You have been awarded points.
Thank you for !
JOHN DEE - SORCERER ROYAL!Born 1949, M, from Bridgwater, United Kingdom
Description: Fact: John Dee was the only person ever to be appointed Sorcerer Royal to the Crown of England. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First, he was also a secret agent, working for Lord Walsingham, the Queen's Master of Spies. It is true fact that his code was 007... His tale is incredible, historical, magical and full of exciting adventure!
©John Dee – Sorcerer Royal!
A novel by Peter W. Mills
“History books are usually written by
those who were not present at the time.”
Sir Edward Kelley 1555-1597
It was a sunny summer’s day in the year 1540. Within the lawned gardens of Hampton Court Palace a thirteen year-old boy stood by a seven year-old girl with bright red hair who sat at ease on a fine embroidered rug. The boy was carefully adjusting a large blackboard clamped firmly in an artist’s easel. In the centre of the blackboard could be seen a spot of light, a tiny pin-hole which had been carefully drilled through the board. A few feet distant stood a big sewing-frame for embroidery, but all it held now was a tightly-stretched sheet of white linen. The little girl was delighted, for the sun shone through the pinhole and its image was projected onto the white linen as a blazing disk.
“Soon, soon,” the boy breathed in a stage whisper as he adjusted the positions of blackboard and linen. A few moments later, the invisible Moon began to pass very slowly across the face of the sun; it was a total solar eclipse. Gradually the sunlight faded and a weird twilight descended, steadily growing darker. On the linen sheet the disk of the Sun could be seen to have what looked like a great bite out of it, a bite that grew inexorably larger as the sunlight grew dimmer.
Sounds now began. People were wailing. There was screaming in the distance and it grew louder and nearer. Courtiers and servants could be seen running around the grounds in total panic, like headless chickens. They wailed in terror. Shouts of “The Day of Judgement has come!” and “It’s the work of the Devil – he’s attacking Heaven!” came from one direction; screams of “It’s the Apocalypse!” and “There’s war in Heaven!” came from another. From a further distance came terrified wails of “It’s the End of Days!” and “Satan has come to destroy the world!”
From within a small chapel in the middle-distance marched a file of some twenty clergymen and monks carrying banners, crucifixes and holy relics. As they walked with slow, measured paces they chanted an exorcism in ponderous Latin.
The boy and red-haired girl ignored all of this and, instead, stared with their attention firmly fixed on the framed linen sheet where the projected image of the Sun continued slowly vanishing behind the disk of the Moon. The screaming grew louder. The chanting was reaching a climax. In the dim twilight the boy counted aloud, moving his index finger up and down to mark the seconds. “Fifty five… fifty six… fifty seven… fifty eight… fifty nine…two minutes!”
The distant chanting ceased. The general cacophony of terrified palace staff, officials and guards came through the open windows growing ever louder. Amongst the screams came an almighty crash as some unfortunate servant dropped a hamper of kitchen crockery.
A couple of minutes went by, and then the boy wagged his finger with a growing excitement, his voice rising to a shout. “Three! Two! One! NOW! ABRACADABRA!”
At that exact moment the Sun started to reappear on the linen sheet as the Moon moved steadily aside. The red-haired girl jumped to her feet clapping her hands enthusiastically, gazing admiringly at the boy. In the slowly growing light it could be seen that the line of clergy in the middle distance had prostrated themselves on the ground in terror and were now, rather sheepishly, picking themselves up and brushing themselves down.
The boy and girl, holding hands, walked away towards an open door into the great palace. The boy was speaking.
“You see, the planets go round the Sun – it is not the Earth that is the centre of the universe! And when the Moon passes in front of the Sun it blocks its light for a short time. And using mathematics, it is possible to predict each eclipse and even how long it will take….”
The boy’s voice faded as the pair walked away and entered the royal palace.
King Henry the Eighth of England stood almost motionless near a big leaded window, holding his legs apart and extending his arms like wings as a tailor busily measured his immense corpulent body with a marked cord. His Majesty screwed his eyes shut and grimaced as he let rip with a mighty royal fart.
“Master Roland,” said the King. “I hear that your boy can predict the darkening of the Sun. How is this?”
Roland Dee the tailor continued busily measuring while he answered. “He uses arithmetic, Highness. He is very good at arithmetic.”
“Where did he learn it?” asked the King, interested.
“The Chantry School at Chelmsford, Highness. He has attended there since he was ten.”
“I also hear that your son John has an admirer in my daughter Elizabeth. It seems she finds him interesting. Do you think he will follow in your footsteps and become a Master Tailor?”
“I am hoping I can get him into university at Cambridge, Highness. I do not think he is cut out to be a tailor.”
King Henry suddenly barked out a great and gutsy single laugh. “Cut out to be a tailor! Because a tailor cuts out cloth all day!” He laughed again at his own joke.
Roland Dee smiled diplomatically and darted behind Henry, starting to measure his shoulders. Out of the King’s sight he raised his eyes to heaven. “Indeed, Highness. Your wit is matched only by your intellect.”
It was four years later on the same garden lawn in the grounds of Hampton Court. Flame-haired Princess Elizabeth, now aged eleven, sat on a chair sewing, with two lady’s maids and a governess sewing beside her. They were chatting happily. From behind a far garden wall a young man appeared and walked towards them. It was John Dee, now nearly 16. He stood in front of Elizabeth and bowed low.
Elizabeth beamed. “Master John! How nice it is to see you.”
“My Lady, I have received some excellent news and I wanted to advise you of it personally.”
The Princess smiled. “What news is this?”
“I have been accepted for a placement at Cambridge. I start in three weeks.”
The princess pouted. “Then I shall not see you for a long time.” Then she immediately smiled. “But I give you my blessing and I know you will be a great success as a student. What subject shall you be studying?”
“Astronomy, my lady.”
She laughed. “Of course!”
“Greek as well?” Now she was impressed.
“And Latin, Philosophy, Geometry and Mathematics.”
Elizabeth could no longer keep her poker face. She laughed. “You might just as well say, ‘Every subject there is!’ Well, may the Grace of God and my personal blessing be with you, John. We must part as good friends.” She elegantly held up the back of her hand and Dee gallantly stooped to take it and gently kiss it.
Cambridge University had been founded more than three centuries earlier in the year 1209 and had received its Royal Charter from King Henry the Third in 1231. It was already a venerable educational establishment. In a large and austere reading-room with a cold flagstone floor a dozen black-gowned students sat quietly, studying various books and sheaves of manuscripts and making notes for themselves on parchment with quill pens. There came the sound of running footsteps from outside and in through the open door hurried John Dee in great excitement, his black gown billowing behind him.
“I’ve got wonderful news! Exciting news!” he shouted happily. “I was right all the time!” He waved a parchment like a flag.
A twenty year-old student, the oldest in the room, gave a great theatrical groan and turned on his bench from his studies to sit facing Dee. All the other students looked up from their reading in annoyance.
“Well, Dee,” sighed the senior student, “you’d better tell us. You’ve already interrupted our concentration.”
“Nicolaus Copernicus has died in Poland!” Dee stated gleefully.
The senior student frowned. “Why is some poor sod’s death such wonderful news?”
Dee was bubbling over with excitement. “He wrote a book, but he could not risk publishing it until he was on his death bed, because he feared the Church would burn him at the stake for heresy. When he knew he was dying, he gave instructions for the book to be published.”
The senior student was now growing interested. “All right – what’s the book about?”
“It’s called ‘On The Revolution of Heavenly Bodies’ and he uses mathematics to prove that the earth goes round the Sun, not the Sun round the earth, and the earth is just a planet like the other planets, all going round the Sun at the centre of the universe. The Sun is the centre, not the earth! It’s what I have been saying for years!”
The senior student smiled at him. “Well, Master Dee, there’s only one thing I can say.”
The senior student suddenly shouted. “Scrag him lads!”
All the students leaped to their feet cheering and started pulling Dee about. Dee pulled back and it quickly developed into a free-for-all piece of horseplay.
Suddenly there could be heard a loud and deliberate throat-clearing “Harumph!” A robed and stern-looking young professor of about 30 was standing in the doorway glaring at the rough and tumble. Immediately, the students ceased their tussling, bowed their heads and sheepishly sat down and began reading again.
“Yes,” stated the professor sternly, striding round the room with his hands behind his back. “I believe Copernicus worked it all out perfectly. The Earth travels round the Sun. How it does so, we do not yet know. Master Dee was, indeed, quite right – the Sun is now proven by Copernicus’ newly revealed mathematics to be the centre of the universe, not the Earth.
“Unfortunately, the Church does not do mathematics. It therefore lags behind the progress of science. And it is the Church who pays much of the substantial funds which allow this University to function, as well as the Crown, who is also the nominal Protector of the Faith. We must not forget that King Henry has now appointed himself Head of the Church in England!”
He continued in a suddenly much quieter voice. “Therefore I must advise you not to speak too loudly of Copernicus in public places, nor make claims to others that the Earth goes round the Sun. The truth is something the Church is always uncomfortable with.”
John Dee twisted round on his bench to stare at the professor. “But you are not uncomfortable with it, are you, Doctor Grindle?” It was more of a statement than a question.
Doctor Edmund Grindle smiled at Dee. “You are right, I am not. But I want to stay alive, not be burned at the stake for heresy – and I am planning to enter the Church to advance my position. It’s a good living – better even than teaching! Teachers live in rooms – Archbishops live in palaces!”
Edmund Grindle walked out of the room. John Dee’s eyes followed him, his face looking very thoughtful.
Elsewhere in the university there was a great oaken-beamed hall. Some weeks later, inside this great hall, there had appeared a half-finished wooden stage with as-yet half-completed roughly-painted scenery flats. On the stage six students wearing grubby sheets were rehearsing a play, speaking in Greek. Some distance from the stage John Dee and another student were talking in stage whispers. The student punched Dee’s arm encouragingly.
“Come on John – do us all a favour! We want to surprise the audience, not put them to sleep. I know you can do it.”
Dee hesitated for a brief moment, then sighed and nodded his head in agreement.
“All right Robert. I’ll do it for you this time – against my better judgement! You shall have your special effects.”
On a dark autumnal evening three weeks later the same great hall was packed with seated dignitaries who were attempting to stay awake. The stage construction and painted scenery flats had been completed and the play was well into its stride. The student actors were now wearing tailored white robes and a selection of false beards. They were declaiming ponderously in Greek.
Suddenly one of the young actors shouted a dramatic incantation and made a commanding gesture. On cue, there was a big flash of gunpowder at the side of the stage, a loud “Whoof!” sound and a rolling billow of cloudlike smoke wafted across the platform. The audience jumped in surprise and there were many gasps.
Then, emerging from the billowing smoke effect, a gigantic stag beetle some four feet in length scuttled onto the stage on six clattering and clicking legs. It reached centre stage, turned to look balefully at the audience with two big red glowing compound eyes, then reared up waggling its pincers and antennae at them menacingly, making loud rattling and clicking noises all the while.
For perhaps three or four seconds the entire audience simply stared at it, frozen in fear, before jerking spasmodically into full, primitive, uncontrolled primal panic. Suddenly, it was every man and woman for themselves. There was screaming. Dignitaries in the front rows were clambering over those seated behind them, clawing their way through the rows of seats. There were some fist fights and elbow-jabs as fleeing people got in each other’s way. One noble dowager snatched off her long wig and used it as a noose to pull back by the throat another noble lady who was trying to get in front of her. Within just a few moments the great hall was empty of its audience, except for occasional expensively-dressed Tudor glitterati who now lay unconscious on the floor.
On the still-smoky stage, the robed actors were rather cautiously backing away from the colossal beetle, which scuttled on its rattling legs, turning round to face them. It stared at them malevolently.
Across the great hall Professor Edmund Grindle stood against a wall, sadly shaking his head in exasperation and raising his hand to cover his laughter.
There was no laughter on Tower Green that day. In the shadow of the Tower of London, twenty year-old Katherine Howard, Queen of England, walked bravely forward until she stood beside the masked headsman’s chopping block. Various clergymen, courtiers, nobles and lawyers formed a small audience. A pompous nobleman unrolled a parchment scroll and read from it, holding it at eye-level and shouting.
“Catherine Howard, daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, you have been found guilty by Parliament and Church of the charge of treason, inasmuch that before your marriage to Henry Tudor, eighth of that name, king of England and Ireland, you committed infidelity with one Thomas Culpeper, and also with one Thomas Dereham!
“Under the Royal Assent by Commission Act, failure to disclose your sexual history to the monarch within twenty days of marriage carries the death penalty!”
Bravely the young woman knelt and placed her head on the block. A priest began to recite a prayer in Latin. The masked headsman hefted his great axe and swung it down hard.
Only a handful of miles from Cambridge lay the fenland village of Fulbourne. It was an old village, taking its name from the Anglo-Saxon word “Fugleburn”, which meant “a stream good for hunting waterfowl.” In nearby Cambridge, and especially in the University, the village had a reputation for its alewives – matrons with cottages in which one could sit at ease with good companions and purchase quantities of home-brewed ale. However, there was no longer any joy or merriment left in the village.
An ox-drawn wagon slowly trundled along through thick mud, led by a squalid-looking man caked in mud who guided the ox with a rope and stick. The cart was piled high with the dead bodies of men, women and children. Another mud-spattered man walked in front of the trundling cart ringing a hand-bell every few moments and shouting out.
“Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!”
From a nearby labourer’s cottage came a weeping and wailing family, a man with several children. The man carried the dead body of his wife and, howling his grief to the world, laid her as gently as he might upon the pile of corpses on the cart.
The dreaded Plague had returned to the land yet again in one of its mysterious epidemics.
The great beamed hall in the University had been cleaned and polished a few years earlier following the panic caused by John Dee’s helpful special effects. Now the place was thronged with a standing crowd of gowned students rubbing shoulders with many teachers and professors. On the same low wooden stage there now stood several dignitaries, many of them sporting grey or snowy white beards. An enthusiastic round of general applause and cheering echoed from the timbered roof as John Dee walked briskly to the stage and trotted quickly up a few wooden steps.
The leading dignitary on the stage was the venerable Doctor Nicholas Kenton, chancellor of Cambridge University. He reached out smiling to shake Dee firmly by the hand. As the applause died down, Dr. Kenton handed Dee a parchment scroll secured by a red wax-sealed ribbon.
“Doctor John Dee, I congratulate you, and have great pleasure in presenting you with your Bachelor of Arts Degree!”
The entire audience applauded. As the ovation died down, the Chancellor spoke again. “Furthermore, I am pleased to tell you that you have been accorded a stipended fellowship in the new Trinity College which has just been inaugurated by His Majesty King Henry. You will be Under-Reader in Greek, the first such which the new college will boast!”
The Chancellor shook Dee’s hand again warmly and again everyone applauded and cheered.
The dawn sun of a cold January day infused a great regal bedroom within the Royal Palace of Hampton Court. The bloated, corpulent dead body of King Henry the Eighth, wearing a badly soiled white nightgown, lay on its back on the rich tapestry coverlet of a magnificent four-poster bed. Three well-dressed men stood reflectively at the bedside gazing somberly at the corpse. They were the Chancellor, the Royal Physician and the Lord Chamberlain. They were obviously aware of a dreadful stench, wrinkling their noses and fanning their hands intermittently while they conversed together, as though trying to circulate the air.
“I have attended to all the immediate medical paperwork. His death has been duly certified and witnessed,” remarked the Royal Physician casually.
The Chancellor gagged. “Can anything be done about the bloody stench?”
“Yes,” replied the Royal Physician. “We can leave the room!”
All three men began to walk towards the door of the big bedroom, still fanning their hands in front of their noses.
“I shall advise Parliament when it assembles this afternoon,” stated the Lord Chamberlain casually.
The Chancellor nodded. “And I shall have to start making arrangements for the coronation of Prince Edward.”
The Royal Physician was surprised and raised his eyebrows. “But he is only nine years old!”
“Nevertheless,” mused the Chancellor as the bedroom door was closed behind them by a servant, “he is the rightful king. He is the only male child of King Henry to survive infancy. His mother Jane Seymour died of his birth, but she was Queen Consort even so. It is all fully legal and cannot be sidestepped. Edward will be our new King!”
Young John Dee was expanding his interests and his knowledge. Indeed, he seemed to be able to absorb facts and figures like ink on a blotting paper. In 1548 at the age of only twenty-one he had been invited by the University of Louvain in Antwerp to lecture on mathematics and navigation. Now, two years later, he was at the University of Paris Sorbonne, lecturing to both students and professors. Education flowed in two directions, however, for while he educated others, he also learned deeply from them.
Thus it was that there came a day at the Sorbonne when Dee was seated at a very long wooden table in a large study shared by several professors and students of all ages. All were reading books or parchment scrolls or else writing notes with quill pens. Dee was also writing, working out intricate mathematical formulae.
Quietly and unobtrusively a man of about fifty years entered the study and deliberately drew up a chair and sat beside Dee. The man turned his head to study Dee, who became aware of him and turned his own head also, gazing at the quiet intruder. For a few moments the two men stared into each other’s eyes. Then the stranger spoke quietly in English with a very pronounced French accent.
.”Pardon! But you are Doctor John Dee from England?”
“Yes, I am,” admitted Dee nodding once. The other man kept his silence, so Dee, raising his eyebrows, spoke to him again. “With whom do I have the pleasure of talking?”
An annoyed man across the table hissed “Shhhhhhh!”
The newcomer spoke very quietly. “Perhaps we should go outside to speak – we are interrupting these good people’s studies.”
Dee began to stand up. “And mine – there’d better be a good reason for it!”
They both walked quietly out of the building into an outside courtyard where they sat together on a wooden bench.
“My name is Michael,” began the stranger, “Michael de Nostradame. Some call me Nostradamus.”
“And what do you want to speak to me about, Michael?”
Michael de Nostradame had a note of urgency in his voice. “I came here two weeks ago seeking information and knowledge. I chose Sorbonne because I studied here in my youth. But I have not found what I seek, and time is running out.”
He took in a deep breath. “Then I learned that you were here, and stories about you have already reached France.” He suddenly turned on the bench and grasped Dee’s shoulders. “Please – help me!”
Despite himself, Dee was moved by this man’s manner and the tone of despair in his voice. “What kind of help do you need?”
“I am working with Doctor Louis Serre, a very dedicated and hard-working physician. Marseilles has been struck by the plague! We are trying to find ways of fighting it.” Tears began to run down his cheeks. “Scores of innocent people die every day… men… women… children…”
Dee looked directly into the man’s eyes. “Michael, I will do whatever I can to help. You have my word.” He held out his hand to shake that of Nostradamus.
Whether in England, France or anywhere else the scene was one familiar enough. A filthy and decrepit old wagon drawn by an ox trundled through muddy lanes near the harbourside of Marseilles. A shabby-looking old man led the ox on a rope and the wagon was piled with disease-stricken corpses. A town crier walked beside the creaking and rattling wagon shouting out monotonously every few moments and ringing a hand-bell.
“Faire sortir vos morts! Faire sortir vos morts!”
Two figures came into view as the ox-cart ponderously turned a corner and the crier’s voice gradually diminished. John Dee and Nostradamus walked forward and paused, watching the disappearing cart and its load of flopping corpses.
“The people perish from something invisible that stalks the streets of Marseilles,” grated Nostradamus passionately. “They cannot even have a decent pauper’s burial. Too many die each day. The corpses are flung into plague-pits outside the town.”
“This happens in England every few years too,” mused Dee. “I have sometimes wondered what brings the plague to a town.” They walked carefully along the filthy street. “Is any other town affected?”
“In this outbreak? Not yet – only Marseilles. But there is an unconfirmed report that two people have now died of plague in L’Estaque – it’s a small fishing village about seven or eight kilometers north of Marseilles.”
Dee suddenly stopped walking and punched his left hand with his right fist. Nostradamus stared at him. “What is it?”
“The plague came to Marseilles. Now it has perhaps spread to a nearby village. If so, we know where it is going – but where did it come from?”
“Where…?” frowned Nostradamus.
“If no other town or village within – say – a hundred kilometers has the plague, it cannot have travelled overland to this town! Otherwise there would be a trail of infection which leads here over the countryside.” Dee mused thoughtfully for a moment. “Instead, it seems Marseilles is the centre from which the plague is now beginning to spread outwards…” He paused, thinking. “The question is – how did the plague reach Marseilles without leaving a trail of infected towns and villages to mark its progression?”
The two men slowly turned round and looked in the opposite direction. Beyond the rooftops of low, shabby wooden warehouses could be seen the masts and rigging of many ships moored at the quayside. Nostradamus opened his eyes wide and gasped as he instantly perceived Dee’s thoughts. “It’s the harbour,” stated Dee. “It’s the ships. It has to be! The ships bring in the plague from foreign ports.”
Nostradamus gave him a puzzled look. “But if that is so, how does it travel on land, away from the ships and across the countryside?”
Even as he said this, a big black rat scuttled out of an open doorway nearby and dashed across the muddy road.
It was evening a few days later. Doctor Louis Serre, a distinguished-looking man of about fifty wearing a grubby white apron, was inside a drafty hovel tending to a woman of twenty who lay feebly moaning on a rough straw bed. She had no pillow and her only covering was a few empty sacks strewn over her. She had lumps like boils all over her exposed skin, including her face. Some of the lumps were as big as hen’s eggs and her visible skin was turning a dark grey hue. Doctor Serre used a sharp dagger to make a small incision in a vein of the woman’s arm. Blood started to flow and he placed a clay dish to catch the blood. He spoke in anguished bitterness without looking up from his patient.
“All we can do is try to bleed her some more and keep praying that the sickness comes out with the blood.”
Nostradamus stared with bitter compassion at the dying woman. He spoke quietly. “It never came out in any of the others.”
Doctor Serre was exhausted and became angry. “Well what do you want me to do? Chant prayers all day and night? That never works either!”
“And yet, the whole world is not infected…” mused Nostradamus almost to himself. “The plague seems to come and go as it wishes, striking some, avoiding others.”
Doctor Serre calmed down. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I am angry because I am helpless to cure the plague. You can understand why artists depict it as a repulsive invisible demon stalking through the land.”
Nostradamus was standing by an unglazed window, merely a square hole in a wattle-and-daub wall. He was motionless, staring out as though suddenly hypnotised. In an astonished voice he breathed in a hoarse whisper; “Someone else is stalking through the land – and they are stalking in this direction!” Doctor Serre looked quizzically at Nostradamus, then walked to stand beside him at the window.
A shabby medieval street of hovels with just a few better buildings could be seen. A pony was pulling a wagon in their direction. A tarpaulin was securely tied-down over something quite large and square on the wagon. As it drew nearer in the twilight it could be seen that the man on foot leading the pony was John Dee.
Nostradamus and Doctor Serre emerged quickly from the hovel as Dee halted the pony and cart and stood to face them. Doctor Serre was baffled and still angry with himself. “What is this?” he snapped irritably.
Quietly, Dee said simply: “I think I may have solved the riddle. I think I can isolate the plague.”
“What?” hissed Serre, dumfounded.
Nostradamus grasped Dee’s shoulders with both hands. His tone was amazed and urgent. “How, John? How?”
“I approached the problem as a process of logic. Why is Marseilles singled out to have the plague, when there is no trail of other plague towns leading here? A great fire will burn from house to house through a city, each building passing the fire to the next. Clearly, the plague does not behave like that.
“So, if it has not come here overland, it must have come over the ocean, in the ships that moor up in the harbour. But then – how can a plague creep off a ship into the streets and buildings? Then I saw the light – well, actually, I saw a rat!”
Nostradamus still gripped Dee’s shoulders and Dee grasped his arms in sudden excitement. Doctor Serre was baffled. “A rat…?”
“Yes!” exclaimed Dee. “A big black rat! The ships are infested with them. And when the ships tie up in the harbour, the rats scramble down the mooring ropes and hunt for food in the town. And the rats carry the plague! I do not yet know how they carry it, but the rats spread the plague!”
Doctor Serre was amazed, enlightened. “So… if we can kill all the rats…”
Nostradamus finished the sentence in wonder. “…the plague will cease!”
Serre frowned, puzzled. “But how will we manage to kill all the rats in Marseilles?”
Instead of replying, Dee seized a corner of the tarpaulin with one hand and grabbed a rope with the other. With a strong wrench he pulled the tarpaulin off. There was a sudden great noise of startled hissing and yeowling. The tarpaulin had been covering a huge wooden cage filled with some fifty cats.
“These are only the first,” explained Dee. “I have organized cat-catchers in other towns and in farming regions. There will be another six carts like this arriving during the week.” He paused and smiled at the others. “My friends – we have declared war against the plague!”
A venerable-looking man of advanced years was seated behind an imposing desk and writing with a quill pen. He was the President of the Sorbonne University. There was a polite knock at the door of the study and John Dee entered. Respectfully, he asked: “You wanted to see me, Monsieur le President?”
The President carefully laid down his quill pen and smiled at Dee, replying in perfect English with a French accent. “Doctor Dee. There are two things I want to talk to you about.” He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts.
“First, I must congratulate you on your remarkable insight regarding the outbreak of plague in Marseilles. I understand that the sickness there is now rapidly diminishing. You have evidently inaugurated the very genesis of an entirely new way by which mankind may conceive the manner in which disease manifests.
“Second, I have received a letter by special courier.” He held up a parchment envelope with red wax seals. “It is addressed to you personally and comes from England, from John Dudley the Duke of Northumberland.”
Dee was surprised. “Dudley? He is head of the Privy Council. He almost rules England.”
The President handed the letter across the desk to Dee, who opened it and read it quickly and silently. Then he looked up at the President. “It seems the Duke has heard of me. He has heard I will be returning to England soon. He is offering me his patronage if I will undertake to instruct his engravers on how to make more accurate charts for ocean navigation. There will be a salary.”
The President rose from his seat and reached across his desk to shake Dee’s hand. “Mai Dieu vous envoyer en tout sécurité – May God send you safely.”
Overlooked by a great hill on which Viking invaders had buried their dead half a thousand years earlier, the River Thames at Greenwich in Kent flowed through pleasant fields and meads filled with the cries of water fowl. There, amid the trees on the flat southern riverside, the Palace of Pleasaunce had been built in 1443 by command of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. There, King Henry the Eighth had been born fifty-eight years later and, later still, both his daughters the flame-haired Princesses Mary and Elizabeth had also been born.
Now, in a huge and imposing reception room of the palace, some thirty dignitaries and courtiers were lined up in front of a hand-carved wood panel wall hung with richly coloured tapestries. It was early evening and the sun was setting outside and candles had been lighted to illumine the rooms and corridors. Through a huge open double doorway a liveried herald strode bearing a magnificent ornamental staff-of-office. He banged the staff loudly twice on the polished floorboards.
“Make way for his royal majesty King Edward!”
Through the double-doorway came the royal party. At the front was King Edward, King Henry’s only surviving son. He was now a twelve year-old boy, and a rather sickly and obnoxious one. At King Edward’s side walked his mentor John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Various bishops and nobles followed behind them.
As the royal party walked slowly past the assembled guests each one bowed in turn, politely saying “Your Majesty!” The king stopped graciously for a few moments to speak with each one. About halfway down the line of dignitaries stood John Dee awaiting his turn. When the king reached him, Dee bowed respectfully and said: “Your Majesty!”
“Majesty, this is Doctor John Dee the mathematician,” explained Dudley. “He is enabling us to greatly improve the accuracy of our ship navigation. His charts are the most accurate in all of Europe and are already beginning to give us an advantage in trade voyages.”
King Edward stared at Dee in the same way someone might stare at a strange animal in the zoo. “Ah yes!” he declared. “The wizard! Can you turn someone into a frog?”
Dee was taken aback. “Er – no your Majesty, I’m afraid I cannot…” The King immediately lost interest and walked on to the next dignitary. Dee stared after him, very softly muttering: “…but I’m working on it!”
When the proceedings had ended, people left the palace by a huge and magnificent entrance hall. Here and there small groups of three or four were standing chatting before they left. John Dee entered the great hall carrying a cloak over his arm and he paused by the great ornamented doors to drape the cloak over his shoulders. As he did this, he heard a voice he recognized.
“It seems we have both come a long way since Cambridge, John.”
Dee turned round in delighted astonishment. “Doctor Grindle! What are you doing here?”
Edmund Grindle smiled. “Well, I am now Canon Precentor of Saint Paul’s Cathedral and Chaplain to Ridley, the Bishop of London, as well as being the King’s Chaplain and Prebendary of Westminster.”
Dee grinned at him. “I recall that someone once told me: ‘teachers live in rooms, archbishops live in palaces.’”
Grindle laughed. “Exactly!” Then, suddenly, he became very serious. “But I need to advise you – you should not be offended by anything His Majesty may say. He is only a boy – and he is very ill, and likely to die of it.”
“I didn’t know this. What ails His Majesty?”
“He has the consumption. Some call it scrofula or the King’s Evil. It is usually fatal…” Grindal put his arm round Dee’s shoulders and they started to walk out of the open doors of the palace past standing guards.
“And John…” he resumed once they were safely out of earshot, “I want to give you some friendly advice, for old time’s sake. Do not become too involved in the plots of John Dudley. He is a dangerous man. He controls the Privy Council and, through them, Parliament. He sees himself as the Power behind the Throne of England.” He paused in reflection. “A very dangerous man indeed…”
The two men reached the horse-line and said their goodbyes, riding off into the night in different directions.
There was a large conference room in Hampton Court Palace and the entire Privy Council of forty expensively dressed men sat within the room at a long table. The chair at the top of the table, however, was empty. On the table in front of the empty chair lay a large velum sheet curled somewhat at the edges and covered in fine writing. There was a big red wax seal at the foot of the page. Seated quietly at several desks around the walls of the room were male secretaries scribbling industriously with quill pens and lowered heads.
John Dudley the Duke of Northumberland leaned forward casually with both hands on the back of the empty top chair. He was talking, and as he talked he moved his hands from the chair and slowly strode round the table, passing like a thundercloud behind the backs of the seated councilors. As he walked, he was pointing with a stabbing forefinger at the velum document.
“…And in accord with the will of His Majesty the King, expressed to this Privy Council by royal charter, the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth are hereby pronounced illegitimate and not lawfully begotten. Let no one call them Princess on pain of a charge of high treason. The marriages between King Henry and the mothers of Mary and Elizabeth were, in both cases, clearly and lawfully undone by divorcements ratified and confirmed by several Acts of Parliament which remain in full force.
“Whereby, the said Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth are clearly disabled from asking, claiming or challenging in law for the said Imperial Crown of England.”
Dudley stopped his pacing and leaned between two seated councilors, much to their silent and nervous discomfiture, placing his knuckles on the tabletop as he came forward.
“His Majesty has thus ensured by full and proper legal writ and Act of Parliament that neither Mary nor Elizabeth shall ever be Queens of England!”
The seated councilors, amazed, started talking to each other in low tones, obviously too frightened to disagree. John Dudley stood upright and folded his arms in great satisfaction.
Twelve-year-old King Edward lay in a sumptuous four-poster bed, his back against red and gold satin pillows. He was hacking and coughing almost continually. Three venerable physicians were attempting to ease his discomfort. One was mixing a potion in a glass; another was mopping his sweating brow; the third was listening to his heart through a long hollow reed with a wooden trumpet-shaped end that rested on the boy’s chest. Several matrons and ladies-in-waiting stood by watching tearfully. The King was as pallid as parchment and looked like he was not long for this world.
There came a quickly-growing sound of faint commotion and distant shouting. Suddenly the great door of the bedchamber was flung open with a crash and in strode red-headed Mary Tudor who, for all her thirty-seven years, was a rather fetching woman. She was escorted by two personal men-at-arms who looked like they could handle themselves in any combat situation. The former princess was quite obviously fuming in a raging temper.
The surprised physicians, matrons and other staff cried out angrily at this intrusion, but Mary ignored them. A thin young physician’s assistant tried to block Mary’s striding advance across the room and one of the bodyguard picked him up and threw him several feet into a corner of the bedchamber where he lay stunned. In a few moments, Mary was standing at the King’s bedside, angry to the point of apoplexy.
“You little bastard!” she shrieked. “You treacherous pile of pigshit! You greasy, fobbing, puking, dog-hearted little piss pot! You dare call me illegitimate? You dare sign a law that I have no claim to the throne? You dare insult me – ME, a royal princess of the blood of King Henry?”
She leaned forward and snarled hissing into Edward’s sick face. “You are a barnacle on the ship of state! You are a leaking codpiece in the britches of Parliament! You are not fit to be my foot-licker!”
Mary raised her hand as though to strike Edward, who could not move. As she did so, there was a sound of many running footsteps outside the room and John Dudley ran in, followed by several soldiers armed with loaded crossbows. The soldiers formed a half-ring around Mary and aimed their crossbows at her and her two minders.
Dudley spoke calmly in a quiet voice. “If you strike His Majesty, I will order my men to shoot you.”
“You would not dare!” spat Mary in fury.
“Yes I would. It would solve some problems, and there are many witnesses that I acted to protect His Majesty the King. Be thankful, Madam, that I allow you to live. It is more than you deserve. If you go quietly I will permit you to retire to an estate in the country.”
Mary was beside herself in fury. “YOU will permit ME? You pile of horse-droppings! I will have your head for this!”
“On the contrary, Madam. I have cancelled all your rights, ranks and privileges and stripped you of your spurious claim to the throne of England – by Act of Parliament.”
He paused, savoring the moment. “Whether you shall live or die is now my decision to make. Leave here immediately, and I may permit you to live.” His smile was sinister. “You should be thankful for that!”
Mary stared at Dudley in absolute shaking fury, then turned her back on him and strode out of the room followed by her two bodyguards. Over her shoulder she spat a Parthian shot. “We shall see, Dudley! We shall see!”
On the north side of the river Thames on the edge of Tudor London there stood the palatial Durham House beside the muddy riverside trackway which local people called The Strand. Durham House was the residence of the Bishop of London. It was early afternoon on May 21st 1553 and in the Bishop’s residence a wedding was taking place.
Amongst a small group of a dozen aristocratic men and women was John Dudley, who looked very pleased with himself; indeed, he looked smug. Edmund Grindle was present in his official capacity as Chaplain to the Bishop and he had invited John Dee to be present. Neither Grindle nor Dee looked comfortable with the proceedings. Nor, in fact, did the bride’s parents Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, and his wife Lady Frances Brandon.
The bride was 26 year-old Lady Jane Grey, who was now legal heir to the throne of England after Mary and Elizabeth had been barred from the succession by Dudley’s Act of Parliament. And the groom was none other than Guildford Dudley, John Dudley’s son. By means of this carefully arranged marriage, John Dudley was planning to become the undisputed overlord of England himself – King in all but name. Small wonder, then, that Grindle and Dee looked serious.
The bride and groom knelt before Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London and Westminster, who proceeded to perform the wedding. Although, thanks to the schism with Rome brought about by King Henry the Eighth’s intransigence, England was now in effect a Protestant country where the reigning monarch was head of the Church, the High Church still employed Latin as the language of religion because it was the language the Bible was printed in.
Bishop Ridley solemnly intoned; “Lord Guildford Dudley, vis accipere Jane Grey, hic praesentem in tuam legitimam uxorum iuxta tirum sanctae matris ecclesiae?”
“Volo,” stated the groom.
“Jane Grey, vis accipere Guildford Dudley, hic praesentem in tuam legitimam uxorum iuxta tirum sanctae matris ecclesiae?”
“Volo,” stated Lady Jane.
John Dee glanced at Guildford Dudley’s face. His expression looked savagely triumphant.
Some hours later John Dee and Edmund Grindle strolled together away from Durham House along the muddy footpath just above the waters of the Thames.
“I hear you now practice astrology professionally John,” remarked Grindle. “I am not versed in that particular art, but I can none-the-less see an uncertain future before me – and before all England! I intend to leave the country for my own safety before everything comes to a head.”
“Leave the country?” echoed Dee. “That’s a bit drastic, surely?”
“Is it?” Grindle was silent for a moment. “The King is dying, John. Victims of the consumption don’t usually last long.” He was silent again for several paces. “I can see what our friend John Dudley is plotting. He has now married his son to Jane Grey, who is third in line to the succession after the princesses Mary and Elizabeth, who are now stripped of their rank and position by a Parliament controlled by Dudley. And John Dudley Duke of Northumberland will become our Emperor! The power behind the throne indeed.”
Grindle stopped walking and stood for a moment. Dee also halted beside him. Grindle stared into Dee’s eyes. “I can foresee the coming storm. I leave soon for the Netherlands.”
In the boy King’s sumptuous bedroom Edward lay in bed propped up by cushions. He already looked like he was at Death’s door, pale, frail and trembling in every limb. His face and brow were covered in sweat and his teeth were chattering.
John Dudley was seated on the edge of the bed with a few parchments in his hand. He was remorselessly passing them one-by-one to the King, who signed each with a rapid shaking scribble without even reading the documents.
In the large open space of grassy fields and paved paths which lay near the banks of the River Thames by St. Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster, great crowds of people had been assembling for hours amid a continuous background hubbub of voices. Whole families had arrived, many carrying bundles of straw which they spread on the ground to sit on.
Near midday an official crier carrying a hand-bell and a scroll of parchment emerged from the timber door of the building accompanied by an escort of two pikemen. They made their way through the crowd, who instinctively moved to create a clear avenue which led to a raised wooden platform. The crier and his bodyguard mounted a short flight of wooden steps to stand on top of the podium. The crier rang his hand-bell loudly and a sudden silence descended over the awaiting crowd.
“OYEZ! OYEZ! OYEZ!” shouted the crier at the top of his voice. “Be it known throughout the land! King Edward is dead! Long live Her Majesty Queen Jane!”
St. Stephen’s Chapel was no longer used for purely church purposes. When King Henry the Eighth had died six years ago the Royal Palace of Westminster and all its offices had no longer been officially considered a royal residence. Instead, the buildings were increasingly being used as administrative offices. The large cavernous chapel was now the debating chamber for the House of Commons, the Speaker’s chair being set before the altar.
Even as the crier was shouting the news to the commoners massed outside, within, a crowd of some sixty noblemen were all standing shouting and gesticulating at once. It was impossible to hear any single voice above the general angry cacophony.
Before the Speaker’s chair stood John Dudley with several clerks and minders. One of the minders was a particularly huge and tough-looking man in the uniform of a yeoman guard. He walked forward to confront the shouting crowd, raising his hand to point at them.
“Silence! Silence all of you!” he bellowed in an exceptionally loud voice which echoed impressively inside the building. “This is Parliament, not some shitty marketplace! If you are not quiet, I shall order bowmen to open fire on you!”
The minder raised his hand as a signal and a dozen men armed with crossbows ran into the hall through a side door and knelt in a row in front of Dudley and his men. The crossbows were aimed at the angry members of Parliament. Silence rapidly fell.
John Dudley walked casually forward to stand face-to-face with the front of the crowd. With greatly exaggerated calmness and politeness Dudley spoke to them conversationally, as though nothing extraordinary was happening.
“Now, what is agitating my Parliament? What is it that has put the fear of God up you all?”
A single venerable-looking nobleman with a white beard stepped forward from the front of the crowd to address Dudley.
“My Lord Duke, we have this very hour received news by dispatch rider that Mary Tudor has established herself in Suffolk, at Framlingham Castle. She has publicly declared herself rightful Queen of England and is raising an army in defiance of Parliament!”
Dudley laughed loudly. “Is that all that troubles you?” He walked to the nobleman and put his arm round the man’s shoulder, squeezing him a couple of times as though he were a friendly uncle to the older man. The noble wore a fine gold medallion round his neck on a gold chain. Dudley took it in his fingers and examined it reflectively. The nobleman looked very uncomfortable.
“Surely, this is excellent news,” smiled Dudley. “Excellent news indeed! The bastard Mary has seriously overplayed her hand. She has now committed high treason against the Crown and Parliament.”
With his arm still firmly round the anxious nobleman’s shoulder, Dudley walked into the midst of the throng of Members of Parliament, beaming at them. “I myself will go with an army to Suffolk and I shall arrest her and bring her back to you in chains. She will then be beheaded.” He waved his other hand casually in the air. “No more head, no more problem!”
A royal flag was flying in the breeze on a turret flagpole at Framlingham Castle. Edward Fiennes de Clinton, a tall good-looking nobleman of 41, marched purposefully along passages and through richly decorated rooms. Eventually he came to a closed wooden door where two soldiers stood guard. As he approached, the soldiers opened the door for him to reveal a beautiful reception room.
In the room stood Mary Tudor, accompanied by several ladies-in-waiting and two elderly male secretaries. Mary smiled with delight as Edward Fiennes de Clinton walked in and knelt before her, bowing his head. She reached forward stooping and took his hand as he stood up.
“Edward! I hoped in my heart that I could count on your loyalty.”
He kissed Mary’s hand. “I will always be your servant, my Lady. You know my heart belongs to you.”
JOHN DEE- SORCERER ROYAL
“Parliament has convicted me of high treason and Dudley is coming with an army of two thousand to arrest me. He brags that he will bring me in chains to London and take my head away from me.”
“I have heard. We must make him sing a different song.”
“How, Edward? How? Local people flock to me, but they are farmers and labourers, not soldiers. There are only perhaps fifty of them.”
“Then we must improve the odds! You now have me at your side, my Lady. And I am Lord High Admiral of England.”
“But can you bring an army here?”
“No, my Lady. I do not have an army. But I have a fleet of twenty ships heading up the coast to Aldeburgh by Orford Ness even as we speak.”
Mary seemed doubtful. “But the coast is over ten miles away. You cannot bring the fleet here.”
Edward de Clinton smiled at her fondly. “No, my Lady, I cannot – but that is not what I am planning…”
On a pleasant trackway through wooded farmland and fen a large column of marching soldiers approached from the distance. This was an army, for there were some two thousand men. At the head of the column several senior noblemen rode horses. At their front rode a very smug-looking John Dudley. Beside him rode his team of tough-looking minders. Far in the rear of the column came several rattling and bumping horse-drawn wagons carrying supplies, spare weapons and numerous bundles of crossbow bolts. As the column advanced, a lone scout on horseback galloped towards Dudley from ahead.
“My Lord!” shouted the scout. “Mary has assembled her men a short way from her castle. They wait there for us.”
“How many of them?” demanded Dudley.
The scout laughed. “No more than two hundred peasants and farmers my Lord. Many of them are but old men and their wives carrying rakes and pitchforks.”
Dudley turned in the saddle smirking to his lieutenants riding with him. “A meager two hundred peasants and old retainers – and there are two thousand of us! We shall advance to meet them. When they see our strength, her people will flee in terror without a fight or be hacked to pieces if they dare hold their ground. You will then arrest Mary.” He paused. “You need not be gentle with her! I understand she likes her men rough!”
Just over half a mile from Framlingham Castle, in a coarse pasture where there were coppices, hedgerows and low clumps of green thorn trees, Mary Tudor sat sidesaddle on a white palfrey, waiting patiently. Behind her five loyal noblemen also sat on their horses, which occasionally blew and stamped. They were assembled on a rough cart-track which stretched away before them, over fields, meadows and vanishing beneath distant trees. They were all watching the slow, inexorable approach of Dudley’s marching army. As it grew ever-nearer, the steady tramp-tramp-tramp of four thousand chain-mailed feet grew ever more loud, even on the soft grass and dockleaves.
When the gap between Dudley and Mary was a mere hundred feet or so, Dudley casually raised his hand. Loudly, he shouted; “Halt!” On the instant, his marching column came to a somewhat noisy standstill behind him. Dudley stared grimly at Mary. Everything was strangely silent for some moments. Then he shouted again, this time to his front.
“Mary Tudor! I am here with an army and a warrant from Parliament to arrest you on a charge of Seditious High Treason!”
Unexpectedly, Mary laughed loudly with utter contempt in her voice. “Are you now?” She raised her gloved hand high in the air.
Suddenly, at this signal, about twenty feet from Dudley and his column of troops, farmers, labourers, wives and a few nobles appeared from behind the cover of hedgerows, clumps of bushes and even from behind a herd of cows. These people quickly threw aside the hedges and bushes, which had been pre-cut, and the cattle were also chased away noisily.
Where all this camouflage had been carefully positioned, it could now be seen what was hidden behind – rows of ship’s canon on their wooden wheeled trolleys. There were groups of four or five canon where each clump of camouflage had been removed. The big guns pointed at Dudley’s column of troops along their left flank; his entire force was covered from end to end. At the same time, peasant men, women and children carrying sticks with smouldering fuses ran quickly from cover to stand ready behind each big gun.
In the astonished silence, Lord High Admiral Edward de Clinton walked from the nearest batch of cannon and halted, bowing, before Mary on her horse. Mary blew him a kiss over her gloved hand, then shouted at Dudley with surprising loudness and great venom.
“And I am here with a hundred and twenty ship’s cannon all fully loaded with grapeshot, arrowheads, blades, chain-shot, canister-shot, lead shot and shrapnel! And all aimed from point-blank range at you and your army, Dudley! I am arresting YOU, Dudley, on a charge of Seditious High Treason!
“You and your men will surrender immediately and throw down all your arms, or I will give the command to fire, and you and all your fine army will be cut to shivering bloody pieces on the instant!”
The transformation in Dudley’s manner was sudden. He looked round himself in all directions, fearful and agitated. All down the long column of troops the men were dropping or throwing away their weapons and kneeling abjectly with bowed heads and terrified expressions.
Admiral Edward de Clinton marched swiftly up to confront the stunned and agitated Dudley, who was turning his horse vainly in every direction looking for an avenue of escape. The admiral drew his sword and pointed it up at Dudley’s face. His voice was authoritative and stern. “You will dismount. Now!”
In St. Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster the members of Parliament had once more assembled, in a great hurry. All sixty were standing in a crowd, extremely agitated and fearful. One of them, Lord Suffolk, raised his arms to quell the babble. At the top of his voice he bellowed: “Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Be silent! Be silent!” Slowly, silence fell and the echoes faded. Everyone was looking at Lord Suffolk. “There is only one choice open to us if we are all to keep our heads – and our positions!” He paused, looking round at the sea of anxious faces all now staring at him.
“On the urging of Dudley, we have declared Mary a bastard to the title of heir to the throne, and we have officially recognized Lady Jane Grey by an Act of Parliament as the true Queen of England.
“Now Dudley has been arrested for High Treason and Mary is on her way here to London. She now commands Dudley’s army as well as the English Navy! If we wish to save all our necks, we must now make haste to write officially to Mary, categorically stating Parliament’s full and unanimous recognition that she is the true Queen of England, and we must also declare that Dudley’s daughter-in-law Jane Grey is an imposter and have her arrested forthwith. These are the only actions that can save all of us from the headsman’s block!”
