With the King at Oxford - Alfred J. Church

Of Things at Home

I have said but little hitherto of our civil troubles; and, indeed, they touched us but lightly within the walls of our school. I had almost said that they did but give a new name to our sports; for whereas our factions—such as a school commonly has—had before called themselves by the names of Greeks and Trojans, or Romans and Carthaginians, according as Homer or Livy were most in our hands, so now we were King's men and Parliament's men, or Rebels, as we that were of the loyal faction would often style these latter. But it must be confessed that there was something beyond the ordinary of veritable anger in these combats; so that once or twice the partisans appeared in their places in school with broken heads or other damage, and would doubtless have so done more often but for fear of our master, Mr. Edwards, who did mete out a most severe and impartial justice to all that presumed to disturb the peace of his realm. The City folk were for the most part friends to the Parliament, and their faction had the majority of the scholars. Yet the King, too, had those that stood stoutly by him; of whom I, being tall and strong and expert in all bodily exercises, was chosen to be the leader. I do remember what a fierce battle we had on the fifth day of January, in the year 1642, which was the day following that on which the King would have seized the five members. So hot were we about it that we noted not our master coming upon us and finding us in flagrante delicto. A battle of the bees, says Virgil, is stayed by the throwing of a little dust, and we were pacified by the first sound of his voice; and, indeed, though I have had experience of sundry sights and sounds of terror, I know nothing so terrible as the voice of a schoolmaster, so he be one that hath what all have not, the true secret of rule. He had noted down the names of all the chief combatants before we were aware of him; nor did one of them escape due punishment. As for myself, being, as I suppose, of such an age, and may be strength that I could scarce be flogged, he set me to English the first book of the Pharsalia of Lucan, which treats, as all know, of the civil wars of Rome: 'Tis choice verse, doubtless, but passing difficult—or so at least I found it—and gave me but scant leisure between Epiphany-tide ('twas on the fifth day of January that the tumult was) and the beginning of Lent, a space of near upon two months. So much, then, for our mimicries of war. But now, coming home—which I did not long after my hopes at the school had been as I have said, disappointed—I found the reality. And, indeed, on my journey, which was not accomplished without peril, I had seen something of it. For coming by way of Thame—which I was advised was to be preferred because some troopers of the Prince Rupert lay at Fawley near to Henley-upon-Thames and harried all travellers with small respect of parties—and staying to bait my horse at the inn, I heard that a notable man was lying dead in one of the chambers. ('Twas Midsummer Day, I remember.) This was Master John Hampden who had been shot in the shoulder upon Chalgrove Field six days before, and being carried to Thame died there on the very day on which I chanced to pass through. His name had been much in men's mouths, and was not a little regarded even by them who judged him to have erred (of which number was I); and it troubled me not a little to hear that he had been slain, though he was an enemy to the King. I had heard before of such things, and, indeed, at Edgehill, where the King's men and the army of the Parliament under my Lord Essex had fought with doubtful success, thousands had been slain and wounded; but now I saw death close at hand for the first time; and it moved me mightily.

I found my father greatly discomposed, though at first he sought to hide his trouble by jest and banter. The first evening after my coming, as we sat by the fire, for he was one that even at midsummer would have a fire be it ever so small, he smoking his pipe, which was a custom he had learned of the Germans, he began thus with me:

"I am for the King, as you well know, son Philip; but 'twould be well if you could be persuaded in your conscience that the Parliament has the right."

I could say nothing, being struck dumb, so to speak, with astonishment. Then he went on:

"'Tis the fashion hereabouts to order things in this way, and has been since these present troubles began, as doubtless you would have known but for being away in London. See now there is Master Holmes at Upcott, t'other side of the river; he is for the Parliament, and Geoffrey his son is for the King; and Sir William Tresham, of Parton, is a staunch Cavalier, but William Tresham the younger e'en as staunch a Roundhead."

"Nay, father," said I, finding my tongue at last, "I cannot conceive that I should be found different from you in this matter."

Then he laughed and said: "Your schooling has not made your wits as nimble as might have been looked for. Dost not see how the matter stands? If the King prevail, no harm shall befall Upcott, for is not Geoffrey loyal? nor any if the Parliament get the better, seeing that Master Holmes himself hath ever been zealous for it. And for Sir William, 'tis but the same story told the other way. Master Tresham goes in the new ways, but the good knight his father loves the old; and it cannot but be that the one or the other is in the right. What say you? I am too old to change, and the world would wonder if, when I have fought for his Majesty's house, I should now turn against him; but you have been brought up among the citizens, with whom he is, I am told, in but small favour. Shall we make a Master Doubleface between us, and make the inheritance sure whatever may befall?"

