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With the King at Oxford by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

OF THE KING'S GOING TO WORCESTER

[65] MY father was well remembered by some of the older sort about the King's person, as also by the Prince Rupert, elder son of the Princess Elizabeth, and so nephew to the King, who, when he was a child, had greatly favoured him. Hence, without any delay, he obtained the commission of a captain of horse. Indeed, being a man of capacity and of some experience in military matters, while most of the King's officers were wholly raw and uninstructed in the art of war, he had more weight in council than of right belonged to his rank; nor do I doubt but that, had it not pleased God to order things otherwise, he would have been promoted to a principal command. Indeed he had, very soon after his first joining the army, the chief direction of his regiment, the colonel being a young gentleman of quality, that had none of the [66] virtues belonging to a soldier save courage only, unless it is to be counted as a virtue that he knew his own ignorance, and gave a ready ear to the counsel of wiser men.

For myself, I gave my attention to things academical, and was a diligent student, exercising an industry which, I make bold to say, few others in the University excelled. This, it must be confessed, was not altogether of my own free choice; but my father would have it so. "Stick to your books," he would say, "son Philip, so long as you can. Thus for the present time you will serve your cause most effectually. If the need come for your hand, I shall not spare to call you; but remember that it is easier to take up the sword than to lay it down." Nevertheless, with my father's consent; that I might be ready for such occasion when soever it might come, I learnt my exercises, both as a foot-soldier and a trooper. (I had learnt to ride while yet a child, perfecting myself in the art during my long compelled absence from school in the time of the plague.) I had, through the bounty of my father, arms of my own, namely, a steel cap, a back and [67] breast-piece and a pike, with the other appurtenances. We trained commonly in the quadrangle of New College, the warden whereof, Dr. Robert Pink, deputy vice-chancellor, was a zealous King's man. There was a school kept in the cloisters of New College, wherein were taught first the singing boys of the chapel with which scarce any other in England can be compared), and also other youth of the town, And I remember what ado the ushers had with the lads on the training days. There was no holding them in their school on these occasions; neither tasks nor the terror of the lash could hinder them from seeing and following the soldiers.

As this year (1644) went on, it was more and more manifest that the King was in a great strait. My father would have it that he was ill served by his advisers, especially in their continual changing of their plans, which, when they had settled them after long and painful debate, they would often unsettle without sufficient cause. I have, indeed, heard him say, "If his Majesty would but trust his own judgment, which is indeed better than can be found in many of [68] them that pretend to be his advisers, and having once come by a resolution would carry it out determinately, 'twould be well for him and for his kingdom." Whatever the cause, it came to pass that in the month of May the King's affairs were in such ill case that he was like to be besieged in Oxford. The forces that he had with him were scarce a third part as numerous as those that the Parliament had arrayed against him; nor could he look for any present help from elsewhere, Prince Rupert being on his march to relieve my Lord Derby (besieged in his castle of Lathom), and Prince Maurice having sat down before Lyme in the county of Dorset, a little fisher-town which he was not like to take, and which, if taken, had been but of small account. The King therefore had to retire his troops from Reading. Abingdon also, which is not more than five miles from Oxford, was abandoned, though this was against the King's desire and even command expressly given; so that all Berkshire now was in the hands of Parliament by their two commanders, the Earl of Essex and Sir William Waller, and the King [69] was forced to draw his whole force of horse and foot on the north side of Oxford; nay more, the Parliament came into Oxfordshire, my Lord Essex getting over the Thames at Sandford Ferry (which is three miles away from Oxford), and halting on Bullingdon Green, whence he sent parties of horse up to the very gates of the city. This was on the twenty-ninth day of May. Meanwhile Sir William Waller also had crossed the Thames and was come as far as Eynsham, where he lay at my father's house, but did no damage, but was, on the contrary, cause of no small profit to John Vickers, and so through him to my father; the said John selling to him and his company poultry and eggs and the like at such a price as did, in a way, avenge the King's wrongs. Now, therefore, the King was well nigh surrounded, for some of my Lord Essex's horse had gone forward as far as Woodstock, so that there was but one vacant 'space left in the circle which the enemy had not yet occupied, to wit, between Eynsham and Woodstock, and this space was of not more than six miles.

So desperate indeed was the situation of [70] affairs that there were many now who counselled the King that he should give himself up to the Earl of Essex, to which advice he gave this answer, as my father told me who heard the very words as they came from his mouth. "'Tis possible I shall be found in the hands of the Earl of Essex, but I shall be dead first."


[Illustration]

FRIAR BACON'S HOUSE.