The assembled noble members of Parliament loudly and vigorously shouted their agreement in a single roof-raising “AYE!”
The streets of London were thronged on both sides by great crowds of ordinary people who had poured out of their houses and hovels to watch the spectacle. They were continually booing and shouting obscenities in anger, some shaking their fists, others throwing rotten vegetables. The streets were lined with pike-armed soldiers who were keeping the crowd back from the main muddy thoroughfare.
The subject of the crowd’s anger was John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, Viscount Lisle, Earl of Warwick, Governor of Boulogne, Lord Great Chamberlain, Grand Master of the Royal Household, Lord President of the Council, Earl Marshal of England and so-on and so-on. There was nothing the poorer people of London liked better than to watch a powerful man fall in the excrement.
Dudley was on horseback, securely bound with ropes, his horse being led on a tether by a soldier riding in front. His once-fine clothes were torn and soiled. Fifteen armed foot-soldiers surrounded him and were escorting him through the streets. Suddenly a group of citizens managed to break through the roadside cordon and they surged round Dudley shouting and screaming furiously, shaking fists, making obscene gestures and spitting and were fended off by his guards. A couple of men managed to get past the soldiers and tried to pull Dudley from his horse, but he was securely tied to it. The soldiers roughly forced the angry jostling crowd back.
Only nine days later Londoners were treated to a second such spectacle, but it was now a joyful occasion, the massed crowds cheering, waving and some even weeping with joy. Everyone was deliriously happy, even the soldiers who lined the roadsides to keep the crowds in place. In the middle distance the stone bulk of the Tower of London watched over everything. Mary Tudor had alighted from a ship at Tower Wharf and was entering London, riding sidesaddle through the streets with a mounted escort and squads of marching soldiers. She looked beautiful, radiant and very regal. Occasionally she waved at the crowds in a dignified manner and there were continuous shouts of “God bless Queen Mary!” “God save the Queen!” and “Hail Mary!”
And a fortnight later the lucky people of London were treated to yet another enjoyable spectacle, one which attracted an even larger audience. No less than ten thousand people – men, women and children – thronged the muddy square beside St. Stephen’s Hall, the seat of Parliament. At the centre of the big square rose a wooden platform with a low rail around it and a gap in the rail where a flight of wooden steps granted access.
The oaken door of a small companion building adjoining St. Stephen’s Hall was suddenly flung open with a bang and John Dudley, tightly bound, was roughly propelled out by several men. The crowd began to jeer and hoot at him. Dudley was roughly manhandled through the crowd, many men and women spitting at him as he passed, on up the wooden steps onto the platform where there was an executioner’s block and a muscular executioner waiting patiently with folded arms, naked to the waist in the August sun and wearing a black hood covering all his head except for eyeholes. There was also a Roman Catholic priest standing by the block.
As Dudley was forced roughly to his knees and his head and neck placed upon the block, the priest began to intone a prayer in Latin. “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen. Introi ad altare Dei. Júdica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta ab homine iniquo et doloso erue me...”
The executioner raised his big axe, hefted it and swung it down with great strength. Dudley’s severed head bounced rolling across the wooden planks of the scaffold floor and there was an immense cheer from the watching crowd.
Master Tailor Roland Dee, John Dee’s father, was growing old at sixty. However, he could still put up his fists and punch hard when he wanted to. Several officials and a couple of soldiers had suddenly burst in to the Dee house at Chelmsford in Essex and were trying to pull him out into the street, and Roland had already landed a couple of well-aimed punches which had produced bloody noses. John Dee’s mother Joanna, who was only forty-five, had joined in the affray to help her husband. She was screaming in anger at the top of her voice as she lashed out at the intruders with her fists. One of the soldiers was trying to pinion her elbows from behind, but a rather flexible backward head-jerk broke his nose and sent him sprawling on the floor roaring in pain.
Their son, twenty-seven year-old John Dee, was at that time living with his parents. He came rushing down a narrow flight of twisting stairs to see what all the noise was about. As he reached the foot of the stairs his mother was screaming out shrilly; “Let him go, you bastards! Let him go! He has done nothing!”
John Dee spoke demandingly in a more educated voice. “Why are you doing this? My father hasn’t done anything wrong.”
A burley official who seemed to be in charge glared at Dee. Angrily he spat out; “He is accused of being a Protestant rabble-rouser who incites others to refuse to accept the Holy Catholic Faith ordained by our gracious Queen Mary Tudor. We have testimony from witnesses. He is to go for trial at the assizes!” The burley official leered mockingly at Dee, relishing his discomfiture. “And furthermore, all his possessions of value and all his money and business deed-charters are to be immediately confiscated by the Crown!”
As the soldiers and other officials finally managed to tie Roland Dee’s arms behind him, the burley official turned to face Dee’s mother and bowed sarcastically, sweeping his feathered cap across his knees. “A very good day to you, madam,” he said, then, grinning widely, “or not, as the case may be!”
He walked out of the house chuckling nastily, following his men who were frogmarching the bound Roland Dee stumblingly away. Joanna Dee was now sobbing piteously and John Dee took her unhappily in his arms.
Roland Dee stood before a long and grand table behind which sat five grim-looking officials. Two jailors stood beside Roland and had a hand on each of his shoulders. The official in the centre was a hard-looking middle-aged magistrate wearing a broad-brimmed black hat. He picked up a sheet of parchment and glanced at it as he spoke in a severe voice.
“Roland Dee, Master Tailor of Chelmsford in the assizes of the Essex Catchment jurisdiction!
“You are charged that you have erroneously and profligately given voice to the supporting and supposed authority of the Protestant error, in public places and in private. Under the laws passed by Parliament and authorized by Her Gracious Majesty Queen Mary, the true and perfect Catholic Faith has been returned to all England.
“And all other renditions, suppositions, beliefs, services and canon are thereby perceived as either the major crime of heresy, for which the penalty is to be burned alive at the stake, or as the lesser crime of committing errors of belief, for which the penalty is merely the confiscation by the Crown of all possessions, monies, dwelling-houses, financial charters and deeds, furniture, accoutrements, bills of mortgage, properties, chattels, tools and livestock of any breed.”
The magistrate studied Roland Dee for a moment, as though weighing him up.
“Though some might consider that your actions amount to heresy, we have the discretion under the merciful beneficence of Her Majesty to employ the lesser charge of 'error of belief'.
“We are merciful. You shall therefore be set free by this tribunal, with all your worldly goods impounded by the Crown. You are now made bankrupt, sir, and you should be grateful for our clemency!” He loudly banged a gavel and called out; “Next case!”
Roland Dee was led out of the courtroom, staggering. His expression was horrified and bewildered.
Far away on the other side of London in the royal palace of Hampton Court a scholarly-looking man stood waiting beside an easel. The painting held by the easel was hidden, covered by a linen sheet. There came a sound of approaching footsteps echoing loudly on the wooden floor and Queen Mary walked into the huge room through an open double doorway at its far end, accompanied by four noblemen and two ladies-in-waiting. It took them a full minute to reach the easel. The royal party stood expectantly. The scholarly man gently removed the linen cover to reveal a detailed portrait of a very handsome young nobleman dressed in the very finest of clothes.
The scholarly man spoke politely. “Majesty, this is the painting. Here is an exact likeness of Prince Philip of Spain, son of Charles the Fifth, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Lord of the Netherlands…”
“Yes, yes!” snapped Mary impatiently. “I know all his titles – he’s my cousin!” The Queen stepped closer to the easel and examined the painting closely. “His son the prince does seem remarkably handsome. How accurate is this picture? Who painted it?”
“An Italian artist,” explained the scholarly man, “one Tiziano Vecelli, popularly known simply as Titian. He is renowned for his accuracy and realism.”
Mary continued examining the painting very closely, every minute detail. She spoke absently under her breath as she stared. “I need a suitable husband. He’ll do very nicely, I think.”
“Are you sure, Majesty?” queried one of the noblemen respectfully. “Would an English husband not be better suited? Edward Courtney and Reginald Pole are strongly recommended by Parliament.”
Mary was still absently examining the painting and did not turn her head. “I have made my decision. I will marry this Spanish prince. See to the details.”
A very large and angry mob of ordinary citizens of all callings and trades clustered in a town square shouting and angrily shaking their fists. The town was Rochester on the Kentish river Medway where a Norman castle reared over the quaysides, every bit the equal of the White Tower of the Tower of London. At the centre of the market square stood a large stone plinth upon which, in normal times, farmers and auctioneers would stand selling their produce and livestock to the highest bidder. Thomas Wyatt, a well-dressed local nobleman, was climbing onto the top of the plinth. He carried a parchment in his hand. Standing on the top of the big stone block he shouted at the crowd, brandishing the parchment.
“This marriage is an abomination to the nation!”
The furious crowd roared their agreement with many a livid gesture.
“I have been to Spain!” shouted Wyatt. “I have seen what the Inquisition does to people! I have witnessed the torture and the burnings! And now Queen Mary brings this Spanish Catholic to England – to be our King!”
The crowd roared its angry agreement.
Wyatt pointed at them, turning round on the plinth as he did so. “Shall we allow the Inquisition into England?” he bellowed.
An almighty roar of “NO!” rose up from the throng of people.
“Then what shall we do about it?” Wyatt roared back.
The crowd became incoherent with anger and roared continuous obscenities, waving fists, cudgels, swords and the occasional firearm.
It was almost midnight and in Hampton Court Palace Queen Mary walked briskly into a stateroom where the Duke of Norfolk and two other noblemen stood waiting for her. They all bowed low as she entered. She wasted no time on trivial courtesies.
“My Lord Norfolk – what is the situation?”
“We come direct from Parliament, Majesty,” stated Norfolk. “Our information is that the rebel leader Thomas Wyatt has set up a headquarters at Rochester. People are flocking to his banner. He is raising an army, there can be no doubt. He has threatened to depose Your Majesty and arrest Prince Philip of Spain if he sets foot on English soil.”
“And how serious is this rebellion?”
“At this present time, Majesty, it can be put down by our army. But there are already reports that the spirit of rebellion is spreading to other English counties. We must act quickly to suppress it, before it can enlarge.”
“Very well my lord,” replied Mary. “Do what is necessary.”
The Duke of Norfolk and his two colleagues bowed and marched rapidly from the room.
John Dee had used his income from map-drawing sensibly. He had purchased a small cottage in the green countryside on the southern bank of the Thames, a region popularly known as the South-Walk, where occasional farms specialized in the growing and selling of medicinal herbs as well as raising cattle and sheep. John Dee and his mother and father were seated in the small main room where half a dozen candles supplied a meager and flickering light. Dee’s father Roland was very ill and sat huddled in his chair, pale and coughing badly.
“The river vapours are unkind to your poor father,” observed Joanna Dee.
“I know,” replied John Dee wretchedly. “But this is the best I can afford. And since the Crown has taken all Father’s money and possessions, I’m afraid this is all I can manage. When Dudley was beheaded, I lost my employer and my salary.
He rose and poured a jug of wine into a clay mug, handing it carefully to his trembling father. In a kindly voice he said: “Here, drink this – slowly! Wine is a healthier drink than the local water.”
His mother Joanna was weeping quietly. “What are we to do…?” she whimpered.
Dee walked to her side and put his arm round her shoulders. “We shall wait and hope for better times to come. There is a rebellion rising in Kent against Queen Mary, and I hear it is spreading to other areas. If the rebels win, perhaps the wrongs committed against citizens like father will be reversed…” His voice trailed off.
“And if they loose…?” whispered his mother.
“Then,” answered Dee, “we shall have a Spanish King!”
In the Kentish town of Rochester a furious battle was in progress in the streets. It was civil war. Pikemen and some cavalry were trying to push their way up a street and a huge mob of citizens with many nobles among them were trying to force them back. Canon-fire and distant explosions could be heard, and the occasional crash of falling masonry. The air was filled with a loud cacophony of cries and screams.
In neighbouring streets and in the market square men were battling with swords and halberds. Frequently people were run through or impaled by halberds thrown like spears. At the market cross a physically powerful and enraged citizen – a local blacksmith - wielded a great axe and split a soldier’s helmet and the head inside it. At upstairs windows women were pouring boiling water and boiling oil onto troops who were trying to break down their doors. There were horrible screams of agony, mutilation and death from all quarters. The sounds of the battle of Rochester were loud and terrible.
But, against all the odds, it gradually became clear that the rebels were winning.
No less than seventy Members of Parliament were standing assembled now inside Westminster Hall. More unusually, it was night time and the hall was lit by torches and large candles. The Duke of Norfolk, standing on the priest’s plinth, had just arrived in a great hurry and was slightly breathless, speaking loudly and bluntly, his voice echoing.
“This is a grim game we must play against Master Thomas Wyatt and his rebel army! Our riders have brought back the news that they have already marched through Dartford and are this very night camped on Blackheath. Deserters have informed us that Wyatt plans to march on South-Walk tomorrow and then here, to seize Westminster and capture Her Majesty at Whitehall Palace.”
He paused, still panting slightly.
“But I have plans of my own! And an army of my own! And my army stands at twenty thousand to his five thousand.”
The assembled Members of Parliament gave a great cheer of approval.
Roland Dee, his wife and his son John sat around a bare wooden table. Roland Dee’s complexion was pallid and drawn and he visibly breathed with some difficulty. A few candles were lit, but the room held dark corners. On a wooden platter was a single crusty-looking loaf of bread. Joanna reached for the bread and broke it into three equal lumps, passing them to the other two. She spoke resignedly.
“This is our meal for today.”
John Dee broke his bread in half and placed the two pieces in front of his parents. “I will not see you go hungry one more day,” he stated angrily. “My decision is made!”
“What decision?” asked his mother fearfully. “What are you going to do?”
“I have certain skills in accurately drawing-up charts of the heavens, and I can interpret the likely future for people, based upon their stars. I will do this for any who may ask, and I shall charge a fee.”
His mother was horrified. “Astrology? You will be burned at the stake as a sorcerer!”
“Not if I keep my wits about me – and not if I have some illustrious clients…”
In the half-light of dawn, Pall Mall Field near Whitehall Palace was deserted. The field, surrounded by various mansions and buildings, would one day be named St. James’s Square. Gradually there came a slight but growing sound – the occasional clink of metal on metal, a low voice hissing a command, a heavy footfall, a smothered sneeze… Men of Thomas Wyatt’s rebel army had reached London. They were proceeding with great caution, silently entering the field from all the roads leading into it, north, south, east and west, warily looking about themselves. It seemed they had subdued all of London. Thomas Wyatt their leader was with them.
The cautiously advancing rebel groups met at the middle of the grassy field and shook hands. Several sheep were grazing but scampered off, alarmed by the arrival of so many strangers. “Now!” spoke Wyatt to his lieutenants, “We have captured London! Our next task is to proceed to Whitehall Palace and take Queen Mary prisoner!”
Suddenly and without any warning there could be heard a great “bang” from an unseen canon – a signal! Within a few moments hundreds of soldiers armed with loaded crossbows appeared at all the doors and windows of the surrounding buildings. Other crossbowmen ran to kneel in lines on the roads entering the field, blocking all escape. At the same time, more archers and crossbowmen could be seen running across the flat rooftops of the castle-like mansions overlooking the field, forming up in ranks along all the edges. With a rumbling sound, teams of men pulled wheeled ship’s canon from hidden places in alleys and gardens to the mouths of all roads into the square, smoking fuzes at the ready.
A nobleman on horseback walked his mount sedately, unhurried, onto the edge of the field. It was the Duke of Norfolk. He shouted loudly.
“You will lay down your arms and surrender!” It was not spoken as an order, it was a matter-of-fact statement. “Or we shall open fire and you will all die on this instant!”
After a brief stunned hesitation the rebels, looking round at each other in sudden fear, threw their weapons to the ground. Many of them started kneeling in submission.
In a corridor in Whitehall Palace Queen Mary came into view round a corner marching angrily. Four senior male secretaries were scurrying to keep up with her and they looked rather frightened; her expression might have been called “spitting feathers!” As they marched, the furious Mary was instructing them.
“Wyatt is to be tried and executed without delay. WITHOUT DELAY! One out of every seven of the rebels will have both hands cut off! Wyatt’s lieutenants will also have their eyes put out with hot irons!”
“As you command, Majesty,” one of the secretaries replied obsequiously.
“And the pretender to the throne – Lady Jane Grey! Dudley’s daughter-in-law. They would have made her Queen in my place! I will be rid of her for good! She is to be beheaded! And her husband, Dudley’s son!”
Another secretary spoke, anxious to appear two-hundred per cent obedient. “It shall be arranged forthwith, Majesty.”
It was a black night and the rain poured down relentlessly upon London. The solitary figure of a woman wearing a cloak pulled over her head in an attempt to keep as dry as possible walked quickly along an empty street. Dim light of candles flickered from occasional windows as she passed silently by, but glass was a luxury and most windows were shuttered with wooden panels. She disappeared round a street corner and hurried along a different thoroughfare, still holding her cloak over her head.
Inside the Spartan main room of John Dee’s cottage, Dee and his mother and father were tucking-in with relish into an excellent meal. On the table was a platter bearing a carved roast joint of pork and a pot of steaming vegetables. John Dee stood and lifted a jug. He looked cheerful.
“More wine, mother?” His mother held out a pewter cup and he filled it. “Did I not tell you I could earn money from reading people’s stars? I now have some illustrious clients. You would not believe who one of them is – it is Queen Mary herself! And more wine for you, father?”
Roland Dee nodded and grunted, his mouth enjoying the unaccustomed luxury of being stuffed full of decent food. He held out his cup. His hand, though, still retained a bad tremor and some of the wine slopped onto the table.
Suddenly there was a loud thumping on the front door from outside. Dee’s father dropped his cup of wine on the straw-strewn stone floor. Suddenly terrified, he spoke in a quavering voice; “They’ve come for me again! Oh God! They’ve come for me! Don’t let them take me away again!” It was fairly obvious that his experiences with the Essex magistrate’s court had taken an unhealthy grip upon his mind.
John Dee went to the front door and, drawing back the bolts and wooden locking-bar, opened it. His expression was grim, his eyes angry. Standing in the pouring rain was the woman holding her cloak over her head. “I seek John Dee,” she stated. “Is this his house?”
Dee answered suspiciously. “I am John Dee. What is your business?”
“Firstly, to get into somewhere dry. Secondly, to convey a request for your services.”
Dee stepped aside for the woman to enter, then closed the door. “So tell me why you seek me out – and on a night like this! Who are you?”
“I shall not give any name. Nor will I tell you the name of who sent me. I was instructed to say only this riddle. If you are truly John Dee, you will understand.”
She paused for a moment then spoke her riddle.
“We watched the Sun being born again,
Within a garden dark as pain;
While others screamed in mindless fear,
You made the daylight reappear!”
Immediately, in amazement, Dee turned briefly to his parents and spoke with urgency. “I must go! I know who wants me.” He rushed to a wooden chest and from it picked up several parchments, rolling them into a tube which he tucked inside his jerkin to keep them as dry as he could. Then he nodded at the cloaked woman. “Lead the way to her.”
The cloaked woman hurried out of the cottage with John Dee following. His mother worriedly grasped the open front door, leaning on it for support, and watched them disappear into the rainy night.
The cloaked woman led Dee across the Thames over London Bridge and along a beaten muddy footpath through a sodden field of grass in the dark and rain. It could be seen that there were some cows standing miserably in the field. As Dee came to the far side of the field, he saw the walls and bastions of the Tower of London looming ahead in the night, the outlines of its walls marked by the occasional lantern. The cloaked woman knocked quietly four times on a great iron-studded wooden door set in the solid stone wall. After several moments the door was opened and both of them entered. Dee found himself in the main courtyard of the Tower, which loomed dimly against the dark sky.
Very cautiously now, the cloaked woman led Dee to the Tower itself and gave the same four knocks on another door. Someone opened it from inside and Dee was pulled in by the cloaked woman. The door was immediately closed.
Dee wiped the rain from his eyes and saw that they were, in fact, inside a stone guardroom of the Tower. There were several Yeoman Wardens sitting and standing in the room. They all looked up aggressively as Dee and the cloaked woman entered. The sergeant Yeoman stared hard at Dee, growling: “Is this him?”
The cloaked woman nodded. “This is Doctor John Dee.”
Grudgingly the sergeant muttered “All right! Go up.”
The cloaked woman took Dee’s arm and led him into an arch in the wall where a flight of stone stairs could be seen. The two of them went up the steps with echoing footfalls. They reached a landing which held a stout wooden door reinforced with wrought-iron studs. The cloaked woman opened the door, which was not locked, and gestured that Dee should enter. The cloaked woman remained outside.
The room within was sparsely furnished. The stone walls held a single small window open to the dark wet night. A seated woman looked up from a book as Dee cautiously approached her. It was the Princess Elizabeth.
“My Lady…” Dee bowed low. “I knew the messenger came from you. Your rhyme told me.” He dropped to one knee and bowed his head.
The princess smiled anxiously. “Oh John, please be seated. I would not have you kneel or stand. Be at ease. I urgently need council, and your council is the deepest.”
Dee drew up a plain wooden chair and sat down facing Elizabeth. Very gently he asked; “Why are you here, my Lady? This seems a prison.”
“I have been confined here under guard for a month. My sister Mary – backed up by her scheming lords and bastard councilors! – has accused me of encouraging Wyatt and his rebels, and of being in secret communication with them during the rebellion. They have beheaded Jane Grey and are now claiming the rebellion was intended to place me on the throne to restore the Protestant Church!”
Dee was slow and thoughtful. “I do not believe you would lower yourself to such wretched conspiracy and intrigue. You were not born that way.”
Almost begging, Elizabeth implored him. “Please, John, I need to know whether I have a future, or whether I shall lose my head! I need to find some encouragement, some ray of blessed hope, so that I may endure this imprisonment.” There were tears running down her face.
Dee smiled tenderly and pulled his rolled parchments from inside his jerkin. “I already knew why you sent for me,” he remarked casually. “I have brought my charts of the stars and planets with me. I know the date, place and time of day of your birth. Let me make a horoscope which will tell us what lies in your future.”
Elizabeth smiled thankfully and leaned back in her chair, looking more relaxed. Speaking quietly, Dee began his astrological analysis.
“Let’s see… born September the seventh 1533, in the Julian calendar… at two fifty-four in the afternoon… in Greenwich Palace… Sun in Virgo, Moon in Taurus… houses eight, three and seven…”
As he concentrated on the complexities of his task, a fine lace hanging nearby on a stone wall moved very slightly as though a draft had blown for a moment. Very slowly, very quietly, a small stone block no bigger than half a brick was very gently and silently removed from the farther side of the wall. A man’s eye appeared at the hole.
In John Dee’s cottage just south of the Thames two months later everything was in darkness. It was three in the morning. The forms of Dee and his mother and father could just be seen asleep huddled beneath blankets on wooden cots. The stone floor was strewn with clean straw.
With a startling suddenness, the front door was loudly smashed open so hard that it fell off its hinges. Five tough-looking men stormed into the cottage and hauled the three occupants roughly to their feet, forcing their arms behind their backs. Joanna Dee started screaming hysterically. Roland Dee angrily shouted in feeble fury; “Who are you – thieves? Cutthroats? Vagabonds? You won’t find much here!”
A thuggish man who was evidently in charge shouted in Roland’s face. “Shut up old loon! We’re looking for a Doctor John Dee!”
His men manhandled John Dee to face their chief, who sneered at him. “Doctor John Dee? By authority of the Crown, you are under arrest on charges of practicing witchcraft, of being a wizard and sorcerer, and of seeking to kill Her Majesty Queen Mary with your ungodly powers!” He nodded at his men. “Bring him. Leave the others.”
The gang left the cottage, hauling John Dee roughly with them.
Joanna Dee screamed and cried after them. Roland Dee continued shouting feebly into the night. “Thieves! Blackguards! Murderers! Bring back my son! Kidnappers! Looters! Brigands…!
Within the Palace of Westminster there was a special courtroom where the most serious crimes against national security were examined and tried. It was named from the design of the magnificently painted ceiling – the Star Chamber. On this morning the Court was in session. Surrounding a stone paved floor, rising pews were filled with members of the Privy Council, lawyers, administrators, several judges and a high-ranking presiding judge who sat behind a magnificently-carved table at the front.
A grim-looking prosecutor stood patiently at a small wooden lectern set upon the cold flagstones. Some yards in front of the prosecutor’s lectern two chains with manacles were fastened to the floor and lying empty. A muscular man with bare arms dressed in black and wearing a raven-styled executioner’s mask stood against a wall.
There was a soft hubbub of background talking amongst the various dignitaries. The presiding judge banged a gavel. Silence fell. The judge nodded at the prosecutor on his lectern, who shouted out loudly in a businesslike manner; “Bring in the accused!”
The executioner strode quickly across the floor and through a doorway. After a few moments he returned, roughly pushing a man who staggered before him. The man was dirty. His feet were bare, he wore no shirt and he looked like he had been recently and thoroughly beaten-up. He was covered in vivid bruises and wheals. Long lank hair flapped greasily over his face. The man staggered again as he was shoved to the centre of the floor where the executioner picked up the manacles and fastened them to the man’s ankles.
The prisoner painfully raised his head and looked round at the court. He brushed aside his lank hair so that his face could be seen. It was John Dee. The executioner silently moved back to his position against the wall, folding his arms.
The prosecutor raised his head to the watching dignitaries.
“This wretch who stands before you is John Dee, son of Roland Dee of Chelmsford.”
“I am,” stated John Dee with calm dignity.
The prosecutor sneered at him. “I was not asking you a question – I was stating a fact!”
He turned back to address the Court.
“My Lords temporal and spiritual, before you stands John Dee, Bachelor of Arts and graduate in the degrees of Greek, Latin, Philosophy, Geometry and Arithmetic at Cambridge University, Fellow of Saint John’s College and a Founding Fellow of Trinity College.”
His tone became contemptuous.
“This fellow also professes to be an astrologer!
“This fellow casts horoscopes for all and sundry, charging a purse of money for his calculations thereof!
“This fellow, this scurvy wretch, stands before you for rightful and proper judgement in balance of his very life!”
He paused for effect.
“It must also be recounted that whilst at Cambridge University, the accused summoned up from Hades, by the employment of dark and sinister powers, an actual demon of the Divil’s legions, in the form of a huge beetle big as a prize ram, which did terrify over fifty people, both men and women, and thereby did cause a great disturbance for which there have been found several reliable eyewitnesses.”
The prosecutor turned to face Dee and continued in a loud voice. “Doctor John Dee, you are hereby charged with the following crimes, all of which carry the death penalty. High Treason! Witchcraft! And Heresy!
“High Treason! In that you did draw up favourable horoscopes for the pretender to the throne Elizabeth Tudor, and that you did smuggle such papers and encouraging letters of your own into the places of imprisonment of the Princess Pretender, with the connivance of your cousin, Mistress Blanch Parry, Lady-in-Waiting to the aforesaid Princess Pretender.
“Also, that you did on diverse occasions smuggle your own person into those chambers where the Princess Pretender is imprisoned, and there gave her encouragement by showing to her a horoscope drawn-up in your own hand in which you did scandalously predict the death of our rightful sovereign and gracious Queen, Mary Tudor, followed by the ascension in her stead of the Princess Pretender Elizabeth to the very throne of England, no less!.
“Witchcraft! In that you did attempt to enchant our rightful sovereign Queen Mary Tudor with foul magicks, for the purpose of ensuring that very fate which you had predicted upon her.
“Heresy! In that these acts most obviously require trafficking with the Divil himself and are thus patently against the will of God!”
There was a brief hubbub of animated talk in the chamber. The senior judge banged his gavel loudly. An immediate silence fell. The judge turned to the prosecutor.
“Are there witnesses to any of these activities?”
“There are indeed, My Lord,” replied the prosecutor smugly.
The senior judge nodded at him. The prosecutor raised his voice and called out loudly. “Summon Toby Ferrys esquire!”
Once again the masked executioner marched out of the chamber and immediately returned with a finely-dressed and rather portly middle-aged gentleman whom he escorted with conspicuous courtesy, in marked contrast to his earlier treatment of John Dee. The executioner bowed to Toby Ferrys before returning to his position and folding his arms. The senior judge smiled and nodded at the witness and pointed to a vacant and comfortable-looking chair at the edge of the flagstone floor. The witness walked across and sat down on it.
“You are Toby Ferrys Esquire, butler and chamberlain in the palace at Woodstock,” commented the prosecutor. “May I ask you, sir, whether you have espied the man presently in chains before you on any previous occasion?”
“Indeed I have, sir. He was a visitor to the Princess Pretender’s chambers in the gatehouse of Woodstock Palace on diverse occasions.”
“Was he ever searched upon arrival?”
“Yes, for hidden weapons, as was every visitor.”
“And what of visitor’s papers and books?”
“These were normally never examined. For one count, it was thought that papers and books would not be a danger or an aid to escape, and for another count…” he hesitated.
The prosecutor smiled with silky encouragement. “For another count…?”
Ferrys replied somewhat reluctantly. “For another count, none of the gate staff can read or write.”
There was brief polite and condescending laughter in the chamber. The prosecutor indulged it for a moment with a broad but sinister smile, then resumed. “Master Ferrys, may I enquire whether the private papers carried by Doctor John Dee were inspected on any occasion?”
“Indeed they were, sir, on that recent occasion when you yourself instructed us to do so, prior to his last visit to the Princess Pretender. I then ensured the presence on duty of a man who could read well.”
The prosecutor replied extremely drily with raised eyebrows. “An excellent notion! What was discovered on this inspection of Doctor Dee’s papers?”
“I have those self-same papers here in my possession. The Court is welcome to see them with their own eyes.”
Now the prosecutor became instantly condescending. “Excellent, Master Ferrys, truly excellent. I commend you upon your sensibility to these proceedings.”
At a signal from the prosecutor the executioner walked forward and Ferrys handed him a sheaf of parchments. The executioner took them to the senior judge, who looked at them for a minute and then turned in his seat and passed them to the front row of Councillors behind him, where they were passed quickly from row to row with everybody merely giving them a passing glance. The prosecutor began speaking again as the papers were being passed round.
“My lords, you will of course note that these parchments contain two natal charts, as such things are known. You will also be kind enough to notice that one chart bears the name of the Princess Pretender Elizabeth Tudor and includes the statement that she will ascend to the throne of England in three years’ time; while the other bears the name of her half-sister, our Sovereign Lady Queen Mary Tudor, and includes the notation that Her Majesty will depart this mortal coil upon a certain day, this being given as the seventeenth day of November three year’s hence, in the Year of our Lord 1558.”
The prosecutor bowed his head in a moment of silence for theatrical effect, then suddenly raised his head and snarled venomously in Dee’s direction; “Therefore, my lords, is it not proven beyond all possibility of redemption that the accused, Doctor John Dee, is entirely guilty? Guilty of High Treason! Guilty of practicing the infernal dark arts of witchcraft! And guilty of a blasphemous heresy!”
Another hubbub of animated conversation broke out amongst the assembly, louder than before. The senior judge banged his gavel for silence. He looked gravely at Dee.
“Doctor Dee, you stand here charged with very serious crimes, for which the likeliest punishment is death by burning at the stake.” He paused. “However, I would not have you sentenced in this Court without being permitted to speak in respect of your actions, as they have been recounted to us. I ask you to please give an account of yourself in these matters, that this Chamber might understand your actions more fully.”
The prosecutor was outraged. “My Lord! I must protest! This is a court of English law – it is not a place where a man may have a defence against rightful accusations!”
“That may be so,” replied the judge, “Nevertheless, we should be pleased to hear Doctor Dee enlarge upon his actions.” He addressed Dee. “Doctor Dee, it has been said against you in this Chamber that you summoned from Hades a demonic beetle before over fifty witnesses. What have you to say about this accusation?”
“The beetle was built of wood and cow-horn, My Lord,” explained Dee, “and within it I placed the springs and workings of several big clocks to supply movement. It was naught but an automaton.”
“And the charge that you make use of the stars and planets to form conclusions regarding a person’s destiny, and that you earn money by so doing? What do you have to say on these particular matters?”
Dee looked the judge in the eye. “Simply that I needed to make an honest living after my father lost all his money. I have certain mathematical learning and can make accurate maps of the stars in the sky for any date and time. The art of astrology is ancient and was practiced even by the Romans and Greeks. And I hold that this is no heresy, for the stars and planets are but the heavenly signs placed above our world by the Almighty for the admiration and comfort of mankind.
“Does not God Himself command in Genesis 1;14; ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens, and let them be for signs’? And does not our Lord Jesus say in Luke 21, verse 25; ‘And there shall be signs in the Sun and in the Moon and in the stars?’
“And if it be judged a heresy to employ the mathematics of the stars to guide the future course of a human being, then should it not also be considered heretical to employ these same heavenly lights to guide the future course of a ship upon the ocean? Is every ship’s captain of our nation not therefore guilty of this same heresy, if heresy it is judged to be?”
The judge gazed steadily at Dee. “And in what manner, good Doctor, do you account for the charge that your cousin Mistress Parry admitted you into the rooms of the Princess Pretender Elizabeth?”
Dee shrugged dismissively. “Somebody had to open the door.”
The chamber erupted with laughter and some applause. The senior judge was also chuckling. “And what, then, of the charge that you did make prediction of the demise of our Sovereign Lady Mary Tudor, and that this was by the use of witchcraft?”
“I am a doctor, sir. If doctors were forbidden from acknowledging that a person was likely approaching death in a certain interval, then hardly a patient would be treated for their ailments throughout the land.”
The prosecutor could stand it no longer. Fuming, he interjected, stabbing his finger repeatedly at Dee; “But you did not examine Queen Mary as a doctor examines a patient! You inferred her end from the positions of the stars. That is not medical practice!”
Dee rounded on the prosecutor. “Are you, then, an expert in all the many ways in which a doctor may infer an ailment in a person? This Court would doubtless be interested in receiving your further instruction upon the subject…?”
Rattled, the prosecutor muttered with venom; “I am not a leech to know such things.”
Suddenly Dee pointed a jabbing finger accusingly at the prosecutor. With great anger he shouted “Then who the Devil are you, sir, who dares pontificate to this Court upon the technical methods that may or may not be used to determine the precise condition of a patient?”
Again the Chamber erupted with laughter. The prosecutor, livid with rage, shouted back. “But you did not examine Mary Tudor in her person as a physician does!”
“Did I not, my man? I most certainly did examine her, in her royal person, and on sundry occasions.”
The judge stared. “Doctor Dee – can you please explain to this court how this may be so?”
“Of course, my lord. The Queen requested on several occasions that I cast her horoscope and interpret the meaning thereof for her enlightenment. The matter of her own health was of a particular interest to Her Majesty. Queen Mary Tudor was my client in my capacity both as an astrologer and as a doctor. The gracious lady paid me a handsome retainer for making readings of her destiny.”
“Then it was Her Majesty herself who asked you to cast her horoscope charts?”
“It was, sir. And you may prove this by making inspection of the Lord Chamberlain’s accounting books, for he paid me according to Her Majesty’s instructions.”
There was a brief hubbub in the Chamber at this. There were many nodding heads. The prosecutor was in a sweat, aware that he was losing the plot. He stuttered in red-faced anger.
“But… but the accusation of witchcraft must still stand against you! The gaining of knowledge from a study of the stars must require a pact with the Divil himself!”
Dee was condescending. “It is a science sir – a science! As plotting the navigation of a ship at sea by the positions of the stars is also a science. It requires a knowledge and skill with mathematics, not the exercise of any dark powers! Nay, sir, it is the understanding of the manner in which the natural world about us progresses according to the ineffable plan of God.”
The senior judge raised his head and frowned. “If you are going to call God as a witness, Doctor, I would ask you to make your argument on this vital issue perhaps a little clearer to us. Remember, you are on trial for your very life.”
“Of course, good my lord.” Dee turned to face the flustered and now heavily sweating prosecutor.
“Since it seems you are trying to claim before this Court that the act of charting the positions of the stars as they will be at a certain date is dependent upon invoking witchcraft, I would ask you this: what stops you from flying upwards into the air?”
“My lord,” whined the prosecutor, “this is ridiculous!”
“I think I shall be the judge of that in my own court,” remarked the judge evenly. “You must answer the question.”
The prosecutor sighed in furious irritation. “Very well! If I am obliged to answer such a fatuous question, it is having my feet on the ground which keeps me on the ground.” He glared at Dee.
“Ah!” said Dee, “Then, my good sir, were you to leap off the top of the Tower of London so that your feet were not on the ground, you would evidently expect to fall upwards?”
“No sir! If I had a mind to do something as stupid as that, I would certainly fall downwards according to the will of God.”
“And it is the science of mathematics, sir, that philosophers employ to determine exactly why things happen according to the will of God. It is unfortunate that the ignorant and superstitious often seize books on mathematics and burn them in piles, thinking them conjuring books! Because the will of God acts upon the earthly realm most usually in the form of natural laws, and we believe these natural laws of God may be understood with mathematics. Surely, the act of revealing the details in the laws of God must be an act of purest worship? It cannot be considered heresy to try to understand the small-print in God’s laws. It can only serve to make that sacred word more perfectly understood by man.”
“But… but…” The prosecutor, an industrious book-burner, was now entirely out of his depth and floundering. Dee continued remorselessly.
“For example, and to answer that question I put to you, I believe there is a natural force in operation which pulls us down to the surface of the ground and prevents us from flying upwards. I further believe that all objects exercise this same force in a certain measure. This force provided by God for His world gives everything its appropriate weight or, in Latin, its gravitas.
“By the grace of God, I may one day be able to resolve the workings of this force of gravitas through the application of mathematics; or if not I, then some other scientist who is yet to come. And in that day, sir, Man will come to love more perfectly the will of God as it applies to the beauty of His creation!”
As Dee finished speaking, the Chamber erupted in loud applause and most of the onlookers rose to their feet to cheer. The senior judge repeatedly banged his gavel. “Silence! Pray silence! Doctor John Dee, you have acquitted yourself with soundly reasoned rebuttal of the charges that have been raised against you. The judgement of this Court is as follows. That none of the charges against you have been proven.” He paused. “It is therefore the ruling of this Court that you be freed from your chains immediately and all charges against you are struck off. You may go. Release him.”
The executioner stepped forward and unlocked Dee’s shackles, Dee bowed low, if painfully, towards the senior judge and walked from the Chamber.
The front door of Dee’s cottage was merely leaning against the doorway without hinges. Dee grasped it with both hands and moved it awkwardly aside so he could enter. He still looked disheveled and bruised following his treatment at the hands of the men who had arrested him. As soon as he entered he saw his mother kneeling down on the straw covered floor, sobbing piteously into her hands which covered her face.
Dee forced a smile. “It’s all right, mother. I was judged innocent of all charges. There’s nothing to worry about now.”
Joanna Dee, still sobbing, looked up at her son. “John – your father died three nights ago. They threw his body into the pauper’s pit.” She dissolved into more uncontrolled sobbing and tears. Her son immediately knelt beside her and put his arms around her shoulders. He, too, was shedding tears.
A rather beautiful Spanish galleon was sailing north-east to enter the English Channel some twenty-five miles south-east of the County of Cornwall’s Lizard Point. Unfortunately the ocean was not so beautiful on that day. The sky was dark grey and stormy with even darker rain clouds and the ship was bucking and plunging through the swell, making the most of the strong but gusty wind.
In the galleon was a magnificently-appointed stateroom which, apart from being rather smaller than those on solid ground, might have graced any European palace. Kneeling on the floor and being as sick as a pig into a wooden bucket was twenty-seven year old Prince Philip of Spain. There was a polite knock on the gilded door and an older Spanish nobleman of about forty entered. He spoke cheerfully.
“El tiempo es muy malo hoy. Es sensacion mejor, Su Majestad?”
(“The weather is very bad today. Are you feeling better, your majesty?”)
Prince Philip groaned piteously and managed a few words. “Me siento terrible, me muero. Traer al médico real para mí - WHOOP!”
(“I feel terrible. I’m dying. Bring the doctor for me – WHOOP!”)
The older nobleman raised his eyebrows, lowered his head and discretely withdrew backwards, closing the stateroom door quietly.
A day later, in the early morning, the galleon reached coastal waters some two miles off Southampton. Sailors heaved a large anchor overboard with a huge splash. This was watched with great interest by an English nobleman and two male companions who stood on the stone quayside staring out to sea at the now anchored Spanish ship, shading their eyes with their hands. They appeared puzzled.
“What the deuce are they playing at?” exclaimed the nobleman. “They were supposed to sail into Southampton harbour!”
“They’ve dropped anchor!” breathed one of the companions in astonishment.
The other companion pointed. “Look – the crew are starting to furl the sails. They’re not going anywhere like that!”
“By God!” exclaimed the noble. “I wish I had ears aboard that ship to hear what kind of plan they are cooking up!”
Prince Philip of Spain still looked pale and ill, but now at least he was able to sit behind his ornate desk and it seemed the bout of sea-sickness was waning. There came a polite knock from outside and the same Spanish noblemen entered, followed by the ship’s captain and a Roman Catholic priest. They all had an anxious look about them. The nobleman addressed his Prince.
“Alteza, se espera que navegamos en el puerto de Southampton!”
(“Highness, it is expected that we sail into Southampton harbour!”)
Made short-tempered by his sea-sickness, Prince Philip replied sharply in a loud, angry and firm voice which brooked no argument.
“Esperaremos hasta que llegue nuestra flota. No podré llegar a Inglaterra con una sola nave - parezco una campesina! Se supone que yo para ser el príncipe más de gran alcance en Europa!”
(“We will wait until our fleet arrives. I shall not arrive in England with a single ship – I will look like a peasant! I am supposed to be the most powerful prince in Europe!”)
With a sigh of great patience the nobleman replied, “Como te mando, un ilustre.”
(“As you command, illustrious one.”)
Two days later Southampton was wakened at dawn by a cacophony of ringing church bells giving an alarm. Within minutes the town streets were filling with people dashing out to find out what the emergency might be. In the dim light of dawn, three men could be seen running fit-to-burst onto the quayside, the same nobleman and his two companions who had been closely watching the moored Spanish flagship since it arrived and dropped anchor. They came to a halt at the end of the quay and stared out across the sea in shocked alarm.
Coming out of the dawn haze on the horizon could be seen over thirty smudges. As the three men and the assembling townsfolk watched, the smudges gradually took on a sharper character to the eye and resolved into thirty-five Spanish galleons.
One of the watching nobleman’s companions spoke hoarsely. “My God! It’s the Spanish fleet!”
The other companion sounded panic stricken. “They’re heading in this direction!” Then, in terror; “It’s an invasion!”
The nobleman sighed quietly, calming down. “No it isn’t – it’s Prince Philip’s entourage, wardrobe and wedding guests arriving.”
The city of Winchester some twelve miles inland from Southampton was indeed venerable, known in Roman times as Venta Belgarum, “Town of the Belgae” who were the Iron-Age tribe ruling the area when the Romans invaded Britain. The cathedral had been founded in the year 642 and rebuilt nearby by the Normans in 1079, being completed and consecrated in 1093. It boasted the longest nave of any Gothic cathedral in all of Europe.
On July 23rd 1554 a fine and colourful parade progressed along a road through fields and past occasional farm buildings. Prince Philip of Spain could be seen at the forefront riding a beautiful white horse with a gorgeous tapestry saddle-blanket in crimson and gold. Squads of smart Spanish soldiers with halberds over their shoulders marched on either side of him. Behind him walked more than a hundred richly-dressed Spanish courtiers, officials, Catholic clergy and nobles, both men and women. Many standard-bearers marched in the throng holding aloft sumptuously embroidered heraldic flags. On both sides of the road stood thronged lines of English citizens and commoners enthusiastically cheering and waving. Half a mile distant on the old city walls of Winchester as the parade approached, rows of canon begin firing a blank salute one after the other, billows of white smoke jetting forward from the muzzles.
Prince Philip had officially arrived.
Standing next to the venerable cathedral was Wolvesey Castle. The Spanish guests were to be quartered there in great luxury as befitted such a regal and politically important delegation. But first, a somewhat more personal matter needed to be attended to. Prince Philip of Spain strode down a magnificently tapestried corridor closely followed by a dozen Spanish noblemen. Philip looked magnificent. He wore a white suit with a surcoat intricately embroidered in gold and silver, and on his head was a fashionable hat with a very long feathered plume. As he approached a far door it was opened by bowing servants and he and his escort went through into the room beyond.
Queen Mary Tudor of England stood alone halfway down the sumptuous stateroom. A double line of nobles and courtiers formed an avenue toward her. The Spanish nobles remained standing by the door as Philip walked towards the Queen. Mary was now thirty-eight, eleven years older than Philip, and she looked absolutely stunning. She wore a very tight black velvet gown with a silver underskirt and lots of jewels. She was very definitely a cougar.
Philip halted some ten feet from Mary, looking at her in total admiration. As was the courtly custom, Mary lowered her head and kissed the back of her own hand. Philip gallantly responded by doing the same, then he strode to her, clasped her gently but firmly, stared into her eyes, then kissed her fully on the lips, to which she responded willingly. It was a long and passionate kiss. Everybody in the big stateroom started to clap and cheer joyfully.
No time was wasted. Two days later peals of bells were heard ringing over Winchester and inside the great cathedral Queen Mary walked in procession up the long main aisle towards the Catholic Bishop of Winchester who stood before the decorated altar. Prince Philip was already standing waiting near the Bishop with three male companions from his retinue, one of whom was the older nobleman who had accompanied the prince on his galleon.
As Mary arrived at the altar, she curtsied to the Archbishop and bowed her head. The Archbishop proceeded with the preliminaries and then commenced the full marriage service in Latin, the language of Catholicism.
“Ego conjugo vos in matrimonium, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen. Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini. Qui fecit caelum et terram. Dominus vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo...”
On that day England had a new King, a Spanish King.
In a big room within the Palace of Whitehall in London nineteen noblemen sat around a huge table. It was a meeting of the Privy Council. Standing by a leaded mullion window was a splendid-looking male secretary with an ornamental staff. The seated men were talking quietly with each other. A very richly dressed noble at the top end of the table nodded his head at the standing secretary. The secretary banged his staff three times loudly on the wooden floor. He called out loudly;
“Pray silence for Sir Henry FitzAlan, nineteenth Earl of Arundel, President of Her Majesty’s Privy Council!”
