God speakes to me in the sunlight on the lawn / but there is
rottenness in apples and quinces / in stagnant ponds and unloving hearts.
Orlando Figges (1622-?)
I thought that Yorkshire would be a fit punishment for my sins; the
bleak Northern winds and her harsh people, and yet there is Gods beautie
here too, and to my surprise I am happy, happier than when I was a soldier
fighting the cavaliers and happier than when I was a much quoted poet living in
London under the reign of Cromwell. Perhaps all I wanted was peace and
anonymity, rather than to turn the world upside down.
And yet, despite my content, this a house of sorrow; My Lady, has a
dark look of miserie that draws me to her, with pity and even with love, my
humanity more important than my religion. I rarely see Her, have never even
heard Her speak, I am only an undergardener after all, and it is best that
people pay me no attention, but sometimes she appears amongst the flowers of
the garden, arm-in-arm with her mother-in-law, both mourning Her Lord, a
Cavalier, who died fighting in the late war. The mother-in-law looks
stern and composed, but My Lady overflows with emotion, tears never far away,
and the other servants too mourn for a man who died on a battlefield many miles
Once I was tending the herbs and I heard a noise, a woman talking,
begging, all restraint gone.
Why did you leave me, I am helpless without you.
There was weeping, as if it would never stop, but no voice replied,
except perhaps in her head, and I fled quietly before I was seen where I was
not wanted. Perhaps it was a maid, who had been betrayed by her lover, but the
voice was refined, despite the emotion being expressed, and I was glad that I
had not seen My Lady so distraught.
The Head Gardener, Ramsbotham, is a garrulous man but one who knows how
to look after a garden, and when he is not talking about phantoms,
the wickedness of Cromwell and myriad other things, is kindly and
knowledgeable. And he allows me my peace; he does not question me about my
history but rather accepts that I am here, and so long as I work hard and
listen to his chatter, he is content.
The King looked pale as he was led out. I was there, close by, as he
stumbled forward in the winter cold, and for a moment our eyes met, and was
that laughter in his eye, as if the whole thing were a jest, and only we two
could see it? I tried to hold his eye, to try to understand but he had moved
on, and then I forced myself to watch as he knelt to pray and then the sword
came down and there was a groan from the crowd. As the crowd drifted away, I
felt disquiet and a doubting that all this was really G-ds will; where
was the Christian Love and common humanity that our leaders and ministers had
When I fought and afterwards watched crows pick at the dead, I felt
that it was for the better cause, and one I was prepared to be a martyr for. We
prayed before battle and gave thanks to God afterwards; this was truly a
religious war, for the soul of blessed England. Even when my older brother
Edwin died at the siege of Nottingham, killed by a musket ball in the chest, my
sadness was tempered by the thought that he had died a righteous death. But
watching a king beheaded in front of a confused mob was not Holie or right, and
I could not justify it in my heart.
After the crowd had dispersed my friend Adrian Scrope, wanted me to go
to his house.
Come Mister Figges, enough of your poetry and hymns, let us talk
about these momentous things. The future is ours.
But I put him off and walked away until I came to the Thames, and stood
deep in thought, my cloke around my face to protect me from the smell of
effluence and I shed a tear although I am not sure for whom. And then I made my
way to my rooms and once there I wrote a poem called Mortalitie and
that is how I passed my time as the new era came upon us, a world that I
thought would last forever, but proved to be just for the shortest of
Mistress Browne, the Cook, sometimes asks me about London; she lived
there as a child and still has the accent which stands out amongst the rough
Yorkshire voices of the rest of the servants. That we are both outsiders has
created a freemasonry between us, made us perhaps friends, although I am
careful not to tell her too much about my past. I wrote her some verses once,
the only poetry I have written since coming to Yorkshire, and she blushed and
put them close to her bosom and promised she would read them, they were just a
trifling thing, a description of rain upon the moor which surrounds the house,
but I hope that she read them and thought of me.
Did you ever see the old King she asked, her eyes looking
straight at me, her fair hand briefly on my shoulder. She craved to hear of the
world that she had left behind.
I was a recluse, I lived quietly; I saw him in passing but never
Oh Mr Figges did you not yearn for glamour and excitement? I saw
him as a child; fair and beautiful and he looked at me and smiled.
Who could not but smile on one so fair?
She laughed gaily as if she were still a young woman and fled into the
kitchen, and I watched her, aroused despite myself.
And then a suitor arrived for my Ladys hand; Lord Richmond, an
obese man who constantly sweats even in the cold of February, and who is
barbarous in speech. Mistress Browne is contemptuous.
My Lady is young enough to want pleasure between the sheets and
witty conversation afterwards, not this dullard, she told me
knowingly. She was abreast of all the gossip from the house and enjoyed
relaying it to me and watching my shocked and priggish expression.
Mr Ramsbotham says that he is rich and has no heirs, I
She has money and one so beautiful could do better. Her
mother-in-law wants somebody pliant who she can control, that is why Richmond
was invited here; she is behind it all, mark my words.
I watched with dislike as Richmond walked the gardens with a stout
stick, short of breath and cross, and then when one of My Ladys dogs,
full of frolic, came too close, Richmond hit it viciously across the back with
Off lad he shouted in coarse accent as the hound whimpered
in pain, even the Mother-in-Law flinched briefly whilst My Lady walked back
into the house without a backward glance, and I could feel her hatred from the
other sides of the gardens and I felt immense pity for her, whilst Richmond
oblivious carried on with his walk, swishing his stick viciously, the other
dogs watching him nervously.
