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The King's Shadow

Now published by Endeavour Press here.

Charles. The name of a king not yet on the throne. Until New Year’s Day 1660, few believe he ever will be. But on this icy morning, an army sets out from Coldstream to march on London. Is it marching to bring back the king?

Mark Denton, colonel of cavalry, is the most rigorous parliamentarian in York and the scourge of royalist conspirators across the North. He must find out what his commander, General George Monck, intends to achieve in London.

Lucinda Selby, in secret revolt against Parliament and its army, allies herself with a brilliant member of the exiled court and goes to London also—with a risky mission on the king’s behalf.

In an England riven by factions, the desires of the most powerful players are the more deadly for being concealed. Meanwhile, amongst the danger and mystery moves the King’s Shadow, the most enigmatic of them all.



In 1660, Parliament governed England. The country had no monarch or House of Lords and ‘delinquent’ royalists were deprived of land and freedom of movement. The Parliament had crushed a recent rebellion in its army, it had long ago expelled any members sympathetic to the royal cause and it held onto power while refusing to hold elections. On the morning of the New Year, when this novel opens, there is no feasible prospect in any English man or woman’s mind of Charles II returning from exile. Least of all in his own, as the second chapter of The King’s Shadow conveys.

BRUSSELS

CHARLES STUART, by the grace of God King of Scotland, and by heredity and ambition King of England and Ireland, woke in a warm bed and felt fingers gliding through his hair, an agreeable enough way to begin the New Year. Nearly thirty, and he still had a luxuriant crown of hair—and did not have the pox, the latter somewhat of a miracle considering the women he could at present afford to entertain. He slid an arm under the owner of the fingers and pulled her to him in mental apology; Catherine Pegge was no whore, she was the lively and willing daughter of one of his most devoted supporters in exile. She did not even deserve the name of courtesan, for he had been the first to debauch her and she showed no signs of wanting to make a career of it; she was content with him, and touchingly grateful for his unspectacular presents. Keeping his eyes closed, he fondled her, so lightly that she grew ticklish, and giggled.

His standards had no doubt slipped during more than a decade of exile, but tupping duchesses was a kingly pleasure that he had been denied along with many another, and he was meanwhile obliged to stay in practice for his eventual queen. He sighed at the vision of her, and Cate moved to lie over him and slide her hand down his belly. From whatever corner of Europe his bride might come, her characteristics were tragically predictable: an overbred princess, a virgin—perhaps a venerable virgin, kept on the shelf in expectation of a powerful match—and an innocent. Of little use to him in bed, of none at court. He groaned, and Cate began seriously to caress him.

His bride would be outmanoeuvred, as his poor mother had been when she came as France’s Catholic princess to marry his father in London. Though pretty as a little picture, she had not found a way to woo the king at first. He had banished her French ladies-in-waiting, and she had wept. Then the king had lost his best friend, the Duke of Buckingham, and he had wept—and when she comforted him, they fell in love. So she became the helpmeet, the confidante, the ‘warrior queen’ in the struggle with Parliament that had cost the king his head.

No, he did not wish to be exposed to that kind of innocence. Not yet. He concentrated on the ready flesh to hand.

Later, dressed in a doublet and breeches of French velvet, he held court to an audience of one who was a comfort to him in other ways. He had grown up with Mary Villiers, dowager Duchess of Richmond and Lennox. Ten years his senior, she was brought to court as his father’s ward when a child, and she and her brothers had been his companions throughout the war with Parliament. Sparkling, merry, and airily affectionate, Mary was still an attractive woman.

Since the death of her husband James five years before, she had devoted herself to Charles’s mother, Queen Henrietta-Maria, and lived at Colombes with her two young children. Although she had been lady in waiting to the queen since her youth, and married to the king’s devoted cousin, Mary was never suspected by Parliament of harbouring political grudges or ambitions. Despite being a Stuart by marriage, she was not considered a ‘delinquent’, so visits to England were not denied her.

Charles always welcomed Mary, for two reasons: she cheered him, and she shared with him valuable information from royalist conspirators at home. This morning he had got rid of all attendants so they could talk alone.