Silence fell. Sir Henry FitzAlan stood up, holding in his hand a thick wad of parchments. “Gentlemen!” His voice was businesslike. “We now have before us an Act of Parliament whereby certain offences be made Treasons, and also for other matters pertaining to Their Majesties.”
He glanced at the parchments he held and placed them on the table before him. “Last month, Prince Philip of Spain, son of Charles the Fifth, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain, Lord of the Netherlands and Duke of Burgundy, married Queen Mary Tudor. Philip is now legally King Philip the First of England and Ireland.
“Sections one to six of this Act are to provide a proper legal status for King Philip. The new Act thus creates a European Union and makes it a specific offence for any person to question Philip’s rightful and legal status as King of England and its associated territories, or to say that the King ought not to have his royal title.
“The Act also decrees that the Protestant error is a heresy, and that the only true religion is the Roman Catholic faith. All churches without exception, whether cathedral or chapel, are to be restored to the Roman style and only Roman worship and texts are now to be used.
“Accordingly, the Heresy Acts dissolved by the late King Henry, eighth of that name, founder of the erroneous and heretical Protestant Church of England, are to be revived and will again become statutory law.
“Before we progress to the next sections of this Act, I ask for the approval of the Privy Council. All those in agreement say ‘Aye!’”
Everyone seated at the table shouted “Aye!” in chorus.
John Dee had left England for a few years, wary of further accusations of witchcraft or sorcery in what was becoming something of a reign of terror. Indeed, Queen Mary was burning so many protestant clergy and heretics at the stake that the people were beginning to call her “Bloody Mary” behind her back. It was now early December of the year 1558 and Dee was in Bavaria lecturing and researching in the Great Library founded that year by Duke Albrecht V and situated in a great vaulted chamber of the Old Court. Dee had been especially invited there by the Duke to be the first lecturer for his educational enterprise.
Thus it was that he was in the middle of giving an address on alchemy and astronomy to some fifty scholars and nobles when a liveried servant quietly entered the vaulted chamber and handed Dee a folded piece of parchment. Dee took it without hesitating in his presentation and placed it in a pocket of his coat as the servant withdrew.
When his talk had finished there was a great noise of applause from the appreciative audience and Dee took the opportunity to take out the note and read it. His eyes grew big and round and his eyebrows were raised. Duke Albrecht had come forward from his splendid chair to shake Dee’s hand.
“Not bad news, I hope Doctor Dee?” he said in English with a strong Germanic accent.
Dee was slightly stunned. “It depends how you look at it,” he replied. He handed the note to the Duke.
“Mein Gott!” he exclaimed, staring at Dee. “Queen Mary of England has died! Her husband King Philip is barred by act of the English parliament from ascending the throne. Mary’s sister Elizabeth is to become Queen of England!”
Dee bowed his head respectfully to the Duke. “Exzellenz, ich muss nach England zurückkehren!”
The Duke replied in English. “Of course you must return to England. I understand. My blessings go with you.”
Twenty-five-year-old Elizabeth Tudor sat behind a magnificent ornamented writing desk in a stateroom in the Royal Palace on the pleasant green bank of the River Thames by the little country village of Greenwich. A liveried royal equerry quietly entered the office, bowing.
“Doctor John Dee the astrologer, your majesty.”
Dee stepped into the office, bowed and genuflected. Elizabeth entirely ignored him for some minutes until she had finished writing. Then she glanced up, quill still poised in her fingers. She smiled.
“John! I summoned you here because you gave me comfort when I expected execution any day. Your visits gave me the courage to believe I still had a future. And now, here I am, alive and well, still wearing my head, and Queen of England!
“But there are many problems. The kingdom I inherit is in a perilous condition. It is only three weeks since my sister Mary died. The land is still in chaos. There are riots and street-battles between Catholics and Protestants.
“I am a Protestant queen in a Catholic Europe and England is surrounded by enemies. The public say they will not tolerate a queen who rules without a king. What do you say to all this?”
“I say, rule and be damned Madam! You are Queen, and there’s an end of it!”
“Good! The right answer. In these troubled times, my coronation should take place on the most auspicious date – can you tell me when this will be?”
“Majesty, I predicted you would raise this matter today.” He pulled a wax-sealed parchment scroll from inside his jerkin and politely handed it to the Queen. “This is a chart already drawn-up in answer to your question. The most propitious day for your coronation will be Sunday the 15th of January this coming year of 1559. The crown should be placed upon your head at exactly 12 noon.”
Elizabeth studied Dee carefully for a moment, then slowly nodded her head as though agreeing with herself.
“I believe you. The 15th of January it will be. What is more, I trust you. Don't ever let me down! I need people like you, with loyalty, courage and ability, and you have proven yourself to be such a person.
”By royal command, I now appoint you to membership of the Privy Council. Your position will be Astrologer Royal! You will qualify for a handsome salary - ten pounds a year - it will be taxable income!”
She lowered her head to her work and resumed writing. Astonished, Dee bowed low then quietly left the room backwards. From outside, the Equerry closed the door softly.
Completely stunned by this unexpected advancement, Dee strode down an ornately furnished corridor deep in thought. Unfortunately a woman was hurrying round a corner in the opposite direction, her arms laden with carefully folded lady’s dresses. Dee careered into her and the garments cascaded onto the floor.
“My Lady! I am most sorry. I was wrapped in a world of my own thoughts. Here – permit me to help you.”
The dresses were carefully piled one-by-one onto an ornamental side-table. The woman remained silent, her lips pressed in an angry line. Dee glanced at her face. Even with a scowl she was extremely fetching and appeared younger than his age of thirty-one. She looked perhaps twenty. Dee felt he should try to break the frosty silence while he folded dresses.
“These are expensive garments, my lady,” he observed casually. “There is guarding ribbon, fine Flanders linen with bombast, gummed buckram interlining, perpetuana, gold-clasping...”
The young woman stared at him, her frown deepening. “I’ll have you know I am the Queen’s Ward of Robes, sir, and you are an unusual man, sir, who knows so much about ladies clothing! Do you wear it often?”
Dee smiled. “Alas, no. My father was a master tailor. He made clothing for the Queen’s father King Henry, and – briefly – for her mother Anne Boleyn.” He bowed politely. “I am John Dee, Privy Councillor, at your service madam.”
The young woman curtsied automatically. “Katherine Sutton of South-Walk.”
Before she could resist, Dee suddenly seized her hand and kissed the back of it, then turned and walked away down the corridor, smiling rather broadly to himself. Katherine Sutton watched him go, with a dawning interest.
Of course, as a Privy Councillor, Dee began to move within higher circles and to attend upon the Queen with a certain frequency, which normally rotated between the Royal Palaces of Greenwich, Whitehall, Hampton Court, Richmond, St. James’ and Windsor Castle, all of them satellites of London, although Elizabeth occasionally journeyed further afield into more distant counties, with the royal court obliged to follow.
And for some reason John Dee and Katherine Sutton regularly managed to bump into each other whilst carrying out their business for Her Majesty. They strolled together arm-in-arm in the grounds of Hampton Court; they attended thronged dance parties where tables bore exquisite food and delicacies and musicians played. Together they danced the energetic galliard, the Paval where a procession of men and women marched side-by-side in precision, touching only their fingertips, the Renaissance Almain in which lines of couples walked three steps then balanced on one foot before repeating the movement, and the Basque gavotte; they became lovers.
Streams of happy wellwishers in their best Sunday clothing poured out of the church doors of St. Andrew Undershaft in London’s Leadenhall Street and converged, cheering and waving in the front courtyard beside the rutted highway. The colourful bunches of flowers thrown by many of them seemed to echo the pagan origin of the holy place, for the name “undershaft” meant “under the maypole” and the ancient pre-Christian Festival of Spring had only been banned in England forty-one years earlier in the same year that Martin Luther had nailed his 95 objections to Roman Catholicism on the door of the church at Wittenberg Castle in Saxony, thereby laying the foundations of the Protestant faith.
There came a sudden increase in the loudness of the cheering and the vigour of the flower-throwing. Out of the main arched door of the church emerged a bride and groom, arm-in-arm. To the delight and applause of the many guests, the couple embraced and kissed on the top of the steps. Then they turned to face the throng and wave. The newly married couple were John and Katherine Dee, formerly Katherine Sutton of the Queen’s Wardrobe.
A big, thick, ancient and very battered leather-bound book was resting on a wooden desk. John Dee stood with his arms folded, staring down at it, his expression very thoughtful. He and the book were in a beamed and whitewashed study in the rear of the fine country house he and his wife now occupied south of the Thames river amongst the farms of the tree-lined South Walk, which through the passage of time would one day become known simply as Southwark As Dee stared at the book with a curious expression, his wife Katherine came in through the door.
“So – this is your inheritance, is it?” She was pulling a face.
Dee smiled at her and chuckled. “Poor old Gatley. He taught history when I was at Cambridge, and he was ancient then.” He shook his head slowly. “I have no idea why he bequeathed this single book to me in his will.”
“Is it a Bible? It looks like one to me.”
.”No, I don’t think so. It appears to be handwritten throughout, but it is in an unknown code, so I can as-yet tell nothing about it for certain.” He paused, reflectively. “Still, I’ve not yet met any code I could not eventually decipher. Codes are one of my specialities.”
Dee opened the thick book at random. The pages contained lines of numbers grouped with gaps like words, obviously written with a quill pen.”
“How do you decipher something like that?” asked his wife, interested.
“Methodically,” he replied at once, firmly. “I will begin by counting how many times each number appears. In English the most common letter is E. The most common second letters are H, O and E. The most common third letters are E, S and A, and so-on. If it’s another language it’s different, but it can still be done…”
Hours later as midnight passed, Dee, alone, was still jotting down notes by candlelight as he worked to decipher the strange volume. He now realized that the task might run to several weeks, for the code was beautifully, almost insanely, intricate. It was a convoluted intellectual challenge – and Dee was an expert who thoroughly enjoyed solving such enigmas.
A month later Dee sat at the kitchen table still scribbling notes as he painstakingly wrestled with the code in the book. It was even more difficult than he had first thought, because the numerical code changed at unpredictable intervals and the new piece of code which followed was partially dependent upon solving the preceding code. However, he had made slow but steady progress and now only one more page needed deciphering.
Katherine entered the kitchen down a turning staircase. Immediately, Dee looked up at her smiling. She beamed at him.
“John, I have good news!”
“So have I,” he responded. They laughed together.
“Tell me yours first,” invited Katherine.
“I have decoded the book. It is very interesting indeed. I will need to take a trip to France to investigate further. What is your news?”
“I am with child!”
“We are to be parents?” Dee was overjoyed.
“It is true. In seven months. The midwife confirmed its likelihood this morning.” A shadow of doubt passed across her face. “But how long will you be away? I will need you here, you are my husband.”
“Do not worry. I will return within three months, and I will be holding your hand when you give birth. That is my promise to you.”
Katherine was dismayed. “Three months?”
“I need to visit an old friend of mine near Marseilles. He may be able to help me in my research. I must take it further! I believe I am on the threshold of a great discovery – perhaps the very mystery of Creation itself!” He took her in his arms. “I promise you, sweet angel, I will only be away three months, and I will be with you for your confinement – I give you my word of honour.”
By ship, carriage and horse Dee travelled southwards across the English Channel and through France. After a journey of ten days he finally stood in the dusk before an old French house in a badly-cobbled street in the small township of Salon-de-Province. He banged on the door with the flat of his hand and an olive-tanned scullery maid admitted him inside and led him up two flights of narrow stairs until he paused outside a stout door. He knocked. A man’s voice came calling out from inside. “Venir a l’intérieur, John. Entrez.”
Dee entered. The room looked like an eccentric alchemist’s den. Walls were covered in pinned-up parchments bearing charts, tables, texts and geometrical figures. Various crystal balls stood here and there on stands. Shelves overflowed with ancient leather-bound volumes of all thicknesses and sizes. An elderly but very sprightly silver-haired man leaped to his feet behind his desk and rushed to Dee. The two embraced as old friends. The man spoke English with a strong French accent.
“John! It is a joy to see you again. You look so young and fit, my boy. How are things with you? What bon chance brings you to my home?”
Dee smiled broadly. “Nostradamus, you old rascal – now quite the family man at home, I see.”
The two men sat facing each other across the desk.
“Yes,” agreed Nostradamus, “my situation is greatly improved. I am following your inspiration, John – you prepare horoscopes for Queen Elizabeth of England; Catherine de Medici herself is now one of my horoscope clients.”
“The Queen of France? You have come a long way since we last met.”
“And I intend to go much further, my friend. People will be consulting my predictions centuries from now – I predict it! Let us go down to the kitchen – my wife Anne has spent all day preparing your favourite Provençale meal especially in your honour.”
Dee was puzzled. “But I sent you no word that I was coming. You did not even know that I was in France!”
“Achh…” Nostradamus waved his hand dismissively. “I predicted it last week and told Anne what time you would be arriving today.”
Dee smiled, but leaned forward earnestly. “Michael, I am here because I need your help. I want a book.”
Nostradamus waved casually at his packed bookshelves. “Take your pick.”
“No, my friend, it will not be so easy. It is a very rare book indeed. It will not be on your shelves. I do not think it is on anybody’s shelves. An old professor I knew at Cambridge bequeathed me a book filled with his writing, in a secret code. I broke the code and read what he had to say. He maintained that the very greatest of all grimoires lies forgotten in ruins somewhere in Europe. We must find it!”
Nostradamus became suddenly very wary. “What is the name of this lost book?” he asked, losing his smile.
“It is called The Book of Soy-gah.”
Nostradamus stiffened in his chair. Suddenly reluctant, he commented; “I have heard of it. It is said in legend to have been written in 1240 by the heretical Cathar, Arabe Follay – before he was burned alive by the Inquisition!”
He breathed deeply and sighed. “He claimed it was dictated to him in person by Kow-ron-zoh-don, one of the Archons, a primordial supernatural entity – the Guardian of the Abyss – the Devil’s Gatekeeper!” Suddenly he was suspicious. “Only initiates know this. What would you want of such a book?”
“Surely, as educated men, we must learn all we can learn about the universe God has placed us in. The best future lies in knowledge, not in maintaining ignorance.”
“The best future lies in using common sense to define our human limitations. Danger lies in trying to act like gods ourselves!”
“If you had to walk through a swamp,” persisted Dee earnestly, “would you prefer to be blindfolded, or to see? Is the future not just such a path?”
Reluctantly, slowly, Nostradamus nodded. “On your own head be it. But, my good friend, you should remember this warning – power is always a destructive force unless it is coupled with conscience.”
He visibly relaxed for several long moments. “First, I place myself in a trance state. Some find this difficult. For me, it is very easy.” As he slowly relaxed, Dee saw that his eyes turned completely white. Then he spoke in a deep and husky voice.
“There will be a treacherous man raised to high estate. This man will be sent to govern Albion…” There was a pause.
“The traitor will cause blood to be spilt. One whose eyes are open will observe the assassin...” Another pause.
“The ships of the South will approach a defenceless land. All is death and destruction and a great sacrifice shall be demanded…” A pause.
“Persecute them with thy tempest and make them afraid with thy storm.”
Nostradamus shook his head and was immediately normal.
“And these were prophesies?” queried Dee in a gentle tone. “All of this means nothing to me.”
Nostradamus shrugged dismissively. “Ach – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s the general way I receive prophesies.” Unexpectedly, he lunged across his desk and grabbed Dee’s hand. His eyes were now round with anxiety – or perhaps it was fear? His voice sank to a low whisper, “But John – I was also shown what happened to the book. You must not tamper with it – it is dangerous, very dangerous! It contains things mankind is not meant to know!”
Dee gasped eagerly. “The Book of Soy-gah? Where is it? What did you see?”
Nostradamus sighed deeply. His tone was reluctant. “It was captured long ago by Prince Vlad the Impaler of the Royal House of Draculesti when he campaigned against Wallachia to regain his throne. That was in 1476. It is very far away across Europe, a dangerous journey of several weeks. Prince Vlad took the book with him to Zarneshti Castle in Transylvania, amid the Carpathian Mountains. Prince Vlad was burned at the stake last century before he could properly understand the Book. It now lies forgotten in a sealed lead box in the castle’s chapel crypt.”
“The Carpathians?” exclaimed Dee in dismay. “That must be over a thousand miles from here, and another thousand back! I promised my wife I would only be away for three months.”
Nostrodamus sat back in his chair staring coldly. “Then you must make a decision. Choose well, John – choose well!”
The two men sat staring levelly at each other in silence. Dee looked tortured. He was torn between two choices. Who would win – his heart or his mind?
Two galloping horses sped away across a countryside of simple turf-roofed farm huts and fields. The riders were John Dee and Nostradamus. They headed towards the dark mass of a forest, beyond which could be seen distant snow-capped mountains. A rough cleared dirt road ran through the forest, undulating to avoid piles of rocks, marshy ground and rapid rivers churning through valleys. In the forest the horses plodded at a more careful gait. As night fell, primitive tents were erected and the horses were tethered. The two men dined on rabbits which had been caught in nets and roasted on a spit.
For days which stretched into weeks Dee and Nostradamus traversed the primitive wild country through forest, river fords, hilly uplands and occasional tiny villages where sour-faced people stared at them suspiciously as they passed by. Both the men bore great shining swords dangling from their belts and slapping on the horses’ flanks, which Nostradamus had insisted upon as providing some measure of visual insurance against the likelihood of being waylaid, robbed and murdered by cutthroat bandits.
At length the two riders emerged from the edge of a forest. Ahead of them a range of tall snowy mountains reared skywards with an unfriendly appearance which may or may not have been their imagination. They brought their horses to a halt and Nostradamus pointed at the rows of peaks.
“The Carpathian Mountains,” he announced.
Dee unfurled and held up a parchment map, examining it intently. “If the map is accurate, we should reach Zarneshti Castle in five or six days.” He examined the map more closely, then pointed into the distance. “We follow this track through the Borgo Pass.”
The horses were urged to move forward with great care on the rising stony trackway.
A week later the two men rode their horses at walking pace into a medieval township. Everything looked fairly normal, and with the mountain scenery, perhaps even somewhat picturesque. Peasants and traders went about their business in the streets. There was a market in the town square where various stalls displayed foods, tools, livestock, slaves and even clothing and fine bolts of cloth and lace for the more wealthy customer. The cool air was alive with the noise of chattering bargaining people and merchants extolling their wares in loud cries. Looming above the township on a nearby buttress of rock extending from the mountain flanks a dark and somber castle of eastern-European design frowned overlooking the town. On towers and turrets various heraldic flags fluttered limply in the cold downdraft.
“Zarneshti looks a pleasant enough place,” ventured Nostradamus carelessly, looking round at the local view.
Dee replied somberly. “So does the Tower of London – from the outside!”
Undaunted, Nostradamus pointed to the far side of the market square. “There’s an inn.”
The main room of the inn was crowded with a cosmopolitan gathering of peasants, nobles and merchants. Slavs rubbed shoulders with Bulgars and Moors and there were Turks from Constantinople. Serving staff, both men and women, bustled about carrying trays of foaming tankards and baked meats. Dee and Nostradamus made their way carefully through the noisy crowd until they came to the serving counter. The landlord, a tall, fat Bulgarian-looking man with plaited hair, an embroidered red velvet waistcoat, a huge black beard and a tasseled fez adorning his head, was busily supervising the coming and going of his serving staff. Nostradamus spoke to him.
Without even looking at him, the landlord simply grunted “Ne!”
Nostradamus tried again. “Spreek je Nederlands?”
“Do you speak English?”
“Sprechen Sie Deutch?”
Dee groaned impatiently and elbowed Nostradamus aside. “Ave. Quid agis mane? Quomodo vales? Loquerisne Latine?”
The landlord became suddenly friendly. He smiled at Dee and said: “Sic, paululum linguae Latinae dico.”
Dee turned briefly to Nostradamus. “He knows Latin – the universal language.” Turning back to the big landlord, he asked: “Vacant enim habent mansiunculas? Hic dominus toto pendet!”
The landlord laughed, nodded his head beaming at them and quickly handed each of them a pewter tankard of frothing ale.
“What did you say to him?” asked Nostradamus curiously.
“I asked him if he had any vacant rooms,” replied Dee, raising his tankard to his mouth. “I told him you would pay for everything.”
At dead of night the full Moon shone down irregularly amongst rapidly moving clouds. From an upstairs window of the inn two human figures clambered carefully out. Two ropes uncoiled downwards and the figures descended to the ground. John Dee and Nostradamus ran quickly into a nearby alleyway where there was total darkness to hide them. Their ropes were left dangling for their return. A winding roadway rose out of the village to the castle gate, where a great drawbridge was raised for the night blocking all entry or exit. Cautiously the two of them drew near to the high frowning outer wall.
Nostradamus pointed in the darkness and, as the moonlight appeared for a moment, Dee could make out the form of a tree growing against the wall. They clambered with some difficulty up the tree and onto the top of the wall, where a narrow road would allow defending archers to quickly reach any point from which they might fire arrows down at an attacking force. However, not a soul was in sight; the whole place looked completely deserted. A flight of stone steps allowed them an easy access to the inner courtyard below. They ran quickly and silently to the castle keep and, to their surprise and relief, they saw that a ground floor leaded window was slightly ajar. Using the tip of his sword, Dee prised the window open with nothing but a small squeak of rusty hinges. Quickly they clambered inside.
All was dark and gloomy. Paintings and tapestries could just be discerned on the walls of a big room, with occasional standing suits of armour and other expensive-looking furnishings. Silently they made their way to an inner door and opened it without a sound, going through with extreme caution.
After several minutes they found the opening to a stone staircase. They started to descend very slowly in almost complete darkness, largely feeling their way with their feet. The stone staircase was a spiral which seemed to them to go on interminably. The darkness was now complete and they could only keep feeling very cautiously for the steps as they went ever further downward.
Eventually the staircase debouched into the end of a long stone crypt chamber looking like a vast tunnel. Each of them carried a leather backpack and from these they took small candle lanterns and risked lighting them with flint and steel. This enabled them to see better. There were supporting Romanesque arches every twenty feet or so and here and there were trailing festoons of cobwebs which hung down like the ghosts of great curtains. They coiled and drifted in the slight draft of the intruder’s passing.
After several more yards they came to a magnificent twenty-foot long ancient tapestry on the left-hand wall and they paused, studying it. There were moth-patches and faded areas, and here and there were disfiguring brown stains, but it could clearly be seen that the tapestry depicted Prince Vlad the Impaler of Wallachia in battle on a rearing black horse.
As they slowly walked past the great ancient tapestry the flickering dim light of their candle lamps showed that the tunnel-like crypt came to an end at a solid rock face, against which there stood a very pagan-looking stone altar decorated with obviously very ancient dangling human and animal skulls and strange-looking gothic artifacts. Everything was smothered in layers of cobwebs and dust. At the centre of the altar there stood a stone box maybe three feet by two feet and decorated with carvings of dragons and snakes. On the rock wall behind the altar was a large inverted crucifix.
“That does not look good,” muttered Nostradamus.
“It’s what we came for,” whispered Dee, pointing at the stone box. He experimentally tugged at the carven stone lid and it came up without much effort. He laid it carefully to one side. Inside the stone box could now be seen in the flickering light a dull metallic box the size and shape of a large book such as a church Bible. Dee experimentally scratched the metal surface with the tip of his sword and it left a bright impression. “Lead,” he whispered. He had no difficulty opening the lid of the box to reveal a big and obviously ancient leather-bound book of parchment pages. Stamped on the leather front cover by a heated brand was a strange sigil. It depicted two hands pointing at each other, one above, one below, so that the tips of the index fingers were almost touching. Emerging from the space between the two fingertips were zig-zag bolts of lightning.
Nostradamus whispered in awe. “The Book of Soy-gah!”
Silently Dee closed the lid and lifted the heavy box, placing it under his arm. They turned to leave.
Without any warning there came a sudden loud rattling and jingling sound and the Vlad tapestry rapidly drew open like a huge curtain. Behind it, where Dee and Nostradamus had assumed there was merely the wall of the crypt, there was now revealed in strong flickering torchlight a huge Roman bath room with a bath like a swimming pool. It was a Roman survival with marble pillars and floor, various statues, multicoloured wall paintings and a tessellated floor with images of monsters and Gorgons. Frighteningly, however, the huge Roman bath seemed to be filled with blood, not water. On the far side, six dead young women were suspended on ropes by their ankles over the bath, their throats cut. To one side at the rear, in shadowy gloom, could just be discerned a pile of female corpses in various stages of hideous decay. Even as Dee and Nostradamus stared in shocked horror several Magyar soldiers brandishing curved swords ran from a side door and assembled facing the intruders.
A domed shape could now be seen slowly rising from the middle of the blood pool. It dripped with blood as it continued rising, becoming slowly recognizable as a vague human form. It moved slowly to the edge of the bath where there was a small flight of marble steps. The shape walked up the steps and onto the floor.
“This, too, does not look good,” whispered Dee quietly.
“It looks quite bad, in fact,” agreed Nostradamus equally quietly.
As the humanoid shape advanced towards them it began transforming into a very beautiful woman, with no trace of blood left upon her. She wore a Roman toga with gold brooches and a belt of gold links. The woman halted smiling a dozen feet from the two intruders and lifted a hand slightly, as though wanting someone to hold it. From the doorway by which the Magyar soldiers had entered, a young girl of maybe ten also wearing a toga ran forward and held the woman’s hand. They both smiled beatifically at Dee and Nostradamus.
Then the woman spoke, with a very heavy accent.
“Ve must velcome you to Castle Zarneshti, honoured strangers. I am ze Countess Anna Bathory, and zis is my daughter Elizabéta.”
Elizabéta smiled and spoke with a lisp. “Ve vant to invite you for dinner.”
The Countess Bathory smiled at her visitors. “Ach, childrens,” she shook her head slightly, gazing at her daughter. “Vhat she is meaning iss, ve vould like you to be our dinner!”
The guards took an intimidating step towards Dee and Nostradamus. At the same time, the mouths of Anna and Elizabéta Bathory both opened inhumanly wide with a hissing snarl and a display of many long white fangs.
Nostradamus looked at Dee and spoke quickly in a stage whisper. “Do you have a magic word we can use to get out of this?”
“Yes,” whispered Dee. “RUN!”
They both started to run, drawing their swords. The Countess hungrily lunged at Nostradamus, who swung his sword horizontally in a great sweep. Anna Bathory’s head flew through the air on its own and rolled away into the scarlet pool with a horrid splash. The body, however, remained standing as though nothing had happened, but it stooped and knelt and began to grope around the floor seeking its head. The soldiers raced across the ornamental floor to give chase to the intruders. Meanwhile, the Countess’ daughter Elizabéta sedately strolled to the pool steps and went down into the blood until she was entirely submerged.
Dee and Nostradamus, panting and gasping fit to burst, reached the top of the spiral stone stairs and raced full-tilt towards the first window they saw. They did not know what was on the other side, nor how high in the outer walls the window might have been. Without hesitating they leaped through the shattering leaded lights with a yell and a great crash and found themselves rolling on the stones of the outer courtyard.
Within ten minutes they were running into a stables beside the inn. Moments later they charged out at full speed on horseback into the night. They galloped fit-to-burst until the dawn sunrise lightened the storm-wracked sky, never looking back.
Many weeks later a small merchant ship sailed across the English Channel in the dusk, towards the distant and iconic White Cliffs of Dover. In a very small cabin John Dee sat at a tiny desk studying the Book of Soy-gah. A lantern hung by a chain from the ceiling. The gentle rolling of the ship caused the lantern to swing slowly. This made the shadows in the cabin creep slowly on walls and floor as though they were somehow alive, especially Dee’s own shadow. The shadows looked sinister.
John Dee walked briskly and cheerfully away from Tower Wharf where he had disembarked from the merchantman. He carried a heavy backpack. Within a few minutes he was crossing London Bridge, walking through the tunnel-like archways beneath the large houses and business premises standing on the bridge, many of which rose up for four or five stories or more. Atop the entrance gates at each end of the bridge rows of rusty iron spikes bore several decapitated heads in various stages of decay. Once on the southern bank a well-trodden dirt road took him in the direction of nearby South-Walk. Everywhere there were ordinary people going about their business, farmers, horse-traders, mercers, shepherds bringing their flocks to the London markets, and countless others.
Soon he stopped outside the front door of a house. Smiling, he let himself in.
His smile vanished when he heard a succession of loud, piercing screams. He dropped his heavy backpack and ran to an inner door, looking suddenly frantic. He had recognized the screaming voice as that of his wife Katherine. The door was barred from the inside. He started to beat on the door with his fists like a madman.
“What’s happening? Open this door! Let me in! Let me in for God’s sake! Open this door I command you!”
The only answer was a renewed bout of screaming from the room beyond. Dee beat a tattoo on the door with his clenched fists, then fell against it, eyes shut tightly, cheek pressed against the wood, uttering incomprehensible moans and cries. He unclenched his fists and thrashed his open hands ineffectively against the stout wood. The screams from inside continued.
In a state of utter anguish Dee roared; “In the name of God and all His angels of mercy, let this thing not happen! Let this be a dream of horrors! Oh God in Heaven let me waken from this nightmare…!
His face a tear-streaked mask of despair and misery, he helplessly sank to his knees facing the door. Loudly, he cried out: “I’m here! I’m here! I came back! I promised I would come back! Can you hear me? I came back! I’m here!”
Suddenly there was absolute silence. Then, a few moments later, the sound of two heavy iron bolts being withdrawn on the other side of the door. It opened just enough for a middle-aged midwife in blood-soaked apron to come through. She very deliberately closed the door behind her. Then she stooped, raising an unresisting Dee to his feet, holding both his hands and gently pulling. Dee moved as though in a dream, his expression wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
“I’m sorry,” said the midwife, gazing at Dee’s horror-stricken face. “There were bad complications. The mother miscarried. Mother and baby are both dead. I shall make the necessary arrangements.”
It was a dark night indeed. In his home study John Dee sat at his desk in a pool of dim light from several candles, his head buried on his arms, sobbing piteously. The Book of Soy-gah lay on the desktop near him. He had been weeping for hours. Thus immersed in his misery, he did not, at first, notice a quick flash of light. Several moments later the flash repeated. Slowly Dee raised his tear-streaked face. Another flash. Strangely, inexplicably, it seemed to come from the book. Hesitantly, he reached out a hand and touched the thick leathern cover. The heavy book suddenly moved an inch under his fingertips. Dee snatched back his hand as though he had been stung. He stared fixedly at the book, astonished.
“What spirit art thou?” he whispered hoarsely.
A sound began, like very slow and laboured breathing. Dee spoke again. “I command thee – reveal thyself!”
The big book slowly began to glow with a gently pulsing greenish tint. A deep and resonant voice slowly spoke, seeming to come from a great distance. “You have found the key to the universe, sorcerer!”
“I command you to name yourself, demon!” responded Dee fearfully.
The deep voice answered. “I am Kow-Ron-Zoh-Don. I am the Guardian of the Abyss. I am no mere demon!”
Dee was now shaking with terror. “What are you then?”
“I am an Archon – my kind built this universe under instruction from Angels of the Almighty.”
Dee was now thoroughly alarmed. “But I did not summon you!”
The voice replied evenly. “You have my book in your possession, and your emotions are extreme – this was enough.”
Angrily Dee shouted. “Are you friend or foe?”
The voice replied quietly now. “I can be either. Only you will decide. Only you!”
Dee thought quickly. Suspiciously he asked; “Can you tell me things?”
The voice became slower, deeper and more sinister. “Oh yes!”
Dee reached his hand out cautiously and touched the softly glowing book, then slowly withdrew his hand. He was thinking. In an even voice he asked a question. “Exactly how did my wife die?”
The book’s glow faded and vanished. There was silence for a moment, then a beam of green light struck Dee’s face and remained for a few seconds before vanishing. Dee remained motionless for a few moments, frozen like a statue. Then his face twisted in utter fury. Savagely he snarled to himself the cryptic remark; “The barber in the White Hart!”
In London’s backstreets at dead of night John Dee staggered down dark, filthy alleys and lanes, frequently steadying himself against walls as though he had drunk too much ale. He was still in a state of emotional shock. An upstairs window shutter suddenly opened and a raucous woman’s voice shouted out, “Gardy-loo!” as she threw out a bucket of stinking excrement which spattered on the muddy ground narrowly missing Dee. He hardly even noticed.
Reaching the end of the alley, Dee looked out across a wide and deeply-rutted dirt road. He recognized it as Borough High Street and saw, directly opposite the alley mouth, the White Hart Inn, its windows and open doors bright with the light of lanterns and candles, its interior alive with singing, talking, shouting and bursts of laughter. Dee staggered forward. A passing wagon and horses almost ran him down.
“You fobbing boil-brained jackanape!” yelled the driver, waving a fist. Dee seemed not even to notice and continued staggering towards the door of the inn.
Walking unsteadily through the crowded and noisy interior Dee made for the serving counter, his face turning here and there with a blank expression at each burst of laughter, each person singing, each couple having a snogging session, each person raising tankard to mouth, each person eating, at people having ordinary conversations. He reached the wooden counter where men and women in grubby white smocks were serving customers. A buxom serving wench faced Dee. “What’s yer order, master?”
“What’s in your pies tonight?” asked Dee vaguely.
“Rabbit or swan.”
“I’ll have a rabbit pie and a tankard of good ale,” mumbled Dee.
“That’ll be one groat, sir.” Dee passed her a coin. The serving wench disappeared through a rear door and immediately returned with a steaming wedge of pie on a wooden platter and a tankard of frothy ale. She handed him a big knife for the pie.
The inn was teeming. Dee spotted an empty seat at an otherwise crowded table and sat down. Other people chatting and eating at the table glanced briefly at him then ignored him. Dee handled the sharp knife, made sure nobody was looking, then deliberately cut the palm of his hand so that blood flowed. He uttered an angry exclamation, as though it had been an accident. For a moment, everyone at the table looked at him.
A large woman who sat beside Dee patted him on the shoulder and pointed at another table. “Don’t worry ducks – see that man over there? Ee’s a barber, name of Samuel Foley – ‘ee can do up yer ‘and good and proper for yer. Ee’s cheap, too – ‘ee scraped me sister fer a shilling.”
Dee stood up somewhat groggily and walked across the room to the man who had been indicated. He sat with other people at a table and his back was towards Dee. Dee gently tapped him on the shoulder and the man turned his head.
“I am told you are a barber,” said Dee. “I have cut my hand. Would you help me?”
The barber turned more fully toward Dee. There could now be seen dried bloodstains on the front of his shirt. He smiled broadly. “That’s no problem squire. I can sew you up for a silver sixpence.” He pulled out a grubby leather wallet and extracted a needle and thread. Dee held out his hand.
“The woman on my table said you scraped her sister for a shilling,” remarked Dee conversationally.
Foley glanced at the other table. “Oh, Mistress Ryan. Yeah, I scraped her sister. I ain’t paying her for recommending me, though!”
“What does it mean – “scraping”?”
“Round these parts, that’s what we call terminating a pregnancy.”
“That’s the Latin word for it. Round here we just say ‘scraping’. All part of the service, Squire. I’m a barber by trade. All surgery comes under the ‘eading of ‘barbarism’. I help the midwives with difficult deliveries too.”
Dee pursed his lips. “Do you know Mistress Fitton the midwife?”
“Oh, aye. Her and I goes back a long way. She gets me a bit of business. I did a job for her just tonight, as it ‘appens. Difficult birth with complications. Shame – the patient died under me blade.”
“Would that have been in Chancel Street, perhaps?” asked Dee softly.
Foley nodded. “Aye, it were. Why, do you know them there?”
Instantly Dee became a terrifying wrathful figure with wide eyes. He thrust his unhurt hand under the table and threw it over with a great crash. Plates and tankards flew. People at the table started yelling in shocked anger. Dee grasped Foley’s throat with his cut hand, blood dripping from it. With a sudden great strength he raised Foley to his feet. A man who sat beside Foley tried to grapple with Dee, who sent him flying into another table. Dee pulled Foley’s face to within an inch of his own and snarled.
“That was my wife! That was my child! You murdered them, you bloody incompetent butcher – you murdered my family!” Dee dropped Foley, who collapsed onto the floor with a great grunt.
Suddenly the whole scene within the inn seemed to change colour so that it appeared to be lit in reds, yellows, oranges and black shadows. Dee’s eyes started to glow like hot fires. Shadows on corners and angles within the huge room started to distort, creepily transforming into suggestive shapes as of demonic spiky creatures. The evil shadows somehow grew out of normal shadows throughout the room, as though they were creeping, advancing, taking on a horrible reality. Terrified customers began screaming in dread and attempting to back away, bumping into those behind them.
The air behind Dee’s back began to waver as though in intense heat. A hideous and terrifying demonic entity slowly began to materialise in the air ripples. It could vaguely be seen as a wavering black-brown Satanic shape about seven feet tall, as though seen through buckled glass. Very slowly the apparition appeared to be becoming more solid.
Dee extended his arms wide, threw back his head and roared his anger to the world like an enraged lion. He pointed at Foley, who was now cowering and shaking in sheer terror on the floor. Dee’s voice was distorted into an echoing and inhuman growl.
“I will kill you for what you have done! I shall send your quivering soul to suffer all the tortures of Hell for eternity!”
But at that very instant Dee heard a voice with a strong French accent seemingly coming from a distance. “Power is always destructive unless it is coupled with conscience! Danger lies in trying to act like gods…”
Dee was suddenly shocked back to normality. “Nostradamus!” he shouted in amazement. He closed his eyes and lowered his arms. Quickly the big room resumed its normal colours and the shadows shrank back to their customary places and tones. Then Dee cried out in a very human voice filled with a terrible anguish. He lurched clumsily out of the inn, arms held out before him, banging heedlessly into tables and chairs and through the main door. Shocked people were cowering from him in terror.
An hour later and long past midnight John Dee sat again at his desk, head on his folded arms, sobbing his heart out. The Book of Soy-gah lay closed near his elbow.
There were many busy official demands on John Dee as a Privy Councillor and time heals many wounds, at least on the surface. It was six months later and he was returning home to South-Walk from an intense Privy Council meeting at Whitehall Palace chaired by the Queen herself. He was half way up the staircase heading for his upstairs study when there came a heavy hammering at his front door. Sighing, he turned wearily and went down again. As he approached the door, the loud hammering began again. He removed the locking-beam and opened the door. A short weasel-faced man stood there.
“Doctor John Dee?” he demanded.
“That is me,” replied Dee in surprise.
“Then I am to inform you that you have an appointment at ten O’ the clock this evening in the Martin Tower of the Tower of London!” The man seemed to speak with some relish, as though he enjoyed his job.
“The Tower of London?” repeated Dee, astonished.
“The Martin Tower of the Tower of London,” corrected the visitor. “If you enter through St. Thomas’ Tower by the Traitor’s Gate, the Martin Tower is in the opposite right-hand corner – you can’t really miss it.” He turned to go.
“But... But...” stuttered Dee in some horror. “Why must I go there?”
“Because you are required for questioning,” answered the man casually, then shrugged his shoulders. “That’s all I know – except that if you fail to attend, you will be sought for and found.”
With that, the small man walked hurriedly away, as though on important business. Dee watched him go for a few moments, then closed the door and leaned back against it, his expression fearful.
At the required time that night Dee approached the Martin Tower and entered by an open door guarded by two pikemen. He was evidently expected, for they did not ask his business. Inside there was a dark and dank stone corridor. A great baulked wooden door at the far end was guarded by two more pikemen. Bracing himself, Dee approached the door. The two guards immediately crossed their pikes to bar his way.
“’Oo goes there?” demanded one of them with a surly manner.
“I am Doctor John Dee,” answered Dee in a rather uncertain voice. “I believe I have been summoned here.”
The guards uncrossed their pikes. The man who had spoken banged on the door with a mailed fist, then opened it. He stared meaningfully at Dee, who took the hint and entered the room beyond.
The cellar-like room was lighted by many dozens of candles. Within, on the far side of the room, there was a large and imposing desk. Behind it sat Sir Francis Walsingham, his temples already graying at the age of thirty-five. He frowned at Dee as the door was closed behind him. His face was sinister. Silently he merely pointed at a rough-hewn wooden seat positioned at the centre of the room some yards in front of his desk. The setting had all the appearance of a prepared interrogation. Dee remained motionless for a few moments, staring at Walsingham, then he walked to the chair and sat down, feeling nervous and uncertain.
Walsingham, his eyes stern, picked up a parchment from his desktop and glanced briefly at it.
“Doctor John Dee! I am given to understand that you are a practitioner of the dark arts of witchcraft. Is this so? Are you not aware of the penalty for witchcraft?”
Dee sighed in exasperation.
“Oh not again! How many times must I go through this?”
“And yet you were accused of witchcraft for casting encouraging horoscopes for Elizabeth when she was considered pretender to the throne. You were put on trial in the Star Chamber as a witch!”
Now Dee grew angry. Furiously he pointed at Walsingham with a shaking finger. “I am a scientist, Sir, not a witch! I explore the working mechanisms of God’s universe so that mankind may understand the will of God more exactly!”
Finally Walsingham smiled slightly, glancing at the parchment he held. “The prosecutor was most displeased, but could find no argument. You were released as a free man”
“Why am I here?” sighed Dee quietly and wearily.
“You are here, Doctor Dee, because I have heard many astonishing things about you.”
“And because of this you want to burn me as a witch!”
Walsingham visibly relaxed and leaned back in his chair, studying Dee. “Not exactly. I want you to help me.”
“Help you...? Dee was astonished.
“Her Majesty has appointed me to create a new secret department to hunt down England’s enemies and gather military intelligence. I have a need to seek out men of learning and courage who can aid me in this – men of skill and ability who can employ unconventional methods to ensure the defence of the realm against any plot or treason. I need men like you, Doctor John. I am asking you to join my secret service.”
Dee was astonished. “You want me to work for you as a secret agent? Is that why you summoned me?”
Walsingham simply raised his eyebrows and nodded slowly at Dee.
“Very well, Lord Walsingham,” replied Dee, somewhat relieved, “though you may not yet know just how unconventional my methods may prove to be!”
Walsingham stood up and took another parchment from the side of his great desk. “Everyone in my department makes use of anonymous codes instead of their real names. This helps confuse our enemies. I have your code here. It is a number formed from two circles representing your eyes, ever alert, and the square root sign to signify your mathematical ability.”
He stepped forward and handed the parchment to Dee, who took it and looked at it. The number was 007.
Dee handed the parchment back. “And by what code do I address you, Sir Francis?”
“As spymaster with a thousand eyes and ears, I am known simply by the Roman numeral for a thousand – ‘M’.”
Dee stood up and the two men shook hands. “Please,” said Walsingham, “draw your chair up to the desk. We need to talk.” Dee did so.
“Doctor John, the realm of England has moved into exceedingly perilous times. The former King of England and Ireland, Philip the Second of Spain, is running short of money. He has already been obliged to declare one of the Spanish states bankrupt, and it seems likely that others will follow. Although he is also King of the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands, the Dutch are not happy – being largely Protestants in the north – and there are regular rumours of rebellion and a possible war of independence against Spain to establish a Protestant State in the Low Countries.
“To put it in simple terms, King Philip is become exceeding jumpy! He is coming under increasing stress. He sees his power and influence threatened by the results of his own bad management. His ships scour the world for gold to relieve his huge debts, yet it seems this merely results in pouring good money after bad. His explorers and navigators are continually looking for new territories to plunder and bring under the rule of Spain. They have even named a new land after King Philip – calling it the Philippines – where they are engaged in an expensive war to remove the previous ruler, Limahong, a Chinese warlord. All these expeditions in search of gold and extended territory generally seem to end up costing more than they retrieve.
“This all means that Philip is being continually placed under increasing pressure to reinforce his finances, his power and his status. This cannot bode well for England. And then, to boot, we have recently seen the loss of the English port of Calais, despite a gallant defence against the French by Lord Wentworth. Calais has been English for two hundred years and was our last remaining foothold in Europe. Its loss amounts to a retreat of one large step back for our realm.
“The result of these political events in Europe is that England is under mounting pressure of Spanish interference. At the moment, that interference takes the shape of piracy by Spanish ships against our own vessels, making use of trumped-up charges. And we are pirating them in return! But I fear that the time is approaching when Philip’s greedy gaze will fasten upon that kingdom which was quite legally taken away from him on the death of his wife Queen Mary Tudor – the Kingdom of England! He wore the English crown jure uxoris, the legal Latin title meaning ‘by the right of his wife.’”
“So this complex and tangled skein of realms and politics, Doctor John, supplies the maze within which my department and its agents must operate and be familiar with all the turnings and currents of its many tides. Will you still work for me, knowing these things?
“Sir Francis,” replied Dee smiling, “I shall work for you all the harder for the knowing of it!”
The city of Antwerp in the Duchy of Brabant was within a fief of the Holy Roman Empire and was, just as Walsingham had stated, under the rule of the Habsburg King, Philip II of Spain, former King of England. The English government was uncomfortable having a border with Spain so close to them. Certain defensive measures were in progress, of a kind which one day would be graced with the appellation “Black Ops.”
In a deserted and maze-like back street area of the city, a shadowy figure in a billowing cloak ran through a filthy ally, frequently looking back over his shoulder. The only light came from candles and lamps, dim through occasional windows. A dog barked sporadically in the distance. A large cat hissed and arched as the man skulked past the dark opening of another nameless ally.
From the distance came the growing cacophony of a hue and cry. As the cloaked man fled as quietly as he could manage in the darkness, armed men of the city watch appeared in the distance, entering the maze of alleys, carrying flaming torches and lanterns and poking with pikes, halberds and swords at bushes and piles of waste. They tugged at doors to ensure they were locked. The watchmen shouted excitedly to each other in Dutch as they hurriedly advanced.
The pursued man leaped athletically over a fence and ran across a field on the far side. The view ahead in the darkness revealed a flat and largely empty countryside with a few scattered clumps of trees. A canal, a windpump and a few other buildings could just be discerned about half a mile away. In the remote distance on the horizon another town and its dim lights could just be seen against the dark skyline. The cloaked man took a few running paces in that direction, then hesitated. It became obvious that he could not escape his pursuers in open country.
He ran as fast as he was able toward the nearest clump of trees and clambered up one of them, hiding amid the leafy branches. It seemed a commonplace expedient, a schoolboy’s ruse which the city watch would not hesitate to examine and expose, but there was no other alternative. It was, as the old saying put it, simply a case of any dungheap in a bed of nettles. He froze motionless as the watchmen passed beneath, and he marvelled that even though some of them glanced upwards at the trees, none of them saw him in the darkness. No cry was given.
