Hailed as a "virtuoso performance" (The Denver Post) and "historical fiction writing at its best" (The Tampa Tribune), Revelation is a must-read for fans of Hilary Mantel, Margaret George, and Philippa Gregory.
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ALSO BY C. J. SANSOM
WINTER IN MADRID
The Shardlake series
Published by the Penguin Group
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Map artwork by Neil Gower
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
Sansom, C. J.
Revelation / C. J. Sansom. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-02219-1
1. Shardlake, Matthew (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Serial murderers—England—Fiction. 3. Great Britain—History—Henry VIII, 1509-1547—Fiction. I.Title.
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THE HIGH CHANDELIERS in the Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn were ablaze with candles, for it was late afternoon when the play began. Most members of Lincoln’s Inn were present, the barristers in their robes and their wives in their best costumes. After an hour standing watching, my back was starting to ache, and I envied the few elderly and infirm members who had brought stools.
The performance of a play at Lincoln’s Inn, traditionally held in March, had been cancelled earlier in the month because of heavy snow; late in the month now, it was still unseasonably cold, the breath of actors and audience visible, wafting up like smoke to the high roof-beams. The play that year was a new Interlude, The Trial of Treasure, a heavy-handed moral fable with the gorgeously robed actors portraying the vices and virtues of mankind. As the actor playing Virtue, resplendent in pale robes and a long, white, false beard, lectured Dissimulation on his deceitful ways - appropriately, perhaps, to an audience of lawyers - my attention wandered. I cast my eyes over the shadowed faces of the audience. Treasurer Rowland, a thin-faced, acerbic old man, was eyeing the actors as though wondering whether it might have been better hiring a troupe with less expensive costumes even if this play required no elaborate scenery. Across from me I saw my old enemy Stephen Bealknap, his greedy pale blue eyes studying his fellow lawyers. Those eyes were never still, would never meet yours, and as he saw me looking at him his gaze slid away. He was perhaps the crookedest lawyer I had ever come across; it still smarted that eighteen months before I had been forced to abandon a case against him through the ruthless machinations of his patron, Richard Rich. It struck me that he looked tired, ill.
Some distance away my friend Roger Elliard, to whose house I was invited to a dinner afterwards, held his wife’s hand. A new scene had begun; Lust had made a pact of fellowship with Inclination To Evil. Embracing him, Lust was suddenly seized with pain and crouched on his knees.
Out alas, what sudden passion is this, I am so taken that I cannot stand, the cramp, the cramp has touched me, I shall die without remedy now out of hand.
The actor, struck down by divine judgement, stretched out a trembling hand to the audience. I saw Bealknap look at him with a sort of puzzled contempt; Roger, though, turned suddenly away. I knew why; I would talk to him later.
At last the play ended; the players bowed, the audience clapped, and we got our cold limbs into motion and stepped out into Gatehouse Court. The sun was just setting, illuminating the redbrick buildings and the melting snow in the courtyard with an umber light. People walked away to the gate, or if they lived at Lincoln’s Inn stepped homewards, wrapping their coats around them. I waited in the doorway for the Elliards, nodding to acquaintances. The audience were the only ones abroad, for it was a Saturday out of law term, Palm Sunday Eve. I looked across to the Elliards’ lodgings. All the windows were lit and servants could be seen within, bustling with trays. Dorothy’s dinners were well known around the Inn, and even at the end of Lent, with red meat forbidden, I knew that she would have large tabling and good belly cheer for the group they had invited.
Despite the cold I felt relaxed, more peaceful than I had for a long time. In just over a week it would be Easter Sunday, and also the twenty-fifth of March, the official start of the New Year of 1543. Sometimes in recent years I had wondered at this time what grim events the coming year might bring. But I reflected that now I had only good and interesting work, and times with good friends, to look forward to. That morning while dressing I had paused to study my face in the steel mirror in my bedroom; something I seldom did, for the sight of my humped back still distressed me. I saw streaks of grey in my hair, deepening lines on my face. Yet I thought perhaps they gave me something of a distinguished look; and I had passed forty the previous year, I could no longer expect to look young.
That afternoon, before the performance, I had walked down to the Thames, for I had heard the ice was breaking up at last after the long, bitter winter. I stood at Temple Stairs and looked down at the river. True enough, huge chunks of ice tumbled against each other with great crashes and creaks amid roiling grey waters. I walked back through soft, melting snow, thinking that perhaps spring was coming at last.
Standing in the doorway of the Hall, I shivered suddenly despite my heavy fur-lined coat, for though the air was definitely warmer today it was still chill and I had never put back the flesh I lost in my bad fever eighteen months before. I jumped slightly as someone clapped me on the shoulder. It was Roger, his slim form swathed in a heavy coat. Beside him his wife Dorothy, her plump cheeks red with cold, smiled at me. Her brown hair was gathered under a round French hood set with pearls.
‘You were in a brown study, Matthew,’ Roger said. ‘Reflecting on the high moral sentiments of the play?’
‘High as a house but heavy as a horse,’ Dorothy said.
‘That they were,’ I agreed. ‘Who chose it?’
‘The Treasurer.’ Roger looked to where Rowland was talking to an ancient judge, nodding his head gravely. Roger lowered his voice. ‘He wanted something that wasn’t politically contentious. Wise in these days. But an Italian comedy would have been better.’
We walked across the courtyard together. I noticed the snow on the Gatehouse Court fountain, which had been frozen this last three months, was almost gone, revealing patches of grey ice. Soon perhaps the fountain would be working again, its gentle plashing sounding across the court. A few coins were exposed on the ice; even with the fountain frozen people still threw money in with a prayer for victory in a case or luck in an affair of the heart; for though they might deny it, lawyers were as superstitious as other men.
Roger’s STEWARDS, an old man called Elias who had been with the family for years, greeted us at the door and took me upstairs to wash my hands. Then I went into the parlour, where fat candles cast a warm buttery light on the chairs and cushions. A dozen guests, all barristers and their wives, already sat or lounged, served with wine by Elias and a boy. A roaring fire warmed the room, bringing sweet smells from the scented herbs on the wooden floor, its light glinting on the silverware on the cloth-covered table. The walls were decorated with framed portraits in the new fashion, mostly of biblical characters. Above the large fireplace stood one of the best pieces of furniture in Lincoln’s Inn, Roger’s pride and joy. It was a large, carved wooden frieze of intricate design, the branches of trees in full leaf interlaced with flowers and fruits, the heads of animals peering through, deer and boar and even a unicorn. Roger stood beside it, talking to Ambrose Loder from my chambers. His slim form was animated, his fine hands waving as he made some point to the plump barrister, who stood immobile, a sceptical look on his red face.
Dorothy stood beside him, wearing an expression of good-natured amusement, her colourful clothes a contrast to the black robes of the two lawyers. She wore a green damask dress with gold piping down the front, and a high collar open at the throat; it suited her well. Seeing me, she excused herself and came across.
I had known Dorothy near twenty years. She was the daughter of a serjeant in my first chambers. We had both been in our early twenties then and I had at once been attracted to Dorothy’s elegance, wit and kind nature - a rare combination. She seemed to like my company too, never seemed to mind my bent back, and we became good friends. After a while I dared to think of trying to turn friendship into something more. I had given no signs of my real feelings, though, and therefore had only myself to blame when I learned that Roger, my friend and colleague, had already proposed marriage and been accepted. He later said - and I believed him - that he had not realized my feelings for Dorothy. She had guessed, though, and tried to sweeten the pill by saying she had had a difficult choice to make. I had found that hard to believe, for Roger was handsome as well as clever, with a quicksilver, energetic grace to his movements.
Dorothy was, like me, past forty now; though apart from little wrinkles visible around her eyes she looked a good deal younger. I bent and kissed her on her full cheeks.
‘A merry Palm Sunday to you, Dorothy.’
