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January 9, 1643
May 8, 1643
Sydney Holyfen, Syd to his friends, Holyfen to his fellow merchants, occasionally Tulip, sometimes Bulb, for certain transactions in the Netherlands in the year 1638 that won him a small though fortune and required his surreptitious departure from Amsterdam, return to which were he ever so inclined was precluded by a warrant more or less guaranteeing a nasty death. Syd was at his desk in the counting-room of Halpenny and Holyfen, Bishopsgate Street in the City of London, a member of the Company of Merchant Adventurers engaged in the export of English cloth to Hamburg, Antwerp and Petersburg and the import of tar, hemp and furs from Russia, copper from Germany and velvets from Italy. Business was not good, witness Syd’s current activity: extracting from Walker, H&H’s dealer in Yorkshire, a more complete explanation of how he came to London from the West Riding without the seven carts of undressed woolens that were his charge.
“Well let’s see then,” Sydney said. He reviewed his notes, made in the margin of the bill of lading that was sole evidence of the woolens’ existence. The three apprentices, whose schooling as men of trade were among Sydney’s responsibilities, had abandoned all pretense at the day’s lesson, taught by Nathaniel Paige, their chief, in the Italian method of double-entry bookkeeping and were clustered at respectful but earshot difference from their master’s desk.
“There you are, on the road. Just south of Nottingham — ”
“North, sir, actually,” Walker said. A big, broad man with a flat Northern accent, eyes blackened, cheeks bruised, neck bandaged, a meaty right hand dangling from a sling. “In view of St Mary’s, sir.”
“. . . and you collide with Rupert, son-in-law to the King, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, et cetera and et cetera and et cetera; the Germans like a title, do they not?”
“Yes sir, more it was he and those with him collided me me — galloping through a wheatfield, you see, sir.”
“Galloping through a wheatfield . . .”
“Destroying the harvest, sir, the tenants howling. . .”
“And comes upon you,” Sydney said. “You, and the carts.” Those seven carts represented fully eight percent of the firm’s capital.
“That’s correct, sir,” Walker said unhappily.
“And Count-Duke et cetera Rupert of the Rhine and Bavaria et cetera, being on his way to the castle, elects to bring you along to witness the great event there to be done.”
“Well sir, as I said, he said — that is, not the Duke, er, Rupert, sir, but an Englishman, one of those that was with him — said there was no one in Nottingham to guard me, the train-bands all being drunk to a man and not fit to watch over a two-hole shit —that is, privy, sir. His words, not mine.”
“I see,” Sydney said, with a small frown. He cared for neither drunks nor cursing.
“Drunks and princes, they do flock to the King’s banner, do they not?”
“See here, children,” Paige said to his two charges. “The princes rob the industrious to buy drink for the rabble. Thus purchasing their support, to the ruination of religion and industriousness. Do you see now?” They nodded vigorously.
“Thank you, Paige,’” Sydney said. “So, Walker. You follow Rupert . . .”
“More like compelled to follow Rupert, sir, and his men . . .”
“Err, eleven, sir, twelve including Rupert.”
“Compelled, then, to follow Rupert. . .”
“Well they did beat me first, sir.”
“. . . to the the castle hill in Nottingham . . .”
“Where there’s a drummer, make that two drummers, sir, and three trumpeters. And the King, with twenty-three others, sir, twenty-eight including the musicians, so with Rupert and his lot it’s forty, all drawn up in ranks. It was a very stormy and tempestuous day.”
