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There was further cause for alarm concerning the overpopulation within the city itself “where there are such great multitudes of people brought to inhabit in small rooms, whereof a great part are seen very poor, yea, such as must live begging, or by worse means, and they are heaped up together, and in a sort smothered with many families of children and servants in one house or small tenement”.

London: The Biography

Peter Ackroyd


“This is the place.” Ralph pointed across the field to the darkened bulk of the mansion looming down by the river. Poley stood next to him, Moody on his other side, and the three men contemplated the task in front of them. “Do we go straight in?”

“What if I were to go in first, con the lay, report back to you?” Moody barely glanced at Poley as he spoke, busy making sure that his clothes straightened and his weapons ready at hand after the mad dash through London’s winding streets.

Poley didn’t take his eyes off the mansion. He could see, here and there, spots of candle or rush light through gaps in walls or shutters. “There are too few of us to waste our strength with scouting forays. And I’m sure as shit not letting you out of my sight, Michael.” He cared not what Moody’s reaction might be. “And there’s the possibility that I’m wrong. We need to get in there as quickly as we can to make sure whether Nick and Meg are being held there. If not, we’ll need all the time we can get to check other possible boltholes Denby could be using.”

“Is there any that you might want alive, Bob?” Ralph had removed his dagger from his belt and inspected its edge. Continue reading “(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 34: POLEY: SNEAKING IN”

woodcut man murder01

By the dispatch of Willoughby to France, she (Elizabeth) definitely committed herself to the policy of supporting him (King Henry IV of France) and from that policy she did not waver, though she laboured as always to reduce her support to the absolute minimum.

Mr. Secretary Walsingham

Conyers Read


The door thumped solidly closed. Denby’s bravo made sure it was latched solidly. The minute that happened, Helmsley couldn’t wait any longer and spun to confront Nick. “The packet you took from Broussard. Give it to me now, you piece of shit!”

The fat man hesitated for a moment. Helmsley could clearly see the calculation on his face, but then, just as Jean made the slightest motion forward, he slumped in acquiescence. Moving slowly, making sure that his hands were in plain sight at all times, he shrugged off his cloak and bent to tear at a seam with his teeth. Shortly, he pulled the small packet of thin folded papers free and handed them to Helmsley.

He couldn’t help himself. He snatched the papers from Nick and triumphantly brandished the packet in front of Nick’s face. “Start saying your prayers, heretic. For God is your only chance of succor now.”

Nick merely shrugged. He seemed tired, deflated like a bladder at the end of a fun fair. “I don’t see how any prayers will get me out of this.” Then, the merest flash of anger. “Besides, my prayers ain’t yours. Isn’t that what this is all about? What prayers a person says? If I was to pray now, you’d gut me for a heretic as well as a spy.” And then the anger guttered out, a candle returned to a mere smoking wick. Continue reading “(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 33: HELMSLEY: THE TRIUMPH”

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The palace that was originally designed for some nobleman and his enormous establishment becomes first the tenement house and then the rabbit-warren, the plague spot, crowded from garret to cellar with dirty poverty stricken wretches.

Elizabethan Life in Town and Country

St Clare Byrne



The mansion bulked large in the darkness. They were in a small piece of open space that couldn’t decide if it was a field, a garden, a midden, or an orchard behind some houses. From the number of tumbledown sheds and shacks that littered the space, a fair amount of people called the area home. The mansion was at the far end of the space, towards the river.

The group of them, Helmsley and Denby still leading the way, had made their way here via a winding path of side streets and alleys. Nick knew his boots were a lost cause and shuddered to think of what Meg’s shoes and the hem of her dress must be like. He also knew that he was distracting himself with these thoughts of clothes. His situation was grim and there had been no opportunity for escape. That mangy bastard Jean was a constant worry. He was a killer to his bones and Nick felt that even on his best day, he’d have trouble besting the Frenchman. And none of his days lately had been his best.

And then there was Meg. Any chance of escape had to be a chance for both of them. The only bright spot was that these fuckers still had no idea who she was, still assumed she was just some whore. In the end, it might be her who started the blood spilling. Nick kept himself alert for any sign from her. Continue reading “(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 32: NICK: A DECAYING MALIGNITY”

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At nightfall each householder was supposed to hang up a lantern for the benefit of the passers-by; but even when this ordinance was strictly observed these very primitive affairs, with their thick, discoloured horn panes and their guttering candles, did little to reveal either the condition of the path underfoot or the lurking assailant, crouching in the deep shadow, and as willing to cut a throat as a purse.