‘And to you, Matthew.’ She squeezed my hand. ‘How is your health?’
‘Good these days.’ My back had often given me trouble, but these last months I had been conscientious in the exercises my physician friend Guy had prescribed, and had felt much better.
‘You look well.’
‘And you look younger each New Year, Dorothy. May this one bring peace and prosperity.’
‘I hope so. Though there has been a strange portent, have you heard? Two huge fish washed up by the Thames. Great grey things half the size of a house. They must have been under the ice.’ The twinkle in her eyes told me she found the story, like so much in the world, delightfully absurd.
‘Were they alive?’
‘No. They lie on the mudbanks over at Greenwich. People have been crossing London Bridge in hundreds to see them. Everyone says that coming the day before Palm Sunday it portends some terrible happening.’
‘People are always finding portents these days. It is a passion now among the busy Bible-men of London.’
‘True.’ She gave me a searching look, perhaps catching a bitter note in my reply. Twenty years ago Dorothy and Roger and I had all been reformers, hoping for a new Christian fellowship in the world. They still did. But though many of their guests had also been reformers in the early days, most had now retreated to a quiet professional life, frightened and disillusioned by the tides of religious conflict and repression that had flowed ever higher in the decade since the King’s break with Rome. I wondered if Dorothy guessed that, for me, faith was almost gone.
She changed the subject. ‘For us at least the news has been good. We had a letter from Samuel today. The roads to Bristol must be open again.’ She raised her dark eyebrows. ‘And reading between the lines, I think he has a girl.’
Samuel was Roger and Dorothy’s only child, the apple of their eye. Some years before, the family had moved to Bristol, Roger’s home town, where he had obtained the post of City Recorder. He had returned to practise at Lincoln’s Inn a year before, but Samuel, now eighteen and apprenticed to a cloth merchant, had decided to stay behind; to the sorrow of both his parents, I knew.
I smiled gently. ‘Are you sure you are not reading your wishes into his letter?’
‘No, he mentions a name. Elizabeth. A merchant’s daughter.’
‘He will not be able to marry till after his apprenticeship.’
‘Good. That will allow time to see if they are suited.’ She smiled roguishly. ‘And perhaps for me to send some spy to Bristol. Your assistant Barak, perhaps. I hear he is good at such jobs.’
I laughed. ‘Barak is busy with my work. You must find another spy.’
‘I like that sharp humour of his. Does he well?’
‘He and his wife lost a child last year. It hit him hard, though he does not show it.’
‘I have not seen Tamasin. I keep meaning to call on them at home. I must do it. She was kind to me when I had my fever.’
‘The Court of Requests keeps you busy, then. And a serjeant. I always knew you would reach that eminence one day.’
‘Ay.’ I smiled. ‘And it is good work.’ It was over a year now since Archbishop Cranmer had nominated me as one of the two barristers appointed to plead before the Court of Requests where poor men’s pleas were heard. A serjeancy, the status of a senior barrister, had come with the post.
‘I have never enjoyed my work so much,’ I continued. ‘Though the caseload is large and some of the clients - well, poverty does not make men good, or easy.’
‘Nor should it,’ Dorothy replied vigorously. ‘It is a curse.’
‘I do not complain. The work is varied.’ I paused. ‘I have a new case, a boy who has been put in the Bedlam. I am meeting with his parents tomorrow.’
‘On Palm Sunday?’
‘There is some urgency.’
‘A mad client.’
‘Whether he is truly mad or not is the issue. He was put there on the Privy Council’s orders. It is one of the strangest matters I have ever come across. Interesting, though I wish I did not have to tangle with a Council matter.’
‘You will see justice done, that I do not doubt.’ She laid her hand on my arm.
‘Matthew!’ Roger had appeared beside me. He shook my hand vigorously. He was small and wiry, with a thin but well-favoured face, searching blue eyes and black hair starting to recede. He was as full of energy as ever. Despite his winning of Dorothy all those years before, I still had the strongest affection for him.
‘I hear Samuel has written,’ I said.
‘Ay, the imp. At last!’
‘I must go to the kitchen,’ Dorothy said. ‘I will see you shortly, Matthew. Talk to Roger, he has had an interesting idea.’
I bowed as she left, then turned back to Roger.
‘How have you been?’ I asked quietly.
He lowered his voice. ‘It has not come on me again. But I will be glad when I have seen your doctor friend.’
‘I saw you look away when Lust was suddenly struck down during the play.’
‘Ay. It frightens me, Matthew.’ Suddenly he looked vulnerable, like a little boy. I pressed his arm.
In recent weeks Roger had several times unexpectedly lost his balance and fallen over, for no apparent reason. He feared he was developing the falling sickness, that terrible affliction where a man or woman, quite healthy in other ways, will periodically collapse on the ground, out of their senses, writhing and grunting. The illness, which was untreatable, was regarded by some as a kind of temporary madness and by others as evidence of possession by an evil spirit. The fact that spectacular symptoms could erupt at any moment meant people avoided sufferers. It would mean the end of a lawyer’s career.
I pressed his arm. ‘Guy will find the truth of it, I promise.’ Roger had unburdened himself to me over lunch the week before, and I had arranged for him to see my physician friend as soon as possible - in four days’ time.
Roger smiled crookedly. ‘Let us hope it is news I shall care to hear.’ He lowered his voice. ‘I have told Dorothy I have been having stomach pains. I think it best. Women only worry.’
‘So do we, Roger.’ I smiled. ‘And sometimes without cause. There could be many reasons for this falling over; and remember; you have had no seizures.’
‘I know. ’Tis true.’
‘Dorothy tells me you have had some new idea,’ I said, to distract him.
‘Yes.’ He smiled wryly. ‘I was telling friend Loder about it, but he seems little interested.’ He glanced over his guests. ‘None of us here is poor,’ he said quietly.
He took my arm, leading me away a little. ‘I have been reading Roderick Mors’ new book, the Lamentation of a Christian against the City of London.’
‘You should be careful. Some call it seditious.’
‘The truth affrights them.’ Roger’s tones were quiet but intense. ‘By Jesu, Mors’ book is an indictment of our city. It shows how all the wealth of the monasteries has gone to the King or his courtiers. The monastic schools and hospitals closed down, the sick left to fend for themselves. The monks’ care was niggardly enough but now they have nothing. It shames us all, the legions of miserable people lying in the streets, sick and half dead. I saw a boy in a doorway in Cheapside yesterday, his bare feet half rotted away with frostbite. I gave him sixpence, but it was a hospital he needed, Matthew.’
‘But as you say, most have been closed.’
‘Which is why I am going to canvass for a hospital funded by the Inns of Court. With an initial subscription, then a fund for bequests and donations from the lawyers.’
‘Have you spoken to the Treasurer?’
‘Not yet.’ Roger smiled again. ‘I am honing my arguments on these fellows.’ He nodded towards the plump form of Loder. ‘Ambrose there said the poor offend every passer-by with their dangerous stinks and vapours; he might pay money to have the streets cleared. Others complain of importunate beggars calling everywhere for God’s penny. I promise them a quiet life. There are arguments to persuade those who lack charity.’ He smiled, then looked at me seriously. ‘Will you help?’
I considered a moment. ‘Even if you succeed, what can one hospital do in the face of the misery all around?’
‘Relieve a few poor souls.’
‘I will help you if I can.’ If anyone could accomplish this task it was Roger. His energy and quick wits would count for much. ‘I will subscribe to your hospital, and help you raise subscriptions, if you like.’
Roger squeezed my arm. ‘I knew you would help me. Soon I will organize a committee—’
‘Another committee?’ Dorothy had returned, red-faced from the heat of the kitchen. She looked quizzically at her husband. Roger put his arm round her waist.
‘For the hospital, sweetheart.’
‘People will be hard to persuade. Their purses smart from all the King’s taxes.’
