1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 10

Chapter 6

Montrose had come heartily to the conclusion that he’d no time for His Lordship the Earl of Cork nor His Majesty Charles Stuart, at least on a personal level. Politically, he’d a lot more time for Cork than his king. Cork was a chancer and a businessman, and for him power was a means to very easily assessed ends. Even his well-known talent for grudge-bearing and vengeance-taking was a tool; a warning not to cross him. As plain as a bull’s stamping and snorting.

Whatever they’d come up with between them, Montrose sincerely hoped it came more from earl than king. The king’s father, God rest him, had been a pure bloody fool for episcopacy, having the fool notion that without bishops there’d be no king. So Scotland had to have bishops her kirk neither wanted nor needed and had done perfectly well without for the best part of fifty years. James VI had wanted his bishops, though, and forced them into the kirk in a series of steps, bit by bit. There were plenty of Scots who were still grumbling about that, and the least whiff of popery would have them rioting at the very least. More than one man of letters was ruminating aloud about the prospect of freedom of religion in a general spirit of anarchy, for if once the State did not control the most important aspect of a man’s life, his faith, control over the smaller parts must surely wither away.

Of course, to a man in Montrose’s position, with only the loosest leash on the kirk within his dominions, there was a certain attraction in getting the king out of religion. There were, after all, a lot more ways to control a preacher than with the force of law, and a laird in his dominions was a lot closer than a General Assembly of the kirk that might or might not be in session a long way away.

And yet here he was, cordially summoned to appear before His Majesty along with the Earl of Cork. There was only a short wait to be summoned into the royal presence, with its attendant stink of the sickroom barely covered with rosewater and pomanders. The king was laid in his bed, the sheets raised over him on some sort of frame. Whatever the king’s physicians were doing to help him heal of his injuries looked to have made little progress in the weeks since the coaching accident that had robbed him of his power to walk; the man had gone from the rude health he’d always been known to enjoy to a wasted, skeletal look.

“Your Majesty,” Montrose offered, making the proper bow.

“My dear Montrose,” Charles Stuart said, “you are already acquainted with Our most trusted counsellor, Cork.” The king paid no mind to the small flock of attendant courtiers and physicians. Not a one of them seemed inclined to be more than mere cyphers, at that, so Montrose respected their effacement. Cork, meanwhile, looked more than a little apprehensive. From a man that sure of his face in all surroundings, the look said much. Most of it on the subject of not having persuaded his king to a proper course of action. Charles must be recovering his health after all!

“I hope I find Your Majesty improving?” Montrose marvelled at his own ability to get the barbed comment out with a straight face. It wasn’t as if Cork wouldn’t have mocked another, and that savagely.

“By the Grace of God, a little better as each day passes,” Charles said, “although Our patience is often taxed, and that right heavily.” A significant look at Cork, with that one.

“His Lordship the Earl of Cork has explained to me that the matter of Your Majesty’s rule of Scotland is proving vexing, and that I might be of assistance. Is it, perhaps, that Your Majesty has summoned me to vouchsafe the manner of that assistance?”

A palpable wince from Cork. Montrose wasn’t sure whether to be amused or appalled; while Cork was a scheming, unprincipled bastard he was at least a clever scheming, unprincipled bastard whose plans weren’t entirely likely to result in disaster. As witness the fact that His Majesty was now abed with an assortment of broken bones healing and rumors abroad that he’d never walk again, if he even lived the year out. The bedridden tended to have short lives, and unhappy ones. This, with young Charles barely five years old. Regencies tended not to go well, in England or Scotland both.

His Majesty let the silence drag on a moment. “My Lord Montrose, We are minded to appoint you Lord Lieutenant of Scotland entire. Your loyalty to Us is well known and evidenced both now and in the other time.”

Montrose bowed again. “Your Majesty honors me beyond my humble worth,” he said — and thought but did not say: and ignores that I would have stood against him, at the start, and in the matter of prelacy and the Book of Common Prayer.

His Majesty waved the formal modesty aside. “Letters patent are being prepared in the matter. We are minded to give you broad discretion in the governance of Scotland. Our directions are these: keep the peace, silence dissent, and give no concessions in the matter of unrestrained presbyterianism to the Church of Scotland. We are determined that they will obey.”

Montrose nodded. Not quite what Cork had said he would urge on the king, not hardly at all. “Does Your Majesty have any mind to advance the part of the prelates from where it stands at present? Or to further uniformity of worship with the Church of England?” Montrose braced himself for the answer. He’d just been made the clear aiming-mark for every gripe and grumble at the king’s rule in Scotland; it remained to be seen whether Charles Stuart had heated the thing to a red glow before tossing it to his ungloved hands.

“For the time being, no. Our most trusted Cork has urged on us a Fabian strategy. Little by little, we shall edge them away from error and misfeasance. Let it be clear to those who would defy Our rule that we are patient, yet unyielding. We are confident that we can endure beyond troublesome presbyters, and in time discredit them one by one. They will assuredly hang separately if given no cause to hang together.”

Just hot enough to burn, then, Your Majesty. Montrose suppressed a smile at recognising the quotation. He’d been told it wasn’t original to Stearns, but the sentiment lost nothing for its lack of originality. “I shall need a broad power to act where those outside the Kirk seek to use it as excuse for their own particular schemes, Your Majesty.”

“You shall have it. Mind that We hope to hear only silence from north of the Tweed, in all things sacred and secular.”

“I shall give my utmost to oblige Your Majesty in that regard,” Montrose said, wondering how in the name of God he was expected to keep Campbell of Argyll quiet. The man was no staunch presbyterian, but anything that brought royal power closer to Scotland, where he was far and away the most powerful man for all he wasn’t technically the earl yet, was going to have the man causing trouble on general principles. And he’d surely have read the future history in which he was executed for treason for doing just that, for almost exactly those reasons. The only reason the man hadn’t spent the last few years in the Tower was the aforementioned power. Montrose had the sinking feeling that if he couldn’t get Campbell on his side quickly, he’d have to get working on the highlanders and just go straight to war. It would undoubtedly be a great saving of time if nothing else. And throughout he’d be sticking up for the blasted prelates, whom he’d no time for.

“We have the uttermost confidence in Your Lordship,” Charles Stuart said. “My Lord Cork, you have some matters to bring to Our dear friend Montrose’s attention?”

Cork harrumphed, and beckoned to one of the small cloud of clerks and attendants lurking in the shadowy side of the room, away from the window. “That I have.”

He took a leather portfolio from the clerk who’d stepped forward, and waved the man back to his spot. He opened the papers, licked a thumb and took a deep breath. “First and foremost, His Majesty is concerned regarding the various peers of Scotland and other, lesser notables currently serving overseas. They were given leave to take up arms in the Protestant cause in the Germanies, under Denmark, and, largely through want of objection on His Majesty’s part, under Sweden. It now appears that they are serving, whether formally or not, the armed forces of the new United States of Europe. His Majesty is concerned that in so doing they serve the anarchistic principle of freedom of religion, in peril of their souls and to the prejudice of the good order of His Majesty’s realm in the event of their return. His Majesty desires that you be in communication with all such of the rank of knight or greater to secure from them sureties that their services are purely in the Protestant cause, failing which they are to return to their home estates on penalty of fines in the first instance with the prospect of forfeiture for those persisting in their default.”