“‘Stormy and tempestuous,’” Sydney said. Stormy and tempestuous, he wrote. Those seven carts, that eight percent of capital, had been slated for export to Russia, the usual market for rougher woolens woven in the North. There, in that barbarous land, they would be sold, the eight percent marked up by four percent of the initial capital. Back out one and a half percent for the cost of shipping, customs, and marketing, another half-percent for the losses from embezzlement, fraud, bribery, incompetence, drunkenness, and idleness that was a permanent cost of trading in Russia, and there you are with two percent. Two percent profit! It’s how business was done at Halpenny and Holyfen and in many if not most of the firms belonging to the Adventurers. Nobody won unless everybody won, which meant muddling along buying for ten pence and selling for thirteen, pleased to give the King his pence or two in exchange for renewal of the charter and enforcement of the monopoly, all amid chatter unceasing about the great fortunes won back in the days of Elizabeth when the doughty Adventurers had kicked the Dutch and Hansards in the teeth. No doubt doughtiness reigned then, in the days of the great Queen, but these dark times have given us the likes of Ralph Halpenny, the firm’s putative senior partner. . . Sydney stopped himself.
“Very stormy and tempestuous, sir,” Walker said. “And the King, that is one of the King’s men, planted the King’s standard, and the drummers stopped their banging, and the trumpeters blew, and then another of the King’s men, stood in his stirrups, unfurled the scroll — two others held a blanket above him, the rain and all — and made the proclamation.”
“God save King Charles and smite the Roundhead rebels,” Sydney said. “In far more words, of course, with flowery phrases and whatnot.”
“Yes sir, calling on all who would support the King of England to gather to him that place, and such other places that should be named by the duly appointed representatives of His Majesty, a multitude of colorful phrases, sir.”
Suddenly a great cacophany outside — metal clanking furiously, timbers breaking, men shouting. Sydney grabbed his sword, the apprentices their clubs. All rushed to the windows. What could it be? Irish rebels, Popish nobles at their head, launching an assault on London? The bishops, preparing an auto-de-fe of Puritan ministers? A detachment of Spaniards casually butchering passersby? Nothing — an ironmonger’s cart had lost a wheel, sending an array of pots and pans into the street; the cart itself crashing with and collapsing the scaffolding before Mr Brook’s establishment. Workmen brushed dust from themselves; wives and passersby laughed.
Disappointed, Syd and the apprentices returned to their desks. This fevered, distempered, disordered kingdom, Syd thought, hanging his sword on a hook affixed to his desk. Walker, pale, had fallen asleep: chin on chest, snoring gently.Syd felt genuine sadness for the man. And anger at Charles. Couldn’t he just leave people alone?
The apprentices were watching him. nine hundred pounds in aggregate: each proud father had paid three hundred pounds for the privilege of his son learning the noble art of commerce at Halpenny and Holyfen. It would have been better had that money been used to finance tobacco plantings in Virginia, or sugar in the Indies.
“Well then boys,” Sydney said. “Go to the firm’s archives, pull down the firm’s ledgers. Discover for me the price of cloth at the time of Elizabeth — let’s say 1588. Then discover for me the price five years through now. Be prepared to tell me what the change in the price implies for the profits of merchants engaged in the cloth trade. Do not speculate; just let the facts speak. Paige, come here.”
Paige came as the rest of the boys exited.
“Well, Paige,” Sydney said.
“To the docks for news, sir,” Paige said. “Mark or Matthew.” Paige alone knew of Syd’s scheme, which if, by the blessings of Providence, was successful, would increase his available options up to and including buying out the contract that bound him to Halpenny and Holyfen for the next four years, and setting up his own trade — out from beneath the aegis of the Merchant Adventurers.
“The Henry made berth this morning,” Syd said. “One of Thomson’s. She was in the Indies. Captain Wheeler. He’s one of us.” “Us” were men of trade — merchants, ship captains — who could be counted as Puritans; those employed in the American and West Indian commerce were Puritans almost to a man.
“Yes sir. And all surreptitiously, of course, sir.”
“That’s a good man, Paige. Go.”
Sydney sat. Walker grunted, cleared his throat; the snoring subsided, then grew in volume. Sydney gave him a nudge. He started, looked about with panic, calmed on seeing Sydney.
"The standard, can you describe it?"
"There was a crown, a hand pointing to it, the words 'Give Caesar his due.'"
“Caesar, eh? So how was Caesar? Tell me about the good Charles.”
Walker shrugged.“Looked melancholic.”
