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The Chantry Priest of Barnet by  Alfred J. Church




[215] AS for myself I was busied that day, and indeed not that day only, with my priest's office. What I did while the battle yet raged in its fury I cannot tell even if I would, for the dying were carried without ceasing to where I stood in the rear of the King's army—and there were other priests with me, to wit, the parsons of East Barnet and of Chipping Barnet and of South Mimms, and another whom I knew not—and there I shrived, and if time served, delivered the sacraments, but to whom I gave them I cannot remember, save only that the Lord Cromwell, son of my lord of Essex, and of near kin to King Edward, was among them. He died in the space of about an hour, having been sorely wounded by a lance in the right side, [216] and was buried, I have heard, in the Abbey of Westminster. But one matter which I do remember I will relate, for it is noteworthy. About eleven of the clock, the battle being but just ended, there cometh a serving-man in a black habit, without arms, and holding a white flag in his hand, crying, "Is there here a priest?" And when I had said that I was such, he said, Wilt thou come where there is need of thee?" And at that instant it chanced that the King, for he was standing nigh, having lighted down from his horse, looked towards us. Now he, I have heard say, remembereth every face that he hath seen—which is often the wont of kings and other great folk—and he said to the serving-man, "Surely thou art body servant to the Earl of Warwick?" And the man answered, "Yea, my lord, if indeed he liveth, for I left him at the point to die. Wilt thou of thy Christian charity suffer this priest to see him?" And the King said to me, "Go with all speed, for I would not that my worst enemy should lack spiritual help in his need, and verily Lord Warwick was once my good friend." So I went with the serving-man, it might be the [217] space of half a mile or thereabouts. Then, under a great tree (it was an elm, I mind me, and the leaves were partly grown and small, so that the sun shone through them), I came upon the Earl, and by him certain of the King's soldiers, for his own followers had fled for their lives. His head was uncovered, and his face deathly pale, and his eyes shut, so that I could scarce believe that he yet lived; but when his servant put a cordial to his mouth, he opened his eyes. Then as I drew near he said, but so as I could scarce hear him, "My brother." And the serving-man made as though he would say that he was dead, for so much I understood from the moving of his lips. Thereupon I answered, "He is at peace." For the Marquis Montagu lay dead hard by. Then the Earl said, "It is well. And now I will make confession." So I beckoned with the hand to them that stood by that they should go back a space. Then he made his confession, very brief, for the time was short; and indeed I had scarce said absolvo te when he died. God have mercy on his soul! A great prince he was, and of a noble spirit. Temperate he was, and of a [218] cleanly life, and his hand was ever open to the poor, nor was he covetous of wealth; but of power he could have never enough.



After these things I returned to my place. And the King, who was now ready to depart—for he returned to London that same afternoon said to me, "How fares it with the Earl?" And I answered, "He is dead." "And the Marquis Montagu?" "He was dead before my coming." Then the King seemed somewhat moved, and indeed he had always loved the Marquis the better of the two brethren. After he said to one of them that stood by, "See that their bodies have no hurt, and let their kinsfolk bury them where they will" (and this was done at the Abbey of Bisham-by-Thames, hard by Marlow town). And to me, "Stay thou here, where there be many that need thy help; and after return to thy abbey, where thou shalt hear somewhat from me anon." After this he departed, having first given charge of our welfare to a certain John Borrett, an armourer of the City of London, yet dwelling in the manor-house of Thomas Frowyke. Master Borrett would have had me to dine with him, and [219] indeed it was full late, being already past one of the clock, but there came a messenger from the chaplain of Hadley, saying that he desired my presence. And when I went I found the chapel, which is small and almost ruinous, filled with wounded men. And the chaplain, though indeed he was not the chaplain, but a deputy only, was in great strait. He was a brother of the Abbey of Walden, in Essex, which is a House of the Benedictines (for Hadley belongeth to Walden), and a young man, newly ordained to the priesthood, that had not, for so he said, before heard a confession. Willingly therefore did I render him such help as I could. Of these wounded four died before sunset. The others were disposed in the houses of certain charitable inhabitants; but one could not be moved, so sorely wounded was he, but remained perforce in the chapel till the Tuesday in Easter, when he also departed this life. Among them that died was one Peter Le Sueur, a squire of Ghent, in Flanders, with whom, because he could speak no English, I held converse in the Latin tongue, in which he was indifferently well versed. He had followed, for [220] so he said, the Duke of Exeter to the battle, and he made entreaty to me that I would serve the Duke, if by any means I could. "For," said he, "I think that he still liveth. That he was not wounded to the death I know, for we fell together, and having some slight skill in surgery, I bound up his hurt, which was in the outer part of the thigh. And he hath a servant, or one that was a servant in time past, dwelling in these parts, who is faithful to him (as indeed he should be, for the Duke is a noble prince). But what hath befallen him I know not, for they carried me to this place, but him they left, thinking, haply, that he was dead." To him I made answer that I was but a brother of St. Albans, and had no power nor wealth, but would give the Duke such help as I could.

