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Authors: C.C. Humphreys

Shakespeare's Rebel

BOOK: Shakespeare's Rebel
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To John Waller
Swordmaster, mentor and friend






Title page



I The Martin Drunkard

II Southwark Ho!

III A Garden

IV Fathers and Son

V The Bard

VI Command Performance

VII My Lord of Essex

VIII Tug Before War

IX Spider and Web

X Vivat Vivat Regina


XI Persuasion

XII At the Sign of Capricorn

XIII Backswords with Silver

XIV ‘Cry Harry’

XV As You Like It?

XVI Lost

XVII Lollards’ Tower

XVIII Queen’s Messenger

The Trouble with Ireland

XIX What Country, Friend, Is This?

XX Ambuscado

XXI Sodom and Gomorrah

XXII Wise Counsel

XXIII Nonsuch Palace

XXIV The Upshot

XXV Southward Regained

XXVI Play Within A Play Within A Play

XXVII The Battle of the Bridge

XXVIII Consequences


XXIX The Gaoler’s Man

XXX Conspiracy

XXXI Eve of Destruction

XXXII Eruptions

XXXIII The Stages of Revolt Part One

XXXIV ‘We Rise For Essex!’

XXXV The Stages of Revolt Part Two

XXXVI Escape

XXXVII Despair and Die


XXXVIII Another Scaffold

XXXIX Last Audience

XL Proposals

XLI The Prince

Author’s Note



Also By C.C. Humphreys



Nor have we one or two kind of drunkards only, but eight kinds. The first is ape drunk, and he leaps and hollers and danceth for the heavens. The second is lion drunk, and he flings the pots about the house, calls his hostess whore, breaks the glass windows with his dagger, and is apt to quarrel with any man that speaks to him. The third is swine drunk . . . the fourth is sheep drunk . . . the fifth is maudlin drunk . . .
the sixth is martin drunk, when a man is drunk and drinks himself sober ere he stir
. . .

Thomas Nashe, 1592


The Martin Drunkard

February 1599

John Lawley lay in a haypenny bed, in the lowest tavern in Wapping, musing on fleas, on Irishmen and on drums.

Did the fleas that feasted on him so vigorously die once they had gorged?

Had the Irishmen who had just, for the third time, stolen the whole of their shared and threadbare blanket ever slept between rich linens, as he oft had?

Also – and this was his most pressing concern – did the drum that beat so loudly exist, or did it strike only within his head?

It was important to know. For if it existed, then truly he should answer its summons. Waking, though, meant taking action; the first of which, surely impossible, the lifting of his forearm from his brow. Yet even were he to accomplish such a feat, prove himself that Hercules, what then? To what task would the drum drive him next?

Nothing less than the forcing of his gummed eyelids.

That was too much. Furies hovered beyond them. Some were even real. Rouse and he would be forced to distinguish between them. Rouse and choices would have to be made. Whither? Whom to seek? Whom to avoid?

There were too many candidates for both.

No. Even if every drum stroke, imaginary or not, beat nausea through his body, until he was forced to do otherwise it was better to just lie there, and utter prayers for the beat to fade. And while he was about them, pray also that in its fading the sweats would begin to warm, not chill.

He shivered. He’d have liked his paltry share of blanket back. To reclaim it, though? That required the same effort demanded for arm, for eyes . . .

Impossible, he concluded. Sink back then. Seek warmth in memory. Illusion could sustain him. Indeed, in circumstances far worse even than these, illusion was all he’d had. Among all the things he was, was he not a fashioner of dreams?

Was he not a player?

He was. So make the drum real. Place it beyond, not within, his head. Make the heat real too, not the little transferred from men’s rank bodies.

Where had he been hottest? Under a Spanish sun. Yet temper its fierceness with a breeze over waves. Conjure other sounds to drown the rising mutters of his bedfellows.

The plash of oars? The boatswain’s call to each beat?







Truly, John Lawley thought, settling back, eyes still sealed and forearm yet lolled, this morning can wait. That other was better.

For a time, at least.

Three years earlier. 30 June 1596. The Bay of Cadiz







John lowered his forearm, closing his eyes to the sun’s sharp bite. He had seen enough. The beach they were making for, some three miles south of the town, was undefended. He had made landings under fire before and it was not something he sought to repeat. If his boat was sunk, his three primed pistols would be soaked, while swimming in breastplate and helm while retaining his sword was hard, made more so by the fact that he
swim. The majority of his companions couldn’t, and experience taught that they would try to use him as a raft, with every chance of drowning both themselves and him. He would be forced to kill them. And, truly, he was only there to kill Spaniards . . .

. . . on behalf of the man who spoke now. ‘Do you pray, Master Lawley?’

There was no need to open his eyes again. ‘Aye.’

‘You do? Yet I did not see you at the deck service before we embarked,’ the voice continued. ‘Soft! Perchance you were with the Catholics in the hold, celebrating a secret Mass? I always suspected you for a Papist.’

