/ Language: English / Genre:adv_history,

Rebels and traitors

Lindsey Davis


Lindsey Davis

Rebels and traitors

Prologue — Whitehall: 30 January 1649

The King would take his dog for an early morning walk in St James's Park. What could be more civilised?

Its name was Rogue. As the eager spaniel tried to run outside, the soldiers made it go back. Its master strolled on without the dog, going to his execution as if taking daily exercise.

Other deposed monarchs suffered greater brutality. Charles Stuart of Britain was never chained, starved, imprisoned in a bare cell or tortured. People would argue whether his trial was legal, but he did have a trial and it ended abruptly only because he refused to acknowledge the process. Once condemned, generally he continued to be treated with wary good manners. No silent, black-clad assassins would arrive by night to carry out violent orders that could be denied later. King Charles faced no slow neglect in a remote castle dungeon, no thrashing head-down in a wine-butt, no red-hot poker spearing his guts. Variants of all of these tortures had been perpetrated on his subjects during the bloodshed he was charged with causing, yet he remained exempt. His accusers were determined that calling him to account would be open, 'a thing not done in a corner'.

On that bitter January Tuesday, the King was given bread and wine for breakfast. Two of his children were brought for tearful goodbyes. Then he went on his final walk, across the royal park. He had asked for two heavy shirts, in case he shivered in the cold and appeared afraid.

At about ten in the morning, he was taken from St James's Palace to Whitehall Palace fifteen minutes away. An escort of New Model Army halberdiers formed his guard, with colours flying and beating drums, while a few permitted gentlemen walked with him, bare-headed. Regiments of foot soldiers lined the route.

There were no tumbrels. No orchestrated mob spat and shouted abuse. Wearing a tall hat and the embroidered silver Order of the Garter on his dark cloak, King Charles reached the waiting crowds; he was protected by the halberdiers, but the people's mood was sombre, almost curious. Whitehall was packed. Dissidents, any known Royalists, were barred from London, so almost all of the people here were his opponents. When they first sided with Parliament, few had dreamed of an outcome like this. Few of them had sought it. Some were still uneasy.

The guard-party climbed the steps to the Holbein Gate. Its direct access to the old Palace of Whitehall brought the King to private apartments which he had last seen seven years before, when he first fled London as his subjects became rebellious.

Once indoors, he had to endure a delay of several hours. With him was the aged Bishop of London, William Juxon, who, as time went by, persuaded Charles to take some bread and a glass of claret, lest he should falter on the scaffold. Colonel Hacker, a particularly boorish Roundhead, had wanted to place two musketeers in the King's chamber, but had been prevailed upon not to do it.

Apparently, the reason for the delay was that Richard Brandon, the public executioner, had refused to act and his assistant had disappeared. There was also a problem with the execution block; the usual waist-high block could not be found, so a much lower one was brought, which was normally used only for dismembering dead traitors' bodies. However, the execution axe had arrived safely from the Tower of London. Eventually two men agreed to stand in for the executioner and his assistant. They wore masks for anonymity and their identities were kept secret.

At two o'clock in the afternoon, Colonel Hacker knocked discreetly at the door of the private apartment, then rapped again, louder. With Bishop Juxon on one side and Colonel Tomlinson who had personal charge of him on the other, the King was led along a route he knew well into the Banqueting House, created for ceremonial occasions and celebratory masques.

The cold stateroom echoed and smelled of neglect. Motes of dust drifted in the winter light that crept wanly through cracks in the boarding that covered the elegant windows. Tapestries had been looted or officially taken away. Gone were the candelabra that had once filled the great space with warmth and illumination. As he walked past his one-time throne of state, the King's way was lit only by feeble lights carried by soldiers. A crowd of onlookers murmured sympathetically, and some prayed; the soldiers on guard allowed this without annoyance.

Overhead, quite invisible in the gloom, soared the fabulous ceiling paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens which Charles had commissioned to promote his belief that he was God's appointed Lieutenant, with a Divine Right to rule. After the panels' installation, no further masques had been performed in the Banqueting House, to prevent smoke from the torches damaging the work. Had King Charles been able to see them, the magnificent paintings must have mocked. They celebrated the union of England and Scotland — personified by Charles himself as a naked infant, beneath the conjoined crowns of the very two kingdoms which in the past decade he had repeatedly set against each other as he scrambled to keep his position and his life. These florid, heavily allegorical pictures extolled his father's successful reign. Peace embraced Plenty. Reason controlled Discord. Wisdom defeated Ignorance and the serpents of Rebellion.

The party measured the length of the dark reception hall then emerged into more light through the tallest doorway at the end — the entrance through which ambassadors, courtiers, actors and musicians had once advanced to pay reverence to this monarch. He was taken out through it onto the stone staircase in the northern annexe. On the landing, a wall had been knocked out around one of the large windows. King Charles stepped outside, emerging onto a scaffold, surrounded by low posts upon which were hung black draperies. Although the swags partly hid proceedings from the street, the roofs of surrounding buildings were crammed with spectators. Down at street level, the scaffold had been lined, and then interlined, with Parliamentarian soldiers. Inevitably, the armed troops were facing the crowd.

Others, official agents, were watching the spectators, alert for any sign of trouble and seeking known faces. In uniform by the Horse Guards Yard stood a fair-haired man, just short of thirty: Gideon Jukes. He had been very busy that day and now kept to himself, shaken and avoiding contact with anyone he knew. Everywhere were soldiers whose faces he recognised. Always rather solitary, he felt himself to be a disengaged observer. Everyone around him seemed lost in the occasion. He was troubled by the event, not because he felt it to be treason, but because he feared the arrangements might go wrong. To Gideon Jukes, what had once been unthinkable was now the only course to take.

When movement caught his eye at the window, he raised his eyes to the scaffold with expectation and relief.

King Charles was met by the disguised executioner and his assistant. Heavy metal staples had been bolted to the scaffold floor in case it was necessary to chain him, but his demeanour remained quiet. Still in attendance, the Bishop of London received the King's cloak and his Order of the Garter, giving him a white silk cap. Charles removed his doublet and stood in his waistcoat. The King attempted to make a speech to the crowd, but the noise was too great. To the bishop he said, 'I go from a corruptible crown to an incorruptible one.' Then to the executioner, who was looking at him anxiously, 'Does my hair trouble you?' The executioner and the bishop together helped position the King's long hair under the cap.

Eyeing the block, the King exclaimed, 'You must set it fast.'

'It is fast, sir,' replied the executioner civilly.

'It might have been a little higher.'

'It can be no higher, sir.'

'I shall say but very short prayers, then when I thrust out my hands this way — '

The King knelt before the block. He spoke a few words to himself, with his eyes uplifted. Stooping down, he laid his head upon the block, with the executioner again tidying his hair. Thinking the man was about to strike, Charles warned, 'Stay for the sign!'

'Yes, I will,' returned the executioner, still patient. 'And it please Your Majesty'

There was a short pause. The King stretched out his hands. With one blow of the axe, the executioner cut off the King's head.

The assistant held up the head by its hair, to show to the people, exclaiming the traditional words: 'Here is the head of a traitor!' The body was hurriedly removed and laid in a velvet-lined coffin indoors. As was normal at executions, the public were allowed to approach the scaffold and, on paying a fee, to soak handkerchiefs in the dripping blood, either as trophies of their enemy, or in superstition that the King's blood would heal illnesses.

When the axe fell, a low groan arose from the crowd. Friends to the monarchy would call it a cry of horror. Others, including Gideon Jukes, thought it merely an expression of astonishment that anyone had dared to do this. He too had caught an involuntary breath. Now, thought Gideon, now indeed, is the world turned truly upside down.

Not far away, the young wife of an exiled Royalist also watched the grim scene. But she believed that the world is not so readily altered. The old order had not been destroyed, the old conflicts still raged. If this was a new beginning, Juliana knew, men like her absent husband would conspire bitterly to make it falter and fail.

After the blow fell, she stood lost among the crowds. To be at the Banqueting House had taken her back to the age of eight, one blissful night when she had been allowed to attend a masque played for the King and Queen. She remembered her entrancement, particularly with the Queen. Four months after the birth of her second son, Henrietta Maria was at that time radiantly returning to court life, a petite vision in silvered tissue, pointed slippers with beribboned rosettes, pearl necklaces and exquisite lace. To a child, this expensive doll-like creature sparkled with magic. Little girls love beautiful princesses and freely forgive heroine's who have buck teeth and a lack of formal education. The Queen had brought the slightly raffish sophistication of her French upbringing to the wary English, along with a fixed certainty that a king's authority was absolute. She would never understand her mistake.

Little girls grow up. The brightest of them come to loathe short-sighted policy, based on ignorance and indifference. The child who attended the court masque full of innocence and fun had learned this all too well.

The King was dead. His Queen would mourn. Trapped in the desolate struggles of a widow even though her husband was alive, Juliana wept on a London street. Though she pitied the King and his newly bereaved Queen, she was weeping for herself. She wept because she could no longer pretend: because she knew that the civil war had deprived her of all her hopes in life.

It was time to go. She was plainly dressed because of her poverty, worn by struggles and uncertainties, yet too firm-willed to seem a victim either to pickpockets or government agents. She was confident she could leave the scene quickly and go home without misadventure.

Trying not to attract attention, she slipped down a side street to the river where she hoped to take a boat downstream.

Moments later, mounted soldiers swept through the streets, clearing the crowds. Once the area appeared deserted, a small escort party surreptitiously left the Banqueting House. Gideon Jukes led them, setting the executioner safely on his way home. So as the winter darkness closed in, he too went down the dark side street that led to Whitehall Stairs.

Chapter One — London: 1634

Gideon Jukes first publicly became a rebel when he put on a feathered suit to play a bird.

Few who knew Gideon later would have expected he started his defiance of authority by acting in a royal pageant. As his elder brother cruelly said at the time, the best thing about it was that Third Dotterel's costume included a complete feathered head with a long beak, which hid the boy's erupting acne.

They lived on the verge of political upheaval, but at thirteen adolescence overwhelms everything else. Gideon Jukes in 1634 knew little of national events. He was bursting out of his clothes with uncontrollable spurts of growth. He was obsessed with his ravaged complexion which he was sure repelled girls, his fair hair which at the same time attracted more female attention than he could handle, and the thunderous wrongs done to him by everyone he knew. He was convinced other people had luck in unfair abundance. He believed he himself lacked talent, friends, fortune, looks, likeability — and also that he had been denied any skills to remedy the situation. He was certain this would never change.

That year, he devoted himself to being obnoxious. His worried family railed at him, making his grudges worse. After one particularly loud and pointless family argument he decided to become an actor. His parents would be outraged. Gideon was bound to be found out. But there is no point in rebellion if nobody notices.

The Jukes were tradesmen, hard-working and comfortably off. John Jukes was a member of the Grocers' Company of the City of London. His wife was Parthenope, nee Bevan. His elder son was Lambert, his second Gideon, with fifteen years between them. Between Lambert and Gideon, Parthenope Jukes had borne nine other children. After Gideon there had been three more. None survived infancy.

So Gideon Jukes had grown up a younger son, separated by many years from his more fortunate brother. Lambert was also a grocer. As the eldest, he was in the English tradition his father's pride and joy; he was clapped on the back by fellow members of the Grocers' Company; he was greeted with familiar joshing by other grocers. Most importantly, Lambert would one day inherit the family business near Cheapside and their home, a substantial merchant's house in Bread Street.

Lambert had entered into his apprenticeship the year Gideon was born; Gideon never had a chance of sharing and this imbued him with a hatred of unfairness. As soon as Lambert completed his indenture and became a journeyman, he strutted around the family house and shop as if he already owned them. Becoming a master grocer was a particularly smooth process when your family had been in the fraternity for the past two centuries; Lambert seemed fair set to be an alderman before Gideon left puberty.

Lambert was a large character too. London apprentices were rowdy, opinionated youths, who revelled in their uniform of leather apron and short hair. They took to the streets in boisterous crowds whenever there was a chance to demonstrate their opposition to anything. King Charles gave them plenty of opportunity. Lambert had been thrilled by apprenticeship life, and long afterwards, if the lads took to the streets for a riot, he liked to be there.

Lambert Jukes was a big, fair-headed tough, always popular and strong enough to roll a barrel of blue figs one-handed, which he would do all along Cheapside, aiming at butter wenches. He had large numbers of friends. He could have had many lady friends, but being known as a good steady fellow, he cast his eye over the prettiest, then settled for Anne Tydeman. She had stayed on his arm for a long time, but Lambert had now reached twenty-eight and after letting Anne sew her trousseau linen resignedly for years, he declared he was ready to marry her. That was more cause for despair in his younger brother.

In truth, Lambert kicked Gideon around no more than any elder brother would; Lambert had no need to be jealous and he was by nature reasonable. Only a churl would have taken against him. It was pointed out to Gideon at home that he was fortunate. His father encouraged him; his mother excused him; even his brother tolerated him.

Gideon saw none of this, only his own bad luck. As soon as Lambert brought a wife home, Gideon knew, his own position must deteriorate. No chance of being a cuckoo in the nest: he had been tipped over the edge of it while still squirming in his shell.

He was due to leave home in any case. His father was fussing over arrangements for his apprenticeship. It would be with another member of the Grocers' Company, who would take the youth into his home and business for about seven years, In his current irritating phase, Gideon waited until almost the last moment, so that his father was under the greatest possible obligation. Then he refused to do it.

That was bad enough. Soon his great-uncle stepped in and blew up an even greater typhoon by suggesting that Gideon should not be a grocer.

The Jukes brothers were moulded by the aromatic trade of their father. As children they had mountaineered over barrels of dates and currants. They bartered for other boys' spinning tops with pieces of crystal sugar — the fine dust that surrounded sugar loaves when they arrived in their chests — and they swapped caraway comfits for conkers. Gideon had been scarred for life by falling off a delivery cart. His memories were dominated by a kitchen redolent with allspice and nutmeg. He was a toddler when he first learned the difference between cinnamon bark and a blade of mace. A good baked pudding would suffuse the whole house, buffeting anyone who opened the front door. It would linger for three days if nothing else was baked — but something always was.

His brother Lambert's very name recalled the moment his mother felt her first birth pang, which had happened most inconveniently when she was moulding the decorations for a Simnel cake.

'There I was, mopping up my waters with a pudding cloth. I knocked the pestle and the ground almonds right off the table — my hands were so oily from the paste, I could not open the door to call for the maid. Now I feel queasy if I ever look at marzipan balls — '

And how was the cake?' young Gideon would ask gravely.

'Not one of my best. I had quite forgot the zest of orange.'

'And it had squashed balls!' Gideon would mouth at his brother, making this not just obscene but personal. In reply Lambert rarely did worse than throwing a cushion at his head.

They ate well. Generations of Jukes had done so, ever since their first member of the Grocers' Company set up a home and business just off Cheapside. The certainty of good dinners in the Jukes home had attracted Bevan Bevan, Parthenope's uncle, who dined frequently with them while making irritating claims that he had organised their marriage. John rejected any idea that he owed his wife to anyone else. Most Jukes men assumed they could win any woman they liked simply by expressing an interest. Historically, they were right.

John groaned every time Bevan visited, but Bevan had promised to be a patron to Gideon. Bevan's will would generally be mentioned about the time in a meal when Parthenope served a quaking pudding or an almond tart. For over a decade, as his great-uncle gorged on the spiced Jukes cuisine, it was expected that Bevan would leave Gideon an inheritance. A bachelor for fifty years, he had had no other heir. Then with no warning he married Elizabeth Keevil, a printer's widow. From the moment they entered the marriage bed — or, as the Jukes always reckoned, from a couple of months beforehand — Bevan began prolifically fathering children of his own.

'Let him dine at his own table from now on!' snarled John, through a mouthful of 'Extraordinary Good Cake'. 'A little more ginger next time…?'

'I think not!' retorted Parthenope, tight-lipped. The set of her jaw was just like Gideon's.

Bevan politely kept away, especially after strong words passed between him and Parthenope. But once Gideon started to resist his father's plans, it was Bevan Bevan who added a fuse to the gunpowder by suddenly offering to pay for an apprenticeship with a printer his wife knew. John and Parthenope saw this as the ultimate treachery.

Robert Allibone, the printer, genuinely needed assistance with his business. Gideon was proposed to him by Bevan as a bright, honest boy who was keen to learn and would stay to a task. No mention was made of his troubled behaviour.

Bevan's intervention caused uproar. Gideon, of course, found it exciting to be at the centre of the quarrel. Parthenope had already spoiled two batches of buttered apple pudding, and John accidentally set fire to the house-of-easement in their yard while gloomily taking too many pipes of tobacco as he brooded. The half-built house-of-easement had never been in use, because it was a long-term project of the kind that remains a project. Nonetheless, John had been able to sit in the roofless structure enjoying quiet philosophy and flaunting at their neighbours, none of whom had one, the fact that the Jukes were constructing their own dunny. Now they must continue to throw their slops into the street and to have their nightsoil collected by sinister men with carts who tramped foul substances into the hall floorboards. John Jukes, who was only allowed to smoke out of doors, had to sit on an old molasses barrel, grimly contemplating the burnt ruin as he blamed Bevan for seducing Gideon to an alien trade.

Gideon complained rudely: 'It is the loss of the project that matters to you most!'

'You are an ill-mannered boy,' was his father's mild reply. 'Yet you are mine, dear child, and I must bear my disappointment.'

When Parthenope noticed that John's mole-coloured britches had been irretrievably singed in the blaze, another tempest started, during which Gideon stormed out of the house close to tears. That was when he ran into Richard Overton, a casual acquaintance with a yen for causing trouble, who told him that bit-parts were being offered in a court masque.

This was a fine way to offend everyone. The Jukes saw the devil in theatricals, and royal entertainments were the most perverted. As respectable traders, they solidly opposed the debauchery and idleness of courtiers; like many Londoners, they were even starting to oppose the King himself. These were the years when King Charles struggled to rule without a Parliament. His methods of financing himself grew ever more contentious. People in business viewed his ploys as interference. Even at thirteen, Gideon knew this. Royal monopolies were the sorest point. Whereas once patents had been granted only for new inventions, now all kinds of commodities were licensed only to royal favourites, who charged exorbitant prices and grabbed huge profits. Selling salt and soap had always been the prerogative of the grocers, so that rankled; beer was a staple and so was coal for Londoners. The City had also been outraged by Ship Money, the King's hard-hitting tax for the navy, not least because this tax was devised to finance a war about bishops, a war they disapproved of. John Jukes declaimed the cry of one Richard Chambers who had been imprisoned and fined for his part in a protest strike: 'Merchants are nowhere in the world so screwed and wrung as in England'..

'Screwed and wrung!' had chanted the Jukes sons, who had an ear for a catch-phrase.

The family also held Independent views in religion. They belonged to one of the puritan churches that lurked down every side street of the City parishes; Gideon was of course taken there every Sunday. John contributed to the fee of a radical weekly lecturer who was frequently in trouble with the Bishop of London for his unorthodox preaching. The Jukes believed in freedom of conscience and freedom of worship. People who never bowed the knee in church were sceptical of a civil ruler who expected his subjects to kneel to him. 'If God does not require ceremony, why should a king?' They feared that Charles Stuart, encouraged by his French wife, was trying to impose Catholic rituals upon them, and they hated it. They homed in on Queen Henrietta Maria as an object of hate because she loved theatre and masques. Theatres, every Londoner was certain (because it was true), were haunts of prostitutes and rakes.

So if there was one thing Gideon could do to upset his family, it was listening to Richard Overton and volunteering to take part in a masque — a masque, moreover, which the lawyers from the Inns of Court were to present to the King and Queen.

He had never acted before. Nevertheless, he came cheap, so he secured a very minor part as one of three dotterels, small quiet birds of the plover family. He was young and naive enough to be embarrassed when his two acting companions, slightly older boys, made jokes that among dotterels it was the female bird who engaged in displays while the male tended the nest.

Gideon's own sense of humour was more political; he was smiling satirically over the masque's title, which was The Triumph of Peace.

Rehearsals were brisk. During them, Gideon soon realised that he was a player in a work of numbing obsequiousness. The Triumph of Peace had been written by the popular poet James Shirley. It relied on spectacle rather than a fine script. All anybody wanted from it was flattery for the King, with gasps of delight at the rich costumes and at the complex engineering of the stage machinery.

The best talent in London contributed. The music was by the King's favourite composer William Lawes, his brother Henry Lawes, and Simon Ives, who excelled at glees and part-songs. The indoor stage sets were by the tireless Inigo Jones, architect, painter and emblematic publicist of the Stuart monarchy. The pageant's enormous cost included payment to a French costume-maker, brought out of retirement to stitch bird costumes, plus the cost of many sacks of feathers, acquired by this Frenchwoman at inflated prices from the canny feather-suppliers with whom she had long been in league.

For Gideon and his two companions she had produced padded suits sewn with hundreds of grey, white and russet feathers, costumes which had to be kept pulled up tight under the crotch, to make their legs look as long and thin as possible. The suits were held on by braces over the shoulders and were topped with heavy heads that had to be applied very carefully, or they ended up askew. In his feathered costume, Gideon had a fine, bright-chestnut padded belly marked with a distinctive white bar across his upper chest like a mayoral chain and prominent white eye stripes, joining on the back of the neck; after his headpiece was fixed, he could dip and raise its narrow beak, though at risk of breaking it.

Once inside, visibility was almost nil. He felt hot and claustrophobic, and the bird's head crushed down on his own with disconcerting pressure. Gideon began to experience regrets, but it was too late to back out.

Chapter Two — Whitehall: 2 February 1634

The blur of torchlight first became visible to the waiting crowds at Charing Cross. Spectators made out an occasional twinkle, then ranks of tarry flambeaux bobbed queasily in the darkness, finally filling the broad street with light. The horses and chariots made their slow, noisy way towards Whitehall Palace and the watching lords and ladies. A spectacular cast of players had spent hours preparing themselves in grand private mansions along the Strand and now they advanced towards the Banqueting House. Above the clatter of horses' hooves, a reedy shawm struggled to make its music heard in a hornpipe for frolicking anti-masquers, who were to present low-life comedy interludes. They wore coats and caps of yellow taffeta, bedecked with red feathers, and were ushering Fancy, the first featured character, in multi-coloured feathers and with big bats' wings attached to his shoulders. This quaint figure led the way for numerous curiosities, who were celebrating a tricky moment in history.

The Triumph of Peace was being presented to a King who certainly ruled without conflict. He had dismissed his truculent Parliament six years before. Now, though, his independence had an end-date for he had made himself penniless. To set the moment in context, that year of 1634 would see the notorious witchcraft trials at Loudun, the first meeting of the Academie francaise, the opening of the Covent Garden piazza in London, and the charter for the Oxford University Press. North America was being colonised with permanent settlements. Europe, from Scandinavia to Spain, was a theatre of blood, rape and pillage in what would come to be known as the Thirty Years War. The previous year, Galileo Galilei had been tried in Rome and forced to recant his opinion that the earth went around the sun; he now languished in the prison where he would die. In London the world revolved around King Charles.

In England, without apparent irony, its ruling couple could be hailed in song by Shirley as

'… great King and Queen, whose smile

Doth scatter blessings through this Isle.'

The masque celebrated the King's and Queen's recent return from Scotland. There, causing as much offence as he possibly could to his strait-laced and suspicious Scottish subjects, King Charles had been crowned monarch of two kingdoms. He had worn ostentatious robes of white satin and had outraged the fierce Scottish Kirk by using a thoroughly Anglican ritual, conducted by a phalanx of English bishops in jewel-bright robes. This display was not designed to win the hearts of sober Presbyterians. Although always convinced of his personal charm, King Charles saw no reason to show diplomacy to mere subjects. Why should he? He was accustomed to uncritical praise — for instance, the nauseous blandishments he was about to hear in Shirley's masque, calling him 'the happiness of our Kingdom, so blest in the present government…'. Perhaps only lawyers could have endorsed this. Even some of those paying for the masque may have choked on it.

There were three kingdoms, in fact, some more blest than others. It was never thought necessary to have a coronation for the Irish, even to offend them. They were seen as savages, whose best land English monarchs and their favourites greedily plundered — more recently, an investment opportunity even to the well-off English middle classes. The Welsh skulked in a mere rocky principality; they were allowed the traditional honour of their own Prince of the Blood, even though, as was also traditional, they never saw their sovereign's eldest son. The Prince of Wales was not quite four years old and so not allowed to stay up to watch The Triumph of Peace. Peace would play little part in his early life.

On returning from Edinburgh, King Charles and his enormous entourage had been ceremonially welcomed back by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London. Gideon had gone to watch. Borne in the civic procession was the traditional naked sword — which might be prophetic. The staged welcome, with bare-headed reverence from the leading citizens, colour, vibrancy, noise, and crowds of applauding onlookers penned behind street rails, had similarities to the masque which the flattering lawyers then offered at Whitehall. It may have helped the monarch to believe that life was one great pageant of admiration, with himself its adored centre. But the grudging boy in the dotterel-suit was starting to wonder.

Bulstrode Whitelocke, the go-getting lawyer who had arranged The Triumph of Peace, knew what he was about. The royal family lapped up such entertainments, oblivious to the obscene expense. This masque cost twenty thousand pounds, at a time when a well-to-do farmer with his own land might earn two or three hundred pounds a year and a cobbler was paid sixpence a day — but must supply his own thread. Apples were three for a penny and ribbon was ninepence a yard. You could buy a horse for two pounds, or a blind one for half as much. Brought up to know the value of money, Gideon goggled at this extravagance. Twenty thousand pounds lavished on one night's court entertainment could only mean enormous royal favour was expected in return. Would the King understand the bargain?

Gideon began to see why the Queen's love of such theatricals had attracted scabrous comment. As this procession was wending its colourful way along Whitehall to the Banqueting House, everything about it — including its staging on Candlemas, which was a Catholic feast day — looked like deliberate defiance against William Prynne, the puritan author of a fanatical tract called Histriomastix: the Players' Scourge (or Actor's Tragedy). Prynne had an obsessive hatred for the theatre. He denounced the Queen, who had shocked England by importing French actresses to take part in court masques, at a time when women did not appear on the stage. Worse, it was said that Henrietta Maria had scandalously danced in these masques herself.

William Prynne, who was a lawyer, had been tried in the hated Star Chamber, which ruled on censorship. He was sentenced to a ferocious fine, the pillory and prison; he was doggedly continuing his activities from jail and would eventually be tried a second time, have his ears lopped and his forehead branded 'SL' for Seditious Libeller. He was already deprived of his Oxford degree, and expelled from Lincoln's Inn, the very Inn whose more grovelling members had contributed to The Triumph of Peace.

Few of the satin-clad lords and ladies probably gave much thought to the imprisoned campaigner as the crowds gasped with delight at 'Jollity in a flame-coloured suit' and 'Laughter in a long coat of several colours, with laughing vizards on his breast and back, a cap with two grinning faces, and feathers between'. But as they stamped their cold feet outside in Whitehall, Lambert Jukes and his uncle were discussing Prynne sardonically. Bevan had an intimate connection with literature nowadays. Those who love books love free ones best of all. Through his new wife, the printer's widow, Bevan obtained reading material which — since the widow was extremely well-off — he had leisure to peruse.

'Have you read this Players' Scourge?' asked Lambert.

'Nobody has read it,' scoffed Bevan Bevan flatly. 'No man has a life long enough. We use this book to prop up a dilapidated court cupboard that has lost a foot. It is more than a thousand pages of bile! This is a mighty cube of invective, expelled like foul air from the posterior of one who professes never to visit the playhouse — '

'Difficult, when the theatres are closed due to plague.' Lambert sounded pleased to find this flaw.

Bevan eased his bulk, trying to get comfortable on his lame leg. He and Lambert were squeezed into a dark corner opposite the Horse Guards Yard, to which Bevan had led them by a back route up from the river, passing through the woodyard, coalyards, and other palace offices. 'They say Prynne's book is a very conduit of foul-mouthed, narrow-minded, fearsome flame-throwing spite which the crazed author has gathered over seven years — '

'And he calls the Queen a whore?' Lambert was always direct. From their position, they could see the tall windows of the Banqueting House; within its warmth, persons who called themselves quality were pressed against the glass panes, craning out at the spectacle. The King and Queen would be among that richly dressed throng. From time to time a jewel flashed on the white neck of one of the ladies, whose high-waisted gowns with puffed sleeves and snowflake collars were like costumes for fairies in just such a masque as they were preparing to watch.

'A notorious whore,' concurred Bevan.

'Not well advised!' Lambert sniggered.

As the torchlit procession continued past them, they watched many strange phenomena. To antique music representing birdsong, came a man-sized owl accompanied by a magpie, a jay, a crow and a kite. Struggling to spot their own bird, Lambert and Bevan made out three satyrs with their own torch-bearers — and finally what they were waiting for: the three dotterels. They expelled a roar of greeting, which they kept up until one of the high-stepping wildfowl turned slowly towards them.

Despite the winter night, inside the dotterel's heavy costume, Gideon had sweat in his eyes. Adolescents like to hide, but this was far too uncomfortable. Striving to keep up with the parade, the young actor momentarily tripped over the long claws of his bird's feet. Bevan's derisive cheer had been unmistakable even through the muffling headpiece. Now he was for it. He knew that his great-uncle and his brother had tracked him down.

Gideon was wary of Bevan. Even the recent offer of a printing apprenticeship seemed a mysterious ploy of some kind. Gideon always felt there was something unsound about his great-uncle. And he was right. When civil war came, Bevan Bevan would be a Royalist. Bevan was stirring trouble now, even though he always insisted he was supportive of Gideon. The lad's rebellion would be exposed, to become family lore, occasioning many more furious arguments at home.

Third Dotterel was forced to acknowledge that he had been recognised; he lowered his delicate beak in a sad salute. Thoroughly despondent, he flapped his arms like wings and stepped on his way.

'So there he flies; we have done our duty' What duty? Gideon would have roared. 'To a tavern, Lambert!'

'Do we not wait, to fetch our fledgling home?'

'It will be morning before he obtains his release. Let him find his own way'

Lambert at least was beginning to regret landing the young scamp in more trouble. 'Oh you mean, let him answer to my mother on his own!' Lambert knew Bevan was frightened of Parthenope. 'We need not speak of it — '

'Too good to keep to ourselves!' replied Bevan cruelly.

Thick crowds prevented them from moving off immediately. They saw out the rest of the parade. Immediately after the dotterels tottered a fine mobile windmill, at which a fantastical knight and his squire tilted raggedly while they tried to avoid its whirling sails. Then the procession became more formal. Fourteen trumpeters cantered by with rich banners; next rode the marshal among forty attendants, all tricked out in coats and hose of scarlet, trimmed with silver lace; then a hundred mounted gentlemen passed, two abreast. Finally in the manner of a Roman Triumph, three decorated chariots bore along Peace, Law and Justice, queenly females all coruscating with stars and silver ornament, thrilling beneath the shadows and light of many torches.

The King and Queen were so impressed, they sent out to request that the entire carnival be led right around the tiltyard at the far end of Whitehall, and brought back again for a second viewing. It was a chilly night and the crowds outside began to lose interest. As soon as they gained space to move, Bevan Bevan and Lambert Jukes took themselves off. They picked their way through the fresh horse-dung along to the Strand, then headed east, back to their own turbulent city parishes where they could enjoy a tankard in a tavern more at ease than here.

The masque participants finally dismounted outside the Banqueting House. Through his costume, Gideon could make out parts of the stark new classical building in three subtle shades of stonework, its harmonious Palladian style a cool contrast to the brightly painted beams and red brick of the rackety old Tudor buildings in Whitehall. Jostled by the other players and afraid his tail would be stepped on, he entered at the level of the Undercroft. The claws of his costume slipped on the stone, as he made his way up the easy flights of a broad stair. A tall doorway brought them into a magnificent two-storeyed hall, purposely designed for state receptions. Heat, braying voices, the stench of sweat and the cloying scent of rosewater assailed them. At the far end stood the King's canopied throne, flanked by the noblest gentlemen and ladies of the court. Lapdogs scampered about at will. Other courtiers, decorated with pockmarks and great pearls, lined the two side aisles, where splendid tapestries covered the tall window niches, pegged back on the street side to allow a view outside. Above, lesser spectators hung over the balcony which ran around the upper storey, including members of the Inns of Court who had fought the Lord Chamberlain for permission to see their own masque. The room, already warm from so many jostling bodies, was ablaze with lights, the glister of silver and gold tissue, and the sparkle of jewels. Only its ceiling was bare. Painted panels had been commissioned from Peter Paul Rubens, but they would not arrive from Holland until the following year.

The King and Queen, diminutive figures enthroned like dolls on their state dais, faced a specially constructed raised stage. During the masque, this would represent variously arbours, streets, a tavern, open countryside and clouds, with all the scene changes and spectacles wrought by cunning machinery.

Gideon was allowed to remove the head of his costume temporarily, and listen to the first scenes. Emerging red-faced, he found the proceedings hard to follow. To a grocer's son, it seemed completely alien. The script was tedious: anodyne exchanges which punctuated a strange mixture of clowning and dance. Presentations came and went, in a drama more remarkable for its ingenuity than its content. Moments of burlesque led into banal songs that would never be picked up and hummed on the streets; there were many dances and then a curiously stilted musical drama for Peace, Law and Justice.

Lacking the vigour of the old Ben Jonson masques which had once been played here, James Shirley's text was unworthy of the fine poet who wrote 'Death the Leveller'. His low-life comedy scenes were more spirited than his solemn allegories, but not much more. Wenches and wanton gamesters went into taverns and emerged drunk; thieves were apprehended by a constable; romping beggars and cripples attempted to cheat gentry, then threw away their crutches and danced. Shirley touched on controversy only with great care: 'Are these the effects of Peace?' asked Opinion (understandably perturbed); 'corruption rather.,' It was the only scathing comment. The King and Queen, who were still laughing at the cripples dancing, must have missed it.

Peace, according to this masque, did have the benefit of encouraging English inventiveness. Characters lined up to astonish the audience with fabulous ideas: a jockey brought a bridle that would cool overheated horses; a country fellow had devised a wondrous new threshing machine; a bearded philosopher with a furnace on his head could boil beef in a versatile steamer. There was an underwater chamber which allowed submariners to recover lost treasure from riverbeds, a physician with a hat full of carrots and a rooster on his fist had worked out how to fatten poultry with scraps, and a fortress to be built on Goodwin Sands would melt rocks. In a century where science was to make dramatic advances, this was the crazy side of science.

The three dotterels, Gideon presumed, were intended to illustrate country pleasures during times of plenty. Now they had their moment. Hastily donning his costume head again, Gideon scampered onto the stage. He hardly had time to be nervous. The trio of birds were chased around by three dotterel-catchers, who duly caught them with wires and cages, before they all scampered off to make room for the windmill and its jousting knight. Gideon experienced the gloom of an entertainer who knows the next act is bound to be more popular.

Soon afterwards, accompanied by solemn music, Peace, Law and Justice descended in gold chariots from stage clouds in the upper flats, three statuesque female deities wearing classical robes of green, purple and white satin. The ladies pronounced compliments to one another in curiously bad poetry before the entire cast moved towards the King and Queen and addressed Their Majesties with sanctimonious song. Gideon was at the back, so could barely glimpse the monarch.

The scene changed. The song changed, though not in quality. A finale was anticipated, yet the dance was interrupted by apparently real stagehands and costume-makers, whose dialogue was significantly more spirited than anything else in the pageant. Backstage, a small girl who was skipping about unattended shrieked with joy. Gideon Jukes had almost fallen over her as she stood below his line of sight, constricted as his vision was through the eyeholes. She pushed him aside, almost sick with excitement as actors playing a painter and a carpenter, a tailor's wife, a feather-maker's wife and an embroiderer's wife exchanged banter on stage. They represented ordinary people from a backstage world to which she had just been introduced by her somewhat frowsty grandmother. 'Juliane! Ou es-tu?' She was eight years old, and had been helping with the costumes, thrilled by the responsibility — but that night she was most entranced that she had seen the Queen.

The scene changed yet again. A representation of Morning Twilight glided onstage — a pale girl in a partly see-through costume, with whom Gideon was much taken. This brought the formal entertainment to its end. The Queen did dance with the masquers, proving her indifference to William Prynne's insults and delighting at least one small girl quite utterly!

Gideon felt shocked when Her Majesty danced. The rebel in him was out-rebelled. Any idea of running away from home to be a player evaporated. He would have to accept some other career.

So delighted with The Triumph of Peace was Henrietta Maria that she ordered it to be played all over again at Merchant Taylors Hall, where its anti-puritan message might reach larger numbers of people, especially the young. Third Dotterel would be forbidden by his parents from acting the second time. The small girl would not attend either, since her grandmother, always a game woman, wanted privacy to encourage a legal man called William Gadd, whom she had met at the first performance.

On that royal night at the Banqueting House, all the players and lawyers were taken afterwards to an enormous feast which lasted until daylight. Gideon was too sleepy to eat much. Next morning, Third Dotterel stumbled home to his mother with his bird's head under his arm, shedding feathers all the way from Ludgate Hill to Cheapside.

Chapter Three — London: 1634-42

Parthenope forgave him.

He was her baby — and she was about to lose him. She thought this was not the best moment to send Gideon half across London to another home. But sometimes it is easier for a youngster to respect strangers.

Gideon almost backed out before he started. His first task was to locate Robert Allibone, his new master, who worked at the sign of the Auger. This, his great-uncle had airily instructed, would be found off Fleet Lane. Brought up in the City, Gideon had to leave the few streets around Cheapside that he knew well, pass through the hubbub of booksellers around St Paul's and explore westwards beyond the city wall to Ludgate Hill and the busy environs of the Old Bailey. Though only half an hour's walk away, this was unknown territory. He was reluctant to ask directions. He had walked to an area of lawyers and their hangers-on, some visibly seedy. He sensed that his steps were dogged by sneak-thieves; he could hear the drunks raucously tippling in dark taverns and victualling houses. He had come among scriveners, printers, carriage-men and — since the law was so lucrative — goldsmiths and jewellers.

When few side streets had names and no premises had house numbers, wooden signboards swung by almost every door; they were high enough not to decapitate a man on horseback, but were otherwise unregulated. The pictures were crudely drawn and often faded. Few signs had any connection with nearby shops or tradesmen. Wandering about with youthful absence of urgency, Gideon gazed at Cocks and Bulls, Red Lions, White Harts, Swans, Crowns, Turks' Heads, Kings' Heads, Boars' Heads, Crossed Keys and Compasses, Rising Suns and Men in the Moon, Bushes, Bears and Barleycorns. It took him another hour to find the Auger. Welcoming him without complaint, Robert Allibone, a compact sandy-haired man in brown britches and shirtsleeves, admitted that the street board lacked finesse.

Gideon confessed he had not known what an auger was.

'A bodger. A good honest piercing tool. Not to be confused with an augur, who is a pagan prophet or prognosticator, a dabbler in offal and trickery…' The printer gazed at the boy. 'I hope you like words.'

'I will try, sir.'

'And how are you with ideas?'

'Do you print ideas?'

'I print words. Remember that. Take no responsibility for ideas. Whoever commissions the printing must take the risks — the publisher!' A firm hand pushed Gideon onto a stool and a book was opened on his knees. 'Show me you can read.' Although few people in the shires were literate, the majority in London could read. Gideon saw at once that his test piece was an extremely dull sermon so he pulled a face; Allibone seemed pleased, either at his quickness or his critical taste.

Bevan Bevan was standing as guardian. Gideon saw Allibone stiffen when his great-uncle walked in, wearing a florid scarlet suit, the outfit in which he had married Elizabeth Keevil. The Jukes family had focused their revulsion upon this wedding suit. The main colour was vivid; the braid which outlined hems, edges and side-seams flashed with spangles. The short cloak, which was worn with a casual flourish on the left shoulder, made Bevan look immensely wide. The outfit came with gloves — one to wear and one to clutch.

Bevan placed his clutching-glove upon a pile of printed pamphlets, while he handed over the fifty pounds agreed as bond money. This was supposed to represent a surety that Gideon came from a good background and would be capable of setting up in business on his own account eventually. Normally a bond would be repaid when a young man completed his apprenticeship; its purpose was to establish him. However, Gideon deduced that Bevan's fifty pounds would remain with Allibone, for it represented some debt the Keevils owed. He sensed rancour between the men. Allibone's voice was pointedly dry: 'You are a fortunate boy, Gideon Jukes. Entry to apprenticeship in the Stationers' Company is regulated strictly!'

Bevan shot Allibone a sorrowful look. Then he took it upon himself to explain the contract of apprenticeship: 'Your indenture — which you must guard with your life — this witnesses: that you, Gideon Jukes, will faithfully serve your master to learn the trade of a printer.' He ran a fat finger down the terms. 'You shall do no damage to your master, nor allow it to be done by others. You shall not waste his goods, nor lend them out unlawfully. You shall not fornicate, nor commit matrimony. You shall not play cards, dice, tables, nor any unlawful games which may cause your master to have any loss. You shall not haunt taverns or playhouses!

Gideon scuffed his feet. Robert Allibone's sharp eyes lingered thoughtfully on this boy who had been promoted to him as so intelligent and keen to learn: a gangly specimen, with a newly cut pudding-bowl of straight tow-coloured hair and vividly pustular skin. Still, he seemed well mannered. Before the irritating uncle arrived, Allibone had warmed to him.

With a wave of his clutching-glove, Bevan fluffed on. 'Well, well, it is all here — not buy or sell goods on your own account, not absent yourself from your master day or night, but behave as a faithful apprentice, et cetera. In consideration, your master shall teach and instruct you in the art and mystery of his trade by the best means he can, while finding you meat, drink, apparel, lodging, and all other necessaries, according to the custom of the City of London.' They were outside the City, but nobody quibbled.

'Thank you,' said Gideon gratefully to the printer. His parents had threatened to throw him out of house and home for his disloyalty. It was probably bluff, but a thirteen-year-old boy needed to feel confident he had not seen his last beef-and-oyster pie.

His great-uncle proposed a drink with Allibone to seal the contract. Gideon was left behind, sitting on a paper bale, gazing rather dolefully at the terrifying equipment. The silent press stood taller than a man. In due course Allibone would explain to him that it was based on the design of olive and wine presses. It had two tall, heavy, upright side-beams, which carried a lighter cross-piece. Down through that ran a big wooden screw. Into its bell-shaped lower terminus was fixed a turning lever, then a flat box containing the paper. Below was a long table, where the form sat, full of mirror-image type to be inked. Around the room Gideon saw a daunting array of boxes which contained letters, large and small, in seeming disarray. On shelves were unbound books and pamphlets awaiting sale.

Allibone, who was not a toper in Bevan's style, soon returned and taught his new apprentice his first lesson: how to make up a truckle bed for himself in the shop.

John Jukes, the careful parent, showed up two days later to inspect the printer.

He found a freckled man of twenty-nine, with a cool eye and a confident air. Jukes had ascertained that Allibone was married with no children. He owned one press, since to possess more caused difficulties with the authorities. He worked from a tiny shop, living above it with his wife. He sold some works himself, but passed out other copies to bookshops and itinerant pedlars.

'I understand there are but twenty licensed printers,' Jukes began pedantically. Allibone listened, sizing up Jukes: a well-fed shopkeeper, probably sent today by his wife. He wore an English cloth suit, with no French, Dutch or Italian accessories, a suit made for him a decade earlier when he was middle-aged and carried more weight. A man who brooded on slights, planned his argument, then came out with it as if reading a sermon. 'You are not troubled by the authorities, Master Allibone?'

'I avoid exciting them… There are twenty or so Master Printers, licensed by the Stationers' Company and approved by High Commission.' Allibone went back to inking a tray of letters, deftly deploying a wooden tool covered with lambswool. John Jukes sucked his teeth at the mention of the King's Court of High Commission; Allibone shared the moment, then confided more freely, 'We mere yeomen and liverymen strive to stay friends with the company officers, and if we are suitably humble, they duly pass work to us. Always the least profitable work, of course.'

The father began a new tack: 'Sending a boy out to a stranger's trade is a common thing.' Allibone merely nodded. Though a dealer in words, he could be content with silence. Gideon, whose family would yammer on about nothing rather than leave fifty seconds empty, had already noticed the difference. Allibone was to be a strong influence; Gideon Jukes was on his way to becoming a quiet man.

'We are rubbing along,' commented Allibone, who privately thought his young apprentice was quite tough enough. There was no meekness in Gideon. He had a mind of his own but had been polite these past couple of days, a willing learner. Allibone was finding him easy to instruct and if Gideon was making mistakes, it was only because he was trying to rush ahead and do things before he was capable.

John Jukes reluctantly convinced himself that Allibone was reliable. The printer made no attempt to bluster about himself or his trade, and happily no mention of Bevan Bevan. He gave Jukes a moment alone with his son. Allibone had noticed the awkwardness between them, exacerbated by the fact Gideon had suddenly that year grown taller than his father.

Are you content with your situation?' John was staring at his son's apprentice clothes, old britches of Allibone's, beneath a blue leather apron. Everything Gideon touched seemed to cover him with ink; only his newly cropped hair had escaped. John was not sure whether to laugh at the filthy picture he made, or to deplore it.

Gideon bravely maintained that he was happy; his sceptical father knew any lad would be forlorn after his first two days in strange surroundings. Stepping from childhood into adult work was an ugly shock. Gideon now had to contemplate a lifetime of near drudgery, rising at first light and sticking to a mundane task until dinnertime. 'Well, you have bound yourself, Gideon. Your mother's uncle, for his own reasons, put himself to some trouble to win you this opening.'

'Plenty of apprentices fail to stay their term,' muttered Gideon glumly.

'Not in our family!' John must be forgetting wastrel cousin Tom, Gideon scoffed to himself. Tom Jukes tried a new occupation every year and the only one he ever liked was going to the bad… Sympathetically, his father offered, 'You must stay for a month, to try it thoroughly. Then if your heart cries out strongly, you may come and consult me.'

'A month!'

The boy had revealed how homesick he was. To overcome the tug on his emotions, Jukes senior summoned back the printer. Allibone gave no sign of his own misgivings. Gideon was the first apprentice he had been able to take on, and he was anxious that things should not go awry. He satisfied John Jukes eventually, soothing him with a free almanac and a proposal that Jukes should compose an encyclopedia of spices for publication. Robert Allibone was a sharp businessman despite his reserved manner; he had recognised in Gideon's father a man of many projects — though perhaps he had not realised how frequently John's projects were left incomplete.

'Well, Gideon, your mother has sent you some jumbles.'

A packet of cinnamon-flavoured pastry twists was handed over and Gideon went back to work. John Jukes made his farewell; Allibone noticed that he brushed away a tear. Gideon, too, wiped his inky nose on his shirtsleeve.

Those first jumbles were hidden away and eaten in secret, but within the month Gideon opened up, so when his mother sent him treats he would share them. Margery Allibone, a brusque woman, older than her husband, whose cooking was merely adequate, once asked if Gideon's mother would pass on the jumbles recipe. The printer went further. Cookery books, herbals and household manuals were favourites with the public; he nagged for Parthenope to compile a Good Housewife's Closet, which he could illustrate with woodcuts and sell to anxious brides. But Parthenope was about to acquire a daughter-in-law, Lambert's wife, and felt the need to preserve her position by guarding her knowledge. When the Jukes wanted to be gracious to the Allibones, they sent raisins or Jamaica pepper.

Gideon stayed out his term. For the full seven years of his indenture, he was a typical apprentice: clumsy, scatterbrained and sleepy. He went from delivering parcels to operating the press, learning the tricks and pitfalls. He was taught that typography was critical; for hours he sat at the high compositing desk, mastering fast use of the box of type, with vowels in the middle compartments, frequent consonants next and X, Y and Z at the outer edges. He learned how to tighten the form so the lines of type were clenched fast, how far to turn the lever to lower the press — first once, then again for the second page — how to regulate the amount of ink on the pad, how long the wet sheets needed to dry. He watched how Allibone negotiated with the Stationers' Company who registered books and controlled publication; how he commissioned work from authors, both professional and amateur; how he extracted debts from dilatory clients; how he organised bookbinders; how he kept a careful list of decent importers of paper, and ink and pen suppliers; how he handled people begging him to print subject matter he disapproved of (which was very little) or knew he could not sell (rather more).

Gideon was paid nothing, but had freedom to read. If he had a fault as a worker, it was his tendency to get caught up in the words. Correctly setting and spacing the text was hard enough, without losing his place as he read on obliviously through the manuscript pages. Many a time Robert Allibone threatened to show him what it was like to have a harsh master who beat him — though, being addicted to reading himself, he never did.

For anyone interested in politics, there would soon be no better trade. However, at first the outlook for printers was poor, and it grew worse before it got better. Censorship prohibited publication of all foreign and domestic news. Then in 1637, three years after Gideon's indentures, the King's Star Chamber issued a draconian Decree concerning Printing. This aimed to suppress seditious books, particularly those which did not accord with the High Church ideals of the reforming new Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. It insisted on registration of all printed works by the Stationers' Company. Fines for seditious authors were reinforced by fines for their printers; Allibone somehow escaped penalties, but it was an anxious period.

Then, another four years later, when King Charles was forced to call a Parliament, the Star Chamber was abolished. At once, printers began selling books without official registration. Pamphlets and news-sheets immediately flourished; every Fiery Counterblast bred a Witty Riposte. Anyone with a burning cause could promote his opinions, whether he brazened it out openly, hid under a false name or tantalised with his initials only.

By chance, Gideon Jukes had been positioned right at the heart of this. He finished his apprenticeship, at the age of twenty, the same year that the King would at last summon a Parliament. He had seen the old regime; now he experienced a great rush of excitement at the new.

One of the first decisions Gideon then made as an adult was to join the London Trained Bands.

England had no standing army. Trained Bands had been established by Queen Elizabeth. They were local militias, where men were drilled every summer in the use of pike and musket in order to defend the realm against foreign invasion. Generally viewed as a joke, poorly equipped, badly trained and liable to desert, in most of the shires the Trained Bands were truly inefficient though in London the situation was different. The London Trained Bands were greatly superior.

Gideon's father was an enthusiast; he had been a captain of the Artillery Company, the high-minded theorists of the Trained Bands, for as long as Gideon could remember. Once a month in summer John would put on a buff coat and collect his weapons. He would proudly march off to an enclosed piece of ground on the western edge of Spitalfields, the Artillery Garden, where the company met to practise under the guidance of hired professional soldiers. Jukes and his comrades read up old campaigns and composed passionate military treatises. None had ever fired a shot in anger. All were convinced they were experts. After the thrill of parading, these companionable hobbyists always adjourned to an alehouse. Their feasts were legendary; the utensils, plates and tureens they used for dining were their most tenderly guarded equipment.

Lambert Jukes was an enthusiastic regular of the Trained Bands' Blue Regiment. He too revelled in wearing uniform, firing practice shots, and drinking with comrades after drill. 'You are just weekend warriors!' grumbled Gideon. 'Posturing amateurs. Your bullets have no bite.'

Membership of the Trained Bands was compulsory for householders, though they were allowed to send substitutes and many instructed an apprentice or servant to attend for them. Deep political foreboding made Allibone attend training sessions in person. He was in the Green Regiment, which Gideon began to eye up warily.

London was astir. In 1641 Gideon was released from his indenture, a qualified journeyman printer. Taller and less thickset than his older brother, he was now nonetheless strong — toned by working the press and shouldering paper bales. He had the square features, pale skin and fair hair that ran in his family, suggesting that if Viking raiders had not made their mark in the remote past, at least Swedish or Danish seamen had been spreading joy among the ladies of medieval or Tudor London. Allibone had made him a good all-round printer, although he would never be a perfect compositor. 'Your thoughts wander! What are you dreaming of?'

Calm and good-natured, Gideon merely smiled. He felt diffident of discussing it but was wondering what his future could be, a second son without a patron, passed fit to be a journeyman but with no money to start up in business.

The solution came, though in a sad manner. Robert Allibone's wife died. Gideon's brother Lambert had served his grocery apprenticeship with a master whose wife ordered the lads about, but Margery was no bully and rarely came in the print shop. Gideon had always known that she and his master were devoted. He occasionally overheard what he knew were the sounds of lovemaking; at first a fascinated boy, he came to be a young, frustrated bachelor who covered his ears. Frequently, Fleet Lane would be filled with the slow measure of the Allibones playing musical duets on large and lesser viols which they had owned since they first married.

Once widowed, Robert sought change. He decided to move to new premises in the City and asked Gideon to go with him as his partner. Gideon eagerly accepted. They set up at the top end of Basinghall Street, close to the Guildhall, between Cripplegate and Moorgate. At the north end were fair houses with long gardens, while southwards were smaller premises and closeted alleys. Walking for a few minutes, across Lothbury, with its noisy copper shops, and down Ironmongers Lane, Gideon could reach the Jukes's grocery shop. He had not quite come home to mother, but he was well within reach of Bread Street; he could reacquaint himself with the glory of her Dutch pudding. Nowadays puddings were mixed as a joint effort by Parthenope and Lambert's pretty wife Anne, a dark-eyed, sensible girl from Bishopsgate; as soon as it was seen that she had a light touch with manchet rolls, Anne had fitted in with her mother-in-law. The women worked peacefully together in the kitchen, where John Jukes often nodded on a settle nowadays, dawdling into his senior years with his head as full of schemes as ever. Lambert effortlessly ran the business.

Gideon was welcomed back. Since he would be sharing premises with Allibone, he would cause no ructions with Lambert. His mother took a new look at her returning son, this twenty-year-old with fair hair and a loping stride, who had reached manhood with a scathing view of the world, but was apparently now content with his own place in it. She wondered what other concerns would call him, and whether she would live to see his future. Mothers like to believe their sons are marked for greatness. Parthenope, whose head was filled with musings whenever her hands were busy in a mixing bowl, knew that it mainly led to disappointment. But Lambert, who had never given her a moment's qualm, had also never given her the feeling of potential she experienced with Gideon. So she made him some mock-bacon marzipan — two-tone stripes in a whimsical streaky pattern — while she pretended he was just a troublesome boy again, needing rosewater for his acne. And she waited.

Gideon liked to take Robert home as a guest to dinner. However, it happened infrequently, after a mishap when a piece of skewer was unfortunately left in a veal olive; it splintered into the unwary printer's hard palate.

Gideon had always known that Robert Allibone was sceptical of authority. All through his apprenticeship Gideon had spotted that their shop sold some inflammatory material. The master never involved his apprentice. Seditious 'almanacs' were only ever printed by himself; they were kept in a locked cupboard and were quietly passed to customers who knew in advance what they were buying. Gideon now started reading them.

Once they moved to Basinghall Street, Allibone's yearning for reform became more open. 'Print brings knowledge. What we publish can show the people their rights and liberties.'

He had chosen his new premises deliberately, to bring him amongst others of a like mind. Basinghall Street seemed close to respectability as it wound around the Guildhall and several livery company halls. But Gideon soon realised that their narrow shopfront was less important than their even more ramshackle back door. Behind where he and Allibone worked and civilly served aldermen with tide tables and news-sheets, accessible through adjoining yards and over a wall with convenient footholds, lay Coleman Street. This was a hotbed of radical printers and several extreme religious groups had meeting-places there. This was where the women preachers gathered and gave soaring sermons to their free-thinking sisters, and occasional free-living brothers. Coleman Street also contained the Star Tavern, which was to become famous as a haunt of Parliamentarian conspirators.

Chapter Four — London: 1641-42

Gideon felt he was living at the turn of an extraordinary period. All generations complain about the government, but he felt a distinct tingle that this would be different.

Nobody really intended to start a civil war. Most past wars had been fought against foreign aggressors. Others were to decide who should be king, not whether a ruler was a bad king — though if he was a bad king that helped to validate any usurper. In a highly unusual gesture, Scottish King James had acknowledged that he was invited to succeed Queen Elizabeth by his new English subjects. His son Charles never entertained any such concept; Charles believed God had given him authority, which none could question. Puritans and other Independents, who talked to God directly, heard a different message. Why would the Lord have chosen a rickety, ill-educated, devious autocrat, married to a manipulative foreign Catholic, a man who was at once desperate to be loved and yet had an impressive flair for causing offence? While earnest subjects tried to find a compromise, a compromise the King never thought necessary, the nation slipped by a series of shunts and bumps into armed conflict. Since there were neither foreign aggressors nor pretenders to the throne, people called it a war without an enemy.

It was never foreseen that the struggle would turn into a revolution. Everyone was clear that it was treason for subjects to take up arms against the king. On both sides there was horror of the coming bloodshed. On both sides there were many who hoped to preserve the peace.

There was, initially, a 'junto' of aristocrats setting up to challenge the King's authority after he took back their traditional powers and privileges to grant to his own favourites. The earls of Northumberland, Warwick, Bedford, Hertford, Pembroke, Leicester and Essex were men of land and lineage whose ancestors had held great power; they were also backed among others, by lords Saye and Sele, Mandeville and Brooke. These plotted secretly, how to wrest back influence the King had taken from them. They all owned homes in the country where they were out of reach of the court, and also houses in London between which they could flit like sociable moths, right under the King's nose. Their family trees were so interconnected they could scarcely be untangled to draw them on paper, as intricately linked by blood and marriage as lace, with a web of younger brothers, stepsons, sons-in-law, even bastards. They were patrons to others, further down the social chain yet educated and energetic — lawyers, secretaries and men of business — who would eventually be significant in the House of Commons. The junto members were Presbyterians and puritans; they loathed the bishops' influence in secular affairs. They cultivated their own links with foreign states. Some had considered escaping to the New World to form a godly commonwealth more to their liking. But instead they were colluding with friends, and although it was treason to invite a foreign army into England, they formed an alliance with Scotland which would have very long-term consequences.

The King became embroiled in dispute with the Scots. They were to feature frequently and often cynically in events. Back in 1637 in Edinburgh, a kerbside cabbage-seller called Jenny Geddes had flung her stool at the head of the Dean of St Giles Cathedral, bawling in protest when he used the hated new Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Two years later, encouraged by the English earls' junto, the Scots rebelled in arms against the King's imposition of High Anglican bishops. They were pacified. In 1640 they rebelled again.

Desperate for money to finance an army, the King summoned a Parliament for the first time in eleven years. Gideon barely remembered the last time this happened, though he paid attention now. He could not vote. He did not own freehold property.

New members were returned after a hotly contested election. They insisted they would only grant the King funds after discussing abuses of royal prerogative. The King testily dismissed this 'Short Parliament' after only three weeks.

The Scots invaded England. The King raised some troops, a rabble who were soundly thrashed. Advancing south, the Scots demanded,?850 a day merely to keep a truce. In November the bankrupt King caved in and summoned the 'Long Parliament'. It passed an act that it could sit in perpetuity and it was to last for almost twenty years.

This time members were determined to take control. The King's closest and most hated advisers, the Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud, were impeached: accused of treason and thrown into the Tower of London. Other royal supporters fled. Radical members of the House of Lords were imposed as Privy Councillors. Of course there was no way to force the King to follow their advice.

To Gideon, this was a heady period, when it seemed reform could not be stopped. Strafford was tried and executed. Ship Money was declared illegal. The hated Courts of High Commission and Star Chamber were abolished. The seditious pamphleteers, Burton, Bastwick and Prynne (author of Histriomastix, the book which had libelled the Queen for performing in masques), were pardoned.

In August the King travelled to Scotland to negotiate peace. In November he set out for home. During his absence, members of the House of Commons had taken a detailed audit of their complaints. An emergent reformer called John Pym compiled a Grand Remonstrance, a daunting state-of-the-kingdom review. The Remonstrance would be read out to the King in full by messengers from Parliament; they would need vocal stamina. A bitter compendium of over two hundred clauses listed every possible grievance in church and civil life. Singled out were unjust taxes, with an enormous list of land encroachments, distraints of trade, monopolies and fines. The most impassioned outcry condemned the evils of the Star Chamber, which had organised censorship.

Even while it was in draft, secret copies of the Grand Remonstrance circulated in Coleman Street. In next-door Basinghall Street, Robert Allibone quoted with relish: '"Subjects have been oppressed by grievous fines, imprisonments, stigmatisings, mutilations, whippings, pillories, gags, confinements, banishments!"

Gideon snatched the copy. '"After so rigid a manner as hath not only deprived men of the society of their friends, exercise of their professions, comfort of books" — ho! ho! — "' '"use of paper or ink, but even violated that near union which God hath established between men and their wives, whereby they have been bereaved of the comfort and conversation one of another for many years together, without hope of relief…" — Comfort of books — this is excellent for our trade, Robert!'

'We shall see…' Allibone was rightly cautious. Printers would soon be summoned to the bar of the House of Commons to account for seditious material, and in coming weeks an order would be given to collect certain books from stationers and burn them. 'The conclusion is good.' Allibone retrieved the paper. '"That His Majesty may have cause to be in love with good counsel and good men"

Gideon pulled a face. 'Why not simply say they hate the cut of his beard?'

Revolts come and go but young men remain the same. At twenty, Gideon Jukes was obsessed with beard and whisker design. With fair hair and equally fair skin-tones, the current fashions made him look from almost any distance as if he had a long upper lip and a pointed chin. He had let his hair grow down to his shoulders, an unsuccessful experiment to show he was no longer an apprentice, but was tormented by whether or not to remain clean-shaven.

Robert had been beardless as long as Gideon had known him, his chestnut hair clean, trimmed and parted centrally. For all the usual reasons, Gideon wanted more dash. He had been brought up to aim for a plain appearance — but, having given much thought to this, he knew women would not be tempted to adventure by a demurely respectable look.

'I saw King Charles once.' Gideon chose not to mention that he had been acting in a masque at the time. (One thing was sure; he could not have a courtier's beard.) 'His Majesty smiles to right and left — but does not see or listen.'

'He must hear this.'

'And if not?'

'I fear he will rue it.'

'And I fear we shall all be hanged,' replied Gideon, the pragmatist. It did not hold him back from supporting the Remonstrance.

When the King arrived home from Scotland, surprisingly, he was received with fervent rejoicing. He entered London in procession and enjoyed a four-course feast in Guildhall. This did not go down well with Robert and Gideon nearby in Basinghall Street. Church bells pealed and the fountains ran with wine. There was divisiveness, however. The King dined in his majesty with the House of Lords; the Lord Mayor and alderman, though his hosts for the event, were allowed only to form an audience in the upper gallery. The House of Commons was snubbed entirely; none was invited.

The Scottish Presbyterians had been pacified, but the Irish Catholics rebelled, fired by resentment towards the many English settlers. Horrific stories of massacre and mutilation circulated.

'Is this true, or invented to arouse passions?' Gideon demanded as he read the details, all eagerly believed by the public, who were appalled and terrified.

'Oh, we must publish and let the people judge,' his partner answered.

Gideon was silent for a moment. He remained an idealist. 'People will believe these stories because they are printed.'

A few printers provided reasoned comments but most were selling sensational stories. The King viewed Ireland as a conquered province full of savages. Now came sickening accounts of the revenge taken by these downtrodden people: the Lord Justice forced to hide in a hen-house, a bishop's family found shivering in rags in a snowdrift, an immigrant Englishwoman hanged by her hair from her door, a bulky Scotsman murdered and rendered into candles, allegedly hundreds of thousands killed, pregnant wives and young daughters raped, babies spitted on pikes, children hanged. Official reprisals followed. Horrors carried out by the King's forces were then reported, horrors on a scale that even shocked veterans of the brutal war on the Continent. The soldiers' terrible deeds were cited as illustrations of the King's personal cruelty.

Amidst terror that Irish rebels would cross to England, bringing such atrocities with them, men of conscience carefully read the news-sheets. Many were turned into supporters of Parliament by their revulsion for the royal power that had caused, encouraged, tolerated and apparently remained unmoved by the inhuman events.

The Grand Remonstrance was passed in the House of Commons by a majority of only eleven, after a tense all-night sitting. Gideon had begun to take serious notice of what Parliament did. Where Robert had the hard attitude of a man who had been knocked about by life, Gideon was open, fresh and eager to receive new ideas.

People began to issue petitions of their own, many sent from remote parts of the country. All the London apprentices, thirty thousand of them, signed one. They then flocked around Parliament, armed with staves, oars and broomsticks, but were cleared away by the Westminster Trained Bands, for 'threatening behaviour'. They moved on and mobbed Whitehall Palace. This was when Queen Henrietta Maria was said to have looked out and christened the lads with their short haircuts 'Roundheads'. The apprentices took it up eagerly. Meanwhile staider demonstrators flowed down the Strand to Westminster, members of the lower and middle classes from one shire after another, beseeching Parliament to urge the King to abandon his evil counsellors, as if people believed all the country's ills were the fault of bad men who had bamboozled him.

The abolition of the Star Chamber and official censorship directly affected printers. Robert and Gideon were furiously busy. News-sheets erupted onto London streets, giving reports of Parliamentary debates. They were cheap, and the public devoured them. It was the first time in England that detailed political material was available without crown control. The first tentative pamphlets were followed by a rash of competing Mercuries, Messengers and Diurnals. Many were printed in and around Coleman Street. Robert and Gideon produced their share.

In December, Gideon's brother Lambert made a journey across the river and out to Blackheath. A cavalcade of coaches turned out along the Dover Road, with thousands of well-wishers on foot. Lambert jumped on the back of a carriage and was carried up the short steep hill near Greenwich, arriving just in time on the bare, windy heath that had previously seen Cornish rebels and Jack Cade, and which now witnessed the triumphant return of the convicted pamphleteer Dr John Bastwick from his intended life-imprisonment on the Isles of Scilly. Roaring crowds adorned him with wreaths of rosemary and bay, for remembrance and victory — garlands which hid his missing ears, sliced off as a punishment for sedition on the orders of Archbishop Laud's Star Chamber. Lambert hitched a lift home with an apothecary, who was looking forward to boosting his fortunes with salves for soldiers if there was a war.

A week later, the Grand Remonstrance was formally presented to the King at Hampton Court. He loftily said he would reply 'in due course'.

'I cannot imagine His Majesty will miss dinner because he has his nose buried in our two hundred clauses!' Gideon's brief experience as a masquer made him feel an expert on court etiquette.

After a fortnight of royal silence, the Grand Remonstrance was printed for the public anyway.

Six days later, significant change came to the Common Council of the City of London. Elections were held and the council was packed with radicals, displacing the traditional conservatives who grovelled to the monarchy. John Jukes was one of the new members. He reported that support for the King was fast declining in the City, although the present Lord Mayor remained loyal to Charles. 'A bombast in greasy ermine, a corporation sultan!' scoffed Robert.

Gideon described how the ermine was passed down through merchant families in an obstinately closed City community that was just as elite as the royal court. 'Dick Whittington and his cat would never find advancement now. Robert, the fat sirs in Guildhall cling together like Thames mud. They win their gold chains because they are on a tight little rota of rich and influential cronies. They hold onto power because they support the King whatever he does.'

Gideon had felt some surprise when his father identified himself as a radical. Parents are supposed to be hidebound, not hotheads. It made him pause. Men of wealth and reputation were necessary for reform, yet he felt some consternation at the involvement of his now elderly father.

'I thought your father was a company man.'

'And his forefathers before him. This is the first time ever that a Jukes was elected to the Common Council.'

The next tussle in London was for control of the Tower of London. The King appointed Sir Thomas Lunsford as Lieutenant, but there was a public outcry and outrage in Parliament; he was replaced only five days later.

"What is this Lunsford's history?'

'Unfit for office.' Robert had the background. 'The man murdered his own cousin. He fled abroad and became a professional soldier — which shows his low quality — was pardoned by the King — which shows his — then served in the Bishops' War where he is famous for shooting out of hand two young conscripts he accused of mutiny. He also put out a captain's eye.'

'My father says, if this godless outlaw is in charge of the Tower, where the bullion of the realm is kept and coined, there will be too much anxiety; it will put a stop to trade.'

'Stop trade!' cackled Robert satirically. 'Surely merchants are more robust? But to pardon and promote such an outlaw shows what kind of king we have.' Gideon could see that.

On Sunday, the day after Christmas, the Lord Mayor warned the King that the apprentices were on the verge of rioting. London apprentices always loved a rumpus. Their football games led to casualties and damage; they insulted visitors and foreigners; they roamed in gangs on May Day and at St Bartholomew's Fair. Now they came out of the workplace, using their holiday to mobilise. On the Monday, as members reassembled after Christmas, they flocked around the Commons, protesting against the inclusion of bishops in Parliament. On Tuesday, with extra support from crowds of shopkeepers and merchants, they forced the doors of Westminster Abbey, intent on destroying popish relics. On Wednesday evening, the King entertained at a hearty dinner Thomas Lunsford, the man disappointed of the Tower of London command. A collection of apprentices gathered and jeered, causing a fight with departing guests and palace servants; casualties resulted. Over in the City, two thousand apprentices then massed in Cheapside, armed with clubs, swords and home-made spears. Many were hard young nuts who lived for a fight. On Friday, the nervous King sent to the Tower for powder and ammunition, enough for five hundred soldiers. When this equipment reached Whitehall Palace, the House of Commons became equally nervous of what the King might do with the firepower, now concentrated a few hundred yards away. Members decamped to the Guildhall and Grocers' Hall.

Both Jukes brothers were now busy. While his brother printed news-sheets, Lambert was helping to make the streets safe against any armed men the King might send. Guards had been posted on the city gates. Bollards slung with chains to thwart cavalry were set up in critical locations; key streets were even bricked up. As the atmosphere became ever more tense, householders were told to arm themselves and stand by their doors, ready to defend their families and the community. Sturdy and willing, Lambert went from house to house giving instructions for resistance if the King sent troops.

The King offered a safe conduct if the Commons would return to Westminster; some members uneasily crept back. That night, rumours grew that Parliament intended to impeach the Queen, in response to the constant reports that she was involving herself in plots. The King became alarmed. Charles then took an unprecedented step: he went to the House of Commons in person, intending to arrest five particular troublemakers himself. He took four hundred soldiers, armed with halberds, swords and pistols. They shoved aside the doorkeepers, jostled members and their servants, and filled the corridors, making ominous threats about their marksmanship as they pointed their weapons into the chamber through its open doors. Bursting in uninvited, the King haughtily demanded the Five Members. The Speaker refused to reply. Forewarned, the five men had disappeared through a back door. The furious King stared around and accepted that 'the birds have flown'. He retreated ignominiously, pursued by angry cries of 'Privilege!' His armed guard waited around for orders to fall upon the members and cut all their throats, but then dispersed in disappointment.

The House of Commons declared the King's act to be a high breach of the rights and privilege of Parliament. Once again they adjourned to the Guildhall.

The Five Members, John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holies, Arthur Hazlerigg and William Strode, had also fled to the City. Gideon and his partner had a new apprentice, Amyas, who came running in excitedly. 'The Five Members are in Coleman Street!'

'At the Star Tavern?' Gideon guessed.

'That will be a secret then!' Robert reproved. Amyas, say nothing to anyone.'

'There could be spies,' the boy acknowledged, fired up by this exciting idea.

'Only if they are very stupid,' murmured Robert. An informant for the Duke of Buckingham was once chased out of Coleman Street and stoned to death.'

Theirs was one of the rumbling presses that worked through the night to give out news. Rumours flared of plots against members of Parliament, armed forces from the north gathering to attack London, dangerous new weapons that would stick in the body and could not be pulled out, sinister lists of citizens who would soon be rounded up …

Next morning tension remained high. City businesses stayed closed for safety. The King ventured in procession from Whitehall to Guildhall, where the Commons were sitting in committee. It was only two minutes from their shop. Gideon joined the mutinous crowd outside. Again King Charles demanded the Five Members; after a turbulent meeting, again he was refused. He had to leave Guildhall empty-handed and depart from the City, accompanied as was traditional by the Lord Mayor and aldermen. Now the crowds who had welcomed him home from Edinburgh were more sullen. When the ornate royal coach reached Temple Bar, obstreperous citizens banged on the King's coach, rocked it, peered rudely through the windows and even thrust copies of radical pamphlets inside.

