S. G. MacLean returns to the world of Damian Seeker, but Cromwell is dead and Charles Stuart restored to the throne. Men who supported the Protector must be hunted down as traitors. Perfect for fans of Robert Harris and Andrew Taylor.
'S. G. MacLean can make any historical period sing with life' Antonia Hodgson
By the summer of 1660 the last remnants of the Republic have been swept away and the Stuarts have been restored under their king, Charles II. A list of regicides believed to be involved in the death of Charles I is drawn up. Gruesome executions begin to take place and the hunt intensifies for those who have gone into hiding at home or abroad.
Although not a regicide, staunch Republican Damian Seeker is on a list of traitors to the king. Royalist spy, Lady Anne Winter, is employed to find evidence of guilt or innocence among the names on this Winter List. Seeker has fled England but his beloved daughter Manon remains, married to Seeker's friend, the lawyer Lawrence Ingolby, and living in York.
As the conduit to her father and to others on the Winter List and surrounded by spies and watchers, Manon lives in constant danger and fear of discovery. One of those spies is closer than even she could have imagined.
Release date: September 7, 2023
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Print pages: 384
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The Winter List
The pages yellowed then browned, smoke creeping along their undersides until the corners began to curl in on themselves. Letter by letter, words – that no one was in any case close enough to read – were consumed. Lawrence, though, like so many others in the crowd, did not need to see the print to know what they said – words written over eleven years since, to justify the killing of a king:
. . . for their sakes who through custom, simplicitie or want of better teaching, have not more seriously considerd Kings, then in the gaudy name of Majesty, and admire them and thir doings as if they breath’d not the same breath with other mortal men . . .
At last the pages took light and John Milton’s words flamed high into the summer’s afternoon.
As the books burned, the city’s executioner read out Parliament’s proclamation against the blind poet and his work, allowing for little doubt that should the authorities have been able to find the author of such sedition, they would happily have set him atop the pyre with his books.
‘Where is he?’ asked Lawrence Ingolby, under his breath.
‘Safe,’ said the man beside him, ‘for now.’ Andrew Marvell kept his voice low. ‘But the Council of State is at this very minute busied with drawing up a list of those to be exempted from His Majesty’s mercy.’ The Act of Free and General Pardon, Indemnity and Oblivion that had been put before Parliament within days of Charles Stuart’s agreement to return to England as King, enshrined within it his promise of clemency to his and his late father’s enemies. Or at least it enshrined a promise of clemency to some of them, for the young King had astutely, almost casually, allowed that some of those enemies should be excepted from his mercy, although ‘only such persons as shall hereafter be excepted by Parliament’. Major General Thomas Harrison had been the first to be excepted from that mercy, to be followed the next day by six of his former comrades, the most notorious of the regicides who had had the King’s father’s sacred head severed from its neck. More than forty names had been added the day after that.
The numbers grew and the parameters shifted beyond those individuals known to have tried and ordered the execution of the King. Next was ordered the search for the executioners. John Thurloe, who had held all in his hands under Cromwell, was arrested, and put in the Tower, his blood called for. It seemed, though, that somehow he would avoid the rope, the disembowelling hook, the flames and the axe. Perhaps John Thurloe knew too much about the innocence or otherwise of those now in power. At first, some men believing the King’s promise of clemency had handed themselves in, only to be swiftly disabused of that notion. Others, seeing their fate or having guessed it in advance, fled to the continent or even the Americas. Almost daily, it seemed, the definition of guilt shifted, the list of those to be excepted from the royal mercy grew.
‘John Milton’s name’s never on it?’ In his surprise, Lawrence had forgotten that it was not entirely advisable for he and Marvell to be seen talking together.
Marvell grimaced. ‘I have worked night and day to persuade them to take it off. I think His Majesty, thank God, is of a mind to be gracious to those that did not have an actual hand in his father’s murder.’
