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Eating Bitterness | Early Evening 26th- Xmas 1677

Guest John Bramston

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#17 House of William Cavendish, Third Earl of Devonshire

A square, two-story, red-brick dwelling encompassed with a dark-green lawn, in turn surrounded with a waist-high, wrought iron fence. A small, white porch extended from the front doors and connected to the cobble-stone path which traveled from the porch to the front fence without the slightest turn. Four ash trees stood symmetrically around the path, partially obscuring the first floor of the building from the street and providing shade over the path to the front door.


Two large windows stood on each side of the main door, revealing a music room on one side and a sitting room on the other. Three smaller windows provided views from the upstairs rooms over the trees and onto the city beyond.


John was learning effort, cleverness, initiative, connections, and preparation had nothing to do with success at court. John, with sterling reputation, had met much of Ormonde's family, spent months living with one and was close family to the other, had Ormonde’s brother in law’s insults to make a good impression, had asked an introduction from one of them, and had inquired after his tastes and interests. He had had to wait for months for a few sentences while the duke pointedly ignored him to watch his daughters.


And such an incident was hardly isolated. The worst was still probably his political debut, where Devonshire’s uncle had died and an outbreak of plague had sent everyone scattering. It was all but a sign from God of his cursedness.


So John’s conclusion was quickly becoming: Some people were lucky. What they did mattered. When they spoke they were heard. When they took action they got response. When they set appointments or were promised follow ups, they happened. And if they were forgotten, they sent a reminder and it was honored.


And John was concluding he was not one of those people. He had some friends who were and hopefully he might borrow their luck. John’s bitter experience of court was that he had none of his own. And while perhaps he was being overly pessimistic, things had gone poorly for the lord more often than not. John did not have a long career behind him where one bad season could be written off. It was his whole experience. As Devonshire had said, first impressions were hard to overcome.


But, while it was an eminently usable answer, John did not like it. Sophia had tended to imply it was wrong, but Sophia seemed in so many ways one of those lucky people. Still, it would be nice if what she had said was true... but such things required more proof than words. Or perhaps words from someone he considered experienced who could give some more specific advice.


So he wanted to ask Devonshire about it again. And now, when the sting had dulled and the day had put him in a better mood. Perhaps with Cavendish having seen firsthand an example of the sort of thing he tolerated they would be more apt to believe his view he was being mistreated.


Or perhaps he wasn’t being mistreated and Devonshire could explain why Basildon, Buckingham, Ormonde, and so many others were not actually treating him poorly despite saying one thing, doing another, and outright failing to reply when John made polite inquiries on the matter. And while this was not how they treated everyone, including several people of much meaner rank and less powerful connections.


Perhaps he had taken the wrong lesson. If Devonshire could show him the sense of it then he would accept it. John did not understand.


He didn't understand much of what Devonshire had said. It had baffled him when Devonshire had said he shouldn’t expect things like respect or deference from his social inferiors just because he was an earl. It seemed as absurd as to suggest Nicolette shouldn’t expect people to want to flirt with her because she was beautiful. If his title didn’t give him respect and deference from his inferiors, what advantage was it at all? Nor did the fact that unrelated people were having an easier time accessing his connections than him sit well.


John did not understand. John was sharp enough, just as he looked fairly normal despite his condition, but just as he believed himself to be ugly he believed himself to be stupid and immensely foolish. So he needed help. And at any rate John wanted to understand, and Devonshire had promised this season would be better. Surely that meant understanding.


John knocked. One of the main selling points of his new home, though John hadn't said this to the seller, was that it was next to Devonshire's house.

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The doorman recognized John and admitted him. "I shall announce you milord."


It was but a few minutes before John was admitted to the old man's study. A roaring fire warmed the old bones. A nearly empty bottle of tonic at his right hand seemed to give Devonshire comfort. His oak desk was like a castle wall to the lord who sat behind it.


"John, come in," the older man beckoned. There was a plush red velvet seat just opposite him. "Have you come to share a bowl of stew? Have a seat my boy. Have a seat."

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John smiled widely at Devonshire. “Stew sounds lovely.” John said. His appetite was returning which was a sign his mood was picking up. As it was. Emotions were irrational things and just being around his family always made John feel better.


John took the seat with a plunk of comfort. John’s eyes drifted to the empty bottle (whose contents he could not guess). “How are you f-f-feeling?” Devonshire was old and he’d been sick before. John was often concerned for his health. He’d looked fine at the ball but… well, people tended to strain themselves to look healthy in public.

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At the first sign of interest, a servant scurried to get another bowl of stew from the kitchen. John would know the old man was fond of mutton, potatoes and cabbage.


As John took a seat, Devonshire gave the lad as hearty a look as he could muster. At least he did not dissolve into a coughing fit. "I am feeling better." That was technically true. "And what of you?"

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John smiled with a hint of fearful resignation. Age came for all of them, in the end. Well, he did have a book that promised eternal life… John was not a picky eater, so the relatively simple dish suited him fine. He did sometimes lack appetite.


“As g-g-good as can be hoped.” John replied. “How’s your l-l-lady wife? And how’s Lord Leicester holding up?” The new one was Devonshire’s brother-in-law.


“That was… a…” This was John pausing rather than his issues, “memorable political debut.” John didn’t seem terribly happy but it was more of a sulk than a rage.

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"My wife has returned to the country." He said no more of it. Perhaps there had been a spat or an ailment, but the Earl was saying nothing.


"Philip is fine. His father was quite old and he is nearly 60 himself," the old man chuckled. He'd not likely enjoy the mantle of the 3rd Earl of Leicester long.


"What memorable debut do you mean?" he asked, hoping to stop speaking for a while so that he could enjoy his stew. A bowl of hot stew arrived for John, along with some wine.

