Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century

Rodwell, G Herbert





For though we sleep, or wake, or roam, or ride,

Aye fleeteth the time-it will no man abide. Chaucer.

NEVER had been seen such crowds of gaily-dressed Southwark lads, and Southwark lasses--Southwark old men, and Southwark dames of antique gait, as ran, or walked, or hobbled over Old London Bridge towards the city on the morning of the nineteenth of February .

By this date, the reader will perceive that our pen has used its plume to good purpose; and, instead of merely running on as fast as hand could drive it, it has actually flown-ay, flown over no less a space of time than eight years, since the closing of our last chapter.

But, before we enter upon the cause of all this gaiety of face and fanciful attire-for, be it known, that every face was smiling, and every dress was new, or newly turned or trimmed, or in some way adorned to fit it for so joyful an occasion-we must, for a moment, reverse our glass, and look back upon events which, although diminished to the eye of the reader as it were to mere specks, may still possess some interest; and, indeed, as connecting links in the chain of our romance, are absolutely necessary to be regarded, if but for a moment.

During these eight years extraordinary changes had taken place, not only in the characters of our tale, but in the historical transactions of our land. Cromwell, as the reader may remember, had fondly hugged himself upon his success in bringing about the marriage of Henry with the protestant princess, Anne of Cleves; but this union was his ruin; for, when Henry beheld her, which he did in the first instance secretly and in disguise, he was so overcome by disappointment at her want, in his eyes, of personal attraction, that it is said he had nearly fallen.

We may easily picture to ourselves the agony Cromwell must have endured upon being summoned into the presence of the king after he had seen the wife his minister had provided him, and when he heard the king's reply, upon his reminding his majesty that he had desired his servants to find him "a fine large woman:" "Yes," said the king, bitterly, "a fine large woman; but I did not tell you to bring me a Flanders mare."

Great had been the exultation of Gardiner, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Winchester, and all his adherents, at this signal failure on the part of their enemy-Cromwell.

Gardiner, who knew his master well, at once set to work; and, although matters had gone too far for him to prevent the marriage with Anne of Cleves, he hoped soon to bring about a dissolution of that marriage, and to raise one of his own sect to be partaker of the throne. The method he pursued was, to invite the king to his banquets, whereat he placed near him, not a " Flanders mare"-not a " fine large woman;" but one of the smallest, and at the same time, prettiest creatures in England, Catherine Howard.



Poor Henry, like a foolish moth, flew at once to the light which shone from the brilliant eyes of the artful beauty, and again found the wings of his heart most terribly singed.

Cromwell was now commanded to cause the same parliament, which had no great length of time before, "prayed" the king to take to himself for a wife Anne of Cleves, now to "pray" of him to put her aside; which these upright honest members of parliament accordingly did.

The Roman Catholics were now exulting at Cromwell's expected fall, but had their hopes for a time greatly damped by finding the king not only continue to trust his former favourite, but actually bestowing upon him, with his own hands, the order of the garter, and then creating him Earl of Essex.

Henry, as in the case of his marriage with Anne Boleyn, wedded Catherine Howard privately; and it is supposed, the marriage took place on the very same day on which he ordered his faithful servant, Cromwell, to have his head struck off. This execution took place on Tower Hill, on the twenty-eighth of July . Many a poor man's eye dropped a tear to his memory; for twice a day were no less than two hundred beggars fed at his door in Throgmorton Street.

The death of their patron caused Harry Horton, and his former coadjutor, Spikely, to fly beyond the seas; for they had been too active against the Romanists to feel in safety now the tide seemed setting against the Protestants, so that for some years we lose sight of them entirely.

In , Henry caused himself to be proclaimed King of Ireland, thus becoming the first English king of that country. Before this date, his title was merely Lord of Ireland.

King Henry appeared to be particularly unfortunate in his numerous matrimonial speculations; for we find pretty little Catherine Howard, in February , undergoing the same fate on the same spot within the walls of the tower, that had terminated the short and miserable regal career of Anne Boleyn.

It seemed that neither a Romish wife, nor one of the Protestant faith, had sufficient power over her bloodthirsty spouse, to make either side of the balance waver a hair's breadth; for so nicely, as the historian says, did he trim the scales, that if Dr. Barnes, a celebrated preacher and leader of the Protestant party, " was committed to the torments of the merciless fire," and burnt alive in Smithfield, with Garret and Jerome, as a heretic-in the other scale were to be found Powell, Abel, and Featherston, to be hanged and quartered for denying the king's supremacy. If anything could be done to make these executions more revolting to both sects, it was the fact of their being coupled-a Protestant with a Catholic on the same hurdle-and thus drawn to the scene of death. Upon this occasion, it is said that a Frenchman exclaimed, "Good God ! how do people make a shift to live here, where Papists are hanged and Anti-Papists are burnt ?"

