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For King or Commonwealth

For King or Commonwealth

by Richard Woodman

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1649. England has been torn asunder by a civil war that has pitted Parliamentarians against Royalists. Captain Kit Faulkner, bound to the Royalist cause, has been living in exile for the past four years. Faulkner must now support himself with the tiny rump of the Royal Navy that remains loyal. But his loyalties are torn, partly by the desire of his old patron, Sir


1649. England has been torn asunder by a civil war that has pitted Parliamentarians against Royalists. Captain Kit Faulkner, bound to the Royalist cause, has been living in exile for the past four years. Faulkner must now support himself with the tiny rump of the Royal Navy that remains loyal. But his loyalties are torn, partly by the desire of his old patron, Sir Henry Mainwaring, who wishes to return home, and partly by the predatory nature of Prince Charles, who has his eyes on the beautiful Katherine Villiers . . .

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“This salty adventure is deepened by the introduction of real-life characters and the author’s considerable knowledge of British naval and mercantile shipping history” on A Ship for the King

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For King or Commonwealth

By Richard Woodman

Severn House Publishers Ltd

Copyright © 2012 Richard Woodman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84751-427-1


The Exile


The Council of War

January 1649

'God's wounds, but this wind chills to the very marrow of my bones and these casements give it free and unhindered passage!'

Shaking his head, Mainwaring removed his hand from the window and stared at it, as though the keen gale, blowing in from the North Sea through the interstice, would leave some visible mark upon his skin. Neither Faulkner nor Katherine Villiers responded to Mainwaring's unnecessary remark. The former stared half-heartedly at a chart spread out before him, a Dutch Waggoner lying open beside it; the latter bent over the threadbare stockings of Sir Henry's that she was darning.

A week after the two men had answered Prince Rupert's summons, and attended his council of war aboard his flagship, the Constant Reformation, they were back in their rooms at The Hague. Faulkner and Katherine had patched up their quarrel after a fashion, but the mood of both had been subdued. Their spirits had been further depressed by the news that had come from London a few days later: the King had been put on trial in his own palace. Faulkner recalled the white splendour of Whitehall Palace beneath the walls of which he had reacquainted himself with the lovely Katherine Villiers in happier times, times that seemed in retrospect to be so full of promise.

He shot a glance at her, bending solicitously over Mainwaring's laddered hose. Half his mind filled with venom, half with a tender pity that forced him to suppress a sob and turn it instead into a cough. He lowered his eyes swiftly as Katherine looked up. She must not divine his distress, whatever her own agony.

His eyes wandered unseeing over the chart dedicated to 'The Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Honourable Corporation of Trinity House'. It depicted the entire estuary of the Thames, extending to the so-called Weilings, the archipelago that choked the estuary of the River Schelde, and ran on to include the deep tidal inlets that ran between the islands. One such was the Haringvliet, or Herring-fleet, as the English mariners called it, upon which lay the port of Helvoetsluys, the base of the exiled Royalist fleet of the former King Charles I.

But Faulkner saw none of this; his head was too full of Kate and her affaire with Charles, Prince of Wales, who, if the King's trial came to the fatal term predicted by its advocates, would soon be King in the eyes of his supporters. Instead of the shoals and channels scrupulously laid out before him after assiduous survey, his mind's eye could see only Katherine's face, pale and pleading as she knelt before him after Mainwaring had dragged him back from Helvoetsluys.

What, he had repeatedly asked himself, was he to make of her protestations?

'But Kit, it was nothing ... nothing. A mere amusement ... a playing between us, affectionate yes, but not ...' her voice had choked with the humiliation of it. 'Not a carnal knowing such as you and I have known each other. Why, he esteems you, relies upon you for your loyalty.'

'Am I to be content with such an assurance?' Faulkner had asked, pricked by conscience following his discussion with Mainwaring. 'What more might he not do when I am at sea, which I shall surely be as soon as the ice breaks up? Will he want more than thy hand about his member? Besides, what did he want of you?' He was himself choking now and she had reached up and placed her hand across his twisted mouth. The other had fluttered about her bosom, indicating the focus of the royal attention.