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“Ah. I’ll miss her Christmas pies.” John said. He was content to let the subject of his wife drop, though.


“Who is here?” John asked, “I’ve seen the B-b-butlers and the junior branch”, the Newcastle branch, “What of the Cecils? The Percies? The Bruces, Sidneys, Riches and all the rest?” Christmas was a time for family and he was eager to see Devonshire’s nieces, nephews, brothers-in-law, uncles… at least such as were here. Maybe he could meet the Newcastle’s too.


"And I heard Lady Percy's to m-m-marry Lord Ogle." John inquired as to the truth of it. Ogle himself had neither denied nor confirmed it.


“That’s g-g-good. Losing someone to the p-p-plague’s always a shock.” John said of Phillip. John himself was used to death but he was always sensitive of its effects. I wonder if it’s better to inherit at twelve or sixty. John thought idly.


“My political debut.” John repeated, “Was that n-n-not last season at the Plague Parliament?” John had known that Will would not see last season as important as John did. He’d probably seen worse with his history. But last season had been John’s first days as an adult. Lords under twenty-one were minors and did not sit in Parliament so he’d received his first summons then. It had been a moment of great emotional weight.


So great he’d nearly had a panic attack. Even the memory was enough that John started with wine rather than stew.

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"I've seen the Butlers and Newcastle's brood," Devonshire began. He paused to feed himself more stew before continuing.


"There are no Percies here that I know of. The girl is to marry Ogle, quite the coup for Newcastle. Her grandmother comes not to court anymore. As for the Bruces and Sidneys, they should be about but I've not seen them this season yet."


"I think Phillip is happy that his father is gone, truth be told," the old earl mumbled. "When we live too long, our heirs become impatient." Was he alluding to his own son?


"Ah." Yes, the Plague Parliament. "A useless season," he acknowledged. "They did absolutely nothing. They are more interested in finding scandal than doing anything for the kingdom. They are like children. Next year I am going to say my piece about the uselessness of the House of Lords." With age came freedom. "You will have your chance to make your mark as long as you are more concerned with the good of the kingdom than personal ambition."

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“No Cecils then?” John asked, hesitant since Will had already sent away his wife. As for the Percies, “Yes, w-w-well, it’ll be nice to have the future duke’s w-w-wife be a c-c-close relation.” Lady Percy was not just heir to vast estates but a dynastic tie to, among others, Devonshire’s family.


John had presumed that was why she had married Ogle: it was one group of Country families connecting themselves with another group of Country families. It was also the two Cavendish branches keeping themselves from drifting apart and the Country generally ensuring the Percy family’s influence in Parliament remained Country. Not being privy to the specifics, he didn’t imagine it had anything to do with the King. Feudal tenure in England had been gone for some thirty years and there was no more Court of Wards, else John's life would have been different.


“Will we all b-b-be having any Christmas events together as a f-f-family?” John asked. That would be a good opportunity to meet them.


John wasn’t sure what to say to the comment of Phillip being glad. Then again, he’d never been waiting for an inheritance and his own survival had relied on rejection of such principles. But such was the way of the world.


As for Devonshire’s plan to lecture the House of Lords, “Does scolding work?” John asked. He had no doubt Devonshire still had power despite his retirement. He had a long and important Parliamentary career behind him, after all. But John didn’t imagine court collectively would actually be ashamed of… well, anything.


“I have no p-p-personal ambition. All I w-w-want is to do well by my family, my country, and my f-f-friends. And to n-n-not feel inferior.” John said. And John had asked for things for his siblings, on behalf of English interests or petitions, or for friends. Sophia had hit on this earlier, asking him what he, personally, wanted for himself. She’d found him frustratingly without an answer.


"Though with the sort of m-m-men the King favors, I think I'd do better if I was more selfish. I feel I am n-n-not nearly petty or caddish or dishonorable enough to prosper here." After all, he'd seen the success of men who responded to being treated as poorly as John was with petulantly punishing the offenders. And such a thing, at least for some of them, was certainly within John's power.

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"I donot know where the Cecils are," Devonshire admitted. "They have not been very active in the past few seasons, preferring to stay in the country. They should be here for the Christmas court; but, since there will be no Parliament called, it may be that they will skip this court session. I had thought I would have received a letter by now."


"Lady Percy is all of 12 years old," the Earl grumbled. That meant she was old enough to be betrothed but not old enough to have any sense. "It will be good to see the Northumberland properties combines with the Newcastle ones. Young Henry will be the richest man in the north surely. It was a fine match and well worth his father's machinations for the past year."


"I am planning no event, but I have been told that Newcastle is planning a party this season. Invitations should be arriving soon I should think. He has a daughter to match and I am thinking Henry is measuring Dorset, despite the man's libertine nature."


"Chiding rarely works but sometimes it is necessary for history John. The chroniclers will note that Devonshire spoke out against the madness at court. This alone shall assure me a favorable legacy. People will remember my words in the darkest hours and perhaps it might help avert a further erosion of duty."


Maldon professed to not be selfish, leaving his past guardian to wonder whether the lad even knew the meaning of the word. He gave no voice to his dark humor on the subject. At least John was not as bad as some; that much was clear. The young man draped his selfishness in a cloak he called respect, or his due. There had been a conversation on that topic last season and the older lord had no desire to repeat it.


"The King does not appreciate selfish men in truth," Devonshire opined. "Just because he is surrounded by greedy opportunists does not mean that he enjoys their presence. He tolerates greed from those that amuse and serve him, but he respects it not."

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John nodded. Devonshire’s wife and son-in-law were both from committal Cecil lines so he felt rather close to the family. Likewise, Lady Percy was a relative, no matter her age. If anything, John imagined little girls to be more sentimental and family-minded than older ones. “Hopefully they w-w-will have both matured by the t-t-time of their inheritance.” Ogle was not exactly an awe-inspiring figure.


