Authors: Edward Cline
“Because he was trying to humiliate me, sir,” answered the boy.
“Were you the only boy levied in this ritual?”
“No, sir. There were three others.”
“Tell me what happened.”
Hugh Kenrick narrated the incident. Two days after arriving at Eton, in the dead of night he and the other new boys his age, still in their nightshirts, were roughly spirited from their cots by older boys and taken to a small wooden structure somewhere off the school grounds. There he was told by the young Marquis of Bilbury that he was releasing another boy from his obligations as a fag or servant, and that henceforth Hugh would fill that role, acting as the Marquis’ valet and cook. “Your handsomeness also recommends itself to occasional, special companionship, when the village tarts are otherwise engaged,” added the aristocrat, and the other older boys giggled. Hugh Kenrick did not understand the import of this last remark, but he noticed, after he had related it, his parents exchanging quick glances with his uncle, whose nostrils flared slightly in distaste, but whose expression otherwise remained stern and unmoved.
Then he had been told that as part of his initiation, he was to hold a tin bowl of hot coals from the den’s fireplace while the young Marquis tickled his bare feet with a twig. If he dropped the coals, he would be punished with a birching that would leave the back of his legs raw for days. Hugh refused to pick up the bowl. When the Marquis rose and forced it into his hands, Hugh flung it at his tormentor. Angered, the Marquis approached Hugh, screaming that he would break all the fingers on his hands. Hugh picked up the fireplace poker and stabbed at the Marquis’ outstretched hands, which grasped the hot end of it. The Marquis roared in an unearthly scream of agony as the metal fused his palms and fingers.
In the meantime, the glowing coals Hugh had thrown at the Marquis had fallen on some of the dilapidated cushions that littered the den floor, started a fire and a panic, and the den was consumed by flames. Hugh and the other younger boys had fled in the confusion and sought refuge in the headmaster’s quarters.
When Hugh was finished, the Earl asked, “Did the other boys submit to their initiation?”
“Could you not, like they, tolerate a spell of humiliation?”
“I saw no point in it, sir. I will
be anyone’s lackey.”
“It is the practice in such circumstances to submit to the wishes of
senior students, sir,” replied the Earl. “The sole persons exempt from such customs are the members of His Royal Highness’s immediate family, who may not be touched by anyone except by waiver and leave.
are not of royal siring. You had no right to refuse to submit or to question the right and prerogative of any older student to impose service on you.”
“The Marquis’ son wished to harm my person, sir,” replied Hugh. “He wished to harm my soul.”
The Earl snorted. “He would not have inflicted mortal injury on you, sir. But
have apparently so mangled his hands that he will be denied the use of it for the rest of his life.”
intention was harmful, sir,” answered Hugh.
Hugh could not answer. He could not find words for the evil thing that seemed to govern the events in the Marquis’ den.
The Earl said, “
person is not so
that it cannot be taught to brook a modicum of servility, sir. It is not your prerogative to set yourself or your soul apart from the concerns and standards of your fellow men. It is disturbing to me that such a basic Christian precept has not already found a permanent cranny in your conscience. It applies to all men, humble and great. And the Marquis, regardless of his intent or purpose, is one of your fellow men.”
His uncle’s words awakened something in Hugh’s mind, and he stared at the Earl with amazement.
The Earl took the glance as a frown in the affirmative. After a long, withering scrutiny of the boy, he reached for a book on his desk and lifted it. “Take this,” he ordered, and when Hugh had stepped forward and obeyed, the Earl continued. “You will read that labor of your grandfather’s and write for me an essay agreeing with its thesis. This will be in addition to attending to the duties assigned you by your new tutor, whoever that may be.”
Hugh glanced at the book in his hands. It was a richly bound tome, entitled
The Many Ways to Sainthood
, by Guy Kenrick, the 14th Earl of Danvers.
“That is all,” said the Earl. “You may return to your room. I wish to speak to your parents.”
Hugh’s parents placated the Earl by denying their son the liberty of the estate for a month. The Baron agreed to pay the elder Marquis of Bilbury a sum of money in compensation. The Baron and his wife were confused by
their responses: they were secretly proud of Hugh for having defied what they both regarded as a silly, brutal tradition; yet they sensed the seed of a character trait which they were certain would eventually ostracize the boy from normal human society. They wished to see the trait corrected; but they did not possess the cruelty in themselves to crush it. They would not nurture it; but neither would they starve it. Hugh, they concluded, must make his own rules and reap their rewards and penalties. Garnet Kenrick resolved never again to advise his son on what he should do, be, or believe in.
