With the King at Oxford - Alfred J. Church

Of Matters at Enstone

How we felt, seeing the axe fall upon that sacred head, I shall not seek to write. We stood, as it were, astonished, looking, it may be, for vengeance to fall from Heaven on the city that had suffered such things to be done in its midst. After a while, when the people were now all dispersed, and the soldiers began to look as if they would question them that still tarried, we went very sadly to our lodging, and there debated between ourselves what it were best to do. Our errand in London was now at an end; nor had we the desire to tarry there any longer; and, indeed, so to do had imperilled our lives, or, at the least, our liberty. For it was manifest that they who had slain the King were determined to make an end of the business; and whom, indeed, having done such a deed, were they like to spare? I say not that they used their power with cruelty. 'Tis not so; rather they showed more mercy than could have been reasonably looked for. Yet this was afterwards to be proved; the danger for the present seemed imminent.

On the fourth day of February, therefore, John Ellgood and I departed from London, habited in Roundhead fashion for greater security of travelling. But there was no watch kept on them that would leave London, so we met with none to question us on our road. We travelled on foot, a mode that suited the slenderness of our purses, and also lent itself more readily to secrecy, for a man can hide himself when he cannot hide his horse; and on the third day came to our journey's end.

We found Dorothy and her husband in no little trouble; not yet, indeed, dispossessed but almost daily expecting so to be. At supper, Master Blagrove set forth to us how his affairs stood.

"I doubt," said he, "but that the end is well nigh come; and, indeed, I marvel, not without thankfulness, that it has been delayed so long:

'Quern sors dierum cunque dabit lucro Appone,'

as the poet Horace has it. And, indeed, I have had many days that have been denied to my neighbours. But for more, I can scarce hope. The good knight, my patron, is in disgrace with the powers that be, and can scarce keep himself out of prison, much less help his friends. Therefore, I am looking every day for a summons, and can but pray for God's grace to help me play valiantly a confessor's part."

And even while he was speaking his expectation was fulfilled, for there came a loud knocking at the door, and soon after a message, brought into the parlour, which the little country-maid could scarce deliver for fear, that a constable would speak with the parson.

"Let him come in hither," quoth my brother, whereupon the constable comes into the parlour. He was a rough fellow and given to some insolence of speech, but now he was civil enough, partly, may be, seeing he had to do with them that could presently chastise any liberty of speech; and partly, I do believe, because he was ashamed to show rudeness to so gracious a woman as was my sister Dorothy, and Master Blagrove that was honoured both for courtesy and learning through the whole country side. He now delivered a brief to my brother, excusing his coming as a matter of necessity, and so, having first drunk a cup of ale to our health, which he did though 'twas against his principles, presently departed.

The brief summoned my brother to appear the day following at ten of the clock in the forenoon, at a tavern in Enstone, before certain Commissioners therein named, there to answer sundry charges made against his doctrine and manner of life. We had much talk about the matter, sitting up together till near upon midnight, but there was small comfort to be got concerning it, and I could see that my brother had no hope of a good ending.

The next day when he came back from the sitting of the Court (which was not till about three of the clock in the afternoon), he seemed somewhat more cheerful of aspect; but Dorothy crying to him, "Things, then, are better than you looked for," he said, "Nay, sweet love, 'tis only that I am easier in my mind, as a man will be, after long battling for life, when sentence has been pronounced, even though it be sentence of death. But hear my tale. As for the goodly list of Commissioners, 'twas, as I expected, all moonshine. There was not present one gentleman of birth and education. Timothy Fenn, the miller, whom they had chosen for their president, was as good a man as any; and Timothy, as you know, though passably honest, is not a shining light either for wit or knowledge. Others were rude fellows that could scarce put their names to a paper, and one or two had been to my knowledge in time past men of evil life; what they are I know not, but they were, I noted, especially bitter against me. But now for their doings. First, they examined me concerning doctrine. Were I to tell you what they said, what questions they asked, and in what way they received my answers, 'twould sound as a foolish jest. Let it suffice to say that there was not one that knew a word of Greek or even of Latin. When I quoted a few words of this last they took it as an affront, though it was but a common saw that every lawyer, and many a one that is no lawyer, has on the tip of his tongue. When I offered to prove that I had taught nothing but 268 what was agreeable to Holy Scripture and the Fathers, they stopped me peremptorily. 'As for the Fathers, we desire to hear nothing of such papistical writers; but as for Scripture it is not you, but we that must be judges of what agrees thereto.' But these questions kept them but a little while; and, indeed, they were not at their ease in them.

"After this they proceeded to examine me about certain things in my life and conversation. I marvelled what charges would be brought against me, for, though I am not blameless, God knows, yet I have always walked soberly and discreetly, even denying myself in what I judged to be lawful recreations that I might not give offence to any; for I know that in these times any stick is good enough to beat a dog withal, especially if the dog be a poor parson.

"'We are credibly informed,' says Master President, 'that you have been seen coursing hares on the Sabbath day. What say you to this?'