“I m-m-meant something for family, or d-d-does being at court mean the traditions of being t-t-together with family around the holiday is weaker?” If Dorset was coming, then it wasn’t a family event, it was a public one. “What are the advantages in the m-m-match?” John did not know Dorset well but had heard little to recommend him politically or dynastically. He was not a man of good character either, at least in Devonshire’s mind.


“Well, if it w-w-will not help, so l-l-long as it does no harm.” It was a prideful act in John’s mind, to care more for reputation than efficacy. But Devonshire was old and important and powerful in Parliament, and most importantly retired, so John doubted it would matter.


“The Royal Historian is n-n-not much of a historian and the court d-d-does not patronize history. The history of the rebellion… and Restoration w-w-will be written by the Whigs.” John shared. After a moment, “If you w-w-wish to be well remembered, why n-n-not write a history of your life?” There was, as he’d said, a dearth of material, and Devonshire had been central to both the beginning Civil War and the Restoration. And the family had been central to politics even longer.


As for his selfishness, John was a contradiction. The key was in the second thing he’d said: John did not wish to feel inferior. So he measured out what his equals had received and felt himself wronged if he received less. John was terrified of the idea that any of those people who called him lesser or inferior were in any way right. Needling that wound, and it was a wound inflicted by his parents… well, Will had seen that.


Though Devonshire seemed to have misheard him: John had not professed total selflessness. He'd professed an aristocratic ethos where he had a duty to his family, his personal friends, and his country. It was a thing of relations and reciprocal obligations. It was the sort of selflessness where you suffered to help your brother or your friend or your home. And in this regard he could say quite truly that was how he acted, though it did Devonshire's desire that he ignore that needling for the sake of the King no good.


“Virtue is l-l-like a flower and vice is like a weed.” John said, for virtue needed to be cultivated and vice sprung up everywhere. “If a man’s yard w-w-were filled with weeds and his flower b-b-beds dying, what would you think of him? Not that he hates f-f-flowers, certainly.”


"I have n-n-not met one man at court in the King's trust who has n-n-not lied to, ignored, forgotten, or abused me." John said. "And I've m-m-met quite a few. Even Ormonde b-b-barely spoke to me after Billy introduced me."

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Indeed." Devonshire seemed to agree with John's assessment of both bride and groom.


"Court changes everything don't you know?" the Earl offered in a rare moment of amusement. "You are used to family gatherings in the country. There are some here but court is about making alliances. Henry will summon his family in a show of strength and then invite a handful of men to impress. That popinjay Baptist May no doubt due to the success with the Percy girl. Dorset because he'd make a fine husband for Frances. Finch and his son perhaps. He has other daughters to match. Dorset connects a large family and he has vast estates. Finch connects the Seymours and buys sway in the courts in case there is a challenge to the Percy holdings." He paused to see if John could see the obvious advantages. The young man was good at such things.


The remark about Dorset was not lost of the elder. "He is an annoying libertine. Yet, when it comes to alliances, you do what you must. It is a good alliance for both and Newcastle's grandson will be the next Earl of Dorset. Thomas Sackville, the first Earl made his fortune in land. Edward, the fourth Earl, was a fine man. I knew him. A true Royalist. The fifth Earl married Middlesex and she gave him seven sons and six daughters!" He started chuckling at the luck. "This one married Falmouth's widow and was lucky enough that she passed within a couple of years, gaining him significant portions of the Berkeley wealth and another chance at a large dowry."


As for history being written by the Whigs, William replied "I hope not. I might have to write a book to set those fools aright." John would know he had little respect for the Country Party, thinking them mostly traitors. It would be easy to get him started on a rant if he wished.


"There beats a poets heart," Devonshire flattered between bites of stew. He liked John's metaphor about virtue. "I did warn you about Ormonde. You will be abused by those who have no need of you John. If they sense they need you, things will change quickly."

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“No.” John replied, flatly, confused. John was unfamiliar with court. He’d not been very often, even under Devonshire. He nodded. It made solid enough sense. Although the Seymours were already distant relatives and the Devonshires already had ties to the Finches, as he'd reminded Cavendish, binding them closer was not necessarily a bad idea.


John nodded. He understood the sway of an earldom. Devonshire’s own daughter was a countess, his sister had been, both from powerful families. John expected his own sisters would do as well. But there were fewer earls than ladies, especially earls of any import. John nodded to pragmatism as well. “Hopefully there is enough l-l-life in her to tolerate the annoyance.” John said. "I d-d-doubt she has much to hold him with." It was a cynical yet practical assessment. He made a small note to see if the earl was also interested in land development, which was not so far off from John's skills.


As to history, “Clarendon and Hobbes t-t-tried, but it's said their efforts d-d-did not please the King.” It was said the King had tried to stop them because he didn't want people thinking about the politics of the Civil War at all. “I c-c-can give you their books, if you want.”


As for Whigs, Devonshire had not noticed, but as John went through his relations he’d gone through a list of members of the Green Ribbon Club, mostly. And John had skipped over the more problematic ones, like the connections to Cromwell directly. Whether he liked it or not, they were from a Country family. And whether he appreciated it or not, John's agreement to support him and the King politically made them the black sheep. It was standing apart from basically his entire family.


If there was one thing John did not lack, it was prose about gardens. If it had been a historical garden Devonshire might never have heard the end of it.


Devonshire’s only warning to John had been not to rush into marriage. He'd otherwise just given him tactical advice: bring up the Dutch, for example. Cavendish had warned him about Ormonde, but only as they approached. John sighed, “It’d be the simplest m-m-matter in the world to c-c-call up Billy and Maynard and all our... well, you know the sort," The opposition, which was their relations, "Encourage them to m-m-make some anti-Catholic, anti-Irish move.”