Hugh Kenrick read his grandfather’s work, and composed an essay on its virtues and values. It was a dry, unconvincing essay, but it satisfied the Earl, and no more was said about the incident at Eton College.
ALES DIED, AFTER A BRIEF ILLNESS, OF
a burst abscess caused by a rebounding cricket ball.
The Earl and the Baron and Baroness were having tea over a game of faro in the orangery one early spring evening when a messenger arrived at Danvers. A servant handed the Earl a sealed envelope. He opened it, read the contents, then glanced up at his brother with a face that was expressionless but for a twinkle in his eye. “It is from Hillier,” he said. “Poor Fred is dead.” Crispin Hillier was Danvers’ representative in the Commons. Not only was it his job to protect the Earl’s interests in that house of Parliament, but to gather and relay political intelligence. The Earl rang a table bell, and the servant reappeared. “Pay the man who brought this a guinea,” he said. “Put him up in the stables, and attend to his needs. I shall have a reply ready for him to take on the morrow.”
The Earl leaned to support the king’s oldest son, Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall. The Prince, he reasoned, was very likely to be the next king, or at least Regent.
Still, the Earl, on advice of his brother, had maintained a delicate neutrality between the king’s two sons, the Prince of Wales and William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, liking neither but ready to return overtures of friendship from either, should they occur. He forbade Handel, the king’s favorite composer, to be played at concerts and banquets at Danvers, requiring his hired musicians to learn the compositions of the Prince’s favorite, Giovanne Buononcini, who managed Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in London until he was discovered to be a plagiarist and forced to leave the country in disgrace. For years, the Earl had sent the Duke a birthday present of five pounds of sweetmeats in a bentwood box adorned with military tableaux painted by the best illustrator in London; and to Augusta, the Princess of Wales, a birthday present of a silver brocaded quilt of flowers stuffed with the finest Dorset wool and swans’ down.
The Prince left more turmoil in his wake than he had caused in his lifetime. Leicester House, the Prince’s domicile in London, ceased to be the fulcrum of parliamentary opposition to the king, and the enmity once focused on Frederick by his parents—his mother, Caroline, had so hated him that
she even refused to see him on her deathbed—gradually shifted in the widowed king to William Augustus. Cumberland, in the event of his father’s death or incapacitation, could become either king or Regent. There were many in all strata of English society who feared that Cumberland would seize the reins of power from the heir-presumptive, George, son of the Prince and Princess of Wales, before the latter reached his majority, and establish a military kingship not unlike that of Frederick of Prussia’s.
Cumberland was at this time Captain General of the Army, and busy reforming it. At the same time he was still living under the shadow of recrimination for his and his staff’s depredations in Scotland following the quelling of the Jacobite Rebellion, and even his most obsequious sycophants and admirers had ceased proclaiming his name. The merciless and often indiscriminate execution of Highland Scots and the brutal uprooting of their clans had shocked even Englishmen, most of whom had no love for the Scots. It was said that, when the Livery Companies of London were contesting each other for the privilege of granting the Duke the status of freedman in the City (for English kings and their immediate family could not enter London except by permission of the Lord Mayor), someone caustically suggested that he be made a member of the Company of Butchers. The newspapers subsequently nicknamed him “the Butcher.”
Nevertheless, the Earl and his brother the Baron knew that the Duke would be courted now by many of the men who had once flocked to Leicester House and the Prince of Wales and plotted with Frederick Louis to bedevil the king in and out of Parliament.
“Billy,” remarked the Baron, “will need friends.”
“He is sure to be pressed to take the lead,” said the Earl.
“He might be persuaded to, but he heeds his father’s every wish and whim.”
“True,” conceded the Earl with a sigh. “If his father ordered him to give up women and horses, he would. He has proven that he will do nothing that will antagonize
“So it would need a strong man—one more persuasive than his father—to get him to move, to take the right actions, to make the right friends.”
“Do you know of such a man?”
“No,” said the Baron. “And I know that it is neither of us.”
