledged that Tyburn’s ability was such that he was the least likely to inflict any accidental damage on his opponents in their staged fights.  One of the few ways that Tyburn had been able to pad his meager income had been to work with the other troupe members, chiefly Alleyn and Alec, on their swordplay.  The result was that Worcester’s men were now recognized by even jaded London audiences as being the best at on-stage mayhem.

Satisfied, Tyburn sheathed the weapon and strapped on the belt, settling the sword on his left.  Alec grinned and pointed.  Tyburn glanced down to see his colorful doublet split down one side.  “Christ…” Tyburn muttered.

Alec laughed and tossed Tyburn an ornate yellow half-cloak, edged with delicate silvered needlework.  “Here.  That’ll help hide it from Oldcastle until you can get some innkeeper’s wife to mend it for you.”

Tyburn nodded his thanks and slung the half-cloak so it hung over the side with the split.  Tyburn picked up his wide-brimmed hat, adjusted the feather and straightened.  “How’s that?” he asked in a caustic tone.

“The maidens of Stratford are quickening as we speak,” Alec swept his own arm back and bowed grandly.  “Although with you I fear their expectations will founder…”

The two apprentices were pulling a small set of timbrels out of a cloth sack and a long brass trumpet while Oldcastle and the three other sharers in the company arranged their appearances with care.  Jacob Willens, the oldest player after Oldcastle, wore an outlandish selection of clothes, including an enormous oversized codpiece, a peasecod belly and long trimmed gown with paneled breeches in white and red.  Willen’s topped the outfit with a small round hat surmounted with a ridiculous oversized feather. 

Willen’s role was Folly, the Jester, the Lord of Misrule, a master of jigs, buffoonery and morris-dancing, activities that many of the younger players derided as provincial but were popular with audiences nonetheless.  Tyburn rather liked the lively acrobatics of the morris-dances, although he was dragged into them rather infrequently in his role as Vice.  Oldcastle was a firm believer in using the fundamental stock characters and Tyburn, with his grim visage, was a perfect foil for Alec’s Virtuous Youth.

“Daniel and Mundy, bring up the rear with the wagon.  I lead, Jacob follows me.  Then Jack and Motely sounding the march and Robbie with the banner high.  Alec - you, Alleyn and Tyburn provide some flash as we go, but don’t lag.  No banter and no gammoning off with some doxy making sheep eyes at you.”  Oldcastle instructed.

“Head’s high now, by Christ’s bones, you’re the Earl of Worcester’s Men, so act it you villains.”  With that Oldcastle signaled the apprentices.  Jack gave the timbrels a rattle and Motely blew hard on the old trumpet, sounding a discordant brassy note that floated across the summer air, startling a small flock of birds skyward.  The children watching from the hillside leaped up, calling and waving.  Oldcastle stepped grandly out onto the road, held both arms skyward and shouted “God’s Grace is upon our endeavors!”  He turned, bowed to the company and resumed the march into the town, Worcester’s silver, blue and red blazon held high behind him, dangling from its cross-bar.

Alec slipped Tyburn a surreptitious wink and a grin as they set out after Robbie and the apprentices, Alleyn muttering to himself behind them.

The road the troupe marched along was cobblestoned along the verge, sufficient for the wagon wheels, with the uncobbled centre of the road providing a soft, muddy trap for the unwary on rainy days.  Today, with the mid-summer sun overhead, the center of the road was dry, hard and dusty, trampled flat by the constant flow of commerce.

Jack thumped and rattled the timbrels in rhythm to their pace. As they passed from the line of elms bordering the road, a small flock of crows burst from the trees shading the road, circled twice at dizzying speed and vanished from sight.

Stratford-upon-Avon was an unremarkable Warwickshire market-town, standing hard by the river Avon on the south and the edge of denuded remnants of the Forest of Arden to the north.   The players could smell the town long before they reached the first set of buildings.   The scent was a heavy mélange of woodsmoke, manure and slop heaps, urine, the acrid scent of tanning hides, sawdust, malt, cooking, animals and unwashed humanity. 