'Only a little unlacing,' she had admitted, her own eyes filling with tears. He had felt bile burning his throat, the more so since he had fancied fortune had raised him and the realization that he was so subordinate cut like a sharp blade into his soul. He had closed his eyes and, unseeing, gathered her into his arms; and so they had embraced with what passed for forgiveness.

But he could not drive the image of them from his head and doubted the lolling voluptuary had restrained himself as Kate claimed. Furthermore, what added to his torture was his liking for the Prince – a liking which would be complicated should he assume the title of King. How should he stand with regard to the young rake in that capacity? He himself had taught him how to handle a boat and flattered himself that His Highness had some regard for him. A tear dropped on to the chart before him and he hurriedly brushed it away before it distorted the paper. This was what he must think on, this cunningly delineated plan of ... of what? Christ! Did not the very debouchement of the Schelde look like some pox-rotten prick aimed at the vast cloaca of the Thames?

He shook his head to clear it of such a foul thought, squeezing his eyes as though to dry them of incipient, weak and unmanly tears. He was, for God's sake, a sea officer, not a wailing, unrequited swain. With an almost savage gesture he thrust his index finger near the chart's western margin, obscuring the sandbank and its attendant legend The Nore.

'Here!' He breathed through clenched teeth so that Katherine looked up and Mainwaring roused himself. Seeing him thus preoccupied, for so they thought, they exchanged glances and Mainwaring smiled away Katherine's distress. 'He will be himself again,' his kindly expression seemed to say. 'He is not like us and is, for all his years, experience and responsibility, still something of an innocent.'

Court bred, she understood him perfectly and responded with a shy, hesitant smile of her own.

With a mighty effort of will Faulkner had driven his mind from one painful reminiscence to another scarcely less so, coming as the event he recalled did so hard upon the heels of the other and prefaced, as it was, by discussions of defection. The council of war aboard the Constant Reformation had been an odd affair, stiff, when you thought about it, with men of dubious loyalty. Both he and Mainwaring had not an hour since been questioning the Royalist cause; two others, Batten and Jordan, had both come over to the Prince after troubles with the Parliament and the fleet. Neither was held to be entirely trustworthy. Even Prince Rupert, the shining star of Cavalier chivalry, had found himself spoken against by those close to the King and estranged from his uncle in the last year of his freedom. And now, here they were, with the captains of some eight or nine half-provisioned men-of-war whose crews were unpaid and mutinous, mewed up in a Dutch ditch while Warwick's fleet, if it lay not now in the outer waters of the Schelde, was not far away – only the width of the chart upon which Faulkner's now blazing eyes gazed: Here! At the Nore!

The Prince had served them honey in that ill-lit cabin. The red sun of an early setting ensanguined every artefact capable of reflecting its bloody redness as it sank over the flat and frozen landscape. Rupert's goblet, the rings upon his soft-gloved hand, the sword pommel and its buckled baldric that lay upon the table before him, Batten's pretentious half-armour, Jordan's gold necklace, even Mainwaring's soiled lace, picked up the ominous, scarlet splendour of the wintry sunset.

'There are now sufficient funds at our disposal,' Rupert had said without further explanation and in his perfect but accented English, 'to enable us to commission several of the ships, all, in fact, whose commanders are here present, with the exception of the Antelope. She I intend to sell, having first disposed of her artillery, some among your ships, some to a buyer eager to get his hands on heavy English iron guns.'