“He strikes me,” broached the Baroness, “as a man who is content with the back bench. He would make a poor and indifferent pawn, and a worse
sovereign. His toy soldiers, horses, and dice are all he wants from his rank.” She paused to take a sip of her tea. “He has no ambition.”
The Earl hummed pensively. “There are men who would act in the Duke’s interests,” he said. “Fox, for example.”
“And men who would oppose them with equal vigor,” said the Baron. “Pitt, for example.”
The Baroness smiled. “Do not discount the determination of the Princess to secure the succession for her son, George.”
The Earl scoffed. “I cannot seriously entertain the notion of Augusta in the role of Regent,” he said. “If she is anything like her late husband, she must share his gift for tactlessness and spite, and will scotch any chance she might have.”
“I must agree with you, Basil,” replied the Baroness. “But you both neglect an important factor here, one which will nullify all other considerations. The Princess is a mother, and she will fight for her son. In this fight, she will wield two unsavory, frankly tactless and spiteful, but powerful weapons.”
The Baron and the Earl looked at her expectantly.
The Baroness smiled again in triumph. “His Majesty’s shame for his treatment of his late son—and his younger son’s present unpopularity.”
The Baron thought about it for a moment, then chuckled in appreciation of his wife’s perspicuity. His brother, who did not as a rule ascribe intelligence to women, merely grunted in acknowledgment. “On these points,” said the Baron, “it would seem that ambition is now feasible. The Duke may not be ambitious, but there will gather around him men who are. These, though, will be less skilled than the allies the Princess will very likely recruit in the Commons and Lords. The albatross of unpopularity will flit from her and alight most unceremoniously on the shoulders of the Duke and his supporters. Newcastle, I have it from reliable sources, is also leaning in Pitt’s direction. It is quite clear to me now how His Majesty will weigh the matter.”
“Nevertheless,” replied the Earl, “it would seem the prudent thing to cultivate the Duke, gaining entrée into the Princess’s beneficence, to be sure, but at the same time assuring
of our sentiments.” He paused to stare into his tea for a moment, then put the cup and saucer down. “You will compose our condolences to the King, the Princess,
the Duke, will you not, Garnet? And if there is to be a largish funeral, we should of course wish to be in attendance.”
“Of course, dear brother.” The Baron shook his head. “But all three parties seem insensible to our sentiments, one way or another.”
“True,” agreed the Earl. “But insensibility is at least better than ignorance. It is of no consequence to me whether we are on any of their minds, just so long as we are on the opportune side.”
There was no “largish” funeral for the Earl and his family to attend. George II, the Prince’s brother the Duke, the Prince’s sisters, all the bishops, and all but one Peer from Lords were conspicuously absent from the dismal, rain-soaked procession that wended its way through London’s streets to Westminster Abbey. There the Prince was put in Henry VII’s chapel near his mother and his illegitimate son. Everyone had been warned away from the occasion. In the Abbey, the organ played no dirges, and the choir sang no hymns. Enemies of the king rankled and bit their tongues; his friends chuckled up their sleeves.
But the Princess of Wales triumphed in the end. Pitt’s influence worked; the Princess was named in the Regency Bill of 1751 to act for her son in the event of the king’s death or incapacitation, while the Duke was stung with being appointed to a contingent regency council of advisors. If the Princess of Wales had become Regent, no doubt whatever advice he had to offer her would have been spurned, for she despised her “great, great fat friend” and brother-in-law. The matter being settled, the Duke, now that he had been cut out of the picture, was freed of the necessity of channeling his energies into political machinations, and refocused his attention on women, horses, gambling, and the army.
* * *
Children of the aristocracy were kept in the background of their parents’ lives, and brought out only on extraordinary occasions. In this background, boys were taught practical, worldly subjects and what passed for wisdom; girls were trained to be useful ornaments.
Following the incident at Eton College, Hugh Kenrick’s parents found what they thought was a perfect solution to their worries about their son’s seeming antisociability. Not far from Danvers was the estate of Squire Drew Tallmadge, who had hired a clutch of tutors to educate not only his own sons but those of the local gentry and lesser nobility. Parents paid the tutors, and also Tallmadge for the “rental” of his house for instruction.
