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Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland

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Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland

  Produced by Sandra Laythorpe. HTML version by Al Haines.

  Unknown to History

  A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland


  Charlotte M. Yonge


  In p. 58 of vol. ii. of the second edition of Miss Strickland's Life ofMary Queen of Scots, or p. 100, vol. v. of Burton's History ofScotland, will be found the report on which this tale is founded.

  If circumstances regarding the Queen's captivity and Babington's plothave been found to be omitted, as well as many interesting personagesin the suite of the captive Queen, it must be remembered that the artof the story-teller makes it needful to curtail some of the incidentswhich would render the narrative too complicated to be interesting tothose who wish more for a view of noted characters in remarkablesituations, than for a minute and accurate sifting of facts andevidence.

  C. M. YONGE.

  February 27, 1882.
















































  Poor scape-goat of crimes, where,--her part what it may, So tortured, so hunted to die, Foul age of deceit and of hate,--on her head Least stains of gore-guiltiness lie; To the hearts of the just her blood from the dust Not in vain for mercy will cry.

  Poor scape-goat of nations and faiths in their strife So cruel,--and thou so fair! Poor girl!--so, best, in her misery named,-- Discrown'd of two kingdoms, and bare; Not first nor last on this one was cast The burden that others should share. Visions of England, by F. T. Palgrave



  On a spring day, in the year 1568, Mistress Talbot sat in her lodgingat Hull, an upper chamber, with a large latticed window, glazed withthe circle and diamond leading perpetuated in Dutch pictures, andopening on a carved balcony, whence, had she been so minded, she couldhave shaken hands with her opposite neighbour. There was a richlycarved mantel-piece, with a sea-coal fire burning in it, for though itwas May, the sea winds blew cold, and there was a fishy odour about thetown, such as it was well to counteract. The floor was of slipperypolished oak, the walls hung with leather, gilded in some places anddepending from cornices, whose ornaments proved to an initiated eye,that this had once been the refectory of a small priory, or cell,broken up at the Reformation.

  Of furniture there was not much, only an open cupboard, displaying twosilver cups and tankards, a sauce-pan of the same metal, a few tall,slender, Venetian glasses, a little pewter, and some rare shells. Afew high-backed chairs were ranged against the wall; there was a tall"armory," i.e. a linen-press of dark oak, guarded on each side by thetwisted weapons of the sea unicorn, and in the middle of the room stooda large, solid-looking table, adorned with a brown earthenwarebeau-pot, containing a stiff posy of roses, southernwood, gillyflowers,pinks and pansies, of small dimensions. On hooks, against the wall,hung a pair of spurs, a shield, a breastplate, and other pieces ofarmour, with an open helmet bearing the dog, the well-known crest ofthe Talbots of the Shrewsbury line.

  On the polished floor, near the window, were a child's cart, a littleboat, some whelks and limpets. Their owner, a stout boy of three yearsold, in a tight, borderless, round cap, and home-spun, madder-dyedfrock, lay fast asleep in a big wooden cradle, scarcely large enough,however, to contain him, as he lay curled up, sucking his thumb, andhugging to his breast the soft fragment of a sea-bird's downy breast.If he stirred, his mother's foot was on the rocker, as she satspinning, but her spindle danced languidly on the floor, as if "feeblewas her hand, and silly her thread;" while she listened anxiously, forevery sound in the street below. She wore a dark blue dress, with asmall lace ruff opening in front, deep cuffs to match, and a whiteapron likewise edged with lace, and a coif, bent down in the centre,over a sweet countenance, matronly, though youthful, and now full ofwistful expectancy; not untinged with anxiety and sorrow.

  Susan Hardwicke was a distant kinswoman of the famous Bess ofHardwicke, and had formed one of the little court of gentlewomen withwhom great ladies were wont to surround themselves. There she metRichard Talbot, the second son of a relative of the Earl of Shrewsbury,a young man who, with the indifference of those days to service by landor sea, had been at one time a gentleman pensioner of Queen Mary; atanother had sailed under some of the great mariners of the westernmain. There he had acquired substance enough to make the offer of hishand to the dowerless Susan no great imprudence; and as neither couldbe a subject for ambitious plans, no obstacle was raised to theirwedding.