Tall, timber-framed buildings rose on both sides of the road, interspersed like a set of uneven mottled white teeth.  Topped with thick brown thatch and the occasional tile, the buildings varied in size and height, with a handful rising to up three stories.  As the troupe moved further along the street, the buildings cantilevered upper floors hung out over the lower stories like a deep jutting brow.  Most were plaster-covered, even to the thick timber beams themselves, and their windows were narrow with heavy shutters open to allow a thin wash of summer daylight to stream inside.  The players kept a wary eye on the upper windows, watching for household slops and refuse being emptied onto passerbys.

The road was busy with foot traffic, most of which stopped to gawp at the vividly dressed marching troupe.  Alec grinned as Oldcastle gestured and bowed grandly to various bystanders, his practiced eye judging by the cut and style of their clothing whether they merited a mere passing nod, an expansive wave or a deep bow.

The Evesham Road that the troupe had followed since before dawn gave way to Rother Street, the street that led to Stratford’s cattle market[10], the presence of which was apparent both underfoot and through the nostrils.  The players threaded their way  with care through patches of thick oozing cattle dung that caked the cobbles, with Willen’s exaggeratedly tiptoeing around a large repulsive deposit and then pretending to slip, catching himself at the last moment before breaking out in a quick and jaunty jig that made spectators laugh.

“Let’s wait til we clear the dung street, then we give them a little taste.” Tyburn murmured in an aside to Alec, who nodded in reply.

Alleyn broke out into a quick and lively song, “Sir Eglamore was a valiant knight

Fa la lanky down dilly…He put on his sword and he went to fight, Fa la lanky down dilly…”

Several women carrying baskets, stopped to listen, whispering to one another.  A cooper scowled at the troupe as it passed.  His pinched face suffused with distaste as he regarded the players.  He spat once on the cobbles.  Alec rewarded him with a beatific smile that in turn made Tyburn grin.

“And as he rid o’er hill and dale,  All armed in his coat of mail,  Fa la la la la la la lanky down dilly…There starts a huge dragon out of his den, fa la…Which had kill’d I know not how many men,  Fa la…”

Motely blew hard on his trumpet, his round face pink and glowing, the sound for once blasting out of the instrument rather then the usual muffled blare.  The sound echoed off of the yellowing walls of the street. 

Oldcastle paused in the small crowd and raised his arms grandly.  “God Bless this noble town Stratford-Upon-Avon!  We are the Earl of Worcester’s Men, players of the best and kindest patron, who has commanded us to pay visit to you and yours.  May God’s Mercies be upon you!”  With that, Oldcastle bowed with exaggerated courtesy to a hawk-nosed woman in a long severe black dress and starched white cap.  She sniffed and turned away to resume her market duties, her dark eyes harsh as she regarded the passing troupe.  Oldcastle merely gave his performer’s smile and strode onward.

“Bloody Precisions…[11]” Robbie mumbled as he passed with the banner.  Tyburn frowned.  The Puritans regularly denounced what they called the bawdy nature of plays and other staged entertainments, one of the reasons that the London Court of Aldermen systematically harassed and restricted such entertainments in the city proper.  The Puritans didn’t limit their venom to mere players, but reserved the majority of their spite for English Catholic recusants and, surprisingly for the Queen herself and her ministers, who they felt were far too lenient in treating what they termed “popish pomp and rags”.

The low sound of metal scraping on metal pulled Tyburn out of his pensive state. He turned, stepping rapidly backwards with his left foot, hand reaching for his rapier.  Alec grinned, a quick flash of gleaming white teeth, as he lunged at Tyburn. 

Tyburn’s own blade slid from its sheath and flicked up, deflecting Alec’s sword neatly to one side.  The two paused, and then Alec began to declaim.

“Foul spawn of Strife and Discord, face the blade of a true Christian gentleman!”

“Are you a swordsman or an Antic[12]?” replied Tyburn, twisting his face into a vicious scowl.

“Your doom unless you yield, for mine is the righteous cause.”