On the third day of June, at eleven of the clock in the forenoon, as I sat in my chamber, comes my father to me. I was reading, I remember, in the twenty-seventh book of the Histories of Livy of how the Consul Livius made a sudden march to join forces with his colleague against Hasdrubal, then threatening to combine his army with Hannibal's to the great danger of the commonwealth of Rome. My father had a more cheerful look than I had seen in him since my coming home. Indeed, he was one of them to whom the bare prospect of danger is a singular great delight, so that the whistling of a bullet near to him would rouse him as a draught of wine does other men, and would change his ordinary mood, which was somewhat grave and reserved, to a most uncommon gaiety and mirth. Says he, [71] "Son Philip, I see you are set to pull down Friar Bacon's house about your ears. Nevertheless, put away your books, if you have a mind for a ride to-night. My colonel is sick of a fever, which he contracted, I take it, from toasting the King too zealously last night at St. John's College, where they drink perilously deep. 'Tis not a serious ailment, but it hinders him at the present time from the saddle; and by the King's special word I am to have command of the regiment. Further, the King said, 'Thou wilt need some one to carry messages and the like, a young man of courage and discretion, and a bold rider. Dost know of such a one?' Then I said—let it not turn your head to hear such good opinions of yourself—'Sire, I have a son who would do his utmost to please your Majesty.' Then he would know who you were; but when he heard that you were a scholar, his face clouded somewhat, and he said, 'A scholar is best at his books. 'Tis not the least evil of this most unhappy war that it has changed this seat of learning into a [72] barrack of soldiers. Where shall I find preachers and counsellors if I turn my scholars into troopers?' But when I told his Majesty that you were diligent at your books, he said, 'Well, if the lad will take this ride as a holiday and return hereafter to his books, it shall be as you wish. Will you answer for him?' And when I said that I would it was settled that you should come. But mind, son Philip, that you do not falsify my word. And now I will have a word with Master Hood, your Rector, for the King has promised that you shall have dispensation for the rest of your term if perchance you have not kept it." And, indeed, I had kept but half of Trinity term, which begins on the Wednesday after Whit Sunday. The Rector made no hindrance, being always amenable to them that are in authority. Only he would not give me permission to be absent under his hand, which my father would gladly have had. 'Tis no need," he said; but I do suspect that he would not do aught that might be used in evidence against him. He is a good man, of wise carriage and conduct, and learning sufficient for his place but 'tis cardinal doctrine with him that [73] he must be Rector of Lincoln College. 'Tis not altogether ill with the world, he thinks, so long as that be so. Hitherto he has kept his profits and dignities while many have lost them, as I shall show hereafter; and if, to speak profanely, Fortune shall give another turn to her wheel, and the King have his own again, I doubt not we shall find Master Hood at the top in as good case as ever.


[Illustration]

KING CHARLES THE FIRST.

My father had, with no small difficulty, bespoken a horse for me, and when I had settled my small affairs at College, I went down to William Barnes his stables in S. Aldate's so as to make acquaintance with him. The first sight of him dashed me somewhat. He was, I thought, over small for me, having not more than thirteen hands in height, while my stature exceeded six feet by three inches and more. But his colour troubled me more than his littleness, for he was of the spotted kind, such as they commonly use in shows. William Barnes perceived that I was ill at ease, and would comfort me. Nay, [74] Master," he said, "'tis an excellent beast for all his queer look. A good horse is ever of a good colour, say I; and as for strength it does not always go with bigness. I warrant he would carry three of you, if his back was big enough. And if your legs be over long you must shorten your stirrups."

Nor indeed, were his commendations ill bestowed. It must be confessed that there was much laughter when I was first seen on his back, and laughter sometimes almost as ill to bear as blows. But he never failed me in any need. He never flinched at the noise of the cannons—no, not when he heard it for the first time, whereas there were, I noted, many horse that could never be trusted, but that they would carry their riders clean of the field to their no small discredit, or straight into the enemy, to their no small danger. But Spot—for so I called the beast—was ever steady and obedient to the rein, and if provender were short he was content to wait, nor yet failed in strength, however long the day's work might be. Poor Spot, he is with many another on Naseby Field. I am not ashamed to confess that though I had, God [75] knows, other and heavier griefs that day, I shed tears to think I should see him no more. But I must return to the time of which I am now speaking.


[Illustration]

HALT OF OFFICERS.