Gideon had run though the streets, chasing after the King's coach. He followed it all the way beyond St Paul's, out of the city gates and as far as Temple Bar. Borne along by curiosity, he was among the angry crowd who surged forward and tried to rock the coach; he even stepped on the footboard, and pulled himself up. He looked in at the window. At the masque in the Banqueting House all those years before, Gideon had barely glimpsed the King and Queen. Now, for just a second, Gideon Jukes stared King Charles in his long face. They were barely two feet apart. Ignoring the apparition at the window, the King looked calm and aloof; it was the bravery of ignorance. He was convinced of a safe return to his palace, despite this noise and inconvenience. The wild appearance of his indignant young subject made no impression at all. Gideon was the more disturbed by the moment.

The carriage lurched. Gideon fell into the road, swinging by one hand for an instant, then landing on his back in the dust — from that moment a convinced republican.

The Lord Mayor and some aldermen were pulled from their horses. 'Not me,' Gideon assured Robert and Amyas on his return to the print shop. 'I would never dirty my hands on an alderman.'

Amyas chortled, though his gap-toothed grin did not linger. He was toiling at the press while Gideon and Robert stood by in their shirtsleeves, following the rule of all trades that juniors work while management loftily discuss the issues of the day.

The crisis grew more frightening. At dusk the next evening, shots were heard. Someone had accidentally discharged a carbine, and drunken courtiers were fighting a duel at an inn by the new Covent Garden piazza; it caused panic. In street after street, householders were roused by unseen fists banging their doors and urgent voices crying to be up in arms. Gideon went home to reassure his mother and was nearly shot by his father, who sat in a tall chair on guard, with a loaded musket. Families spent a sleepless night in fear.

Nothing happened.

In the next lull, petitioners from all over the country again flocked into London. Knights of the shire were joined by sailors, porters, fishwives and weavers.

A mass of poor women surrounded Parliament, to express the hardship they suffered due to 'the present distractions and distempers of state.' They waylaid the Duke of Richmond in Palace Yard, threatening to dump their starving children at the House of Lords. They broke his ducal staff; he had to send peevishly for a replacement. A small group was allowed to present its grievances; when this produced no results, many swarmed around the House of Commons, exclaiming that where there was one woman today there would be five hundred tomorrow. Sergeant-Major Skippon of the City Militia was complimented by Parliament on the diplomatic way he then dispersed them.

'A fine shock to men, who believe we should stay at home, breed and knit stockings!' commented Parthenope Jukes. 'These women's poverty is brought about by the condition of the kingdom. But it seems unnatural — I would be afraid of being hurt in the crush.' Her younger, braver daughter-in-law, Anne, looked thoughtful.

Parliament doubled the night watch on the city and peevishly complained about the tumults.

Relations between the King and Parliament continued to deteriorate. The royal family became so anxious that they moved abruptly from Whitehall to Hampton Court. No preparations had been made to receive them; they had to sleep all together in one bed. This sudden flight from London was more significant than anyone immediately realised.

With the King gone, the Five Members left the Star Tavern, loudly applauded by locals. Jostled in the crowd, Robert and young Amyas could see very little, but Gideon was tall enough to glimpse their famous representatives, or at least the five black crowns of their five hats. The partners roared approval, then turned quietly back to their business. The members returned triumphantly to Westminster by water, with applause echoing along the embankment as their boats passed the now-deserted Whitehall Palace.

Disturbances continued. At the beginning of February a new deputation of tradesmen's wives, distressed women and widows, led by a brewer's wife, presented a petition. Invitations to join in had gone around the City. This time, Anne Jukes upped and took herself to Westminster with them. Anne consulted nobody, but marched alone along Cheapside, joined the delegation and signed the petition; on her return that evening, she was flushed with achievement. 'There were very great numbers, mostly gentlewomen whose trade had been depressed, as our own has — all from London and the suburbs around. The Commons sent out Mr Pym and two other members, their chief men. They declared that the House had read the petition and was very apprehensive of the calamities we suffer, and will use all the best care they can for the preventing and remedying of them. Then they desired that we would continue our prayers for their endeavours.'

'And did they order out the militia against you?' enquired Lambert dryly.

'No,' scoffed Anne. 'They must have been mindful that we were genteel wives of men of substance — men from whom they are asking loans to protect the kingdom!'

From the moment the King fled London, his strategic aim was to struggle back. It was always apparent that to do so he would have to deal with the London Trained Bands.

On the 8th of January 1642, as relationships with the King finally broke down, Parliament had granted the freedom of the city to Sir Philip Skippon, an imperturbable veteran of the Dutch Wars. Two days later he was made commander of all the London Trained Bands. At that moment they comprised six thousand men, comparatively well trained and armed — and they supported Parliament.

Skippon blockaded the Tower, attempting to oust its governor, Sir John Byron, loyal to the King. Though Skippon failed, he was establishing his troops as the guardians of London. On the 10th of May, he paraded the Trained Bands, now fleshed out with eager new recruits and numbering ten thousand. Skippon reviewed them for members of Parliament and other worthies, in the shadow of the great windmills at Finsbury Fields. It was like a summer festival, with a large tented pavilion where the visitors were grandly entertained. As the brave ranks displayed themselves, the colonel of the Red Regiment, Alderman Atkins, had the misfortune to topple from his horse — being, according to a Royalist news-sheet, afflicted with a bowel problem.

Among new recruits in the Green Regiment, grinning, was Gideon Jukes.

Since his brother was a pikeman, Gideon had chosen to be a musketeer. Since Lambert was in the Blue Regiment, Gideon made sure he joined the Greens. Robert Allibone had paid for his musket, four feet long and twelve-bore. Gideon's father had joyfully set him up with other equipment: a forked barrel-rest, bandolier, sword, swordbelt and hangers. A leather coat and metal helmet completed the uniform. The first time he tried on his helmet, painted black against the rust, its heavy enclosing weight reminded him of the costume head he had worn years before as Third Dotterel. Like most of his comrades, he soon abandoned the helmet and was content with a much lighter Monmouth cap, made of soft felt. So far, none of them had witnessed the hideous results of being shot in the head.

Gideon saw little action at first. The Trained Bands reckoned only to defend London; they played no part in the inconclusive manoeuvres that went on elsewhere in 1642. For several months, Gideon received training only. A national Parliamentary army was commissioned in July, but the Trained Bands stayed separate. As a Londoner, Gideon believed this was correct. Possession of the capital, the seat of government since Roman times, with its strategic importance and its commercial connections, was a vital strength for Parliament. To hold London, while the King could only wander about the country ineffectually, gave Parliament a vital edge. The Trained Bands had to be here on guard.

In August, the King, who was visiting the north of England trying to generate support, formally raised his standard at Nottingham. It was a procedural move, a rallying point for recruits. It was also decisive: he had declared war upon his people.

At that point Parliament issued an order for London's protection. Ten thousand citizens were mobilised. The city closed down. Assembling by trade or guild, shouldering whatever tools they possessed, the people marched out to the surrounding fields and, week after week until autumn and winter brought freezing conditions, they toiled to construct roadblocks and earthworks. Women worked alongside men; Anne Jukes was there regularly, wielding a mattock and ferrying baskets of earth.

By the end of the year, all the city gates were locked with their portcullises down, streets were barred with mighty iron chains, every household had weapons at the ready and the Trained Bands were on day and night call-out. Supporters made loans and gifts to Parliament. There was regular recruitment; there were censuses of horses. Royalist sympathisers were targeted. Parliament issued decrees to summon known 'malignants', and to confiscate their horseflesh, weapons, money and plate. Those who were absent with the King had their homes broken open and possessions ransacked.

Everyone waited anxiously. They heard of skirmishes and sieges. In July the Earl of Essex had left London to take up overall command of the main Parliamentary army. The son of Queen Elizabeth's disgraced favourite, this heavy-jowled veteran had more military experience than any in the aristocracy and was a leading figure in the House of Lords. Famously touchy, he had survived his father's execution, his own divorce on grounds of impotence and then the flagrant adultery of his second wife. His fighting career had been undistinguished, though he had always been popular with his soldiers for his humane treatment of them, and they called him, affectionately, 'Old Robin'. Escorted by the Trained Bands, Essex mounted up at Temple Bar, and rode into the City, past St Paul's Cathedral and the Royal Exchange, then out through Moorgate on his way north through St Albans to Worcester.

The King eventually turned south, through the Midlands where he had a mixed reception. Up until that point there had been only manoeuvres. Then in October the King's army ran into Essex's forces near Kineton, at the foot of a ridge called Edgehill, and the first true battle of the civil war commenced.

The engagement was confused. Both sides claimed victory, though neither could capitalise on it. The two armies were traumatised by the confrontation, with their shocked commanders left temporarily at a loss. Essex withdrew to Warwick, the King to Oxford.

Exaggerating rumours in London claimed that Essex had won a great victory. Then it was said the King was racing south, with Essex in headlong pursuit. Their manoeuvres were more leisurely. But on the 6th of November, Essex and the Parliamentary army re-entered London, having marched straight down the old Roman highway of Watling Street. They were given a heroes' welcome and quartered out at Hammersmith, in preparation for an expected Royalist attack.

Meanwhile on leaving Oxford, the King ambled through Reading, besieging opponents' private houses more from spite than strategy.

Commissioners from Parliament rode out to try to negotiate peace. Despite their efforts, on the 12th of November the King's charismatic nephew Prince Rupert, a commander in the dashing Continental style, fell upon two Parliamentary regiments of foot that he encountered close to London at Brentford under cover of thick mist. Tales quickly arose of Prince Rupert's brutality. He was said to have massacred the garrison at Brentford; his men had tied prisoners head-to-toe and flung them into pigsties to endure the freezing night; the Royalists drove twenty Parliamentary supporters into the River Thames, forcing them into ever deeper water until they drowned. Whether true or not, such horrors reinforced opposition in London.

The Earl of Essex heard the guns from the House of Lords, where peers had been debating whether to order a cessation of hostilities. Essex galloped across Hyde Park to his army at Hammersmith. In the City a local deputation went to the Common Council, begging that the Trained Bands should now also be deployed.

Gideon Jukes was about to see his first military action.

Chapter Five — Turnham Green: 13 November 1642

Londoners loved a junket. Fairs and feasts had been part of city life since time immemorial. An excursion, with sightseeing, was bound to draw a crowd, especially if there might be gunfire. Parliament dispatched cheese, beer and bread to the army by road, with boats hauling munitions up the Thames. Mothers and wives of Trained Band members loaded carts with food and drink, while wiping away tears on their aprons as they waved off their men to protect the city. In case the defences failed, women boiled up cauldrons of hot water to pour down on attackers, and cluttered up the streets with empty barrels and old joint-stools, to get in the way of cavalry.

While drums beat to give them heart and to summon extra recruits, Skippon led out the Trained Bands, Gideon Jukes among them. From the east of the city particularly, where dirty and noisy processes were carried on, forges and foundries, dye works and tanneries fell silent and gave up their men. In the great markets, porters and stall-holders, fishmongers and slaughterers pulled on their boots and tightened their belts, then marched. From shops and from taverns came part-time pikemen and musketeers. Servants and their employers, apprentices and their masters poured forth until it seemed that all the males in London had been sucked from the streets, leaving behind an eerie quiet. Mothers with clenched jaws clutched their babies to their bodices, and listened to that stillness nervously. Only women, children and the old were left — the people that attackers would treat most cruelly.

Five of the six main regiments marched together westwards; one remained on guard. Sightseers who owned horses rode along with the departing troops. Girls pelted the soldiers with flowers, the boldest maidens running in among the ranks to press kisses upon them. The troops left the old city walls at Ludgate, moving from the workshop and commercial centre across the unsavoury valley of the Fleet river, past legal haunts at the Temple and the Inns of Court, then along the Strand with its grand noblemen's mansions. They passed the Banqueting House, the sole monument in a royal rebuilding project that would never now be completed, and then the crumbling old Whitehall Palace where Gideon saw in amazement that grass grew around the buildings, abandoned only a year ago when the King fled. Passing under the Holbein Gate, which was now manned by citizens instead of royal guards, they were cheered at the Houses of Parliament, then marched on beyond the turbulent suburbs, past the Westminster horse ferry, through the marshes and into the open countryside.

Many of the Trained Bands, including both Jukes brothers and Robert Allibone, had never been so far out of London in their lives. They tramped through fields and market gardens for nine miles, half a day's journey and far enough from home to make the inexperienced grow jumpy. The weather was clement, though chilly. With colours flying, drums rattling and wagons of armour and shot rumbling amongst them, they stepped out cheerfully. The old hands had drilled and marched regularly for years; new recruits fell in with spirit, though many were apprentices, and extremely young. To encourage them, Skippon rode from regiment to regiment calling, 'Come on, my boys, my brave boys! Let us pray heartily and fight heartily. I will run the same hazards with you… Come on, my boys!'

They found Essex's forces, drawn up in a defensive line at Turnham Green. As the Trained Bands marched through Hammersmith they saw an array of artillery, waiting in a lane. Gideon found the big guns ominous. When they reached the army, they passed a heavily guarded wagon-park. He began to feel part of a great, professional occasion.

Now he and his colleagues came among seasoned troops. Infantry survivors from the battle of Edgehill had been positioned across the approach to London, their flanks protected by blocks of cavalry. All had flags and pennants. Every company in every regiment was marked. The drums never stopped their insistent, tension-making beat; there would be much more noise and a blanket of smoke, if it came to a battle. The field marshal carefully interleaved Trained Band regiments among the more seasoned troops of the main army, some of whom wore the orange sashes that had become the recognised colours of Parliament.

By the time the new arrivals stood in their stations among the blockade, their excitement was becoming more muted. Some had been on parade many times and had fought sham fights for public amusement, but never before had they stood together in such numbers, drawn up in battle array for hours, waiting for real opponents to appear and try to kill them.

The Earl of Essex cantered along the line on his charger reviewing the regiments. As their general passed, soldiers threw up their caps and shouted 'Hey for Old Robin!'

'Come, my brave boys,' urged Skippon calmly again to the Trained Bands. 'Pray heartily, and fight heartily, and God will bless us.'

Glancing sideways for some reason, Gideon saw his partner tighten his mouth in a curious expression, and wondered unexpectedly whether Robert Allibone believed in God.

From the direction of Brentford came movement. Sightseers upped and scattered like a flock of uneasy pigeons.

Even the newest recruits now became aware of the presence of a large body of troops ahead of them. The King's army had arrived. From time to time the feeble winter sunlight glinted off weapons and helmets. Gideon, who was keen-sighted, could make out forests of tall pikes, a constant flicker of regimental colours, the restless shifting of cavalry, the occasional traverse of a commander on horseback and in full body armour. On both sides the cannon remained silent, the gunners beside them itching to test their range.

Gideon was beginning to feel the weight of his armoury. The heavy musket's four-foot barrel lay on the forked ash-wood rest he had plunged into the turf in front of him, but he had to remain in position, supporting the hard butt against his aching shoulder. Bullets were twelve to the pound; their pouch increasingly dragged. Retrieving shot from the pouch was so slow that he had learned the trick of carrying two bullets ready in his mouth; he was trying to ignore the taste of the lead. Each bullet needed half its weight in fine powder and two-thirds in coarse; he carried both, the fine in a flat flask with a nozzle and the common measured out into a dozen containers popularly called the twelve apostles. This added to his burden and made his every movement noisy. Around him sounded the incessant commotion of metal flasks, since each man carried his twelve powder containers on his bandolier, and all the bandoliers were rattling. They were using up hundreds of yards of match, the lengths of tow twisted into cord and soaked in vinegar to use as a fuse; with the enemy so close they kept it lit ready for action, each holding a short length, which was burning at both ends. Going equipped with their cord alight would become second nature, in itself a cause of accidents as soldiers forgot they had match in their hands.

As the stand-off continued, they grew accustomed to the situation. They almost relaxed. Hours passed. Stomachs were rumbling. Some members of the Trained Bands slipped away in defiance of their officers and went home for supper and their own beds. The crowd of spectators thinned out too.

"What happens tonight?' quavered Amyas.

'We sleep in the fields.'

'On the ground?'

'On the cold ground, Amyas.' Gideon gave their apprentice an owly stare. 'Just as we are stood to in ranks here, we shall lie down in ranks, justified by our feet.' Justified was a printing joke; Amyas caught on, nervously. He had been complaining about his feet; he was unused to walking and had not yet worn in the new shoes issued to him as a recruit — two pairs, along with his cap, doublet, britches, two shirts and two pairs of stockings. He was in pain with his first wisdom tooth. Gideon wondered sombrely if he would live to complain about the rest, or even to wear his second new shirt.

'What if I need to piss?' Amyas demanded, with telling urgency.

'Don't piss on the rank in front.'

Amused, Gideon watched the boy working out that to be a soldier was to have no amenities and no privacy. Hardship already afflicted them. They received neither food nor water on the march or at battle stations. Armies fended for themselves. At least on this occasion Parliament had sent surgeons out to Hammersmith; those who had fought at Edgehill were saying that the wounded there had had to lie all night among the dead, without medical attention. Only the pity of local people had produced any succour.

Then as he stood in line of battle with nothing else to do, Gideon mused, if I die here today, what will my life have been? I shall never have known a woman… A strange panic gripped him. He determined to do something about it — if he lived.

He returned to the critical question of whether he should be bearded, and if so, in what style?

Causing muted catcalls, Lambert Jukes appeared and picked his way amongst their regiment. Lambert was always regarded as a good trooper, though known for his frisky attitude to discipline. He thought rules were for everyone else. Now, as the troops grew weary of waiting, Lambert had sneaked off from his own regiment. To Gideon's annoyance, he saw that his brother was sporting a full set of jawline whiskers coming to a jaunty point, with a neat chin stripe and a curled blond moustache.

That settled it. Gideon would shave.

Lambert lowered his pike casually. Pikes were supposed to be fifteen or even eighteen feet long, their main purpose being to nudge cavalry riders from their horses. Many soldiers trimmed the length, to make the unwieldy staves easier to manage. Lambert was no exception and had shortened his pike to little more than twelve feet. Gideon told him it was barely long enough to shove a milkmaid off a pony.

Lambert guffawed. 'What greeting is that, brother?'

'Should you not be at your station, soldier?' Robert Allibone resented association with this wandering fly-by-night.

Lambert soothed him: 'I'll be there when the shots fly. I see you brought your babe-in-arms?'

The big-eared, bandy-legged youngster Amyas raised his eyes to the heavens. He was grinning. This was all a big joke to him.

'He would not be left,' answered Gideon tersely. He and Robert thought their apprentice was too young, but it was out of their hands; Amyas had come anyway. Parliament had issued an order that all apprentices who joined up would be relieved of their obligations to complete their indentures. When this war ended, the commercial trades would be awash with half-trained young men who thought they owned the world — assuming they had not been killed first.

Gideon gazed at his brother, all wide shoulders and wise-boy jests, and he marvelled, not just that Lambert had bothered to come and make friendly contact at such a moment, but at his self-confidence. The Green Regiment's colonel, Alderman John Warner, was giving them a filthy look, but Lambert saluted the colonel as jauntily as if he were the officer, graciously noticing some junior.

A man had been following Lambert. It was unclear whether they knew one another and had arrived together, but while Lambert gossiped, the man spoke quietly to Colonel Warner, and he stayed when Lambert left.

He wore black and behaved as if he were freely allowed to saunter among the troops. Perhaps he was a preacher. If so, he did not preach. Someone suggested he was a scoutmaster, in charge of intelligence agents and terrain scouts.

Robert muttered under his breath that the prowling visitor looked like a grocer. Gideon dismissed him as a Stepney innkeeper's pudding-featured bung-puller. The middle-aged man was overweight, or gave that impression as he leaned back on his boot-heels slightly. He had dark jowls and intent black eyes, but otherwise cut a figure anyone might pass in an alley without glancing back. It was hard to know why he fascinated the two printers, except that they were both observant by nature, and found his presence odd.

Gideon was startled when this personage suddenly approached him. 'You are Gideon Jukes?'

Gideon altered his grip on his musket. 'I am Gideon Jukes, and I have work to do here, sir.'

'I am Mr Blakeby'

'And what is your business?' demanded Robert, becoming defensive of Gideon.

Mr Blakeby kept up his peculiar scrutiny, 'I am told you are steadfast and have good judgement. Also that you have experience as an actor?' He barely lowered his voice, so heads turned. Gideon cringed.

'I once donned feathers in an entertainment, sir. I was a boy. It was a trifle. I was misguided.'

'But were you any good?' Mr Blakeby asked with a smile, keeping his gaze fixed upon him.

Gideon wondered with annoyance if his brother Lambert had given him this unwelcome character-reference, and whether his brother had brought the man here on purpose — perhaps to escape Blakeby's attentions himself. Lambert tended to attract notice because he was seen as a 'hearty lad', yet he was conservative. He would not want to be singled out. 'I am recruiting trusted men for special tasks,' offered Blakeby.

'Then please trouble yourself elsewhere.'

Though Gideon had answered back in such a forthright manner, Mr Blakeby was certain now that the scowling young man had a dark side that would suit his purposes. Jukes was too tall and his fair hair worked against him, but his intelligence and spirit showed.

The place was too public for argument. Mr Blakeby accepted the refusal, merely saying as he left, 'I should like to meet and talk again, Master Jukes.'

'What did that man want with you?' Amyas whispered.

"Whatever it was, Blakeby has slipped up with it,' muttered Robert. Slipping up was when lines of type shifted in the form and went askew.

The afternoon drew into evening, which came early as it was November. The men slowly realised there was unlikely to be an engagement. The Parliamentary regiments continued their stand, drums beating and colours flying. There were twenty-four thousand. It was a brave show, and the King had only half their numbers.

The Royalists havered in anguish, but the odds against them were too great. This was the King's one chance of taking London, and he had been out-faced. After hours of stand-off and hurried war councils, the Royalists accepted the situation. They withdrew, without a shot fired.

Essex's army and the Trained Bands heard the trumpeters' recall and watched the King's troops leaving. The Parliamentarians breathed and relaxed, but stayed fast. That night they remained at Turnham Green, where they spent their victory evening tucking into a great feast that the women of London sent out on carts for them. Holding a pie in one hand and bottled beer in the other, Gideon found himself reminiscing about that other feast he had once attended, after The Triumph of Peace. With a sense of rightness and victory, he was enjoying this far more.

A young woman approached, carrying a basket of bread and a board on which she cut slices from a huge hard cheese. She had contrived to hold the board against her apron-clad hip so her skirt was caught up to reveal a slim ankle in a pale knitted stocking. Her eye lighted on Gideon and she smiled at him. Robert and Amyas watched them frankly; Gideon felt his fair skin blush. A big slice of cheese for you, brave boy?'

'I'll have one!' Amyas reached for it annoyingly. She glanced at him: big teeth, big ears, about fourteen. Almost without seeming to do so, she summed up Robert Allibone too, sensing the widower's reticence with women, judging him to be beyond her reach. Her gaze returned to Gideon, who put down his beer carefully against a grass tussock, and quietly accepted her offering. The young woman looked willing to be detained for conversation.

Unluckily for Gideon, that was when his brother reappeared. 'Here's to a bloodless victory — and to a beautiful maiden, bearing bounty!' Cheese was immediately lavished upon Lambert, who received it as his birthright. He winked conspiratorially in Gideon's direction. 'Watch that one! He's a heart-breaker.'

'The quiet ones are the worst!' The young woman, who was not quite as young as Gideon had first supposed, looked unfazed by the warning. 'And you are another pretty hero,' she simpered at Lambert shamelessly.

'Oh, I am handy at push of pike!' he replied, with open innuendo, twirling the blond moustache against which Gideon had taken so badly.

'Your wife will hate to hear you have been flirting, Lambert!' As soon as Gideon spoke, he felt that this was mean-spirited. He noticed that Lambert hardly reacted. Nor did the cheese-bearer.

'Lambert!' she noted.

And Gideon! said Lambert, who had always been more generous than his brother deserved.

Lambert had left her free to choose between them, but the dynamics had changed. Two men in play was more than the woman wanted; she lost interest in both. The elder brother now seemed too cocky to tolerate, the younger too shy to educate. There were twenty-four thousand troops here and she let herself believe that her role was congratulating them. She moved off.

Lambert seemed disinclined to follow, though Gideon spotted that his brother watched which way she went. Had Gideon been older, more experienced, less inhibited by his companions, he might have gone along with her: offered to carry her basket, engaged in harmless conversation, waited to see what might happen. Inexperienced though he was, he felt it would have worked to his advantage.

He did not know how to manage this. He was not even sure that such an encounter was what he wanted. Gideon favoured what the Grand Remonstrance had called 'comfort and conversation' between men and women — even though his loins told him 'comfort' could have a wide meaning. With his partner, his apprentice and his brother all gawping like costermongers, it was easiest to remember he had been brought up in decent morality.

The pie in his hand was not as good as those his mother baked. He knew Parthenope would have sent provisions to the troops. Some other lucky bastard must be munching those. Like a true soldier already, he enjoyed the moment of repose and did not allow regret to linger.

The bloodless encounter at Turnham Green had saved London, though it solved nothing. The civil war had barely started yet.

Chapter Six — Oxford: September, 1642

When Edmund Treves was nearly killed by the head of the Virgin Mary, he took his first step towards marriage.

In truth his first step was very shaky. The soldiers' pot-shots had cracked into the stone Virgin, shearing off her veiled head. That smashed down on to the pavement, narrowly missing him. Oxford townspeople shouted with delight at the decapitation; their applause mingled with mutters of horror from robed university men. Treves saw in confusion that a stone shard from the statue had sliced across his wrist, causing blood to flow. Another shot rang out. It was his first time under fire. The familiar wide main street called the High, with its ancient university buildings, suddenly became a place of terror. As Treves realised the danger, his knees buckled and he nearly fainted.

Among the noisy onlookers, one man watched in silence. Orlando Lovell weighed up how the old feuds between town and gown festered with new complications. Freshly returned from the Continent after some years away, he saw with astonishment that tradesmen were openly jeering at frightened dons. Buff-coated troops had clustered in the gateway of Oriel College, threatening to manhandle gawping college servants and then firing at the University Church.

He knew it was the second wave of soldiers. These Parliamentarian hooligans had driven out a Royalist force only a few days previously, each group finding a welcome in some quarters but each fearing reprisals. Barely controlled by their officers, the newcomers were skittish. Already some had mutinied at a muster in the University Parks; dragoons had gone armed to church on Sunday, in fear of the townsmen's hostility; rival gangs had become drunk and caused chaos in running street-fights.

Today's soldiers were vandalising the ancient church of St Mary, to take out their spite against Archbishop William Laud. Authoritarian and ceremonial, he had enclosed altars with railings, repaired crucifixes, set up statues, imposed a uniform Prayer Book and, worst of all, insisted on the controlling power of bishops. Independent free thinkers were outraged. Now Laud languished in the Tower and these raucous London rebels were shooting at 'scandalous images', those hated statues with which Laud's chaplain had embellished a provocative new porch on St Mary's Church. To Lovell, as he stood watching, such scenes in England were astonishing. The anger Laud's measures had caused was distasteful, because it seemed pointless.

People in the crowd had told him one puritan alderman had claimed he witnessed people bowing to these statues: Nixon, a grocer. Nixon had interceded for All Souls College — to which he supplied figs and sugar — when the Puritans proposed to batter at religious images on the gate. Churches did not buy food in bulk, however, so at St Mary's the soldiers were doing what they liked. Lovell found their indiscipline a grave offence.

The endangered scholar was an idiot. With a curse, Lovell strode across the road, caught the swooning Treves roughly under the elbow and dragged him upright. Jeers came from the Parliamentary soldiers. The rescuer kicked Mary's head away, as he hauled the young scholar across the frontage of the church and the two of them stumbled out of danger. The troopers held fire, following their progress with aimed muskets, though the gesture was merely to intimidate; the football kick had pleased them — as had been intended.

'Take more care!' ordered a mounted officer crisply. Lovell assessed the rebel commander curiously: in his sixties, receding hair, thin, upswept moustache, tasselled baldric. This was Lord Saye and Sele himself, one of the leading Parliamentarians. He was a colonial financier, a campaigner against Ship Money, a plotter at his Broughton home with some prime enemies of the King. A man of great political skill, Saye and Sele had been nicknamed 'Old Subtlety' by King Charles.

Lovell passed muster, then Treves was waved away, assessed as a dreamy scholar who had ambled into the line of fire whilst in a world of his own.

'I could have been shot!' He nearly collapsed again.

Lovell walked him towards the Cornmarket, then wheeled him into an alehouse. He had taken command, setting the pattern of their future relationship. Pushed onto a straight-backed settle, Edmund first suspected the man was about to insist on some very strong beverage, yet Lovell quietly ordered small beer, the same watery brew that children drank.

He was sturdy and tanned. It was mid-September and still mild, but he kept a heavy black cloak close around him like a spy. He had been wearing a dark hat with a lowish crown and a long thin feather, which he now tossed aside on a table. He raised his tankard and held it steady. 'I'll drink to your health when I know your name.'

Ridiculously, Edmund felt tempted to supply a false one but he owned up to his identity. Lovell grunted. He enjoyed the fact he appeared threatening. He leached out danger with every move. Though a stranger to Oxford, yet he was at ease in his surroundings. He looked to Edmund as if he must smell of sweat and horseflesh, though in fact only a faint hint of old tobacco had smoked his dark garments, garments that were more serviceable than rich. He seemed liable to put up those well-travelled boots on a bench, while leaning back in a relaxed pose and calling for ripe cheese, clay pipes and available wenches…

Yet he remained sitting neatly. His light brown eyes gave nothing away, as he stated: 'Orlando Lovell.'

The tapster was glaring at them. Lovell ignored it. Treves had scrubbled up his gown and shoved it under the bench on their arrival; scholars were barred from alehouses. Since the colleges owned most of the inns in Oxford, there was a good chance that breaking the rule would be reported by an innkeeper anxious to preserve his lease.

'So you are a scholar!' said Lovell, smiling. It was perfectly obvious from the young man's sober dress. Having red hair and the pale colouring that goes with it, Edmund looked innocent as a child, though he was now made a little raffish by blood staining his linen cuff where the stone fragment had struck him.

Without seeming to do so, Orlando Lovell expertly drew out the scholar's history. He was a good-humoured youth from a family of minor gentry who would be hard pushed to secure him a position in life. In peacetime, his options were to become a country squire (difficult, with no estate of his own), a lawyer (though he lacked friends and family who could push for him as patrons) or a clergyman (not advisable while religion was causing such strife in the kingdom). His father had died some years before; his mother struggled. The family lacked sufficient funds or influence to send children into royal service at court. Edmund was too well born to undertake labour or trade, yet did not possess enough land to live off. Money had been scraped together to send him to the Merchant Taylors School, which his mother's brothers had attended. Somehow, with a smattering of the classics and the Merchant Taylors' influence, he had gained a place as an exhibitioner at St John's College in Oxford. If Oxford was not precisely educating him for a career, that was simply the way things had been through the centuries — and, cynics might say, how things would always be.

'Are you a university man, Master Lovell?'

'I never had that privilege.'

Lovell deduced Treves would probably leave without taking his degree. That was relatively common; he would be following many who had nonetheless become great men in political or literary life. 'It may be, dearest Ned,' wrote his mother in one of her weekly letters, seeking to console herself, 'that receiving education at a great university is a benefit in itself, and should you achieve something of note in your life to come, the record will state that you were once present at that seat of learning and none will think badly of you.. ' This feeble sentence whimpered to a close and Alice Treves snapped out her true feelings: 'Though in truth, I should be heartily glad to see you properly set up with a degree.'

Treves gloomily explained new regulations instituted by the all-controlling Archbishop Laud. To obtain a degree, it was no longer enough to attend a few lectures and hand in occasional written work. He must pass an examination.

'You have time to study harder.'

'Yes, but there is a war now!' Edmund burst out excitedly. Like most scholars, he paid as much attention to politics and religion as to his books — which meant, as little as he could get away with. He had been born the year before King Charles was crowned. He grew up in an England that was stable and prosperous, where he had been innocently unaware of trouble. The headmaster at his school and the dons he encountered at university were all loyal to the King; he took his lead from them. His college had benefited by an enormously expensive new quadrangle, paid for by Archbishop Laud, who had been President of St John's and also the university's Chancellor. Laud was impeached the first year Edmund went up to Oxford. At St John's, the threat of their President being executed was a talking point even scholars could not ignore.

Lovell's interest focused. 'Your college is pricelessly endowed, I think?' he quizzed. 'There must be an excellent cellar. Do you enjoy a good kitchen?'

'Colleges are expecting to lose their treasures,' was the cautious reply. Even Treves could spot a chancer.

All over the kingdom, Lovell knew, men were seizing the initiative and taking control of weapon stores, town magazines, ships and money. In Cambridge a member of Parliament called Oliver Cromwell was adroitly removing the university silver for melting down. When Royalist forces had occupied Oxford under Sir John Byron, Byron afterwards thought it prudent to take away with him much of the Oxford university plate, lest it too fall into Parliament's hands'. The Christ Church plate was refused him, only to be discovered hidden behind wall-panelling. Whatever Byron left was now being tracked down by Lord Saye and Sele. But he, like Byron, had studied at Oxford and was diffident about looting his alma mater. He burned popish books and pictures in the streets, yet he had accepted the pleas of the Master of Trinity that the college pictures were not worth destroying — 'We esteem them no more than a dishcloth' — so those old masters were left, discreetly turned against the wall.

'Lectures are cancelled while all becomes muster, drill and fortify,' trilled Edmund.

'Don't you spend all hours swearing and gaming?' Lovell was teasing, to some extent.

'No, our statutes forbid gambling for money — more of Laud's reforms. We must keep our hair trim, dress plain, and not loiter in the streets in loathsome boots. There is to be no hunting with dogs or ferrets, and we may not carry weapons — '

'And what do you do for — ' Lovell spoke in his usual polite timbre though the undertone was feral. Edmund looked alarmed. Lovell merely rubbed one cheekbone beneath his hooded eye, with the tip of a languid finger.

'For entertainment? We write Greek graces and solve Latin riddles,' Edmund replied solemnly.

The gentle jest puzzled Lovell. He reviewed it, considering how he should answer, or whether any answer was needed. Young Treves was accustomed to rapid banter, hurled to and fro by disrespectful students. Curious, he took it upon himself to ask what Lovell was doing in Oxford.

'I came with Byron.' Had Lovell been left behind here as a Royalist spy?

'Are you a professional soldier?'

'I have served in arms since I was younger than you.'

'How long is that?'

'A decade.' As Edmund looked impressed, Lovell turned the conversation. 'So, master scholar — no weapons! How does that suit in the present upsets?'

Then, while Lovell listened in amused silence, Edmund explained how many scholars and some dons had left Oxford, never to return; the normal new intake of students had dried up. Those who remained were drilling and helping to fortify the town.

As the risk of action increased, Edmund Treves had helped dig trenches, fortify Magdalen Bridge and carry stones to the top of Magdalen Tower to be thrown down upon any attackers. Lovell belched derisively. Treves pleaded with him for advice on how to join up in the King's service and Lovell agreed to help him.

Lovell set down his empty tankard and collected his hat. 'So what does your mother think of your warlike aims? Do you correspond?' Edmund admitted that his mother wrote to him very fondly every week. 'And you reply…?'

'As often as seems advisable.' Edmund did reply every week, ornamenting his letters with phrases in Greek and Latin to prove that he was studying. However, he had enough about him to fudge the issue when talking to a sophisticated ex-mercenary, ten years his senior, whose expression verged on wry. 'Do you have family, Master Lovell?'

'None that trouble me,' replied Lovell briefly.

When this chance acquaintance between Lovell and Treves grew into an unlikely friendship — or what passed for friendship in an uncomfortable city, riven by faction — it was Lovell who recommended that Edmund Treves should try to marry an heiress he had heard about. Just as it was Lovell who advised Edmund on becoming a soldier, it was he who came up with Juliana Carlill.

In the autumn of 1642, in England, a gentleman of eighteen had two likely fates lying ahead of him: marriage and death. Many would achieve both very quickly. Few used their fear of a coffin as a reason to delay jumping into a marriage bed; it was commoner to hurry between the sheets, while the chance was there.

Sadly, it also became common for young married women to lose their new husbands while they were heavy with their first pregnancy. A proportion of widows would remarry, especially those were young, proven to be capable of child-bearing, and perhaps blessed with a legacy; some could hope for second chances. For others, life would be bleaker. Widows, especially widows on the losing side, could only expect to be shunted into corners of other people's parlours, often dogged by lawsuits and disappointed in their children. Despite this — luckily for men of eighteen — only in the most sensible families were young girls advised to be cautious about marriage.

For in the autumn of 1642, nobody supposed the civil war would last long. Most people were sure that some form of reconciliation would be negotiated between the King and Parliament. Anything else was unthinkable.

So Edmund Treves, who gave little thought to the possibility of dying until the Virgin Mary's head nearly killed him in the High, was soon presented with another dangerous fate. Edmund had not learned good judgement. He never considered that the war into which King and Parliament had stumbled was set to drag on pretty well for the rest of his life. He failed to understand that war should be approached not as an impromptu game of fives against a college wall, but with great caution. Love, too, needed long-term planning. This was a risky time to take major decisions — especially when they were prompted by a man whose reliability was untested.

Bearing a whole flowery nosegay of misapprehensions, therefore, Edmund Treves travelled cheerfully from Oxford to a house near Wallingford, in order to meet a young lady about whom he knew only what his new friend had told him — much of which would turn out to be wrong. Had he been older and worldlier, it was generally agreed, he would not have visited a prospective bride in company with Orlando Lovell.

Chapter Seven — Oxford: Autumn, 1642

Lovell always protested his innocence, but nobody who knew him and his already dark reputation really believed the protest.

Where had he come from? Where had he been? There were answers, and there were people who knew them. He saw no reason to volunteer the correct information, and if incorrect stories were circulating, that was how he liked it.

Lovell, who now styled himself captain, had come to England from genuine military service in Europe, arriving at about the same moment as one of the King's nephews. This was where his personal history first acquired an awkward kink. He let people assume that he had served under the eldest royal nephew: the Elector Palatine. Prince Charles Louis was a refugee. His father had been invited to take the crown of Bohemia, but was driven out ignominiously after less than a year; the 'Winter King' had then lost his own lands as well, and until he died he had campaigned to regain his position. His sons now carried on the hopeless quest. Charles Louis came to England to plead for assistance in 1641. He was also hoping to claim his promised bride, the King's eldest daughter Princess Mary, but found that she was to be married off more advantageously to Prince William of Orange.

It was a bad moment politically. King Charles had been bankrupted by the Bishops' Wars and his new Parliament was set on confrontation. Charles had nothing for his begging nephew. As English hostilities were breaking out, the threadbare prince spent some time in London, assuring friends in Parliamentary circles that his own allegiance was neutral. Whether this reflected his annoyance at losing Princess Mary, or his astute evaluation of his royal uncle's future, was unclear. He probably wanted to protect the pension that was paid to his mother Elizabeth. Her pension continued but, with polite expressions of regret, Parliament declined to help Charles Louis. He gave up on a bad situation and went back overseas. Lovell stayed.

At exactly the same time, the elector's dashing younger brother Prince Rupert turned up in England. Ostensibly, Rupert came to thank King Charles for helping to secure his release from an imperial prison after he had been captured while fighting. He had been to England before, when he made himself a favourite with the King and Queen. The young Palatine princes hailed from a very large family and had been homeless for most of their lives; as their own cause faltered in Europe, they were able to offer their military experience to any country that would give them an army or any relatives who needed them.

Born in Prague, Prince Rupert had been only a baby when his parents took flight from Bohemia; in the rush to leave, he was temporarily forgotten and only a quick-thinking nursemaid remembered at the last moment to fling the infant into a departing coach. He grew up abrupt, which was hardly surprising, but so good-looking he could usually carry off his rude manner. Now he was twenty-two and knew considerably more about war than his uncle, King Charles — though perhaps not quite enough.

'Over-valued,' growled Lovell, who thought himself a good judge. 'Over-valued mainly by himself, and nobody will take him down, because of his blood.' Then he chewed his pipe with a frank grimace which acknowledged both his envy of Prince Rupert and the irony that he, too, might in some respects over-value himself.

Both men were rootless, shiftless and penniless. Both also had a flagrant air of needing nothing and yet expecting all.

'This Prince Rupert is a St John's man,' mentioned Edmund Treves, also chewing a pipe stem. They were in St John's College at the time, feet up in his room. Edmund was mischievously tweaking his friend's lack of humour: 'Archbishop Laud inaugurated our new Canterbury Quadrangle — the King and Queen attended; they are honoured with elegant statues by the sculptor, Le Sueur.' He spent a moment tapping down his tobacco. Lovell waited impatiently. 'Prince Rupert must have been about sixteen; he came in the royal party and was admitted here as a scholar.'

'Is that so?'

'Truly'

"Were you here then?'

'I fear not.'

'A pity. You might have shared a bench with His Highness, jogging his Palatine elbow as he slurped up his breakfast in the buttery'

'Would that have been useful?'

'What, Edmund — calling the princeling "old colleague"? I believe it could have been!'

Edmund Treves smiled quietly. Even Lovell joined in.

Treves pondered his new friend's intentions and where Prince Rupert fitted into them.

When the civil war began, men who could fight were drawn to England. The native-born came from loyalty, foreigners descended for plunder. Experienced soldiers were pouring in from all quarters of Europe. Settlers, acting from conscience, were even returning from the Americas. Men with money began recruiting regiments. Orlando Lovell could not afford this. Volunteers of lesser means must inveigle themselves into any troop they could. That had to be his route. He must have earned hire-fees when abroad, and he had hoarded booty — but he always guarded his purse. The day they met, Treves had been right to sense himself being eyed up as prey. Only his poverty saved him.

Lovell had brought his talents home and declared allegiance to his King (he did appear to be English — or perhaps Irish or Welsh — though almost certainly not Scottish). He would be whole-hearted in his support, for he thought rebellion was madness and could only fail. Somehow, Lovell would eventually serve under Prince Rupert. He knew how to insert himself into the most charismatic position. Whatever his views on the prince's ability, he foresaw where useful friends could be procured and where reputations would be made. But to begin with, Prince Rupert was away again, escorting the Queen to Holland.

Impatient for action, Lovell had already looked at other positions. In May, the King had finally acknowledged that the upheaval in the country necessitated a Lifeguard of Horse to protect his royal person. Lovell at that time appeared briefly with Sir Thomas Byron, one of seven distinguished brothers on the Royalist side, who was the Lifeguards commander. The trial posting failed to please the fastidious Lovell. By August, he had attached himself to Sir John Byron, another of the brothers, who had ridden into Oxford on the 28th of the month with two hundred men.

This Byron was a chin-up commander with black brows and a moustache like a thick black ingot struck above his upper lip. He was famous for fighting even when there was no need; he survived being wounded in the face with a pole-axe and he would earn himself the nickname 'the Bloody Braggadocio'. His flamboyance failed to convince Lovell. Perhaps, for him, Sir John Byron was just too colourful. He burned so brightly he would overshadow subordinates, offering little to compensate. So when Sir John Byron rode away, Lovell stayed behind in Oxford.

'Was that permissible?' Edmund anxiously suspected that the highhanded Lovell had deserted Byron's colours.

'Never join the first troop you see,' snorted Lovell. Whenever he spoke as a soldier, with that experienced cynicism, the awed Treves accepted his words open-mouthed.

Lovell joked that there were still five other Byron brothers whose commands he could assess until he found one that suited him. But he knew what he wanted: service with Prince Rupert, working out of Oxford.

'Any fool can see this is the place,' Lovell barked. 'Hell's teeth, the King is wasting himself, struggling to capture Hull, just because it is supposed to be a good northern port and contains a mighty magazine -

'A magazine?' asked Edmund.

'An arsenal. Left over from the Scottish Wars — but while King Charles has been faddling outside the gates like a butter maid, the magazine is whipped away and bundled down the road south to Parliament… What's left? Bristol is held by the rebels. Warwick is a hotbed of dissent. Nottingham and York are too remote to contemplate. Oxford is central, well disposed to the King, easy to supply, easy to access, defensible, and best of all, rich enough and gracious enough to host a royal court.'

'So…?'

'So, let us sit here until the court arrives.'

Us, thought Edmund, feeling proud.

While they waited for the court to find them, Lovell's plan to marry Treves to Juliana Carlill flickered into life.

Lovell had heard of this heiress whose guardian wanted to find her a husband. Anyone more observant than Treves might have noticed the source of the tale was servants' gossip in an alehouse. Only a deep cynic would wonder whether the information had been deliberately planted among the potboys by the girl's associates, to snare some well-to-do scholar. Orlando Lovell, like many a passionate schemer, never supposed that anybody other than himself had the skill or the bravado to plot.

Once he had ascertained that the girl was young and alone in the world, supported only by an elderly bachelor guardian, Lovell declared that these people were innocents, waiting to be plucked. It was up to Edmund, Lovell urged, to snap up the unguarded prize before some quicker man stepped in ahead of him.

Orlando Lovell liked to make things complicated. He implied to Edmund that the proposal to find Juliana a husband had been initiated by the Queen. Henrietta Maria was then at her highest peak of influence. Given that the King was an indecisive cipher to his tenacious French wife, ambitious men would do well to respect her suggestions, Lovell said. Treves was too unworldly to doubt the Queen's involvement, let alone suspect Lovell of inventing it.

When, urged by his perturbed mother, Edmund did press for more details, Lovell just shrugged and said the Queen wanted to help the girl. That seemed reasonable. It seemed so to Edmund, anyway, though when she received his letter, Alice Treves smoothed her lace collar with an agitated gesture and her mouth tightened. For one thing, she knew that the Queen was abroad.

The Queen had gone to Holland, to convey her newly married ten-year-old daughter Princess Mary. Members of the House of Orange were eager to take custody of her. A substantial sum had been paid by the Dutch to secure the highly desirable Protestant bride, who should have been accompanied by a huge dowry, although because of the English political crisis this was threatened. Instead, the Queen vigorously sought to raise funds for her husband's war. Astutely, Henrietta Maria had taken many of the Crown Jewels — not hers to sell, protested Parliament — which she touted around continental moneylenders and arms dealers, raising cash and buying weapons. It was uncertain when she would return to England. Her absence affected the early course of the war in various ways. It caused the King great anxiety — and prevented any enquiry into Henrietta Maria's reported affection for Juliana Carlill.

The easy-going Treves had gained the impression (from whom? from Lovell?) that the girl's grandmother had been among the ladies-in-waiting who greeted the young queen on her arrival in England way back in 1625. In fact Roxanne Carlill was French herself, which should have made him wonder. He would probably have backed out, had he realised that Henrietta Maria had barely known, and certainly could not remember, her supposed maid-of-honour.

The Queen's interest in Juliana was his biggest misapprehension. There were others.

Juliana Carlill was reportedly heir to a property. Lovell believed it to be 'Kentish orchards', but he had allowed himself to be led up a very winding garden path in this respect, which Edmund failed to investigate. The men took it for granted that Juliana was educated (though not too much), chaste (though not frigid), beautiful, a good dancer, witty (they had not considered whatever they meant by that), and that she would allow her husband generous time to hunt, fish, see his male friends and go out to taverns. But it was to acquire the orchards that they pressed into action. They were cavaliers, with a romantic view of women, but they knew the value of money.

Edmund had good intentions towards Juliana herself, because by nature he was thoroughly decent. Nonetheless, he was a man of his time so he hoped that her property and her position in the Queen's favour would enable him to avoid work or worry. These were perfectly acceptable reasons for seeking to marry. Lovell assured him that if he managed to persuade the girl and her guardian to have him, his mother would forget she had been given no hand in the decision and would warmly welcome the bride, along with her apple (or cherry?) orchards — which grew ever more abundant in their imagination.

Lovell was constantly on hand to steer the plan. He himself lodged in a slightly unpleasant inn. Oxford inns, which had a constantly changing, disloyal clientele, were never sleepy havens for ancient regulars, but brisk businesses run by two-faced landlords who were barely polite and who wanted to take money. It seemed natural for Lovell to spend much free time at St John's.

There, Edmund had a historic room in the old quadrangle, a fair-sized chamber up an ancient stair, where he was looked after by a scout with skinny legs who could hardly mount the steps with a coal scuttle. Edmund's scout despised scholars, and he positively loathed the intruder Lovell. Lovell knew himself to be exposed. He showed no perturbation. He came most days, daring the scout to report them for smoking. In fairness, Lovell did supply the tobacco. However, that was because he deduced that Edmund had no idea how to buy a palatable leaf, while sending out the crabby scout to the tobacconist was never an option.

To his credit, Edmund did wrestle with a perceived problem. Education had not been wasted on him. 'I should much like to be a man securely enjoying his wife's estates, but I do not see, Lovell, why an heiress of this calibre should ever take me on.'

'Nothing to it,' said Lovell. 'You must carry yourself like a fellow who has much gallant farmland of his own — but it is all temporarily entailed on your Anabaptistical second cousin.'

'And how will I manage that?'

'With meekness,' laughed Lovell. Then he added as if he knew at first hand, 'And dismally'

Juliana Carlill and her guardian were living at Wallingford in a house which the guardian, William Gadd, had borrowed. After a brief exchange of letters, Edmund Treves, supported by Lovell in the role of groomsman, travelled to see them there.

Wallingford was a spry market town, its moated castle decently held by Royalists, with lovers' walks along the river banks and a great bridge where William the Conqueror had forded the Thames on his way to be crowned. Wallingford went back in history longer than that. A fortified Saxon burgh founded by King Alfred, it had once been larger than Oxford; it was still strategic and remained very sure of itself. It was a typical English county town, which would soon be fought over bitterly.

Lovell and Treves were thrilled to learn from local intelligence that the house they had to visit was owned by a judge. This put Mr Gadd in a highly respectable context — just as Mr Gadd intended, had they known it.

Chapter Eight — Wallingford: October, 1642

One fine autumn afternoon in 1642, Juliana Carlill was summoned by her guardian's all-duties maid, Little Prue.

Juliana had custody of various heavy tomes which had belonged to her father, who spent more money than he should on books. She had been enjoying her reading, an accomplishment her father had taught her. He had collected 'Utopias'; she was deep in one called The Man in the Moon by Francis Godwin, where a shipwrecked Spanish nobleman was towed to the moon in a chariot drawn by trained geese; there he discovered a benign social paradise, with fantastic, futuristic features.

'You shall then see men fly from place to place in the air. You shall be able to send messages in an instant many miles off, and receive answer again immediately. You shall be able to declare your mind presently unto your friend, being in some private and remote place of a populous city…'

Lost to the real world, Juliana did not hear Little Prue knock at the bedchamber door, nor did she immediately notice her standing in the room. Little Prue, a vague, pale mite who came from a farming background, stared at the book as if its spellbinding hold on the young lady suggested Juliana was a witch. In seventeenth-century Europe, that could be a serious mistake. A spinster who wanted to avoid disaster never lived reclusively, nor kept a black cat, nor gave her neighbour — or her neighbour's cow — a lingering look. Otherwise, the next step was having voyeuristic men inspecting breasts and genitals for devil's teats. No witch-finder ever conceded he had made a mistake: invariably accusation led to a guilty verdict and the penalty was hanging.

Juliana smiled at Little Prue reassuringly.

On being informed that she was being visited by two strange gentlemen, Juliana went through all the sudden shifts of emotion that would overwhelm any young girl. She did not want to put down her book in mid-chapter, for one thing. Domingo Gonsales, the Utopian voyager, was about to return to earth, where he landed in China… Yes, Juliana Carlill was a reader who peeked ahead.

Her next thoughts were for her appearance. Fortunately she was wearing a neat gown of pale yellow, sprigged with tiny flowers. Little Prue, whose memory was no bigger than a bluetit's, forgot her fears of witchcraft and took it upon herself to straighten Juliana's soft collar, with its falls of delicate lace from high in the throat then down across her shoulders. Juliana's lace was always good. It had been mended in many places, but the mends were invisible, she was entirely confident of that, having reworked the threads painstakingly herself. Her hair, too, was fashionable and smart. When a young lady is staying with an elderly bachelor guardian who refuses to hear of her assisting his all-duties maid in anything more than genteel gathering of herbs from the kitchen garden (which at Wallingford was not well stocked), she finds nothing much to do with herself except mope in her bedroom arranging her hair. So Juliana had a very neat flat bun on the crown of her head, with tendrils of curl framing her face and long loose ringlets at each side.

She stepped down the dog-leg staircase, pointing her toes as she took the wooden boards, so she would not trip on the long folds of her gown. This was a Tudor house, maybe a hundred years old, built in mixed materials, with some brick. Juliana descended into a small hall, with a low plaster ceiling rather than the great hammer-beamed caverns of earlier periods, though this one boasted a heavy rent table — too heavy to move easily, and so left to gather dust here while the house stood unoccupied.

Mr Gadd, shrunken but twinkling with excitement, waited for her outside the door to a withdrawing room or parlour. Skinny legs in old-fashioned black hose capered beneath a full-bottomed doublet in a style from the time of King James. He was mostly bald, but lengthy strands of grey hair dragged on his quaint outfit's tired brocade. With his elderly, watery eyes, this gave him an off-putting, slightly seedy impression. That was misleading.

He was, Juliana had discovered, extremely intelligent. At eighty years of age he had retired from the Inns of Court with a healthy pension; it was paid by several grateful lawyers whose careers he had burnished by steering clients their way, by discovering long-forgotten points of law, by tracing — or otherwise procuring — essential witnesses, and by knowing where to buy good malmsey. He had no formal qualifications; he was a pig-keeper's son. He knew more law than most judges, but he had not been born a gentleman so could not use this knowledge directly. Juliana's grandmother had pretended to think he was legally qualified, though in truth Roxanne recognised exactly what he was, just as he understood her position. They were outsiders. They had invaded a level of society that was theoretically closed to them — and they stuck there tenaciously. Roxanne had intended that something should be done about this for Juliana — and Mr Gadd concurred.

So here they were.

'What do we have, Master Gadd?'

'A pink-and-white mother's boy — manageable. And there's his supporter — who needs watching.'

Juliana and her guardian had had a sensible exchange of views on her future. They were prepared to deal with any wooers who came to call. 'If he looks sound husband material, we'll drop him!' chirruped Mr Gadd, pretending to level a firing piece at some unwary bird in a coppice. Juliana, who feared that shooting down a husband might be the only way to catch one, smiled as if she too were enjoying the chase.

Two gentlemen was more than they hoped for. Mr Gadd whispered quickly that it was only to be expected that the scholar-suitor would be nervous and would bring a friend. Juliana would have liked an encouraging friend of her own. But she had never had friends. Her grandmother had thought English children were nasty creatures.

All the same, she was not alone. She was lucky to have found herself placed in the care of a guardian with whom she could converse on a practical level. Their good humour together only increased her sense of obligation. She did not wish to burden Mr Gadd. Besides, Juliana might be only seventeen, but she had a keen sense of how the world worked; she preferred not to be alone in his care too long. So far, he was sheltering her with the gravest of good manners, but he was a man. Roxanne had been a man's woman — and Juliana knew what that meant. Her grandmother remained flirtatious right until she died; Mr Gadd had been a conquest, undoubtedly. Mr Gadd on his stick-thin legs might yet launch some tottering sally against Juliana's honour. Girls who have other girls as friends give themselves courage against unwanted amorousness, but Juliana had no such confidante. Her chaperone was Little Prue, though she suspected instinctively that Little Prue might beat off an attacker with a warming pan — yet might as easily decide it was not her place to interfere.

So one reason Juliana welcomed marriage, marriage to anyone who seemed suitable, was that she wanted her own home, where she would have standing as the housewife and could enforce rules for her own protection.

Juliana and Mr Gadd knew in advance that Edmund Treves had a widowed mother, to whom he was close, and also siblings. This could entail married life with the Treves family. While Juliana might find herself immediate soulmates with her mother-in-law, she could equally end up in thrall to a harridan. She had been surprised when Mr Gadd discussed this. He actually warned her against life as a young bride in another, older, woman's home. His unfashionable attitude, which had a ring of experience, was her one glimpse of his personal background.

Until three months beforehand Juliana and her guardian had never met. He knew her grandmother only briefly in London, and although he prepared Roxanne's will on that occasion, nine years later when Roxanne died he was initially alarmed to find himself left in charge of Juliana. He took to the responsibility, however. Roxanne had foreseen this. Mr Gadd, who had never had dependants, was thoroughly enjoying himself as Juliana's guardian. Still, even though she knew Roxanne had vetted him, Juliana could not absolutely depend on him. When it came to accepting or rejecting the suitor, he would advise, but she had to decide.

Mr Gadd paused, with his hand on the latch, winked, then opened the door. Juliana took one hard look at the two men in the parlour, before she cast down her grey eyes modestly as a young girl was supposed to do.

Once she thought she could do so discreetly, naturally she then peeked.

Orlando Lovell — sombrely clad, heavy spurs, uptwirled moustache, pinched lips — had taken possession of one of the solid square wooden armchairs, whence he had been eyeing the room. Edmund Treves — shaved until he bled and blushing pink — was standing. His gaze fluttered on her guardian but then came directly to Juliana. He wanted to know what was being offered to him. Juliana felt equally determined to assess her suitor: the younger, taller man, who wore a braided cherry suit slashed over silver satin (the main colour clashing with his red hair) and a billowing satin cloak wrapped over one arm. Mr Gadd had led her to expect someone wimpish, though in fact Treves's features were firm, with a forward-thrust chin, and his build was chunky. He appeared more athletic than scholarly. Juliana, who could not afford to make mistakes here, immediately assessed him as good-natured, but too young.

She felt more wary of the other man, who was so coolly assessing his surroundings. The room had linenfold oak panelling and contained only two monumental box chairs, plus a rather ugly fifty-year-old buffet, a long side table with two open levels, which currently displayed no plate, not even second-best pewter. There was an open hearth, where a modest log fire blazed, but it had made little encroachment on the chill that gripped the long-empty house. Nobody present, however, would have challenged the fact that a judge should own more houses than he could live in, and should be able to abandon a fine property, without tenants, for years at a time.

Juliana was introduced. For this, Lovell rose rather reluctantly; both visitors swept off their broad-brimmed beaver hats. Everyone uttered polite nonsense for the briefest time possible. Lovell returned to his great chair, leaving Mr Gadd to occupy the other, while Juliana and Edmund took separate window seats. It left both of them relegated to the sidelines, with a pillar between them. If Juliana had foreseen this, before the meeting she would have dragged in a couple of leather-backed dining chairs. She wanted to peer at the suitor, while the others talked.

Mr Gadd crisply enumerated Juliana's talents: chaste, sweet-natured, well read, religious, a good seamstress, able to manage a kitchen and a still. He called her fair, because 'beauty' was conventional. They could see for themselves that she had brown hair, grey eyes, straight teeth, a small nose (unlike her French grandmother), and a medium figure that could probably cope with child-bearing. Her manner seemed reserved. That was good. A woman had to accept her fate meekly.

'You have been at court, Mistress?' asked Treves, sounding hopeful as he leaned forward awkwardly from the other window seat. He was still flustered and blushing.

'She is far too young!' remonstrated Mr Gadd, with a friendly chuckle.

'You are French?' demanded Lovell. Nothing flustered him.

'My grandmother was French, Captain Lovell.'

'The French court is full of foppish men and filthy women.' He sounded as if his sneers were based on experience — though Juliana thought anyone could generalise in such a way.

'Perhaps,' Juliana countered, 'that was why Grand-mere was pleased to leave.'

Her retort was too strong. All three men blenched.

'The grandmother married a cloth merchant of Colchester, very well-to-do,' Mr Gadd said rapidly. It was true, although the cloth merchant was a haberdasher and he had vanished from the scene rather quickly. 'Drowned at sea — so sad!' was how Roxanne had passed it off in her brisk manner. She always made it sound as though Mr Carlill was a bolter, who had left her in the lurch. Perhaps. Juliana had occasionally wondered disloyally whether he was dispatched by other means. For certain all his money and his stock-in-trade, while it lasted, remained with Roxanne.

He also left Roxanne pregnant — the only time the Frenchwoman was caught out. She thought her son Germain a British milksop, but brought him up diligently. She never complained, even when Germain spent most of his father's money (Roxanne kept some of it back in secret) and himself failed in business.

Germain Carlill survived childhood, grew up feckless and married a young woman called Mary, who was the antithesis of his mother, the simplicity of Mary's name and nature throwing her exotic foreign mother-in-law into high relief. Mary produced Juliana, miscarried, miscarried again, then died. Seeing there was no hope her dreamy son would take proper care of the little girl, Roxanne stepped in. Though never maternal previously, she and her granddaughter grew very close. Juliana was a sunny, self-reliant child. It helped.

None of that needed to be recounted to Treves and Lovell. The background and experiences which had formed Juliana's personality were irrelevant; only her paper assets counted.

'Are you able to supply a dowry list?' It was Lovell who asked.

'In preparation,' assured Mr Gadd. 'Her grandfather left a wealthy bequest and her grandmother was an excellent businesswoman. I was proud to have the acquaintance of Madame Carlill.' Mr Gadd saluted Juliana who smiled gravely. She noted that nobody asked about her father. 'Captain Lovell, it would be helpful to hear whether your friend's landed estates would add the same level of material security? What jointure is being offered?' A jointure was money provided by a groom's family to support a wife if her husband predeceased her; it was generally similar to the dowry that a girl brought to the marriage.

Lovell bluffed: 'Mr Treves is a gentleman and a scholar, as you know. His family is well regarded in Northumberland — are they not, Edmund?'

'Staffordshire,' Edmund corrected, forgetting that Lovell had told him to say Northumberland as it was more remote, which would help flummox enquiries.

'He is a scholar,' repeated Mr Gadd thoughtfully. 'How can he marry whilst at the university?'

'Any gentleman may leave his studies to settle down. A degree is not in itself significant. The important thing is to have broadened his mind — then to seize the moment to establish himself wisely' Lovell managed to suggest that acquiring a degree for career purposes was not only unnecessary, but even slightly sordid. Obtaining a rich bride was much more respectable.

'His estate will permit him to be immediately independent?' Mr Gadd was inspecting his skinny knees with a clerkish air.

'He is possessed of all the requisite rents to flourish.' Lovell remained polite, but implied Gadd had insulted them.

Mr Gadd had worked with lawyers, so he was impervious. He spoke as if he had made up his mind. 'It will be necessary to satisfy myself.' Juliana knew he was already making enquiries, a task he enjoyed, though the political upheaval meant answers were slow in coming.

The shrewd Gadd observed a passing shade of alarm in Treves — which gave him answer enough. The boy would not do.

Mr Gadd could have cut their losses immediately and withdrawn from negotiations, but there had been no other offers. The threat of war was a trial. Good families always liked to marry their offspring to their friends and relations. He knew it would be difficult to drum up interest.

Besides, rehearsing witnesses had been Mr Gadd's strength when he worked in the law; he wanted to give Juliana more practice with suitors.

The young redhead was mightily keen on obtaining the 'Kentish acres', which told its own story. Treves was no use. He needed to be dropped, but Mr Gadd was enjoying this race between impostors. He let Treves and Lovell run downhill with the cheese.

Chapter Nine — Wallingford: October, 1642

Treves and Lovell came daily for over a week. A phantom courtship was played out, with nobody learning much, nobody committing themselves. Mr Gadd had not yet warned Juliana he planned to refuse Edmund Treves.

So she donned her hat dutifully and went walking with the two gentlemen, chaperoned by Little Prue. They conversed politely of birdsong, the price of butter, the delights and pretensions of Wallingford. Juliana pressed Treves for stories of his family, ignored Lovell as much as possible and said nothing of her own background. She learned about Treves's widowed mother, Alice, his younger brothers and sisters, his two uncles who acted as interested patrons as far as they could afford. Through his private enquiries Mr Gadd had discovered that one of the uncles was supporting Parliament, although the keen Royalist Edmund seemed unaware of it. His mother must know, but had kept that back.

Juliana treated Edmund well. Unfortunately, he mistook her good manners for genuine interest in him. He had never had much contact with young women outside his own family. He found Juliana pleasant to look at; her intelligence impressed him without his noticing it. Even when he forgot to think about her apple orchards, he was falling in love with her.

Juliana had never had much contact with young men, but she had a practical streak, directly learned from her grandmother. She was certainly not falling in love with Edmund Treves.

Once or twice the men were invited to dine. On these occasions, it was natural that the conversation turned to the political situation. Juliana was glad, for it took attention away from Little Prue's indifferent efforts to pan-fry escalopes.

Juliana rarely spoke. She was supposed to remain silent. She knew these negotiations could just as well have been carried out without her presence. But she watched carefully.

'Are you for the King or Parliament?' It must have been Lovell who put the question to Mr Gadd; Treves innocently assumed that everyone he met was a Royalist.

'I am for King — and for Parliament, Captain.'

'A lawyer's answer!' Orlando Lovell quite rudely related how a country labourer had been asked the question by a troop of cavaliers; when he gave the same cautious reply as Gadd, they shot him dead. 'Many people would rather not choose,' Lovell acknowledged, 'but we shall all be forced to it.'

'So is it your opinion this armed conflict will rage long?' asked Mr Gadd — still slyly withholding his views, Juliana noticed.

Lovell answered at once. 'If there is a decisive battle this autumn and if the King wins — as he should — then all is over. If there is no decisive battle, or if Parliament prevails, then we are in for a long, hard-driven wrangle.'

'So you are for the King, even though it is a hopeless cause?' sniped Mr Gadd.

'Not hopeless,' returned Lovell. 'More ridiculous than I like. More ill-judged than it need be, longer, more bloody, more expensive, no doubt. But the King must win.'

Mr Gadd pursed his lips very slightly.

'Of course the King will win!' Edmund burst out immaturely.

While Juliana continued to observe in silence, the men reviewed the position. England had had no standing army. On both sides, gentlemen raised regiments, often composed of their own pressurised tenants, ill-equipped and mutinous. The King's call to arms was being only fitfully answered but in contrast, the Earl of Essex, Parliament's commanding general, was in charge of twenty thousand troops. Now, in October, the King was still trying to drum up support in the Midlands, with mixed success, his army still much inferior. At the time of Juliana's courtship, the King had moved to Shrewsbury.

'There he is well positioned for support to reach him from Wales, where several regiments are being raised for him,' said Mr Gadd.

'You speak like a strategist,' Edmund Treves commented.

'We shall all be strategists by winter,' replied Mr Gadd.

Lovell had previously worn a superior smile, but now spoke easily, as if he was enjoying the debate: 'The Earl of Essex prefers a waiting game; he wants the King to sue for peace.'

'You think the King will march on London?' Mr Gadd asked.

'What has your intelligence from London to say?'

'Oh my correspondence with London is all of demesnes and rents,' Gadd told Lovell softly.

'Of course it is.'

There was a small pause, as if contenders in a sparring match were taking breath.

Lovell reached for the wine flagon to refill his glass and that of Treves. Mr Gadd had already declined further liquor, on health grounds. Juliana's glass was empty, but she was a young girl, and Lovell no more considered replenishing her wineglass than he had deemed it proper to include her in the political conversation. She had a flashing vision of Roxanne, on rare occasions when there was wine at the Carlill table, grasping the flagon and pouring for everyone equally.

Edmund Treves caught Juliana's look and misinterpreted: 'Do not be alarmed by all our talk of war, madam. Neither side wishes this conflict to be a trouble for women.'

Juliana remembered what Mr Gadd had told her about Edmund's opposing uncles. 'Any woman connected to men who are fighting must find it a very deep trouble, Master Treves. Besides,' she added wickedly, 'perhaps if Captain Lovell had asked me, am I for King or Parliament, I might not give a lawyer's answer!'

Orlando Lovell looked amused. 'So let me ask you the question.'

For almost the first time in their acquaintance Juliana gazed straight at him. 'Oh I must ally myself with my husband — when I have a husband.' She let them feel smug, then added, 'However, if I did not like his views, that would be very difficult. I hope to have my husband's full confidence, and to share mine with him.'

'And if you could not?'

'Oh I should have to leave him of course, Captain Lovell.'

As they all laughed most merrily at this idea, it seemed that only Juliana Carlill recognised that she had not been joking.

By the time that they had this conversation, King Charles had made his move. He left Shrewsbury, to the relief of the townsfolk, who had been badly used by his bored and ill-provisioned soldiers, even after the royal Mint from Aberystwyth was brought to coin collected plate and pay the men. The Earl of Essex bestirred himself. Leaving Worcester, which had suffered from his billeted troops as badly as Shrewsbury from the King's, he set off to form a blockade between the King and London. So the two field armies moved slowly towards each other, with between fourteen and fifteen thousand men apiece, each strangely unaware of their converging paths. Poor physical communications and the indifference of the people in areas through which they passed combined to astonish them when they suddenly came within a few miles of each other, near Kineton in south Warwickshire. On the 23rd of October, the King decided to join battle, drawing up his troops on Edgehill ridge.

When news of the battle at Edgehill reached Wallingford, which happened quite swiftly despite the sleeting autumn weather, the courtship of Juliana faltered. Though reports were as confusing as the battle seemed to have been, Treves and Lovell were now eager to join the King's army. A polite note informed Mr Gadd they had left Wallingford to volunteer.

'We shall not see them again,' Juliana murmured, uncertain whether to be disappointed.

Six days after the battle, the King and his army marched into Oxford, where Lovell and Treves were waiting. Charles was welcomed by the university with great ceremony and with less warmth by the town. Four days later he set off again determined to capture London. This was his march to Turnham Green.

As the Royalist army travelled south, it passed Wallingford. Juliana and Mr Gadd were surprised to receive a new visit from Orlando Lovell. This time he came alone. He seemed depressed, which appeared to be his reaction to the battle; he had ascertained details which he shared with Mr Gadd, man to man, Juliana being permitted to listen in only because she sat so quiet in a corner the men forgot she was there.

According to Lovell, the fighting took place between three o'clock in the afternoon and darkness. He described sourly how Prince Rupert's cavalry thundered through one Parliamentary wing but then chased off the field in pursuit of their fleeing opponents instead of steadying. Against orders, the King's reserves followed Rupert, another episode that caused Lovell's displeasure. The Parliamentary centre held, he said, then their infantry and cavalry fought valiantly. Night fell upon widespread confusion. The exhausted armies gradually came to rest.

'Both sides claimed victory though neither could sustain the claim.' Lovell was speaking in a grim voice; Juliana saw that he knew about fighting like this. She heard under notes of criticism. 'There was heroism, of course. There was futility. Seasoned soldiers are primed for both, but most men there had no past experience. They must have been terrified and shaken. Then after the guns and drums fell silent, the survivors spent the night on the battlefield. It was freezing cold. Under the gunsmoke, wounded men were moaning and dying. No medical aid came to them, though some were saved by the frost, which staunched their blood. It is said one of our men, stripped and left for dead, kept himself warm by pulling a corpse over him. Among the living, who had neither eaten nor drunk since the previous dawn, men shivered helplessly and tried to come to terms whilst in deep shock. Survivors of battle experience relief and also overwhelming guilt. Even their demoralised commanders sank into lethargy'

'And where does this leave us?' Mr Gadd asked him.

'Hard to say. Parliament had the most dead, though they held the field. When dawn broke, there were arguments on both sides, but neither commander was willing to continue. Both withdrew. It achieved nothing and solved nothing. All it tells me, sir, is that there will be no fast resolution.'

Lovell then asked for a conversation in private with the lawyer, after which he wanted an interview with Juliana. While she waited, she found she was quite frightened by what she had heard. She did not know exactly where Edgehill or Kineton were, but Warwickshire was only the next county to Oxfordshire. If, as Orlando Lovell implied, the battle stalemate indicated that this war was to continue for a substantial period, Juliana felt suddenly more anxious about her own future.

When Lovell emerged, he suggested a walk in the garden. Mr Gadd pleaded age, so she found herself in an unexpected tete-a-tete.

The grounds of the judge's house ran down to the river, with green lawns that must be scythed by some hired labourer even though the judge never came here. The grass was too sodden to be walked on, at least in a young lady's delicate footwear. Lovell's boots might have done it, but he had no intention of sinking in up to his precious spurs. He led Juliana to a raised terrace nearer the house, their feet crunching on wet pea-grain gravel.

