A Royal Achievement
It being March, it was already dark outside and as the ship raced into the darkness, Lord Montagu’s stateroom was a’glitter with candles as they sat down to dinner with a few of the senior officers.
“Where are we headed now, Fath… I mean Sir?” David said.
It was part of the purpose of meals like this to train the youngest officers in the practise of polite and calm conversation. Hopefully they would someday be able to converse calmly and politely while a French fleet was bearing down on them… Or, a Dutch fleet or a Spanish or Danish fleet. There were so many possible enemies and so few ships. Life in the State Ships, as the Parliamentary navy was properly called, was exciting, if a trifle dangerous. But, it’s in the nature of things for young officers to seek danger and for sailors to die saving them from it.
“We’re making for Tilbury and then The Nore, to meet Vice-Admiral Lawson. Then on to The Downs, it’s a roadstead, a safe anchorage off the Kent coast just north of Dover.” His father replied.
“It’s between the North and South Forelands.” The First Lieutenant added unhelpfully.
“I’ll show you on a map later... Master, if you please, bring us a suitable chart when we are finished dinner.”
“Aye-aye Sir.” A gruff voice came from down the table.
Lord Montagu spoke quietly to Jeremy. “The Master is the most senior of the warrant-officers. He’s responsible for navigation, steering and trimming the sails. He’s the man who will embarrass both himself and me if he needs to complain about my pages getting in his men’s way on the mainmast… You take my meaning?”
“Aye-aye Sir” The boys chorused. Jeremy added… “David was insistent that we shouldn’t be in the way. That was when I proposed that we go right to the top, to be out of the way.”
“A sensible notion… if a little extreme, compared with coming back down.” Montagu said with a smile.
“I hear your new young-gentleman didn’t need the lubber’s-hole this afternoon. It wasn’t his first time to a crows-nest I imagine?” The gruff voice said.
“Indeed it was his first! His first time up a mast even!” Lord Montagu replied.
“All his previous practise had been on an oak tree on his father’s estate!” Samuel added.
“Nobody would have quarrelled with using it on his first climb.” The gruff voice said.
“He says that his father would have. Young-Jeremy here believes that the men needed to see it done correctly.” Samuel said in Jeremy’s defence.
A whispered conversation at the end of the table mentioned Naseby and orphan.
The gruff voice said. “Well, my congratulations young man… Your father raised a son he could have been proud of. Just don’t get in the way, there’s a good fellow.”
“Thank you Sir., and aye-aye Sir, I certainly shan’t. Watching your men working we could see they didn’t need us in their way. So we waited for them to clear the yards and mast before coming down.”
“Good lads, I’ve nothing to complain of in that. Enjoy the crows-nest, a lot of young-gentlemen have.” There was a hint of a smile and a laugh in the gruffness.
“I’m certain he suspects.” Jeremy whispered to David.
“I suspect that he’s certain!” David replied with a grin.
But, like Tom the cabin-boy, Lord Montagu listened, smiled and said nothing.
It was late at night when they reached Tilbury. A short while later the Naseby was spotted approaching them, and was soon anchored close by.
Lord Montagu, Samuel, the boys and Saucy all got into a boat in the dark to be rowed across to the Naseby. To Jeremy’s surprise they also took another two rowing boats with a number of seamen and mates and junior lieutenants that had joined them from shore at Tilbury… Lord Montagu’s personal staff, as he termed them. Jeremy was pleased to see that Ezra was among the seamen. Perhaps that was David’s work.
When they arrived at the Naseby, and had been piped aboard, Lord Montagu turned the Swiftsure over to the Naseby’s Lieutenant as acting-Captain, sending him away in the boat that was returning to the Swiftsure.
Then he appointed one of the officers he had brought with him to be Lieutenant on the Naseby, temporarily to captain her… under his Lordship’s direct command.
Lord Montagu, with the boys in tow, was taken to see the sea-cabin that had been prepared for him. The Naseby‘s Master proudly showed him the fireplace and brick chimney that had been freshly built for their new Admiral. A fire was burning and the cabin was very welcoming.
A few hours later, Vice-Admiral Lawson arrived by barge to take back command of the ship. He was not happy to see that he had a new Lieutenant, nor was he happy that Montagu had brought his own staff.
