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A Tailoring Challenge | Saturday September 17th, mid-late morning

Henry Grey

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The front of Master Tailor Gershwin's establishment is not terribly inviting, the interior austere in the extreme to eyes grown accustomed to the extravagances of court. His reputation precedes him, however, and this knowledge keeps the man at his work, rather than at the more business-like endeavour of beautifying his shopfront. A tinkle of the doorbell announces every entry, and will bring assistance to the gentleman seeking repairs, alterations, or an entirely new garment.



Although Mr. Masoniere had designed a marvelous wardrobe for the Windsor season, there were things that could not be anticipated, like the masque ball. Henry needed to impress, now that he was looking for a bride, so he decided to consult with the local tailor, a man of some repute. Lord Grey heard a bell tinkle as he entered the establishment and waited patiently to be approached. The baron hoped his idea could be translated into words, and those words translated into an appropriate ensemble.

It is not a costume I want, at least not exactly. Hopefully Master Gershwin can help.

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Although Mr. Dalliard had designed a marvelous wardrobe for the Windsor season, there were things that could not be anticipated, like the unprecedented demands of late upon his supply of pocket-handkerchiefs. Charles was down to only about half a dozen and that would simply not do. Not one to normally purchase his handkerchiefs off the rack, he had little choice as there was no time to send to his handkercher in Flanders for more and if he was to run out, he may as well clothe himself in leaves and live in the woods.

The tinkle of the bell announced a rather apprehensive Marquis who, in order to preserve his dwindling supply, had carefully made his way avoiding puddles or dirty obstructions to the shop of master Girshwin’s. Taking off his gloves he noticed he was not the only customer in the shop.

“Ah. Lord Grey.” He exclaimed as he bowed in greeting to his fellow peer. “Fancy running into you here. I hope you are well and if I may be so inquiring as to ask about Mistress Eleanor in the hope that she is also well and has begun to settle here at Windsor.”

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The two men were exceedingly well dressed. There were style variations between their outfits, like Henry favouring Tudor tailoring touches whenever possible, while Mountjoy seemed to favour German detailing. Still, neither would be out of place in the choicest of companies. That they were both at Windsor's tailoring establishment simultaneously was unusual, to say the least. 

“Lord Mountjoy!” Henry said gleefully as he bowed formally. “Do you happen to have Grey blood in you?” He had been looking at many family trees and relations over the summer, in preparation of his bride hunt. He thought to recall that a Grey had once married a Mountjoy, although he had gone through so many family trees looking for promising females that he could be wrong. Promising as in having many children, preferably males, of course. “I seem to recall that a very distant relative married a Mountjoy a long time ago”. Then he remembered the Marquis’ question. “I am well, thank you. Please forgive my rambling”.

“As for my niece, I must than you, my lord. Your kindness to her has been enormous and will not be forgotten. She was very excited that you had introduced her to the Royal Couple the very day she arrived at court. If we were in London, I would send you an ice-packed half carcass of deer, along with the head. Here at Windsor, a bottle or three of wine or spirits will have to suffice. May I ask what your preferences are?” The baron would have to send a servant to London to get the gift, but he did not mind.

“As for my presence in this establishment, I am of a mind to have an outfit made for the rumoured upcoming ball. Something in the style worn at some foreign court, perhaps Poland, Sweden, even Italy perhaps”. Lord Grey did not want a costume. He wanted a well-made outfit in a foreign cut, which he would supplement with a mask. He wanted to be noticeable without becoming a clown. Of course he wanted to avoid controversy, so French fashion was out of the question.

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“Honest red English blood I assure you.” He said making a pun of Grey’s question. Charles was aware of his lineage of course but lately he had been thinking more about his forebears as the need to uncover some distant direct blood relation had recently become more than academic so he was able to answer henry’s question without much deliberation. “As a matter of fact, yes. Not extremely closely I am sad to say but my fourth Great-Grandmother was Dorothy Grey, the daughter of Thomas Grey Marquess of Dorset during the reign of Henry VII. I believe we also have a collateral relationship by marriage via the Ferrers of Groby. I am less sure of how Lord Thomas Grey is connected to the Codnor branch.”

It was not unusual that both families, being of ancient Norman aristocracy, were connected in some way. Their connection could not be called close but the fact that it was there was an integral part of the mechanism that allowed the aristocracy to function as a class.

He tut-tutted in typical English fashion over Henry’s expression of gratitude relating to Charles’ treatment of his niece. “You are much too kind Lord Grey. It was no more than any gentleman would do. Mistress Eleanor is a charming young Lady and it was a pleasure to make her acquaintance.” At the offer of a gift he chuckled and said. “Please no trophy heads. I believe I have reached the Margravina’s limit in that regard. She is quite content to indulge my porcelain collection but she has taken umbrage with my growing accumulation of hunting trophy’s. She claims that they do not convey the proper refinement due for a residence in town and have banished them to my park in Epping where she says it is more appropriate for us ‘boys to play with animals’. I tell you it was all I could do to rescue a few antlers and a bearskin for my study. She even requested that I remove the mounted boar head from above my bead because it was, she claims, ‘disquieting.’  I do not bemoan these little kindnesses to the Margravina but it was a very fine boar and just the thing to invigorate the humors as one wakes up in the morning.”

