Authors: Robert Wilton
obert Wilton has held a variety of posts in the British Ministry of Defence, Foreign Office and Cabinet Office. He was advisor to the Prime Minister of Kosovo in the lead-up to the country’s independence, and has now returned there as a senior international official. He divides his time between Kosovo and Cornwall. His first book,
, won the inaugural HWA/Goldsboro Crown for debut historical fiction in 2012.
First published in Great Britain in 2013
by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.
Copyright © Robert Wilton 2013.
The moral right of Robert Wilton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
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, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Hardback ISBN: 978 1 84887 819 8
Trade paperback ISBN: 978 1 84887 839 6
E-book ISBN: 978 1 78239 017 6
Printed in Great Britain.
An imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
26-27 Boswell Street
London WC1N 3JZ
for my parents
for a past
for a future
s you may be realizing, I can’t resist stories of hidden hoards of documents and dirty work by anonymous agents of the state. An acquaintance who knew that I was researching the seventeenth century recently sent me a photocopy of the following letter. It was written more than three hundred years ago, by the Reverend Henry Minafer to a friend of his named Rowse. (There’s an enticing possibility that this could be Sir Francis Rowse, who would become one of the most notorious scoundrels in an age where there was some pretty stiff competition; he was reputed to have once quite literally sold his own grandmother.) We don’t know what happened to the letter between September 1701 and July 2010, when it was part of a bundle of correspondence bulking out a collection of autograph letters sold at auction in Exeter. Given Minafer’s insignificance, and the uncertain identification of Rowse, the letter has no intrinsic value.
Lincoln’s Inn, Chamber XIII, the 9th of September 1701
My dear Rowse,
you may, I dare venture, have heard of the remarkable Discovery in my Lodgings. But I write to you of this, and of one yet more peculiar Aspect, because as well as finding the Story of interest you may, given your Acquaintance with the Lord Chancellor’s Circle and with such privy Matters, be able to offer me some wise Analysis or Counsel.
I have lately taken these Lodgings in the Inn, from Mr Thomlinson – you may remember him from the University, altho’ I fancy that like myself he was a Year or two before your Time. He has suffered me to have some Improvements done, the Rooms having been untended for some little While. It was during these Works that one of the Joiners – with not the first of his Demonstrations of Clumsiness – accidentally thrust a Beam up through the Ceiling of a short Passageway at the top of the House. It was determined that a larger Portion of the Ceiling should be removed to assist tidy Restoration, and it was this that caused one of the Men to perceive, in the Roof Space thus attained, two small but sturdy Storage Chests.
Of these Chests I should first say Something. They were of thick Wood, but stoutly cornered and banded with Iron, and, remarkably, lined with both Copper and then Leather – and thus Proof I fancy against every possible Assault of Nature.
It is naturally the Contents that have drawn greater Attention. They were nothing other than many hundreds of Papers of an official Tone, all seemingly dating from the Middle of the last Century – most indeed from the Period of the second King Charles’s Exile. How they came to be gathered to the Chests, and thence secreted behind this false Ceiling, One may only speculate.
I of course looked through the Documents with great Curiosity. I could remark no particular Theme nor Secret, but nor were they trivial: these were the work a day Correspondence, One might say, of the Government itself – the Orders, Responses, Judgements and Communications of the State, with every other Name a Minister, a Generalor a Prince. In my casual Perusal, I should say at this Juncture, I noticed a number of Documents marked with a rather curious official Seal, depicting a Device or heraldic Mark not familiar to me.
My Mind at Last turned to the proper Ownership and Holding of these Papers. I fancied that Someone in Authority ought at least to be aware of their Rediscovery, and I thought it likely they might be considered confidential – or at the least official Property – even now. Thomlinson knew nothing of the Business but, with his Approval, I contacted my Friend Herrick, who as you know conducts a certain Amount of legal Business for the Treasury Ministers and for the Court. Through him I was subsequently contacted by one of the Secretaries to Sir John Somers, informing me that the Lord Chancellor’s Office would wish to secure the Papers.
Yesterday, shortly before I was due to depart for Evening Service, I was visited by a Man named Isaac Jilkes – another Clergyman, as I immediately remarked –who said he was from the Lord Chancellor’s Office, and who repeated their Interest and asked if he might glance at the Papers. I naturally acquiesced, and hoped that my Servant could offer such Assistance and Hospitality as he should require, in my regrettable but unavoidable Absence. I believe that he departed a little While later, professing himself grateful and satisfied. This Morning, as heralded, two Clerksand a Secretary from the Lord Chancellor’s Office visited me and collected the Papers.
The strangest Circumstance of all is this: in showing the Secretary through the Documents, and remarking as to their Variety and Interest, I looked instinctively for the official Device that had previously caught my Attention. I couldnot see it, which at first I reckoned little because there werein Truth not a great number of Documents that had carried it. But as I went through the Documents more intently, I could find this Morning not a single One with that uniqueand distinctive Marking.
I immediately interrogated my Servant, who denied any Knowledge of such Papers or their Movement, and is in Truth so unlettered and so incurious a Fellow as to have paid them little Heed in any Case. I determined that, for some Reason, the Reverend Jilkes must have removed all of those Documents bearing that strange Seal.
But the Lord Chancellor’s Officers disavow any knowledge of the Reverend Isaac Jilkes, and I can find no Record of sucha Man. I must then ask, what was He? What was his Interest in the Papers, and whither has he gone? And if he is truly not known to the Office of the Lord Chancellor, then how came he by Knowledge of these Papers?
You, Rowse, who were always the Man for a Mystery, may with your wider Experience of State Habits have some Light to offer me on these Events. In any Case, I find my Mind much eased by having shared them. I beg you to accept my good Wishes, and remain,
Your Friend and humble Servant,
The papers discovered by the Reverend Minafer above Mr Thomlinson’s ceiling are now acknowledged as one of the great documentary troves of British history. Given by John, Baron Somers, the Lord Chancellor, to Sir Joseph Jekyll, the Master of the Rolls, after whose death they were bought by the bookseller Fletcher Gyles and then, after his death, edited by Thomas Birch, they were finally published in 1742. We know them as the
Thurloe State Papers
(British Library 195.h.2) and they remain a unique and essential source for historians of mid-seventeenth-century Britain, and in particular for that remarkable rootless period between the British Civil Wars and the Restoration of Charles II, during which a collection of soldiers, lawyers, radicals and visionaries tried to create a new kind of government and a new kind of world.
What happened, though, to the strangely marked papers stolen from the collection in 1701, by the man calling himself Reverend Isaac Jilkes? We can’t know. But internal evidence raises an intriguing possibility: could they, perhaps, have found their way into the archives of the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey, rediscovered recently under the library of the UK Ministry of Defence? Was Jilkes a representative of that extraordinary organization, tasked with retrieving certain papers of particular sensitivity before they could become public? Again we can’t be sure. Perhaps only the Reverend Minafer could tell us whether his missing documents form part of the source material for the following narrative, recounting another phase of the strange history of the Comptrollerate-General.