He said with a smile, ‘Thank you for bringing Mam’s news. And the lace cravats. I’ve ordered some new wigs that will set them off. If I’d known you were coming here so soon, I’d have waited for you at Colombes. As it is, we’ve both got here before the wigs.’

‘By heaven,’ she said, ‘you’re not shaving all that beautiful hair for a wig?’

‘For several, my dear.’

‘I never would have thought you’d succumb so to French fashion.’

‘Why not? I’ve got precious little else out of France, and the same goes for Spain.’

Her blue eyes darkened. ‘You really don’t expect anything from Spain? What happened at the treaty talks?’

He had softened his failures when talking to his mother. With Mary, he could be frank. ‘I went all the way to the Pyrenees for nothing. If I’m to lay hands on more troops or funds, they won’t come from France or Spain. And I’ll never receive anything more from the Scots than bargains they won’t keep.’

She winced, but he found he could not stop. ‘My personal debt stands at around sixty thousand pounds and there’s more owed to my pitiful numbers of troops. My counsellors and servants are alike unpaid—they’ve sold off their silver and we’re down to eating off pewter and wood. We’ve contemplated rationing ourselves to one meal a day.’

She feigned to take this lightly. ‘When does one hunt, in Flanders? If this is the right season, you might dine off one wild boar a day. Would that suffice?’

‘You must ask Chancellor Hyde,’ he said without warmth. ‘Tell, me, madam, why you are come to Brussels.’

‘To see you, Your Majesty,’ she said with a lovely, unperturbed smile that melted him at once. She was standing by the window that looked down on a narrow paved street, beside a table covered by a tasselled carpet. She had placed on it an object wrapped in felt, which she indicated with her tapering fingers. ‘I’ve brought you something. And I came to talk to a physician recommended to me by Sir William Harvey. I needed advice about the children—especially Esmé. His health worries me terribly. I’ve paid the physician a ridiculous fee to go to Colombes and see both the children. He leaves tomorrow. And when you’re tired of me, I shall be off, too.’

‘Please sit down.’ He approached and took the chair on one side of the table as she sank gracefully into the other. ‘What about Cobham? How long since you were there?’

She gave him a veiled look. He might have asked her while he was on his way through Colombes, where his mother lived, but there had been no opportunity to sound her about her infrequent visits to Cobham, the seat of her Stuart family in Kent. He made the question more personal. ‘Mall, how do you get on? Whom do you see? Who are your intimates now?’

With a tiny spark of amusement in her eyes, she obliged him. They talked for an hour, of people and places dear to them both or important for other, more strategic reasons. He relaxed. By contrast with his faithful military and political advisers, who succumbed in the worst of times to giving him false hope, Mary had always been devastatingly candid. In return he found himself explaining his diplomatic setbacks in more detail.

‘So you see,’ he concluded, ‘abandoned as I am by every power on earth, my return to England can only be accomplished by the English.’

‘No bad thing,’ she said at once, looking him straight in the eye.

‘I agree. What are my chances?’

She gave him a thoughtful smile. ‘How does one take the pulse of a nation? I’m seldom in London, but I think I know Kent. And I’m not devoid of news from elsewhere.’ She paused, smoothing the cloth package that lay in front of her. She was never entirely still. ‘It’s my feeling that Cromwell finally sickened the whole country of the army when he put the major-generals in every corner. To do so in a time of so-called peace offended the spirits of men and women everywhere. The major-generals are gone and so is Cromwell, but no one has forgiven them. As for parliament, it summoned the strength to murder our dear sovereign, but it has shown itself a weakling ever since. It barely holds its own against the army—the dog that it bred but cannot keep to heel.’
It was scarcely a pragmatic picture, but then Mary was a poet, and alive to human feeling in a way that intrigued him. ‘The counties?’

‘Desire your return.’

‘The City?’

‘Likewise, but it’s not yet ready to admit it.’

He rose. ‘And no one is ready to act.’

‘That’s unfair. Only four months ago, Sir George Booth declared for you in the northwest.’