I doubted much if I could do aught in the matter; nevertheless by chance, or, I should rather say, by the good ordering of God, there came in my way an occasion of rendering the Duke some service. For that same night as I sat after supper with Master Borrett the armourer, with whom, as I have before written, [221] I lodged, the talk fell upon the said Duke after this manner. Saith Master Borrett," 'Tis strange that I, being by trade a maker of arms, should mislike war. But, in truth, I never thought so ill of it as I have this day and yesterday. The citizens of London have ever favoured, as haply thou knowest, the cause of King Edward, for the King favours the commons against the nobles, and in time past when I was a captain in the train-bands, I have even struck a blow for his Grace. Therefore was I ill at ease when yesterday cometh my lord Warwick with an army, not knowing how I should fare. The women folk indeed I sent away now a month since, and they are safe at my house in Eastchepe, but I myself was minded to abide and put as bold a face on the matter as I could. So soon, therefore, as the Earl was come to Barnet plain, I made myself ready to get speech with him. And when I was admitted to his presence I said that my poor house was at his disposal if he would lodge therein himself or dispose there any of his captains. And he thanked me, being a courteous prince, though indeed he could, had he chosen, have taken all that I had by force. So [222] it was ordered that my lord of Exeter, with his following, that is to say, two knights and four esquires, should lodge with us. And so it was; nor indeed could I have found better had I been free to choose out of all the host. For the Duke bore himself with all kindness and courtesy, as did also the knights and esquires in their degree, for indeed there is not a truer proverb than Like master, like man. I had talk with him about foreign parts, especially about Flanders, in which country he hath sojourned of late, and about the following of my own trade in those parts, of which matter he hath no small knowledge. Nor did I favour him the less because he hath John of Gaunt to his great-grandfather." When he said so much my good host brake off his speech and was silent for a space. Then he said, "I am not one of those who can keep silence of that which is in their hearts; and I hope also (but how I know not, for thou hast not touched on the matter) that to thee I may speak safely. Thou knowest that John of Gaunt was a favourer of Master John Wiclif, who, though I hold not with all that he taught, [223] was, I take it, a true servant of God. And it was of him and his protection that Master John was saved from the fire, and endured not while yet alive that which after his death was done to his bones. Wherefore I hold the said John of Gaunt and all his kindred in honour, and would gladly serve one of his house if occasion should offer. As for the Duke, whether he be dead or alive, I know not. For so soon as he and his company were gone forth in the morning—and this they did before break of day—I drew up the bridge, suffering none to go forth from my house till the battle should be ended. And when one of my hinds brought me tidings that the victory was with King Edward, I issued forth; but of the Duke I have neither seen nor heard aught." Then I stretched forth my hand to him and said, "Of Master Wiclif we will speak, if time shall serve, hereafter. Let it now suffice to say that herein thou hast judged rightly of me. Thou shalt have no ill word of me because thou honourest him. But now as to the Duke I have somewhat to say," and I told him how that I found Peter Le Sueur in Hadley Chapel, [224] and what the young man had said to me. Then said Master Borrett, "I noted the young man that he had an honest and kindly look, but I could not talk with him. It troubleth me to hear that he is dead. But now as to the Duke. That there is one dwelling in these parts who was servant to him before he was banished, I know. 'Tis one Ruthland, and he dwelleth some six furlongs hence on the right hand of the way as thou goeth to South Mimms. Maybe, if the Duke, as thou sayest, was not slain outright in the battle, he is in hiding in John Ruthland's dwelling. But more of this hereafter. I will consider myself what had best be done. Meanwhile 'tis the hour of sleep, which, if thou be like unto me, thou must by this time sorely need." So he took me to my chamber, a fair room and well furnished. And that night I dreamt not, as I had feared, of that which I had seen and heard that day, but of things long past, being again, in my fancy, a scholar of Eton College.