They did so normally anyway. John would just need to stoke it a little, and he could already imagine how to do that. Ormonde’s administration was balanced precariously at best. He needed English allies to moderate such sentiments, since he was Irish, and Cavendish was his closest English relative. But he was a Whig too and close to John.


“That's how it works, isn't it?” John doubted that anyone appreciated his restraint, but he was a highborn lord with very powerful and excellent connections. It was restraint, and not weakness, that kept him from hurting those people.


"I won't though." John said. "I'll k-k-keep on with t-t-trying to increase the national wealth, b-b-bring food to the poor, and medicine to the people and soldiers." As he'd revealed last season, that was the hill John had decided to try and take politically. "It's a b-b-better use of my time." And at the end of it he'd feel like he'd done something, rather than hurt someone.


But that didn't make the pain of that needling any better.

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John was still struggling to understand court. William could see it in his face and words. The elder knew he needed to be more patient.


"Frances is nothing remarkable," he admitted, "But her grandfather was." Dorset would have a mistress or two on the side, no doubt. "it is not done at all, nor anything with the Finch. It is just my speculation about what Henry will attempt. He may surprise us all."


"You forget Hobbes was my tutor. He was a brilliant man and a great mentor. He is still alive they say, though he is at least 90 now. We spent three years touring Europe together. You can safely assume that I have all of his books." He need not borrow anything from John, though he was pleased that the lad was reading. "Clarendon, however, was a fool ... a prudent man who let power corrupt him. He picked the wrong enemies and paid the price."


"Yes, that is how it works. You are a good lad to resist those urges. All things come to the good man. It is the weak that heed the hurtful and their rise is temporary only. In the end they lose everything." Perhaps there was a hint of religious justice in that observation.


"When all sink to sin, the virtuous man stands out." He was done talking for a time as he held the bowl to his mouth and slurped down the remaining contents.

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John paused for a bit after he said court changed things, even how families got together, formed bonds... "Perhaps I should g-g-go on tour this recess. Meet as many as I can in the country. In a f-f-family setting." That was what he was familiar with.


John would have admitted that he was struggling to understand court. He'd have been a bit more skeptical about patience. It simply seemed like a quick road to being forgotten based on his experiences. Perhaps it was simply because John did not have so vast a store of experience as the older lord.


John nodded. He couldn’t guess the Newcastle’s intentions, though he was unarguably the best altar diplomat at court. A duke and the best heiress of the age. It’d be difficult to follow that. “If you want, I c-c-could speak with Dorset. Possibly get him d-d-drunk and ask him how he feels about marriage or… whatever you’d think is useful.” John offered. If the earl wasn’t going to be at Caroline’s party, he’d arrange it.


John nodded. Devonshire would know that John spent a great deal of his leisure time reading, although unlike many bookworms he spent a great deal of that outdoors. “I c-c-can’t say I remember much about Clarendon. I was young, and my f-f-father was still Maldon.” John said, “I read the p-p-papers a great deal but I’m under no delusions as to their… accuracy.”


As for his quasi-religious beliefs, “Boni bonis.” John replied with his family motto. ‘Good to the good’. John was less convinced that goodness paid in the end. But he also wasn’t straying from that. There was quiet. John imagined influence had something of a... well, a secondary effect. That the knowledge someone could do something like that would cause people to tread as if he might even if he hadn't recently. Even if John was not like that, acting so in general would quickly anger a more quick-tempered lord.


Perhaps not.

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"Yes, that is the best use of recess," Devonshire agreed. "Tours in the country and tours on the Continent." It did a young man good to do that before he was married and had other responsibilities.


"Best not to meddle in Henry's designs," the older earl cautioned as the younger offered to approach Dorset. "He has shown himself to need little assistance in that department. Wary that you not become seduced by Dorset and his gang. The current Earl is but a shadow of the former, a dark one. Yet they say he has a golden tongue."


"Clarendon made himself useful to the King, something you should emulate. Yet power corrupts John. When Clarendon had a taste of absolute power, it ruined him, just as it ruined all the ministers since. Will's precious Lord Shaftesbury was once part of the CABAL, loyal to the King, then the hound turned on the master out of ingratitude. When he was cast out of favor, Ashley could not accept it, so he formed the so-called opposition. The Country Party is nothing but the byproduct of a man's vanity. If he could not satiate his ambitions upon one road, then he would would cast his lot with the enemy. He claims principle, but his principle is nothing more than his party should have power instead of the King. If he was still with the King, he would be saying the opposite with the same breath today. Will does not see it, as you know. He thinks farmers and merchants should be ruling the kingdom, rather than the King. Bah."


Devonshire could not help but slip into a rant about the Country Party whenever politics was discussed. He was one of the last royalists of his family and it vexed him all the more to know that his end was drawing nigh and there was little he could do for the King as a final service.


"Boni bonis," he repeated. It served to calm him. "Tea," he called to the nearest servant, knowing that wine would put him to sleep within the hour.

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John nodded as the earl recommended he stay out of it. He could be meddlesome but he did at least try not to inflict his help. “As you say.” As for the Merry Gang, “We’ll see. I think I… c-c-could benefit from some libertine influence. It would moderate me.” John doubted he would ever be truly libertine, but he also didn’t feel like he was wholly proper. He imagined it would be best to occupy some middle ground.


As for serving the King, “I t-t-tried to look into gardening, farming, land.” John said. It was his most useful skill set. It brought prestige and money and was popular with women. That was what John imagined the King wanted out of the world.