Jeremy saw how the Naseby’s officers greeted Lawson much more warmly than they had Lord Montagu.
“What’s all that about?” He asked David. “I thought your father was in command.”
“Oh, he is!” David replied. “Father is Admiral and General-in-Command of the fleet we shall find waiting for us at The Downs. Lawson is his vice-admiral in command of this ship and a number of others. It’s complicated… Father orders him as to what the ship is to do. But, Lawson then decides how the ship and its men will do it. Father won’t interfere in the running of the ship now that Lawson is here.”
“I see.” said Jeremy… which was a slight exaggeration.
Lawson disappeared to his sea-cabin together with his own senior officers, leaving Montagu’s men to man the quarterdeck. Lord Montagu meanwhile settled into his stateroom with its panoramic stern view
That night there was a lot of quiet conversation in Lawson’s cabin as the wine flowed.
It was getting late and David suggested that it was time to turn in. He led the way to a hidden space behind the state-room’s panelling. There were huge guns there, between two of which there was sufficient space to sling a pair of hammocks. David showed Jeremy how it was done, how to sit in the hammock with a leg either side for stability, and then how to move his legs inboard and cover himself with blankets. It was a desperately unstable arrangement and with much laughter it took three attempts and two painful bumps on the deck before Jeremy was safely abed.
He carefully stretched a hand out and patted his friend’s hammock. David reached down and took his hand in his and squeezed gently.
“Goodnight Jeremy old chap, sleep well.”
“Same to you… and thank you for today, it’s been such fun!”
“Yes, it has. I’m so pleased to have found a friend. I’m going to need you. Now we are on the Naseby with Lawson’s men, there won’t be many friends to be made here, for a while anyway. Thank you for joining us.”
But Jeremy was already asleep. It had been a big day for a small boy… sorry, officer.
“Do you have any idea what’s going on?” Jeremy asked his uncle as they paced on the quarterdeck the next morning after breakfast.
“Captain Lawson’s men seem to not really like Lord Montagu, and he’s such a nice man… and, he’s in charge! You’d think they’d want to be nice to him, if only to suck up to him.” Jeremy had a simple boy’s view of who should be nice and to whom… and why.
His uncle walked him to the rear of the quarterdeck where he was sure they could not be overheard.
“It’s likely that Parliament is going to abandon the idea of a Protectorate and return the King to his throne. But, it’s only the Navy that can bring that about. The King is in Holland and there’s fifty miles of sea in the way.”
“Isn’t the Navy for the King then?” Jeremy asked.
“Originally it was, but after the Civil War and the death of the King. the Parliamentary Army took control of the Navy. So, nearly all the most senior Navy officers are now Army appointees, and they are for the old Parliament. They’re afraid that if the Royalists take charge again, they’ll replace all the Army men in the Navy with Royalists.”
“Ah,” said young Jeremy thoughtfully. “I think I understand. So you think that they may try to disobey the new Parliament and refuse to bring the King home?”
“Yes, indeed that could well happen. That’s really why I’m here, to ensure that the Convention Parliament’s decisions are obeyed.”
“Just you Uncle?” Jeremy was wide-eyed.
“Not entirely. There is Lord Montagu, he is Admiral and General-in-Command, he’s for the King, and that was a pretty crowded couple of boats we brought from the Swiftsure, and more came from Tilbury… I can be pretty certain that Marines will obey orders, that’s what Marines are for… suppressing mutiny. There are also a lot of old-navy Royalist captains ashore that I can call on, when I need them.” His uncle said with a grim smile.
“And the lieutenant is with us… and the King?” Jeremy asked.
“Yes, Lawson now has our man as his lieutenant and it’s he who passes Lawson’s orders to the men… We have made a start. Meanwhile his old lieutenant is taking the Swiftsure to Deptford, where he’ll find himself replaced by another of my men… and sent ashore to a post in the dockyard.”
“David tells me that a lot of the ship is actually run by the mates…” Jeremy started.
“We brought a number of mates with us too, and some seamen!” Samuel said. “It should be an interesting morning.”
By late morning the following day, Samuel was hard at work, but the work was indeed interesting and profitable. He was enjoying his new post as Secretary to the Navy. Boats had been arriving regularly with letters asking for favours and others with money, gold pieces for favours already rendered.
