1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 53:



Chapter 18



            Between the nature of his assignment and the day’s weather, Captain Anthony Leebrick was in a foul mood. With his usual imperturbability, he hadn’t let any of it show; certainly not to his own soldiers and not even to any of the royal party, not even the coachmen. But when he saw the first elements of a Trained Band moving out of a side street to block Tyburn Hill Road, he finally lost his temper.


            “Oh, God’s blood!” he snarled. “Not today, lads. I’m in no mood for it!”


            He wouldn’t have been, even if the sun was shining. Under these conditions, with a sleet coming on top of the past few days’ thaw turning every road in the city into a mess of half-frozen mud, he had more than enough to worry about.


            The horses were skittish already, as large animals always are when the footing is treacherous. That was even true—especially true, perhaps—of the horses hauling the royal carriage. Where a sensible and level-headed farmer or tradesman who needed to haul a heavy wagon would have selected horses for the purpose who were sturdy and placid beasts, kings and queens and high noblemen were far more likely to select them for their appearance. And, indeed, the eight steeds pulling the king and queen’s conveyance were a fine-looking group, and even matched for color. So were the ones pulling the carriage behind it, which held the royal children and their nursemaids and nannies. But they were very far from the sort of animals Leebrick wanted to rely on to carry the royal party to Oxford under bad weather conditions in the middle of winter.


            He’d made an attempt this morning to persuade King Charles to postpone the journey until the weather cleared. But the king had been adamant, and the queen even more so. They were convinced that London was so infested with disease that the risk of remaining for another day or two was unacceptable. Henrietta Maria had even started shrieking at Leebrick.


            Fine for her, of course, to ride through sleet in a sheltered carriage. Fine, at least, in terms of her immediate comfort. Leebrick was quite certain it had never once occurred to Her Majesty that the driver and coachmen—and the horses—were going to be miserable and doing their jobs under terrible conditions. More to the point, that their ability to do their jobs in the first place might very well affect her own well-being.


            So be it. The queen of England was famous for many things. Good sense had never been one of them.


            About the only consolation the weather was giving him was that the sleet wasn’t so heavy that everyone on the road couldn’t look over and see the gallows alongside Tyburn Hill. Great heavy things, too, they were—a three-beam affair on three legs, for when they had a batch to hang at once. Leebrick glared at the Trained Band taking up positions across the road ahead of him, imagining several of their commanders swinging from the scaffold.


            His anger was due to the moment, not the general situation. Ever since the Earl of Strafford had brought a large number of mercenary companies from the continent to impose iron royal rule over England, there had been frequent clashes between the mercenary companies and London’s long-established militia. For the most part, however, aside from the initial period, it had been a reasonably good-natured business. The earl had been careful to give the assignment of controlling London to companies like Leebrick’s own, whose soldiers were almost all Englishmen—many of them from the same plebeian neighborhoods in London that were the stronghold of the Trained Bands. A fair number of Leebrick’s men, in fact, had once belonged to one of the Trained Bands themselves.


            As long as no one got too rambunctious, the confrontations and scuffles these days were more in the way of a very rough sport than anything a hardened soldier like Leebrick would call “combat.” A lot of bruises, the occasional broken bone or gash from a pike, but almost no fatalities and not even many serious wounds. Mostly, once they accepted the verdict of the first few weeks of serious clashes, the Trained Bands were simply determined to demonstrate their stout London spirit and their unwillingness to capitulate to royal tyranny like so many curs.


            “Not today, lads,” Leebrick repeated, now growling softly instead of snarling.


            His two lieutenants, Richard Towson and Patrick Welch, had drawn their horses alongside his. “How do you want to handle it, Captain?” asked Towson.


            Before Leebrick could respond, Welch added: “There’s another group coming down the side road we just passed. Not as big, but enough to require more than a handful of men.”


            Leebrick frowned. The Trained Bands didn’t normally do anything as complex as a flanking maneuver. For the first time, he wondered if this encounter was more than the simple bad coincidence he’d assumed it was. Could the Bands have gotten word that the king was leaving the city? They’d have had precious little notice, even if they did, since the royal decision to go to Oxford had been made impulsively. The servants had had to scramble madly to get everything ready by the morning.


            It wasn’t impossible, by any means. Servants talk, after all. The reason Leebrick still thought it unlikely that this was a planned encounter was that the Trained Bands were a militia, mostly made up of the city’s artisans and their apprentices. He’d had a hard enough time himself, getting his own company of professional soldiers ready on such short notice. What was the likelihood that the Trained Bands could so as well?


            Not very. But whether planned or not, he still had a bad situation on his hands. The problem wasn’t the Trained Bands, in themselves. He and his men could handle those perfectly easily, even if it came to a real fracas. The real problem—


            A piercing female shriek from behind let him know that “the real problem” had just surfaced. Apparently, the queen had spotted the Trained Band advancing toward them down that side road. Glancing back, he could see that the royal carriage had come to a stop right at the intersection of that road and the Tyburn Hill Road.


            More bad luck, piling on top of other. As that playwright whose work Anthony’s paramour Liz was so fond of quoting had put it in one of his plays, when troubles come they come not single spies but in battalions.


            “Nothing for it,” he muttered. “I’ll have to go back there and seen if I can calm down the stupid bit—ah, Their Majesties. Richard, you keep the main body of the company here. Move into formation in case the Band ahead of us thinks of doing something foolish, but don’t do anything else unless you’re attacked. Patrick, take your men onto that side road and do the same.”


            He turned his horse and headed back for the carriage, moving as quickly as he dared given the icy footing. Which wasn’t quickly at all, since he could sense the nervousness of his mount. Like any good horseman, Leebrick knew full well how much horses hated bad footing—and how easy it was to panic even an experienced warhorse if his rider seemed agitated or unsteady.