'Forgive me,' said Lovell, speaking briskly, 'there does seem to be great haste in seeking a husband for you. I am struggling to understand it. Your guardian will barely take time to supply us with the documents about your orchards — ' Juliana now believed Mr Gadd had decided not to pursue Treves's proposal, yet Lovell still spoke as if he had no suspicion his scheme might be rejected. 'There is nothing untoward, I hope?' His gaze dipped to Juliana's belly, making his suggestion unmistakable.

Juliana had an unpleasant moment, thinking that Lovell and Treves had been discussing her morals, though she knew men did so. Pulling her cloak tighter around her, she answered levelly, 'You think me unchaste, Captain Lovell?'

He seemed to back down. 'I am indelicate.'

'You are unforgivable!'

Lovell for once seemed alarmed. 'Forgive my bluntness. I am a soldier — '

'And soldiers have to be uncouth?'

Lovell looked rueful. 'Please listen. I have a pass "to visit friends", but I must make haste and who knows when I may visit Wallingford again.. Treves and I are now attached to Prince Rupert's regiment. I must rejoin them immediately.'

Juliana did not relent. 'If there is urgency over my marriage, it is because my guardian is eighty years old, and I am otherwise alone in the world!' Still preoccupied and perturbed by Lovell's story of Edgehill, the thought of being alone oppressed her more than usual. She fought to regain her self-command and some control in the interview. 'It is best I am settled quickly. Especially in these troubled times.'

As she fixed her gaze on the lichen-coated balustrades and urns that surrounded the judge's parterre, she was aware that Lovell stared at her with a curiosity that verged on insolence. 'I am admiring your strength of character, Mistress Carlill. You have, if I may say so without annoying you again, a quality beyond your years.' She was too good for Treves, of course; Lovell saw that now. 'Too many difficulties while too young, I think?'

'Too much grief.' Juliana was equally blunt.

Lovell put a hand beneath her elbow and steered her to a stone bench.

He made a desultory attempt to brush it clean, the scatter of leaf litter catching on his hand. He was making it worse, and gave up. Juliana seated herself, her knees turned towards him so he could approach no closer, making space for herself, if not a barrier.

'So, madam. Tell me, what are your hopes in this negotiation? What are you seeking for yourself?'

The question was unexpected. For once Juliana felt uncertain. 'All the talk has been of "necessity".'

It always had been, for as long as she could remember. After her grandmother's long struggle to rise above poverty in a strange country, the need to survive had always driven her family. Her father's lack of business sense had destroyed any security they had. Her grandmother kept the family together and yearned for better things. Now, for Juliana to be respectable, better things could only come through a good marriage.

Her father had been a dreamer. Her grandmother despaired of him, could not believe she had raised a son who was so careless about his own future, or the future of them all. It was left to Grand-mere Roxanne to give Juliana any ambition she would have. Not enough, for Roxanne.

Yet Juliana's ambitions were fixed, and she enumerated them briskly to Lovell: A household of my own to run. A husband who values me as his true companion. To bear children but not bury them, nor to die myself while bearing them. Not to despair of how they shall turn out… A garden,' she added suddenly, glancing around. Most of the plants had withered, their few leaves hanging as brown rags. Frost had wreaked instant havoc.

'Well, this is a gloomy autumnal patch!' Lovell commented.

A garden where the autumn die-back would not matter, because I would always see it bloom again next spring.'

Lovell had a sense that the Carlill family had moved about a great deal. He wondered why. However, the young woman did not look particularly hunted. These domestic hopes of hers were pretty conventional. 'There is always the blossom at your orchard in Kent.'

The situation was not as he thought. Juliana smiled again, in her gentle, non-committal way. 'Ah, my father's orchard!'

'So,' probed Lovell. 'Is Edmund Treves to be your life's companion?'

Juliana felt it was improper to give her answer to Edmund's friend. Although she acknowledged that Lovell had authority to hear it, the very fact that Edmund let his sponsor come alone dismayed her. Whatever the reason a man asked for her — and she did not by any means expect it to be love — Juliana wanted direct dealing. Her view of marriage demanded it. 'Edmund Treves has excellent qualities — '

To her surprise, Captain Lovell suddenly interrupted: 'Too young! Too untried, too unworldly, too poorly endowed to match your dowry — ' He had that wrong, thought Juliana almost humorously. 'Altogether too damned milky white. No man for you.' As Lovell saw Juliana recoil at his frankness, his voice rasped. 'Do not make your decision from a sense of obligation, simply because young Treves has offered. You must defend yourself. No one else will. Think on that.'

He sounded like Mr Gadd. Juliana hardly paused. 'You are quite right. I will tell him — '

'I will tell him,' Lovell volunteered. 'I brought him to your door.'

'I would not wish Edmund to be hurt by this, Captain Lovell. I believe he may care for me — '

'He's in love. He'll recover. Edmund', explained Lovell brutally, 'has but one great idea in his head at any time. For the moment he is besotted with his new life as a soldier. However — ' And for once Orlando Lovell favoured Juliana with an open grin, a grin of such enormous sincerity and charm that she felt her first abrupt awareness of him as a man. 'He badly needs your orchard!'

She looked downcast.

'Should you refuse young Treves, we are all left with the other problem,' Lovell mused. Your guardian, Mr Gadd, rightly wishes to procure a husband for you.'

Juliana's gaze slipped across the parterre. She saw the ancient climbing roses, their great stems bent to unseen wires, one with a last brave crimson flower, another with pale buds that would never now open fully since they were browned by frost. A cold breeze was twisting her ringlets and she had hunched her shoulders against the cold. The conversation could not last much longer; she would have to go indoors.

And then she heard Orlando Lovell suggest to her quietly, 'There is an answer. Marry me.'

Chapter Ten — Birmingham: October, 1642

'Why me?' wondered Kinchin Tew.

As the mad parson took hold of her, she felt indignant, resigned, desperate, bewildered. She was a fourteen-year-old girl, just an unattractive scavenger, born among masterless women and men. Kinchin was a nickname: never baptised, never enrolled in school, there were no records of her existence and her real given name was lost.

It was not the first time Mr Whitehall's watery gaze had lighted upon her expectantly. They were both daytime wanderers, so in a small town like Birmingham their paths were bound to cross. Skulking against walls or creeping up backstreets, Kinchin would sometimes startle him; more often, he would loom up from nowhere and cunningly trap her. Then she knew what was in store.

Why me? was a question she posed, yet never answered for herself. To others it would be obvious: she was vulnerable. Her parents and brothers generally left her to herself. She was a starveling, alone on the streets.

Kinchin never invited the man to accost her, but she endured what he did. Mr Whitehall was an adult, and as a churchman he carried authority even if he could no longer practise his calling because of his past. Everyone knew how he behaved to women. Even though Kinchin feared him, it was almost exciting that he chose her. These were the only occasions when she mattered to anyone.

If ever she had the advantage of surprise, she took herself out of his reach, but pride made her walk off unhurriedly as if continuing on some errand. The parson rarely followed if she had an escape route. For him the thrill lay in persuading women to give him kisses freely. Besides, he was sane enough to know that if he attempted pursuit and force, he could be brought before the church court, then the parish would send him back to Bedlam. Kinchin knew that he was recently released from the great London hospital for the insane, where he had been kept for twenty years. Now he had somehow found his way back to Birmingham, where new generations had ripened and Kinchin Tew was here to be preyed upon. Everyone knew his habits. A few women tolerated him. Generally he was thought to be safe, a mild nuisance who could be rebuffed quite easily. Many towns and villages harboured a similar pest, always had done, always would do.

'Ooh — has Mr Whitehall taken to Kinchin?' Her mother's speculative tone had been a shock. Kinchin heard the eager hope that someone of quality wanted something — and might pay for it. At once she saw that her family would never try to save her. Now she was fourteen, she had become useful. They would offer her wherever they could, to do whatever was asked. In their gruelling quest for survival, her parents wanted rewards for nurturing her. Doing whatever was necessary would be her duty. When she now tolerated Mr Whitehall touching and toying with her, she was aware that worse experiences lay ahead.

Life was harsh for the Tews. Kinchin remembered that it had not always been quite this bad. The family had once subsisted inefficiently on commonland at Lozells Heath. They were rag-pickers and tinkers, with harvest work every autumn, if they could be bothered to apply for it and if any farmers would put up with them. For generations they had scratched a living, inhabiting a decrepit hovel where scabby, tousled children snuffled five or six on the floor while their parents and associated adults squabbled over who would sleep in what passed for a bed. If it was winter and they were 'looking after' a cow, the cow took precedence in their shelter. Occasionally a handy Tew would concoct a lean-to byre in which to hide the stolen cow; then the children would have somewhere to skulk, plot, dream and, if the elder boys were obsessively curious that year, engage in mild incestuous activities. Pigs they claimed as their own roamed the scrubby heathland; chickens that answered their call pecked around outside the hovel. The Tews were masterless men. They were constantly at risk of being taken up for idleness, yet most were not completely idle and they all possessed a kind of freedom that was better to them than the bullied lives of servants or apprentices. As freedom went, it was dirty and cold, but for generations the Tews had managed to exist.

Then Sir Thomas Holte enclosed a third of Aston Manor to enlarge his park. The Tews were driven out.

The social gulf between the Tew family and that of 'Black Tom' Holte was vast. They had nothing. He had everything. Though his forebears had a long pedigree in the Midlands, his real social eminence developed with the Stuart kings. On the accession of King James, Holte had been knighted; later he pushed forward to be among the two hundred who paid a thousand pounds each for a baronetcy — a new rank, invented to create funds for the king. His red-handed badge then gave Sir Thomas Holte precedence over all except royalty and the peerage. He built himself a gem of Jacobean architecture, an ostentatious stately home to signify his importance. He sired sixteen well-fed children, by two wives. As lord of the manors of Aston, Duddeston and Nechells, Holte enjoyed an aristocratic idleness that was never made the subject of sermons or by-laws. He flourished, with the minimum of loyal service to the kingdom, while growing ever richer on the proceeds of brutal business methods. He hunted, quarrelled and counted his rents. He bought the extra manors of Lapworth and Bushwood; he acquired Erdington and Pipe. He became a Justice of the Peace for the county of Warwickshire and lay rector of Aston parish. With no opposition, or none that mattered, he then seized for himself the breezy open common. Some of it became his new deer park and the rest he parcelled out in tiny batches to local artisans. Their leases were short enough to keep the men craven, lest by displeasing their landlord they should lose their livelihoods.

With land in a commanding position astride the vital River Bourne, Holte controlled the necessary water supply for industry; he soon owned seven mills on the Bourne and two more on the River Rea, with dozens of one-man forges leased from him. Acquisitive, hot-tempered and vindictive, he had a reputation as well read and versed in languages, though this was not tested in Birmingham where the locals had their own curious intonation but only the Welsh drovers needed real interpreting. Velvet-suited Holte sons went to London as courtiers to the King. Pink-cheeked, pearl-bedecked Holte daughters played shuttlecock in the Long Gallery until they wed other landowners, their carefully negotiated marriages providing their father with more ample cash to adorn Aston Hall. The eldest son fell out with his father for twenty years and a daughter was reputedly locked up in a garret, but their father disdained to be called to account for either; he tried to ruin his son, who had married a girl with no dowry, even when pressed to forgive him by King Charles.

Aston lay a very short walk from Birmingham, where Sir Thomas Holte was disliked and insulted. Notoriously, he sued a local man for spreading rumours that Holte had struck his cook with a kitchen cleaver so violently that 'one part of the victim's head lay upon one shoulder and another part on the other'. Judges on appeal cleared the defendant of slander on the curious grounds that his claim did not say in so many words that the baronet had murdered the cook. The wry judgment stated, 'notwithstanding such wounding, the party may yet be living'. This lawsuit led locally to open animosity that increased in the civil war. Sir Thomas Holte naturally supported the King; the rebellious people of Birmingham did not.

The Tews took neither side. The war would not be fought for them. They owned nothing worth fighting for. Following the land enclosure, they were homeless and destitute, without trade or other income. They gravitated to the town, but found little charity there; they were too strong-bodied to win places in guild almshouses and, if approached, the Birmingham churchwardens would only move the Tews on — back to their home parish of Aston, where Sir Thomas Holte was master. Their plight might be his fault, but he influenced the Aston churchwardens when they gave or withheld poor relief, so the Tews were convinced their chances were hopeless. 'If he cared, he would never have thrust us off the common,' moaned Kinchin's father, Emmett Tew, a shiftless, shabby laggard to whom complaining had always come easier than making the best of it. He had a point. Many aristocrats claimed that giving alms to the poor only encouraged them to remain idle and beg for more relief. This opinion allowed people of high birth and low cunning to avoid paying conscience money. It worked too. The number of paupers diminished, as they died from starvation and disease.

Kinchin's mother was pregnant yet again, though she looked too old for it; the new child would probably die but if it survived birth, it might have to be sneaked into a church porch and abandoned. Idealists in England would soon debate the principle that all men came into the world equal — yet the Tews knew that from birth to death they were less than the rest. Hounded from their toehold amid the gorse and wild-flowers, they joined the tinkers, pedlars, gypsies, vagabonds, cut-purses, thieves, actors, wounded soldiers and sailors, idiots and sturdy beggars who bedevilled better-off society. Many were begging through no fault of their own, though that never earned them kindness. Few refuges existed. There were houses of correction where destitute young boys could be taught trades, but few girls entered apprenticeships; their only legitimate option was to become servants. For Kinchin, that option was pretty well closed. No respectable housewife would take in a starved, scab-encrusted runt, who was bound to steal. So Sir Thomas Holte had his portrait painted in green silk, tulip-bottomed britches braided with gold and a silver jacket, his black-bearded personage hung about with rosettes, bows, baldrics and expensive lace-trimmed gauntlets. Kinchin Tew grew up wearing a mildewed skirt she had filched from washerwomen who had laid laundry to dry on thorny bushes. She never had shoes. Now although she looked a child still, she was fourteen, and a tribe of Tews was expecting her to earn for them — in what filthy manner no one had yet specified.

Some people who lost their livelihoods took to the road. As far back as memory would go, the Tews had had their fixed base in North Warwickshire; they clung on in their home district, except for one of Kinchin's brothers who left to try to be a sailor. Since they lived at the very centre of England, Nathaniel had a long walk to the sea in any direction and nobody expected to see him again. Little William was ordered into a charity apprenticeship but ran away after three weeks. Sukey found a position as a dairymaid, caught cowpox and died. Pen died of nothing in particular, as the poor did. Other Tews drifted into town and pleaded for jobs which rarely lasted more than a few days. Self-employed cutlers could not afford unskilled help, bigger businesses wanted workmen they could trust, and Tews tended to lose patience and barge off in a huff anyway.

Birmingham was sufficiently prosperous to offer them advantages. Just one of a multitude of small English towns, it stood at a crossroads of medieval pack-roads. A parish church dominated the old village green, which had been built around with little houses. Along the dog-leg curve of the single main street were several markets, chiefly for cattle which provided both meat sold by the butchers in the Shambles and hides for leather-working. There were sheep pens and a corn cheaping. The town boasted commercial cherry orchards, from which all the Tew children stole fruit, and a rabbit warren whose dozier coneys sometimes ended up in the Tews' cooking pot with bits of nettle and root. An old moated manor-house graced the pretty water-meadows of the River Rea, which was crossed by two stone bridges. The river here and its associated pools and springs had long supported cottage industries. Along the main stream were tanyards, steeping tanks, makings and watermills. In recent decades Askrigge's corn mill had been converted by the entrepreneur Robert Porter to a steel mill, while numerous small open-fronted forges lined the side streets; they turned out every kind of metalwork, though mostly knives. Increasingly, the smiths made swordblades.

Because it had industry as well as its markets, Birmingham had been one of the most flourishing towns in Warwickshire for a hundred years. Although it still lacked borough status, self-made men had built handsome houses on the rising ground, surrounded by gardens and orchards. The local guild maintained almshouses for the few paupers of whom it approved. The guild financed market officials — the bailiffs, the ale and meat connors, the leather sealers and the constable, whose suspicious glare Tews of all ages tried to avoid. It supported the parish churchwardens, bellman, organist and caretaker; it also paid for a midwife. In the guildhall was housed the King Edward the Sixth Grammar School, where fortunate boys were given as good an education as Will Shakespeare had devoured at Stratford-upon-Avon — though lice-ridden, rude rascallions from the common were of course excluded, while girls had no perceived need of learning at all. Kinchin could neither read nor write. However, she knew the value of everything, especially its price as second-hand when second-hand meant stolen.

Throughout her childhood she had slunk through the commercial areas looking for opportunities. If she was shooed away from the Market Cross near the corn market, she moved on through the noisy beast market to the Welch Cross. She would beg openly or she would keep her eyes peeled for spillage and accidental loss. Small change dropped amongst the sordid straw of the cattle pens was often ignored by those who lost it; Kinchin would pounce and grab despite the dung and slime. Stray carrots and apples slipped into the tacked-on pocket of her tattered skirt however bruised they were. As evening fell, she would gaze longingly at unsold produce that the countryfolk might prefer not to carry home again. Clasping any trophies, she usually made her way to Dale End near the Old Priory or to Digbeth and Deritend, which was Dirty End, down by the river. Those places were where her adult relatives would most likely be lurking at the many taverns that supplied the forge-men's mighty thirsts. Tews sometimes earned a few pence for pot-washing; they could drain dregs while they were doing it.

If Kinchin had a friend, it was Thomas, an ostler at the Swan Inn in the High Street, a wiry, affable man who on stormy nights would let her sneak into the stable and bed down in the warmth with the horses. Recently she just kept the Swan in reserve, in case she was ever truly desperate. One day Thomas would want to be kept sweet, and she had a good idea how. Meanwhile her anxieties lay elsewhere.

Today, Mr Whitehall had come upon her while she dawdled in Moat Lane, near the manor-house. He whined the usual plea: 'Pray you, give but a comfortable kiss, Kinchin!' The old parson's tremulous, beseeching voice contrasted with the expert controlling grip in which he grasped her. She could feel his heart pounding through the black woollen clergyman's habit that he still wore, despite holding no position; no congregation would knowingly accept him. Even to Kinchin, herself unwashed, he had a rank smell that had nothing to do with mildewed Bibles. A cinnamon kiss, a kiss with some moistness — '

Why me? thought Kinchin drably.

A new indignity began. She felt Mr Whitehall's right hand pummelling between her legs. Her skirts were of thick and coarse worsted, which she had pulled around her clumsily; their heavy pleats were thwarting his entrance, yet he worked with bruising vigour. Confused, Kinchin wrestled and kicked, but in her agitation she had allowed his stinking wet mouth to fasten on hers. Disgusted by his excitement, the girl became angry; this time her ordeal was as painful as it was unwelcome.

He had lain long in Bedlam. What was a kiss to comfort a madman? He might give me a penny… A clawing hand that knew exactly how female dress would be arranged now tugged at her placket, thwarted only by the bunched folds of a garment that was several times too big for her.

'Let it be our secret, Kinchin, our special secret!'

Kinchin Tew wanted to be special in some way — any way — and Mr Whitehall knew it.

Chapter Eleven — Birmingham: October, 1642

'Oh Mr Whitehall, put it away!'

For a moment the new voice confused Kinchin. Although she knew the minister's cunning, she was surprised how rapidly he released his hold and slid apart from her. She glimpsed the offending prick, but it was sheathed away into his britches as soon as he heard the order.

With gratitude, Kinchin recognised Mistress Lucas, wife to a Birmingham forge-man. She was a quiet but forthright woman in a well-laundered white cap and apron over a modest oatmeal-coloured skirt and bodice, with a basket on one arm. She had chivvied the minister matter-of-factly, but the way her eyes lingered on Kinchin acknowledged that she knew this was a rescue. 'Come along with me and I'll give you some bread and butter, Kinchin.'

As soon as they emerged from Moat Lane, squeezing between small houses into the close below St Martin's Church, they met unusual bustle. All morning a cavalcade had been passing through town. The stream of mounted men and foot soldiers caused havoc in the markets, where there was always a squash of animals and people. It was the main Royalist army, coming down from the north, headed up by the King himself. The passing of the royal coach caused a particularly bad scrimmage and a humorous moment when a frightened goose landed on its roof.

There had been a stir in Birmingham for days. It was the middle of October, the first autumn of the war. It was, though nobody knew it yet, the week before the first true battle, which would be fought at Edgehill on the next Sunday. The King was travelling among the Midland shires, trying to out-manoeuvre the Parliamentary Earl of Essex, who had just mistakenly turned towards Worcester. Charles had come down on a slow route through Bridgnorth to Wolverhampton, where his usual appeals for funds and recruits were announced, while locals were plundered and a church chest broken open so that a man could tamper with title deeds relevant to a quarrel he had locally. A bronze statue, taken away to be cast into a gun, was rescued by the family of the Elizabethan dignitary it honoured. After summoning the people of Lichfield to send all their arms, plate and money to his standard — which most were disinclined to do — Charles had spent Tuesday night, yesterday, at Aston Hall, as the guest of Sir Thomas Holte. The irascible baronet had refused the King's entreaties to patch up the quarrel with his elder son, though as a keen business tycoon, Sir Thomas must have welcomed the visitation; it would enable his descendants to promote Aston Hall more commercially. Every stately home needs a royal bedchamber to show off to the paying public.

Mistress Lucas told Kinchin that this morning the King had addressed a scattering of new recruits nearby — including, Kinchin discovered later, her own brother Rowan, looking for adventure. Afterwards King Charles trundled his way through Birmingham and was believed to be heading to Kenilworth Castle.

Despite slow recruitment, the royal army had reached sixteen thousand. The soldiers took some time to force their passage down the narrow, curving main street of Birmingham, accompanied by traders' curses. Most people in town were unsympathetic and too occupied with their Wednesday morning's business to take much notice, though the goose that flew onto the carriage won laconic instructions to shit on the roof. These townspeople had a self-deprecating manner and a pessimistic drone to their voices, both of which they were proud of; they were all cocksure and bloody-minded. Bitterness seethed in Birmingham too. Eight years earlier the town had suffered particularly badly from plague. It happened just before the King tried to levy his notorious Ship-Money tax from inland counties, districts which thought naval matters were nothing to do with them. Times were already desperate. Many businesses had been forced to close during the plague. Birmingham was outraged to be assessed for Ship Money at a hundred pounds, the same as the county town of Warwick. Representations were made, unsuccessfully. The injustice had brought out the brooding side of the local character then, and still rankled. There were Royalists in Birmingham but they were a minority; the town would be decried by the tetchy royal historian, Clarendon, as 'of as great fame for hearty, wilful, affected disloyalty to the King as any place in England'.

At first, the royal army passed through without incident. There had been looting earlier, but the King hanged two captains as an example; the Royalist version made much of this as a strict response after the captains had allegedly only taken trifles of small value from a house whose owner was away in the Parliamentary army. No one in Birmingham was impressed.

For Kinchin and her rescuer, the troops meant waiting at the corner of Well Street, until a gap in the ranks of foot soldiers enabled them to scamper hand in hand across the cobbles and arrive breathlessly in Little Park Street.

As they walked to the Lucas home, nothing was said about the mad minister. But Lucas's wife seemed to understand how troubling Kinchin found it. The man's perversions were becoming worse. Kinchin was increasingly enslaved to the minister's carefully wrought fiction that she was his special choice. She knew no way to escape.

After crossing Well Street with its many small forges, the two women continued down Little Park Street to a slightly larger house than some, in sight of the church steeple and within sound of Porter's steel mill. All the backstreets rang with one-man businesses. Some forges were in adapted huts and outhouses, some had been specially constructed to the purpose. Lucas was a good craftsman, with a reputation for sound work, and had done well for himself. He and his wife lived in four rooms, with his forge roaring separately behind their house; it was a few yards down a narrow garden that extended towards the pool from which he obtained water.

Kinchin had been indoors here before. From time to time she was allowed to enter the spotless kitchen and sit at the rectangular scrubbed table. When today Mistress Lucas gave her the promised bread and butter, she ate slowly. She wanted to prolong her time in the warmth of the kitchen fire — and to look around for goods to carry off. No fool, Lucas's wife kept a beady eye on her. The couple were of modest means yet their kitchen contained many portable, saleable items, from the fire irons to the pewter tankards and brass vessels and skimmers. It would be easy for Kinchin to seize upon tongs or a colander, a chafing dish, an iron candlestick, a kettle, a mortar or a fancy trivet. Like all homes in Birmingham, a town full of cutlers, this was well stocked with knives — from sharp-pointed shredding knives to cleavers in several sizes… Feeling the housewife's gaze upon her, Kinchin dropped the wicked thought from her mind. She knew the rules: the food would stop if she broke faith.

'This capon pie has come three times to table, Kinchin. Will you help me to see it finished?' It was a delicate way to give Kinchin the last of a deep and delectable cold pie, now well matured in its coffin of mutton-broth paste. Seizing the dish, Kinchin let one side of her thin mouth slide sideways in what passed for a swift smile.

Mistress Lucas watched curiously as Kinchin savoured the rare treat, lingering as if it was to be her last meal before hanging. She did not snatch and gobble; her small grubby fingers were picking apart the pie with a strange delicacy, then she raised each mouthful at a dreamy pace. Kinchin acted naturally, scarcely caring whether Mistress Lucas noticed her delight. This seemed simply the best dinner of the starveling's life.

She was skin and bones, bulked out only by her bunched garments; the girl was an insubstantial fairyweight. It was as well she ate so slowly, or her stomach might have rebelled at the unaccustomed rich fare. Her face looked blanched, her eyes hollow, with dark rings beneath. Her tangled hair was greasy as an old sheep's wool, while bloody scratches on Kinchin's forearms and forehead told their own story of fleas and lice.

The housewife sighed. She had more compassion than many. Birmingham was a puritan town, with a famously outspoken minister, Francis Roberts. The inhabitants earned their livings by their skill and enjoyed their independence while they did so, but they had imagination and knew good fortune was easily lost. Any accident in his forge could render Lucas unable to work; then his penniless wife would have no support for herself and the baby that was gnawing its rattle in the wooden cradle. Another plague year, sooner or later, was inevitable too. The last bad epidemic had struck when the Lucases were first married. To be a young bride while trade was in the doldrums had taught hard lessons. Pie had been a rarity. The couple had eaten not even bread and butter, but bread and dripping if they ever had it, or plain crusts otherwise.

Everyone was more prosperous now. Mistress Lucas could afford to be charitable. Even so, she knew that to give more than occasional food and friendship would risk bringing down a flock of Kinchin's feckless relatives, all scrounging and whining for more than the housewife wanted to afford. She was wise enough to go warily, however much her heart pitied the pale waif.

She was preoccupied anyway. While she was out at market she had heard that the King's soldiers wanted to buy swords. 'Kinchin, lick up that dish and then run out the back and see if Lucas has anybody with him at the forge.'

Kinchin caught the troubled note in her voice. She scrambled to look outside, then squeaked excitedly that several men were arguing with Lucas. Seizing the girl by the wrist (still thinking of the danger to her pewter tankards and the firedogs if she left Kinchin indoors alone), Mistress Lucas rushed outside and approached nervously down the path. 'Oh no; I feared so. It is the King's men, wanting swords!'

Lucas had come out from the forge and was barring its wide door. Some of the soldiers had given up and were moving on, but a couple remained and were remonstrating with him.

'Tell them that you have none, Lucas!' called his wife.

He has some swords and has hidden them! thought Kinchin, in amazement, since resistance seemed so perilous. Wide-eyed, she assessed the strangers. Their court accents sounded ridiculous, as if they were exaggerating their voices as a jest. Not many such fanciful suits and boots crunched down the cinder paths to the backstreet forges. Unlike the stolid farmers who visited Birmingham, standing feet apart with their arms folded as they bought and sold cattle, these men positioned one foot in front of the other like dancing masters, while they leaned back in exaggerated poses; they had done it for so many years the stance was natural. They tilted their chins up to survey Lucas snootily, while he squarely blocked the entrance to his smithy and stared back. Beyond the group, Kinchin could see two tethered horses, expensive and glossy: wild-eyed, high-stepping beasts, too risky to be offered carrots.

'I will not sell to the King,' Lucas reiterated steadily. He was taking pig-headed pleasure in refusal. A strong man, red-faced from the fire and sure of his competence, Lucas normally conducted himself quietly. Blacksmiths had to be intelligent — and they had to be independent. He was unimpressed by the cavaliers' outrageous manners, and unafraid. He showed it.

'Five pounds the two dozen — we have offered the best price.' The King's agent spoke with astonishment. They thought money was all. Having a tradesman talk back came as a shock too.

'Not enough to buy my conscience.'

'Then you are a rebel and a traitor!'

'So be it.'

'You will be sorry. Your whole damn traitorous town will regret this!'

Lucas merely shrugged. Mistress Lucas and Kinchin shrank together as the cavaliers strode off to their tall horses, cursing.

A while later, Kinchin left Little Park Street and made her way into Digbeth to search for relatives in the taverns. The streets were quiet; the unwanted troops had left.

It took some trouble to run her father to earth, for he was not at the Bull, the Crown, the Swan, the Peacock, the Talbot, the Old Leather Bottle, the White Hart or the Red Lion. When she found him, pretending to wash pots at the Old Tripe House — which rarely sold tripe now, since it was easier to offer ale only — he told her that one of her brothers had answered the King's call for local recruits. 'Our Rowan. He thinks they will pay him — he's a fool but so are they. If they don't use his head as a firing mark, he'll take anything he can grab and run away'

'Shall we ever see him again?'

'Who cares? He's a mardy good-for-nothing, all mouth and snot. He's only gone for the rations and the plunder. Any army that takes him is piss-poor and ready for defeat.'

Suspecting that Rowan might really be quite clever to enlist, Emmett changed the subject. He had further news. Local men had ambushed a small group of Royalists who were tagging behind the main cavalcade with the baggage. Some of these guards had been killed; the rest were made prisoner and sent for safe keeping to Coventry, a better stronghold than Birmingham. The captors refused even to speak to their prisoners, thereby coining a new catchphrase: sending to Coventry. Correspondence, plate and jewels seized from the baggage train had been despatched to Warwick Castle.

'They should never have done it,' grumbled Tew. He was a thin wraith who hovered on the edges of taprooms, drawing suspicion to himself by the very furtive way he lurked. 'They will rue the day they set upon the King — and I'll tell you — ' He was wagging his finger insistently. He must have found plenty of people to stand him a tankard to celebrate the very ambush he was deriding. 'It will never be the hotheads who suffer for it, but innocents like us.'

'The King stayed with Holte,' Kinchin muttered, knowing the effect it would have if she mentioned the man who had made the Tews homeless.

'Then the King is a whoreson bastard and I hate him!' yelled her father. He banged his tankard down so hard a great wash of ale slopped out. Kinchin sat quiet. Almost vindictively, Emmett turned on her. 'You have an admirer, my girl. Someone came looking for you, Kinchin!

… Don't you want to know who he is and what he's after?'

'No.' Kinchin's tone was drab. She knew it could only have been Mr Whitehall, the mad minister, wanting what he always wanted.

Chapter Twelve — Birmingham: October, 1642

The sword Lucas was making had been hurriedly hidden from the cavaliers. He returned inside the smithy. It was purposely kept dark so he could evaluate the fire and judge from the colour of heated metal when it had reached the correct temperature — changing through a range of pale colours that did not show in the darkened forge, through dull red, sunrise red, cherry red, bright red, light red, orange, and yellow. Swords were forged at cherry red, then tempered at a lighter colour.

There were many stages to making a sword; that was why, apart from the metal they needed, they were never cheap. Birmingham was turning out weapons upon which soldiers could rely; there would be thousands of these sent to Parliament's armies eventually. They were workaday models that never carried makers' marks, short tough blades that the soldiers often abused. There were famous cutlers, many of them foreigners, who had worked in London and who would soon move to Oxford to follow royal patronage. These high-flown Swedes and Germans made long rapiers with polished gold- and silver-decoration and bijou daggers for gentlemen. They always sneered at the plain Birmingham blades, yet the King's men today had known what they were trying to buy. The war would be won using these unsigned, affordable, mass-produced weapons.

Purse-lipped, Lucas began work again. First he dragged open a large shutter with which he had closed off his workplace when the unwelcome purchasers came. To work in the heat and dust, he needed good ventilation. Still pensive, he added extra expensive charcoal to the forge. The brick-built hearth had its bellows permanently attached, with an air pipe that ended in an iron 'duck's nest' at the heart of the fire. Country forges allowed the smoke to wander upwards and find its own way out, but towns were more sophisticated and Lucas had a brick hood and a chimney to draw off smoke and fine ash. His anvil stood as near as possible to the fire to reduce the distance he must move when carrying hot metal.

The smithy interior was cluttered, both with items he had made or was still making, and with his tools. He was a true blacksmith; he worked with ferrous metals, never lead or tin. Nor did he use gold or silver, the jewellers' material, nor bronze, although for his own amusement very occasionally he would make a household item of brass, to prove he could do it and to please his wife with the gift. Although he could shoe horses, he hardly ever did so; that was a farrier's job. Nor did he like to mend wagons' iron rims, but would send would-be customers on to a wheelwright. He had originally specialised in knives, though to earn extra money he mended pots, farm tools and firedogs. Now he made swords.

The tools of his trade were cumbersome: the forge with its fuel buckets, riddles and rakes; the single-horned anvil, set into a heavy oak stump at the right height for his knuckles, with its variously shaped elements for different tasks; the bicks, fullers and swages that were the anvil's moveable accessories; the quenching bath and the slack tub, where worked metal cooled. On racks that Lucas had made for the purpose hung his hammers, especially the crowned peen hammers that he used most often, with their slightly rounded edges that would not mark a blade as it was worked; he had also a great sledge hammer and other hammers with large, flat heads. Beside the anvil stood the vice. Close to hand were tongs in various sizes, then chisels, punches, files, a treadle-operated grinder that he had devised himself, drills and presses. All around the workplace were racks for holding work-in-progress. The fuel hut was outside, along with water butts.

To make a regular sword, first iron would be drawn out: pulled to the required length and flattened. A small tang would be formed on one end, where eventually a pommel and protective hilt would be fixed. The edge would be dressed on the anvil with glancing hammer blows, finished, then polished by hand. Some swords tapered towards the point, which affected their balance. Bringing the weight back close to the soldier's fist would make a weapon easier to manoeuvre, though at the same time it reduced the killing power available at the point. Most of the swords Lucas made had very little tapering. The civil war armies generally used swords of almost equidistant width, with neat points, longer for cavalrymen who needed to sweep down from horseback, shorter for the close hacking of infantry.

There was a great deal of work in the early stage, when the metal was worked in sections of six or eight inches at a time, being continually turned over and worked from both sides, and frequently reheated. Carbon was added to the iron, forming steel and strengthening the blade. The whole piece would be completely heated in the forge and allowed to rest through cooling, to remove stresses. Once shaped, it would be reheated again and this time cooled down extremely slowly, for many hours and perhaps a whole day. This made it soft enough for grinding the edge. Then came more heating to harden the blade again, which had to be done evenly at the cherry-red temperature, during which process it was swiftly quenched in cold brine, maybe several times until the smith was satisfied. This rapid cooling created hardness, then tempering added toughness to the steel and ensured the blade was not too brittle. To temper a sword, Lucas would clean any scale from its blade, then take a solid iron bar as long as the sword itself. The sword was placed upon the bar, back down for a regular single-edged blade; it would heat up to a blue colour before being allowed to cool naturally in the air. The result would be a tough and springy body, with a hard edge.

Lucas was a worrier. He was distressed by the incident with the King's men, and he admitted it to himself. With his mind still in turmoil, he took the current half-finished blade and prepared to continue where he had left off. He was hardening the blade. His concentration was elsewhere. That was how this sword became, if not 'a Friday job', at least a Wednesday one. In his agitation, Lucas rushed the work.

After he resumed, he decided it would never be a good one. He had already worked on it for days. He was reluctant to dispose of it and start again. He was a sensitive, honest craftsman, so he knew when to give up and abandon a bad piece; yet there were some faults he could mend. That knowledge too was part of the skill he had built up over the years. He felt in his heart that this sword was beyond saving.

The fault, if there was one, could not be seen by eye. In time Lucas grudgingly completed the weapon, added metal guard, hilt and pommel, and finally sharpened the edge. But he hated it. The sword assumed abnormal significance, coloured by the sour incident with the cavaliers. They had caused him to make a bad piece. So long as he possessed this sword he would remember their visit, but he could not be rid of it because his instinct kept telling him it was not right. If he sent it to the army, he would never know what happened, but he feared it was too brittle and would shatter. That could be the death of the man using it.

Irritated with himself, Lucas kept it back from sale. He hung it in the rafters, out of the way. It would remain at the smithy for another six months, a perpetual reproach to him. Only when Prince Rupert of the Rhine came to Birmingham to exact revenge for anti-Royalist activities, would this sword be brought out and begin its travels.

Chapter Thirteen — Wallingford: November, 1642

Juliana Carlill and Orlando Lovell were married at the end of November.

To arrive at a wedding had involved a flurry of negotiation. Persuading Juliana to accept him had been relatively easy for Lovell. He was always persuasive. Although she was sensible and thoughtful, as soon as he broached the proposal, Juliana felt the allure. He was a mature man who posed a challenge, a challenge that the much younger and nicer Treves would never have matched. Though Lovell's interest was unexpected, he did seem serious. He had studied Juliana closely enough to express willingness to be her life's partner on equal terms. If he was not exactly befriending her — for his manner remained cool, rather than that of a besotted lover — at least he appeared to be offering kindness. No realistic woman could ask for more.

Initially Juliana suspected that Mr Gadd, as her cautious guardian, would resist this match. However, Gadd's enquiries about the two cavaliers had unearthed a pedigree for Orlando Lovell — a landed, county pedigree that would have been excellent, but for his quarrelling with his father and running away from home at the age of sixteen. To Lovell's ill-concealed annoyance, Mr Gadd had discovered that he was the second son of a gentleman in Hampshire; his father believed he had emigrated to the Americas eight years before, with no communication since.

The Lovells were solid Independents and supporters of Parliament. The elder brother was now a captain in the Earl of Essex's army. How such a family would view this other son, if it became known he had been a mercenary soldier in Europe, was something Mr Gadd could guess. Lovell's current service with Prince Rupert would offend them even more. Was there was any chance of a reconciliation between Lovell and his father? Marriage could be the occasion for patching things up.

Mr Gadd had explored whether Lovell's mother might intercede, but discovered she was long dead.

When challenged, Lovell frankly confessed the quarrel's cause: 'I attempted an elopement with the dangerously young daughter of a wealthy neighbour. The girl, who was the sole heir to extensive property, was intercepted by family servants when already in a carriage with her favourite gowns, her jewellery and a picnic which consisted only of fresh pears.' He must have realised that the detail of the pears would make Juliana laugh, her first step towards forgiveness. Only much later did she guess he had invented the fruit.

The young heiress was whisked away to distant relatives. Lovell was flatly told he would never see her again. His parents, old friends of the girl's family, were horrified by the escapade. Orlando refused to admit any error; he claimed that a second son needed to find himself a future by whatever means he could. Worse, he refused to apologise.

'So you believed you were in love?' suggested William Gadd. He had no doubt Orlando Lovell was still finding himself a future — hence his interest in Juliana.

'I believed it,' said Lovell, looking pious. 'I was quite devoted.' Mr Gadd did not argue, though he was sure such a youthful infatuation would never have lasted.

'You have a romantic past,' commented Juliana who, because it affected her so directly, had been allowed to share their conversation. She managed not to sound as though a romantic past impressed her, although naturally it did. She already thought Lovell no better than he should be, so this did him no harm. 'What became of the poor young lady?'

'I do not know.' Lovell appeared to sound regretful. 'I dare say she has a whining husband, half a dozen children and gout.' Then he continued disarmingly: 'Inevitably people thought that I was in love only with her money — too foolish to realise that if the elopement had succeeded, the money would have been taken away from her.'

Mr Gadd surveyed him thoughtfully. He believed Lovell had never been foolish. The elopement would probably have worked: Gadd was wondering whether the sixteen-year-old had seen that the sole heiress of truly loving parents was unlikely to be stripped of her entire fortune, no matter what adventurer carried her off.

The question now was whether Lovell had prospects. Given his turbulent family history, his chances looked slim. He came up with an answer.

With an air of deep sorrow, Lovell explained why suddenly he could contemplate marriage: 'Tragedy has struck my family. At the battle of Edgehill last month, a ghastly incident occurred. Wearied beyond sense, a musketeer in the Earl of Essex's army clapped his hand into a wagon of gunpowder, forgetting that he still held a length of lighted match in his fingers. There was an enormous explosion, killing him and many comrades. One casualty, I grieve to tell it, was my elder brother Ralph.'

'This is a sad blow,' answered Mr Gadd with suitable solemnity. His legal mind at once assessed it: 'Did he have children?'

'I believe not.'

'A blessing… How distressed you must be to lose him.'

'Ralph was the finest fellow,' said Lovell in a perfunctory way he had. 'So here's the situation, Gadd: as soon as my father's first grief has abated, I shall attempt to mend matters. I would go to him at once, but I should look like a poxy opportunist…' Lovell spoke without irony.

'Do not besmirch your honest motives with such a suggestion,' chided Mr Gadd. He had nothing against poxy opportunists, if they fitted his own plans. With Ralph Lovell dead, and childless, Orlando was the heir.

So, on the basis that he was a gentleman, whose father was a gentleman of substance, Mr Gadd found Orlando Lovell's claim for Juliana acceptable. Documents were drawn up with the haste that comes in wartime. Lovell then rejoined the King's army on its journey to London and what would be the stand-off at Turnham Green.

Just before he mounted up and rode off, he turned back and kissed his new betrothed. Until that moment they had exchanged barely a handshake. Juliana received the kiss calmly, though a thrill shot through her and the warmth of his mouth pressing firmly on hers lingered in her memory for days.

She was not in love with Orlando Lovell, though she considered that she could be. She was smiling as the cavalier swung into the saddle and gave her a gallant wave of his black, feathered hat; from then on she looked for news of the King's campaign with a new interest and a new anxiety. The prospect of Lovell's return gave her the excitement every bride deserves to feel.

After the fiasco at Turnham Green, the King reversed his march and returned to Oxford, which was now destined to be his home and his military headquarters. Lovell did not revisit Wallingford en route, but he wrote: he and Juliana would go into lodgings in Oxford. He was busy finding somewhere, and would soon bring a marriage licence. Juliana must accompany him to Oxford; she had no other place of safety. Mr Gadd was anxious to return to Somerset where he would resume his quiet retirement, or as quiet as it could be during a civil war. Juliana had no other friends or relatives to give her a home. She could not expect to seek safety among the Lovell family, whose present feelings towards Orlando were untested. If he invited them to his wedding, they must have refused. Besides, Juliana was a bride of spirit, who wished to be beside her husband.

Lovell seemed pleased to take her to Oxford with him and he made the arrangements quickly. As the new royal headquarters, the town was crammed with more people than it could happily contain. Numbers increased daily. Even small houses were overflowing, sometimes with five or six soldiers billeted on reluctant civilians who had barely house room for their own families. The best Lovell could find was one room, though it was in the house of a glover so there would be no industrial or market smells.

'Will he charge us much rent?' Juliana asked nervously.

'He can charge what he likes; he won't be paid. I am a soldier, quartered upon him by the rules of war, and he must accept it.'

Lovell's quick-witted bride at once foresaw that she would receive a cold welcome. She grew perturbed about food, heating and laundry. From her past life, though she kept the reasons from Lovell, she knew that a landlord who was being paid no rent would refuse to provide meals, coals or clean bedding; he might loathe tenants coming and going; he was likely to be abusive.. Lovell pinched her cheek affectionately and declared all would be well. Fortunately for him, he was marrying a girl whose past history had taught her resilience; perhaps he suspected it when he chose her. Juliana remembered her grandmother complaining of landlords' faults in more than one lodging house, as the Carlills had shifted from place to place; she only wished she could remember how Grand-mere had dealt with it.

Even before the church service she began to see that to be struggling among the gentry was no different from struggling at lower levels of society. Still, she was becoming a gentlewoman, as her grandmother had yearned for her to be. Juliana had faith in her new husband's obvious ambition. She and Lovell together would make a determined couple; they should be able to climb as high as they wanted.

The service took place at St Leonard's Church, Wallingford, which had a Royalist rector, Richard Pauling — a man who had told his congregation that the leaders of Parliament were 'men of broken fortunes who have spent their means lewdly'. In accordance with the Book of Common Prayer, his wedding sermon emphasised that marriage was for the avoidance of fornication, dwelling less on its benefits for the mutual society, help and comfort of the partners. Eliding into the usual instructions to procreate, he expressed an enthusiastic hope that any children would be brought up in habits of 'obedience', where it was understood he meant obedience to the King. Since he assumed both parties were stalwart Royalists, he did not dwell on it.

During his duller passages, Juliana imagined how much havoc she could wreak if she jumped up and claimed to be an Antinomian by religion and a Pymite by politics…

Although her opinions were quiet and conservative, she was intellectually curious. She knew that John Pym was the arch rebel, and she understood why. In the public mind, Antinomianism was viewed as a particularly scandalous cult, since its devotees believed that they were under no obligation to obey any instructions from religious authorities. This would seriously distress the Reverend Pauling. Mr Gadd had explained to Juliana, one peaceful evening after dinner, that Antinomianists rejected the notion that obedience to a code of religious law was necessary for salvation. Gadd cheerily discussed why this doctrine was seen as leading inevitably to licentiousness: it was assumed that any Antinomian must have chosen his theology solely to justify unrestrained debauchery…

These whimsical thoughts kept Juliana sane during the lengthy service. Lovell, she thought, had simply braced himself. He appeared to be in a kind of coma.

Since neither bride nor groom had a local home parish, the union was by special licence, obtained from the Bishop of Oxford. Their witnesses were William Gadd and the ever-forgiving Edmund Treves. Still in love with Juliana, Treves was composing in his head a lyrical poem called 'On Juliana's Wedding'; at least the lopsided verses petered out quickly. No scholar emerged from Oxford University without knowing that a lyrical poem should be brief.

For female support, Juliana had only Little Prue, who saw no reason to cease gurning at the bride as if she thought Juliana was a witch.

No witch would be attired in a gown of deep peacock-blue satin over a silver petticoat, with cuffs and collar of antique Paris lace. These materials had been stored up among sheaves of dry lavender in a chest of her grandmother's for twenty years. Juliana only timidly believed herself worthy of the satin, yet she feared that in a time of war it would be lost altogether if it was not put into use. The chest, now hers, was her only dowry and trousseau. It contained finely embroidered household linen, much of it her grandmother's handiwork, in sufficient quantity to convince Lovell that the Carlills once possessed wealth and must still have it. When Juliana opened the chest and showed its contents, she could tell he had hoped to see money instead.

Lovell had looked absolutely ready to bolt when he noticed the chest contained exquisite baby-clothes. He had forgotten that marriage meant children. Still, any fine goods would have commercial value. A tactful bridegroom, he refrained from saying so.

They spent their wedding night at Wallingford, where the judge's house provided comfort, space and privacy. A supper was arranged, at which the officiating parson presented himself. After Juliana withdrew to the bridal chamber, Mr Gadd, Parson Pauling and Edmund Treves encouraged Lovell with the traditional bridegroom's toasts to put him in good heart for his duties, overdoing it by a good deal, as was also traditional.

Upstairs, Juliana was attended by Little Prue. The sombre maid helped her undress and brought her the finely embroidered nightdress that was her grandmother's last good piece of work. Nobody had supplied any lessons on what now awaited her; Juliana was reliant upon what she could remember of her grandmother's blunt descriptions of sexual exchanges. It was her good fortune that Roxanne had spoken out openly. No traumatic surprises would horrify Juliana. In fact, so detailed were her grandmother's stories that when she had lain waiting for some time in the exquisite bridal nightdress, and the bed had warmed, Juliana slipped from between the sheets, took off the nightdress, which she folded neatly on a country chair, and climbed back in bed to await her husband naked. This was not to seduce Lovell. She saw no point in having a beautiful garment damaged by passion.

Her wait was lengthy. Many brides fell asleep at this point. Instead, Juliana lay quietly, in the judge's best bedroom with its dark panelled walls and a small fire flickering in the fireplace. She could still hear the faint voices of her wedding guests enjoying themselves in the parlour downstairs. A window seat looked over the garden; she could have knelt there and seen Edmund Treves revelling in his misery as her disappointed suitor, until he grew too cold in the November night air and went indoors, red-nosed, to get stupidly drunk. Even with the judge absent, it had been possible to find and hang the bed's robustly decorated woollen curtains. A narrow turkey rug lay beside the four-poster on the worn old floorboards. The room had been supplied with basic necessities: candlestick, chamberpot, warming pan and coals. There was a prayer book, though Juliana did not imagine her new husband would like to discover her at prayer.

For once, she was enjoying her sense of security in this spacious English room with its desirable, comfortable fittings. Already, she had forebodings about the future. Marriage might not be a haven. She knew, from what Lovell had told her about their rented room in the glover's house, that the first weeks would probably contain all the usual difficulties. At least now there would be two of them. She would not have to face the future alone.

Eventually voices came nearer, as the guests escorted the groom upstairs, all their feet stumbling tipsily on the staircase. Lovell was pushed into the room, but managed to slam shut the bedroom door behind him before anyone else entered. He waited, leaning against the door, until the others were heard retreating.

The fire had dimmed, but by its last faint light Juliana watched Lovell undress. Each masculine garment fell to the floor with a strangely heavy thud. When he turned towards the bed her heart was pounding. When he came to the bedside, she was pleasingly surprised that he paused, tilted his head a little to one side and looked down at her fondly. She was his. He had chosen her (she had chosen him).

'Here we are,' he said. 'Lovell and Lovell's wife…' Juliana gazed up at him with a dry throat. He smiled; he had a good smile, and he knew it. 'They have made me too tipsy to acquit myself resoundingly, but I shall do my best for you.'

His best on that occasion was brief. The experience left Juliana neither hurt nor shocked. Nor was she much moved, but she felt grateful for his attentions and for his polite thanks afterwards. When it was over, for one extravagantly emotional moment, she wanted to admit the truth: that her inherited 'fair orchards' in Kent on which he was laying such great store were nothing more than a modest house with, she had been told, a few undistinguished old apple trees. The house did not even yet belong to her.

Lovell had fallen asleep. By the next time they were speaking, her moment of would-be confession had passed.

When Juliana awoke in the morning, she heard Lovell relieving himself heartily by the pot-cupboard. Ruefully she recalled one of her grandmother's sarcastic comments on marriage: 'It is all pretending not to hear when they fart, and listening to them pissing in the pot!' She felt stiff, exhilarated that she was a wife, and badly in need of similar relief. As soon as Lovell returned to his side of the bed and fell back in, groaning, she slipped out on the opposite side and availed herself. Hot steam rising from the chamberpot after her husband's contribution gave her a start, but she brazened it out. They were together now. Every intimacy could be, would be, must be shared.

She had intended to rise and dress, but the air was so chilly, she scampered back to the warmth of the bed. As she shot under the coverlet, she landed with Lovell's arm around her. He had turned to her, shadowed eyes thoughtful.

'Well, madam!'

'Well, sir.'

Sweet nothings. Nothing indeed. 'Must I still call him Captain Lovell or may I say Orlando?' They had exchanged vows and spent a night of love together, yet remained strangers.

Perhaps Lovell noticed the gust of loneliness that swept over his bride. Certainly he was gazing down at her from a close enough position to witness every flicker that passed across her normally candid grey eyes. 'We shall be comfortable soon enough,' he told Juliana in a low voice. I must discover her pet name… no; find a name for her myself. His free hand was caressing her throat, as if unaware he was doing it.

Sober now, he knew just what he was doing. Juliana would never ask him, but she thought it probable that the young girl he tried to elope with had been returned to her parents more experienced than she should have been. It was best not to speculate how many other women Lovell had bedded since, nor what quality they were. 'It will be better for you if he has done it!' she heard her grandmother cackle. But it left Juliana feeling her inequality.

'I have been wondering' — she forced herself to converse — 'whether those who have been sweethearts from childhood find their wedding night easier…' It was ridiculous to be so shy with a man who had entered so closely into places she had never really believed others were intended to go.

Juliana closed her eyes. She was enjoying the pleasure Lovell's hands insidiously brought her. In small circling movements the light fingers of his right hand had come to her left breast, where the nipple reacted eagerly. Lovell bent his head to it. Juliana murmured with pleasure. Her back arched -

'Juliana, you are a man-lover!' She blushed hotly, horrified by the thought, ashamed that she had revealed too much of herself, frightening herself that her nature was improper. This was an impossible predicament; a respectable wife must not be prim, yet she could not be too forward either -

'I am as I always was — '

'Not quite the same, I hope!' Laughing, Lovell cut off her protest, his hand now sliding down her belly as the proprietor who had taken her maidenhead.

It could so easily all have gone wrong at that moment. Juliana was upset and wanted to flee from him. But Lovell only laughed with conspiratorial mockery then — fired by the exchange — he turned more urgently to the activities of a husband, which he this time fulfilled commendably. His bride was left shaken, exhilarated, and as they lay together spent, she heard once again her raucous grandmother: 'Let the man do sufficient that he can boast of it to himself…'

Being Lovell, he would boast openly to everyone — if he chose to do it. Being Lovell, however, he might gain greater pleasure from keeping secrets. Juliana was already enough of his wife to know that.

Chapter Fourteen — Oxford: 1642-43

Juliana Lovell, still uneasy with her new name, arrived in the first month that Oxford was the King's permanent headquarters.

December was not the best time here. Low mist clung to the many country waterways. The hedgerows were dark, the sere trees gloomy of aspect. Houses on the city perimeter had been blown up for strategic reasons, leaving ugly gaps. Tentative efforts were being made to construct fortifications to replace the now-useless medieval city walls, but the hard frosted ground was resisting the tools wielded by thoroughly disgruntled citizens. This was a garrison, crammed to bursting point with soldiery and the great equipment of war. The once-pleasant, meadow-fringed River Cherwell, which formed the upper reaches of the Thames, was already oozing with pestilence as the raw sewage from impossible numbers of people mingled with dead horses and dogs that blocked the current, bobbing amidst oily bubbles under the willows that trailed their slender fingers into waters befouled by butchers' bloody rejects and fermenting horticultural garbage. Smoke from house-fires and minor industries curdled the atmosphere. A miasma of unease seeped through the cobbled streets, from the chilly castle to the Cornmarket where the lead roof had been stripped to make bullets.

Unwelcome to the townspeople, the King had ensconced himself in Christ Church College. Prince Rupert was at Magdalen. The Warden's Lodge at Merton had been earmarked for the absent Queen, should she ever arrive. The colleges sycophantically professed themselves honoured by their noble guests — except when unwanted new masters were dumped on them at royal command. In more humble areas there was frank resistance to billeting, as the domestic routine of the little people's little houses was brutally disrupted. Fear riffled through the winding backstreets. Bullying took over in the taverns. Needless to say, as stationers and booksellers braced themselves for bankruptcy, all the brewers were flourishing.

Her family had wandered about in search of trade, yet Juliana had never been in a university town before. Oxford colleges would have known quiet hours before this unending military crush but the peace of the cloisters had been lost. While the carriage Lovell had borrowed to fetch her from Wallingford forced its way through the cobbled streets, she flinched at the turmoil. Juliana saw that Lovell was excited by the bustle beyond the carriage's cloudy windows. Assuring her she would get used to the commotion, he rattled off a commentary: 'The perimeter defences are being thrown up by the townspeople; everyone between sixteen and sixty has to work one day a week. About one in a hundred actually turn up, of course. I shall not allow you to do it.' Juliana wondered how he would accomplish this autocratic refusal; already she guessed he would give his instructions to her, and leave her to address the authorities. 'Possibly the breastworks will never be complete, but if they are, this town will be the best defended in England so don't fret. There's a Dutchman, de Gomme, supervising the works. Supposed to be brilliant. Let us hope someone has told the herring-eating bastard we're not building dykes but battlements!'

They were now passing Christ Church, almost at their destination. 'Edmund was a scholar at this grand college?'

'Treves? No, St John's. Poxy place, never showed me much welcome, but if you say you are a cavalier's wife they may let you walk around the garden. Some colleges are quite taken over by the army, so watch yourself.'

Juliana felt perturbed. 'Soldiers are dangerous even to their own supporters?'

'Never take risks with soldiers,' replied Lovell in clipped tones. Was her husband a threat to women? Juliana dreaded to ask. 'Christ Church is where the King has found a perch, though its great quadrangle is being used to pasture oxen and sheep.'

'Why?'

Lovell stared at her, and she saw her mistake, one merely caused by inexperience, though he must think her stupid. 'Food, girl!' As Juliana shuddered at what it would mean to be trapped in a city under siege, Lovell continued his review undaunted: 'Gloucester Hall is being used for sword manufacture, there's another grinding-mill out at Wolvercote, gunpowder at Osney. New College holds the armoury and magazine. Magdalen Bridge has been converted into a drawbridge — you saw that — ' Its significance had been lost on her. 'If the enemy come — when they come, I dare say — we can rattle it up cheerily. Magdalen Tower is a lookout and there are great guns in the grove. Their range is a mile and a half. All the schools are being turned over to warehouses for staples — cloth, cheese, coal and corn. It's out with dreamy scholars and in with tailors stitching uniforms…'

Listening, Juliana wondered if all the King's soldiers were this much aware of logistics; she suspected there would be many who merely took orders. Lovell was a complete professional; she was beginning to see how deeply he cared to be efficient and informed. He had made this his world. All over the country men like him who had served on the Continent would be bringing such expertise to bear, on both sides; it boded a long conflict. Orlando Lovell and others like him, who had had no future without a war to fight, were now digging in almost with enjoyment. He was eager to use his talent for organisation — and, presumably, his talents also for death and destruction.

I should have asked, thought Juliana, what his plans are when the civil war is ended. Will he return to fighting on the Continent? Shall I have to go with him, or be left here alone? She convinced herself that his marriage meant Lovell wished to settle to domestic life in England. He had, after all, spoken of mending matters with his family.

There were more pressing anxieties: 'Will you be paid by the King, sir?'

'When there is cash for the purpose. The order has gone out for metal to be brought in. We've taken down church bells for it, and the dear citizens are supposed to hand over their brass kitchenware — ' How fortunate that we ourselves have none, Juliana thought. 'The Mint is coming down from Shrewsbury to produce coins, which will be made out of melted college plate — when the colleges can be pricked into collaborating.'

"Pricked"? You mean, compelled to surrender their valuables?'

'The sneaky masters and fellows try to dodge, but His Majesty has quickly learned to be a beggar. He hardens his heart. St John's offered eight hundred pounds instead of its treasure. Charles thanked them heartily for the money — then took their precious plate as well. The county and the university must pay up over a thousand pounds a week for the upkeep of our cavalry — mind, most of the cash will be for bullets and hay for the horses.'

'So you will be paid, then.' Juliana was still doggedly worrying about rent, food and fuel.

The carriage had stopped, in a winding backstreet, but Lovell, caught up in his discourse, made no move. He gave his wife a wry look. 'One way or another, we'll be paid; depend on it!'

'How, "one way or another"? You cannot mean plunder?'

'A fact of war,' Lovell informed her.

Fortunately he then noticed they had arrived at their lodgings.

'All the allure of a rat-catcher's coat pocket,' Lovell admitted, as his young bride gazed around this depressing room that was to be their first married home. He helped the coachman deposit her great coffer alongside what must be his own campaign chest.

Juliana had seen worse — and she had seen her grandmother briskly refuse it. They had an upstairs chamber barely ten feet square, with a sagging mattress on a lop-sided bed behind stained and moth-eaten green curtains, a couple of spine-breaking bolt-upright chairs — not matching — and a pot-cupboard which, through one door with a broken hinge, was sending messages that the chamberpot had needed emptying for a fortnight. The stairs came up from the ground floor directly into their room, opposite the empty fireplace, then a narrower flight turned on up into the garret, whose occupants must trip to and fro via the Lovells' accommodation. Directly opposite the stairs she spotted a large mousehole in the wainscot.

She drew a deep, despondent breath and nearly choked on the malodorous air she had swallowed. 'Ah! Dearest, I was hoping for a sunlit closet where I could dry rose-petals and cook up lavender pastilles in a little brass pannikin!'

'Bear up, wife. I thought I had chosen someone more stalwart.' Lovell fielded her brave jest with the robust manner of a cavalier, though he sounded apologetic.

'Oh you will find me apt for the purpose,' Juliana assured him, though bitterness escaped in her voice. Lovell could not read just how grim her disappointment was, but he sensed hard times in the past. For him that was good. He was relying on the girl's resilience. A dainty maid, inexperienced, would be an encumbrance to him; even so, he felt sorry for Juliana's sad air of defeat.

Alerted by some stillness, Juliana looked at her husband. He held her under the chin. 'I hope you are not feeling betrayed. This is war; this is how it must be. At least,' he said, as if it did matter to him, 'we shall have our companionship.'

So Juliana smiled.

She could dispose of the chamberpot's half-gallon of stinking walnut-tinted urine. While she was pouring strangers' leavings into a gutter in the street, she encountered their landlord, a thin, sneering glove-maker with a bald head showing white through strands of greasy hair. Juliana greeted him politely but firmly; she was unconsciously mimicking her grandmother, who had been quick to despise others but knew when to conceal it. She begged him to provide a small table. He assured her she and Lovell were to 'table' with him, meaning he would provide a meal for them once a day; relieved to know they would have hot food, however indifferently cooked, Juliana insisted on having their own table even so, to do needlework.

She was making progress. She scrubbed, beat the mattress, tidied, made the window-catch work, sorted the rings that held up the bed-canopy. Lovell watched and approved. However, the mice always knew they had the mastery of her. They came out and warmed themselves whenever a small fire was in the grate.

'If we employ a servant he or she will have to sleep here, in our room.'

'So let us not have a servant yet!' Lovell chortled. 'I want no drip-nosed bootboy nor podgy maid listening from behind the bed-curtains when I come at your commodity'

He was more fastidious than many. All over the country, servants in shared bedrooms overheard their employers' lovemaking. Juliana was glad Lovell wanted privacy. Besides, they could not afford servants. Nor would their financial situation improve, she now knew. Almost offhandedly Lovell informed her, 'By the by. There was a mistake about the business with my brother. The wagon of powder that exploded at Edgehill was not on the Parliamentarian side. Ralph lives yet.'

'You must be rejoicing,' replied Juliana. His careless manner gave her the first hint that Lovell had always known the true facts. Shocked, she kept her anger hidden. Lovell shrugged and turned away quickly, unwilling to be quizzed. She wondered what Mr Gadd would say to this — then found herself hoping that he never heard of it. She had chosen her life. She would have to cope.

So now she was a wife. She had become loyal to her husband, protecting his reputation whatever he did, even when she suspected him of deliberate deceit.

They settled into a routine. Lovell was frequently out by day, but he returned for dinner every night. He had a streak of frugality; he rarely wasted funds on carousing. By day Juliana was lonely, but she could be content with her own company. When she did complain of her solitude, Lovell took her to view the King inspecting artillery in Magdalen Grove. The next time, they went to see the King playing tennis with Prince Rupert. Once, they watched the young Prince of Wales practise riding tricks.

That was about the limit of spectacles on offer, unless Juliana wished to be an observer when Parliament's negotiators argued for peace politely and pointlessly with the King and his circle in Christ Church quadrangle. 'Far too exciting, Orlando. I must be excused lest I disgrace myself with some hysterical outcry.' She was assured that prospects for entertainment would improve when the Queen arrived from Holland. Henrietta Maria had, after all, known her grandmother.

'It is unlikely Her Majesty will remember Grand-mere.' Juliana gave Lovell a straight look. She could gloss over invented history as blandly as he did. Soon she did it every quarter, as her husband asked when the rents from her apple orchards might arrive and she played dumb.

When they were discussing the peace commission she had called her husband by his first name. Orlando accepted this without comment. By now he called Juliana 'my sweet', which was conventional but he made it sound genuine. They were conducting their marriage with respect and affection.

Christmas was drear, though they did manage to obtain a presence at Christ Church where the King entertained in great splendour on Christmas Day. This dinner was hot, smoky and crowded, the musicians inaudible over the noise of the people, the service slow and the food cold by the time it reached them at the far end of the table.

By early February the Queen was known to have left Holland, with supplies and several thousand professional soldiers. She landed at Bridlington, which the Earl of Newcastle, a great Royalist commander in the north, made as safe as possible for her reception. Not safe enough. Parliamentarian ships bombarded the house where she first lodged. Her Majesty accepted all with great spirit; when she was forced to take shelter outside in a ditch, Henrietta went back into the house for a lapdog that her fleeing maids-of-honour had left behind. This was widely seen as bravery. 'Damned stupid!' snarled Orlando Lovell. Juliana concurred.

The northern Parliamentarian army, commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax, lay between the Queen and Oxford. The King was anxious to have Henrietta Maria with him, but conscious that if she were to fall into rebel hands she would become a fatal pawn. He was too devoted to risk it. For several weeks the Queen stayed with the Earl of Newcastle, revelling in her own courage and initiative, and dabbling merrily. Eventually a plan was hatched for Prince Rupert to advance from Oxford through the Midlands so he could clear a safe passage for his indomitable aunt. On the 29th of March, with Orlando Lovell among his retinue, the prince set out, planning to relieve the siege of Lichfield, and to secure a route for the Queen through Warwickshire. This would entail removing the threat posed by the rebel town of Birmingham. Not only were its fractious cutlers supplying arms to Parliament, they had set about strangers and imprisoned them on suspicion of being Royalists. King's messengers had been captured as spies too. Birmingham would have to be crushed. Lovell gave the impression the Oxford Royalists were looking forward to it.

This was a new spring offensive and obviously more important than anything Juliana had seen before. Lovell emptied his battered chest of a back-and-breastplate which he spent hours buffing. Their room stank with the reek of neat's-foot oil as he softened straps, belt and riding boots. A man she had never seen before, who seemed to be one of his soldiers, brought pistol bullets, dumping the heavy bag on her little work table with a dead thud that terrified her. Juliana sat nursing Lovell's rapier, a European blade with a cup hilt and a pommel encrusted with very worn silver. He was not its first owner, though he never told its history. Tired of the sick-looking thin feather in his beaver, Juliana had made him a new hatband from a piece of the peacock satin that had been left over when she cut out the bodice of her wedding-dress. Although he seemed to have no awareness that she had made the dress herself, Lovell appeared oddly touched by her ministrations to his hat.

'My will is in the chest. Your man Gadd insisted — you inherit everything, sweetest — though since I am worth nothing, spending the cash won't trouble you long. If I die, the first thing you'll need to do is sell my wedding suit. Then I'd advise you to remarry — take Treves; he's still writing poetry to the celestial bow of your eyebrow.' Lovell paused in the boisterous tirade. 'You'll think of me kindly, I hope.'

Men need to be loved. Juliana no longer had to rely on her grandmother for this motto; she could be cynical herself. 'Always, Orlando. May my devoted thoughts comfort you.'

He was a true cavalier. Every cavalier needed a woman to adore. Well, a woman to adore him.

Orlando strained Juliana to him, kissing her hard and making the embrace lascivious. She found herself memorising the faint scent of his tobacco, the rasp of his moustache against her cheek, the softness of his lips. Unexpectedly, tears tumbled down her cheeks. They gazed into each other's eyes, his chestnut brown, hers grey. They were bound to one another now; if it was not by love, it would pass as a near thing.

Juliana watched Prince Rupert's men ride out from Oxford by the North Gate. Try as she might, she failed to spot her husband in their midst. She knew that Edmund Treves was beside him, all jealousy forgotten. The young Prince Rupert rode at the head of the column, flourishing his commander's baton, handsome, confident and exquisitely dressed, with his favourite white poodle, Boy, looking around proudly from the saddle. A group of aristocratic officers accompanied the prince, all on excellent horses. Juliana guessed she had missed her husband because he must be closer to the prince in the cavalcade than she expected; he had bluffed his way forward. His boldness would not come amiss; Orlando Lovell would live up to any position, however deviously he acquired it.

The cavalry swept by in a continuous rattle of hoofbeats, with helmets and feathered hats bobbing, and colours flying impressively. Juliana could see there was a pattern to the pennants and tasselled flags that marked each officer and company, though she could not decipher it. Easier to distinguish were the foot regiments in their distinctive coloured coats of white, green, red, purple and blue, marching in blocks. Several cannon were dragged in the train, pulled by strings of heavy horses. Drums were beaten to time the march of the baggy-britches footmen, with their long muskets and even longer pikes. Many wore red sashes, the colours of the King.

Juliana was not fooled by the glamorous panoply. These glorious-looking companies streaming out of Oxford were ruthless raiders. They would seize anything they could from the country they passed through, to provide for themselves and to prevent the enemy's use of it, and she knew their intent was murderous. Though they fought for King Charles, many were foreigners, straightforward mercenaries. Even among the Englishmen were scarred veterans of the terrible wars on the Continent, whose cruel manners and methods Lovell had described to her. The lower ranks of armies on both sides of the conflict had been called loiterers and lewd livers, plucked from prisons, almshouses and inns, enticed into uniform with the crude lure of occasional pay and plentiful loot. Still, the cavalcade looked brave, bonny and businesslike; it took so long to pass that she grew chilled in the fresh March air.

When she returned to their lodging, she wept inconsolably. She had never been so totally alone. She had no idea how long she would have to wait in Oxford before the troops returned, what dangers Orlando would have to face while they were away, or what would happen to her if he never came back. By now, certain signs began to suggest to her that she was carrying a child. It was too early to have mentioned this to her husband, and she had been so wary of his reaction she would not attempt it in the bustle of his departure. He had left her three shillings. Otherwise, she was friendless and penniless.

So Juliana sat alone, watching motes drift by the window and listening to the stillness of their room. She wanted her husband to survive. Yet she understood clearly that even if he did, their life together would never be as she had hoped. For her, today might just be the beginning of many long periods of abandonment. If Lovell was wounded, captured or killed, her fate would be even worse.

Chapter Fifteen — Birmingham: Monday, 3 April 1643

They knew he was coming. Worse, they knew he was coming for them. Somehow, word had passed along from the war council where the prince laid his plan to ride to Lichfield. 'On the way, we'll take out Birmingham.' Even before they heard the drums, some of those awaiting his army must have known just how hopeless their situation was.

By now, Prince Rupert's habits of raiding for cattle, munitions and money were notorious; they would earn him the nickname Prince Robber, Duke of Plunderland. His attitude had been obvious since he first took up his command as a general of horse. While raising troops in the North Midlands he had written to the Mayor of Leicester, demanding a large sum of money, or threatening roundly to devastate the town in the brutal German manner. The King had reprimanded his nephew for extortion — yet kept the money. As Orlando Lovell said, His Majesty had learned to be a beggar. And precious Rupert gives not a fig for rebuke. His uncle has neither taken away his hobby-horse, nor stopped him going out to play'

Few in the country districts of Warwickshire knew the full horrors that were being acted out abroad. But despite decades of censorship, news stories had reached England of European towns that were sacked by first one army and then another amidst terrible violence; peasants in forest and marketplace casually murdered by marauding mercenaries; anguished victims tortured to make them reveal their valuables, then killed in cold blood. Lurid details were regularly passed around: fat men boiled down for candles, respectable burghers spit-roasted, priests hanged in rows, widows grilled naked on griddles, babies ripped from the bellies of their pregnant mothers, young girls raped while their parents were forced to watch. Pamphlets with grisly pictures caused revulsion — yet people were fascinated and the pamphlets were widely believed. Journalism was then very new.

This brutal theatre of war in which Prince Rupert had been schooled was recently condemned by Lord Brooke of Warwick:

In Germany they fought only for spoil, rapine and destruction. We must employ men who will fight merely for the cause's sake… I had rather have a thousand or two thousand honest citizens that can only handle their arms, whose hearts go with their hands, than two thousand of mercenary soldiers that boast of their foreign experience.

An associate of Lord Saye and Sele, Brooke was one of Parliament's fervent supporters, an opponent of peace moves, an energetic raiser of regiments and finance. Commander of the Midlands Association, where he was highly popular, Lord Brooke was now charged with establishing a secure Parliamentarian base in the Midlands counties. In February he drove Royalists out of Stratford-upon-Avon, then set about besieging the cathedral town of Lichfield. Prince Rupert's main task that spring was to raise the siege. So the rigours of 'foreign experience' were about to be visited upon Lord Brooke's home territory.

