With the King at Oxford - Alfred J. Church

Of My Kinsfolk at Enstone

My sister Dorothy and her good husband, Master Blagrove, had long been earnest with me that I should visit them; and this, though there was that which drew me elsewhere, I now purposed to do, both because I desired to see my kindred again and to learn how they fared, and because Enstone was of a convenient nearness to Oxford. Such goods as I had I put in charge of a worthy citizen, Master Mallam, a draper, that had his dwelling in the Corn-market, a good man that loved the King and the Church in his heart, but bare him so discreetly that he had the favour of the opposite faction. My books, which were indeed my chief possessions, though these also were neither many in number nor of great price, I gave into the charge of Anthony Wood, that as Bible-clerk of Merton College (which place though a King's man he had kept by the special favour of Sir Nathaniel Brent, the Warden of the said College). This Anthony was a great lover of books, and studious beyond his years, of which he at that time numbered about sixteen. These matters settled, I, taking with me only so much as I could conveniently carry on my back, and with a stout walking-staff in my hand—such as the good Bishop Jewel did lend to Master Richard Hooker, pleasantly calling it his horse—set out on my journey, which, being twenty miles or thereabouts, I accomplished in the space of six hours. I found a pleasant company gathered at Master Blagrove's house, for he had that day christened his little son, so that my coming was in season. After the first greeting, says my sister Dorothy to me:

"Now, Philip, kiss your godson; though indeed you are but a negligent godfather. Had you but come six hours sooner you had answered for yourself. As it is you must thank Master Willis here, whom I must now make known to you, for standing in your place."

"Nay, Dorothy," I answered, "you cannot rightly blame me. No man could have done to-day's business more speedily than I. This very morning, mind you, come the visitors to Lincoln College, and, my betters disposed of, call me before them. 'Philip Dashwood,' says the chief among them, Sir Nathaniel Brent, that is warden of Merton College, 'do you submit to this visitation?' 'Sirs,' said I, 'I do not submit.' 'Then you are expelled,' says the great man; and, turning to the clerk, 'Take a note of his name and sentence;' and to the manciple, 'Strike out his name from the books;' and having waited till I saw it done, I even turned on my heel, and so departed without a word. I warrant that my business filled not more than three minutes at the most. And this was scarce ten hours ago, for the visitors came to us about eight of the clock." When I had told them my tale, my sister Dorothy, who had ever a tender heart, and thought better of me than I deserved, cried out:—

"That was well, my brave Philip. I cannot be patient with the time-serving knaves who would keep their preferment at cost of their faith."

"Dorothy," said I, "mine was but a small matter, a few shillings by the year, which, in the common course, I could not have had much longer. 'Twas easy enough to give up so small a thing, but I judge not them who for wife and children's sake have strained their conscience, it may be, beyond that which is right."

As I spake, I noticed that my good brother looked somewhat grave and heavy, and so went on—

But cras seria, as some one hath it, which may be translated, Mistress Dorothy, lest, haply, you have forgotten your Latin, 'business to-morrow.' And now, Dorothy, tell me about this little Philip."

Dorothy had much to say about the babe, which I will not here set down. And when she had ended her talk, which she did, not because she had said enough concerning his beauty and goodness, but because she was constrained to depart with him and lay him in his cradle, from which he had been kept overlong, we discoursed about other things, as sport and country matters of divers kinds, buying and selling of horses and cattle and the like, with Master Willis, who was a farmer, and a person of no small consideration, seeing that he paid more tithes than any other in the parish, and was churchwarden to boot. He was in a complaining mood, for which, doubtless, he had at the time sufficiently good reason, but which seems to be common to all who follow his occupation. I suppose that they who spend their time in this business of tilling the earth have ever from day to day disappointments, unseasonable weather, promise of crops ill performed, and the like, which, though they be severally small, yet from their number and frequent occurrence worry the soul; and it is ever the way with men that little evils obscure and drive out of mind great goods.

