On this day in 1649 King Charles I met his fate. I doubt even the soldiers who guarded the scaffold could fail to be moved. Rosie Babbitt certainly was…. read on.
It was a bitter cold January day and the sky was smoke-white and heavy with the promise of snow.
There were few flashes of colour amongst the ranks of Babbitt’s troop of horse, where they lined their horses against the scaffold where the King of England was due to meet his Maker. The sprig of rosemary in Hapless Russell’s hatband. The sea-green ribbon holding Hollie Babbitt’s hair, looking even more starkly blood-red than usual against his dull plate. (The scarlet end of Luce Pettitt’s poor raw nose, despite his best efforts to keep dabbing at it surreptitiously with the back of his hand, thinking it somewhat disrespectful to pull out a handkerchief and provide His Majesty’s last moments on this earth with a trumpet accompaniment.)
“Here we go,” Hollie muttered, “stand fast.”
The rock-steady brown gelding with the unlikely name of Blossom tossed his head a little as the crowd surged forward on a wave or murmurs that sounded like the sea, but he stood still. Russell’s sensible bay Thomas put his ears back and looked very dubious indeed about the proceedings, but other than a little sideways skitter he stood. And Luce’s Samson looked deeply disapproving about the skittishness of his companions, and led by stern and handsome glossy example, as still as if he’d been carved from black marble while the people pushed and jostled about his legs.
It was odd, how so many people, could be so silent. Babbitt’s troop of horse had faced this man across a battlefield so many times over the past six years, and seen as many men, all in the one place. This was different. This was odd. There were faces here that should not have been here – avid, greedy faces, faces as lustful to watch the King’s execution as if they were watching a pretty girl, or a man they desired. Faces with silent tears streaming down cheeks. Faces with lips moving in silent prayer, and not so silent prayer. Old faces. Young faces. A woman with a child at her shoulder. A grizzled old veteran of the wars, one eye milky in a ruined socket, his feet wrapped in rags where his shoes were worn through. (Babbitt moved his horse aside to let that one through. England’s freedom. Soldier’s rights.)
“Crack on,” Russell muttered, “my feet are freezing.”
“Bet his are, an’ all.”
The King was arriving on foot. He had spent last night saying farewell to the last two children he had in England, thirteen year-old Elizabeth and nine year-old Henry, under guard at St James’s Palace. His wife was in France, in exile. Hollie had no time for the Man of Blood, no time at all, thought he had brought his own destruction on himself with his pride and his arrogance and his treachery. Hollie was also a married man with two daughters, and though he did not consider himself an imaginative man it made his throat go dry thinking of what he might say, given so few brief hours to say a farewell forever to his babies. And as for being parted from his own Het – ah, God, no, he could not have borne that. He might loathe Charles Stuart’s intriguing, but his heart ached for any man to go to his public murder so uncomforted, without even his girl’s final kiss to speed him on his way. They said Stuart was a devout man, and Hollie hoped that were true, for it would be him and his God, on the scaffold at the last, and that was a lonely place for any man to be.
The king looked almost childlike, small and thin and primly tidy, as he walked towards the scaffold. His eyes raked the crowd, moved over the soldiers who stood between him and the mass of his people whose mood, even now, was uncertain. There were people in this mob who would tear him apart, physically tear him apart, given the opportunity. Hollie didn’t think the little bugger accepted that, to this day. There was a nice irony to it, that his Royal person was being guarded from the risk of harm by any of his rebellious subjects, by – in this troop alone – one Puritan and two Levellers. (Or possibly two people who were both Puritans and Levellers at the same time, depending how zealous he and Russell were feeling.) “He’s smaller than I thought he would be,” Luce said wanly. “Close to.”
“Indeed,” the implacable Russell said, with a faint smile. “About a head shorter.”
Russell hated the King worse than he hated the Devil, which, given his puritanical leanings, took some doing. Hollie wasn’t keen, but looking down his horse’s shoulder at a man he’d only ever seen across a battlefield, he found it in his heart to pity him. He was wearing two shirts. There was a thin veil of pimpled gooseflesh across the bare skin at the base of his throat, where the pulse beat clear and fast. Het was going to ask him all of this, when he got home, wanting to hear what a king looked like, if he faced his end with courage and dignity. He thought he might make a bit up about what Charles Stuart looked like. He reckoned Het might be disappointed, if she knew he was a little, skinny, sick-looking man with a pallid indoor complexion and receding, lank hair.
