Letters Home – Babylon’s Downfall, 1644

marston moor

Out May 29th 2017

Hessay Moor

York

2nd July 1644

To my right well-beloved wife Henrietta,

I pray you excuse the quality of my script, which is crook’d at best but when a man is writing using the side of his horse as a writing-desk it is perhaps more understandable that his penmanship is poor.

It has not been one of our better days, lass, and God willing tomorrow will bring better fortune, but for the time I am taking my place on the outposts with the rest of my lads – and thus the writing-desk.

We did expect an attack and we were not disappointed, in truth, and yet – well, I will be plain, we were caught proper unprepared by that man whose name I will not sully my paper with, a pox on him and his dog. He camped himself at Fairfax’s own house two nights since – which did offend my lord Fairfax greatly, the which I suspect was his intent: that, and the expectation of a better quality of provisioning than the likes of us normally enjoy. (That last remark was made by a Captain Singleton of my acquaintance, and is not of my own making, but it amused us greatly and so I share it for your enjoyment also.)

So he being near to Ilkley we did think he likely to move straight on York and engage us that way to relieve Newcastle besieged within. More fool we, then, for he did not, and here we be sat like crows on a fence on the moor drawn up waiting for him. First we on, and then we decided he would not come straight for us after all and they did withdraw the foot thinking he would go to meet his uncle in Lincolnshire, and then in the end he did not after all and we back on the moor instead after some of our rear guard did stumble acros his advance parties . Which is good for the horses, it being as wild and tussocky an expanse of grassland as you might yet set eyes upon, but not so good for engaging an Army which is as yet a handful of miles up the river. We not so clever as we thought we were, our lads were looking quite the other way when that man whose name I will not sully my paper with came up out of the north and beat off Noll Cromwell’s dragoons at Poppleton late in the watches of last night. Lass the hand of Providence is surely with us, for the lads have often made much sport of my dislike of the business of ships and deep water (which your infernal nephew says is unnatural and unreasoning, and yet I say if God had meant me to be at ease in water he would have made me a fish. Which did choke young Lucifer off nicely, though I say it myself as shouldn’t) – they made much mock of me and yet had I not been shy of water we might have chose to stand with Noll’s dragoons, it being the only crossing of the river north of York and thus of much value, and then in all chance I should not be writing these words for those poor lads did take a right pasting.

So – all is yet to win, or all yet to lose, and it must be Yorkshire for it still rains, and here I be at something going on noon and I find myself thinking of thee and the little lass, for very fear that I might not set eyes on thee again in this world. It is a silly maidenly fancy, lass, a thing of no account, and yet of a sudden I wish thee was here. And yet I do not, for I would not have thee know what a soldiers’ camp is – I suspect thee would see a different side to thy gentle nephew than that thee is accustomed to, ay, and know that thy Hollie knows worse words than he says at home, too, especially when he is made to feel a fool by that man whose name I shall not sully my paper with.

We will come about, lass. These coming days must see an end to this war (I have said that before, I know, but if I say it oft enough one day I must be proved right) – we have three Armies camped here, surely, and His Majesty has but one. And surely even he must look out at his window and see the hosts camped here, and think he must at least treat with his Parliament and come to some terms, though it is beyond the likes of me to know how either he or we might come to unpick all this hurt.

Of my other lads – Capt. Venning sends his fond remembrances and would bid me tell thee of an amusing anecdote involving his dog, Lt-Genrall Cromwell, and a meat pie which the Lt-Genrall took his eye off for two minutes. The dog is still alive, and has not been knocked on the head by any of the more zealous members of the Eastern Association – which tells you all you need to know of the incident.

Luce says if you see his mother would you ask her to send more shirts as he seems to have growed like a weed these last few months and all his linen is out at the elbows. You will be glad to hear he is with my company again where I can keep an eye on his welfare, for though he is nigh as tall as I am and presently cultivating a most comically fierce set of whiskers he is in truth still a boy in the things that matter. (Clean shirts and regular bed times being the things that do not, at his age, though that information did not come from me.)

Yr father in law is yet living. I should rather say no more on that head.

Matthew Percey is most vexed presently as we were bid to leave our siege positions at short order and he was in process of making a poppet for our Thomasynn, which he left behind in the confusion. It grieves him mightily to think of some Malignant taking it for his own, for when they came forth from York at the lifting of the siege they did fall on what we left with joy. (This do say much for the parlous state of the inhbitants of that city, and I fear they will be sore disappointed if they think my second-best shirt to be plunder.) I did say to Mattie that it would be a wonder to me if any Malignant might recognise his work as anything more than firewood, at which he did throw a boot at my head and tell me to go forth and be fruitful (or words to the effect of) – which shocked my lord Leven greatly, he overhearing in passing. We are yet seen for a disreputable company of rebels and horse-thieves, it seems, and yr poor husband is much maligned for not being wholly respectable in company. I thank God you know that to be untrue and I am as ever the most conventional of men, and much misunderstood.

Lass I am not a great man for the clever words of a man with a maid (and no I will not ask yr nephew) thee must accept my plain clumsy loving for what it is. Sleep has escaped me this last night and so I have writ too much – tis that, or be alone with my thoughts, the which I would rather not be.