Ingolby raised his eyebrows. The apparent ease with which Marvell had managed to pirouette from staunch Cromwellian and firm upholder of the Commonwealth to ardent Royalist still rendered him almost speechless. It had been the work of days, hours perhaps, or even a moment for his friend to amend his language and keep his job, and perhaps, for all either of them knew, his head. The clamour for revenge from the Royalists returned to Parliament grew louder by the day and neither Lawrence nor any of his acquaintance knew where it might stop.
Marvell flushed and raised his chin, avoiding Lawrence’s eye. ‘We all have a living to earn.’
‘True enough,’ said Lawrence, turning away from the spectacle and readying himself to go back to his own employment, which lay waiting for him in half-written depositions, indentures, articles of agreement and much else that was piled upon the desk and floor of his small chambers in Clifford’s Inn. ‘We can hope it’s only the ones that put the old King on trial that have to worry . . .’
Marvell said nothing, merely shook his head.
The fire crackled and spat and all around them was laughter and jeering as the pyre of forbidden books went up in flames, but something in Marvell’s look chilled Lawrence’s very stomach.
Marvell affected to inspect a piece of ash that had landed on his collar as a woman selling peaches amongst the crowd passed close by them. He leaned a little closer to Lawrence and murmured, ‘You should leave London, now.’
‘Me?’ Lawrence spluttered. ‘What have I done? I wasn’t twenty years old, still at home in Yorkshire, when the King was put on trial.’
‘I know that,’ said Marvel, still inspecting his collar. ‘But there’s another list.’
Lawrence looked at his friend as if he were mad. ‘The Council of State’s never going to bother themselves about me, Andrew.’
‘You’re not listening,’ Marvell muttered, looking around him a moment before leaning in closer. ‘There’s another list, that the King and the Council of State know nothing about.’
‘What?’ Lawrence’s mockery gave way to apprehension. ‘What kind of list?’
‘One drawn up by an individual impatient that King and Parliament will not dig deep enough, and hell-bent upon his own revenge.’
Lawrence’s eyes were wide. ‘Who?’
Marvell shook his head again.
‘But you’re saying my name’s on it?’
Marvell lowered his voice even further. ‘No. But Damian Seeker’s is. You must go back to Yorkshire, and you must take the captain’s daughter with you.’
The peach seller watched Andrew Marvell go off in one direction while Lawrence Ingolby went in the other. Ingolby would be returning, no doubt, to his chambers at Clifford’s Inn. It was too early in the day for the lawyer to repair to the Black Fox on Broad Street, where he had lodged for the last four years and where his young wife had been in the employ and protection of the landlady since first she had arrived in London. Marvell looked constantly to his left and right. Well, many nowadays had especial cause to look about them, lest they come under the scrutiny of those not quite convinced by their protestations of loyalty to the restored King. Marvell did right to take care.
Without shifting her gaze, the peach seller suddenly grabbed at the wrist of a young thief whose hand had darted into her basket. She turned it firmly before placing two plump fruits into the upturned palm and telling the child to be gone. As the boy ran off with his booty, she left Lawrence Ingolby to his business, for now, and set her course after Andrew Marvell. The peach seller was not entirely fooled by the Whitehall under-secretary’s volte-face of loyalty, but then she had never been entirely convinced of his commitment to the Republican cause, either. As she went after him she was forced to concede that he was getting better at this, at moving discreetly without drawing undue attention to himself. Everyone learns, when their life is at stake. Even so, she had been at this business for longer than he and was not so easily shaken off. He was going to see Milton, she was sure of it. She followed at a distance as he walked unhurriedly away from the crowd around Old Bailey and out through Newgate. She quickened her step in time with his when he turned up Giltspur Street. Smithfield. There had been rumours already that Milton was holed up somewhere in Smithfield. The blind poet had certainly been hiding himself somewhere since May, when it had become clear even to him that the Republic could not hold and that the Stuarts must return. She wondered if he could smell the smoke of his own burning books over the reek and fear of the animals at market.