The prince left Oxford and advanced through Chipping Norton, Shipston on Stour, Stratford-upon-Avon and Henley-in-Arden. It was Easter. The cavaliers stayed around Henley for four days, celebrating Holy Week by pillaging the countryside. Word of their presence, and their energetic plundering, quickly ran north.

Ten miles away, the inhabitants of Birmingham tried to believe the Royalists would pass them by. Henley was so near, they could almost hear the protests of outraged farmers being robbed of horses, poultry and beef. By Saturday, most people accepted that Prince Rupert would attack their town. They had time to send messages, begging for reinforcements, to the three main Parliamentary garrisons at Warwick, Kenilworth and Coventry. Only their desperate pleas to Coventry produced results, but Coventry was also threatened by Rupert's presence and could only spare one troop of light horse, dragoons under Captain Castledowne. In the end, the Coventry men withdrew from what was obviously a losing situation, three days before the prince arrived.

In Birmingham, a worried discussion took place. First Francis Roberts, the puritan minister, pleaded with the militia captains and the chief men of the town to take the sensible course: with the odds so great against them, he said, they should march away, saving their arms and themselves even if it meant leaving behind their goods. That might avert Prince Rupert's wrath. It was like throwing raw meat to distract a vicious dog. The captains and chief men were eager, and Royalist sympathisers, of whom there were some among the wealthier townsmen, also spoke for appeasement. However, the crusty middle and lower classes, which included men who could afford their own arms, refused to abandon their town. This forced the captains and civil leaders to stay with them, rather than departing among curses and accusations of cowardice.

Preparations began. They created crude barricades to block streets. Arms were handed out to all who were capable and willing to bear them. At Deritend, they dug a trench to block the road from Henley and Stratford. On Easter Monday, scouts raced into town and reported that Prince Rupert was coming. By now it was known that he was bringing two thousand men, and cannon. Undeterred, into Birmingham's defensive trench climbed all the soldiers they had: a hundred musketeers.

It was a morning's march from Henley. The Royalist soldiers had been slow to move, many with hangovers, all encumbered with personal booty, besides the stolen cattle which they now drove up the muddy roads along with them as their general food supply. Hung about with dead ducks, household pots and cheeses, the foot soldiers cursed as they bestirred themselves at the drumbeat, dragging their pikes at a lacklustre angle, shouldering their muskets with a bad grace, and stumbling with curses down ill-maintained country roads through slurry churned up by the cavalry that had already gone ahead.

Henley-in-Arden was a hamlet. Few had found quarters under cover, so most had spent the last four nights sleeping out of doors on the hard ground. At the end of March the fields and coppices were cold, still bleak after winter, with thawing drips from trees and hedges making everywhere damp. Those who had bread or biscuit soon found it mouldy. Their campfires smoked and spluttered. The soldiers all stank of the smoke, along with a perpetual odour of unwashed clothes on unwashed bodies. Men rose in the mornings stiffly, their coats and britches clammy, their powder and match at risk.

Orlando Lovell and Edmund Treves had spent three days in an outhouse, which they shared with their horses. It showed. Mud and straw besmirched their once-gallant cloaks and boots. Their beards were ragged. Their tempers were short. As they made the journey to Birmingham, their mounts were fretful, only willing to move forwards because they were part of a group. When they reached the town's outskirts, the beasts stamped and steamed and dragged at the bit rebelliously Treves soothed his horse, Faddle, a bounding brown mare bought with money his mother had sent him after accepting that her son could not be deterred from fighting. Lovell had stopped bothering to quieten his mount, an anonymous bay of very much superior quality, which he had borrowed — without mentioning it — from a higher officer in Oxford who was indisposed.

Quartermasters had been sent ahead, as was conventional. They were held up at the barricade. Arriving at the head of his small army, Prince Rupert quickly set up a military headquarters in the Ship Inn. He issued a message to the townspeople that if they provided shelter and received his men quietly, he would do them no injury. This was also conventional; he cannot have expected anyone would believe the offer. As Lovell and Treves rode up, the defenders raised their colours in the Deritend trench, then at once sallied forth and fired briskly.

Surprised, the Royalists pulled back.

'Madness!' scoffed Lovell, quietly counting them. He got to sixty, assessed the length of the trench, doubled his figure and was distressed by the pathetic opposition. From what he could see, the Birmingham musketeers confirmed the Royalist view that the rebels fighting against them were 'men without shirts': ships' deserters, runaway prisoners, beggars and broken-down serving men. 'They have no idea of their danger!'

'They have courage, Orlando.' Treves saw good where he could.

'The traitors will die for their bravado then.'

The location was bad, however. The prince — young, handsome, and in full body armour with his trademark pistol and poleaxe — took cover under the overhang of a building and consulted with advisers while his large white poodle, Boy, austerely sniffed the air. A signboard creaked with mournful insistence. High grey clouds moved slowly, shadowing the dreary scene. Rain was in the air, but would not fall.

The Royalists had approached on a badly maintained country road that crossed half-flooded, inhospitable water meadows and narrowed awkwardly between old half-timbered houses just before the bridge across the River Rea. They were overlooked by fourteenth-century inns, with steep roofs and crooked gables above the street. Although it seemed a meagre defence, the rebels' trench blocked a bottleneck and would serve its turn temporarily. Beyond it, on a shallow rise, a manor-house and church stood before a ribbon of almost medieval houses; it was a rural backwater, unprotected by walls or other fortifications. Word had it that there might be a few more musketeers hidden up; plus maybe a small troop of dragoons; maybe another troop of horse. No reinforcements from the Parliamentary garrisons were reported in the area.

Prince Rupert brought up his artillery, two sakers, which were heavy long-range field guns, and four lighter, more manoeuvrable drakes. He prepared to fire, using his own musketeers, though the defenders did not waver. An annoying barrage began, which the rebels managed somehow to sustain for over an hour. They yelled the usual shouts of 'Cursed dogs! Devilish cavaliers! Popish traitors!' The Royalists replied with desultory oaths of their own. Not taking the defenders seriously, they charged — and to their astonishment, were beaten back again by musketfire.

A second hour passed, before the Parliamentarians were inevitably forced out — only to take up another position in a second trench behind the first, at Digbeth. An untrained collection of smiths, nailmakers, labourers and cutlers was holding up a small army of professional soldiers. The rebels' boldness only increased the Royalists' bitterness against this town. Cannon could achieve little in such a tight situation. Eventually the prince ordered a thatched house to be fired, which spread to a couple more buildings, opening up an access route. This sent the right message.

Impatient to advance, a group of cavalry under the Earl of Denbigh set off across the water meadows to find other roads in. Lovell and Treves went along. They splashed through the shallows, managed to ford the river, and rode into the town through the back ways. Lord Denbigh led them, singing loudly as he went. Soon they were breaking through hedges, leaping garden walls, and bursting among the houses on the south side. Now Edmund Treves learned to be a cavalier, as the horsemen announced their presence by shooting at doors and windows whenever anyone showed a face. Enemy fire came sporadically from upper-storey windows. Barging along amongst his colleagues in the single winding main street, Edmund felt his heart pound. His right arm was up, bearing his sword, and he fired off his remaining pistol with his left hand, aiming badly as he held the reins, unaware whom he shot at, unable to determine friend or foe among the citizens who stared out in curiosity. Exhilarated, the cavaliers stormed at full tilt through the markets. Then at the north end where habitation petered out, quite suddenly they came upon a troop of rebel horse. These were local riders, raised and armed by a Mr Perkes of Birmingham and led by Captain Richard Greaves, who had already fought Prince Rupert once at King's Norton the previous year.

Greaves and his men took off at once down the road to Dudley, with the cavaliers flying at their heels. To have more room to ride, the cavaliers fanned out on either side of the highway. The chase had all the excitement and danger of a cross-country hunt — jumping into the unknown as they tackled hedges, palings and gates. Treves saw one rider fall, with such force he must have broken his neck. Though an anxious horseman himself, he took his own lead from Lovell, who saw foes and dashed straight at them. They galloped along furiously until they reached a place between two woods. There, at Shireland Road, Captain Greaves gave a signal and wheeled his men about. They fired, then charged the pursuing Royalists. In those first moments of surprise, the Earl of Denbigh was shot, knocked from his horse and left for dead. Instantly demoralised, his men scattered back across the fields. They were hotly chased by Greaves and his cheering troops; Greaves himself was streaming blood from several minor face wounds. The rout continued until the cavaliers had almost reached the prince and their own colours in Deritend. Unable to tackle Prince Rupert's whole force, Captain Greaves and his men retired.

Someone went to break the news to Rupert that Lord Denbigh, a close friend of his, had fallen. Lord Digby was thought to be missing too, along with another man of quality, reported as Sir William Ayres. While the riders shook themselves down and made light of the incident, they learned that progress had been made here. Under cover of the fracas and the smoke from the fired houses, the hundred Birmingham foot had abandoned the trench and made their escape. The prince ordered that the house-fires be quenched.

'They'll not be back.' Indicating Greaves's retreating horsemen, Lovell seemed unimpressed by the sharp little cavalry encounter, but he had advice for Treves. 'Edmund, if you are of a mind to prosper, take some of our men, ride back to where Denbigh fell and recover the corpse. He is much loved by Rupert. Do yourself some good by it.'

'And you, Orlando?'

Lovell cracked a grin that the rebels would rightly have called devilish. 'Business in town!'

'The Prince banned plunder,' warned Treves.

'Of course!' scoffed Lovell. 'He knows the rules of engagement. And we know how Rupert interprets them!'

Already sickened by the four days of looting at Henley-in-Arden, Treves wanted no part of whatever was to come here. He took the advice to search for Denbigh's corpse.

Beside the little River Rea, the situation changed. Opposition had finally ended; the rebel musketeers were scrambling off as fast as they could to hide their weapons and themselves. A Royalist signal was given: it was safe to advance across the bridge. The men collected themselves to ride in search of prey. Cavaliers streamed across the ancient stone bridge, galloping at any local people they saw, shooting wildly and cutting down anybody they caught in their path. They fanned out through gardens, orchards and back alleys. Soon Birmingham was theirs. They made brisk work of establishing their presence, then settled in for the night.

This was just the start. Birmingham was about to learn what it meant to be taken by Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

Chapter Sixteen — Birmingham: 3–4 April 1643

Kinchin Tew spent much of Monday morning out in the woods. She knew there had been arguments in parish meetings and in the taverns about whether Birmingham should defend itself or succumb. Her parents argued as hotly as anyone, though there was never any possibility her father or unenlisted brothers would fight; the Tews had decided to flee. None of them had much idea what to expect. That did not stop her father, Emmett, loudly asserting that Birmingham would be horribly punished for its acts of rebellion. 'And what poor devils will come off worst — ?'

'Us,' grumbled Kinchin's mother. As always!'

The family built a smoky bonfire in the woods, made feeble efforts to put up a temporary shelter and hunched down glumly like a group of hibernating vermin to wait until it was over. They had no pity for the town's predicament. Only the fact that whatever livelihood they scraped together depended on Birmingham gave them any interest. If Birmingham people suffered, it would reduce available charity and for those Tews who occasionally accepted labouring jobs, serious trouble might end all possibility of work. However, they had seen the King and his army pass through in procession last autumn, so they did not imagine today's events would be much worse.

Around noon, Kinchin and some of her siblings grew bored and cold. They crept back to town, where they watched the handing out of arms. They noticed Francis Roberts, the minister, leaving; he knew he would be a target for reprisals after his many anti-Royalist sermons.

At that time, before Prince Rupert arrived, the streets were quiet, although many people stood in their open doorways. Small groups of neighbours huddled together, seeking reassurance. Kinchin visited her friend Thomas at the Swan Inn on the High Street. A short, pale, mild-mannered man in his thirties, the ostler's light wispy hair was balding back from his forehead and he had a limp where he had once been kicked by an unfriendly horse. 'I'll be working later. I won't see the carnival…'

Thomas took Kinchin down into Deritend and showed her the earthworks that had been thrown up across the road. Small groups of musketeers were standing about quietly, one or two drinking beer from pint pots brought out to them by sympathisers. Kinchin parted from Thomas and moved on to beg for bread and butter from Mistress Lucas. 'And can your good man spare a sword, so that my father may fight for us with the rest?' She knew Emmett would not fight. But he had trained her to try for anything available.

"We have no swords left, Kinchin. Every finished weapon has been given out to the men. Now take yourself to some safe place, girl.'

With a shrug, foreseeing no particular danger, Kinchin made her way sulkily back to her family. They would moan at her for coming empty-handed, the laziest of her work-shy brothers moaning the loudest. Shortly after she left Mistress Lucas, the dull reverberation of the prince's cannon nearby shook the smith's house, while loud salvoes of musket shot caused the housewife to catch her breath in panic. But as Kinchin crossed the fields, she heard that first gunfire, which out in the countryside seemed distant and innocuous.

She had almost reached the wood, homing in on the wispy smoke from the fire. Then, suddenly, thunderous hooves closed in behind her. So many horses were coming, the ground shook. After one scared glance back, the girl gathered her skirts and ran. It felt as if Captain Greaves and the pursuing cavaliers were furiously chasing her. Terrified, she stumbled into the wood, just as she realised the horses had stopped. Scratched by brambles and brushwood and shaking with panic, she turned back from cover. She heard shouts and pistol shots; creeping closer, she witnessed the fierce exchange between Greaves's and Denbigh's men. Abruptly the skirmish was over. The cavalry of both sides all rode away like furies, back towards Birmingham.

Several loose horses remained, milling in the road. Her father ran out instantly with a couple of other Tews, to round up any they could catch. These were gentlemen's horses, good quality and expensive, even though when sold without a provenance they would fetch far less than their true value. Emmett would move them fast, putting twenty miles between the place he found them and backstreet stables in other market towns where scoundrels as shady as he would be glad to take the beasts, no questions asked, then sell them back to one of the armies' buying agents.

Wounded men were crawling; dead ones lay on the ground. Kinchin's mother emerged from cover. Flinging her ragged shawl back over her shoulders, she grabbed her daughter's arm and headed for these casualties. The two women hovered cautiously, then grew bolder. Her mother poked the dead to see if that produced any movement, then eagerly began to strip them. She had a rusty knife, which she plunged into her victims, rather than take chances. It was the first time the Tews had plundered like this, but they needed no lessons. Boots, hats, breastplates, jackets, belts and shirts were swiftly peeled from the bodies. Weapons, purses, finger rings, handkerchiefs, medallions, gloves, sashes and riding hose all followed. Kinchin and her mother worked fast and in silence, not stopping to waste time on cries of delight. Before her mother stripped off britches and coats, the girl's small fingers dug deep into pockets, knowing that gentlemen's pockets would probably have three interior divisions, and that she must not miss the smallest, which might be fastened with a button. Their gleanings were rushed away into the woods by other Tews who came running for armfuls of fine clothes and fistfuls of jewellery. One of the boys collected guns and bullets in a cloak, tied up the corners and dragged it away.

An elderly cavalier, heavily built and extremely well dressed, was seriously wounded in the head. Kinchin had ransacked his pockets, unaware that he was still alive until he groaned while her mother was dragging off his bloodied brocade britches. Kinchin jumped back in alarm. After landing a hard kick on the man's bare legs, her mother carried away his expensive suit in triumph. Kinchin lost her nerve. She moved away but later, after the rest of her family burrowed back into the woods to inspect their pickings, she went alone and squatted close to the old man, waiting for night and the cold to finish him off. She wanted his embroidered shirt. Kinchin had always been methodical, and very patient in her scavenging.

Stabbing him dead was beyond her. She had no knife anyway, though she wanted to do it. The Royalist was an aristocrat, like Sir Thomas Holte of Aston. Kinchin hated all his kind. So she crouched in silence, guarding her prey like a fox staring at a chicken house, until she could complete her search. She thought the man knew she was there. She thought he must know why.

As dusk fell, a new group of horsemen approached at a canter, thwarting her. Men dismounted and, looking over their shoulders in case of attack, they began hastily inspecting the now naked bodies. Kinchin Tew clung on there, but eventually a young red-haired cavalier came to the old man. She had lost her chance.

'Denbigh is over here — still breathing! Damme, he's been stripped; can somebody cover him? We must keep him warm. What are you up to, young savage?' Treves demanded of Kinchin sharply. His light blue eyes had summed up her filthy condition and her watchfulness. Suspicious, he dropped a heavy hand on her shoulder.

'I saw he was alive, sir. I wanted to help him.' Flagrantly pretending innocence, Kinchin in turn assessed this young fellow, a sharp-featured carrot-top who sounded too full of confidence. He lost interest in her, and was examining the earl's bloody head wounds, wincing. She eyed Edmund's clothes, which were plainer than those her family had dragged off to the woods, but still worth selling… He had too many men with him to risk it.

'Did you see who looted these bodies?'

'No, sir.'

'This is an important lord, a favourite of Prince Rupert's.' With a grunt of exertion, Treves was helping another man lift and put the badly injured earl over a horse's back. 'He needs attention urgently. Is there a surgeon in Birmingham?'

Reluctantly Kinchin nodded. 'Come up on Faddle.' Moments later, Treves had hoisted her up behind him on his own horse, where she clung on to his wide leather belt as he sped back into town. Adapting rapidly, she soon relaxed, as if riding on horseback behind Royalist gentlemen was her natural mode of travel. Her bare feet bounced against Faddle's hot flank and she now held Edmund round the waist with one skinny bare arm, fully confident she would not fall off.

As they rode into Birmingham, Kinchin squealed at what she saw. Cavaliers were breaking into all the houses. They were frightening the poor, threatening the rich, picking pockets and cursing, some in strange languages. Quartermasters pretended to arrange billets, an excuse for blackmail and bullying. Men were crashing about as they searched for concealed treasure or weapons — peering down wells and into pools, smashing roof tiles, running crazily through gardens. Carts and market trolleys were being piled high with stolen goods. A smell of smoke, different smoke from the normal hearth and forge fires, hung ominously in the damp April air.

Kinchin guided Treves to the surgeon's house and was put down to knock, but a maid came out looking flustered. The girl informed them that Mr Tillam had himself been shot, very seriously in the leg and thigh, as he stood at his house door, wanting to welcome the cavaliers. He was a Royalist supporter — or had been.

The surgeon's maid shot Kinchin a look of amazement. 'Get out of the road, Kinchin Tew, or the mad devils will shoot you too! I'm for hiding in the attic, me.'

Kinchin felt very frightened. Darkness had fallen. There was more noise than she ever remembered in Birmingham; the strange hubbub was clearly hazardous. Evening was for scavengers, but the Tews had lost their rights in Birmingham tonight. Louder, stronger, wickeder men had taken over.

After a brief debate with his fellow soldiers, Treves opted to carry the injured earl to the prince's headquarters; Rupert had bedded in at the Ship Inn. 'Where can I take you, mistress?' he enquired of Kinchin politely, leaning down from Faddle. The barefoot girl was still standing in the street, wondering what to do next. Having brought her as his guide, Edmund felt concerned; he knew what was likely to happen in this town tonight. But Denbigh was fading, so he was in a hurry.

Kinchin thought Treves was jesting. He must see her grimy condition. His genuine gallantry impressed her, however. She considered him an innocent; she even thought him stupid — yet she felt touched.

Her predicament was awkward. She could not ask to be taken back to her family, hiding up in the woods with their plunder. Instead, she assured Treves she had friends nearby. She convinced the cavalier the Swan Inn was a place of safety. So Kinchin watched her red-haired gallant move off through the chaos towards the Ship, where the prince was. She felt a sense of loss, and almost wished she had stayed with Treves, riding high on Faddle, to see out her adventure.

As soon as she was left alone, Kinchin panicked. Gunsmoke and the stench of burned houses made the air close. Many more soldiers were noisily pouring into town; they must have come up from Henley-in-Arden during the afternoon. All around her were sounds of assault.

Birmingham would normally be dark and still at this hour, with only a warm hum from tavern interiors; now it seemed alive with violence. Breaking window glass crashed and splintered. Men's harsh voices bellowed and swore. Women screamed. A group of prisoners were marched up to the Bull Ring, jostled and bullied by cavaliers who intended their racket to be heard and feared. Kinchin watched them searching the prisoners for money, amid threats and demands for large ransoms.

Nervously, she crept into the Swan's small courtyard, relieved that this dim area seemed comparatively quiet. A lantern swung beside the taproom. The door stood closed against the evening chill. A streak of faint light came from the stables. It was oddly still. She missed the normal buzz from regular drinkers. Even so, nothing seemed too badly amiss in those first moments.

Horses clattered up suddenly. As riders burst through the gateway, Kinchin froze. Alert for new customers, Thomas threw open a stable door and emerged from the warm stalls as he always did, ready to take the horses. He limped forwards obligingly, one hand outstretched to gather bridles, a smile of welcome blossoming.

Pistols shot. The ostler fell to the cobbles. Three cavaliers trotted right over him, and dismounted. They shouldered open the taproom door and entered, calling loudly for ale. None glanced back.

The flurry of noise over, there was silence. Kinchin stared. Thomas lay face down in the dark yard, one arm still outstretched. He must be dead. Who would do that? Why do it? He was not a threat. He was only doing his duty, coming to take their horses.

A new Royalist rode in. In a terrible miscalculation Kinchin believed this man brought help. Hard eyes took in the dead ostler, the dark pool of blood around Thomas, and the shaking girl. He levelled a gun. She had made a mistake.

He was covering her with the carbine. Faint light from the stable fell across him. Kinchin would never lose that image: the man ready to kill her, the huge horse, the filled moneybags tied to the saddlebow, the heavy spurred riding boots, the aimed gun in his gloved hand — and the reckless tilt to his curling brimmed black hat, with its bright turquoise band.

He chose not to shoot. The day was ending; he wanted rest and ale.

She felt the hot breath of his high-spirited horse as the rider pressed forwards to the taproom, then she clutched up her skirts, passed by him and ran like a rat, sliding out of the Swan gate in one long speechless streak, so secretly and swiftly the cavalier must have wondered if he ever really saw her.

Chapter Seventeen — Birmingham: Monday and Tuesday, 3–4 April 1643

With a thundering heart, Kinchin flung herself into a dark doorway, hoping to escape notice from the soldiers in the High Street. Shaking and petrified, she tried to breathe. Her lungs refused to expand. Her muscles seemed unable to bear her up.

'Where's your God Brooke now?' jeered raucous Royalists to their cowed prisoners, as they herded these beaten men into the Swan. 'Where's your Coventry now?'

Worn out and depressed, the Birmingham men in shirts and stockinged feet were holding up their britches; their coats, their belts and their boots had been stolen. They limped inside to the courtyard. Kinchin thought she spotted the smith Lucas among the wretched crowd. A baffled cavalier demanded of one prisoner, 'How can you take up arms against your oaths of allegiance and royal supremacy?'

The Birmingham man retorted, 'I never did and never would take any such oaths!'

A furious blow with a musket butt sent him flying — though he was not killed, because the Royalists were still hoping to make money from their captives. Kinchin heard grumbling that Prince Rupert would be annoyed that the ransoms from their impoverished opponents were only tuppence, eight pence, a shilling, and occasionally twenty shillings. More than one of the prisoners made indignant protests, claiming to be no soldier and no rebel but a faithful supporter of the King… a plea which earned only laughter. The soldiers declared that any forced ransom would be received as well by His Majesty as if it were a voluntary gift.

While Kinchin crouched in shadow, a familiar sight transfixed her: down the dark street, head in the air and eyes vague, sauntered Mr Whitehall. The crazy parson picked his way among the debris as if puzzled how so much clutter came to be littering the town. He sniffed the air, troubled by the smoke. He was walking about openly, either unafraid of the Royalists or unaware of danger. Kinchin now hardly knew which way to turn to avoid a mauling, yet Whitehall had not seen her so she clung to her dark space, still in shock after the brutal killing of Thomas.

Lit by flickers of candlelight through windows where the shutters had been flung open, the lunatic's long dark coat and white neckbands marked him out as clergy. Cavaliers quickly spotted him — and saw sport. They supposed he was Minister Roberts, whom they loathed. Despite all Mr Whitehall's past assaults, Kinchin almost shouted a warning. She dared not. Boisterous men surrounded him, shoving him to and fro, laughing at him, demanding whether he wanted quarter. Too crazy for caution, Mr Whitehall cried: 'I will have no quarter! I scorn quarter from popish armies! Your King is a perjured and papistical King! I would rather die than live under such a King! I would gladly fight against him — '

A poleaxe blow ended his rant. Cheering Royalists moved in and hacked him to death. They disembowelled him by twisting swords in his guts; then they quartered the body as if this were a formal execution. Searching his pockets, they found hand-written papers. Sordid stories of his attempts on local women were read out aloud gleefully, then came ribald promises to publish them to a wider audience. 'A comfortable kiss from one woman, a cinnamon kiss from another — and another from one of just fourteen — ' Kinchin trembled, terrified she would be identified.

The cavaliers went up and down the town, exulting that they had killed Minister Roberts.

Only feet away from parts of the blood-soaked corpse, the distressed young girl still cowered. She felt no joy that Mr Whitehall's death had freed her. Worse dangers walked abroad; she felt as vulnerable tonight as she had ever been.

Once the killers moved off, the High Street emptied temporarily. Kinchin made a quick bolt for the only place that might offer her refuge. Shuddering and stumbling, she fled through the Corn Cheaping and around the houses by the church. Everywhere, doors stood wide open. From within the small houses came strangers' swearing and carousing. Little Park Street seemed darker and quieter, though a group of horses and carts should have told her that Royalists were close. Sure of kindness awaiting, she rushed in through the half-open door to the Lucases' kitchen, then realised her error.

A fug of tobacco smoke met her. Big men with loud voices had taken control of the smith's home. They were ransacking domestic cupboards, upsetting utensils, devouring food and drink, terrorising the family. As Kinchin ran in, two moustached cavaliers in open jerkins with their great boots astride the kitchen bench, raised overflowing tankards in a toast to Prince Rupert's dog: 'Here's a gallant health to Boy!' Another, with forward teeth and a wide mouth, was rocking the baby's cradle with the point of his sword. Across the room, Kinchin saw the terrified Mistress Lucas, gripped by a soldier who had his pistol at her breast. He kicked open a door that led to stairs up into the bedroom.

'Damme! A girl — ' Kinchin's arrival caused brief delight — then disgust when they saw her condition. The men turned up their noses, just as she was repulsed by them; they reeked of horseflesh, stale ale and sour shirts. Their clothes and long hair were pickled in old smoke and sweat. A filthy monster — ' The man's slurred accent was thick.

'What are you?' Her shocked whisper came out automatically.

'We are Frenchmen!' He was so drunk he could not boast and control a tankard simultaneously, but spilled ale over one flowing shirtsleeve. 'We have volunteered to save your miserable kingdom — we French, some Germans, Irish, Dutch, and Swedes.'

The baby was screaming. Now almost a year old, he was big enough to struggle upright in the cradle. Kinchin had never taken to this child; the chubby fellow in his knitted cap and embroidered bib was too clean, possessed too many home-made toys and was far too happy. He was always being given attention — kissed on the head as his mother passed his warm cradle, dandled by neighbours, fed little titbits, taken down to the forge to see his father…

The nearest soldier pricked at the child's jacket. His sword point caught in the wool; he planned to lift the little boy and drop him into the fire — but the sharp blade cut itself free and the red-faced infant sat back suddenly, with a renewed cry.

'Robert!' protested the mother faintly. The cavalier who held her gave her a vicious cuff across the face. She struggled wildly as he pulled at her waistcoat buttons. No stranger to beatings herself, Kinchin saw that such violence was completely new to the housewife, but Mistress Lucas only bit her lip, enduring whatever was done to her, out of terror for her child.

Kinchin tried to distract the men. 'The baby cries. Let me walk him.' She spoke with fake confidence, but scavenging had taught her how. She went quickly and picked up Robert, bringing his blanket with him to hide him in it. He clutched her, hampering her movements, and was heavy in her arms. Her eyes tried to reassure his mother. She never knew whether Mistress Lucas understood because the young terrified housewife was being dragged backwards out of the room.

Kinchin promenaded with Robert on her shoulder. Hushing him gave her some comfort. The soldiers now ignored them. One was rattling up the fire with a poker, then examining the poker to see if he would bother to steal it. From beyond the inner door came a loud thump, at which the man by the fire made an obscene gesture. Another signalled for Kinchin to pour him ale. She managed to do so one-handed, while Robert grabbed onto her. Nervously, she manoeuvred to keep all the men in view, in case they tried to jump her.

Mistress Lucas was being ravished. Kinchin heard it. She understood what this experience would mean to a chaste woman. It could be her turn next.

The Frenchman stomped back into the room, fastening the buttons of his britches. Without a word, another man stood up and pushed past his colleague, one hand at his belt. They were matter-of-fact. None discussed what they were doing. This was their routine. Enemies were killed; their houses stripped; their horses stolen; their women violated. The more blood shed and the more fear caused, the greater was the victory.

The nearest man had his back to her, shovelling firedogs and pots into a sack. Kinchin sneaked up her courage. Still carrying the Lucas infant, she slipped out of doors.

She crept away down the garden path, desperately trying to keep her steps quiet. Its cinders were painful under her cold, bare feet. She managed to drag open the forge's heavy shutter just enough to squeeze through with Robert. She had never been inside before, and was surprised that the high workplace seemed bigger than the house. It was dark, but dimly lit by the fire.

Warmth came from the hearth, even though Lucas could not have used it for two days; he would not have worked today because of the fighting and yesterday was Sunday. The cavaliers must have burst in here earlier. They had flung fuel on the hearth and blown up flames with the bellows while they turned everything upside down in their search for valuables. Kinchin squeezed through the strange scattered tools, knocking painfully into large items of equipment and gasping as her bare soles were gouged by pieces of metal on the floor. She crouched with the baby in her arms beside the brick hearth.

'Be safe, Robert — make no sound.' Away from the tumult and comforted by her steady voice, the child soon settled and slept.

For Kinchin there was no relaxation that long night. Hours stretched away. Holding Robert, with her cheek against his soft warm head, she stole to the doorway from time to time. It was no use. Throughout the town, cavaliers sat up drinking, blaspheming, tyrannising their prisoners, terrifying women, insolently boasting. With the outside air cold on her face, the miserable young girl wiped her nose on her sleeve, listening to the uproar. All night there was no let-up. Over and over again she slunk back miserably into the forge. She longed to help Mistress Lucas, but could not. If the cavaliers laid hands on her too, neither her youth nor her squalor would save her.

Dawn brought a temporary diminution in the terror. The character of the tumult changed. Carts and horses began clattering northwards in businesslike convoys. The sounds of organised companies of soldiers on the move under orders took over from rampage and riot. For Kinchin Tew some relief finally came.

A new silence lay on the house. Next time Kinchin ventured out of the forge, she made up her mind to go back to the kitchen. She collected the sleepy infant. By the grey light of early morn she spotted a single sword, hung on a rafter in the forge; climbing on a wooden trestle she managed to lift the weapon down and brought it out with her. It was the blade Lucas had made wrongly and kept back, though the heavy weapon seemed adequate to Kinchin.

Kinchin approached the open house door, carrying Robert in one arm with the sword, point down, in her other hand. The lack of noise indicated the soldiers had gone. Even so, she stayed outside, too scared to look.

After a long time watching, she stood the sword behind a barrel and crossed the threshold timidly. Indoors, she found a scene of despoliation.

The wrecked kitchen made her feel like a stranger. Once so neat, the room reeked of drink, smoke, and worse. The men had marked the house with their excrement, like wild animals claiming territory. Many domestic implements were missing. Objects that were too cumbersome to carry off, such as the bench and the baby's heavy oak cradle, had been crudely tossed and upended. Things of little value, or small items that male fingers made clumsy by drink had dropped, lay strewn all over the floor. Kicked ashes besmirched the slabbed floor. A worn cutlery box lay smashed on the table. The fire was dead in the grate, water buckets upset, heavy cauldrons bounced until they were dented beyond repair. Dreadful stillness hung over the house. Kinchin found the wool-stuffed cradle-mattress, still usable though it had been singed in the fire; for safety she set Robert upon it in his cradle, which she righted and pushed to its normal position. He was hungry and started bawling; she ignored that. Then, bravely, she walked to the door opposite and ventured through.

She stopped. A body lay on the stairs.

Mistress Lucas had been repeatedly ravished right there on the steep, narrow wooden treads. At some time during the ordeal she had died. One hand gripped a banister rail; her head was turned far to one side, as if to avoid seeing her attackers. Her skirts were pushed up to her waist. Her buckled shoes were off. One stocking had wrinkled around her ankle in the struggle, though the other remained neatly over her knee, held by its knitted garter.

Whether she had died of the rapes, or shame, or shots, or suffocation Kinchin could not tell.

She stood at the foot of the stairs, wondering what to do. Noises in the kitchen alarmed her. She spun back there, perhaps to protect Robert or perhaps ready to run and save herself. The baby was now bound to her by their shared hours in the forge, but Kinchin had a loner's priorities.

An elderly woman had arrived from the house next door, anxious for Lucas and his family. She had a sharp, intelligent face and head of white hair, upon which sat a rather crooked coif. Automatically, she was righting the firejack, while gazing around in horror. Robert, blue-eyed and now silent, was watching. The old woman recognised Kinchin and asked after Mistress Lucas.

Kinchin sobbed, once.

The woman moved quietly past her. With a keening sound, she went to Mistress Lucas and pulled down her skirts decently. She loosened the dead woman's grip on the banister, and moved her arm. On returning to the kitchen, she found that Kinchin had sunk down amongst the devastation, lost in shock. 'A good woman. Cruelly used. Yet here's the poor baby all untouched — '

'I hid with him,' whispered Kinchin.

The neighbour nodded approval, though in the way of Birmingham people her reaction was restrained. She knew Mistress Lucas had given charity to this mite. Shaking her head and short of breath, the woman seated herself on a joint-stool. She had to right it first, and sat gently as if it might collapse; some of the pegs had been knocked out during the cavaliers' riot. 'They have killed Widow Collins, and fourteen or fifteen others. I heard that two coffins were made last night for men of quality of theirs.' She held her arms folded and rocked with grief. 'Many houses are stripped of goods and furnishings; people were forced to hand over all the money they had. Their own supporters have lost as much as anyone, but that is no help to the rest of us… Go to your people, Kinchin Tew. I will find women for what is needed. Here — she does not want this now — ' The old neighbour jumped up, pulled a cloak from a peg on the door and wrapped it around Kinchin. Then she snatched a crust from the ground, blew the dust off and pushed it into the girl's hand. 'Have you seen Lucas? Some of our killed men were pushed into the trench and their bodies buried when the Royalists slighted the earthworks. They allowed nobody near to recover the dead.'

'Lucas was a prisoner. I saw him last night. I saw him at the Swan — ' Remembering how Thomas was shot in cold blood, Kinchin retched. With nothing in her stomach, she controlled it. The old woman gazed at her; perhaps she had heard what had happened to the ostler.

'The prisoners are all ransomed and free to go. Leave this house now, girl, before Lucas comes home.'

Kinchin was not sure whether this was some warning that Lucas might suspect she had taken part in the theft of his goods, or that he might be angry to find such a starveling had survived while his poor decent wife was murdered. Kinchin had no place here. Women neighbours would attend to Mistress Lucas's laying-out. Jane This and Margery That, a Bess, an Alice, a Susanna… They had gossiped with the smith's wife, attended her churching after Robert was born, and they would now bury her, comfort Lucas and help the smith deal with nurturing the child alone. None of that was for Kinchin. She was an outsider, no matter how much grief she felt for the murdered woman. She left the house without another word.

Clutching the cloak tightly around her and gnawing the hard bread, Kinchin wandered up through the markets, terrified of what she would find. She was carrying the sword from the forge. Under her cloak she held it with care, because there was no scabbard. A cart laden with half a dozen wounded Royalists trundled past, forcing her to press against the side of a house. Her feet stumbled with tiredness and terror. Groups of people, trembling bare-legged in their shirts and shifts, stood outside homes where open windows and doors revealed empty interiors. She saw people who had lost everything. Dazed and depressed, they simply collected in the streets.

Now Kinchin entered a scene that would have seemed to her like hell, had the Tews ever practised religion. As she passed the toll booth, heading into the Welsh End, many cavaliers were still at large. Prince Rupert had gone, but had left behind a group called an antiguard. These men were to protect his army in the rear and secure the route back to Oxford. They knew how to do this work. In every street, triumphal soldiers brandished drawn swords and pistols. They were making excited preparations to set fire to the town. Driving off householders, they used gunpowder, wisps of straw and matchcord. Some fired off special slugs which they said Lord Digby had invented: bullets wrapped in brown paper that they shot from pistols into stables and thatched roofs. Residents pleaded with them to stop, but the answer came back that each quartermaster had orders from the prince to fire his section of the town.

Legitimate arson was a wonderful game. In a market town full of forges, combustible material was easy to find. Laying the fires was easy. Anguished Birmingham people were complaining that they had paid out large sums of money to Prince Rupert, to buy protection for their homes. His men's response was cold and cruel. Anyone brave enough, who tried to save their goods or their premises, was fired at. Fresh blood ran over yesterday's dried blood on the cobbles.

Kinchin was frightened by the fire, more frightened by the soldiers' continuing violence. She pushed her way through to the High Cross, trying to leave town. But all the buildings ahead of her were ablaze. Their destitute owners stood weeping in the street; cavaliers only jeered as thick smoke gusted everywhere. Above Dale End and the Welch End, crackling flames leaped twice as high as the timber houses. To Kinchin's left, Moor Street was noisily burning, and when she ran into Chapel Street, a strong wind blew a great conflagration across the cherry orchards towards her.

At the Bull Inn, opposite the disused priory, with flames hot on her face, Kinchin stopped. A soldier barged past, carrying a pan of hot coals, on his way to start another fire somewhere. A man waved a besom broom at her, its bound twigs streaking the air with sparks. Too much terror finally overcame the girl. As she stood on the cobbles in confusion, she caught two riders' attention.

She recognised the red-haired cavalier and his horse: Faddle. A second rider loudly swore at people, 'The prince deals with you mercifully now! When we come back, with the Queen's army, you will know our true minds — no one will be left alive!'

Edmund Treves saw her. 'Get to safety!' He struggled to control his horse, disturbed by the fires. He could tell how the night's events had changed the girl. She had lost all her earlier trust of him. Of course she was right. Treves had stayed at the Ship Inn, on the outskirts, but he knew what had gone on in the town. Guilt sickened him — though he would not change his loyalty to the King.

Someone else spotted Kinchin, Her father, Emmett, had been loitering in the hope of grabbing property from open houses. Emmett dropped his robbery sack; with ghastly determination he grabbed his daughter and hauled her right under the cavaliers' horses. Gripped so fiercely, the nightmare of her encounters with Mr Whitehall returned to her. 'Here's a nice clean girl, sir!'

'Will you make her a doxy?' Treves retorted angrily.

'No, you may do that!' leered Emmett. 'She will know no other trade, sir,' he wheedled plaintively, as if this excused selling her. He sounded desperate. A kinchin mort — that's a girl, sir, who is brought to her full age and then — '

'No!' His daughter shrieked, now mortified.

Kinchin rebelled. The nickname she had always endured was suddenly hateful. She struggled wildly. Until now, she had accepted her family's intentions. They brought her up to sell. If she stayed with them, they would do it. The closest friends she had ever had were killed last night. Nobody cared for her now.

Unexpectedly, Kinchin wrenched free. In the fight with her father, she dropped the sword that she had taken from the forge. Then Treves's companion reined in his great horse above where it lay upon the ground.

She knew that man too. Kinchin looked up into those unblinking eyes. It was the man with the turquoise hatband. He was holding his carbine. Once again the idea of shooting this girl, the idea that had crossed Orlando Lovell's mind last night, returned to him.

This time, Kinchin picked up and held the sword so Lovell could see it. Lovell reached to hook it from her grasp. Kinchin scrambled backwards. Her father grabbed at her again but it was a feeble movement. She dodged Emmett and fled.

The fire roared all around her; she saw only one way to run. She beat a path back through the unburned part of the town, moving as fast as she could manage through the lamenting crowds. Slowing, she doubled back down the High Street past the Swan Inn where Thomas had been shot, back through the markets where Mr Whitehall had been mangled, around St Martin's Church and past Little Park Street where Mistress Lucas lay dead in her house. She ran down into Digbeth. The last cavaliers were leaving, over the stone bridge. Finding a gap in the procession, she went through Deritend where unknown numbers of killed defenders lay under the flattened earthworks. She passed the Ship Inn, where the elegant Prince Rupert had spent a civilised night, allegedly unaware of the deeds being perpetrated throughout Birmingham in his name.

When the distraught girl reached the end of the houses and taverns, she kept walking. The road she was on travelled out through the water meadows into open country. She went with it, sobbing. Once she was certain of her intent and sure that nobody was following, she paused, turned herself and looked back bleakly. Much of Birmingham was burning. Almost a hundred houses would be lost that day, with numerous barns and outbuildings. But the wind was changing; she could feel it on her tearstained face. The wind would eventually blow back upon itself, so the fire was contained and doused.

Hundreds of people were homeless and destitute, many more were shocked and grieving. They would cluster together and support one another. They would relate their troubles to the kingdom at large and perhaps be consoled by the telling. But this set-faced, lonely vagabond would gain no comfort, for she possessed no family and no community. Empty-handed, godless, friendless, hopeless and even nameless now, the young girl took one last look at the fiery desolation she had left behind. Then she turned her face to the south again and strode onwards in her sorrow.

Chapter Eighteen — London: May, 1643

Bad men bearing dubious offers always appear at the right time. So, once again, Bevan Bevan correctly chose his moment to manipulate his great-nephew, Gideon Jukes.

Bevan understood Gideon's situation. A young man of twenty-two, newly created a company freeman and recently cheered by military success, would be looking around for a woman. Unlike Lambert, a lively lad from puberty, the younger Jukes brother was a straightforward and still naive bachelor. Despite his heritage as one of London's merchant class, Gideon did not canoodle with other men's wives or flirt with their daughters. He had never engaged with lewd women in back-alley taverns, let alone visited the notorious brothels that lay over the river in Southwark. Even if he secretly considered that, Gideon liked the easy life; he was too frightened of discovery. He still cringed at the fuss over his dotterel escapade. For him, marriage was the only solution.

Bevan knew, too, that Parthenope and John Jukes were leaving Gideon to find his own wife. The dangerous times made them cautious. They wanted him to be happy, but it seemed less urgent to push Gideon into marriage than when they had begged Lambert to wed Anne Tydeman after courting her for years. Anne and Lambert now lived in the family home; if Gideon married, it raised tricky questions about how far his parents should go in setting him up. The Jukes always claimed their sons were equal, but in families equality can be elastic.

Although it was a decade since Bevan regularly dined at the Jukes table, once in a while he still arrived on the doorstep. He expected his slice of roast beef and demanded more gravy with it, as if he were the family patriarch. Then when John Jukes angrily stomped out to the yard for a pipe, Bevan — who was less mobile with his gouty legs — would push back his chair and pontificate on how Lambert and Gideon should manage their lives. Gideon was generally at home to hear it. Bevan seemed to have studied his pattern of behaviour.

'Don't leave it so long as I did! Marry while you have the spirit to manage your wife and brood.'

Startled by the idea of a brood, Gideon merely raised his eyebrows and scuttled off to join his father beside the burnt-out house-of-easement, where they gloomily enjoyed their tobacco and waited for the uncle to depart.

Undeterred, Bevan next brought his wife, Elizabeth, and her wide-eyed unmarried niece.

The niece, Lacy Keevil, was a relative through Elizabeth's previous marriage. 'Up from the country' — which only meant from Eltham — Lacy had been taken into the Bevan household to help with their rumbustious children. She seemed to know when to hang her head shyly among strangers. 'More to her than she shows!' Lambert muttered, conspiratorially. Gideon liked the sound of that.

He stared at Lacy Keevil. She looked too anxious to be dangerous. For her years — sixteen — she had a rounded, mature figure. Her rather ordinary face was a blank, with no signs of character to worry him, but she had exotic almond-shaped eyes that drew male attention, including his.

Proffered a paper of his mother's jumbles, Lacy treated Gideon as a special acquaintance. He fell for it. He knew he should be more wary; indeed, his previous lack of success with women made him wonder at his sudden popularity now. Still he let himself believe that Lacy had a sweet, shy personality to which he was keenly attracted, and that his looks and urbane charm had captured her heart. He decided he could handle the situation himself, so he confided in no one which meant nobody ever joshed him, 'What looks and charm?'

'Ask yourself what she wants,' Lambert's wife Anne alerted him, after she sensed tensions between the girl and her relatives. 'Why are Bevan and Elizabeth parading this puss about?' The hint came too late for Gideon.

A few days later Bevan turned up 'by chance' in Basinghall Street. Immediately his uncle broached marriage, Gideon threw himself at the idea. Already committed, he consulted Robert Allibone, who saw the case was hopeless so merely replied that he did not know the girl.

Because the match had been engineered by Bevan Bevan, Gideon's parents opposed it on principle, but their opposition spurred him on.

'He will never change,' wept his mother.

'He will never learn!' raved John.

Gideon would learn, and perhaps even change, though not yet.

Gideon Jukes and Lacy Keevil were married in early May, 1643. It was a large family wedding and differed little from such celebrations in peacetime. The bride was dainty and subdued. The groom felt racked with nerves. Killjoys grumbled into their handkerchiefs that the couple were making a mistake; the young fools should have waited until the war ended. Others retaliated that at a wedding in wartime, guests ought to make a special effort to be cheerful.

Despite the deprivations in trade, everyone flaunted finery. Money was available. Gideon had a new ash-coloured jacket with a subdued sheen, over full knee-britches, all fastened with gold buttons — several dozen of them in the suit. Lacy wore carnation taffeta which, as her Aunt Elizabeth said rather loudly, she filled extremely well. On the traditional walk to and from church, they were both sweetly excited and beaming with happiness. It was impossible to wish them anything but joy and long life together. That did not stop thin smiles among disparagers.

The feast took place at a neutral venue, chosen because neither family could agree who should host. It was the Talbot Inn, a large coaching inn in Talbot Court off Gracechurch Street, within smell of the Thames.

As the wedding party in their lustrous tissues went into the courtyard where long, laden tables waited, Gideon suddenly felt alien. The feast was for him, yet he observed the elegant procession as if he were no part of it.

Standing back in a gateway while guests chose their seats, his brother met an acquaintance, a younger man than Lambert, perhaps only a couple of years older than Gideon. Lambert introduced him: 'Edward Sexby son of Marcus Sexby, gent — absolutely sharp and straight, and valiant for our cause. He was apprenticed to Edward Price, of the Grocers' Fraternity' That was all the accreditation a man could need with the Jukes; Lambert in his jovial way invited Sexby to the wedding feast.

'It is not his party!' whispered Lacy crossly, the sweet new bride suddenly furious.

'Dear heart — your first quarrel with your in-laws!' Gideon was mildly pleased at how it smacked of domesticity. Lacy returned a cold stare, calculating that her new husband might be trickier to manage than the Bevans had promised her.

A buzz of rancour rose, as two very different families, intent on despising one another, took up positions over succulent chicken, pigeons and legs of roasted pork. The Jukes brooded over Bevan Bevan's past sins and his relatives' fecklessness, bitterly noting poor manners and shamelessly expensive gloves. The Bevans decried the sermon and the wedding breakfast, which the Jukes had provided. The Jukes led a large, loud contingent of cousins, friends, stockmen and errand boys, maids past and present, past maids' children, and present maids' sisters who were hopeful of becoming maids future. They also brought two tiny, extremely ancient ladies, hook-shouldered Aunt Susan and Good Mother Perslowe, who were no relation at all, but always attended family parties. By contrast, the Bevans and Keevils seemed oddly light on guests. Lacy's parents were absent, though presumably Elizabeth had invited them, and the journey from Eltham, at less than ten miles, should not have been prohibitive.

Parthenope Jukes seated herself in state at the head of the table squashed alongside Elizabeth Bevan (nee Keevil), a large-boned, low-bosomed, florid-faced woman whose significance Gideon had missed when his great-uncle married her. He now understood: all tradesmen's widows in the City of London were well-to-do, for they inherited one-third of their husband's effects automatically, another third if they were childless as Elizabeth had been in her first marriage, and perhaps the final third too if they had persuaded their man to leave them everything. Beyond that, printers' widows had a special position: exceptionally, a print business passed from deceased husband to widow, together with prized membership of the Stationers' Company. When the late printer Keevil was carried off by illness, he left Elizabeth with attractive assets. Bevan had always 'lived on his wits' — or lived off his relatives' as John Jukes redefined it.

'Bevan must have employed fantastic footwork to displace her journeyman!' Gideon sneered to Robert Allibone. It was more or less traditional that a printer's widow continued the business through her husbands' apprentices — generally remarrying one of the journeymen. They had the right to be affronted if she chose elsewhere.

Allibone smiled wryly. 'Ah! You did not know that I served my time with Abraham Keevil?' Gideon swallowed, thinking he had committed some faux pas, but his friend gently ended his suffering: 'Oh, the dame had her eye on me, but I was always set on Margery!'

The matriarchs had drawn up battle lines, using fashion for weapons. Elizabeth Keevil made much of the fact that her olive-green satin had been bought at the Royal Exchange. Parthenope scoffed at the Exchange galleries as dangerously newfangled, while she cruelly noticed how the low-cut gown's pearl-bedecked elbow-sleeves hung so far off Elizabeth's shoulders they gripped her fleshy arms like a straitjacket, hampering her use of cutlery. Wielding her own fork daintily, Parthenope gazed on her family's resplendent outfits; in theory religious Independents shunned ornament, but a wedding was a matter of status and a wedding where they loathed the bride's family called for even more dash. Parthenope herself was in dark old-gold damask that had used up a year's profits from imported peppers. Anne wore a white petticoat, embroidered with maroon flowers and foliage, under a scalloped-edge gown that she had pinned back for easier movement; alone of the women she had put on a coif beneath her hat, which modestly hid most of her hair. Lambert and his father had let themselves be buttoned into their best black silks; John had become frail recently, but Lambert was as solid as a slab of slate.

Parthenope and Anne had acquired their finery not at the Exchange but in the traditional city way: knocking on doors to request special arrangements. This procedure for favours could be a fiction. When pleading gentlewomen called to negotiate bargains in grocery, Lambert would either charge the normal price or underweigh the goods. 'Putting a thumb on the scale is a usual grocers' trick!' Elizabeth whispered to the bride, managing to suggest that Lacy's marriage would be continually marred by such treacherous wiles.

Perhaps using the pennies he had saved, Lambert had hired two sackbut-players. The men were far from virtuosos; their primitive trombones were soon dreaded by everyone.

As the meal progressed, Bevan began talking politics. Covert signals failed to silence him. 'There is always an uncle who must cause trouble!' hissed Parthenope under cover of handing a vegetable tureen to Anne.

Gideon and Lacy had not exchanged wedding rings. Bevan denounced this as religious extremism, then latched onto Anne Jukes as a target. He referred scathingly to her foray into Westminster with the female petitioners. 'Shall we be seeing your wife as a she-preacher next, Lambert?' Lambert, moving around the company like a large benevolent lord, calmly raised a tankard to his great-uncle, oblivious of insult. Anne pretended not to hear, until Bevan's next jibe: 'I hear that rebel wives in the City are donating their jewels to Parliament's war chest!'

'I am glad to know,' snapped Anne. She was forthright and fearless, which offended Bevan all the more. 'They shall have my wedding ring tomorrow. Lambert and I need no pagan symbols.' In an undertone, she scoffed to her mother-in-law, 'He is not even drunk.'

'Not yet!'

Fortunately Elizabeth Bevan missed this, since she was frazzled at the separate table where her children were being fed. She purloined the bride to help her control them. In the decade of her marriage to Bevan, Elizabeth had been constantly pregnant. Although it had not stopped her parading bare breasts and forearms today like a decadent royal maid-of-honour, under her stays she was big-bellied again at nearly forty. There were five surviving offspring, all squealers and snivellers; Arthur, aged seven, was a particularly repugnant child.

Anne Jukes felt obliged to leave her food and assist. Childless throughout her own marriage, Anne knew herself to be an object of both pity and disapproval, as if the situation was her fault. The long wedding sermon, with its emphasis on marriage for procreation, had been torture. Now other people's insolent children would be dumped on her.

'Why thank you, my dear!' Elizabeth simpered. 'Do not let naughty Arthur throw syllabub on your good gown. Come, Lacy, resume your place of honour — '

The Keevil brood eyed her balefully. Anne Jukes, who came from a jolly, good-tempered brewing family, squared up to them. In their home these children ran amok like little princes, governed only with cajoling and bribes. But as the delinquent Arthur now raised his bowl to hurl it 'accidentally' over her embroidered skirts, Anne grasped his shoulders and lifted him right off the wooden bench; she dumped him down in front of her like a slop bucket. He was still small enough to be manhandled and Anne's kneading of her much-admired white manchet rolls had given her sturdy arms. 'Now, Arthur. We have thanked God for providing this fine feast. If you have no wish to eat, you may stand on a stool in a corner like a school dunce, and there wait for all the company to finish.'

Amazed, Arthur thought of screaming. Silently, she dared him. He thought better of it.

Anne reflected that before she took herself to Westminster with the female petitioners, this brat would have got the better of her. Since she began joining in demonstrations, she had acquired quiet resolution. For two pins she would have told Elizabeth just where she went wrong domestically… As she took charge of the young Bevans, who were lace-collared like miniature royalty, she thought with some pleasure of her new rebel character.

'Your daughter-in-law is so good with the little ones!' murmured Elizabeth Bevan, as the delinquent Arthur slunk back to his seat while Anne firmly tied napkins around his sulky siblings' necks. 'So good for one who is barren!'

Anne, who had the finest instincts in Cheapside, looked up and saw it said.

Then Anne Jukes let her surly gaze dwell speculatively upon the bride. Elizabeth Bevan understood; Lacy's aunt stilled, suddenly cold in her heart.

As the afternoon passed, the meal became less formal. People came and went around the inn courtyards. Gideon found it awkward to converse with his new wife while all eyes were upon them. He had been at enough weddings to know that soon relatives would start chivvying him with lewd advice. At his side, the inscrutable Lacy politely smiled at everything he said, and as the day continued, Gideon realised that had she been an ink-seller, he would have found her too meek to trust.

He noticed that the sackbut-players, with quarts of drink inside them, were slightly more tuneful.

He saw Robert Allibone saunter away towards the stable-yard, so made excuses and followed him. Always diffident in company, Robert was prone to sneaking off by himself to read. When Gideon first appeared, he had been studying a pamphlet, but he pushed the paper inside his doublet quickly. Side by side, they pissed on the dungheap.

'What's the news?'

'It will keep. I will not spoil your wedding day'

Neither was in a hurry to rejoin the feast. Allibone addressed his friend with mock-solemnity: 'As your good groomsman, I should ask if you know what is expected of a husband?'

Gideon chuckled bravely. Few men who had been London apprentices needed an eve-of-wedding lecture. 'Lambert is threatening to lurk at the bedside with instructions… My father said: eat all that is set in front of you and always give your wife the victory in quarrels. My mother warned me not to spit in the hall, nor wear boots in the bedchamber, nor bring home a dozen ducks on laundry day — all needing to be plucked, glazed and roasted — not even though the purchase price was a great bargain.'

'Your father did that!' marvelled Robert, with admiration.

'And still lives,' Gideon confirmed.

It seemed a moment for confidences. Bevan and Elizabeth had set him wondering, so Gideon asked about the mysterious debt owed to Allibone by the Keevil estate. Robert's face clouded. 'It was an alphabetical debt.'

'Well, recite it.'

'Oh you know my distemper with stockholders…', 'Keevil held shares in the English Stock Company?' During his apprenticeship, Gideon had absorbed the history of printing in London. He knew how William Caxton had first set up in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, producing legal and medical texts, then Caxton's successor, Wynkyn de Worde, moved to Fleet Street, to be close to his lawyer customers. From early days the principle applied that authors should not attempt to make a living from writing; their role was merely to keep printers and booksellers in business. Over time, the stationers who provided raw materials — vellum and paper, ink, skins for binding — had gained control of book production. Only their liverymen could print, bind and sell books. The Stationers' Company was self-governing, so entry to the trade was always tightly controlled by insiders. Allibone believed it led to abuse. Under Queen Elizabeth, censorship bit. New books had to be approved by Privy Counsellors and archbishops; the Stationers' Company kept a register of licensed books and allocated to its members the right to print them. This system could be benign, giving work to less prosperous printers — or it could be corrupt. Robert Allibone called it vile.

Stationers' Company involvement was formalised further in 1590, when the English Stock Company was created by the Crown. The money was provided by a hundred and five shareholders. Those shareholders accumulated copyrights in books, copyrights which they passed to their heirs, heirs who were not necessarily printers — and almost never authors. Increasingly, shares in the English Stock and possession of licences went into the hands of booksellers rather than printers.

By the time the civil war began, the Stationers' Company was officially joint-partner with the Crown in imposing censorship and that was Robert Allibone's main grievance. 'A monopoly,' he raged. 'As surely as those on beer and soap that we deplored when the King sold them. Our own company, which ought to have been the first to protect our livelihoods, was coerced and corrupted, cozened and cheated into doing the King's and Archbishop Laud's will for them. The vicious system stank then and it still does. The Stationers' Company did the dirty work of censorship for Star Chamber. When Star Chamber was abolished, we believed the mire was cleansed, but now Parliament has its own machinery, the Committee for Printing- oh Lord, how I hate them! — and the same old lackeys are attempting control. But they will not succeed. The people have tasted enjoyment of a free press. There is no going back.'

'Where in all this,' inserted Gideon quietly (he was dogged in discussion), 'was your quarrel with the late Keevil and my uncle Bevan?'

Allibone spoke tersely. Abraham Keevil was my master. He taught me well. He was, I rue it, a holder in the English Stock and as a benefit he acquired a licence for printing the ABC primer, which is compulsory in every school.'

A very great bringer-in of cash, Robert.'

Assuredly lucrative.'

'And good work — we want the people to read… So then?'

'Keevil caught some plague or pox. His lads, being barely supervised, lacked the capacity or the application for such a large commission. He and I struck a verbal agreement for me to print copies.'

'You were independent?'

'I had set up alone, having inherited a little money. Keevil knew I would produce the job in timely fashion and decently done. It was an important contract for me. I believe it was a relief to him, too, to share the work with a man he trusted — as he did, for he had trained me. Then his illness finished him.'

Gideon worked out what had happened: 'On Keevil's death, his widow reneged. She placed the job elsewhere.' He wondered whether Robert's preference for Margery was relevant to Elizabeth's action.

'She took it back; organised the staff herself; stole my profit. Perhaps in the chaos of grief,' Robert conceded dryly, though at the time, he had become so aggrieved he had threatened a complaint to the Stationers' Company. 'I had the right of it. Elizabeth knew that. So Bevan Bevan was sent waddling around to see me, silkily proposing we should settle the matter with a fifty pounds down-payment and seven years' use of an honest apprentice…'

'You were robbed there!' laughed Gideon.

'So true. At the time it seemed my only hope of compensation!'

Their privacy was at an end. Bevan Bevan staggered out to the courtyard, his white cambric shirt billowing through gaps between the buttons on his scarlet suit. He had grown larger than ever, so his vast thighs were close to splitting the grandiose spangled seams of his bright britches.

'Go in to your bride.' Robert encouraged Gideon with a light push. 'Leave me with the spouting leviathan.'

So Gideon slipped away while Bevan began another slurred tirade against Parliament. Afterwards, Gideon guiltily acknowledged that he had seen the angry glint in Robert's eye. He sensed that his friend was keen for something stronger than argument. Perhaps it had to do with the pamphlet he had put away.

But this was no time to linger. As soon as Gideon returned to the feast, he was gathered up, chivvied and badgered, for his bride was by now waiting in the wedding chamber and he must hasten to her. The quicker he went of his own accord, the less danger that he would be escorted by a throng of tipsy, titillated onlookers. His mother kissed him, shedding a tear. Lambert tagged after him, playing the wise older brother.

'Let me at it, Lambert; this is one thing I must do for myself — '

Lambert blearily cited the musketeer's drill: 'Just ram home and withdraw your scouring stick.'

What? Shivering inside his new shirt, Gideon walked upstairs, aware of every creak in the treads. Downstairs he could hear good-humoured cheers and knew his health was being drunk. Sackbuts hooted hoarsely. 'That is just the rude advice I would expect from a Blue Regiment pikeman.'

Leaning on the lowest baluster, Lambert continued, 'Draw forth your match, boy. Blow the ash from your coal and open your pan…'

'Plug your mouth, fool; you have the drill all arsy-versy'

'Pray the weather be fair, so your weapon will fire — Nay, in the heat of engagement, brother, there is no more to it than this simple order: prepare, present and give fire!'

Groaning, Gideon quickly turned a corner out of sight. In his embarrassment, he opened the wrong door. Fortunately that room was empty.

Some kind soul had indicated the bridal bedroom with a wreath of flowers, hung on a nail outside. Still flustered, he grasped the handle and marched straight in. Lacy's almond eyes glared at him, above a dark coverlet. His new wife had just learned that husbands never knock. 'They cannot be changed!' her aunt had scoffed. Elizabeth should know, thought Lacy, with a hardness that would have astonished her new husband.

Gideon crossed to a chest beneath a window where he sat to pull off his shoes and stockings. He was unknotting the thin, tangled ties of his shirt when a commotion below distracted him so much he opened the leaded casement and leaned out. The noise brought Lacy to his side and they hung over the sill together. Parthenope, weeping with laughter, looked up and waved them impatiently back to their bower, though not before Anne shouted: 'Bevan Bevan has been put in the horse-trough by your friend Allibone!'

Gideon barked with laughter. 'Well that has done for the scarlet suit at last!' Anne gazed up at him fondly. Lacy, she thought, would be well served in her wedding bed, whereas lovemaking with Lambert made his wife feel like a damp sheet being flattened in a mangle…

Gideon turned to his bride. She was behind him again, kneeling on the bed, pulling off her nightgown over her head with both arms. The only other naked woman Gideon had ever seen was Mother Eve in a picture. He had pored over the woodcut — yet it bore little relation to real anatomy.

Lacy glared at him. Her long chestnut hair went right down to her

… She could sit on it. Gideon closed his eyes.

A man may look at his wife.

He opened his eyes again, now fully to attention for what he had to do.

Chapter Nineteen — London: May 1643

The next day, Gideon walked into the print shop with what he hoped was a debonair step. It was late to start work. He had already endured teasing quips about newly-weds lying abed, for he had come from home. It had been decreed, in the way families decide things, that Lacy and he would lodge with his parents temporarily, or 'until your first child comes'.

The notion of a child worried him. Gideon knew what really happened with babies but let himself envisage a small boy in a creased brown suit arriving on the doorstep, aged about five, with his belongings in a tidy snapsack. This imaginary child would 'come' as if ordered from abroad through a long-distance merchant, in the same way that Lambert and his father arranged imports of sultanas and allspice, not expecting word of the produce — or demands for full payment — for many months, if not a year…

The couple had money, though it needed careful management. Parthenope and John had given Gideon a generous wedding gift. For a second son he felt secure. Lacy brought a small marriage portion, which seemed to be largess from Bevan and Elizabeth rather than her own parents. With Gideon's printing income, even though it fluctuated crazily, the pair could have rented accommodation straightaway, but it was deemed better to save their shillings and let Lacy be taught housewifery by Parthenope and Anne. 'Not just better, but necessary!' was Parthenope's tart verdict. According to Lacy, in Eltham nobody baked, while Elizabeth Bevan had mislaid her pudding bowl for the past two years.

Dumping Lacy at Bread Street, Gideon fled to work. Finding himself ravenous, he bought a muffin. In their tiny premises in Basinghall Street, he discovered Robert Allibone sunk in gloom. 'All well?'

'Aye. And with you?'

'Of course,' muttered Gideon through muffin crumbs.

Allibone gave him a benign nod. 'It gets easier.'

Gideon held back from grumpily demanding, 'What does?' He flushed scarlet, remembering, then he cursed his fair complexion that so easily gave away his thoughts. Private unease struck him. As he walked through Cheapside and Ironmongers Lane that morning, accompanied by Lambert's terrible sackbuts whose belching valve music had stayed in his head, he had been troubled by memories: Lacy's anxiety, his uncertainty, their fumbled failures at union, his irritation and shame, then her patient suggestions: 'Will it perhaps go here more fittingly…?'

He wanted to be a good husband; Lacy seemed more distant than he had hoped. Gideon feared it was due to his deficiencies as a lover. All the same, he was a man, and as he had transferred Lacy from the inn to his parents' house he had put on a show of equilibrium.

'Tell me about the horse-trough!' he instructed Robert briskly.

Allibone always opened up at his own pace. He busied himself with routine tasks, preparing the press for operation. He drew out from his doublet the pages Gideon had glimpsed yesterday. As the pamphlet lay on the flat bed of the press, Gideon saw the frontispiece bore a woodcut of a long-haired horseman, in full cavalry armour, a dog with a leonine mane cavorting at a rampant steed's heels.

'Your uncle picks his moments.' Robert's pamphlet looked lengthy for a news publication; Gideon rapidly assessed it was over thirty pages. 'Out he sailed, so full of incendiary disputatiousness he was fit to pop. He bearded me on the wrong day, Gideon. It was my journeyman's wedding. I desired to be in cheerful mood, but was already downcast. Bevan began boasting how he is contributing funds to a Royalist regiment and that with such help the King must return to his palace in the next twelvemonth… I was dodging these black bombardilloes, when your brother Lambert came out, with that stranger of his — Saxby? Sextant?'

'Sexby' Lambert had talked of it with Gideon that morning — anything to avoid discussing his bridal night. 'Lambert knew him as an apprentice. He is going to East Anglia, where a kinsman has raised a troop of horse. Sexby was tempting Lambert to join him, but Anne fixed her cool eye upon my brother and that was the end of any elopement.'

'Well, Bevan set upon Lambert,' Robert growled. 'His new beef was the Lines of Communication: "Oh, nephew, I hear that you and your mad hothead wife are excavating frozen earth, alongside a thousand oyster-women! You go digging fortifications with mattocks and picks, among confectioners and tailors, with those calumnious rogues from the Common Council, drums thundering and colours flying"

After Turnham Green, Parliament had decided that the King's army would inevitably be back to attack London again. They had to increase their earlier hurried fortifications. Citizens rallied and turned out enthusiastically again. New barriers arose that were said to be eighteen Kentish miles long; Kentish miles were famously longer than the legal statute mile. The Lines of Communication surrounded much more of London than the ancient city walls ever had: from Constitution Hill to Whitechapel, going as far north as Islington, and taking in Southwark on the South Bank. The Houses of Parliament, the Tower, part of the River Thames and the docks at Wapping were all now safely enclosed in the citadel. Dutch engineers who were acknowledged experts in military earthworks had been summoned to advise. A complicated system of trenches, dykes and ramparts linked twenty-four substantial forts and redoubts. There were single and double ditches, then single or double palisades, the latter set with sharp pointed stakes facing outwards, a foot apart. The forts, shaped like four- and five-pointed stars for all-round vision, had heavy wooden platforms which bristled with cannon, protected under stone-tiled roofs. There were more than two hundred pieces of ordnance — from demi-culverins that hurled nine-pound balls and demi-cannons that threw twelve-pounders, right up to cannon royal that weighed over three tons and fired enormous missiles weighing sixty-four pounds.

Nobody could enter or leave the city without scrutiny from the sentinels. Companies from Trained Bands regiments were manning the fortifications day and night. It was far from an alarmist measure. Royalist strategy in that year of 1643 centred on a London attack. It was planned that Lord Newcastle in the north, Sir Ralph Hopton in the West Country and the King himself in the Midlands would defeat local opposition, then after meeting the King at Oxford all would surge towards the capital, set up a blockade by sea, and starve London into submission. If such a plan succeeded, which seemed quite likely as Royalist successes grew, Londoners could only hope the Lines of Communication would save them from the plight of so many desperate cities on the Continent.

'On the Continent, and here — as this grim pamphlet illustrates!'

Gideon reached for the pamphlet at last: Prince Rupert's Burning Love to England, Discovered in Birmingham's Flames. It was an eye-witness description of what had happened at Easter. 'Wherein is-related how that famous and well affected Town of Birmingham was unworthily opposed, insolently invaded, notoriously robbed and plundered, and most cruelly fired in cold blood the next day…' Gideon read it fast. Now he understood Robert's anger, shared it, saw why his colleague's outrage had simmered to a rolling boil with Bevan Bevan. When Bevan endlessly praised the King, whose unrestrained mercenaries had carried out the atrocities in Birmingham, Robert's frustration broke.

'I will not hold your wife's relatives against her, Gideon, but you must separate Lacy from any connection with the King's party. This is civil war. The conflict stalks in the parlour.'

Gideon was shaking his head in disbelief as he read: 'These were ordinary people, penalised — punished — robbed, raped, fired at in their houses, left naked in the street, terrorised with threats of more — a surgeon shot, a madman barbarised — their goods stolen and their homes burned.'

'If I had had my musket yesterday, I would have killed your uncle.'

Gideon looked up with a brief smile, 'That would have made a wedding to remember… Yet your nature is too sweet for it; you would have rued the business all your life. Robert, I can now see how you found the strength to tip so large a man into a horse-trough.'

Like Gideon, the printing press had made Robert tough, but he was of neat stature and not tall. 'I am proud of it. I pushed him hard against the trough; when the rim caught his gross thighs, he toppled backwards. A great wave washed over the brim. Then your brother Lambert helped, with that friend of his, who seized Bevan by the feet while Lambert fulcrumed him by his fat head. They spun him around, until he made a full-length fit. Lambert, being no featherweight, then leaned on his belly — I was hammering him flat — Bevan was soon so well wedged, he could not move. Then the sackbuts came and droned him a slow measure, so none could hear his pleas for help.'

'Lambert claims it took five men with a rope on a dray-horse to drag Bevan from his waterbed.'

'Traitors and reprobates,' Allibone declared. 'They should have drowned him.'

'It was impossible,' said Gideon. 'His bulk had swamped out all the water. The landlord begged to have my uncle's great carcass lifted, so he could refill the trough for waiting beasts — ' Thomas, the ostler at the Swan, pistolled, coming officiously to take their horses… 'This news is terrible. What can we do?'

Robert gestured to the printing press. 'Print it. You are reading one of three pamphlets I have seen on the streets about Birmingham. Some scabrous apologist wrote a Royalist version, but there are two lucid rebuttals. This in your hand was published for the Parliamentary committee in Coventry: "that the Kingdom may timely take notice of what is generally to be expected if the cavaliers' insolences be not speedily crushed". Gideon, our task must be to gather the facts of this conflict and relate them truly. I have on the press the thoughts of Mr A.R., whom I find always a very considerate, trustworthy commentator.'

'Perhaps I shall meet the gentleman one day!' Gideon knew of several rousing pamphlets by this 'Mr A.R.'. He was sure Robert wrote them, hiding from censorship.

Robert smiled. 'Oh he comes to me bringing his work privately, late at night, and keeps his face hidden.'

'You are still responsible for what you print,' Gideon warned.

'I will answer for it, if challenged. He relates truth and his language is temperate. There are no "Turds shat from the devil's flaming arse" with Mr A.R.'

'And what is his next topic, Robert?'

Robert applied the oily ink to the composited letters with his lambs-wool swab. His freckled face was calm yet alight, as if he were engaged in holy work. 'That Birmingham will prove a disaster for the King. All the country is shocked by these monstrosities. The King hires the filthy foreign troops. His brigand nephew — another glorified mercenary — leads them. Incidentally, Charles has been forced to berate Rupert, and to beg him in future to take his subjects' affections rather than their towns. It is scant consolation for the widows and orphans, and those left naked in the street when their homes burned. What may cheer them a little is that Lord Denbigh, a close confidant of the prince and much mourned by him, died from his wounds four days later at Cannock; the best of that is that Denbigh's son is staunch for Parliament. But a steel mill in Birmingham which had produced swords for Parliament has been pulled down by malignants — royal supporters lost more goods than anyone else, and they have claimed that the mill caused his anger against the town.'