“I know it is considered supportive of the King to be stern to the French but a bottle of good French claret can never go amiss if you are inclined to be so generous. And besides I believe His Majesty is indulgent enough to allow his gentlemen their innocent pleasures without taking offence.”


As Henry explained the reason for his presence in the shop Charles nodded. He had not given much thought to the Masque. Here he had the advantage over Henry as he need not trouble himself over such details being able to rely upon his wife to tell him what to wear on such occasions.

“Pirates are always a good subject for costumes but with Lord Chatam and his eyepatch at court it would be a difficult look to pull off. I assume we are free to indulge ourselves as Their Majesties have not declared a theme. Your idea to dress in a foreign style is brilliant and promises to be much more comfortable. I once had a costume fashioned from a real polar bear hide. It looked fearsome but it was so damnably hot that I almost suffocated. The claws also tended to scratch the lady’s hands while dancing. All in all, your idea of an Italian or a Swede is eminently more practical.”

He looked about the shop. “I have found myself subject to an unexpected dearth of pocket handkerchiefs. I believe my Man severely underestimated the strain Windsor would have upon my linins and under packed. I thought it more expedient to obtain a local supply rather than send to London.” Surely Lord Grey was a refined enough gentleman to understand the seriousness of an insufficient supply of pocket handkerchiefs.       

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It was Athenry’s second day on the town, so to speak, in that he was not presently feeling particularly optimistic about any political prospects (at least until his wife had met with Bristol – he planned to ask her to extend his wishes of goodwill), and so had chosen to distract himself by acting his newfound station. Yesterday, it had taken the form of treating himself at the antiquarian’s, but today the focus was on a topic that was both nemesis and of interest to him – fashion.

Too fastidious to not care, and too self-conscious to embrace not caring, Athenry was always faced with the rather nervous dilemma of either dressing up or down (again, so to speak – today was a good day to embrace the idiomatic), and his main decision in that regard was for a few, defiant French touches. To that effect, today it was a justacorps in turquoise brocade a la Perse and gold lace, accented at the edges and near the buttons with a hint of gold lace. This was set over an embossed cadet grey waistcoat and matching breeches, while a red ribbon bow accentuated his cravat and mirrored the red Moroccan leather of his heels.

Altogether, he felt polished, but unpracticed, and so had seen fit to at least seek inspiration from the local tailor, although like as not the viscount would end up writing to his preferred such man in London. Save for the bell that rang upon his entrance, he slipped into the store wordlessly, sighting Lord Grey and a familiar, but not introduced, face. The pair seemed engrossed in conversation, and so he elected to wait a suitable distance away, examining what the store had to offer.

If Grey was so inclined, he would be grateful for the invitation, but he also possessed little desire to intrude upon the affairs of one man he’d just met and one whose identity he was reasonably sure of, but only through conjecture obtained at various court events.


(OOC: I didn’t know if you two were trying to do anything in particular, so I won’t be offended if the intrusion isn’t welcome – I can keep Cadell at the back and you can safely not notice him without offending either of us 😄 )

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“Lord Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, was a descendant of Lord Roger Grey, 1st Baron Grey of Ruthin, a powerful Welsh marcher lord, who in turn descended from Lord Reginald de Grey, 1st Baron Grey de Wilton, a descendant himself of Sir Henry de Grey of Grays Thurrock, a great-grandson of Anchetil de Greye, our common ancestor”. The Grey family lines had been drilled into him as a youth. “The arms of the Greys of Codnor are the only ones without a label, so we are the senior branch in a direct line from Sir Anchetil de Greye, even if junior branches have attained higher preferment”. That had also been drilled into him as a boy. It was a point of pride for the Greys of Codnor to be the senior branch of a Norman chevalier who had fought under his liege William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford, at the Battle of Hastings.

A mischievous smile. “Which makes us almost cousins, I guess?” The Marquess was easy to talk to, being very polite and proper, although somewhat verbose. It was due to his profession, Henry thought.

“A bottle of claret, then!” Which would be joined by a few other French wines and spirits, because Henry thought only one bottle was too small a gift for a Marquess. “I must confess I am partial to French brandies myself. Hopefully the Northern Secretary’s men will not come calling because of it!” It was said in jest, of course.

The anecdote about the polar bear costume made the Baron chuckle. “It does not sound comfortable at all!” Lord Mountjoy agreed with his idea of a foreign-style outfit, though. “I am leaning towards Swedish at this point. Hopefully the tailor can accommodate my wishes within the time constraints. It would be sad to have the clothes delivered after the event”.

As for the reason for the Marquess’ presence in the store, Henry found himself understanding perfectly. “An unpalatable situation, my lord. My valet packed the wrong color of handkerchiefs for the season, so at the opening reception I found myself wearing an aubergine and teal ensemble… with a scarlet handkerchief in my pocket that I had to take out when wine was spilled on me! Hopefully this establishment can help with that too”.