Marvell was almost at Pye Corner when she saw him suddenly pull up short, hesitate and then turn back down towards Holborn. Beyond him, coming down the street towards her, were two officers of the King’s Regiment of Guards. She arranged her hood better around her face as she approached them with her basket. The nearer of the two – she recalled him from Brussels – waved her away, and she continued up the street. She glanced down in time to see Marvell disappear around the corner of St Sepulchre’s, whose bell was ringing the half hour, reminding her she had an appointment of her own and must leave the poet to his wanderings.
Roger L’Estrange sat in his cabinet in the little house that backed onto Palace Yard. It wasn’t much, but it would suit his purposes, for now. There was such a clamour for places at Whitehall that he had been lucky to make good a claim to anything at all. The little house was convenient, after all, for the chamber of the Commons, and the MPs over whom his pamphlets and arguments were increasingly bringing him influence. He was not yet quite as successful as he would like to be in persuading others to his views, but then, as his grandmother had been wont to say, there was more than one way to skin a cat. Here, L’Estrange was close enough to the royal presence to make himself familiar, whilst being far enough away from the noise of court life to get on with his business unimpeded. The King’s heart was too soft for his own good, and too inclined to forgiveness. Parliament, which had no heart at all, was too taken up with its own interests. Many who had profited from and enabled Cromwell’s regime would be let off the hook, for no better reason than that they had the right friends. And some, that ought even now to be languishing in the Tower of London awaiting trial for their treason, had fled altogether. This didn’t trouble L’Estrange as much as it might have done – they would be apprehended and dealt with by the proper authorities, in time. His own interest, though, was another thing altogether. His interest went beyond that of the established authorities. His interest went beyond dealing with those who had sat in judgement on the King and signed their names to his death warrant. His interest was in the others, in those who had not been amongst the men of power, and so believed their deeds to have been unremarked or forgotten. Roger L’Estrange was determined to find them and to lay bare their secrets.
He glanced up from his list, his pen paused a little above the paper so that a drip of ink fell upon it without his noticing. He was sure he could detect the slightest hint, just a ribbon, of smoke in the air. Not the smoke of sea coals and a hundred Whitehall fires, but of pages curling and burning, calfskin bindings crackling in the flames. It gave him satisfaction to think of that smoke curling under the doors of those who fancied they might hide themselves from retribution. The moment was broken by the tentative knock of his clerk on the door.
‘A woman wishes to see you, sir.’
‘What kind of woman?’
‘A peach seller.’
In any other gentleman’s house, a woman selling peaches would not have got beyond the kitchen at best, but L’Estrange’s servants knew that this was another sort of house. A moment later the peach seller had been shown into his cabinet and the door closed behind her.
He didn’t invite her to sit. ‘Well?’
She made her report. There had been a significant crowd there at Old Bailey, at the first burning of Milton’s books. One or two printers and booksellers amongst them, in fact, had been keen to show their support for the new regime by handing over any of the condemned works that might be lying about their stores or presses.
‘Hmmph.’ L’Estrange knew that the most obdurate amongst the Republican printers would not have been there. They would be dealt with, come time. Roger’s patron, Henry Bennet, had promised him the post of Surveyor of the Press, perhaps more. In the meantime, there was other business to be attended to. ‘And who amongst his friends was there? Marvell? Davenant?’ The latter had been loud, the former persistent, in their pleas on the blind poet’s behalf. In Cromwell’s time, Milton had used his influence to save Davenant from the executioner, and the playwright, now in his pomp, was determined to repay the debt. As for Marvell, what he did not owe to Milton he owed to Cromwell. L’Estrange was unconvinced by the turn in Marvell’s loyalties.
‘Marvell was there,’ his informant told him.
Roger felt a little jolt of satisfaction.
‘No, he was talking to a lawyer friend of his. Lawrence Ingolby.’