The next day the country folk there round about dug two great trenches wherein to bury the dead, putting them of the King's part in [225] one, and those of the Earl's part in the other. And the parsons and chaplains of the neighbouring parishes said the appointed prayers over them, taking them by fifties and by hundreds, in which pious work I also did my part.

The next day, being the Tuesday in Easter, saith Master Borrett the armourer to me, "I hear from one of my hinds that there is certainly some in hiding in the house of John Ruthland. 'Tis very like that 'tis the Duke. Canst thou get speech with him, thinkest thou? They will trust thee rather than me, who am known in these parts as a favourer of the King." And this I said that I would do. So the next day being market-day (for buying and selling will go on though the world be turned upside down), I lay in wait, so to speak, for John Ruthland at a certain place in the road where none were like to note our meeting. And when he came by I saluted him, making signs that I would speak with him. I noted that his regard was somewhat troubled and fearful, but he did not refuse to tarry. Then I said, "Tell me, if thou wilt, how one should go to the priest's [226] dwelling at South Mimms." And when he had told me, I asked him two or three questions more of persons and places thereabouts, to which, when he had answered as briefly as courtesy permitted, he said, "Pardon me, father, but business presseth, and I must away." Then I said, "Tarry yet one moment. Dost thou know one Peter Le Sueur?" And before he could answer—for I saw that he was greatly troubled—I said, "I am a friend, and one that may be trusted," and so told him that which I had heard in the Chapel of Hadley. Thereupon he said, "Father, it seemeth to me that I have no choice but to trust thee. May God deal so with thee as thou dealest with the Duke, for indeed he is in hiding at my house." Then I told him of Master Borrett's good-will, and it was agreed between us that he should come after nightfall to the house and take counsel with him. And when he was come, saith Master Borrett, "I have considered the matter with myself, and my thought is this. To order things so that the Duke should escape beyond seas were a hard matter and a perilous; nor indeed could I answer to my lord the King [227] if one of his enemies should pass by my help to some place where he could again conspire against him. But there is at Westminster a sanctuary to which if he can but win, he shall be safe. Now I have a waggon which passeth over the road between Barnet town and London once or twice in the month. 'Tis well known for mine, and I am known for a favourer of the King; so that I doubt not it will go without question. The Duke shall ride therein, clothed as a serving-man, and, for more safety, shall feign to be sick. But say, Master Ruthland, how doth he fare in' health?" Saith he, "I have not had the leech to him, for this is a secret which is best in the keeping of as few as may be. But my good dame hath some skill in dealing with wounds, and she adviseth me that he is doing well. But he can scarce travel for seven days or so." "That is small loss," said Master Borrett; "this week, I doubt not, they will watch the sanctuary with much diligence, but the next they will slacken their care. But do thou bid the Duke be of a good courage, for that things will doubtless go well with him."