If thee has deciphered my scrawl thus far, lady, thy patience does thee credit, and by God’s grace I may deliver this paper from my own hand.

I remain as I ever was thy own loving husband –

Col. H.T. Babbitt

Putting Your Trust In Princes

“No,” Russell says, very firmly. “I will not countenance it.”
Hollie sniffs. “Oh, straighten your face. Call it a starburst, if you like, instead of an arsehole.”
The marred lieutenant closes his eyes and looks pained. “I will not countenance it. I am not – it is not funny!”
“Why do you care? Do you carry ’em?” Hollie wants to know, and then says nothing, very smugly.

Luce is trying not to laugh, not very successfully.
See, it’s a bit like this. They had colours, previous. Quite inconspicuous colours, they were, a rather discreet shade of madder-red quartered with a white cross on a black background: several previous careful owners. It was possibly His Majesty’s musketeers at Marston Moor that finished them altogether – that, or the red mare’s habit of pivoting in circles on her own axis, at a point when the said colours were underneath her. (So, to be fair, was Lucey. Not one of his better days.) Or, possibly, the dog’s tendency to sleep on them. Whichever. By the end of the Yorkshire campaign, Hollie’s colours were in rags.
And then Hollie decided –
“I did not decide!” he says indignantly, “Henrietta decided I should have summat a bit more befitting!”

So Het decided to make something that was more befitting to her husband’s status as a respectable senior officer.

“That wench wants her sight tested, she thinks you’re respectable,” Captain Venning – whose own troop colours are an unremarkable blue and bear neither the form of a fish nor a pie, to Hollie’s disgust – mutters darkly.

They began life as Het’s best company silk skirt, a garment she has possessed since her girlish youth. Hollie is prepared to be indignant about the sacrifice of the said garment, until Luce points out that anything that fitted her in her girlish youth is unlikely to be a comfortable fit after two years of marriage, a daughter, and provisioning the bottomless likes of one Colonel H. T. Babbitt.
“Are you suggesting that my wife has increased?” Hollie says, and Luce raises his eyebrows.
“She’s my auntie, sir. Ihave known her some time. And, well, you are known to be a good solid trencherman, when the mood is on you. She was ever possessed of a competitive streak.”
“I dunno where he puts it all,” Venning mutters, not quite under his breath, “he never seems to get no fatter.”

It’s a sunburst. It’s a black sunburst, a black sun with spiralling black arms, on that silvery birch-green background.

“You’d have to be some kind o’ special to have an arsehole looked like that!” – Venning’s determined to make the best of it, and Hollie is determined that having found a device that will give alarm and distress to the more proper members of his company he’s sticking to it.
Russell won’t even look at it if he can help it, which is going to make following it into battle awkward. Luce giggles every time he looks at it.

“Lot o’ work she put into that,” Hollie says smugly, and there is a shy tenderness in the way his hand lingers over the silk.

But a motto? That’s going to be difficult.
Baiser mon cul, is Hollie’s suggestion.
Luce favours Classical allusion, if they must -Contritionem praecidit superbia. Arrogance goes before contrition – pride before a fall.

But in the end they go with Russell’s preference, as much as to shut him up as anything else.

Put not your trust in princes.

Kitty, My Rib – the story of Katie van Bora

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Now I have two heroines in this world, and one of them is Elizabeth Cromwell (well, dear, if you wanted orange sauce, you shouldn’t have made war on Spain, should you?) and the other is Katharina von Bora, die Lutherin. After those two stubborn, domesticated, marvellously level-headed females is Het Babbitt patterned.

There is an argument which I often hear, and it goes something like – but women in the 17th century, they were the weaker vessel, right? Poor dependents, meek and milky and subservient…. right?
Well – some names to look up, to begin with, then. Bess of Hardwick. Elizabeth Cromwell. Elizabeth Lilburne. Brilliana Harley. Anne Fairfax.

All noblewomen? Hardly. Elizabeth Lilburne and Elizabeth Cromwell were merchant’s daughters – and Bess of Hardwick knew how to make a penny work for its living, by all accounts.

But die Lutherin is sadly neglected. Her 16th-century life-story reads like something from a lurid romantic fiction – convent-educated, she was brought up in cloisters until at the age of 24, she started to become interested in the growing reform movement and became unhappy with her secluded life within the Cistercian monastery. Now, the weaker-vessel argument would have die Lutherin meekly submitting to male domination, right? Um, nope. She wrote to Martin Luther, a 41 year old rebel, subversive and politically active cleric. An excommunicated priest, mind, who was not known for his tactful expression of his opinions. Katie von Bora wrote to Martin Luther – a man she had presumably never met formally in her life – and asked him to bust her and another twelve nuns out of the Cistercian monastery.

And he did. They were smuggled out in the back of a cart, in herring barrels. A credible fiction author could not make this up.