‘And may suffer more,’ I said. ‘They say this new Parliament will be asked to grant yet more money for the King to go to war with France.’
‘The waste,’ Roger said bitterly. ‘When one thinks of how the money could be used. But yes, he will see this as the right time for such an enterprise. With the Scotch King dead and this baby girl on their throne, they cannot intervene on the French side.’
I nodded agreement. ‘The King has sent the Scotch lords captured after Solway Moss back home; it is said they have sworn oaths to bring a marriage between Prince Edward and the baby Mary.’
‘You are well informed as ever, Matthew,’ Dorothy said. ‘Does Barak still bring gossip from his friends among the court servants?’
‘I have heard that the King is after a new wife.’
‘They have been saying that since Catherine Howard was executed,’ Roger said. ‘Who is it supposed to be now?’
‘Lady Latimer,’ Dorothy replied. ‘Her husband died last week. There is to be a great funeral the day after tomorrow. ’Tis said the King has had a fancy for her for some years, and that he will move now.’
I had not heard that rumour. ‘Poor woman,’ I said. I lowered my voice. ‘She needs fear for her head.’
‘Yes.’ Dorothy nodded, was quiet for a second, then raised her voice and clapped her hands. ‘Dinner is ready, my friends.’
We all walked through to the dining room. The long old oaken dining table was set with plates of silver, and servants were laying out dishes of food under Elias’ supervision. Pride of place went to four large chickens; as it was still Lent the law would normally have allowed only fish to be eaten at this time, but the freezing of the river that winter had made fish prohibitively expensive and the King had given permission for people to eat white meat.
We took our places. I sat between Loder, with whom Roger had been arguing earlier, and James Ryprose, an elderly barrister with bristly whiskers framing a face as wrinkled as an old apple-john. Opposite us sat Dorothy and Roger and Mrs Loder, who was as plump and contented-looking as her husband. She smiled at me, showing a full set of white teeth, and then to my surprise reached into her mouth and pulled out both rows. I saw the teeth were fixed into two dentures of wood, cut to fit over the few grey stumps that were all that was left of her own teeth.
‘They look good, do they not?’ she asked, catching my stare. ‘A barber-surgeon in Cheapside made them up for me. I cannot eat with them, of course.’
‘Put them away, Johanna,’ her husband said. ‘The company does not want to stare at those while we eat.’ Johanna pouted, so far as an almost toothless woman can, and deposited the teeth in a little box which she put away in the folds of her dress. I repressed a shudder. I found the French fashion some in the upper classes had adopted for wearing mouthfuls of teeth taken from dead people, rather gruesome.
Roger began talking about his hospital again, addressing his arguments this time to old Ryprose. ‘Think of the sick and helpless people we could take from the streets, maybe cure.’
‘Ay, that would be a worthwhile thing,’ the old man agreed. ‘But what of all the fit sturdy beggars that infest the streets, pestering one for money, sometimes with threats? What is to be done with them? I am an old man and sometimes fear to walk out alone.’
‘Very true.’ Brother Loder leaned across me to voice his agreement. ‘Those two that robbed and killed poor Brother Goodcole by the gates last November were masterless servants from the monasteries. And they would not have been caught had they not gone bragging of what they had done in the taverns where they spent poor Goodcole’s money, and had an honest inn-keeper not raised the constable.’
‘Ay, ay.’ Ryprose nodded vigorously. ‘No wonder masterless men beg and rob with impunity, when all the city has to ensure our safety are a few constables, most nearly as old as me.’
‘The city council should appoint some strong men to whip them out of the city,’ Loder said.
‘But, Ambrose,’ his wife said quietly. ‘Why be so harsh? When you were younger you used to argue the workless poor had a right to be given employment, the city should pay them to do useful things like pave the streets. You were always quoting Erasmus and Juan Vives on the duties of a Christian Commonwealth towards the unfortunate.’ She smiled at him sweetly, gaining revenge perhaps for his curt remark about her teeth.
‘So you were, Ambrose,’ Roger said. ‘I remember it well.’
‘And I,’ Dorothy agreed. ‘You used to wax most fiercely about the duties of the King towards the poor.’
‘Well, there’s no interest from that quarter, so I don’t see what we’re supposed to do.’ Loder frowned at his wife. ‘Take ten thousand scabby beggars into the Inn and feed them at High Table?’
‘No,’ Roger answered gently. ‘Merely use our status as wealthy men to help a few. Till better times come, perhaps.’
‘It’s not just the beggars that make walking the streets a misery,’ old Ryprose added gloomily. ‘There’s all these ranting Bible-men springing up everywhere. There’s one at the bottom of Newgate Street, stands there all day, barking and railing that the Apocalypse is coming.’
There were murmurs of agreement up and down the table. In the years since Thomas Cromwell’s fall, the King’s patronage of the reformers who had encouraged him to break with Rome had ended. He had never fully endorsed Lutheran beliefs, and now he was moving gradually back to the old forms of religion, a sort of Catholicism without the Pope, with increasingly repressive measures against dissentients; to deny that the bread and wine of the sacrament were transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ was now a heresy attracting the death penalty. Even the doctrine of purgatory was becoming respectable again. All this was anathema to the radicals, for whom the only truth was to be found in the Bible. The persecution had only driven many reformers towards the radical fringes, and in London especially they were daring and vocal.
‘Do you know what I saw in the street today?’ another guest said. ‘Outside one church people were laying branches in the snow for the Palm Sunday ceremonies tomorrow. Then a rabble of apprentices appeared and kicked the branches away, calling out that it was a papist ceremony and the Pope was the Antichrist!’
‘This religious radicalism gives apprentices another excuse to run wild,’ Loder observed gloomily.
‘There could be trouble tomorrow,’ Roger said.
I nodded. On Palm Sunday the traditional churches would be having the usual ceremonies, the churchwardens dressed as prophets and a child riding in on a donkey, while the radical preachers in their churches would be calling it papist blasphemy.
‘There’ll be another purge,’ someone said gloomily. ‘I’ve heard rumours Bishop Bonner is going to crack down hard on the Bible-men.’
‘Not more burnings,’ Dorothy said quietly.
‘The city wouldn’t stand for that,’ Loder said. ‘People don’t like the radicals, but they like burnings less. Bonner won’t go that far.’
‘Won’t he?’ Roger said quietly. ‘Isn’t he a fanatic too, on the other side? Isn’t the whole city becoming divided?’
‘Most people only want a quiet life,’ I said. ‘Even those of us who were once radicals.’ I smiled wryly at Roger. He nodded in acknowledgement.
‘Fanatics on both sides,’ old Ryprose said gloomily. ‘And all we poor ordinary folk in the middle. Sometimes I fear they will bring death to us all.’
THE COMPANY broke up late, and I was one of the last to leave. I stepped out into a night that had become colder again, refrozen slush crunching under my boots. My mood was much less cheerful after the conversation round the dinner table. It was true that London was full of both beggars and fanatics now, an unhappy city. And a purge would make things worse. There was, too, something I had not told the company; the parents of the boy in the Bedlam were members of a radical Protestant congregation, and their son’s mental problems were religious in nature. I wished I had not had to take the case, but I was obliged to deal with the Requests cases that were allocated to me. And his parents wanted their son released.
I paused. A quiet footstep, crunching on the slush behind me. I turned, frowning. The precincts of Lincoln’s Inn were supposed to be secure, but there were places where entry could be gained. The night was dark, the moon half hidden by clouds, and at this hour only a few lighted windows cast squares of light on the snow.
‘Who’s that!’ I called.
There was no reply, but I heard the slush crackling again as someone walked rapidly away. Frowning, I followed. The sound came from the far end of the building where the Elliards lived; it adjoined the rear wall of Lincoln’s Inn. I put my hand to my dagger as I rounded the corner of the building. The outer wall was ahead of me. Whoever was there was trapped. But no one was there. The little square of ground between the buildings and the twelve-foot-high rear wall, lit by the windows of the Elliards’ apartment, was quite empty. A shiver trickled down my spine.
