1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 51:
Leebrick arrived not long after Thomas reached his quarters. Once Wentworth had explained the situation, and what was needed, the captain quickly left to make the arrangements. Even with as well-trained and disciplined a company as his, Leebrick was still dealing with mercenary soldiers—who were not prone to do anything “on the morrow” except sleep off a bout of drunkenness, unless they were actively on campaign in the field.
That done, and remembering that his friend William Laud was still in the palace, Thomas decided to pay him a visit. The Archbishop had decided to postpone his return to Canterbury for a few more days, in order to deal with a few problems that had come up lately.
That probably meant Thomas would have to put up with at least half an hour’s worth of listening to William’s querulous complaints, until he settled down his nerves. But it was a small price to pay. One of the drawbacks to becoming England’s most powerful minister was that Wentworth had found he had very few friends left. More precisely, friends whose motives he didn’t have to scrutiny carefully at every turn. He had plenty of the other sort, most of them men who’d never indicated the slightest fondness for him in times past—and a fair number who’d been actively hostile.
For all his many faults, William Laud was one of the few left whom the Earl of Strafford could accept at face value. Perhaps the only one, really, except…
And there was an odd thought. Except a prisoner sitting in a dungeon in the Tower named Oliver Cromwell. Who, to be sure, had played a major role in separating Thomas Wentworth’s head from his body, a few years from now in another universe. But who also, Thomas was quite sure—in that world as much as this one—had never lied to him or told him anything except what he thought.
There was an irony there, of course. It seemed the more powerful a man became, the more limited became his pleasures. To the point where, reaching the pinnacle, it sometimes seemed that the only pleasure left to him was simply knowing that a statement made was the truth and not a lie or a ploy. Even if the statement was “let me out of here, and I’ll try to slit your throat.”
He even laughed then, in a very dry sort of way.
“And now this!” the archbishop exclaimed, throwing both his hands in the air. When they landed back on the armrests of his chair, Laud had them clenched into fists. Then, after taking a couple of deep breaths, he gave Wentworth something of an apologetic grimace.
“Yes, yes, I realize it must seem like a small matter to you, this business of the Americans asking me to appoint a bishop for them. Certainly compared to the problem you’re having to deal with.” He sniffed, disdainfully. “Our beloved monarch decamping from his own capital in the middle of a crisis.”
“I wouldn’t call it a ‘crisis,’” Thomas said evenly. “More in the way of a tense time. But you’re actually wrong about the rest. I don’t think the matter you’re wrestling with is a small one, at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if—”
He broke off abruptly, realizing the precipice he was nearing.
Unfortunately, he’d forgotten just how perspicacious his friend could be, at times. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s faults were so pronounced that it was easy to underestimate the man. William Laud hadn’t fought his way up from very humble beginnings to become the primate of the Anglican church without there being a keen brain there, beneath the mulishness and the peeves and the personal quirks and foibles.
“You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?” said Laud, peering at him intently.
Frowning in as innocent a manner as he could manage, and being careful not to clench his own fists, Wentworth said: “Thinking about what?”
“Don’t play the innocent with me, Thomas—and for sure and certain, don’t try to play me for a fool. You know perfectly well what I’m talking about. It’s not as if we haven’t danced about the subject for weeks, now. You’re thinking about the Glorious Revolution, that’s what.”
Wentworth sighed, and turned his gaze from the archbishop to the window looking out over London. Slowly, his hands curled on the armrests of his own chair. Not quite into fists; more like a man might try to seize something intangible in midair.
“Oh, yes, it’s been quite obvious to me for some time,” continued Laud. “Even if you do manage to stymie the revolution of 1640, then what? You can’t continue this way, you know it as well as I do. This is England, not—not—the Ottoman empire.”
Wentworth said nothing. He just continued to gaze out over the city. There really wasn’t much to see, beyond a gray sunset lowering over a city that was grayer still. Gray everywhere he looked, nowadays, it seemed to him.
“Come, come, Thomas, speak up. I shall not betray you. You must know that, if nothing else.”
There was that, after all. One of the few certainties in a world that grew less certain by the day.
“Very well, William. Yes, I am thinking about it—and, yes, of course you’re right. Everything I’ve done since the king brought me to London has been a stopgap. Just a temporary measure—often enough, a ramshackle one—to keep a situation from spiraling out of control. But that’s all it is. The king may be under the delusion that he can rule this way for a lifetime, and his successor after him, but that’s all it is. A delusion. A ruler needs legitimacy before all else, and legitimacy in the end must have its base in the consent of the governed. Their acquiescence and acceptance, at the very least. When all is said and done, that’s as true for the Turk as it is for the Englishman.”
Laud made a face. Wentworth chuckled. “Granted, the Turk is more acquiescent to begin with. But read the histories, William. Even the Ottomans fell. Even the Tsars fell. All of them fell—or they accommodated to survive. How is England to be the sole exception? Even allowing for God’s special favor.”
He planted his hand on the armrests and pushed himself erect, feeling far wearier than any forty-year-old man should be, who hadn’t done anything more physically strenuous that day than walk corridors and sign documents. Then, went to the window. Hoping, perhaps, that the city might look less gray if he could peer at it directly.
No, it didn’t. He wasn’t surprised.