The watch started to race toward the distant windpump, assuming their quarry could have run that far and might be hiding inside. Carefully, silently, the man dropped down from the branches and landed like a cat. Quietly and quickly he casually walked off in the other direction and was lost in the gloom of night. He was heading for the docking canal where an English merchant ship was waiting for him.
Inside half an hour the man was walking carefully along the side of a canal which ran almost to the centre of the city and in which merchant ships of many nations were berthed for lading and unlading. Since it was by now well beyond midnight there was no work being done so it was a simple matter to stroll nonchalantly along the cobbled pavement. He came to the English merchantman and softly called out. From the dark shadows of bales and bundles on the deck a voice answered his call.
“Who is it and what d’you want?”
“It’s me, Captain - John Dee,” replied the cloaked man. “We need to go - right now. The watch is roused!” He hopped on board.
A few days later Dee entered a large and guarded building at Whitehall beside the Thames in London, close by the royal palace. Here, he was known by the guards and they stood to attention as he passed them at the main door and at intervals along the corridors and at the bottoms and tops of staircases. In fact, the building was extremely well guarded. At the door he came to there were two pikemen standing with crossed halberds. As he approached, his heels beating on the floorboards of the corridor, the men uncrossed their weapons and one of them rapped on the door and opened it respectfully for him.
Inside, Sir Francis Walsingham sat at a great desk littered with parchments, scrolls and envelopes with red wax seals. On the wall behind him was a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth Tudor painted by the famous artist William Scrots. “I hear you had a narrow escape in Antwerp,” he remarked dryly as Dee entered and the door closed behind him.
Dee waved his hand dismissively as he stopped before the desk. “All escapes are narrow,” he remarked cheerfully. “If they were broad, they would be dignified exits, not escapes.”
“Did you discover anything worthy of note regarding the Spanish authorities who run the Low Countries?”
“Only a confirmation of what is already known – that the majority of Dutch folk hate being ruled by a Spanish king. There are great numbers of Lutherans and Calvinists that are gravely oppressed by Catholic Spain who brand them as heretics. Revolution is in the air, and I believe it will soon erupt. The northern provinces of the Low Countries are already close to declaring their independence as a new autonomous state.”
“This we already know,” mused Walsingham. “These causes trouble our councils and may well lead to a European war.”
“Well,” said Dee, “I have something else that might interest you more greatly.”
“Go on,” agreed Walsingham. “You may be seated.”
Dee pulled up a big oak chair and sat facing Walsingham across his desk. “I heard rumour from a Protestant in Delft concerning the development by certain artisans of a secret weapon.”
“A secret weapon? What sort of artisans?”
“Makers of spectacles,” replied Dee.
“Spectacles? I have recently been wondering whether I should avail myself of a set of those things. My eyesight is beginning to grow somewhat indistinct, especially when I must read or draw fine characters. These things are not new.”
“Perhaps not – but I have a great interest regarding what comes out of the secret research of the Dutch lens-grinders. I am of a mind that their advancements might greatly assist the fine art of navigation upon the ocean, and also, it may be, that their works will have a bearing on the development of warfare, and especially so with warfare upon the ocean.”
Walsingham snorted. “Spectacles at sea? Is it your idea to help captains with failing eyesight study their charts more clearly?”
Dee frowned. “Do not be so dismissive, Sir Francis. The art of the lens-grinder has another application which is so remarkable it is being kept a close military secret and is not yet known to the world. For this knowledge, I risked my life and was chased out of Antwerp, escaping by the skin of my teeth.”
Walsingham leaned forward, interested. “Are you able to describe this secret weapon?”
“Better still. I managed to break into a locked and guarded room by dead of night and steal one of the devices. I have brought it with me.”
Dee pulled from his coat pocket a long, flat piece of wood and pulled up a delicately hinged square frame at each end. There was a glass lens in each frame. Then he stood up and walked to the office’s large leaded window. He pointed. “Can you see the horses in the field beside Lambeth House, across the river opposite the Myll Bank?”
“What? Why should I wish to see horses?” exclaimed Walsingham impatiently.
“Come and see,” invited Dee quietly.
Walsingham rose frowning to his feet, walked round his big desk and stood beside Dee at the window. “God’s teeth, man, I can only see Lambeth House as a tiny patch from this distance. I can see no horses.”
“Try looking through this.” Dee offered him the wooden device with framed lenses at each end. “Look through the smaller lens and out of the larger. Slide the larger gently back and forth until you see sharply.”
Rather reluctantly and glancing suspiciously at Dee, Walsingham did so. He gasped in astonishment. “By all the gods! It makes things bigger! I can see the horses – there are four of them! He studied the device intently. “It magnifies the sight! It makes the eye more powerful to perceive across great distances.”
He looked at Dee and studied him for a few moments. “Such a device could transform warfare. A distant army might be seen and studied – its number might be counted before its commanders could even see your own soldiers. And at sea – an admiral might perceive the nationality and type of vessels even as they came over the distant horizon.”
“Indeed so, Sir Francis. This is one of the results of my adventures in the Low Countries. Apart from this, since you mention ships on the sea, I am also presently engaged in an examination of the art of navigation upon the ocean, and I believe I may be able to permit a ship, out of sight of land, to nevertheless fix its position more precisely than any captain could do hitherto.”
“You think this to be possible?” queried Walsingham, his tone reflecting somewhat more respect.
“I am certain of it, Sir Francis. I worked with a close friend in Brussels, a Flanders navigator by the name of Gerardus Mercator and we studied the art of map-making together. You see, most educated people now believe the world to be a round sphere, not a flat disk. But this knowledge gives a great problem to the drawing of an accurate map, for if the world is a sphere, how is it possible to draw a precise and perfect picture of it upon a flat parchment, without having to distort the drawing at the edges, thereby rendering the map imperfect in scale except at the exact centre?
“I was able to solve this problem by the use of the mathematics of geometry, and from my calculations Mercator was able to make a successful and accurate projection of a sphere upon a flat sheet. If a navigator should be provided with the enlarging-glass device and with maps drawn-up in Mercator’s new projection, then that navigator would command the seas. I brought these ideas back with me so that English ships will come to rule the waves. I intend to write a book about navigation for the benefit of our sea captains. The English trade fleets may then become the swiftest and most accurate in the world – likewise our warships.”
“I’m glad you work for us and not for the Spaniards,” remarked Walsingham drily, raising his eyebrows and returning to his desk.
At Oatlands in Surrey, a mile south of the River Thames not far from the hamlet of Walton, King Henry the Eighth had ordered a palace complete with a moat to be built as a gift to his German fourth wife Anna of Cleves. It was also at Oatlands Palace that Henry had married his fifth wife Catherine Howard, the cousin of his second wife Anne Boleyn, both of whom he had ordered to be beheaded.
Although Oatlands Palace was quite beautiful and contained admirable suites and offices, King Henry’s unwanted daughter Queen Elizabeth did not really like the place due to its connection with her father’s tragic wives. Therefore, Oatlands was mainly used as an occasional accommodation for high-ranking visitors and as regional offices for certain of her officials and councillors, in effect a useful annex or overflow from the crowded and bustling conditions of Whitehall Palace in London.
Sir Francis Walsingham was one of the officials who maintained a suite of offices at Oatlands, convenient for him as it lay less than a mile or so from his country mansion at Barn Elms. It was equally expedient for John Dee, who now lived in his own mansion at nearby Mortlake. Thus it was that on a brisk and chilly November morning Dee arrived on foot at Oatlands after a bracing walk. He was known to all the many guards and had appropriate documents with him. After striding along many richly furnished hallways and through various beautifully decorated rooms, and climbing many flights of stairs, he reached the door he wanted and presented himself to the armed guards on duty outside, who opened the door to admit him to the room.
Sir Francis Walsingham sat behind a large desk littered with parchments and charts. A young nobleman of about eighteen was sitting talking to him and he sprang to his feet as Dee entered.
“Doctor John,” exclaimed the young man, “it is nice to see you once more.”
Dee and the young man embraced warmly. “Philip Sidney, you are looking well, I’m glad to say,” responded Dee. “Perhaps some of my lectures have lodged in that artistic head of yours after all!” They laughed and both sat down facing Walsingham’s desk.
“Philip is here with me because he is staying at my house for a few days before setting out for France,” informed Walsingham.
“A diplomatic mission?” Dee smiled. “It gratifies me to see one of my students rising on the ladder of success.” He turned his head to Philip Sidney. “Perhaps the time I spent as your private tutor was not wasted after all!” They both laughed again and Walsingham smiled indulgently, then immediately grew very serious.
“It is fitting for Philip to hear what is said in this room today. It concerns relations between England and certain powerful countries in Europe.”
“Then,” said Dee quietly, “you are probably referring to Spain and France.”
“Aye,” agreed Walsingham, “and the Netherlands too. Everything is linked together in a great web, and a tugging of one strand produces a tremble in another.”
He rose and walked to the wall behind Dee and Sidney, who turned their seats to watch him. On the wall was a large map of Europe. Walsingham studied it for a moment then spoke without taking his eyes off it, pointing to countries on the map as he did so.
“There are at this time two enemy powers, each in league with the other, whose common desire is to overthrow the rightful monarchy of England and, in its stead, place King Philip of Spain back again on the English throne!
“The first enemy power desiring this end is Spain itself, of course. The other is the Catholic League of Europe, which supports the Spanish claim. Through these collaborating powers the Earls of England’s North were encouraged and succoured in their uprising and rebellion against the Crown last year – every one of them a Catholic! As you both know, it was their plan to remove Elizabeth by whatever means came best to hand and replace her on the throne of England by releasing from prison Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scotland – also a Catholic. We must be thankful the rebellion was overcome by our own loyal forces.
“And now – what neither of you will know yet, for it has not long been enacted - there has been another grave insult to the English throne. A papal bull – ‘Regnans in Excelsis’ - has been viciously published by Pope Pius the Fifth in Rome against Elizabeth, excommunicating her and everyone who acknowledges her to be the rightful Queen of England.”
Walsingham turned his back on the map and strode to his desk, leaning on it upon the knuckles of his hands and lowering his head, frowning. He sighed deeply.
“It appears Spain is slowly gaining the upper hand in Europe. The Spanish army is bold and hard. There are many covert Catholic sympathisers in England who would delight to proclaim Mary of Scotland to be the rightful monarch and it would take but the wrong throwing of the dice to bring about another rebellion in England against the Crown. France in its arrogance already recognises Mary Stuart as the rightful Queen of England and publically brands Elizabeth a usurper, and despite their other political differences and wrangles France and Spain are in agreement on this. France has now – with an infernal impudence and having seized Calais from us – actually incorporated the English royal coat of arms into the design of their own flags, as though we had already been invaded and annexed! As you can see, England is now become a tinder-box ready for a single unguarded flame to suddenly ignite.”
Young Philip Sidney spoke out calmly in a serious voice. “Then we must go to France and assess the threat, and look for unguarded flames!”
Walsingham smiled wanly and nodded. “France shall be visited, Philip.” He turned to Dee. “And this is why I asked you here, Doctor John. Will you come as one of my diplomatic party to France? Walter Raleigh has already agreed to accompany me. We need to assess the mood of French politics most closely.”
Some months later in the darkening evening of the 24th of August, the eve of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, John Dee, Walsingham and young Sir Philip Sidney stood on a high and darkened balcony in Paris, looking down appalled into a great square with broad thoroughfares leading away from it in several directions.
Milling in the square and the streets leading to it were a noisy mob of citizens and some troops, several hundred in number. Hundreds of people of all ages, both men and women, arms tied behind them, were being marched at the points of swords and halberds through the jeering mob to a cleared space at the centre of the square. There they were being slaughtered in an almost wholesale fashion by grim-looking men wielding axes, sickles and swords. The square ran dark with blood which glistened in the light of many blazing torches held amongst the frenziedly cheering crowd.
“This is what we can expect in England if we fail in our duty to our Queen and our country,” said Walsingham in a steady voice that could be heard above the horrific din from below. “A mass cleansing of undesirable citizens on charges of heresy!”
Dee stared down at the scene in the square in horror. “I weep for the French Protestents, the Huguenots. The Pope has declared war on them. France enjoys beheading those who are blamed for the ills of the people.” He was quiet for a moment, then almost whispered; “They have set a precedent. It will happen again in centuries to come. It will be the same, except the method of execution will likely be some efficient machine.”
There was a sound of running feet from the stairs within the building. Walter Raleigh came through the room and emerged onto the balcony. “Paris is become a slaughterhouse for Protestants,” he spat gruffly, out of breath. “I had to run for my life to get here. The fact I was a foreign diplomat made no difference.”
“Are we secure here?” Sidney asked him.
“We have English troops guarding within all the entrances, all fully armed. I supervised their dispositions myself.” He grinned wickedly through his beard. “I also ordered oil to be boiled. We will pour it down from the stair-landings on the heads of any who take a saucy fancy to enter this house. Also, I have ten of our soldiers hauling light cannon from our ships in the Seine, to be set up fully charged with grapeshot and placed in corridors leading to entrance halls. If any French try to be naughty with us, we will be more naughty with them!”
“Good work, Raleigh,” said Walsingham gruffly. “Meanwhile, we must make ready to flee France on the morning tide. Can we get out safely, in your opinion?”
“There should be no difficulty, Sir Francis. We have some fifty English soldiers at our disposal to form a strong bodyguard. We need simply to leave this building at dawn by the back door and walk without pause past the Hôtel des Tournelles and thence down to the riverside. We have a small river-ship moored at the Isle de Louviers in the middle of the river and it will come to us at our signal from the quayside. We can then go downriver and board my ship Ark Royal which waits for us by Honfleur at the mouth of the Seine.”
“We have certainly seen enough!” grimaced Dee, turning to go inside, his head lowered in sorrow. “The waves from this tide of death will rock the shores of England!”
In the great palace of Hampton Court on the Thames west of London a dozen men sat at a huge polished banqueting table in an ornate room and conversed together in low voices. At the head of the table was a magnificently carved and upholstered empty chair. Squads of several armed pikemen stood silently at the large doors at either end of the room. On the left of the empty chair sat Sir Francis Walsingham and next to him was John Dee. On the right sat William Cecil the Lord Burleigh.
There was a slight disturbance from beyond one of the open doors and Queen Elizabeth entered briskly with a handful of attendants who silently took up positions standing discretely by one of the walls. As the Queen approached the great table, William Cecil rose to his feet and moved the great chair so she could be seated, courteously manoeuvring it comfortably beneath her as she slowly sat down. At the same time, everyone else at the table rose to their feet and bowed their heads briefly. There was a mumbled chorus of “Your Majesty!”
“Be seated,” stated Elizabeth impatiently. Everyone sat. She swept her eyes around the small assembly. “We are not a full meeting of the Privy Council,” she stated. “This should be looked upon rather as a preliminary Council of War, or at the least a Council for the alertness to a possible war!” She paused and frowned. “And I am still not yet full recovered from the small-pox which struck me down some months ago. I have an ache in my head and I will not have you be loud with me!”
There was a long moment of silence.
“Sir Francis, be pleased to explain to all here the politics of our present circumstance.”
Walsingham rose to his feet. “It is a complex skein of twisting threads. I will speak only of those parts of the greater tapestry which concern England in one manner or another.”
The Queen gently nodded her approval, then closed her eyes for a moment as though regretting the movement.
Walsingham continued. “I shall therefore attempt to place events into some reasonable short order, on the understanding that there are many things I shall omit and are not necessary to our present attentions which are sufficiently complex even when recited in simple terms.”
He removed a sheaf of parchment notes from his inside coat pocket and glanced at them. “First, it was thought that the religious tensions between Catholics and Protestants in France were calming. The French Protestants are Calvinists and are generally called Huguenots, the name deriving from Flemish ‘Huisgenoten’, meaning ‘lodgers in a house.’ Two occurrences have recently put a match to the gunpowder of religious hatred in that country.
“First, the Protestant Louis of Nassau, younger brother of William Prince of Orange, has raised a Huguenot army in Protestant regions of France and invaded the Netherlands to assist the Dutch Protestant rebels who are attempting to overthrow the rule of Spain in their land, this rebellion being led by the Prince of Orange in his person. This action was ill-received by the French, who feared it would thrust all France into a war with the Spanish Netherlands and therefore with Spain itself, whom France fears.
“The Catholic Queen of France, Catherine de Medici, agreed that her daughter the Princess Margaret would marry the Protestant Henry, Prince of Navarre, and their wedding took place on the eighteenth of August this year. Queen Catherine’s intent was to try to reduce frictions on both sides and make an effort to unite Protestants and Catholics. Unfortunately her arrangement brought down the wrath of the Pope, who seems always more pleased with the Spanish! Then the leader of the Huguenots, Admiral de Coligny of the King’s Council, was wounded by a shot fired by a Catholic assassin and later dragged from his very sickbed and murdered.
“In short time riots began, amounting almost to a civil war amongst the population. Many thousands of Protestant men, women and children were massacred. The streets ran with blood and the Seine was choked with floating corpses.” He paused and looked round the table. “Doctor Dee, Philip Sidney and Walter Raleigh were in Paris with me during that very time and will bear witness to what I say.” The three men nodded in grim-featured confirmation.
Walsingham continued. “I have heard from a… contact… in the Spanish Court that, on hearing news of the mass slaughter of thousands of French Protestants, King Philip of Spain laughed out loud for the first time in his entire life. Now, even at this moment, since the news of all these things has spread throughout England, there is popular fear amongst the people that there will be a Catholic invasion of England very soon, either by France or Spain or mayhap both of them in league.” His voice sank almost to a hoarse whisper. “It may be the people are not wildly amiss in their supposition!”
“Then we must tread very carefully, Sir Francis,” said Elizabeth. “Very carefully indeed. England cannot afford a war with all Catholic Europe! France and Spain despise each other, but they respect each other, and if the Pope snaps his fingers, they will both start barking on the same scent… our scent…” She paused in thought.
“Our policy,” she resumed slowly, “must be a Protestant policy. England is a Protestant herring in a sea of Catholic sharks! But there are other herring in the sea with us. We must offer treaties to the Dutch rebels who seek to throw-off the rule of Spain in the Netherlands. For if the Dutch Protestants are defeated, then England will surely be without friends and gain the single-minded attention of European adventures. We must do what we can for the Dutch, short of declaring war upon Spain, which would be courting disaster. Our efforts must be covert, yet vigorous.” She looked meaningfully at Walsingham.
“Majesty,” he replied with a poker face, “covert vigour is the speciality of my department!”
After the meeting, John Dee strolled together with Walsingham as they left the ornamental grounds of Hampton Court quietly discussing the various political developments. They boarded the Kingston ferry, a simple barge-like flat-bottomed boat rowed by two oarsmen, and several minutes later they stepped ashore on the southern side of the Thames. They walked on for half an hour, still engaged in conversation. At the ornamental gate in the wall surrounding Walsingham’s mansion Dee made to shake hands and go on his way to his own great house, but Walsingham stopped him with a rare smile.
“John, you must come inside for a moment to congratulate your former student Sir Philip Sidney – he has asked for my daughter Frances’ hand in marriage, and I have given my consent. There’s not a better young man in all England!”
Dee smiled broadly. “Indeed there is not! That young man has a splendid career before him – and now he has a perfect wife to stand at his side. You are a fortunate man, Sir Francis, to bring such noble blood into your family.”
In a busy and very crowded street in London there was a thronged and noisy market. Four well-dressed men and a small boy negotiated their way through the heaving throng with great caution, being careful not to let anything noisome or wet make contact with their clothing or their faces. And there was a lot of noisome and wet material being carelessly thrown away into the street by traders. Two of the men were middle-aged while the other two were in their early twenties. The boy was about ten. They arrived at the door of a house containing offices and one of the older men pulled a crumpled parchment from his tunic, checked the information written on it to ensure they had arrived at the right address, then stepped forward and knocked boldly on the door. After a short time it was opened by a servant woman.
“James Burbage and company, with an appointment to see Doctor John Dee,” announced the man pompously.
“This way, gentles,” said the woman politely, ushering the visitors inside. “The Doctor’s consulting rooms are upstairs. Be pleased to follow me.” She led the way up a twisting staircase and into an upstairs passage, where she halted before a door and knocked, calling politely; “Doctor Dee? Doctor Dee? Your visitors are arrived.”
A man’s voice came from within, slightly muffled. “Show them in, Mistress Bailey.”
The woman opened the door for the visitors and closed it quietly when they had entered the room beyond before bustling away towards the stairs.
Inside the room, the four visitors advanced across the bare floorboards towards a cluttered desk, behind which sat John Dee, now in his late forties. The man who seemed to be the leader of the group halted facing the desk. He spoke flamboyantly in a loud and clear voice.
“Ah! Do we have the pleasure of addressing Doctor John Dee, scientist, navigator, linguist, mathematician, alchemist, Privy Councillor and Astrologer Royal to Her Majesty the Queen?”
Dee rose from his chair and bowed slightly. “I believe you left out ‘imposter’, ‘vagabond’, ‘wizard’ and ‘charlatan’ by which titles I am also regaled by some who are less than kind toward me. You must be Master James Burbage and company. Please, find yourselves a seat gentlemen.” Dee waved his hand at several chairs standing against a wall and the visitors drew them across the floor and seated themselves facing Dee. The boy stood silently behind the seated men.
“Good Doctor,” the leader of the visitors began, “allow me to introduce my party. I am, of course, as you rightly surmise, James Burbage Esquire. Here is my brother-in-law and business partner John Brayne, and my sons Cuthbert and Richard.” The men bobbed their heads in turn as their names were spoken.
Dee picked up a parchment from his desktop and glanced at it. “I received your letter stating that you wished to consult me on a matter concerning a new and novel business enterprise.”
“Indeed yes, Doctor,” agreed Burbage. “You see, we are all deeply involved with the Earl of Leicester’s Men.”
Dee weighed up this information carefully. “Then I hope they send you flowers afterwards,” he replied cautiously.
Burbage replied with great dignity. “The Earl of Leicester’s Men, sir, is the name of our company of players! We are players – that is, actors of plays.”
Dee’s face expressed enlightenment. “I see! You put on performances of dramatic histories in inns and courtyards.”
“Quite so. We began when the Earl of Leicester decided to keep a company of players at Kenilworth Castle for the entertainment of his many guests. Now we tour as we may, and we have named our playing company after the Earl, our founder.”
The young Cuthbert Burbage leaned forward eagerly. “But we want a more fitting situation Doctor. We traipse from inn to inn and tavern to tavern, and we give our very best artistic merits in the effort to bring an appreciation of history, romance and the dramatic pangs of the human condition to the population at large. But we must continually compete with the cries of the street-merchants, the lewd gossiping of drinkers – aye, and their cat-calls and coarse remarks, and the sour fruit and rancid vegetables they throw at us in sport, and the rude interruptions when drink drowns men’s wits and makes them turn to fighting, using our very playing area for their brawling.”
His brother Richard pulled a sour face and nodded. “Such vulgar common usage destroys the finer soul of a man, Doctor. Some of our number have already given up in the face of these trials and have found business elsewhere.”
Dee leaned back in his chair and studied his visitors, nodding slowly. “Do you, then, ask me to find an answer to these rough treatments?”
“Nay, sir,” said John Brayne. “We have resolved our own solution to these travails – but we have need of your great knowledge and skills to enable us to bring fruition to our proposal.”
“Then what may be your proposal sir?” asked Dee.
“A novel one sir,” answered James Burbage. “I am proposing to build a play-house; a special and well-thought building, with stout walls all around to protect the players from rude intrusions. There will be a small charge for admission, and this will ensure only those who are of a mind to be elevated into the histories and the passions will be within the building.”
Enthusiastically, his son Richard nodded his agreement. “The players will have their own platform inside, safe from any public brawl. It will be like the deck of a ship, with the audience in the part of the waves, and there can be balconies inside the building where more affluent gentlefolk may seat themselves, looking down like the gods upon the stories.”
His father leaned forward earnestly. “Now, Doctor Dee, my good brother-in-law here, being a grocer with many carriers, has vouchsafed the necessary funds for this construction, and we have already purchased a lease on some land in the village of Shoreditch not far from London. We shall name our new building from the Greek for ‘a place of viewing’ – it will be called ‘Thea-tah’. London has known nothing of its kind before, no, nor England. It shall become the marvel of the world!”
His brother-in-law stirred in his seat. “But, good Doctor, what we have not got is any fine knowledge of classical architecture.”
James Burbage nodded. “This is so, Doctor. I myself am an accomplished carpenter and joiner, and we can hire other builders and labourers. However, what we need is an expert who may advise us on all the details of the designs and plans and draft them on parchment with skill and scaled measurements, so that the building may appear as a palace of the arts and not as some great prison or bear-pit.”
“Please, good Doctor Dee,” entreated Cuthbert Burbage, “will you assist us with the designs and constructing? Will you undertake to be our architect?”
His father coughed discretely and added; “We shall, of course, come to a suitable financial arrangement. Although we are at present somewhat short of funds, perhaps you would accept a regular fee as a percentage of the admission money we may receive when the project is open to the discerning public – that is, you would hold a share of the business.”
Dee smiled broadly. “Most certainly, my fine fellows. I find your whole vision to be most enchanting. I have in my library at my Mortlake house a record in books of all the ages of building and architecture from Rome to Richmond. I shall gladly prepare your drafts and plans, measured onto parchment, and I can provide detailing of structural works of suitable strength, and appropriate mouldings and carvings to embellish the building.
“I shall see this edifice to its finish, so that it will indeed become the wonder of London, and mayhap even the first of others to come. You may rely upon me, gentlemen. I shall draw-up your thea-tah for you in every necessary detail and appurtenance.”
All four of the men rose and shook Dee’s hand warmly in turn. So did the ten-year-old boy.
“Ah,” smiled Dee, “and who do we have here? An aspiring player within your acting company, maybe?”
Burbage chuckled. “One day, perhaps,” he replied, tousling the lad’s hair with his hand in a friendly way. “He was sent down to me here in London by my second cousin Mistress Clement in Snitterfield near Warwick. He… well, he has ambitions to be a poet and he wrote an extremely rude sonnet about Sir Thomas Lucy the local squire, because he had been caught poaching on the Squire’s land.” Burbage chuckled again. “Mind you, the verse was bloody funny! I shall be sending him back when all the fuss has died down. Let me introduce you. Willy, this is the famous Privy Councillor and Astrologer Royal Doctor John Dee. Doctor Dee, this is young Master William Shakespeare.”
Dee smiled at the lad. “Welcome to London, Master Shakespeare. I’m sure we shall be seeing each other again while this great work of construction is progressing.”
The boy bowed. “I shall look forward to that, Sir.”
January 9th 1577. Windsor Castle was a darkening silhouette against the late evening sky. Many windows showed as yellow lights. Blazing motionless in the inky heavens above the castle was a beautiful comet, its tail reaching halfway across the sky.
The Great Stateroom was filled with courtiers, nobility and other distinguished people socializing in a great buzz of background conversation. Queen Elizabeth, now 44, sat on a throne at one end of the vast room. Several pompous-looking dignified men were speaking to her. Four of them were holding up large leather-bound books open for the Queen to see. The pages showed woodcut pictures of comets. Sir Francis Walsingham stood near the Queen, with eighteen-year-old Lady Juliet Summerfield, a lady-in-waiting.
A liveried royal equerry entered the stateroom and cried out loudly above the babble. “If it please Your Majesty – The Astrologer Royal!”
John Dee, approaching 50, came through the same door and walked in a straight line to the throne. People reluctantly drew aside to make a clear path for him. At the throne, Dee bowed. The men with the books stepped back in annoyance at being interrupted.
Elizabeth smiled at Dee. “We are relieved to see you, good Doctor John. We have been fearful worried these last ten weeks regarding this most awful portent called ‘Comet’ which appeared then burning in the upper airs. Our advisors say this is that very same dreadful omen which appeared before Caesar was assassinated. They say it appeared likewise in 1066 to foretell the slaying of King Harold at Hastings and the fall of Saxon England. We are naturally concerned as to the message it brings on this occasion.”
“Majesty,” replied Dee calmly, “I have this very week returned from Prague, where I spent time with my great friend Tycho Brahe, a Danish philosopher of the sciences who studies the heavens with instruments. We made precise sightings of this Comet in the same minute, but from locations separated by a great many miles.
“From this it can be conclusively proven that the Comet lies a very great distance further than the Moon and is not – as has been supposed since at least the time of Aristotle – any spiritual messenger in our world’s upper airs. I believe it to be a natural object, akin to the stars and planets but of different habits. It will not harm us. It is merely passing by.”
Elizabeth was intrigued. “Can you explain this further and tell us how two observations made at the same time may show this to be so?”
“Most readily, Majesty,” answered Dee, “if I may make free usage of your guests…?”
Elizabeth smiled wickedly. “Please do – most of them serve only to clutter the room.”
Dee bowed, then walked briskly about clapping his hands loudly for attention and shouting: “Will everyone kindly retire to the walls please! To the walls please everyone! Clear the floor! Clear the floor!”
There was some annoyed grumbling but most of the assembled dignitaries appeared to be amused. People drifted towards the walls.
Dee approached a small group standing not far from the throne. There was a tall, handsome Spanish noble of perhaps 37, another, younger, muscular Spaniard who looked like his minder, a third who was older and looked like a scholar. The minder was talking unceasingly to an obviously bored young woman. Dee politely addressed the tall aristocrat.
“Noble sir, though we have not met before, would you oblige me by being the Comet?”
The minder appeared outraged, but the noble laughed convivially. “I shall oblige you in this, you strange man, for I have a fancy to find out what it is like to be such a glorious apparition.”
The minder spat out: “You are addressing His Noble Excellency Don Bernardino de Mendoza de Guadalajara – Ambassador of his Imperial Majesty King Philip of Spain and Portugal!”
The older Spaniard added more quietly: “And I am Abraham, an alchemist. I know you practice the Dark Arts, Dee, and I shall be watching you carefully to ensure you attempt no enchantment.”
Unperturbed, Dee turned to the young woman. “Pardon me – Mistress…?”
“Jane Fromond, Lady-in-Waiting to Her Majesty.”
“Sweet Lady Jane, might I invite you to play the part of the Moon for me?”
Jane nodded and smiled, then turned and leaned close to Dee’s ear as she did so. She whispered urgently. “Save me! The Spaniard wants to bed me!”
Dee, not visibly reacting, politely guided Mendoza and Jane to a point about 30 feet in front of the Queen. He held up a finger to indicate that Jane stay in that place, then walked Mendoza to the far wall, about 60 feet from Elizabeth. Returning to the throne, Dee seized two small stools and placed them some ten feet to the right and left of the throne. A background hubbub of curiosity started amongst the guests. There was a great collective gasp of outrage and surprise when Dee took the Queen’s hand and guided her to take a seat on the stool on the left. The Queen, however, appeared highly amused.
“Your Majesty, if these two people were but lights in the sky, our need is to determine which is nearer and which is farther. If Your Majesty were seated in Windsor, you might see the two bodies as you now see them. Which of them, therefore, appears to the right, and which to the left?”
Puzzled, Elizabeth replied; “Jane appears to the right of Mendoza.”
Dee assisted the Queen to rise and sit on the stool to the right. The vast room was growing silent with general amazement.
“Now Your Majesty is seated in Dover Castle, a great distance from Windsor, Who now is seen to the right, and who to the left?”
“They have changed their aspect. Lady Jane now appears to the left of Mendoza.”
“Your Majesty is very perceptive. By calculating the angles of this effect, which is used in the navigation of ships and is called the parallel axis or parallax, I have proven that the Comet lies at a greater distance from us than the Moon.”
The Queen smiled radiantly at Dee, enchanted by his antics. Somebody slowly started to clap and applause grew and spread throughout the great stateroom. Mendoza politely clapped as he walked forward to approach Dee. As Jane walked back from the middle of the room, Mendoza’s minder strode quickly to catch her up and placed her arm in his quite forcibly.
“You are a remarkable man, Doctor Dee,” stated Mendoza. “Your reputation hardly does you full justice. I find you very interesting. I understand you were once put on trial for practicing witchcraft!”
“I have lost count of the number of times I have had to tell people that I am a scientist not a witch or warlock!”
“There is an old saying, is there not? ‘If the cap fits, you must wear it!’ Perhaps in your case, Doctor John, it is the cone-shaped heretic’s cap!”
“No sir!” answered Dee firmly. “It is surely your own cap, not mine, and it is the fool’s cap! It ill becomes you, Spaniard!”
Mendoza’s voice was silkily sinister. “Have a care with your tongue, Doctor Dee. In diplomatic legality, I am the hand of King Philip.”
“Then you must be more diplomatic, sir, else I shall take pleasure in shaking King Philip’s hand!”
Before anyone could react, Dee thrust his arm through Jane’s other elbow and pulled her away from the minder, walking away with her. The minder glared furiously but could do nothing because people were thronging back onto the floor and once more crowding the great room.
A few minutes later a group of musicians started to play lively music and many people started dancing. Elizabeth was once more on her throne and Lady Jane Fromond now stood beside her.
“What do you think of Doctor John Dee, Jane?” asked Elizabeth, not taking her gaze off the dancers.
“A… startling man, Majesty.”
“If you are a woman, all men are startling. It is just that some are startling in an obnoxious way, while some are startling in an agreeable way. In what manner do you find John Dee startling?”
“Perhaps… agreeably startling – if one could train him to habitude…”
The Queen, still watching the dancing, smiled slightly to herself.
After a slight pause, Jane spoke again, hesitantly. “Is Dee… married?”
“He was, but his wife died some years ago. There were no surviving children. He is quite probably the cleverest mind the realm of England has yet produced.” Elizabeth turned and looked directly at Jane. “Of course, if you wish to enjoy a dance with any of the men here tonight, I will not object – that’s what the music is for.”
“Since Your Majesty is so gracious, perhaps I shall accommodate myself of some small cavorting – just to be sociable among the guests, of course.”
“Of course! Go on! Be off with you!” Elizabeth aimed a swat with her hand at Jane’s rear, making her jump primly.
A short time later the musicians were playing and couples were dancing. In their midst Jane Fromond danced with John Dee, both of them laughing and prancing with great energy.
Elizabeth watched the proceedings, a half smile still on her lips. Standing now at the side of the throne was Sir Francis Walsingham. As some thirty ladies were raised to full-stretch height by the arms of thirty men, to come down again and dance away in perfect jaunty step, Elizabeth remarked admiringly; “I never realized John Dee knew how to dance.”
Walsingham raised an eyebrow. “I never realized he knew how to laugh!”
In a corner of the vast hall Mendoza talked with his minder. “We must keep our attentions on Doctor John Dee, Carlos. He may prove troublesome.”
Carlos shrugged and smiled slightly. “Do not worry, Excellency. He would be very easy to kill.”
“We must be subtle, Carlos. We must be diplomatic. This treaty the English have signed with the Netherlands has outraged King Philip and the Pope. It is our task to discover how far the English are prepared to go in helping the Dutch Protestants to overthrow Spanish rule. Is this merely a cosmetic exercise – a wild bluff made in haste to make the English look big before they abandon the Dutch to their fate? Or does Elizabeth seriously believe that England can win a war against Spain? It is a preposterous idea – yet I am commanded by King Philip to discover just how serious the English are on this issue. We do not have the time for romances and personal pleasures!
On a bright sunlight morning the magnificent gilded royal barge was being rowed on the River Thames, accompanied by a small flotilla of other rowing barges containing courtiers, dignitaries and soldiers. By the small Surrey village of Mortlake the boats headed slowly into the southern riverbank while liveried boatmen jumped onto a wooden quayside and caught ropes flung to them for mooring. As the boats became secured, the dignitaries and escorting soldiers scrambled onto the quay and sorted themselves out into groups.
The royal barge gently slid into a reserved mooring, the rowers holding their white oars upright to form fences down both sides of the vessel. Queen Elizabeth rose from a raised and gilded chair with a tapestry canopy fluttering above it. Sir Francis Walsingham had been seated by the Queen and he rose to take Elizabeth’s hand and help her come ashore. Two ladies-in-waiting, Jane Fromond and Juliet Summerfield, also assisted. From another boat filled with dignitaries scrambled Bernardino de Mendoza the Spanish Ambassador with Carlos his minder and Abraham his secretary.
A liveried chamberlain, alighting from the royal barge, doffed his feathered hat to the Queen and bowed, sweeping his hat round at the landscape in an encompassing gesture. “The village of Mortlake, your Majesty.”
After a pleasant walk along specially prepared dry sanded paths in the sunshine, the royal procession entered the ornamental front grounds of a large, imposing manor house. As the Queen approached the flight of stone steps leading to a great front door a squad of pike-carrying soldiers halted smartly behind her standing to attention. At the top of the steps John Dee stood outside the open door beside an elderly woman. Several spotlessly-dressed household servants stood to attention in a row beside the steps. As the royal party drew near, the servants bowed or curtsied and Dee bowed low, genuflecting with his right hand.
“Your Majesty! You grace our humble home with your presence. I hope your journey on the river was agreeable.” He gestured politely toward the venerable woman beside him. “Please permit me to present to you my mother Joanna.”
Elizabeth allowed both Dee and his mother to kiss her gloved hand, then beckoned Jane and Juliet to accompany her as they entered the splendid mansion. A dozen or so of the Queen’s party also entered behind them, including Walsingham and Sir Philip Sidney. Many other courtiers and notables headed into the sunny ornamental grounds laughing and chatting. Elizabeth spoke with Dee as they walked into the great house.
“We have heard much of your wonderful library, Doctor John. You must be very proud of it. It is said to be the largest collection of books in the land. We are pleased indeed that you so kindly invited us to examine it.”
A short time later Dee was conducting Elizabeth around his stately library and pointing out items of interest, for apart from seemingly endless walls of books packed from floor to ceiling in the vast room there were also many glass cabinets and stands filled with interesting alchemical and mystical items and many others containing valuable porcelain and other exquisite pieces of bejeweled artwork. There was a collection of astronomical instruments, accurate clocks and a great globe of the world given to Dee as a gift by the map-maker Mercator. At length they stopped beside a large cabinet containing a display of many differently-sized glass balls. The Queen bent forward to admire them.
“They give the appearance of exquisite jewels. Are these your shew-stones?”
“Some of my early experiments, Majesty,” replied Dee. “You see, ordinary glass contains traces of iron from its manufacture, giving it a slight greenish hue. This makes it unreliable for crystal divination. Iron was ever the enemy of spirit. I have devised a new kind of crystal of greater purity, using lead instead of iron. I am employing people with a natural gift for skrying to help me use this new lead crystal to explore the spiritual realms.”
“Do not let Edward Grindal hear you speak thus,” admonished the Queen. “He may take it somewhat warmly!”
“The Archbishop of Canterbury? He is a personal friend of mine since my days as a student in Cambridge. Why, I dined with him at his London residence, Lambeth Palace, only two weeks ago. Majesty, I am a devout Christian. It is the nature of Man to be curious about the great cosmos in which he has been placed. I follow in the footsteps of Archimedes.”
“And was not Archimedes slain whilst attempting to safeguard his calculations? He was too curious about the universe and insufficiently curious about the ways of this world. If you are overly inquisitive about the universe, the universe may become overly inquisitive about you.”
The pair strolled away toward another display cabinet.
A quarter of an hour later the lady-in-waiting Jane Fromond gazed curiously along an otherwise deserted corridor in Dee’s mansion. The corridor was very large and many magnificent paintings were on the walls. She thought she had heard a noise and her curiosity was aroused. After taking a few steps along the corridor she suddenly heard a short burst of muffled shouting. Then there was a loud crash from somewhere. At that moment, John Dee entered the corridor through another door. He looked at Jane, puzzled. “I thought I heard noises.”
Jane simply pointed at a closed door. At that instant a woman’s scream came from behind the door and was rapidly stifled. Jane tried the handle and the door opened. Jane and Dee entered the room beyond.
Mendoza’s minder Carlos was on the far side of the room kneeling over Juliet Summerfield, the other lady-in-waiting, who lay flat on her back on the floor, stunned, a vivid red mark on her face. An overturned table and smashed ornaments were on the carpet. Carlos froze in the act of pulling off Juliet’s voluminous skirts. He looked up with a snarl at the interruption.
“You evil bastard! Get away from her!” spat Jane in fury.
Carlos’ eyes glinted dangerously at Jane and Dee. “Run away, little girl, old man, before I put my mark on you both. This is between me and the woman who led me on.”
“She did no such thing,” hissed Jane scornfully. “Lady Juliet is an innocent victim of your lust. I saw the lecherous look on your face earlier. I saw your evil eyes following her every movement – and mine! You are a savage, sir – a rapist and a craven coward!”
Carlos sprang to his feet in utter rage and leaped towards Jane and Dee with terrifying agility and speed, his fist raised.
John Dee stepped between Carlos and Jane. “I would not strike that blow if you value your life!”
At that moment Mendoza himself came through the open door. This stopped Carlos in his tracks. “I heard a great crash and raised voices,” stated the Ambassador. “What is going on here?”
Carlos spat out his reply. “This warlock has insulted my honour!”
“What honour?” replied Dee calmly. “You have less honour than the goats you were raised with! Have a care – an ignorant goat may find he has picked a fight with a lion.”
“Do you threaten me, you Devil’s jackass?” grated Carlos, incensed with rage. “I could skewer you like a sucking-pig. If you could hold a sword, I would challenge you to a duel, and your head would roll on the floor before your body knew its lack!”
Mendoza was obviously extremely annoyed. “Now, now, Carlos, we should not allow our tempers to run away with us.” He waved his lace-cuffed hand in the air. “I do not know what has gone on here, but we are guests, and we are diplomats. The accomplished diplomat never stoops to common brawling. His weapons are gracious words, treaties and the gaining of favours and courtesies. We must be civilized.”
“Civilised my arse! This posturing conjurer has insulted me and my family. I will uphold my honour. That is my right!”
Mendoza replied with controlled anger. “But Doctor Dee is not a champion swordsman like you, and he does not carry a sword. And you appear to have been interrupted in an attempt to commit rape. I forbid you from causing even more of an incident! I will speak to you later. Did I not tell you we must be on our best behaviour today – especially today?”
John Dee spoke casually and in a pleasant tone to Mendoza, entirely ignoring Carlos. “I accept your man’s challenge, Excellency. I have a sword, but I never wear it these days. It is gathering cobwebs in a back room. I shall be ready this hour, if I may find gentlemen to act as my seconds. Is your man agreeable to this arrangement?”
“I am agreeable” stated Carlos sinisterly, almost, it seemed, smacking his lips at the prospect.
Mendoza obviously controlled a great anger. “Very well! So be it! If Carlos insists, against my wishes, upon making this a matter of honour, and if Doctor Dee is agreeing to match swords with him, then I cannot argue – diplomacy has failed!”
Mendoza jerked his head angrily at Carlos, turned abruptly and left the room. Carlos followed him with an insolent swagger, sneering at Dee and Jane as he passed. Jane rushed at once to Juliet, who stirred and groaned. Dee knelt down and checked the pulse in her wrist, finding it healthy.
Unexpectedly, Jane asked quietly; “Why do you take this risk, John?”
Dee smiled. “In our land’s far past, King Arthur’s knights of Camelot were always dueling in shining armour to defend a lady’s honour.”
“But Carlos is a savage brute and a renowned master swordsman and you are a gentle scholar – he will kill you!”
Frowning slightly, Dee pulled a small notebook from a pocket and made a show of consulting it, searching for a page. “No – I have no appointments in Heaven today. Have no fear – I know what I must do.”
Impulsively Jane threw her arms around Dee and kissed him.
In a large tapestry-hung banqueting hall of the mansion, tables and seats had been moved to leave a large empty space suitable for dueling. Dee stood at ease with an anxious Jane Fromond. Standing with them were Sir Francis Walsingham and his son-in-law Sir Philip Sidney. Dee spoke to them calmly.
“It is very good of you both to act as my seconds.”
Walsingham scowled. “Personally, I think you are mad, John. I think I am about to loose one of my best agents. You cannot possibly beat Carlos at swordplay.”
Sidney nodded worriedly. “Doctor Dee, I have watched Carlos dueling in sport several times. I must warn you that he is truly formidable – a genuine master swordsman.”
“Philip is right,” stated Walsingham. “If you withdraw now, it is in order for your seconds to present your surrender in your absence.”
Dee was grave. “I shall see it done, Sir Francis. The man must be taught to respect a lady’s honour!”
Walsingham seized Dee’s arm and stared earnestly into his face. “John – you are not Sir Galahad!”
Into the banqueting room walked Mendoza, Carlos and Abraham. Carlos looked rather satisfied with the turn of events. He glanced at Dee. “I trust we are all ready? What shall decide the victory? Do we fight to the death or merely until a cry of surrender? I will, of course, accept a surrender – providing you make it to me upon your knees and let me cut off one of your ears to mount on my wall as a trophy!”
Dee answered convivially. “Shall we just say, until one or other of us is incapable of continuing the fight?”
“Very well. Do our seconds agree with these terms?”
Dee addressed Mendoza. “These gentlemen have agreed to be my seconds, your Excellency. You know Sir Francis Walsingham, of course, and this gentleman is his son-in-law Sir Philip Sidney.” The seconds all nodded in agreement. Carlos drew his sword and performed a dazzling series of expert flourishes in the air, his blade making a whishing sound.
Dee simply raised an eyebrow and walked to the wood-paneled wall a few yards away, where chairs and smaller tables had been placed out of the way. He picked up a long wooden box that lay on the floor and placed it on a table. From under the loose lid, a long cord trailed. Dee opened the box and produced a very strange sword. The blade was steel, but the handgrip and finger-basket were made from glass. The strange cord emerged from the base of the hand-grip and disappeared on the floor amongst the furniture.
“I trust nobody objects to me using my own sword?” said Dee amicably. “I am attempting to develop the design for the army, but there are problems concerning its use in battle.”
Carlos stopped his expert display of sword-swishing and stared at Dee’s sword unbelievingly. “The hilt and guard of your sword are made of glass! Glass! It will shatter after the first few blows! You are using a glass sword? And the hilt appears to be fixed to a length of cord, like a beginner’s practice blade – how will you lunge and thrust properly with a rope on your sword?”
“I said there were some problems with the design. However, as long as there are no objections, I will prefer to put my trust in my own sword.”
“As you wish!” snarled Carlos contemptuously. “I cannot be held responsible if you die because your sword hilt shatters or your rope limits your thrusting. It is no fault of mine if you die an abject fool!”
Both the duelers looked at Sir Philip Sidney and nodded. He stepped forward and raised a lace handkerchief. “When the ‘kerchief touches the floor, the duel will commence and carry on until one or other of the parties is incapable of continuing the fight.”