Elizabethan Life in Town and Country

St. Clare Byrne


Poley was standing so close to Ollie that he could smell the blood dripping from him. “Where’d this happen?”

“Rafe Peckingham’s inn on Cateaten, just by Moorgate.” Ollie swayed a bit. “We’d picked up your man and were out on the street, heading here, when they jumped us. Meg had gotten your note and figured this was the best place to bring him.”

Poley’s mind began to move very fast. Very fast indeed. It was going to be resolved one way or another this very night. He spent not a second despairing on how close he’d gotten to resolving this.

Ralph got a shoulder under Ollie’s arm and walked him to a nearby empty table. He got Ollie laid down and began to pull his shirt aside to see how bad the damage was. Kate was there at his side with rags and water.

Ollie was being taken care of, wouldn’t die soon. The next action was clear. In a few swift strides, dodging the people standing around gaping, Poley was in front of Barnstable. There was a worried look on his face and he opened his mouth to spout something worthless and timewasting. Poley forestalled him with an upraised palm. “The moment’s on us, Art, and it’s lying there bleeding on that table. What’s it going to be? Let some traitorous bastards do Her Majesty grave harm or be a hero? Decide now. In or out?” Poley kept his gaze locked on Barnstable’s, gave him nowhere to turn. He knew that the decision was going to go his way before any words were spoken, when Barnstable closed his eyes for a second.

Barnstable opened his eyes, drained his mug, returned Poley’s gaze. “In. What do you need?”

“Get back to the Tower as fast as you’re able. Get a group of Warders together. No uniforms, but armed. I’ll meet you at the Tower Gate. We’ll sweep west up along Thames Street.” Continue reading “(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 31: POLEY: FIND THEM!”

London Streets
London Streets

The Pope, the House of Guise, and Philip of Spain still cherished their hostile intentions and looked only for an occasion to carry them into execution.

Mr. Secretary Walsingham

Conyers Read


Helmsley followed Denby down a narrow twisting alley. The buildings on either side, were they houses? Shops? He had no idea, they leaned over the alleyway and squeezed the night sky down to a wandering thread. He could hear the others behind him. With iron control, he tamped down any feelings of relief or triumph. He could ill afford either. The mission was not even close to finished. That would only come when they stepped ashore at Antwerp. Until then, he had to be at his most vigilant. Nick would never be more dangerous.

Denby came to the alley’s end and stopped to look out, peering each way. Helmsley realized that there was a huddled body laying in a pile of wood shavings against one side of the alley. He peered closer and saw that it was a person sleeping, not a person dead. Another one of London’s teeming masses. Only in his room at the inn had he been alone since arriving in London. All other places, there were people. Along with the feelings of relief, he also suppressed the itchy feeling of eyes on him. Continue reading “(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 30: HELMSLEY: EVEN A BLIND HOG”

information received

Poley and Moody are men of the same stamp: players in the secret theatre, provokers of sedition, pledgers of false vows.

The Reckoning

Charles Nicholl


Poley leaned back casually. He realized that there was a part of him that had been expecting this or something like this. He reached out, picked up his mug, took a leisurely sip, then put it back down. His mind completely bent towards the smiling man sitting across from him, as if everyone else in the tap room had ceased to exist for the moment. He’d felt the same in similar situations, events balancing on the knife edge, the utmost effort required for success. He kept his voice mild. “Why would you do something like that? You know well enough that I can have you up on a treason charge, Michael.”

Moody’s smile never even flickered. “I am a man of many talents, Bob. Many talents indeed, and I deserve to be compensated for each and every one of them. Them as compensate me the best are them that get the benefit of my talents.”

Poley’s sigh was unfeigned. “Blood of Christ, Michael. Coin and praise? That’s why you’re going to see your cods on a plate before they let you die screaming? During your time in the Tower you’ve seen it done; you know how bad a way to die that is.”

“And it’s not going to be my death.” Moody shrugged. “I know that my talents will keep me from the axe and block.” Continue reading “(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 29: POLEY: A BROKEN INSTRUMENT”

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Into her three score years and ten she continued to pack an impressive variety of activities, all of them lucrative and most of them unlawful.

