About the Author
Susanna Gregory was a police officer in Leeds before taking up an academic career. She conducted post-graduate studies at the University of Durham before earning a PhD at the University of Cambridge. She has spent seventeen field seasons in the polar regions, and has taught comparative anatomy and biological anthropology.
Aside from her two popular series of historical mysteries featuring Matthew Bartholomew and Thomas Chaloner, she has also written books on castles of Britain and cathedrals of the world. She now lives in Wales with her husband, who is also a writer, and the two have published another series of medieval mysteries under the pseudonym Simon Beaufort.
Also by Susanna Gregory
The Matthew Bartholomew Series
A Plague on Both Your Houses
An Unholy Alliance
A Bone of Contention
A Deadly Brew
A Wicked Deed
A Masterly Murder
An Order for Death
A Summer of Discontent
A Killer in Winter
The Hand of Justice
The Mark of a Murderer
The Tarnished Chalice
To Kill or Cure
The Devil’s Disciples
A Vein of Deceit
The Killer of Pilgrims
The Thomas Chaloner Series
A Conspiracy of Violence
Blood on the Strand
The Butcher of Smithfield
The Westminster Poisoner
Published by Hachette Digital 2010
Copyright © 2009 Susanna Gregory
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
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For Captain Dick Taylor
Canterbury Cathedral, December 1643
The Reverend Richard Culmer loved the sound of smashing glass. And when that glass was the stained type, bursting with idolatrous images of popish saints, then the sound was even more satisfying. He stood on top of a ladder with a pike in his hand, and gleefully jabbed out as many panes as he could reach. His bright blue cloak swung around him as he worked, the trademark garment that had earned him the nickname ‘Blue Dick’.
Below him, steadying the swaying steps, were two of his most trusted henchmen, although both looked as though they wished they were somewhere else. Blue Dick grimaced. What was wrong with them? Could they not see that Canterbury Cathedral had far too much in the way of nasty Catholic regalia? Did they not understand that it was their moral duty to destroy it all?
He gave a last, vicious poke at a window depicting pilgrims at the shrine of St Thomas Becket, then scrambled down from his precarious perch. There was so much to do – everywhere he looked were statues that needed their heads knocked off and paintings to be slashed. And then there was the body of the saint himself – the long-dead archbishop who had defied his king and been murdered for it. The cathedral’s clergy had assured him that Becket’s bones had been destroyed more than a hundred years before, but Blue Dick did not believe them. Before he left, he planned to open the tomb and pulverise what he found inside, to make sure Becket’s relics really were gone for ever.
When he reached the ground, he stood for a moment to admire his handiwork, pleased to note that the once-ornate windows were now reduced to a series of gaping holes. Through them he could see outside, to where a large crowd had gathered. He rolled his eyes: they wanted him to leave Canterbury and spare its treasures. But that was too bad, because he was not going anywhere until his work was finished. And they would accept the righteousness of his actions in time.
Breaking windows was hot work, so he started to remove his cloak. Unfortunately, the blue garment made him easy to identify, so when a stone sailed through one of the broken windows, he knew it was meant for him. It missed, but only just, and the crack it made when it hit the wall left him in no doubt that it had been intended to kill.
Blue Dick smiled: God had protected him. The knowledge gave him the strength to continue, and as he attacked a stone bishop with a mallet, grinning his satisfaction as the ancient face dissolved into shards and dust, he began to sing. Well, why not? It was, after all, one of the happiest and most fulfilling days of his life.
London, 5 November 1663
Bonfire Night. The time when effigies of Guy Fawkes were burned all over the country, to remind good Anglicans of the danger posed by religious dissenters. Recently, some folk had even taken to creating images of the Pope to go on their pyres, filling them with live cats to howl as the fires consumed them. For a reputedly civilised country, England could be a barbaric place, thought the Green Man, as he waited in the cellar for the occupants of the house to go to bed.
He took no pleasure in what he was about to do – it was just necessary. People needed to be shaken from their smug complacency, and made to sit up and listen. And his message was clear enough: before Charles II had been given his throne back in 1660, he had promised that all his subjects would have the right to worship God as they saw fit. The whole country had breathed a sigh of relief – Charles’s reign was going to be one of tolerance and reconciliation.
But the King had gone back on his word, and laws were being passed that were making life intolerable for non-Anglicans. These repressive decrees were known collectively as the Clarendon Code, and the Green Man was outraged by them. He had decided it was time to make his objections known, and if a few innocent souls had to die in the process, then so be it.
He glanced at the barrels of gunpowder he had smuggled inside the house, and experienced a warm glow of pride. It had taken six weeks to accumulate enough of the stuff, and every tortuous journey had carried with it the risk of capture and death. Fortunately, the house had plenty of pantries and storerooms on the floor above, so the servants never bothered to visit the cellars.