He had looked about, confident, but making certain they were all attentive. 'Now, as for our dispositions for the coming campaign, I intend to carry my flag to Ireland where my lord, the Marquess of Ormonde, maintains the struggle. You will all accompany me with the exception of Sir Henry Mainwaring and Captain Faulkner. You, Sir Henry, having employed your well-known talents in preparing my squadron, will remain here in charge of our interests and acting on behalf of Captain Faulkner who is, I know, like unto your son. He shall be charged with taking his own ship under warrant of the Prince of Wales. My commission unto you, Captain Faulkner, is to cruise in the mouth of the River of Thames, to annoy our enemy and to seize as many prizes as you may be able and disposing thereof among these greedy Hollanders, thereby engorging our war chest.' Rupert paused again, staring directly at Faulkner until he nodded assent. 'If you are able to take such vessels that may be persuaded to join us, and seem proper to you and Sir Henry in both their company and their soundness, particularly in the manner of their bearing arms, then you shall direct them to join my flag either in Ireland or at Lisbon, where I have friends, and where they shall find orders from me. Captain Allen –' Rupert had indicated the officer who had boarded the Phoenix to summon them to attend His Highness and who seemed to execute the office of a flag captain – 'Captain Allen will give you written orders to this effect. He will also provide the remainder of you with such instructions as I shall deem necessary for the orders of sailing and battle.'

The council broke up over wine and sweetmeats, and a desultory conversation from which Faulkner felt isolated. He gleaned that Rupert had sold all his jewellery – or much of his mother's, depending upon the narrator – to raise money for the Royalist cause and that his brother, Prince Maurice, would be joining them. Shortly before Captain Allen gathered them all up and swept them from the great cabin and out into the icy wind, the Prince himself came and spoke to Faulkner as he stared gloomily out through the stern-windows at the desolation on the far side of the Haringvliet that was the island of Over Flakke and the ship that lay moored in mid-stream.

'I hope, sir, that you will be of more cheerful countenance when next we meet.'

Faulkner started. 'Forgive me, Your Highness, these days are gloomy and dispiriting.'

'Indeed; and it behoves us to set our shoulders to the wheel and turn events to our purpose.'

'I assure Your Highness ...' Faulkner began, flushing at the imputation, only to be cut short by the lightest touch of Rupert's gloved hand upon his arm.

'I perfectly understand, my dear Captain Faulkner, but we have to hope for happier times, and your charge is a most important one.'

'I am sensible of the fact, Your Highness,' Faulkner replied with a bow, his spirit rising to the Prince's well-intentioned condescension. 'I would recommission her,' he ventured, indicating the ship moored in the Haringvliet, 'had Your Highness not found it necessary to strip her and sell her.'

'Ah. The Antelope has to be sacrificed for the welfare of the fleet. Her crew is a disgrace and there are besides insufficient loyal men to man the remainder properly.'

'Therein lies my own anxieties for your service, Your Highness,' Faulkner said boldly, for there was little point in dissimulation at such a juncture. 'The opportunity and the wherewithal to execute your commission is a burden I shall bear with the requisite fortitude, but one of which the outcome is not at all to be relied upon.'

'You will do it, sir, I know it for a certainty. Tell Allen of what you are most in need. Ah, and here is the good Captain Allen with your papers. I wish you Godspeed.' And he was gone. Faulkner took the packet of papers from a silent Allen and sought out Mainwaring. He found him in earnest discourse with Batten. The two exiled Elder Brethren of Trinity House might have been gossiping at Deptford itself after a Trinitytide dinner for all the apparent seriousness of their present situation. Faulkner was not deceived; he had seen Sir Henry fishing for information before and sensed Batten and Jordan had been a little free with the decanters before the council had been called.

'He does not trust either Batten or Jordan,' Mainwaring had remarked later, referring to Rupert as they walked back in the evening's darkness along the frozen quays and out, beyond the few guttering lights of Helvoetsluys, along the dyke towards the distant Phoenix. 'While I should have liked to kick the frozen dog turds of this accursed place from my feet, His Highness has favoured us both with a particular charge, Kit.'

'Then you are no longer minded to die in England,' Faulkner had riposted drily.

Mainwaring sighed, his air of resignation exhaled in the mist of his condensed breath. 'The habit of obedience,' he had said quietly, leaving the sentence as incomplete as his explanation of having changed his mind. 'Without it nothing can ever be accomplished.'

'And besides,' Faulkner had added in a low voice which indicated his own sentiments were, at least for the time being, in accord with the old admiral's, 'it is an old comfort among a sea of uncertain shallows.'