A profitable but disorganised visitor was Captain Jowles of the Wexford. He arrived to be commissioned as her captain, a commission that Samuel had negotiated with his Lordship, and now granted as Secretary to the Navy Board. He had already received a pound for approaching Montagu, Now that the deal was done there was another four pounds for Jowles to pay. Unfortunately, an absentminded Jowles hadn’t brought the money with him,. He didn’t even have it nearer than his home in Gravesend, so poor Eliezer, Pepys’s clerk had to go by boat with Jowles to his home to collect the debt. He had strict instructions to only hand over the commission when the money had been paid. It all seemed rather disorganised, and Samuel wondered whether the five pounds had bought the Navy the best organised of captains. But… it had at least brought Montagu and Samuel another Royalist captain that they could rely on in the great matter of the King’s return.
The replacement of unreliable officers was gathering pace. It was the ship’s Master who was the next to go. He was refusing to take orders from the new lieutenant, demanding that the old one return from the Swiftsure. The result was a boat ride to Tilbury and the appointment of the master’s-mate as Master of the Naseby. The surprised man was now singing the praises of the new regime.
These changes didn’t go entirely unopposed. The master’s mate who was now Master, had an apprentice, one Edward Barlow. Young Barlow found himself now apprenticed to the Master rather than his mate. It should have been a piece of good fortune… but instead was nearly the death of him.
An apprentice was expected to make himself useful. That was how Edward Barlow found himself among the seamen on the deck when it came time to weigh anchor. A mate shoved him towards the huge capstan where forty or so men were walking round in a circle pushing on the long bars to haul up the anchor. He shuffled away from the mate who was shouting and swearing at the men.
Jeremy and David were standing at the rail of the quarterdeck looking down at the men at the capstan. They saw one of the seamen ordered to move from near the centre where he was resting on the beam, to a place near the end of the beam where things were moving a little faster and his effort would be more useful. While he was moving the men relaxed, slack developed and then the beam swung back catching him unawares and projecting him like a slingshot.
Perhaps the mate that had planned it had expected him to simply land on the deck with a bump. It was meant to be a simple message that Lord Montagu’s rule was not without opposition, a message that Captain Lawson was not without support among the crew.
Whatever the motivation for what might otherwise have been a simple prank, Edward was in fact shot straight into the open mouth of the hold, where he fell twelve or more feet and landed on his head. The mate stood looking down into the hold, and the men at the capstan became still, as they came to realise that they may have just killed or at the very least seriously injured a young boy. They had a tradition of looking after each other… a ship was a dangerous place. For a moment there was silence.
David was the first to move. He sprang down from the quarterdeck and raced down to the orlop-deck where he found the ship’s surgeon …
“Quickly Sir, there’s been an accident at the capstan, one of the men has fallen into the hold. He’s bound to need help; When he landed I could hear the crack of his head from the quarterdeck!”
The surgeon shouted “Boy! Bring my bag!” and ran up the steps. David followed, carefully avoiding getting in the way of the surgeon’s loblolly boy who was following with his bag.
“The hold, near the main capstan!” David shouted at the boy as he raced past.
David followed with as much dignity as he could muster.
The crew were gathered round the open hatch looking shifty. Their prank had caused a crewmate to have a serious accident and the fact that he was a Royalist interloper didn’t really matter anymore. The mate might have thought it a good idea to curry favour with Vice-Admiral Lawson, but the men now had serious doubts. They stood back respectfully as the surgeon and his boy descended the ladder the men had put ready.
David followed them down.
Ezra was already down there, looking worriedly at the silent form of his friend, whose head still rested on the blood-stained timber that had cracked his skull. He looked up at David and said, so that the doctor heard him… “It’s a shame! He was only the Master’s mate’s apprentice!… It just isn’t fair or decent! It may be how the Army does things but the Navy’s better than this!”
David said without thinking… “Are you saying it was deliberate?… because Lord Montagu sent the Master ashore?”
Ezra, in a difficult position, said “I can’t say if it was an accident or no, but if his Lordship were to keep his men in plain sight, that might be a good thing until matters settle.”
David was exasperated… “If men who haven’t been paid in a year can’t see that they are better off with a new Navy Board then they aren’t as sharp-eyed as the Navy needs!”
“Do you think we shall be paid if…” Ezra started to ask.
