Many Kinds of Silence


Knowing who to trust can mean the difference between life and death in Tudor England.

When William Shakespeare leaves his home in Stratford in the company of a Catholic priest he knows that he is walking into danger, but the vast libraries held in the name of God are enough to tempt him to risk his life in the pursuit of knowledge. However, the capture and death of his mentor, Edmund Campion, and his return to Stratford set William on an altogether different path. Marriage to Anne Hathaway means he must turn his back on the priesthood, but there are other ways for a clever and charming young man to be of use to the faith.

Many Kinds of Silence traces the story of a young William Shakespeare and his patron, Ferdinando Stanley, and reveals how choosing in whom to place your trust meant the difference between life and death in Elizabethan England.

Many Kinds of Silence is a cleverly conceived and captivating novel, casting adrift a young and restless William in a maelstrom of religious strife and intrigue whilst exploring the adventurous spirit of a generation in pursuit of scientific knowledge. (Lancashire Evening Post)

This is an engaging tale, a very readable book. (Goodreads)

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Chapter One


I know not whether to depart in silence.

King Richard III

As the iron-shod hooves clattered on the oak boards that spanned the moat at Bushwood Hall, William wished that they could have approached with more reverence. 

“Are we there?” asked his little brother Richard again. William could feel the small hands grasping the back of his best doublet and he felt Richard’s warm breath on his cheek as the child leaned forward to peer over his shoulder at the manor house. “Is that it?”

“Yes, that’s it. For goodness’ sake sit down before you fall,” warned William as the horse skittered sideways at some unseen demon lurking amongst the green fronds at the edge of the water. It was one of two bay palfreys that his father had hired. He and his brother, Gilbert, had taken turns to ride with Richard behind them. His sister Joan had ridden pillion on their father’s mount and their mother, with the baby strapped across her chest, was on their own sturdy and reliable dun mare, Marchpane.

The courtyard at the centre of the hall was already busy and the bay snickered a greeting to one of its stable mates. William reined it in tightly and twisted to lower his brother to the ground, warning him to move away from the hooves of the unfamiliar horses. Then he dismounted and led the palfrey to the stall indicated by one of the stable boys. He tied it up, loosened the girth a little, but did not unsaddle it. A boy of about his own age secured the horse his father had ridden and he saw Gilbert leading Marchpane into the low barn. He exchanged a glance with his brother, but they did not smile.

At the manor house door, a liveried servant of Sir William Catesby asked his father for his name and then admitted them. William took Richard by the hand, wiped the dirt from his shoes and stepped over the threshold. An oak staircase, carved with a winding grapevine, led to the upper chambers. The little boy caressed the plump bunches of wooden grapes with his hand as he passed them and asked if there would be something to eat.

“In a while,” promised William. He sympathised with his brother. It had been a long journey without any breakfast and his own stomach was aching with the need for food and his throat craved a long drink of ale.

The great hall was as large as the Guildhall in Stratford where he had sometimes accompanied his father. High above him the timber rafters were thick and blackened where the vent above the hearth had once opened, but now there was a fireplace below a brick chimney, although the logs in the dog-grate were unlit.

A layer of fresh rushes, sprinkled with water mint from the river bank, cushioned the floor and quietened the crowded room, although the voices of those who had gathered were muted. William recognized one or two people and his gaze was returned with brief nods, whilst the younger children pressed themselves against the legs of the adults and gazed in awe at the half-remembered friends and neighbours in their best Sunday clothing. Surely so many people would be missed at the Protestant churches, worried William, and the names of those who had been seen riding away from the towns and villages so early in the morning would be noted by the religious spies.

Through a gap in the assembly he saw the table on the dais. It was covered with white linen cloths that reached to the floor. This was for no ordinary meal. In the centre of the table was an altar stone and a crucifix and adjacent was a credence table − on it, arranged with precision, were the cruets which held the water and wine. William stared at the forbidden scene, his heart thumping in his chest at the daring of it, that it should be laid out like this in common sight.

Behind him a gust of wind rattled the latch of the outer door and he turned, expecting to see armed men burst in to arrest them. But apart from a heartbeat’s silence in the gentle lull of conversation there was no outward sign of fear. 