It was at that moment that the bell rang, and a known figure entered. Motioning for Cadell to approach, he said to Lord Mountjoy, “have you met Lord Athenry? If not, may I introduce him to you? He is a man of letters with whom I have had the pleasure of having deep conversation”.

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“I see. So yes, we are all but cousins abet somewhat removed.” He said returning the smile. “And you are the senior line of the Greys. Impressive. My line is in fact the junior line of Le Blount. My progenitor was Robert ‘le Admiral’ Le Blount was a younger son of the Count of Guines and was Duke Williams Dux Navium Militarium. During the reign of Edward I Longshanks my forefather Sir William Knight of Rock married an heiress and upon his death her lands were split between the eldest establishing the line Baronets of Sodington around Shropshire and the line of Sir John of Belton who married the heiress of Mountjoy thus establishing the Barons Mountjoy. So our family histories are not dissimilar. They, both being from old Anglo-Norman stock could likely talk about their lineage all day.

“I will thank you in advance for the claret then. And if the excise men do cause any trouble, you may stay them by claiming you have a close cousin in the judiciary.” He responded equally in gest. He could also empathize with Henry’s situation. “That is why I always favor white for pocket handkerchiefs. One can never know when they may be at the mercy of their Tailor or their Valet and it is good to have a few things to hold steady to when such calamities befall.

Speaking first of one’s illustrious family history and then the plight of dealing with Tailors were subjects that could occupy a proper gentleman for hours. Mountjoy was just about to ask Grey his opinion of gussets and whether he favored side or center vents on a justacorps when the bell tinkled and a third person was introduced into the shop.

“I have not yet had the pleasure.” He conceded when asked if he had been introduced to the newly arrived gentleman. The man was dressed well with a definite French flair in the style of Mr. Dalliard and his shoes were certainly influenced by Lestage of Paris. Being described as a man of letters he had high hopes that the gentleman had been to Oxford. Thus he was pleasantly disposed to the gentleman and kindly turned to him in preparation to an introduction.

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It was a strange trio, in the sartorial sense, about to coalesce: as previously noted, Grey had his Tudor influences, his associate German touches, and Athenry had adopted the Parisien trend of favoring Turkish and Persian designs. Likely, there were allusions to be made there, perhaps metaphors for certain tastes.

Cadell had just began to consider this notion when Lord Grey was polite enough to invite him over.

The approach was slow, naturally, and the viscount was relying on his cane – a piece of copper-tipped ebony wood with an ivory handle in the shape of a raven’s head, inlaid with a single sapphire – more than usual. “Gentlemen,” he called out, soft but friendly tones kissed faintly by a slight Welsh lilt. “A fine day, at least on the matter of morale, no? Outside…ah, I suppose the Anemoi must have their day, as the Greeks would say.”

Whilst making his approach, he noted Grey’s companion, recalling having seen the man not just at other court functions, but having attempted to gain the attention of Beverley at the reception. That, Cadell thought, was good – an angle outside the world of fashion with which to approach, a necessary thing in court. Bowing to them both, he gave a genuine, gracious smile, first looking at Mountjoy. “Well met and charmed, sir,” he intoned pleasantly, giving the man a once over. “As Lord Grey said, I am the Viscount Athenry – and deeply interested in the origin of your shoes. Are they domestic?”

Surely, Grey would finish the rest of the introductions thereafter. Then turning to Grey with a gracious nod to succeed the bow, Cadell asked, “I trust you are well, my lord, despite my fear that I shan't live up to your introduction." His chuckle was self-deprecating, and the remark not at all genuine. "Pray tell, did my message to Lord Beverley bear fruit for your endeavor?”

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“I will brandish the claim of my cousin being in the judiciary like a German soldier of fortune wielding a Zweihänder, my lord”, Henry said continuing the jest. “But only when life or limb are at risk, I promiseyou!” The Marquess was pleasant company indeed. His Grey blood, even though highly diluted, showed clearly. “As for the kerchiefs, I will follow your advice. White they shall be from now on”. Henry had given his tailor free rein on everything regarding his wardrobe, but white kerchiefs he would make a stand for. Embroidered initials, grey pearls in the corners, silver or gold threading, and other means of adornment would be accepted, of course.

Then Cadell approached, and Henry did finish the introductions in the appropriate manner. “Lord Mountjoy, may I introduce Viscount Athenry, philosopher extraordinaire, man of fashion, and someone who agrees with the King on important matters?” Then after a pause, “Lord Athenry, may I introduce the Marquess of Mountjoy, also a man of fashion, and His Majesty’s Attorney General?” Lord Grey gave time for pleasantries to be exchanged between the two.

“You do not think highly enough of yourself, Lord Athenry. I assure you that whatever I can say in your favour would not do you justice”.

That was one difference between court and university. Court was much more pleasant, while the world of researchers was a thug’s world. Sir Isaac would smile and agree with me in this. That did not mean that the Baron had any hopes of court being less cutthroat. On the contrary. But the person pushing a dagger between your ribs and into your kidney would at least be polite, smile, and smell nice while doing it.