"For a while I could say nothing, having no remembrance of anything that could be made to bear such a colour; but at the last I remembered something that might by great malice and ingenuity be so interpreted. My brother going abroad after Naseby fight, gave me a greyhound to keep, and though I cared not much for the beast, this kind of dog having but little in him of wit or of affection, I received him for his master's sake. Well, walking abroad one Sunday evening, for the poor creature had been kept at home for some days by ill-weather, a hare chanced to cross my path, which the dog, almost before I could speak his name, had caught and killed. I thought that none had been offended in the matter, save, may be, my patron, and his pardon I had, when I confessed my offence to him. Master President looked mighty grave when I told my story, and said that the Court would consider it.

"After this breaks in another Commissioner with, 'We have been informed, Master Parson, that you were seen to stand by a bonfire some three years since.'

"''Tis true,' said I, 'I do remember hearing a great shouting in the village; I went forth and found three parts, as I should guess, of my parishioners assembled about a bonfire, but I had no other concern with it.'

"'Know you not,' said the Commissioner, that there is something superstitious and papistical about bonfires?'

"'This, at the least,' said I, 'was not papistical, for 'twas lighted on the fifth of November, and the people had burned—for so I heard, being myself too late to see it—the effigies of the Pope of Rome.'

"Then another Commissioner had his turn at me. 'We have heard that you suffer your children to play at cards for pins. Is this so?'

"'Am I bound,' said I, 'to answer any question to my own damage?' (For I was minded to have a little sport with them.)

"'We shall know how to interpret your silence,' says Master President.

"'Nay, then,' said I, 'if I must answer, I will. Children I have not, but one child only, a babe of six months only, who, I warrant you, so careful a mother has he—has never so much as had a pin in his fingers. And as for cards, he knows no more of such things than you yourself, Master Commissioner,' at which speech he reddened, having been not so long since, till he found his account in other ways, a noted card-player and gamester. To make a long matter short, they made out no case against me, for all that they brought every good-for-nothing fellow in the whole country side to give testimony against me. But I build not on this; I know right well that sentence was passed on me before ever I came into court."

And so indeed it turned out. Two days after my brother was summoned by the Commissioners to appear before them, and received sentence of deprivation, but to have as a solatium  one fifth part of the proceeds of the living. This fifth part, I should here say, he never received, for the intruding minister alleged that he had some temporal means of his own, and that he had but one child (which was true, but scarce relevant, seeing that one child must eat as well as two), and that he himself could scarce get anything of tithes; which also I believe, for the farmers, who love not paying tithes at any time, were more especially set against them when they were to be received by the intruding minister.

My brother had angered some of the Commissioners by the freedom of his answering, and receiving warning that he had best be absent when the sentence was executed, went into hiding in a neighbour's house. The next day comes the constable, with some soldiers at his back, with a warrant to apprehend his person, and was greatly enraged when he found that the bird was flown. He and his fellows had at the best but little civility in them, and this they had done their best to banish by too plentiful cups, and indeed they behaved themselves more like savages than Christian men. They searched the house through for my brother, the constable running his sword two or three times through the bed from which my sister was but newly risen (for they came before seven o'clock in the forenoon), pretending that he might be there hidden. All the stores in the house they wasted most cruelly, spoiling that which they could not carry away. Indeed, they were bent on insult rather than plunder. Thus the troopers pulled the bridles off their horses, and whipped them round the garden to tread all under foot. After that they brake open the barn door and turned them into the sacks of corn to fill their bellies. Indeed, they would have burned the barn and all the hay and corn, but that the neighbours hindered them, fearing the fire for their own stack-yards. Nor would these suffer them to profane the church, which they would have done under cover of destroying papistical ornaments. Verily, I know not what these savages would have left undone but for the singular affection which the people had for my brother, who, indeed, had well discharged his priest's office among them since his coming into the parish, ministering without wearying both to their souls and bodies. Many of his brethren suffered worse things than he, especially in the cruelties that were wrought upon their wives and children, for these poor creatures were ofttimes driven out of their homes in the very depth and severity of winter, and forced to find such shelter as they could in barns and stables, and to live upon any broken victuals which they could beg or pick up, robbing the very swine. I know that the clergy which suffered such things were not blameless. Some had borne themselves haughtily and wantonly in the day of their prosperity, as lords of God's heritage rather than as shepherds of the flock; and some had been careless livers, or worse, tippling at ale-houses, or wandering about the country to bull-baiting, and village feasts, and church ales, where they brought the name of the Church into great disrepute. That these were rightly dispossessed I deny not. Such men are not worthy to labour in the garden of the Lord. But many pious men also suffered for nought else than that they kept that which they had vowed and promised. And when they who are now trodden under foot shall get the upper hand, as I doubt not they will—before we that are now young are come to middle-age—they, I fear me, will use the same cruelty. So does wrong beget wrong, and hatreds are stored up for the time to come that many generations shall not exhaust. I pray God that He may give my countrymen a better mind.