“He has a p-p-personal gardener but it is b-b-below stairs position, never held by a noble. Usually it’s a Frenchman these days. And anyway my hands aren’t very g-g-good.” He hoped Nicci might do something about that, quite desperately actually. But as it was the formula only partly helped and faded after some time. “There’s the surveyors, but again, b-b-below stairs. And there’s no one office responsible. It’s p-p-piecemeal between something like thirty offices.”


“The fourth Pembroke p-p-proposed to centralize it all in a single office, and the King seemed to see the logic in it, b-b-but the Civil War c-c-created a great deal of friction between him and the King.” That was an understatement.


“There were p-p-plans too for a nursery with a royal warrant, but it was Queen C-c-catherine’s wish. With her death, I d-d-doubt it will proceed.” The former Queen had been an avid gardener. John hadn’t heard either way about the new one. But the Palatinate had been host to one of the greatest gardens in Europe before it was destroyed. He had repaired a small part of it and would present it to her when the time came to give royal gifts. Hopefully it would stimulate her interest.


John meditated for a moment on what Devonshire said, “If p-p-power corrupts,” John said, “Isn’t the King the m-m-most corrupt person in England? And isn’t… absolutism, giving him more power, a bad idea?” John disagreed with the premise, but it was curious to hear an argument so commonly employed to argue for limiting the monarchy in Devonshire’s mouth.


“How is it that you think Shaftesbury l-l-leads Billy? Wasn’t Billy in all this f-f-far before Shaftesbury was?” He’d been in Parliament longer than Shaftesbury had been a Whig, or even anyone of great import, at any rate. And significant portions of their family had fought against the King, so their involvement in the opposition didn’t seem new to him.


But John didn’t think much of Shaftesbury either. He agreed with Devonshire’s assessment of the man. And while he was very sympathetic to the interests of the peasantry and the merchants, it was in a paternalistic sort of way. He was not a leveler and those same beliefs about what he deserved gave John a framework to support noble and royal authority. So he just nodded agreement.

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It was a good question that John asked. William nodded his approval. he had heard similar arguments before and the answer was a tricky one.


"Power in the hands of one not trained to wield it is dangerous. Kings are trained to wield power. They are not as easily corruptible as the ministers. Kings have vast wealth and lands. Their legacy is secure. They have less incentive to embezzle or betray the Kingdom because they are only betraying themselves. Ministers are not trained to wield power, but they play at it. Commoners have no understanding of how to rule but they thirst for power. Give a commoner an army and he will take over the Kingdom for himself." He need not provide Cromwell as an example. "And he will rule like a fool. Unannointed heads do not wear the crown well." He meant more than mere appearances of course.


"The King is just a man, I admit, but one well-trained in statecraft. Whether he was ordained by God or not, the Stuarts have a legacy to fulfill and not one fueled by greed. Sadly, Kings surround themselves with advisors they hope are true, yet so few are. Rarely is it the monarch that betrays the kingdom. So, I will take my chances with a monarch any day over the likes of Shaftesbury, Roos and the whole lot of them. They want power so they can get money. These are not saintly men looking to save England. They are just corrupt advisers in different clothing.."


The tea arrived and was poured for each man. "Without a King at the top, the rabble would just fight amongst themselves to gain the title of Caesar, even if it is for a day. Look at the Roman Empire John. When it had strong Caesars, the Empire flourished. When the Praetorian Guard and Senators were allowed to pick and sell the throne in Rome, it meant the end of a once great empire."

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Devonshire seemed interested in moving into a theoretical debate, away from practical matters. John didn’t mind too much. It was an area he felt like he could do better in regardless. Of course, if either Devonshire or Cavendish wanted him to take pleasing the King as a goal they would have to respond to his comments such a thing was impossible with more than silence. When he heard that, John imagined they were agreeing with him.


“Princes.” John said, changing Devonshire’s statement from ‘kings are trained to wield power to ‘princes are trained to wield power’. The distinction was important: the upper nobility, at least those born into it, were princes too. And that included both John and William. It didn’t diminish Devonshire’s point: one had to be born a prince. Being raised to it, like Shaftesbury or Danby, was another matter.


After all, John had a crown. He had a throne too and his household was a legally privileged entity like the king’s. He was even permitted a majestic we and addressed in very formal documents as the most noble prince. Not to mention John had just returned from the Empire, where if he’d be a count beneath the monarch he’d have had the right to do things like mint coins and possess a standing army. And that was more normal than England’s situation in the seventeenth century.


So the difference between an earl and a king seemed one of degree, rather than kind, to John. Especially for those with old families and titles.


“And what of the unprecedented f-f-favor he shows to his bastards? Or his support for York despite the man’s betrayal to foreign interests? Does that not disadvantage the c-c-country for his own reasons? Or when he p-p-pays subsidies to Portsmouth over the sailors or conspires with the King of France?” It seemed to John like the King had put his own personal interests above the nation’s. “He isn’t writing a history of his reign, either, as far as I know. That w-w-will ruin his legacy without a doubt.”


John didn’t speak of the corruption of the opposition, “If the men the king chooses to serve him t-t-tend to be corrupt, and you think I ought to be useful to him, shouldn’t I become corrupt?” John said, “Begin to b-b-bribe people, become a pimp, cast away any principles I have to p-p-please him. Surely such a thing is immoral, but you could not tell me the morality of supporting Danby or York.”

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Devonshire did not dispute the change to princes, but it was not because he equated himself to one. He was a peer rather than a prince, in his own mind. John was free to dream otherwise.


"A king has bastards and mistresses. His godly father was one of the few without. Kings bestow favors on whomever they wish. If they wish to honor their bastards and mistresses, it is their right. The French King is no different," Devonshire began.