Beside him, his mother lifted his youngest brother Edmund to her shoulder and rubbed his back as he began to cry. She pressed her lips against his tiny bonneted head and shushed him. William watched her and, as she met his gaze and smiled, he saw the same love for him evident on her face. He prayed that God would keep his family safe this day and in all the days to come. It would be hard to leave them.

His father grasped William’s shoulder with a hand that smelt faintly of animal skin and lanolin. He nodded towards Master Cottam, who was William’s teacher at the grammar school. The schoolmaster wore a frown and rubbed his hands together over the pile of cold logs. His gesture filled William with unease, although the man had praised him only the day before. As the other boys had rushed from the schoolroom at the end of their lessons, Master Cottam had called him back and asked if he would be attending this gathering at Bushwood Hall. The master had promised that he would take the opportunity to speak to William’s parents about the prospect of him continuing his education, and William hoped that Master Cottam had not forgotten. A university education at one of the colleges at Oxford or Cambridge was not possible for him. His father no longer had the money to fund such an expense and it was only his position as Mayor of Stratford that had ensured William the privilege of a grammar school education up until now. But Master Cottam had hinted that he could recommend William for a scheme whereby he might continue to learn something more appealing than the curing of skins and the stitching of gloves in his father’s yard.

The sound of the bolts being shot across the inside of the door hushed the subdued voices and William turned to watch as Sir William Catesby and his family came down the stairs. The congregation parted as their hosts walked the length of the hall. Sir William’s son, Robert, followed them with the censer swinging in his grasp. The thick sweet scent began to rise in a spiral towards the vent in the ceiling, as if wafted heavenwards by the breath of the congregation, and the men and women crossed themselves as the priest entered.

So this was him, thought William, as he studied the man. This was Father Edmund Campion, who had come to England as a missionary to rescue the unbelievers. His dark eyes were watchful above prominent cheekbones, emphasised by his close-cropped hair. His sparse body seemed dwarfed by the finery of the blue velvet vestments which he wore. He paused at the credence table and washed and dried his hands carefully before sprinkling holy water on the altar and then over the heads of the people. 

“Our help is in the name of the Lord!”

“Who made heaven and earth,” they replied.

The wind rattled the door again but the noise was  lost in the voices of the men and older children who formed the choir. Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie, eleison. William listened, allowing his senses to imbibe every sound as the music filled him with an emotion he struggled to contain. He felt safe now. He felt loved.

“Dominus vobiscum.”

“Et cum spiritu tuo.”

William grasped his rosary between his fingers as the priest began to pray. This was what mass should be like, celebrated openly with others who truly believed rather than in secret corners of hidden rooms. He raised his eyes and followed the trail of incense upwards, carrying the priest’s intercessions to God. They should be in a church, with paintings of the Bible stories on the walls and images of the saints on the rood screen – and although the priest spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation, William was tempted to curse those who had made his father weep after he had signed the agreement for the images to be whitewashed over in the chapel of the Guildhall. He prayed silently that the excommunicated queen would soon be cast down from her mortal throne and that a monarch of God’s choosing would rule them again and that the true and holy church would be restored.

“Amen,” he said, in answer to his own prayers as well as those of the priest.

“I think you may have a calling,” Master Cottam had told him. “Do you feel it, William?”

“Yes, sir,” he had replied, though whether it was the calling of God, or of the extensive libraries that were held in His name, William was still uncertain. But as he approached the dais and the priest placed the sacrament upon his tongue, he asked that the body and blood of Christ crucified would transform him into a worthy candidate and that, if it was his destiny, he would find the strength to face the rack and the rope.

 There was a moment of silence after the priest withdrew, then the atmosphere was broken with conversation. Someone laughed. People hugged one another and the serving boys came in to lay breakfast on the tables. Young Robert tugged at William’s sleeve, impatient to find room on one of the long benches that were being carried forward and William found that the aromas of the meat and bread were luring his senses from worship towards the pleasure of eating. He held the baby whilst his mother seated herself. Diapers were shaken out and placed on shoulders, dishes were carried in with efficient speed and William helped himself from the trenchers and ate.