It was then that Mainwaring had determined to drag him back to Katherine in The Hague. 'Always the lure of the status ante bellum,' he had remarked softly to himself as he followed Faulkner up the gangplank on to the Phoenix's deck. 'And so infinitely preferable to the present moment.'

It was now almost dark in the room. Katherine set her darning aside and poked the dying fire. 'I shall get some wood, if any is to be had,' she said, rising stiffly.

'No, my dear, allow me,' said Mainwaring, turning from the window with the energy of a gallant half his age and shuffling from the room, muttering about fair recompense for Kate's attention to his stockings. She stood uncertain for a moment before cautiously approaching Faulkner. He had by now seated himself and was scribbling in a small notebook, breaking off intermittently to bestride the chart with extended dividers, or lay a brass and ivory rule alongside one of the several compass-roses that bedecked it.

For several moments she stood motionless beside him, watching him as his strong and competent fingers manipulated the instruments and then set the dividers down to take up his quill. She knew he was aware of her proximity and was content to let him finish, to burn out the passion of their unhappiness in his professional preparations. He would, she knew, come to her when he was ready.

Finally he laid down the pen and closed the notebook. Sitting back in the rickety chair he remained staring ahead but he put out his right hand, feeling for her hand. It was thin and chilled, and he raised it to his lips. Still without turning his head he said, 'These are terrible times to live ...'

And she bent and kissed the crown of his head, smoothing her other hand over his long hair.

The Affair at The Nore

January – April 1649

Thanks to the commercial energies of the Dutch that maintained an ice-free navigable channel in the lower Haringvliet, Prince Rupert's main squadron left Helvoetsluys on 21 January, as soon after the council of war as Mainwaring's strenuous efforts had fitted his ships for their long cruise to the coast of Ireland.

'His Highness has only eight vessels,' Mainwaring had said. 'The Charles, the Thomas, the Mary, a ketch, and the hoy Elizabeth. His only vessels of force are the Swallow, Convertive and Constant Reformation, and constant reformation of His Highness' squadron is just about all I can achieve for His Highness' power.'

'You have wrought mightily, Sir Henry, and have no reason to reproach yourself. It was Rupert's decision to abandon the Antelope after her crew mutinied.' They both recalled the Prince's suppression of the mutiny during which he had picked up one of the rebellious seamen and held him over the Antelope's side. 'He carried his point,' Faulkner added, 'though I should like to have known his thoughts at the men's disloyalty.'

'Oh, that he carried off with his customary aplomb,' Mainwaring reported, having attended the Prince shortly after the incident. '"I would rather fight and die with twenty loyal men", he said, "than triumph with two hundred turncoats." That sort of nonsense.' Mainwaring paused, catching Faulkner's eye. Both men thought of their own intention to turn their own coats. 'Admirable, of course, but scarcely practical,' he added with a finality that curtailed the uncomfortable recollection.

'Indeed not,' Faulkner had said.

The departure of Faulkner's Phoenix was both more complicated and yet simpler than that of the Prince's squadron. Complicated because she lay further upstream, in an ice-bound creek free of the heavier tolls attracted by Rupert's ships. On the other hand, she was in better shape than many of the Prince's men-of-war and Faulkner had, thanks to considerable skill, managed to feed and more or less keep his seamen in paid employment. This was in part owing to her having a smaller crew and in part to the close loyalty that Faulkner's leadership had engendered. Though few felt passionately about the predicament of King Charles, as seamen they appreciated Faulkner's concern for them. As poor men, most of whom had neither family nor home, he was their lifeline to survival, not least because he knew what it was to go hungry, for Faulkner's origins were, though never advertised by himself, not such that they could be kept entirely secret.


Excerpted from For King or Commonwealth by Richard Woodman. Copyright © 2012 Richard Woodman. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Richard Woodman is the prize-winning author of over thirty novels and several acclaimed works of maritime history. A former professional seafarer with eleven years in command, he remains a keen yachtsman.

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