“Yes, Lord Athenry, much obliged. Lord Beverley was most kind and approved the use of the main tower’s battlements this coming Wednesday evening. Providence willing, the sky will be clear, there will be no wind, and we will have a great time stargazing”. A pause, then: “both of you will receive invitations promptly, of course”.

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Cadell’s limp was not unnoticed by Blount but he would never comment on such a thing only thinking ‘Poor chap, must have been kicked by his horse. Should be right as rain in a few days.’  He also discerned the hint of Welsh in his speech but unlike the Scots, the Welsh could be understood by English speakers thus he had no problem understanding Cadell. The man also proved that he was classically educated as he exhibited a knowledge of Greek mythology. Darlene would appreciate such a reference for she was fond of Greek. “The fog is beginning to lift so we may have a fine day yet but it looks as if we might be visited by the Hyades before the morrow is done.” It was so very English to discuss the weather even if interspersed with Greek references.

Upon Cadell’s query he looked down to his shoes. “Oh, heavens no. For boots I grant you, or perhaps a sturdy brogan, there is none better than an English cobbler but for a refined and elegant court shoe the French hold ascendency. As for a shapely heel there are none who surpass Nicholas Lestage of Bordeaux. I indulge myself and have a shipment sent from his atelier every month. It is a vanity I do confess but the ladies do appear to appreciate a well-turned calf.” Mountjoy had been most diligent in his attempt to popularize red heels at the English Court and the recent war with France was proving to be an inconvenient impediment in that quest. “You appear to be a Gentleman that appreciates the couture of the French. Do you patronize Monsieur Lestage?”    

“At your service Sir.” He responded after Henry’s formal introduction. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Lord Athenry.” He bowed. “I must, in all humility amend Lord Grey’s introduction. I am but His Majesty’s Solicitor General and not the Attorney General…yet. But My Lord, please feel free to express such an opinion when I am not present.” He chuckled at the admission of his ambition.

Charles had stargazed before but that was mostly when he was out at night and would lay in the grass and look heavenwards. He was not sure what a Court event of such an activity would entail but a clear stary evening was a thing to behold. “I will certainly look forward to it.” He said of the pre invitation. “I do recall as a boy at school we had to memorize the names of the constellations the drawings in the book did not do the actual sight justice.”

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Athenry grinned as Mountjoy mentioned Lestage and explained the origin of his shoes. “I was hoping for that answer, my lord, but I have run into more than a few gentlemen who find that patriotism is a matter of dress and not of deed.” He scoffed, not dishonestly – he may have been a Francophile and a member of that party, however obscure, but it was born out of a deeply-held Catholic Royalism. “My journey to Monsieur Lestage was a strange one, for I have ever held an interest in dressing as a gentleman ought, but lacked both means and instruction.”

“But then I married a Frenchwoman who wouldn’t be caught dead with a husband who still dressed as a foppish student.” With a chuckle, he added, “Subsequently, I came into a greater state of financial security, and spent a year in France as both honeymoon and unofficial business for His Majesty. I came back with a taste for both red heels, Tourangeau et Lyonnais* fabrics, and eau de vie.” Nearly every gentleman may have known French, but a keen observer could have noted that Athenry’s was near-native.

“But I digress.” Cadell nodded graciously at Grey as formal introductions were provided. “The name Mountjoy is heard often enough by those with an interest in politics, my lord, but it is an honor to put a face to the name. May your quest to restore taste to the office of Attorney General bear fruit.”

To Lord Grey, he could not help but smile. “You are exceedingly generous in your depiction of me, my lord. I merely take an interest in the disciplines a Christian and a humanist ought, which entails a thorough study of moral and political philosophy, as well as my own personal interest in linguistics and history. I fear for the state of His Majesty’s kingdoms when an understanding of those fields is considered extraordinary.”

“Although I will confess that it is perhaps abnormal for one to read Hobbes and Spinoza for pleasure.” The viscount’s wry grin returned. With the pleasantries dispensed with, Grey broke the good news: “I am most pleased to hear it, my lord – both for the sake of the viewing and for your having made Beverley’s acquaintance. I hold nothing against the more…lax members of court, and count some as friends, but I cherish those who uphold proper conduct.”  

“As to the stars, I cannot wait. Like you, Lord Mountjoy, I can recall constellations and even find some in the night sky, but Lord Grey seems to be promising us something else entirely.”

*From Tours and Lyon, centers of the French silk trade

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The talk about French haute couture was beyond Henry. Lestage was a name unknown to him; might as week have been Lestrange. French silks were used in his wardrobe, but not because Lord Grey favoured them; it was his tailor that insisted on using them. Henry would have been happier if the man used Ottoman or even Persian silks, due to the novelty of their designs, but they were not easily sourced. So, he kept silent as the other two noblemen exchanged views and information on a topic clearly dear to them both.

Now, eau-de-vie was a different matter altogether. During his travels through the Continent, the Baron had sampled quite a few. Whether French eau-de-vie de fruit or eau-de-vie de vin, German Schnaps, Greek ρακί, Ottoman rakı, Bohemian pálenka, or even Hungarian palinka, Henry had sampled them all, and found them to his liking in lesser or greater measure. “Eau de vie…” he interjected, “my favourite is the pomme and poire distillate from Domfront-en-Poraie in Normandie. We must share a bottle discussing weighty matters one of these evenings whenever you have the time and inclination, my lords”. Henry had brought a few cases with him, and could get more from London if need be.