And so indeed it fell out. On the twenty [228] fourth day of April I came back to the Abbey, and four days after cometh Master Borrett and had speech with me in the strangers' parlour. Saith he, "All went well as a man could desire. On the morrow after thy departing I sent the waggon, and with it the Duke clothed as a serving-man. And this day I chose because it was a holiday, being the Feast of St. Mark. As I did suppose, there was no question asked on the road. And indeed for greater safety I did myself travel with the waggon, thinking also that if discovery should be made, I being present might the better excuse my own part in the matter. So being arrived in London about eleven in the forenoon, we had dinner at my house in Eastchepe. And after dinner we went by water from the Bridge where indeed I have my own boat, to Westminster, the Duke being still habited as a serving-man—and for better concealment he had shaved his lip. Now I had so ordered the time of our going that the folk were even then gathering for Evensong. With these we past into the church, the Duke walking heavily, as one that was yet feeble. And I said to a verger of my acquaintance, 'Let us in, [229] I pray, by a private door, for the man is sick, and would make a vow for his health's sake at the shrine of the Confessor.' And this he did. More I cannot tell thee, for I judged it well to leave him at the shrine, having indeed done what I could. But the next day it was noised abroad in London that the Duke of Exeter had taken sanctuary, and that the King had promised him his life, confirming it by an oath. I pray God that it, may, go well with him."

At this present I have nothing more to write, but wait for what shall happen. But I do pray with all my heart that it be not such as hath befallen me, of late. There are yet wars and rumours of wars in the land, and the King, with his brothers of Clarence and Gloucester, goeth westward with an army.

Friday, the tenth day of May, 1471.

Though I be not a chronicler of the affairs of the realm, yet do I feel constrained to set down the tidings which have been just now brought to the abbey, that on Saturday there was fought a great battle at Tewkesbury in which the King did altogether vanquish his adversaries, that [230] the Prince Edward, whom some call Prince of Wales, was slain, but whether in the battle or after the battle, seemeth to be doubtful; that the Duke of Somerset, and other nobles with him, were taken and beheaded; also that Queen Margaret was taken prisoner. And it was told also that before the armies joined battle the Duke of Somerset did slay with his own hand the Lord Wenlock, whom he did suspect of drawing back from the fight. As at Barnet it was treachery, or the fear of treachery, that brought the Earl of Warwick to ruin, so has it been with his friends and companions at Tewkesbury. Verily it is true that a house divided against itself falleth.

The fifteenth day of May, 1471.

This day came news that the Bastard of Falconberg sailing up Thames with a fleet of ships, landed at Blackwall, and thence marched upon the City; which for a time he seemed like to take, but the citizens were staunch, and so drave him back to Stratford in the county of Essex; that on Monday, the thirteenth of this month, he came again near to the walls with a great host of peasants, but hearing that the [231] King was at hand with his army; fell back upon his ships, and so departed. The messenger also said that the King rode into London before his army on Tuesday, and that the same evening it was noised abroad that King Henry was dead. And the cause, 'twas said, was his vexation and displeasure, but there were some that whispered that he was done to death by the King's command. On this matter I say nothing save this, first, that men have ever been suspicious about the deaths of princes, more especially if such have had any notable opportuneness of time; and second, that King Henry had of a certainty suffered such vexation as might well have ended his' life. What hath he not endured in loss of fortune and friends, and scorn and contumely, from the day, now nineteen years past, when I and my companions did see him in his garden at Windsor! God rest his soul, for he was a pious prince, though indeed most unhappy, and who give peace to this realm, which hath suffered such misery as no man can write. Of the nobles, two parts at the very least have perished either in the field or on the scaffold; and the land hath been [232] wasted with fire and sword, so that no small portion of it lieth desolate and without increase; and the merchants are impoverished with loans and benevolences; and even the Church lands are sorely burdened with mortgages. 'Tis a bloody ending that there hath been to these troubles; but if so be 'tis an ending, men, for the most part, will be satisfied.

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