Dee made a step forward, bent his knees and took up a classic en garde stance, his sword held at forty-five degrees. The cord still dangled out of the glass handgrip. It trailed on the floor behind Dee and, out of sight, disappeared into a small cavity like a mouse-hole in the skirting board.
On the other side of the wall there was a room. The cord came out of the mouse-hole and trailed up into a strange-looking wooden bench supporting a mechanism. There was a manservant standing there cranking a big handle. This was turning leather drive-belts causing two very large wheels on the same small axel to rotate side-by-side with increasing speed and in opposite directions. Jars of liquid bubbled on the bench. Coils of copper ran through their stoppers. There began a distinct humming and crackling sound.
In the banqueting hall, Carlos too danced rapidly forward and took up an en garde position. The two duelists were motionless, like statues, the tips of their swords now only six inches apart.
Sidney released the handkerchief and it dropped to the floor. Carlos, still sneering, gave Dee’s sword tip a playful tap with his own blade, as a cat might dab its paw at a mouse. There was an instant blinding flash and a very loud bang. In the same instant Carlos was thrown backwards through the air for a dozen feet as though fired from a catapult, leaving a faint trail of smoke in his wake. His back hit the door of the room and burst it outwards off its hinges. The door went down with a great crash like a felled tree and Carlos lay on the door, unconscious and smouldering slightly.
Dee laid his sword very carefully on a table, taking great heed not to touch the blade. He spoke into the stunned silence. “I believe it can be fully agreed that my opponent is no longer capable of continuing the duel?”
Sidney stood blinking. Walsingham stared with his mouth open at the unconscious Carlos. Abraham rushed to him, kneeling and slapping his face trying to bring him round. Mendoza stared at Dee in an instant of mingled astonishment and respect, applauded briefly and politely, bowed formally waving his feathered hat past his knees and walked out of the room.
Lady Jane Fromond jumped at Dee and embraced him. They kissed passionately.
The sun was still bright in the early evening sky when the Queen and royal party left Dee’s mansion and once more boarded the small flotilla of rowing barges moored under guard at Mortlake staithe. John Dee had chosen to accompany Elizabeth to Whitehall Landing, from where he could take horse for his town house at South-Walk The barges put out into mid river and made a colourful pageant heading for London.
Seated again on the gilded seat beneath its gorgeous canopy, the Queen gossiped with her ladies-in-waiting Jane and Juliet, who was by now fully recovered from her recent ordeal except for a dark bruise on her face. The three women spoke quietly behind raised hands with many a naughty giggle. Standing behind the royal platform a liveried royal waterman stood in haughty isolation. In front of Elizabeth sat Sir Francis Walsingham with Sir Philip Sidney, Dee and other dignitaries.
Unexpectedly, a loud crack rang out. The waterman standing behind the Queen’s seat screamed, clutching at his chest which spurted blood. He toppled dead into the river with a great splash. Sudden panic broke out upon all the boats. Walsingham leaped to his feet and placed himself with outstretched arms in front of the Queen, protecting her with his own body. Frozen like a tableau the flotilla passed quickly downstream. From the cover of riverside bushes a solitary man dashed away, throwing a pistol into the river as he ran.
Later, a well-dressed young man of about twenty-five walked up a farmer’s track. He drew near to a scattering of wooden outbuildings. As he approached, several pikemen ran out in front of him from behind the sheds and spread themselves across the track, facing him grimly. At the centre of the line of pikemen stood Sir Francis Walsingham smiling sinisterly.
In a panic the man bolted back the way he had come. From behind other stables and a pigsty a second line of pikemen ran out to form a line blocking his retreat. Commanding the second line was Sir Philip Sidney accompanied by John Dee. They stared at the young man with remorseless eyes. Both lines of pikemen closed in and surrounded him. The man’s face was a mask of pure terror. Sidney silently clamped his hand on the man’s shoulder. Then Dee tied the man’s hands behind his back with a length of cord. Inside the ring of soldiers Walsingham strolled to confront the young man.
“Well, well! So this is the fish we have caught in our little net. Francis Throckmorton, son of Sir John Throckmorton, isn’t it?” Walsingham took Throckmorton’s arm gently in his gloved hand and smiled at him. “I think you and I will have a nice little fireside chat. Perhaps several. In the Tower!”
Richmond Fair was a crowded and bustling market with many stalls and vendors. It was buzzing with milling people buying and selling all manner of goods and local produce. Farmers led huge prize bulls by the rings in their noses, goose-girls steered argumentative flocks of geese through the throng with whipping-sticks, pig-breeders shouted the numbers of litters born by prize sows, drink-sellers who quenched thirsty throats did a roaring trade. Amid all the cacophony of hustling and bustling there was a rather disreputable-looking man in his twenties who was busily attracting an audience with simple magic tricks, pulling coloured silk handkerchiefs from passing people’s ears, making a coin vanish in raised hands, producing live white doves from nowhere. The group of onlookers was steadily growing.
Then the man darted behind a small table on which stood three upturned pewter goblets. He displayed a musket ball in thumb and finger, then placed it under the central goblet. Adroitly he whisked the goblets around confusingly while he spoke with a distinct Irish accent.
“Good masters and mistresses, the quickness of the hand deceives the eye.” He stopped moving the goblets. “Which goblet is the ball under? Place your bets now – winner takes all!”
All the watchers without exception immediately remembered they had business elsewhere, turned in various directions and walked quickly away into the heaving crowds. The ragged conjurer made faces at them behind their backs.
On the same fine spring day and only a mile away the vicar of Richmond Church was conducting a marriage ceremony. The church was filled with well-wishers and guests and the sunlight made the stained-glass windows glorious, even though it was quite a modest church, especially when compared to the architectural splendours of London. The bride was Her Majesty’s Lady-in-Waiting Jane Fromond and the groom was Doctor John Dee.
In the throne room of Whitehall palace several weeks later Queen Elizabeth sat in full state costume. Her expression was angry and hard. The vast room was silent, like the calm before the storm. Standing respectfully to her right was Sir Francis Walsingham; on her left stood John Dee, equally diffident. Also nearby stood young Sir Philip Sidney. On either side of the great raised throne stood ranks of pikemen. Near one wall of the room were set four desks, at each of which sat a black-clad lawyer with black skull-cap, all four of them scribbling away quietly with quill pens on parchment. The general atmosphere was heavy with a sense of waiting, a sense of the calm before the storm.
A royal equerry carrying a polished black staff entered the room at the far end and marched forward. Stopping and bowing several yards in front of the Queen he banged the staff loudly three times on the floor, the echoes fading. He cried out in a loud and clear voice.
“If it please Your Majesty, His Excellency Don Bernardino de Mendoza de Guadalajara, Spanish Ambassador to the Court of Tudor!”
Through the far door walked Medoza, flanked by two pikemen. All three marched to the area before the throne and halted. Mendoza bowed low and doffed his magnificent plumed hat, sweeping it across the floor in a grand gesture. As he straightened up, Elizabeth furiously stabbed a pointing finger at him. Her eyes blazing, she spat out just four words in a cold, hard voice trembling with suppressed rage. Each word was uttered so that it stood alone as a statement in itself, and there was a distinct pause between each one.
“On… Your… Knees… Sir!”
Expressionlessly Mendoza dropped to his knees facing the throne. Elizabeth turned her head to Walsingham and nodded sharply. He stepped forward and spoke in a harsh and emotionless voice.
“Don Bernardino de Mendoza de Guadalajara, there is proof absolute that you collaborated with the traitor Sir Francis Throckmorton to procure and accomplish the regicide of Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth Tudor. Throckmorton is to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, his entrails burned before his eyes. Because you are a representative of the will of King Philip, it is only Her Majesty who may pronounce sentence upon you.”
Elizabeth thrust out her right hand at arm’s length as though waiting for something to be placed in it. Steadily she held it in this position. At once the nearest black-clad lawyer stood up and strode quickly to the side of the throne, handing the Queen several parchment documents before hurrying back to his desk. Walsingham spoke again.
“Your Letters of Credence bearing the royal seal of King Philip acknowledging you as rightful Ambassador of Spain in England.”
Slowly and deliberately Elizabeth tore the parchments in half, then into quarters. Then she flung the pieces at Mendoza’s face, although they could not reach him. Grasping the arms of the throne in tight fury, she leaned forward menacingly. In a low but clear voice, almost spitting, she hissed: “Get out of my country! Take the first ship that will remove your putrid carcass from our good clean land! Never return! Never dare to set corrupt foot again on the good earth of England! Never again foul our clean airs with the rotten stench of your breath!”
Then, in a sudden explosion of uncontrolled temper, Elizabeth leaped to her feet and pointed at Mendoza with a hand that trembled violently with rage. She screamed in fury at the top of her voice.
“Get out! Get out before I have you thrown into the privy pit! Flee my realm and spend your remaining years thanking God I allow you to retain your miserable head! Get out!”
Cowering white-faced before the hot blast of the Queen’s fury, Mendoza scrambled in panic to his feet and, abandoning all pretence at dignity, turned and ran from the room as fast as he was able, dropping his magnificent hat unheeded on the floor in his panic.
It was night. A short distance south of the Thames near the Surrey village of Mortlake, the Dee mansion was shrouded in darkness. In a back room at the rear of the great house, amid deep shadows cast by a solitary candle, John Dee sat at a rough-hewn kitchen table opposite another man. Both men were staring rigidly into a crystal ball placed between them on an ornamental stand. After a particularly long period of motionless silence, Dee spoke in a deliberately loud whisper.
“Well Barnabus – is there anybody there?”
Barnabus Saul was obviously very nervous. He broke out into a sudden sweat. “I… Er… Well… Actually… I think…”
“Yes, Barnabus?” encouraged Dee, dangerously calm and quietly-spoken.
“Er… Yes, yes, I am seeing something,” gasped Barnabus Saul rather desperately, glancing quickly at Dee. “Er… A great rolling mist flows… There is a silvery light… I see a man… He has wings! Yes, definitely he has wings… He is an angel… He is saying something to me… He points… he points…”
“Where does he point, Barnabus?” Dee’s voice remained calm and level.
“He points… He points…” Barnabus’ eyes darted left and right. “He points at the cabinet beside the door.”
Still in a tone of forced reasonableness, Dee asked; “Now, did you ask him where I hid the shilling?”
“Yes, yes – he is saying it is in the cabinet.”
Dee said nothing, but the corners of his mouth suddenly looked grim. Slowly and deliberately he reached out with both hands and carefully raised the crystal ball in its stand several inches. On the wooden tabletop beneath could clearly be seen a silver shilling coin.
“Oh!” said Barnabus Saul, entirely deflated.
In the dark night, the back door of the Dee mansion was flung open with a great bang and lamplight streamed out. Barnabus Saul, clutching a large tapestry holdall, almost leaped out of the house, so great was his panic. He ran frantically into the night as John Dee ran behind him aiming a kick at his rear, but missing.
“And don’t come back!” shouted Dee angrily.
A week passed. A mile or so from the Dee mansion and near the green banks of the Thames there was a local tavern of some popularity. The building was oak-beamed and thatched and there was a tall post rising from the grassy patch at the centre of the nearby crossroads. Swinging gently in the breeze atop the post was a hand-painted sign: “The Ferry Brewhouse”. A couple of customers walked past the signpost and made their way into the establishment while a groom led their horses toward the stables behind the inn.
Within, the tavern was very busy. Tap-maids were moving amongst customers and tables with trays of food and jugs of beer. There was a continuous hubbub of background conversations from all directions and an occasional shout for beer or food. At a beer-stained wooden table several men and a few women were seated enjoying a drink and gossip-laden conversation. Among them a gloomy-looking Barnabus Saul sat grumbling.
“Kicked me out, he did, and without so much as a kind word for all me efforts.”
A man facing him across the table wiped his mouth on his sleeve and put his tankard down on the table carefully. “Aye? And what did you do for him then, eh? What was your - position?” Everyone at the table erupted in vulgar laughter.
“No, no,” protested Barnabus Saul, “it weren’t anything like that. All he wants is someone who can see things in a crystal ball. Says he’s conducting what he calls ‘philosophical research’ into what he calls ‘hidden realms of the natural universe which have not yet been investigated by the scientific mind.’”
A woman sitting on another man’s lap glanced deprecatingly at him with raised eyebrows. “What’s ‘e want with you, then? You ain’t got a mind, let alone a scientific one.”
The man whose lap was being occupied by the woman muttered loudly; “He’s got a mind all right – a one-track one!” There was general laughter.
Barnabus Saul raised his head haughtily. “I’ll have you know, I can read and write, and I can add up and take away, and even divide and multiply. And I used to work for a bishop and keep records. How much more bloody scientific can you be, I ask? He abused my professional abilities, that’s what he done – abused them!”
“Why’d yer stay working for ‘im then, if he weren’t a good master?” asked another man. “Six months you was there, weren’t it?”
“Aye,” agreed Barnabus Saul wryly, “but he pays well. I got a sovereign a month and full board and lodging thrown in.”
A man at an adjacent table suddenly turned round on his bench. He was a rather rough-looking character, though quite well-dressed, and his left ear was missing which gave him a villainous-looking countenance. He was the same conjurer who had recently been performing the goblets-and-ball trick at Richmond Fair, but now he was no longer dressed in rags. He spoke politely to Barnabus Saul with an Irish accent.
“Excuse me, good sir, but I am a visitor from other parts. I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation just then. From what little I heard, you seem to have been grievously treated by a recent employer. My name is Edward Kelley. May I have the honour of buying you a drink, and the benefit of the wisdom of your conversation?”
The woman on the man’s lap remarked; “He’ll do anything you like, for a free drink!” There was a round of laughter at the table. Barnabus Saul lifted his nose at her and sat down at Kelley’s table. Kelley put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. At once a buxom serving wench hurried to his side. With a cheeky twist of her hips she asked; “What will be your pleasure sir?”
“A different one to last night, girl,” replied Kelley, winking at her and slapping her on the rear. “I’ll have a refill of best ale, and my friend here Master…?”
“Barnabus Saul sir, and pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Master Barnabus will have whatsoever he pleases, and I shall pay.”
“I’ll have the same, lass,” said Barnabus Saul.
The serving wench bounced away to get the orders. Kelley leaned forward towards Barnabus Saul with great interest. “Now, my good sir, tell me more about this man who employed you for crystal-gazing. A sovereign a month, you say…?”
Within the huge library of the Dee mansion John and Jane Dee were seated together discussing the big leather-bound books on their laps. There was a quiet knock on the library door and a manservant entered. He coughed once to announce his presence.
“Sir, Madam, there is a visitor. He gives his name as one Edward Kelley. He seems… somewhat disreputable?”
Dee did not raise his eyes from the book. “Does he state his business?”
“He says he is an expert skryer at the crystal ball. He says he heard in a local tavern that you need someone like him.”
“A skryer, you say? Very well - bring him in.”
The manservant left the room. Dee closed his book and looked at his wife, who also closed hers. “Do you wish to be present when I test this newcomer?” he asked. “You may find it amusing.”
Jane smiled. “By your leave, my beloved, I shall stay. If he is any good, I can be pleased for you; and if he proves otherwise, I can laugh as you bid him farewell with your boot – which, indeed, seems to be the present fashion with your assistants.”
Dee chuckled and stroked her hand. “So be it, my sweet nonpareil.”
There was another knock on the door and the manservant entered again. Behind him walked Edward Kelley, somewhat grubby and unkempt. The manservant briefly raised his eyes to heaven to show his opinion and announced the visitor in formal fashion. “Master Edward Kelley, sir.” He turned and quietly left. Kelley bowed briefly to Dee and his wife.
“I have employed many skryers in my researches, Master Kelley,” Dee stated. “None overly impressed me.”
“Then put me to the test and make judgement of my skills accordingly, kind sir.”
“A good reply, Master Kelley. Very well, with your patience I shall test you. Be pleased to wait outside the room until you hear me call – with the door shut!”
Kelley left the room and closed the door behind him. Rising, Dee strode across the library and stopped before one of the many bookshelves. Closing his eyes, he pointed his finger and moved forward until it touched a book. He withdrew the book and took a small coin from his pocket.
“See now, I place a coin in this book I chose at random. I return the book to its place undisturbed.” He slipped the book back into the empty gap, then went to sit at his huge desk. He called out very loudly: “You may come in again, Master Kelley.”
Kelley opened the door and entered.
“I have hid a coin somewhere in this room,” explained Dee. “Here on my desk stands a crystal. If you can learn the exact whereabouts of my coin, then I will employ you as my skryer at the rate of one sovereign a month with full board and lodging thrown in.”
Kelley walked slowly to the desk and stared at the crystal ball. Then he fell onto his knees, bowed his head and started muttering a string of words under his breath. Dee and Jane exchanged glances with raised eyebrows. After perhaps a minute, Kelley spoke aloud.
“I perceive an angel drawing near in the crystal. Thank you, thou blessed spirit, for heeding the call of this thy servant. He speaks to me.” Kelley fell silent for some time, obviously trying to listen to something. Then he spoke again. “The angel’s name is Urial. I have received his answer about the coin.”
“Tell me, then,” said Dee, “and I shall judge it.”
Without speaking, Kelley stood and walked across the great room to the bookcase and withdrew the exact book, turning to Dee and Jane and opening the book to reveal the coin. Dee looked stunned. Jane raised her eyebrows and applauded.
“Master Kelley,” said Dee, impressed, “I confess I thought you nought but a vagabond. I must apologise to you most deeply. I have great pleasure in asking you to accept a position as my research assistant.”
Kelley walked back to Dee, placed the closed book on his desk and the two men shook hands.
Outside the library, nobody was looking through the keyhole in the door. But if anybody had been, they would have been able to see along a straight line-of-sight to the gap in the bookshelf where the book had once been.
There were two men in a large dark room as black as night. Then came a harsh scratching sound as flint and steel produced sparks and, from this, a few candles were lit to shed a faint and spectral yellow glow. It was not a welcoming glow, for it could then be seen that the candles were black. The man who lit the black candles wore a black robe. He sank to his knees within a white circle painted on a highly polished wooden floor. Within the white line an inner circle of occult cabbalistic symbols had also been meticulously written in white. Before the kneeling man a small wooden altar bore a silver goblet filled with blood, a silver-bladed dagger and an ornately carven wand.
The other man stood calmly outside the circle, arms folded, watching. The flickering candlelight gleamed in his arrogant eyes and outlined a darkly tanned aristocratic face with gleaming white teeth exposed in an eager grin above a fashionable neat beard. He pointed at the kneeling man commandingly.
“Comenzará el conjuro!”
The kneeling man raised his arms and began to chant a stream of strange words. On the floor beside him a splattering of blood reflected the dancing candle flames. Beside the blood lay the headless body of a black cockerel. A second silver goblet standing near the body held the cockerel’s severed head with staring eyes, beak open in frozen terror.
The kneeling man chanted loudly and sonorously. “Oriens! Ariton! Irago! Lamal! RAGIGAR!” The last word was screamed with a passionate grimace...
In an opulent room in the Royal Palace of Whitehall Queen Elizabeth the First of England screamed. At the age of fifty, she was well-known for screaming at people who argued with her, but this was very different. She lay on her back on the floor having a fit, shaking and trembling, her eyes bulging, her mouth open in a grimace as the shrieks erupted from it. The fit had descended upon her with great suddenness. A throng of courtiers and dignitaries stood by staring, paralysed in startled horror.
Two of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting did more than stare. Lady Jane Dee, John Dee’s wife, and Lady Frances Sidney quickly knelt down either side of the Queen’s head and tried to administer to her. Jane mopped the Queen’s suddenly sweating brow with a kerchief while Frances massaged her wrists and hands. With scorn blazing in her eyes Jane looked up at the horrified watching crowd of nobles and yelled at them in anger.
“For God’s sake fetch the Royal Physician – NOW you bloody idiots!”
The Elizabethan coach and horses was nothing like the elegant vehicle it became in later centuries. Essentially, it was little more than a painted ornamental farm cart with a cabin on top. Just such a primitive and jolting carriage plunged lumbering with reckless speed and great noise through the English countryside. The roads it followed were merely muddy rutted tracks. For the passengers, the experience was not unlike being inside a big wooden barrel rolling down a never-ending flight of steps. It was something you got used to, a necessary inconvenience, as was the occasional shower of cold water coming through the empty windows when a stream or shallow river had to be forded at speed.
The two men inside the coach were travelling towards London on urgent business, a matter of life and death. The loudly rumbling and rattling coach and its four horses drove at full-tilt through a country hamlet of small wood-beamed thatched cottages. A few cursing bystanders had to step quickly out of its path and were showered with mud flung from the cumbersome wheels and horses’ hooves as a reward.
The coachman driving the vehicle merely screamed out coarsely at the top of his voice to warn any pedestrians.
“Gerroutovit yer pox-ridden cludgie-crawlers!”
At the village crossroads the clumsy vehicle joined a tree-lined mud road heading onward through endless vistas of green fields and scattered woodlands. A rough, hand-painted signboard, rapidly left behind, bore the name of the little village for those who could read - Fulham. The coach driver whipped-up the horses to a gallop.
Elizabeth moaned and writhed in agony on the floor. While Jane and Frances did their best to soothe her, the royal physician ran up, knelt and made a swift examination. He glanced meaningfully at the two ladies-in-waiting.
“This is the same malady that has gripped Her Majesty four times before. Some deathly sickness attacks her, yet physically she is of perfect health. I suspect some form of witchcraft.”
Jane Dee stared at him. “Do you know how to cure witchcraft curses?”
“I do not, my lady. Such manifestations require a different kind of specialist.”
A mile distant, the coach and horses were now moving at dangerous speed through the crowded narrow streets of London. The driver was also screaming, but the profanities issuing forth from his mouth were those which only someone dragged up in the very gutters of Shoreditch Village beyond the ancient city wall could have uttered. “Move yer great beam-holes you apple-squiring bat-fowling autem-mort cleyms – Bing it!”
Loosely translated, this Tudor slang meant: “Move your fat bottoms and scatter, you festering pimps and lady tramps – go forth and multiply with alacrity!” People in the crowd responded vigorously to these cries by leaping aside to preserve their lives and limbs and allow the speeding coach to pass by.
The royal physician, still panting from his dash through the palace, gently applied a cold compress to the forehead of the stricken Queen. Her thrashing and screaming had calmed down but she was sweating profusely and moaning, her eyes closed. Jane and Frances were attempting to soothe her.
There was a movement amongst the crowd of courtly onlookers and Sir Francis Walsingham violently shouldered his way through them. He looked down at the stricken Queen, aghast.
Lady Frances looked up at him, tears on her cheeks. “Father – can anything be done to save Her Majesty?”
Walsingham stepped closer and placed a hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “Certain measures are in hand, but it is a race against the Devil’s clock! I have this hour dispatched specialists to attend the problem.”
John Dee’s mud-caked coach and panting horses drew to a halt in the outer courtyard of an imposing official-looking manor house not far from Whitehall. From the coach emerged Dee, well-dressed and distinguished-looking, wearing a black shoulder-robe and skullcap. He was followed by a somewhat more shabbily-dressed and disreputable-looking man with a missing right ear who carried a large leather holdall. The two men stared at the building for a moment, then marched up the wide flight of stone front steps to an imposing front door which they entered without knocking.
Waiting for them inside stood a worried and sweating labourer’s foreman in dirty clothing, sporting a grubby builder’s “bib & brace” apron. The foreman stepped towards the visitors.
“Do I have the honour of addressing Doctor John Dee and Master Edward Kelley?”
The distinguished-looking man replied tersely. “I am Dee. Where is this thing you have discovered?”
“Follow me sir.”
The foreman led the way into the stately house with John Dee following. Edward Kelley stared after them, hefted the big leather holdall and, annoyed, muttered to himself with a noticeable Irish accent: “And I’m just the hired help, mister!”
The foreman conducted Dee and Kelley through some passages and into a very large banqueting hall, bare and empty except for ladders against walls and tools lying here and there where they had been dropped. Obviously the mansion was being repaired and redecorated. Through a far double doorway five filthy workmen crouched, peering fearfully. Near the middle of the great room a floorboard had been taken up and laid nearby, leaving a dark gap. The foreman pointed hesitantly at the hole then nervously made the sign of the cross upon himself. “We found it down there, my lord,” he stated quietly.
Dee and Kelley stepped briskly forward. Dee knelt down on one knee and stared with interest into the dark hole beneath the floor. Silently, Kelley crouched beside him and opened the holdall. Without raising his gaze from the hole, Dee lifted up his right hand. “Glove!” he demanded.
Silently Kelley took a quilted leather falconry gauntlet from the holdall and expertly fitted it over Dee’s raised hand.
“Mask!” commanded Dee.
Kelley withdrew a white silk scarf and carefully tied it round Dee’s lower face, covering his nose and mouth.
Kelley handed him a large and primitive-looking scissor-forceps with wicked spiked grips.
With great caution, Dee reached into the hole with the forceps. His arm vanished nearly to the shoulder. Then he withdrew the forceps slowly and carefully. The spiked grips held a beautiful doll. It had been made with immense craftsmanship to look exactly like Queen Elizabeth, even down to the dress, lace ruffs, shoes and gloves. It was quite exquisite – but the effect was spoiled by three large, ugly pins, the size of knitting-needles, piercing the doll at different angles through heart, head and stomach.
“Another evil doll to add to the collection,” muttered Kelley in disgust.
Dee opened his mouth to reply, but before he could speak, a loud, terrifying screech pierced the air within the room and a small, hideous demon leaped out of the doll. Instantly it wrapped its clawed arms and legs tightly round Dee’s head. A sound emerged from the creature very like a continuous evil cackle and it repeatedly hit Dee’s face with its small horny forehead. Dee leaped to his feet and reeled backwards, choking for breath.
“Get it off! Get it off!” he shouted, somewhat muffled, whirling madly, unable to see through the demon’s tight grip. Kelley chased round, trying to face Dee as he spun.
“Stand still and I might be able to!” barked Kelley.
“Where are you?” shouted Dee.
“Here. Just stand still so I can get at it!”
“I am standing still!”
“No you’re not – you’re dancing a jig with it!”
“What do you expect me to do – take it to dinner? Exorcise it! Exorcise it!”
“It’s getting enough exercise dancing with you!” Kelley looked down and picked up a worker’s discarded wooden mallet. He held it up and smiled at it wickedly. As Dee spun round once more, trying to pull the demon off his face with his hands, Kelley took careful aim and smacked the demon hard on its knobbly head with the mallet. Dee suddenly stood motionless. With an unhealthy gurgling sound the demon dropped from Dee’s face. He snatched it in his gloved hand as it fell. The glove immediately began to smoulder and smoke. Kelley reached into the holdall and withdrew a crystal ball, raising it.
“Aha-oh zodah-pay!” said Dee in a commanding if nasal voice, tenderly dabbing his nose. At once the little demon was elongated like elastic and pulled back from Dee’s clutch by an invisible force, to be sucked inside the crystal ball with a squishing, slurping sound.
Kelley casually dropped the crystal ball back into the holdall. Dee gently placed the needle-pierced doll in the holdall with it. Cowering in the doorway, the five workmen were staring with wide eyes and repeatedly crossing themselves in terror.
Briskly, an annoyed Dee removed the gauntlet and scarf and threw them with some force at Kelley, who adroitly caught them, a self-satisfied half-smile on his lips.
In the large dark room a shadowy figure blew out the black candles. The other shadowy figure flung open large tapestry curtains which rattled on their rails and the room suddenly flooded with daylight in the bright Spanish sun. The two men walked in step out of the room into a long, wide gallery which led eventually to a great ornamental front door. Both men were of tanned countenance and both were bearded. The beard of the taller man was neater, artistically clipped and fashionable. The shorter man was not so immaculately dressed or groomed and was at least a decade older. He looked up at his taller companion as they walked. They conversed in Spanish.
“That was a fourth-level demon, Excellency. Whoever defeated it was a mage of power. I could not see their face through the demon’s eyes – the man wore a white cloth on his face and was moving rapidly – everything was a blur...”
The taller man spoke casually. “No matter, Abraham. If your magic cannot rid us of Elizabeth, we will continue using human assassins. They will be Englishmen. Spain must not be implicated.”
The taller man was His Excellency Don Bernardino de Mendoza de Guadalajara, former Ambassador of His Imperial Majesty King Philip of Spain and Portugal to the Court of Tudor. His servant Abraham was an expert alchemist and magician.
On the polished floorboards in Whitehall Palace Queen Elizabeth suddenly sat up, her eyes open, all traces of sickness vanished. Lady Jane Fromond and Lady Frances Sidney hugged her, weeping in relief. Sir Francis Walsingham bowed politely. Elizabeth stared blankly up at his face.
“How did I get on the floor? Sir Francis Walsingham? Why is everyone staring? Oh by God! Not again...?”
“Majesty,” Walsingham spoke gently and firmly, “let us pray this is the final occasion you will be visited by these attacks. I have reason to hope the cause of them is presently being discovered and remedied.”
Gallantly – even affectionately – he reached down and gently helped the Queen rise to her feet, assisted by the joyful Jane and Frances.
Across the sunny courtyard of a fine Spanish country house Mendoza and Abraham strolled together in step, hands clasped behind their backs, chatting casually. On the far side of the courtyard two fine horses were being held ready by servants.
“…His name is Babbington,” Mendoza was explaining thoughtfully. “He is a minor member of the English gentry who wishes to see the Protestant Church destroyed in England and a proper male monarch on the throne.”
Abraham considered briefly. “Does he have the guts to kill Elizabeth?”
“Probably,” answered Mendoza carelessly. “He is quite passionate in his politics and is a closet Catholic.”
Abraham frowned. “And if he should fail, as Throckmorton failed...?”
“No matter. If Elizabeth has the nine lives of an alley cat, then I shall use ten assassins!”
They reached the waiting horses and began to mount.
In the great library of John Dee’s mansion in Mortlake, walls of shelves were tidily packed with ancient-looking books, most of them leather-bound. There were several globes of the world standing here-and-there on ornately carved legs, many display cabinets filled with ornaments and objects of interest, small occasional tables and a number of comfortable-looking chairs. A series of huge fifteen-feet high floor-to-ceiling leaded glass windows separated by bookshelves and bordered with thick brocade curtains in tasseled tie-backs overlooked a well-ordered knot garden. There was also Dee’s very large and ornately-carved desk. Edward Kelley was bustling about moving piles of books for sorting when John Dee walked into the huge room, marched to a particular bookcase and withdrew a thick volume. He glanced at Kelley.
“We have work of a different kind to do, Ned.”
Dee placed the book on his desktop, opened it and started flicking through the stiff pages. Kelley stopped his tidying activities and came to look over Dee’s shoulder.
“’The Works of Paracelsus the Alchemist’” he read the title out loud. “What did he ever do that was better than us?”
“Well,” replied Dee absently, still turning pages, “he had some very peculiar ideas regarding the treatment of wounds. Instead of the normal recommended manner of pouring boiling oil or pitch onto open wounds to cauterize them, or allowing a wounded limb to develop a healthy growth of gangrene and then amputating it in the time-honoured tradition, he taught his followers that wounds might heal themselves if they were cleaned regularly with spirit of alcohol and allowed to drain of their poisons.”
Kelley merely raised his eyebrows and looked doubtful. Dee continued talking absently as he examined the book. “I have learned much from his writings. I was only fourteen when he died, so regretfully I never met him. However, his was a remarkable mind, and he had significant skills. Did you know that he worked for a mine owner in Switzerland?”
“Conducting the examination and analysis of metals and ores in order to produce evidence of their purity and value, thereby enabling the miners to avoid wasting their efforts following inferior veins. He founded an entirely new branch of alchemy. He called it ‘metallurgy’”
He suddenly stopped flipping through the book at a particular page. “Aha! Here it is. I read it years ago.”
Kelley looked at the page over Dee’s shoulder. “’The Analysis of Metals from their Fractions’. What does that mean?”
“It means, my friend,” breathed Dee while reading, “that metals, like people, are of different individuality in different places. For instance, the iron extracted from Swiss ore is of different character to the iron of German ore, and similarly elsewhere.”
Dee looked up at Kelley and pulled a cloth wrapping from his coat pocket. Placing it on the table he gently opened the cloth to reveal one of the big pins taken from the doll. He smiled broadly at Kelley. “So – if we require firm and inarguable proof regarding exactly where this pin was made, then employing the methods of Paracelsus…?” He paused invitingly. In dawning understanding, Kelley finished the sentence.
“…Will tell us whether the ore was mined in Spain or some other place!”
On a wooden bench covered in old chemical stains and the gouges of past encounters with strange instruments and devices, the beautiful doll which looked exactly like Queen Elizabeth the First lay staring blindly at the ceiling. The three large knitting-needle-sized pins, however, had been removed. The wooden bench was in John Dee’s alchemical workshop at the rear of his Mortlake manor house. There was a hot furnace. Various crucibles were steaming. Wooden racks of test tubes and shelves of variously coloured chemicals and powders adorned the walls.
Dee and Kelley were sweating in floor-length leather aprons. Jane stood between them, sleeves rolled up, hair disordered, cloth in hand, while Kelley used large blacksmith’s tongs to place one of the big pins carefully on a small marble slab on a workbench. The pin was still smoking slightly, bent and discoloured. It clinked as it came to rest on the marble surface. Moving closer, Dee, Jane and Kelley gazed down at it.
“So the prisoner has talked!” exclaimed Jane in a tone of wonder. “A piece of metal has told you what you demanded to know. Who would have believed it possible?”
John Dee smiled tiredly at her. “Metal of this character can come only from one region – central Spain. It is unquestionably Toledo steel. My tests show that Greek manganese has been mixed in the ore as it was melted, to temper it harder than normal steel. That requires the presence of an alchemist with the specialized arcane knowledge of the Moors of North Africa, who once ruled Spain.”
Edward Kelley was quiet and serious. He glanced at Dee. “And this tells us also there is a new Spanish plot afoot to attempt to assassinate Her Majesty.”
Dee reflected for a moment. “It also suggests that our old disgraced friend Mendoza is more than likely to be behind it. His man Abraham is an alchemist. He would know how to invoke a dark entity into a doll.”
Dee and Kelley wearily shook hands. Jane jumped to Dee and hugged him. In their disheveled state they turned a few times as though dancing, staring into each other’s eyes. After a few moments Dee picked up the pin, dabbing it first to ensure it was cooling, and wrapped it in a cloth for safe keeping.
“Ned,” said Dee, “you can remain here and do the cleaning-up if you please. Don’t break anything. My wife and I have been invited for luncheon at Sir Francis Walsingham’s house in Barnes.” Dee and Jane walked out through a heavily paneled solid oak door.
Kelley gazed after them and saluted the closing door. With exaggerated sarcasm he spoke to himself: “Yes Sir! No Sir! Three bags full Sir! Many thanks for removing the demon from my face so cleverly, Edward, but I don’t want you to socialize with my friends the nobs!”
Along a rough dirt road through wooded countryside a smart-looking, if primitive, wagon-like coach rattled and bounced along at a rapid trot, the four horses handled by a coachman sitting on top at the front. Suspension had not yet been thought of and coach journeys were always a rough and jolting affair. Inside the coach sat Sir Philip Sidney, his wife Frances – Walsingham’s daughter – and their friend the lady-in-waiting Juliet Summerfield who had once experienced such a bad moment at the hands of Carlos the minder. The three of them spluttered and laughed with the lurching and bumping of the vehicle. With each big bump, they cheered loudly together.
Unexpectedly the coach lurched to a jolting stop. A loud cheer came from inside. Just past a bend in the track a large tree lay across the road. Five men were using axes to cut it through in the centre. At the side of the road was a flat wagon with a huge carthorse standing patiently in the traces. Sir Philip stepped out of the coach and started walking towards the labourers. He called out to them as he drew nearer.
“You men – how long will it take you to open the road?”
A big fellow with bulging muscles, seemingly the foreman, embedded his axe in the tree trunk with one arm and wiped his forehead with the other. He walked casually toward Sir Philip, speaking with a strong French accent as he came.
“We think, maybe, four hours. She is the ‘eavy tree.”
Fifty feet away the two women emerged from the coach. “Four hours!” exclaimed Sidney. “We will turn around and find another road. Are you French?”
“Oui.” The foreman pointed over Sidney’s shoulder. “Zere is a turning down zere zat leads in the right direction.”
Instinctively Sir Philip turned to look behind him where the man was pointing. In an instant the big man pulled a heavy cosh from inside his open shirt and whipped Sidney’s head with it. Sir Philip collapsed unconscious. The coachman jumped down and shouted in anger, pointing at the foreman. “Oi! You!”
The big foreman casually yanked a wheel-lock pistol from his belt and fired it without even looking at the coachman. The unfortunate coachman spurted blood from his chest and fell dead in the road. The two women screamed. The labourers dropped their axes and ran towards them. The women screamed louder and began to run. They were easily caught and carried back to the waiting foreman, struggling, kicking and shouting for help. The foreman whistled piercingly through his fingers and the carthorse and wagon were led forward. The unconscious Sidney was picked up and dumped unceremoniously on the cart.
The foreman gazed appreciatively at the women, smiling at them evilly.
Just a few miles away from John Dee’s manor house near Mortlake village there was another very fine mansion at Barn Elms by Barnes village beside the River Thames. This was the home of Sir Francis Walsingham, and he sat busily writing letters at his desk in the study. There was a knock on the study door and John Dee entered, sitting down facing Walsingham across the desk. Saying nothing, Dee took from his pocket a cloth bundle and unwrapped it on the desktop. Inside was a long steel pin, bent and discoloured. Walsingham stared at it with raised eyebrows.
“So you have tortured the wretched pin,” remarked Walsingham drily. “Did it say anything before it died?”
“It did, Francis. I can prove that this steel was manufactured in Spain. It is Toledo steel. Ore of this character can only come from central Spain – it lacks the impurities of sulphur and phosphorus common to iron ore mined elsewhere, which makes steel brittle, and it contains traces of silex, as the Romans called it, or silica, which iron ore from other regions does not, and this makes it stronger. Also, according to Paracelsus, the Spanish alchemists use the secret methods of the African Moors of older times who once ruled Spain. This is what makes Toledo steel the hardest in the world.”
“God’s teeth, man! You must know the full implication of this? We must be heightened in our guard. Mendoza has sworn to bring us down because we had him thrown out of England for his sins. He is now Spain’s ambassador to France – just a hop and skip across the Channel!”
There was another knock at the office door and Walsingham’s wife Ursula entered accompanied by Jane Dee.
“We are interrupting you to remind you of luncheon,” said Ursula, who was in her thirties. “If we did not, the two of you would remain wrapped in a cloud of conspiracies all day.”
Walsingham leaned back in his chair and sighed. “You are quite right, my dear, but this day we have much conspiracy to be wrapped in, and deadly dangerous conspiracy to boot.” He turned back to Dee. “Philip and Frances are coming as well, with Lady Juliet Summerfield. They should be here soon.”
Dee and Walsingham stood up and followed their wives out of the study.
Near the chimney stacks on the roof of the great house there was a white-painted and slatted wooden pigeon loft. With a flutter of wings a pigeon landed on an outside perch and bobbed inside through a small hole. Once inside, the pigeon waddled into a nesting-box containing food. The box was on the end of a see-saw arm. The pigeon’s slight weight caused the arm to gently descend. The other end of the arm went up, pulling an attached cord which raised a divider in a wooden chute. As the divider lifted, it released a musket ball which rolled along a series of more wooden chutes before dropping down a metal pipe.
In the great kitchen of Walsingham’s house two servant women were setting out crockery items and food on a big rough-hewn table that had been set for seven people. As a middle-aged matron placed utensils carefully, there came a sudden clattering sound followed by a loud “ding” from a hidden bell. The other woman opened a small hatch in the stove pipe of a big iron cooker and took out a metal ball with her finger and thumb. She looked up. “A pigeon’s come in. We’d best tell Jack to go up and get the message.”
A short time later Walsingham, Ursula, John Dee and Jane entered the kitchen and the men stood until the ladies were seated. The two servants began to serve a cold meat luncheon. A few minutes later an elderly serving man entered the kitchen, bowed to Walsingham and handed him a small slip of parchment. “There’s been a pigeon, sir.”
Walsingham started to read the slip and then suddenly froze in horror. He visibly turned pale.
“What is it Francis?” asked Dee.
Walsingham was unable to speak. He looked into space with wide eyes and simply handed the parchment to Dee, who read it aloud.
“Your daughter, her husband and the other girl have just been kidnapped by armed ruffians. Come at once, Mayhew.”
Ursula Walsingham dropped her knife and fork on the table, crying out in horror. Jane rushed to her side to give support. For once, Sir Francis Walsingham was stunned. Suddenly he seemed incapable. John Dee stood up facing him, leaning on the table with his fists.
“Who is Mahew, Francis?” he asked urgently.
Walsingham tried to focus. “A retired agent, now Vicar of Clapham. In the name of God, John, what are we to do?”
“What we always do in an emergency, Francis,” snapped Dee. “We take swift and decisive action, and think clever thoughts while we are running. I have my coach outside. This message comes from Clapham. We can be there inside the hour.” He hesitated and looked at Ursula and Jane. “But first, we must safeguard our wives! There is evil afoot! We will take them to Hampton Court by the Kingston ferry!”
Half an hour later Dee’s coach and horses were waiting by the side of the Thames near the ancient Coronation Stone where Anglo-Saxon monarchs had once been crowned. The small pleasant Hogsmill River flowed into the Thames at the spot, and there was a rowing boat ferry service there. Across the river in the middle-distance could be seen the vast orange-brick towers, white ornamental stonework and mullioned windows of Hampton Court Palace. Dee’s coachman stood holding the horses as the ferry boat returned to the Kingston bank with Dee and Walsingham, who clambered out of the boat and dashed to the coach.
As they took their seats, panting, Dee banged his fist on the wooden ceiling and shouted. “To the vicarage at Clapham, Thomas, and a gold sovereign if you get us there within the hour!”
The coach trundled rapidly away. Inside the jolting and shaking vehicle Dee and Walsingham sat facing each other. Walsingham shook his head to force himself to re-focus his thoughts.
“You know, John, despite my bluffness, if any harm comes to my daughter, I should not be able to live with it. I would be undone.”
Dee reached out and grasped Walsingham’s hand in both of his. He stared earnestly. “Your daughter does not need the quailing weakness of a stricken father, paralysed like a rabbit before a stoat! She needs that awful, bloody-minded, cantankerous, bombastic, overbearing and fiendishly cunning bully Sir Francis Walsingham, Lord Protector of England and the Crown!”
Walsingham stared at Dee. “Was that an insult or a compliment?”
In the country village of Clapham the coach thundered to a halt near the church and the two men jumped out and started hammering on the vicarage door. There was a sound of running steps approaching from inside and the door was opened by an elderly panting vicar.
“Lord Walsingham!” he gasped between breaths. “I did not expect you so quickly. Excuse my gasping – I am not as agile as I was when I worked for you as a spy.” He carried a large parchment envelope bearing a great wax seal on a red ribbon which he handed to Walsingham.
“There was a hammering at the door at about eleven this morning,” explained Mayhew, regaining his breath. “It was a big Frenchman with a sword and pistol. He knew somehow that I am still an informer for you. He told me he would kill me if I did not send a message to you by pigeon. He ordered me to give you this when you got here, then he galloped off on a fine horse in the direction of London.”
Walsingham took the big envelope and briefly inspected the wax impression. “It is Mendoza’s seal!” He ripped open the envelope and unfolded a parchment, reading it aloud.
“Sir Francis. Disobey me and your daughter and her friend Lady Summerfield will have their throats cut. Sir Philip Sidney is already taken care of, buried alive in a churchyard. As I write this fond letter at half-past ten this morning, he may have sufficient air for nine hours, or perhaps less. It is not Mayhew’s Clapham churchyard, that would be too easy. You and all your agents will immediately abandon hostile activities against myself, my King and my country. Only by your obedience will your daughter live. I remain sincerely yours, Sir, Don Bernardino de Mendoza.”
Walsingham lowered the letter. “That diabolical swine! He gloats at my discomfiture!”
Ignoring Mayhew, Dee seized Walsingham by the arm and unceremoniously bustled him back into the coach, shouting up to the driver; “Back to Mortlake, Thomas. Drive like the very Devil was chasing us!” The coach lumbered off, quickly gaining speed.
Walsingham stared at Dee with raised eyebrows. “All is already lost. I will do nothing to compromise the safety of my own daughter.”
“All is not yet lost,” snapped Dee. “But we must move quickly - and use intelligence, not emotions. Mendoza has told us more than he intended.”
“He has? In what way?”
“Analyse his letter. First, he has need to prevent you interfering with something that must be of great consequence. Second, he mentions his king and country, so whatever is brewing must involve high advantage for Spain. Third, he even tells us at what time he wrote the letter – half past ten this morning.” Dee pulled a bulky pocket watch from his coat. “It is now only half-past one. That means we are only three hours behind in our thinking and action. That is not very much of a head-start for our quarry.”
Walsingham visibly pulled himself back together. “God’s bowels, you are right! I cannot permit myself to languish in despair. We must do something.”
Dee nodded. “Mendoza knows he only has leverage against you while your daughter lives, so he will wish to keep her alive. But he would relish Philip’s slow death by suffocation. Our most urgent task is to rescue Philip from a premature grave before his air is entirely foul. And if we can do this, he may have information to help us.”
“But there are many hundreds of churchyards – can even you exactly pinpoint such an unknown place?”
Dee seemed suddenly thoughtful. “No, I cannot – but I know a man who can!”
The thundering coach pulled up with a lurch outside Dee’s Mortlake manor house and Dee and Walsingham jumped out and ran purposefully towards the imposing front steps. Walsingham was questioning Dee.
“Can your man Kelley be trusted? He has always struck me as a rogue and a scoundrel. He has had an ear lopped off. That is the punishment for forging coins.”
“It is easy to misjudge him. Yes, he has been a forger. But he has also been an apothecary, a sculptor, a university lecturer, a bodyguard and an alchemist. He is a champion archer. Most important of all, he is by far the most powerful clairvoyant I have ever encountered.”
Drawn curtains made the great library dark. Candles had been lit. Kelley stood before a large crystal ball on Dee’s desk and Dee stood nearby holding the Book of Soy-gah open where the candlelight could illuminate its pages. As Walsingham watched baffled, Dee began to read a magical invocation sonorously from the book.
“Boh-lay-pay, Komo, Beelion-reepa, Parmay, Beeta, Zoh-dar-karay!”