‘I was not.’

‘Then what were you about, while other men sought forgiveness and heaven’s blessing?’

‘About?’ John smiled. ‘Good my lord, I was about the sharpening of my sword.’

The bark of laughter made him open one eye. His questioner stood at the prow of the flyboat. ‘A soldier’s reply,’ said the man, smiling wide. ‘Though I have often wished that you cared as much for your soul as you do for your steel.’ Separate red eyebrows, like hairy caterpillars upon white oak, joined to form a frown. ‘You are not devout, Master Lawley. You are not devout.’

‘Nay, faith, I am so.’ John assumed his pious expression, one he’d use when playing clerics in the playhouse. ‘For I most fervently believe that since God already has my soul in trust, he only asks that I do not part it from my body until he is quite ready to receive it. So I sharpen my steel and heed his commandment, both.’

General laughter came at that, though several men crossed themselves. ‘Well, John,’ cried Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, ‘if you ward my back in what is to come as well as you have ever done, then I will undertake to pray enough for us both.’ He squinted up into the burning sky. ‘He well knows that I have worn out the knees on a dozen stockings on the voyage here, to give us His victory this day.’

Not those stockings, though, thought John, eyeing them where they peeked above the boots. These were new and saved for the occasion. Tangerine, the earl’s own colour, and a match for the sash that girdled the shiniest of breast and back plate, that burnished shine spread through other items of armour – vambrace upon his arms, greaves upon his shins, gorget at his throat. Beneath these, the rest was swathed in finest black cambric.

Should the Lord choose to ignore his entreaties, thought John, young Robbie will make the comeliest of corpses. Yet not only his apparel would distinguish him. The face brought aboard the ship in Plymouth, bloated with excess and worn by cares, had been transformed by four weeks of sea air and exercise into the handsomeness that so inspired the balladeers. Essex had commanded John to fence him daily, and stripped to the waist the two of them had duelled, gripped and thrown upon the quarterdeck of his vessel, the
Due Repulse
. If during the first fortnight John had held back, while his pupil shrugged off the life of both indulgence and ceaseless, sleepsapping intrigue he lived at court, in the last two weeks the earl had regained both strength and many of the skills John had taught him over the years. Another week and perhaps he’d not have bested his protégé . Essex was ten years younger after all, a bare thirty, half a head taller, lithe for his height. It was a good time to be turning their skills upon a common enemy – one who would perceive them as twinned furies, with John dressed near identically to the earl, if less sumptuously, being in his hand-me-downs. It was a noted subterfuge of war, to have two leaders to confuse the foe.

Yet they were not the only ones with trimmed beards, styled hair and lean shanks. Others had joined in the training. One spoke now. ‘And what steel he raises for your cause and God’s, my lord!’ the man cried. ‘A hardy broadsword, note you all. None of your foreign fripperies, your “rap-i-ere” ’ – he exaggerated the French sounds – ‘for John Lawley. A yard of English steel to carve two yards of soil for any Spanish hidalgo he meets.’

Jeers came, from more than one man, while John smiled. His friend George Silver was a fanatic for all things native – especially the nation’s traditional weaponry – and deplored the foreign blades that several of their comrades bore. In the face of their jeering, he grabbed John’s arm. ‘Come, Master Lawley. Help me convince these fools of the virtues of true English weapons.’

John reclosed his eyes and turned his face once more to the sun. ‘George,’ he drawled, ‘the only virtue I subscribe to is in an old proverb: “It is good sleeping in a whole skin.” ’

‘Nay, John! Good my lord . . .’ began Silver loudly, as other men entered the quarrel.

‘Peace, all.’ The earl’s voice silenced the hubbub. ‘And know only this: I care little how you kill our foes this day. Spit them with rapiers, hew them with backswords, smash them with staffs . . . or pluck me their eyes out with a three-tined fork!’ He laughed. ‘’Tis one to me. Only so long as yon citadel of Cadiz is mine by nightfall.’ All men looked north-west, to the ramparts of the city. ‘Mine, not my effing Lord of Effingham’s or, worse, that popinjay Raleigh’s!’

All now looked back to the men-of-war, where the fleet’s guns still smoked from the havoc they’d wreaked upon the enemy. ‘For my part, I know only this,’ the earl continued, his voice softer as he drew two inches of steel above his scabbard, ‘this English blade was bequeathed to me by another hero of our land. And for him and that land it shall this day be lodged in some Spanish breasts – or lodged beside me in my tomb.’ He shoved the weapon back. ‘And now, master boatman, double time if you please. Some other vessels seem eager to beat us to the beach. Impudent dogs! Do they not remember that I must be first in everything?’ He waved the helmet he held above his head. ‘And I will begin by being first on enemy sand,’ adding with a roar, ‘Stop me if you can!’

BOOK: Shakespeare's Rebel
7.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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