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With the King at Oxford by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

OF MY BIRTH AND BRINGING-UP

[1] MY father was the son of a gentleman of Oxfordshire that had a small estate near to the town of Eynsham, in that county. The monks of Eynsham Priory had the land aforetime and 'twas said that here, as elsewhere, there was a curse upon such as held for their own uses that which had been dedicated to God's service. How this may be I know not, though there are notable instances—as, to wit, the Russells—in which no visible curse has fallen on the holders of such goods; but it is certain that my father's forbears wasted their estate grievously. Being but the third son, he [2] had scarce, in any case, tarried at home; but, matters being as they were, the emptiness of the family purse drove him out betimes into the world. Being of good birth and breeding he got, without much ado, a place about the Court, which was not, however, much to his liking. I have heard him say—and this, though, as will be seen hereafter, he was a great lover of monarchy—that, between a weak king and villainous courtiers, Whitehall was no place for an honest gentleman. Robert Carr, that was afterwards Earl of Somerset, he liked little, and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, he liked yet less, being, as he was wont to say, by so much a greater villain than Somerset as a duke is greater than an earl. He was right glad, therefore, to leave the "sunshine of the Royal presence;" for so did men speak of the Court in the hyperbolical language of those times, even for so dismal and outlandish a part as Ireland. But I know not whether he did not wish himself back, for of Ireland he would never afterwards speak with any measure of patience, declaring that he knew not which were the worse, the greediness and cruelty of the [3] English conquerors, or the savagery and unreason of the native people. Here he tarried for some three or four years, having, indeed, had bestowed upon him an estate, which, for its boundaries, at least, was of considerable magnitude, but from which he received nothing but trouble. Who hath it now I know not; and, indeed, he charged me to have nought to do with it, saying for I remember his very words—"If they will give thee the whole island in fee, say them nay, for it is fit for nothing but to be drowned under the sea." Yet his next venture was not one whit happier, as will be readily concluded, when I say that he took service with Sir Walter Raleigh, whom he chanced to fall in with at Cork, at which place Sir Walter touched on his way to the Indies in search of gold. Gold got they none, but of hard blows not a few, and of pains and sickness still more. My father was with the boats that sailed up the river Orinoco, and caught in his arms, I have heard him say, Walter Raleigh the younger, when this last was slain by a bullet from a Spanish arquebuse. From this voyage he came back beggared in purse and [4] not a little broken in health; to the end of his days indeed he suffered much at times from the fever that he contracted in those parts. The year following that wherein Raleigh was beheaded, came what seemed at the first sight good news, namely, that the Bohemians had bestowed the crown of their country upon the Elector of Bavaria, husband to the Princess Elizabeth, the king's daughter. Thereupon there arose such a tumult of joy throughout the country as the oldest man living scarce remembered to have heard before. There was nothing too good to be hoped for as about to come from this promotion. Indeed, I have heard my father say that he was himself present when the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Abbott) preached a sermon wherein he declared that this event was foretold in Scripture, naming even the chapter and verse, which were, if I remember right, in the Book of the Revelation. My father was carried away with the rest, and having, as may well be thought, a special gift for choosing for his own that which should be the losing side, forthwith took service with the Elector, to whom King James, though [5] scarce approving of the cause, sent at this time auxiliaries to the number of four thousand. In this army my father had a captain's commission, with pay to the amount of four shillings by the day—handsome wages, only that he never received of them so much as a doit. Nor did the campaign recompense the defect of gains by any excess of glory. It was, indeed, as barren of laurels as of gold; and my father, who, being favourably known of old time by the Princess, was appointed to command the guard of the Elector, arrived in his Highness's company at the Hague without a penny in his pocket, and scarce a coat to his back.

But now behold a turn of Fortune's wheel. While he lingered in Holland, not from choice, indeed, but from compulsion, seeing that he did not possess the wherewithal to pay his passage to England, came news of an inheritance that had fallen to him, being nothing less—or, may be, I should rather say, considering its poverty, nothing more—than the family estate. This fell to my father by the death of his two elder brothers, who both expired of a fever on the same day. And this day, so strangely do things [6] fall together in this world, was the very same as that on which all his worldly hopes seemed to have been overset, that is, the 8th of November, in the year 1620, when the Elector Palatine was utterly defeated by the Duke of Bohemia. My father then, coming, as I have said, to Holland this same winter with the Elector, there heard of his inheritance, not, indeed, without some natural regret for the cause that had brought it to him, yet, because his brothers were older by far, and akin by half-blood only, and strangers by long interruption of acquaintance, not sorrowful overmuch.