“Methinks you are half-a-pack short[13].  Can you do more than mere sparrow-blasting[14]?”

“I speak with steel” Alec intoned, his voice heavy with portentous emphasis and stepping in smooth, lunging the silvered blade towards Tyburn, moving for the opening Tyburn had left on the inside.  Tyburn turned his blade, parrying Alec’s attack and stepped in with a slow counter which Alec in turn deflected with a scraping clash that rang off the buildings.

Alec flung his arm forward again, thrusting the blade at his opponent, making Tyburn wince inwardly.  Despite much coaching, Alec still had a tendency to throw his arm when making a thrust, a move that announced his intended line of attack in advance of the action.  It didn’t matter when you were working the boards[15] but on the street or in a duel, it was a painful and potentially fatal mistake.  Tyburn took the blow easily on the forte of his sword and stepped in close, grabbing Alec’s sword arm and hissing malevolence.  The two stood en tableau for a moment before leaping back with a quick bow to the gaping market audience.

“I thank you gentlefolk, for your indulgence.  If you are intrigued to know if Virtue bests Vice, please attend on the morrow!” exclaimed Tyburn.  Tyburn and Alec sheathed their swords with a flourish and rejoined Alleyn and a grinning Robbie.

“Did you see that?” breathed Richard, “He handles that stick like a Dunkirker[16].”

“That’s no veney stick[17], by Faith.” agreed Will.  “Think we can see the performance?”

“Doubt it.  My mother thinks plays are Devil’s work.” replied Richard in sullen tones, his face tight.

“Will’s seen a play!” piped Gilbert.

“Truly?” asked Richard, intrigued.

“In Coventry, we saw the Cycles, and the Mayor’s Play three years ago, when Warwick’s Men came through.” admitted Will.

“Well, your father’s an alderman.  I expect you’ll get to spy this ‘un…” Richard observed, his voice envious.

“I won’t get to spy anything if Gilbert and I don’t get to home right quick.” Will said shrugging.  He felt bad that Richard’s staunch Protestant parents refused to permit him to see the troupes that passed through Stratford during the warm summer months.  Will’s own father dubbed plays frivolous nonsense and considered them an unwelcome distraction but, due to his position on the town council, John Shakespeare was at least obligated to make an appearance with the other aldermen.

Will himself had vivid memories of the Coventry players marching in colorful procession along the narrow laneways.  He remembered the elaborate embroidery of their costumes, the feathered hats and stylized horned masks that hid their faces.  He recalled the glorious decorations on the oversized Pageant wagons and how they gleamed with gold and red decorative motifs, the jostle of the excited crowds, the raucous cries of the hawkers, and the choking sulphurous stench of the Hell-mouth specially built in the Coventry marketplace[18].  More than anything he remembered the players themselves, drawing in the breathless attention of the audience, grasping it, building upon it and weaving an evocative tale from words and phrases, giving life to all the familiar stories that Will had learned by rote over the years at Stratford’s stony church and on the hard benches and airy recesses of the King Edward Grammar School. 

It had been so utterly different from anything he had experienced before.  The player’s measured oration tore away the dim pallid façade of recitation and drove the deeper meaning of the stories home with astonishing clarity.  Will had felt himself swept up, his thoughts caught like a leaf in the wind, soaring upwards and then eclipsed in turn by shadow as the story plunging in a new direction. 

Gilbert tugged on Will’s arm to clear his head of the reminiscences.  Richard grinned askance at Will’s distracted look and the three hurried down towards Rother Market to cut over to Henley Street and home.

            The Earl of Worcester’s Men drew up their procession when they arrived at the Stratford Guild Hall.  They had proceeded down dung-strewn Rother past the stone cross standing in Stratford’s main marketplace, down Wood Street and back across High Street.  It was a leisurely route but one designed to maximum effect.  By the time they had arrived at the Guild Hall, a small and expectant crowd had gathered and a collection of the Stratford alderman had congregated on the steps of the building to greet the players.