"It has ever been a poor life with us farmers, and now it is like to be poorer still. As for sport, there is scarce a hare or a partridge in the whole country side. For that the soldiers have taken good care. There was no odds between King's men and Parliament's men. One was as keen after these things as another, and what one chanced to leave the other was sure to take. And as for merrymnaking, there is little of it left, and will soon be none. Why, 'tis a sin in the eyes of these sour-faced whining folk to eat a mince-pie; and as for baiting a bear or a bull, as has ever been done here till these bad times, we should be taken to prison for the very mention of such a thing. But these be strange times, sir. Why, our good parson himself, Master Blagrove here, if I may make bold to say so much to his face, has newfangled fancies about such things. You would scarce believe it, sir, but he will not suffer the scholars to have their cock-throwing on Shrove Tuesday. I was wont to give the bird—some tough old fellow that was become too savage, as they will, sir, when they get past their age—and the master would tie him to a stake when school was ended for the morning, and the scholars, or such of them as had been diligent at their learning, would stand in a ring round about him and throw staves at him, and the lad that gave him the mortal blow ('twas strange to see how long a bird would live) would have a shilling for himself. Then comes Master Blagrove, and talks of cruelty and the like. Now, if a man deals barbarously with a Christian, I call him cruel; but why should we care about brute beasts that, as St. Peter has it, are 'made to be taken and destroyed?'"

Perceiving that Master Willis was getting to be somewhat warm on this matter, I rose from my place and said to my host: "I am somewhat weary, and, with your good leave, will to bed." On this signal the others also went their way.

The next day I rose betimes, and seeing my brother pacing to and fro in his garden made haste to join him.

"Philip," said he, "your dear sister is a very lioness for courage, though she is gentle also and loving. I have heard tell of wives that for fear of poverty for them whom they love, have tempted their husbands to compliance with base things. Verily your sister is not one of these. She would starve, yea and see her babe starve—which, I take it, would trouble her a hundredfold more—before she would let one false word pass her lips. And I do believe in my soul that if, which God forbid, I should yield to evil for her sake and the babe's (for I could not be so base as to yield to it for my own), she would leave me sooner than have a share in the unclean thing. And being so set in her mind, and resolved what she will do, she keeps such a cheerful mind as I cannot pretend to. And, indeed, to speak the whole truth, which I scarce like to do in her hearing, 'tis a dismal prospect. Hitherto, it is true, I have been marvellously protected. My good friend Sir Thomas Chesham, who is the principal man in this part, having both a freehold of his own and a very profitable lease from the College, has stood by me, so that while others have been dispossessed of their livings, both on my right hand and my left, I remain unharmed. 'Tis true there are murmurings against me; yea, and threats openly made. Once and again have my enemies come into the church, resolved, I doubt not, had they not been hindered, to drag me from my very pulpit. 'Twas the Sunday before Easter this very year that three troopers, with their swords by their side, came, having with them a preacher in a black gown, whom they would have put in my place. When I went up to the pulpit to preach, up starts one of the troopers, and would have left his place; but Sir Thomas rose from his seat and said, 'William Ball, and you, Hugh Peters, (for I know you both), you shall answer for this day's uproar. Master Blagrove is a good man, and has not been dispossessed by any sentence of law or commission. Till he be so, he, and he only, has a right where he is, and verily so long as I am master in this parish he shall keep it.'

"After that they were content to remain in their place, and I gave the Doctor such a screed of doctrine as, I warrant you, he had not heard for a long time. You see, Sir Thomas is a man of no mean authority, having been ever on the Parliament's side from the very beginning of these troubles. He was with Master Hampden in the Ship Money matter, and has served the cause with money and otherwise, having indeed raised no small part of a troop of horse from this very place. I would he had been otherwise minded; but if it had been so he could not have served me. Nor do I know how much longer his protection will avail. For I hear, and that from the good man himself, that he is ever in less and less accord with them that have now the chief authority. He would gladly have made peace with the King and set him again on his throne, with due provision made for liberty; nor does he hold with those that cry out for a Republic. And in religion he is a Presbyterian, yet of such a sort that he is not ill-content to live under a Bishop so that he have no Popish ways. But as you know, brother Philip, these are not the opinions which find favour in high places in these days, and I know not how soon he may find even himself in danger."

"And what will you do, Master Blagrove?" for so I was wont to call him in consideration of his age, which was, I suppose, the double of mine at this time.