What I should have said I know not, for though the matter of his speech was utterly strange to me, he showed no token but of being utterly serious; but I must have showed some distemper in my face, for before I could answer, he broke in upon me:

"Nay, son Philip, answer not. 'Tis enough. I did ill to jest on such a matter, which is indeed too serious for any words but those of soberness. Come, let us take counsel together. To live here is a thing past all enduring, at least for any man that cares not to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. An I could welcome the Parliament's men one day and the King's men the next, I might make a good profit out of both, and so fare well. But such is not to my taste. My purpose then is to put my sword to the grindstone again, and to take service with the King. I am not what I was, but I am not too old to strike a blow for the good cause. The farm I shall leave to John Vickers. 'Tis an honest man enough, but he cares not, I do believe in my heart, one groat for King or Parliament, so that he gets in the hay and corn without damage of blight or hindrance of weather. I have made a covenant with him, not in writing, but by word of mouth—for be he not honest, as indeed I do trust he is, writing will not bind him more than speech—that he shall pay so much by the year, according as the price of corn shall be. 'Twill be, as I reckon, about eighty pounds; of this I shall keep twenty for my own use, so that I shall not need to trouble the King's chest, which has, I take it, enough, and more than enough, to do. Your mother's portion is in the hands of Nicholas Barratt, a maltster of Reading, who pays six pounds per, centum, making thirty pounds by the year in all. And this, with the residue of that which comes from John Vickers she must make suffice for herself and your sister Dorothy and you. And now for yourself."

At that I brake in: "That matter is soon sped. My place is nowhere but with my father."

"Nay," said he, "you have forgotten half the commandment, which runs: 'Honour thy father and thy mother.' Thy mother and sister must needs dwell in Oxford, and I should not be content to leave them there without some man of their kindred to take their part. I doubt neither the loyalty nor the courage of those that serve his Majesty, but there are not a few among them that are somewhat loose of life, which is, indeed, but too common a fault of soldiers. You will soon see for yourself that a fair maid, such as is your sister Dorothy, could scarce stir abroad had she not you to bear her company, nor would I have you at your age in a camp; 'tis not a place for a lad, as you still are, for all your inches and broad shoulders. 'Tis the time for learning and fitting yourself for your work in life; for these wars will come to an end some day, though I doubt not that they will last so long that this realm shall be almost brought to ruin. And what would you do, being left at two or three and twenty years of age, having learnt nothing and forgotten much, and 'all thy occupation gone,' as Will Shakespeare hath it?"

It matters not what I said in answer to this. I did not yield at once, but debated the matter for awhile, being thus disappointed of my hope. But 'twas all to no purpose, for my father was resolute, and I could not but acknowledge in my heart that he had the right.

The next day, therefore, my mother and sister having for some time past bestirred themselves to get all things ready for removal, we left our home and journeyed to Oxford, lodging for a time at the Maidenhead, which is a tavern opposite to Lincoln College, till we could find a convenient dwelling in the town. This was no easy matter, for Oxford was full, it may be said to overflowing, with courtiers and soldiers. But at last, by the kindness of Mistress Wood, widow of Thomas Wood, that had died the year before, having been always a good friend to my father, we found a little house not far from Merton College. 'Twas but a poor place, having only two chambers with one parlour and a kitchen, with no garden but a little yard only (a thing which troubled the women folk much, not only because it stinted them of air and exercise, the streets being scarce fit for them to walk in, but because they were constrained to buy such trifles as parsley and mint, and everything, though but the veriest trifle, that was needed for the household). Yet we were right glad to find even this shelter, having almost begun to despair; and, indeed, we scarce suffered the former occupiers, the widow and daughter of a King's officer, newly slain in the wars, to depart before we filled their places, so fearful were we lest someone else should be beforehand with us. Nor indeed, for very shame, could we complain, seeing that Mistress Wood lived in a house that was scarce better than ours, her own having been given up to my Lord Colepepper, Ulaster of the Rolls. Nor was it a slight matter that this narrow dwelling suited our shallow purse, for shallow it was when money was so scarce and all articles of provision so dear as we found them to be in Oxford. And here let me say that neither did Master Barratt fail to pay interest on my mother's fortune, nor John Vickers his yearly rent, most scrupulously calculated according to the current price of corn. The worthy man also did send my mother many gifts of fruit and butter, and fowls and game in its season, so that although we had no superfluity, we never lacked, but could give to many that needed. Of these, indeed, there was no small number in Oxford, some of them being persons of good estate, that, having less honest tenants than John Vickers, could get no return of rent from their lands.

Me my father entered at Lincoln College, with the Rector of which, Dr. Paul Hood, he had a friendship (or I should rather say an acquaintance) of old standing. By good fortune it happened that the place of one of the four Trappes scholars fell empty beyond expectation, the scholar having taken service with the King and being killed in battle. The news came on the very day of my entering, and as I had gained some credit by answering, and much praise from them that examined me, and no one else desired the place, the vacancy being, as I have said, without expectation, I was chosen to it by a unanimous voice. 'Twas no great matter, fifty-two shillings by the year only; but 'twas, nevertheless, a welcome promotion.