Kelley knelt down facing the crystal ball, peering steadfastly into its glistening surface. Dee continued with the incantation.
“Oh great spirit of the Earth, great angel Urial, by the Great Names of the Watchtower of Earth, Em-or Dee-ah-lay Hay-Kah-Tay-Gah, reveal to us the designs of our enemy and the place where Sir Philip Sidney lies buried alive.” Dee closed the big book and placed it on his desk.
There was a silent pause of perhaps five seconds, no more, and the kneeling Kelley fell over backwards with a great cry, his knees in the air. Dee and Walsingham rushed to him and Dee raised Kelley’s head and shoulders in his arms.
“Did you see the angel?”
“Aye,” gasped Kelley hoarsely, “and he spoke to me!”
“With what words?”
Dee and Walsingham helped Kelly to his feet. Kelley grasped Dee with an expression of stark, wide-eyed horror. “What words? Words and visions of all England burning! Of death and destruction! Of the sea, with a multitude of ships thereupon, in numbers greater than any seen since Agamemnon sailed against Troy, and bearing a great army, all dispatched to crush England beyond redemption…!”
Dee and Walsingham helped Kelley to a chair where he sat down and took a deep breath. “It’s all right. I usually feel a little strange after talking with angels.”
“You do this often, then?” asked Walsingham, uncertainly.
Dee explained to him. “The Book of Soy-gah contains a coded key to the very language of Creation, by which many feats may be accomplished in our mundane world.”
Walsingham was entirely out of his depth. “The language of creation…?”
“Aye,” agreed Kelley. “It is the language that was spoken in the Garden of Eden before the Fall of Man. We have named it ‘Enochian’ after Enoch in the Bible, who was taken alive by God into heaven as a mortal man.” He drew breath. “And Sir Philip Sidney is still alive and buried between two broken crosses in Walton Churchyard.”
Walsingham looked doubtful. “I know of at least three places called Walton. There is Walton in Essex on the river Naze, Walton-le-Dale in Lancashire, and Walton on the river Thames.”
Dee spoke in excitement. “Mendoza’s men could not have gone to Lancashire or Essex and back in a single morning…”
“…But Walton-on-Thames is only some nine miles from here, and about the same from Clapham!” finished Walsingham in excitement.
The three men ran from the room with Dee in the lead.
In a beautifully furnished and tapestry-hung ground floor room in the great palace of Hampton Court, Jane Dee and Ursula Walsingham held hands by a huge leaded window overlooking part of the ornamental grounds. At the room’s wide and open doors pikemen stood guard. Ursula had tears welling in her eyes.
“I do not wish for these good soldiers to see me weep – but it is fearsome hard not to. Oh, Jane – I fear for the lives of my daughter and son-in-law.”
“Then take comfort in this thought,” replied Jane. “Before all else, our men have placed their treasured possessions, their wives, in safety. This, surely, is encouraging? For men of such heart and character will not allow harm to befall those others we love.”
At that moment, Jane clearly heard another voice faint and wavering: a man’s voice: a man’s voice with a strong French accent. “There will be a treacherous man raised to high estate. This man will later be sent to govern Albion.”
Startled and looking about, Jane exclaimed: “Who said that?”
“Who said what?” asked Ursula. “I heard no one.”
A few moments later the soldiers on guard at the doors snapped to attention. Queen Elizabeth entered the room. She smiled and held out her arms.
“My dear friends, I have been informed of your presence here, and the odious reason for it. I came to you at once in hope that I might lighten your anguish.”
Jane and Ursula curtsied, bowing their heads.
“Come now,” said the Queen. “You must not stand here like linnets in a cage. I return to Whitehall soon. Will you come with me? We can leave word for your husbands.”
“Your Majesty, you are very kind,” replied Jane.
“Indeed, Majesty, you are quite right,” stated Ursula. “We need diversion from our fears.”
“Come then,” invited Elizabeth. Jane and Ursula respectfully followed the Queen from the room.
An owl hooted. The sun had just set and darkness was gathering upon the land. John Dee, Edward Kelley and Sir Francis Walsingham cautiously entered a churchyard by its wooden gate. Fifty yards away the dark bulk of Walton church loomed. Kelley carried a large leather holdall and a shovel. Dee also carried a shovel. Dee spoke quietly to Walsingham. “You had better remain here, Francis, and guard our escape route just in case we are disturbed. If anyone comes by, just hide. Only shout if someone comes into the churchyard.”
As Dee and Kelley headed into the graveyard Walsingham quietly mouthed to himself a few obscenities which questioned who should be giving out the orders.
A quarter of a mile away up the road which led past the graveyard there was a country inn. Six farm labourers were leaving it in a group, all the worse for drinking. Their gruff laughter and merry shouts could be faintly heard. Walsingham crouched down, hiding behind a clump of bushes.
Inside the graveyard Dee and Kelley walked cautiously. Kelly halted and pointed. “There they are – two broken crosses!” There were, indeed, two ancient tombstones, each with a broken stone cross. They stood about ten feet apart on either side of an area of rough grass.
Outside the graveyard the labourers staggered past in a merry, ragged group. One of them swayed and lost his balance, beginning to fall. Instinctively he grabbed at the wooden churchyard fence. He saw a dim vista of dark graves in the night. Then he became aware of activity in the graveyard. He froze and stared in astonishment.
Inside the graveyard Dee and Kelley swiftly set up a dozen small candle lanterns from Kelley’s holdall in a large circle around the centre of the patch of lank grass between the tombstones. With a flint and steel Dee lit them one by one so that they might see what they were doing.
Two faces now peered over the fence in astonishment.
Kelly tugged experimentally at a clump of long grass. A whole ragged turf came up loosely in his hand. “This ground has been recently disturbed and the turves replaced – this is the spot!”
“Agreed,” stated Dee tersely. “We dig – and quickly!” They started digging with great energy.
Now six faces were peering over the fence in astonishment.
The first face said: “Wot’s ‘em up to?”
The second face answered: “Them’s witches tryin’ ter raise the dead!”
The third face said: “Gercha! Them b’ain’t witches. Witches are wimmin. You doesn’t get man witches.”
The second face replied scornfully: “’Course yer gets man witches.”
The third face said: “Wot’s man witches called, then?”
The second face said: “Wallocks!”
The other faces all turned to frown uncertainly at the second face. The second face peered hard at the distant lamplit figures. “Ere, I knows ‘em! That cove be Doctor John Dee, and t’other bloke’s ‘is bloody familiar, name of Kelley. I worked on ‘is estate a few years gone. It’s said ‘ee’s a bloody sorcerer and necromancer!”
Meanwhile Dee and Kelley dug swiftly and carefully. Suddenly Dee held up his hand to stop their work. He lit a brand to give more light and held it over their excavation. Kneeling down, with his free hand he pulled up a wooden plank from the bottom of the hole. They both stared down. Where the plank had been removed, there was a cavity beneath, lit by Dee’s flickering brand. A head and shoulders could be seen, entirely covered in a filthy linen wrapping secured by knotted ropes. The unfortunate person in the wrapping started squirming and making muffled cries.
“Do not fear, Sir Philip,” called Dee, “we have you safely. It is John Dee. You are rescued.”
Kelley swiftly tugged more planks from the hole and cast them aside. The wrapped figure flexed itself and squirmed, entirely bound-up in grubby linen like a mummy. The figure, who was evidently gagged beneath the linen wrapping, shouted loudly and incoherently.
As seen by the row of faces peering over the fence, a circle of lights on the ground surrounded a freshly-opened grave with two men standing facing it. One of the men held a blazing brand high. Then, from out of the grave, a humanoid figure wrapped in grubby linen rose with a series of awkward jerks into a standing position, loudly uttering horrible muffled cries and moans.
Outside the graveyard, six panic-stricken labourers fled down the road yelling in uncontrolled terror.
Dee and Kelley swiftly cut the ropes and freed the victim. As the linen shroud was removed, the dirty face of Sir Philip Sidney was revealed. Kelley carefully cut free the gag from behind. Sidney gasped a deep lungful of air.
“John Dee! Thank God! I thought I was doomed! And Master Kelley – I owe you both my life.”
“We must move quickly, Philip,” snapped Dee briskly. “Your wife and Mistress Juliet are still captives of the brigands. We have a coach waiting.”
In the darkness inside Dee’s coach Dee, Kelley, Walsingham and Sidney quickly took their seats. Sidney was recounting his experiences. “We were seized at a roadblock. I was struck down by a big Frenchman. I came-to on the back of a farm cart by the smell, tied up in a cloth. I heard a man mention Broken Wharf Lane which is by South Walk, and later another mentioned catching the morning tide. Then they buried me and I heard no more except their laughter.”
Dee banged with his fist on the ceiling and shouted. “Stop your woolgathering Thomas! Drive like a galliard for South Walk by London Bridge. Our need is urgent.!”
Walsingham cried out. “By God Sir! The tide turns in London at half-past-nine tomorrow morning. That means they will not sail until then. We can be at South Walk before midnight. But how are we to find one ship amongst hundreds in the London moorings?”
Sidney answered. “I heard one more thing. A man mentioned in French that he would place a wager on what he said would be ‘a victory of ours’. It came to me only this very minute that the word ‘ours’ is French for ‘bear’ – and at South-walk is the bear-pit! That might be where we can find them.”
Walsingham mused thoughtfully. “From such meager threads we are obliged to weave our tapestry. Now we need to come up with a clever plan of campaign.”
The southern bank of the River Thames stood opposite London, which in Tudor times lay almost exclusively on the north bank. On both sides of the river there were long swathes of wooden docks built on piles and over a hundred ships of trade and merchandise could usually be seen nestling in the moorings, either delivering produce or awaiting the next tide to set sail again. A forest of masts could be seen against the cloudy moonlit night sky. In the middle distance loomed the tottering span of Old London Bridge, upon which were tenements and shops and even a stables, with public access across the bridge through long arches and tunnel-like constructions under some 200 rickety buildings, up to seven stories high and frequently overhanging the river by several feet on either side of the bridge.
Slowly and with as little noise as possible a coach drawn by four horses came to a halt on the south bank. John Dee disembarked, followed by Walsingham, Kelley and Sidney. Kelley placed his hand on the outside wooden paneling of the coach. “Weapons, gentlemen?”
He pulled open a large drop-down section, revealing a recess lined with red velvet in which there were racks of deadly-looking devices – pistols, maces, swords, daggers, small round black bombs with fuses and things with lots of gleaming spikes and blades.
From somewhere nearby there came the sudden muffled roar of a crowd of excited people.
A few dozen yards from where the coach was standing was the bear-baiting pit, location of one of England’s most popular spectator sports. Inside, behind a wooden rail, a mass of people of all ages crowded round a circular pit. There were over a hundred men, women and children, all obviously enjoying themselves. Here and there amongst the crowd walked swagger-men, with whom any onlooker could place a wager on the outcome of a fight. Down in the pit a pack of dogs was fighting a tethered bear to the death. The noise was hideous.
Cautiously, Edward Kelley moved along the outside of the crowd until he was on the far side to the entrance gate. Waiting for a slight pause in the horrific din, he suddenly shouted out in French at the top of his voice: “Venez à l'extérieur immédiatement! Mendoza l'ordonne! Allez au navire, vite!” (“Come outside at once! Mendoza commands it! Go to the ship, quickly!”)
At once, four tough-looking men started to push their way roughly towards the exit. One of them was very large. At a discrete distance, Kelley followed them out. The men headed in the direction of London Bridge and began to cross the river. There were arched gates at each end of the bridge, surmounted with rows of tall iron spikes on which were impaled the grizzly severed heads of criminals. Beneath the southern arch could briefly be heard the sound of Dee’s coach and horses passing below, slowly and relatively quietly.
A trap was in the process of being sprung!
In the fields by the village of Shoreditch about a mile from the north side of London Bridge a strange shape loomed against the night sky. It was a great round building somewhat akin to the lower forty feet of a lighthouse, with a timbered thatched roof over the top. The country trackway which ran past the building was known as Hollywell Lane and the unusual building was James Burbridge’s theatre, designed by John Dee. It was now enjoying much success, but at this time of night it had finished the performance and closed its doors.
Out of the darkness ran a panting, grimy and mud-splattered Sir Philip Sidney, looking much the worse for wear after being dug up and then running from Southwark. He reached the closed doors of the theatre and started pounding on them loudly with his fists, shouting as he did so.
“Open up! Open up! Open in the name of the Queen! Open up, damn your eyes! Open I say!”
There was a sound of approaching footsteps from inside. They stopped and a man’s voice could be heard, muffled by the thick door.
“I’m coming, I’m coming. Please stop banging. I have a headache.”
There was the sound of several big bolts being withdrawn and a rattling of chains being removed. The door was opened by a young man in his early twenties. He looked Sir Philip up and down in some obvious distain at his grubby appearance.
“Well?” he said, accusingly.
“I am Sir Philip Sidney, despite the ruination of my courtly appearance,” panted Sidney urgently. “I have a pressing message for Master William Shakespeare the play-actor.”
The young man arched his eyebrows and looked Sidney up and down again, more appraisingly. “I am he – Sir Philip!”
“I bring a message from our mutual friend Doctor John Dee, a shareholder in your theatre. He is a mile away, by the Tower, and he begs your help. He has a great need of an actor to play a part, in order to expose a wicked plot.”
“John Dee?” repeated the young man excitedly. “An adventure? Playing a part in real life? God’s teeth, sir, I’m your man!”
The four men who had responded to Kelley’s shouted message in French reached a fairly anonymous-looking merchantman moored up near the Tower of London and flying a French flag, now drooping limply. The flag was no clue to the ship’s purpose, for many of the moored trading ships sailed under French colours. The men – including one who was very large and well-muscled – boarded the vessel up a gangplank and roused the crew with shouts in French.
After a few minutes the captain of the merchantman came out onto the deck and spoke to the returning four. In a few moments he shook his head angrily and strode back inside the ship through the forecastle door. Two of the four men went to the landward side of the ship, evidently appointed as lookouts by the captain, for they stared suspiciously left and right into the night along the quayside. One of them spat over the side. The big man and his remaining companion followed the Captain below deck. Evidently certain suspicions were now aroused.
Not far away, near to the north gate of London Bridge, there was a thatched wooden warehouse set amidst a collection of smaller storage hutments. In the deep shadow of the warehouse stood Dee’s coach, the hunched and bored figure of Thomas the coachman only just visible on the top at front. John Dee was leaning his head out of the glassless window. There was a sound of many feet approaching at a run and Walsingham appeared, puffing slightly and leading a troop of a dozen pikemen from the Tower. Dee emerged from his coach to meet them.
“We have them cornered now,” said Dee quietly to Walsingham. “The ship has been identified and Kelley is hidden down there on the quayside watching it. We await only the return of Philip.”
Walsingham turned to the sergeant of the yeomen. “We are certain the enemy have two fine ladies held captive, and we have every reason to believe they are on that ship. We cannot simply rush up and storm on board, or they may kill the hostages. We have summoned expert help who will take our enemy off-guard and try to get aboard unnoticed. Once the ladies have been found and rescued, you and your men can go into action and apprehend everyone on the ship.”
“Very good, sir,” said the sergeant.
Walsingham turned away, then turned back in an afterthought. “Oh, and sergeant…?”
“Try to leave some of them alive for questioning.”
“Very good sir.”
Several minutes later Sir Philip Sidney and William Shakespeare arrived running and out of breath. Young Shakespeare carried a large wicker basket on a strap round his shoulder. Dee shook him by the hand. “Will – many thanks for coming here. Have you performed tonight?”
“I have, good Sir John. I received a bouquet of flowers and several nosegays.”
Behind them, the sergeant of the guard silently turned his eyes sideways at one of his pikemen, who looked sideways back at him equally silently. They remained poker-faced. Walsingham spoke. “Are you willing and able to oblige us, Master Shakespeare?”
“Aye, good sir. I require only a few moments to change into a woman’s dress.”
Again the yeomen exchanged the same glances. This time they had slightly worried expressions.
Young Will Shakespeare set his basket on the ground and pulled out a rather shabby Tudor-style woman’s dress. He stepped into it. Next he donned from the basket a shabby bodice, tying the laces untidily at the front. He expertly put on a long blonde wig. Using a mirror from the basket, he applied some makeup, deftly smearing his lips with red and lining his eyes with kohl.
Finally he took out two balls of cloth and stuffed them down the front of the bodice. He looked at Sir Philip Sidney, who shook his head slightly. Shakespeare removed the balls of cloth and withdrew two much larger ones from the basket, holding them up to Sir Philip, who smiled and nodded in approval. Shakespeare stuffed the larger balls of cloth down his bodice to produce an impressive bust. He then put his arm round Sir Philip’s waist and Philip placed his arm round Shakespear’s shoulder. They took a step forward.
“Beginners and openers, on stage!” muttered Shakespeare.
Two figures strolled out of the night through the lank and trampled grass and down the wooden steps leading to the quayside. One of the figures appeared to be mincing slightly. As they walked casually along a row of moored merchant ships they were intermittently illuminated by pools of yellow light from chains of lanterns strung along the moorings. As they approached a particular vessel sporting a French flag plastered wetly round its masthead the couple halted beneath a lantern. They could then be more clearly seen as a man and woman. One of the two sailors on lookout was carelessly leaning over the landward rail of the ship, keeping watch and staring curiously.
Suddenly, without warning, the woman violently slapped the man’s face.
The young man screamed at her; “You festering harlot!”
She screamed back at him; “Give me my money you beslubbering rump-fed nuthook!”
The man screamed at her; “Unmuzzled pox-marked flap-dragon!”
“Yeasty bed-fowling clotpole!”
“Infectious sheep-biting canker-blossom!
She snarled; “Thou wilt regret this, thou warty-nosed clenchpoop!”
He riposted; “Leave me be, thou fetid skanky-breath!
The woman pulled out a large kitchen knife and flourished it. “Pay me my due, leaky-guts – else remember thy member!”
Sir Philip Sidney and William Shakespeare started struggling together. The lookout leaning on the ship’s rail turned his head and called out.
“Ici, vite! Regardes!” (Here, quickly! Look at this!”)
The other lookout on the riverward side called back; “Porquoi? Qu’est-ce qui se passé?” (“Why? What’s going on?”)
“Une prostituée qui se bagarre. Tu vas apprrécier.” (“A prostitute fighting. You’ll enjoy this.”)
“Je n’ai pas vu de bonne lutte de prostituée depuis des mois. J’arrive!” (“I haven’t seen a good whore-fight for months. I’ll be right there!”)
The second lookout ran across the deck and joined his fellow leaning over the side, enjoying a grandstand view of the scene. Without warning, out of the darkness two throwing clubs spun through the air seconds apart and struck the lookout’s heads with dull thuds. Both of them collapsed to the deck unconscious. Sir Philip Sidney and William Shakespeare immediately stopped acting. From out of a patch of dark shadow on the nearby river bank appeared Edward Kelley. Admiringly, Sidney commented; “Nice throwing.”
Kelley looked them both up and down with raised eyebrows. “Nice acting.”
Kelley, Sidney and Shakespeare ran quietly up the gangplank to the main deck. Kelley cautiously opened the forecastle door, looked inside then beckoned the other two to follow him.
At the end of a deserted ship’s passage lit by a single lantern, a flight of steps went down into the depths of the vessel. The three men descended silently. The steps led to a lower passage with several closed doors on either side and another door at the farther end. Kelley carefully moved to stand by the first door on the left. He quietly sniffed at it, shook his head slightly and walked to the next door. Again he sniffed at it then shook his head.
“Why do you sniff at the doors?” whispered Shakespeare.
Kelley whispered back; “To search for the scent of a lady’s perfume.”
Kelley sniffed at the third door and shook his head again. At the next door, however, he sniffed and nodded in satisfaction. Pausing for a moment with his hand on the door handle, he suddenly shouldered the door open and looked within.
It was a small storeroom. Inside, an extremely surprised and butch-looking sailor, bearded and naked to the waist, was sitting on a trunk and dabbing himself under the arm with a scent bottle.
In the passage, Sir Philip and Shakespeare were unable to see inside the room. They heard the sound of someone being hit on the head with something heavy, followed by a soft thud as of a body falling on the floor. Edward Kelley emerged from the storeroom and quietly closed the door behind him. Looking at the other two, he shook his head sadly and walked to the next door. He tried to open it but found it locked. He bent down and sniffed at the latch, tapping on the door very gently. There was complete silence. Then he knelt down and whispered hoarsely into the keyhole.
“Is there anyone in there who is not a man?”
There was a sudden flurry of quiet sounds from within and then an answering whisper came through the keyhole. “Who are you?”
Kelley whispered back equally quietly; “English Secret Service. Who are you?”
“Lady Frances Sidney, widow of Sir Philip Sidney who has been cruelly murdered, here with Lady Juliet Somerfield,” sobbed Lady Frances.
“Your husband is here with me, my lady,” whispered Kelley. “He is alive and well. Can the two of you run?”
Frances Sidney reacted in sudden wonder, joyfully loud. “Philip is here? They were going to bury him alive! Is he truly here?”
A distant man’s voice called out angrily from beyond the end door of the passage; “Quel est le problem, nom d’une pipe?” (“What in the name of blazes is the trouble now?)
Kelley sighed resignedly. “No time for bloody etiquette!” He immediately put his shoulder to the door and hit it hard a couple of times. The door flew open inwards. Inside were Walsingham’s daughter and her friend Lady Juliet Summerfield, both quite grubby and tattered but otherwise unharmed. Without ceremony Kelley grabbed them both by the arm and hauled them from the room. As soon as Frances saw her husband they rushed into each other’s arms and embraced with passion. William Shakespeare watched them with a dreamy expression.
Kelley was getting very agitated. “There’s no time for that now!” He shoved Shakespeare’s shoulder to wake him from daydreaming. “For God’s sake grab the other one and let’s get out of here!”
Shakespeare snapped out of his reverie and turned to grab Juliet Summerfield by the hand. Suddenly they came face-to-face in the passage. She had unkempt hair, dirty and torn garments and patches of dirt on her face. He still wore makeup and a woman’s dress and bodice, although he had discarded the wig. They stared at each other for a few moments without moving. He held out his hand, smiled and whispered; “Thou art more lovely than a summer’s day – you must come with me at once!”
Juliet just looked at him in stunned wonderment, struck speechless. A moment later the end door burst open and a tightly-packed group of several villainous-looking sailors emerged. For a couple of seconds they stopped and stared at the fugitives.
Edward Kelley drew his sword, swished it expertly, then pointed it warningly at the sailors. Instantly, in one movement, the sailors thrust out towards him a startling array of sabres, cutlasses, pistols, pikes, meat-cleavers, knobbly clubs and one big flared blunderbuss snout.
Kelley spoke quickly with Irish optimism. “Change of plan – Run!”
All four of the fugitives ran back up the passage. The sailors gave chase yelling savagely, but there were too many of them shoulder-to-shoulder in the narrow space to move quickly and they got in each other’s way. At the foot of the stairs Kelley pulled two small black bombs from his coat pocket and pulled tin covers from the fuses, which started fizzing. Kelley tossed the bombs over his shoulders as they ran up the stairs.
Emerging from the forecastle onto the deck, they raced to the riverward side of the ship in one group without pausing for thought and leaped over the ship’s rail together. While they were in the air, there was the brilliant flash and loud crash of an explosion behind them as the ship’s forecastle and upper bows blew asunder spectacularly. The blinding flash cast them in silhouette during the instant in which the four of them plunged into the cold water of the Thames with a great splash.
The ship was on fire in its moorings. Watchmen on London Bridge started ringing bells in the gate towers. Blazing debris soared up into the air and fell from the sky starting more fires. People in nearby thatched houses and hovels rushed outside and started to fetch water from the river to help douse flames. Sailors ran from other ships to help. Many ships were quickly cast off from the wooden docks to get into mid-river out of reach of the fires, their crews hoisting up buckets of water and sluicing-down the decks.
The squad of pikemen ran down to the river’s edge and a few small boats were commandeered to search the dark water for survivors. A number of French sailors were trying to swim for it and were soon hauled out and arrested.
Then, helped by a couple of pikemen, a bedraggled Kelley, Sidney, Shakespeare, Frances and Juliet came struggling and coughing out of the murky water into the thick riverside mud. Walsingham and Dee hurried to greet them. Walsingham, shedding a few secret tears, embraced and kissed his daughter on the cheek, then embraced Sir Philip and kissed his cheek. Dee looked at Kelley, who closed his eyes and raised his cheek suggestively, lips pursed. Dee reached out and shook his hand vigorously instead.
“You four had better go up to the bridge gatehouse immediately and get warm and dry,” said Walsingham. “Give the gatekeeper my name and he will look after you. Tell him to send word to the Tower and there will be a carriage sent to take you to your homes, by my authority.”
He turned and looked seriously at Dee. “Mendoza is a gifted chess player – he obviously wanted to place me in check on this very day so that I would be powerless to move against him. He is up to something: some plot is now afoot. We should go to my Whitehall office and try to find out what is brewing. There may be messages waiting there.”
Dee and Walsingham walked together in step towards the shadowy warehouse at the back of which Dee’s coach waited. Behind them the blazing ship had been towed by rowing boats into the middle of the wide river, where even the glowing embers rising into the air could not reach the buildings on either bank. As the two men walked into the dark shadows, the coach could just be discerned. The dim silhouette of the coach driver was visible sitting patiently on the top at the front.
Dee opened the door for Walsingham. An arm emerged from inside the coach holding a double-barrelled wheel-lock pistol pointing in a steady grip right between Walsingham’s eyes. The man who held the pistol leaned slowly and carefully forward so that his face could be seen. It was Carlos. “Get in. Both of you.” His voice was steady. He waggled the pistol slightly to add emphasis.
Slowly, carefully, Dee and Walsingham clambered into the coach and, at Carlos’ gesture, sat opposite him. Carlos was seated with his back to the horses. He sneered, still pointing the pistol. Then he shouted up to the driver without moving his glaring eyes. “To Whitehall Palace now, Abraham!”
The horses were whipped up. They moved forward and the coach started to jolt and sway. The pistol was held very steadily by Carlos. “If you should try to escape or raise an alarm, I will kill you both immediately without any compassion.”
Walsingham spluttered in impotent rage. “You will be executed for this! Your death will make Throckmorton’s seem pleasant by comparison!”
Carlos sneered, obviously enjoying having the upper hand over his enemies. “That, of course Sir Francis, will all depend upon who rules England and makes the laws.”
“What are you talking about, man – Queen Elizabeth rules England”
“Elizabeth is a protestant Queen surrounded by the Catholic monarchs of Europe,” pointed out Carlos with some venom. “I can assure you that her days are numbered – in fact, even her hours are now numbered!”
Walsingham’s eyes widened in realisation. “You mean to murder the Queen!”
“No blame will be leveled at Spain,” stated Carlos with great satisfaction. “She will be eliminated by an Englishman. Then Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scots, shall be placed on the English throne with the backing of the Spanish army. And when King Philip marries Mary Stuart, he will once again be King Philip of England, and of Scotland to boot! It is a beautiful plan, is it not?”
Without waiting for an answer his voice grew more businesslike. “If you displease me in any way, I will kill you both instantly. When we reach Whitehall I will kill you anyway. Your pockets will contain papers making the whole world believe you were behind Elizabeth’s murder.”
Walsingham remained motionless under the threat of the gun, which at such a short range would promise certain death to both himself and Dee. He briefly considered trying to leap upon Carlos and overpower him, or perhaps merely knock the gun aside and punch him, but the interior of the coach was too large and the gap between him and the Spaniard was a little too wide to allow this to be done without being shot before he was halfway there. All he could do was fume.
“So you will plant forged incriminating papers on us to be found when our bodies are searched,” he grated in disgust.
“Si,” nodded Carlos, smiling evilly. “And Spain will not be implicated – the letters have already been produced, and they will be seen to have issued from the Dutch Calvinist rebels in the northern provinces of the Low Countries.”
“Protestant rebels behind the assassination of a Protestant Queen?” Walsingham was sceptical. “Nobody will believe that.”
Carlos merely shrugged. “People will believe what they read on signed and witnessed documents.”
“On forged documents!” spat Walsingham.
“Oh, but on such exquisitely forged documents,” purred Carlos, amused.
Birds had started singing at sunrise and in the royal bedroom of Whitehall Palace Elizabeth stood in her nightgown as Jane Dee and Ursula Walsingham entered the room and began to help the Queen dress.
Outside, a dozen pikemen marched past beneath the walls and even at that early hour a few ordinary people were gathering across the sanded square in a small group in order to watch the Queen go by later in the morning when she emerged from the palace to walk to Westminster Hall.
Dee’s coach moved at a trotting pace past a fine old building surrounded by gardens and fields which could be seen through the glassless windows. Carlos still held his gun rigidly pointed, sneering sinisterly.
Dee smiled at him amiably and pointed out of the window. “We’re passing the Convent Garden,” he remarked conversationally. “Not far to go now – just along the strand of the river, past the cross at Charing and on to Whitehall.”
Carlos merely glared at him in silence.
Elizabeth, now fully dressed and accompanied by Jane and Ursula, walked briskly down a corridor inside Whitehall palace.
Outside, the small handful of ordinary folk had grown to about twenty who stood chattering amongst themselves. Three pikemen were now standing by them motionlessly in order to prevent the small crowd getting too close to the palace doors.
Dee’s coach moved along a broad and rutted riverside road where wood-beamed houses were interspersed with clumps of trees and vegetable gardens. Dee seemed fascinated by the view outside. “We’re in the strand road – nearly there,” he stated cheerfully, as though enjoying the ride.
Carlos merely grimaced at him and waggled his pistol threateningly. Walsingham remained silent but staring daggers at Carlos.
Elizabeth, Jane and Ursula walked into a great hall. Waiting for them were several courtiers and a handful of bearded senior dignitaries. Two male secretaries approached the Queen with a few parchments held flat for her signature. They placed them on a side table where there was an inkwell and quill. Elizabeth proceeded to sign the documents whilst standing, with only a rapid glance at each one.
The crowd was still gathering to watch the Queen go by. There were now some fifty people. At the back of the crowd a young man walked up and stood behind everyone else. He placed his hand inside his jerkin as though checking something.
John Dee was still apparently enjoying himself looking out of the coach window as they rattled along. “Ah – I can see the Charing cross ahead. We’re only a few minutes from Whitehall Palace.”
“You’re damnably cheerful for someone being held at gunpoint when our Queen is about to be murdered in cold blood,” snapped Walsingham irately.
“Si,” chuckled Carlos, “especially when I am about to kill you both! This will be my revenge for your magic trick when we fought our duel – I will be the winner in the end.”
Dee, still smiling, turned from the window to look at him. “Ah, but you see, you cannot possibly shoot us inside this coach can you? It would put ugly holes in the expensive fabric and ruin it. Think of the damage to the velvet from powder burns!”
Carlos scowled. “You are a madman! Now watch me kill you both, one at a time. It will be the last thing you will ever see!” He took careful aim at Walsingham’s head.
“One moment,” said Dee calmly. “I think you should look at this first.” He reached down between his knees and pulled a small hidden lever.
“What is that?” spat Carlos furiously.
A second later a square hatch in the roof sprang open, there was a great bang from a hidden gunpowder keg, a sudden eruption of smoke and sparks, and a screaming Carlos together with the seat he sat on shot upwards for some fifteen feet as though fired from a cannon. Abraham the driver was thrown off the coach by the blast and tumbled into the road. Carlos, still in his seat, crashed down heavily into a roadside vegetable garden leaving a descending vapour trail of smoke.
Dee and Walsingham scrambled from the coach and ran to the spot. The coach seat was lying upside-down smoking in a patch of cabbages. From beneath it Carlos’ legs protruded motionlessly. Abraham, though, had vanished. Evidently he had been sufficiently unharmed to make good his getaway by running and hiding.
Elizabeth handed the signed parchments back to the waiting secretaries. Accompanied by Jane and Ursula she walked towards the front doors, pulling on dainty leather gloves. The courtiers and dignitaries followed behind in a respectful group.
Outside, the crowd had grown to about seventy people, men, women and children. At the very rear stood the same young man. Two other men nonchalantly strode up and stood on either side of him, partially screening him from view. All three began to edge their way purposefully through the crowd.
Elizabeth emerged through the main door of the palace with Jane and Ursula, the courtiers following behind in a close group. The crowd waved and cheered as the Queen emerged. The three men roughly pushed their way to the front of the cheering people, the young man pulling a pistol from his jerkin.
In the distance, out of a side road some five hundred yards from the square, Sir Francis Walsingham came running. He was already puffing and wheezing. He had to stop, placing his hands on his knees and bending forward to draw in huge gulps of air. His face was the colour of beetroot. After a few moments he forced himself to go on in an exhausted hobbling trot. His expression was utterly desperate. Tears flew from the corners of his eyes.
The young man and his companions had forced their way to the front of the cheering crowd. He raised his wheel-lock pistol slowly and carefully, made certain the fuse match was glowing, and began to take careful aim. His two companions ensured his actions could not be seen by the crowd on either side; all eyes were on the Queen anyway. Elizabeth was walking only some thirty feet away, drawing ever closer to the gunman. Jane Dee, walking beside Elizabeth, suddenly heard a voice with a French accent distinctly above the cheering.
“The traitor will cause blood to be spilt. One whose eyes are open will observe the assassin…”
Startled, Jane looked about herself watchfully, alert, looking for anything amiss, her eyes darting everywhere.
Now only 200 yards from the Queen, Walsingham was still trying to run in an exhausted middle-aged man’s hobbling trot. He waved frantically and tried to shout a warning, but he was drowned out by the cheering and waving of the crowd. He clutched his sides in pain and gasped for air.
The Queen was passing a mere ten feet from the gunman. He took careful aim and began to squeeze the trigger. However, alerted by the voice in her head, Jane spotted the threat. Instantly, without pausing to think about what she was doing, she leaped in front of the startled Queen, arms outstretched to shield her.
The gun’s mechanism made an ominous series of clicking sounds. There was a sudden sharp hiss. Then the gunman screamed and collapsed backwards into the crowd behind him, an arrow sticking out of his chest. As he lurched backwards his pistol fired with a gush of flame and smoke. A courtier near the Queen screamed, spurted blood and fell dead. Screaming spread throughout the crowd. Other courtiers ran forward. Pikemen grabbed the two other plotters. The gunman lay on the ground dying while Jane and Ursula hugged Elizabeth protectively.
A hundred feet away, Walsingham, seeing the queen saved, sank down onto his knees in the mud, wheezing and straining to catch his breath. He was in the final stages of exhaustion, his face still crimson. He lowered his head to his chest. Jane took a few steps towards the body of the gunman and saw the arrow in his chest. Then she suddenly heard a piercing whistle above the general noise. Spinning round, she stared up the broad road.
John Dee, riding one of the horses that had pulled his coach, plodded out of the mouth of a narrow alley, a large crossbow held upright on his hip. He dismounted and strolled past the kneeling and gasping Walsingham. “You may think Master Kelley nothing but a rogue,” he remarked casually as he walked by, “but he gives excellent archery lessons – and he has made some very interesting modifications to my coach!”
Walsingham was panting too hard to reply. Dee strolled on towards Jane, slinging the crossbow over his shoulder. At the same time Ursula ran past him towards her gasping husband. Dee grasped Jane with his right arm and kissed her passionately. Ursula reached the kneeling Walsingham and knelt down in the muddy road before him. They, too, kissed and held each other tightly.
“You do realize,” she said, “that you and John have not only saved Her Majesty’s life, but also quite possibly the lives of Jane Dee and myself.”
Sir Francis spoke as he panted. “And our daughter is also safe and reunited with Sir Philip. John is right – a man’s loved ones must always be his first concern. He learned that the hard way. So have I, now.”
Nearly all the great wars of the past which had tarnished the humanity of humankind have, by one itinerary or another, included differences of religious belief amongst the combatant’s agendas of grievances. Nearly all the great wars of the future would march to the beat of the same drum. The sixteenth century was no exception to the rule.
At this particular time, much of Europe was becoming involved in what became known as the Eighty Years War. In 1579, Antwerp had joined the Union of Utrecht, by which seven Protestant northern provinces of the Spanish Netherlands had risen in a league against the rule of Catholic Spain. On August 10th 1585 at Nonsuch Palace near the country hamlet of Sutton in Surrey, Queen Elizabeth the First of England had signed a secret treaty with the Netherlands in which it was guaranteed that an English army of over six thousand soldiers and one thousand cavalry would be sent to help defeat the Spanish siege of Antwerp. The treaty also promised the Dutch Protestants six hundred thousand florins a year for their assistance.
The late Queen Mary Tudor’s husband King Philip II of Spain and former King of England regarded the Nonsuch Treaty as nothing less than an English declaration of war against Spain. The Earl of Leicester was appointed by Elizabeth to be Governor-General of the Netherlands and commander of the army. The Earl’s nephew, Sir Philip Sidney, son-in-law of Sir Francis Walsingham and good friend and former student of John Dee, accompanied his uncle to war.
Zutphen, only some eighteen miles from the town of Arnhem, became one of the pivotal strategic points of the campaign…
Canon roared and spat fire. English soldiers, resolute but many bandaged with bloody rags, advanced with pikes and a few matchlock muskets along a town street. Most buildings showed the scars of battle. Leading at the front was Sir Philip Sidney and retreating before them a disorganized brigade of Spanish soldiers turned to fire sporadically, to little effect. Here and there a few men fell on both sides. The English army paused momentarily to regroup at the top of the road where it opened out into a large town square. The Spanish troops were fleeing in disarray across the square, surging like tidal waters around a large fountains-and-statue monument at the centre.
“We have them now, men!” screamed Sidney. “One final charge and we regain the town!”
The Spaniards were running to the far side of the market square where their commanding officers were vigorously encouraging them to regroup as best they might behind overturned market tables. They did not look very dangerous. Occasional shots still rang out between the two sides and the occasional Spaniard or Englishman fell. The main force of English troops ran forward to form a series of lines across the approach-road. Sir Philip was at the front. He pointed his sword across the square. He screamed out loudly; “On the command, charge them! Give no quarter!”
A Spanish noblemen walked away along a grandiose corridor lined with magnificent huge paintings in baroque frames. The heels of his tall boots rapped out a steady beat on the polished wooden floor. He came to a great ornate set of double-doors at which two Spanish soldiers stood guard. They opened the doors with precise timing so that the nobleman did not need to break his stride. The doors were closed behind him.
The building was San Lorenzo De El Escorial, twenty-eight miles from Madrid, and it was the palace of King Philip the Second of Spain. The nobleman who now walked into the throne room was Mendoza. Before him were two magnificent golden thrones under exquisite tapestry canopies. On one throne sat the sixty-year-old King Philip. The other throne was unoccupied.
Mendoza halted and knelt on one knee, bowing his head to the king. A chamberlain standing nearby called out an announcement. “His Excellency Don Bernardino de Mendoza de Guadalajara, Orden Militar de Santiago, our Ambassador to the court of His Majesty King Henri of France!”
At the front of his troops Sidney screamed out; “Charge! Forward! Forward!” At the sound of his command the English force, brandishing swords, halberds and other wicked blades, started running towards the Spanish positions yelling and screaming battlecries. The Spanish troops they had been pursuing were sheltering behind the overturned market tables, bobbing upwards and sideways to loose off shots which hit a few soldiers but did not accomplish very much. It looked like the English would hit the makeshift enemy shelters like an onrushing tidal wave.
Then a trumpet sounded a signal. Immediately, masses of hidden Spanish soldiers suddenly emerged from within buildings around the square and charged at the English from all directions, using pikes, swords, battle axes, maces, billhooks, halberds and crossbows. Behind the overturned tables, soldiers stood up in rows and opened fire with muskets. The English now found themselves surrounded and greatly outnumbered.
Sidney attempted to rally his men. He shouted commandingly and waved with his arm; “Forward! Forward! We must beat them back! Holland must not fall to the Spanish!”
There was another volley of enemy musket fire and Sir Philip Sidney staggered, wounded and spurting blood from his chest. A soldier, himself bleeding from a badly gashed face, rushed to his side and helped him to stumble into the comparative shelter of an overturned farm wagon where he collapsed to lie gasping on the ground. The soldier produced a leather flask of water and raised Sir Philip in his arms, trying to get him to drink. Philip shook his head weakly.
“Your… your need is greater than mine… you are alive and must fight on… I… I…am…” He slumped, dead.
“You may rise and speak, Mendoza,” invited King Philip.
Mendoza rose up off his knee and stood facing the King. “Your magnificence, I must apologise – our plans in England have not succeeded. The fool Babbington failed to shoot Elizabeth when she appeared in public in Whitehall. He was defeated and killed by Elizabeth’s pet sorcerer John Dee! Other such attempts have failed also. Walsingham is a clever man. He has spies and agents everywhere and continually confounds all attempts to bring the rogue queen to justice for her crimes.”
King Philip mused thoughtfully for several moments. Mendoza, as still as a statue, began to sweat. The only other indication of his trepidation was a slight tick which suddenly developed in the corner of his right eye. Then the King turned to face him. He spoke peremptorily.
“Our conquest of England does not depend upon any English dandy with a pistol and a bad aim. Our army in Holland under the Duke of Parma is crushing the English army so that their blood runs in the gutters. I received news this morning that the English have been soundly defeated at Arnhem. They are now withdrawing their surviving and badly mauled soldiers back to England from Dunkirk in whatever boats they can muster to their use.
“And then…” he leaned back on his sumptuous throne and smiled broadly at Mendoza, “…and then, in just a few more months our Grande y Felicisima Armada will be ready. We will then be able to transport our army from the Netherlands to England in the navy ships and the troop barges they can tow. That way we can transport under the protection of many hundreds of ship cannon some thirty thousand troops. I am informed that the English army now has less than ten thousand all told. The English will collapse in the face of a full-scale invasion landing in the Thames estuary. London will fall to us within a week.”
The King waved his lace-ruffed hand in Mendoza’s direction and spoke abruptly to indicate that the audience was over. “You will sail with the fleet. You are now appointed official Lord Governor of England.”
Mendoza bowed and genuflected. “With the greatest of pleasure, Your Magnificence. It shall be as you command.” His voice almost purred.
In the great Westminster Hall built in the year 1097 on the orders of King William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, there was a meeting of Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council. At a big table sat nineteen distinguished-looking men of various ages. A more magnificent empty chair was stationed at one end, on either side of which sat Doctor John Dee and Sir Francis Walsingham. Suddenly everyone rose quickly to their feet as Elizabeth came through the distant door, down a few stone steps and walked briskly to the empty chair, her footsteps echoing in the cavernous space. Walsingham manoeuvred her heavy chair to help her be seated. There was a muttered and ragged chorus of “Your Majesty” from everyone.
“You may be seated, my lords,” said the Queen. Everyone sat down again. “My Privy Lords, I must begin this meeting with very bad news – and then it is my misfortune to continue with none better! As Lord Walsingham and Doctor Dee have already been advised, Sir Philip Sidney has been killed in battle with the Spanish army whilst commanding the outer defences of Arnhem at Zutphen in the Netherlands.”
There was a dignified chorus of groans. William Cecil, on Walsingham’s right, muttered; “May the Good Lord accept his soul!” Elizabeth nodded and resumed.
“It now seems certain that the Netherlands have been lost to a Spanish army under command of the Duke of Parma. The tattered remnants of our own army are even now being withdrawn by ship from Dunkirk to Tilbury in the mouth of the Thames. Doctor Dee, Astrologer Royal, what do the stars have to say about our situation?
Dee rose to speak. “Mars vies with Venus in Cancer. War from the ocean is foretold. Victory and defeat balance on a knife’s edge and the fate of our nation hangs by a mere thread.”
“My Lord Walsingaham, be pleased to give your report,” ordered the Queen. Walsingham stood up.
“Your Majesty, my lords, as Secretary of State I have put the realm in a posture of war. There can be no doubt King Philip has ordered a full-scale invasion. Spain has assembled a great fleet of ships, the scale of which has not been seen in the world before. Spies inform us that in the Scheldt estuaries the Spanish army has assembled many hundreds of barges for towing across the narrows of the North Sea. These barges and great ships will carry an entire army of invasion to England and it can make landfall near Tilbury a mere thirty miles or thereabouts from London.”
Elizabeth stared him levelly in the eye. “And what countermeasures are available to us?”
“Only three, Your Majesty. We are receiving the remnant of our expeditionary force in dribs and drabs as it returns from the Netherlands. This, we are hoping, will provide us with the nucleus of a new army to be raised by conscription from the towns and hamlets.”
“And do you really believe we can repel the invasion as it lands? Parma’s soldiers have already once defeated that same army, the shattered relic of which you propose to re-muster against them, their numbers made up with untrained farmers, blacksmiths, apprentices and labourers. What is our second countermeasure?”
Walsingham extended his hand toward Lord Howard of Effingham. “Lord Howard?” he invited.
Lord Howard rose as Walsingham sat down again. “Majesty. We have men O’war and we have well-trained crews and gunners. We have capable commanders in Admirals Drake and Hawkins. I shall lead them in person. We shall be prepared to meet the Great Fleet when it enters the Channel, and our endeavour will be to challenge its advance. But the number of our ships is unlikely to equal the fleet King Philip is said to be sending.” He bowed his head and sat down again.
“And the third countermeasure?” demanded Elizabeth.
Walsingham rose once more. A single tear glistened in the corner of his eye. “A swift ship is being made ready at Bristol, Your Majesty. It will stand ready to carry you to the Roanoke English Colony in the North Americas.”
Very softly, Elizabeth queried; “Are we so close to utter defeat, Francis?” Walsingham merely bowed his head. The tear in his eye fell onto the table.
Elizabeth saw the tear. She instantly changed into a screaming fury, standing and banging both her clenched fists hard on the table, eyes blazing fire. Everyone at the table jumped. “Then by God, gentlemen!” she yelled at the top of her voice. “I shall rather be killed fighting my country’s enemy than flee in shame before his advance! England may no longer have much chance of survival – but she will have one hell of a queen until the end!”
Several days later John Dee sat at his great library desk writing with a scratchy quill. Seated at a far less grandiose table across the room, reading a great bundle of loose parchment notes and making corrections and additions with his quill, was Edward Kelley. Before him in a stand on the tabletop the Book of Soy-gah rested open, displaying two mysterious pages of very peculiar script set in various arrangements within grids of small squares. Near the door of the huge room Jane Dee was happily arranging priceless items of Venetian glassware in a big and expensive-looking display cabinet.