“Sad-like, sir. All through the beating of the drums and the proclamation. Someone offered a prayer — and I counted six sir, at least, touching of forehead and belly and shoulders, the Papist ritual, and then there’s a gust of wind, a most strong and unruly wind . . .”
“Yes sir, blows the standard over.”
“Blows it over?”
“Right over, sir.”
Sydney grinned. “I suppose that compounded the King’s melancholy?”
“Yes sir; in truth, sir, the entire company gave the appearance of a general dispiritedness, what with the standard fallen into the rain and all.”
“Standard fallen into the rain,” Sydney said. He pictured the scene. This would make a grand three hundred words or so for Anglia Rediviva; he and Hewitt could knock it together tomorrow when they finished up the edits for the next printing. “I don’t think . . . Not really, Walker. The standard fell to the earth — presumably mud, stirred by the King and his horse. The rain then falls on the standard, on the horse, on the reader of the proclamation of war against the Parliament of England, on the King and his melancholy, on the general dispiritedness of the entire squalid scene.”
“Err. . . sir?”
“The standard doesn’t fall into the rain, the rain falls on the standard. Precision, Walker. Precision and honest speaking, in commerce and religion and life.”
“Oh yes sir, of course.”
“Our Lord, after all, did not speak in the gaseous philosophic nonsense of the schoolmen, but in short plain sentences with anecdotes, nouns and verbs. No gimmickry. ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.’ David too: ‘And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you, and the LORD will not hear you.’ The Israelites are far superior to the Greeks and Romans as far as words are concerned. Remember that.”
“That’s why, of course, the Papists object to the Bible translated into good plain English. The Word of God is is the Word of liberty, it is the Word that shatters the chain of superstition and ignorance; the Word is a great gale, violent and life-giving, that dissipates the tyranny with which they mean to smother England."
“Of course, sir.”
“Rupert. Did he say anything?”
“Err, as I recall, ‘We shall for der king fight, and der rebels about the head smite,’ and something about our poor cloths being the first spoils of war. He spoke funny.”
“Was my brother there?”
“Which brother, sir?”
“Thomas. He looks like me. Me, that is, if I spent my days in drink and swearing, and nights whoring about. Sundays groveling before stained-glass.”
“Err, no one really with that aspect that I noticed, rather that aspect that also bore your features.”
“My father? Like my brother, with an additional thirty years of drinking, swearing, whoring and groveling.”
“Not among the ones I saw, sir.”
He fingered his chin reflectively. His father, disgusting with the Madeira he guzzled bottle by steady from first rolling from bed to being rolled back into it, grabbing Fluff and Mote, his kittens, from the little bed he and Uncle Oliver had built for them and throwing them into the yard. Then, his wine-florid face horrible with laughter, loosed his dogs. Thomas held him against the wall — made him watch — as the kittens fought desperately, tried to flee, but were cornered captured and mauled by the dogs. They let him go when it was over — “Get that trash from my land,” his father said, and his brother kicked him in the stomach. The tiny mangled bodies, the blood and the foul dog-slobber on their lovely fur. Uncle Oliver made a casket; they buried them in a corner of the churchyard of All Souls. While not the cause of it, Uncle Oliver sold up in Huntington and rented lands in St Ives soon after, and rarely visited Sydney’s father again. Fourteen years and the memory — the terrified, helpless mewling, the beautiful eyes dimmed by death, blood and foul dog-slobber on the lovely fur — it had not faded and he never wanted it to fade.
“They’ll be with the King soon enough,” Syd muttered. "Bastards."
“Sir?” Walker said.
“They’re with the train-bands, doubtless,” Syd said. “Or drunk.”
“One never really knows, sir.”
“Yes,” Sydney said. He clapped Walker on the shoulder. The man had done well. “Go to the Ivinghoe Plowman.” The Plowman was nearby on New Street; Sydney owned the tavern and the building. “Gardiner will take care of you.”
A throat cleared: Halpenny’s servant: “My master wishes to see you, sir.”
“Thank you, Grip; please advise your master. . .”
“He wishes to see you now, Master Holyfen.”
“. . . that I will be with him directly,” Syd said.