  He took his wife home to his old father's house in the precincts ofSheffield Park, where she was kindly welcomed; but wealth did not soabound in the family but that, when opportunity offered, he wasthankful to accept the command of the Mastiff, a vessel commissioned byQueen Elizabeth, but built, manned, and maintained at the expense ofthe Earl of Shrewsbury. It formed part of a small squadron which wascruising on the eastern coast to watch over the intercourse betweenFrance and Scotland, whether in the interest of the imprisoned Mary, orof the Lords of the Congregation. He had obtained lodgings forMistress Susan at Hull, so that he might be with her when he put intoharbour, and she was expecting him for the first time since the loss oftheir second child, a daughter whom he had scarcely seen during herlittle life of a few months.

  Moreover, there had been a sharp storm a few days previously, andexperience had not hardened her to the anxieties of a sailor's wife.She had been down once already to the quay, and learnt all that the oldsailors could tell her of chances and conjectures; and when her boybegan to fret from hunger and weariness, she had left her serving-man,Gervas, to
watch for further tidings. Yet, so does one trouble driveout another, that whereas she had a few days ago dreaded the sorrow ofhis return, she would now have given worlds to hear his step.

  Hark, what is that in the street? Oh, folly! If the Mastiff were in,would not Gervas have long ago brought her the tidings? Should shelook over the balcony only to be disappointed again? Ah! she had beenprudent, for the sounds were dying away. Nay, there was a foot at thedoor! Gervas with ill news! No, no, it bounded as never did Gervas'sstep! It was coming up. She started from the chair, quivering witheagerness, as the door opened and in hurried her suntanned sailor! Shewas in his arms in a trance of joy. That was all she knew for amoment, and then, it was as if something else were given back to her.No, it was not a dream! It was substance. In her arms was a littleswaddled baby, in her ears its feeble wail, mingled with the glad shoutof little Humfrey, as he scrambled from the cradle to be uplifted inhis father's arms.

  "What is this?" she asked, gazing at the infant between terror andtenderness, as its weak cry and exhausted state forcibly recalled thelast hours of her own child.

  "It is the only thing we could save from a wreck off the Spurn," saidher husband. "Scottish as I take it. The rogues seem to have taken totheir boats, leaving behind them a poor woman and her child. I trustthey met their deserts and were swamped. We saw the fluttering of hercoats as we made for the Humber, and I sent Goatley and Jaques in theboat to see if anything lived. The poor wench was gone before theycould lift her up, but the little one cried lustily, though it haswaxen weaker since. We had no milk on board, and could only give itbits of soft bread soaked in beer, and I misdoubt me whether it did notall run out at the corners of its mouth."

  This was interspersed with little Humfrey's eager outcries that littlesister was come again, and Mrs. Talbot, the tears running down hercheeks, hastened to summon her one woman-servant, Colet, to bring theporringer of milk.

  Captain Talbot had only hurried ashore to bring the infant, and showhimself to his wife. He was forced instantly to return to the wharf,but he promised to come back as soon as he should have taken order forhis men, and for the Mastiff, which had suffered considerably in thestorm, and would need to be refitted.

  Colet hastily put a manchet of fresh bread, a pasty, and a stoup ofwine into a basket, and sent it by her husband, Gervas, after theirmaster; and then eagerly assisted her mistress in coaxing the infant toswallow food, and in removing the soaked swaddling clothes which thecaptain and his crew had not dared to meddle with.

  When Captain Talbot returned, as the rays of the setting sun glancedhigh on the roofs and chimneys, little Humfrey stood peeping throughthe tracery of the balcony, watching for him, and shrieking with joy atthe first glimpse of the sea-bird's feather in his cap. The spotlesshome-spun cloth and the trenchers were laid for supper, a festive caponwas prepared by the choicest skill of Mistress Susan, and the littleshipwrecked stranger lay fast asleep in the cradle.