David cut in… “That’s your best chance, yes. Crumbwell’s Parliament has messed things up, there’s no money coming from taxes according to my father. So, a new hand at the tiller can’t possibly do any worse. Even Parliament isn’t parliamentarian anymore!”
He made sure that men heard what he said, and saw that they went off nodding their heads in agreement. They looked with a mixture of sympathy and regret at the still unconscious form of young Barlow. It was no longer clear that the crew supported the mate in showing loyalty to Vice-admiral Lawson.
It was next day when David was busy and Jeremy had taken himself up to the crows-nest of Naseby that Jeremy saw Ezra coming up at the head of the topmen to trim the sails. While the men were preparing and waiting for instructions, Ezra climbed the few extra feet and stuck his head through the lubber hole…
“The Gunner and the Purser are for Lawson, but their mates are for the King. Don’t say it was me told you!”
That’s all he said… that was all he needed to say.
When the sails were trimmed and the men had returned to other duties, Jeremy descended the mainmast, with some style, it has to be said. He was beginning to enjoy these trips to great heights. Heights affect some people badly, others are able to get used to it and conquer their fear. Jeremy felt no fear, he revelled in the feeling of freedom, of being surrounded by empty space. He had the confidence of youth and a belief in his own immortality. He might have made a great topman, if he hadn’t been destined to be a great officer.
Back on the deck, he visited the pissdale. There was something liberating about pissing into the wind, or at least pissing so that the wind swept it away across the waves. He really was having a wonderful time at sea. The Pepys housekeeper and cook needn’t have worried about him going to sea, no boy had ever had so much fun. He was in his element and his element was water… sea-water.
His element was also intrigue.
He wandered up onto the quarterdeck, where his uncle had a stool and was sitting in the wind, reading a book.
“Good morrow Uncle. Is it an interesting book?”
“Ah, Jeremy, yes it’s my second-best copy of Tacitus, a trifle moth-eaten, but good enough to take to sea. The Romans were great at intrigue and in-fighting, perhaps I can collect a few ideas.”
“Speaking of which…” young Jeremy remarked quietly and in an off-hand manner, “I hear that the gunner and purser are strongly for our vice-admiral, while their mates would be equally happy to see the return of the king. I also hear that the men are beginning to reckon that their wages are more likely to be paid by the next parliament than the last.”
“You think the mood is changing?”
“Yes Uncle. The accident to young Barlow made quite an impression on them. They seem to feel that supporting the mate who was sucking up to the vice-admiral wasn’t worth the risk to poor Barlow’s life.”
“Oh dear, how is the young man?”
“Better than he was. David and I were chatting with the senior loblolly boy and he said that they’ve stopped the bleeding and sewn up the scalp, but the bones of his skull are quite shattered in an area the size of my palm. If it was a limb they could splint it, or even cut it off, but as it is, all they can do is to lift the bone back into place, pad it with a lot of bandage and let nature take its course. At least that’s what Toby, he’s the senior loblolly, said.”
“They plan to send him ashore to be treated and rested. It’s a shame, he seems a nice lad. He’s apprenticed to the master’s-mate that was appointed Master. So, Barlow will have to re-join us again later when he’s fit again… I hope he makes it.” He added.
“Thank you for all that, You’ve given me a lot to think about. I must find Lord Montagu. Keep your ears open… and your mouth shut… remember what happened to young Barlow!”
A few hours later, the captain of a ship at anchor in Tilbury, a captain that Lord Montagu trusted, received a heavily sealed note from His Lordship.
The following day, that same captain sent a messenger to Naseby. He said that he was urgently in need of an experienced gunner and purser. Over protests from Lawson, the Naseby’s gunner and purser were despatched to the other ship. Their mates were promoted to fill their places.
On the other ship, the young captain rapidly discovered that a misunderstanding must have occurred. He already had a gunner and a purser that he was perfectly happy with. But, rather than embarrass the Lord Montagu, he wisely hushed matters up by sending ashore the pair from Naseby, to good posts that he had found for them, in the dockyard at Chatham.
It was a pattern that would be repeated a number of times. Sometimes it was Ezra that brought the information, twice it was Saucy and a few times it was the result of the boys simply being alert and keeping their ears open in the junior officers’ mess at meal times. Young boys are often overlooked when older men are talking amongst themselves.