"I would just as soon the King not waste money on mistresses, but as long as he does not make himself poor in the process, I suppose it is an indulgence we can suffer. He was far too unwise with Castlemaine. That one was a financial well without bottom. The King cast her out and none too soon. He spends his own money on them, not the realm's money. As for his son, the King hopes to redeem him and make a man of him, one free of deceivers like Shaftesbury. Perhaps he will succeed. Monmouth is not a bad soldier."


"York has not betrayed the kingdom. Who is feeding you that? He is the royal heir."


As for John offering to be corrupt, the older man was having none of it. "The King has pimps and dishonest men aplenty John. To stand out you would be wise to eschew such traits. Prove to be honest and loyal and you are more likely to make an impression. Show a bit of wit and interest in ladies and science and your chances will be even better," he counseled. "Side with the opposition and you will burn your bridge."

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It was a part of the styling of English earls that they were noble princes, and the title of prince was not solely a royal one by any means. The entire rhetorical device turned on the fact that Devonshire had began with a category that was not only royalty but the highest royal, the king, and John had expanded it out to a generic term that included the upper nobility.


“If he has rights, where d-d-do they come from?” John asked. “And have you n-n-not just abandoned your argument that he w-w-will act in concord with the national benefit? This has m-m-made a succession crisis.”


“Is it n-n-not treason to swear obedience to a foreign monarch?” John asked about York. “Has he n-n-not bent a knee to the throne of St. Peter? Has he n-n-not b-b-broken the oaths he… swore? A Papist is a traitor and perjurer, aren’t they?” John’s tone was confused.


John’s offer was not in earnest. He was pointing out that Devonshire was asking him to take immoral actions to please the King, like supporting Danby. So he'd exaggerated it into something less palatable than a vote. But before he could continue further, Devonshire spoke of his bridge. “Bridge?” John asked. “My b-b-bridge to what?” He had no idea what Devonshire was getting at.

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"His rights come from God and the natural order of things. There has to be a leader, elsewise there is chaos. Multiple consuls of Rome does not work, nor does a multitude of self proclaimed leaders. The Dutch have abandoned their republic in favor of a monarch. Even they have learned the way of things. So, he has these rights," Devonshire explained between sips of tea.


"It is not treason," William replied, taking a risk thereby. "Much of the enlightened world is Catholic. Does it mean that every bishop in France, Spain, or the Empire is a traitor? Of course not. It is just that we Englishmen, in our hatred of the Catholics have magnified this technicality into something of substance. Henry VIII was a Catholic and he defied the Pope, as did so many others. Even the French kings have defied Rome for generations. Just because you are Catholic does not mean you have to do what an old Roman man tells you from his corrupt seat in Rome. York is no different. He will place the interests of the Three Kingdoms above Rome. No sane modern monarch would do otherwise. The days of the powerful Popes ended with the crusades. They wield little power now."


"It is the Country Party, not York, that creates the succession crisis. They would dey every sacred law to put a bastard on the throne rather than a man of royal blood who has done nothing but protect the interests of England his entire life. They get power by breeding hatred and suspicion. They do so with lies that I would expect educated men like yourself to disregard. It is easier to poison something than it is to cure it. It is easier to enrage the mob over phantom fears than it is to quell it. The Country Party has the advantages and York has the near hopeless task of repairing their evil."


"The Country Party are nothing but traitors John. If you arrest them all, most of the disharmony in the kingdom will fade away. But, the King cannot arrest them for fear that they will use their poison to foment another civil war."


He was shaking his head. "I would take a corrupt Danby over an evil Shaftesbury any day. One will lighten your purse while the other would destroy a Kingdom. Frankly, I do not doubt that most Country Party leaders are in the pay of the French King. A divided England represents no threat to anyone but itself."


"A bridge John. It is a military thing. One never crosses a river and burns a bridge behind him. One may need to cross it in retreat. If you ally yourself with Shaftesbury, you cross the river. If you attack the monarch, you burn your bridge to return to His good graces. Will has burned his bridges with the King, though I stand as a ferry to take him back to the right side one day.""

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“God and the n-n-natural order of things involves... him having mistresses and bastards?” John said, “Say that l-l-loud enough and you might be the next archbishop."


As for Papism, John meant it a bit more literally than Devonshire took it. “Well, the Pope n-n-never encouraged the p-p-people of those countries to rebel or c-c-commit regicide.” John said. “It would be a f-f-fine argument for changing the l-l-law and I don't have anything to refute it. But the l-l-law still calls it treason. York committed t-t-treason which damages him as heir to the throne which damages the country for the sake of his own b-b-beliefs.”


“Whether the dispute is York or Monmouth’s fault, the King tolerates his b-b-brother’s treason and Monmouth’s pretensions.” John said. “D-d-does this not harm his legacy and the country?” John’s point was that the King’s was acting in a way consistent with his private interests, not the national good. As were York and Monmouth, for that matter. Which contradicted Devonshire’s point the King would act in the national interest because his interests aligned with the nation’s.


“He c-c-could convert tomorrow. Or if he wishes to l-l-live for his faith instead of his country, he could d-d-declare his desire to be excluded b-b-because he cannot in good conscience take the Coronation Oath.” Which included defending and abiding by the English church and upholding the laws of his predecessors. “That would set the affair on the m-m-mend.” John said of York having to repair evil. “It’s not as if he’d be the f-f-first heir to be excluded.”


John’s face soured as Devonshire said Danby was better than Shaftesbury, “Why d-d-do you have to take either?” John asked. He wasn’t sure how Shaftesbury came into it at all, but he didn’t tie opposing Shaftesbury into supporting Danby.