  All was well with it now, Mrs. Talbot said. Nothing had ailed it butcold and hunger, and when it had been fed, warmed, and dressed, it hadfallen sweetly asleep in her arms, appeasing her heartache for her ownlittle Sue, while Humfrey fully believed that father had brought hislittle sister back again.

  The child was in truth a girl, apparently three or four months old. Shehad been rolled up in Mrs. Talbot's baby's clothes, and her own longswaddling bands hung over the back of a chair, where they had beendried before the fire. They were of the finest woollen below, andcambric above, and the outermost were edged with lace, whose qualityMrs. Talbot estimated very highly.

  "See," she added, "what we found within. A Popish relic, is it not?Colet and Mistress Gale were for making away with it at once, but itseemed to me that it was a token whereby the poor babe's friends mayknow her again, if she have any kindred not lost at sea."

  The token was a small gold cross, of peculiar workmanship, with acrystal in the middle, through which might be seen some mysteriousobject neither husband nor wife could make out, but which they agreedmust be carefully preserved for the identification of their littlewaif. Mrs. Talbot also produced a strip of writing which she had foundsewn to the inmost band wrapped round the little body, but it had nosuperscription, and she believed it to be either French, Latin, or HighDutch, for she could make nothing of it. Indeed, the good lady'seducation had only included reading, writing, needlework and cookery,and she knew no language but her own. Her husband had been taughtLatin, but his acquaintance with modern tongues was of the nauticalorder, and entirely oral and vernacular. However, it enabled him toaver that the letter--if such it were--was neither Scottish, French,Spanish, nor High or Low Dutch. He looked at it in all directions, andshook his head over it.

  "Who can read it, for us?" asked Mrs. Talbot. "Shall we ask MasterHeatherthwayte? he is a scholar, and he said he would look in to seehow you fared."

  "At supper-time, I trow," said Richard, rather grimly, "the smell ofthy stew will bring him down in good time."

  "Nay, dear sir, I thought you would be fain to see the good man, and helives but poorly in his garret."

  "Scarce while he hath good wives like thee to boil his pot for him,"said Richard, smiling. "Tell me, hath he heard aught of this gear?thou hast not laid this scroll before him?"

  "No, Colet brought it to me only now, having found it when washing theswaddling-bands, stitched into one of them."

  "Then hark thee, good wife, not one word to him of the writing."

  "Might he not interpret it?"

  "Not he! I must know more about it ere I let it pass forth from minehands, or any strange eye fall upon it-- Ha, in good time! I hear hisstep on the stair."

  The captain hastily rolled up the scroll and put it into his pouch,while Mistress Susan felt as if she had made a mistake in herhospitality, yet almost as if her husband were unjust towards the goodman who had been such a comfort to her in her sorrow; but there was nolack of cordiality or courtesy in Richard's manner when, after a short,quick knock, there entered a figure in hat, cassock, gown, and bands,with a pleasant, though grave countenance, the complexion showing thatit had been tanned and sunburnt in early youth, although it wore latertraces of a sedentary student life, and, it might be, of less genialliving than had nourished the up-growth of that sturdily-built frame.

  Master Joseph Heatherthwayte was the greatly underpaid curate of asmall parish on the outskirts of Hull. He contrived to live on some(pounds)10 per annum in the attic of the house where the Talbotslodged,--and not only to live, but to be full of charitable deeds,mostly at the expense of his own appetite. The square cut of hisbands, and the uncompromising roundness of the hat which he doffed onhis entrance, marked him as inclined to the Puritan party, which, beingthat of apparent progress, attracted most of the ardent spirits of thetime.

  Captain Talbot's inclinations did not lie that way, but he respectedand liked his fellow-lodger, and his vexation had been merely themomentary disinclination of a man to be interrupted, especially on hisfirst evening at home. He responded heartily to MasterHeatherthwayte's warm pressure of the hand and piously expressedcongratulation on his safety, mixed with condolence on the grief thathad befallen him.