Gradually, Samuel and Lord Montagu saw to it that the balance of power amongst the officers and senior hands on the Naseby shifted from Parliament to King, or at least from Lawson’s appointees to those of Montagu. It was a pattern that would then be repeated across all the other first and second rate ships of the fleet, once they reached The Downs.
Young and ambitious officers soon began to realise that preferment lay with the new regime, even if the new regime didn’t quite exist yet.
The time had now come for the Naseby to depart for The Downs, the safe anchorage where she would stay until the Convention Parliament could decide how to proceed and the negotiators in Holland had persuaded Charles to agree to limitations of his powers, limits that Parliament would find acceptable.
Given the character of Parliament and the Stuarts, that might take some while.
The Naseby set sail east around the coast of Kent. When he saw the boys in the crows-nest, the Master, who was in a particularly good mood, sent an experienced sailor up to them to point out the North Foreland as they turned south. The hand then showed them the Goodwin Sands, an infamous graveyard of ships. As they sailed slowly past, at a safe distance, the boys could see the masts of the many ships that the Goodwin sands had engulfed. The ships were settled fast, deep in the sand, leaving just their masts to bear witness to the loss of life and cargo.
It was a grim sight that played on the imagination of the boys. Jeremy would have a bad-dream that night, David would be there to comfort him, so that would be alright… eventually.
The sailor explained that they were now approaching the Downs, and indeed ahead of them was a great mass of shipping riding at anchor.
Jeremy was impressed by the size of the fleet, but the seaman said that the majority of what they could see were merchant vessels taking advantage of the shelter provided by the sands to the east and the cliffs of the Kent shore to the north and west. The merchantmen were waiting for a favourable wind to take them through the Channel. At only twenty miles wide, the Channel was too narrow and crowded for the tacking needed against an unfavourable wind.
To the west of where the fleet were anchored lay the town of Deal with its castle. As they approached, Deal Castle fired a massive salute, to which the Naseby replied in kind. From their vantage point at the top of the mainmast the boys could barely see the deck, and were amused to see poor Uncle Samuel coughing and wiping his eyes in the smoke.
“That,” said young Jeremy. “was great fun, and a fine sight!”
“That,” said the sailor. “is because there was no shot amongst the smoke and noise!”
The rest of the Summer Guard Fleet had left them a suitable anchorage, and the Naseby took up a central position among the fourteen or so ships of various rates.
The Naseby would now be Admiral, the London was to be Vice-Admiral and Swiftsure took up her position as Rear-Admiral. Lawson now moved his flag and closest officers to the London. He spent much of his time ostensibly helping the Admiral on the Naseby, while actually ensuring that Lord Montagu’s control of the fleet passed through his hands.
However, Lawson’s hands were slipping. In reality, Lord Montagu now had total control of the ship he stood on, and growing control of the rest of the fleet.
All was ready for the main event, provided Charles Stuart proved reasonable and committed himself to terms that Parliament could accept. It was now up to the Navy and its captains to decide whether they would bring him to England.
Once they were anchored, a boat set out towards them from Deal. It carried a letter for Lord Montagu from General George Monck.
Monck had become commander-in-chief of the Parliamentary forces in November 1659. He had secured the Rump Parliament by bringing his army south from Scotland. He had previously held Scotland for Oliver Cromwell.
Jeremy learned all this when he asked an alarmed uncle who the monk was that had written to his lordship… It was after all supposed to be a secret.
Once he had explained the delicacy of matters, and the need for discretion, Samuel went on to tell a delighted Jeremy how Monck had skilfully side-stepped danger when Charles Stuart tried to enlist Monck’s and the Scottish army’s help in 1655. Monck had covered his back by immediately sending a copy of Charles Stuart’s letter to Oliver Cromwell.
Cromwell was pleased that he could trust Monck.
Later he wrote to him, with good humour, if not the gentlest of threats…
There be those that tell me that there is a certain cunning fellow in Scotland called George Monck, who is said to lye in wait there to introduce Charles Stuart; I pray you, use your diligence to apprehend him, and send him up to me.
Monck didn’t apprehend himself, but he did, according to Samuel, remain a close friend of Cromwell until the Lord Protector’s death. He only changed sides when it became clear that Cromwell’s son Richard was a complete nonentity.