Grip frowned. Sydney glared, at once surprised at the man’s insolence, and realizing it a gauge of exactly how low he’d fallen in the senior partner’s estimation.
Grip smirked. He turned, nose in the air, and exited toward his masters chambers. Walker stood, unsteadily.
“Sir, about the cloths. . . ”
“You did all you could. Providence intends some good for this; we just must discover it, that’s all.”
Walker hobbled out. Sydney looked at the bill of lading again. Even had the cloths not been lost, one had to wonder if all this effort — from the cottager’s loom, to the Wakefield market, to Walker’s wagons, to the North Road, to H&H’s warehouses, to H&H’s shipping, to the markets of St Petersburg — was worth two percent. In recent weeks Syd been reflecting on Matthew 25:14-30, and was very near the conclusion that the firm’s business was like unto that of the unprofitable servant, and destined for outer darkness. He put the bill in a leather file, which he then locked in his desk. He brushed his clothes — Gus, Peter, and Emma shed a frightful amount of hair — and went to Halpenny’s chamber.
Halpenny was behind his desk. It had once been his grandfather’s, fashioned of the timbers of the Luke, the ship that carried his first cargo of Yorkshire woolens to Russia. One a later voyage it burned at the St Petersburg docks, the sort of “peculiar circumstance” particular to Russia that made insuring voyages there so difficult, and provided opportunities without end for meditating on the mysterious ways of Providence. William, Ralph’s father, had expanded the Russia trade and developed Italian and German routes. Needing capital given the ruination of trade following Charles’ forced loans, monopolies, and the Ship Money debacle, he brought Sydney on as 48 percent partner at the recommendation of John Hampden, one of the richest men in England. He died two weeks later, leaving the firm in the hands of his son Ralph.
Ralph believed business was something best done by mutual respect and cooperation between Court and Merchant. He was, then, initially excited by Sydney’s joining, knowing Syd had spent some time at Court, where he assumed he’d gathered a string of acquaintances able to make the right introduction, ensure the wrong thing was said at the correct time, and the other political machinations that are the true drivers of monopoly business. That is not how it had been, for Sydney. His father, having gambled, drank, whored, and hunted away what of the fortune his mother has not been able to sequester, and having lost one son to America and unable to part with the other, he sent Sydney to court, there to make the sorts of connections Ralph also prized. Sydney, thinking little of this idea, got drunk for the first and last time in his life, started a fight with Antrim, an Irish princeling, and had been promptly banished by the orders of Charles himself. So when he realized that Sydney not only had not the connections to further cooperation, but was actually theologically opposed to such a philosophy of business, he was greatly disappointed, and came to regard Syd as some sort of higher clerk, and an annoying one at that.
Slight frown, a poorly-muted sigh. He did not invite Sydney to sit; he hadn’t for nearly two years now.
“Marching with the rebel armies, eh?”
“Colonel John Hampden’s Regiment of Greencoats.”
“You’re a merchant, not a a soldier. Your business is not . . . ”
“I am a merchant, meaning I have an interest in the good governance of this Kingdom.” “Berkshire is furious.”
“And we do how much trade with my lord Berkshire?” Sydney said. “That's right: none.”
The frown deepened. “That doesn’t negate the face that your proper interest is business, not . . . this… this…”
“This what, Ralph? Maybe I’m not to be interested in war. But war is interested in us. To wit, the Yorkshire woolens. It’s lost, seized by Rupert near Nottingham. Likely converted to arms or provisions for the King.”
Ralph said nothing. He looked at his ledger. That meant, Sydney had learned long ago, that the audience was over.
“Ralph, you do understand, don’t you?” Sydney said. “The Yorkshire trade is finished. So long as the King’s between Wakefield and London.”
“Well then,” Halpenny said. “We’ll just have to hope he returns to London soon, won’t we?”
Now Sydney frowned. Halpenny, smirking, turned a page and squinted at what he saw there.
Ralph turned a page and looked up.
“Yes?” he said.
Sydney took a breath.