  "And you have been a good friend to my poor wife in her sorrow," saidRichard, "for the which I thank you heartily, sir."

  "Truly, sir, I could have been her scholar, with such edifyingresignation did she submit to the dispensation," returned theclergyman, uttering these long words in a broad northern accent whichhad nothing incongruous in it to Richard's ears, and taking advantageof the lady's absence on "hospitable tasks intent" to speak in herpraise.

  Little Humfrey, on his father's knee, comprehending that they werespeaking of the recent sorrow, put in his piece of information that"father had brought little sister back from the sea."

  "Ah, child!" said Master Heatherthwayte, in the ponderous tone of oneunused to children, "thou hast yet to learn the words of the holyDavid, 'I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.'"

nbsp; "Bring not that thought forward, Master Heatherthwayte," said Richard,"I am well pleased that my poor wife and this little lad can take thepoor little one as a solace sent them by God, as she assuredly is."

  "Mean you, then, to adopt her into your family?" asked the minister.

  "We know not if she hath any kin," said Richard, and at that momentSusan entered, followed by the man and maid, each bearing a portion ofthe meal, which was consumed by the captain and the clergyman asthoroughly hungry men eat; and there was silence till the capon's boneswere bare and two large tankards had been filled with Xeres sack,captured in a Spanish ship, "the only good thing that ever came fromSpain," quoth the sailor.

  Then he began to tell how he had weathered the storm on theBerwickshire coast; but he was interrupted by another knock, followedby the entrance of a small, pale, spare man, with the lightest possiblehair, very short, and almost invisible eyebrows; he had a round ruffround his neck, and a black, scholarly gown, belted round his waistwith a girdle, in which he carried writing tools.

  "Ha, Cuthbert Langston, art thou there?" said the captain, rising."Thou art kindly welcome. Sit down and crush a cup of sack with MasterHeatherthwayte and me."

  "Thanks, cousin," returned the visitor, "I heard that the Mastiff wascome in, and I came to see whether all was well."

  "It was kindly done, lad," said Richard, while the others did theirpart of the welcome, though scarcely so willingly. Cuthbert Langstonwas a distant relation on the mother's side of Richard, a youngscholar, who, after his education at Oxford, had gone abroad with anobleman's son as his pupil, and on his return, instead of taking HolyOrders, as was expected, had obtained employment in a merchant'scounting-house at Hull, for which his knowledge of languages eminentlyfitted him. Though he possessed none of the noble blood of theTalbots, the employment was thought by Mistress Susan somewhatderogatory to the family dignity, and there was a strong suspicion bothin her mind and that of Master Heatherthwayte that his change ofpurpose was due to the change of religion in England, although he was aperfectly regular church-goer. Captain Talbot, however, laughed at allthis, and, though he had not much in common with his kinsman, alwaystreated him in a cousinly fashion. He too had heard a rumour of thefoundling, and made inquiry for it, upon which Richard told his storyin greater detail, and his wife asked what the poor mother was like.

  "I saw her not," he answered, "but Goatley thought the poor woman towhom she was bound more like to be nurse than mother, judging by heryears and her garments."

  "The mother may have been washed off before," said Susan, lifting thelittle one from the cradle, and hushing it. "Weep not, poor babe, thouhast found a mother here."

  "Saw you no sign of the crew?" asked Master Heatherthwayte.

  "None at all. The vessel I knew of old as the brig Bride of Dunbar,one of the craft that ply between Dunbar and the French ports."

  "And how think you? Were none like to be saved?"

  "I mean to ride along the coast to-morrow, to see whether aught can beheard of them, but even if their boats could live in such a sea, theywould have evil hap among the wreckers if they came ashore. I wouldnot desire to be a shipwrecked man in these parts, and if I had aScottish or a French tongue in my head so much the worse for me."

  "Ah, Master Heatherthwayte," said Susan, "should not a man give up thesea when he is a husband and father?"