Then I saw the snow on top of the wall had been disturbed. Whoever it was had climbed over. I stood and stared; to scale that wall would require a good deal of strength and agility. I was not sure I would have said it was possible, but the empty yard and the disturbed snow told their own tale. I frowned and turned away; I would tell the watchman that broken glass should be set atop the wall.
NEXT MORNING I set out early for my chambers; the parents of the boy who had been put in the Bedlam were due at nine. The details the Court of Requests had sent me were sketchy, but enough to be worrying. The Privy Council itself had put him there, ‘for blaspheming true religion in his madcap frenzy’, as their resolution put it, without even an indictment in the bishop’s court. The matter was therefore political, and dangerous. I tried to reassure myself again that any involvement I had would be in a purely legal capacity, but cursed the luck that had sent this case to me rather than to my fellow-pleader.
The papers described the boy, Adam Kite, as the son of a master stonemason and a communicant at St Martin’s church, Creek Lane. I had got Barak to investigate and he had reported back that the vicar was, as he put it, a ‘great railer and thunderer’.
This was unwelcome news. In the dealings I had had with the godly men I had found them difficult to deal with, crude hard men who drove at you with biblical verses like a carpenter hammering in nails.
I was jerked from my worrisome thoughts as I slipped on a patch of slush and almost fell over. Somebody laughed.
All over the city, church bells were ringing for the Palm Sunday services. These days I only went to church when it was expected; next Sunday I would have to take Mass and make my annual confession. I was not looking forward to it. The topsy-turvy weather was warmer again, and Chancery Lane was muddy as a farmyard. As I passed under Lincoln’s Inn Gatehouse I wondered if the Treasurer would do anything to secure that wall. I had told the gatekeeper to inform him of my near-encounter last night.
I felt something wet hit my face; another drop followed and I realized it was raining, the first rain after two months of snow. By the time I reached my chambers it was coming on heavily and my cap was soaked. To my surprise, Barak was already in the outer office. He had lit the fire and sat at the big table, getting papers in order for tomorrow’s court session. Plaints, affidavits and statements were piled around him. His handsome, impish features looked tired, his eyes bloodshot. And his face was stubbly.
‘You need to get a shave, or the judge will be calling you out for a disrespectful demeanour.’ Though I spoke roughly, Barak and I had a fast friendship. We had originally come together on an assignment for Barak’s late master, the King’s Minister Thomas Cromwell. After Cromwell’s execution three years before, Barak had come to work for me, an unorthodox assistant but an efficient one.
‘All right,’ he said grumpily. ‘The madwag’s parents are due soon.’
‘Don’t call him that,’ I said as I looked through the papers he had prepared. Everything was in order, annotations made in Barak’s spidery handwriting. ‘In on Sunday?’ I asked. ‘You were here yesterday too? You are neglecting poor Tamasin.’
‘She’s all right.’ Barak rose and began filing away books and papers. I looked at his broad back, wondering what was wrong between him and his wife that he should thus drag out his time at work and, by the look of him, stay out all night. Tamasin was a pretty girl, as spirited as Barak, and he had been happy to marry her last year even though they had been forced into a speedy wedding by her pregnancy. Their son had died the day he was born and in the months since, though Barak had been as cheerfully irreverent as ever, there was often something forced about his banter, at times something haunted in his eyes. I knew the loss of a child could bring some couples closer, but drive others apart.
‘You saw Adam Kite’s parents yesterday when they called to make their appointment,’ I said. ‘Goodman Kite and his wife. What are they like?’
He turned back to me. ‘Working people, he’s a stonemason. He started on about God’s mercy in allowing them to take their case to Requests, how He doesn’t abandon the true faithful.’ Barak wrinkled his nose. ‘They look like some of the busy Bible folk to me. Though the godly folk I have seen mostly seem very satisfied with themselves, and the Kites looked like a pair of squished cats.’
‘Not surprising given what’s happened.’
‘I know.’ Barak hesitated. ‘Will you have to go there, among all the lunatics tearing their clothes and clanking their chains?’
‘Probably.’ I looked again at the papers. ‘The boy is seventeen. Brought before the Council on the third of March for frantic and lewd behaviour at the Preaching Cross in St Paul’s churchyard, railing there “with strange moans and shrieks”. Committed to the Bedlam in the hope of a cure. No further order. No examination by a doctor or jury of his state of health. That’s improper.’
Barak looked at me seriously. ‘He’s lucky they didn’t arraign him for a heretic. Remember what happened to Richard Mekins and John Collins.’
‘The Council are more careful now.’
Mekins was a fifteen-year-old apprentice who eighteen months before had been burned alive at Smithfield for denying the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The case of John Collins had been worse still, a youth who had shot an arrow at a statue of Christ inside a church. Many had also thought him insane; but the previous year the King had passed an act to allow insane persons to be executed, and Collins too was burned to death. The cruelty of these cases had turned the populace against Bishop Bonner’s harsh religious rule of the city. There had been no burnings since.
‘They say Bonner’s after the radicals again,’ Barak observed.
‘So people were saying at dinner last night. What do you think’s going on, Jack?’ Barak still had friends among those who worked on the more shady fringes of the King’s court, those who frequented the taverns and alehouses and reported back on the state of public opinion. I had gained the impression that recently he had spent a lot of time drinking with these disreputable old friends.
He looked at me seriously again. ‘The word is that now Scotland has been removed as a threat, the King wants to make an alliance with Spain and go to war against France. But to be acceptable to the Emperor Charles he’ll have to be seen to be hard on heretics. They say he’s going to try and get a law through this Parliament banning women and common folk from reading the Bible, and give Bishop Bonner encouragement to crack down on the London Bible-men. That’s what they’re saying at Whitehall, anyway. So I’d be careful in handling this one.’
‘I see. Thank you.’ This only made matters more delicate. I essayed a smile. ‘The other thing they were gossiping about last night is that the King is after a new wife. Lady Latimer.’
‘That’s true as well, from what I’m told. But he’s having trouble this time. The lady doesn’t want him.’
‘She has refused him?’ I asked, surprised.
‘So they say. Can’t blame her. The King’s got ulcers on both legs now, they have to carry him around Whitehall in a cart half the time. They say he gets fatter every month, and worse tempered. They say she is interested in someone else too.’
‘That’s not spoken of.’ He hesitated. ‘This Adam Kite looby might be better off if he stays in the Bedlam. So might you, rather than tangle with the Privy Council again.’
I sighed. ‘I’m only acting as a lawyer.’
‘You can’t hide behind the law once these people get involved. You know that.’ I could see Barak was as worried as I of going near some of the mighty enemies we had made in the past. The Duke of Norfolk and Richard Rich both sat on the Privy Council.
‘It’s ill luck they passed this to me instead of Herriott to deal with,’ I said. ‘But I’ve got it now, so I’ll just have to handle it with care. I’ll take tomorrow’s papers through. Send the Kites in directly when they arrive.’
I went to my inner office and closed the door. Barak’s words had unsettled me. I crossed to the mullioned window. The rain was coming down harder, splashing on the pane and distorting my view of Gatehouse Court. I shivered a little, for the sound of hard rain always brought back the terrible night eighteen months before, when for the first and only time I had killed a man. If I had not he would certainly have murdered me, yet even now his awful drowning gasps haunted me. I sighed deeply, ruefully recalling my good mood the evening before. Had my acknowledgement that I felt happy tempted a malign fate?