“The combination of Hobbes and Spinoza is an unusual one, indeed. Not my field of interest, but at Trinity I had access to both. A gentleman must know of all things, one of my instructors would drill into me as he gave me books on many unusual subjects and then questioned me about their contents”. Not that the Baron had had the time to delve into them in depth. His academic workload had not been light. “As for Lord Beverley, I found him a most proper and pleasant gentleman. I would like to cultivate his friendship if he is amenable to it”. Henry had liked the St-Leger scion. “Once again, thank you for the introduction, Lord Athenry”.

Then a change of topic to something dear to his heart. “There is beauty in the night skies, Lord Mountjoy. The via lactea is quite the sight on a clear night. I do not intend for Court to become an astronomy circle, but perhaps the sights will be enjoyable, as the moon will not give much light and thus the stars will be brighter”. Henry then turned to Cadell, and recited: When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour”*. A pause. “I have never believed that natural and theological philosophy oppose each other. Rather, they complement one another, don’t you think?”

OOC: Psalm 8, verses 3-5, King James’ Authorized Version.

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“I think you may find me as stout an Englishman as ever you may find but I am a gentleman and acknowledge merit when it is due. One may disagree in politics or national interests but still admire culture and fashion. I do not deny the contributions of the French in the realms of the arts and fashion. Indeed, I not only acknowledge them but appreciate them and even emulate them in my small way” Mountjoy could not creditably be called a Francophile yet had been a force for moderation when anti French or anti Catholic fervor was high. As Cadell explained the reasons for his Frenchified tastes Mountjoy realized why the name was familiar. It was he who had married the Duchess of Portsmouth, a very notable match. No wonder the man drifted to things French.

“I had not been introduced to the pleasure of Schnaps until last year as the German Courts tend to favor that spirit.”  He contributed when the topic had moved on. “I am quite partial to Chambertin but it was also during my sojourn in central Europe that I was introduced to Tokay, a most unique variety of sweet white wine. I was fortunate enough to be gifted a case of Imperil Tokali and can recommend the beverage most heartedly if it is able to be obtained. Other than that the brandies of Calvados have much to recommend themselves.”

Their conversation was varied and they soon moved on to more literary subjects and as an educated man Charles was able to follow along and even opine. “I believe His Majesty’s Kingdoms have sufficiently contributed to the contemplation of humanist thought. Was it not on these shores where Erasmus produced the fruits of his intellect?

As for Spinola, I can claim to be no scholar but as an Oxford man I could scarcely have avoided a familiarity with Hobbes. In fact it is partly to his credit that I discovered my penchant for oratory. If you recall soon after the restoration Hobbism, as it was referred to, was much maligned by certain classes of society. There was a prominent Calvinest preacher railing against Hobbes teachings and as a young man newly matriculated to Christ Church I spoke in a debate on the subject. My comparison discussion of Calvin and Hobbes was well received and awoke a talent that has served me well. Yet, although I was nurtured on the teachings of Erasmus from a very young age I do tend more to The Iliad than The Leviathan.” And turning to Lord Grey he agreed. “I do indeed. In fact I will go so far as to say that the study of natural and theological philosophy is but the understanding of the two sided of the same coin.”

True to Grey’s reputation it was when the topic of the heaves was raised was when he showed his passion. “As an example, I reference your own area of expertise. How can the heavens and the stars that orbit our Earth be explained without understanding the physical and the hand of God. These fiery orbs circling hundreds of miles above us cannot be pure happenstance. Their paths and forms must have been designed by some higher power.”

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Lord Grey need only look more intently upon his new friend the viscount, whose French-spun silks were decorated in a manner the folk across the Channel dubbed a la Perse, for it reflected the design principles of the exotic Persians. Meanwhile, Mountjoy insisted that passion and patriotism needn’t come into conflict, to which Cadell gave an enthusiastic nod, agreeing, “Precisely, my lord, precisely. The superior patriot is he whose belief in his country’s goodness is secure enough to appreciate what is splendid about other cultures.

 He did, in his own way, consider himself a patriot in that fashion, albeit also a universalist. Friendship with France was desirable because French influence could only strengthen the good tendencies of the monarchy, especially His Majesty’s attitude towards Catholics.

“I’ve not had the pleasure of this Tokay, but my familiarity with the customs of Central Europe is, unfortunately, somewhat lacking,” Athenry considered. Perhaps I ought to learn German, if the goal is to gain Her Majesty’s interest in salons. “But I find myself wholeheartedly in favor of Lord Grey’s suggestion, it being quite in line with my own plans for a salon.”

"Although, a more private occasion of just a handful of gentlemen and a sampling of various liquors also holds some appeal.

Coincidentally, Mountjoy seemed as well-versed in those matters as Grey was, and expounded significantly upon Erasmus. Mountjoy…Erasmus… Something about the combination of those two names seemed connected, but he could not quite place why.

