1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 11

Montrose nodded. There was always going to be a problem with the returning veterans of the wars in Europe, one that would require careful handling to ensure that such men saw nothing that got in the way of them returning to a warrior’s repose on their own lands. It would be distressingly easy for men accustomed to serving together abroad to band together at home if they felt that there was aught to remedy by force of arms to secure a retirement they felt was quiet enough. How like Charles Stuart to look for a source of fines in their return if it was in any way tardy. And, of course, to pick a method of doing so that would antagonise the USE. Gustavus Adolphus would more than likely welcome a pledge of service to the Protestant cause, but he was not even close to being the only political power in the Germanies these days. Montrose had more than a few friends and relations doing handsomely by themselves in the USE’s armed service these days, and there had better be some way of obeying the letter of His Majesty’s command while pissing on the spirit of it or there’d be a fine lot of trouble. Or — and it was a spur-of-the-moment thought, perhaps some of the more serious dissenters could be brought back in direct service? There was a plentiful supply of mercenary veterans of the German wars in service with His Majesty south of the Tweed. Surely a few could be found to deter rebellion north of it — and so much the better if they were native Scotsmen seeking to have peace in their homeland by making rebellion a fearful prospect for the would-be rebels? He’d have to weigh up the likelihood of the returners choosing the presbyterian faction instead. The numbers would be interesting to account.

“Your Majesty echoes many of my own concerns,” he said aloud, “and I have a good many friends and relations among such men whom I would urge to come home regardless, since the USE is so well found for armies in these times. If they can be persuaded to return to lend their strength to the common weal of Scotland regardless of the matters of faith, I feel much good may be done.”

“As you say, My Lord,” King Charles put in, “but see to it they are warned to leave the notion of religious liberty on the far side of the water. Our late father averred that with no bishops, there would be no king. We are minded to add that without an established church, there is no king worth the name.”

“As Your Majesty says,” Montrose murmured. Gustavus Adolphus seemed to manage, and the USE did without royal power and established church both. Charles Stuart would call it an illegitimate state, but if illegitimate it was, it was a big, powerful bastard that no cautious man would trifle with.

Cork cleared his throat and began reading again. “His Majesty desires that every presbyter who seeks to oppose the Crown and the Established Episcopalian Church should be most closely watched. The least evidence of wrongdoing, no matter how arising, is to be seized on to bring all such before properly-constituted consistory courts charged to ensure that all errors of clerics are suitably chastised.”

Montrose mentally translated that to harry the dissenters through the courts, and see that the courts are suitably stacked with prelates’ and king’s men; deprive them of their livings through the forms of law with a figleaf of criminal prosecution rather than by prerogative fiat. Failing that, ruin them with the costs of defending themselves.

It was, at least, an improvement over what would be Charles’ likely first response, which would be naked prerogative and a riot or two provoked at the very least. When it came to remedies for the abuses of Rome, Scotland vastly preferred Calvin’s to Luther’s, and would certainly see monarchical government of the Church as popery by the backstairs. Especially if it came to naked repression. On this one, he felt he could get away with simply making much of a few token prosecutions. It should not be beyond a smart clerk or two to find a small but steady stream of presbyters with their hands in the wrong pockets or their britches unbuttoned in the wrong bedchamber. Aloud, he said “Your Majesty will not find me wanting in the proper punishment of all wrongdoing.”

A sharp look from Cork led Montrose to think he might have laid overmuch stress on the word proper but schooled his own face against any exchange of speaking glances with the man.

Cork read on. “Further, His Majesty desires that the work begun under his father to bring the Erse away from the popish errors they are prey to and the barbarisms and cruelties they use. Efforts to educate them must be redoubled, both among the great and small of them. Such of them as are willing to recant their popish errors and confess the proper and episcopalian creed of the Church of Scotland may be found profitable service with His Majesty; there is much tumult throughout the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland and the suppression of same is greatly to be desired.”

Despite himself, Montrose felt his jaw clench. The highlanders were, he’d be the first to allow, a fractious, quarrelsome, inconvenient lot of nuisances; the same people who’d turned back Rome’s legions at the Wall. But they were, in large part, his nuisances.

His Majesty’s father had been content with an outward obedience to the law, and provided you didn’t insist on that meaning not stealing cattle and feuding, the highlanders carried on as they had since time out of mind. They would cheerfully confess themselves good Protestants to your face and hear Mass every Sunday when your back was turned. For a certainty, they’d rally to any cause of plundering the presbyterian lowlanders who set such store by suppressing their language and religion and scorned them as illiterate savages. But whether they’d take mercenary service in England to allow Charles Stuart to continue to rule with French gold and without parliament was another question.

And, of course, there were all the thousands of them that were Campbell’s — which way would they go? Not red-hot, Your Majesty, but another hot enough to burn. There was already a great fear that the king meant to use Irish mercenaries to enforce his will, again with French gold — and wasn’t that a beautiful thing, after half of Scotland’s Reformation had been to get French influence out that country, that two reigns later the king should bring it back into England? They were already calling Cork the premier ministre in scurrilous pamphlets, Richelieu’s principal secular title being a byword for unprincipled tyranny throughout England.

“Your Majesty, the work of civilising the Erse of the highlands continues today as it did in Your father’s time and before that. Whatever my poor efforts may do to hasten it along will be done.” Again, not a direct lie. Civilising the wretches would do them direct and measurable good, no matter the religion they followed. The papists of Spain, France and Italy were, after all, civilized and seemed to do well by it. If the divines wanted them converted to the uncorrupted faith of Calvinism, they could get about the work themselves. Perchance it would keep them out of mischief.

The remainder of the king’s charges to his new Lord Lieutenant were considerably less disheartening. What was disheartening to Montrose was that he had been given the greatest office short of the crown itself in Scotland, and the charges laid on him with it were, indeed, disheartening him.


Later, awaiting their mounts to be brought from the stables to go to their respective London houses, Cork gave Montrose a wry smile. “I trust you’re seeing how I feel about great power in these times.”

“A burden, aye,” Montrose said. “I trust that should I choose to do more of the spirit of His Majesty’s charges than the letter, he’ll not hear any contradiction from you? I’m of a mind that that first charge, silence north of the Tweed, is the one that counts?”

Cork’s grin was twisted and rueful. “That’s about the size of it. Between Wentworth and Laud, we’ve a merry mess on our hands in England. Between Spain, France, and the USE, it’s our task to keep our feet and not end up provinces of one or the other. And I’m fucked if I know where Spain’s going to fall out on this now the queen’s dead — nor can I see any prospect of a new marriage for him to settle anything with anyone on Europe. Marriages of state are often cynical matters, but they have to be marriages for all that, and short of a miracle His Majesty can’t contract a valid one and keep it valid, if you take my meaning?”

Montrose felt a lurch in his guts. In his heart of hearts he didn’t think Charles Stuart the man was worth as much as a pot of piss, but there were some things not to be wished on anyone. He swallowed the lump in his throat and manfully suppressed the urge to grasp his own jewels. He tried to make a joke of it. “So it’s you and me the king’s only working cods now, is it?”

Cork’s laugh was a single, harsh bark. “Bollocks any way you look at it, My Lord. Bollocks.”