Though my father had been secret as to the purpose of the ride, as he named it, to which he called me, I had little doubt what this might be. Yet was I somewhat mistaken. For thinking that the King was intending to go forth from Oxford, where, as I have said, he was near to being surrounded, to some part where he might have freer action, and to do this with a small company of followers, I found, coming down to the north gate, which I did about half-past eight on the evening, that there was a whole army assembled. There were, as I did afterwards discover, about 6,000 men, of whom the greater part were horse. The horse were drawn up in a very fair array in Port Meadow, which had been conveniently chosen for this purpose, as lying low and so being out of sight of the enemy. The foot soldiers, marching down the lane that runs by Aristotle's Well, there joined them; and so, about nine of the clock, when it was now beginning to grow [76] dark, we set off, the horse, whereof my father's regiment was the foremost, being in front, and the footmen following after with as much haste as they might. And, indeed, besides that all were picked men, 'twas not a march in which any would desire to linger, so great was the anger lest the enemy's forces, being much more numerous, should close upon us. Theses, as I have before said, were on either side of us, but on the present occasion the army of Lord Essex was the more to be dreaded, seeing that it had pushed forward its outposts so far as Woodstock town, whereas we, marching by Picksey and Oxsey Mead, and over Worton Heath, skirted the very walls of Woodstock Park. Our chief care was concerning a certain bridge over the Evenlode River that is hard by the village of Long Hanborough, whether it were held by the enemy or no. For if it was so held we should have to fight for it, and if we fought it would be small odds whether we got the better or the worse, for we could scarce hope, being checked upon our way, to outstrip our pursuers. About midnight there was a consultation held among the leaders, whereof the [77] outcome was this, that my father with two hundred horsemen, each carrying a musqueteer behind him, rode forward with as much speed as they could command, being especially chosen for their courage and for the strength and quickness of their horses. It was purposed that these should occupy and hold the bridge at Hanborough. With these I rode, and when we were come to the bridge, and by God's providence found it vacant, says my father to me, "Son Philip, ride back to the army with all the speed you can, and tell the good news to the King." So I rode, putting spurs to my horse, though indeed the good beast needed not spur nor whip; and when I arrived at the army I found the King, with whom was the whole inception and conduct of the affair from the beginning to the end, had ridden to the front. And when he saw me, careful and troubled as he was about the matter, he had much ado to keep from laughter, so strange a figure did we show. But when he heard my news, he said, "This is excellent good tidings; never came more welcome Mercury than thou. And that need be a [78] marvellous good beast of thine, be his looks what they may, for thee to have gone and returned so speedily. But spare him now, and follow quietly."

There is no need to write of this march at length, though indeed it was marvellously well conceived and executed. Let it suffice then to say so much as follows. We proceeded without halt till the afternoon, when we came to Burford, which is distant from Oxford about sixteen miles. There we refreshed ourselves awhile, and his Majesty was so graciously disposed that he would have my father and me to sup with him and the great lords that were about his person. After supper he talked with my father awhile about military affairs, asking his opinion in the most courteous fashion; and he had also a few words with me about my books, not forgetting to warn me that I must not neglect them for any pleasures or excitements of war. About nine of the clock the King, desiring to put as much space as might be between himself and his pursuers, gave command to march, which was performed, but not without some murmuring. And, indeed, it [79] was a laborious march, for though our way for the most part lay along the valley, yet at the last, it being little short of midnight, we made a steep ascent, and so having mounted the height with no small pains, descended the same with no less to Bourton-on-the-Water. Here we rested for the night, keeping under such shelter as we could find, or, the greater part of us, under none at all. We had marched, I take it, not less than thirty miles, which is no small achievement, especially for an army that had been for many months past in garrison. The next day betimes we set forth again, the King intending at the first to halt at Evesham, but after hearing that General Waller was in pursuit, and that crossing the Avon at Stratford might so cut him off from Worcester, to which place he was bound, changed his purpose and went on without halt to Worcester. And here I must record a marvellous deliverance from instant danger that befell me on my way. 'Twas at Pershore in Worcestershire, where there is a bridge over the Avon. This the King commanded should be broken down, and gave commandment accordingly to the officer that [80] had the charge of such matters. But he being either new to his business, or overhasty to finish the matter, lest the enemy should perchance come up and find it undone, set fire to the gunpowder wherewith it was to be destroyed, before the due time. By this misadventure Major Bridges, a very skilful and courageous man, was killed, and with him also three other officers and about twenty common soldiers. I myself was like to have perished with these, being thrown into the river, by the falling of the bridge. But being somewhat before the others I escaped, for whereas they were done to death by the force of the explosion, I did but lose my footing and fall into the river. And here again my good steed showed how excellent a beast he was, for he swam most bravely against the stream, and in the end landed me on the bank, being not much the worse, save for the wetting. From Evesham the King rode to Worcester, where the townsfolk received him with much rejoicing.


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