Bedlam, I thought. The very name brought fear and disgust in London. For a long time the Bethlehem Hospital had been the only hospital in London that treated the insane, and although mad folks were a common enough sight begging in the streets, and many people knew some friend or family member who had been touched by sickness of the mind, people avoided the mad. For not only were they feared as dangerous or even possessed, but they reminded folk that madness could strike anyone suddenly, and in a variety of terrible forms. That was why Roger feared the falling sickness so, for the fits that attended it were a fearful sight. The Bedlam, I knew, housed only severe cases of lunacy, some of them patients from rich families, others supported by charity. Occasionally, some like Adam Kite who were a nuisance to the powers that be were deposited there out of the way.
There was a knock on the door, and Barak ushered in a middle-aged couple. I was disconcerted to see that a third person accompanied them, a clergyman in a long cassock. He was tall and spare, with bushy eyebrows, thick, iron-grey hair and a red, choleric face. The middle-aged couple were dressed in sober black, and both looked deeply dejected; the woman close to tears. She was small and thin, birdlike; her husband tall and broad with a craggy face. He bowed, and his wife curtsied deeply. The cleric gave me a bold, appraising stare, not at all intimidated by being in Lincoln’s Inn, or by the sight of me in my robe, in my office full of law books.
‘I am Serjeant Shardlake. You must be Master and Mistress Kite.’ I smiled at the nervous couple to put them at their ease, concentrating my attention on them. I knew from long experience that when clients are accompanied by a third party, the supporter is usually far more aggressive than the client. I guessed the clergyman was their vicar, and that he would be a problem.
‘Daniel Kite, at your service,’ the man said, bowing. ‘This is my wife, Minnie.’ The woman curtsied again, and smiled uncertainly. ‘It is good of you to see us on a Sunday,’ Daniel Kite added.
‘Palm Sunday,’ the clergyman said with distaste. ‘At least if we are here, we do not have to see those papist ceremonies.’ He gave me a challenging look. ‘I am Samuel Meaphon. This afflicted family are of my congregation.’
‘Please sit,’ I said. They sat in a row on a bench, Meaphon in the middle. Minnie fiddled nervously with the folds of her dress. ‘I have seen the papers the court forwarded,’ I told them, ‘but they tell only a bare story. I would like you to tell me what happened to your son, from the beginning.’
Daniel Kite cast a nervous look at Meaphon.
‘I would prefer to hear it from you and your wife, sir,’ I added quickly. ‘No disrespect to the good reverend, but first-hand evidence is best.’ Meaphon frowned slightly, but nodded for Master Kite to continue.
‘Our son Adam was a good boy until six months ago,’ the father began in a sad, heavy voice. ‘A lively, strapping lad. Our blessing from the Lord, for we have no other children. I had him as apprentice in my workshop, out by Billingsgate.’
‘You are a stonemason?’
‘Master stonemason, sir.’ Despite his distress, there was a note of pride in his voice. I looked at his hands: big, callused, a mass of little scars. ‘I hoped Adam might follow me into the business. He was a hard worker; and a faithful attender at our church.’
‘That he was.’ Reverend Meaphon nodded emphatically.
‘We are true Bible folk, sir.’ A slight note of challenge crept into Kite’s voice.
‘However the sinful world may look on us,’ Meaphon added, looking at me with fierce eyes under those bushy brows.
‘Whatever you tell me of your beliefs will be held in confidence,’ I said.
‘You do not believe as we do, I see.’ There was sorrow rather than anger in Daniel Kite’s voice.
‘It is not my beliefs that are at issue,’ I replied with what I knew was a strained smile.
Meaphon’s eyes swept over me. ‘I see that God has seen fit to afflict you, sir. But he has done so only that you may turn to Him for succour.’
I felt myself flush with anger that this stranger should take it on himself to refer thus to my hunched back. Minnie Kite interrupted hastily. ‘We only want you to help our poor boy, sir, to tell us if the law may help us.’
‘Then tell me what happened, from the beginning, straight and simple.’
Minnie quailed at the sharp note in my voice. Her husband hesitated, then continued his story.
‘I told you Adam was a fine boy. But about six months ago he started to become very quiet, withdrawn into himself, sad-seeming. It worried us both. Then one day I had to leave him in the shop; I came back and found him crouched on his knees in a corner. He was praying, begging the Lord to forgive him for his sins. I said, “How now, Adam. God has ordained a time for prayer and a time for work.” He obeyed me then, though I remember he rose to his feet with a great sigh like I’d never heard.’
‘We’ve heard it often enough since,’ Minnie added.
‘That was the start of it. We’ve always encouraged Adam to pray, but from then on he - he wouldn’t stop.’ Kite’s voice broke, and I sensed the fear in him. ‘Any time of day, in the workshop or even in company, he’d just drop to his knees and start praying, frantically, for God to forgive his sins and let him know he was saved. It got so he wouldn’t eat, he’d lie crouched in the corner and we’d have to pull him to his feet while he resisted, made himself a dead weight. And when we made him stand, always that terrible sigh.’
‘The despair in it,’ Minnie added quietly. She lowered her head, but not before I saw tears in her eyes. Kite looked at me. ‘He is certain that he is damned, sir.’
I looked at the three of them. I knew that the religious radicals believed with Luther that God had divided humanity into the saved and the damned, that only those who came to Him through the Bible would be saved at the Day of Judgement. The rest of humanity were condemned to burn in Hell, for ever. And they believed that the Day of Judgement, the end of the world foretold in the Book of Revelation, would soon be upon us all. I did not know how to reply. I was almost grateful to Meaphon for ending the silence.
‘These good people brought their son to me,’ he said. ‘I spoke with Adam, tried to reassure him, told him God sometimes sends doubt to those he loves most, to try their spirits. I stayed for two whole days with him, fasting and praying, but I could not break through to him.’ He shook his head. ‘He resisted me sorely.’
Minnie looked up at me. Her face was bleak, bereft. ‘By then, Adam was naught but skin and bone. I had to feed him with a spoon while my husband held on to him to prevent him sinking to the floor. “I must pray,” he kept on. “I am not saved!” To think I should dread to hear prayer or salvation mentioned.’
‘What sins does Adam believe he has committed?’ I asked quietly.
‘He does not say. He seems to think he has committed every sin there is. Before this he was just an ordinary cheerful boy, sometimes noisy and thoughtless, but no more than that. He has never done anything wicked.’
‘Then he started leaving the house,’ Daniel Kite said. ‘Running away to alleyways and corners where he could pray unhindered. We had to go chasing after him.’
‘We feared he would die in the cold,’ Minnie added. ‘He would slip away without putting on his coat and we would follow his footprints in the snow.’ She banged a little fist into her lap with sudden anger. ‘Oh, that he should treat his parents so. That is a sin.’
Her husband laid a work-roughened hand on hers. ‘Now, Minnie, have faith. God will send an answer.’ He turned back to me. ‘Ten days ago, in that snowy weather when no one was going abroad unless they had to, Adam disappeared. I had him in my workshop where I could keep an eye on him, but he’s become crafty as a monkey and when my back was turned he sneaked off, unlocked the door and disappeared. We went searching up and down but could not find him. Then that afternoon an official from Bishop Bonner came to see us. He said Adam had been found on his knees in the snow before the Preaching Cross in St Paul’s churchyard, begging God for a sign he was saved, that he would be allowed into heaven as one of the elect. He screamed that the end of the world was coming, begged God and Jesus not to take him down to Hell at the Last Judgement.’
Minnie began to cry, and her husband stopped and bowed his head, overcome with emotion as well. The depth of the simple couple’s suffering was terrible to contemplate. And what their son had done was deeply dangerous. Only licensed preachers were allowed at St Paul’s, and the King’s doctrine was firm that faith alone, sola fide, did not suffice to bring a man to heaven. Even less orthodox was the doctrine of mankind divided between God’s elect and the damned. I looked at Meaphon. He was frowning, running his hand over the top of his thick hair.
‘So then Adam was brought before the Council,’ I prompted Daniel gently.