"I shall wait," answered he; "and when I am dispossessed suffer it with what patience I may. I have not the spirit of my good neighbour, Master Warden, of Haythrop; for when they would have intruded a new minister into his house he would not give place, but declared himself resolved not to give up his house to the usurper but with his life. Accordingly he caused his bed to be brought down into his parlour, kept his gun still charged, and had a watch set all night. Ay, and so bravely and constantly did he bear himself that the usurper had to betake himself elsewhere till Master Warden's death, which indeed happened but a few weeks since, he being then in his eighty-seventh year. He was a stout fellow, and his people loved him, for never man had a more open hand. But 'tis in my temper to yield more peaceably; for I have given pledges to Fortune, whereas Master Warden had been many years a widower, and his children had long since grown up, and gone forth into the world. But come, let us talk of other things. 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.'"

I was yet bound by my promise to Sir Thomas Fairfax (now become by his father's death Lord Fairfax) that I would not bear arms against the Parliament, the three years for which this said promise held good running until the fourteenth day of June, on which day, it will be remembered, the battle of Naseby was fought. But for this 'tis very like that I had taken part with His Majesty's friends who in this year sought to raise the kingdom on his behalf. This they did in many diverse parts, as in Wales, where certain officers that had lately fought against the King now took up arms for him, and in Essex where my Lord Capel with others held Colchester in his name; nor were they without good hope of success, the Scots being ready to help, and the fleet also setting their officers aside and submitting them to the Prince of Wales. It was well for me that things were otherwise ordered, for, as is well known, all these beginnings ended in nothing. As for myself, when I was free from my promise (which was about a month after my coming to Enstone), I tarried where I was, judging that my duty kept me there. For first my mother was very urgent with me that I should stay. His Majesty is a kind prince," she would say, "and now that I have lost my husband in his cause, will not ask from me my son also." Also I felt myself bound in kindness to my sister and her husband, that had relieved me in my need, and were now, I could perceive, in no small need of such help as I could give. For Master Blagrove, for lack of a tenant, had been constrained to farm his own glebe, which glebe was indeed the main support of his living. But what could a man do in such a business who, I do verily believe, knew not a plough from a harrow, or barley from wheat? Books on husbandry he had none, save you may reckon as such Hesiod's Works and Days, and the Georgics  of Virgil; nor, had he possessed the wisest treatises that have ever been writ, may a man get any great benefit from that which is written. And as for buying and selling, there was never a man in this world so incapable of doing these to his own profit. I have noted that 'tis always hard for gentlefolk to hold their own in the market, be they ever so shrewd and full of knowledge. But my brother, being as simple as he was good, would sell his goods for the price, be it ever so small, that was first offered to him, and would buy for whatever was asked. Here, then, I found excellent occasion to serve him and my mother and sister also, who had otherwise fared but ill. Of farming I knew somewhat, having learnt it from my father, who was himself, as l have said, well acquainted with it; and as for dealings in the market, though I doubt not I was sometimes circumvented (for your rustic look he ever so simple, is more than a match in cunning for your townsman), yet I took good care that he should not suffer any grievous wrong. And when the harvest was ended, I journeyed to Northamptonshire to see good Master Ellgood and my sweet Cicely. And there, for the land about Naseby is high and cold so that the seasons are later by far than in Oxfordshire, I was able to do service to the good man in the gathering of his corn. 'Twas a happy time indeed, for I would ply the sickle, and she, not being one of those delicate maidens that can but sit at home with their embroidery, came after me, binding the sheaves, one Gilbert Davenant, a young lad from Rugby School, helping. And when the gathering in was finished we took holiday. Sometimes we had a party at bowls (which game, as I have said, the good man liked much, taking pains beyond measure to keep his green smooth). Then Cicely and I would take sides against her father and Gilbert; in this sport I had no small skill, having followed it much at Oxford, where are bowling greens as fair and smooth as any in this kingdom; and it was my delight to bring my sweet Cicely's bowl as near as might be to the jack, for so they call the mark whereat the players aim, driving it in at sacrifice of my own, or driving off her adversaries. And we came by practice to use this alliance to such good purpose that her good father and his companion could scarce win a rubber. It must be confessed that he would sometimes lose his patience and grow angry over the game (but on grave matters I never saw his anger stirred, though indeed he had suffered no small provocation). Now and then also she would walk with me to Naseby field, when I would rehearse to her all that I knew about the battle—a tale which she was never weary of hearing. Sometimes also we would angle in the Nen, which river, though here but a petty stream, flowed but a little way eastward from her father's dwelling. It was a happy time, such as I had never before enjoyed, but it was soon to be broken through by a most grievous interruption.