‘The name means nothing to me. Should it?’
The woman appeared to be considering. He found her irritating, but most of the female intelligencers he knew had abandoned their trade, now that the King was back, and there was not a large pool to choose from. ‘I don’t believe so. He’s a lawyer at Clifford’s Inn, and was pupil to a man named Ellingworth, who was radical in his views. Ellingworth left for Massachusetts shortly after Cromwell’s death, but Ingolby seems to have shown no inclination to go with him. A coming man, they say.’
‘“A coming man.”’ L’Estrange smiled. ‘The best kind – not inclined to offer trouble to the prevailing authority. And what did they speak of, Marvell and this Ingolby?’
‘Of John Milton,’ she said.
‘Marvell knows where he is but didn’t tell Ingolby. Just that he was safe, and that he was fighting to get him off the list of names excepted from the King’s mercy.’
‘Did they speak of anything else?’
There was the slightest pause before she said, ‘No.’
He regarded her closely. ‘You’re certain?’
‘Nothing within my hearing.’ He would have pressed her more closely on that but now she was telling him how she had followed Marvell and where he had gone.
She nodded. ‘He turned back quite suddenly when he saw two of the King’s Guard approaching. I’m all but certain he was on his way to see Milton.’
‘Hmm,’ L’Estrange mused. ‘I’ll have a search party sent to Smithfield.’
She picked up her basket and made to leave, but he held up a hand. ‘Not quite yet, if you please.’
She stopped. ‘I have nothing more to tell you.’
‘But I have something to tell you, or to give you. Sit down, please.’
The woman’s expression was wary, but she sat.
‘I believe you were still on the Continent when Richard Cromwell was brought down by the grandees of his own army?’
‘I was,’ she said. ‘But the news was not long in reaching me.’
‘Nor me,’ he said. The news of the collapse of the Protectorate had been a golden moment in L’Estrange’s life.
‘And were you aware that John Thurloe was removed from his post as director of the usurping regime’s espionage at the same time?’
‘To be replaced by the regicide Thomas Scott, I understand.’
She was well informed. Good – it would save time.
‘Thurloe,’ he continued, ‘remains in the Tower. I and others have made efforts to have him excluded from the King’s mercy, but our pleas appear to have fallen upon deaf ears, and he is unlike to be tried for his life.’
Her views on the likely fate of John Thurloe were impossible to gauge. He continued to his point. ‘Thomas Scott is also in the Tower.’
Some surprise flitted across her face. ‘I thought he had fled England,’ she said, ‘got himself abroad.’
‘Yes, he had. As far as Brussels, where he became acquainted with how greatly the affairs of the world have turned.’ Scott, who had bragged of his part in the murder of the King, had been taken in the Spanish Netherlands. There he had misconceived, or been encouraged to misconceive, the meaning of the King’s language in the Act of Oblivion. L’Estrange’s voice hardened. ‘Thomas Scott was “persuaded” to return home. They’ll all be caught in the end, one way or the other.’
‘And what will happen to him?’
L’Estrange sniffed, as if he were being asked about the fate of a kitchen boy who had not come up to the mark. ‘Thomas Scott’s name is on the King’s death warrant, whereas John Thurloe’s is not. Scott seeks to bargain for his life. He thinks to obtain mercy in exchange for information, but he has spoken too often of his pride in his part in the murder of God’s anointed. His information will not save him.’
‘And yet,’ he said, ‘what has been extracted from him is of use to us.’ He indicated the paper in front of him. ‘This is a list of names of those who were in His Majesty’s circle in exile and whom Scott asserts spied for the Protectorate. Traitors, in other words.’
She glanced towards the paper but he had made sure to shield it with his arm. ‘Other than those we already knew of?’ she asked.
‘Some of those whom we already knew of were dealt with as their names were discovered. Others that were turned once have been turned again, and now spy for us. They are the fortunate ones. The names on this list, however, Thomas Scott’s list, are of those he claims have got away with their treachery to His Majesty and who have sought to blend back into a retired life, or even one of influence, now that His Majesty has returned.’