The said inheritance was, as may be gathered from what has been written above, a mighty poor thing, being, after all debts and encumbrances were paid, but of sixty pounds value by the year at the most. Nevertheless, for a poor, battered soldier that had no way to earn his bread, 'twas by no means to be despised. Veterans that have passed through the wars—if my father, that was but just thirty years of age, may be so called—do commonly love the quietude of a country retreat (and it was thus that Augustus Caesar and others did reward [7] their legions); and my father affected this manner of life as readily as did ever old soldier in the world, and, being a man of useful parts, he turned his sword into a ploughshare with good result, and this not only of profit of money, but of health also. Being thus set up, both in body and estate, he took courage to ask in marriage a maiden of those parts, Cicely Harland by name. She was the daughter of a gentleman that had a like estate with my father, only it was without encumbrance, so that Mistress Cicely was not ill-provided with a portion. My father, whose name—for this I have not yet mentioned—was Philip Dashwood, married Mistress Cicely Harland in the month of September, 1623. Of this marriage were born two children; first, my sister Dorothy, in August, 1624, and secondly myself, a Philip also, who came into this troublesome world on Christmas Day, 1625, having as my birthright as the gossips say, the gift of seeing spirits though this I have never yet, to my knowledge, enjoyed. My first teaching, save the very rudiments which my dear mother did impart to me, was from Master William Hearnden, par- [8] son of the parish, to which, indeed, he had been presented by my father in the vacancy before described. They had been close friends in that luckless campaigning in Bohemia, where Master Hearnden was chaplain to the English regiment—ay, and on occasion also, I have heard say, captain also; for he was, as the country folk say, "a man of his hands." Not the less was he a virtuous and godly clerk, and a sound scholar also, and with a rare gift which scholars, be they ever so sound, have not always—of teaching that which he knew.

On January the 6th, 1633, being then twelve days past my eighth birthday, I was entered of the Merchant Taylors' School, at Laurence Pountney, in the City of London, by the presentation of William Harford, kinsman to my mother, that was one of the Court of the said Company. Mr. Edwards was then master of the school, and remained so during the time of my continuance there.

At the first I lodged in the house of Master William Rushworth, that was a merchant of timber, and dwelt in the Strand, of whom and of whose house more hereafter.

[9] Within a few weeks of my coming I saw what my elders told me was the finest spectacle that had been seen in London within the memory of man, that is, a mighty grand masquerade, with which the gentlemen of the four Inns of Court entertained their Majesties King Charles, and Henrietta of France, his Queen. I was yet too much of a child to have any clear understanding of what I saw, though the number of men and horses, the splendour of scarlet and purple, of gold and silver, and all the magnificence of the show made a notable mark on my mind. But I heard much talk about it in after times; and, indeed, till the late troubles came upon the country, there was nothing of which there was more frequent mention than of this same masquerade. Thus it came to pass that, filling up what I observed at the time with that which I heard afterwards, I came to have such a notion of the matter as might have been conceived by one much older than I then was. If, therefore, I may join together what was afterwards told to me with what I remember of myself, this masquerade was shown on Candlemas Day, which is the second day of February, [10] the procession starting from Chancery Lane when it was now dusk. First came twenty footmen in scarlet liveries, with silver lace, each carrying a torch. These were the Marshal's men that cleared the way, and with them came the Marshal himself, an extraordinary proper handsome gentleman, riding one of the King's horses, with two lackeys, each carrying a torch, and a page that bare his cloak. After these came a hundred gentlemen, five and twenty from each Inn of Court, riding on horses, the finest that could be found in London, and apparelled as bravely as men could be. After these again came what was styled the antimasque, cripples and beggars on horseback, mounted on the poorest, leanest jades that could be gotten out of the dirt-carts and elsewhere. These had their proper music of keys and tongs, making the queerest noise that can be imagined, but yet with a sort of concert. Then followed another antimasque, this time of birds. The first portion was men on horseback, playing on pipes and whistles, and other instruments by which the notes of birds may be imitated; the second was the birds them- [11] selves among which I specially noted an owl in an ivy bush. What these creatures were I knew not at the time, but learnt afterwards that they were little boys put into covers of the shapes of the birds. After these came that which pleased the people mightily, and at which I laughed heartily myself, though not knowing why: this was a satire on the projectors and monopolisers from whom the realm had long suffered. First there was a man riding on a very mean steed that had a great bit in his mouth; and on the man's head was a bit, with reins and headstall fastened to it, and a petition written for a patent that no one in the kingdom should ride their horses save with such bits as they might buy of him. Second to him was another with a bunch of carrots on his head and a capon in his fist, and he had a petition also for a patent, that none should fatten capons save with carrots and by his licence. Behind these came other horsemen, and last of all four chariots, one for each Inn of Court, these being the most splendid of all. The King and Queen were so mightily pleased with this pageant that they desired to see it [12] again. Thereupon the Lord Mayor invited their Majesties to a banquet in the Merchant Taylors' Hall, and the same masque was there again performed, the procession having gone eastward this time. And we scholars of the school were privileged to see it from a gallery that was set apart for us.


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