Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart
Act of Attainder, Assizes, Cain, Chief justice, Colchester oysters, Dame Alice Lisle, Ellingham, equivocation, Great Hall Winchester, John Hickes, Judas, Judge Jeffreys, Kings Bench, Machiavelli, Milk human kindness, Monmouth Rebellion, Moyles Court, Nelthorpe, Nero, Presbyterian, Satan, The Eclipse, The Rising Sunne, The Tower, treason, Wapping, Whigs, Winchester
A re-blog from August, 2013
THE EQUIVOCATION OF THE FIEND
Maybe a writ of Habeas Corpus will liberate me from my confinement
and then I can steal away from this loathsome Tower and gain passage
abroad, but there is no Court competent to assist me in this wise and now
I am fast losing strength. I am supposed to be thankful for the protection
I have, while the country demands that a retrospective Act of Attainder
should result in my condemnation for multitudinous murders.
The wheel has come full circle. A mob had congregated outside my
house in Duke Street and mocked the bills which announced the sale of
my property. Women screamed, offering me their garters that I should
hang myself thereby and men raged, advising me to cut my own throat.
I downed another bottle of brandy and shut out their clamour.
However, I seemed to have one remaining friend – someone who knew of
my predilection for Colchester oysters. A barrel had been left for me at
the Tower and I burst its bands eagerly. Inside there was naught but
shells and a halter. I apprehended its hint. The delivery youth jeered:
“Canst tell how an oyster makes its shell?”
He is not so dim as he looks.
Imagine: Chief Justice of the King’s Bench at thirty five and Lord
Chancellor before my fortieth birthday. I followed orders and to this
attribute my rapid promotion and even more sudden declension.I had
another birthday recently and there was none to exercise common
charity towards me, or to share a celebration. I stand accused of a
lack of the milk of human kindness.
I will never be permitted to forget the trial of Dame Alice Lisle. In
contrast, she was deemed to have shown exemplary, even saintly,
compassion and hospitality towards distressed fugitives, but there was
considerably more to the case than was imputed.
I was compared unfavourably to Nero, Satan, Cain and Judas, but I only
sent Whigs to Heaven. It was common practice to lash rogues with the
tongue and, after all, I cross-examined some of the deepest-dyed
criminals in the land. Their weeping and cries for mercy only served as
an irritant. How difficult it was to extract the truth from Presbyterian
liars and I grew adept at smelling one out at forty miles, hence the posy of
herbs that I was wont to hold to my nostrils. Severities may be properly
used, I believe, in common with Machiavelli, if they are appropriate with
Yes, Dame Alice, I turned a deaf ear to your plea and you could not hear
the foreman’s delivery of the verdict, by virtue of your three score years
and ten’s infirmity.
A witch, I thought, whose husband had been a regicide and now the old
crone was denying knowledge of the nature of the indictments against
John Hickes and Nelthorpe, initially denying their presence in her house,
Moyles Court. Subsequently she pleaded that she had understood Hickes’
offence to be merely illegal preaching. She stressed that she had no
sympathy with the Monmouth rebellion, but I persuaded the jury to re-
consider their verdict and, on the third occasion, she was pronounced
guilty, and rightly so, for the Law recognised no distinction between
principals and accessories to treason. “Let the old witch burn,” I ranted,
“and let it be this very afternoon!”
The interfering Winchester clergy appealed to me on account of her age
and sex and they gained a respite. Our Sovereign commuted the sentence
to beheading, out of his merciful bounteousness.
Now the populace desire that I should shere her fate. I am eclipsed- ha!-
a play on the title of the marketplace inn where she spent her final night,
before walking out of the first storey window, onto the scaffold. They
said it was ever after “The Eclipse” as it drew all attention from its
neighbouring public house: “The Rising Sunne.”
Barter gave us the information. She had entertained, concealed,
comforted and maintained the fugitive rebels. The Devil had inspired her
to quibble, as do all witches. Equivocation is the nature of the Fiend and
all his subjects. I have oft-times heard his whine in the courtrooms
and the serpent-tongued dame tried to move me by a reminder that she had
bred a brat to fight for James, but, if she had been my own mother, I should
have found her guilty, notwithstanding her prevarication that she was being
charged with sheltering Hickes before he was convicted of treason She stated
that subsequent evidence should not be admitted, since it had not been
Very clever: but anyone who harbours a traitor is as guilty as any who
bears arms, I believed, and I hold fast to the same conviction to this day.
“Nay, peace thou monster, shame unto thy sex,
Thou fiend in likeness of a human creature.