She frowned. ‘Scott may well have made it up, this list of names. Out of spite, or to gain himself time, or mercy.’
He nodded. She really was quite intelligent. ‘That is my concern. I have no desire that the innocent should be punished because of one man’s malice. I am too closely associated with powerful men to be able to go where I would need to or ask the requisite questions to establish the truth or otherwise of what Thomas Scott has said.’
He saw that she understood.
‘But I am not,’ she said.
She put out her hand, clearly expecting him to give her the list, but he held it back from her. ‘I think it’s best that you focus your attentions on one subject at the time. You are less likely to raise suspicions that way.’ He wrote one name and a set of dates on a small piece of paper and handed it to her, along with a purse. ‘Find out where this individual was between these dates, what he was doing, who he was in contact with. Write to me when you have done so – not here, but to the safe house I have indicated. That being done, I will send you further funds, and the next name, and the location of the next safe postal drop. You do not need to come here again.’
She took the paper in one hand, glanced at it a moment then handed it back to him with a nod. The purse she put in the small bag hanging from her own girdle. She picked up her basket and went to the door. ‘Goodbye, Mr L’Estrange,’ she said.
He blew sand across the words he had just written at the top of the paper.
The Winter List
‘Farewell, Lady Anne,’ he said.
Roger L’Estrange was still looking at the list of names, wondering how long it would take her to work through it, establish the truth or otherwise of what Thomas Scott had said, when his clerk again knocked on his door.
‘What now?’ he said, with some impatience.
‘Godric Purvis is here, sir.’
‘Purvis?’ Roger inspected the clock on the wall. He had spent longer talking with Anne Winter than he had intended to. ‘Let him in.’
Purvis came in, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, a ripe peach dripping juice onto the fingers of his right hand. L’Estrange felt his annoyance kindle.
‘Where did you get that?’
Purvis glanced at the fruit in his hand. ‘There was a woman, as I was coming through the yard . . .’
L’Estrange wondered if he had misjudged Purvis. He preferred that his agents knew nothing of each other. Clearly, Purvis had had no suspicions of Anne Winter, but he was not confident that she would have had none of him. No matter. ‘Come in,’ he said. ‘And close the door behind you. I don’t need half of Whitehall knowing my business.’
A glint of interest appeared in Purvis’s eyes.
L’Estrange explained to Godric Purvis what was to be expected, any day now, from the King’s Act of Indemnity and Oblivion, of the debate raging in the corridors of Whitehall over whose names should be on the condemned list and therefore excepted from King Charles’s unfathomable mercy. The paltry seven names on the list to begin with had been an insult to the martyred King’s memory. But the list was growing, and if L’Estrange had any say in matters, it would continue to grow. Purvis nodded. Everyone in England knew who the most notorious regicides were.
L’Estrange took out his pipe. He did not offer one to Purvis. ‘But there were two involved,’ he continued, ‘that had a very hand indeed in the murder of the King but whose names are not known.’ He watched Purvis for a moment and saw a spark of understanding then a smile creep across the lips. He had it.
‘The executioners,’ said Purvis.
‘Exactly. Or more precisely, one of them – the one who wielded the axe.’
Purvis nodded, then started to voice his ideas. Ideas straight from the coffee houses, from the draughty alleyways around the Inns of Court and Chancery. But L’Estrange had his own idea about who had been the heavily disguised man who had swung the axe before an astonished crowd on that freezing cold January day in 1649 and severed the head of England’s anointed King from his body. He knew who it had been, he was certain of it. He told Purvis.
Purvis narrowed his brows and frowned. ‘Are you sure? Is he even still alive? I’ve heard of him all right – but no one has seen him for years.’
