The aftermath of the first battle of St Albans (an unfinished – and very rough – chapter)
This is what comes of deciding on alternating 1st person narrators. The St Albans chapter is Tom’s, so the next is Maud’s. And she, so far as anyone is aware, wasn’t there…
14. True and humble liegemen
The royal standard was propped against the wall of a house. There was no sign of the king. Scattered around the marketplace the dead and wounded lay. Salisbury passed the body of the Duke of Somerset, his banner lying crumpled a few feet away, both guarded by a wary group in Beaufort livery who had kept themselves safe behind barricaded doors while their lord fought his last and died.
Northumberland he knew was dead, though he hadn’t seen him fall. His younger sons had been in the thick of that fight and had spoken of a chase, a struggle, the older man with little hope of outrunning his nephews. There were reports, unsubstantiated so far, that Lord Clifford lay dead amidst the wreckage of the barricade he’d fought so tenaciously to defend.
He hadn’t seen York or Warwick since the battle began and he couldn’t see them now. In the marketplace, Robert Ogle waited with his archers, guarding the abandoned standard. They straightened up as Salisbury approached.
“Where’s the king?” he said.
“Taken shelter,” Ogle said. “My lord of York has gone in search of him.”
“He is unharmed?”
“As far as anyone knows. Buckingham and Wiltshire have taken sanctuary in the abbey, so they tell me, and the Duke of Somerset is slain.”
“Yes. I saw. What of Warwick?”
“Gone to find the Duke,” Ogle said. “What do we do with that, sir?” He motioned towards the standard.
“Just what you’re doing. The man that left it will have to be dealt with.”
Now that the king’s army had been chased from the town, people were beginning to venture out. Heads appeared at windows and in doorways; eyes full of fear and cautious curiosity surveyed streets that no longer seemed to belong to them. They moved out of the way as Salisbury and his men walked past. He paid them no attention.
He saw Henry Viscount Bourchier with his son, walking between the small knots of wounded, searching for his brother who had stood with the king. They need have no fear on his account, Salisbury had heard no casualty reports that listed lord Berners. Through the open door of a house, he saw a woman and a man, both clearly skilled and competent, tending to three gravely wounded men in Beaufort livery. In the distance, he could hear the sound of trumpets calling off the chase. It had all been over in less than an hour.
* * *
The first thing York noticed about the king was the anger in his eyes. The second was the blood. His own ran cold in his veins. The tanner, whose house Henry had stumbled into in the confusion, gave the Duke a look of pure venom and handed his wife a clean cloth. She dipped it into a bowl of water and, uncaring of the rank of her patient, dabbed at the wound with a sure but gentle hand.
“Your Grace,” York said. “I have a stout body of men outside. I’ve come to take you to the safety of the abbey.”
The king’s eyes cleared as he saw who spoke to him. He nodded briefly and pushed the woman’s hands away. “Have the rebels been routed?”
“There are no rebels, your Grace. There is no-one here who doesn’t love you.”
He held out his hand and the king stood up. With a brief smile to his rescuers, he followed the Duke of York outside.
* * *
“You are to stay with me until I find your father,” Warwick said. “No point you getting lost or hurt at this late stage.”
Edward had wanted to follow the rout, to be with his men to the last, but his cousin was not to be disobeyed, not when he spoke in that tone and had on his face that look. He was fairly sure his father would be pleased with him, both that he was alive and that he’d acquitted himself well. His men had certainly followed his orders without argument, though, as well as they’d tried to disguise it, he had benefited from their good counsel and experience. Warwick walked briskly through the confusion, Edward having no difficulty keeping up.
“They say you slew the Duke of Somerset,” he said.
Warwick gave no reply beyond a grunt.
“They say he killed ten men before you brought him down.”
“He was no coward. As to the numbers, I wasn’t counting.”
Their horses were brought to them and they mounted. Tam Nevill greeted his brother with a nod and smiled at Edward.
“York’s up at the abbey with the king,” he said. “Our father’s on his way. Wants you to get there as quickly as you can. Apparently, you have some explaining to do and they’d like to get it over with. York’s called off the chase. Needs me to help keep order.”
“You should probably try to establish it first,” Warwick said. “Find our brothers, they’ll be of some use to you, I think.”
Tam saluted and wheeled his horse around. Warwick’s knights fell in behind their lord and together they rode towards the abbey.
* * *
York barely glanced at his son when he came in, turning his attention almost immediately to the Earl of Warwick, but Edward had seen the brief flash of relief in his father’s eyes. The immediate post-battle euphoria was beginning to fade. He wanted to go and find Edmund, to share with him his memories of the day. He had no fear that his brother would turn away, dismissing his stories and his excitement. Settling down in a chair, he listened to his father and cousin talking quietly, their voices low and heavy with emotion and awe at what they had dared. When his uncle Salisbury came, the three went in search of the king without a backward glance.
They fell upon their knees and begged the king’s forgiveness for all that had befallen: for the injury he’d suffered; for the deaths of those innocent of harm; for the disruption of the king’s peace in his town of St Albans.
“We are your true and humble subjects, your Grace,” York said. “We sought no harm to your royal person.”
“We had no other means to defend ourselves,” Salisbury said, “those that were around you told base lies and sought to destroy us.”
“We ask you, no, we beg you to forgive us for our part in this,” Warwick said. “We were kept from your royal presence by wicked men. You can see now, surely, your Grace, that our loyalty and love for you cannot be questioned.”
“Does the killing still go on?” Henry said.
