1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 18

He spent the afternoon in the taproom of the Falcon in Huntingdon composing his letter to the earl. He didn’t think he’d have to argue too hard to get himself appointed as a justice; the mere fact that it would jam sideways in the throat of every one of the country gentlemen who got in the way of the king’s plans for the country would be argument enough. Still and all, he’d learned proper rhetoric in the grammar school and it wasn’t in him to make less than the best case he could.

Mulligan returned just about as he was done, smelling faintly of smoke and grinning. “Sure and it felt good to do that, fair put me in mind of us getting evicted when I was a little boy. I ran the family off from town a ways, since I thought you’d want to get to the justices before they did.”

“You thought right, Mulligan, and before you sit down to your supper after a good day’s work, you get to pick who rides back to London with my letters to the earl. Charge him to bring back an answer as quick as he can.”

Mulligan nodded and took the packet, and Finnegan set out to see the local justice.


“Mister Pedley, Esquire, I presume,” Finnegan said, when he was let in to the man’s house.

“I am,” said the old fellow who’d risen from his seat by the fire to greet his visitor, “and who might you be?”

“William Finnegan, of County Waterford, in service to the Earl of Cork and His Majesty the king, squire. I’ve fetched my letter of commission for you to see. I’m after the man that broke out of the Tower of London last month, and I’ve cause to believe he’ll come here within the next few days.”

“I’d heard talk of questions being asked. You’re in charge of that lot of Irishmen about town, then?”

“They are indeed my sworn men, sir, and in the course of executing my commission this morning two of them were wounded. By the grace of God and His providence, sir, not grievously, but I’m after laying information before you all the same as soon as I have names to give. There’s also the matter of me and my men being given false information regarding the fugitive, sir, and so soon as I can find time to furnish full particulars there’s information to be laid in that matter too. In furtherance of my commission” — he paused to lay the document on the side table beside Pedley’s chair, noting the while that he’d not been invited to sit at all — “I exacted punitive measures on those most directly responsible for the misprision, sir.”

Pedley regarded him levelly. “Am I to understand that this commission, sir, is like to the French carte blanche?

Finnegan reached the obvious conclusion that here was a man who’d have been for parliament in the future that never was. “I’d know nothing of the French, sir,” he said. “It is a plain commission from the king to take a felon and a traitor in flight wheresoever he may be found. And if you care to tell me, sir, that when he was arrested he was no felon, by his prison-break he became one.”

Pedley harrumphed. “I dare say there’s a lawyer who’d make a pretty mess of that case, and likely another who’d make a pretty present of it. My duty, sir, is to keep the peace, and since I hear not a quarter hour since that your brigands have burnt a farmhouse and barn, showing mercy only to the lives of the family therein, I have to wonder what best to do for that duty. And now you tell me the king commands it? That’s a color for your actions, sir, but not the color of law.”

Finnegan smiled gently. “I am in pursuit of a felon and a traitor, sir. Hot pursuit, if you will, for all I’ve got ahead of my man. And while it may be that there’s a bench somewhere that might convict me for my actions, I’m told His Majesty is much fond of exercising his prerogatives, one of which is the prerogative of pardon. Things would have to change greatly in London before I’ll face gallows or gaol for anything I might do short of murder in my commission, sir.”

“I suppose, in these times, a man should be grateful for fair warning before the royal tyranny buggers him again?” Pedley’s tone was acid, sour and sharp. Finnegan had to give him credit; he had an armed man in his home explaining that he’d been given license to do all short of killing and he wasn’t acting the craven.

“Ah, now tyranny I understand, sir, and tyranny this is not. Rough and ready justice for a traitor and a felon, and all those who aid him, but not tyranny.” He was careful to keep his tone soft. He knew what had happened to his country under the plantations, and had some idea of what would have happened to it over the next few years. For his own part, he cared nothing for it, so long as he and his suffered little or nothing. But it struck him as monstrous that this fat old fool in his fine warm house with, yes, his bottle of sack, could complain of tyranny. “I’ll take my leave of you, sir, and ask you to expect my information laid within the week. In the meantime I await further commands from the king.”

“As you say. See yourself out, commissioner,” Pedley said, handing the king’s letter back to Finnegan unread. “I’m sure I’ll be hearing more from and about you.”

“Just until I have my man in hand, squire Pedley, just until I have my man in hand.”

Tully was waiting outside, minding the horses. There might be a surprising lack of thievery hereabouts, but old habits died hard. “From the face of you I take it that went as poorly as could be expected?”

Finnegan shrugged. “We knew the Cromwells were a big family hereabouts, and before he was arrested our man was making himself popular with the bog folk. Something about drainage schemes, as I recall. Seems he was a known man with the gentry as well, because that man wouldn’t have given me the steam off his turds without I had the king’s letter in my hand. Which he troubled not to read, mark you.”

Tully snorted. He’d stopped groaning hours before, so Finnegan supposed the buffet to his head wasn’t so bad as all that. “The talk of you after you’ve spoken to gentry is always such a delight to hear, so.”

Finnegan rolled his eyes. “I had the learning of it at school, it never leaves a man. And it pays to talk to the bastards the way they expect or you’re just another fucking bog-trotter they can safely ignore, king’s letter or no king’s letter. Well, we’ve been handed a fine opportunity to shove the bog firmly up their arses, one way or another, doubled if the earl persuades the king. More than one of the boyos will welcome the chance to have at the Saxons, torai though they be. It’s one thing to have your countrymen to chase you for the sake of stolen cattle, quite another to be run off your land by foreign soldiers for the sake of other foreigners.”

Memories of the confiscations and plantations of colonists after the Nine Years’ War were still raw. Boys who’d grown up dirt poor, paying hard rent on good land their grandfathers had owned — in some cases were still around to complain bitterly about — could and did turn to thieving to keep body and soul together. Caught, and offered a pardon by the earl, they carried on as the enforcers of the order that had broken their families. It put money in a man’s pocket, but in the small hours of the night he could be excused a certain amount of resentment. Oh, indeed, there’d be some relish in getting the whip hand over the Saxons. Tully, for example, was from around Kinsale. His grandfather had died the year after the siege there was broken, driven off his land entirely for plantation as punishment for a rebellion he’d had no part in, or so he insisted. Tully’s father had fought through the courts for years to recover the land, only to have the title he’d recovered called into question because he was a Catholic. He’d gotten something of a price for it from the earl, who’d been plain Richard Boyle back then, and probably more than he’d have had from any other buyer. The poor old fool had been pathetically grateful.

The younger Tully had been less impressed with the deal, but he could at least see that Boyle was the best of a bad lot among plantationers — he’d got his first stake in Ireland by marrying an Irish lady, or at least one of the Old English, who’d come over in peace and settled. The fact that he’d been imprisoned several times on suspicion of aiding the rebel side in the Nine Years’ War helped, too.

That had never impressed Finnegan overmuch. Any man on the rise as Boyle had been would make enemies, and collusion with rebels and foreigners was a useful handful of mud to throw at such.

Still, Tully was grinning in the last light of the day. “That will be a true nightmare for the Saxons, to be sure. An Irishman with a constable’s warrant set over them? We’ll have to hold their reins tight, so we will.”