“Much of the recent resurgence in English political thought is humanist in nature,” he agreed once more, Mountjoy having played with forces beyond his control through the mention of Erasmus. “But I am ever pleased to hear another reference the older princes of humanist thought, who are oft more reverent towards the philosophy’s Christian roots. Erasmus in particular is a hero of mine.”

“I pray that one day I might find success arguing for his ideals on the floor of Parliament,” he concluded, deliberately disclosing his own ambitions, attempting to feel out Mountjoy’s stances. A Catholic who was not afraid of reform, a patron of education and of his other hero, Sir Thomas More, a man of moderation and cosmopolitanism. All of these were aspirations of Viscount Athenry.

The discussion – which had by now very little to do with the tailoring they had all come here for – turned again, Grey pointing to natural philosophy as the backbone of theology, which Athenry agreed upon. “There is something about our modern era which has sparked an unfortunate amount of disagreement on this topic, but I quite agree, my lord. Many brighter men than i have illustrated proofs, and I cannot see a universe of natural laws that does not have a powerful and caring Creator behind it. Could it not be said that astronomy itself is a means of demonstrating that?"

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Their exchanges were worthy of the best of Parisian Salons. Ideas went back and forth, generally agreeing with each other, adding a detail here, a new topic there. It was said that great men did not talk about events, but about ideas. If that were true, the trio would fit that mould.

“Tokay is a delight to the palate, I agree. I had the pleasure of sampling it in Bohemia. Hungarians let grapes become raisin-like while still on the vine. The product is a sweet yellowish wine that turns darker and orange with age”. A question for Mountjoy, “can Tokay be found in London? I must purchase some if it is”. He then addressed the Viscount. “A smaller gathering of men of thought is a worthy endeavour, Lord Athenry. I would gladly contribute with beverages. They might contribute to the mood”.

A small sigh.

“We find ourselves, my lords, moderates in a world attacked by extremists. In this we reflect His Majesty the King. While extremists use their extremism for their private benefit, we strive to serve others to the best of our ability, each in our respective field of endeavour”. A pause, before adding “I wonder if a generalization could be made? Could it be that all extremists are selfish, while moderates are not?”

A conspiratorial smile.

“I leave the determination of that to you, my lords. You are far more capable than I to answer the question”.

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“The counterpart to the Parisian salons appears to be our London coffeehouses. Stimulating conversation can be had even if they are a bit more egalitarian and commercial than their more refined French version. There is the Woolsack for more exclusive political company and the Royal Society for scientific debate but there is much to be said for a select salon of likeminded gentlepersons convivially congregated to broaden one’s horizons.”  He opined about the prospect of a French style social salon. “Unfortunately, much social and religious thoughts espoused by former Humanist scholars was politicized as a result of the break with Rome under the good King Henry and the foreign threats that resulted from that break. With the birth of the Prince, I hope that interference will now be ended and the tensions lessened by men of good conscience.” Mountjoy was a deft enough politician to have recognized Athenry’s aspirations and countered with his own oblique reply. It was he who had played a pivotal role in thwarting the last attempt to institute the Test Act but such support for moderation and the acceptance of Catholics in public positions was not acceptable in the face of Catholic intrigues against the new heir       

To Henry’s question about the Hungarian wine was much less complicated. “Alas Imperial Tokay, the finest of the Tokay wines, is solely in the gift of the Emperor and thus is almost impossible to obtain. There are other varieties available but are produced in limited quantities and so is much sought after that obtaining them is, if not impossible, then very difficult. I have engaged agents in Saxony to obtain what they may but it is dear and difficult to find. You might have some success with an Italian merchant.” He suggested.  Grey’s concluding statement was the one that caused him the most thought and he responded after giving it much consideration.

“I find that we should be very moderate in our extremism. I concede that there are certain values that should he held fast to such as honor, decency and faithfulness but in the main moderation of our base passions is what civilizes us. I fully agree, My Lord Grey, in your assessment that the struggle to serve others to the best of our ability is the higher calling. We as Nobles do not always place our duty to our King and country above our own ambitions and it is reassuring that there are some who recognize duty.”     

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“A hope that all sane men share, I should think,” came forth Athenry with an answer, first to Mountjoy. His was the expected reply, a cautious sort of Royalism it seemed – and one that matched what he knew of Lord Grey’s as well.

In a less-guarded mood, perhaps, the viscount might have given a wry little smile at the correlation that Mountjoy pointed out, between the decline in patronage for the nuanced views of the humanists and the ascension of “good” King Henry. But it was impolitic with regards to both environment and his own goals for a Catholic to note such things (despite it being painfully obvious), and so he could turn his attention to an equally-worthy subject, a foreign wine – following one last observation, of course. “You seem a man versed in the history of moral philosophy, Lord Mountjoy. Is that merely a matter of personal interest, as a man of Oxford?”

“The procurement of this Tokay seems a noble endeavor. Imagine, if you will, a night dedicated to the tasting of spirits of the Continent in general.” Although the line had, of late, sometimes become blurred. He chuckled as he asked, “We might well kick into action a resurgence of appreciation in what is good from abroad, hm?”