He glanced up, aware of being watched, and across the table met the gaze of Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a farmer from Shottery. She smiled at him and William felt his face flush as he recalled how they had kissed the last time they met. As he tried to assume an air of indifference and give his attention to slicing his ham into edible portions, he nicked the edge of his finger with his blade and when he put it to his mouth to lick away the trickle of blood, Anne raised an arched eyebrow and he forced his gaze back to his platter. He had tried to expunge from his memory the honey-sweet taste of her lips and tongue as she had teased at his mouth with hers, the softness of her female form beneath his hands as he had pressed against her body − and her laughter at his ineptitude. Four years older than him, she was a woman whilst he remained a boy. And anyway, such temptations were not for him again, not if he was to be accepted on Father Campion’s mission.

As the remains of the meal were cleared away Master Cottam approached them. William struggled to his feet in the narrow gap as his father grasped the schoolmaster’s hand.

“There is someone who wants to meet you,” said Master Cottam to William.

As he stepped over the bench, his mother reached out to pull his doublet straight. “Speak clearly,” she advised. He nodded, knowing that he never mumbled as other boys were wont to do and that he was always Master Cottam’s first choice to read aloud the poems of Ovid. But as he saw the pride in the look that his parents exchanged, he felt a moment of trepidation. He did not want to let them down or disappoint them.

He followed the schoolmaster across the hall, his father at his side. Father Campion had changed out of his robes. He was in conversation and, sensing William’s hesitation, his father pressed his shoulder.

“Do not be afraid. Master Cottam has spoken well of you,” he whispered. “If you see sorrow on his face it is because his brother has been betrayed at Dover and taken prisoner, not because you have displeased him.” 

William knew that his schoolmaster’s brother was a priest and was aware of what might await him at the hands of Sir Francis Walsingham and the queen’s torturers. For a moment he wondered if he would be glad if Father Campion found him unsuitable and he was returned to the safety of the glover’s workshop after all.

“William.” Father Campion laid a hand on his head in blessing. “Your schoolmaster has spoken of you with much recommendation.” William felt his palms slick with sweat and wiped them on his new hose, hoping that no one would notice. “I am looking for young men to join my mission,” went on Father Campion. “Young men who want to dedicate themselves to God. Do you want to dedicate yourself to God, William?” the priest asked. His sea green eyes searched William’s face. 

“This is a wonderful opportunity for you,” urged his father. “You will have the chance to study and travel and to bring people to the true church. I would be proud if Father Campion chose you to go with him.”

“Where would I go?” asked William. He felt his father’s grip tighten on his shoulder. 

“I plan to ride to the house of Thomas Hoghton,” the priest told him. “I hope to stay there for a while and begin my mission amongst the local people.  They have lost their way in these difficult times.” He paused. “Will you come with me, William? Will you be my pupil as well as my helpmeet?” He paused again and William saw his face take on a serious look. “It will not be without risk,” he warned. “You will have to put your trust in God and know that He will give you strength − whatever is asked of you.” William glanced across at Master Cottam. “You must have no fear, only faith,” said Father Campion, “and your rewards will be manifold in the days when you are seated at the right hand of God.”

William hesitated. “Will I be able to study?” he asked after a moment. 

“I can teach you rhetoric and philosophy,” said Father Campion, “and Master Cottam tells me that you like books.” He smiled. “The day is too short and the sun must run a greater circumference before I could number all the epistles, homilies and volumes amassed at Hoghton. I can teach you about the power of words, and I am keen on drama. I would value a young man who can speak boldly, and I have been told that your performances are worth witnessing.”

“I have heard that people enjoy watching me,” said William, pleased that the priest should have heard such good reports.

“I have tried to dissuade him from his interests in such a disreputable pursuit as the theatre,” his father interrupted. “He is an honest boy from a decent family.”

“I know, replied the priest. “But not all players are rogues and vagabonds. The Hoghtons keep a troupe of players at their own expense – properly employed household servants, not feckless vagrants who are whipped from town to town. And such troupes are useful as they travel to perform in the households of the faithful. Who might suspect that one plays a more important role, or that the coffers filled with gaudy costumes might hide the vestments of a priest?”

William saw his father’s look of surprise and Father Campion laughed softly. “God gives us talents that He expects us to use to serve Him,” he said, “and I believe that the talents of your son will help our cause. I will take care of him,” he promised. “And I will do my best to ensure that no harm befalls him.”