Gideon was in a dark mood. 'The cavaliers' weapons are fire and fear — but we have our own. Words.'

'Never truer. Telling the news must become regular and accurate. It pains me to say, but the King has equipped himself for propaganda before our party even stirs.' King Charles had always taken a keen interest in what was printed; he had even written self-defensive pamphlets. Robert fumed, 'There is a printing press close to the King in Oxford — though I know of nobody there who belongs to our fraternity'

'Is the printer a true Royalist', asked Gideon, 'or has he simply seen a way to profit?'

'Why that would make him an opportunist!' laughed Robert. Neither thought it impossible. 'What's certain is that since January this astute toady has been printing a weekly news-sheet that speaks for the court. Mercurius Aulicus — dross, but we have nothing to compete. The King's version is the only version. It is not only produced at Oxford to edify the cavaliers, but it is carried to London in secret pouches and reprinted here in a larger format.'

Gideon straightened up. 'We need a Parliamentary answer — fast.'

'Why that must be done by a committee! Robert scoffed. Then he grew more serious. 'We must give weekly accounts of debates and events. The sheets must be cheap, no more than a penny or tuppence. They must be sold on every street corner in London, then carried to the provinces and made available at great highroad inns. We cannot have this present situation, where one or two interested parties procure the news from London haphazardly, but only if Honest Ned or the parson happens to be visiting town to sell eggs or see a cousin. Nor can we tolerate Royalist bleats or lies concocted by sloppy scriveners who print the most ridiculous rumours.'

'You must have honest intelligencers.' Gideon was ahead. 'Like those ambassadors to foreign courts, who write accounts of rulers, society and commerce overseas. Kings dispatch and merchants employ such people. Now, here at home, there must be trusted correspondents placed everywhere — in Parliament, close to the King, even on the battlefield.'

Robert nodded. 'And there must be a reliable network of carriers to take the truth every week from the press to the public'

'Every week?'

'Every week,' stated Robert calmly. 'I am ready to work. I shall find scouts. There must be some cobbler in Westminster who can winkle me out information while he taps the members' boot-soles. I know of a victualler who has approval to run delivery carts through Clerkenwell; when he brings in cabbages he can carry out the news. He may need a false base building into his cart — ' He realised the scope of this venture was worrying his younger colleague. 'The plan has some danger. You can be in, or out, Gideon.'

'Oh, I am in! What if we cannot discover enough news for the week?'

'We shall fill in with advertisements for ointments. Apothecaries' shillings will fund us.'

'Will it work?'

'Telling the news will be standard practice,' Robert assured Gideon airily. 'Parliament can grumble all it likes: this is the future, my friend.'

Chapter Twenty — London-Gloucester: autumn, 1643

Critics of the Privileged Corranto (a few scurrilous rival publications, all of little merit, according to the Corranto's proprietors) would point out that although this journal sounded like a fast Italian courier, it had been named by mistake after a slightly seedy Spanish court dance. Robert and Gideon were unmoved. Printers of the civil war news were capricious, defiant, self-assured, non-compliant individualists. They were their own proprietors. Most wrote their own material. Some were vulgar, slanderous and obscene, though many were earnest moralists. A few wrote for money. That did not necessarily make their articles untrue. ' "Privileged" is weak though,' grumbled Gideon, who admired Robert, yet zealously picked on errors. 'It will frighten off the nervous.' 'People will judge from the content,' scoffed Robert. 'No, they won't judge unless they buy — and they will buy from the title. If it be lathered in Latin and pomposity, they will turn to some True Diurnall — especially if that shows a woodcut of pillaging soldiers roasting naked infants on a stolen spit.'

'Trust a grocer to know what makes people part with their money' 'Dried prunes do well… Call ours the Plain Speaking Corranto.' 'The Honest Corranto, Truthfully Intelligenced and without Lather?' 'We alienate the soap-boilers then…' There was an enclave of soapboilers only next door in Coleman Street. 'The London Corranto?'

'No; we want it to travel further. Why, it shall be the Public Corranto and all shall understand it is for them.'

So it was. Gideon never revealed to his partner that the Jukes family jocularly referred to the treasured news-sheet as Robert's Raisin. Even Lacy had picked up the habit of mockery, to Gideon's irritation. He bit it back. He did not like to quarrel with her, because she was expecting a child.

It was soon whispered that the producer of the king-congratulating Mercurius Aulicus was neither trained nor a licensed printer. 'Oxford University has a licence to print books, but no individual is so privileged.' Robert Allibone had heard gossip about the Royalist printer at his 'ordinary', the tavern which he used for economical daily dining now that Gideon was fed at home. 'This is some spangled parakeet who has been an actor.'

Gideon would never shake off his dotterelling. Used to it, he stayed calm. 'They say he is the son of a mayor of Oxford, one John Harris. Apparently the family are vintners and tavern-keepers.'

Robert shook his head. 'How can a wriggling alehouse maggot have got himself a press?'

"Who knows — but a brewer's dray would be heavy enough to carry it into town for him,' said Gideon, whose grocery background always made him consider logistics.

As that year of 1643 went forward, the Public Corranto took on Harris and Mercurius Aulicus, striving to give the Parliamentary view even though what happened in the war was often confusing. Every district had its sieges and skirmishes. Some actions were part of the overall battle-plan; many fights occurred willy-nilly, when troops unexpectedly happened upon their enemy or the enemy's provision trains. On the whole it was the King's year.

The Corranto tried to remain optimistic. But three important Parliamentary leaders were lost that year: first Lord Brooke of Warwick was shot through the eye at Lichfield, picked off by a sniper who had been positioned on the central spire of St Chad's Cathedral, the deaf-and-dumb younger son of local gentry. In June, John Hampden, the famous rebel against Ship Money, one of the Five Members and Pym's most able supporter for reform, received fatal wounds in an engagement at Chalgrove. Overloaded with powder, his pistol blew up; he died four days later, murmuring, 'O Lord! Save my country!' Meanwhile John Pym himself was falling victim to bowel cancer and would breathe his last in December.

Most military successes were on the King's side too. In the north, Lord Newcastle raised the siege of York, occupied Pontefract and Newark, locked in the Parliamentary arsenal at Hull, then heavily defeated Lord Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas at Adwalton Moor. In the south-west, Sir Ralph Hopton cleared Cornwall and Devon, and moved on Wiltshire and Somerset. He was seriously injured when a careless tobacco pipe exploded a cart of gunpowder, but survived to annihilate Sir William Waller's Parliamentary army at Roundway Down. In July Prince Rupert stormed Bristol, England's second city and a vital port, although he took heavy casualties. The King's main army faced the Earl of Essex between Oxford and Reading, hoping for news that Newcastle and Hopton had overcome all opposition and were marching to join in a grand assault on London.

They never came. Their local levies were refusing to leave their home districts. In the west too, further advances were impossible while Gloucester and Plymouth held out for Parliament. Lord Newcastle was turned back by heavy Parliamentary resistance at Gainsborough, so diverted himself to a siege of Hull. But Royalists were cheered when the Queen at last reached Oxford.

So far there were no grand military sweeps or major battles. The area between the royal capital at Oxford and the King's constant goal of London saw endless manoeuvring. Towns were garrisoned, castles were fortified; they were abandoned for strategic reasons, or taken by the enemy; then they were reinvested or rescued; later, their fortunes often changed again. Small groups of soldiers moved in and then moved on, jostling for possession of local garrisons, farmhouses and market towns. Vital objectives changed hands repeatedly.

For Parliament, the Earl of Essex was criticised for indecision, although he was rarely free to take the initiative: if he moved away, he would leave London undefended. Essex successfully captured Reading, but while he occupied it his men were decimated by camp fever.

At that time the King was very close to recapturing his kingdom. The shifting boundary of Royalist control was little more than forty miles from London as the crow flew. A bird had the advantage. If they came, Royalist soldiers would have to advance on carriageways and byways which for years had been neglected or inconsistently maintained by their parishes and which, as well as being famous for broken bridges, flooded fords and missing signposts, were generally overgrown with trees and hedgerows, choked with mud, and carved up and criss-crossed with ruts like the face of a cheese-grater. Still, both sides kept careful watch on one another. Parliament issued an order that no one might travel from Oxford to London without a pass. Their own scouts and spies were active in the Royalist-held areas. Meanwhile, Royalist spies took detailed notes of the Lines of Communication around London; some were arrested as they scanned the fortifications.

With the King encouraged by his generals' successes and Parliament correspondingly depressed, this stalemate continued to late summer. Then Prince Rupert's capture of Bristol turned royal eyes to the west. Bristol surrendered in just three days, though the defenders under Nathaniel Fiennes were sufficiently brave for Rupert to allow them to march out with full honours. Parliament was angrier at Fiennes's conduct and court-martialled him for dereliction of duty; he was only spared through the intervention of the Earl of Essex.

Meanwhile the Parliamentary commander William Waller sustained a grave defeat. Waller's previous string of local victories had made him a hero to Parliament; perhaps fatally, he saw himself as a hero too. He made vainglorious boasts and even procured a wagon-load of leg-irons for anticipated Royalist prisoners. But at Roundway Down he failed to post scouts and fatally lost the advantage. Hopton's Royalists obtained reinforcements and charged gallantly uphill; they pushed some of the Parliamentary cavalry over a precipice and then bloodily routed the infantry. Waller fled to Bristol, unaware of the scale of the damage; his few surviving men were so dispirited they deserted. Waller then took himself to London where he was nonetheless welcomed as 'William the Conqueror'. Church bells rang and he made a stirring speech in Middle Temple Hall. The Earl of Essex, who loathed Waller — especially for having lost a fine army — was outraged. He fumed even more when Parliament decided it was now necessary to recruit a new national army — which Waller would lead.

Attempts to negotiate peace with the King in Oxford had failed. Essex's troops were broken by lack of resources and disease. He struggled to convince Parliament to give him financial aid but all available funds were about to be siphoned off to Waller. Then in August, before Waller's new army was ready, the King personally besieged the city of Gloucester. This was to prove a turning point.

Gloucester's position was perilous. Far up the River Severn, with the enemy now controlling the Bristol Channel on both sides, it was a puritan merchant city holding out alone in the heartland of Royalist control. It constantly threatened the King's recruiting operations in South Wales, his supply route by sea and his ironworks in the Forest of Dean. When Charles decided to remove this annoyance, he was full of confidence. He believed that his headquarters at Oxford and numerous Royalist garrisons in the surrounding area shielded him. It was inconceivable that the Earl of Essex could bring through any relief.

Gloucester seemed likely to fall as easily as Bristol. Charles was convinced its young military governor, Colonel Edward Massey, would capitulate. Even Royalist merchants in Gloucester viewed the coming Royalist army with such fear — in the light of events at Birmingham — they offered the King a fortune in return for reassurance that only supporters of Parliament would have their property ransacked. Charles promised a free pardon to everyone, if the town immediately gave up. He declared that Gloucester had no hope, for 'Waller is extinct and Essex cannot come'.

As the Royalist guns began to thunder and as siege engineers set about undermining the city walls, Gloucester sent desperate pleas for help from London.

Londoners were filled with fear and gloom. If Gloucester fell, London must soon be picked off too. Pamphleteers did their work; false rumours flew that the King was bringing an army of twenty thousand Irishmen. All suburban shops situated outside the Lines of Communication were ordered to close. The Common Council petitioned Parliament; Parliament instructed the lord mayor to take steps to quell the tumults that were once again disturbing the streets. A group of 'civilly disposed women' petitioned the Commons about their hardships and were put off with soothing words. A letter was sent to encourage Gloucester to hold out, while a Parliamentary committee ordered the Earl of Essex to prepare a relief force. Crucially, when Essex mustered his main army on Hounslow Heath, he knew he was to have nearly fifteen thousand men. To beef up his infantry, he would be supported by some of the London Trained Bands.

Chosen by lot were the Red Regiment, which recruited inside the city wall near the Tower, and the Blue Regiment, which drew its members from west of the Walbrook — Lambert Jukes's regiment. They sent a thousand men each. Also to go were three thousand auxiliaries, drawn from the Red, Blue and Orange regiments. On the first night of their march, they camped at Brentford; there some members' eagerness ebbed. They realised they faced weeks away from their homes and businesses, which many had never left before in their lives, not to mention deprivation, hard marching and possible death. They were permitted to find substitutes. Gideon Jukes, who was a member of the Green Regiment which would remain guarding London, received an urgent note from his brother to inform him of this opening. Urged on by Robert Allibone, who wanted him to write reports for the Corranto, Gideon volunteered to change places with a worried woollen draper from the Reds. So both Jukes brothers set out on their first adventure in the field.

The journey west was close on 150 miles. Choosing a long route to avoid the buzzing nest of Royalists at Oxford, the march took twelve days. The London Brigade formed up on the Artillery Ground and had marched for six days before they caught up with the regular army at Aylesford. Then they travelled with the main force, sometimes ahead, sometimes parallel, sometimes behind. Occasionally they sheltered in barns or were entertained at private houses, but mostly these supposedly soft city lads ate only what they could gather from the countryside, drinking brackish water, bivouacked out of doors, sleeping on the ground, lucky if they could make campfires with hedgerow branches or wooden palings and gates. They remained in good spirits, treating it as a duty and an adventure.

They safely bypassed Oxford to the north. As they passed Banbury, they were harried by Royalists under Lord Wilmot. When they entered Northamptonshire, Essex doubled the pace of their march. On the 2nd of September they were twenty-five miles from Gloucester. Royalist skirmishing increased. Prince Rupert met them with around four thousand cavalry at Stow-on-the-Wold. Great squadrons of Royalist horse began to surround the London Brigade, but were beaten off by the main force, using light cannon and dragoons. It was unsafe to halt at Stow so they marched on into the uplands until midnight, sleeping out in the fields where they dropped.

Gideon was anxious. By now they had no provisions. The countryside had been stripped by the enemy of all food, fuel and horse fodder. Everything Gideon had hastily packed in his snapsack had been used up days ago. Bread and beer were a dream; a sour windfall apple, scrounged from an orchard, was a luxury. Unwashed and with shirt and stockings unchanged, his skin was itching and uncomfortable; his own smell was offensive and his comrades repulsed him. Occasionally on the march he caught sight of his brother among the pikemen; set-faced, they conserved energy and exchanged no greeting. Both had learned to tramp ever onwards in a kind of daze, letting hours and miles pass unnumbered. In the damp wolds above Stow, as he lay down stiffly on bare ground with his stomach rumbling, Gideon wondered how much longer the men could continue in this fashion. For him, there was certainly no chance of sitting each evening with a rushlight and writing-slope, to pen a diary for the Corranto. A writer needs a good memory. But he was so weary and famished, he thought it unlikely he would ever remember details of the hardships he now experienced.

He had been sorely afraid when Prince Rupert's cavalry threatened to cut them off at Stow. Worse must lie ahead. By this time the Londoners all understood that, even if they were able to help Gloucester, their chances of returning home were slight.

On the evening of September the 5th, they marched over the Cotswolds and from a high point glimpsed Gloucester below. It lay too far off for the town garrison to hear the salvo of ordnance that Essex fired to announce that help had come. His troops had to spend the night up on the heights, famished, in tempestuous wind and rain, drenched and completely without shelter. When they descended the steep incline, wagons ran adrift, horses were fatally hurt and the men of the London Brigade found that by the time they reached level ground, all the houses where they had hoped to find refreshment were already filled up with other soldiers.

Rest and recuperation would be at hand, however. Alarming smoke turned out to be the enemy's quarters burning, set on fire as the King withdrew at their approach. After a month's siege, only sporadic fire came from the city, where stocks of ammunition had reached a critical low. Gloucester had survived only because incessant rain had flooded mines dug by the Royalists under walls and gates. The governor had sent out nightly raiding parties to sabotage the enemies' works; it was said he plied them with as much drink as they wanted to encourage their bravery, but there were many tales of energy and daring among those who volunteered for night-time missions. Bowmen had fired arrows from both sides, carrying written insults and threats. Fierce resistance by the city troops, together with the staunch mood of the townspeople, had helped Gloucester hold out, although by the time Essex and his army finally marched in, every commodity was stretched and they were down to their last three barrels of gunpowder.

The relief force found terrible scenes. Physical damage ran to thousands of pounds. Sixty-pound shot had torn up the ground. Fiery bombs with sizzling fuses had shot through the air at night like comets, only to whiz through stables too fast to set light to the straw and fall onto house-tops where they melted the lead and caused roofs to collapse. The city defences had been mined and counter-mined. The moat was partially blocked up with timber faggots and with the collapsed remains of experimental moving towers, modelled by some gentleman-scholar on ancient Roman siege-machines, for carrying parties of musketeers up to the city walls. The devastation particularly impressed itself on the Londoners, the Trained Band members, who were thinking hard of home.

The starving relief force was welcomed, fed and housed either in the city or surrounding parishes. They stayed for four days. Gloucester was reprovisioned, refortified, rearmed. The troops could rest and revive, but they knew the King was skulking close by, watching their moves, ready to cut them to pieces when they tried to make their journey home.

By now they were all experts. They knew their position.

'We're screwed!' muttered Lambert Jukes to his brother, picking up the old merchants' complaint about the injustice of the Ship-Money tax.

'Utterly screwed and wrung,' groaned Gideon in reply.

The relieving troops had done their duty, but were caught in a fatal trap.

Chapter Twenty-One — Gloucester, Newbury, London: 1643

The Earl of Essex, Old Robin, received insufficient credit for his cat-and-mouse Gloucester campaign. Getting there had caught the Royalists on the hop; extricating his army, if he could do it, would be an even greater feat.

First, leaving behind his artillery and baggage, he moved north to Tewkesbury. He ordered a classic bridge of boats over the River Severn. Villages on the west bank were scoured for food and fodder, while recalcitrant locals were swingeingly fined and the cash used to reprovision Gloucester. Then Essex sent across an advance unit as if he proposed to march on Worcester. The King immediately moved north, to block the way towards London via Evesham and Warwick.

Under cover of a dark night, Essex suddenly plunged his army south again. They travelled twenty miles across the Cotswolds and gained a day's advantage. Their rapid departure confused Royalist scouts and commanders, including Prince Rupert — though Rupert afterwards claimed he had warned what was happening but was disbelieved. At two o'clock in the morning, Essex reached Cirencester. There he captured forty wagon-loads of food intended for the King's troops and guarded only by newly raised recruits. These provisions crucially fortified his men for the perils ahead. Hunted by Prince Rupert's flying cavalry and pursued by the King with his infantry and ordnance, the Parliamentarians raced for home.

They almost made it. Prince Rupert had orders to find them and force them to make a stand at Newbury, where it was thought the superior numbers of Royalist cavalry could inflict mortal damage. He harried them at Aldbourne, trying to delay them while the main Royalist army caught up. The next day they slowed almost to a standstill as bad weather churned roads to a morass. They were hungry again, for although they had picked up a thousand sheep and sixty cattle as they marched, Londoners did not see themselves as shepherds so the animals had scattered while the soldiers gave their attention to an attack. By this night they were unsure where the enemy now was. As Essex's men approached Newbury their quartermasters rode in to establish billets, only to discover that Prince Rupert had occupied the town ahead of them. Forced to flee, they abandoned all the food they had collected. So the Parliamentarians faced yet another wretched night in wet, frosty fields, with nothing to eat or drink. Prince Rupert blocked their passage at Newbury; he and his men settled into the town in comfort and waited for the King. The royal infantry arrived. Out in the countryside, the Parliamentarian troops were fatigued and full of anxiety. The King had put himself ahead of them. They had to fight their way through. It would be the first time that the London Trained Bands experienced a pitched battle.

Gideon Jukes's experience that night was of utter misery. They had seemed so near to home, yet now they were once again trapped in filthy conditions, knowing that they had to batter past the Royalist army — assuming they could. The enemy were relaxing in town, snug and warm in friendly houses, with full bellies and good supplies of beer. Gideon had only eaten a handful of maggoty blackberries all day. He was wet through, yet thirsty, trying to catch rain in a pannikin to drink. They had left behind the towering clouds that scudded up the Bristol Channel, bloated with heavy Atlantic rain, but here in the interior they were still being soaked by incessant showers and tonight they had to endure a hard frost. He could feel that frost beating up from the ground while the evening air chilled him to the bone.

He had marched for a month; he remembered how the first bad weather had run off his clothes, then eventually runnels had trickled inside his shirt and over his collarbones, water dripping from his hat onto his face, water making his shoes squelch, drips hanging permanently from his nose and ears. Once he became wet through, weeks ago, there had never been any way to dry off, even when temporary fine weather gave some respite. The insides of his britches and his buff coat remained soggy; the oil sealing his oxhide buff coat could no longer resist water. His stockings were perpetually damp and his shoes sodden. Whenever he stood still, he shifted from leg to leg, arms slightly akimbo, trying to keep free space between his heavy clothes and his skin, which was now sore, reddened and peeling. One night he had found his left shoe full of blood, from a huge blister which then refused to heal. He had pushed his powder flasks and matchcord inside his clothes to try to keep them dry, but he had so little warmth in his body this was probably achieving little. If he had to fight for his life, would his musket even fire?

So another dark, wild night passed in the open. Essex, Skippon and a few other officers found refuge in a thatched cottage near Enborne where they snatched rest and prayer and planned for the day to come. Out in the fields their men huddled under hedges, silent and apprehensive. Rain bucketed down incessantly. Winds bowled over the lonely Berkshire uplands in long, mournful gusts. Neither weasel nor water-vole was stirring, and the owls stayed in the barn.

The apprehensive troops rubbed the sleep from their sticky eyes early. Essex had to tell them that the enemy possessed all the advantages: 'the hill, the town, hedges, lane and river'. Inspired to defiance, his men roared back that they would take them all. They put greenery in their hats for recognition purposes.

Realistically, their options were nil. They had nowhere to retreat. Outflanking the Royalists looked impossible. Their way forward through Newbury was blocked. The Royalists held the crucial bridge over the River Kennet. The only alternative route entailed a detour south across various small field enclosures and hazardous open areas of common-land; it was rough country through which they would have to march and drag their artillery while the enemy constantly attacked them.

Essex chose this south passage. He disguised his intentions as long as possible with a 'forlorn hope' that pretended to be advancing on Newbury. In a landscape still marked by inhabitants from before the Romans, ancient tumuli would cover their real march to some extent. At seven in the morning, in a flat valley between Enborne and Newbury, the Parliamentarians drew up their line. They were positioned along a narrow country lane, intending to move through as a body, then up and over Wash Common which lay to their right. Skippon's brigade occupied the centre, the Trained Bands behind him, acting as reserves and guarding another overgrown and rutted lane which was the only way their artillery train could come up to move onto the common. The guns had to be dragged up a steep incline and even before that could begin, they took three hours to arrive on the scene. But Skippon took early control of a deceptive high point called Round Hill, which fooled the Royalists into believing the Parliamentarians were siting a battery there, with a plan to assault the bridge at Newbury.

The London Trained Bands had been desperately trying to gather nuts and berries from hedgerows as a meagre breakfast, when they heard the sounds of cavalry fighting; Royalist Welshmen had attacked the Parliamentary left flank. 'We were in despair,' mused Gideon Jukes, in his head whimsically becoming the kind of correspondent Robert Allibone wanted, 'lest the enemy discovered we were so starved that if they but shouted "Toasted cheese!" we would straightway drop our weapons and rush to them, fainting…' Instead, the Trained Bands arrived at a running march and in a great sweat, afraid they would miss the fight. There was no chance of that.

It had stopped raining.

The Red and Blue regiments spent most of the day on their army's right flank. They were facing eight Royalist guns and a large body of cavalry, barely the length of two musket shots apart. Prince Rupert himself was about to charge them.

The Red Regiment had been attacked before, at Stow-on-the-Wold and again at Aldbourne Chase. Gideon had fired off his musket, though never before in the thick of fighting, where he knew for sure his bullets were bringing wounds and death. Still, he found himself calm here. He understood that he and his colleagues were dismissed as inept, even by their own side. But critically the Trained Bands had practised, unlike more recently recruited troops. They were inexperienced under fire but had repeated their drill every fortnight until it was second nature; also now they had a month of hardship on the road bonding them. Drawn from shops, workshops and the Customs House, they were clerks, dyers, distillers, confectioners, printers, drapers, tailors, woodmongers and vinegar-sellers. Nothing was expected of them, so they had it all to prove. Labour and business had made them strong and self-willed. Besides, they were Londoners. They wanted to go home.

Throughout that long day, the infantry had very little idea what was happening elsewhere. Frequently it was a formless battle, with the attacking Royalists slight on strategy. Bodies of men locked together and pushed pointlessly for hour after hour, neither side making ground. Afterwards Gideon learned that on the left flank, up against the River Kennet, Parliamentary cavalry fought back so hard they put their opponents to flight; in the centre Skippon's infantry brigade slogged it out for Round Hill against two of the Byron brothers' horse; on the right, Royalist cavalry tried to beat back the Parliamentarians from Wash Common, surrounding them in a desperate close struggle until many had died and the remainder were spent. The Trained Bands then bore the brunt of the enemy's attacks, holding their own as they fought furiously all day, to the astonishment of those who had previously disparaged them.

'No chance of missing,' murmured Gideon through the lead bullets he was holding in his teeth, as he set his musket on its rest. It was his last coherent thought all day.

The first time he fired, Gideon mentally followed all the twenty-four actions of musket drill. Just as Lambert had said to him on his wedding night, the motions often became reduced to: prepare, present and fire! Somehow — open, clear, prime, shut — he managed — powder, bullet, scouring stick, rest, coal, match — a smile at the old memory. Give fire!

For a very short time after the firing began, the white gunsmoke hanging low in the frost seemed no worse than a fine drift from an autumn bonfire. Soon Gideon's eyes were stinging. The powder smoke rapidly grew so thick it was impossible to see more than a few yards around, while the endless noise was wearying. A musket shot from the rank of men behind him was so loud against his head it temporarily deafened him, so he went through most of the battle in a weird world of his own. He could none the less hear the screams of wounded men and horses. He could see the terrible havoc wreaked when the Royalists fired their heavy guns. A whole file in the Red Regiment, six men deep, was beheaded together by a single cannon ball. Shocked soldiers wondered at dead men's bowels and brains flying up in their faces. Gideon smelled and was splattered by the organs and innards of men he had known. He gagged and fought on.

The fallen were left. Someone warned, 'If you're hurt, stay upright.' It was the best advice. As Gideon struggled forward or back, he stumbled and knew his feet were trampling the helpless. In the close fighting, wounded men and sometimes corpses were carried to and fro by the press of their colleagues.

They had learned that in the line of march, infantry were vulnerable to cavalry. They could be picked off into manageable groups. They could be routed and scattered. But cavalry were vulnerable to cannon. And here, with two Trained Bands regiments steadfast in a body, cavalry could fail. When the Royalists temporarily silenced their great artillery and Prince Rupert led his cavaliers in their expensive coats on their fine horses against the Reds and Blues, at first the Trained Bands were terrified. They then learned just what the prince's famous 'thunderbolt charge' meant. They saw the dark massed lines of horsemen advancing towards them at a walk, which turned to a canter, which turned to a full gallop, then the cavaliers in the ranks all fired their first pistols at once from close range.

They only fired once, hoping for a devastating effect. But gunshot from horseback was problematic. Cavalrymen had two pistols each and could usually afford the best, but they kept their second gun in reserve. It was impossible to hold the reins and reload unless they withdrew from the melee. While they fired, their aim was spoiled by their horses' movements. Cavalry manuals suggested they should not fire until they rode right in among the enemy and could place a weapon point-blank against an opponent's breast. Prince Rupert preferred his men to rely on swords and poleaxes — but that required close contact.

At Newbury the cavaliers could not get close. The Trained Bands stood firm and stopped them. First a storm of small-shot from the musketeers took some heat from the charge, then at close range the pikes showed their power. Horsemen could do little against heavy-set men in breastplates who were used to manhandling bales and barrels; shoulder to shoulder, the Red and Blue regiments stood up to Rupert's legendary cavalry as cheerfully as if they were engaged in a tug-of-war among the roast pigs at Bartholomew Fair. Setting their right feet sideways, to give purchase for their staves, they showed what 'push of pike' could mean. Their long ash pikes, armed with vicious eighteen-inch steel barbs, held the horsemen off. Prince Rupert charged them once, and twice, then he gave up a bad business after suffering enormous losses.

Once a group of Royalist cavalry approached with green boughs in their hats crying 'Friends! Friends!'

'I don't think so!' muttered Gideon, as he and his colleagues rammed home more bullets, then swung their muskets at these conniving rogues and let off an unfriendly reply.

By seven o'clock in the evening, after a full twelve hours of fighting, the light had gone. In the dark, fighting came close to a lull. More ammunition had been spent than in any engagement so far. Powder and shot had run low. The King held a council of war. As an intermittent flare of shots still burst overhead in the smog and darkness, his casualties were assessed. There were about three and a half thousand dead on the field. The King had lost perhaps a quarter of his men, including twenty-five aristocratic officers, one of them his Secretary of State. It was clear that the wretched, starving and exhausted enemy would not surrender. Though Prince Rupert urged fighting on, as the prince generally did, all the Royalist artillery was towed from the field and the King retreated by night to Oxford. At ten o'clock, Essex's men found themselves alone on the field. They had been pushed back from the common, though no further, and were still standing in their ranks. In real terms, since they held their ground despite all that was thrown at them, the Parliamentarians had won.

Next morning was for counting and collecting the dead and wounded. The hard-hearted called this the butcher's bill. The King wrote to the Mayor of Newbury, ordering him to give medical attention to both sides. Only the lightly wounded, those with slashes and cuts, ever stood much chance of recovery. The terrible burns and internal injuries caused by shot and gunpowder were almost impossible to treat. Even those who survived temporarily were doomed if infection had been carried into their bodies by soil or clothing scraps. Gideon learned that a musket ball, his weapon, made a wound no wider than a sixpence on entry, but its exit was the size of a dinner-plate. Even pikemen, who wore breastplates and helmets, could be physically shredded if musket shots struck their ash staves into giant splinters. He saw devastating damage: shattered bones, spilling organs, missing faces, sheared skin, split skulls, suppurating powder burns that were unbearably painful and hideous to see.

And Gideon witnessed the dead. The London regiments suffered heavy losses: men he knew and strangers — he tried not to look. The Royalists reportedly collected thirty cartloads of dead and wounded on the night of the battle, then twenty more the next day. The Earl of Essex had no choice but to bury his lost troops under mighty mounds of earth. These new tumuli would stand as memorials at Newbury for centuries. On both sides the notables who had been killed were listed.

The rest, stripped and jumbled into mass graves, would be anonymous. Many were trampled beyond recognition. Their relatives could only deduce their fates from silence; their resting places would remain unknown.

The subdued Parliamentarians regrouped and marched over Wash Common, as they had originally intended. Close to Aldermaston, Prince Rupert came up and harried them hard but despite much panic, they beat him off and successfully reached safety at their own garrison at Reading. There at last, for three days, they rested and were feted.

For Gideon Jukes, now suffering from deep shock as well as exhaustion, this period passed in a daze. Others succumbed to weakness, weariness, trauma and depression. Gideon at least stayed alive. His brother found him spent and dead-eyed, able only to sit with hunched shoulders, waiting for new orders. They both had red eyelids and choked lungs; their clothing was stiff with dried blood and other substances. They sat together in Reading, drinking ale. Neither spoke.

The London Brigade resumed its homeward march. Eight days after the battle of Newbury, the Trained Bands entered their home city via Southwark, crossing on London Bridge, that famous landmark lined with tight-packed old wooden houses where the mouldering heads of traitors were traditionally displayed. They marched through streets lined with cheering crowds and were welcomed by the Mayor and civic dignitaries at Temple Bar. They were led to Guildhall in triumph, but as the rest of London celebrated, gradually the shattered troops slipped away to their families.

Gideon and Lambert were brought to their parents' house by Robert Allibone. He had had the sense to commandeer a dray. First, to spare their family, he took them to the print shop, stripped off their disgusting outer clothes and ordered the apprentice Amyas to scrub Lambert's breastplate and burn whatever was too revolting to retrieve.

When the two soldiers limped indoors together, in their grey shirts and stockinged feet, they both managed smiles for their mother.

'Oh my heart, they are skin and bone!' gasped Parthenope faintly. Their father took one look at his boys' scarred and powder-burned faces and knew. Their faraway eyes told the story. They were home safe. But they had been among terror from which they would never entirely return to him. 'Gently' murmured John Jukes, more to his squealing womenfolk than his silent sons, as Lambert and Gideon hung their heads and Parthenope and Anne fell upon them, weeping.

Gideon's wife Lacy entered the parlour. He was startled how much more pregnant she looked. He had been away just a month. It felt like a lifetime. His wife — he had almost forgotten he had one — looked equally vacant. Lacy was still musing on her day's lesson: there were four types of almond, some sweet and some bitter, of which she could never distinguish between Jordans and Valencians…

Lacy wrinkled her nose. Then she burst out in high annoyance: 'They stink!'

Neither Gideon nor Lambert cared. They were asleep on their feet.

Chapter Twenty-Two — Oxford: 1643

When her husband left her that April to go north with Prince Rupert towards Birmingham, Juliana Lovell's life as a wife properly began. This was how it would be during most of her marriage: he would go off, for increasingly long periods; she would be alone, struggling in poverty, not knowing if they would ever see one another again. Many shared this position, but most women who watched their husbands leave with the troops had friends and family to alleviate their loneliness and to help if they were widowed. She had no one.

She spent her eighteenth birthday alone, her first ever without any other family members. Now certain she was pregnant, Juliana wanted to make plans for herself and the child, if it lived. She found herself fretting helplessly over what they should do or where they could go if anything happened to Lovell, since Oxford held nothing for her without him. Ruefully she faced the possibility that marriage, that supposed safe haven for women, had only brought her the added burden of the child. Frustrated and sad, and more depressed as she mused on her life because of her anniversary, she went out for a walk. She would become very familiar with this city.

On her return to the house, she made the mistake of mentioning her birthday to their landlord. The glover at once presented her with a delicate pair of pale kidskin gloves. For an instant Juliana was grateful, then she stiffened and knew she had made a serious mistake. He must have been thinking up ways to ingratiate himself and she had handed him a fatal chance. She would pay a price for this gift — things she would never wear and could no longer bear to contemplate. The gloves were too small for her, anyway. They were probably too tight for anyone, which was why the man had parted with them. Now he thought she was his to claim; he was enjoying her discomfiture while he brooded on when and how to exact a show of gratitude. He could not believe his luck: the absent captain's wife was extremely young, bright-eyed and presentable. The glover, who had once bitterly resented having lodgers imposed on him, now salaciously saw the benefits.

He either did not know, or did not care, that she was breeding. Early pregnancy had its own allure, in any case — not least that a wife already pregnant by her husband held no risks of claims for fathering a bastard child.

His name was Wakelyn Smithers. He was one of the many townsmen who slyly endured the King's presence because it brought trading opportunities. By religion he was a lacklustre Independent, who served fowl instead of fish on Fridays in order to pinpoint his views for his lodgers, should any of them consider him guilty of popery. His real crimes were livid lechery and undercooking the small cuts on the turnspit. He supported Parliament, at least to the extent of voting for puritan town councillors, though he was allergic to giving money and if ever called upon to fight he would have added fifteen years to his age without a qualm and feigned a carbuncle that prevented marching. A physician was invited to dine once a month, which Juliana believed was to facilitate obtaining a medical note quickly.

Unmarried, Wakelyn Smithers gave the impression he had never had a wife. Juliana did not enquire, though she had spotted a meat charger so hideous that it had to be someone's wedding present. Taking meals here had been bad enough when Lovell was with her. Being forced to dine with Smithers alone would have been tortuous, though tabling with the landlord was her only choice; no respectable woman could go out unaccompanied to inns or ordinaries. Fortunately Juliana got through mealtimes at her lodgings because there were other people present: the silent cooper, his belly as round as the barrels he made, who lodged in the attic above her; the glover's depressed apprentice, Michael; Troth, the sniffing scullery maid who came in twice a day to wash dishes and mend fires; and the glover's overweight, permanently breathless sister. The sister was in her forties, a viciously pious widow whose marriage had been short and inharmonious. Her asthmatic condition was aggravated by the smoke if she sat too close to the fire, yet she hogged it relentlessly. She treated Juliana as a dangerous seductress; the beleaguered girl could never hope for assistance there. Complaint about the glover's behaviour would only confirm the sister's mean-eyed suspicion.

To escape Smithers's ominous friendliness (for he worked from a bench at home), Juliana increased her time out of doors by day, roaming endlessly around Oxford. The markets held limited interest for someone who had to watch every penny, while the butchers' shambles were sordid, with bloody bones and offcuts thrown into Queen Street, where there was no watercourse to carry the stinking flux away. Unaccompanied women were refused entry to the colleges, even now there were virtually no young scholars left here. To Juliana's regret, her sex barred her from the libraries. She would stroll in the Parks or by the river as long as she could, but it was dreary and perhaps foolhardy alone, while the spring weather soon chilled her. Buffeting through the streets was warmer, though equally tiring. Oxford was desperately crowded. The early years of the century had seen intensive building, with parks and orchards and any empty plots inside the city walls being covered over by new colleges and houses, to the detriment of the environment. Though not true slums, crowded lodgings and cottages had been crammed down entries and lanes, where they now filled up with Royalists. Shortage of space at ground level meant houses' upper storeys often hung over the streets, 'jettied out' as it was called, which increased the feeling of congestion. Most streets only had a gravel surface, with minimal or no drainage, a clutter of impeding signs and a ripe embroidery of dunghills. The broad main highways had frequently been encroached, with a line of shambles or cottages squeezed up their centre, narrowing the way and annoying those who lived in the finest houses by taking their light, spoiling their views, destroying their peace and their exclusivity.

Through the puddled thoroughfares tramped the teeming life of university and town, embellished now by a local garrison of over two thousand foot soldiers and three regiments of horse, plus the incomers of the royal court, from anxious lords and bored ladies to poulterers and pastry-makers, tennis teachers and dancing masters. All cursed their mud-splashed hems as they milled in a stew of brewers, builders and butter women, dons and college servants, priests and lawyers, along with the horses of cavalrymen and distributors who all thought they had right of way, fighting for space with protesting herds of raided cattle. Everyone was raucously abused by the traditional uncooperative low-life of lewd women and disorderly persons. Sometimes there were arrests. At Carfax, villains who committed lesser crimes were made to 'ride the wooden horse' as punishment, sitting painfully astride two planks to atone for theft or obscenity. Occasional hangings took place there. Some saw these as entertainment; Juliana had a gentler attitude to human life.

If there was no market, Juliana would sit to rest on Penniless Bench. This wooden seat, about a hundred years old, attached to the City Church of St Martin's, was where the butter girls sold their produce, citizens met, and the King had been welcomed on his first arrival with a gift of two hundred pounds — accompanied by the hopeful but futile hint that Oxford could afford no more. Once Juliana was moved on by a beadle who pronounced her a vagrant. Ruefully, she reflected that she was little better, though her habit of reading the news sheet Mercurius Aulicus, which was now produced for the King by a lively, satirical editor called John Berkenhead, should have identified her as literate gentry, merely troubled by lack of funds. Once she herself had to summon the beadle, when she found a dead soldier lying under the bench; the parish took away the corpse for burial.

When desperate for refuge from the crowds, she elected to become devout. While many Oxford worshippers liked short services, Juliana sought churches with verbose preachers where she could shelter for longer; a two-hour sermon suited her well and she learned to doze gently while sustaining an attentive expression. She would have been better provided for in the East End of London, where in the most Independent parishes lecturers were hired to give four-hour morning sermons, after which a new set of afternoon lecturers gave four hours more, speaking ex tempore with magnificent passion. In Oxford, worship was high; altars were ornately railed to protect the perfumed sanctity of God from persons with grubby consciences and muddy shoes. Sermons were intellectual, pre-written and dry; they were read by fleshy ministers with plummy voices who could spot a button slipped into the collection plate at twenty paces, or scrawnier men who used Latin like a flail to exclude their inferiors. Some churches were available to a pregnant woman seeking grace and respite for her weary feet, though not all: from time to time Royalist soldiers were billeted in St Michael's and St Peter-le-Bailey, until the despairing churchwardens paid them to find lodging out of town. Parliamentary prisoners were kept in St Giles, St Mary Magdalen and St Thomas, causing damage for which the King had had to pay compensation. Their lot was better than those who were locked up in the castle, who were said to have deplorable conditions.

In the hope of deterring the glover, Juliana made sure he knew of her churchgoing. It merely encouraged him. A girl with high morals was far more of a challenge — and clean goods, moreover.

Juliana would have liked to remain quietly in her room. She had been brought up to do embroidery, tatting, lace-making and sewing; among the gentry these were just about regarded as ladylike activities — though not so admirable as ornamental flower-painting, which shamed no one since it had no practical use. She had great talent in design herself, but also possessed many patterns created and drawn by her grandmother. These called to her as she filled in time with piety, and one cold day she became incensed that fear of her landlord was keeping her from home. From then on she spent more time in her lodgings, though she made sure when she sat working at her table she had a sharp array of needles and scissors displayed as a deterrent. She would slip into the house discreetly when she thought the glover was busy with customers. If he did accost her, she insisted on discussing sermons and scripture until his eyes glazed. Once she was in her room, she would remain still and quiet, hoping he might forget her presence.

It could not last. One night she awoke in her bed, horrified to feel a man lying on top of her. His great weight and beery gusts of breath confirmed it was not Lovell. While the fellow fumbled in the dark, Juliana screamed. Though he tried to silence her, she managed to avoid the fat hand scrabbling for her mouth. She kept screaming, even though she thought nobody would come to her aid — and was amazed when Smithers the glover rushed up the stairs and burst in with a candle, shouting.

In the dim light she saw that her assailant was the cooper who lodged upstairs. He rolled one way, spitting curses at her; she tumbled off the bed the other.

In the tiny house this coarse man had to pass right through her room on the staircase by the fireplace every time he came and went. Juliana hated it, though she had lived in similar situations with her grandmother. She had barely exchanged nods, preferring to keep a kind of privacy by pretending the barrel-cooper did not exist. He certainly knew that Lovell was away with Prince Rupert. This night, returning drunk from the Mitre or the Angel, he had seized his moment.

The cooper shambled off upstairs. The glover became nobly indignant, though it was hypocritical. Both men matter-of-factly assumed that any lone female was available to those who wanted her, whatever her own morals or her husband's potential jealousy. There was never a suggestion that the landlord might evict the culprit. Only his embarrassment at being seen stumbling over the hem of his ridiculously voluminous nightshirt made Smithers withdraw from Juliana's room.

She had been saved from rape, or whatever abuse the cooper could have managed in his drunken state. Juliana now found herself having to be grateful to Wakelyn Smithers. This was a nuisance to both of them, because for at least a week the glover felt obliged to maintain his role as honest pillar of respectability.

That did not last. Now the glover was aware of the cooper's interest and brooding over his permitted thoroughfare through the Lovells' room. Smithers became determined not to see another man get to Juliana before him.

The weeks were passing more slowly than the nervous girl could bear. Occasionally news filtered in of Prince Rupert's campaigns. Satisfaction greeted the sack of Birmingham, less joy when it was reported that Colonel Russell, the Parliamentary governor at Lichfield, had refused to surrender to Prince Rupert, on the grounds that his atrocities were 'not becoming a gentlemen, a Christian, or an Englishman, much less a prince'. About three weeks after the cavaliers first left Oxford, Juliana heard someone at market maintaining the King was at Wallingford (she noted it particularly, thinking fondly of her time there with her guardian, Mr Gadd) where it was said Prince Rupert was 'imminently expected'. She had already learned to distrust hearsay. It was not until the 21 of April that the prince took Lichfield, which he accomplished through undermining the Close, a novelty in warfare in England, the tunnels being dug by miners Rupert had summoned specially from Nottingham. A few days later he was indeed back in the neighbourhood of Oxford, but he and the King moved east in an attempt to relieve Reading. Reading was a key garrison between the King's headquarters and London. It had provided equipment to the Royalists, but its townsmen were of shifting allegiance and it was impossible to defend. Eventually the King retreated to Wallingford, where the castle could be well fortified, and Reading surrendered to the Earl of Essex and the Parliamentary army.

On the last day of April, the glover made his move. Everyone else was out of the house, but Juliana was seated at her table, frowning over some embroidery in the low afternoon light. On the pretence of pleading for rent money — which he knew he had no hope of getting — Wakelyn Smithers climbed the stairs to her room. Pretence then faded. Smithers meant business. He came straight across towards her, and when she jumped to her feet he took the opportunity to embrace her.

Although Juliana had dreaded this, she panicked and could summon up no strategy to deal with it. For a wild moment she struggled, leaning back to avoid the glover's bristly attempts at kissing. So far he was more bothersome than brutal; he was feigning love and she was managing to fend off that soiled commodity by vigorous use of knees and elbows.

Then he abruptly released her. She kept her feet with an effort.

"Why here is my husband, returned from the wars!' Juliana gasped.

Orlando Lovell had walked into the room. He had his usual casual air, as if he had left his wife only that morning on an errand to a tobacconist. In benign mood after a successful month of skirmishing and plundering, Lovell was taking the scene calmly. For a moment Juliana thought he would ignore her beseeching look; he seemed about to greet the glover as a friend. She was in a second danger: the two men could easily become drinking, dining, boasting, grumbling and gaming partners, which would leave her more than ever prey to the glover's advances whenever Lovell was absent. Smithers knew it too. He reckoned that the cavalier would overlook or even condone his overtures. She saw complacence settle on him — but then she saw it slide away. Orlando Lovell had decided to defend his own.

He swept off his hat. The peacock feather was bedraggled, but the silk band Juliana had made for him remained in place; Orlando's long fingers stroked the bright hatband as his eyes settled on the glover. He spoke quietly, but his voice was rich with menace: 'Master Smithers! What do I find? Are you perturbing my wife, sir?'

The glover scuttled from the room like a cellar rat.

Juliana closed her eyes, feeling faint. She turned away as she tried to recover, leaning on her table for support. Lovell came up behind her, put both arms around her, then as his hands played over her midriff he noticed her swollen body. 'You are with child!' She heard shock — and a fear of responsibility. 'Is it mine?' Spinning back towards him as he released her, Juliana bit back a furious retort. Orlando Lovell, ever the strategist, capitulated fast. 'Oh I am a dog! Of course it is — Come, come to me, sweetheart — '

Juliana fell into his arms, and allowed herself a rare moment of relief. As she shook with tears and he soothed her, Lovell seemed lost in thought. Perhaps he felt chastened by the trials his young wife had endured alone. Soon recovering her composure, Juliana observed that the lace-edged shirt collar she had wet with her tears was not one she recognised from her husband's previously meagre wardrobe — nor, she fancied, was this otherwise handsome garment very clean. His coat was new. He had a more expensive rapier, suspended in elaborate malmsey-red velvet carriers, and an enormous ruby finger-ring.

'This will not do,' said Lovell. 'I have a sword I shall give you.' Juliana was shaking her head but he overruled her. 'Nay, do not trouble yourself. I have no use for it; the thing sits in the hand poorly, but it will serve to protect yourself, should you be accosted.'

It was the weapon that Lovell had acquired in Birmingham from Kinchin Tew. He hung it on the wall by the window near Juliana's work table. She was to keep the sword dutifully for years, never used and always disliked. He offered to show her how to defend herself with it, but Juliana shrank from that idea.

Then, though he did nothing about it, Orlando promised to find them a better place to stay.

Chapter Twenty-Three — Oxford: 1643

The rest of the first year of her marriage, and her first pregnancy, passed in similar style for Juliana. Orlando came and went, as the princes came and went. Usually he was with Prince Rupert, though once, when Rupert went to the Midlands to escort the Queen to Oxford, Lovell despised that task and stayed behind on some excuse. When Prince Maurice then dashed into Oxford desperately calling for reinforcements for General Hopton, Lovell volunteered; as a result, he fought at the battle of Roundway Down when the Royalists trounced Waller, which gave him a violently low opinion of Waller and, being Lovell, a not particularly high one of Prince Maurice. He returned to Oxford, rode to the West Country and was with Rupert at the storming of Bristol, where he received a slight shoulder wound.

Lovell gave Juliana nothing to live on. The three shillings he left when he rode with Prince Rupert in April was apparently supposed to last her through her lying-in and into the next decade. He, by contrast, seemed to have some store of chattels. On his first return he had presented his bemused wife with a curious mixture of household goods, strings of sausage, a half-wheel of cheese, together with a fashionable necklet of large pearls which he said was a gift for her birthday. 'Don't look so surprised. Mr Gadd wrote and ordered me to remember your anniversary'

'You knew when it was?' Juliana let him see her surprise.

'No. Gadd told me.' Orlando gave her a straight look. 'I shall know next year.'

'Will you remember?' Juliana asked, smiling.

'I have', Orlando Lovell said with stately self-composure, 'a very good memory' He made it sound threatening. Juliana dismissed that as his inability to be teased.

The necklace was the most valuable thing they ever had. Juliana wore it on festive occasions, though she tried not to become fond of it in case one day their fortunes deteriorated and her pearls had to be sold. Besides, she was afraid of its history. Like everything Orlando brought her it was probably stolen. You could not tell with jewellery. Lovell was unlikely to have purchased this over the counter of a goldsmith's shop at a fair price. If he did, the fact was remarkable and he could only have been spending the profits of plunder. Juliana had real fears that her gift had been violently pulled from the pale neck of a previous owner. What might have happened to that owner next was too horrible to contemplate.

Lovell would never tell her.

No, that was wrong. He would tell her truthfully and brutally, if she was ever so foolish as to ask him. Juliana could prophesy his amusement if the circumstances — and his part in them — then offended her.

During her times alone, which were many, she had plenty to read. Sometimes, on returning from military engagements, Lovell brought her books. She had to avoid thinking of him and his men bursting into some respectable puritan's home, then after the soldiers had stolen the cheese, the roasted chicken on its spit, the pewter and the bed-linen, the captain jauntily exclaiming 'Books! Damme, my wife will enjoy those…'

Life in Oxford had its stresses even when Lovell was with her. There was a bad atmosphere. People were oppressed by the constant talk of war, the never-ending fear of defeat, the loss of estates, the counting of the dead. The natural edginess between town and university had acquired an extra dimension, exacerbated by the King. After causing much dismay by his attitude to academic honours — on one occasion granting 140 of his supporters the title of Master of Arts — Charles had been forced to assure the university he would stop ordering up honorary degrees for courtiers. Oxford had to raise a garrison for its defence, due to the King's presence, and since the town was protesting at the costs of the court, at the end of July the Royalists announced that their troops were to be paid by taxing the scholars. That caused another outcry, especially as there were now so few scholars. The colleges were constantly being asked for money. All the university and college buildings were being used for official purposes, and even private houses that had once been lodgings for students or their families now had soldiers billeted on them in large numbers. People of substance were prevailed upon to give way to high officials such as Privy Counsellors. The town clerk's house in the High was occupied by Princes Rupert and Maurice. The inns were chock-a-block with military personnel, curious foreign ambassadors, even on occasion peace-keeping legations from Parliament.

Numbers swelled to capacity in June, when Queen Henrietta Maria arrived. With peculiar symbolism, she and the King were reunited on the battlefield at Edgehill. Then Her Majesty was welcomed into Oxford with flowers strewn before her and given a purse of gold at Penniless Bench, Juliana's news-reading spot. The Queen brought four and a half thousand new troops from the north, which the Earl of Newcastle had raised and she had armed. Vibrant with her own success as a fundraiser and her courageous adventures, Henrietta was ensconced in Merton College, with a covered way built to allow her to visit the King in Christ Church — a privilege the couple presumably enjoyed since a few weeks later the Queen was known to be pregnant. A Master of the Revels provided elegant entertainments, though even festive occasions were strained. There were complaints that the cramped colleges did not provide scope for the elaborate machinery of the theatrical masques Inigo Jones had once devised. The Queen found endless conversations about the war depressing.

August, when the King and all the army were away at the siege of Gloucester, was a difficult time. There had been suggestions that the Earl of Essex might attack Oxford in the King's absence, hoping to capture the Queen. News that Essex had in fact gone to relieve Gloucester only caused more anxiety, for that had previously been thought impossible. Meanwhile there was unrest because of the new, highly unpopular town governor, Sir Arthur Aston. A short-tempered Catholic disciplinarian who had been governor of Reading until Essex took that town, he was so loathed in Oxford that on his evening inspection rounds he had to be escorted by a special bodyguard of four red-coated halberdiers — despite which he was physically assaulted and wounded in the side during a scuffle in the street.

Trouble at night was regular, generally fuelled by drink. Once two men fought over possession of a horse; Prince Rupert emerged and parted the opponents with a poleaxe, though not before one had run the disputed horse through with his sword. With Lovell away throughout August and September, Juliana lay awake at night listening to the street noises and hoping that the soldiers, whose pay was always uncertain, would not assault the glover's shop. She was frequently alarmed by cries, mysterious crashes or shattered glass. These were the common disturbances of a university town, a town filled with men, and sometimes women, who wrongly believed that they could hold their drink or who had lost the will to try. Nowadays the nightly riots had an extra edge of desperation brought on by the danger of the times. The women of the town were so busy they could be scornful and belligerent. Fights were more vicious, murmured couplings more desperate, sudden shrieks more alarming; the very silences filled with anxiety. Most streets were unlit. The darkness was ugly. Moonlight or starshine seemed incongruous.

So overcrowded was the town, and conditions everywhere so squalid, that summer inevitably brought an epidemic. It was called camp fever, and recognised as different from the regular bouts of plague that afflicted all towns. This was a new disease, which doctors insisted claimed fewer deaths than the regular plague, though as many as forty a week were recorded in July. It was known the Earl of Essex had had half his army stricken at Reading. Even Prince Maurice fell ill and was diagnosed with the fever, though he was strong and soon recovered.

Filth, excrement in the streets and college halls, unchanged clothes and bad diet all contributed. Over-population helped disease to spread. The wages of scavengers who collected rubbish from the streets were doubled, but the bad habits of courtiers and soldiery made it impossible to keep places sanitary. To be pregnant was dire. Still, Juliana somehow escaped the fever.

Orlando Lovell rode with the King to Gloucester. News of the terrible Royalist casualties at the first battle of Newbury in September reached Oxford at the same time as the King returned there. With no definite confirmation of her husband's safety, Juliana experienced her worst fears so far as she waited, by then seven months pregnant, alone at their lodgings.

It was Edmund Treves, still her admirer and still unmarried himself, who told her Orlando was safe. Lovell, Treves said, had asked him to dash to Juliana's side and comfort her. She suspected that Treves took this action on his own initiative. He was romantically devoted. Though modest, Juliana easily believed that Edmund still wrote poetry in her honour. Not that she supposed these lyrics had merit; Juliana had been brought up a reader, and possessed a clear literary judgement.

Some wives might have supposed Lovell had gone to a tavern instead of coming straight home, though Juliana did not see him as a drinker. She tried not to think of him as thoughtless, reckless, selfish and insensitive either. He was a man. Worse, he was a soldier. However, she knew there were plenty of cavaliers who were racked with anguish to be parted from their wives by war, men who would give their unborn children loving consideration. Still, Lovell had never promised her devotion. Juliana believed he was loyal and she hoped he was faithful, though if so it was in a brisk, unsentimental way. He relied on her to provide her own strength and to make her own domestic arrangements.

'Orlando will come when he can. I am glad to know he is safe, Edmund; it was so kind of you to think of me.'

She had done Lovell wrong, for Edmund then told her, 'Prince Rupert has stayed in the field, to harry Essex and his army on their homeward march. I had to return with the King and the infantry. My horse broke a leg.'

'Faddle?'

'I had to shoot her. Lord knows how I can get another.

'There is no need for you to trouble over me, Edmund.'

'I am glad to do it!' declared the redhead, flushing scarlet under his light skin. Juliana sighed. She saw Treves as no threat — and yet that made him a greater responsibility.

Her fragile truce with Wakelyn Smithers would be at risk, if another man hung around her. Smithers would not understand that Edmund was genteel, kind-hearted, chivalrous to his friend Lovell — and unlikely ever to touch Juliana. After the odd beginning of their acquaintance, she and Lovell saw Edmund as a family friend, while ignoring the nature of his regard for Juliana. She never abused that. Nor did she underestimate it. She would not entirely trust him when drunk, or if Lovell imposed on him too thoughtlessly — as Lovell almost certainly would one day…

Smithers stayed at arm's length, but he still watched her. Fortunately she was now grown so large even the glover must be put off by it.

Lovell returned eventually. A royal council of war was held at Oriel College to re-examine strategy to finish the war. Soldiers were taken from local regiments and garrisons to be with Prince Rupert in the west; Lovell was bound to go too. More than ever, Juliana suspected that when her time came, she would be giving birth alone. She was terrified. Once at dinner, she even approached Wakelyn Smithers's hostile sister, pleading with her to attend at the birth. Most women, whatever their status, reckoned it a duty to rally when a neighbour was in labour, but Smithers's sister gave a vague answer and Juliana knew she would renege.

Being inexperienced and unsure of when to expect the birth, she was caught out. One morning while Lovell was still in Oxford, held there by terrible weather which prevented fighting, Juliana's contractions began unexpectedly. When her waters broke — a fright she was not prepared for — he was out of the house. She went through the first stages of labour alone, then in the afternoon began to fear she could not manage any longer. Eventually her husband came home. Relieved, she told him the situation and persuaded him to stay with her.

In his own way, Lovell disguised any reluctance to be involved. For an hour he sat in the room reading a news-sheet. Journalism had allowed the characteristic Englishman to become himself. Now, as the master of information, it was a husband's prerogative to seize the best chair in the room — which Lovell did, taking the one with wooden arms, the better to balance his elbows and control the broadsheet. The chair was normally graced with a plump cushion that Juliana had covered with stylish stumpwork embroidery; impatient of the cushion, Lovell tossed it to the floor. He flung his boots in two different directions. Then, while his wife sweated and gasped and bit the sheet behind the bed-curtain, not three yards away, Orlando Lovell applied himself to the Englishman's conviction that he could ride out any crisis by fixed study of the news.

'How do you fare, sweetheart?'

'Tolerably…'

'I am glad of it. Would I could be of assistance, dear girl, but this is woman's work.'

Lovell deemed it would help if he read out interesting passages from the news-sheet. He knew Juliana took an interest in the progress of the war. 'I see there has been a sharp exchange of fire at Winceby. The Earl of Manchester — that old fool — with Sir Thomas Fairfax (he is the uppity one of the family), plus one Cromwell, have trounced a couple of northern cavaliers… This Cromwell is unknown to me. Have you encountered the name, my sweet?'

'No. Orlando, we have to hire a midwife… I was not sure of the timing and have not consulted her, but the licensed woman should come to us — '

'Oh I dare say we can save a shilling and manage without…'

'A shilling is in the brown crock on the mantelshelf — I have kept it particularly; there is no need to scrimp!' Writhing on the soiled sheets and drenched with sweat, Juliana could no longer silence herself. 'I shall die if this child be not taken out of me — and the child too, poor innocent thing that never asked for us two feckless souls as its parents!' As the most painful contraction yet seared through her, she let rip and screamed: 'Orlando, you must help me!'

She heard the news-sheet fall. Lovell whipped aside the bed-curtains. He was a soldier. He could assess a situation. He went white. 'Do your best to endure it — I will fetch someone!'

His shock frightened Juliana even more. In all the years she was to know him, this was the only occasion Orlando Lovell showed plain terror. Well, I have wrought a wonder! she thought, with fatalistic pride. She reached for his hand, but he jumped back nervously.

At that moment she really thought she was dying. Given the nationwide statistics for childbed mortality, any doctor would have nodded. From the desperate way he dragged on his bucket-topped boots and thundered headlong down the narrow stairs, Captain Orlando Lovell had been told about the dangers.

He went missing for ages. Juliana had heard him shout agitatedly for help from Smithers or his sister. The sister always came to the house in the late afternoon, but on this one day she had found some pressing reason to vanish. Smithers had scarpered too. Finding no one, Lovell himself must have left. Stillness fell downstairs.

Juliana sobbed. She feared that Lovell had abandoned her.

Finally through her pain came voices, one a woman's. Footsteps moved steadily upstairs. Juliana had a wild moment of horror. 'Dear heaven, he has brought me an Irishwoman!' She would come to be ashamed of that.

A large, middle-aged, unperturbed stranger in sensible black worsted swanned to her bedside. The lady assessed all, with benign disgust. Through tears of distress, Juliana saw a square face, enlivened by deep dimples and wise eyes. Lovell was nervously hanging back. 'My sweet, this is Major Mcllwaine's good wife — '

Mistress Mcllwaine cuffed him, rather hard. 'Get away, Captain Lovell! Are you a monster that this poor child has been provided with no single friend at such a time? Give me a knife; I need to pare my nails.'

Lovell looked bemused. Juliana understood. She somehow managed to laugh, then blurted out, 'Your midwife should be strong, quiet and calm, with clean hands and close-trimmed fingernails..'

'And a stranger to drink!' returned the rescuer briskly. 'Though God alone knows, that's a rarity… The licensed bawd is stuck in St Clement's, tearing twins limb from limb. She will come to you by and by with her iron hooks and her ale bottle, but we can wing it by ourselves… I generally reckon to anoint the privities with sweet almond oil and violets, but I cannot suppose we shall find anything of that sort in a house of heathens. We must make do with goose fat, if this idle lump of a husband of yours can go down to the pantry… Just a cupful, Captain, if you please, and try not to bring too many nasty bits of burned meat in it. We want lubrication; we are not making gravy.'

Juliana was friendless no longer. Nerissa Mcllwaine had arrived in her life.

'Get us some eggs, Lovell! And if you have any wine hidden about the place, surrender it now to me, if you please. I must make your lady and me a spiced caudle for relaxation.'

'Women's work,' muttered Lovell under his breath as he whisked off on these errands, grumbling and yet reassured. 'Women's rituals…'

Mistress Mcllwaine had heard him. 'Eliminate the light, the air — and the men… The last is good; the rest are old wives' tales… If you go out to buy the wine, Captain Lovell, do not linger above ten minutes! Then you may wait below until it is over. If I need a strong arm to pull one way while I haul the other, I shall call you up again.'

Amidst a continuing flow of this offhand commentary, Thomas Lovell was born. With the calming effects of caudle and the slitheriness of goose fat, there was no necessity for hauling. Mistress Mcllwaine ensured the child was gently introduced to the world. He thrived from his first yell, while his tired young mother wept but survived. Even the father recovered his spirits enough to kiss both his wife and his red wrinkled son, then gravely salute the lady who had saved the day. After that Lovell felt free to forget the traditional duty of entertaining the godparents (since as yet there were none). He went out to get drunk on Juliana's shilling, the shilling he had saved by not employing the licensed midwife.

Chapter Twenty-Four — Oxford: 1644

Juliana discovered eventually that Orlando had had only a slight acquaintance with the Irish couple. A chance meeting in the street as he rushed about in despair had brought this happy result. For his wife, the accident was to be a double joy, for it initiated one of the main female friendships in her life.

As a consequence of inspecting their bleak room, Mistress Mcllwaine subjected the landlord to inspection; she took his measure in one scathing bat of an eyelash, then berated Lovell for ever leaving Juliana alone in the beastly Smithers's vicinity. She suggested the Lovells should board with herself and Major Owen Mcllwaine in St Aldate's. Mcllwaine was a tall, lean man with a strong nose and large ears, who read widely and loved his wife. He was well liked by his soldiers and Lovell said he was a caring, efficient leader.

For the Lovells, this was a notable move up. Not only were they now well placed, directly opposite Christ Church where the King lodged, but the houses were large and splendid. At that time St Aldate's famously contained three earls, three barons, several baronets and various knights. Overcrowding was rife, with a census recording 408 'strangers' packed into seventy-four houses, along with original townspeople. Even so, the neighbourhood was coveted. The Mcllwaines possessed resources; they rented a whole house and though periodically they shared it with other officers, who brought their wives, children and sometimes soldiers or servants, the Lovells nonetheless were given a good chamber of their own, where the small family eventually stayed for eighteen months. Now they lived in panelled rooms with ornamental plaster on the ceilings and decorated over-mantles above lofty fireplaces. From who-knew-what money, Lovell had made one flamboyant payment of rent, which he would probably not repeat, though it gave them a guilt-free start. Juliana felt able to use her grandmother's fine table- and bed-linen, as she dared to believe that she had her own establishment at last. In the great four-poster bed with its old embroidered drapes, her second child would be both conceived and born.

She was to know grief in that house as well as snatched happiness, but for a long time mainly pleasure — particularly the pleasure of living among congenial people, people who gladly extended their friendship. Although the Mcllwaines were a quiet pair, who allowed Juliana plenty of privacy, they also had access to society. They were connected to the royal court because they worshipped at the Queen's Catholic chapel in Merton. There was music; there were plays and masques; for the men there was tennis and bowling. There was fine dining in the colleges as well as simple food and good company at home. For those who could bear its deprivations, Oxford even held a sense of excitement. It was inconceivable that the King would lose either the war or his crown; the city had the air of a temporary adventure which everyone would one day remember nostalgically.

Juliana, so young and completely inexperienced, had wise guidance as she learned motherhood with her first baby. Nerissa had borne children, though none was with her now. Juliana sensed that the Mcllwaines had endured much tragedy, perhaps back in Ireland. At any rate, Nerissa helped with a light hand; perhaps she was reluctant to love the infant Tom Lovell too much. Despite developing a great fondness for Juliana herself, her warmth was tempered with restraint, as if nothing in life could be trusted to last.

Differences of religion only came between them with courtesy on both sides. Early in their acquaintance Nerissa did ask Juliana if she was a Catholic, since she was partly French. Roxanne Carlill had always maintained herself to be a Huguenot, though on her death-bed she had begged for a Catholic priest and Juliana, despite her distaste, had somehow found one. Whatever her grandmother's origins, Juliana herself had been brought up a general-duty Protestant. Her father had read aloud to her from a King James Bible. She shook off the question with a light laugh. 'I am but a quarter French. So I am a Catholic only on Mondays and Wednesday afternoons — and never on a Sunday, which prevents discovery'

That first winter was bleak, with endless grim weather and heavy snow. It was good to be in an ordered house where roaring fires were built in the kitchen, and lodgers were welcome to drape their ice-stiffened cloaks over chair-backs and stuff their mud-splashed boots with old news-sheets to dry out near the hearth overnight. In January the Houses of Parliament at Westminster offered a pardon for all Royalists who submitted, took the Covenant — the Presbyterian oath — and paid a significant fine to compensate for their past delinquency. Despite their anxieties as the war continued, few at the King's headquarters paid much heed to the offer.

Besides, there were now two Parliaments. The King called for all loyal members of Parliament to assemble at Oxford, which already had lawcourts, a Mint and the royal presence. The Oxford Parliament met with considerable numbers present — forty-four Lords and, more surprisingly, over a hundred Commons, which was about a quarter of the lower house. It was not a success. Though these were the 'loyal' members, ironically the King found them no more compliant than the rebels in Westminster. He raved to his wife about 'the place of base and mutinous motions — that is to say, our mongrel Parliament here'. It was not in his nature to wonder why neither body was tractable.

In March 1644, as the weather cleared, Prince Rupert left for action in the North Midlands, Lovell with him. In April the pregnant Queen was sent away to Exeter by the King, who feared for her safety during her confinement. Once again came rumours that the Earl of Essex intended to lay siege to Oxford; at the end of May Essex and Waller made a determined effort to entrap the King. Essex marched through nearby Cowley and Bullingdon Green to Islip, and then advanced on Woodstock, which was a mere walking distance away; as an act of bravado the King spent a day hunting at Woodstock. Meanwhile Waller forced a crossing at Newbridge and came as close as Eynsham. Parliamentary soldiers strolled up to inspect the town defences, like spectators at a fair. Shots were fired. The King tricked Essex and quietly escaped with four and half thousand men by an all-night march. Lighted matchcord was left, hung on the hedgerows, to fool Essex that the royal army was still there. (This trick was used in so many engagements, it was surprising anyone was ever taken in by it.) The Parliamentary encirclement of Oxford ended, temporarily, though the panicky townsfolk only relaxed slowly.

Also at the end of May, Prince Rupert was ordered to the north. It was occasioned by a treaty John Pym had concluded with the Scots, just before he died in December 1643. Dismayed by the fact that three-quarters of the kingdom was then in Royalist hands, Pym had taken up the Scots' offer of help. They too were alarmed by the prospect of victory for the King, which would inevitably mean further attempts to overthrow their Presbyterian system. News that Charles was negotiating to bring over an Irish army for his own assistance, made them even keener.

By the Scots' treaty with Pym, religion in England was to be reformed. It would be a requirement for everyone to swear allegiance to the Covenant. In full, the oath ran to 1,252 words. Its salient clauses included: calling to mind the treacherous and bloody plots, conspiracies, attempts, and practices of the enemies of God, against the true religion and professors thereof in all places… we have now at last (after other means of supplication, remonstrance, protestation, and sufferings), for the preservation of ourselves and our religion from utter ruin and destruction… resolved and determined to enter into a Mutual and Solemn League and Covenant, wherein we all subscribe, and each one of us for himself, with our hands lifted up to the Most High God, do swear… and shall endeavour to bring the Churches of God in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, Directory for Worship and Catechising; that we, and our posterity after us, may, as brethren, live in faith and love, and the Lord may delight to dwell in the midst of us.

In two words: no Popery.

Strong puritans would never wear it. At any mention of 'Form' and 'Directory', Independents leapt back, sucking their teeth. For them, the rigid and interfering rule of Presbyterianism was just as loathsome as the hierarchical Roman Catholic Church. There would be trouble. Members of Parliament and army officers at various levels were soon trying to duck the Covenant, even though taking the oath had become a requirement of public life. However, the first result suited them: an enormous army of Scots came marching over the border to support the Parliamentary cause in brotherhood.

This forced a change in the King's strategy. So far the flamboyantly rich and powerful Earl of Newcastle, recently created a marquis, had dominated the north despite all the strivings of Parliamentary commanders, notably Lord Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas. Now Newcastle was compelled to abandon marching south. The Fairfaxes were too dangerous and he had to manoeuvre frantically against the Scots.

In Yorkshire, the Scots joined Sir Thomas Fairfax, who was fresh from a stinging rout of Royalists at Nantwich. Caught suddenly on the hop, Newcastle was forced to take refuge in the important city of York. York was then systematically besieged. Meanwhile in the south, Waller had checked the Royalist forces under Hopton in an encounter at Alton, Prince Maurice was tied up in a long-drawn-out siege at Lyme and Essex had shown himself able to contain any moves by the King. Parliament's other main army was a force from the Eastern Association under the Earl of Manchester, together with his so far little-known deputy, Oliver Cromwell. Already successful, this army was therefore ordered north to co-operate with Fairfax and the Scots — a formidable liaison.

King Charles reckoned his crown depended on the fate of York. He sent Prince Rupert with all the men who could be spared. Both Orlando Lovell and Owen Mcllwaine went, Mcllwaine now raised to the rank of colonel. Their departure, one of so many that punctuated Juliana's life, entailed the usual intense activity that preceded a big expedition. Life revolved around kit and tack, with the men giving wholly unnecessary domestic instructions in a desperate last-minute wish to control their households, while the women concealed their real independence and disguised their fears.

After those men had ridden off again, when the whirlwind quietened, Juliana Lovell and Nerissa Mcllwaine settled by the parlour fire. The baby fell asleep in his cradle; Tom was a placid child. They had bread and cheese for toasting, should the mood take them. A maid sang in the kitchen as she tended a cauldron of netted cabbage and a Dutch pudding. Mistress Mcllwaine leaned forward and poked up the coals just enough to make a flame leap, without waste. Juliana pulled a shawl more cosily around her shoulders. As they relaxed together and enjoyed the peace that had settled on the empty house, each woman wore a slight smile, though they did not meet one another's eye. That would have been acknowledgement of their unspoken thought: We are rid of the men. Now we shall be more comfortable!