Kelley peered more closely at the parchment he held, his face frowning, muttering to himself under his breath. “Earth, water, fire and air. Four great names to command these elements. Then four elemental kings beneath these…”
Dee called over to him. “How are you getting on with my notes regarding the Book of Soy-gah?”
“My problem,” said Kelley glaring at him, “is reading your shorthand – but we make progress. In one more week we shall be able to command the very elements of Creation to our will.” He turned his face back to the notes, frowned to himself and peered closer at a parchment. His lips moved slightly as he tried to read something, whispering loud enough to be faintly heard.
“Ell, ah, hee, dar, oh, em? Ah, kay, zodee, noh, rah?”
Then Kelley froze. Only his eyes moved, swiveling slowly to look sideways at Dee. “John, we have a problem,” he stated quietly.
“Another one?” sighed Dee without looking up.
“I was trying to make sense of your shorthand notes. I just read something out loud from the Book of Soy-gah.”
“And…? replied Dee absently.
“It was of the Earth Element.”
Kelley swallowed. “There are now three gnomes standing on the floor looking at me.”
Dee glanced around. “I see nothing there.”
“It was not you who summoned them.”
At that moment Jane jumped and squealed loudly. Outraged, her head spun to look around her. “Something just touched me up!”
“Four gnomes, then,” corrected Kelley laconically.
“What are they like?” asked Dee with interest.
“Ugly! About four feet high, and very grubby, and wearing big hobnail boots. They carry picks and shovels. They have lank hair and sharp teeth and their ears and noses are pointed. They do not look happy.”
“What do they want?”
Kelley was silent for a few moments as though listening to something.
“They ask me why I summoned them.”
“Tell them you did not summon them,” advised Dee with calm patience.
“They hear you. They insist I did summon them.”
“Oh no you didn’t!”
“They say, oh yes I did!”
Dee frowned. “They can hear me? Where are they?”
Kelley pointed. “About halfway between us. One of them wants to know if Jane is doing anything tonight.”
With great dignity, Dee stood up at his desk and turned to face the indicated spot. “Now look here, spirits of the earth! My colleague most certainly did not summon you. His intent was only to read and repeat some shorthand writing to make it clearer to himself.”
“They say it still counts,” advised Kelley.
“It does not count!” cried Dee in an outraged voice. Kelley looked at him with the ghost of a smile on his lips.
“They just said something extremely vulgar to you. It involves procreation and travel.”
Dee spoke in a commanding tone to the empty space. “Listen! If someone reads a Latin prayer in order to understand it better, that does not mean they are actually praying. Likewise, my colleague did not summon you. Now kindly get out of my house!”
There was a sudden sound of four pairs of boots running across the floor. The loose parchments on Kelley’s desk erupted as if in a hurricane. Before he could do anything, Kelley was toppled over backwards in his chair. Lying on his back he yelled loudly and fought at the air with his fists. He cried out; “The knotty-pated codpieces are biting at me!”
He held up his arms to protect his face. His shirtsleeves were ripped off as though by an invisible person. Suddenly, sharp toothmarks appeared on his arms, bleeding. Kelley struggled to his feet, grabbed his chair and held it legs-outward like a lion-tamer jabbing at lions. Dee was running to the library door where there was a big china vase containing walking sticks. At the same time, Jane seized a nearby besom broom she had been using and held it aggressively like a quarterstaff.
Dee grabbed a stout walking stick. “Where are they now?”
Kelley yelled; “Where the chair is striking!”
Dee ran to the place and aimed a mighty blow with the stick. It connected with a loud whack on something invisible. There was a sudden bestial roar of pain. Dee brought the stick back in a strong sideways swipe, missed and smashed an occasional table, shattering ornaments. He shouted at the top of his voice; “Avaunt thee! Avaunt thee! I command it, thou baggages!”
A book on a small table near Jane opened of its own accord and the pages fanned as though someone was flicking through them casually. Jane stepped closer and brought the broom down hard on a place in the air above the book. There was a loud thump followed by an inhuman wail.
Kelley pointed. “They’ve gone over there, by the mantle!”
Dee strode to the huge ornate mantelpiece and swiped with his stick at the air all round it. He managed to smash all the exquisite china ornaments and tear the canvas of a large painting hanging over the mantle.
“Now they’re hiding by the best china cabinet,” shouted Kelley. “I think you’ve got them worried.”
Dee attacked the air around the china cabinet, smashing the cabinet and its contents in the process. Heavy velvet curtains at a huge floor-to-ceiling leaded window suddenly moved on their own.
“Now they’re hiding behind the curtains,” yelled Kelley in excitement. “You’ve really got them worried now.”
Dee charged angrily at the curtains, beating the air with his stick, and succeeded in smashing some of the glass panes. The large brass curtain rail fell down, bringing the curtains with it. There was a loud clatter of invisible booted feet moving across the floor towards the Venetian glassware. Jane jumped in the way, furiously brandishing her broom in one hand like a club. Pointing at the cabinet, she snarled as only an aggrieved woman can; “If you value your immortal lives, not the Venetian glassware!”
There was a motionless silence for some four seconds, then the sound of boots rapidly retreating away from the glassware in another direction.
Kelley shouted at Dee urgently. “Quick! They’re running to your desk!”
Dee ran to his desk and smashed his stick down upon it and around it several times with great fury. Inkwells, papers, quills, books all went flying onto the floor.
“Now they’re making rude signs at you,” cried Kelley.
Dee stood motionless for a moment in the midst of the wreckage, visibly forcing himself back into a calm state of mind. He dropped the stick and spoke quietly but firmly.
“Oh bold and handsome elemental spirits of the Earth Quadrant – haven’t you had enough of this folly? Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves, acting so? Do you not have more important things to do elsewhere?”
A sudden silence descended. After several seconds had passed, the library door slowly opened, seemingly of its own accord, then closed again equally gently.
“They’ve gone,” said Kelley. He limped to the door, opened it and looked into the passage outside. “They’ve really gone from the house.”
Dee frowned. “How can you be so sure?”
“Because I can’t see them,” replied Kelley. Dee looked at him, speechless. Jane walked across the wreckage to join them. Together the three of them surveyed the considerable damage.
Finally Kelley spoke quietly. “You remember I said we need only one more week to perfect our magical research and methods?”
“I recall it,” replied Dee.
“I think we need many more months,” stated Kelley dejectedly.
Out of nowhere Jane heard a man’s faint voice with a French accent. “Mars threatens with the force of war – the ships of the Papacy will be lost – the wind is against them!”
She looked round, puzzled. “Who said that?”
Kelley looked surprised. “Said what? I heard nothing.”
“Nor I,” said Dee, also surprised.
Portugal was one of the provinces ruled by Philip of Spain. The land’s beautiful coastline filled the view to starboard as the huge Spanish flagship San Martin dressed overall with many lines of flags coasted northward at the forefront of the huge Armada which had sailed from Lisbon, taking a whole two days to leave the harbourage, so vast was it. There were still some vessels joining it from smaller harbours along the coast as the huge fleet came past them, but the bulk of the ships were already in their places.
On the ocean the fleet was soon to reach its full compliment of twenty specially-built ships of war, four cannon-bearing oared galleys, four galleasses of Naples, over thirty smaller gun-bearing ships, a great number of fully-armed carracks – in effect, huge ocean-going castles - and some mastless towed hulks converted into additional troop carriers. The vessels together fielded over two and a half thousand heavy guns. The fleet was manned by almost eight thousand sailors. Below the decks and in the towed hulks were eighteen thousand soldiers – already more than twice the size of the English army – and a further thirty thousand fully seasoned soldiers under the command of the Duke of Parma were assembling in the Scheldt estuary ready to board barges which would be towed by the fleet to England.
And Sir Francis Walsingham’s masterful spy network had given him these details. Well might he shed a tear for England.
Inside the admiral’s stateroom on the San Martin Mendoza and the thirty-seven year old Duke of Medina Sidonia stood examining charts on a map table. There was a respectful knock at the door and a soldier opened it from outside. Two other men entered, an admiral and a general. The Duke smiled broadly at them.
“Señors, thank you for coming. Introductions are in order. I present His Excellency Admiral of the Fleet Don Juan Martinez de Recalde my second-in-command, and His Excellency General Don Francisco de Bobadilla our senior army commander. Señors, I present to you His Excellency Don Bernardino de Mendoza de Guadalajara, Lord Governor of England.”
Mendoza pointed to the map. “Gentlemen. We shall proceed up the Channel, sending out squadrons of ships to attack Plymouth, Portsmouth and other coastal towns to confuse the English and keep them too spread-out to engage us en masse. Our first destination will be Flanders and the mouth of the Scheldt estuaries. There we rendezvous with the Duke of Parma and we shall take in tow a huge flotilla of troop barges containing another thirty thousand men. We will therefore have a compliment of nearly fifty thousand soldiers with which to mount an overwhelming invasion of England. We plan to land our troops at Tilbury, with the guns of our ships first reducing the place to blazing ashes. Then we shall occupy London and bring England under the rule of Spain.”
Mendoza looked up from the map and smiled at the others. “And,” he ended, “aided by the arrival of the Inquisition, many old scores shall be settled by England’s new Lord Governor!”
Queen Elizabeth’s father King Henry VIII had feared an invasion by the French over forty years previously and, as a precaution, he had ordered the construction of a chain of coastal forts. One such was Southsea Castle which occupied a strategic position for defending Portsmouth harbour. This was no towering medieval hulk; this castle was low, well designed and strong, surmounted by rows of cannon looking out over the sea approaches.
A large room within the building had been emptied of stores and converted into a strategic command centre. There was a very large central table on which was fixed a gigantic map a dozen feet across of southern England, the English Channel, the southern portion of the North Sea, the Bay of Biscay and the coastline of Europe from Denmark to Spain, all meticulously hand-drawn according to the latest military intelligence. Many small flags were pinned to the great chart to indicate strategic positions and the locations of forces.
The chart room was full of busy people performing various administrative tasks, carrying reports, conferring together, receiving written notes and changing the arrangement of pinned flags as updated information was handed to them. Standing at the table, Sir Francis Walsingham, John Dee and Edward Kelley were engaged in earnest discussions with Lord Howard of Effingham, Admiral Sir Francis Drake and Admiral Sir John Hawkins.
There was a commanding voice from outside a large set of double doors guarded on the inside by several pikemen. “Open up, in the name of the Queen!”
The doors were hastily opened and Queen Elizabeth walked into the big low-ceilinged room accompanied by a bodyguard of ten more pikemen. With her were two ladies-in-waiting, one of whom was Juliet Summerfield. Also accompanying the Queen was William Cecil, Baron Burghley, who had now taken on the position of Secretary of State to allow Walsingham to concentrate on developing strategy. A sudden silence spread around the room as people realised it was the Queen herself who had arrived. Everyone except pikemen, who noisily snapped to attention, bowed low and genuflected.
Elizabeth and her party walked to the map table.
“Your majesty is gracious to bless us with her welcomed presence,” greeted Walsingham.
Elizabeth smiled at him and called out to the whole room. “My lords and gentlemen, I am deeply conscious that it is my crown you are gallantly protecting with your plans and manoeuvres – and the head it sits upon! It is surely yourselves who are blessing me at this time. Gentlemen, have you the time amid your works to apprise us of the present situation?”
“Of course, Majesty,” answered Walsingham. “Perhaps Lord Howard would be kind enough to explain our position, as it is understood at this time.”
Lord Howard leaned forward over the great map and gestured with his hand. “Majesty, we have heard from my Lord Walsingham’s spies that a great Spanish fleet of some hundred and thirty ships carrying an estimated twenty thousand soldiers has left Lisbon, where it was earlier assembled from many harbours and shipyards.”
“And in which direction is this great fleet voyaging, good my lord?” enquired Elizabeth, studying the map.
“Northward, Majesty, following the coast, yet not too close to it for safety. We believe it is their intention to cross the Bay of Biscay here,” he pointed at the map, “then, rounding Brest, to enter the English Channel.”
Walsingham looked the Queen in the eye. “And in this, Your Majesty, lies our very greatest danger. The presence of mastless hulks, which we are advised are being towed amid the great fleet, can mean only one thing - that the fleet brings with it an army.” He pointed on the map to Holland. “Our army has been defeated in the Netherlands and has limped back like a lame dog. In Holland there now stands a Spanish army of a futher thirty thousand troops. I believe the intention is plain – I fear the Armada will make its way up the Channel until they reach the estuaries of the River Scheldt near to Antwerp. There, the army in the Spanish Netherlands will board prepared barges. As can be seen, the Scheldt Estuary lies but a short voyage opposite that of our own Thames…” His voice trailed off.
“So there may be an invasion of England?” asked the Queen levelly.
Admiral Drake spoke up. “We believe this is the intention of King Philip of Spain, Majesty. There can be no alternative rational explanation which fits these certain facts.”
Admiral Hawkins nodded grimly. “By your grace, Majesty, I have to concur. Admiral Drake is correct, there can be no other sensible explanation for the Armada. Would King Philip send such an expensive armed might towards England only to turn about and return home? An invasion is the only possible conclusion to all lines of speculation.”
For a few moments Elizabeth frowned in deep thought. She raised her head. “Then, gentlemen, what are we to do about it?”
It was Walsingham who answered. “Majesty, as you have now seen, we have already begun to impose a full posture of war upon our navy and make plans and strategies which, it is to be hoped, will be successful upon the ocean. The remaining problems now lie mainly upon the land; in short, the sea is ready, the land is not. The English Navy has not been depleted by any war and stands gearing up to its full strength. But on land we do not have an army left which can realistically match against even one quarter of the army Philip sends against us.”
He sighed. “We are therefore adopting a plan which has been suggested to us, which might just offer us a method for bringing the entire Realm of England to the alert, and all able-bodied men to the preparation for resisting invasion, in every town, village and hamlet from the Land’s End to the Scotch Border, and all in a single night.”
Elizabeth stared at him in astonishment. “By what magic can such an impossible feat be accomplished? It takes a speeding horseman a week to reach the Scottish borders from London!”
Walsingham smiled wanly. “By the magic of Doctor John Dee, Majesty.”
Dee spoke up. “Majesty, the idea was not my own – it came from the vision of my companion Edward Kelley here.” He gestured at Kelley, who bowed and genuflected to the Queen.
“What vision is this, Master Kelley?” asked Elizabeth curiously.
“A dreadful one, I thought at the time, Your Majesty. I received it from an angel in a skrying glass some years gone. I was shown fire spreading over all England.”
“Ought we to be afraid of this as an evil omen?” queried Elizabeth uncertainly.
“I think perhaps not, Majesty,” answered Kelley, “for it is dependant upon we poor mortals to so fashion our actions that what may seem a portent of dread is converted to a portent of usefulness.”
Dee continued. “So what we have devised, Majesty, is this: lines of tall posts on high and visible land, with each an iron brazier atop, and this filled with logs, straw and rags soaked in pitch, and withal covered with a leather to ward off any rain. These shall be along all the coast of southern England from the Land’s End to Dover and the Nore, and branches at whiles running inland, to the north, to London, to Bristol, to Oxford, to Lancashire and Yorkshire and to all important locations betwixt and beyond these.”
Kelly interjected with Irish enthusiasm. “Then, Your Majesty, whomsoever may first gain sight of the Spanish fleet on its approach to our shores, they will send word to the keepers of the nearest beacon-mast to set flame upon it, and on the sighting of this, so too the next beacon, and the next, until all of England is alerted on that same hour, to the distance of a week’s travel or more. And so shall we fulfill that same prophesy I received, where I was shown fire spreading over all England – but the fire will be good fire, not evil, and it will be of our own making, for the discomforting of our enemies.”
Lord Howard nodded with a grim face and spoke bluffly. “This is, indeed, an artful plan Your Majesty. And yet, a warning is not sufficient in itself to destroy an enemy, though it will as like give our ships and soldiers a call to arms so quick that we may yet again singe the King of Spain’s beard, even as Admiral Drake did by his saucy raids on Cadiz and Corunna last year.”
Walsingham spoke quietly. “Strategically, Majesty, we have summed up the risk to our country in this wise, and we are all in agreement with this analysis.” He sighed and appeared weary. “Our greatest amount of peril lies in the vicinity of the Thames mouth. When the Armada sails up the Channel, though it may diversify and attack coastal ports and harbours on the journey, it will be making for the Dutch coast, there to embark Parma’s Spanish army which is presently in the Netherlands.”
Admiral Drake looked Elizabeth in the eye. “We can be certain, Madam, that they do not intend to start the bulk importing of Dutch manglewurzels!”
The Queen laughed at this cheeky comment, then gave Drake a mock-stern look.
Walsingham smiled tiredly. “Indeed, Majesty, Admiral Drake is correct. There is only a single purpose to their design.”
He pointed on the map to the region of the Thames estuary. “To load further troops and bring them across to land somewhere in the general vicinity of Tilbury town in the mouth of the Thames. No other interpretation is possible. No other plan will bring them such quick and easy success. A mere thirty miles from Tilbury, as the crow flies, London lies on the north bank of the Thames. The Spanish plan is to advance on foot along the roads north of the river whilst smaller gunboats of their fleet sail up the Thames giving covering fire. London will be gunned into submission from the River and from the land. Then… then England will be theirs!”
Early in the evening towards the end of a fine July day a man was running fit-to-burst up a hill in Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula. He was puffing and panting with the strenuous effort. Above him at the top of the hill and bathed in the golden light of a sun setting near the western horizon a tall wooden post stood, with a knot of several men gathered about its base. Stopping a few hundred yards beneath the summit of the hill, the out-of-breath runner shouted out at the top of his voice, frantically waving his arms above his head.
“Oi! Oi! Oi! Can you ‘ear me?”
“Aye!” came back a chorus of faint voices from the top of the hill.
“The watchword is ‘bandits!’ – do you ‘ear me? The watchword be given! Bandits!”
On the hilltop a man could be seen waving his arm in acknowledgement. A minute later the huge clump of material in an iron brazier on the top of the distant post burst into flame and smoke. By the time the gasping messenger had hobbled to the top of the hill, he could see a tall plume of smoke already rising from another hill three miles to the east. Even as he watched, nearly six miles distant a third dark plume with a brightly shining fire like a star at its base was rising against the darkening sky. Then another perhaps ten miles distant could just be glimpsed.
Fire was, indeed, spreading over England…
In the stateroom of the San Martin Mendoza was in conference with the Duke of Medina Sidonia, Admiral Martinez and General Bobadilla. A number of other gorgeously clothed officer nobles were attending. A map of the English Channel and southern North Sea was spread on the big table.
“We have the tide with us,” stated Martinez. “It is still rising.” He pointed at a coastal town on the map. “The bulk of the English fleet will be lying at anchor here, in its base harbour at Plymouth. Until the tide turns, this means the English ships will be unable to leave the harbour. They are trapped for some hours. We can send a force of ships into the harbour riding with the tide and sink or burn most of the English fleet as they wallow helpless at anchor.”
General Bobadilla stabbed his finger excitedly onto the chart. “And with no naval opposition, we can disembark our troops at Plymouth and begin our conquest of England there.”
Medina Sidonia took a parchment letter from inside his flamboyant coat. He waved it up and down in thought. “This plan will not be sufficiently in our favour, my friends. Even though it might succeed, our army will be landed some two hundred miles from London. Even discounting any delays caused by the small remnant of the English army, it would be a march of at least seven or eight days until we could reach London, possibly longer if we had to spend time looking for provisions along the way.
“Apart from that, our orders have been written out clearly by the hand of King Philip himself.” He waved the letter again. “He has specifically forbidden us from engaging the enemy in their harbours. He considers that to be a side-issue which is likely to delay our main purpose. We must adhere to the Grand Strategy, no matter the temptations offered to us by the enemy’s weaknesses. We may defend ourselves if attacked, and we may harass the enemy as we pass, but nothing – nothing! – must prevent us from making rendezvous with Parma and his army north of Calais. This strategy is the key which shall unlock the gates of England!” He looked at his officers with an imperious stare and stated curtly to end the meeting; “We shall continue to sail east towards the Isle of Wight and the Dover Straits!”
The officers bowed their heads in deference. Only Mendoza raised his head to meet Medina Sidonia’s eyes, stare-for-stare, his face a mask. “The tide turns in three more hours,” was all he said before turning on his heel and walking out of the stateroom.
As the sun came up the following morning, the English fleet had already long since left Portsmouth on the night tide. They numbered fifty-five ships against the hundred and thirty of the Armada. However, Admiral Lord Howard on board the Ark Royal, who was in overall command, had taken the whole fleet tacking against the wind for some distance during the night. This meant that the English fleet, now upwind of the Spanish, could turn and have the wind to their advantage, the weather-gauge as it was called. Howard had also given Vice-Admiral Drake, whom he reluctantly acknowledged to be a brilliant adventurer, some special leeway to operate his own command from his ship Revenge with eleven of the English warships attached to him, leaving Howard and Vice-Admiral John Hawkins commanding the remaining forty-four vessels.
The Armada sailed ponderously but remorselessly eastwards up the Channel in the direction of the Isle of Wight. The great fleet had adopted a somewhat tightly-packed defensive formation, not unlike a group of settlers expecting to be attacked by hostile tribesmen. One of the specialities of the Spanish navy was well-served by this type of configuration, for they frequently adopted a close-quarters tactic of flinging grappling hooks on ropes at enemy ships, hauling them close enough to bombard them with broadsides or else set them on fire and cast them off into the wind to burn with all hands.
Howard and Drake, however, were too canny to allow themselves to be lured into close-quarter combat, where their ships would be greatly disadvantaged by numbers as well as by tactics. This was why they had spent many hours tacking into the wind during the night. Sweeping close by on two sides of the Armada and running fast before the wind, the English ships passed either side of the Spanish fleet in two lines well beyond grappling distance and opened fire on the enemy in their middle with a series of spectacular thundering broadside cannonades.
Unfortunately, the English commander’s caution acted against them, for the range was too great for anything much to be inflicted upon their enemy except relatively minor damage and the achievement of a certain nuisance value. The greatest harm to the Spanish fleet came from their own confusion under fire, when two of their ships, the Rosario and the San Salvador, collided at speed while maneuvering and damaged each other so badly that their crews were seen to be abandoning them both, under the impression that the vessels would quickly founder.
As Revenge and her squadron sailed away from the inconclusive engagement to merge with the main fleet, Sir Francis Drake stood astern watching the two badly listing enemy vessels apparently being abandoned, their crews being ferried to safety in many small rowing boats. He was smiling wickedly.
That night Revenge returned to the two damaged Spanish ships under cover of darkness. She led the whole English fleet behind her, with all lights extinguished save for a single lantern on the high stern of Drake’s ship which the rest of the fleet was carefully following in the dark. Quietly and almost invisibly, the fleet took up guard position in a great protective crescent east of the two floating wrecks while Revenge on her own, under minimum sail, approached them cautiously, slowly, in the night. There was a surprisingly slight bump as Revenge came up against the bulwarks of the San Salvador, which was the bigger and finer of the two hulks. Men secured the English ship to the Spanish with a few turns of rope.
Sir Francis Drake sprang across the ship’s rails like a man leaping a farmer’s gate, closely followed by some two dozen of his crewmen, all armed. The deck of San Salvador was tilted somewhat, as she was still taking-in water from the crushed and splintered bows. Unexpectedly, a couple of dozen armed Spanish sailors, hearing English voices, emerged in a rush from the ship’s offices near the stern. However, seeing even in the dark that they were immediately under the starboard cannons of Revenge at point-blank range, together with lines of firearm-bearing sailors along the bulwarks, they dropped their weapons and surrendered.
Drake and four of his officers strode into the captain’s cabin, swords and pistols drawn. Inside was a senior Spanish officer standing beside his desk. He looked Drake squarely in the eye and spoke calmly in excellent English; “I am Admiral Pedro de Valdés. I have no choice but to surrender my damaged ship. I trust that myself and all my men shall be treated fairly and with some courtesy?”
Drake bowed to him. “Indeed, Admiral. And the more so if you would kindly show us the gold coin we know this vessel carries for the payment of your country’s troops in the Netherlands. Lord Walsingham’s spies, you see, have been busy…”
“That confounded fool Drake!” roared Lord William Cecil storming into the Southsea Castle operations room. Walsingham looked up from the map table, eyebrows raised.
“What has he done?”
“What has he done? He has scattered the fleet across half the ocean, in disarray, with ships not knowing where to go or what to do! The Armada has sailed east up the Channel while our own ships have had to sort themselves out and regroup.” Cecil’s tone was bitter. “Admiral Drake is nothing but a self-serving, glory-seeking privateer!”
Walsingham remained composed. “William, calm yourself. Red is not a colour which suits your face. It clashes with your coat. Tell me what has happened.”
Lord Cecil visibly regained his dignity and stopped shouting. “He led the fleet, at dead of night, back past the Armada to the two disabled Spanish ships, because, as we all knew, there were many chests of gold on the San Salvador to be used for paying the troops in Parma’s army. He secured all the gold, and also many barrels of gunpowder to replenish our fleet’s diminishing supply, and took prisoner Admiral Valdés and some thirty sailors who were on board attempting to repair the ship.”
“This sounds eminently commendable,” commented Walsingham cautiously.
“Thus far, I agree!” Cecil’s tone was bitter. “It is what he did next that has brought disaster upon us!” He calmed down a little further and sighed. “Can you believe the man’s self-centred thoughtlessness? In order to make good his escape from an area dominated by the Spanish fleet, he ordered his stern lantern doused!”
“So the Spanish could not follow his light and try to capture Revenge? That sounds quite sensible…” remarked Walsingham.
“The entire English fleet was following Revenge’s lantern in the dead of night,” said Cecil, now quietly. “All other lights had been extinguished to hide from Spanish lookouts. With Drake’s lantern put out, Revenge sailed comfortably away unseen with her loot. Our fleet, deprived of its guiding light, became scattered over the ocean in complete confusion and disarray. Lord Howard is obliged to spend a day, perhaps even two, collecting and re-forming our ships into a posture of war suitable for chasing the Spanish fleet.”
Walsingham mused in silence for several moments. “Then we must redouble our efforts to disable the Armada once the fleet is assembled in proper order.” He looked at the map, weighing things up. “And while the fleet is regrouping, we should return to London with the greatest haste. With the Armada moving eastward up the Channel towards the Straits of Dover, we should not keep our command centre here in the West Country. The danger is gathering itself eastward toward the Thames mouth and Tilbury.”
On 27th July Queen Elizabeth summoned another meeting of the Privy Council in the great echoing cavern of Westminster Hall. On her immediate left and right were once again seated John Dee and Sir Francis Walsingham. Several of the Council were absent, attending to military matters elsewhere in the country, leaving conspicuous empty seats amongst the gathering.
Elizabeth was terse. She was not in a good mood. “Sir Francis,” she addressed Walsingham, “you will please give an account of the latest intelligence reports you may have to hand.”
Walsingham rose to his feet. “Majesty, here is our present situation as it is known to us. Our fleet under Lord Howard on Ark Royal has repeatedly engaged the enemy fleet as it makes its way up the English Channel. There have been major engagements off Plymouth, off Portland and off the Isle of Wight.” He looked at Elizabeth with a firm eye and a grim mouth. “We hardly even slowed them down!”
“Good God!” exclaimed Elizabeth, horrified.
“Oh, it gets worse Majesty. The Armada is even now, according to latest reports, reaching the Calais roads and anchoring nearby off the French town of Gravelines on the approaches to Dunkirk. This places the Spanish fleet only fifty miles from Dover and some eighty miles from the entry to the Thames Mouth. Once assembled at anchor, they intend to receive the Duke of Parma’s army, both on board the ships and in a flotilla of barges to be towed behind.
“I have received word that our Dutch allies are even now using some thirty of their light one- and two-masted flyboats under Admiral Justin in order to attempt to deny the Armada the sea-roads off Dunkirk;“ he lowered his head sorrowfully “but it is akin to sending thirty foot-soldiers against a charge of over a hundred cavalry! I’m afraid they don’t stand a chance!
“Once Parma’s soldiers are taken aboard the Armada, or are being towed behind it in barges, their plan is to sail into the mouth of the Thames and have their army of about thirty thousand soldiers disembark near Tilbury Town in Essex. The Spanish gunships will give a heavy blanket of covering canon fire to safeguard the landings.
“Once disembarked and secure on English soil, Spain will be within a day’s good march from London.” He paused. “The gunships will reach London even sooner!” Slowly he sat down again.
At the same time, William Cecil rose respectfully to his feet. “Majesty, I have received report that we are mustering an English army at Tilbury to face the enemy and attempt to repel the landings.” He, too, lowered his head. “However, I hold little hope for its success, for it is but a conscript force raised amongst towns and villages. The Spanish force is an established army, hardened and made skillful by long training and by their war in the Netherlands. They have already won many battles…” his voice trained off and he sat down. There were visible tears glistening in his eyes.
Elizabeth pursed her lips and stared at the table for half a minute. Nobody dared speak. Finally, the Queen slowly stood up. Automatically everyone else at the table also rose to their feet.
“Gentlemen. It seems clear to us that all the broad history of our proud and glorious country of England is doomed to reach a point at our town of Tilbury. If our fleet cannot stop the Armada – and it seems unlikely from what information we have heard – then we shall have no choice but to meet the Spanish army with our own as they come ashore.
“Their army is very strong. Our army was already weak and war-weary when it was evacuated from Dunkirk, and all we have been able to do for its repair is send it village blacksmiths, ploughmen, shepherds, cow-herds and apprentices.” She paused and her eyebrows frowned.
“Gentlemen, it seems to us that we are sending our good subjects to their inevitable death. Even with the new recruits, our force stands at one man for every four or five trained and battle-canny Spaniards. I cannot, in all conscience, withdraw myself from this pinnacle of our times. I will go to Tilbury on the next ebb of the Thames tide. I invite those of you who wish to die with me to accompany me, and I shall be proud to meet my end amidst the company of such noble Englishmen!”
“I shall stand at your side,” announced Walsingham calmly.
“As shall I,” stated Dee matter-of-factly.
“And I,” murmured William Cecil. And so the affirmations were likewise given, by this word or that, in loud voice or in whisper, all round the great table.
Now came a time when the measures of desperation were beginning to be considered necessary. Lord Howard and Vice-Admiral Drake had put aside their personal squabbles and opinions of each other and were working together, each commanding large numbers of swarming, labouring sailors. Eight precious warships of the English fleet were roped into a wooden island and surrounded by a cluster of other vessels. Sailors ran from ship to ship with tools, with barrels, with kegs, with steaming iron kettles and basins. The sails had been removed from the masts and all yards were being hacked free from their ropes with axes to be cast into the sea.
Drake had temporarily joined Howard on the stern of Ark Royal where they were both watching the progress of their desperate plan.
“Everything must be completed by nightfall,” mused Lord Howard anxiously, running his hand absently down his beard. “That is, not only the preparation, but the loading to boot. We cannot risk working in the dark by lantern-light. We could well be seen from a distance. ”
Drake nodded, turning his head to assess the hive of activity on the eight ships. “We are well-organised,” he assured Howard. “The men know what they are about. I believe we shall be ready as the sun sets.”
For a moment Howard watched the flags of his ship fluttering high in the air atop the masts. “The wind is in the right direction,” he remarked. “If it builds in strength when the sun has gone, our designs will be well-served.”
“Aye,” agreed Drake somberly. “Providing it builds.”
“We should pray that it does,” commented Howard. “In this enterprise, we shall be ruled by the force of the wind, and its direction, more certainly than any navy on the seas of the world this night.”
Before full night came upon them all preparations had been nearly completed. The eight warships had been transformed into Hellburners – fire-ships, each one packed with kegs of gunpowder, barrels and buckets of pitch and tar and kegs of sulphur, more commonly called brimstone. Loose piles of straw had been piled atop and around the kegs and buckets, to drift in the air when the fire was started and help spread the conflagration. Sacks had been stuffed with loose straw and tied to the ships’ rails so that flaming arrows could be used to set light to them and ensure the blaze would start roaring in several places on each vessel. Tarred ropes wove across the decks like giant spider’s webs to ensure the spreading of the fire.
At around midnight the wind was blowing inshore, towards the moored Armada from the English fleet. Small bowsprit sails were quickly raised on the prows of the Hellburners and the men who did this clambered rapidly down into rowing boats, from where they proceeded to cut the mooring ropes of the fireships. Slowly, with gradually gathering speed, the Hellburners were carried silently and remorselessly by the prevailing wind in the direction of the Spanish fleet.
Ark Royal and Revenge crept along in the fireship’s wake, staying a good hundred yards clear. Lord Howard and Francis Drake, each on their ship, watched carefully, judging the distances and direction. Along the sides of both vessels were rows of bowmen, standing waiting. Lord Howard ordered a single lantern to be waved at Revenge.
Seeing this, Drake spoke to his boatswain, who stood beside him at the stern. “Give fire to the archers!” The boatswain and a couple of helpers ran into the captain’s cabin beneath the stern deck and emerged with lighted candle lanterns which they set down every few yards along the ranks of bowmen. Several hundred yards away, Drake could see the glimmer as the same action was carried out aboard Ark Royal. The silence could be cut by a knife. Drake’s stare never left the dark outline of Howard’s flagship.
Then, some minutes later, Drake saw two lanterns being waved aboard Ark Royal. “Archers fire!” he bellowed into the quiet night. The same command could just be heard in the distance from Lord Howard’s vessel. Instantly flights of flaming arrows were arching through the air and plunging into the sea around the eight Hellburners, many of them striking into the ships themselves. With astonishing speed blazing fires spread through the vessels. To the suddenly alerted Spanish, it appeared as if the navy of the Devil himself was bearing down on them, roaring out of the very gates of Hell.
At dawn the following day Howard and Drake could see, to their bitter disappointment, that their fiendish Hellburners had been a futile endeavour. The Spanish Grand Admiral the Duke of Medina Sidonia had been expecting this very tactic and his great fleet had been prepared for it. Where necessary, his ships had quickly cut their mooring ropes and hoisted sail within minutes, gliding out of the paths of the burning fireships. Two of the Hellburners had been intercepted by men in rowing boats, who had been waiting out of sight behind the warships and had used long boathook poles to fend the fireships away from their headlong course. The remaining six blazing hulks had drifted in the wind along clear lanes in the sea where the Spanish warships had moved out of the way, to eventually run aground in shallow water near the beaches and burn themselves away into smoking black charcoal skeletons.
As the Armada sailed away along the coast towards its rendezvous point with the Duke of Parma’s army, Lord Howard held a brief conference with his senior officers on board Ark Royal. Drake had been rowed over from Revenge to attend.
“We have one last chance,” announced Howard grimly. "We have no alternative but to catch up with the Spanish fleet and engage them in uncompromising and savage battle. They move more slowly than we do; their large and manifold fleet is more cumbersome and unwieldy to move in a coherent body. We can therefore be certain of catching up with them, given a following wind.
“We must be wary and stalwart in our purpose. The Spanish fight differently to us. They prefer a tactic where they come in close to their enemy and secure themselves onto their prey with grappling lines, allowing their men to board the victim and kill their foes in hand-to-hand combat, thereby enabling the Spaniards to claim the ship intact. Since they outnumber us in ships by some four-to-one, our tactic must therefore be to keep our ships well clear of close combat.”
“But this plan will weaken us too much,” complained Drake angrily. “Our guns cannot pierce the oaken hull of a Spaniard unless we can come within a close range of seventy feet. If we are farther away, our shots will bounce off! This has been proven in many previous encounters. Our tactic must be to sail as close as we may get to the enemy.”
Lord Howard was tired and stressed. He shouted at Drake. “I will not have insubordination, from you or from anyone! We shall not risk fighting a close engagement! We are outnumbered and cannot afford a ship-to-ship battle! We will ply our course to keep our distance, coming close-on only if the weather-gage allows our rapid escape to a safe distance. That is an order!”
The conference was soon finished and in a very short space of time the English fleet raised sail and maneuvered into a line which steadily closed on the heavier and slower Armada. Between Calais and Dunkirk, off the town of Gravelines, the English ships split skillfully into squadron formations, still sailing in lines. One after another the lines sailed past the flanks of the Spanish fleet firing broadside after broadside until the air was filled with soaring dark clouds of smoke, bright flickering muzzle-flashes and cannonfire like peals of continuous rolling thunder.
For hour after hour the battle raged, death and damage being inflicted on both sides. The English knew this was their last chance to ruin the Armada and make it limp back home to Spain with its tail between its legs. The Spanish knew that they were heavier and more powerful than the English navy and must clear the ocean of their enemy before they could safely tow troop barges into the Thames estuary. Of all the engagements fought since the Armada had entered English waters, this was the most bitter, this was the most deadly, this was the most murderous. This was the most desperate.
No quarter was begged. No quarter was yielded. Many times throughout the day the opposing fleets came within musket range and whenever this happened there was carnage in the rigging and on the decks of both sides. But after eight hours of continuous intense battle the English fleet was running out of both ammunition and gunpowder and had no choice except to withdraw to take-on fresh supplies.
Within two days the Spanish fleet had left the region of Gravelines behind them and was under way again sailing up the coastline of Flanders. On the rear castle of the San Martin stood Mendoza, studying the coastline deep in thought. There came a sound of booted footsteps and the Duke of Medina Sidonia together with General Francisco Bobadilla climbed up the wooden staircase towards him. The Grand Admiral looked pleased with himself.
“We now have a full damage report.” He nodded at the General to proceed.
“Our losses have been negligible, despite the bold efforts of the English navy,” stated Bobadilla in a self-satisfied manner. “Their fire-ships were largely ineffective and – thanks to the experience and foresight of the Grand Admiral – our men were expecting them and were able to fend them off or move our vessels clear of their paths. Fires spreading to our ships were successfully doused and did not cause much more than superficial damage. Some ships received more major damage, especially during the battle, but this is being made good even as we sail.
“Altogether, we lost only five ships – two galleons, San Mateo and San Felipe, two carracks and the galleass San Lorenzo. In view of the fact that this was in the face of the greatest assault ever mounted by the English navy, we have come through it relatively unscathed.” He paused as though suddenly remembering something. “Oh, and we lost about six hundred men as well, but this has not greatly inconvenienced us.”
Mendoza smiled broadly. “That is most excellent news! Thank you Señors. Within a week we shall be drinking toasts to each other in London!” He gazed out over the sea and his voice lowered in tone. “The English have sent us their best, their Royal Navy, and it has proven inadequate against us. There is no power on earth that can now prevent our conquest of England.”
At Tilbury - a bleak and windswept area of marshland and farming hamlets – lay another low fort built to defend the mouth of the Thames from invasion. Miles away on the southern side of the Thames at Gravesend across from Tilbury, a similar blockhouse stood. The cannon of the two forts could almost cover the entire span of the river between them. For an additional defensive measure as the Armada approached, many hundreds of masts and spas from old and broken ships had now been lashed together and floated out festooned with chains to form a giant boom from bank to bank to prevent enemy ships from easily entering the Thames. Beyond the boom the river widened in its estuary until, at its greatest span, it was some twenty miles across where it became part of the North Sea.
At the Tilbury staithe three ships were moored and workers were still busy unloading trunks and bundles of baggage, for the ships had brought Elizabeth and many of her Privy Councillors, advisors, courtiers and servants to this isolated and forlorn place. Beyond the confines of the fort itself, beside the muddy trackway leading to Tilbury hamlet, a ragged encampment of rough-and-ready tents had sprouted to serve the army that had also come to this forsaken place in dribs and drabs during the previous weeks. It was not a very large encampment.
As they walked from the wooden quayside of the staithe towards the fortress in a group of other dignitaries, John Dee and Edward Kelley stared about themselves.
“By God!” muttered Kelley. “It’s worse than the Bog of Allen by Offaly back in Ireland!”
“It certainly has a grim and Spartan aspect,” agreed Dee.
“If I were a Spaniard and I saw that the front door of England looked like this, I’d turn round and go back to Spain!”
Dee smiled bleakly. “Even the Spanish know that one cannot judge a house by the state of its doormat.”
Jane Dee walked with her husband. “Look at those men,” she said softly, pointing. In the middle distance could be seen a cluster of perhaps fifteen ragged-looking soldiers standing at the edge of the rough camp and staring at the new arrivals. Their faces were hard, unpleasant and hostile. One of them spat aggressively.
“I don’t know what the Spaniards will think of them,” said Kelley, “but by God, they frighten me!”
Jane ignored him. “The poor souls. Look more carefully – not one of them is without wound or bandage. Three of them have crutches.”
“They are just a few of the survivors of our army in the Netherlands,” said Dee quietly, “brought back from Dunkirk in what ships we could make available. They have already been defeated by Spain while trying to defend a foreign land. Now we are expecting them to defend England!”
Kelly looked at the soldiers again. “We don’t really stand a bloody chance!”
That same evening Queen Elizabeth sat in the office of the warden of the fort, who had vacated it for her use. Lady Juliet Somerfield and another Lady-in-Waiting were attending upon her. The guard outside rapped on the door and opened it to admit John Dee and Sir Francis Walsingham. They both bowed and genuflected.
“Majesty,” began Walsingham, “I have received information about our situation. May I speak freely?”
“Of course you may. Nothing must be withheld from me.”
Walsingham spoke with immense sorrow. “The Spanish fleet is, as we correctly assumed, heading in this direction. The Armada is travelling slowly, because the swifter vessels must keep pace with the slower troop-carriers, yet it is anticipated they will make landfall the day after tomorrow, probably some four hours after sunrise. We can estimate this from the actions of the tide. Furthermore, they will land here, in this general vicinity. They are very likely to bombard this fort, and it will be unwise for us to remain here after tomorrow’s sunset. Their intention is plain to see. They plan to eliminate our militia, after which there will be little obstacle to their march upon London.”
Elizabeth nodded without expression. She thought for a moment. “Then I believe it is most urgent that we somehow manage to reawaken in our soldiers their fighting spirit and their aggressive mood. They presently have the seeming that they would sooner fight you and me than they would the Spanish! I have seen them traipsing about sullenly, without either the dignity or the fiery spleen of loyal fighting men. They have already lost too many battles, too many comrades. In their eyes is written fear and doubt, and in their imaginations they are already defeated, beaten.”
Walsingham bowed his head in sorrow, but John Dee stepped forward and spoke. “Indeed, majesty, they require inspiration, and the need to discover within themselves a renewed and passionate heart.” He paused. “There is only one person in all England who can accomplish this transformation – and that is their noble Queen!”
Elizabeth stared at Dee and some tears fell from her eyes. “But how am I, a woman, to rouse a mass of uncaring, unheeding men? Men who would as soon serve under a Spanish master, it would seem, as they would under an English mistress. Men who have lost their manliness and who worry more about their fields and cattle and their own lives than about their Queen and country?”
Dee smiled at her. “Majesty, those who love you have been working upon this very problem.” He held out his hand toward Lady Juliet who stood demurely behind the Queen’s shoulder. She stepped forward and turned to face Elizabeth.
“If it please your Majesty, I have advised Doctor Dee that I may have a very excellent answer to this problem which lies so heavy upon us. He has seen some merit in my thoughts and has agreed that I should present my notion to you.”
Elizabeth smiled briefly. “You, child, have a solution to offer me? What a great wonder it would be if this were so. Come, what would you say to me?”
“This, Your Majesty. That I will have need to fetch in something from outside these offices, if I may be so bold as to do so?”
Elizabeth waved the back of her hand indulgently. “Fetch it, fetch it. I am intrigued, at least.”
Juliet curtsied and gracefully darted out of the office, closing the door behind her. A minute later the door opened and she came back in again leading a young dashing-looking man by his hand. He was perhaps twenty-four and looked rather scared, awed and out of his depth in such august company. He stood beside Juliet and coughed nervously. There was a silence. Juliet nudged him conspicuously with her elbow.
“Bow, you fathead!” she hissed loudly out of the corner of her mouth. The young man woke up and bowed low before Elizabeth.
“Majesty,” explained Juliet, her cheeks blushing, “this is a … a gentleman friend of mine. His name is William – William Shakespeare.”
Elizabeth looked him up and down. “He is a fine and comely fellow, Juliet. I can well see why you have been keeping him to yourself.”
Juliet blushed deeply and stared at her feet. Dee chuckled and stepped forward.
“If it will help preserve Lady Juliet’s modesty, Your Majesty, I may advise you that I know Master Shakespeare personally, and we have shared danger and adventure together whilst working with Sir Francis Walsingham. I will have no hesitation vouchsafing his sound character before you.”
Walsingham stepped beside Dee. “I, too, may commend this young man, Madam. He is bold and skillful and has helped us defeat Spanish plots.”
“Master Shakespeare,” said Elizabeth, “you come highly recommended to us. What may be your purpose?”
“Your Majesty, I am a player and a poet. I am writing plays for the new theatre.” He put his hand inside his coat and pulled out a scroll of parchment tied with a scarlet ribbon. “I have written a speech for you to give to our soldiers. I offer it as the sincere gift of an ordinary man to his Queen.”
He stepped forward and held out the scroll to Elizabeth, who took it and untied the ribbon. Before unrolling the scroll, she paused and looked meaningfully at Juliet.
“Well? Is he an ordinary man, Lady Juliet?”
Juliet merely blushed even more deeply and looked at her feet again.
“I see,” was all the Queen said. She lowered her eyes and started to read the scroll. After a short while she smiled and looked up from the document.
“Good Master William, I believe this may be exactly what we require for our purposes. And yes, Lady Juliet, you may continue to romance him.”
Juliet blushed and stared at her feet again, but she reached out and held Shakespeare’s hand.
The English army was assembled in ragged rows a few hundred feet from their equally ragged tents on a low rise of ground surrounded by marshes. There were some seven thousand altogether, but only about five thousand were soldiers. The remainder were able-bodied but untrained men commandeered without option from towns, villages and hamlets within five day’s march of Tilbury Fort. These had been given various weapons such as halberds, pikes, maces, even clubs, and they carried them uncomfortably. Most of the men had grim or scowling faces and the majority were sporting filthy bandages with dark and dried bloodstains around heads, arms, legs and occasionally even around torsos and stomachs.
There was a continuous low murmur of discontented muttering and opinion-sharing in the air. Sergeants and lieutenants looked-on disparagingly, eyeing the men with daggers but unwilling to cause a riot by reprimanding them.
Queen Elizabeth emerged from the main gates of Tilbury Fort riding a powerful and magnificent grey horse. The royal bodyguard of twenty pikemen emerged with her but, as a gesture of trust, she commanded fourteen of them to remain by the gates while she rode forward with only six to accompany her. In front of the Queen’s horse walked one of her childhood friends Sir Thomas Butler, Tenth Earl of Ormonde and Lord Treasurer of Ireland, holding up before him the great and bejewelled Sword of State. Behind him came a young pageboy who held the horse’s leading rein. With him, another page carried the Queen’s silver helm on a scarlet cushion. Elizabeth wore a pure white gown, but also a shining officer’s metal breastplate. Two men rode on either side of her and a few paces behind, the Earl of Leicester and the Earl of Essex.