The Elizabethan Underworld

Gamini Salgado


She was dressed in red. She always was. The color was a reminder to all who knew her, who knew of her. A reminder that if any poor fucker thought to take advantage just because she was a woman, the red would flow.

Nick needed no reminder. Those last moments years ago when he realized just who he’d given his heart to, those moments were seared into his soul. Even with all the nervy work that he’d been doing this past few years, pretending to be this, that, and t’other, the Inquisition just a word away, what woke him up screaming more often than not was the image of Meg’s cleaver flashing silver through the air and Meg’s blood-splattered face, the joyful blankness of her eyes. Continue reading “(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 28: NICK AND MEG: PAST AND PRESENT”


Governments usually use espionage, of course, but the Spanish Habsburgs did it on a striking scale, and perhaps more striking that the quantity of secret intelligence was the even greater amount of material of all kinds, from formal advices of experts and ministers to old historical records to accounts of the latest rumors running through Europe…

The Secret Diplomacy of the Habsburgs, 1598 – 1625

Charles Howard Carter

Moody’s hurried departure from The Nag’s Head went completely unnoticed and the noise of the common room lessened not a whit. Helmsley reached for his forgotten mug and took a leisurely drink. “Do you think it wise to let him go? What if he goes to warn someone?”

Denby’s smugness was unimpaired. “‘Tis no matter, and for two reasons. First, he’s left the Tower without permission. He can’t go to anyone that matters without being tossed back in. Second, even if he does find anybody to listen to him, he’s so well known to be completely untrustworthy that he won’t be believed. Denby shrugged unworriedly and took a drink. “If I deem it worth my while, I’ll approach him again, when this is all over. I have no doubt that he’ll sing a different tune then. But enough of him.” He leaned across the table towards Helmsley, and his manner became eager. “What does your presence here in London portend, sir? Do you bring word? Are we faithful about to have our dreams realized? What can I do to help bring about that blessed day?”

This has to be handled very delicately. He’s too valuable to be angered. He must be kept sweet. Continue reading “(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 27: HELMSLEY: PUTTING THE PIECES IN PLAY”

Joachim Meyer - Gründtliche Beschreibung des Fechtens 1570
Joachim Meyer – Gründtliche Beschreibung des Fechtens 1570

The term liberty referred to certain regions of the city … that, by charter or proscription, were independent of city and royal control. Some regions were exempt from specific taxes; others were private municipalities of particular crafts; still others were free zones immune from city policing and authority.

The Canting Crew

John L. McMullan

Time passed and it was coming on evening but before the dinner rush. The ale house was empty except for the serious drinkers. Jacob passed through the room, sweeping up old rushes and laying down new ones. Poley’s belly gnawed at him, reminding him that he had not eaten except for some small beer and bread early in the morning. He caught Jacob’s eye and had the boy bring him some stew and bread. He felt other pressures as well and went out back for a piss.

They came at him when he was mid-stream. For an instant, he was surprised at the lack of surprise he felt. A part of him had been expecting this. Continue reading “(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 26: POLEY: FIGHT AT THE PISSING WALL”


As soon as he was released, Moody chose to offer his services to anyone likely to pay, juggling the wants of employers.

The Elizabethan Secret Services

Alan Haynes

The Nag’s Head was a well appointed public house with a bowling green out back. The main room stretched the length of the building and large doors were open in the back, giving a view of the green, the players, and more people at tables outside. By this time, it was coming on evening and the sunlight slanted down on the green sward, bathing it in a golden light and illuminating the fine clothes worn by the men playing at bowls. Inside, the tables along the walls were separated from each other by carved wooden dividers, making each table and its benches nicely private. Helmsley felt satisfied that he did not stand out as being too poorly dressed.

He nodded in the direction of an unoccupied table along the middle of the far wall, well situated to view the comings and goings. He and Jean were nearing it when he was hailed from a nearby secluded table.

“Captain Featheridge! It is good to see you. I hope that your voyage home was without incident.” Moody’s voice was affable. His clothes were travel-worn and dusty and it appeared as if he had only just arrived himself. He had yet to be served. Continue reading “(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 25: HELMSLEY: THINGS BECOME CLEAR”