John understood what Devonshire was saying but he couldn’t bring the metaphor into coherency. “I have no idea why you think I m-m-might ally myself with Shaftesbury.” He replied bluntly. John did not comprehend the opposition as based around Shaftesbury. Even then, John wasn’t really rushing into their arms. “It’s n-n-not as if he’s offered to help me or asked anything of me. I haven’t even m-m-met him. And I d-d-don’t see how he could help me. Though I g-g-guess, with the way things have been going, if he did I w-w-wouldn’t have room to be choosy.” John shrugged. “But I’d… say the same thing about the Emperor of China.”

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"Having mistresses and bastards is a sin John. It does not preclude you from wielding power, lest no one would wield it. All men are sinners. It is not a prerequisite to the throne. One is anointed to the throne but it is for man to determine how to use that power," he explained patiently. "I do not like how the King wastes his time and money with whores, but that is no reason to rebel against him."


“Well, the Pope n-n-never encouraged the p-p-people of those countries to rebel or c-c-commit regicide.”


"As best I recall, the Pope did not encourage regicide either. It was the Parliamentarians, or the Roundheads. The same forces are at work in the Country Party today John, unless you are blind. Which is the greater treason -- a foreign noble encouraging rebellion in England or an Englishman encouraging rebellion? I could forgive a Turk saying that Englishmen should rebel against our King, but I could not forgive it in an Englishman."


"When has toleration been viewed as a weakness John? That the King tolerates his brother and his bastard is a strength. That he tolerates both Catholics and Puritans is more Christ-like than intolerance. York is ill-advised surely. He should never have converted. It would be my expectation that, if he takes the throne, he will revert back to the Anglican faith. If he does not, it need not preclude him from the throne, but other steps could be taken to strengthen the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury for example," he offered, trying to be conciliatory.


“Why d-d-do you have to take either?”


He expected such a question from a young man. The naïve saw things in black and white, rather than shades of gray. "Sometimes life gives us nothing but bad choices John. You will see that more as you get older. Sometimes the best choice is the lesser of two evils. Danby may be ill-advised but Shaftesbury is evil. I should like a new Chief Minister that is a Godly man. I shall pray that the King can find one."


"My own son has fallen into the sway of Shaftesbury," the Earl explained. "I raised him better and he is my own flesh; but, I have not been able to save him. It is like York falling into the sway of Henrietta's priest. You can only pray that their minds will be cured of the poison one day. So, is it wrong for me to worry that you shall fall prey too John. You and Will are friends. He will seek to sway you to his master, just as I seek to keep you true to England's master."


Though John professed the right principles, he all but admitted to Devonshire that he would support whomever helped him. The elder sighed and then took in a breath, fighting a cough. In a wheezing voice he replied "it should not matter if he offered to help you or not John. Do what you know to be right in your heart. When I meet my maker, and it could be soon, I want to enter that eternal kingdom knowing that I did what was right, rather than what was paid for. If the Emperor of China offered to help you if you opposed the King, would you?""

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“No,” John agreed. “But if there is a n-n-natural order to the world, ordained by God, when the King overthrows it he causes strife, doesn’t he? Whether by m-m-making unworthy men nobles, by straying from his marriage, by thinking his favor means knights sit b-b-before earls, by t-t-taking from the peasants or… wishing more rights than his c-c-crown inherited.”


This was why harming John’s belief about his own rights harmed his belief in the King’s divine right. It was all part of a unified, coherent system in which everyone had a place by right. “The same is true of men like Shaftesbury. It is the same sin b-b-but from a different… quarter.”


As for Papism, “The Pope offered an indulgence, forgiveness for all their sins, f-f-for any man who rebelled against the King of England or who k-k-killed him. He also d-d-declared that no English Catholic should obey the King of England.” John reminded William. “That’s what that b-b-bit in the Oath of Allegiance is about.” There was a clause in it specifically disavowing the Pope was allowed to forgive or authorize rebellion, murder, or regicide.


John remained quiet on tolerance. He was still of the opinion the King was setting the two on a collision course and that one would kill the other, probably after a civil war. “If he g-g-gave up his position as governor of the church and a few similar… things.” John said more specifically. “It’s p-p-plainly absurd that a Catholic should head a Protestant church. Maybe a tolerant Catholic c-c-could rule over a Protestant nation.” John agreed. He doubted it would happen. After all, that would mean lost revenues, losing the right to appoint bishops and archbishops, and ceding a great many matters to Parliament.


Sometimes there were hard choices, “And sometimes the d-d-devil tempts us by telling us that there is nothing b-b-better.” John replied to there being nothing but bad choices, “In doing so, he justifies us d-d-doing an evil for a g-g-good he promises us will come later. Yet it rarely d-d-does and he laughs at us f-f-for trusting his credit. A little p-p-poison, a small compromise every d-d-day.”


John frowned as he spoke of prayer, “What else c-c-could it be but the devil that t-t-tells one of the most powerful lords in Parliament, a m-m-man with the King’s ear and vast resources that all he c-c-can do is pray silently or rant in useless fury?” John’s flaw was not a naïve belief in a lack of hard decisions. It was a naïve belief in the power of his father figure.


John’s brow furrowed at his coughing sigh. He’d already spoken on righteousness, “No, of course not. Why w-w-would you think I would? All I said was that I’d accept help if offered it and if asked I’d c-c-consider it. I suppose I d-d-didn’t think it necessary to clarify that I wouldn’t do it if it… was immoral.” His tone was sour. “I was imagining some… Mandarin w-w-wanting to be introduced to the Lord of Trade or m-m-maybe teaching etiquette to an emissary or something. I’d do that. And I never said that I w-w-wanted anything in return.” He had spoken of him helping them or them helping him but he had not mentioned any sort of exchange.