The sullen crowd of men stared at her hostilely as she approached them. She stopped her horse only ten feet from the first row of soldiers and looked at them straight in the eyes, turning her head slowly back and forth to stare at rank after rank, always directly into the eyes. Quickly the murmuring stopped. Absolute silence fell.
When Elizabeth spoke, she spoke so that all could hear. It was almost shouting and her words carried clearly to every part of the huge crowd.
“My loyal and bloodied warriors – if I have learned one thing in life, it is never to give up!
“You may think I am only a weak and feeble woman – but I am a bitch-wolf’s daughter! I have the heart and guts of a king, and a king of England too! I am as good, or better, than any man – and so are all of you!
“I think foul scorn that any beslubbering prince pizzle of Europe should dare to invade my realm –“ she struck her knuckles with a clang onto her breastplate three or four times “- MY bloody realm! - to prevent which we will all take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them!
“He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a tip-toe when this day is named, and rouse him at the name of Armada Day. He that shall live this day, and see old age, will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, and say ‘Tomorrow is Armada Day’. Then will he strip his sleeves and show his scars, and say ‘These wounds I had on Armada Day!’
“In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility – but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the actions of the tiger, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage. Then lend the eye a terrible aspect!
“And you, good yeomen, whose limbs were made in England, show us here the mettle of your pasture; let us swear that you are worth your breeding, which I doubt not, for there is none of you so mean and base that hath not noble lustre in your eyes!
“I myself will be your general. We shall all risk our lives together, yea happily, to preserve this royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, this land of majesty, this other Eden, this fortress built by nature for herself, against infection and the hand of war, this happy breed of men, this little world, this precious stone set in the silver sea, which serves it in the office of a wall or as a moat defensive to a house, against the envy of less happier lands – This blessed plot! This earth! This realm! – This England!
“I see you all now standing like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. The game’s afoot! Follow your spirit, and upon your charge – cry ‘God for Lizzie, England and Saint George!’”
The assembled ragged army burst into spontaneous loud cheering with raised arms and fists, their mood completely changed into a very focused aggression for the enemies of their Queen and country.
That evening The Queen was again sitting behind the warden’s desk in the fort. She looked pensive. Her ladies-in-waiting were attending her. The guard outside banged on the door and opened it and John Dee walked in. He bowed.
“You sent for me, Majesty?
Elizabeth looked at him, reflective and thoughtful. She spoke softly. “John. Do you remember over thirty years ago when you smuggled horoscopes, at risk of your own life, to give encouragement to a princess kept under lock and key in daily fear of her own execution?”
Dee smiled slightly. “The years have not dimmed my memory of a woman of the greatest courage.”
The Queen stared unseeing into space, her thoughts far away. “I still believe I have a future, and I shall never cease believing it until I draw my last breath. I ask for your council now, as I once did all those years ago when we were both so young. What do the stars say in this hour of doom? I require your expert prediction, my Astrologer Royal.”
Dee took a step forward but did not look her in the eyes. “The stars say you will continue your reign as our beloved Queen and the plots of all your enemies shall fail…”
Early in the next morning Elizabeth stood on a rise of higher ground looking out over the Thames Estuary and the southern part of the North Sea beyond. Standing with her were Walsingham, John Dee and Jane, Edward Kelley, the various Privy Councillors, nobles and ladies-in-waiting who had accompanied the Queen to Tilbury Fort, together with the Queen’s bodyguard. What they saw was the vast Armada approaching in the remote distance with many fully loaded troop barges being towed behind some of the ships. The wind was very slight, but blowing to the Spanish fleet’s advantage.
Elizabeth spoke quietly in an almost dream-like manner. “They will start landing their army within two or three hours at most. Then… I shall ride to meet them at the head of my army like a great pagan queen of old. And then… I shall die… and England will die with me!” She turned her head to her companions. “It is time. Let us prepare to meet our enemy. At the least, we can show them the English prefer death to dishonour!”
While Elizabeth and her companions began to walk down from the grassy dunes to the beach, unsheathing their swords as they came, in the distance the remaining rag-tag English army, survivors of a great defeat already, were swarming to line up below, making ready to fight to the last man.
Jane looked at her husband, her expression worried. Dee was frowning and standing slumped, not his normal upright manner. His mouth was set in a grim line. He had the appearance of a man totally defeated. Nearby, Sir Francis Walsingham was displaying a similarly crushed disposition.
Even as Jane regarded her husband worriedly, she heard a quiet voice from nowhere speaking with a French accent. “The ships of the South will approach a defenceless land. All is death and destruction. A great sacrifice shall be demanded…”
She shook her head and looked around instinctively, but nobody was there to whisper in her ear. Gently she pulled Dee closer to her.
“My John, my scientist, my magician, my husband – what has happened? Your spirit has collapsed. This is not the bold and clever man of knowledge and enchantment that I married, the man who could resolve any difficulty put before him. Where has he gone?”
Dee’s voice was very tired. “It is necessary to recognize the inevitable. The stag surrounded by wolves will accept defeat and merely stand still while he is torn to pieces. I gave comfort to the Queen, but I lied for her sake. There is no comfort in the stars for me.”
“But you must not stand still and let England be torn to pieces! I can advise you of some comfort that may jolt your heart back to its former strength and resolve.”
“And what advice can possibly do that?”
“I am with child.”
Finally Dee looked round into her face, astonished and delighted. “Is this true? I shall be a father at last?”
Jane laughed, but quietly. “My own Sir Galahad! It is true. If it is a boy, I think we might name him Arthur, in honour of that great king of Camelot you so admire.”
A tear ran down Dee’s cheek. “Arthur… my son Arthur…”
Jane suddenly became stern and businesslike, her tone accusative. “And what kind of world will his father permit him to be born into? Will you simply stand and watch while your country is occupied and ruled from Spain – doing nothing as a tyrant takes away your son’s birthright? His very nationality?”
London, though important, was a very small town. To the north it extended little beyond the Clerken Well and Spitel Fyeld; in the east, it reached not much farther than two good bowshots past the Norman Tower; to the west it ended a short walk beyond the bend in the Thames opposite the sheep-pens of the Lamb Berth; the southern bank or South-Walk was largely marshes, vegetable gardens, fields and country hamlets. And on this day London was in the grip of dread and panic such as had not been witnessed before since Boudicca and her army had swept down from the northern downs and burned the Roman Londinium to the ground some fifteen hundred years before.
Frantic families were loading their furniture and prized possessions on handcarts and trundling them through the narrow streets, wide-eyed with terror. Richer folk were using horse-drawn wagons for the same purpose. Some had ox-carts which moved more slowly and caused long delays behind them. Here and there crossroads were blocked by carts arriving from different directions, their owners refusing to give way or back off. Crowds screamed and fought in the scramble to get clear of the city. Every church with bells pealed them continuously to sound the alarm far and wide.
The common cries and screams in the streets were a cacophony. “The Spanish are coming!” “The Armada is sailing up the Thames!” “The Inquisition is here!” “The Queen has abandoned London!” “England is invaded!” “Flee - flee for your very lives!” For a few generations afterwards this descent into mindless and destructive panic was still referred to as “The London Dread” and also as “Spanish Fever”.
Those families who had managed to reach the fields and trackways beyond the city were the more fortunate of the refugees, but they served also to spread the rumours and panic ever farther afield to more distant villages and hamlets such as Cumber Well south of the River, Straet Ford, High Gate, Finch Ley, Ham Stede, Straet Ham and Brix’s Tun.
On all the major routes running from London the way was heaving with refugees. Within a very short time most of the roads had been churned up into a sticky quagmire and carts, wagons and horses became bogged down. People started building fires on the roadsides for cooking and comfort and countless plumes of smoke straggled skyward. Some used pieces of branch and clothing or blankets to form makeshift tents. In the grip of oncoming terror, much of the population of London was regressing into a series of migrating tribes.
John Dee, Jane and Kelley arrived in a woodland clearing atop a great hill some four miles north of Tilbury Fort. They had come by horse and a fourth horse carried luggage. Dee looked round. “This place should be well suited to our work.”
“Aye,” muttered Kelley, not convinced, manhandling with difficulty a large and heavy seaman’s trunk and, staggering under the weight, placing it carefully on the ground. Kneeling, Kelley opened the lid and lifted out an ornate metal stand, then a large ball of solid crystal some twelve inches in diameter which he carefully placed on the stand. Then he withdrew from the trunk a big and intricately-carven lead box. Unfastening a leather strap which bound it, he opened the box to reveal the Book of Soy-gah within. He passed the big book to Dee. Then he turned back to stare at the crystal ball, his face sombre and downcast. He looked decidedly unhappy.
“I am anxious about this, John. I have misgivings. We have never attempted a breakthrough like this before. We are not ready for it!”
Dee glanced at him sternly with eyebrows raised. “This night we change the course of future history. We fight back for our very existence! We shall proceed – we must proceed!”
Suddenly Kelley became very angry. He spun round and shouted harshly. “NO! This is madness – we will be invoking powers we have never imagined! We are going in over our heads!” He pointed accusingly at the Book of Soy-gah which Dee was now holding open. “That book is pushing you, John – pushing you beyond both our limits! It casts shadows in your mind – it is a book of shadows!”
Dee was also growing angry. His eyes glared and his manner became peremptory. “Proceed! Attend the crystal!””
“You are going to summon the unknown! That book is cursed and damned! The outer darkness wants to break through the barriers and devour your soul! It has hungered for you these last thirty years!”
“ATTEND THE CRYSTAL!” shouted Dee furiously.
Kelley stared levelly at Dee and folded his arms defiantly. “No! I will not! The shadows are even now growing about you, John. Can you not see them?”
Kelley was no longer staring at Dee but over his shoulder. Dee and Jane looked round the gloomy fringe of woodland. The shadows between the trees were visibly darkening. Even as they watched, the forms of natural shadows began to take on the suggestive shapes of monstrous jagged entities, just as had once happened many years ago in the White Hart Inn.
Dee turned back to face Kelley. He was now perfectly calm. “I have stood before in the presence of these lurking phantoms. Yet the Shapes of Darkness which rose about me were sent back through the portal to those nether worlds in which they spawn – because I knew it was wrong to take a man’s life merely because he was a bungling fool.” He lowered his voice. “Ned, we have to defend our homeland from conquest and tyranny. Nearly half a thousand years ago Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote about the great King Arthur, and how he united the warring Celtic lands together to create a British Empire. Another such may rise one day, if England only lives – if we can only give England the chance.”
While he was speaking, Jane had approached Kelley’s side. She took his arm in her hands and spoke gently and earnestly. “And consider this, Ned – it is not just the three of us here. Untold millions are watching us – people yet unborn, in lands yet unknown. They will look back on this time – what do you wish them to see? That we were afraid to do what was necessary to protect those we love and all that we believe in?”
Tears began to run down Kelley’s face. He gave a sob. As though pulled by a relentless magnet he turned towards the big crystal ball. Then he knelt down before it and stared into it. Glancing at his wife, Dee raised the heavy Book of Soy-gah and lowered his head to read from it in a loud and sonorous voice.
“Great holy spirits who touch this world; ye Governors of the Ethyrs who have the power to work such things as shall be to my command, I who am rightly prepared and have the knowledge of thy heavenly language command thee to my will. Behold my mighty power held under trust of that highest light by which ye are ruled! Send to me now thine emissary!”
The crystal ball slowly began to glow with light which moved upwards and sideways. Kelley continued kneeling, his eyes staring blankly in a trance. The light grew in size until it became a glowing shape about four feet high. Then it vanished. Standing in its place was a little girl of about nine or ten, dressed in the fashion of those days.
Jane whispered softly. “Oh! It is only a child. A little girl.”
Dee spoke commandingly. “What is thy name, oh Spirit of Light?”
The girl spoke with the deeper voice of a fully adult woman. “My name is Madimi.”
“How old are you, Madimi?” asked Jane in astonishment.
The girl replied in the same contralto adult voice. “I am four million, two hundred and seventy six thousand, eight hundred and thirty four years old.” Jane blinked in silent astonishment.
John Dee spoke in a deep voice. “Do you know for what purpose I have invoked thee, oh Madimi, Voice of the Ages?”
“I know thy purpose,” she replied.
“Wilt thou bestow upon me the power I seek?”
“Be very sure whether you are invoking the fountains of life, or the fountains of death. If ye ask, it shall be given thee. But there is a price to be paid.”
“What is the price, Madimi?”
“Ye need a great power this day, and such power must be purchased with a great sacrifice.”
Dee frowned and spoke in a firm tone. “What is the price I must pay?”
The girl stared at him. “If you are granted the power you ask, you will change destiny. You must be certain – for it will also change you, and those nearest to you.”
Dee shouted loudly and demandingly. “Name the price!”
Madimi did not alter her deep tone. “It will be greater than you can bear. It will be your sacrifice and your loss. You desire power to sow the wind. But it is written that whosoever soweth the wind, they shall reap the whirlwind.!”
“You speak in riddles,” stated Dee, annoyed.
“I am a riddle. You must say yea or nay to me. Will you agree to give that price you do not yet know, to receive that power you do not yet possess? How great is thy need to sow the wind? Think well upon it!”
Dee shouted back angrily. “My need is great beyond measure and my mind is set. Tell me what price I must pay – I command it of thee!”
At that, Madimi began to fluctuate and flicker like a reflection in disturbed water. Her sweet face took on sudden flashes of terrifying demonic hideousness. Her voice became deeper and more terrible, like that of an old and withered crone.
“So be it. If you make use of this power, then no wife or child of thine shall ever live with you in your fine home at the Lake of Death – for that is the meaning of ‘Mortlake’. This will be your destiny and your sacrifice!”
Madimi faded and disappeared and Kelley groaned, clutching his head in both hands. Staggering unsteadily to his feet he turned to stare at John Dee. “We cannot change the future, John.” His voice was now soft and earnest. “You have been told your destiny. History repeats itself – if you continue, you will lose your wife and child a second time as a sacrifice to your demands! You are planning to raise those dark shades that have haunted your footsteps all your life! Will you kill Jane and your unborn child?”
Dee’s face collapsed into a mask of despair and, placing the book on the ground, he ran to his wife, grasping her arms in his hands. He sobbed and wailed. “Edward is right – I overreach myself. I cannot pay such a price. I cannot risk the loss of you and our baby. I made the wrong choice once before and lost everything – everything! I cannot do this a second time… I will not!”
Jane looked at him tenderly, her face troubled. “My poor sweet husband. There is no choice open to us. Are you still that same bold sorcerer that I fell in love with? We have only this one chance to save ourselves and our whole country. I would rather die in honour than live in dishonour! Remember – when you were tormented by the shadow-creatures all those years ago, your desire had been a selfish one – to possess and use the Book of Soy-gah and wreck revenge. You were then guilty. Today your purpose is a noble and unselfish one – to save your Queen and your country from unjust conquest, terror and bloodshed. You are now innocent. Do you imagine that this difference goes unremarked by the High Powers who order our universe?”
Dee embraced his wife with great tenderness, weeping. “I am ashamed,” he murmured. “I saw myself in the mirror of yesterday. You have shown me myself in the mirror of today. For a moment I faltered in my step. My darling wife, you have just saved my soul from being devoured by the forces of evil even as Edward feared would happen.”
Jane hugged her husband. She suddenly heard a quiet voice from nowhere whispering in her ear with a French accent. Dee and Kelley showed no sign of hearing it. “Persecute them with thy tempest and make them afraid with thy storm…” Jane, still hugging John Dee, looked up over his shoulder at the sky and smiled at it, nodding slightly, now understanding.
As Jane and Kelley watched anxiously, Dee strode to the centre of the woodland clearing holding the Book of Soy-gah open in his hands. He turned to face the east.
“May the immortal Goverors of the Aethyrs protect us this day, for my decision is made!”
One of the villages outside London was, of course, Mortlake. People were gathering anxiously in the market square. There were already some fifty villagers, and more were arriving from outlying farms and settlements. Amongst the gathering could be seen the six farmer’s labouring men who had once fled in stark terror on witnessing John Dee and Edward Kelley seemingly raising a corpse to life one night in Walton graveyard. There was a lot of uncertain talking and shrugging, a lot of grumbling and shaking of heads. There came a sound of hoofbeats and a rider on a grey stallion entered the square and came to a halt.
“I found out what all the noise from London is about,” he shouted out. “The Armada is sailing into the Thames. The Spanish army is about to land and England has no force to repel them!”
A man shouted angrily from the crowd. “Where is the Queen? We have the right to be defended!” There was a ragged mass chorus of loud agreement.
“The Queen has abandoned London and fled,” shouted the man on the horse. “Our local warlock John Dee has fled with her!”
A voice shouted out with venom; “He’s a sorcerer! We saw ‘im raise a corpse, wiv our own eyes – it rose out of the grave moaning. Alan, Jethro, Ben – you was all there wiv me – do I tell the truth?”
There came a loud chorus of agreement from his colleagues.
A little girl of about nine or ten stood at the back of the crowd in the shadows. Nobody was noticing her. Her face suddenly seemed to flicker for an instant, momentarily revealing a hideous demonic countenance. Then she was human again. She cried out loudly in the voice of an adult woman.
“Dee’s a warlock! He’s bewitched the Queen!”
The girl stepped back into deep shadows and vanished. On the other side of the square a hundred feet away she immediately stepped out of more deep shadow behind people’s backs. Now she shouted out in an adult man’s deep voice. “He’s put a curse on us! We’re all going to be burned as heretics by the Inquisition because of Dee!”
She stepped back into the shadow and vanished again. There was a growing swell of angry shouting against John Dee. On the far side of the village some two hundred feet away an old hay-cart stood unattended. The little girl stepped out of the shadow it cast against a house wall and shouted out with the voice of an educated man.
“John Dee is a sorcerer – his presence has brought the wrath of God down upon our village!”
The crowd was roaring in increasing agreement. The little girl smiled evilly, took a step backwards into the patch of shadow and vanished.
In the middle of the woodland clearing John Dee held the Book of Soy-gah before him and started speaking, his voice slowly becoming louder until he was roaring.
“Beetay zodak ah-zoday! Hay-ee day-nay! Day eemo ah! Great angels of the Air, ye mighty spirits of the winds of the heavens, ye dreadful angels of storm and lightning, come now to me who rightly summon ye! The manifold winds are the mighty voices of thy shrieking servants. Hearken unto me, great angels of the Air, for I who am rightly prepared summon ye!”
A light breeze blew his hair as Jane and Kelley looked on from the edge of the clearing. The breeze then reached them and gently rustled the leaves of bushes and trees. Dee raised his head to the sky and bellowed; “Hearken unto me, great angels of the Air! Hear me, angels of the Storm! Geega-par-hay! Kar-heeza! Day-sartah! I who speak thy secret tongue call ye forth to my command!”
Gusts of wind suddenly whipped past Dee, flapping his gown. The sky was growing even darker as clouds started to gather rapidly. He raised his fist and punched upwards at the sky. He bellowed out at the top of his voice; “Yes, Great Raphael, Archangel of the Watchtower of the Airs, it is I who summon thee! Come to my command, great angel of the East! Send down thy Fire of Air!”
A fork of lightning flashed and struck a nearby tree, splintering its trunk with an immense crack of accompanying thunder. Branches came crashing down on fire.
The temper of the crowd had reached breaking point in the village square at Mortlake. In the general manner of leaderless throngs, they had whipped their emotions up into an uncontrollable frenzy. The shouting, shrieking and cursing was loud and filled the air. Propelled by a common impulse of furious unchecked emotions the people started to pour out of the square. They thronged along a road screaming curses, brandishing rakes, axes and pitchforks. Some carried burning brands. A little girl trotted eagerly amongst the leading adults at the front. The expression on her face was viciously triumphant.
From the top of a raised hillock at the edge of a landscape of dreary salt marshes Queen Elizabeth and her courtiers and councilors stared out silently across the sea. Tiny blurred patches along the horizon were slowly but remorselessly sharpening themselves into the shapes of over a hundred and twenty warships of various types proceeding with full sail under a light leeward breeze. Other tiny dim shapes behind them required excellent eyesight to discern, but it was common knowledge that these were troop barges being towed behind the warships.
“It is time,” said Elizabeth calmly and quietly. “Let us prepare to meet our enemy with what courage we may.”
Within twenty minutes the first experimental testing thrust of fifty Spanish troop barges was beginning to cast off from the sterns of the galleons that had been towing them. Under oar, and with a following wind, it did not take them long to reach the shallows beyond the beach. There were several desultory explosions and small fountains of water from canon that had been hauled out of Tilbury fort, but only one troop barge was directly hit and a mere half-dozen soldiers killed or wounded. Within another few minutes a testing vanguard of some two thousand Spanish soldiers began leaping out into the surf, brandishing swords and muskets and, under the direction of their shouting officers, forming up into ranks along the shoreline.
On the quarterdeck of San Martin Mendoza stood with his helper Abraham. With him also were the Duke of Medina Sidonia and a few officers. They were enthusiastically watching the approach of the expeditionary troop barges to the English shore. Mendoza looked smug. He pointed.
“Look there – up on the higher ground – you can clearly see the English army lining up to face us. What would you say was their number – a thousand? Two?”
“No more than two thousand at most,” replied the Duke, squinting his eyes at the view. “Once our pioneers have established a foothold on the beach, our first full wave to make land will number ten thousand, and it is to be followed by a second wave of the same strength. Our ships will cover the landing with an advancing canon fire. The English do not stand a chance. Their soldiers will not merely be defeated, they will be swept away as if in an avalanche of cold steel blades.” He smiled at Mendoza. “That is, those who are not first blown to pieces by cannonades from our vessels as we come in to lie offshore.”
Mendoza turned and gloated to Abraham. “And I have death warrants already prepared and signed for Walsingham, Dee and others who have tried to dabble in my affairs. Their deaths will take a very long time and shall be extremely unpleasant. And we shall watch. Laughing!”
After a few moments, a strong breeze ruffled their fine feathers and clothing. A rumble of thunder split the sky. Suddenly rain started to cascade down. The sky was growing swiftly darker.
Mob rule had descended upon the crowd in Mortlake. Goaded to a frenzy by terror, anger, resentment and superstition, the irate people streamed out of the hamlet along the churned and rugged highway. Fear and dread lent strength to their progress and the multitude of men and women surged and roared as they marched, wielding whatever weapons they could carry with them; hayforks, great scythes, hand sickles, old pikes and halberds, staffs and fiery brands. In a short time they drew near to the private entrance to John Dee’s estate, burst the ornamental iron gates with a great log and stormed along the driveway that led to the mansion, their hysterical anger and frightful noise mounting as they saw their target ahead.
By a form of spreading common consent, many in the unruly throng were raggedly singing a popular church hymn to protect them from sorcery as they surged purposefully forward. It was a catchy little number from the 1559 Book of Common Prayer and what it lacked in scansion and trochaic meter it made up for in volume and rampant emotional spite.
“To thyntent that you being,
Admonished of the great indignation,
Of God against Synners –
May thee rather be called to,
Earnest and true repentence,
And may walk more warely,
In these daungerous daies,
Flieing from suche vices,
For the whyche ye affirme with,
Your own mouthes the Curse of God,
To be due.
For curséd is the man that maketh,
Any carved or molten image,
An abomination to the Lorde,
The worke of the handes of the craftes man,
And putteth it in a secret place to worship it.”
The unruly mob streamed along the main drive, over the lawns, trampling through flower beds, overturning and smashing statues and ornaments, heading in the direction of the great country house. A group of several servants hastily emerged from a side door towards the rear and fled in panic.
As the mob approached the building there were no lights within and all windows were dark. The crowd was in too great a state of frenzy to notice the figure and face of a little girl inside looking out in spiteful satisfaction at the screaming crowd, flitting instantly from window to window upstairs and down as though she could pass through walls and floors.
The Spanish pioneer army of 2,000 soldiers, swiftly taken under expert command by flamboyantly uniformed officers, began advancing in formation up the beach towards the marshy farmland beyond. They looked mean and determined. Their officers led from the front. Without a shot being fired anywhere, the invading ranks neared the area of grassy dunes above the sloping beach.
Without warning, the grubby, ragged and bandaged English army of about the same number of men suddenly made a surprise rush screaming and yelling blasphemies from behind the crest of dunes where they had been hiding. Some of them carried only farm implements as their weapons – fearsome scythes, sickles, hay-forks, plough-blades, crop-flails, grass-hooks, all were ready to be put to good use.
However fearsome and raging were the English soldiers though, the vision which suddenly terrified the Spanish soldiers into turning and running in panic was what led the English at their very front – a savagely screaming Queen Elizabeth stampeding towards them on a huge white horse wearing a shining breastplate, red hair streaming behind her in the wind like fire, screaming profanities and wielding a great shining and bejeweled sword which flashed in the daylight – the great Sword of State of the English Parliament! And following in her wake a hoard of very angry Englishmen running full-steam into the Spanish ranks like football hooligans, punching, stabbing, kicking, nutting, with tremendous ferocity and gusto. Those Spanish soldiers who could not run away fast enough were thumped, impaled, kicked, head-butted, sliced, bashed with staffs, clubs, swords and farm implements.
On the bridge of the Armada flagship San Martin, Mendoza shrieked out an imperious command for flag signals to be raised ordering the entire military force to head for the shore and make a landing along the coast in a broad sweep. Quickly the signal was raised high on the mainmast flag line. While this was being done, the leading galleons were being turned parallel to the coastline by the raising of quarter-sails, with the intention of firing canon broadsides at the English. However, the elements had decreed otherwise.
In the North Sea the wind was quickly rising to the level of a hurricane, whipping up great waves with spray and foam. The Armada was suddenly and unexpectedly in grave difficulty. Ships and troop barges began to be tossed about like toys. Men were being washed away from open barges and from the decks and rigging of ships. Lightning flashed with immense and terrifying peals of thunder. A great jagged fork of lightning struck a galleon, bursting its mainmast which toppled into the swelling sea, dragging sails and rigging with it and causing the hull to roll over into the heaving ocean.
All the vessels were quickly drifting largely uncontrolled in various directions like flotsam in the howling wind. Men were screaming and drowning, or being crushed by falling spas and rigging. Most of the ships were taking-on water. Some were already staring to wallow or sink and some were in the process of slowly and terrifyingly overturning. Ships were smashing into each other.
The flagship San Martin was also pitching and rolling. His Excellency Admiral-of-the-fleet the Duke of Medina Sidonia staggered soaking wet on the slippery deck to the ship’s wheel where several sailors, helped by Abraham the cabbalist, were trying with all their strength and body weight to maintain steering against the pounding of waves and wind. The Duke joined them, grasping and pulling on the double rings of wooden spokes. Seeing the urgency of the situation, Mendoza, too, reluctantly abandoned dignity and joined in. It was imperative to keep the rudder from turning with the force of the roaring wind and ocean, which would run the ship wildly off course and possibly overturn it. Everyone needed to shout loudly to be heard above the terrible storm.
“What should we do?” bellowed Mendoza.
Medina Sidonia, putting all his body weight onto the wheel-rungs, had to shout to be heard, even though all the men at the wheel were within inches of each other. “Our only chance is to steer away from the land and the shallow water. We must try to keep in open sea.”
“Then we go wherever the storm blows us – we cannot do otherwise. No man can command a storm!”
Still gripping onto the huge dual wheel with the others, Mendoza glared with utter hatred at the storm-ridden sky. “I know a man who can!” he spat through clenched teeth. “Abraham – this is the work of John Dee. You must use your own powers to combat him or we are all doomed!”
Abraham’s face was terrified. “I dare not, Excellency. He has shown us his strength – he could destroy me!”
Mendoza let go of the rungs with one hand and drew his sword, holding the sharp blade against Abraham’s neck. With a terrible fury in his voice he screamed; “And I give you my word I shall kill you myself here and now if you disobey me!”
Abraham, suddenly sweating, nodded appeasingly. “I know where Dee is vulnerable, Excellency.” He disengaged himself from the pile of sweating bodies who were clamping themselves to the starboard side of the wheel with all their strength. Nervously, he staggered to a clear space of heaving deck and raised his arms to the sky. He began to shout out at the top of his voice above the raging of the storm.
“Asmodeus, holba sarra balfori sarapi, anagogi mesok canamal cohabim…”
Dusk was coming on. The trees surrounding the woodland clearing were whipping back and forth with a tremendous rustling noise which could be heard even above the fearsome roaring and howling wind. Jane and Kelley were crouching in fear as John Dee knelt at the seaman’s trunk to stow the magical equipment. The Book of Soy-gah had been secured within its lead container and the big crystal ball on its stand was beside it. Casually Dee opened the lid of the trunk.
Instantly, the head of Abraham rose from inside the trunk, his mouth gaping impossibly open and filled with inch-long teeth like those of a shark. A hideous roaring, hissing sound came from the spectre, audible above the hurricane. On his knees, Dee was face-to-face with the hideous manifestation. Without waiting, he slammed the lid down again with all his might and felt the satisfying impact of thick wood on a head. Opening the trunk again, he saw that it was now entirely empty.
At that moment, Jane screamed out loudly. “Mendoza is attacking us with occult forces – he means to destroy us!”
Kelley folded his arms defiantly and glared at Dee. “Did I not tell you the darkness wants to claim your soul, you silly bugger? Now see what you’ve started!”
Dee stood up and furiously pointed a shaking finger at Kelley as he strode towards him. “You dare to speak to me like that, you upstart peasant – you nobody? Without me you would still be a crooked confidence-trickster working the markets!”
The two men were glaring daggers at each other. Then Jane suddenly shrieked in utter terror. The same kind of evil-looking angular shadow figures which had haunted Dee previously in his life were rapidly forming from the normal shadows in the nearby fringe of windswept trees close to where Jane stood. Already shadow tentacles and long clawed shadow talons were reaching out for her. Dee and Kelley spun round, startled by her scream. She was being lifted clear of the ground by the shadows and screamed again.
Dee leaped towards his wife – then stopped suddenly in his tracks, stricken with a paralysing horror. The air between him and Jane had started wavering as though in an intense blast of heat. Slowly a terrifying demonic entity was materializing. It had two mouths, one above the other and its eyes were glowing, yet black like infinite pits. It was some seven feet tall. The figure became solid.
Dee gasped in terror. “Kow-ron-zoh-don! The Dweller in the Abyss! The Devil’s Gatekeeper!”
Twenty feet away, behind the great demonic entity, the shadow tentacles callously turned Jane to dangle upside down. She screamed again. Her body was disappearing within coils of shadow.
Dee sank helplessly to his knees at the demon’s feet, racked with uncontrollable emotions and fear. Kow-ron-zoh-don snarled evilly with both mouths and suddenly lurched forward, stooping to grip Dee’s throat tightly in one huge demonic hand while raising the other talloned claw as though to strike.
Then in a ghastly voice the thing spoke. “It was I who took your first wife and child, sorcerer – now I shall take your second! Do you not know that history repeats itself?”
Jane screamed again. Dee managed to raise a hand and gripped the demon’s wrist, delaying the blow for a moment. It was like grasping an iron from a fire. Some thirty feet away Kelley was taking a small silver flask from a pocket. He shouted out urgently; “John! Catch! It’s holy water!”
He flung the little flask towards Dee, who lunged for it with his free hand and managed to catch it. With difficulty he attempted to open its cap while trying against an incredible strength to retain his grip upon the demon’s wrist. Suddenly, he dashed the contents of the tiny flask into Kow-ron-zoh-don’s fearsome eyes. The demon started to roar with combined pain and fury. Its grip loosened.
Dee jerked himself free. Running to the wooden trunk he opened the lead box beside it and removed the Book of Soy-gah, opening it frantically. He found the page he wanted. Kow-ron-zoh-don lurched about nearby, roaring in anger, groping for Dee with waving arms.
“Ell, ah, hee, dar, oh, em! Ah, kay, zodee, noh, rah!” Dee’s voice was loud and clear even in the hurricane blowing over the land. From the edge of the woodland a conspicuous line of four sets of footprints from big invisible hobnail boots came running with a thudding sound straight for Dee. The footprints stopped in front of him. There was a flicker of lightning from the storm. The shapes of four hideous gnomes could just be intermittently seen, flashing with the lightning. They were staring at Dee.
Dee stared back at them, or at least at their outlines. “Right my handsome lads! This is your chance to make amends for trashing my poor library. Evil things are trying to harm us – go and do your worst – with my full blessing upon you this time! Enjoy yourselves…”
The line of footprints, with associated footfall thumps, immediately ran through the downpouring rain directly towards the huge staggering and roaring demonic entity, who then started to jerk and twist spasmodically as though being expertly beaten-up by a street-gang of cutpurses. Flashes of lightning produced flickering outlines of the gnomes attacking him with their pickaxes and shovels, and with their hobnailed boots. With a great roaring scream Kow-ron-zoh-don fell to the ground. A few moments later another lightning flash revealed the sparkling electrical outline of four gnomes surrounding him and kicking him into oblivion, or as it became known in the England of a later era, putting the boot in good and proper. The hideous demonic form faded away and vanished.
The footprints then thumped their way rapidly across the grass to where Jane was being enveloped by shadow tentacles. More flashes of lightning revealed the electrical outlines of the gnomes attacking the shadows with axes, like tree-fellers. The shadow tentacles began to collapse severed onto the ground, where they faded and vanished. Jane was lowered slowly and staggered to her feet. The evil shadow-forms, coiling and writhing like severed worms, rapidly retreated back to being merely normal shadows within the edge of woodland.
While Jane and Dee rushed sobbing into each other’s arms, the footprints thumped past them heading in the direction of the wooden trunk. As they reached it, the lid of the trunk was opened by invisible hands. Lightning flickered again and the gnome’s indistinct outlines could be seen to be busily clambering into the trunk and disappearing downwards, seemingly through the floor. The lid of the trunk slammed down with a bang.
In the surging, pounding, splintering chaos that was now the Armada, the flagship San Martin still battled against the mighty power of a hurricane, a phenomenon almost unheard of in normally temperate British waters. Abraham, looking entirely normal, stood on the watery deck somewhat dazed. He rubbed the top of his head tenderly. Mendoza, the admiral and several sailors were still struggling with all their weight and strength on one side of the wheel, attempting to keep the power of the hurricane from turning it. Mendoza barked at Abraham.
“Well – did you kill him?”
Abraham opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by an approaching sound of several pairs of running hobnail boots on the deck. Everyone putting their weight on the wheel turned their heads in all directions trying to see who was making the noise. The sound of running boots suddenly stopped.
A moment later the ship’s wheel began to very slowly turn in the other direction despite the strength of the men. Lightning flickered and, for just a brief moment, the glowing outlines of four ugly gnomes could be glimpsed, hauling with all their might on the vacant side of the wheel against the pull of the humans. For a few moments it became a grotesque tug-of-war between panic stricken men and semi-visible gnomes, but it was the gnomes who were winning. The humans, yelling in rage and terror, were obliged to release their agonized grip as the wheel started to spin in the wrong direction.
A dark night had fallen, relieved only by intermittent sheets of lightning. The once-magnificent Spanish fleet was in terrible difficulty. The big flagship, now entirely out of control and unsteerable in huge violently-tossing waves, was being blown at speed by the hurricane towards several other smaller galleons and a few surviving troop barges. Great peals of thunder rolled through the skies like heavy cannon firing. The San Martin slewed and wallowed in the heaving seas entirely at the mercy of the powerful winds and waves. Men on a smaller galleon started shouting, waving and screaming as they saw their own huge flagship bearing down on them out of control, keeling over at a disastrous angle in the grip of the wind.
Even as some of the crew on the decks of the galleon fell to their knees and started praying and crossing themselves, the huge San Martin, once the pride of the Spanish Navy, came down from the crest of a great heaving swell and crashed straight into the centre of the smaller ship, cutting it completely and raggedly in halves with loud and terrible sounds of jarring impact, screaming men and splintering wood which could be heard even above the dreadful storm. Mendoza, Medina Sidonia and others of their officers and crew, holding on for their very lives, could only stare in horror at the doomed galleon, the two halves of it now on either side of the flagship and taking-on water as they keeled over into the heaving chaotic ocean.
Almost immediately a great lurch was felt shivering through the entire body of the enormous flagship. The ship’s wheel suddenly span limp and useless.
Medina Sidonia stared at Mendoza in horrified realization. “Por la gracia de Dios!” he breathed in horror. “The rudder has snapped…!”
A terrified Mendoza, drenched to the skin like everyone else, screamed out at Abraham. “Wake up man! Exorcise these evil demon spirits before they sink us!”
Abraham staggered across the heaving deck, his hands grasping one piece of support after another, until he faced the place where the hideous gnomes had last been seen. He raised his right hand and made a cross sign in the air, then he began to speak words of exorcism. “In nomini Patris et Fili et Spiritus…!”
At that moment, a bolt of blinding lightning struck him from out of the turbulent storm clouds, instantly transforming him into a human-shaped pillar of glowing cinders which were instantly blown apart and scattered by the hurricane wind.
Seen from the hilltop overlooking the beach and the sea, the dawn clouds were creating a beautiful sunrise in the east. The sea was now relatively calm and the hurricane winds of the night had all but blown themselves out. Queen Elizabeth with a group of courtiers, dignitaries and officers were standing, awestruck, surveying the scene. At Elizabeth’s side stood Sir Francis Walsingham. For a time, nobody spoke.
As far as the eye could see, both the beach and the very ocean itself were strewn with wreckage and the bodies of Spanish sailors and soldiers. Seagulls were having a noisy feast.
Elizabeth knelt down, holding the Sword of State before her by its blade to make a form of cross. Seeing this, everyone else knelt also. She bowed her head. After a few solemn moments she started to rise stiffly. Walsingham took her arm and helped her as he, too, rose somewhat awkwardly. When they were standing, they were arm-in-arm, elbows linked. Elizabeth smiled at him.
“Sir Francis – you and I have become the grandparents of England – ensuring our legacy can be passed on to future generations.” Then she became stern. “On no account whatsoever must the world ever know that the Spanish invaders managed to set foot on English soil. Our fight on the beach did not happen – you understand? It never took place!”
“Quite so Majesty. No book, diary or letter shall ever record it. My department will see to that! We are … extremely thorough!”
They began to walk arm-in-arm together. Walsingham sighed wistfully. “If times and the world had been different, Madam – what a husband and wife we would have made!”
Elizabeth gave him a mock severe look and shook his elbow with hers to bring him back to reality. “Behave yourself!” she whispered primly. They walked away arm-in-arm. But she was smiling slightly to herself.
John Dee’s rather clumsy coach and horses trotted up the drive of his Mortlake manor house. The grounds looked as though a war had been fought within them. Flowerbeds and even lawns had been churned up by a multitude of unfriendly feet into acres of muddy field. Then the house itself came into view between a clump of ornamental trees. The building had been thoroughly trashed. The ground floor windows had been shattered. The front door was hanging off its hinges. The upper floors showed evidence of fire; sooty streaks disfiguring the brickwork. Most windows had been broken. Some of the roof timbers had been exposed, many blackened and withered into charcoal by fire. The ground floor, too, had been devastated by fire, especially to the rear of the spreading building.
Without speaking, Dee, Jane and Kelley walked slowly and carefully into what had once been the great library. They gazed round in silence. The remains of shelves rose from a floor of ashes in black and charred stumps.
Edward Kelley broke the silence. He spoke bitterly in a subdued voice. “This was once the greatest collection of books in all England!” Dee and Jane remained silent. Kelley pointed toward the rear of the building. “And our workshops! Where we were unraveling the mysteries of the universe. Nothing left… Nothing!”
Dee looked at his wife and smiled peacefully, then hugged her gently to his side.
“All is not lost, Ned. All that was important has been saved.” He gazed with love at Jane. “This was the price I had to pay - the sacrifice demanded by Madimi and the powers who sent her into our world. I feared the sacrifice was to be Jane and our unborn child, but Madimi clearly told us she was a riddle. The Angels were testing me. I made the right choice, with your help, and the price was this house and everything in it. Had I made the wrong choice, the price would have been England and all our lives.”
Dee took Jane’s hand, held it high, and they started to walk over the debris towards the door and the coach outside. Kelley followed them unhappily.
Dee glanced at him. “And this is just a temporary inconvenience Ned. Don’t forget, I have another mansion in Lancashire. That is where our researches shall continue, just as soon as we get there.”
They walked out of the wrecked building. Kelly’s voice could be heard trailing off into the distance as they headed towards the waiting coach.
“I have been working on a process to transform lead into gold... I'm certain we can accomplish this... Also, I am becoming increasingly impressed by the force of steam spouting from a kettle... perhaps this could be used to drive some kind of engine...?”
In the sea off Liscannor on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare, a battered-looking rowing boat containing six sorry-looking and bedraggled men was being rowed ashore through small waves. The wooden prow grated into shingle and the boat came to rest. The six men clambered awkwardly and painfully from the boat. One of them was Bernardino de Mendoza. A mile or so behind them, out in the sea, the tilted hulk of a Spanish galleon was held fast by submerged rocks, its masts and sails missing.
The six men began to stagger slowly and unsteadily up the gentle slope of the beach towards a line of grass-topped sand dunes. Without any warning, a crowd of some forty furious Irishmen appeared over the dunes, brandishing weapons and shouting curses. The shipwrecked men, with Mendoza in the lead, ran for their lives along the beach, chased by the howling mob.
Overhead a solitary seagull was flying.
In a distant alchemical workshop in the countryside somewhere near Manchester, John Dee and Edward Kelley were seated facing each other over a large crystal ball, as two people might face each other over a game of chess. Within the crystal could be seen the view through the seagull’s eyes, slightly distorted by the round sphere and entirely silent. The shipwrecked Spaniards could be seen running for their lives into the distance, Mendoza in the lead and gaining on his companions, a mob of local militiamen hot on their heels.
“I’ll wager two sovereigns they catch him,” said Kelly laconically.
“I’ll take you up on that,” responded Dee.
Kelley was suspicious and glanced up at Dee. “Show me your coins first!” he demanded.
Dee was equally suspicious. “You show me yours!”
Both men took two gold coins from their pockets and held them up. The coins were returned to their pockets, the men spat on their palms and shook hands over the crystal ball. They stared eye-to-eye for a moment, grinned fondly at each other, then burst out laughing.
Some True Facts About John Dee
It has been an urban legend for over 400 years that the sudden
great storm of unprecedented ferocity which wrecked the
Armada was raised by the sorcerer Doctor John Dee.
A special “Armada medal” issued by Queen Elizabeth I
to commemorate England’s escape from conquest bears the inscription:
“He blew with his winds, and they were scattered.”
It is a fact that over five thousand men of the Armada died and only
67 of the ships, blown helplessly for hundreds of miles as far as the
coasts of Scotland and Ireland, ever managed to limp home to Spain.
John Dee was the architect and designer of
the first purpose-built modern theatre, originally named, simply,
“The Theatre”. (Dee’s friend John Brayne had previously
tried to build a playhouse he called “The Red Lion”,
attached to the side of an inn of the same name,
but this enterprise rapidly failed, along with the
building, which is why they needed
a competent architect, John Dee.)
In 1599, “The Theatre” (which was out in the fields of Shoreditch)
ran into grave financial difficulties due to lack of sufficient audience
attendance numbers and high rent. John Dee came up with a perfect
solution – the theatrical company that owned the theatre was legally
closed down, the entire theatre was dismantled piece by piece in a single
night, teams of actors and friends (including William Shakespeare) carried
the beams and sections over the Thames via London Bridge to a new site in Southwark, where the theatre was quickly rebuilt and given a new legal name –
The Globe Playhouse.
John Dee and his great storm were immortalised by his friend
William Shakespeare as “Prospero” in his play
“The Tempest” and, later, by Christopher Marlow
as “Doctor Faust”.
Is John Dee relevant to the present day?
Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” inspired by John Dee,
was also the inspiration for the1956 MGM film
“Forbidden Planet”. The spirit Ariel
who is Prospero’s servant became Forbidden Planet’s
“Robby the Robot.” Actor Walter Pidgeon played the part
of “Dr. Morbius” who was originally based, via
Prospero, on John Dee.
“Forbidden Planet”, in turn, inspired Gene Roddenberry to
create the TV series “Star Trek”.
John Dee was the only person ever to hold the position of
Astrologer Royal to the Crown of England.
Contemporary documents confirm that the incident of Dee’s mechanical
beetle terrifying an audience at Cambridge University actually happened.
He wrote about “gravitas”, the universal attraction of one
object to another, more than 200 years before Isaac Newton
published his law of Universal Gravitation.
Dee is credited with being the first to employ the term
“The British Empire”
It is also historical fact that John Dee was an
agent of Francis Walsingham’s secret service
and he really did use the code number 007.
He died some 20 years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
John Aubrey (1626-1687) has recorded that Dee predicted
in writing the exact date and time of his own death.
Bernardino de Mendoza managed to thwart all Walsingham’s efforts
to have him assassinated. He returned to Spain and died of natural causes
in his mansion in Madrid in 1604 at the age of 64.
Jane Dee gave birth to their son Arthur, who grew up
to be a physician and alchemist and studied at Oxford. He
became physician to Tsar Michael I of Russia in Moscow
for some fourteen years. In 1637 he became physician to
King Charles I of England, although it was Oliver Cromwell
who stopped the king from having any more headaches.
During his time in the Russian Royal Court, Arthur Dee
translated quantities of his father’s writings on magic and
the occult into Russian. In the early 20th Century, just
before the Revolution, Grigori Rasputin the infamous
Russian mystic and occultist stole a quantity of these
notes of John Dee from the Imperial Library in Moscow
for his own purposes.
The British TV series “Hammer House of Horror” in the episode
“Guardian of the Abyss” (first broadcast 15th November 1980)
features John Dee’s scrying mirror being found in the present day in
an antique shop. The episode also features
the occult Enochian entity Choronzhon. Unfortunately,
the name is incorrectly pronounced throughout as “Koronzon”
rather than according to Enochian linguistic grammar where it should be
correctly pronounced as Kow-Ron-Zoh-Don.
Possibly the strangest fact of all is that the incident where a
group of invisible gnomes were accidentally conjured up by
Kelly and beaten-off by Dee seems to be entirely true. It is
faithfully recorded in some detail in John Dee’s meticulously-kept
diary which survives to the present day, for Monday, April 15th, 1583.