The executioner was disguised. Russell tried to make a joke about that, but no one was taking him up on it, now. It just wasn’t funny any more. The crowd were beginning to stir, muttering, edgy. You couldn’t blame a man for not wanting his identity to be known, when you walked a knife-edge of public opinion. Today, the people’s hero. Tomorrow, it was your head on the block. He’d seen it happen too often in the New Model Army. Seen it happen with Colonel Rainsborough, who’d been his mate, and who’d been acclaimed by the common soldiers as their voice, and who’d ended up with a knife in his back. Say nothing. See nothing. Keep your head down. The King was speaking. He strained his ears, but he couldn’t hear a word of it. The other men on the scaffold were nodding sombrely, so presumably it was godly and decent, but he couldn’t catch it, over the murmurings of the crowd. “Step back,” he said absently to one respectable-looking citizen who was crowding forward, “move away, come on- “
Russell, at his side, put his hand on the hilt of his sword, lightly, but meaningfully.
The murmuring swelled. “Thankful, stand down,” Hollie snarled at his lieutenant, but the restlessness was none of their doing, thank God, and on the scaffold behind Hollie the King was kneeling down, setting his hands on the block, putting his lank hair behind his ears.
Stretching out his hands in signal to the executioner.
Hollie couldn’t watch. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Russell turn his horse slightly, the better to see. There was that same greedy avidity on his lieutenant’s scarred face as there was on so many of the crowd – eager curiosity, malice, self-righteousness. Luce was weeping silently, but then Luce got carried away by the gallantry of the moment at the best of times.
There was a moment’s total stillness. And then there was a sound like an ox being butchered, the sound of an axe parting flesh and bone. A great sighing moan rose from the crowd, and for a moment there was panic as the people pushed forward, crying out to dabble their handkerchiefs in the King’s blood. Scuffles breaking out around them –
“Have you not had enough blood, in Christ’s name?”
Luce pushing people back, white-faced and furious. And a heartbeat later, Russell joining him, looking sick and shaken, and nowhere near so sure of himself as he had been. Neither of those two was a green boy. They’d seen blood spilled before. But cold? Like this? Never.
“We are a commonwealth,” Hollie said faintly. “May God have mercy on us.”
The mad, scarred, bipolar Puritan with the drink problem and the self-esteem issues, is, officially, your favourite Ironside.
What is WRONG with you lot…??!!
It’s competition time – win a Kindle collection of short stories, including what did happen to Thankful Russell at Edgehill, how a seventeen-year-old Lancashire boy took up arms in the Low Countries in the Thirty Years’ War, and more.
All you have to do is name the new equine addition to Babbitt’s troop.
Rosie himself has Tyburn (large, black, and menacing) and The Rabbit, who’s the only remount big enough for him, and whom he cordially dislikes. When Tyburn is invalided out after Marston Moor, he’s replaced by Blossom, named by Mrs Rosie in a whimsical moment.
Trooper Gray has Pig, and I think the name says it all about Gray’s horse.
Hapless has Thomas, who has doubts about anything and everything, from the threat posed by a strip of rag in a hedge to strange dogs.
Drew Venning’s horse is Samson – large, sturdy, well-mannered and hairy. (Not unlike Venning, come to think of it.)
Kenelm Toogood’s horse is Charles, and was baptised as same in Lostwithiel church during the Earl of Essex’s Cornish campaign in 1643.
Now, at the beginning of the series, Luce acquired a witless and overbred thoroughbred mare which he tagged as Fair Rosamund, in a fit of poetic stupidity. Rosamund is now, predictably, deceased in an excess of equine zeal.
The question is, o gentle reader, who will replace the Fair Rosamund in Babbitt’s horse-lines?
The choice is yours, and you have a week to do it in….Winners to be announced on Wednesday 4th Feb!
You may, should you, in some moment of insanity choose to follow the fortunes of Babbitt’s troop of horse, be moved to curiosity about some of the food mentioned.
Being somewhat fascinated by what food people ate in many periods, I do actually try out Mistress Babbitt’s menus on my simple menfolk. We are great admirers of ember tart – please note, however, that ember tart is strictly speaking a medieval cheese flan, dating back to the 14th century. Although such recipes didn’t change much. However, the other thing to remember about the Babbitt household is that Rosie himself is a Lancashire boy – lovely, creamy, crumbly cheese – married to an Essex girl and living in rural Essex – salty, tangy sheep’s cheese, as like as not. I have something of a partiality for “new” cheese, a bit like the man himself who will go a long way for a bit of new cheese: that is, the softer, crumblier stuff before all the whey’s been squeezed out and it’s matured. If you come across real crumbly Lancashire cheese, not the pre-packaged supermarket stuff, leap upon it with both hands.
All that being by the by, and a matter for another post, but on a cold, wintry night like this it’s tempting to imagine our 17th century family settled at home for the night around the fire, working at bits of mending that don’t require too much elegance – worn-through stockings, torn shirts, missing buttons. Worn harness, the stitching on reins or stirrup leathers fraying. Catching up on the day’s events, what’s happening in the world. Who said what to whom in town, who thrives, who struggles, who’s sleeping with whom and more importantly – will they get found out.