  "Tush, dame! With God's blessing the good ship Mastiff will ride outmany another such gale. Tell thy mother, little Numpy, that an Englishsailor is worth a dozen French or Scottish lubbers."

  "Sir," said Master Heatherthwayte, "the pious trust of the former partof your discourse is contradicted by the boast of the latter end."

  "Nay, Sir Minister, what doth a sailor put his trust in but his Godforemost, and then his good ship and his brave men?"

  It should be observed that all the three men wore their hats, and eachmade a reverent gesture of touching them. The clergyman seemedsatisfied by the answer, and presently added that it would be well, ifMaster and Mistress Talbot meant to adopt the child, that she should bebaptized.

  "How now?" said Richard, "we are not so near any coast of Turks orInfidels that we should deem her sprung of heathen folk."

  "Assuredly not," said Cuthbert Langston, whose quick, light-colouredeyes had spied the reliquary in Mistress Susan's work-basket, "if thisbelongs to her. By your leave, kinswoman," and he lifted it in hishand with evident veneration, and began examining it.

  "It is Babylonish gold, an accursed thing!" exclaimed MasterHeatherthwayte. "Beware, Master Talbot, and cast it from thee."

  "Nay," said Richard, "that shall I not do. It may lead to thediscovery of the child's kindred. Why, my master, what harm think youit will do to us in my dame's casket? Or what right have we to makeaway with the little one's property?"

  His common sense was equally far removed from the horror of the onevisitor as from the reverence of the other, and so it pleased neither.Master Langston was the first to speak, observing that the relic madeit evident that the child must have been baptized.

  "A Popish baptism," said Master Heatherthwayte, "with chrism and taperand words and gestures to destroy the pure simplicity of the sacrament."

  Controversy here seemed to be setting in, and the infant cause of ithere setting up a cry, Susan escaped under pretext of putting Humfreyto bed in the next room, and carried off both the little ones. Theconversation then fell upon the voyage, and the captain described theimpregnable aspect of the castle of Dumbarton, which was held for QueenMary by her faithful partisan, Lord Flemyng. On this, CuthbertLangston asked whether he had heard any tidings of the imprisonedQueen, and he answered that it was reported at Leith that she hadwell-nigh escaped from Lochleven, in the disguise of a lavender orwasherwoman. She was actually in the boat, and about to cross thelake, when a rude oarsman attempted to pull aside her muffler, and thewhiteness of the hand she raised in self-protection betrayed her, sothat she was carried back. "If she had reached Dumbarton," he said,"she might have mocked at the Lords of the Congregation. Nay, shemight have been in that very brig, whose wreck I beheld."

  "And well would it have been for Scotland and England had it been thewill of Heaven that so it should fall out," observed the Puritan.

  "Or it may be," said the merchant, "that the poor lady's escape wasfrustrated by Providence, that she might be saved from the rocks of theSpurn."

  "The poor lady, truly! Say rather the murtheress," quothHeatherthwayte.

  "Say rather the victim and scapegoat of other men's plots," protestedLangston.

  "Come, come, sirs," says Talbot, "we'll have no high words here on whatHeaven only knoweth. Poor lady she is, in all sooth, if sackless;poorer still if guilty; so I know not what matter there is for fallingout about. In any sort, I will not have it at my table." He spoke withthe authority of the captain of a ship, and the two visitors, scarceknowing it, submitted to his decision of manner, but the harmony of theevening seemed ended. Cuthbert Langston soon rose to bid good-night,first asking his cousin at what hour he proposed to set forth for theSpurn, to which Richard briefly replied that it depended on what had tobe done as to the repairs of the ship.

  The clergyman tarried behind him to say, "Master Talbot, I marvel thatso godly a man as you have ever been should be willing to harbour oneso popishly affected, and whom many suspect of being a seminary priest."

  "Master Heatherthwayte," returned the captain, "my kinsman is mykinsman, and my house is my house. No offence, sir, but I brook notmeddling."