“What of it, William?” asked his father. “I know that you want to continue your education, but are you ready to take the vows of poverty and chastity that will be required of you?”

William looked at the priest. It was said that he ate no more than was necessary to sustain life. And he recalled how he had just piled his own plate high, thinking of nothing but the taste on his tongue and the satisfaction of filling his stomach. And the image of Anne Hathaway, with her arched eyebrow, tempted him. It would be more pleasurable to lie down with her yielding body than be roped to the rack until his joints were rent asunder and he was forced to call out the names of his fellow Catholics.

“Think carefully,” said the priest. “I acknowledge that this is no easy decision. There is much in the world to tempt a young man and it will not be easy to turn away from those sins.”

William was aware of the tense silence as they waited to hear what he would say. He thought about the promise of the library at Hoghton, the tutoring from this clever and well-respected man, the expectations of his father and his teacher, and he set it against the prospect of spending the rest of his life stitching gloves for finer hands than he could ever hope to have, despite his father’s ambition to become a gentleman.

“Sir, I would like to go with you,” he said. The priest smiled and his father breathed a sigh of satisfaction.

“God bless you and keep you,” said Father Campion, tracing the sign of the cross on his damp forehead. “We have all been blessed this day.” The priest turned to his father. “I have something for you,” he said and turned to a leather pouch that lay on the table. William watched as he took out a wad of handwritten booklets amounting to a few pages each. “I have carried these from Milan,” he said. 

“The Borromeo Testament,” said William’s father, gazing at the document that was offered to him.

“Will you sign this as a reaffirmation of your faith?” asked the priest. 

“I will,” agreed William’s father, taking hold of the testament in trembling hands. 

An inkpot and a selection of grey goose quills had been placed on the long table where the crucifix had stood. William followed his father as he stepped up onto the dais and watched as he spread the pages and signed his name on each one.

I, John Shakespeare, ask my dear friends, parents, and kinsfolk to remember my time in Purgatory and assist and succour me with their holy prayers and satisfactory works, especially with the holy sacrifice of the Mass, as being the most effectual means to deliver souls from their torments and pains, from the which, if I shall by God’s gracious goodness and by their virtuous works be delivered, I do promise that I will not be ungrateful unto them, for so great a benefit. “Pray for me, William,” said his father as they waited for the ink to dry.

A wind had sprung up when they came out from the hall. It ruffled the jaunty feather in his father’s red woollen cap. William breathed deeply and he smelt freedom. No longer would he have to endure the stench of soaking leather, boiling onions, and the beeswax and lanolin that his father used to soften the hides. 

He called Richard to come away from the edge of the moat and kept hold of his squirming hand as they went across the courtyard to collect the horses. He would miss his brothers and sister, and his parents, but a restlessness had entered him this past year and a desire to know more about the world beyond the confines of his narrow life.

“Where is the house of Thomas Hoghton?” he asked as he walked beside his father’s horse on the road back to Stratford.

“Not far from Preston, in Lancashire. Did I ever tell you that my ancestors came from there?”

“No.” William looked up. He rarely heard his father speak about his family and thought that it was because he felt they were inferior to the Arden family from which his mother came.

“My grandfather fought at Bosworth,” his father told him. “He was a loyal Lancastrian and was rewarded with land in Warwickshire by King Henry. Originally he came from Preston and the family name was Shakeshaft, but when the family moved here they came to be known as Shakespeare.”

“What happened to the land?” asked William. He hadn’t known that his father’s family had been wealthy, only that his father had suffered severe losses from his dealings in the wool trade and was having problems paying the fines imposed on them for their irregular attendance at the Protestant church – a drain on his income that would be added to by their absence again today. 

William saw his father shrug causing the bay he was riding to hesitate. “Parcelled into plots, inherited, sold, lost,” he replied. He sounded resentful and William was curious about the fuller story, but this was not the time to ask. He reckoned it was his turn to ride because if he left it to Gilbert he would end up walking all the way home.

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3 thoughts on “Many Kinds of Silence


    1. I’m pleased you enjoyed the first chapter, Regina. The whole book is available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

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