‘Yes. From the bishop’s jail where they put him. I was summoned to appear. I went to Whitehall Palace, to a room where four men all dressed in rich robes sat at a table in a great room.’ His voice shook and a sheen of sweat appeared on his forehead at the memory. ‘Adam was there, chained and with a gaoler.’ He glanced at his vicar. ‘Reverend Meaphon came too but they wouldn’t let him speak.’
‘No, they would not hear me,’ Meaphon said. ‘I did not expect them to,’ he added with scorn.
That was probably just as well, I thought. ‘Who were the men?’
‘One in white robes was Archbishop Cranmer; I’ve seen him preach at St Paul’s. There was another cleric, a big angry-looking man with brown hair. I think the two others wore robes with fur and jewels. One was a little pale man, he had a sharp voice. The other had a long brown beard and a thin face.’
I nodded slowly. The little pale man would be Sir Richard Rich, Thomas Cromwell’s former protégé who had joined the conservatives when Cromwell fell; a ruthless, vicious opportunist. The other man resembled descriptions I had heard of Lord Hertford, brother of the late Queen Jane and a reformer. And the angry-looking cleric was almost certainly Bishop Bonner of London.
‘What did they say to you?’
‘They asked me how Adam had got into the state he was and I answered them honestly. The pale man said it sounded like heresy and the boy should be burned. But just then Adam slipped off his chair and before his guard could grab him he was down on the floor frantically asking God to save him. The councillors ordered him to rise but he took no more notice of them than if they were flies. Then the Archbishop said Adam was clearly out of his wits and he should be sent to the Bedlam to see if they could find a cure. The pale man still wanted him accused as a heretic but the other two wouldn’t agree.’
‘I see.’ Rich, I guessed, would think having another radical Protestant burned would raise him in the favour of the traditionalists. But Cranmer, as well as being naturally merciful, would not want to further inflame London. Having Adam shut away in the Bedlam would dispose of the problem, for a while at least.
I nodded slowly. ‘That raises the crucial issue.’ I looked at them. ‘Is Adam in fact mad?’
‘I think he must be,’ Minnie replied.
‘If he is not mad, sir,’ Daniel Kite said, ‘we fear the case may be something even worse.’
‘Worse?’ I asked.
‘Possession,’ Meaphon said starkly. ‘That is my fear. That a demon has hold of him and is urging him to mock God’s mercy in public. And if that is so, then only by praying with Adam mightily, wrestling with the devil, can I save him.’
‘Is that what you believe?’ I asked the stonemason.
He looked at Meaphon, then buried his head in his big hands. ‘I do not know, sir. God save my son if that should be true.’
‘I think Adam is only in great confusion and fear.’ Minnie looked up and met Meaphon’s eye, and I realized that she was the stronger of the pair. She turned to me. ‘But whatever the truth, being in the Bedlam will kill him. Adam lies in the chamber they have locked him in. It is cold, no fire. He will do nothing for himself, he just crouches there, praying, praying. And they only allow us to visit for an hour a day. They ask us for three shillings a month in fees, more than we can afford, yet they will not make him eat nor take care of himself. The keeper will be happy if he dies.’ She looked at me imploringly. ‘They are afraid of him.’
‘Because of the fear he is possessed?’
‘And you doubt he is?’
‘I don’t know, I don’t know. But if he stays in the Bedlam he will die.’
‘He should be released to my care,’ Meaphon said. ‘But they will not do that. Not the backsliders and papists on the Council.’
‘Then on one thing you are all agreed,’ I said. ‘That he should not be in the Bedlam.’
‘Ay, ay.’ The boy’s father nodded eagerly, relieved to find some common ground.
I thought hard a moment, then spoke quietly. ‘There are two problems with this case. One is jurisdiction. Anyone who cannot afford a lawyer may bring his case before the Court of Requests, but the judge may say the matter is one of state, and should go back before the Privy Council. However, if you cannot afford the fees they charge in the Bedlam, the court may ask the Council to pay. And the court may intervene to stop poor treatment. But the matter of releasing Adam is much more difficult.’ I took a deep breath. ‘And what if he were released? If he were to escape again, if there were a repeat of what happened at St Paul’s, he might find himself accused of heresy after all. If we could get his conditions improved, in all honesty the Bedlam may be the safest place for him, unless he can be brought to his right mind. To tangle with the Privy Council could be very dangerous.’ I had not mentioned poor John Collins, but I could tell from their faces that they remembered the horror of what had happened to him.
‘He must be released from that place,’ Meaphon said. ‘The only cure is for Adam to understand that God has sent him this trial, and he must not doubt His grace. Whether a devil has entered into him or his mind is stricken from some other cause, only I can help him, with aid from fellow ministers.’ The minister looked at Adam’s parents. Daniel Kite said ‘Amen,’ but Minnie looked down at her lap.
‘His release will not happen unless the Council become convinced that he is sane,’ I said. ‘But there is one thing we can do. I know a physician, a clever man, who would be able to assess Adam, might even be able to help him.’
Daniel Kite shook his head firmly. ‘Physicians are godless men.’
‘This physician is most godly.’ I thought it better not to tell them my friend Guy was a former monk, still at heart a Catholic.
Kite still looked dubious, but Minnie grasped eagerly at the straw. ‘Bring him in, sir, we will try anything. But we have no money to pay him . . .’
‘I am sure some arrangement can be made.’
She looked at her husband. He hesitated, looked at Meaphon and said, ‘It can do no harm, sir, surely.’ Meaphon looked as though he was about to disagree, and I jumped in. ‘I have no doubt that is the sensible thing to do, from the point of view of Adam’s interests. And in the meantime I will apply to have Adam’s care monitored, and the fees remitted. There are so many cases in Requests just now that the judge is sitting out of term to clear the backlog. With luck an urgent application might be heard in a week or so.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ Minnie said.
‘But I would not even like to try and list the matter of release without some change in Adam to report.’ I looked at Meaphon. ‘Such a request would simply fail.’
‘Then it seems we must wait and see what the doctor says.’ He spoke quietly, but his eyes were hostile.
‘And I think I ought to visit the Bedlam, perhaps put some fear into this keeper. And see Adam.’
The Kites exchanged uncomfortable glances. ‘That would be good of you, sir,’ Daniel Kite said. ‘But I must tell you, my poor boy’s dismal frenzy is a terrible thing to behold.’
‘I have seen many sad things in my career,’ I said, though in truth I quailed at the thought of this visit.
‘We are going to see Adam tomorrow, at nine, sir,’ Minnie said. ‘Could you come then?’
‘Yes, I will have time before court.’
‘Do you know how to get there? Go through the Bishopsgate, sir, then look for the Bedlam gates.’
‘I will be there.’ I smiled at her and stood up. ‘I will do what I can. But this is a most difficult matter.’
I showed them out. Meaphon hung back in the doorway after the Kites passed into the outer office. ‘I do not think this doctor will have success,’ he said quietly. ‘God moves in strange and marvellous ways, and for all their trials and persecutions in this world, He will lead true Christians into his peace at last. Including Adam.’ The grey eyes burned beneath his shaggy brows; yet it struck me that there was something oddly actorish about him, as though he were playing Virtue in a play whose audience was all London.
‘Indeed,’ I answered. ‘I pray the poor boy may find peace.’
‘We are going to our church service now,’ he said. ‘We shall pray hard for him.’
After they had gone I returned to my desk, looked again at the papers. Then I went and stared out at the rain-drenched court. The Kites passed the window, holding on to their caps as they bent their heads against the driving rain. ‘He is not one of us,’ I heard Meaphon say. ‘He will not be saved at the end-time.’
I watched them as they crossed to the gate. One thing I was certain of in my own mind. Adam Kite was my responsibility now. I had to judge what was in his best interests, and I doubted very much whether an early release from the Bedlam would serve those, whatever Meaphon might say. Minnie Kite, I felt sure, would put her son’s interests first and listen to me.
