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Reminiscing, The Woolsack, circa 1690.

Henry Grey

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The Woolsack was founded 1661 by 24 gentlemen including 3 dukes, as a meeting place of highest order. The present location was bequeathed to the club by John Earle, Bishop of Salisbury upon his death in '65. 

An exclusive club, operating from a house at 15 The Mall. The building was of white stone and was U shaped in layout - visitors traversed a large paved courtyard with the stately house on either side as they approached the main doors. Dual doors of tremendous height, one of which was swung open during warmer months admitting members into the central lobby where a tome sat open upon a table with ink and quill nearby. Attendants stood nearby. 

The primary purpose for the club was to provide a home away from home for a gentleman, where he might freely converse with his friends, avoid his and others' ladies, gamble in one of it's many gaming rooms, avail of a meal in its dining hall, or enjoy some solitude in it's considerable library upon natural or social philosophy.

     The man sat sipping his cognac. It was a special vintage that the club kept only for him and his close friends, which were not many. Lord Chichester was one, of course, but there were others. Good old Chichester! The grey-haired lord smiled. Without his help, I would have been an abject failure. That his friend was now Marquess of Chichester, and one of the preeminent Catholic politicians in the Three Kingdoms was only fair. The man had a heart of gold, although he hid the fact guardedly. His short stint as an Anglican had only been one of convenience, as had been many others, but it was to Chichester’s credit that he had resisted as much as he could, far more than Norfolk had, for example.

     Why has religion have to be as divisive as it is? We are all Englishmen!

     The reason was, of course, politics. Men of ambition had used religion to further their own ends, and to thwart others. They had risen meteorically, but they had all fallen eventually. All but one. A rascal, that one, but I’d rather play the Game with him than with anyone else. Henry raised his glass in a solitary toast to Louis. You keep me on my toes, Basildon! I know, I know, I should call you by the title your ambition has attained for you, Your Grace Northampton. If it were not for you, I would have grown soft and complacent. But with you in the Game I have had a worthy opponent, and thus I have kept my edge. I may never voice it, but you have my thanks… Lord Chancellor of England!

     There were other players in the game, of course. His Grace the third Duke of Buckingham and Lord High Admiral, Francis Kirke, for example. The second Duke had been an amazing mentor. His King was always first, and his kin were always second, but he had a soft spot for me because, well... because I never betrayed him. If the new generation of politicians would just understand that you must have at least one unbending loyalty. Even Northampton understands this. Too bad that unbending loyalty is to himself. But that gives him an anchor, something to hold on to that has helped him not get lost in the storms of life… But I get sidetracked. Kingston was always loyal to his Ducal Cousin and to His Grace Charles, and thus the House of Villiers now has a pater familias to look up to and try to emulate.

     Reminiscing about the last decade plus had make him empty his glass without even noticing, so he signalled the closest servant for a refill. Ireland had always been a hotbed of unrest, fuelled by petty men who would use whatever means necessary to gain power at the cost of others suffering for it. But not you, Worcester, not you. You kept your faith, you acted according to your conscience, and you were true to your master. Rupert of the Rhine taught you well, Robert St-Leger, Marquis of Worcester. That you were given your father-in-law’s title when his line died out, and the post of Lieutenant of Ireland after Ormonde passed was only fair. You earned both by hard work and deserve to enjoy the fruit of your labours.

     A smile of longing. At one time I feared I would be the last of the Codnor Greys, that when I died some distant cousin would claim my title and fortune. How little did I know…

     … How little did I know that the Earl of Chatham would have what it takes to become the First Lord of Trade, for example. He seemed more suited to my line of work than to what he now does. Yet he has taken England to unexpected heights and has become one of the richest men of the realm in the process. Perhaps he should receive further recognition. I wonder what he would say if he were invited to become a Knight of the Garter? I may have to make the suggestion to His Majesty. He is already inclined to favour the man. Yes…

     There had been so many others, though. Most had fallen by the wayside. Not because Henry had cast them aside, but because some of them had turned away, seeking other pursuits, while other had either betrayed Henry of the King. But a few close friends were still regulars at Henry’s weekly card game at Codnor House. Lord Newton of Glossop, of course, although it had taken years to chisel him out of his shell. Lord Lucas of Ilkeston was another, one that Henry had had the patience to mould into his one-day replacement. But they were few, as Henry had chosen them very carefully. He had meddled in their lives, without their knowing of course, in the best tradition of his craft, but always for their betterment. Not many knew that Henry had learned his craft by first watching what His Majesty did and then, when he was closer to the throne, asking the King the whys with intent to learn. It had taken years, but he had eventually learned to serve his King without regard of personal gain, which was the easy part, but also in a way that pleased the king, which had been rather hard. Yet, time had seen him succeed.

     A servant brought him back to reality. “Your Grace, the Ambassador of Spain is at the door, He says you invited him to join you for dinner”.

     “Have him join me, Felps. I did ask him to join me, and he is right on time”, the grey-haired man said as he checked his pocket watch.

     “As you wish, Your Grace”.

     Henry smiled. Your Grace. Heh! Will I ever get used to it? I hope not! But that was what he was now, a Duke of the Realm. The King had given him the title with a warning. The warning had never been voiced, but it was understood from the very beginning by a knowing Henry. He was now Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk. There had been another Henry, Duke of Suffolk, over a century earlier. He had later been convicted of High Treason and beheaded. No, my King, I will not betray you. It is not in my nature. I will serve you to the best of my ability and, when I am not adequate at my post, I will resign readily, as I will have trained a worthy replacement. A replacement worthy of even you, Northampton!

     Because what only few men knew, although some others feared, was that Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, was the King’s spymaster.

Edited by Henry Grey
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