“The worst is over,” York said.
“I want it stopped. Now. Tell your men to lay down their weapons. You have achieved your end, Somerset is dead. You tell me he wasn’t my friend, but I shall miss him and his counsel. There need be no more deaths.”
“It grieves me greatly, your Grace, that there have been any,” York said.
Henry held out his hand to York and he took it in his and kissed it. He looked up into the eyes of the king. Henry looked exhausted, full of a deep sorrow that could not easily be expressed.
“Good cousin,” he said. “Your loyalty is not in doubt and never shall be.”
The wound was not as bad as York had first feared. A stray arrow, deflecting off its target, its energy all but spent, had grazed his neck. It was bandaged now, the monks finishing the work of the tanner’s wife. Henry motioned for them to rise.
“I would pray,” he said, “for the souls of the dead.”
“I will escort you to the shrine,” York said.
“Tell your men to lay down their arms. Give the order in my name and all will be well again.”
* * *
The plunder was as rich as the men of the north had hoped. The abandoned belongings of the lords who had fled or took sanctuary were rifled, horses led away and armour seized. The ransom would be spent in London, or taken home to be added to meagre savings. Warwick rode past a group of young men, crowing over their finds, marvelling at the quality of a helmet that passed from hand to hand.
Moving among them, ordering them back to camp, hauling them to their feet and herding them away from the town, were small groups of men in York and Nevill livery. He needs to see this, Warwick thought, casting a furtive glance at his young cousin. He needs to know there’s more to war than glory. He was annoyed at the break down of order, which in other circumstances he might have tolerated. But not today.
The town was coming back to life. Taverns opened their doors to welcome the victors, the smell of roasting meat wafted out of cookshops and the whores of St Albans would be kept busy well into the night. York’s proclamation had done its job and the fighting was over. The Abbot’s men were starting to clear the streets of the fallen, carrying them back to the abbey for burial. Whethamstede himself, his face pale and set in anger, oversaw the work of his monks, He gave no sign of greeting as Warwick’s party passed.
Many of the lords who had stood with the king were unaccounted for. The Earl of Wiltshire couldn’t be found and the rumours that came to Warwick’s ear blamed him for the abandonment of the royal standard. His wasn’t the only name mentioned. If as many men had carried then cast down the king’s banner as were told of, there would have been no-one to fight.
The king was in their control, their fiercest enemies dead. York had got what he wanted. Tomorrow, they would take the king to London and once more they would have England in their hands. And Warwick would have Calais.
He heard the clatter of hooves behind him and turned.
“There you are. I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” Tam said. “There are some men hunting for Buckingham and Wiltshire. Word is they’ve gone up to the abbey. All fired up. Baying for blood.”
“Who?” Warwick said.
Tam shrugged. “I have no idea. Tom and John are looking for them.”
“On foot or mounted?”
Again Tam shrugged. “The man who told me was afraid. Of them and what they might do. He made little sense.”
“How long ago was this?”
“I don’t know, Richard. Half an hour. No longer.”
“They’re probably there by now.” He turned to Edward. “Go back to camp. I’d have you out of the way if there’s more trouble coming.”
Edward looked at him as if he might protest, but Warwick was already turning his mount, his cousin for the moment forgotten.
* * *
The note from the Abbot was brief and horrifying. Salisbury took it straight to the Duke of York in his hastily commandeered headquarters in the back rooms of an inn.
“He fears for the abbey, for the safety of the king and himself,” he said.
“Who?” York said, frowning.
Salisbury handed him the letter.
“Hellbent on murder,” he said once he had read it. “And the king is right about that – there’s been killing enough already. If they’re in my custody, they’ll be safe.” He looked around and failed to find what he was searching for. “Where’s a herald when you need one?”
“Mine’s nearby,” Salisbury said. “If it’s a matter of urgency…”
“It is. I have enough on my conscience. I will not add the desecration of God’s house.”
* * *
They passed no-one who looked to be up to no good, or at least no more than could be expected. The road seemed crammed with monks escorting slowly moving carts bearing the bodies of the slain. Warwick feared they were too late, that he’d come to an abbey sacked and desecrated, the Buckingham’s body swinging from a beam. They had been forgiven a great deal already, but not even the angels in Heaven could help them if blood was spilled on holy ground.
“They can’t mean to harm the king,” he said.
“I pray to God they don’t,” Tam said.
“Tell him that if he doesn’t want them slain before his eyes, he needs to hand them over to me,” York said. “Both of them. They will not be my prisoners, but my guests. It’s the only way to save their lives. Get there as quickly as you can. We will follow directly.”
Salisbury Herald nodded and rode away, the importance of his mission not lost on him.
“The day gets better by inches and worse by miles,” York said. “I shall be glad when it’s over.”
* * *
Abbot Whetehamsted could not be calmed. Warwick had hoped his presence and that of his men would go some way to easing the man’s fears, but they had been puffed up by threat and rumour to such a point that nothing would quiet them.
“Where are they?” he said.
“My lord Buckingham is with the king. I haven’t seen Wiltshire.”
Fled, Warwick thought. Or hiding in a monk’s cell, under a bed.
“Buckingham is hurt,” the Abbot said. “Not gravely, but… What was done here today was terrible. My brothers have only just been able to recover the bodies. Decent burial, that’s what all good Christians deserve. A decent burial and a chance to redeem their souls.”
Warwick wasn’t sure that Somerset’s soul could be redeemed. The Almighty was all powerful but some things, surely, were beyond even Him.