“But what would you have me do? Am I wrong that I must seek f-f-friends where I c-c-can find them? Did not Newcastle j-j-just betroth his heir to the stepdaughter of a Whiggish excluder, to a girl whose g-g-grandfather was a major Parliamentary commander? Should I avoid him and Ablemarle?”

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"The natural order is for the King to lead. What he does with that power is not part of the natural order. It is true that he will be judged by God for his sins, and will suffer his mistakes while he is king. If he wishes to raise a knight above an earl in his favor, that is his right. If he wishes to take away that earldom, it is not his right unless he adheres to the law."


There was a cough or two as he collected his voice again. "I have been to Versailles John. The King has cowed his nobility by having them think of nothing but precedence and favor. Rather than rebel against him or do their duties at their estates, they become sycophants fighting duels over who has the royal favor to wipe the King's arse." He startled chuckling but it dissolved into a cough. "What a shallow life it is to fret over who sits one seat closer to the King. Yes, we have protocol too, but if the King wants to sit a baron closer to him than myself, I will not sulk about it. As kings get wiser, they come to learn the value of honor and service over a handsome face and wit. King Charles is wiser than he lets on John."


"The day may come when you will sit by the King's side and infuriate dukes in the process," he offered with a smile. "I doubt you will decline the favor so that some duke can have your seat instead, because it is their right." He chuckled again, but carefully.


"The Pope offered everything and it did no good, did it? Even the Catholics ignored him. The reach of Rome is much diminished. There may be a looney Catholic that seeks to assassinate our good King; but, recall it was a looney Anglican that assassinated our Catholic Queen. There needed no Papal Bull or edict from Canterbury. No, John, I believe the world is becoming more secular and ancient allegiences to the heads of dying religions are on the road to oblivion."


On the subject of the devil, William disagreed. "A good choice is hard to disguise with a bad choice. Wise men know them for what they are."


"Good," he concluded on the subject of help. "I can rest assured then that you are no Chinese spy." He offered his ward an amused smile.


"Of course not," he replied to the hyperbole about staying away from those with republican tastes. "Choose any companion you wish, just ignore the subject of politics when confronted by Whiggish excluders.." He gave a paternal smile. "I like very much how you name Montagu son. You sounded like a King's man then. It made me feel proud."

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John waved his hand dismissively, “It is an example, a m-m-miner’s canary. I d-d-don’t care either, outside of very f-f-formal occasions. I don’t g-g-go around wearing my coronet either, nor the king his c-c-crown.” The point he was making was that the King was a part of, rather than the maker of, the social order, and had to respect it or risk instability, something Devonshire seemed to agree with.


As for the Pope's decree, “It c-c-caused fifty to… sixty thousand Catholics to rise in rebellion.” John said. “Maybe it has changed in the l-l-last two decades.” John admitted. “I hope so. If it were safe and the reformation were safe, I’d p-p-prefer toleration than not.” Though he’d prefer it be done with full legal authority rather than royal fiat.


John smiled at Devonshire’s praise, and looked down. His voice turned a bit low, “I implied the last Whig I debated was class traitor who wished a rebellion.” John said, which had been last season. John was too polite to do more than imply it but he was still embarrassed by that.


He looked back up, “I c-c-can’t imagine I make anything like a fine cavalier. And maybe you're right to... t-t-tell me I'm a bad servant. But I don’t think ill of the King and I do think ill of Shaftesbury. I am not what you f-f-fear I am. And the only road I'm w-w-walking at the moment is... following you.”


Regardless of their debates, over the course of these last two seasons John had promised twice to do his duty to king and country, affirmed York as the heir, disputed Monmouth’s claim, agreed to vote to support the King (and actually gone to do so before the plague), and had been looking into ways he might serve the royal household. While his bills were concerned with trade matters, they were not hostile to the King. Perhaps he was not an orthodox Tory, but he was not a doctrinaire Whig.

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Devonshire emphasized the decline of religious strife. "They rebelled because the Continent was fighting a religious war for 30 years. It has been almost 30 years since the end of that war. I can only hope that toleration takes root, as the King wishes."


"Good lad," the Earl praised when he heard about John's oral assault on a Whig. Agreeing with the subsequent point William added "you are not what I fear but I fear you will become it. It is a cautionary note John. I do not accuse you of anything. I merely seek to guide you and protect you so that you have all opportunities to chase your ambitions." he was relieved to hear that John was inclined to follow his advice, albeit cautiously.


Ringing his small bell, a servant appeared. "I think this calls for some cornbread John." He was giving a wide smile. John would know that the old man was partial to warm corn bread. "Cook should have finished a new batch by now."

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John thought the King was only for toleration for Catholics. After all, he had approved the Clarendon Code at the height of his power. His Declaration of Indulgence had been accepted in Scotland and he’d recently sent an army to pillage the dissenting communities there. There was a reason why Jews and dissenters put their faith in the Whigs. But John didn’t feel like arguing further.


Cavendo tutus.” John replied, Devonshire’s house motto, Safety through caution. For all his flaws, John was not impetuous. And while he had not been overly happy about all of it to the man himself, he had done everything Devonshire had asked of him. He did not know what he would become, but he hoped it would not be the product of rage and petty slights. "Is there anything I c-c-could do to assure you?" He asked.


John let out a puff of air. Will hardly needed an excuse for corn bread.

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"Caution indeed," the Earl agreed. "One can become a Whig after one is a Royalist, but it is doubtful that one can be welcomed as a Royalist if one has been a Whig. That alone should cause you to exercise caution."


As for what John could do to assure Devonshire, the old man waved off any gesture. "Nothing now," he voiced. "The time may come when I should ask for it." It would likely come when Devonshire was worried that his young ward was falling under the spell of republicans.


The corn bread arrived from the kitchen and the old man's grin magnified. The servant gave him a plate with a large slice and looked to John for direction.

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