The Guild Hall was an impressive structure for a small market town.  A large stone chapel dominated one end, with a lengthy two-floored timber-framed building stretching the length of the street behind.  The building had been plastered and lime-washed to a gleaming white and was roofed with tile rather than the usual thatch.  A small recessed stone courtyard led to a second smaller cantilevered structure.  A number of laden wagons and carts, with several oxen stood hard by the doors while men in loose smocks carried bundled goods into the building.

Two men stood waiting on the stone steps leading into the chapel.  Neither wore any badge of office but Oldcastle immediately recognized the impatient demeanor of authority.  The Earl of Worcester’s Men drew up in a ragged line behind him as he stepped forward.

One of the men standing by the carts dusted his hands together and walked over to join the other two men standing on the steps.

“Master Oldcastle?  I daresay you are looking well.  It has been, what?  Five years?”  The man was tall, dusty from his labors, but under his grime he wore a deep blue jerkin and an ornate agate ring.

“Milord, I trust in God that you and yours are well?” returned Oldcastle, bowing deeply, an affable smile on his lips.   The man nodded cordially.  “Milord Aldermen, gentlefolk of Stratford, may I present the Earl of Worcester’s Men, a troupe of players who gently request your kind permission to perform.”  Oldcastle bowed again, then turned and gestured at Motely who stepped forward with stiff self-consciousness, holding a roll of vellum tied with an ornate silk ribbon.  The tall man accepted the roll and without deigning to open it, passed it to one of the other men on the steps.  The man unrolled the document, gave the document with its ornate seals a cursory glance and passed it to the third man.  He glanced at it, rolled it back up and handed it to Oldcastle.

“As you can see, we are fully licensed to perform and we beg your kind indulgence to permit our performances within your precincts.”  Oldcastle intoned solemnly.

The men glanced at each other.  One shrugged with indifference.  “Very well Master Oldcastle, you may perform but first you must provide a play with no bar or cost on admission – The Mayor’s Play – on the morrow at the Guild Hall.  You may enjoy the pleasure of the Guild Hall for an additional two performances, after which you may use an inn yard if they will have you.”  The man continued, “There will be no undue rowdiness, no Papist nonsense performed and no wild moriscos[19] in the streets.  I’ll have no woodwoses[20] on my hands.”

Oldcastle bowed in acquiescence, “Indeed milords, we are at your service.” 

“Anything else needed?   No?”

“Your pardon Milord, we have come a long way on the hard hoof with aught but old cheese and bread, mayhaps…” Oldcastle ventured.

The man glanced at Oldcastle from under his dark brows, and paused theatrically.  “I recommend the Bear – good ale.” He gave the master player a sardonic grin and turned to the other aldermen, gesturing, “Gentleman, let us sup…” and they three passed into the small courtyard and disappeared through the open doors.

“Bastard merchants.” Oldcastle muttered balefully under his breath.  Alec suppressed a grin at Oldcastle’s acrid disappointment and the troupe turned back down stony High Street to find the Bear Tavern and some much needed drink.

“Bastards.”  Oldcastle repeated.  “Nothing but bloody curst bastards.”


 This is the end to the excerpt from "The Jesuit Letter". If you would like to be added to a email list and be informed when the book will be available for purchase, please feel free to contact me at booklinker@hotmail.com

[1] Petty thief
[2] purse
[3] arresting officer
[4] culum = buttocks,
   cunnus = female genitalia
[5] Latin demonstrative pronouns – “his” in the genitive tense
[6] peticatum = slang for anal intercourse
[7] Scortum = whore
[8] “Studies go to form character”
[9] fool figure
[10] Rother is Anglo-Saxon for cattle
[11] Antagonistic term for Puritans
[12] Clown
[13] Measure of dry goods, in this case, not a full measure….
[14] Cursing
[15] performing
[16] Reference to Dunkirk, a notorious pirate haven
[17] Heavy stick used for practicing sword-play
[18] The Coventry Mystery Cycles generally incorporated at least one stage location that represented the entrance to Hell, presided over by an elaborately costumed Devil and his demonic minions.
[19] Morris dancing
[20] wildmen

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