But of course, the conversation turned back to more serious subjects. And to think I was simply seeking inspiration in matters of dress. This brought a pause to his lips, and he let both gentlemen speak before offering his own beliefs – he was, after all, something of a recovering extremist, one pulled back to the realm of sanity by the obviousness of Jesuit folly and later, French friendship. “Well, Lord Grey, I would contend that a selfish man would do well to at least affect moderation.”

“’The prince must consider…how to avoid those things which will make him hated or contemptible’, I believe the quote goes.” His smile returned, grey eyes darting between the two gentlemen. “And while I certainly agree that we of more moderate inclinations have a marked tendency to do so because of our shared values as gentlemen, I propose that there is a certain tragedy to many extremists. Lord Mountjoy prefers the Iliad, so consider brilliant Paris, who thought himself gifted by a goddess but brought ruin to his people.”

It was a contrarian position, but Cadell Mortimer, Viscount Athenry had built an identity on holding contrarian positions.

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The two noblemen in front of him were far above his level of social and political thinking. Henry’s realm was the realm on nature, where causal relationships might be hidden, but once discovered they were immutable. Society was much more fluid, and politics was the art of the possible.*

“Coffee Houses are an interesting phenomenon, I agree. Perhaps Parisian Salons and London Coffee Houses reflect the differences of the two courts? One is more refined, while the other is more spontaneous? A reflection of the monarchs, I think”. Henry felt out of his depth. As for the Woolsack, Lord Grey had heard about it, of course. It was his secret hope to one day become a member of that most select club.

“Italian merchants, you say, Lord Mountjoy? I have a few acquaintances in Venice. Perhaps one of them can lead me to that particular Grail. And since we are seeking the Hungarian Nectar, perhaps others from the Balkans and Greece could also be obtained. If I am successful, I will certainly let you know”. Lord Athenry seemed to agree with his line of thinking. “It would be foolish not to appreciate what others have to offer, Lord Athenry. Is England’s trade network not based in appreciation for goods from other lands?” That duties were levied from almost everything was left unsaid.

“So, our collective opinion is that we should be extreme in our moderation and moderate in our extremism then?” It was not a bad rule of life. “That same prince must not be considered fickle, frivolous, effeminate, mean-spirited, irresolute, from all of which a prince should guard himself as from a rock; and he should endeavour to show in his actions greatness, courage, gravity, and fortitude”. Machiavelli had been one of those authors he had read at the insistence of his tutor.

“Gentlemen, you are true erudites. Compared to you, I might seem to be a cobbler or a blacksmith. All I know is that I know nothing”, he ended, freely quoting Plato’s account of Socrates.

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“Much credit can be given to Oxford for the knowledge imparted when I attended but the foundation that allowed me to absorb that education was imparted in me from a young age as my family were, and still are, great proponents of a sound Humanist education. In fact, my forefather William the 7th Baron*…” He turned to Henry. “We were just speaking of him as he married Dorothy Grey a distant kinswoman of Lord Grey. William was a pupil of Erasmus and a set of scholars which included Thomas More and William Grocyn. His son, Charles the 8th Baron* was a great patron of learning and both with Erasmus and Juan Luis Vives dedicated works to him. It is a Blount custom to this day to educate our children, the females included, in accordance with the Humanist principles espoused by these men.” He chuckled. “I can still recall as a young boy laboring over an old lesson handwritten in Latin. It was not that the lesson was very difficult but that for such a brilliant mind, Erasmus’s handwriting was abysmal. I pledge, when it is my children’s time, I will have the lessons transcribed by a proper scribe. I must confess that my own academic inclinations have tended to the literal rather than philosophic and I matriculated to Christ Church as a scholar of Civil Law rather than Divinity.”  

He chuckled. “Why yes, be extreme in our moderation and moderate in our extremism I quite like that. That was very well put.” He replied to Henry’s succinct interpretation of his ethos. “You have a way of distilling a concept down to its essence. Much like a good brandy, if I may be so flippant.” He went on humorously, “And my dear Lord Grey, the veracity of your claim of lacking erudition is hardly supported by quoting Plato. Ipse se nihil scire id unum sciat is hardly a phrase uttered by many cobblers.” Mountjoy was aware that it was common for those of genteel manners and real accomplishments to dismiss their own prowess. “My grandfather always said ‘Realizing what you do not know is the true form of wisdom.’”


*Historically they were the 4th & 5th Barons Mountjoy

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Athenry nodded along with Grey’s words on the differences between French and English courts and their spheres of intellectual and political discussion. “Having seen both, I can affirm the analogy – with the caveat that the Parisian salon, in part, exists as an outlet for the otherwise-laborious precision with which Versailles operates.”

He had been quite impressed with that structure, finding it and the Palace itself quite literally awe-inspiring – but it had also been something of a relief to return to the English court, where one’s words weren’t inherently expected to have a double meaning and their schedule remained their own business. “However, in terms of refinement, your point stands.” A small chuckle. “Although you, Lord Grey, are fully aware that some present have an ambition to reconcile salon and coffee-house.”