‘Oh, Damian Seeker is alive all right.’ He could feel it. His hatred of the man crawled beneath his skin, the years, the defeats, the humiliations, the plans he had laid so carefully that Seeker had found out. Roger would have been much further advanced in his career, stood much higher in the King’s counsels – where for the moment he did not stand at all – had it not been for Damian Seeker. ‘Others might be fooled but I am not. And wherever on God’s earth he might be, I will have him found and I will have him brought to justice.’
Two years later. October 1662
Samuel Pepys was strolling down King Street, musing on a ditty he had heard that morning from one of Lord Sandwich’s clerks. He would sing it to his wife tonight, when they were alone. He was considering whether he should cut down to the right and take a boat downriver, to enjoy his dinner at home as he had said he would, when a dunt on the shoulder jolted him out of his reverie and almost into the path of an oncoming butcher’s boy.
‘Good Lord!’ he said, stepping swiftly one way as the butcher’s boy deftly stepped the other and a well-set man with a close-cropped brown beard and a ruddy complexion mumbled something that might have been an apology. Pepys was still brushing at the shoulder of his jacket when something in the other fellow’s gait caught his eye. ‘William?’
The man stopped.
Now the fellow turned and after a moment’s puzzlement, a look of recognition dawned on his face, to be followed by a smile.
‘Sam Pepys? Surely not! When in the world did you grow so fine?’
‘Or you so clumsy?’ said Sam, embracing his old friend before taking him by the arm. ‘But we are a mere step from the Dog – come, let us get a bit of dinner there and you can tell me all your news. What on earth has brought you back down to London? I thought we had quite lost you to the north.’
‘Would that you had,’ said Briar, and then in response to Sam’s look of astonishment he tapped the flap of the leather satchel that was slung across his body. ‘Business,’ he said. And then, his voice lowered, ‘With the Duke of Buckingham.’
Sam had not expected this. News touching the interests of the Duke of Buckingham was not the sort of thing a prudent man would bandy about anywhere in London, still less within the very gates of Whitehall itself. He too lowered his voice. ‘With Buckingham?’ he said, sending an involuntary glance to William’s satchel.
‘Some plans he has had me draw up, pertinent to his forthcoming duties as His Majesty’s lord lieutenant in the north,’ said Briar. His tone suggested that further talk of the duke and his business would be unwelcome.
Sam did not need a second hint and it was with some relief that he led the way through the door of the Dog. ‘But it is quite marvellous to see you again, William,’ he said, when they had secured a table in the snug. ‘I had all but given you up for dead.’
‘I have been in York little more than a year, Sam.’
‘Indeed. Which is a year longer than I could stomach it, I am sure.’
William took a moment to send a glance from Sam’s fashionably shod feet to the lately purchased hat on his head. ‘I don’t doubt it. You appear to have become a man of fashion.’
‘Oh, hardly that,’ said Sam, colouring, ‘but one must take care to secure one’s position, and much depends on the face one presents to the world.’ Then pausing a moment to take in the sober brown suit of his companion, he coughed. ‘In London, at least. For my actual self, I am as I ever was.’
‘I’m glad to hear it,’ said William, great warmth in his brown eyes.
They were a good hour and a half in the Dog, washing down their dishes of bacon and beans with first one and then another bottle of sack. Sam relayed which plays he had been to see lately and warned William most strenuously against A Midsummer Night’s Dream. ‘Do not even consider wasting your time on it – not two lines of sense together in the whole thing.’
William interjected that he had no interest in the theatre, and was determined to be on a boat for Hull the very minute his appointments in London were finished. Sam shook his head in dismay, then prattled on, of his service for my Lord Sandwich, of his prospects at the Navy Office, of his happiness and tribulations with his wife. And then he stopped.
‘Oh, my dear fellow, I am so sorry. I have let my tongue run on so, where I should not.’
Briar smiled. ‘It does me good to hear of your happiness, Sam.’
‘And yet, it was thoughtless of me, and I hope it will never be said of me that I would . . .
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