  The clergyman protested that no offence was intended, only caution, andbetook himself to his own bare chamber, high above. No sooner was hegone than Captain Talbot again became absorbed in the endeavour tospell out the mystery of the scroll, with his elbows on the table andhis hands over his ears, nor did he look up till he was touched by hiswife, when he uttered an impatient demand what she wanted now.

  She had the little waif in her arms undressed, and with only a woollencoverlet loosely wrapped
round her, and without speaking she pointed tothe little shoulder-blades, where two marks had been indelibly made--onone side the crowned monogram of the Blessed Virgin, on the other adevice like the Labarum, only that the upright was surmounted by afleur-de-lis.

  Richard Talbot gave a sort of perplexed grunt of annoyance toacknowledge that he saw them.

  "Poor little maid! how could they be so cruel? They have been brandedwith a hot iron," said the lady.

  "They that parted from her meant to know her again," returned Talbot.

  "Surely they are Popish marks," added Mistress Susan.

  "Look you here, Dame Sue, I know you for a discreet woman. Keep thisgear to yourself, both the letter and the marks. Who hath seen them?"

  "I doubt me whether even Colet has seen this mark."

  "That is well. Keep all out of sight. Many a man has been broughtinto trouble for a less matter swelled by prating tongues."

  "Have you made it out?"

  "Not I. It may be only the child's horoscope, or some old wife's charmthat is here sewn up, and these marks may be naught but some sailor'sfreak; but, on the other hand, they may be concerned with perilousmatter, so the less said the better."

  "Should they not be shown to my lord, or to her Grace's Council?"

  "I'm not going to run my head into trouble for making a coil about whatmay be naught. That's what befell honest Mark Walton. He thought hehad seized matter of State, and went up to Master Walsingham, swellinglike an Indian turkey-cock, with his secret letters, and behold theyturned out to be a Dutch fishwife's charm to bring the herrings. I cantell you he has rued the work he made about it ever since. On theother hand, let it get abroad through yonder prating fellow,Heatherthwayte, or any other, that Master Richard Talbot had in hishouse a child with, I know not what Popish tokens, and a scroll in anunknown tongue, and I should be had up in gyves for suspicion oftreason, or may be harbouring the Prince of Scotland himself, when itis only some poor Scottish archer's babe."

  "You would not have me part with the poor little one?"

  "Am I a Turk or a Pagan? No. Only hold thy peace, as I shall holdmine, until such time as I can meet some one whom I can trust to readthis riddle. Tell me--what like is the child? Wouldst guess it to beof gentle, or of clownish blood, if women can tell such things?"

  "Of gentle blood, assuredly," cried the lady, so that he smiled andsaid, "I might have known that so thou wouldst answer."

  "Nay, but see her little hands and fingers, and the mould of her daintylimbs. No Scottish fisher clown was her father, I dare be sworn. Herskin is as fair and fine as my Humfrey's, and moreover she has alwaysbeen in hands that knew how a babe should be tended. Any woman can tellyou that!"

  "And what like is she in your woman's eyes? What complexion doth shepromise?"

  "Her hair, what she has of it, is dark; her eyes--bless them--are of adeep blue, or purple, such as most babes have till they take their truetint. There is no guessing. Humfrey's eyes were once like to bebrown, now are they as blue as thine own."

  "I understand all that," said Captain Talbot, smiling. "If she havekindred, they will know her better by the sign manual on her tenderflesh than by her face."

  "And who are they?"

  "Who are they?" echoed the captain, rolling up the scroll in despair."Here, take it, Susan, and keep it safe from all eyes. Whatever it maybe, it may serve thereafter to prove her true name. And above all, nota word or breath to Heatherthwayte, or any of thy gossips, wear theycoif or bands."

  "Ah, sir! that you will mistrust the good man."

  "I said not I mistrust any one; only that I will have no word of allthis go forth! Not one! Thou heedest me, wife?"

  "Verily I do, sir; I will be mute."

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