We have, fortunately, but few more lines to write concerning the monster, Henry the Eighth.

Some time before he died, he had married his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, who miraculously escaped destruction, although often on its very


brink. Henry had now grown so enormously fat, that it is said he could not pass through any ordinary door, and that machinery was employed, or numerous attendants called in, to aid him in moving from room to room: so diseased had he become, that it was dangerous to approach him. A law had been passed, making it treason, and several persons had been executed, for even supposing the king's death; so that at the last, when all around knew that he was dying, no one dared tell him-the fatal truth. So determined did he appear to be, that even his death-bed should be sprinkled with blood, that, perhaps the last act he ever performed was sanctioning the execution of the Duke of Norfolk, uncle of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, as well as of his fifth, Catherine Howard. He was ordered for execution, but was saved by the king dying a few hours before the time appointed for him to have laid his head upon the block.

We will now look back upon the occurrences which took place in the Clink, after the Cripple had witnessed the horrid scene of tying the dead body to the post at the foot of the long flight of steps. His eyes seemed riveted to the horrid spectre. What could be the meaning of such an act ? He now began to feel the danger of his own position increasing a hundredfold; for he knew full well, that if the body were found there by the authorities, a searching investigation mightperhaps take place, and his own concealment be betrayed. How should he act ? what could he do ? The murderers he knew were close at hand; but even if he had the power to denounce them, his own life, and that of one who was more to him than life, would, at the same moment, be sacrificed. As he was thus musing, "Hush!" again said Eoline, "there is another footstep approaching. Should it be the watch, we are lost: oh, Heaven save us!"

The footstepbecame louder as it approached beneath the black arch. The Cripple now saw plainly that the four men were watching from the windows of the house they had entered. He was not long kept in suspense, for the scene which followed at once revealed the whole to him. The person who issued from the archway was the same woman whom he had seen with the lantern ascending the steps in company with a man. As she approached the body, she suddenly started; then looking closer-" Heavens and earth !" she said, "'tis the body of a man! what can this mean ?" Then raising her lantern towards the face, she uttered a shriek, and exclaimed with anguish, "'Tis he! 'tis he! they have murdered him !" She again was made to start by hearing a shout of laughter behind her; and turning, she saw the four men: he with the bandaged head exclaimed-" We have murdered him, your beautiful Ray, the Clipper! And did you think your husband, because he did not shew his teeth before he knew he could bite, never intended to open his mouth ? Ha! ha! Spikely never yet remained unrevenged. Bind her to the same stake," he said, turning to the men; but before they could advance a foot, she had flown up the steps, entered the house, and secured the door within. When they found that she had given them the slip, Spikely's rage became ungovernalle. He flew at the door like a bull; but it resisted all his efforts to break it open. He then changed his tone, and pretending to laugh, told her he meant her no harm; and that if she would open the door, now he had been revenged on Ray the Clipper,


. all should be forgiven and forgotten. He listened, but received no reply. The Cripple now saw the woman come from the attic window, and creeping along the gutters, pass over several ruinous houses; and then turning round a corner, became hidden from view.

When Spikely had lost all patience at her obstinacy, as he called it, in not opening the door, he began to swear; and vowed, that rather than not reward her as she deserved, he'd fire the whole place, and burn her like a rat. As he was saying this, a lad came hurrying from beneath the arch, and said something in a low quick tone which the Cripple could not distinguish; but, without a moment's delay, the body was unfastened from the post, and as they conveyed it to the house whence they had come, he fancied he heard one of the men say " they could bury it in the cellar beneath the street."

Scarcely a minute had elapsed after they had disappeared before a heavy tramping of feet was heard; and now the Cripple easily guessed the cause of their precipitate retreat-it was the Watch, taking their seldom-performed round.

The Cripple could not help reflecting what strange scenes are often passing within a yard of us, that if we knew of would make our blood almost freeze in our veins. He dared not speak, and yet he saw the supposed guardians of the laws unconsciously walking over the very spot beneath which a murdered man was at that instant being buried by his assassins. He felt as if he had been equally guilty with the actors in the deed, because he held his peace. His eyes seemed to penetrate through the earth, and look upon the bloody scene at that instant being enacted. At one moment his lips actually moved to raise the alarm, but his eyes falling upon the poor helpless creature at his side, he resisted the impulse and was dumb. The watch passed on; a short time sufficed for the unhallowed sextons to fulfil their task, which, as he guessed, being accomplished, the men again issued from the door; they carefully locked it, and then silently disappeared beneath the black arch.