It would not do, after all, for a salon hosted by a Frenchwoman and organized by her husband, to be entirely French. It would need to have aspects of both worlds. ’…a citizen of the world, known to all and to all a stranger.’

Speaking of Erasmus…

Mountjoy’s ancestral connection to both Erasmus of Rotterdam and Sir Thomas More captivated Cadell – his mention of having a hero in Erasmus was no exaggeration. For they were both Catholics of intellect and principle, the first he was quietly assured of, the second he strived to maintain. “Abysmal handwriting, for true?” His grey eyes had widened, but a laugh still escaped his throat. “I had thought I read reference to the title Mountjoy in such works before, but was uncertain. Ah, my lord, I envy you – a humanistic childhood in which you could behold the works of the greats.”

His cadence and timbre had perked up, and the viscount joined in the dismissal of Grey’s self-deprecation. “With Lord Grey as our scientist, and Lord Mountjoy our solicitor, I am left to be the philosopher, and so I declare my credentials in evaluating fools.” The joke was accompanied by a quick smile, and Athenry added, “Given our commitment to both moderation and extremism, gentlemen, I propose that we are either a trio without no fools or entirely comprised of them. For who else but a fool would discuss matters so weighty at a tailor’s?”

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Henry was about to give Mountjoy his condolences for having attended Oxford when the Marquis first mentioned his kinswoman Dorothy Grey, and then proceeded to speak well of the Baron’s knowledge acquired at Cambridge. Under those circumstances, even speaking in jest about the man’s alma mater would not be polite.

“Then I am firmly set in the path to wisdom, Lord Mountjoy, because I am certain that I know barely anything”. Lord Grey may be a somewhat accomplished optician and lens-maker, and a somewhat observant astronomer but, in the grand scheme of things, he was but a tadpole in more ways than one.

Then Lord Athenry mentioned Parisian Precision. Henry thought it had more to do with Le Roi’s controlling nature more than anything else. There was only one way to do things in France if you wanted to succeed, Le Roi’s way. The English court may be less refined, but it is far easier to be destroyed with an off-the-cuff comment in Versailles than in Whitehall. Henry shuddered at how careful he would have to be if he wanted to succeed as an astronomer in the French Court. Charles Rex truly enjoyed science, while in the Baron’s opinion Louis merely found it useful.

“I can truthfully declare myself a fool. A man in love with the Moon cannot be considered anything but”, he agreed with a genuine smile.

These two noblemen are definitely worth cultivating as friends.

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“I do admit that this conversation is not indicative of the usual subjects I tend to discuss when out shopping so I credit it all to the company I am in.” He smiled mischievously. “I shall let you gentlemen determine whether it is foolish or not.” Then to Henry. “I suppose your love waxes and wains with more reliability than a woman’s so perhaps foolish it may not be.”

He then notices the shopkeeper standing quietly to the side as to not interrupt them. He took this opportunity to place his rather simple order. “A dozen pocket handkerchiefs if you please. White cambric with a modicum of lace. The finest you have. If you have time, the initials CB tastefully embroidered in black and yellow thread, if not I shall suffer the indignity of having them plain. Shall I send my man to pick them up day after tomorrow?” It was clear that he only expected an affirmative answer and he did not inquire as to the price. Surely his ability to bravely accept the possibility of having un-monogramed pocket-handkerchiefs would amply demonstrate his stoic character to his new friends.

Having received the expected answer, he turned back to Henry. “My apologies for jumping ahead. As it was a simple order, I took the liberty of nipping you at the post so you would not feel the need to hurry your own business on my account.”

Including both he added. “Gentlemen, I would relish the continuation of this conversation at a future salon or even in a less formal setting but for now I must eish you a Good Morning and allow you to proceed with your business as I must proceed with mine.” He tipped his hat and gave a shallow bow to the two gentlemen as he took his leave.

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  • 4 weeks later...

“Indeed, my friend,” Athenry agreed with Grey and Mountjoy on the topic of the former’s foolishness, laughing. “I believe a man in your position would be labeled quite the lunatic.” Rather pleased with his wordplay, he decided then and there that these were not just useful men to know, but pleasant. Any trio that could turn a trip to the tailor’s into a light-hearted philosophical discussion was one the Welshman aspired to be a part of.

Mountjoy then placed his order, and Cadell bowed his head in acknowledgement of the Solicitor General’s apology for skipping his place then excusing himself from the conversation entirely. Internally, the viscount was filing away the man’s choice of fabric, mentally deferring to experience. “In the future, my lord, I may hold you to your words on a salon,” he promised, smiling pleasantly. Mountjoy would make an excellent guest, both intellectually and politically.

Wryly, he added, “And I may have to make more inquiries as to your connection to Erasmus. It has been the utmost pleasure and honor meeting you, Lord Mountjoy.” He gave a bow that was slightly deeper than that of the marquess, respectful of the man’s status without wishing to grovel. “As to you, Lord Grey my friend…pray do not tarry on my account. I am still communing with my sartorial muse.”

(Shall we wrap?)

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