L. C. Tyler, A Masterpiece of Corruption
Constable © 2015 L.C. Tyler
Constable © 2015 L.C. Tyler
Following nearly a decade of civil war, Charles I has been defeated (and executed), Charles Stuart (also known as Charles II) has fled to Belgium, and Oliver Cromwell has become Lord Protector. And John Grey (whom we first met in A Cruel Necessity) has become a law student, in London, in the winter of 1657. His father, a Royalist, has also fled to Belgium, and his mother has “remarried.” John’s life is about to become almost unbearably complicated.
A letter arrives at the house in which he is lodging, which reads
Mr. S. K. presents his compliments to one newly arrived and begs your presence at his chambers at Gray’s Inn. He wishes to be better acquainted with you. Have no fears—he is an honorable man and wishes you no hurt. Tonight at seven o’clock would be agreeable. Ask the porter for directions. The one-eyed porter, not the other one.
When he gets to Grey’s Inn (where a number or lawyers have places of business), he is directed to the chambers of one Sir Richard Willys (of whom he has never heard), where he finds two men. After some confusion (they were clearly expecting someone else), they accept him, and he lets them know that he knows who S. K. is—and that they are Royalists working for the re-establishment of the monarchy. They think he is a co-conspirator, come to England to assassinate Cromwell. Grey can hardly just try to walk away. First he thinks his father is somehow involved. And, somewhat more urgently, if he does try to walk away, they’re more likely to kill him than wish him a pleasant evening.
And with that Grey becomes involved with Royalist plots. And, in short order, with Republican counter-plots, as he is almost immediately coerced into working for Cromwell’s spy service, to uncover the plot and report on it.
Tyler handles the period quite well, both in terms of the intrigue and the politics (for reference, here’s a handy timeline of Cromwell’s life: http://historysheroes.e2bn.org/hero/minitimeline/3), but also for the mundane facts of travel and accommodations in the late 17th century. Grey is an engaging narrator, and the supporting cast—Cromwell, Charles Stuart and his advisors in Belgium, an assortment of conspirators on either (or both) sides, and Grey’s acquaintances—add depth to the narrative.
Given the timeline, it should be no surprise that by the end of this episode in Grey’s life, Cromwell has died (in September 1658), and old allegiances are once again re-worked. But the twists and turns that bring us to that point make a rather remarkable story. Particularly for those with an interest in this period of English history, this will be an enjoyable few hours. And also for those who just enjoy a good mystery.