SEe thyself, devil!
Proper deformity shows not in the fiend
So horrid as in woman.
Shut your mouth, dame,
Or with this paper shall I stople it.”
The reference was lost on most in court. Fools do those villains pity who
are punished. Know this: that men are as the time is; to be tender-
minded does not become a sword.
It is more than three years since that fateful day in August in The Great
Hall of Winchester Castle. Some say that a lady in grey haunts the inn
and that a driver-less coach has been seen in the grounds of her Ringwood
estate, drawn by headless horses and containing her phantom.
What is that nonsense to me? Her head and body were given up to her
family, for burial at Ellingham and now the Whigs have all but canonised
her, raving about judicial murder.
Yet, when I attempted to escape from this hell-hle, no one would shelter
me in a cupboard, nor a malthouse and I was discovered at Wapping and
my disguise removed. No port is free to me; no place that unusual
vigilance will not attend my taking. So, here I lie, and suffer the
agony of passing these stones: a pain as sharp as the gravel of her drive,
but still I resort to my brandy. I am bound upon my own wheel of fire.
My reins are rubbed with sulphurous flames. The gods are just and of
our pleasant vices… I waken to hear myself cry in the night and then a
distant rumble of carriage wheels approaches, or is it a more horrific
apocalyptic explosion? Who is it that dare tell me who I am?
“What is that wailing?” I shout to my guard.
“It is the cry of women, my good lord,” he replies through the grille, most
caustically. “Come here most learned justicer.” And then he laughs,
showing black tombstones in place of teeth.
“I have almost forgot the taste of fears. I have supp’d full of horrors,”
I answer, before I recall the context. How malicious is my fortune that
I must repent to be just.
Equivocation – the only means of survival. She was more skilled in its employ
(The grave of Judge Jeffreys was bombed by German aircraft during the war
and his remains scattered. The grave of Alice Lisle can still be visited in
Hi! It’s Candia again. No, I’ve not been in hibernation, but could
have been excused for refusing to emerge from the duvet, with all
the recent rotten weather.
Went down to Wintonchester today, to soak up some sun and I came
across my old friend: the wistaria growing over the entrance to The
Cathedral Close. It reminded me of the poem that I wrote nearly
twenty years ago, when I first moved into the area. I had seen an
engraving of Prior’s Gate in an old book in a charity shop more than
three hundred miles away from the city and the ancient shrub was
featured . I immediately bought the book and determined that I
would live in the vicinity of such an impressive portal.
That first winter I waited for the gnarled creeper to blossom. When it
did, I felt that I had come home.
WAITING FOR THE WISTARIA
Waiting weeks for wistaria’s welter
of tendrils, titivating Prior’s Gate,
to flourish its purple helter-skelter
ear-rings. For Winchester, it seems quite late;
elsewhere trailers blossomed against bright brick
facades, yet soon their petals will be spent.
But this one saves its special party trick
till last-like choice Cana wine, heaven scent.
Thinking about Winchester Cathedral Close, as I walked through it at the weekend and remembered the wonderful view I once had from the roof of the cathedral, over Pilgrims School to Winchester College. I visited a friend shortly afterwards and she had just had chemotherapy and was very ill with bone cancer. It was difficult to know if she would survive her treatment, but I made a kind of pact that we would do the roof tour together if she survived.
We didn’t sadly, but she bravely fought on for a further twenty years or so. I still think of her when I look up at the roof.
WINCHESTER CATHEDRAL ROOF TOUR
You have to haul yourself up by a rope:
the spiral staircase is so narrow and
the treads so shallow. I don’t think you’d cope
right now, but afterwards…
she nods, and drinks in my vivid outline
of the tour thirstily. When I’m quite through
this chemotherapy; my body’s mine
again, we must climb the tower and view
Wolvesey Palace, the Deanery, St. Cross..
Under the heavy wig her eyes burn bright.
I try not to think of her muscle loss,
or that she’s shrunk two inches of her height.
All I know is when birds return next spring,
I’ll stand on the cathedral roof alone,
or with her. Angels will be hovering,
lest we should dash our feet against a stone.
You cannot see their faces from the ground,
yet worshipful men carved exquisitely
where only God could note, their efforts crowned
in their own hearts.
We know implicitly
that all over in six months might mean that:
ambivalence a part of existence.
Magnificat; also requiescat:
twin themes in passionals of persistence.
Now she is confined in the dark stairwells
of pain where bluebottles accumulate,
but after her suffering has ceased, bells
will peal over pantiles, to celebrate
her courage, endurance, and will redound
to those whose vantage point’s on higher ground.