The next morning the Bridge-shooter brought the poor Cripple the cheering news that Edward Osborne had prepared every thing for their flight. One of his master's vessels was to sail that night for the Netherlands, and aboard which they would be conveyed to a land of safety. It was settled that an hour before the moon should rise, a waggon should be brought as close as safety would allow, to the black arch; that Eoline should be carried by the Bridge-shooter and the Cripple on the mattress as she lay, and being placed in the waggon, conveyed some distance on the road to Greenwich, where a boat would be in readiness to bear them all to the merchant's vessel.

As the hour approached for carrying the scheme into execution, Edward and the Bridge-shooter were somewhat surprised by the Lord Mayor appearing, mounted, in full harness; the Sheriffs too followed, and behind them came some hundreds of armed men. The Southwark-gate was closed; the towers were manned, as indeed were all the roofs of the houses at that end of the Bridge. This warlike movement, which was one of not infrequent occurrence, was now rendered necessary in consequence of the report brought in by the watch which the Cripple had seen the night before passing through the Clink. It appeared that the


"Bishop of Winchester's birds," for that was the name by which the ruffians who, as it were, took sanctuary in the Clink or the Mint, were known, had fixed upon that night to make a foray into the city, for the purpose of robbery. Southwark and Lambeth had both, in former times, been the receptacles of the greater part of the vice and immorality of London. So little power had the Lord Mayor over this district, that, although to protect the city, he would, with his armed bands, watch for a whole night upon the Bridge, he seldom ventured to attack the thieves in their strong-hold. What a strange and lawless state of things does this picture present to view!

The one half of the Bridge being choked up with soldiers, and the gates closed, Edward and the Bridge-shooter were compelled to reach Southwark by a different route: fortunately their waggon had already passed over the Bridge; so, hurrying through the city to Paul's Wharf, they there took boat, and proceeded towards the opposite shore.

The night was gloomy; though not so dark but that they could see quite enough to convince them that the " Bishop of Winchester's birds" were not easily to be thwarted by any Lord Mayor, be he as cunning as he might; for suddenly they found themselves surrounded by, at least, fifty boats, all crowded with thieves.

It was indeed a lucky thing for the safety of their project, as well as their own, that the Bridge-shooter's early education had been attended to by instructors not quite so respectable as Flora Gray, or they might have been, in all probability, detained the whole night as prisoners; or, perchance, robbed and murdered outright. More than a dozen times were they called to in a manner, that, had Edward been alone, would have proved unanswerable-at least by him.

" Fish or fowl ?" was the invariable question; to which the Bridge- shooter, imitating his former vulgar tone of voice, replied--" Birds all! birds all!"

"What can this mean ?" said Osborne in a whisper to William.

" You'll know to-morrow, Master Edward, depend upon that," said the Bridge-shooter. "How this does remind one of old times, to be sure. When I was a boy, I had no idea of there being any harm in it."

' In what ?" enquired Osborne.

" Vy, you see-- lord love me! if these beauties have not made me forget all my gentility-did you hear my V ? I'm glad Flora was not here. Why, you see, Master Edward, that every one of these boats is filled with thieves, who, finding their scheme upon London has been blown, are now on their way, while the Lord Mayor is dozing on the Bridge, just to go and open the eyes of the good folk of Westminster: it's an old trick, but one that seldom fails: you'll hear of five hundred robberies to-morrow, and many a Bird now chirping here, will be hung up with his feathers on before the week's out: but what of that ? they're so used to it, that if nine out of every ten fly off without their throats getting the squeeze, they're as merry as larks." The boats of their disreputable neighbours having left the way clear, they soon effected a safe landing, and by the aid of the Bridge-shooter's local knowledge, were in a few minutes at the door beneath the black


. arch. So much beyond the appointed time had been their arrival, that the Cripple of the Bridge had nearly exhausted all the excuses he could invent to appease the fears of Eoline, or as likely to have been the cause of his friend's delay, when all alarm was set at rest by Osborne's entrance.

All had long been in readiness in that wretched abode. The poor Abbess had put on every piece of clothing she possessed, as being the easier mode of carrying her now scanty wardrobe. Eoline had been already brought from the room above, and was lying upon the mattress, warmly wrapped in one of Merchant Hewet's furred gowns, which Edward had sent for the purpose.

There being no reason for delay, but every reason for immediate flight, Eoline as she lay, was borne between them, and thus they left the place. As they came out, the Bridge-shooter pointing to the house with the steps, whispered to Edward, " that is the place-it was up those horrid steps poor Anne was dragged, the night she was lost."