Buttered ale is Het Babbitt’s drink of choice for such evenings.
It is as it says on the tin – buttered, sweetened, spiced beer. Get the wrong beer, anything too bitter or dark, and it is truly vile.
To make Buttered Beere. Take three pintes of Beere, put five yolkes of Egges to it, straine them together, and set it in a pewter pot to the fyre, and put to it halfe a pound of Sugar, one penniworth of Nutmegs beaten, one penniworth of Cloves beaten, and a halfepenniworth of Ginger beaten, and when it is all in, take another pewter pot and brewe them together, and set it to the fire againe, and when it is readie to boyle, take it from the fire, and put a dish of sweet butter into it, and brewe them together out of one pot into an other.
(The Good Housewife’s Jewell, T. Dawson, 1596)
Failing that –
3 pints of real ale, but be careful which you choose 🙂
5 egg yolks
1/2 lb demerara sugar
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
Bring to the point of boiling, and then add butter. If you taste it before you add the butter, you may find you want less – to offset the richness of the egg yolks – or more, if it’s bitter.
Drink warm, and raise a toast to Black Tom Fairfax and his lads, who on this day in 1644 were probably well in need of a few, having only the day previously fought in the battle of Nantwich in fairly sodden and wretched conditions!
Apologies if anyone has been using the links on the right to buy the books on Kindle.
Due to some issues I’ve had with Lulu, I’d decided to do things a little differently, and on advice from some fellow authors moved my clanky white ass over to Amazon KDP.
… which is where they presently reside.
So – apologies if they either didn’t work, or took you somewhere weird, and I think it’s now fixed.
Normal 17th century service will now be resumed….
Hidden: An unseen portrait of Oliver Cromwell
|Sir Arthur Hesilrige
by Unknown artist
by Robert Walker
Recent investigation of the portrait of Sir Arthur Hesilrige, using the latest infra-red technology, has revealed what appears to be a hidden portrait of the Parliamentarian commander Oliver Cromwell underneath. The reasons for this change are obscure. Was the artist re-using an old canvas that he had been unable to sell? Or did Hesilrige, a Parliamentarian army officer and committed republican, have Cromwell’s portrait repainted as one of himself when the two fell out over Cromwell’s assumption of the role of Protector? This display puts the Gallery’s portrait of Cromwell alongside that of Hesilrige and, for the first time, shows the infra-red image of the hidden portrait.
© National Portrait Gallery, London
A taster from the new Babbitt novel – out later this year.
Set in the South-West of England in the summer of 1645, after the decisive battle at Naseby, Hollie Babbitt – now Colonel Babbitt, and hating every minute of it – finds himself commanding a rapidly-disintegrating company, in an increasingly bitter army.
There is, of course, no contest as to where his loyalties lie. And it isn’t with his masters in Parliament.
Fairfax was at prayer and could not be disturbed, so Hollie ambled up and down the landing outside his general’s personal quarters indulging in a habit which drove Het mad, a tendency to, literally, kick his heels. If you happened to be wearing spurred boots on a stone-flagged hall it was quite a diverting pursuit. The musical chime was a rather soothing backdrop to Hollie’s internal mental writhing. Did he, or did he not, need a lieutenant? And if he had to – if Fairfax insisted, and he might well – who the hell would it be, that he could trust, to not only turn a blind eye to Hollie’s somewhat independent accounting practises, but to translate the troop’s less conventional means of support into something that looked good on paper. And Chedglow. Who the hell was going to replace Chedglow in command of his troop of itinerant God-botherers? For a minute, Hollie was inclined to promote his own appalling father, just for the hell of it. They’d had one slavering hellfire preacher in charge already, they’d be used to being spat on at close range by their commanding officer – and they’d miss the Old Testament if they didn’t get a healthy dose every day with breakfast. On the other hand, it’d mean he’d have to deal with Elijah being stern and godly at him on a daily basis, and that he could not bear. Luce didn’t want it, even if he’d been any bloody good at it, which he wouldn’t be. (Too nice by half, that lad.) He’d have said Calthorpe, once, but Calthorpe had copped it at Marston Moor. Eliot or Ward – sweet Jesus Christ almighty, no.
The bottom line was, since the New Model Army had come in, most of the new lads were decent, obedient, dutiful plain troopers, who served their God and their commanding officer with zeal and efficiency, who turned out to drill smart and eager, who observed the Sabbath and said grace at length before their meals – and they were as stolid as bullocks in a field. They did what they were told. They thought what they were told. And if they didn’t, they sure as hell didn’t trust their thoughts with a commander they didn’t know from a hole in the ground. They were good lads and they were as efficient a fighting body as he’d ever clapped eyes on but what they were not, for the most part, was independent. The Army didn’t like independent thinkers. No, that wasn;t fair. The Parliament didn’t like independent thinkers. Look at Lilburne – denied a command under the New Model for refusing to take the Covenant, earlier this year.