I went back to the outer office. Barak was sitting at the table, looking into the fire, a serious expression on his face. He jumped when I called his name.
‘You look thoughtful,’ I said.
‘I was just wondering whether to go for a shave now or see if the rain stops. That vicar gave me a nasty look as he went by.’
‘Recognized you for a godless fellow, no doubt. I overheard him kindly condemning me to eternal fire as they passed my window.’ I sighed. ‘Apparently he stuck Adam Kite in a room and prayed with him for two days. Made the boy fast as well, though he was already skin and bone. I almost wonder if Bonner purging the lot of them might not be a good thing. All right,’ I added, as Barak looked at me in surprise. ‘I didn’t mean that.’ I sighed. ‘But I begin to wonder whether these people are the future, whether they are what religious reform is turning into. And that thought frightens me.’
‘But you’re taking the case?’
‘I must. But I shall be very careful, do not worry about that. I want Guy to see the boy. But first I must visit him myself.’
‘At the Bedlam?’
I sighed. ‘Yes, tomorrow.’
‘Can I come?’
‘No. I should go alone. But thank you.’
‘Pity,’ Barak said. ‘I’d like to see if it’s true the groans and shrieks can be heard across the streets, making folk scurry by.’
LATER THAT MORNING the rain eased off. The sun came out and the weather grew clear and cold again. My meeting with the Kites had given me much food for thought and I decided to go for a walk. Everything seemed sharper in the clear air; the naked branches of the trees were outlined against a blue sky, patches of snow were still visible in the corners of the bare brown fields behind the houses. I walked through the nearby suburbs, along Holborn and down Shoe Lane. The Palm Sunday services were under way now, and I noted as I passed how some churches had garlands on the lychgates and church doors, and greenery spread in the street outside, while others presented only their normal aspect. In one churchyard an outdoor service was taking place, a choir of white-surpliced boys singing a hymn before a garlanded cross, where three men stood dressed as prophets in long robes, with false white beards and brightly decorated headgear. I was reminded of yesterday’s play.
I remembered the guest at Roger’s table talking of apprentices disrupting a palm-laying ceremony. There were many stories of the religious divisions in London’s forest of tiny parishes: a radical vicar in one church whitewashing over ancient wall paintings and replacing them with texts from the Bible, a conservative in another insisting on the full Latin Mass. I had recently heard of radical congregants in one church talking loudly while the sacring bell sounded, causing the traditionalist priest to lose his temper and shriek ‘Heretics! Faggots! Fire!’ at them. Was it any wonder that many, like myself, stayed away from church these days? Next weekend it would be Easter, when everyone was supposed by law to take confession. In London those who failed to attend were reported to Bishop Bonner, but illness or urgent pressure of business were accepted as excuses, and I decided I would argue the latter. I could not bear the thought of confessing my sins to my parish priest, a time-server whose only principle in the doctrinal struggle was to follow the wind and preserve his position. And if I were to confess, I knew that one of my sins was a long-growing, half-buried doubt whether God existed at all. That was the paradox - the vicious struggle between papists and sacramentaries was driving many away from faith altogether. Christ said, by their fruits shall you know them, and the fruits of the faithful of both sides looked more rotten each year.
As I walked down Shoe Lane, one set of decorated church doors opened and the congregation stepped out, the service over. These were very different people from those I had seen in the churchyard, the women in dark dresses, the men’s doublets and coats all sober black, their manner severely reverent. Meaphon’s church would be like this, the congregation a tight-knit group of radicals, for some people would up sticks and move house to find a parish where the vicar agreed with their views. If Bishop Bonner were to try to enforce all the old practices on these churches there would be serious trouble, rioting even. But he was tightening his net; a new index of prohibited books had recently been published, unlicensed preachers were being arrested. And if harsh measures were successfully enforced, I thought, what then? The radicals would only go underground; already groups of them held illegal meetings in people’s houses to discuss the Bible and bolster their radical beliefs.
I was tired when I arrived back at my house in Chancery Lane, a little way up from Lincoln’s Inn. The smell of broiling fish from the kitchen where my housekeeper Joan was preparing lunch was welcome, although I looked forward to the end of Lent next week when it would be legal to eat meat again. I went into my parlour and sat down by the fire, but even my welcoming hearth could not dispel the tension I felt, not just because the case of Adam Kite had drawn me into the threatening doctrinal currents washing through the city, but because they made it hard for me to avoid awareness of my own deepening unbelief.
EARLY NEXT MORNING I set out for the Bedlam. Under my coat I wore my best robe, and I also put on my serjeant’s coif. It would do no harm to impress the warden. I confess that I was nervous at the thought of going to the asylum. I knew next to nothing of madness; I was fortunate enough never to have encountered it among my family or friends. I knew only the doctors divided the brain-sick between those suffering from mania, who often engaged in wild and frenzied behaviour, and the melancholics who withdrew from the world into sadness. Melancholy was more common, and usually less serious; I knew I had a melancholic turn of mind myself. And Adam Kite, I thought. Which is he? What is he?
The inconstant weather had turned bitter again; during the night there had been another dusting of snow, which glittered in the cold sunlight. I rode out on my good horse Genesis. I was sorry to take him from his stable but the streets were too slippery to make for easy walking and the Bedlam was on the other side of the city.
I passed under London Wall at Newgate and rode along Newgate Street to the market. Traders were setting up their stalls under the looming bulk of the abandoned church of the dissolved St Martin’s friary, a few white-coifed goodwives already looking over the produce as it was laid out. As I rode past the market I heard someone shouting. On the corner where Newgate Market met the Shambles, a man in a dark doublet, coatless despite the cold, stood on an empty box waving a large black Testament at the passers-by, who mostly averted their eyes. This must be the ranter old Ryprose had mentioned at the dinner. I looked at the man: a young fellow, his face red with passion.
The butchers in the slaughterhouses behind the Shambles had already started work. Lent would be over on Thursday and already they were killing sheep and cattle. Trails of blood were trickling from the yards to the sewer channel in the centre of the frosty street. The preacher pointed to them with his Bible. ‘So it will be for mankind in the last days of the world!’ he shouted in a deep voice. ‘Their eyeballs will melt, the skin will drop from their bones, all that will be left is their blood, deep as a horse’s bridle for two hundred miles! So it is foretold in Revelation!’ As I rode off down the Shambles I heard him cry, ‘Only turn to God, and you will know the sweet joy of his salvation!’ If the constables took him he would be in serious trouble for preaching without a licence.
Along Cheapside the blue-coated apprentices were setting up their masters’ shops for the day’s trade, erecting brightly coloured awnings, their breath steaming in the cold. Some were ordering away the beggars who had sought shelter in the doorways overnight, with kicks and blows if they did not move fast enough. A host of destitute men and women had already limped over to the Great Conduit to beg from those who came for water, huddling against each other on the steps that surrounded it like a flock of starveling crows. As I passed I looked into their pinched, chapped faces. One, an old man with a shock of grey hair, drooling and trembling, caught my eye. He held out a hand and called, ‘Help an old monk of Glastonbury, sir. They hanged my master the abbot!’ I threw a sixpence to him, and he dived for it with a sudden turn of speed, before others could.
So many homeless in the streets now. To live in London since the monasteries were dissolved was to be inured to pitiful scenes everywhere. Most people simply looked away, made the sufferers invisible. Many beggars were former monastic servants, others poor folk who had come in from the countryside where much land was being enclosed to pasture sheep, their villages demolished. And the sick who had once been able to find at least temporary shelter at the monastic hospitals now lay in the streets, and often died there. I thought, I will help Roger with his hospital scheme; I shall at least do something.