This option had not previously been considered, for many of the
patrons of the “grammar school” were minor irritants to the Earl. Squire Tallmadge had refused to sell the copyholds of lands adjacent to the Kenricks’ estate, had introduced alien agricultural practices to favorite leaseholders, and had begun to enclose his lands, allowing troublesome copyholds and leaseholds to expire, and resorting to rack-rents to discourage obstructive and unproductive tenants from staying. But Tallmadge had acquired the estate from his lord, whose family was practically extinct, who sold it to pay off debts and later disappeared in London among the growing ranks of titled bankrupts. The Tallmadge family had served this baron’s family for centuries; it was at least a known, established name.
Squire Tallmadge had also wished to be elected to the Commons, but lost the election because it had been established almost as a tradition, by the 40-shilling electorate of neighboring Onyxcombe, to send Crispin Hillier, the Earl’s favorite, to the Commons. There was one contest, which occurred almost a generation ago, but the Earl had never forgiven the Squire for challenging his hegemony.
The Brunes, however, were strangers altogether, new to Dorset by a single generation. Old Squire Robert Brune, still living, had won the estate in a still talked-about game of hazard from its owner, another minor baron, at the Kit-Kat Club in London. The Brunes had introduced new wool-processing mechanisms and installed them in special buildings on their estate, and built a new mill house over the narrow Onyx River, which meandered through the three estates, to grind their corn and wheat. Like the Tallmadges, the Brunes were able to buy the prestige and status of their predecessors without the encumbrance of fealty to the Earl of Danvers, which was not transferable. The Earl regretted that the law courts had not in the past ruled on this oversight.
The Brunes and the Tallmadges wished to be associated with the Earl; the Earl did not wish them to be neighbors at all. He had never visited them, and looked upon them and their novel management of their affairs with alternating disgust, petulance, and outrage. Baron Garnet Kenrick, however, out of necessity of business and sheer curiosity, had visited the families and once had even dined with them. The Earl would never himself have invited either family to his banquets or balls, except on the practical advice of the Baron, and to avoid pointless conflict. The relationship among these three families was the epitome of eighteenth-century social mores: coldly cordial, cunningly civil, and exaggeratedly gracious.
And so Hugh was driven by a footman in a dogcart to the Tallmadge
house six days a week. A relay of resident tutors drilled the young baron and his classmates in Latin, Greek, French, drawing, mathematics, and rhetoric; in Greek, Roman, and modern history; in geography and navigation. “Science” was taught by Squire Tallmadge himself, for he was a committed Newtonian and an ardent agriculturist who experimented with the means of making his 500 acres of tillage more productive. At first Hugh was reluctant to attend this school, then he warmed to the idea, for the tutors were good teachers. The tutors were at first leery of their new charge, the nephew of a powerful and notoriously temperamental earl, but Hugh was a bright and eager pupil, and they in turn warmed to him.
And here at the school, Hugh did not so much make a friend of Roger Tallmadge, as he was befriended by the youngest of the Squire’s sons. It was the rumor of his rebellion at Eton which drew the boy to Hugh. “Is it true that you burned a marquis’s hands?” he asked breathlessly in private. He was the frequent butt of his older brothers’ pranks, and the notion of fighting back appealed to him.
* * *
Two tragedies befell the Danvers household that same year.
The Earl’s wife, the Countess, had been suffering from an ailment which one local and two London physicians had been unable to diagnose, though for which the trio unanimously prescribed a daily remedy of one part snail’s broth, one part ground mistletoe, and one part camphor. After a month of imbibing the bitter potion, the Countess was found dead in her chair while sunning herself on the south lawn. The funeral, the special services at St. Quarrell’s, the solemn interring of the Countess in the family vault, and the stream of visits by local nobility and townsfolk to express their sympathies all struck Hugh as empty formality. He had not liked his aunt, and was certain that no one else had either, including his parents and his uncle. Everyone, especially the servants who had had to endure her sharp, mocking tongue, seemed relieved that she was gone; and yet everyone behaved as though she had been a beloved mistress and personage whose passing deserved marking. Hugh could not generate within himself such sham piety, and went through the motions with a blank face. His parents noticed his demeanor, but said nothing; how could a ten-year-old boy understand these things? The Earl noted it, too, but was more perceptive than the boy’s parents about the cause of Hugh’s naive and barely disguised