If you read the first book in the Culpepper Saga, “I, John Culpepper,” you’ll remember the red-headed wench John’s father was flirting with at the Blackwall Inn the day John was born in 1606. I was tickled to included her in the second book, and in an off-handed way, she is instrumental in saving John’s family at the end of the book.
January 1643, Oliver Cromwell
John and his brother rode through a cold and damp fog into London and went for an ale at the Blackwall Inn. They removed their hats and scarfs and took a seat at the dank, corner table nearest the soot-encrusted fireplace that was glowing warm with embers. A scrawny boy placed a few logs into the fireplace, and the brothers watched the red embers grow into a roaring fire. They ordered a couple pints of ale, and once the barkeep delivered the mugs to the table, Thomas began to fill John in on all the unrest in the land that John had missed over the previous year.
“JC wrote me of the king trying to arrest those five members of the House of Commons and of his raising his standard at Nottingham, but what happened in between?” John asked.
Thomas took a drink and sighed. “Did he tell you about Cromwell?”
John shook his head.
“After the fiasco in the House of Commons, the king fled London and was ambushed in Birmingham.”
“JC told me that.”
“That attack was instigated by Oliver Cromwell.”
“Who’s Oliver Cromwell?”
“Exactly. He’s a nobody, a man of modest means, barely inside the gentry class. He’s sat in Parliament for a few years but has been pretty much useless and quiet. His only claim is that he led a single cavalry troop some years ago, and for some reason, Parliament thought that enough to elevate his status. They placed him in charge of their cavalry. He’s a committed Puritan with deep-rooted desires to take the king down because of his past religious rulings. After remaining quiet and never participating in Parliament’s dealings for years, somehow he convinced Parliament to pass what he called the Militia Ordinance, proclaiming the people of London are bound by law to join Parliament’s militia if called, and he immediately began recruiting men of low birth.”
“What’s the punishment for not joining?”
John exhaled and shook his head in disbelief.
Thomas continued. “He’s not recruiting military men or men of gentry, he’s recruiting anyone he can get his hands on. He’s not a trained military leader, so from a strategic standpoint, it’s difficult to guess his next move.”
“How many men does he have now?”
“Probably twice as many as we do. He took over the king’s royal army in London and is recruiting men by force.”
“Have the members of Parliament lost their minds?”
“Apparently so, but not all of them. Many members have disappeared to their country homes. They refuse to participate in taking down the king. The ones who are left, like Cromwell, are now jockeying for position in what they think will be a new country. Parliament is supposed to represent the people, but sadly, the citizens are now afraid of Parliament and the king is nowhere to be found to protect them. Without an option, they’re joining Cromwell’s militia in droves.”
John groaned and looked down into his mug.
An older woman with slivers of gray in her long red hair set two more pints on their table.
“Thank you,” John said.
“You’re Culpeppers,” she said, unquestionably.
She looked into John’s eyes. “You look just like your father.”
“Excuse me, do I know you?” John asked.
“No, you don’t know me.” She smiled and pointed at the mugs. “These pints are on the house. Tell your father to come by and visit.”
“Our father is long dead, madam,” Thomas said.
She spun her head to look at Thomas, shock in her eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” A flash of sadness crossed her face and she looked back at John.
John wondered how this lowly, tavern wench knew a man of his father’s importance. She was middle aged with soft wrinkles around her eyes, but he could tell by her prominent cheekbones and full lips that she had probably been quite beautiful in her younger days. Perhaps this wench was the reason his father remained in London for lengthy stretches of time so many years ago.
The woman’s eyes became misty. “I’m very sorry to hear that. I was rather fond of your father. Well, if you ever need anything, my son owns the fishery in Maidstone, right on the River Medway. His name is Waller and the place is called Waller’s. You tell him his mother sent you.”
John and Thomas looked quizzically at each other and then Thomas said, “Um, Waller’s. All right. Thank you for the information, madam.”
“Of course.” She nodded at Thomas and slowly backed up from the table, stealing fleeting glances at John. “Just like your father,” she mumbled.
“John Culpepper the Merchant” is available in Kindle and paperback at Amazon.
For pictures, paintings, and documents of the people and places in the Culpepper Saga, please visit the Culpepper Saga Facebook page.