Osborne would gladly have waited a few moments to have examined the spot more minutely, but as the moon began to send forth her feeble rays, to announce her near approach, it was more prudent to push onwards as speedily as possible. Not far from the arch they found the expected waggon, and now all were fairly on their way; everything turned out propitiously; and in an hour more, the Cripple with his Eoline and the Abbess were safely on board the good merchant's vessel; the anchor was weighed, the sails were set, and Eoline dropping tears of gratitude from her poor sightless eyes upon the hand of Osborne, as she fervently pressed it to her lips, breathed a heartfelt prayer for him and all he might ever love. A minute more, and the last ' God speed you" was heard, and the vessel began to move majestically upon its dangerous course.

While these incidents were performing, Master Hewet, with his Alyce and his newly-found daughter, the lovely Anne, and Flora Gray, had arrived safely at Putney. Here, by the assistance of old Cromwell, he was at once enabled to settle in a most beautiful retreat, and taking the name of Allen, the better to throw his enemies off the scent, he began to lay out his plans for the future happiness of those dependent upon him. Innocent as he knew himself to have ever been regarding his religious views, still, even the accusation of heresy, in such times, was a thing not to be regarded with indifference; it was, therefore, with infinite satisfaction he heard Edward Osborne's account of the interview he had had with Horton.

His principal anxiety now became to discover, if possible, some clue to the secret enmity, which evidently was ever on the watch to injure him. The exertions he had made, had been the cause of the celebrated monster show dissolvingofitself; its elements were scattered here, there, and everywhere. Nothing could be heard of Nan, nor the Clipper, nor of one whom lie would most kindly have protected, and have rewarded munificently- the old man who had befriended his child. As there had been an educational establishment settled close at hand,the governants of which, formerly nuns, but who had ever born a character of high repute, not only for virtue and sanctity, but for great learning, he immediately determined to continue his wife and child where they were, until Anne had finished her education;


and he was the more inclined to this arrangement, for he had every wish that the strange incidents of Anne's late way of life, should be, if possible, buried in oblivion.

The next few years, proved to the merchant one uninterrupted course of prosperity and happiness. Alyce's mind, day by day, became more fixed, and had indeed so apparently returned to its former tone, that unless it were shaken by touching upon one certain string, no indication of weakness would at all appear: there was another reason for the merchant not wishing to take his dear Alyce again to the Bridge, and that was, the fact of the ci-devant saintly Father Brassinjaw, having become the landlord of the next house, the Cardinal's Hat. It is true, that Alyce might not have recognised her former confessor, now he had let his hair and whiskers grow, but she never could have gone to her window without her eyes being shocked by the sight of his well-known, but dreaded name; for he had most ostentatiously proclaimed his new calling, by having painted, in enormous letters, under the sign of the Cardinal's Hat, "BRASSINJAW, VINTNER;" to which was appended this exquisite distich:-

" Come, come, And taste my stum !"

Every Saturday afternoon, Edward and the Bridge-shooter rowed their master, in a beautiful light barge he had had built on purpose, up to the cottage of the heath-that is to say, to the ferry-for the cottage stood at some distance inland. Here they were always met by Dame Allen, as Alyce was now called, with her daughter and Flora, and never were six more happy countenances to be met with, than those that now smiled upon each other.

As they strolled homewards, the party invariably divided into three couples, admirably assorted. The merchant, with his wife's arm through his own, took the lead; then followed Edward and Anne, and last- at much greater-distance thanthe other four kept apart-followed William and Flora. Notwithstanding the distance they were away, those before them more than once had heard Flora exclaim, "Don't he a fool, William, you'll make me cross if you do that again." What William had been doing, or attempting to do, upon such occasions, has never been divulged, so we must be excused for not recording it. Early on the Monday mornings, the same little party were again seen on the same spot, their faces beaming with equal kindness, but lacking slightly the joyousness of the Saturday at eve, for now it was the merchant that followed his two trusty serviteurs into the barge; and each, and all, having bade adieu, was once more on his way to Old London Bridge.

The three females always remained on the shore, watching the receding bark, until a bend in the river was about to hide it from their view; at this point the merchant invariably stood up in the boat, and waved his cap to those whom he had left. Edward and the Bridge-shooter took their oars from the flood, and raising them upright, moved them in the air as token of a last adieu; three scarves were now seen waving from the shore; the oars again descended to the flood, and they were gone.

Alyce then went upon her visits of charity; Anne to her studies; and Flora to think, we fear, much more of the Bridge-shooter than of her household affairs.

Have now explained how matters had sped during the years gone by, we will take up the thread of our narratibe from the nineteenth of Febrruary, 1547, far as we ahve before said, at the epoch we have now arrived.