Isn’t it incroyable that I can see the theme from one of my most famous novels visually sculpted on the face of the Tournai font, just opposite my place of rest? Yes, dear Reader, it shows an impoverished nobleman who cannot afford to give his multiple daughters a grand dowry. St Nicholas steps in and saves the day. (Not saves the bacon: that is shown on the other face, where the boys are preserved from becoming sausages, organic or otherwise. I did not like to borrow that particular myth for any of my novels, however.)
I am aware that I have the best social position- a place that may not be recognised by the critical Mary Crawfords of this world, who know nothing of worship, who speak insolently of men of the cloth and who seat themselves prematurely during processionals.
I still scrub up well, as the Holy Dusters employ some vim and vigour in polishing my brass plaque with Duraglit and elbow grease. Shadows of the clergy and laity cast their shades across my stone, revealing in their rites and rituals the universal foibles and fancies of humankind. My joy in observing how we all rub along together has been passed down, along with my writer’s mantle to my handmaiden, Candia. Hear her and follow her blog with due diligence and enthusiastic approval, for I being dead yet speak!
© Candia Dixon Stuart and Candiacomesclean.wordpress.com, 2012
(A continuation of our previous musings on Jane Austen’s eavesdroppings culled from her position beneath the floor of Winchester Cathedral.)
I see that there are to be seasonal floral displays in various churches in the Hampshire region, including St Cross. The last word on flower arranging was probably given by Alan Bennett in his Talking Heads 1 monologue, Bed Among the Lentils, about Mrs Shrubsole and the precise placement of a fir cone in her floral arrangement, Forest Murmurs.
Nevertheless, again I can imagine Jane Austen tuning into covert cathedral discussions conducted while masked by arrangements of Venus Fly Traps and burgeoning bocage.
Flower Arranger 1:
I daresay floral occupations are always desirable in girls of your girth, as a means of affording you fresh air and more exercise than you would normally take. A passion for agapanthus may be deemed somewhat amateurish, but Alan Titchmarsh may yet attend and then, who can tell where your newfound skills may lead?
Ah Pansy, you enquired as to when my grand passion first surfaced, so to speak. It developed gradually, but particularly after my first visit to my paramour’s enormous estate in Eastleigh. That is, East-leigh, as in “count-ee”; not as in “beastly.”
He is, sadly, a fit and extremely healthy older man, notwithstanding his vast cache of stocks and shares and general lack of penetration. I could endeavour to live with him, however minimal his funds, providing that I should have access to them all. I would prefer Winchester, but a villa in Sandbanks would, of course, be preferable and might prove an initial rung on the property ladder.
Yes, it would be wrong to marry for money, but foolhardy to marry without it.
How I would love to expose those furtive rummagers in designer handbags who rapidly switch off their mobiles before the bidding prayers, lest their lovers interrupt their devotions, or who use their fumbling as an avoidance technique when the offertory bags circulate.
At some of the local school services, one often hears some young prodigy, called Alethea or otherwise, make a smug, sententious remark to her doting mater. Through over- attention, the chit’s natural self-confidence has been honed into haughty assurance. Catherine Morland’s conviction still stands-ie/ that there is a violent and uncertain life which lurks under the veneer of society.
I am constantly privy to rehearsals of accomplishments and marvels of female students who all play musical instruments, achieve A*s and who compete in equine sports at the highest level. Yet, I have never heard a young lady spoken of, for the first time, without her being lauded to the Empyrean. Yet, deficiency of nature is often little assisted by education or society. A greater influence seems to be perpetrated by the expectation of property, usually acquired through trade, or, dare I suggest, a lottery ticket.
Nowadays, such nouveaux positively display themselves in society magazines, besporting themselves at various charitable functions of questionable taste. Their double-barrelled nomenclatures can scarcely be fitted into the copy without a prodigious profligacy of paper and ink.
Other self-appointed, knowledgeable women offer their medical knowledge to others, whether invited to, or not. They remind me of Lady Catherine de Burgh:
Ah, yes, my experience of the lifelong care of my valetudinarian husband has led me to recommend Echinacea during the winter months and Glucosamine throughout the year.
Their nerves command a high respect, as they have evidently been old friends with whom they have been intimately acquainted for a number of years. Truly these are women whom one cannot regard with too much deference.
And so we must leave Jane at the moment as she is a little fatigued by this peroration , but she promises to continue to amuse us on the morrow.
© Candia Dixon Stuart and Candiacomesclean.wordpress.com, 2012