Now that he was a prominent member of the Convention Parliament, that he had brought into existence, George Monck was maneouvering to restore Charles Stuart He saw that as the only way to achieve stability in England.
His friend, Lord Montagu, anchored in the Downs with a large number of ships was still strengthening his control of the Navy and would soon be ideally placed to act as go-between for Monck and Charles Stuart.
Where the Naseby lay amongst the fleet, she was in a good position to accept visits from the captains of the other ships. A great many meetings took place not just between Montagu, Samuel and the captains, but more covertly, between Vice-admiral Lawson and the captains who supported him. He was still attempting to foment rebellion amongst them.
Montagu and Samuel Pepys were well aware of what was going on.
The boys in their favourite hideaway in the crows-nest didn’t miss much and kept notes on which ships sent rowing boats, and to which ships they went. The officers assumed that Jeremy was smitten with his new friend and the crew took mock bets on how long it would be before David’s siege succeeded and young Jeremy began to show signs of being pregnant.
Just because they were wrong some of the time, didn’t mean they were wrong all of the time. Jeremy’s education in matters saucy was coming on apace.
The boys had an embarrassing afternoon a week later.
Jeremy was reporting the afternoons comings and goings to Samuel, when Samuel said…
“What of Swiftsure? She sent a boat to the London mid-afternoon, where did it go afterwards?”
Jeremy had no answer to that… He had been fully occupied with his own comings at the time and had completely missed whatever the Swiftsure was doing. Fortunately, the captain of the Swiftsure was a Montagu appointment, so he could be trusted to be acting on Montagu and Pepys behalf.
In fact, what had happened was that David was getting bored. He was less than enthralled by the detailed note-taking that Jeremy’s taste for intrigue found exciting.
To distract Jeremy from the ships, and bring him back to paying attention to David, the latter abandoned the younger boy’s bottom and moved to a gentle manipulation of Jeremy.
The effect was a less than total success as seduction plans go. Ships kept getting in the way.
Jeremy was busy, and he was also now quite used to having his member brought into the open. Ships were interesting, David was gentle, the weather was fine… All was well in Jeremy’s world.
The ships continued to hold his attention… the Richard had just sent a flag signal to the London, and Jeremy who had been enthusiastically learning the flags was trying to decipher the message. That was how he failed to notice David’s growing boredom and the resulting determination to attract his attention.
Jeremy, who had been unconsciously enjoying the gentle manipulation, suddenly felt an entirely new sensation.
Something wet and warm and decidedly nice had engulfed him. What before had merely been a pleasing accompaniment to his espionage, suddenly became the only important thing in his world. He looked down, but the crows-nest didn’t allow enough room to see clearly what was going on. He knew that David was sitting with his feet in the lubbers hole, but it took a vast heave away from the rim of the nest before he could see where his… was… in David’s mouth!
They had never discussed such a thing. That David was doing what he seemed to be doing was so novel that all Jeremy could think was to say… “What are you doing?, that’s my…!”
“Of course it is, silly!” David said releasing Jeremy’s morsel. “It isn’t as big as Ezra’s so I can do it properly for you.”
“But what are you doing? Is it another saucy thing?”
“Yes, Ezra has done it to me, and I’ve done it to Ezra.” David continued.
“Now, do you want to talk about it, or would you like me to get on with sucking you off?”
“Sucking me off?” Jeremy said to himself… “David is sucking me off!” He rolled the thought and words around in his mind. “Whatever will he do next?” Then a thought passed through his head, a mental picture of Saucy on his knees with Jeremy in his mouth…
‘Come on my pretty young-gentleman, fuck Saucy’s mouth you naughty boy!’
As he thought that, Jeremy’s knees collapsed. He had the greatest orgasm of his young life… so far… and if that was only to an imaginary Saucy sucking him off, he thought as his knees failed and he slid to sit… what would the real thing be like?
It was the naughtiest thing he could imagine.
That it was the naughtiest thing that Jeremy could imagine was only because David hadn’t yet told him what else he was entitled to imagine.
There were still things that David had done that he was too embarrassed to describe to his, until recently, innocent young friend.
That, although he couldn’t explain it to his uncle, was how young Jeremy came to miss the activities of the Swiftsure.
To Jeremy, it was clear that if the opportunity arose again… he would happily miss another rowing boat… or even a ceremonial broadside!