No, Hollie was short of like minds, and the one thing he liked at his hand was men who not only knew what they were doing, but could do it without it having been written out for them longhand. Efficient drill was well and good but it didn’t give you initiative. Venning, now, Venning was competent and efficient and knowledgeable but he either could not or would not think for himself. Luce the same – had the ideas, but didn’t have the confidence, the brass neck, to go off and do them independently. General Fairfax had been bloody clever: he’d got a hold of anybody who looked like they might have both the fire and the skill, and he’d promoted them already. (Said Colonel Babbitt, who knew whereof he spoke, having been promoted already.) Cullis wouldn’t touch an independent command with a shitty stick. Russell, even were he fit for service, couldn’t be trusted not to go off half-cocked, left to his own devices.
Split ’em up. It was all he could think of, break Chedglow’s lads up and take a score apiece amongst the rest of the company. After Naseby Hollie wasn’t sure he could trust himself to deal with them fairly, as a troop. Not sure if you could discipline men for rape, mutilation and massacre in the Lord’s name, not in the New Model. When Hollie could have called his command his own – when he didn’t have as many regulations to sign to as the lowest of his troopers – he’d have shot the lot of the bastards, personally, one at a time or collectively it didn’t bother him.
“I see you’re as hot at hand as ever, colonel.”
He stopped musing and looked at Fairfax. Greying, pouchy-eyed, sallow. Christ, he looked ill. “Ah,” he said warily, and then stalked – trying not to jingle – into Fairfax’s quarters. “That’d be it.”
“Was expecting you before this, mind.” Fairfax said nothing unkind, it wasn’t his way, he’d just turn those fierce dark eyes on you and look mournful. “Where are you quartered, Colonel Babbitt? I sent a messenger, but he was unable to locate you?”
“Oh, you know me, usually end up round and about with Pettitt. What’s up?”
“Sir,” Fairfax prompted, and he came up short, because Black Tom Fairfax was not only his commander but his friend – he’d carried Fairfax’s little daughter on the front of his saddle one black night across Yorkshire, fleeing the Malignants two years back. Fairfax had sent some of that little daughter’s outgrown baby-things, at Thomazine’s birth. Fairfax was a North Countryman, same as Hollie was, an exile in this lush green landscape. They talked to each other in their own home accents, betimes, not the stiff and formal words of a commander and his subordinate. Fairfax looked at Hollie and cocked an eyebrow but did not smile. “How is your wife, Colonel Babbitt?” And then without waiting for an answer, “It won’t do, sir. It won’t do at all. I won’t ask for an explanation -”
“But I’ll give you one,” Hollie cut in, because he was bloody cross at that last implication. “Supposed to leave Russell in Leicester, was I? In his condition, in a town relieved of siege not a week past? Aye, I did go home to Essex, and I took Hapless with me, and Luce come because he reckoned it’d kill him doing the sixty miles on a horse so soon after Naseby. So that’s where I was, and if the Army couldn’t do without me holding its hand for three days, all I can say is God help it.”
“You went without asking leave, colonel.”
“All right, if you want to make a paper exercise of it – sir – mark me down as absent without leave and dock me according. Or have me bloody shot or whatever else it is you do wi’ soldiers that misbehave, these days.”
“Goring has abandoned the siege at Taunton.”
“Good for Goring. What?”
“You heard. Goring’s headed for Yeovil. At speed.” And then, finally, Fairfax’s lean, dark face creased in a rusty smile. “If you’d been any later, you’d probably have bumped smack into him. I’m not sure which of you would have been more surprised.”
“Quite. I had hoped that you might be able to send some of your troops out to reconnoitre the Royalist position.”
“I’m hardly the least conspicuous spy in the Army. Sir.”
“Did I ask you to go personally, colonel? Anyway. You weren’t there. I asked someone else.”
“Sir.” Fairfax wouldn’t tear you off a strip. He’d just take whatever it was you liked to do, off you, and give it to someone else.
“I hope your horse is rested, colonel. Lord Goring has deployed his men along the line of the Yeo, from Yeovil to Langport. My father has decided to base his infantry at Crewkerne, and we will be shortly joining them.”
“I trust that will not interfere with any of your other engagements, Colonel Babbitt?”
“Sir.” He couldn’t quite stifle a sigh, and Fairfax shot him a stern look.
“You will be ready within the hour, colonel. ”