This story takes place during the War of the Roses, but it does not give a comprehensive overview of the conflict and a prior knowledge of the war is helpful in following the plot. The story told by a young monk who happens to be present at several of the important battles. Many details are given concerning abbey life in England shortly before the monasteries were dissolved during the English Reformation.
KING HENRY VI.
For this fiction there is a slight foundation of fact. Stow, in his Chronicle (first published in 1565), says that a chapel was built in memory of those who had fallen in the battle of Barnet, about half a mile from the town. "It is now," he writes, "a dwelling-house; the top quarters remain yet." This somewhat obscure expression possibly means that, while the chapel itself had been dismantled, the priests' chamber above still remained. It has been conjectured that this dwelling-house still exists in a building known as Pymlicoe House, which stands on the west side of Hadley Green, at about the distance from Barnet specified by Stow. The name occurs in the register of Hadley parish, under date February 10, 1673-4, "a travelling woman from the pymblicoe house." I have taken the liberty of treating this conjecture as if it were a fact.
The personages in this story are of course imaginary, but I have endeavoured to make their surroundings historical.
The description of life at Eton is taken from a document dating from about the middle of the sixteenth century. I have ventured to ante-date it by about a hundred years. In so conservative a school the customs of 1550 might very well have been traced back for a century.
I have post-dated by about as long a time the armourer whom I describe as occupying the manor-house of the Frowykes.
There is no historical foundation for the description of the death of the Earl of Warwick; I fear that I cannot even plead that it is probable. The details of the escape of the Duke of Exeter are imaginary, but the outlines of the incident are real. This description of the election of an abbot has been transferred from John of Wheathampstead to his successor.
I must apologize for having used a style more modern than the time to which it professes to belong. The "Paston Letters" afforded me, indeed, a model which I might have imitated; but my English would have seemed intolerably harsh to my readers, and I preferred to make my chantry priest write as he might have written had he been born a century later.
I desire to express my obligations to the Rev. F. Cass, Rector of Monken Hadley, whose antiquarian knowledge has been of the greatest service to me; to Mr. Falconer Madan, one of the sub-librarians of the Bodleian, whose unfailing courtesy and kindness are known to all readers in that library; and to Mr. T. J. Jackson, of Worcester College, who communicated to me some facts about the Benedictines of Gloucester College.
I am greatly indebted to the Rev. Henry Anstey's Preface to the Munimenta Academica in the Master of the Rolls' Series; to Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy Hardy's Preface to the Descriptive Catalogue of Materials Relating to the History of Great Britain and Ireland, in the same series; to the Rev. Mackenzie Walcott's Church Work and Life in English Minsters; to the Rev. Sparrow Simpson's Chapters in the History of Old St. Paul's; and to Mr. W. Blades' monograph on William Caxton. I have also drawn much from Mr. Newcome's History of St. Albans.
PYMLICOE HOUSE, HADLEY,
October 18, 1884