‘Declared for me? He took care not to mention my name! And he was left without support, which allowed Lambert to put him to rout. Meanwhile, I was led to expect uprisings in all quarters. The Sealed Knot, the Trust, Sir John Mordaunt, convinced me to wait at Dieppe for the tide to turn. What trash. Everyone delayed and Booth was crushed. Whilst I,’ he said quickly, forestalling any comment as he paced the floor, ‘I was prepared. I sounded everyone. For a time, I even thought I might have Monck’s ear. We dug his brother out of Devon to send to Scotland as ambassador. He’s a reverend, and as loyal a man as one could wish. Through him, I offered Monck one hundred thousand pounds.’

Mary gasped, but refrained from saying: One hundred thousand pounds that you do not have. ‘When was this?’

‘Last July. Monck was reluctant even to receive his own brother, and wouldn’t open my letter. But he did respond. Ambiguously. He turned down the offer but not the idea of a secret compact. Still, in the end, he acted just like our so-called allies: he delayed until it was too late. He sat around in Scotland until August, and Booth was left to perdition.’

Mary raised her beautifully arched eyebrows. ‘You don’t trust Monck?’

‘I don’t trust anyone.’

Her gaze fell. ‘That’s a pity. I come with a plea from brother George.’

He did not reply. He was rather sick of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. George was as charming and brilliant as his late father, who had been the bedfellow of King James I and beloved friend of Charles I, and whose assassination had brought the Villiers children to court. George seemed to have inherited all the wayward Buckingham blood. He too had fought for Charles and accompanied him into exile; however, he picked a quarrel and went back to England. His wife was none other than the daughter of Thomas Fairfax, former Lord General of Parliament’s army; but George made himself unpopular with Parliament and had been locked in the Tower. He was currently free, but still in bad odour.

‘George is in Yorkshire,’ Mary said into the frosty silence, ‘and conveys his deepest homage to Your Majesty. He begs me to let you know that, placed as he is in the closest intimacy with Lord Fairfax, he means to imprint the honour and justice of Your Majesty’s cause upon his lordship’s heart. If Your Majesty wishes to bring a person of power to your banner, there is no stronger arm in England than that of Lord Fairfax.’

One of the spaniels began to nibble at the leather bow on Charles’s right shoe and he bent, scooped it up and held the little face close to his own, saying into its soft brown eyes, ‘Can you really imagine Black Tom Fairfax taking counsel from a Buckingham?’

Mary’s light voice continued. ‘If Fairfax is prepared to come out of retirement, and gather forces from the region, and secure York, then there is a chance for the rest of the North to declare for you. Do you not wish George to prosecute all this, in your name?’

‘If, if, if and if,’ Charles said pleasantly, and sat down opposite her again with the dog on his lap. ‘So, what did you bring me?’

She slid it across. ‘It was a gift to me from your father. A little treasure from Whitehall that he presented to me in Oxford one Christmas. You were there, and James, and little James, and George, and Prince Rupert, and we were very ruby-cheeked and jolly over mulled wine.’

He slid it from the covering and exclaimed, ‘Of course I remember!’

It was a small painting by Holbein, unsigned. Unlike other Holbein masterpieces from the king’s broken and dispersed collection, it was not a portrait but a view of a Dutch garden, from a window. It was an unpretentious, domestic garden, such as one might create in the back yard of this house in Brussels, with fruit trees and evergreens clustered together and a path leading away around a bushy corner.

‘Do with it what you will,’ she said. ‘Keep it and take it back to Whitehall when your day comes—it travels lightly enough. Or sell it. It occurred to me that this is just the city in which to get your best price.’

‘I’ll keep it. You teased my father that Christmas.’ Charles put it at arm’s length to keep it from the spaniel in his lap. ‘You said he’d discovered it was not by Holbein after all, and so he passed it to you. You made us all laugh.’

Unfortunately his voice cracked on the last word, and that set Mary off—she was only too susceptible to emotion. They sat in silence with the painting on the table between them, looking at each other through their tears.