Outside, he heard the night-watchman call midnight: it was time. He stood, stiff after his long wait, heart hammering in anticipation. He smiled grimly to himself. In moments, the house and its sleeping occupants would be nothing but smouldering rubble.
He had prepared his fuses earlier – three long trails of powder that would take several minutes to burn their way across the floor, giving him time to escape. His hand shook as he lit the first one. Immediately, it began to hiss and smoke. Quickly, he ignited the others, then turned to bolt up the cellar steps. He ran across the garden, and darted into the street beyond. His stomach churned with the enormity of what he had done as he ducked into a doorway and waited, holding his breath and clenching his fists tightly enough to make his knuckles hurt. Any minute now.
But the seconds ticked past, and nothing happened. He gazed at the house in bewilderment. What was wrong? Had his fuses failed? Was the powder damp? He supposed he should go back and look, but he had no wish to share the fate of his intended victims. He stayed where he was.
More time slipped away, and eventually he was forced to concede that nothing was going to happen. Bitterly disappointed, he started to walk home. He was vaguely aware of shadows in the street ahead, but he paid them no heed. All he could think about was the fact that he had failed.
‘Give us your purse or you are a dead man.’
The voice so close to his ear shocked the Green Man from his reverie. He tried to back away, but someone shoved a dagger against his throat. He struggled frantically, but there was a sudden blazing pain in his neck, and he could not breathe. As he gagged and choked, deft hands moved across him, removing purse and jewellery.
The attack was over in a moment, and the robbers did not linger once they had what they wanted. As his life ebbed away, the Green Man was overwhelmed with the futility of it all. He had been so close to achieving his goal! If only the gunpowder had ignited, if only his disappointment had not caused him to lower his guard, if only . . .
London Bridge, late January 1664
The Earl of Clarendon hated the London Bridge. He disliked the way its narrow-fronted, teetering houses loomed over the road, meeting overhead to turn it into a shadowy, sinister tunnel. And he disliked the fact that it was always so busy – thick with carts, people and animals. Usually, he hired a boat if business took him south of the river, but a spate of abnormally high tides recently meant they were not always available – and then he had no choice but to brave the Bridge.
He sat in his fine coach and glowered out of the window, furious that no oarsman had been free to ferry him across the churning brown waters that morning. Then he remembered the last time it had happened. It had been a few days before, and as he had been driven along the Bridge’s potholed, stinking roads, he had been somewhat startled to see several of his enemies loitering around one of the Bridge’s rickety houses. Moreover, he had also been told that dubious characters had taken to lurking there of late – men such as the infamous iconoclast ‘Blue Dick’ Culmer.
And if that were not enough to raise eyebrows, there were the Bridge’s two wardens. The Earl did not trust them, mostly because they were rumoured to be incorruptible. Who was incorruptible in Restoration London, where only the devious and dishonest could expect to prosper? As far as the Earl was concerned, anyone extolled as men of honour automatically earned
He narrowed his eyes as he passed Chapel House, a shabby affair that had been built on the site of a church dedicated to St Thomas Becket. It was swathed in scaffolding and canvas, because someone had decided it needed refurbishing, which effectively shielded it from passers-by. But the material was poorly secured, and through a gap the Earl glimpsed a gaggle of his enemies’ servants. They were huddled together, speaking in low voices.
He experienced a surge of unease. What were they doing? Hatching another plot against him? After twenty years of civil war and military dictatorship, England was an unstable, restless country, full of shifting loyalties. Uprisings occurred on a weekly basis, and no government minister who valued his life and his position ignored that fact. It was not impossible that his foes were planning some sort of coup that would see him discredited – or worse.
The carriage rattled on, passing Nonesuch House, a fabulous jumble of onion domes and great glass windows, currently rented by a fellow named Sir John Winter. The Earl pursed his lips. Not only was Winter a Catholic, but he was reputed to be an authority on gunpowder, too. And if
combination was not sinister, then the Earl did not know what was. He would have ordered Winter put under surveillance, but the only man he trusted to do it – Thomas Chaloner – was in Wimbledon on other duties. Still, Chaloner would be back soon, and then he could look into whatever dark business was fermenting on the Bridge.
Finally, the coach reached the Stone Gate, where the Earl’s eyes were drawn upwards, to the severed heads that had been impaled on spikes above the arch – traitors, all executed since the monarchy had been restored three and a half years before. Some were men the King would have spared, but the Earl had urged him against clemency, lest it was seen as a sign of weakness. He felt no remorse, though, as he stared at the blackened, unrecognisable features. It was hardly his fault they had backed the wrong side.