“Ralph, the Merchant Adventurers are a monopoly. A monopoly secured by grace and favor of the King, and nothing more besides. This necessarily creates risks we cannot defend against. The King can revoke the monopoly, which James did in 1614; Charles refused to renew the company’s privileges in 1624. . .”
Ralph cleared his throat. “Sydney. . .
“And any company whose operation is dependent on the grace and favor of the King is an obvious, even glaring target for extraordinary taxation, as was the case in 1619, or the forced loans . . .”
“Sydney . . .”
“So the wise course, the intelligent course, the only that permits us the free use of our capital as we see fit . . .”
“ . . . leave the Russian and Baltic commerce to whoever wishes to undertake difficult trade for paltry returns. . .”
Ralph slammed the ledger.
“. . . while we, as a free company, trading with our own capital, not regulated by the rules of the Merchant Adventurers, and the risk attendant to that body due to its association with the throne, trade cloths from the works I built in Holyfen with Virginia for tobacco, and the Indies for sugar, which we trade to England . . .”
“ . . . not to mention France and the Low Countries.
"Weekly you bring this absurd idea to me,” Ralph said, “and weekly I tell you the same. This firm will not tie up its capital on voyages to America or the Indies.”
“Sir, Bateson tied up his capital. And in 1640 he brought 15,000 pounds of Virginia tobacco to England.”
“I do not care what Bateson does. We wholesale cloths, the glory of England — not some weed from the New World. We do not undertake trans-Atlantic voyages for agricultural goods.”
“Instead, we march it right into the maw of the King.” Ralph waved a hand impatiently.
“I will write to Hyde, or Falkland. I’ll have our goods released, and I will arrange for safe passage for our carts from the North.”
“Safe, Ralph? Safe? With a ruffian like Rupert on the roads?”
“How date you speak so of a prince and the King’s nephew. The only ruffians on the road is your uncle.”
“I beg your pardon. John Hampden is. . .”
“I meant your other uncle, the one in Cambridge. He seized the Cambridge plate, he seized the castle, now he — and your brother, the American one — are arming the middling sorts there in the fen country. Don’t talk to me of ruffians, Syd. Rupert will obey the King, and the King will enforce the law.”
“The law being whatever Charles believes it to be on any given day.”
“He is the King. God’s anointed, to whom you are required by God to submit. ‘Submit yourself to every ordinance of man.’”
“The nut of that scripture is ‘ordinance,’ Ralph — the laws of England, to which the King is required to submit as well. And if he does not . . .”
Ralph laughed. “There’s a nice argument of you Puritans when the King does something you disfavor. I’ve some terrible news, Sydney: Charles is your King, and as such, the representative of Christ on earth. Scripture could not be more clear: you are to submit. That is God’s law, and the law of England. Would you have civil war? England like Germany, laid waste?”
“Germany? Germany is coming — called by Charles Stuart. Laid waste? The Irish butchered a fourth of the Protestants of Ireland, and with whose name on their lips? The Pope, and King Charles.”
“Sydney.” Ralph’s voice was suddenly quiet, pleading. “Think, I beg you . . . think. We, our trade — and not just ours, but everyone’s — must have peace.”
“Peace? The peace of Charles Stuart? No thank you.”
Ralph slammed the ledger and stood, glowering. “Very well then, Sydney. This conversation is hereby concluded. And may I remind you, you are a merchant. And the apprentices in your charge are to be instructed in the principles of our trade — not sedition and treachery against their lawful king, or your other Puritan rantings. Bear it in mind. Thank you, Sydney, and good day to you.”
Sydney returned to his desk. The room was empty. Out the window, workmen were rebuilding the scaffolding. The situation was quite hopeless. And in that Sydney found strength, comfort, Had not God always delivered him? From his drunken father, the ridiculousness of court, the magistrates in Amsterdam. God would deliver Sydney from Halpenny, just as he would England from Charles.
NEW YORKPrinted by RAYOGRAM, near the Tombs,
for Commissary-General JAMES HOLLOWAY,
and available through the AETHER; 2009.