While they waited for news, or the men's return, they found suitable occupation for ladies of repute. They kept their diaries and wrote letters to their husbands. Juliana sewed and read. Nerissa strummed a lute in between organising her kitchen maid. Sometimes they went out and walked in college grounds, though this was fraught with problems. New College Grove, where grand cavalier madams in revealing gowns paraded to impress crass gallants, had acquired a louche reputation. Younger female Royalists, small-minded teases, had tormented the college dons with what they called playfulness and the elderly academics viewed as nuisance committed by hussies. For women who wanted to avoid being thought so wanton, it was best to avoid wandering in the colleges — which now stank of horses and worse — and instead apply themselves to good works: bringing baskets of salves and bandages, Juliana and Nerissa would nurse wounded soldiers.

Their great challenge was the castle, where Parliamentary prisoners were held. Ever since the first large group arrived, a thousand men brought in after the fall of Cirencester in the winter of 1642-3, the condition of prisoners at Oxford had been notorious. The Cirencester captives had been driven to a field for inspection by supercilious officers who threatened them with hanging; they were penned up in a cold church, stripped and starved for two days, then driven through snow, barefoot and hatless, some without even britches, their hands tied with matchcord. On arrival at Oxford they were paraded like cowed dogs before the King and his two gloating young sons. Lucky ones were put in churches. The most unfortunate were incarcerated at the castle, where deplorable treatment was doled out with the aim of persuading them to repent, change sides and join the King's army.

Originally, the castle had been run by a sadistic provost marshal called Smith, an appalling man who treated his prisoners with 'Turkish' cruelty. The elite, about forty gentlemen, were kept in one small room in Bridewell, the paupers' prison; they were beaten, tortured by burning with matchcord and kept up to their ankles in their own excrement. Some imprisoned puritan ministers were hounded with insults by Smith and made to sleep on the stone floor with not even foul straw beneath them. As for the common soldiers, Smith denied them medical attention and packed them so closely together, men had to sleep on top of each other. He allocated a penny-farthing a day to feed them, but no fresh water. They drank ablution water after Royalist soldiers had washed, they drank from muddy puddles in the yard, they even drank their own urine. Men died daily, either from this neglect or from the after-effects of torture; two had their fingers burned to the bone for trying to escape. The corpse of a hanged man was flung into an officer's cell where it putrefied for several days until a large bribe secured its removal.

Eventually forty prisoners broke out and escaped to safety, then told all. Smith became such a byword for brutality that even his own side disowned him. The London Parliament debated the issue and the Oxford Parliament had him imprisoned after three days in the pillory.

Now conditions in the castle were better, but still imprisonment was viewed as a just punishment for rebels, and a deterrent. Those who refused the option of changing sides might be lucky enough to be freed in a prisoner exchange, but that was rare; they could fester in cramped cells for years. For food, clothes and writing materials, they had to rely on friends outside; when held in enemy strongholds, this was impossible. Their lives passed from the humiliation of capture through malnutrition, depression and despair. Sores, diarrhoea and arthritis commonly afflicted survivors. With no exercise, no glimpse of outside light, and nothing to do but carve their names on prison walls, some would begin to hallucinate. Weakened, if they then caught jail fever, they soon perished. Many would die. All knew that death was the most likely end for them.

Nerissa Mcllwaine and Juliana Lovell were willing to bring food and medicine to men held in the castle. The prisoners were allowed rare inspection visits from their own side, visits which cheered them, because they knew they were not entirely forgotten. But requests to bring charity were rebuffed. Nerissa and Juliana were turned away by an assistant jailer in the castle gateway on the Mound. 'Ladies, they are nothing but rebels and traitors. Execution is all they deserve.'

'If we abandon our civility and humanity' Nerissa Mcllwaine lectured him, 'we deny ourselves grace.'

When the two women were then asked scornfully why they should want to help the enemy, their answer was simple. Juliana explained: 'If our own husbands are ever captured, we hope some good woman among the enemy will show them kindness.'

It did not convince the jailer, who never did allow them in.

At the beginning of July, a crucial battle took place. It was known that Prince Rupert was blazing through the north at the head of a large army, which with reinforcements had reached over fourteen thousand horse and foot. Heading up through Cheshire and Lancashire, he had stormed Stockport and Bolton, met resistance at Liverpool, crossed the Pennines, reached Skipton Castle and surprised his opponents by bursting out at Knaresborough. On Rupert's sudden approach, the Parliamentarians raised the siege of York and began moving away south. Although Lord Newcastle wanted to rest his exhausted garrison and wait for the enemy's armies to disperse in their own time, Prince Rupert always preferred to fight. The Parliamentarian allies, who numbered between twenty and thirty thousand, far more than even his large array, heard of his eagerness and turned back to give battle. The Royalists, with the pick of the ground, drew up on Marston Moor. They had plenty of space on clear moorland, protected by a road and a significant ditch that would hamper enemy charges.

Word reached Oxford on the 9th of July that Prince Rupert had accomplished a great Royalist victory. It was reported that one of the Parliamentary leaders, the Earl of Manchester, was slain, and that Sir Thomas Fairfax and the Scots general David Leslie had been captured. General rejoicing broke out. Bonfires blazed. Ale flowed in the streets. Church bells rang.

Three days later the King, with his own troops in the west, received the Prince's dispatch telling the true story. Marston Moor was a disaster, a bloody defeat. The North was lost. York was lost. The intended march on London would never happen. The King's best troops were destroyed. Lord Newcastle's famous infantry, his Whitecoats, had stood and died to a man. Their bankrupt commander had fled to the Continent. Prince Rupert's fabulous reputation lay in shreds.

Parliament had found a new hope in Oliver Cromwell. For him the battle was a personal triumph; first his leadership of his 'Ironsides' had scattered Rupert's elite cavalry, then intelligence and discipline enabled him to rescue the situation elsewhere at the crucial time. Through Cromwell, Marston Moor could be a crucial turning point in the civil war.

Accurate accounts of the battle were quickly printed in London. Reality filtered up the Thames Valley to the Royalist headquarters. From Oxford's perspective, the battle in the north seemed far away and hard to appreciate. The false atmosphere of rejoicing died only slowly. For a long time no wounded men were brought south; few wives heard for certain whether they had been widowed; there were no eye-witness stories. It seemed unreal. The King, who had been pottering about on his endless manoeuvres against Essex and Waller, was currently penned in the West Country so his reaction was not witnessed. Prince Rupert was thought to have taken refuge at Chester with the rags of his cavalry but no one knew that for sure, or could say when, if ever, he might reappear in Oxford.

Life went on.

That Marston Moor was critical would slowly be accepted. The King, ever hopeful, ever sanguine when faced with losses, reassured despondent supporters that reverses would happen and that fortune might change in his favour again. Charles soon seemed justified when, after defeating William Waller at Cropredy Bridge, he was offered a great chance: the Earl of Essex wandered through Dorset and Devon, capturing Royalist houses and relieving Lyme and Plymouth, then calamitously continued on into the Cornwall peninsula. With Waller defeated, King Charles was safe to follow Essex. The Parliamentarians reached an area where the population was Royalist to a man. Eventually Essex was completely trapped at Lostwithiel. Though his cavalry cut their way out and Essex himself escaped by sea in a fishing smack, the infantry were starved into surrender. They laid down their arms and were allowed to march out, though every possible indignity, insult and hardship were inflicted on them by the King's men as they struggled to walk home across England.

While the King exulted, Parliament hastily summoned the Eastern Association troops back south. They were to join with the rags of Waller's army and prevent the King from sweeping to victory. A second battle was fought at Newbury. Weak deployment by the Earl of Manchester allowed the King to evade what should have been a decisive action. This was the occasion when Oliver Cromwell's exasperation with Lord Manchester brought him to argue for a new kind of army, which would be concentrated under one tried and determined commander. But while that idea was discussed in Parliament, the year ended with the same kind of stalemate as previously, Marston Moor almost seeming to count for nothing.

In Oxford one Sunday in early October a terrible fire occurred. For the garrison, the townspeople and those left behind by the field armies, this assumed much more importance than any aspect of the war. It began when a foot-soldier who had stolen a pig was roasting the beast in a cramped dwelling near the North Gate. The little house caught light. Fanned by a high north wind, flames spread rapidly. A frightening conflagration raced through much of the western area, from George Street south through St Ebbe's, destroying houses, stables, bakeries and brewhouses. As well as providing billets for soldiers, this was an area of labourers and artisans, who lived in cramped small cottages with too many thatched roofs and wooden chimneys. Oxford houses at the time tended to be built with timber rather than brick or stone. Their beams, bargeboards and decorative pargeting were grey with age and tinder-dry; the closeness of the buildings helped the flames to leap ferociously through entries and passageways.

Juliana had smelled smoke. Soon the Mcllwaines' house was threatened. It survived, but not before Juliana and her friend had begun frantically gathering what they could — Juliana could carry little more than the baby. Outside, only half-hearted fire-fighting efforts were being attempted, for there was no good access to water. Ladders were brought to rescue trapped people — or to enable thieves to take advantage of abandoned houses — but the streets were full of fleeing, screaming inhabitants, who rushed in all directions not knowing where to take refuge. Some carried bundles of possessions, but most were just concerned to save their skins.

Feeling the approaching heatstorm and panicking, the women rushed out into the High. Nerissa pulled Juliana to safety in Christ Church, where the large quadrangle and heavy stonework would offer protection if the fire leapt across the street. Eventually the blaze was extinguished, however, and they were able to return home, finding the house still as they had left it, though every room and everything they owned was blackened with soot and smuts and stank of smoke. They coughed for days. The reek lasted weeks. Juliana found herself sniffing obsessively and peering through the windows in case a new fire had started. She slept badly and remained on edge.

Collections of money were started for homeless people, many of whom had lost their trades with their workshops. Relief was haphazard. The destitute would still be begging for assistance two decades later. Eighty houses were destroyed. Bread and beer were hard to find, since brewhouses, bakehouses and malthouses were destroyed. The butchers' stalls in Queen Street had also gone. There was food, however. Oxford always had a good supply of provisions. The King repeatedly ordered every household to lay in stocks to survive a siege.

At the end of the month, unexpectedly, Juliana came in from the market and saw boots warming by the fire, boots with enormous bucket-tops and butterfly-shaped leather patches on the insteps, which held mighty spurs. Mcllwaine and Lovell had returned. Juliana found her husband in their room, face down, spread-eagled on the bed.

At first, Juliana convinced herself Lovell was unchanged. He and the colonel seemed more reticent and jaded, though neither had been badly wounded. They spoke only briefly of the battle of Marston Moor. Mcllwaine had managed to get away with Prince Rupert, which saved his life; had he been captured, he would have been shot for being an Irishman. After hiding all night in a beanfield — a story loved by his enemies though rather played down by him — Rupert rendezvoused with his surviving men at York then refused an appeal from the Marquis of Montrose to fight in Scotland and instead rode back across the Pennines, picking up stragglers. Meanwhile Lovell had lost his horse and was captured by Roundheads after lying for hours in a damp gorse patch. Unlike most of the fifteen hundred prisoners taken after the battle, he somehow escaped. In subsequent weeks at home, he said little of what had happened to him.

The men's dark memories only slowly became apparent. When their husbands first reappeared, Juliana and Nerissa exchanged discreet glances, asking no questions. When Lovell came to the kitchen, where Colonel Mcllwaine was tasting small pies as warily as if he had never seen a pie before, Juliana brought Tom to his father. It was six months since he had seen the child. Lovell responded with polite remarks on how Tom had developed. He held the boy; he held him close for a long time, staring at the fire. But he was not taking joy in his infant, merely using him as a comforter.

That night in bed, Juliana was shocked by the new force and urgency of Lovell's lovemaking. A foolish girl might have preened herself that he had missed her — which no doubt was true. Yet she realised that as he worked out his passion, he had locked himself away within some misery he might never share with her. The man was obliterating his disappointments through sexual effort. His ferociousness was a punishment-though hardly Juliana's punishment, for what had she done wrong? She provided wifely consolation, but she found it frightening and painful. In the end, Lovell's extreme passion roused her — she could not help herself — but after they fell back exhausted, they lay silent and uncommuning. Dry-eyed in the darkness, Juliana did not sleep.

She felt used like a whore. She could not help being angry.

As she surveyed her bruises the next day, while Lovell still lay in a dead sleep, she wondered if a similar scene had taken place in the Mcllwaines' bed. Going downstairs, she almost believed that she heard a man weeping, though she could not believe it. Nerissa Mcllwaine did not appear that morning and when Juliana did find her, quietly spreading herself damson jam on a crust of bread, it seemed impossible to ask intimate questions.

Some time before the end of that year, the Lovells' second child was conceived.

The King wintered at Oxford serenely. There was no sign that anything would ever change.

Chapter Twenty-Five — Oxford: 1645

Christmas brought an atmosphere closer to normality. The weeks before had been bleak, however. The men had been difficult ever since their return. Lovell was irritable and distant. Owen Mcllwaine was drinking hard and uncharacteristically; Juliana noticed that his wife, who could be frankly outspoken, did not criticise. Nerissa must have seen this before. The men often took themselves off to be among other soldiers in taverns, close-bonding in hard knots over many tankards.

'They are sticking together, trying to forget,' Nerissa explained to Juliana.

'Omitting us from their confidence?'

'They were unprepared for such a bloody defeat. Their instinct is to protect their families from knowing what they endured. They will not speak in front of us — yet trust me, they need to. You must have noticed, they are both constantly on guard. They jump like cats at the slightest alarm.'

'Orlando is tormented by memories and night terrors.' Juliana had found out, when Lovell would never come to bed, that it was from fear of lurid nightmares. 'I can do nothing right; he has dropped three plates, yet I am blamed for clumsiness.'

'Many a woman has left her husband under these trials, Juley, and gone home to her mother. I am too far from home to do it — '

'And I have no mother alive.' Juliana had taken on Lovell as a challenge; she would not abandon him. "What can we do, Nerissa?'

'Nothing. Live with it.'

Juliana made sure she talked to Lovell, asking gentle, general questions about Marston Moor. When he flared up initially, she backed off, yet she came back to it, until he let his guard drop. However bitter he might be, Orlando Lovell always stayed true to his intelligence. He lived with angry self-knowledge. He had applied honesty to their marriage; this was a courtesy he gave formally to Juliana as his wife. So, bit by bit, he allowed her probing and she drew from him a portrait of the great conflict.

He began with his usual disparagement of Rupert, then went on to blame Lord Newcastle. 'Yet, Orlando, he has spent his entire mighty fortune in the King's service?'

Lovell raved against the Duke's hedonistic lifestyle before the war — his legendary entertainments and twin passions of horse dressage and banqueting. 'Oh he is a great enthusiast. Horses, women, art, architecture — and, until now, the King's cause. But after Marston Moor, he fled to the Continent — he told Rupert he would not bear the laughter of courtiers.'

'Should he be blamed for the disaster?'

'When the rebels attacked, this piece of nobility Newcastle had retired to his coach to enjoy a pipe of tobacco.'

'That's bad, I agree. But Lord Goring commanded Newcastle's cavalry on the right wing, did he not?' Juliana asked.

'Goring drinks himself under the table nightly!' Lovell set off in rage again. 'No one has his capacity for sin. He is all wining, whoring and gaming. A legend for debauchery — and for failure to control his men. Sweetheart, the fool had Fairfax routed and beaten out of sight. If Goring had not chased from the field in search of Fairfax's baggage-train, our case would have been quite different. Their leaders — bumbling Manchester and that dour Scot, Leven — had given up. Leven ran scared for fourteen miles from the field before he stopped.'

'Better things are said of Sir Thomas Fairfax?'

Calmer, Lovell considered the question with some interest. 'A sickly, stubborn, crazily brave northerner. Armies have these characters, men who flare alight when action starts. We heard that Fairfax found himself alone, threw off his officer's sash and the field sign from his hat, then he passed right through Goring's men unrecognised. This was our undoing. Fairfax reached Cromwell and supplied him with full intelligence; Cromwell knew that you must be persistent, methodical, drive ever forwards, keep at it. So he took his troops looping around to eliminate Goring's men.'

'And what is known of Cromwell?'

'Nothing. Nothing, but that he broke us, then he held his men in check — as Rupert never can. Cromwell traversed the whole field and when he had mopped up Goring's cavalry, he turned on the centre and destroyed our infantry.'

'That was hard fighting?'

'Carnage. Slash and stab. Limbs flying, men with their faces ripped off, sides torn open, brains spilling from their heads — '

Lovell fell silent abruptly. It was time to stop. With her hand on his shoulder, Juliana saw the sweat shine on his face. She brought their son to him again, to remind him of life and hope and, perhaps, responsibility.

So they came to Christmas. With the onset of traditional festivities, the men did rally to accompany their wives. It was the year when, in response to that Covenant signed with the Scots, a Parliamentary committee was deciding just how the Church of England would be reformed. Christmas featured. The Covenant required the rooting-out of 'superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of Godliness'. Removing superstition provided a wreckers' charter. Not only would the clutter of idolatry be removed from churches — paintings, coloured windows, statues, crucifixes and those hated altar rails that Archbishop Laud had ordered — but the calendar would be cleansed too. Henceforth there would be no pagan festivals or saints' days. The only holy days would be Sundays and occasional national celebrations such as the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes Day — the day the great papist plot to blow up Parliament was prevented. But the celebration of Christmas would be banned.

In defiance, Royalists celebrated Christmas with gusto. The rich showed their generosity (within limits); the poor were welcomed (within limits), welcomed to warm halls that had been decorated with holly and ivy. Carols resounded, sometimes even in tune. Mince pies and plum pottage, which were popish fare to Presbyterians, became political emblems to Royalists, so gave double pleasure in the eating. There was beef and mutton; there were collars of brawn stuck with rosemary; there were capons, geese and turkeys.

Merry Old English indigestion followed, which the sensible worked off with country walks on starlit evenings. Streets in towns were alive with mummers, some of whom took the spirit of things dangerously far, demanding not merely traditional alms and Christmas boxes, but money with menaces. To refuse them because they were feckless and aggressive was disturbing to the refuser, who wanted to be generous. Traditions die hard, however. The civil jails were as full as the taverns, and as noisy. Only the prisons containing political prisoners were rank with despair.

The Mcllwaines and Lovells dined in an Oxford college where a fragrant boar's head was carried into the warm hall in procession, while ancient carols were sung from the gallery by strong young voices of melting beauty. Silverware that had somehow escaped commandeering gleamed in the candlelight as they stuffed and sozzled cheerily. The women had titivated their best dresses with new braid, while the men had somehow acquired new suits in the latest fashion: short, decorated jackets beneath which billowed several inches of full shirt, then from the waist straight, open-kneed britches, with ribbon bunches cluttering their boot tops. It was meant as another affront to the godly. Juliana thought it a fanciful effeminate look, especially with long lovelocks and extremes of lace, though Lovell as always carried it off sardonically. With Orlando Lovell, one looked beyond the clothes to the man, and the man was not to be trifled with.

After the meal there was a masque and dancing, followed by extremely serious dicing and cards. Juliana, who did not play, was horrified by the heavy wagers and by the recklessness of those who took part. Even Nerissa joined in, proving herself a sharp, obsessive player with a demure face and a whiplash memory, who snapped down hand after winning hand. As Nerissa gathered money into her embroidered reticule with refined sweeps of beringed fingers, the colonel as quickly lost his wagers, until good sense made him excuse himself. Lovell was flinging large sums around, to Juliana's anguish. Noticing her dread, he winked and chivvied her, as men do who make out in public that their wives are social miseries — whereas they themselves are good fellows who must be allowed to carouse. Juliana was relieved and surprised when she learned afterwards that he had lost very little money, and perhaps even acquired winnings.

She should have realised. Orlando was bound to play well. He must have learned young, whilst in foreign service. Nor did it come as any surprise that luck attended him.

Disloyally, Juliana wondered if he cheated.

On return to their house, the festivity continued. Friends came by invitation, including Edmund Treves. Nerissa had left a wassail bowl standing — warm beer poured on sugar with spices, which she quickly reheated with a red-hot poker before floating on pieces of thinly toasted bread. It was obvious that more drink would be needed, so Juliana volunteered to make a favourite winter tipple called lambswool. She roasted apples until they burst, while Colonel Mcllwaine tapped a barrel of strong old ale for her; she heated this in a pan with sugar, ginger and nutmeg, the traditional mulling flavours, before dropping in the apples. By now slightly tipsy and showing it, Lovell said it was called lambswool because it curled men's chest hair. Rather uncharacteristically, he offered to demonstrate, but nobody took him up on it.

He seemed in high spirits, yet Juliana felt anxious. When he disappeared, she followed and found him at a window, brooding. The nightly thick white frost was forming on the cold glass with its crazy patterns. He had rubbed a patch clear with his coat sleeve and was staring out into the street, whence came whoops and crashes. Troop numbers had increased that year, most of them the King's Welsh recruits. Disorder and pillaging were frequent. When the soldier roasting a stolen pig had started the October fire, his theft of the meat was a routine occurrence. Welsh and Irish women who travelled with these troops were much feared; they knew it, and created many a fracas with threatening behaviour.

Lovell watched a brief street fight. Juliana stood near, more intent on watching him. Melancholy had struck her; her spirits were even lower than his. With the approach of New Year, she was wondering yet again what life would hold, what life was for. They stood silently together, exhausted and anxious, listening to people in the street shouting raw abuse at each other. The last insult they overheard was a gloomy puritan townsman railing against Christmas and its excesses. Had he known he was outside a house that had been rented by a Catholic couple, he would have been even more virulent.

Lovell began to sing to himself: 'Leslie's March,' he said and paused, acknowledging Juliana's presence. Leslie was the general who had led the Scots Presbyterian army into England.

'When to the kirk we come,

We'll purge it ilka room,

Frae popish reliques, and a' sic innovation,

That a' the world may see,

There's nane in the right but we,

Of the auld Scottish nation…'

'"Nane in the right but we" — that's modest!' observed his wife, wincing at how terrible the verse was.

It made Lovell smile, as he gazed out through the misted window-pane. He was losing the demons. 'He has been among Scots!' a voice said in Juliana's head. He had sung with a true accent. Slowly his lost weeks were coming together. 'Yes, and he did not enjoy the experience..'

If she could have kept Orlando with her for a little longer then, she would have been sure of returning him to his old self. Of course that was impossible. With the turn of the year came not just Ploughing Sunday but another fighting season. Parliament had created a new standing army, a new and formidable weapon perhaps. Under command of the northerner Sir Thomas Fairfax, it was being put together with twenty-two thousand of the best men from existing armies, particularly the Eastern Association troops of Oliver Cromwell, those who had shown their fine mettle and discipline at Marston Moor. There had been negotiations for peace, at Uxbridge, but these were disrupted by Parliament's intransigence. In January, Archbishop Laud was put on trial; the examination took several months, all tending towards his certain execution.

The Royalist Marquis of Montrose raised the Highlands of Scotland against the Presbyterian Lowlands, fomenting old clan jealousies. His dramatic victories encouraged the King into 'new imaginings', as his critics called them. Charles replaced his old dream of three armies conjoining for a London assault with a wild new hope that the romantic Montrose would descend from Scotland to help devastate all the King's enemies. More prosaically, Prince Rupert was at his usual dogged work in the west and the Midlands, Lovell with him.

In April Parliament's New Model Army was formally instituted and the first result was that its commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, took control of strategy in the Oxford area. The town was once again threatened with a siege.

On the 7th of May the King left Oxford — a timely exit. Fairfax continued to build siege works, east of the River Cherwell. As defensive measures by the Royalists, water meadows were flooded, buildings in the suburbs were burned and Wolvercote was garrisoned. There was worrying military activity. Real fighting came uncomfortably close. The Royalists lost an outpost at Gaunt House, but at the beginning of June the town garrison made a successful sally at Headington Hill. Then Fairfax left troops under Sir Richard Browne in the area, as he abandoned the siege to pursue the King.

Juliana had learned that her duty was to keep a brave face whatever happened. Nonetheless, she grew extremely fearful. Lovell had been away with Prince Rupert but, just before the King left, Rupert and his brother Maurice returned to Oxford for a rendezvous. Orlando came to her for two days, before the army moved out for their summer campaign. Juliana was then seven or eight months pregnant. They discussed sending her to a safe house, but had no friends or acquaintances who could offer such a refuge. She would have to remain in Oxford, where at least she was at home — in so far as they had ever had a home.

'Sweetheart, Fairfax will withdraw. He cannot keep his army tied up here while the King and the princes are out on the loose. Oxford is a nothing to them while it is empty of King Charles. You will be safe. Trust me.'

Juliana did trust him, on tactics. She was in such an advanced state of pregnancy she could no longer travel, especially since wherever she went she must take young Tom. One thing distressed her particularly: Nerissa Mcllwaine would not be here with her when her time came.

The Mcllwaines were planning to return soon to Ireland. There, the Irish Catholic Confederation, an alliance of upper-class Catholics and clergy, controlled two-thirds of the country and had formed an effective government. The confederation had concluded peace negotiations with the Marquis of Ormond, who represented the English Parliament and, confusingly, the King. It seemed a promising development.

Juliana finally asked openly why her friends had first left their country. She knew Colonel Mcllwaine had gone to fight on the Catholic side in the Thirty Years War and had assumed it was caused by the intense English settlement of Ireland. 'Oh, there was a family quarrel,' Nerissa disabused her. 'Owen stormed off. He seems mild, but he's a hothead on occasion.' The colonel did indeed seem mild, though no milksop.

He spoke at least four languages, and occasionally talked with Juliana in French, when he wanted to annoy Lovell. Lovell, having fought on the Protestant side on the Continent, knew Flemish and German but had picked up only curses and insults in French.

After years in France, the Mcllwaines had first come to England hoping to make a civilian life at the new Queen's court. They were in their sixties now; the colonel was looking for peace and retirement.

'What happened to your children?' Juliana blurted out. She had always feared some terrible, violent fate had befallen the family.

Nerissa shrugged. 'They never thrived. I lost every one, none older than six years. To some extent I blame our rootless life, our constant wanderings, our living in forts and garrisons. But we could have been on a country estate or in a neat town house and suffered the same.'

The women were silent for a while, thinking of life's fragility. Then Nerissa said slowly, 'So… Juliana, it is not from want of friendship towards you, but Owen will fight this year's campaign, then he and I will take our chance back in the old country' Nerissa knew that losing her one close friend filled Juliana with deep foreboding. 'You must let me go and be of good heart. And when they leave Oxford, I shall be following my husband with the army'

When the troops rode out, women always accompanied them. Yet camp followers were not all common wenches and whores, as their enemies suggested, but often respectable wives. For one thing, it kept the respectable husbands from the beds of prostitutes. The women cooked, made fires, guarded baggage, searched for the dead, nursed the wounded, provided encouragement and cheer.

'Of course, you must. I would come with you myself if I could.'

In her current condition, Juliana could not. She would have gone, to be with Orlando, to be with Nerissa, to taste adventure and to escape the claustrophobia of Oxford. But she was only weeks from delivery. A midwife was found therefore, examined, approved and appointed. In addition, Nerissa kindly left her maid, Grania. Juliana stayed in the St Aldate's house with her eighteen-month-old boy, Tom. Everyone else she knew went away to war without her.

Then, when Sir Thomas Fairfax lifted his siege preparations and chased after the King to the Midlands, everybody Juliana knew was at the battle of Naseby, where the King was defeated.

Chapter Twenty-Six — The Midlands: 1643-44

When Rowan Tew met his sister at Henley-in-Arden he decided the best way to avoid trouble was to rename her. So she became Joseph.

It was a few days after she fled alone from Birmingham, back after that terrible Easter. Her brother had recognised her instantly from the truculent set of her body and her pale, strained face as she approached, even though after nearly fifteen miles she was limping badly. Her bare feet were cut and bleeding. At the last hamlet where she begged for food, someone had given her rags for bandages but to little effect. She had found that in these tiny groups of cottages, shaken by Prince Rupert's passage a few days before, if she gave news of the greater assaults wreaked on Birmingham, people would provide her with food. She told her stories weeping; real tears came easily.

When the group of ragged cavalier soldiers rose from hedgerows either side of her, she thought her time was up.

'Who are you for?'

'Parliament and the King.'

'Wrong answer!' Although there was no glimmer of lit matchcord, she heard the click of a musket being cocked.

With the band of whiskery layabouts levelling swords and guns, her spirit faded too much for resistance. Once she would have yelled, thrown stones, punched and spat and bit, then run away faster than anyone would bother to pursue her. Fortunately, one of the louts turned out to be her brother.

Rowan was the young Tew who had volunteered for the royal army the year before, just after the war started, when King Charles passed through Birmingham. As their father had said at the time, Rowan wanted the rations and the plunder. He looked unchanged in the six months since his sister had last seen him: still wide-eyed with fake innocence, ready to whine about bad luck, always out for easy pickings. Thin as a pea-stick under a filthy baggy shirt, he had a long fall of black hair and a new scrubby beard with a barely adequate moustache. His boots, which were too big and no doubt stolen, made him stagger with his legs apart, while sashes, sword-hangers and rattling bandoliers were slung in a carefree fashion over his bony shoulders.

The other soldiers cursed and dropped back into the damp hedges to resume their tobacco pipes. Rowan was eager to brag about his life: the free uniform, the daily food allowance, the drink, the access to weapons, the excitement, the untroubled life. He had instinctively fallen in with a bad crowd. In a disreputable army, the former vagabond had quickly found the most dissolute comrades among whom to burrow like a white maggot. A rascal from birth, he was now in his element, plundering and bullying. He and his fellows claimed to be an antiguard, men authorised by Prince Rupert to remain behind to control Henley-in-Arden; they were in effect deserters. No one had missed them — or if their absence was noticed, nothing had been done about it. To spend all day threatening farmers and robbing passers-by, then to drink the profits while singing cavalier ditties around a campfire every night, seemed a glorious life.

'Come and join us!'

'Do women become soldiers?'

'It happens.'

'In ballads.'

'More often than you think. You have to pass as a man.'

Rowan Tew realised that his sister would not make a camp-follower. She could neither cook nor launder nor nurse the wounded. She was no whore either, or not yet. He supposed she would come to it. To him, who had known her from childhood, she offered no prospects — otherwise he would have cleaned her up and organised a rapid sale on the spot to any man who was willing to give him sixpence for her. He gazed at the thin, undersized, immature figure, grey-faced from lack of nourishment, bunched in dirty old clothes. Though he was a lad with more imagination than sense, his sister was so unprepossessing he knew he could not pimp her. Family feeling was not dead, however. 'Damme! I shall hack off your hair this minute; you must play the boy and come along with me. I'll take care of you. You shall have britches and a buff coat and march bravely and swagger. What do you want to be called?'

'What girl's name was given to me when I was born?' demanded the former Kinchin with urgency. 'Do you remember?'

Rowan, the elder by about four years, thought of any girls' names he ever heard and then claimed expansively, 'Araminta!'

'It would be Mary or Joan, I think,' she corrected him severely.

'Maudie, maybe… well now you cannot have that. You shall be Joseph.'

So for a year and over, Joseph Tew served in the King's army.

The laggards skulked around Henley for a week, poaching deer and scaring milkmaids, then just when the milkmaids were starting to warm to them and flirt, along came a small party of Royalist cavalry from Dudley who rounded them up before the women of Warwickshire had managed to catch even half of their fleas and foul diseases. Most were ordered to march north to the siege of Lichfield; whether they would ever arrive was doubtful. Pasty-looking Rowan and his badly limping 'brother' were deemed unfit, so they were carried off westwards in a provender wagon to the garrison at Dudley Castle. There the governor was Colonel Thomas Leveson, a more active officer than they liked. Somehow they passed muster. They kept to themselves, and nobody enquired about them too closely. Many of the other soldiers were French or Irish, foreign-speakers, stuck in their own tight cliques. Officers noticed that the unit had acquired two rat-eyed, bone-idle, light-fingered tykes, but most common ranks in the Royalist army were scavengers and although the Tews hung back when action started, they never refused direct orders. So long as bodies marched where he needed them to be, the colonel was satisfied.

Castle life suited them. They had shelter, rations, company and instruction in the use of arms. The Royalist daily subsistence allowance was a luxury: two pounds of bread, one pound of meat and two bottles of beer. All their thinking was done for them. They even had leisure — so much leisure that among the rubbish which the soldiers in the Dudley Castle garrison threw down their latrines were gaming counters and animal-gut condoms. To have latrines at all was a novelty to the Tews; they had to learn how to use them. In their own minds, all they needed to do now was sit tight to the end of the war, when — if they could carry off their guns on disbandment — they would be equipped for life as highway robbers.

For Joseph, there was thinking to do. Women who passed themselves off as soldiers must stay endlessly alert. Their daily lives were geared to hiding their identities. Joseph had begun the fraud while grubby and gaunt enough not to seem too delicate; the other men at Dudley soon became used to their high-voiced, soft-cheeked, slightly built colleague. With regular food he grew taller and filled out; although breasts were a problem, they blossomed slowly. Breasts, especially adolescent ones, could be squashed flat beneath the firm heavy leather of a military buff coat. With care, monthly courses could be hidden and the necessary rags washed in private. A loner, who had always roamed independently, was able to cope with the intense secrecy of living in disguise. After a whole young life of solitude, keeping one's counsel came easily. Nature had issued one challenge, which from time to time became pressing: no woman could urinate in public and stay hidden. But like disguised drummer-boys and powder-monkeys throughout history, Joseph Tew found ways to manage.

Any street urchin knew how to bluff.

In December 1643, when the Tews had been living at Dudley Castle for six months, Colonel Leveson received a request for aid from a prominent Midlands landowner who believed Parliamentary sympathisers were planning an attack on his house. The colonel felt obliged to respond to an irascible local Justice of the Peace, a man with connections at court and who had entertained King Charles in that very house. Colonel Leveson reluctantly spared forty musketeers. They marched, grumbling, to the great hall in question; they were told it was five miles away though found it nearer ten. They were not surprised to be lied to, for that is how soldiers are generally cajoled.

On arrival, their discontent mellowed. It was a grand billet. While looking forward to an extremely comfortable Christmas in warm and grandiose surroundings, they began to fortify the place. Despite his danger, the haughty owner only reluctantly agreed to let them cut down trees to clear a line of fire from the house and dig protective earthworks in the deer park of which he was so proud. Like many landowners he was torn between trying to preserve ordinary life and standing up for his political beliefs.

The troops were quartered like bats in the attics, which were airy and luxurious, being barely ten years old; few ghosts and hardly any spiders had had time to take up residence. Though the ceilings sloped, there were fine views across the three hundred acres of parkland that surrounded the house. They would see the enemy coming.

The great house was built to the highest standards. It aimed to impress inferiors — and its scowling owner reckoned pretty well everyone around him was an inferior. For the Tews this was an ironic destination: they had come to Aston Hall near Birmingham. It was the home of black-browed Sir Thomas Holte, whose enclosure of local commons when he was creating this majestic house and its huge new park had dispossessed their family.

Once indoors, Rowan and Joseph were staggered by the size of the house, with its great hall, several parlours, dining room and withdrawing room, enormous long gallery, endless corridors and series of bedchambers, cavernous kitchen with wet- and dry-larders, wine and beer cellars and endless stables and outbuildings. Aston Hall sat in lush parkland, created for hunting and for keeping the people at a distance; the house had high Jacobean gables and chimneys, elegant plaster strapwork ceilings, expensive fireplaces, fabulous carved woodwork and a profusion of expensive windows. The quantities of furniture and personal possessions were beyond anything the Tews had ever imagined. Even after large civil war losses, when Sir Thomas Holte died, his belongings would be inventoried on a scroll eleven feet long. The Tews wandered in amazement, sniggering at the Holte family behind their richly clad backs and pilfering small items whenever they could get away with it.

The Parliamentary forces arrived on Boxing Day. This was their reprisal for Prince Rupert's attack on Birmingham and they were hoping for revenge in the form of money and plate. They took up positions in the grounds, planted their standards, then in the language of war sent 'to demand the house for the use of the King and Parliament'.

Sieges had their own chivalry. Once the enemy turned up and formally 'summoned' a town or house — announced that they had come to take you over — it was vital to refuse surrender at least once, and in a robust fashion. To give up too easily meant disgrace and court martial. There was a fine knack to choosing the correct moment to submit with honour, in order to obtain 'terms'. Terms meant the defeated side would be allowed to lay down their weapons, march out and avoid cold-blooded slaughter. If they had fought tenaciously, they might be allowed to keep their arms and leave with their colours flying, though that was recognition of extreme courage. It was rare, and it took a merciful winning commander. More often, if the besieging commander had been seriously annoyed at any point, he would hang a few of his enemies just to relieve his feelings.

At Aston Hall, the Royalists answered the summons by defiantly retorting that they would not yield while they had a man alive. Sir Thomas Holte could be confident a man of his rank would be spared whatever happened.

It took three days for resistance to disintegrate. There were twelve hundred rebels, who had brought artillery. On the first day, Tuesday, the attackers made play with their cannon, doing serious damage to the house's interior, especially the fine dog-leg staircase with its bulbous carved balusters. The cannon-fire terrified the defenders. Amidst the smoke and noise and crashing shot, the Holtes, their servants and soldiers took refuge in the lower rooms. Next day, the attackers assailed the parish church, close to the house, where some of Colonel Leveson's Dudley troops had been out-stationed. Churches made very defensible strongholds, but it was quickly stormed. The Parliamentarians took French and Irish prisoners, including one female camp-follower who, in the enemy's tradition, was viciously abused as a whore.

The Tews heard the shouts and rattle of fire when the church fell. They were already quaking at cannon balls crashing through the house, and the smell of smoke and panic became too much for them. When enemy soldiers broke through the earthworks on the lawns, the young Tews passed their guns to servants and hid together under a great table in the entrance hall. Parliamentary troops soon burst into the house through its tall, elegant windows. As showers of broken glass fell inwards, large booted men swung through window cavities, shouting and brandishing swords. The defenders cried for quarter. It was granted.

Peering out from their hiding place, Rowan and Joseph then saw some trigger-happy Royalist soldiers kept firing anyway. Two rebels were shot in the face. At the sight of stricken comrades with blood pouring from their mouths, the Parliamentarians went mad. They killed and wounded twenty defenders before being brought under control by officers. Joseph and Rowan Tew cringed against the great carved table leg.

'Play dead Rowan!'

'Who needs to act it? We're done for!'

Eventually the shooting stopped. The attackers had better ways to enjoy themselves than wasting ammunition on a cowed foe. They were here to pillage goods and to capture anyone of quality who could be heavily fined and ransomed. Forty useful prisoners were rounded up. As soldiers rushed past their bolthole to stampede upstairs and search the house, the Tew brothers ventured out into the open, two disingenuous mites holding pieces of white cloth (they had sensibly equipped themselves with these tokens). 'Joseph' considered disclosure, but was deterred by how cruelly the woman previously taken was reviled as a whore. Royalist camp-followers risked mutilation and cold-blooded murder, especially if they were believed to be Irish. Women were hanged as rebels and spies almost as often as men. To be in disguise would not win favour.

The Tews instinctively knew how to pose with the typical hangdog relief of surrendering soldiers. They were stripped of weapons, hats, belts, boots, britches and coats — though not deprived of their verminous shirts, or Joseph would certainly have been discovered. While this was happening, they saw Sir Thomas Holte, a furious old man in his seventies, dragged from the house, bare-chested in the December cold as he had been stripped of even his fine cambric shirt. He and his family were taken away for special ransom. Lesser prisoners were strung together in a line, their hands bound behind them with matchcord, and marched to the church. There they were insulted, threatened and starved. Then the abject prisoners were offered the usual inducement: a dungeon in Warwick Castle, for ever — or repent of their Royalist delinquency, turn and fight for Parliament.

Some hung back, genuinely hating puritans. Joseph and Rowan Tew immediately swapped sides.

The new Roundheads were equipped with coats, shirts, stockings, shoes, britches and Monmouth caps, and allocated another daily allowance (threepence a day). Once they had been judged docile and trustworthy, they were armed with swords and guns made in Birmingham. They regarded these weapons as inferior, but for thruppence a day, plus a roof over their heads, they would put up with anything. Rowan could ride. Most horse thieves could stay safely on anything with four legs. He was given a mount, then appointed to be a light dragoon. His diminutive younger 'brother', who lacked the strength even to support a long musket properly, would be allotted camp duties. They were assigned to a new garrison which had recently been created for Parliament under Colonel John Fox.

Fox ran an irregular, roistering, free-ranging, unsupervised organisation that would eventually be disbanded under a cloud. Two guttersnipes could not have found themselves a more congenial position.

Warwickshire in the civil war was mostly held by Parliament, but a Royalist bloc lay to the west, including all of Wales; its rough boundary ran from Chester down through Shrewsbury and Worcester to Tewkesbury and on to the West Country. The district around Stratford-upon-Avon was Royalist, which provided a safe corridor when the King obtained Welsh recruits. The Midlands were constantly crisscrossed by Prince Rupert. His efforts early in 1643 had achieved their objective: the Queen's convoy of soldiers and ammunition wagons left York and passed safely south, bypassing Birmingham, though resting overnight nearby at the Saracen's Head in the Queen's personal manor of King's Norton. The next day Her Majesty arrived at Stratford-upon-Avon, where she was an overnight guest of Shakespeare's daughter, Susannah Hall, at New Place. There Henrietta Maria was joined by Rupert, and four days later met King Charles and progressed into Oxford.

The Royalist Lord Denbigh's death at Birmingham changed the balance of power in Warwickshire. Although Parliament then lost Lord Brooke at Lichfield, the new Lord Denbigh fought for Parliament. This Denbigh replaced Brooke in charge of the Midlands Association: Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Shropshire. His Committee of Public Safety headquarters were at Coventry. He also had a large base at Warwick Castle, so strong that it was never besieged. Wherever there were suitable large houses he set out to take them from Royalists, fortify the buildings and establish garrisons which would control the countryside, raise money and recruit men to attack other Royalist strongholds.

Some of the rebels in these areas had curious origins. Most colourful were the 'Morelanders' in remote upland country in north-east Staffordshire. Armed only with birding-guns, cudgels and scythes, these shaggy turf-cutters had banded together, giving their leader the sinister title of 'the Grand Juryman'. Their boldest exploit was a doomed attempt to drive the Royalists from Stafford.

Equally seen as outsiders were Fox's men at Edgbaston. Lord Denbigh regarded this garrison as tricky and high-handed. Fox resented his commander's lack of warmth and his reluctance to send funds. If Denbigh's men trespassed into districts he regarded as his own, Fox complained. He wanted personal credit for his garrison's exploits. When he was summoned to Coventry on charges of plundering, and was compelled to cough up 'a goodly sum' to regain his position and his reputation, he made up the fine in further demands on local villages and individuals in the area he roamed.

Where exactly he came from and his true background were obscure. Enemies called him a tinker, yet he was literate, intelligent and effective. When civil war broke out, John Fox had found his role. He drew on his own resources. With him to Edgbaston he brought a brother and a brother-in-law, Major Reighnold Fox and Captain Humphrey Tudman. His core of sixteen men swelled to more than two hundred. Some he recruited for Edgbaston were locals. His clerk was called John Carter; a John Carter junior had been killed by Prince Rupert's men in Birmingham.

Denbigh formally granted Fox a colonel's commission in March 1644, to lead a regiment of six troops of horse and two of dragoons. Even so, it was three more months before Parliament allowed him financial support. Until the money came, he and his men fended for themselves. Robert Porter, the steel-mill magnate, assisted, though he and Fox were later to quarrel tiresomely over manor rents.

When the gentry established garrisons — stalwart knights of the shire with university educations and large landholdings — they were always admired for their energy, loyalty and honour. The real charge such people had against John Fox was that without social advantages and without being asked, he seized the initiative and set himself up at Edgbaston. Both Royalist and Parliamentarian leaders shunned him. Not only was he no gentleman, the job he decided to do for Parliament gave him a touch of the outlaw. His nickname, the 'Jovial Tinker', was because he rarely smiled, though if calling Fox a tinker was an insult, it never seemed to bother him.

Dressed in their latest uniforms, the Tew brothers were sent to serve 'Colonel Tinker' at Edgbaston Hall. This was nothing like the house where they had just been captured. Aston Hall, which lay immediately to the north-east of Birmingham, was brash and boastful, one man's symbol of his own new wealth and power. They found that Edgbaston, on the south-west side of Birmingham, was a moated medieval manor-house with a dovecote, typical of timeless English village life, surrounded by rickety watermills and weedy fishpools. Even when the Tews arrived they could see the idyll was deteriorating. The greens around the house were churned to mud and slime by soldiers' horses. No ducks swam in the moat; there were probably no fish left in the pools. The roof of the adjacent ancient church had been stripped and its bells removed; the lead was being melted down for bullets. The centuries-old Hall was treated with disrespect by Fox's soldiers; it already showed sad signs of wear and would in time be badly damaged, destroyed by fire and lost to posterity.

Brought before Fox for inspection, Rowan and Joseph cast their eyes down, though not too much. They knew the fine line between looking unobtrusive and looking suspiciously meek. Fox, a dour man in his mid-thirties, surveyed them with Midlands scepticism. He accepted them as turncoats; there were plenty of those on both sides. Still, he made it plain he expected nothing good from them and if they tried anything on, he would know about it. He gave them a sombre speech about the garrison, then handed them copies of 'The Soldier's Prayerbook', a religious publication for devout troops which was famous for the number of times its pages had stopped enemy bullets. 'Let the Word of the Lord be your breastplate!' Colonel Fox instructed — which covered up the fact that he could not afford to buy helmets or body armour.

He spoke with the deadbeat cadence of the area. Outsiders would assume he was slow-witted, but the Tews understood that language. Their colonel's dry tone hid intelligent qualities. John Fox lived by his wits. So did the Tews. They all thought themselves as good as anybody anywhere.

Rowan rode with the troopers. Joseph was left behind to scrub pots. The garrison had a brewer and a meat-salter who both allowed the skinny lad to help them with their work. Dripping snot, the so-called Joseph watched and learned. Service in an army teaches a bright spark skills for life.

The garrison's main task was the endless extraction of taxes. Fixed amounts were set, which towns and villages had to give in support of the war effort, whether or not those towns and villages supported Parliament. The King's side worked the same system. Some towns and villages therefore ended up paying twice; it was safer not to refuse. In addition, Parliament required that individuals whose land produced more than ten pounds a year or who had a hundred pounds in personal estate should make 'loans' of up to one-fifth of their revenue from land or a twentieth of their goods. Few expected repayment. Very few ever obtained it. Grumbling victims complained that Committees of Public Safety were making themselves rich; members of the committees protested that their own estates were plundered by soldiers, who often took them prisoner as well, in order to extract ransoms. Such was the chaos of war. Or so said Colonel Fox.

Outright plundering by local garrisons was rare because it made no sense. To ruin the countryside would leave troops and their horses starving, nor was it good practice to arouse too much hostility. Locals who felt they had nothing to lose might organise armed reprisals. But when they were out on the loose, Fox's men did seize horses 'for the service of Parliament'. If Fox knew, he turned a blind eye. They took free quarter where they could too — lodging for which they did not pay — and sometimes they made illegal promises to householders in order to obtain bribes. All over the country and regardless of affiliation, houses were being raided for food — oats, meat and cheese — for horse gear — bridles, saddles, spurs — and for weapons. Anything rideable or portable was at risk. Though the Tews took little interest in politics, as soon as they arrived they quickly grasped the attractive milieu into which they had been sent. For them, Edgbaston was a happy time.

Fox was a diligent scout. He made regular reports to Lord Denbigh, concentrating on the presence of Prince Rupert in the Midlands, sometimes noting manoeuvres of the King. It involved his men spying on troop movements; listening in on Royalist soldiers' conversations; writing detailed reports of intelligence gathered; and astutely interpreting the information. Messages were then sent considerable distances with speed. To achieve this required an established body of reliable scouts who had to be brave, sharp-eyed, able to call upon safe houses and a supply of fresh mounts both night and day. All the men had to be very familiar with a wide district. Scouts could not get lost. Messages must not be captured. Sometimes Fox sent his reports much further afield: to Sir Samuel Luke, who was the Earl of Essex's scoutmaster.

For a couple of months after the Tews arrived, winter continued and there was little happening. In March 1644, Fox began a series of lightning activities. He captured Stourton Castle but was driven away by a massive Royalist response. He and his men fled headlong across Stourbridge Heath, pursued by the enemy who soon proclaimed that first to flee before them had been Fox himself. Undeterred, his men then besieged Hawkesley Farm on Clent Ridge, a strong Royalist outpost where the King had stayed on occasion; they drove out the owner, Mr Littlemore, and his family. But while they were away at Hawkesley, Prince Rupert and his brother Maurice rode into Birmingham and stole sheep and cattle from the markets.

In April, too, Fox organised a breath-taking night raid. Setting off one afternoon, he rode with sixty picked men to Bewdley, a pretty town on the River Severn which was famous for making Monmouth caps, the warm, easy-to-wear felt headgear worn by many soldiers instead of helmets. Bewdley was a Royalist stronghold and an inland port. Pottery and iron were taken there by packhorse, for onward shipping down to Bristol and beyond. King Charles several times stayed there at the grand comfortable house called Tickenhill which overlooked the town from high ground, surrounded by elegant woods and parks. It would be from Tickenhill that the King would write a very famous letter to Prince Rupert in June, saying that if York was lost he would reckon his kingdom lost too. However, in April the house was merely occupied by the Governor of Bewdley, Sir Thomas Lyttelton.

Fox and his men arrived in the dark, cheekily pretending to be some of Prince Rupert's men, who were lost. They quietly put the town guards out of action. They crept up to the house, where everyone was gently sleeping. The first the governor knew of this daring raid was when he woke up to find himself a prisoner. He and his retinue, with forty extremely good horses, were then sneaked out of Bewdley.

Eventually Royalists pursued Fox back to Edgbaston. They were too late. Fox had gone in triumph to Coventry. From the stronghold at Coventry, Lyttelton would be passed on under guard to London, where he would be held in the Tower for the rest of the war. 'Thanks be to God,' murmured the Jovial Tinker piously of the Royalists to whom he had given the slip, 'they came a day after the fair!'

'Joseph' Tew had been terrified when angry cavaliers arrived at the Hall. Disappointed, they rode off soon enough, but fear jolted the brewster into action. Taking advantage of the colonel's absence at Coventry, the youngster slipped away.

There was a reason. Disguise would soon be impossible. Some comrade at Dudley Castle or Edgbaston Hall — or maybe more than one — had uncovered Joseph's secret. Discovery inevitably happened with women soldiers, because either they were following a sweetheart to the wars, or in their loneliness they found a confidant and broke their silence. The traditional fate had befallen young Tew. Secret couplings had led to the usual result. Soon everyone would know: the potboy 'Joseph' was to be the mother of a child.

Whether the father had refused to acknowledge his role, whether he already had a wife and children, or whether the right man could not even be identified, marriage was not an option. The young mother was, therefore, dealing with the problem in her own way. If she knew whom to blame, she had no wish to say so. Rather than be exposed, she deserted the garrison and fled. She dressed again in stolen female clothes. She dared not return to Birmingham, so she chose the route so many forlorn hopefuls took: she would go to London where, even if the streets turned out not to be paved with gold, those who wished to be anonymous had a chance to disappear.

So, once more, the sorry waif took to the road alone.

Chapter Twenty-Seven — London: autumn, 1643

When the two Jukes brothers had returned home from Gloucester and Newbury, they stood in the upstairs parlour of their parents' home, almost forlorn for a moment. Lambert was led away to be tended in private by his wife. Gideon passed a hand over his forehead as if the light hurt his eyes. Lacy took no interest. At first his parents were too polite to intervene but then as he shivered and swayed on his feet, Parthenope Jukes seized back her maternal rights. Soon she was gently washing her younger son as if he were still a small boy. Trying to shield him from her horror at his sores, she dispatched Lacy to the apothecary for stronger salves than were kept at home. Gideon, who was now clearly feverish, fretted as she touched him. He was crotchety in a way Parthenope found familiar. Just as when he caught chickenpox at the age of seven, Parthenope saw the moment when reddish-purple spots began to appear on his arms and chest.

His father came to inspect the rash. John pronounced the worst: Gideon had camp fever, probably caught at Reading. Conditions there had been crowded and lice-ridden; the lice were implicated. Essex's men had been put half out of action by this rampant sickness. 'Call it camp fever, ship fever, jail fever — it is all one. Our boy is in great danger!'

Gideon was gravely ill for weeks, sometimes with such wild delirium he could hardly be held down. Parthenope nursed him, since Lacy pleaded anxiety for her unborn child. Already weakened by hardship, Gideon was in no condition to resist the fever; headache, spasms of nausea and diarrhoea racked him. Although his mother produced broths and caudles, he could keep nothing down. He was so weak he could hardly climb out of bed to the chamberpot. He raged at his helplessness. His frustration and fear made him bad-tempered even with his mother as she cared for him.

Worse, Gideon began to relive the horrors he had experienced in the battle at Newbury. Hallucinations caused by fever danced wildly among traumatic flashbacks. He needed to rest; yet repetitions of the gunfire and visions of men being torn apart tormented him. Never a good patient, discomfort and mental anguish combined to make him a monster. Many a time his harassed mother left his room, leaned against the door-jamb and wept silently into her apron. She understood his behaviour and rarely snapped back. She was just terrified Gideon would die.

Parthenope Jukes was made of stern stuff, however. She had always been a scrupulous housewife. In her home, flies were swatted. Hands were washed before preparing food. Floors were mopped; tables scrubbed; dishcloths boiled. Cooking pots were cleaned to a sparkle with vinegar or lye. The well in the yard was kept sanitary.

A similarly strict regime was applied to her sick son. He was quarantined to a small, simply furnished room, where his bedding was changed daily. The lice were dealt with; Parthenope tenderly cut his hair short, combing out nits onto a piece of housewife-cloth which she burned. Once she realised the extent of the problem, his parents struggled to hold Gideon while a barber shaved him naked, including places where a seventeenth century man never dreamed of being shaved. His delirium was coloured by the constant smell of sulphur and lard from ointments to soothe his itching, an aroma that soon seemed to infest even his dreams.

Eventually came a worse odour: rotting flesh. When gangrenous sores appeared, a surgeon was called. Gideon lost three fingertips on his left hand and his right fourth fingertip.

Though frail, John Jukes played his part in tending his son. After close study of medical tracts, he had advanced views about airing sickrooms and even though it was winter, he insisted that a window was opened daily to allow the escape of dangerous 'miasmas'. John's more curious theories were rebuffed while Parthenope tackled the unpleasant day-today aspects of nursing. By some act of providence his parents managed not to catch the fever and slowly they restored Gideon's health. He moved from stupor into a clear mind. It took months, and even afterwards he clung to his room in a long depression.

At least he was rarely left alone with his terrors. Mostly his mother sat with him, studying her books of household management. It was years since she had had so many quiet moments and Parthenope came to enjoy the respite. Often Gideon emerged from restless sleep to find her, spectacles on nose, intent on putting her recipes in order — spreading the papers across his bed as she worked. Sometimes instead, a waft of tobacco smoke announced his father in attendance. Gideon felt bound to protect both from knowing what he had endured, but John was determined to find out. The days were long gone when John Jukes could parade with the Artillery Company, but he was full of curiosity about all that had happened to his sons. He plied Lambert with questions, unconsciously helping Lambert to unburden himself, then when Lambert lost patience John would turn to Gideon. In the early days, when Gideon was most dangerously ill, John took to dozing in a chair at the bedside overnight.

Gideon lost some of the distance from his parents that had built up while he was apprenticed. He was already much better friends with Lambert. So they all moved into a new family cycle. Whereas for some people the civil war damaged or destroyed stability, the Jukes were more fortunate. The parents were proud of the sons; the sons were encouraged by their parents' support. One son's wife was a fervent ally. Only Lacy held herself aloof, but that was never political.

Robert Allibone was of course another supporter. As soon as the invalid was adjudged out of danger and unlikely to be contagious, Robert hurried to help keep him cheery. For him, this meant bringing paper and ink to woo reminiscences that could be reconstructed into a diary. Like other memoirs by the Trained Bands, it was polished, edited and published. So the vivid, intrigued recollections of the ordinary soldier were brought to both contemporary and future readers in an unprecedented way. Gideon complained that the fever had made his mind hazy, but Robert persisted.

Robert brought news of how the London Trained Band regiments were continuing to serve in the field. Gideon listened, at first feeling out of it, but then relieved to be so.

Sir William Waller had now been made commander of various troops but was beset with problems. Particularly fraught was persuading his allocation from the London Trained Bands to do service outside the city. Some grumpy members of the Yellow Regiment were taken to Farnham Castle, Waller's headquarters. They met their new commander: an intense West Countryman, with brows drawn anxiously down over wide-set eyes and a pursed mouth beneath a moustache that was swept up at the ends onto gaunt cheeks. He signalled his authority by hanging a clerk of his own regiment for mutiny. This failed to impress the disgruntled Londoners. Their relationship with Waller never gelled and he was frequently furious at their open cries of 'Home! Home!', which forced him to make unmilitary pleas for them to stay.

It was a bad time of year for manoeuvres. The troops marched towards Winchester but were turned back by extreme wet and snow. Waller swung them over to Basing House. This enormous Royalist stronghold dominated the area between Oxford and London, threatening both Essex's headquarters and Waller's base at Farnham. Once a staunch motte-and-bailey castle, it had been transformed by grandiose Tudor courtiers and now rivalled the Tower of London in size and strength. Over fourteen acres included the Old House, surrounded by still-viable Norman earthworks, and the palatial New House, which contained 380 rooms. Basing was garrisoned with two regiments of foot and extra cavalry, who were protected by star-shaped towers set into massive surrounding walls that were said to be eight feet thick, brick walls on an earth core that would withstand the heaviest cannon fire. The gatehouse was a stupendous four storeys high.

Its position so close to London made the capture of Basing House imperative. But when Waller's men arrived and the cold fog dispersed to reveal this bastion, their hearts sank. The London regiments were wimpish besiegers, daunted by the task. Upon finding one of the buildings in the grounds, Grange Farm, full of bread, beer, mild cheese, bacon, beef, milk and peas, the famished Trained Bands gorged themselves, while the thatched roof blazed dangerously above them and shots rained all around. Ignoring their colleagues, who were struggling bravely elsewhere on the site, they threw themselves into looting and gluttony until the day's attack failed, with many men killed. Bad weather and lack of spirit caused two retreats from Basing, which would continue to hold out for three years.

Hopton approached. He was Waller's old friend and long-term Royalist rival; Waller had a vested interest in beating him. Waller kept the Trained Bands sweet by plying them with victuals. When he reviewed them on the 12th of December, he begged them to stay for one more task. They grudgingly remained until the following Monday. They marched towards Basing again, then veered off to Alton; this important Royalist garrison was taken after a particularly vicious fight, which resulted in the Parliamentarians carrying away 875 prisoners, fifty officers, and various standards. Hopton was sore. Waller was satisfied. The Trained Bands' reputation had been saved — though they begged to be allowed to go home as promised, because it was nearly Christmas.

Gideon Jukes observed all this and convinced himself he was still a sick man.

Late on Christmas Day 1643, Lacy Jukes went into labour. A daughter was born to her on Boxing Day. Mother and child survived. The successful outcome was reported to Gideon by his own mother, with only the slightest puff of surprise that the birth had occurred so soon. Still, judging a pregnancy was an inexact science and, as Parthenope commented, many an innocent young woman giving birth prematurely had been accused of immorality. Being called to account by some interfering crone while racked in labour was a fear that dogged all women…

Parthenope was weary when she let slip this speculation; she regretted it afterwards. Luckily her son took her remarks very quietly so there appeared to be no harm done. She knew he was sensitive. She would not have wanted to perturb him.

The baby, in its long white gown and tiny lace cap, was shown to Gideon, briefly, from the doorway of his room. Everyone sent messages of the child's lustiness and its likeness to him. His wife said it was unthinkable that she should come near a sick man while nursing her daughter. Gideon made no objection.

He had a lot of time for private thought that winter. Too much, perhaps.

Both Jukes brothers were now reconsidering what they wanted from this conflict. Both had been deeply affected by their great adventure to Gloucester. They felt entitled to political reward for their contribution. Lambert fell back into domesticity, but Gideon became ever more restless.

By winter, Gideon had to accept that his physical recovery was assured. He continued to mope by himself in the sickroom. The loss of his finger ends gave him an excuse. He was a specimen: doctors came and went, writing up notes for their memoirs. Gangrene was not unknown in camp fever patients, but it was rare, and his father enjoyed parading Gideon as a singular case. Civil war doctors and surgeons wanted specialist reputations. Who could blame them, when a surgeon's pay was only five shillings a day, and each had to equip himself with a medical chest to the value of twenty-five pounds at his own expense. Most wounded soldiers died. Most, therefore, would pay no fees.

At least being a specimen was a two-way process. Gideon made it a condition that his doctors had their learned papers printed by Robert Allibone.

His wife had continued to occupy their bedchamber, apart from him. He had barely seen Lacy since he came home. In the New Year his mother decided to restore normality, so Parthenope stripped the sickroom bed, pulled up floor mats and beat them in clouds of dust, making so much bustle that Gideon capitulated. He shambled back to his old room, where Lacy received him with a brief shrug, perhaps of welcome, or perhaps indifference.

At the foot of their bed stood the cradle with the baby. Various scents that emanate from infants and breast-feeding mothers suffused the atmosphere. Many a father has felt an outsider on the arrival of a first baby. Gideon was no exception.

The child's existence forced him to face his predicament. His lack of pride and excitement at the birth was reprehensible, and he knew it. Coming from a good home, he had been brought up to do better. At least while his daughter remained a babe-in-arms, he could assign her to his womenfolk; many men, and more women than is generally acknowledged, do not care for babies. Once this infant became mobile, Gideon knew, he would be obliged to take on the full role of a cherishing father. He must pet her, praise her, instruct her in spiritual matters, consider her education, give her a puppy or a singing-bird, have a family portrait painted — and he must uncomplainingly provide her with siblings.

His own parents were already besotted with their first grandchild. This only emphasised Gideon's awkwardness.

Lacy, sloe-eyed and now lazily voluptuous, never asked him to coo over the cradle or pick up the tiny bundle. She and Gideon stalked around one another, never acknowledging that anything was wrong. They did not yet have the bitterness that seeps through many longer marriages, but their silences were deadly.

In due course, Lacy granted her favours in bed. She gave him his rights without resistance, yet Gideon was made aware that she had condescended to do this, when she could just as easily have rebuffed him. He did not enjoy their lovemaking and quite clearly Lacy could take it or leave it. Such occasions became infrequent.

All over the country soldiers were returning from campaigns to find themselves strangers in their marriages. Everywhere fathers were missing crucial moments in their children's lives. However, real difficulties rarely happened while campaigns were as short as the Gloucester and Newbury march. The estrangement between Gideon and Lacy Jukes was reckoned by others to be caused by the war, but they both knew it had more deep-seated origins. Gideon was starting to analyse his doubts.

Elizabeth and Bevan Bevan sent the child an extravagantly expensive silver bowl as a baptism gift.

'Return it,' snapped Gideon. 'We shall not dowse her in a font. I believe in adult baptism.'

His mother looked up over her spectacles at this revelation.

'What are you my son?' enquired John Jukes mildly. 'An Anabaptist, a General or a Particular Baptist? Do we harbour a Browneist? A Dutch Mennonite? Are you for full baptismal immersion, for sprinkling — or merely for careful pouring from a neat Delft jug?' Gideon looked truculent.

While Lacy sat at the dinner table deciding whether to put up a fight, Gideon stiffened into his new role as a domestic autocrat. Lacy gave way, surprisingly. 'As you wish.' She shot him one tart look, then cast down her eyes like a model of patience.

'I am sure my uncle and his good wife Elizabeth meant well,' murmured Parthenope, though playing the peacemaker went against her feelings. Everyone present knew she thought poorly of Elizabeth.

'They are hoping to be godparents,' sneered John.

'We shall have no papistical godparents!' thundered Gideon. They are buying me off, he thought bitterly, as he too brooded on the Bevans' motives.

He knew that other members of his own family were judging him, in the dark way families have. Lacy herself fell silent. Among the Jukes she had a sullen reserve, as if she was trapped — and knew they all understood exactly how she had been trapped.

Lacy had named her daughter. Without consulting Gideon, she had chosen her own mother's name, one of the only signs ever that Lacy cared for somebody other than herself. The tiny scrap was Harriet Jukes.

'She is an innocent,' Parthenope consoled herself. 'Her sweet soul is unblemished in the eyes of the Lord.'

'She is an innocent!' Gideon agreed tartly.

As Harriet lay in her cradle with her eyes tight shut, she emitted a softly bubbling burp as if practising to charm apocalyptic judges. Her mother went to her. Her father would not look her way.

Gideon grasped the monstrous bowl by its rim and strode with it from the house. It was almost the first time he had ventured out since his fever; anger gave his long legs strength, despite the enormous weight of silver he was carrying. He did not, in fact, return it to the Bevans, but carried the loathed object to the Guildhall where he handed it in ceremonially to be melted down for the Parliamentary war effort.

In this way he did for the first time exert himself to play the father, deciding his child's political allegiance and disposing of her property. It struck him guiltily that baby Harriet might grow into a spirited young lady who would take him to task. The bowl had been handsome and she would be a City girl who could correctly assess the value of ornamental metalware. Gideon supposed he might teach her his ways of thinking, but he would have to desire the task. So far, he saw the child in the cradle as little to do with him. Some men thought they were fighting the war for their children, but not he — or not yet.

The silver bowl discussion was the closest he ever came to confronting Lacy. She must see his growing suspicion that she and her infant had been foisted on him. He started looking for an escape, rather than to plunge them into discord. Divorce only existed for monarchs and the aristocracy. Even kings and earls were forced to cite reasons such as non-consummation of the marriage. For Gideon it was an impossibility. He was the wrong class. In any case, he felt squeamish about suggesting that Harriet might be a bastard. Whether she was his flesh and blood or not, his kind heart failed at the thought of condemning her.

When Gideon recovered his strength he rejoined his Trained Band regiment, though what he had heard about recent manoeuvres still demoralised him. He did not want to find himself among reluctant comrades under a general they all resented. Sooner or later, on rotation, the main Green Regiment would be deployed with Waller.

He was struggling physically. The loss of his fingertips hampered loading and firing his musket. His captain suspended him from active duty. Gideon went back to work full-time at the print shop. Having to relearn hand movements made him far from dexterous there too. There were worse disabilities, but he resented his fate.

The Public Corranto was still being turned out every week, so when Gideon was particularly grumpy Robert sent him out transporting copies. A system had been developed where bundles of pamphlets or news-sheets were taken beyond London, along the road to Oxford in particular, in order to satirise the enemy and depress them with their godly opponents' good spirits. Royalist publications were imported on the way back. Nobody was supposed to travel either way without a pass; realistically travellers needed two passes, one from each army although to be in possession of two was in itself dangerous. Troops saw it as proof of treachery. In the previous November one of the King's messengers had been hanged as a spy.

A secret network of couriers had grown up. Women disguised as beggars did much of the work. Printed papers were dumped at a series of drops, to be picked up and discreetly passed along the network. Within the area close to London, controlled by the Trained Bands who knew him, Gideon could safely take copies to the first hideout. There were a few butchers and chandlers in the ranks who would always give a printer backchat, but in general his colleagues saw this as God's work. They would wave him through checkpoints without bothering to ask questions. He was rarely stopped.

Then one day early in 1644, instead of his normal trip west out of Hammersmith, Gideon happened to go with a carter north towards St Albans. As they were returning via Bushey, they were suddenly surrounded by a small group of armed men. At first Gideon feared this troop were cavaliers. They had a high-handed, aggressive demeanour and they meant business. They were light-armed dragoons, speedy horsemen who trotted under black banners which, when the heavy fringed cloth flapped open in the spring breeze, revealed emblems of Bibles. This was a banner of righteousness, yet even after Gideon ascertained that the troops came from a Parliamentary garrison, the situation remained tricky. The dragoons were so very completely righteous they were keen to arrest anyone, never mind if he claimed to be from their own side.

The carter behaved as if none of this concerned him. He was a lean Londoner from a family in Wapping, a wiry old worker with a dogged, equable mentality, often silent although Gideon had gained his confidence. He kept to decades-old routines, bringing his lunch with him in a battered basket, where every item had its place. The food was always in a threadbare square of housewife-cloth, well laundered. Every day he ate cheese with shallots and a thick wad of dark bread. Using a short-bladed, bone-handled penknife, he trimmed off the cheese in equal-sized pieces. The shallots were neatly topped, tailed and halved. He carried a beer bottle, from which he drank half before he ate and the rest once he finished. Since his ancient horse was placid, he generally drove along while doing this.

The cavalry had appeared while the daily routine was in progress. Benjamin Lucock remained placidly on his seat and carried on eating. The haughty men in buff coats barely noticed him. Crunching half a shallot was clearly a sign of innocence. That his occupation was innocent seemed to be confirmed by a load of winter vegetables from a market garden and a brace of trussed-together geese he was taking home to his daughter.

More sinister was the tall young man clad in a brown suit and jaunty beaver hat, unarmed, and apparently without trade or other decent excuse to be wandering. Gideon Jukes was ordered to descend from the cart in order to be pushed around.

Gideon now suffered because of his quiet demeanour, learned over the years from Robert Allibone. Anyone from the country areas, as these Eastern Association dragoons all were, knew that Londoners were mouthy. Gideon submitted far too demurely. His answers made things worse: he claimed he belonged to the Trained Bands and had been on the march to Gloucester. 'Which regiment?'

'The Greens.'

'Colonel Pennington's?'

It was a trap, Gideon reckoned. Isaac Pennington commanded the White Regiment. With his heart pounding, he answered as levelly as he could. 'Our colonel is Alderman John Warner.'

'In the Greens?' The soldiers were wary. 'The Reds and the Blues relieved Gloucester, that's well known.'

'I took a man's place — '

'Who? — Zebediah Nobody!'

Gideon could only smile weakly. It seemed a long time since he had offered himself as a replacement for the draper in the Red Regiment, and he really could not remember what the man had been called.

Gideon explained that today he had been delivering Parliamentary news-sheets. He had taken the precaution of keeping one in the cart. The man questioning him accepted this copy of the Public Corranto, glanced at it, then rolled it and slapped it dismissively against his thigh. The dragoons were anxious to go back to their quarters with some prize — any prize. They condemned all news-sheets as seditious and suggested that Gideon was a spy.

The usual way to extract information from spies was to hang them up over a barrel of gunpowder, before applying lighted match to their fingers. Only the bravest held out.

The dragoons produced lit matchcord to terrorise Gideon, but when they seized his fists to tie him up, they came upon his missing fingertips. To them, this implied he had already been given the burn-treatment in some previous arrest. Now they had an excuse to treat him as an escaped prisoner. They threw him across the back of a spare horse, tied his arms and feet under its belly, and began taking him across country for interrogation. They had let the carter go.

Gideon had told the truth about his mission. That would leave him nothing to confess once they began to torture him.

Chapter Twenty-Eight — Newport Pagnell: 1644

When civil dudgeon first grew high,

And men fell out they knew not why?

When hard words, jealousies, and fears,

Set folks together by the ears,

And made them fight, like mad or drunk,

For Dame Religion, as for punk;

Whose honesty they all durst swear for,

Though not a man of them knew wherefore:

When Gospel-Trumpeter, surrounded

With long-ear'd rout, to battle sounded,

And pulpit, drum ecclesiastick,

Was beat with fist, instead of a stick;

Then did Sir Knight abandon dwelling,

And out he rode a-colonelling…

Sir Samuel Luke was a Bedfordshire knight of approximately forty years. That is to say, since he was very particular, in the early March of 1644 he was still forty, but by the end of the month he was forty-one. Gideon Jukes might have made a pocketbook note of the date, had he known he was to encounter a famous man, a man who was fingered many years later as the original of the lead figure in Samuel Butler's popular chivalric satire Hudibras. As a printer he had an interest in bestsellers.

However, Gideon knew what he liked in literature, and it was never mock-heroic poetry. Besides, Butler claimed that Hudibras was modelled on a Devon man.