Luther, despite being the man behind the Reformation, now had twelve rogue nuns on his hands. Their families wouldn’t take them back, this being a breach of canon law, and so he found them all husbands. In the end, there was only Katie left. He found her husbands. Nope. Eventually she gave him the ultimatum – sorry, Martin, the only man I’m taking is either you or Nicolaus van Amsdorf, your friend. (Check out the portraits. She made a good call in Martin.)

Katie von Bora then took on the massive tasks of a) running the enormous monastery estate atWittenburg, where they boarded at the Cistercian monastery, b) running the brewery there, c) running the hospital, d) looking after all the students and visitors coming for audience with the notorious rogue priest behind the Diet of Worms, and e) keeping an eye on Martin, who had not been exactly the most promising of eager bridegrooms – he admitted himself that before his marriage his bed was often mildewed and not made up for months on end. By the sound of Katie, she’d have put up with neither the mildew, the unmade bed, nor the grubby husband.

The Luthers had six children (not all of whom survived to adulthood, sadly), Katie had one miscarriage, and they brought up another four orphans. This was not, clearly, a nominal marriage of platonic and dutiful affection. Martin freely admitted prior to his marriage that despite his clerical celibacy he was aware of the existence of the female form, even in spite of the mouldy bed. Had it not been for the admittedly rather pretty Mistress van Bora, it’s not impossible that the Protestant clergy would have remained formally celibate for many years – not that Martin and Katie were the first, but their wedding set the seal of approval on clerical marriage. It was a long and happy marriage, if often short of money, and even then it seems that she had the habit of accepting gifts from benefactors on his behalf, and putting the money away for the rainy day that seemed to follow the Luther household around.

They were married for almost twenty years, and he had counselled her to move into a smaller house with the children when he died, but she refused. A sentimental attachment to the marital home where she’d been happy and useful for so long? Struggling financially without his salary, she stayed stubbornly put until soldiers in the the Schmalkaldic War destroyed farm buildings and killed the animals on their farm, and she was forced to flee, living on the charity of the Elector of Saxony until it was safe for her to return to Wittenburg. Bubonic plague then forced her to flee a third time, this time to Torgau, but she was thrown from her cart near the city gates and very badly bruised, and died less than three months later.

She was not buried near to her Martin in Wittenburg, but since one of the Lutheran doctrines was that “It is enough for us to know that souls do not leave their bodies to be threatened by the torments and punishments of hell, but enter a prepared bedchamber in which they sleep in peace,” – she probably didn’t mind too much.

Ladies  and gentlemen, a toast to die Lutherin, Katie von Bora – the role model for the Mrs Cromwells and Mrs Fairfaxes, the domestic rock on which a political citadel stood firm.

Meet the White Devil

A little something from the new book – something of a departure for me, a light time-slip romance with a playwriting 17th century hero – Pen Corder, aka the White Devil.

He did not recognise himself, painted and jewelled like a trollop – his hair braided up and tucked under a sinister black velvet hat, a great glass pearl teardrop dangling from his ear.
He did not much care for the shading on his cheekbones and about his eyes, that he thought made him look more angular and more feline than was strictly human. He looked like a minor demon, he thought, and couldn’t quite stop himself from glancing over his shoulder lest the ghosts of his poor mortified parents should appear there at the sight of their only son mincing on a stage in an ill-fitting white satin doublet.

He could not do it. Every single word had seeped out of his head, and he could not remember a line of it. Mayhem poked his head round the door. “Decus et dolor,” he said – the boy spoke theatre-slang like a professional, the product no doubt of a misspent youth poking actresses. “Kate says five minutes?”

Pen took the awful hat off, forgot his hair was braided, and ran a shaking hand through it. “Tell her I’m sick,” he said.
“So was she. Out of the window, God be thanked, or Orietta would’ve ended being poisoned in her underlinen.”
“I have forgotten the words!”

“So just go and scowl. You’re the villain, aren’t you? Five minutes.”

He could not do it. The door closed behind Mayhem, and outside he could hear a murmurous swelling of voices.
Oh God, they actually had an audience.
He couldn’t do it.
He couldn’t not do it, for they depended on him.
Pen clapped the disreputable hat back on his head and scowled at his horrible black-eyed, red-lipped reflection. “Decus et dolor,” he said to himself, swallowed hard, and stepped out into the unknown.

A SONG – A Counterblast to the Bawdy Works of the Earl of ROCHESTER

 

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THE COLONEL TO HIS LADY, WHEN ABSENT AT WAR 

ABSENT from thee as salt from meat

Then ask me not, why seek I battle?

Thy choiceless lover must retreat

To wander ‘midst the cannons’ rattle

(Lucey if you think 32 pound shot rattles you whelk you need to stand a bit closer – H.)

 

Dear from thy board then let me fly

From all the pleasures of my home

From bread not stale, and mutton pie –

Thy absence I endure to roam.

 

Far from my love I find my duty

Midst maids more fair, or finely dressed

Yet fix’d is my idea of beauty

On thy comfortable breast

 

For H___, though your love is no poet (his bloody cornet is tho’,  more’s the pity – H.)

Though flattered much, and tempted less,

He has, thank God, the wit to know it –

And the sense to love what he has, best,