I passed under the city wall again and rode up the Bishopsgate Street. The hospital was beyond the city walls, where new houses encroached more every year. I had gone back to Lincoln’s Inn the previous afternoon, and read what I could find about the Bedlam in the library. It had been a monastic foundation, but had survived the Dissolution since some of its patients came from families of means and it was therefore a potential source of profit. The King appointed the warden, currently a courtier named Metwys, who in turn appointed a full-time keeper. The man, his parents believed, who hoped that Adam Kite would die.
NEAR BISHOPSGATE I was held up. A rich man’s funeral train was passing, black horses, black carriages and poor men dressed in black following behind, singing psalms. A dignified-looking old man walked at the head of the procession carrying a white stick - the steward of the dead man’s household carrying the symbolic staff of office he would break and cast into the grave. From its great size I guessed this must be the funeral of Lord Latimer, whose wife the King apparently coveted. I took off my cap. A large carriage passed; the shutters were open. A woman looked out, her face framed by a jet-black hood. She was about thirty; a receding chin and small mouth made a face that otherwise would have been pretty, merely striking. She stared at the crowd with wide, unseeing eyes as she was borne along. It seemed to me that there was fear in them.
The carriage rumbled past, and the Lady Catherine Parr disappeared from view.
AT BISHOPSGATE I passed under London Wall. A little beyond I came to a pair of large wooden gates in a high wall. They were open, and riding through I found myself in a wide, earthen courtyard, stippled with snow, a chapel at its centre. The backs of houses formed three sides of the yard; a long, two-storied building of grey stone, which looked very old, made up the fourth. Some of the unpainted wooden shutters on the windows were open. People were passing to and fro across the yard, and I saw a couple of narrow lanes running between the houses. The Bedlam was not, then, a closed prison. And I heard no shrieks or rattling of chains.
I rode to a large door at one end. My knock was answered by a thickset man with a hard, sardonic face, who wore a dirty grey smock. A big key-ring dangled from his greasy leather belt.
‘I am Master Shardlake,’ I said. ‘I have an appointment to see Adam Kite.’
The man studied my robe. ‘Lawyer, sir?’
‘Yes. Are you Keeper Shawms?’
‘No, sir. He’s out, though he’s due back soon. I’m another of the keepers, Hob Gebons.’
‘Are young Kite’s parents here?’
‘I will wait.’
He stood aside to let me enter. ‘Welcome to the chamber of the mad,’ he said as he closed the door. ‘You think you can get Adam Kite released?’
‘I hope so.’
‘We’d be glad to see him go, he makes the other lunatics nervous. We keep him shut away. Some think him possessed,’ he added in a low voice.
‘What do you think, Gebons?’
He shrugged. ‘Not for me to think.’ The man leaned close. ‘If you’ve a bit of time, sir, I could show you some of our prize specimens. King Commode and the Chained Scholar. For a shilling.’
I hesitated, then handed over the coin. The more I knew about what went on here, the better.
GEBONS LED ME along a whitewashed corridor running the length of the building, windows on one side and a row of green-painted wooden doors on the other. It was cold and there was a faint smell of ordure.
‘How many patients do you have?’
‘Thirty, sir. They’re a mixed lot.’
I saw that viewing-hatches had been cut in the green doors, at eye height. Another grey-smocked attendant stood in an open doorway, looking in.
‘Is that my washing water, Stephen?’ I heard a woman’s voice call.
‘Ay, Alice. Shall I take your pisspot?’
The scene appeared civilized enough, almost domestic. Gebons smiled at me. ‘Alice is sane enough most of the time. But she has the falling sickness bad, she can be on the floor foaming and spitting in the wink of an eye.’
I looked at Gebons, thinking of Roger.
‘She’s allowed to come and go. Unlike this fellow.’ The warder had stopped at a closed door with a heavy bolt on it. He grinned at me, showing broken grey teeth. ‘Behold His Majesty.’
He opened the viewing hatch, and stood aside to let me look. I saw a square cell, the windows shuttered, a candle guttering in an old bottle on the floor. The sight within made me gasp and step back. An old man, large and enormously fat, sat on a commode that had been painted white. He had a short beard cut in the same way that the King’s was depicted on the coins. An extraordinary, multicoloured robe, made of odds and ends of cloth patched together, swathed his heavy form. He was holding a walking stick with a wooden ball jammed on the end to resemble a sceptre. On his bald head was a paper crown, painted yellow.
‘How are you today, Your Majesty?’ Hob asked.
‘Well enough, fellow. You may bring my subject in, I will receive him.’
‘Maybe later, sire. I have to clean the jakes first!’
‘You insolent fellow—’
Gebons closed the hatch, cutting him off. He turned to me, laughing hoarsely.
‘He’s convinced he’s the king. He used to be a schoolteacher. Not a good one, his charges used to mock him, play football in his classes. Then he decided he was the king and his mind flew away from all his troubles.’
‘Mocking the King,’ I said. ‘That’s dangerous.’
Gebons nodded. ‘That’s why his family put him here, out of the way. Many lunatics proclaim many dangerous things, being loobies they forget you must be careful what you say these days. Now,’ he grinned again and raised his eyebrows. ‘Come and see our Chained Scholar. He’s two doors down. A fine educated fellow.’ He looked at my robe, mockery in his smile. ‘A doctor of common law from Cambridge. Failed to get a post there that he wanted, and attacked his college principal, half killed him. He’s all right with the likes of me, but hates seeing anyone educated. You should see his rage then. If you went into his room he’d leap at you and scratch your face off. He’s one we keep locked up carefully. But I could open the hatch up for you to have a look.’
‘No, thank you.’
‘He loves drawing maps and plans, he’s redesigning the sewers for us. You’ll note there’s a stink in here.’
‘Indeed, a bad one.’
I heard voices nearby, and recognized Daniel Kite’s, raised in anger.
‘Where is he?’ I asked.
‘The parlour. They must have come in the back way. Sure you don’t want to see the scholar?’ he added, the mockery now clear in his voice.
‘No,’ I answered curtly. ‘Take me to the Kites.’
Gebons led me into a small room with cheap stools set around, a scuffed table and a fire lit in the grate. The walls were bare. Minnie Kite sat on a stool, looking utterly dejected, while her husband argued with a plump, surly-faced man in a black jerkin.
‘You could try to make him eat!’ Daniel was shouting.
‘Oh, ay. Get one of my keepers to force him to his feet then another to force the food into his mouth. They haven’t the time, and they don’t like doing it, he frightens them. And by Mary he’s frightening enough the way he lays there gobbling and muttering and calling God’s name, no wonder half my keepers say he’s possessed! The food’s put in there and he can eat it or no as he wills.’
‘Is there a problem?’ I asked quietly. ‘You must be Keeper Shawms,’ I added as the fat man turned. ‘I am Master Shardlake, the Kites’ lawyer.’
Shawms looked between me and the Kites. ‘How come you can afford a lawyer, when you say you can’t afford my fees?’ he asked them in a bullying voice.
‘I have been appointed by the Court of Requests,’ I said.
‘Oh,’ he sneered. ‘Poor man’s lawyer, then, for all your fancy rig.’
‘Who can apply to the court to have your fees waived, and any question of mistreatment considered,’ I replied sharply. ‘Tomorrow, if I am unsatisfied with what I see today.’
Shawms looked at me from deep-set piggy eyes. ‘That boy’s hard to take care of . . .’
‘He only needs feeding,’ Minnie said. ‘And someone to put a blanket round his shoulders when it slips off.’ She turned to me. ‘It’s so cold in there, and this wretch won’t lay a fire—’
‘Fires cost money!’
I turned back to the Kites. ‘Perhaps I could see Adam.’
‘We were about to go in.’
‘See him if you want to,’ Shawms said. ‘You’ll get no sense from him.’ He glared at me. I realized that for him Adam was a troublesome nuisance; he would not be sorry if he died. Nor would the Council; for them it would be a problem solved.