Sweating with apprehension and struggling for breath as the horse painfully bounced him about, Gideon was taken a day and a half's ride, including a night when he lay trussed up on straw in stables at Dunstable. He offered to give his parole but was told parole was only for officers; spies were hog-tied until they were hanged.

These dragoons were artists in causing apprehension. There was nothing like dangling upside down with his face against a hot, hairy horse to convince a prisoner to confess.

The ride ended at last at a walled market town in a part of the country unfamiliar to Gideon. They had travelled north-west, to where Bedfordshire met Northamptonshire. He regarded this as wilderness.

When the horses slowed to a stop, other beasts neighed greetings from close by. Gideon could hear the familiar unhurried noise of a musket-barrel being cleaned inside with a scouring tool. There were men's voices, leisurely and with occasional laughter, along with a faint waft of tobacco smoke. Their accents were English, though to a nervous Londoner they smacked discouragingly of marsh and fen. Gideon and Lambert reckoned that everyone in the Midlands had cowpox and no sense of humour, while all East Anglians had webbed feet and three ears.

Without warning, someone cut him free. He slid down off the horse. As he landed backwards and floundered to regain his balance on failing legs, he took sly note of his surroundings. He must be in a garrison town. They had arrived outside the gateway to an old castle, with colours planted before it — another black flag with those Bibles — headquarters, no doubt.

Gideon was pushed indoors, and taken up stone steps to a quiet upstairs saloon. Magisterial oak armchairs stood around a long table. The room was cold and fireless. Gideon, who felt desperately hungry, had noticed a faint scent of roast fowl as he blundered upstairs, but nothing was offered to him. From beyond the leaded windows came sounds of groups of tired horsemen, clattering home in the late afternoon as the light faded. No attempt was made to steal his money, had he had any. Gideon had been searched for weapons when he was first arrested, but he was neither stripped of his clothes nor kept tied up. The castle was secure; the town was fortified. There was no point in trying to escape. Perhaps he did not want to. Adventure was already calling.

A servant in a long leather apron carried in a candlestick. The man stood this at the centre of the table, then fussily pushed in a couple of the chairs, emphasising that Gideon was not to sit.

He did have company. A drippy-nosed Bedfordshire bumpkin of about fifteen had been kicking his heels in the room. When they were left alone together Gideon ascertained that the heavy-jowled young scowler was a free person, who wished to enlist. His mother had died; his father had remarried only two months later. The unhappy teenager found this so intolerable he had run away from home.

'Are you a soldier?' asked the youth, hopefully.

'A printer.'

'What do you print?' Always a dangerous question.

'Words.' It came out as if Gideon too were still a boorish, obstinate adolescent giving silly answers. Some memory made him add, 'I print the words. I never take responsibility for ideas.' The boy who had quarrelled with his father was unimpressed.

In then walked a civilian, a man with a downturned mouth, clad in a grey suit with slightly effusive white shirtbands, carrying a satchel of documents, bearing a goblet of claret, and eating an apple. He seemed to have recently partaken of a good supper and was now ready to clear off extra business before the day ended. Hudibras, the gallivanting, truth-defending hero, would possess a constant companion in his loyal squire, Ralpho. This secretary may have made himself the model for witty, prescient, courageous, loyal, level-headed Ralph. However, he introduced himself plainly as Mr Butler, secretary to Sir Samuel Luke, MP.

Samuel Butler was around thirty years old, roughly ten years older than Gideon. The son of a minor landowner, educated at Cambridge University, his interests were history and poetry, music and painting. But he needed to earn his living. As an administrative assistant in a garrison he brought intellect and culture, not to mention legible handwriting for letters and lists.

Any future poet would regard a printer as a hireling, a mere ink-stained artisan. A printer deplored a poet as a dilettante dreamer, whose much-revised effusions were a devil to disentangle for type-setting and — more important — brought in no money. However, at their first meeting Gideon, with his stomach rumbling violently, was simply offended by the way the man chomped so thoughtlessly on his fruit. It looked like a pippin. A little rough-skinned. Juicy, crisp and sweet.

The young boy, who seemed edgy and liable to steal the firedogs, had to be tackled first. Mr Butler ascertained that he was able-bodied and just of serving age (fifteen years to sixty-five). He came from a small village called Elstow, where his father, though a freeholder, worked as a maker and mender of pots and pans.

'A tinker?' The secretary looked askance. Though this boy's humble, pot-fettling background might one day seem romantic, in 1644 at Newport it counted against him to be the barely schooled son of a Bedford kettle-mender. Parliament had struggled hard to shake off the Royalist slander that the Earl of Essex led a disreputable rabble of decayed tapsters, released prisoners — and tinkers. Moreover here, one sniffing boy was much like another: very young recruits were a nightmare. Lads played the fool with gunpowder, whined about long hours on duty, drank, stole food, were scared to be in open country in the dark, missed their mothers and were dangerously uncoordinated when first put on a horse.

'So you are a ragamuffin.'

'I have had schooling; I can read and write.'

And curse and swear, lie and blaspheme against the Lord?' The boy nodded enthusiastically but Samuel Butler made preparations to admit him to Captain Ennis's company. A soldier was called to lead the recruit to the quartermaster.

'Robert Cox has come in,' the trooper mentioned to the secretary. 'News from Oxford.'

'I will take his report shortly — If the rabbits are ready to go up to Sir Samuel's father, there is correspondence too. The messenger must wait, though; I must copy it into the Letter Book. If Cox has acquired the latest Mercurius Aulicus, send it straight in to Sir Samuel. He will post it on to Sir Oliver, but he will want to read it first.'

Mr Butler's pen was dipped into an inkpot and applied with due formality in the regimental roll. He called after the tinker's lad, 'I forgot your name?'

'John Bunyan.'

Gideon Jukes had now met two notables of English literature. He had no idea. All he cared about was the secretary's apple. It had been reduced to a core, not tossed aside, but gently placed upon a sheet of used drafting paper. There it sat growing soft, while fuzziness spread about the nearest ink on the paper and the mouldings made by Samuel Butler's teeth started gently to go brown…

Having dispatched Bunyan, the secretary remembered his wine, sipped from the goblet, and immediately cheered up. 'And your name?'

'Gideon Jukes. Sir, I have not eaten for two days.'

'Well, well; credentials first… Age?'

'Twenty-three.'

'From?'

'The City of London.'

Butler was scowling. 'You were brought in.' That must be garrison code for an arrest.

Gideon let rip: 'I have been brought to misery. I was stopped in my honest business, insulted, kidnapped, threatened, starved, and joggled here on a cursed, mangy, thin-tailed, farting horse…' The future master of colourful tetrameters looked intrigued. 'Since your rob-dogs plucked me up, no one has even had the courtesy to tell me where I am, so I can put it in my petition of complaint!'

'Newport Pagnell.' It meant nothing. His friends and family would never think to look for Gideon here, even if they raised a ransom. 'Who are you for, Jukes?' It was a standard question, though Mr Butler had not asked it of the enlisting boy.

'For Parliament.'

'For Parliament and the King?'

'That rubric's a nonsense, a coward's refuge.'

Butler smiled slightly. 'So you say you are in the London Trained Bands?'

To Londoners there were no others worth mentioning. Gideon retorted proudly, 'I am in the Green Regiment, under Colonel John Warner, alderman and grocer. My troop is the third, that of Captain Robert Mainwaring. You may write to him to vouch for me, which he will do. He works at the Customs House, lives in Aldermanbury…'

At the secretary's silence, he realised a letter requesting validation had already been sent. They were hot on correspondence here.

'Why are you not at your work or with your regiment?'

Gideon held up his damaged fingers. 'Not safe with a musket. I need to practise dexterity'

'So why were you brought here?' asked Mr Butler, looking away from the missing digits shyly. 'Did you have a ticket for the road?'

'No.'

'Why not?'

'I was doing loyal work.'

'There is an ordnance: you must be issued with a pass.'

'Apparently so,' replied Gideon. 'Hence I am deemed to be a spy.'

'That seems a reasonable deduction. Are you?' From a poet, this was refreshingly direct. Mr Samuel Butler had not yet settled into his future role. If he had a work in progress, he must be writing it secretly in his closet after his duties, scrawling couplets more as a refuge from the tedium of military life than in any hope yet of fortune and fame. 'Are you a spy, Master Jukes?'

'No.' Gideon, the quiet man, stood his ground monosyllabically.

Then the secretary asked him in a mild tone: 'Would you like to be?'

For a Cheapside boy, the relocation offer was an insult. So was the way they had pressed him to enlist here. 'After your poxy horse ride from Hell?'

'Then go home to your family'

Ah. It was an offer of distancing himself from his troubles. 'Oh I'll stay if I choose, sir!'

'Well, make up your mind, Master Jukes.'

'Very well, I shall try it.'

So, once London had vouched for him, Gideon took up a new career.

Newport Pagnell was, and is, a small English market town. Historically, it grew up beside the great North West Road, the old Roman military route across the Midlands towards North Wales. On the way to Northampton, it was fifty miles from London, fifteen from Bedford, thirty or more from Oxford. During the civil war Newport Pagnell was in the territory of the Eastern Association. Their committee regarded it as a hamlet on the road to somewhere else. But in the military context, to be within reach of those other centres justified Newport Pagnell's opinion that it was 'of considerable consequence'.

Gideon learned that the establishment of a Parliamentary garrison had been luck. At the end of 1643, the cavalier Sir Lewis Dyve had captured Newport Pagnell. Prince Rupert wanted to harry Parliament's Eastern Association; during the operation Royalists even briefly occupied Bedford and skirled around Northampton stealing cattle. However, less than three weeks later, Dyve evacuated Newport in haste as a result of an 'error': misunderstanding garbled instructions from the King.

As soon as Dyve decamped, his Parliamentarian neighbour, Sir Samuel Luke, nipped in. Any Royalist plan to invade the Eastern Association was abandoned, permanently, as it turned out. Parliamentary cavalry, under Oliver Cromwell, was quartered around Newport that winter, for security. By the time Gideon arrived they had moved off, but connections with Cromwell persisted and he heard the name regularly.

Newport proved valuable, just beyond the King's reach from Oxford yet close enough for informants to report whatever the King was up to. From here, Sir Samuel Luke tenaciously kept watch on the enemy. His activities ranged over a fifty-mile radius in all directions and sometimes his contacts went further.

Gideon rarely had direct conversation with his colonel, but came to know him well by sight: a short man, broad of beam and bulbous-bellied, with a full jaw, fleshy face, long straggling hair and a brocaded neckerchief, who busied himself continuously. 'He knows who you are,' people said. Anyone who rode back to the garrison with information could feel confident that his debriefing, whether taken by Samuel Butler or by one of the officers, would be passed to the colonel himself; if relevant, it would be relayed by letter from him to the field generals or even to Parliament, probably the same day.

Luke was educated, energetic and obstinate. Like his father, Sir Oliver Luke, who was still active at Westminster, Samuel was a traditional English country squire. Hardly a day went by without his sending conies to his father or giving presents of deer or game pies to other gentlemen whose goodwill might be useful. To Gideon, this country life of sport and vigorous ingratiation came as a shock. He did not expect to see hunting hounds bustling through the garrison, or to make way for Sir Oliver Luke's falconer, bearing his hawk upon his arm as he went from wood to park. Gideon had always known there were favours done in the City, and although he only mildly disapproved of the weekly rabbits sent up to London for Sir Oliver Luke, he had much stronger feelings about the regular handouts to other landowners: the does, the red deer pies, the braces of partridge or pheasant, the teal and snipe. All the local estates were carefully protected by orders from Sir Samuel, whether owned by Parliamentarians or Royalists. It made the war, in which honest working men were dying, seem a mere game to the gentry.

There was more congenial bustle at Newport: the visits of Sir Samuel's agent, Mr Love, who brought funds from the Eastern Association counties — or with more frequency took anguished letters from Luke, trying to wring out arrears in order to feed and equip the garrison soldiers; the arrival of carts from Sir Samuel's quartermaster in London, carts bearing military equipment of all kinds — together with Sir Samuel's wine supply; and the constant flow in and out of cavalry.

The regime was unique. When other garrisons took prisoners — known Royalists or suspected spies — they sent them to Newport for examination. From Newport itself, regular parties of horsemen rode out to find and beat up Royalist soldiers, whom they cheerfully killed or took prisoner, then they carried off provisions and horses. They roamed through villages near Oxford — Burford, Bicester, Woodstock — harrying the King's main field army. Then individual scouts, colleagues Gideon came to know, travelled even longer distances — Banbury, Chard, even Salisbury — to discover information about enemy troop movements.

One of the first questions Gideon had been asked was 'Do you ride, Jukes?'

'I have sat on a horse.'

'Do you ride?'

'Not as a cavalryman would.'

'Then learn.'

The next time new horses were brought up from Smithfield, one was allocated to him. He would never be a safe infantry musketeer again; the complicated manoeuvres with bullets and powder were now too cumbersome for his poor fingers. So he happily became a dragoon, armed with a musket and a long sword, neither of which he used frequently, while he struggled to lure good service from his lacklustre nag. Mostly, as part of Luke's team, he had to master questioning and listening. Once he had learned his way around the districts, he became a valued independent scout.

Luke's scouts diligently watched Royalist regiments. They counted groups of the enemy, noted their arms and the quality of their horses, and tried to discover where they were going. They picked up Royalist news-sheets. They questioned people in local villages after the enemy had been there to demand taxes, weapons, food, or quarters. They knew all the inns. They stopped and searched travellers. They developed relationships with tradesmen and pedlars. A horse losing a shoe would give a good excuse to gossip with a farrier. Market days were good cover.

Sometimes they organised real spies who went in disguise into Royalist towns and garrisons. This included Oxford. Gideon volunteered himself but was too tall and too flaxen-haired. The task called for men who could pass inconspicuously — and women; they had a she-intelligencer called Parliament Jane in Oxford. The task was dangerous. Parliament Jane's husband was hanged by the King at Carfax. Undercover scouts had a short life.

Riding around by himself gave Gideon time to brood.

It was symptomatic of his failing relationship with his wife, that he wrote to tell his parents and Robert Allibone he had joined the Newport Pagnell regiment, but not Lacy. A month after his arrival, a letter from his father informed him sadly that both Lacy and the baby, Harriet, had been ill and had died.

Gideon tried to ignore his relief. His problems did not end. Now he felt guilty for leaving them.

Joining up at Newport Pagnell in order to forget his troubles now seemed pointless — even though Gideon knew he had an aptitude and a liking for his new work. At fifty miles' distance from London it could have been easy to put his bereavement from his mind. Yet as he rode around, often solitary, he had time and opportunity to wrestle all the more fiercely with his doubts.

Had Lacy Keevil been already with child — and had she known it — when he married her? Had he been singled out as a fool? Who was the child's father? What was the Bevans' involvement? Remembering how eagerly they had pressed for the union, they must have known the situation. So were Bevan and Elizabeth simply Lacy's keepers at the time of her disgrace, adults forced to scurry round to find a solution when a young girl in their household had behaved foolishly? Or was there a darker motive in their rush to find her a husband?

Gideon was not entirely pitiless. He saw that perhaps Lacy herself had been cruelly used. All of their lives had been soured by whatever his wife had done — or had had done to her. Now Lacy was dead, along with her four-month-old baby, and she left Gideon damaged. He might never really find the answers to his suspicions, but he had lost all faith in women.

He threw himself into scouting as if to court danger and seek oblivion. He went forwards, but he rode in a grim mood.

Chapter Twenty-Nine — Newport Pagnell and Stony Stratford: 1644

Gideon came to recognise many of the people who lived and worked in the districts through which he regularly rode. Some he knew well. Clergymen, innkeepers, market women and beggars were useful sources of information; after a season he recognised regular faces and exchanged greetings with many. He also took keen notice of strangers. Occasionally, he reported criminal activities to the authorities.

His remit covered the area towards Northampton. While looking out for Royalist fugitives after the battle of Marston Moor, he spotted a ragged young woman, lurking in a church porch. It was a medieval chapel-of-ease that lay alongside Watling Street on the west side of Stony Stratford. The waif was slightly built, her face hidden in a grubby shawl. Gideon watched her enter the ancient door to the square tower. A bundle in her arms aroused his immediate suspicions. He waited. As he had feared, when she emerged a few minutes later, she was carrying nothing.

She set off fast, heading away from the historic town. After a moment's consideration, Gideon urged his horse forward and overtook her. Dismounting, he stopped her.

'What are you doing?'

'Looking for horse mushrooms.'

'Too early! Don't lie or you'll be taken up for spying.' It was August. Gideon had been intently watching the hedgerows to which she clung, since that was where ambushes were laid; they were still overgrown and green. Nuts and berries had yet to ripen; spiders' webs did not yet glisten between the twigs; autumn mists had yet to bring up mushrooms, puffballs or fairy rings in wet fields and cowpats. Soldiers and scouts were still abroad. Battles yet lay ahead in the calendar.

Barely more than a child, the girl with the poor knowledge of nature was colourless, skinny and showed signs of perpetual hardship. She looked intensely agitated. She knew enough to control her truculence at being apprehended, however. Nor did she try to run away, although while she talked to Gideon she kept dodging out of arm's reach. She admitted to being a traveller; she claimed she earned her living by knocking on doors and begging for work.

'You mean knocking on doors and hoping to steal something! Where have you come from?'

'North…' She became vague, acting simple-minded.

'Don't play the loon,' Gideon snapped. I'll have to send you to Bedlam.' Mention of Bedlam chilled her, for reasons he could not imagine. 'Where are you going?'

'London!' exclaimed the vagrant, as if she thought herself on a highway to paradise.

'Ha!'

The girl stared. She saw a tall, fair-haired man in a well-filled buff coat, worsted britches and riding boots, a dragoon in his twenties who had an air of easy competence. Unperturbed by her attitude, he behaved as if he were in charge of this stretch of road. Unlike other soldiers she met, he made no move to threaten her, either with the sword in hangers from his belt or the musket which he had left beside his saddle. However, he kept himself between her and the horse, which was a grey mare, now stretching its neck after lush roadside grass, rather knock-kneed but well cared for.

There was no chance of stealing the gun, or the beaver hat which also hung on the saddle. The mare wasn't worth any risk. A three-shilling reject; good horses cost ten times that. The man noticed her looking at the gun. Having taken his measure, she decided not to try anything. His lips compressed slightly, as if he read her decision.

'Do you walk alone?' She nodded, almost too weary to speak. 'Always?'

'I met a pedlar woman, carrying a great pack of needles and threads, ribbons, peg dolls, shoelaces, buttons and buckles…' The wonders of the pack had held her in thrall. 'She took me along with her and talked of God and such — ' Perhaps a Parliamentary soldier would be softened by mention of God, she thought, though he stood listening with the same quizzical look. He was in fact struggling to follow her sing-song whining accent. 'She told me of her life, selling to the rich then saving pennies of her profit. She swore she would one day be greatly rich herself, after this life of careful toil, and would leave all her money to the poor.'

Gideon reckoned the pedlar must have been a travelling Quaker or similar. 'Does she preach?'

'That would be shocking!'

'Perhaps not. The women who do it say they follow Hannah and Abigail.'

Biblical names meant nothing to the vagrant. 'She preaches, but I never heard her… She is a married woman, but left her husband to shift for himself while she takes the word of God along the roads. I wonder what her husband thinks!' For once the girl showed a trace of amusement. Gideon let himself grin back.

Now she acquired a more calculating expression, as she noticed he was good-looking when he relaxed. He ignored it. Women's wiles only hardened his heart now. He was a betrayed man; he knew all their tricks. 'So why did you leave this honest woman's company?' And where is she? Has the vagabond murdered the preaching ribbon-seller? — No, or this scruff would be humping the pack of haberdashery herself and trying to sell me shoelaces… When there came no answer, Gideon suggested, 'I suspect you bore a child.'

'You think I killed it!' flared the girl, denying nothing. That surprised him. Gideon was always unnerved by how much authority he carried, how readily people answered his questions.

'I believe you left it in the church.'

Infanticide was the last resort of single mothers. Abandoning a child for the parish was much more common. To a harassed churchwarden, stuck with finding a wet-nurse and paying for the child's upkeep at sixpence a week from scarce parish funds, that too was iniquitous, but Gideon could see this waif was barely able to keep herself alive. She stood no chance of bringing up a child; she ought to be in parish care herself. 'Maybe you put it in the safest place you could. Was it born in a barn?'

'It was born in a ditch.'

'You might both have died there.'

'Oh easily!' With a wry private smile, the girl reflected on how close they came. The baby had emerged tiny and blue. Although people of superior rank thought beggars gave birth easily, she had lain quite exhausted for a long time afterwards. She was revolted by the mess of the afterbirth and had to force herself somehow to cut the umbilical cord with a flint. When the snuffling child was free, she had then been severely tempted to leave it naked in the ditch-water and walk away. Instead, she sneaked into the church with it, because the baby had reminded her of carrying little Robert Lucas in her arms.

'Male or female?' asked the soldier, worming the truth out. 'Did you trouble to look?'

Very reluctantly, the young mother admitted, 'Male.'

'Who was the father?' It was the question unmarried mothers were pressed to answer — on their bed of labour, when possible — because the named father then had to pay to maintain the child. The girl lost patience with this inquisition. She squared her shoulders and quickly, fluently, contemptuously, summed up her past few months: in disguise as a boy in two different garrisons, then 'befriended' by men who obtained carnal knowledge of her frail body, seducing her in secret by offering apparent kindness. She had never known men's kindness before. She could not judge whether their overtures were genuine or false. So she had been coerced and betrayed — yet now she accepted her fate without rancour.

'You should be sent back to your home parish.' That did terrify her. Though she refused to name where she came from, she railed agitatedly against cavaliers on a killing spree, then plundering, raping and burning. Gideon guessed: 'Birmingham?'

Round-eyed, she gasped, 'You know?'

'From a news pamphlet.'

'Was I in that?' The thought both horrified and fascinated her.

'Only the dead were named.'

Patiently Gideon began to explain how news was gathered, written up and printed, why pamphlets were produced. He told her of his own part, then he tried to recruit her for Robert Allibone's network of news distributors.

She said she would do it; he had doubts. Small sums were paid to the beggars who moved the bundles of news-sheets from London to Oxford and elsewhere, but when he mentioned the figure he sensed that it was insufficient to tempt this free spirit. She would loathe the necessary supervision. So great was her anxiety to leave the vicinity where she had abandoned her baby, she was pretending to co-operate. But Gideon saw she was unreliable, so the conversation petered out.

Gideon also left the question of the baby. If the young mother was fifteen, as she told him, she would be only a year less than Lacy Keevil when she too found herself about to bear a child by a man she could not, or would not, name. He had bitter fellow-feeling for the waif's plight.

He might have ridden back to the church porch and looked for the whimpering bundle, but if he was discovered doing that he could be accused of fathering the infant himself. He had an informant to meet that afternoon; he was beginning to resent delays.

Before he left her, he asked her name. She gave him the defiantly straight stare that vagabonds used when they were lying. 'Dorothy Groome.'

'I think that was the pedlar woman's name,' Gideon rebuked her mildly.

'It is a good name!' The girl rounded on him defiantly. 'What is your name?'

'Gideon Jukes.' He was already mounting his three-shilling horse, routinely cursing as the idiotic beast tried to wander away from him.

'What place is this?' the waif called after him.

'Stony Stratford — Calverton parish, should you wish to reclaim your child.'

The girl dragged her tired feet, setting off on her long walk towards London. If she ever reached the city, Gideon thought, she would be sucked into the competing multitude. Among the starved masses on the hostile streets, her youth and her innocence could only tell against her. She would be lucky to last a week.

He did not see the waif in his area again. They had had a chance encounter. Neither expected to remember it.

By that time in late 1644, Gideon was greatly anxious about the progress of the war. After the great Parliamentary victory at Marston Moor the King achieved a personal triumph in shattering one of his opponents' armies, that of Sir William Waller at Cropredy Bridge, and outmanoeuvred the Earl of Essex in the pointless disaster of Lostwithiel. Charles spent the summer pottering, relieving garrisons that could well have been left to their own devices and languorously guesting in loyal gentlemen's houses as if the war could wait on his pleasure.

At Newport, Sir Samuel Luke was twitchy. The town's defences were in a bad way; he could obtain neither money, men nor tools for renewal works. His garrison muttered mutinously. Soldiers were unpaid. He was in poor health and feeling the cold; he sent to London for his fur coat.

Throughout that autumn, Gideon and the other scouts kept nervous watch on the area between Oxford and London. In October, the remnants of Essex's army and the relics of Waller's both joined Manchester in a blockade to prevent the King advancing to London. It was an unhappy merger. The Parliamentary commanders bickered. The troops were mutinous and demoralised. Essex was constantly sending to Parliament with recriminations against others; then he conveniently 'fell ill', when the Parliamentary forces, united in name though not in spirit, faced battle with the King at Newbury. Parliament's forces failed to co-operate. There was confusion and stalemate; after sundown, the King and his men were allowed to slip away through a gap and escape.

Charles would spend the winter of 1644-5 in Oxford, while his opponents reviewed their lacklustre efforts of the previous year. The baffling ineptitude at the second battle of Newbury achieved one useful result: men of energy, headed by Oliver Cromwell, urged Parliament to change their military affairs.

Now Sir Samuel Luke's scouts kept a closer than ever watch on Oxford. He had a paranoid fear that the King intended to strike at his garrison: 'There is some treacherous plot against us at present, for they never had that confidence and cheerfulness at Oxford as they have now…'Luke's men were deserting; they knew the rival garrison at Aylesbury was better supported and more regularly paid than theirs. When Sir Samuel was recalled to sit in Parliament along with all the other members, he protested that he needed to stay at Newport or his unhappy soldiers would disband themselves.

None the less, he was forced to go up to Westminster. A new army was being proposed, in which no members of Parliament would hold commissions. At Newport Pagnell there was much troubled discussion of the impact this would have; Sir Samuel might never return.

He might be forced, as a member of Parliament, to 'volunteer' to give up his command. So it happened that during the lull in fighting at the end of the year, Gideon Jukes was given leave to visit his family. The vexed officers at Newport Pagnell had written Sir Samuel Luke a letter of support: 'Sir, we your poor and discontented officers are desirous you take notice how ready and cheerful we shall be to serve under you or any other body…' Gideon thought it muddled and misguided, but he did not demur when his captain chose him to convey the letter. While Sir Samuel Luke was in London, he occupied a property that had been part of the King's Printing House at Blackfriars. 'You're a printer, Trooper Jukes; I can trust you to find the house.'

Gideon was told he could spend a week among his family. 'I'll try and bring back new britches!' he promised, for uniforms were in short supply.

'The devil with britches; we can fight the King bare-arsed. Bring bullets!' chortled a sergeant, sucking on an empty pipe as if the memory of old smoke that imbued the browned clay would bring him comfort. 'And remember, Cheapside boy, if you run into a great beast, square and bellowing, with a leg at each corner, it is a cow.'

Jokes about Londoners never having seen cattle gave endless entertainment to the country-born.

There were more jests about whether Gideon could find his way back to London, but thanks to the ancient Romans, it was a perfectly straight ride for two days down Watling Street until he passed under the shadow of Old St Paul's. He then simply had to turn off into Bread Street where his parents lived.

Approaching the city, when he came up to the Wardour Street Fort in the Lines of Communication, the sentries' cadences of London speech gave him a deep pang. 'Let him in, lads! It's Private Jukes, wandering home from market with a bag of magic beans…'

Gideon had adapted his City vowels while at Newport. The Northamptonshire turnips pretended they could not understand him otherwise. As he thanked the sentries, grinning at their badinage, he heard his natural accent return and felt he had become himself again after living in a kind of disguise for many months.

Homesickness swept over him. He realised how tired he was of riding around alone among woods, fields and beggarly villages. He turned in through the city gate. As he entered the metropolitan clamour and bustle, an enormous yearning to be back here struck. Encountering the smoke from thousands of chimneys in coal-burning homes and businesses, Gideon Jukes took the deepest breath he could and let the old familiar choking smog of London fill every cranny of his lungs.

Chapter Thirty — London and Newport Pagnell: 1644-45

Although he had given his word he would return to the garrison, and meant it, Gideon was surprised just how strongly home exerted its call. He could understand soldiers who deserted. If they chose to slink away, there would be little comeback; so grim was the manpower situation, apprehended deserters were simply returned to their colours and not punished.

As he sat at his mother's table, devotedly plied with pudding, Gideon was overwhelmed with yearning for ordinary life. 'I have to go back!' he warned, as much to remind himself. Parthenope pushed a wisp of greying hair under her cap, and nodded unconvincingly. He worried about her; ten months had wrought too many changes. She looked older, thinner, more anxious about his father. John had altered even more. He sat like a wraith at the fireside, hardly communing.

'He knows you!' Parthenope had exclaimed in delight when Gideon first entered. He realised there must be times when John Jukes no longer did know people. The old fellow beamed happily, aware that this was Gideon back. Shocked, his son saw that next time he came home — if there was a next time — either or both of his parents might be gone.

Others were already lost. Parthenope formally told Gideon how his wife and child sickened and died, how and where they were buried. He dutifully listened. 'I wrote to her mother, Gideon.' He was surprised, 'Oh, I am sure Elizabeth passed on the news. But we had taken Lacy into our family and I wanted to relate it in my own way… No answer came.' Parthenope sounded disappointed, and a little put out. 'Uncle Bevan and Elizabeth were at the funeral. They sat extremely quietly' Chastened! thought Gideon bleakly.

When Parthenope fell silent he exclaimed, 'I should like to have known the truth.'

'Well, it is all finished.' His mother patted his shoulder vaguely. She was too good a woman to admit, even privately, that Gideon had had a fortunate escape. 'She was a strange girl, but she is gone, and so is the dear baby… It is all done with.'

He would never be free of it, however.

As if they knew Gideon was home, the Bevans came visiting like irritating ticks. Parthenope's mood towards her uncle must have softened enough for them to be sure of seats in the upstairs parlour for half an hour, but Gideon remained obdurate. Hearing Elizabeth's and Bevan's voices, he lit off through the back door, hid in the yard temporarily, then escaped over a fence, though it was bitter January and he was coatless and hatless.

He marched to Basinghall Street, where he was welcomed by Robert Allibone. On hearing that the Bevans had swanned into Cheapside, Robert winced and at once locked up the print shop; they headed for a tavern. The Star in Coleman Street lay nearest, and had enough reputation for hatching revolution to deter Bevan Bevan if he came on a search for Gideon. 'Being put into the horse-trough gave him an ague,' sighed Robert. 'I hear he is but a shadow of himself — yet it is an obnoxious shadow still.'

'Don't talk of him.'

'Then I shall order instead.' For all its political reputation, the Star had a quiet, almost dull atmosphere. It advertised a hearty beef roast, which the landlord was delighted to provide for Robert; devout revolutionaries rarely opened their purses for more than bread and butter, so the roast was close to expiry on the charger. After three days in his mother's kitchen, Gideon groaned and could not think of food.

By chance they met a group from the Trained Bands' Blue Regiment, Lambert's regiment, men whom Gideon remembered from the Gloucester march. The Blues normally congregated at alehouses in Bread Street or on Huggin Hill, but they had come north for a change of scenery. Christmas was little celebrated in the City; shops remained open, though it was a quiet time for trade. At New Year there was an allowed spirit of renewal. The men were in a mood to gather and gossip, reviewing the previous year and making prophecies for the next. The Blues and the Reds had spent the past autumn in the Parliamentary blockade, stationed at Reading and then in action at Newbury. Conversation inevitably turned on comparison between the two battles there. But first Gideon heard in more terrible detail what had happened at the defeat in Cornwall.

'We met the few lads who managed to struggle back. Those poor devils had a time of it. Getting penned up in Cornwall was folly by Old Robin. They ended at Lostwithiel, in a deep valley with a river to one side and steep hills around them, and only open sea ahead. It was a desperate place, with the local people violently hostile. Many only spoke a foreign language, and claimed to know no English. There was neither food nor any provisioning to be had. Our fellows were starved to the bone there for eight days, under constant attack. The cavalry cut their way out, by good management and luck, but for the rest it was hopeless. Then Essex left them, very suddenly, to save himself from capture, and was fetched off in a fishing smack. He had not even told Skippon what he intended.'

'This is a bad story!'

'True enough.' More wine was downed despondently. 'Skippon made the best surrender he could, and upon terms. Luckily the King was also hard pressed, too deprived of supplies to remain there himself. And so it was agreed that our infantry could march out, every man above corporal keeping his weapons, on a promise that they would not fight again until they came to Southampton. They marched through the enemy, who said they hung their heads like sheep. The very lice upon them were more alive than they. But the terms were broken. Our men were fallen upon, stripped, battered. The King and some of his officers tried to drive off troublemakers with the flats of their swords — but they did not try hard enough. Locals and disobedient Royalist soldiers tore the very shirts from our boys' backs, stole their weapons, reviled them, shoved them in the mire and kicked them, harried and taunted them. There was no food. The enemy went ever ahead of them, taking all from the villages. Our men shuffled through driving wind and rain, shivering, naked and unshod. Skippon had his coach, but to his credit he stayed right with them until he brought that miserable band safe into Southampton. Most never made it. They dropped in mid-stride, then they died where they dropped. We heard from those we met that only one in ten men came through their hardship alive. There are rotting bodies like milestones all along the roadside from Fowey to Southampton.'

Respectful silence fell. Eventually Robert prompted, 'When you met the survivors at Newbury…?'

'Dismal as ghosts.'

The Blues were sombre. They hunched over their cups, each man turning into himself as he imagined what Essex's humiliated infantry had endured.

'Well, they were afforded some revenge — ' Empty flagons and trenchers skidded swiftly across the worn oak taproom table to illustrate the battle at Newbury for Gideon and Robert. 'This is Shaw House… Donnington Castle… Speen village. The first encounter was at Shaw. The plan was for a double-pronged attack. In the hours of darkness Waller and Skippon, with a large contingent, had marched right around — ' A sweep with goblets, scraping on the board, indicated a flanking move. 'They were to invade Speen, while Manchester was to charge on Shaw as soon as he heard their cannon. Waller duly did the business. That was when we saw the broken-hearted relics of Lostwithiel regain their manhood. They marched on, valiantly singing psalms, despite a hail of case-shot that ravaged the ranks. When they came to the very cannon that had been taken from them at Lostwithiel, their emotion was pitiful. Some embraced the gun-barrels with tears in their eyes. Prince Maurice had Cornishmen in his forces — they ran for it, shrieking. They knew what to expect. Our fellows raced after them and gave no quarter.'

No need to describe the Cornishmen's bloody end.

Though all had been confusion, these men who served at Newbury were certain what went wrong. 'Manchester failed to busy himself when he heard the guns. Men fought like furies at Speen, expecting Manchester's attack on Shaw to come at every moment; he did nothing. He took an hour to engage, and was then repulsed by Sir George Lisle — '

'Lisle, it was said, threw off his buff coat and fought in his white shirt, so his men could still see him in the gloom.' Robert had already read about this.

Aye, while our dreary commanders dithered like blushing flower-girls… So the joint attack failed. Manchester would not bestir himself until half an hour from sunset. As soon as darkness came, the enemy reorganised and got safe away.'

'So where is the blame in this?' asked Robert, thoughtfully.

'Chaos at the top. We boys put our lives at hazard while the commanders niggle. "He stole my toy!" "I'm the eldest!" "I hate him — I shan't play with him!" The whole past season has been that way. And they were quarrelling days later, when the King came back. Reinforced by Prince Rupert, he danced in and carried his cannon out of Donnington, just as he had always intended. Our generals stood passive and refused battle.' Gideon knew this had annoyed Sir Samuel Luke. He related how Luke was livid when the King was allowed to retrieve his cannon from Donnington Castle, since they needed some great guns for Newport.

Disgusted, the Blues summoned another round of drinks. Robert Allibone tried to tell them lessons had been learned in Parliament. Oliver Cromwell, whose own role at Newbury had been less than stellar, had none the less been furiously lambasting the Earl of Manchester for 'backwardness', virtually accusing him of dereliction of duty. Even so, Cromwell now argued that it was pointless to assign blame; a remedy was needed. A committee was ordered to consider 'a frame or model of the whole militia'. All serving members of both Houses would voluntarily resign from army command and return to government, so the jealous earls and their fractious juniors would be removed at a stroke. The newly modelled army would be a national force, under one commander.

True soldiers, the Blues were happy to complain about their masters, but when theory cropped up, they lost interest.

In the course of the week, Gideon managed to hand over the Newport officers' letter to Sir Samuel Luke — along with two large veal pies baked by his mother. Parthenope had noted Gideon's stories of how country landowners liked presents. There was some coldness of reception for the letter, and Gideon was told he need not wait to take a reply. He had therefore to return next day to Newport. On his last evening, he went again to a tavern, this time with his brother Lambert. They took along their father, his role strangely changed so he seemed like a small boy being allowed out with adults. Lambert led them down Thames Street to the gracious area where once wealthy merchants had houses on the old road down to London Bridge.

Lambert knew a good tavern; Lambert always did. A hum of voices rose as the door was opened. It had a dark, noisy taproom, full of busy argument. Flagstone floors; dark panelled walls; two rows of old long tables; casement windows, set in deep embrasures, but barely visible through the smoke from pipes and the great log fire at the further end; waiting men and girls moving about rapidly, with trays borne aloft on their shoulders.

As soon as he entered, Gideon re-experienced his homesickness for London life. Lambert was subdued, regretful at losing him. As they ordered, Gideon looked around and listened to the flow of voices. He realised that he had been missing not only London, but the thrill of plotting. Although he liked his work as a scout, life at Newport Pagnell seemed empty by comparison. He had enjoyed the years leading up to war. He had been fired by political tension, excited by the hope of change. He loved being among men with opinions. These here were probably arguing about the rising price of haddock, but it could just as well be about freedom from tyranny.

That was why, sitting in Lambert's chosen inn off New Fish Street Hill, Gideon took a decision that if the army really was to be remodelled, he would try to be transferred to the new force. He told Lambert. The brothers' old wrangling had diminished. Partly it was the shift in their joint responsibility for their father, who now sat with them silently, wearing a sweet smile, far away in some world they could not enter. 'Lambert, I am sick of being stuck hungry in a backwater. To be honest, it is galling that we are pitifully equipped and never paid. We need our salaries so we can eat. Is it too much to ask?'

'Spare the country and pinch the soldier, that's the way to thrive!

'Proverb?'

'Read it in a news-sheet.'

'Oh then it must be true! The new army will have regular monies, guaranteed by Parliament.'

'You believe that?' scoffed Lambert.

'No, but who wants his old-age memories to be of Newport Pagnell?' The two Londoners laughed.

Lambert confessed that he too wanted to move on from the Trained Bands. They both saw the problem for him. Who would run the grocery business? Who would, in the most literal sense, mind the family shop?

'The women!' It was their father who startlingly spoke up. 'If they were widowed,' declared John, emerging from frailty like some papery old prophet, 'they would set to and take it on.' True.

His sons reviewed this option. Women did run businesses when pressed. In the City there was a minor tradition of female business-management. Their mother was fading, yet still a hard worker. Parthenope knew the price of everything and could judge commodities perfectly. Anne Jukes was more than capable. Anne, who had once seemed just the prettiest girl in Bishopsgate when Lambert first squired her, nowadays displayed more independent traits. Lambert told Gideon how his wife took herself to Coleman Street where women preached -

'Notoriously!' interrupted Gideon with a grin. 'There was the famous Mrs Attaway from Bell Alley — the lace-maker — until she ran off with her paramour, both of them leaving behind young children.' It was an undeserving jibe but men were merciless with women who set themselves up as spiritual arbiters then broke the moral code.

Lambert smirked. Anne has quite lost her nervousness of petitioning Parliament. Now she regularly joins with women who are pleading for peace. She has met those whose husbands are in jail for producing seditious literature. Your Robert would know the men — John Lilburne, who has been pamphleteering for years, and that man Richard Overton, who lured you into the masque…' Gideon pretended not to remember The Triumph of Peace. Indeed, if it fell to my wife to organise our shop, I should heartily welcome it! Otherwise she will end up a she-controversialist, leading her sisterhood in prayer and tumults.'

'Would you trust Anne and Mother with your capital?' Gideon asked, giving his brother a sideways glance.

'They are honest women,' Lambert replied simply. He knew their talents too; wives of members of the great London trade associations could be powerful and respected. He made a grand resolution: 'By my life, I shall start showing them the ledgers and order books — '

'Save your breath,' chortled John, into the rim of his tankard. 'They know more about the books than you do, or than I ever did either.'

Gideon would treasure that evening all the rest of his life, for as well as refining his bond with his brother, it was the last time he ever saw his father. The three Jukes men enjoyed this rare excursion together, then both Gideon and Lambert kept the memory fondly in their hearts. Next day, Gideon returned dutifully to Newport Pagnell, riding a good new horse bought for him by his parents. He was determined that garrison life would now be temporary. Sir Thomas Fairfax arrived in London from the north in February, and impressed the House of Commons with his modest bearing. Parliament appointed Fairfax to be commander of the new army.

In February too, Sir Samuel came back to Newport. Still trying to drum up money or tools to repair Newport's defences, he complained that the area all around was becoming increasingly malignant. Gideon watched the situation deteriorating daily. That month a detachment of Manchester's army were quartered at Newport, causing such overcrowding Sir Samuel complained that soldiers were having to sleep 'three and three in a bed'. Since requests for money still failed, he claimed poignantly that his garrison was now so under-funded that two of his soldiers had only one pair of britches between them; when one soldier was on duty the other was compelled to remain in his quarters in bed. 'If the soldiers mutiny for want of pay, I cannot help it…' The entire garrison was fractious and discontented.

Biding his time over asking for a transfer, Gideon assessed his commander's mood. Sir Samuel was a small man with a great spirit. He had thrown himself into his role as Scoutmaster-General with energy and application. Mercurius Britannicus, the official Parliamentary news-sheet, said of him: 'This noble commander watches the enemy so industriously that they eat, sleep, drink not, whisper not, but he can give us an account of their darkest proceedings.' Sir Samuel stood for order in religion and society. While he struggled to control his men, he was anxiously attempting to rid the garrison of religious sectaries; he also feared that Newport Pagnell town was a hotbed of sexual licence, which would go the way of Sodom and Gomorrah. Such a sinful place clearly posed a terrible lure to his soldiers, whom he could not keep penned in the castle. He imposed a battery of approved chaplains, sermons three times a week and prayers and Bible-reading every morning at the changing of the guard.

Hunched at Newport, smarting at his impending loss of office, Sir Samuel knew his time was limited. Everyone could see it rankled. He was heard muttering of the new army, 'I should be glad to know who is what — and what pension we poor cast-off lads shall have!' Towards the end of March his anxieties about the King's intentions grew so severe he actually allowed a group under Major Ennis to pass themselves off as cavaliers, in order to escape detection in deeply Royalist territory. However, he ordered them firmly that he wanted to hear of no cavalierish practices.

To break in upon Sir Samuel's worries would need care. Eventually, Gideon set up a discussion by enquiring whether Sir Samuel had enjoyed the veal pie his mother sent. The knight at once replied that it was the best veal pie he had ever had. 'Sir, she claims it is achieved by just management of orange peel and nutmeg.' Then he piped up and requested leave to enlist in the New Model Army.

As he feared, Sir Samuel became fretful. 'You want to be moulded in the new army's bread-trough — And just as I discovered you to be the source of an excellent pie!'

'Sir, I am of the party who believe the war now must be won.'

'That's a valiant belief.'

'Have I your leave to go then, sir? I had hopes of taking a recommendation — since they are being choosy' Luke was glaring, but Gideon pressed on doggedly. 'I could beg your secretary Mr Butler to prepare an encomium. I would tell him not to varnish it too thickly with testimonials, or Sir Thomas Fairfax will suspect I am a half-baked, squint-eyed laggard who cannot shoot straight…'

Sir Samuel appeared to relax. But his answer was a blunt no.

England generally seemed to be declaring itself a land worth fighting for that spring. Gideon Jukes picked his way among the farms and hamlets, going about his duties according to orders, though at the same time hopefully searching for the New Model Army. Around him the fields were fresh and green. When he skirted great houses, avenues of imported horse-chestnut trees heaved and tossed pinkish-white candles of blossom in the frisky breeze; along the lanes and tangled hedges, the whiter starlets of may blossom draped small trees and bushes in disorganised sprays from crown to floor. Willows flickered their bright young leaves beside the watercourses, which had swelled over their banks after April showers. Swans stretched their necks on the banks. Grey rabbits sat and stared. Occasionally a house showed its grey walls or tall red-brick chimneys, half glimpsed across the roll of the countryside. There were few visible cattle or horses; wise owners were hiding them in pits or secret shacks, lest they be rounded up and stolen by soldiers. While Gideon gloomily patrolled, treasurers were appointed to secure eighty thousand pounds for maintaining the New Model Army. Fairfax was its commander-in-chief. Skippon commanded the infantry, Thomas Hammond the artillery, although the command of the cavalry was not at first granted. Skippon reviewed the foot at Reading, Fairfax the horse at St Albans. For much of April, as the new force was put together, it exercised at Windsor. Gideon received a letter to say his brother Lambert had been released from the Trained Bands and had joined up as a pikeman. Gideon became ever more frustrated at being trapped in Newport.

At the end of April Fairfax took the New Model Army to relieve Taunton, but when the King and his main army left Oxford on a new summer campaign, Fairfax was ordered to wheel about and besiege Oxford instead. A small detachment went to Taunton, where Robert Blake was holding out so valiantly he answered a summons to surrender by retorting that he would sooner eat his boots. On the approach of the relieving force, the Royalists withdrew, saving Blake the trouble.

Fairfax surrounded Oxford but could make little progress as he awaited his artillery train. Samuel Luke's troops still scouted in the area; as they mouldered in their crumbling castle, with their commander condemned to retirement, their pay in arrears, ill-equipped and hungry, their garrison saw its end-date. Relations between these run-down unhappy men and the buffed-up celebrities in the New Model Army became strained. Then Luke's personal troop, under Captain Evans, was reduced into the cavalry regiment of Colonel Greaves. His deputy, Samuel Bedford, was promoted away to be Scoutmaster General of the Committee of Both Kingdoms, Parliament's main war committee.

As the garrison was fragmenting, discipline began breaking down. In the middle of March, Major Ennis was given leave to attend to a family crisis; he left pay for his men with a lieutenant, who then ran away with the money. Lieutenant Carnaby used the cash to further his marriage to a surgeon's daughter.

On hearing that the reprobate was to be found at the Dog Tavern on Garlick Hill, Sir Samuel wrote in fury to London, demanding that a warrant be issued and the culprit clapped in irons. 'If officers be permitted to run up and down at their own wills, I fear we must not expect to see good days in England long…' Four days later the scandal worsened when a London apothecary, disappointed by Carnaby's winning the surgeon's daughter, cut his own throat. His neck was said to be severed three-quarters through, though the wound was stitched up. Carnaby wrote to Sir Samuel and apologised. He did not return the money. The soldiers' arrears were not paid.

Sir Samuel was still obsessed that his garrison and the Eastern Association were a Royalist target. News that bridges over the River Cherwell close to Oxford were being repaired convinced him of imminent attack — even though he said wryly, 'This is a poor and beggarly town; here are nothing worthy of the enemy but fair maids and young lace-makers — which I intend to send out to them as a forlorn hope at their first approach.'

At the end of May the crunch came. Prince Rupert besieged Leicester, clearly a distraction to compel Fairfax to abandon Oxford. It was the old story. The prince's men broke into Leicester amidst terrible atrocities. Soldiers and civilians were slaughtered; ruthless pillaging occurred.

Fairfax was instructed to leave Oxford, seek out the King and recover Leicester. On the 5th of June, Fairfax and the army arrived near Newport Pagnell. At this point, as an exceptional measure, Sir Samuel Luke's importance was recognised: Parliament granted him an extension as commander of Newport Pagnell for the next twenty days. Only one other member of the House of Commons had similar treatment: that was Oliver Cromwell.

The New Model Army quartered nearby for several days. Gideon knew this was his one chance to transfer. Sir Thomas Fairfax stayed at Sherington, a mile away, with his army at Brick Hill. Although Sir Samuel Luke was the most hospitable man and naturally good-mannered, he never invited the new general to visit. His father, Sir Oliver, wrote to him afterwards rebuking him for this lapse, saying it had caused comment.

Relations were proper, but strained. Sir Samuel loaned three hundred infantry to the New Model, but five days later Sir Thomas Fairfax wrote complaining that various New Model soldiers were known to have returned to Newport Pagnell, where they had served in the past. Fairfax growled that he could get no provisions from the Buckinghamshire Committee — an all too familiar plaint to Sir Samuel — and begged that provisions be sent from Newport, emphasising that these would be paid for. The reminder that the New Model was well supplied with money could only rankle.

Sir Samuel believed that if Fairfax's untried army should be beaten, his garrison could not hold out. He also feared there was a plan to remove soldiers from him on the advice of Sir Philip Skippon. He had only five hundred men left in the garrison, when in his opinion he needed two thousand. He observed the new moulded troops, as he called them, and was in two minds. He told his father they were extraordinarily personable, well armed and well paid, but he found the officers no better than common soldiers and he had never seen so many get so drunk and so quickly. But he also admitted: 'Sir Thomas Fairfax's army is the bravest I ever saw for bodies of men, both in number, arms, or other accoutrements

For some it was an irresistible lure. Gideon Jukes found an excuse to ride out to Brick Hill and look at them. The new army had a buzz. To be of the 'Chosen' gives a lift. Any elite corps carries itself well. Despite raw recruits and pressed men in some numbers, levied from London and the county towns, the new army was generally formed from trained, experienced, highest-quality soldiers, who brought with them both certainty of purpose and optimism. They had high expectations. They knew that Sir Thomas Fairfax could assess what he needed, ask for it from Parliament — and get it too. In the month he had allowed himself for organisation, contracts had been arranged for pikes, pistols and muskets, saddles and horseshoes, back-and-breasts and helmets. The new general had five hundred pounds to spend on artillery and, tellingly, double that amount for intelligence.

His men were also equipped with religious fervour and political ideas. These they brought with them, at no cost to the war chest.

Gideon then skulked around Sherington and to his great excitement glimpsed Sir Thomas Fairfax. The tall commander-in-chief was light of step despite the serious wound from which he was recovering, one of four he was known to have taken in the war so far. At a little over thirty, Fairfax was twenty years younger than Essex, ten years less than Manchester, Skippon and Cromwell — though he was seven years older than his main opponent, Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Gideon's sighting of the spare figure in buff coat and fringed sash told him Fairfax had intelligent brown eyes set in a cheerful, chin-up Yorkshire face, generously framed by waving brown hair. Although he had a bodyguard, he strode off independently.

More and more stories emerged of Fairfax's dashing behaviour. At Bradford, it was said, he had ridden ahead of his men and found himself alone, facing a whole Royalist regiment; being mounted on a good horse, he had ridden straight at the fortifications, jumped right over them and escaped. Under siege at Wakefield with his family, when down to his last barrel of powder and completely out of matchcord, he had broken out of the town at the head of his men; after his wife was taken prisoner by Newcastle's troops, Fairfax rode for two days and nights, taking along his infant daughter and her redoubtable Daleswoman nursemaid. His wife was later returned to him with great chivalry in Lord Newcastle's coach.

Despite these and many other exploits, Sir Thomas Fairfax was a diffident man, who had a genuine air of surprise at his sudden elevation. The general's obvious charisma caused a flutter; after Fairfax disappeared indoors, Gideon was left feeling unsettled by expectation. His work for Luke had been essential at the time, but now it became his burning wish to join the new army.

Chapter Thirty-One — Newport Pagnell and Naseby: 1645

No open invitation had been issued for regular soldiers to transfer to the New Model. Unless Fairfax himself chose a particular troop or regiment, everyone was supposed to remain in situ. But among the public, agents were vocally calling for volunteers to present themselves at inns, while they rounded up the able-bodied from the streets, hauling in vagrants, sailors, prisoners, even captured Royalists who were willing to turn their coats. Some pressed men mutinied; others deserted. In this situation, Gideon hoped that the muster-master-general might look favourably on any trained man who presented himself. The army was supposed to reach twenty-one thousand strong, but so far was running at only two-thirds of that.

Gideon knew his way around at Brick Hill, which had been an old base used by the garrison's troops. He soon found a recruiting officer and begged for a place. He was welcomed, and assured that his transfer from the garrison would be squared with Sir Samuel Luke. He did not wait to find out.

He stood no chance of joining the cavalry; its standards would be those of Oliver Cromwell's rock-hard Ironsides, far above his capabilities as a rider. Since Gideon none the less owned his own horse — no longer the three-shilling Newport nag but the two-pounds mare his parents had bought him at New Year — he was instructed to present himself to Colonel John Okey in command of the New Model's thousand dragoons. He would remain 'mounted infantry'.

'First into the hot spots and last out,' the recruiting officer jeered.

'Dogsbodies,' agreed Gideon.

'Your task', continued the officer, looking cool at the interruption, 'will be to secure bridges in advance of the infantry and hold those bridgeheads during a retreat, to contain enclosures, line hedges and guard artillery, then when required to dismount and beef up the regular footmen. While dismounted, one man in ten will hold the horses.'

'Scouts, pickets and sentinels. Dogsbodies!' Gideon repeated.

He was ordered to the regimental stores to collect his equipment issue. The 'stores' were less permanent than they sounded; since the army was now mobile, kit was being doled out from the backs of carts. His existing threadbare uniform was rejected; replacements were available, which he must pay for by deductions from the wages he had yet to receive. Uniform coats were of good, pre-shrunk English cloth in Venice red, with grey britches that he was pleased to find had leather pockets. They were all the same size — too short for him in the sleeve and the leg. 'One size fits all.'

'Fits nobody!' Gideon fretted over the length of the coat, which at twenty-nine-and-a-quarter inches was supposed to cover his backside but failed on a long-bodied lank like him.

'Tell that to the committee.' The storesman tugged down hard on the coat; he was a wiry, bandy-legged, square-jawed Kentishman who had lost an arm in some hedge skirmish and been relegated to the commissariat. 'Lengthen your tape-strings.'

'Thereby admitting a gale around the midriff — ' Gideon fiddled halfheartedly with the flat tapes that were supposed to fasten his coat to his britches. Ever since the spurts of growth in his teens, he had had a problem with gaps; his wedding suit had been specially tailored. A long shirt would help, though it would billow through his clothes around his waist like a cavalier's fancy costume. 'It's a bum-starver… Do I not receive a buff jerkin?'

'Dragoons ride light.'

'Helmet?'

'Hat.' A grey Dutch felt was handed over, with a round crown and broad brim to keep off the weather.

Setting the hat at a jaunty angle, Gideon growled, 'I shall not even ask about armour.'

The storesman bared his teeth in a sickly grin.

A cheap dragoon saddle was offered, to Gideon's continued disgust, and he was told he could take a pair of two-and-threepenny shoes (sized ten, eleven, twelve or thirteen) or buy his own riding boots. He possessed his own buckskin gloves, bandolier with twelve powder apostles, and swordbelt for the long, cheap sword that was the best dragoons were thought to need. A new ninepenny snapsack was allowed him, a canvas bag in which he would stow rations, knife and spoon, handkerchief, fire-lighting kit, candle end, spare stockings and shirt, and his pocket Bible.

The storesman then turned to his assistant, a sleepy, small-eyed younger man with round ears like buttons, who looked as if he had trouble remembering his name. They held an intense conversation about exactly what firearm to issue. Gideon had honestly mentioned his lost fingertips. His hands were grabbed and pored over. His ability to manipulate the stricken fingers became the subject of surprisingly intelligent discussion. He posed a challenge. Gideon had learned that most men regarded any challenge as an excuse to say no, but these two seemed to welcome it positively, as a chance to devise a solution.

'He qualifies for a flintlock.' Gideon pricked up his ears.

No longer so dopey, the assistant eagerly agreed. 'Readier in use, and safer.'

From deep within the wagon, a brand-new flintlock musket, with a slightly shorter barrel than Gideon was used to, was placed gently in his grasp; he was encouraged to get the feel. Its light weight astonished him.

Flintlocks were much handier weapons than matchlocks, since although their mechanism was more complex they could be made ready to fire in one or two movements instead of the long sequence of actions required with lighted matchcord; flints were safer too. Flintlocks used no match, they were not at the mercy of the weather which, in the lightest shower, could render infantrymen's match unusable. Gideon badly wanted a flintlock.

'This is a snaphance!' announced the storesman, excitedly. 'We have two hundred, fresh in, just for the dragoons.'

Gideon brightened. He kept himself up-to-date. He knew that the snaphance musket had been developed from German fowling pieces. Hunters' guns were very fast to reload, and especially good for shooting while on the move; in theory, dragoons might have to fire from horseback.

The piece was whisked off him and its mechanism demonstrated. 'The flint is held in the jaws of your cock, which is fixed back by a sear. This engages on its tail, until you wish to fire. Your pan-cover will be slid out of the way automatically when the cock falls; as the flint strikes your frizzle, the cover is pushed aside, allowing a stream of sparks to fall in upon your powder.'

Gideon played the expert too. 'The frizzle is one piece with the cover pan?'

'No; separate. I need not explain a frizzle to you?'

Innuendo was second nature to anyone who grew up among City apprentices. 'I hope I seem like a man who knows what his frizzle is for.'

The storesman glanced at his deputy. He replied in a low, dangerous voice, 'Oh you do, Sergeant!'

'But can he tell a cow from a field-gate?' mused the younger man cheekily, half under his breath. From his hayrick burr, he must be a country boy, a thresher or general labourer; he knew how to irritate Londoners.

Gideon was suddenly startled. 'I am not a sergeant.'

The storesman made much of consulting the recruitment docket. 'Do I read this aright?' He flashed the paper in front of the assistant, who peered at it even though he was probably illiterate. They had honed their act as stooge and showman. '"Sergeant Jukes." Are you denying yourself, Sergeant?'

Gideon shrugged and shook his head. Perhaps a testimonial had been given for him by Sir Samuel Luke after all. He was amazed, not least because it was rumoured that some sergeants from the old regiments had volunteered to be reduced to privates, in order to serve in the New Model.

'Your halberd, monsignor!' sneered the storesman, handing the newly promoted Sergeant Jukes a staff weapon. The pole was eleven feet long, topped by a slim metal spike and a shaped flat blade like an axe-head or weathervane. In the English style, the blade was pierced by decorative heart-shaped holes. With this implement a sergeant would prise apart any of his men who were marching too close together and otherwise make much of himself. 'Do not lose this beauty.'

'No indeed,' replied Sergeant Jukes wholeheartedly. 'I can see it has exceptionally fine piercing on the flanges!'

Gideon found that John Okey, the dragoon commander, was to his liking: a fellow-Londoner, gaunt of cheek with a long nose and hair to his shoulders, parted centrally above a receding forehead. The colonel asked a few questions, concentrating on religious observance. He took the Baptist view that they were fighting for the Lord, who would give them victory if their righteousness was pleasing. Concealing any reservations on this point, Gideon was confirmed as a member of Okey's regiment. An enthusiastic conversation about the virtues of the snaphance musket may have been material. John Okey's God was a practical deity. The New Model Army contained plenty of Baptists; they were cheerful soldiers who prayed fervently and backed it up by shooting straight.

Gideon had already heard of this dragoon regiment. It was previously commanded by John Lilburne, the rabid pamphleteer whose wife Anne Jukes knew. Lilburne's place had fallen vacant because he declined to take the Covenant when that became compulsory.

Earlier, the Lilburne dragoons had been sent to protect the Isle of Ely against threats of invasion by Royalists from the north. Others with them there were infantry under Colonel Thomas Rainborough. Rainborough was tall and physically strapping; a man of great strength, he was a committed pikeman. By one of the quirks of war, when Gideon joined what was now Colonel Okey's regiment, he knew from a letter that his brother Lambert was already serving under Rainborough.

Their gifted colonels were to have a great influence on the Jukes brothers. The two commanders came from a similar milieu. Both their families had money, but had worked for it. Okey had been an East London ship's chandler with his own business. Rainborough came from a seagoing, shipowning family in Wapping. They were typical of the breed of officer Sir Thomas Fairfax had chosen for the new army: able, staunchly committed — in Rainborough's case almost too radical. Both men were to play significant parts in the war and its political aftermath.

While the New Model was waiting at Newport to go into action, Parliament gave Fairfax a free hand in military affairs. His council of war decided the primary object should be the destruction of the King's main army. That was wandering around the North Midlands. They also agreed to request urgently that command of the New Model cavalry should be given to Oliver Cromwell.

Fairfax moved out from Newport and just a day after Gideon joined them, the New Model Army came along the Great North Road to Stony Stratford. He had no time to remember the waif he once met here abandoning her baby. The King was at Daventry: only a few miles away.

After ransacking Leicester, the Royalists were in a high mood. They had been riding through the countryside, offending inhabitants with their fine clothes and the hordes of stolen cattle they were driving with them. When Fairfax caught up, they were taking their ease, foraging far and wide, with their horses out to grass, while the King himself casually hunted near Daventry. They had derided their opponents, calling Fairfax's army the New Noddle. When their complacent pickets were sent running helter-skelter by the Parliamentarian advance guard, it took the Royalists completely by surprise.

Relaxed as ever in the teeth of probable disaster, King Charles had written to his wife: 'My affairs were never in so fair or hopeful a way' But that position had been jeopardised by wrangling over strategy: whether to attack the remnants of the Scots' Covenanters' army in an attempt to retake the North, or to tackle the New Model Army. Either was a good objective if pursued with vigour, but in a feeble compromise, a reduced royal army was pottering northwards, seriously outnumbered, especially in cavalry. This was because Charles had let the dilettante Lord Goring take away three thousand cavalry to the West Country. It was to prove fatal. Prince Rupert tried to recall Goring. Fairfax's scouts intercepted a letter from Goring making excuses to remain where he was. At fractious Royalist war councils, tension grew between Prince Rupert and the King's civilian advisers; in contrast, the New Model Army had been devised precisely to place all authority in one command. This was the moment to strike, and Fairfax had been given a free hand. He only had to await the arrival of his own cavalry commander.

Leaving nothing to chance, Fairfax rode around his sentry posts in the dark, to satisfy himself there was no chance of being caught by a surprise attack. A sentry challenged him; Fairfax, brooding, had forgotten the password. While the captain of the guard was called, the general was forced to stand to in the wet while the soldier threatened to blow his head off if he moved. Fairfax rewarded the sentry for diligence.

Royalist troop movements and campfires suggested the enemy might be pulling out. At Fairfax's dawn council on the morning of Friday the 13th of June, it was decided to pursue. In the middle of that meeting, Oliver Cromwell and three thousand extra cavalry arrived, to a great shout of acclaim. Battle was now fully anticipated. Sir Philip Skippon, as field marshal, had been ordered to devise a battle array a full six days before.

On a fair evening at the height of the English summer, the royal army convened on a long east-west ridge and seemed ready to make a stand. Next morning, when Royalist scouts were unable to confirm the New Model's movements, Rupert went out in person to reconnoitre. Fairfax did not need to; he knew where the enemy were: seven miles away, before the fine shoemaking market town of Market Harborough which lay just over the county boundary in Leicestershire.

The battle would take place slightly to the south, in the Northamptonshire uplands. This was not beautiful, but honest open country where ancient woodlands still slumbered darkly around villages deserted in the Black Death. By a neat quirk of geography, the place was a watershed; streams on one side flowed to the south and west to the Bristol Channel, while barely a few miles away they flowed north and east to the Wash. Undulating ridges would help disguise troop movements in the early manoeuvres. The area was mainly unenclosed, with irregular stands of cultivated grain among ragged patches of gorse. Between the armies lay a valley with areas of soft ground, called Broad Moor. Fairfax had taken the New Model Army as far as a large fallow field, close to the ancient Saxon village of Naseby. A strong double line of hedges crossed this field at right angles, to the Parliamentarians' left. On the right hand was Naseby Warren. This was significant for their cavalry; it meant much more than a few rabbit-holes to cause stumbles. An ancient warren would have many miles of tunnelling and large underground caverns that could possibly collapse.

Bringing two armies into battle array and then into close contact could take a long time. For the commanders, this required care, in order to prevent their soldiers losing heart, while having them ready when needed. At Marston Moor the initial uncertainty had lasted many hours, which was tiring and dispiriting for the enormous forces involved. Naseby would be brisk by comparison.

Prince Rupert, the King's commander-in-chief, had ordered a battle array with his own cavalry on the Royalist right wing while Sir Marmaduke Langdale took the Royalist left, leading the experienced Northern and Newark horse. Behind their infantry in the centre, the King, resplendent in full black body armour, watched among his Lifeguard, five hundred men who served as the Royalist reserve.

For Parliament, Skippon was arraying the infantry in the Swedish style, six deep, as Gideon and Lambert Jukes had seen them at the first battle of Newbury. Cromwell's cavalry, on the right flank, would be negotiating the rabbit-holes. The left flank, at Cromwell's request, was led by his fixer son-in-law-to-be, Henry Ireton. The left were therefore facing the dreaded Prince Rupert, but they had better ground and Cromwell was planning further protection from dragoons.

During the first hours after dawn, Prince Rupert came in sight of the van of the New Model Army Signalling for the remainder of the King's army to follow him, he moved westwards, wanting to get upwind, so the Royalists would not be blinded by their opponents' gunsmoke. To the Parliamentarians, this looked like a flanking movement. It could mean Rupert had chosen not to give battle. He had, in fact, for once counselled against it, because of the enemy's superior numbers.

Fairfax finessed him. He moved his own men back a hundred paces from the higher ground they commanded. They could still see what the enemy were doing but while their dispositions for battle were being arranged, they were shielded by the crest of the ridge.

Thinking Fairfax might intend to withdraw, Prince Rupert was lured into action, even though his men would have to charge uphill against greater numbers. At about ten in the morning, even before his artillery had caught up, the prince ordered a general advance, while leading his cavalry into the start of a characteristic charge.

A Parliamentarian forlorn hope had been placed on the slope ahead of their army, to dissipate the force of the enemy's first attack. These musketeers fired off initial rounds. Classically, this was the signal that battle had been joined. The forlorn hope pulled back. The main body of the New Model Army then advanced in formation to the edge of their high ground, on what was named Mill Hill, and came into view of the Royalists.

The battle of which veterans would speak until their death-beds had begun.

Chapter Thirty-Two — Naseby: 14 June 1645

Gideon was queuing for powder at the regimental budge-wagon when it started. He felt exhausted and dirty. The army had been on the march for three days, with Colonel Okey's regiment responsible for mounting guard each night. No one had eaten the previous evening, in their regiment or others, because they barely paused in their search for the King. Gideon would be going into action not as starved as at Newbury, but still famished.

He was tired too. It was a week before the longest day. Last night had been light until barely two hours before midnight. Dawn came early. At three o'clock this morning they were ordered up. He had blundered to the prayer meeting, his chest tight while the chaplain asked the Lord's protection on what they all knew would be a day of battle. Since then the New Model had been on the move, edging towards the enemy. Eventually word came that Fairfax had called a halt, lest they stumble out of the thick ground mist and come upon the Royalists unexpectedly.

They were further north than Gideon ever remembered being; the general temperature seemed cooler than it would have been in London, maybe sixty miles away. Here on the uplands, chilly air made the men stiff, especially those who had old wounds to grumble about, as some of his soldiers did. All the dragoons were fretting because after rain showers in the night the going was very heavy for horses. While Gideon was waiting for his ammunition he could barely see three men in front of him through the fog. They spoke in low voices, when they spoke at all, lest the sound carry and reveal their presence to unseen opponents.

He wiped the side of his boot against a tussock of dewy meadow grass. Part of him wished, as always, that he were back at home, cleaning off dung deposited by some Cheapside dray-horse, and whistling on his way to work with Robert at the print-shop. Mostly he was glad to be here. Among his new colleagues as they patiently waited to fill their rattling flasks and apostles with coarse and fine gunpowder, the mood was cheerful. They had glints in their eyes and showed their teeth, in satisfaction that they would soon be fighting

Gideon remembered his responsibilities; he nodded encouragement. His men tolerated the attempt mildly. How he performed today would make the difference between whether or not they really accepted him. As the newest sergeant he had been assigned a slightly ramshackle group. One, Thomas Bentall, had been pressed straight from prison where he had been put for brawling; broken-nosed and toothless, he looked like it. A couple of others, thin-faced and gingery, gave every impression of having been horse-thieves and must have escaped jail only because they were too quick to be caught. He had a hatter, a farmer, two confectioners who were brothers-in-law and not speaking to each other, a docker who had been in the Westminster Trained Bands. After only three days, Gideon was still learning their names. Glory-to-God Parchment was easy enough; he was the one reading his pocket Bible while he queued, at the same time as picking his nose with his free hand. Walter Gummery was the oldest, certainly sixty, and had an unacknowledged bladder problem; he was taking relief against the wheel of the budge wagon. All of them had seemed well disposed. Gideon's height, his modest manner, his scarred hands and his having side-stepped his commander's wishes at Newport Pagnell in order to be here combined to win their loyalty. Even the fact that his uniform coat and breeches failed to meet properly had helped; the men recognised him by the way he always tugged his coat down as he loped along on spidery legs. It made Sergeant Jukes look a bit of a character. His soldiers liked that — and the way he got on with things.

Colonel Okey had been supervising the share-out of powder and shot that morning in a large meadow. Between seven and eight o'clock, General Cromwell rode up and spoke to him. Gideon recognised the new commander of horse. Through yawns, he noticed the stout, armoured figure, clearly at one with his horse, a man who rode without haste and yet whose very presence signalled urgency. Cromwell passed within fifty feet, unaccompanied by any honour guard. Even through his 'triple-barred pot', a serviceable iron helmet with a lobster-tailed neck-guard and three simple face bars, he looked bright and confident.

It was the moment Cromwell himself would famously describe afterwards: 'when I saw the enemy draw up and march in gallant order towards us, and we a company of poor ignorant men, to seek how to order our battle… I could not, riding alone about my business, but smile out to God in praises, in assurance of victory…' As Cromwell approached Okey, Gideon wondered about this plain-featured countryman in his forties who three years ago had had no military training or experience at all, yet who was now acknowledged as one of the finest soldiers in the kingdom. He rode a damned good horse; all the men commented.

Wind was dispersing the mist. As the day cleared, Cromwell had observed the Royalist advance, its flickering standards, the light glinting off armour and precious metal braid, the blocks of pikemen and musketeers, the twinkles of matchcord, the shifting bodies of cavalry aching for the charge. He had already organised his own cavalry wings. His business now was to command the dragoons to protect the extreme left flank. Cromwell's words to Okey were inaudible, but Okey jumped to. Cromwell galloped off.

Gideon heard the regimental drums beating everyone to action. With his right hand steadying his musket butt, he went running back towards the horses which were gathered in a small spinney. Okey, with a straight back, was issuing rapid orders. Gideon saw his colleagues' hasty dismount. With a roar of jubilation, all those who were not to be left holding the horses scrambled on foot to line the great hedges that crossed Broad Moor from north to south. Gideon swerved off with them. They had barely time to prepare. Across in front of them, their ride contained by this natural boundary of the Sulby hedgerow, came Prince Rupert's cavaliers.

When musketeers fought cavalry, the instructions were to aim at the horses' legs. They wanted the mounts to fall. Unsaddling the cavaliers would do the most damage. Gideon tried to remember this, as he waited to give the first enfilading volley. Muskets had a long range but for full effect the dragoons were to delay shooting until the enemy were so close they could see the lines in their faces. It took nerve.

He loathed the new snaphance. With only a couple of days to practice, most of that time spent on the march, he had yet to master this strange weapon. It felt too light. He would never find its range. Loading was swift and easy but when the order came to fire, the short muzzle flew up so he knew that his shot went skywards. He had no musket-rest. Nobody had a rest. Rests were, as his new captain had scoffed, fine for monthly manoeuvres in the Artillery Yard, but no use in a fight. But using a rest for the long barrel of his matchlock was how Gideon Jukes had trained and as he struggled irritably with this new weapon, he wanted a musket-rest — desired it with a passion that was greater than any lust of man for woman, hated the captain who had spoken lightly of the way the Trained Bands trained and, of course, hated his own clumsiness.

He cursed the snaphance like a brewhouse stoker. Forcing open his pan and fumbling with fine powder, he primed, blew off residue, charged the barrel, spat a new ball from his mouth to his palm, jogged the bullet into the barrel so it sank into the powder, rammed, presented, and on the order fired again into the thundering lines of Rupert's charging men. These cavaliers were a grand sight as they galloped headlong in their fine clothes on glossy mounts, gloved and rapiered, with lace cuffs and ribboned boot-hose and deep lace collars rippling on their shoulders over polished cuirasses. Destroying the privileged bastards would be a pleasure.

With the second shot Gideon over-compensated. He knew the bullet must have struck the ground uselessly ahead of him. It was happening all over the field. Even artillery balls were burying themselves in bog, impotently casting up showers of mud. Not that he could hear much from anyone's artillery. Neither side seemed to be using their cannon to effect. At least he need not fear having his head ripped off.

Next time he got his shot right. He was not alone. To either side of him the dragoons were in high spirits, shooting, shouting and rejoicing. Gideon was swept by exhilaration, here among men who knew just what they were doing. Fear was displaced by assurance as they powered through routine musket moves. Amidst the low clatter of their powder canisters all around, he felt, rather than saw, the regiment moving in rhythm — nine hundred men loading charges of coarse powder, fine powder, lead bullets; raising their guns and then cocking the trigger; three hundred men waiting, then firing a volley in more-or-less unison; three hundred from the second rank firing; three hundred from the third.

The noise was appalling. Gunfire deafened everyone. Recoil from the hot musket would be bruising his shoulder. Other discomforts vaguely niggled. Ditchwater or dew was soaking the knees of his britches as he knelt in the hedge. Spiny twigs scratched the back of his neck, unsettling his hat. Someone in the crouching row of men behind, attempting second-rank fire over Gideon's shoulder, lost his balance and fell forwards right onto him. It could have been disastrous, though the soldier did his best to recover and keep his weight off. Gideon grunted. Others pulled the man back; Gideon's powder had spilled but he was already reaching for a new charge. There was no time for recrimination.

They saw Rupert's horse gain momentum. Ireton's Parliamentary wing was on the move too; the opposing cavalry surged together in heavy groups. Some Parliamentarian regiments, closest to the centre, survived the shock while the rest fought back bravely, causing severe Royalist casualties; but Rupert's charge and his skill enabled him to chase many right off the field. Ahead of Okey's regiment, after hard fighting, the Parliamentary left wing now milled in disarray.

Aware of damage from the dragoons' crossfire, enemy troops suddenly appeared by the hedge, hoping to dislodge them. It was dangerous. Footmen, with no armour, were in peril when attacked by cavalry and Prince Rupert customarily planted musketeers among his cavalry for extra sharp-shooting. Somehow, Okey's men repulsed them. How did not matter. It passed in a moment; they had other things to think about.

As the first waves of cavalry had made contact on the field, there was a prolonged bout of frantic cut and thrust until the Royalists broke through. Then they raced on, heading away too fast and too far. Okey's men watched the cavalier horse drive many of their own men from the field, yet the cavaliers fragmented into wild groups that streamed away almost to Naseby village. There they would find the Parliamentary baggage-train; Prince Rupert himself would be with them, absent from the battle for over an hour. He personally summoned the guards at the Parliamentary baggage to surrender, but they — an unregimented tawny-coated group of musketeers — first mistook him for Fairfax because he wore a similar crimson montero hat to one their general wore. Finally grasping Rupert's summons, they stood their ground and refused to yield. Realising belatedly that he was needed elsewhere, the prince left them.

Back on the field, in his absence a hallooing second rank of velvet-cloaked Royalist squierarchy had charged, stayed in position, and were carving up anything that remained of the Parliamentary left wing. Ireton had veered away to assist the infantry at the centre, where he was unhorsed, wounded in the thigh, wounded in the face with a halberd and then taken prisoner. Word whipped around his men, demoralising them. Their leaderless remnants milled in disorder. Next to Sulby Hedges, Colonel Butler's regiment was imperilled, until repeated rounds from Okey's dragoons saved them from certain extinction.

The dragoons had lost track of time but must have stayed by the hedges for an hour. Once most cavaliers had moved away, through the gunsmoke they could see pandemonium out among the infantry. The locked regiments at the centre swayed to and fro; glimpses showed that Skippon's desperate men, now no longer protected by cavalry on their left, were slogging it out at push of pike and butt of musket. Though they outnumbered the enemy, they had been over-mastered and had given ground. Skippon had had a bullet strike him in the ribs; it pushed part of his breastplate deep into his chest, but he refused to leave the field. Word that he was dangerously hurt was causing sections of the infantry to lose heart and fade.

For the New Model Army, the outcome looked grim for a period. They did have double the Royalist numbers, so Cromwell and Fairfax could deploy support to trouble-spots. But the Royalist infantry were as good as any. Had Prince Rupert's cavalry checked quickly enough after storming through, had they turned on Parliament's now-exposed centre, it would have been disastrous.

As the Parliamentary foot were pushed back across the moor and up the hill behind them by their tenacious opponents, they began to merge into the waiting reserve regiments under Colonels Hammond, Pride and Rainborough. Fairfax and other officers encouraged them to make a final stand. Somewhere in that melee was Lambert Jukes, cheerfully wielding his pike as the reserve regiments were called up and began to push heavily forwards.

The reserves were fresh and cheery. The mood at the centre altered.

On the far wing, matters went well from the start. Cromwell had led the Ironsides steadily across the broken ground, never creating the speed of Prince Rupert's men, but safely negotiating the treacherous rabbit-holes and various pits and waterholes they unexpectedly encountered. For an hour they fought it out hand-to-hand with the Royalist Langdale's unhappy and mutinous Northern Horse. Slowly at first, but then with greater momentum, Cromwell beat a way through. Watching from among his Lifeguards on the ridge, the King correctly assessed that Langdale's units were about to break. Once flight began, panic would rip through them, until men and horses chased from the field, wild with terror. Some at the rear of the Royalist left wing were already retreating, with groups of Parliamentary cavalry swooping in pursuit. The King prepared to lead a rescue mission. 'Face about once, and give one charge and save the day!' cried Charles with spirit.

His decision to ride into danger horrified his Lifeguards. The King might have saved the day in person. Equally, he might have perished, yet saved his cause heroically. Instead, a Scots nobleman grabbed at his horse's reins and turned its head, swearing at the King as he shouted: 'Will you go to your death?' Charles floundered. He let himself be dissuaded. Seeing his mount turning aside, the Royalist reserves were thrown into confusion. They lost heart. Control failed. Interpreting the movement as a sign that it was every man for himself, the Royalist reserves bolted from the field, without a shot fired.

Activity against Sulby Hedges was faltering. The dragoons now had no one in particular to shoot at. Colonel Okey perceived that on the far wing, some of the New Model cavalry were chasing Royalists. The rest, under Cromwell himself, had wheeled towards the centre, taking on the Royalist foot.

'Saddle up!'

His men raced for their horses. Defying standard practice, Okey then raised his sword and led out his dragoons in a charge.

Kicking up his mount with his short boots, Gideon was thrilled. Jostling uncomfortably knee-to-knee, the dragoons careered into battle on their reviled cheap nags, clods of earth kicking up behind them, their colours streaming. Gideon's mouth opened in a wordless yell that vanished in his wake as the regiment's surprised horses carried them in an unprecedented stampede right across their now deserted left wing and into action.

They bore down on the Royalist infantry just as Cromwell attacked from the opposite side. At the same time, blocks of Parliamentary infantry stormed the centre. The dragoons piled in cheerfully, raining blows from their musket butts and slashing with their long swords at the enemy's heads and shoulders. This threefold onslaught was too much.

There was no fight to the last man here, as there had been at Marston Moor; at Naseby, even the King's hardbitten Welsh footmen gave up en masse and miserably laid down their arms. From the royal infantry reserves, Prince Rupert's Bluecoats made a brief stand while the King's Lifeguards were sent against Okey's dragoons, but a cavalry charge led by Fairfax ended the last resistance. Fairfax, who had seemed like a dead man in the tension before battle, became a whirlwind once the action started. Fighting was said to make him 'raised, elevated, and transported'. Bare-headed after losing his helmet, his inspired presence rallied the faltering Parliamentary infantry. He personally killed a Royalist ensign, as colour upon colour from the surrendering infantry regiments was scooped up for Parliament. Almost the entire body of Royalist foot had been killed or were now taken prisoner.

Fairfax ordered a new line of battle to be drawn up. Gideon gathered his men into formation with the regiment. For Fairfax to achieve this — to reassemble his army under the gunsmoke in battle lines, ready to charge or be charged by the enemy — after two hours of hot fighting, was a measure of entrenched discipline, only forty-one days after the New Model was formed. They were proud, even before they saw the results.

Prince Rupert had finally rounded up some cavaliers and dragged them back. They came too late. He could not save the infantry. Langdale's cavalry had scattered. The royal reserves were out of hand. Rupert's own men, surly and discouraged by heavy losses, could not be put in order to face the controlled new line of battle that Fairfax had established. Nothing could be done. The Royalists gave in to defeat.

Okey's dragoons saw the enemy wavering at the last. One last resounding volley from them convinced the surviving Royalist cavalry to flee the field. The King, the prince and the poor remnants of their horse rode rapidly away towards Leicester. They must have known the royal cause was lost.

As the enemy straggled and fled, Gideon Jukes felt a huge flood of gratitude that he had managed to bring himself here, where he had seen this victory. Then, in almost the last moments of fighting, calamity struck. His mare was shot, perhaps by a stray bullet from his own side. So great had been his relief at this tremendous day, he was unaware what was happening. He heard one of his men shout a warning, but when the horse fell, he had no idea why she was depositing him groundwards.

He struck the bloody turf so hard he was seriously winded. Stars spun in his sight, then in sudden pain all over his body, he lay helpless while the regiment moved over him and passed on.

There were perhaps a thousand dead on the Royalist side. Their bodies lay thickest at the foot of the hill where their sovereign had watched his great defeat. Fairfax had lost not much more than a couple of hundred men. At the end of the day, despite the dragoons' significant service throughout, Okey had no fatalities at all, with only three wounded.

In the aftermath, it would take days to sort and count the prisoners, of whom there were nearly five thousand. The New Model had killed or captured all the King's experienced infantry. The list of Royalist officers who were taken ran to eight pages, while many more were dead — so many the King could never realistically re-create his army. All the Royalist bags and baggage were captured, with all their artillery, fifty-six standards, two hundred carriages, weapons, gunpowder and horses, carts laden with boats, royal servants, the Duke of York's Lifeguards, money and treasure and plunder the Royalists had with them, including some of the rich pickings from Leicester. Most important was a carriage containing the King's correspondence. It dealt him a devastating blow, because his letters revealed that Charles had been negotiating with Catholics and planning to bring an Irish Catholic army into the war on his side. This damning evidence of treasonous intentions would be published. Eventually, it would seal the King's fate.

Before the sad clear-up, the battlefield was filled with the terrible moans and screams of wounded and dying men, the wheezing death-throes of horses. The aftermath had the normal blood and terror. Royalists who escaped fled at least to Leicester, though Leicester was bound to be retaken by Parliament so some cavaliers kept going as far as their base at Newark, thirty miles distant. Fugitives were hunted and chopped down by cavalry, who rode up behind them and severed their necks with sword blows from above. A group of Royalist horse lost their way, were trapped by New Model pursuers in a dead end, butchered in a churchyard and their bodies tossed contemptuously into clay pits. One desperate fugitive ran for thirty miles, only to surprise a serving girl who was able to kill him with the dolly-stick she had been using to pound laundry.

Cromwell took his cavalry straight on to Leicester, Okey's dragoons with him. Much of the New Model had to stay at Naseby clearing up. The dead were stripped and buried; the wounded were collected. Prisoners were marched away. Various Royalist ladies of quality were found close to the battlefield and quietly returned to private life. Women of the lower orders fared much worse. A group of females were in an encampment, unaware of the battle's outcome. They were denounced as Irish, though they were more likely Welsh. Since they carried knives, whether for their own protection or merely for preparing dinner, they were violently attacked there among the smouldering campfires, denounced as whores, then mutilated by slashing their noses and faces. About a hundred, it was said, were murdered in cold blood.

Elsewhere, a large consignment of cheese and biscuit was discovered among the plunder. Parliament's weary soldiers devoured this, praising God.

Gideon Jukes did not know how long he lay semi-conscious. When he managed to crawl upright, he had been left behind by the dragoons. Now he was bemused. Standing among the littered carcases of men and horses, with his eyes still stinging from the sulphurous smoke of the gunpowder and every muscle aching, he wondered what he was supposed to do. He stumbled about, his booted feet unable to bear him straight. A little while later, he found himself close to where booty was being sorted. Someone handed him a share of the captured cheese and biscuit, which he ate mechanically. He was spent. He needed to be given orders. He felt lost without his regiment.

The field was said to be four miles broad, yet Gideon had a ridiculous chance encounter there. A familiar figure came along — wide-bodied, trailing a battered pike with its shaft bent, his blood-covered breastplate unbuckled so his tattered shirt hung out. It was unmistakably Lambert, who until that moment had had no inkling that Gideon was enlisted or present. His brother's helmet, his heavy iron pot, was missing, along with the soft Monmouth cap he usually wore under it. His tow-coloured hair was black with filth, his face streaked with blood and grime.

Coincidence never fazed Lambert. 'Trust you to sniff out the snap — '

Gideon tore in two the cheese he had been eating. Lambert took hold of the halves and measured them by eye, adjusting for fairness as if they were brothers squabbling at home; then both munched grimly in silence until they could take in no more.

'You join at Windsor?'

'Newport Pagnell.'

Lambert nodded. 'I tried to get and see you there. We were under orders not to mingle, in case the Newport garrison poked us in the eye for having better coats and guns.'

'No, it was because New Model Army soldiers kept trying to run off and join our rather fine garrison!' Gideon corrected his brother with a grin. 'I'm with Okey. Spent half the day on my knees in a ditch with a bramble cane in my ear.'

'We saw you crazy devils whooping and playing at cavaliers,' Lambert said, jealously.

'Going at it like heroes!.. I have lost my father's horse.' Guilt was fixating Gideon.

'You have lost your father,' Lambert informed him in a grey voice, 'so there will be no comeback for the mare… He slipped away in his sleep at the end of March. Colonel Rainborough gave me home leave from Windsor for the funeral.'

'Our father would have wished to see this day…' Tears of grief mingled with tears of stress and fatigue as Gideon thought of John Jukes's delight if he had known of the victory. Then he imagined his mother, without John, to whom she had cleaved for nearly fifty years.

'God is our strength!' Lambert saluted the last crumbs of biscuit with the New Model's watchword of the day. Food had undone him. He looked down and saw- that he was standing in a pool of blood. A wound to the foot which he had not felt in the heat of battle finally made its presence known. He passed out in a dead faint; Lambert could not stand the sight of blood. Gideon just about caught him and supported his substantial weight while others rushed to help lower the hefty pikeman to the ground.

A regimental surgeon's mate glanced at Lambert, cut off his shoe and stocking, and performed rapid cleaning. Gideon stood by, unable to move, suspended in lassitude. 'He'll live. Get him into one of the carriages going out to Northampton.' With two hundred captured vehicles, the Parliamentarian wounded were travelling in style.

'Find yourself another horse!' Lambert woozily commanded as he was lifted into his conveyance, still the elder brother, still trying to organise…

It was only early afternoon. Over Broad Moor, frantic plovers called and searched for fledglings they would never find again. The corn and even the prickly gorse were trampled flat. Smoke lay as thick as the mist that had hidden the armies from each other at daybreak. At least it hid some of the carnage.

Lambert would be tended at Northampton. Parliament sent doctors to attend the wounded there. Gideon helped collect other casualties until a riderless horse was given to him, so he set off to Leicester after his regiment. Along the road he witnessed the bloodied bodies of Royalists who had been chopped down as they tried to escape. Some still had in their hats the beanstalks that the King's men had worn as their field sign. The postures of the corpses and their wounds told its story of sword-blunting massacre. Flight gave a licence for a killing spree. Failure to surrender permitted bloody vengeance. The New Model Army had taken it.

'Honest men served you faithfully in this action,' Oliver Cromwell would write to the Speaker of the House of Commons. 'Sir, they are trusty. I beseech you in the name of God not to discourage them. I wish this action may beget thankfulness and humility in all that are concerned in it…' It was natural for those honest men of faithful service to exult that the Lord had shown His favour by awarding them easy victory. Riding alone in search of the dragoons, however, Gideon Jukes experienced more melancholy feelings. He was all too aware how close the battle at Naseby came to being lost and how hard it had in fact been won. Then the mercy of God was not on any of the roads to Leicester that evening. The joy of the victor was tempered in Gideon's heart.

It was a clear evening with blackbirds singing from vantage points on stately trees and high barn roofs. He passed through the South Leicestershire hamlets, with their medieval churches, their elegant Tudor granges and halls owned by wealthy men who had taken over the church leases when the old monastic endowments were reformed. Sibbertoft, Husbands Bosworth, Shearsby and Peatling Magna… ridiculous British village names. Gideon had taken the westward road, because the eastern route through Market Harborough was clogged with conveys of guards and their dispirited, defeated prisoners. Children who should not have been allowed out stood on gates to watch his passing and to wave, thinking that today's procession of desperate fugitives and stern-faced pursuers was an exciting carnival. 'Who are you for, Mister?'

'I'm for freedom,' Gideon answered, deliberately puzzling the tousle-haired little scamps. He had fought for their future, though they neither knew it, nor cared.

He struggled to control the strange horse, which had been terrified in the fight and would not go easily under him. It was the tallest horse he had ever ridden, a beautiful creature that must have been the delight of its previous rider — some Royalist cavalryman who was now dead, in all probability. Maybe not even an English cavalier, but a Frenchman, or one of the King's Irish or German mercenaries. Now this horse was carrying one of the victorious New Modellers through the peaceful countryside, and neither of them much enjoyed the experience.

While the horse flicked its ears manically whenever he tried to soothe it, and pulled sideways across the roadway at every opportunity, Gideon kept his thoughts fixed on his dead father and his fears for his brother. He was utterly tired, mentally and physically, but he knew that he must keep awake. He had to find his regiment. He was bound to return to the colours. He could not allow himself to doze in the saddle; he dreaded the moment when exhaustion would claim him and force him to sleep.

Gideon's fear was the fear of remembered noise and terror: scenes of horror that he had barely taken in at the time, but which he knew from old experience would be etched in his memory. The battle of Naseby was now with him for ever; whenever he was particularly weak or weary, this day's work would come rampaging through his dreams.

Chapter Thirty-Three — Oxford: June 1645

Oxford always had violent noises at night. In the last month of her pregnancy, Juliana slept fitfully. When she realised there was knocking at the street door, she roused herself. Tipsy soldiers and ne'er-do-wells sometimes banged as they passed. Although it was intended to cause anxiety, the malefactors rarely kept it up but staggered on their way. Juliana longed to return to sleep, but she lay partly tensed for trouble.

When this noise became too insistent to ignore, she pulled a shawl around her shoulders. Stumbling and complaining, she blundered downstairs without lighting a candle. It was high summer and must be after midnight, judging by the dawn light which had already filtered through window curtains. The knocking continued. As she was about to unfasten the door onto St Aldate's, she became sufficiently alert to stop, laying her head against the wood and calling out, 'Who is it? Who goes there?'

'Juliana!'

She recognised Colonel Mcllwaine's voice. In a flurry, she hastened to draw the bolts and open up. Sleepily laughing, she began to apologise for keeping him standing out on the doorstep of his own house.

'Juliana.' She stopped talking when she saw his face. 'Juliana.' The figure she admitted was spectral and abrupt. Seizing her shoulders, the colonel dropped a kiss upon her forehead with a kind of fervent despair. 'Lock the door — lock it tight!'

He strode past, making his way to the kitchen where faint warmth still came from the embers of the fire. He flung his muddy cloak on a chair, his hat — in which was a wizened wreath of vegetation — upon the table. He sank down on a bench. He laid his head in his hands, then shuddered long and hard.

Juliana hovered in the doorway behind him, stricken.

She recognised a man in trouble when she saw one. Lumbering to the hearth, fastening the loose ribbons on her nightgown for decency, she knelt and raddled up the coals, reaching for a pan to heat hot water. At the noise of utensils, Mcllwaine raised his head. Always hook-shouldered and gaunt, his general appearance seemed unchanged, yet she noticed he was wearing his swordbelt but the hangers were empty. He had been waiting out of doors on foot; quickly she wondered where he had stabled his horse and what condition the beast was in.

'Let me find you food and drink.' She managed to keep her tone level. In response, the colonel breathed once rapidly, then he groaned. Juliana sat back on her heels and remained still. Moments passed, seeming long and extraordinary.

'Hot water to wash then,' she suggested gently.

'I want nothing… You are very kind.' Juliana read the worst into that heavy statement. This was a man in deep grief.

'You have come alone, sir?' Doggedly she began to prod for explanations: 'There have been rumours of fighting — but there are always rumours, usually wrong…' Only a slight lift of the colonel's chin, and maybe a shadow in his dark eyes, confirmed for her that battle had taken place. 'For the love of God, Owen, tell me what has happened.'

Then, because he was a professional soldier, Owen Mcllwaine straightened up. In terse, bitter language, he explained what befell the King's army at Naseby. Written in a letter, it would have been only a paragraph. Fairfax and Cromwell took little more, when they reported their triumph to their masters in Parliament; for the defeated there was even less to say. The unembroidered facts were bleak. They had lost the battle. The royal cause had lost all hope. Victory, in the widest possible sense, belonged to Parliament.

This crisis was dire, but Juliana's preoccupations were different from those of the despondent Irishman. Struggling with good manners, she tried to drag out of him what she needed to know: 'You escaped with your life and I am heartily glad… What can you tell me of Orlando, please?'

As if she had overstepped good taste, the colonel rounded on her: 'When we rode from the field, I did not see him. He is gone, Juley!'

'Gone? What do you mean? Did you see what happened to him?' The colonel raised his shoulders a little, in a weary shrug. 'So you did not see him?'

He did not search, she thought. He was distancing himself from Lovell. This was hers to deal with. She was a woman alone, with one child to care for and another about to be born any day -

Sensing rebuke, Mcllwaine flared, 'You must suppose him lost. There was a field of blood more than a mile long! Men dead and men not yet quite dead… Men who ought to be dead, but who refused to go to their God in timely fashion, groaning and twitching…'

'But if you did not see him,' Juliana insisted dully, 'there must be hope?'

Mcllwaine gave her a cold look. Even with her mind racing about what would happen to her, her young son Tom, the baby that would be born in two weeks, Juliana realised there was some great matter he was not yet telling her. A still, terrifying voice warned her in advance. 'Why is Nerissa not with you? Did you lose her in the confusion?'

'I lost her,' agreed Owen. His voice was terrible.

There was a tortured silence as the man found himself devoid of speech. Then, quite suddenly, words broke from him. Juliana would always afterwards remember that moment and how the coals collapsed down so the fire blazed up suddenly, just when he told her. For the rest of her life she would remember the sudden heat and the crackle of the flames. She had to control the urge to lean back away from the heat on her face. She could not ply poker and brush in the normal hearth routine. A spark fell on her nightgown but she brushed it off discreetly.

'Nerissa was never one to seclude herself in a fine carriage. There were noblewomen who did that, and I suppose they were treated by the victors accordingly. Nerissa always saw it as her duty to guide the junior officers' and soldiers' wives.'

'So?'

'So, when the New Model Army troopers burst in among our women in their tranquil camp site, Nerissa stood among them. The Roundheads could not understand the women; they called them Irish papist whores. They began mutilating the poor creatures — slashing their noses as a sign they were supposed to be harlots, making them too ugly to ply such a trade… The bloodlust took hold; they callously slaughtered dozens. I am told that Nerissa marched forwards and stood up to the men indignantly. She cursed their blind morals and their cruelty — but not for long. Irish herself and not denying it, she quickly received punishment.'

Survivors, blood still pouring from their slit noses, had told Owen when he came to search. At his insistence, they showed him his wife's mangled body. He wept as he told Juliana.

'We were going home to Ireland. I shall go to Ireland still — in bitter sorrow that I must return alone. We thought if we were ever separated, Nerissa would bear that burden. This is not planned for, Juliana. Oh, how am I to deal with it?'

'Save yourself.' Not weeping herself yet, though tears were all too close, Juliana's throat had dried; her voice came as an angry croak. 'Leave this terrible, blood-soaked country. It is what she would want.'

Owen Mcllwaine had had a long weary ride in which to think about his future. 'What is the point?' he asked, though it was a mere murmur of exhaustion. 'What is the point of anything?'

Women have their work. Juliana set aside her feelings. She kept going, temporarily, playing at housewife. She organised a bed, persuaded the colonel to take nourishment, saw him safe to his room. Then she roused Nerissa's servant and told her what had happened, so that Grania's first terrible torrent of distress could happen out of Owen's hearing and before little Tom awoke.

'The colonel will take you with him back to Ireland, Grania. He has come to Oxford to fetch you. He will take you safely home.'

He had come for the family valuables too, Juliana realised. Because of her friendship with his wife, she knew what the Mcllwaines owned, and where they kept it. A discreet man, the colonel systematically gathered together the money, the papers and his wife's jewellery next day. There was silverware, off which they had all so often dined convivially — battered old Irish cutlery, chargers and dishes collected in France, ridiculously tall German goblets — and there were Venetian glasses, which were housed, wrapped in green velvet, in their own casket. Most precious and rare, there was a clock.

The colonel worked fast and miserably, and he worked alone. As a couple the Mcllwaines had been generous with their energy, to the King they served and to their own friends, yet they had controlled their affairs with caution. They had lived, worked, fought, always with their eventual retirement in mind. Even Grania, the family retainer, had been kept in their household as someone who might tend them in old age. When Grania made a desultory offer to stay with Juliana until she gave birth, that was never a real option. 'No; you must go with the colonel. Mistress Mcllwaine would expect you to look after him, now he is desolate. I have a midwife arranged for my lying-in; I shall do well enough.'

Juliana would never be able to afford to keep a servant. That was so evident, she barely considered the issue. So long as the colonel remained in the house, she was deferring any hard look at her future, but it could only be a life of poverty.

Mcllwaine stayed two days. On the night before he left, he allowed Juliana to prepare a decent supper, set formally at table, instead of the hurried snacks he had taken in his own unhappy company. She dressed in the best gown she owned that would fit over her expanded belly; she wore the pearl necklace Lovell had brought back from campaign. Her son Tom and the servant Grania dined with them; little Tom, on what passed for his best behaviour, sat on a pile of cushions, tied with a sash to the tall chair-back. Afterwards Grania cleared the table, put the child to bed and retired to pray and weep for her lost mistress, leaving Juliana and the colonel to conduct dreary finalities.

Mcllwaine now told Juliana the house had its rent paid up until December; she was welcome to have use of it for that period. He had listed various pieces of furniture that he could neither take with him nor sell; these were hers on permanent loan. He handed her one flat, velvet-lined jewel case containing an antique Irish gold-set sapphire necklace and earrings, which he said Nerissa had wanted her to have. Then he tried, as far as honesty would let him, to pretend that her husband might still return.

"We shall see.' Juliana quietly folded her hands and wished the conversation were over. For her there was no point in speculation. Either Orlando would turn up, completely out of the blue as was his habit, or in time she would have to accept he was not coming back. She might never discover what had happened to him. They had made no plans for this eventuality, so she must make the best of it. With resignation she saw that, back in Wallingford, Orlando had chosen her on a raffish presumption that, unlike women with more conventional upbringings, Juliana Carlill had enough spirit to fend for herself. If he was alive still, he would not be worrying about her.

It was a night for plain speaking. There in the twilight, Nerissa's widower and her young friend spent time talking about her. Owen and Juliana went through the difficult, necessary conversation bereaved people inflict upon themselves: they reviewed Nerissa's talents and reminisced over special events they had shared with her, as if they were fixing those dear past times in the memory.

'I shall never forget how, in the big fire here last October, we had scuttled for our lives over into Christ Church quadrangle and as we pushed in among the cattle some men ogled us — Nerissa gurgled with laughter and whispered to me, "If we were not good wives, we should fill in the hour while the flames are doused, having liaisons with these gallants!'"

'She was never a one for the gallants,' Owen congratulated himself.

'Oh do not be so sure, my dear! She would eye up a gallant astutely — you were safe because of her wisdom; those dark eyes of hers would twinkle as she knew them all for shallow idiots…'

Very carefully, avoiding too much emotion, they listed the qualities of loyalty and courage that had made Nerissa follow Owen and the army, and the sense of justice that made her denounce the New Model Army troopers who were savaging the other women.

The colonel had drunk deeper than usual. There were a few good bottles of wine in the cellar and this was his last chance to enjoy them. When he soldiered on the Continent, he and Nerissa had more than once moved on and left a life behind, but he had never had to do it alone. Nerissa had been there, ready to prepare some new home wherever they landed up. As he stretched his long legs and brooded, Juliana considered privately how relationships between families worked and sometimes shifted. Nerissa had been her friend; she took in the Lovells to be part of her household, yet it was her gift to Juliana specifically. The two couples had lived side by side, though theirs was never the timeless friendship that came from years of living in neighbouring villages or adjacent town houses, nor had they a history of working together as courtiers. Even though Juliana and Owen had just talked intimately about Nerissa, in truth she barely knew the man. She was not certain he understood why Nerissa had been so fond of her. Perhaps she and Owen were each a little jealous of Nerissa's closeness to the other… Now friendship would continue on the surface, but awkwardly. If Lovell had been here, that would have been worse.

Addressing the issue of Lovell more freely than usual, Juliana said abruptly: 'You do not like my husband, I suspect.'

The colonel started. 'He was a good soldier, madam.'

Juliana smiled dryly. 'You may be open — give me your opinion. I shall never see you again, nor you me — and anyway, he is probably dead.'

Mcllwaine drew in breath, in the way he had of deferring difficulties. Juliana let him hesitate but she left a silence which needed to be filled. It was a night for closing accounts. Eventually he admitted: 'I did not like Lovell after Lichfield.'

'That was a siege Prince Rupert raised — what, two years ago? What happened?'

'Much desecration.' Mcllwaine's brow darkened while Juliana watched him closely. 'When we relieved the town, it was already notorious for the sacrilegious behaviour of the Parliamentary troops who were there before us. Those Roundheads had been merciful to the people, but pitiless to the cathedral. They quartered the priests' copes and surplices, ripping them with swords as if the very vestments were being punished for treason. Destroyed the organ pipes. Stabled their horses in the nave, broke up the floors, shat in the quire. Every day they hunted a cat through the church, whooping as they raised an echo under the high vaulting. They brought a calf to the font, wrapped in linen, and baptised it, giving it a name, to express their scorn of the holy sacrament — '

Juliana interrupted. 'This was not my husband. This was the enemy'

'You asked why I did not like him. Well, this is why: during their violations, the rebels had broken into the crypt. They tore open the ancient bishops' tombs, scattering the holy bones of those good men — and tearing the episcopal rings from their decaying fingers.'

Juliana now saw where the diatribe was heading. 'Orlando wears a great red-stoned ring. He had it off a prisoner.'

'So he says,' snapped Owen Mcllwaine. 'I believe Lovell descended to the crypt himself, and he took that ring from some long-dead bishop's finger.'

Juliana could do nothing but nod gravely.

The conversation had opened sluices. Suddenly Mcllwaine leaned forward earnestly. 'This is a stricken country. You have nothing here. Why don't you come away to Ireland?'

He could not know anything of Juliana's family background (Lovell never spoke of it), but Mcllwaine must have seen enough to realise his wild question would not altogether startle this young woman. To up sticks and escape her troubled life held definite attractions. Juliana had the independence to do it. Her grandmother would have gone in a trice.

Juliana foresaw how it would end. At that moment, she was being offered nothing more than assistance and protection. But she knew enough of men to realise Owen Mcllwaine had always until now had Nerissa to share his life; he would be unable to exist alone. He was a man in loss, already fumbling for simple solutions. If Juliana went to Ireland, it would eventually seem natural to him that she, Nerissa's friend, would take Nerissa's place. For Owen it would be a happy resolution.

For Juliana, it had a bad taste even while it was just an idea. She might have married Orlando Lovell, yet she was fastidious. Do I think too much of myself? she wondered. Or just too little of men?.. This was war. She felt that social civilities were breaking down; she guessed at worse to come.

She thanked the colonel sweetly and said she had to stay in Oxford until her child was born. Before objections could be made, she added that Oxford was where Lovell would come to find her. She must remain here until she heard firm news. "Whatever you think, I married him. It was my choice. He is my man, just as you were Nerissa's. He is the father of my children. Even if he is dead, when my children one day ask me about him, I must be able to tell them how he fared. Indeed, I must know it myself

'He does not deserve you,' said Owen. 'Though as my dearest Nerissa would say — what man is there alive who deserves the woman who puts up with him?'

They had spent their memories of Nerissa, however. The night was over. Next morning Mcllwaine took his leave, Grania riding on a pack-horse behind him. Men had appeared from nowhere to join him. A small party set off towards Wales, which had always been hot in support of the King. The colonel had once hoped to go north-west, if the roads were clear, and try to reach Holyhead where they could take a boat direct across the Irish Sea. Now it was thought too dangerous, so they were riding into South Wales and somehow onwards from there.

Juliana waved them off. She went indoors before the clatter of hooves had vanished, closing the door on a silent house. As soon as she was alone she remembered the sword Orlando had once given her to protect herself. She hated it and could have passed it on to the colonel to hang on his empty baldric. But she had lost her chance and was stuck with it. The weapon must remain under her mattress, where Orlando had insisted on placing it when they first came to St Aldate's.

Shortly she would break down in grief for Nerissa. After that, she must try to plan ahead.

For the time being she would only be weeping for her friend. She had no other sense of bereavement. She did not suppose for a moment that Orlando Lovell, her cavalier husband, had died at Naseby.

That would have been too easy.

Chapter Thirty-Four — Oxford: 1645

For almost a fortnight Juliana was stuck in the house, alone with a boisterous child not yet two years of age, coping with her fears of giving birth. She had warned the midwife who, being a decent woman, sent a maid to check on progress every day. On the 5th of July, three weeks after Naseby, the maid ran home to fetch the midwife who was fortunately free to attend. Under her supervision Juliana gave birth to her second son after a blessedly swift labour. The baby was small, which helped, despite which he seemed healthy. He looked like his father, much more than his brother Tom had done. The mother survived, without any infection setting in, though in the emotional aftermath of birth, she collapsed in wild torrents of tears. She refused to give the child a name, saying hysterically that his missing father must do that.

The concerned midwife stayed overnight, then took it upon herself to hire a nurse — 'As is so often necessary, not for the child, who thrives lustily, but the poor demented mother who is quite beside herself…'

The nurse was a fat, evil-smelling, elderly body who soon found what was left of Colonel Mcllwaine's wine cellar. Thomas Lovell toddled to alert his mother that debauchery was taking place in the parlour. Aged twenty-one months and barely talking, Tom Lovell was, the nurse then swore, 'a spy and sneak as wicked as any Roundhead!'

'She whacked me!' accused Tom, who had until then known only gentle treatment and favouritism at the centre of the household. He already suspected that having a new little brother might threaten his position. However, he could still command attention. To preserve him from being beaten by a stranger, Juliana did what she had to: she stopped crying, wiped her wet face on a pillowcase, crawled out of bed, paid off the nurse and forced herself to take charge. Tom watched her avidly, looking after his own interests. Just as single-minded, the unnamed baby demanded milk voraciously. Nobody could doubt, Juliana thought bitterly, these two man-children were Lovell's.

When the midwife, Mrs Flewitt, learned the circumstances of the nurse's dismissal she was probably not surprised, yet rushed to apologise with her bonnet flapping. Mrs Flewitt was a good woman and better businesswoman. She did not know Nerissa Mcllwaine had died, nor that Lovell was missing in action and Juliana facing penury. Juliana had lied by omission in keeping these details to herself; she glumly accepted that falsification must now become part of her lifestyle. Mrs Flewitt thought the handsome, pleasant-natured wife of a vigorous cavalier was a client to treasure since she might confidently be expected to become pregnant once a year, giving her midwife a secure income. She offered to lend Juliana her own maid, Mercy Tulk. No fool, Juliana snapped up the offer.

Inspecting Mercy Tulk, she found a short, undernourished young girl of perhaps sixteen, a horn-worker's daughter. She lived in a dream, unable to apply herself to any task without energetic encouragement, but she accepted direction. Soon she preferred helping Juliana to the more arduous existence she had had before, running errands and assisting Mrs Flewitt. Despite her other-worldly air, the wench knew enough to pipe up and suggest Juliana should poach her — which she claimed would be acceptable all round since her sister Alice 'had been taken on as a temporary in her old place and could easily become a permanent'. Juliana found herself suddenly ruthless. She brushed aside Mrs Flewitt's weak protestations of deserving more loyalty and having trained Mercy Tulk at her own expense. 'With less success than you may have supposed, Mrs Flewitt!' Juliana snatched Mercy Tulk for herself. So long as she could pretend there would be wages at the end of the year, she would now have someone to share domestic work and help care for the children.

She had scrutinised Mercy Tulk on the two counts a housewife most needed to check: whether the new maid would make doe-eyes at Lovell, if he ever reappeared, and whether Lovell himself would be susceptible to chasing Mercy up the back stairs. Juliana decided not.

It might be false confidence: 'Is Captain Lovell coming home soon?' asked Mercy Tulk, rather too hopefully.

'I doubt it!' snapped Juliana. 'Captain Lovell has to be found first.'

Her new maid assumed her husband had absconded with his mistress. Juliana let her think it.

There were procedures to follow and Juliana doggedly discovered what they were. She was a fast learner. That did not really help much, because most of the procedures were uncertain and all were extremely slow.

Finding out what had happened to her husband would have been easier if he had not fought on the losing side. As she nursed her baby, Juliana was racked with frustration and fear.

She scoured all the news-sheets she could get her hands on. There were wild reports at first, one even declaring that Prince Rupert had been captured. More reliable pamphlets informed her that when the battle at Naseby ended, four thousand Royalist prisoners had been taken overnight to Market Harborough. Then they were marched to London, via Newport Pagnell where Sir Samuel Luke was asked to assist with conveying them. In London, they were paraded through the streets as a spectacle for cheering crowds. Common soldiers were penned like sheep at market in the Artillery Ground or, depending on which story you read, in Tothill Fields. Either way, it was an outdoor billet, with no conveniences, where they were harangued with sermons and encouraged to transfer their allegiance to Parliament. Officers were initially lodged in Lord Peters's house in Aldersgate Street — presumably somewhat squashed, given the large number of prisoners. Since an officer was a gentleman and a gentleman's word was his bond, parole would be granted in due course and conditions meanwhile might be bearable. Colonels, lieutenant-colonels and majors would take precedence in the allocation of fair quarters. Captains came next, but once a published list of captured Royalist officers was printed, it included well over fifty captains, none called Lovell. Juliana supposed they would be jostling for good treatment. Extremely senior men were imprisoned in the Tower, or held in other grim London prisons; Lovell could not be regarded in that category. His survival strategy had always been to lie low, never looking dangerous.

For all these prisoners, the desirable route to freedom was through an exchange. Soldiers from the ranks would never achieve it; they must either become turncoats, enlisting in the New Model Army, or languish. Jail fever would carry them off rapidly; if they had been wounded in battle, they were probably dead already. Officers might feel more hopeful, so long as they had not come to Parliament's notice as particularly virulent Royalists. To arrange to be exchanged with Parliamentary officers held by the King, Royalists needed either parole passes, so they could go out and organise the matter themselves, or somebody on the outside working for them. For Orlando Lovell, that would have to be his wife.

First, he would have to tell her where he was.

Maybe she was wrong. Maybe Lovell had been killed.

If so, there was no sure way now to learn of it. Juliana had heard what happened after an action. Dead soldiers were quickly stripped. Cadavers on the field were piled into burial pits unceremoniously, probably the same day as the battle, especially at Naseby, which only took a morning. Nobody would bother to identify them. Although she read that Oliver Cromwell had given orders afterwards that his pursuing cavalry were not to stop to plunder the men they cut down, there were always two versions. Reports from the Royalist side complained about the New Model Army taking as much plunder as they could — clothes and armour, weapons and money, lockets and finger rings. Afterwards, one naked man sprawled among the cow parsley in a hedge was little different from another.

Juliana could only wait. Silence from Lovell and silence about him from everyone else continued.

She still corresponded occasionally with her guardian Mr Gadd, if she could find a carrier going into Somerset where he lived in retirement. When she wrote with the good news that she was safely delivered of another healthy child, she mentioned that Lovell was missing. She put a brave face on it. Mr Gadd was now extremely old and frail; she thought there was nothing he could do to help and she did not want to cause him anxiety.

The New Model Army stormed across Royalist territory, bombarding castles and great houses into submission. Now essentially mopping up, Fairfax set out to subdue the West Country; on the 10th of July he and Cromwell defeated Lord Goring at the battle of Langport. On the same day, Archbishop Laud, whose recalcitrance had helped to cause the conflict, was executed on Tower Hill in London. Prince Rupert was attempting to rally Royalist spirits in the west; after Langport he was sent to Bristol. Was Lovell there? Fairfax took Bridgwater, acquiring Royalist provisions and ammunition. For the King, there was better news from Scotland where the brilliant campaign by the Marquis of Montrose continued so bravely that King Charles toyed with marching north to meet up with him.

Parliamentary troops were making so much headway in South Wales, Juliana feared for Colonel Mcllwaine. He had promised to write to her once he reached Ireland. In an odd way, she hoped never to hear from him. She chided herself, but she was uneasy. The plain fact was that friendly correspondence from an Irish Catholic, if it were intercepted, might do her harm in a world ruled by Parliament. Owen Mcllwaine would be a very dangerous friend.

While the New Model Army knocked out one Royalist base after another, the King hopped ahead of them as it was said 'like a hunted quail'. He spent three dreamy weeks at Raglan Castle, squandering precious time in entertainments and sports. Once Charles was shaken out of his inertia by news of Goring's defeat at Langport, he moved around indecisively until, at the end of August, he arrived for a brief visit to Oxford. Fairfax was preparing to besiege Prince Rupert at Bristol.

Juliana was astonished by the King's return, though it brought her hope. Lovell was not among the ragged band who limped back, though someone else she knew was: Edmund Treves. The sight of the familiar, red-haired figure, always a little more rugged physically than she expected and always so kindly disposed towards her, reduced Juliana to momentary tears.

Edmund was horrified. He chose to view Juliana as a lighthouse, firm-based on stalwart rocks in the storms of life (as one of his poems had it). He quickly discovered the source of her misery: 'Edmund, I do not know if Orlando is dead or alive!'

'God in heaven! You may assume he is alive. He was seen, Juliana, seen in the rout towards Leicester; his horse tripped and flipped him over its ears. He was last noticed being marched off as a prisoner.'

'I thought everyone was killed in the pursuit.'

Edmund was terse. 'Enough. Not all.'

'Did you see him taken?'

'No, but I had it from a man I trust. The Ironsides were champing at our heels. But you know Lovell.."

Edmund's ill-concealed shudder as he mentioned Cromwell's horsemen was felt by Juliana as she flung her arms around him gratefully. Thinner in the face now, and matured by defeat, her one-time suitor never had jealousy in his nature. He was simply thrilled to be of assistance.

'Oh but what of you, Edmund? My dear, how did you escape, and where have you been since the battle?'

'I rode from the field with Prince Rupert. The broken remnants of our army spent a despondent, sleepless night at Ashby-de-la-Zouch — Leicester was unsafe for us, and indeed Fairfax retook it only two days later. For us it was Lichfield, then on to Bewdley, where we were finally rested. I had been shot in the back of the neck and after I managed to be seen by a surgeon, his efforts to clean my wound of rags and dirt and powder made me so weak and infected, I had to be left behind.'

'Oh Edmund! You were lucky — wounds should be cleansed the first day they occur… Are you recovered now?'

'I am,' he claimed bravely, though Juliana noticed he was pale and held his shoulder awkwardly. 'I would be in Bristol with the prince, but now the gates are closed, I cannot ride up politely and ask the New Model Army to admit me! Besides, Bristol may be a very unsafe place. Everyone maintains Rupert will hold it, but I think Sir Thomas Fairfax is too determined — more important, he's too well-equipped with artillery. Rupert is losing heart. He will not hold out.'

Once it would have been Lovell who made that kind of assessment. Edmund had learned to think for himself. When Juliana asked if the King proposed a last stand, Edmund said baldly that he thought not. It would be unrealistic. 'I do not know how our affairs will end, but it has to be faced: we are on a downward spiral. The King ought to make terms — though he will not. In the meantime — ' His face brightened again. 'In so far as I can be useful, I am at your service.'

So it was Edmund Treves who took upon himself the role of godfather to the new baby. It was Edmund, relishing this position, who ordained that the child must be baptised. 'Maybe I believe in Anabaptistical late immersion,' murmured Juliana. Her mischief was brushed aside. The baby was speedily dunked in a High Church font by a tall, thin, gobbler-necked, pinch-vowelled parish priest, while Edmund — after belatedly asking her permission — chose a name.

Being of a poetic nature, Edmund Treves called Juliana's baby Valentine.

Juliana had previously been urged by others to give her son his father's name (in case Lovell was dead), a proposal which offended her. At Edmund's florid choice she winced in private. She had only herself to blame. Lovell had nominated their firstborn. When made aware that he must perform that duty, Orlando selected Thomas, saying it was a good plain English iambic name that any honest man could bear. This was her one indication of what Lovell thought about his own literary appellation. She knew what he would say about Valentine. 'Damme, Juliana! You let that ginger wisp of whimsy give my boy a galloping three-syllable saint's designation? Odds doggerel, I disown him!' 'Who, my sweet — Edmund, or our dear little Val?…'

Such was Juliana's yearning to see Orlando, she let Edmund's misnomer slip past her, too busy thinking how she longed to hear her husband's voice, even in a full flood of indignation.

The King only stayed three days at Oxford. Edmund rushed to tell her that they were leaving for Worcester, with the intention of relieving Hereford, a town currently under siege by the army of Scots Covenanters. Those tough troops — seven thousand of them, with four thousand wives and children as followers — had become a byword throughout the Midlands for their heavy-handed requisitioning; a Royalist news-sheet reported that after one night's acquaintance with the Scots' 'perfect plundering', Birmingham in Warwickshire even extolled Tinker Fox for moderation.

'Edmund, if you are leaving, tell me quickly, what must I do to find Orlando?'

'His name is now on our list of the missing, though he has not been heard of. But I must tell you, the more we lose garrisons, the fewer prisoners we possess for exchange. If he is a prisoner, he is in a tight spot, Juliana. The best thing is for you to begin writing letters to anyone who may help…' Treves had to go.

At the King's approach, the Covenanters lifted their siege and vanished away like the proverbial Scotch mist. It was the King's only success that year, but had deplorable results for him. Abandoning Hereford freed up the Scots for other business. By the time the Marquis of Montrose left Edinburgh to advance triumphantly into England to meet up with the King, the Covenanters' army was installed in the far north, waiting to prevent him.

At Bristol Sir Thomas Fairfax negotiated with Prince Rupert for terms, until Fairfax realised Rupert had no intention to surrender. The New Model Army began a full assault. Despite at first fiercely contesting the attack, Rupert decided his position was hopeless and after just one day he surrendered. Three days later the Covenanters utterly crushed the Marquis of Montrose at the battle of Philiphaugh, forty miles south of Edinburgh. Montrose had not even made it into England. Any last hope for the royal cause was gone.

The Parliamentarians gave Rupert a formal escort back to Oxford. No word came from Lovell afterwards, so Juliana decided he had not been at the siege.

The King never forgave his nephew for surrendering Bristol. He revoked all Rupert's commissions and spitefully ordered the arrest of Rupert's close friend, Will Legge, the governor of Oxford.

In September the Royalists pulled down all houses within three miles outside of the walls to prevent Parliament using them for billets in any coming siege. Fairfax was now expected back at any moment. Only self-deluding optimists thought the New Model would fail to take Oxford this time. Anyone with any sense was planning how to make it appear they had endured the King's presence out of necessity, but had really been Parliamentarians all along. Juliana just hoped women and children would be spared annoyance.

A new governor of Oxford, Thomas Glemham, was to replace the victimised Legge. This put an end to an enduring joke. A previous town governor, the highly unpopular Sir Arthur Aston, had fallen from his horse on Bullingdon Green while curvetting to impress a group of ladies; he broke his leg so badly it had to be amputated. The joke went: 'Who is governor of Oxford now?' 'One Legge.' A pox on him! Is he governor still?' Aston would have a cruel fate, beaten to death with his own wooden leg at the siege of Drogheda. Legge, who had been Owen Mcllwaine's commander, had Irish connections. He had lodged in the largest house in St Aldate's, close by, so his departure added to Juliana's sense that the King's party were being squeezed out.

Prince Rupert insisted on his right to be heard. Against the King's orders he turned up at the great Royalist base in Newark, demanding a court martial. Though the Council of War acquitted him of any failure of duty, the King remained obdurate. Six days later Charles replaced another of Rupert's friends as governor of Newark. Furious quarrels ensued. The rift clearly would not be healed.

On the 5th of November, with few options left for winter quarters, the King returned to Oxford. Parliament issued passes for Rupert and named associates to leave for the Continent through specified exit ports. He did not immediately take advantage. Parliament warned him to go, or his concessions would be cancelled. However, Rupert and his brother Maurice came back again to Oxford with the King.

Lord Goring left England, officially citing health reasons. The King was urging the Prince of Wales to seek safety abroad. Berkeley Castle, Devizes and Winchester Castle surrendered to Parliament. Basing House, the enormous fortified manor which had held out under siege for three years, fell to Cromwell amid scenes of voracious plunder during which Inigo Jones, who had produced the iconic emblems of King Charles's theatrical reign, was carried out naked in a blanket. Newark was besieged by the Scots' Covenanters. Bolton Castle surrendered after its garrison was reduced to eating horseflesh. Beeston Castle fell. A small volunteer force of Parliamentarians made a surprise attack on Hereford and its dispirited Royalist governor fled. Chester was completely encircled.

At the very end of December, a little late in the day, King Charles decided to research other civil wars. A member of his staff instructed the Bodleian Library to send the King a volume on this subject. Since books from the university collection were never lent out, the warrant was refused.

In December, with the Mcllwaines' lease on the St Aldate's house almost expired, Juliana received a letter from Mr Gadd. Like Edmund Treves, he advised her to take the dreary route to assistance: begging letters. Mr Gadd spelled out her options. If only she could learn where her husband was confined, she should demand to see him and maybe even share his prison quarters. If he had been offered no terms for release, she could petition Parliament, though to do that with any hope of success, she needed to go to Westminster and press her suit in person. Realistically, she would need a member of Parliament or a respected senior officer to negotiate for her. But first, there should be the straightforward option: Royalists had been offered a chance of a Parliamentary pardon if they would compound for their release by paying a sum, to be assessed, which went to the public relief. Juliana had heard of this before; it had been roundly mocked by Lovell, though she tried to forget that. The offer had been renewed, said Mr Gadd, after the fall of Bristol. There was a committee, the Committee for Compounding, which sat in the Guildhall in London, to which Juliana should apply once she discovered Lovell's whereabouts.

If she still heard nothing, she must seek help from any influential friends on the Parliamentary side. Mr Gadd knew Juliana's position; she had no such friends. He realised her funds must be running out and she would soon be homeless. So he told her that if she became desperate then, whether Lovell would want this or not, she should make an attempt to contact his family.

That meant Juliana must go into Hampshire, introduce herself and beg for help from Orlando Lovell's long-estranged father.

'Take your little sons of course,' instructed Mr Gadd. He always saw how delicate negotiations might best be made to work.

Chapter Thirty-Five — Hampshire: 1646

It would always be daunting for a young woman of twenty, burdened by extremely young children, to meet her hostile in-laws for the first time, especially when all the parties were fully aware she had applied to them because she was desperate for money.

Still hoping to hear from Lovell, Juliana left her journey as late as she dared, but with the lease on the house nearly up, there was no longer a choice. At the turn of the year she left behind an Oxford which was full of distress and discord and, accompanied by Edmund Treves, set out for Hampshire. Her first act of begging had been to screw from the governor of Oxford travel passes for herself, one male escort, her infant children and a maid. Edmund had wanted to obtain a pass from the King, laden with royal seals, but Juliana suspected that in a Parliamentarian county she would meet a better reception if she arrived with a plain civil document and an apologetic manner. She needed a male bodyguard to prevent highway robbery. If Edmund was discovered to be a serving cavalier they would all be arrested. She planned to term him 'my son's godfather', to sound respectable. She managed to make him abandon his flowing shirt and beribboned suit, to dress down in a shabby coat. He refused to be disguised as a servant.

She had to decide whether to write ahead to explain herself, which might harden the family's attitude, or simply to arrive but perhaps spoil her chances by startling them. She compromised by sending a letter to say she was coming, immediately before she set out. They had no time to send a refusal.

Wrestling with such matters of judgement was new to her. It would be strange for most women. Juliana had a grim sense that this was just the start.

Inessential travel — which meant travel that was unconnected to trade or to military manoeuvres — was banned by both sides. Women with piteous stories could manage it, if they were lucky. The safest way was with carriers; they knew the routes and how to space their convoys and time their journeys to avoid being set upon by thieves. Some managed to obtain warrants to pass through military checks. In December the carriers were grumbling more than usual: roads were impassable for carts, horses had been stolen by the armies, everyone was too fearful to want to buy goods or dispatch letters…

Her party rode on two terrible pad horses — she did not want to be stranded, and better beasts might be stolen. Juliana sat behind Edmund on a pillion saddle, holding the baby, while Mercy Tulk followed with little Tom tied to her and a cloak bag bouncing on the nag's fat rump. Once they moved away from Oxford, Juliana knew they would be frequently stopped and questioned. She was disconcerted when they were subjected to searches as well. Fortunately the point was to discover arms, secret papers or items worth stealing. She had none of those. They had very quickly passed into areas that were controlled by enemy militia, but when the soldiers saw she had so little luggage of any kind they softened. When she claimed to be a Parliamentarian squire's daughter-in-law, urgently needing to visit him for family reasons, they lost interest and let her through.

Treves was impressed. He let Juliana do the talking. Although he was the man in the party, her status as a married woman sometimes won her respect. He noticed how she always made him slow the horse to a stop even before the soldiers signalled with their muskets, then how she spoke quietly and politely, however rude the men were.

Beyond the South Downs, they came to rolling country where narrow roads switchbacked between tiny villages with traditional thatched cottages that hid themselves among farmland hollows. Somehow they reached the small village beyond Salisbury that Mr Gadd had named. They took rooms at the only inn. Juliana sent a message to Squire Lovell, asking him to receive her the next day. Edmund strolled out a little before twilight to reconnoitre. He reported that Orlando's childhood home was a large house in the gabled Tudor style, glimpsed through a battlemented gatehouse, lying just outside the village among its own tenanted farmland. Locals had told him that the squire, his son and various sons-in-law were all passionate haters of bishops, anxious to reform the Church, severe men who had raised soldiers for Parliament from the beginning. Ralph Lovell, Orlando's elder brother, was now at home, rumoured to be almost dead of wounds.

Next morning a footman was sent to conduct her and Juliana walked to the manor-house.

The Lovell family had assembled in full force. Perhaps the younger members felt they should protect the father from weakening. That would be in their interests, thought Juliana grimly, though it seemed unlikely Squire Lovell would enfold her in his arms, forgiving Orlando and welcoming this new daughter-in-law and two more grandchildren among those whose toys and pets littered most of his home.

He was a balding old man in a dark suit and plain collar, who leaned with a quivering hand on a slim cane to help him walk; he had an austere expression, though that could be caused by joint pain. He was scrupulously courteous but, by making no distinction of persons, his absolute good manners also made it impossible to assess his true attitude.

The set-faced younger relations who clustered on upright chairs were introduced as two of Orlando's sisters, Mary and Aurora, the well-shod wives of Mr Francis Falconer and Sir Daniel Swayne, together with their brother Ralph's wife, Katherine. None looked like a strict religious bigot although Mrs Katherine Lovell, the most plainly dressed, appeared to be clutching a pocket Bible. The sisters were in the best fashions Hampshire could provide, which was nothing fancy, though they wore silk gowns, pinned on the low neck and flowing sleeve with small jewels; these they must have obtained from the same source, for although one gown was damson-coloured and the other oatmeal, Juliana noticed identical bodice shaping and pinked hems. She envied their tailoress her half-moon pinking tool.

All three young women appeared to be breeding. That increased Juliana's pessimism.

According to the landlady at her inn, there was a third Lovell sister, married to a New Englander called Bonalleck. They had returned to England from Massachusetts to help defy the King and at the moment were staying with the squire. They did not appear. Nor did Major Ralph Lovell, who was in bed upstairs, half dead from wounds he had received two months ago at the siege of Bristol. Aurora was at pains to tell Juliana that.

Juliana replied meekly. 'At least you have the comfort of knowing that he is alive and receiving care. You know where he is — which to me would be a luxury.' She thought a slight shock ran around the assembled Lovells. Perhaps they had not expected her to be robust.

It must be a curious situation for them. None had seen Orlando since he was sixteen, over ten years ago. He had been a forward, difficult boy, but they could only imagine what kind of man he had become. Now here was the woman he had married, turning up on their doorstep, undoubtedly seeming like an adventuress. But Juliana in person may not have matched their expectations. She was young, only just twenty. Since she married Lovell she had grown into her looks, partly through filling out with motherhood, but also gaining confidence from their life together, which had so much forced her to take responsibilities. Her face showed determination, her grey eyes were watchful and undeniably intelligent. True, she was anxious and weary. True, they may have detected discomfiture, though they might not guess the reason. That was purely her awareness that she was wearing her old yellow sprigged gown, so as not to appear well-to-do. She had realised it had grown too tight across the bodice; worse, like most mothers who nursed their children, Juliana possessed rather too many garments which she would never like again after unpleasant accidents. Both her boys had travelled badly yesterday. Now she was trying to win over relatives while not quite smelling of infant vomit, yet still vaguely aware of yesterday's mishaps.

At least she was not pregnant and queasy, though she almost felt sick with terror. You are as good as them, scoffed her grandmother's voice. Ah, but they do not think so, Grand-mere…

The stern old man, Orlando's father, took the lead in her interrogation. 'So what brings you to our neighbourhood?

'Sir, as I told you in my first letter, I have no relations, or none who can be of comfort, and that means my children have none. I need someone to give me advice.' Advice, Juliana had reckoned, was a better request than financial support. The squire would work out what she meant.

He gave her a long, straight, intimidating stare. 'And where are your children?'

'I left them in the care of my maid, an honest woman who came with me, at the Anchor — ' 'Where? she could see the Lovells wondering. 'I believe it was previously the Crown. A diplomatic name-change.' All over England, signboards were being rapidly refreshed for political reasons.

'The ale has not changed!' muttered Mary's husband despondently.

Squire Lovell showed no amusement. 'Did my son send you?'

'No, sir. I am alone and without his guidance.'

'Would he be content that you came here?'

Never; he would be furious! 'I believe it would gladden his heart.'

'And why have you come?' broke in Mrs Katherine Lovell. She was bursting with anger towards Juliana. 'Intend you to show the squire his infant grandsons and soften his heart?'

'If that were my hope,' Juliana replied levelly 'I should have carried them here with me today, the tiny baby at my breast, my boy running about impishly. I should have kept onion-skins hidden in my hand, to induce weeping, as actors did in plays. Since my purpose is honest' — she spaced it with a very small smile for the squire — 'I hope my tears will only flow naturally, where appropriate.'

'Surely you do not joke?' sneered Aurora.

'No, madam. I am desperate for my children. I was never so serious.'

'And do you weep for Orlando?' asked the squire, cocking an austere eyebrow.

'I do. He has been a good husband and a loving father.'

'If you intend to ask for money' Mary Falconer spoke up frankly, 'then you must return disappointed.' Mary had seemed the least hostile, yet now she burst out with a list of crushing woes: 'My father and brother have given all they had to Parliament. We, like everyone, have been taxed and taxed again to support the war effort. Even so, we were invaded and plundered by soldiers — they took everything: the horses from the stables, my father's sheep and cattle, his draught oxen, the very coach we had — after which they burst indoors and violently broke open every cupboard and chest. They robbed us of all our household goods — sheets and bolsters, all our clothes, even my little babe's smocks and lace caps, and all our kitchen utensils, tubs, pots, pans, meat hooks and pot hooks, spits, bowls, plates, dishes, knives, spoons, the knifebox and my mother's silver fish servers, then pecks of wheat and oats, butter, cheese, bread, salt, bacon — '

I see you did the housewifely duty and compiled the complaints list… 'Were these of the King's party?' asked Juliana carefully.

'No — that is what we endured even from our own. Waller's soldiers, out of Farnham. Two men went to the gallows for it. All the candles I had just dipped! A full six dozen…' murmured Mary, biting back tears as she reminisced. 'And then we had the poor soldiers coming through from Southampton after Lostwithiel, and nothing left that we could give them — You, in your safe refuge in Oxford, cannot know how we in the country have suffered.'

Well, you are the victors now! 'Your trials may shortly be over.' Juliana kept her restraint. 'The King's cause wanes daily. His garrisons are captured, his armies destroyed, his commanders leaving for the Continent. Soon I shall have no refuge. Women and their helpless children should not be blamed for a husband's delinquency.' She sighed, pretending to hide it. 'I am a helpless supplicant, but I must consider my boys. They are innocents. I was hoping for a friendlier reception.'

There was a silence, perhaps slightly awkward.

Next it was Aurora's turn to raise objections. Juliana did not think these people had rehearsed their speeches, but they had all listened to Mary's outburst without surprise. She noticed Aurora nudge her husband with a dainty toe, embellished with a ribbon rosette.

Sir Daniel spoke for his wife pompously: 'We have no room for strangers. Squire Lovell's house is overflowing — my wife and I live over at the next parish, but Mary and Mr Falconer make their home here, so has Ralph always done, with Katherine and all their children. Then Mr and Mrs Bonalleck from Massachusetts are staying here at present — though Isaac Bonalleck is bound for the New Model Army to be a chaplain there, which means Bridget must remain with her father — and our sister Jane, whom we call Jenny, who has never married — ' So where is Jenny? Do they force their spinster daughters to stay out of sight beside the kitchen fire? If they take in widows or fugitives, must that be their fate too? 'Jenny is sitting with poor Ralph, helping to nurse him.' Sir Daniel seemed to read Juliana's mind.

He was a heavy man, jowly, with a soft wet mouth, whose gaze lingered on Juliana momentarily. She saw how things were. Marrying a knight or baronet would have been a coup for Aurora, a squire's daughter. Before war put pressure on finances, the eldest Lovell girl would have had a good dowry. As Lady Swayne, Aurora had settled into her rank very comfortably, adding to the high-handed manner she must always have had. Her husband was probably satisfied that he had made a good match, as well as one where he could ply his courtship merely by strolling across a few fields, sparing himself any interruption to his hunting.

Juliana was sure if he and she had been alone in the room, Sir Daniel Swayne would have dropped some hint to the effect that she was too good to be penned up in a kitchen inglenook, meaning she should accept overtures from him. Even with his wife present, Juliana read insinuation in his eyes: one more problem that unprotected woman had to face. Some kinds of friendly reception were too unpleasant to contemplate.

Unable to face answering, Juliana waited patiently for the next onslaught.

It came unexpectedly. The parlour door crashed open. In burst a man in a long creased nightshirt, pale and distraught. Without doubt, Ralph Lovell.

Once, he must have looked very like his brother Orlando — a resemblance that gave Juliana a pang — yet he had recently been cruelly deprived of handsome features. A young woman who must be the spinster sister, Jane, scuttled in after him and attempted to place a blanket around his shoulders, only to be shaken off roughly.

The sight was horrific. Juliana had to force herself not to squeal with horror. Major Ralph Lovell's right arm had been shot off above the elbow and half his face blasted away. His life had been saved — at a terrible cost. A good surgeon must have done what he could to mend the damage; the results were still raw. Ralph's face was now twisted, with one eye socket dragged from its proper place — the eye missing — his burned flesh cobbled back together with terrible distortion and scars. When he struggled to speak it was evident he had lost pieces of his jaw and part of his tongue.

'Po-echt!' cried Ralph. It took Juliana a while to understand he was wanting to protest. She had already been struggling with the Hampshire accents of his relatives. Ralph could no longer form clear words, he had lost all ability to make tongued consonants, and was even hampered with his vowels.

Jane screwed her eyes shut and shook her head helplessly, telling her sisters she had not been able to prevent him coming downstairs. Probably they had instructed her to conceal Juliana's visit. Jane was still a girl. Now that the money had run out and taken her marriage chances with it, she was probably pushed around by everyone. Even her disabled brother bullied her while she dutifully nursed him.

'Ralph!' cried his father. 'Be easy. Do not trouble yourself.'

Ralph made more agitated, indecipherable sounds.

Mary leapt up and went to him. 'Oh this is not right. Never mind what Orlando did years ago — though that was bad enough! — His obstinate delinquency cannot be borne. We should not be asked to bear it!'

Ralph still forced out noises while gesticulating wildly. Jane, who must be used to it, interpreted. She spoke rather formally because it was so difficult: 'Orlando and Ralph can never be reconciled. Our brother's foolish adherence to the King must for ever cause grief to our father, and all of us. Fathers are fighting sons, brothers fighting brothers, cousin against cousin — men have sacrificed their lives in our cause. Ralph has shed his blood for the cause. He has endured grievous hardships and would have given his life. Orlando is resolute on his malignant course. Therefore he and those who belong to him must stay apart from us!'

Exhausted, Ralph collapsed on a chair brought to him by Sir Daniel. While Jane sank onto a footstool, their sister Mary wiped dribble from Ralph's chin with a handkerchief from her pocket. Her gesture was automatic; Ralph struggled with swallowing and would have to be mopped up for the rest of his life. Who knew what other intimate attentions he would require or how any of the parties would endure it.

Juliana assessed the damage that Ralph's terrible injuries had caused to his relatives. His wife, Katherine, was sitting silent and rigid; Juliana now recognised her complete devastation. Katherine had kept her husband, yet lost her marriage. She could not cope with what had happened and was barely hiding her disintegration. Juliana read the father's despair, the sisters' misery, the brothers-in-laws' discomfort. She could only imagine how children reacted. How the servants shuddered, the tenants whispered. How Ralph himself would alter, as pain and frustration embittered him.

All eyes turned to Juliana accusingly.

She was so shocked she had leapt to her feet. They would not want her sympathy, though they had it. Ralph's disfigurement and disablement were so dreadful they must have thought his death would be easier to bear. For him and for all of them. But no; he was going to struggle on and they were going to care for him. Nothing within this large, close family would ever be the same again.

Ralph's situation should make no difference. Her pleas on Orlando's behalf remained just as valid. Yet Juliana knew her suit was blown away.

Somehow she found words. 'I am appalled, Major Lovell, to see your suffering. You may not wish to hear this, but your brother will be heartbroken; he has always spoken most kindly of you — ' Well, except when he said you had died in an explosion, so he could masquerade as heir… ' I plead with you only to remember this: just as you chose your cause according to your conscience, so did honest men on the other side. Both parties claim they fight to preserve the freedom and safety of the kingdom. That is the tragedy. Royalists' opposition to you was never ignoble; they serve the King because they believe it is the proper thing to do. They did not choose it as some path to wickedness. I know there are even those in the King's party who serve him out of ancient loyalty of subject to monarch, yet who still desire that Charles should yield to Parliament's demands. Some who always did wish it so, some who are even now pressing him to make a peace.'

This speech certainly was unexpected to the Lovells. Juliana had surprised herself.

'I do not take sides,' she added quickly. 'My coming here was for two earnest reasons. One was to give my boys an opportunity to know their grandfather — which is their right, as it is every child's right. The rest of you may decide how you regard them, but I beg you, do not interfere between the squire and Tom and Val.'

'Tom!' murmured Squire Lovell, his face irresistibly softening. Then Juliana realised for the first time that Orlando had named their elder boy after his own father. She knew at once: Orlando had done it deliberately.

'And I was hoping — ' Unexpectedly, she stumbled. 'I hoped that since you have influence with Parliament and I do not, you might be willing to assist me. I have been told that my husband is a prisoner since Naseby. I am desperate to find out where he is.'

Again, there was that odd riffle of movement among the Lovells.

'Oh we know where the scoundrel is!' scoffed the squire. 'His first action on finding himself penned up in London was to write here and tell me!'

Chapter Thirty-Six — Hampshire: 1646

So shaken was Juliana that she was sent back to the Anchor under escort from Mary and Francis Falconer. During the walk, through the misty countryside and the quiet village, the couple explained to her in a fairly friendly fashion that there was a practical reason why Orlando wrote to his father and not to her. Paper and ink in jail were scarce. Orlando's most pressing concern involved his personal estate. When he first returned to England in 1642, Orlando must have brought home money he had earned — or acquired by other means, thought Juliana — during his service on the Continent. He had asked Squire Lovell's agent to buy land for him.

'You could say,' suggested Juliana slowly, 'the fact that he wished to invest close to his family home indicated that he was hoping to effect a reconciliation.'

'Or you could say,' returned Mr Falconer with spirit, 'the rogue just hoped to affront everyone!' Falconer was a sandy, unassuming man, with a sharp nose and long forward chin.

'My brother claimed,' Mary offered in a strained voice, 'he was newly arrived back in the country and Jack Jolley was the only agent he had ever known.'

'Have you seen Orlando?' Juliana queried in a tight voice. She was still finding it hard to accept that her husband had contacted the family he professed were bitterly at odds with him, while he had never written to her.

'Not since he first left us when he was sixteen. But now that we know where he is, I write to him weekly' said Mary. She was unnervingly earnest: 'I constantly beseech him to abandon his delinquency'

Juliana imagined Orlando's reaction. Mr Falconer caught her eye momentarily, clearly thinking as she did. In this tight-knit country community he must have known Orlando when they were boys. They had a similar background, yet ended up on different sides. Falconer must have fought; he had a healed sword slash on one wrist and even on a morning walk through his own village carried a sword as if he knew how to use it. Yet he was a quiet, ordinary countryman otherwise, more suited to smoking a pipe while he talked up the price of colts among his cronies.

The Falconers completed their explanation: Orlando had decided he wanted to obtain his release by paying his fine to the Committee for Compounding. Early in the war his land, known by everyone in the district as property of a hardened Royalist, had been confiscated, or as they called it sequestered, by the Hampshire Committee. To be assessed for his fine, Orlando needed a certificate of his estate's value, based on the income it brought in. The dilemma was that only the committee could know what his tenants had paid, since the committee received the rents now; they had no interest in providing the vital certificate to help a Royalist.

'So he is stuck!' said Francis Falconer, with enormous satisfaction.

Juliana was deposited at the Anchor, her head whirling.

She said little to Edmund Treves about her reception, though she briefly mentioned Ralph Lovell's wounds and the effect she believed his condition would have. 'Ralph's bitterness is all too understandable; his stricken family are bound to respect his feelings. There is no chance Squire Lovell will make peace with me.'

Despite that, to her surprise next morning, the squire arrived, inviting himself to meet his grandchildren. He first inspected Edmund, letting his cynical opinion show. On arrival, Edmund had changed from a plain coat into his normal clothes. Juliana cringed as the squire eyed up his burgundy brocade suit with its beribboned seams, his shirt belling out above his britches, his flounces of lace-trimmed boot-hose, his luminescent silk sash… Fortunately Edmund's innocent good heart was transparent. His position with Juliana could have looked dissolute, but her friend's very lack of awareness of that helped reassure the squire.

'Valentine.. '. mused the elder Lovell, clearly unimpressed. He did not take the baby in his arms, but let Juliana hold him. Valentine screwed up his little face like an ugly pink gargoyle, then wailed with gusto.