There were noises in the night; the Maids huddled together for
protection, and even in my hut I could hear the occasional shout and cry.
It is a haunted house Ramsbotham tells me, My
Ladys husband was not the first to die before his time. Even long before
his death servants left, and one Maid saw something so monstrous that she would
never speak of it. She died within a year, her face turned towards the
wall, shaking with fear.
The Devil strides amongst us I murmured knowingly.
Indeed he does Mr Figges, even now that Cromwell has gone, he is
Where did My Lady come from? I asked him.
Rutland. Her father owned land, they are a wealthy family, and
powerful. I remember her coming up here, so young and My Lord was gentle with
her, he was a kind man, and they swiftly married. And within two years he was
carrion for crows and her child lay dead within her womb soon after. We thought
she too would die, such was her sorrow.
He patted me on my shoulder, come on Figges, dont look so
solemn we have work to do, the house will awaken soon.
And he and I trudged off to tend to the garden, engulfed by the smell
of early morning fog, even though there was so little to do in those bleak
winter months when Spring seemed so distant.
My Lord Richmond stayed a week and then departed; having hit all the
dogs, sworn at all the manservants and kissed all the maids. I had hoped
Cromwell would sweep all this corruption away, but whilst the Lord
Protectors head is on a pole outside Westminster Hall and those of us who
supported him are either dead or in hiding, these fools continue to thrive as
if nothing had changed and as if nothing will. My Lady was well rid of him.
The voice said, weep for all that all past/ All flesh is grass,
and all godliness long departed. (Orlando Figges)
Propagandist for the regicides, that is what they called
me; and it is true my poetry dared to imagine a better world, a commonwealth
without oppression and where everyone was equal, and I believe that
Fairfaxs men quoted my poetry on the battlefield and when they tore the
idols from churches. But once Cromwell rose to power I slowly disappeared from
view, my poetry became bitter and cynical, just another ex-soldier melancholy
and confused. I had hoped that Cromwell would soon abdicate and usher in a
truly democratic state, but alas he wanted power just as much as Charles or
James and the others before him, so I could not support him anymore than I
could the Kings and Queens who had oppressed the poor and made our religion a
And then once Charles II came to the throne, the vengeful royalists
returned from their extended Grand Tours abroad and started chasing up those
they saw responsible for putting Gods Chosen to death. My friend, the
reckless Adrian Scrope hung, drawn and quartered at Charing Cross, and even
those who fled to Germany at the first sign of trouble, Okey and Bartstead,
were dragged back here to appease the Royal fool and his cowardly entourage,
and they too were executed in the streets. Afeared that I would be next I fled
London; but in truth I was glad to leave; the corruption of the city made
me sicken, with the prostitutes lining the streets, the drunkenness and the
mindless rejoicing, as if all godliness and decency had disappeared and
wickedness returned but tenfold.
Mistress Browne told me that one of the maids had heard a ghost last
night; a woman, weeping and talking.
Was it My Lady? I asked.
Possibly, these young maids take fright at the faintest of
sounds, but the house is ancient and creaks. Even I am afeard at night on
occasion. And the Mother-in-Law pacing about like a sentinel; does she never
She will not live forever.
I think she will Mr Figges, when you and I and My Lady are
rotting in our graves she will still be here, stern and unyielding, harsh and
unkind, so unlike her son.
My Ladys second suitor was expected on Saturday morning, but Lord
Edwin did not arrive until late in the evening; handsome in a foppish sort of
way and more My Ladys age than Richmond had been. Mistress Browne and I
watched him stumble from his carriage.
My dear he said to the Mother-in-Law and leered at My Lady
herself, before losing his footing and falling, his manservant, with barely
concealed contempt, helping him up and brushing the gravel from his
He is a second cousin I believe murmured my companion,
he is from My Ladys own county of Rutland.
Lord Edwins voice was loud, and he was unsteady on his feet as he
made his way to the entrance of the Hall, and I wondered if he was in liquor,
which would certainly have explained his tardiness.
It was summer and the apples and pears were ripe, and with help I cut
them down and brought them into the kitchens where Mistress Browne and her
assistants stood over boiling pots of fruit whilst above their heads were the
carcases of rabbits and pigs. The smell and heat overwhelmed me and I sat
down and watched Mistress Browne at the centre of her world; calm but strong
and perfectly aware of all that was going on, a very Cromwell in the kitchen
and I smiled to myself with admiration and possibly love.
Later we walked outside in the kitchen garden and she took my arm as we
enjoyed the afternoon sun. I had never married, but a wife would be protection
for me and a companion as well as a bedmate, and Mistress Browne would suit me
My Lord Edwin is clearly the village idiot of the
I smiled, are you speaking of our betters Mistress
He is always wandering around the house, looking lost and trying
not to show it. And oh he is so clumsy; we have a maid who is there just to
follow him around to point him in the right direction and clear up his
There are worse things than being a fool.
Well Mr Figges, I cannot think of any. You are a sensible man, if
only we were a little younger
You do not need to be young to be married.
I did not mention marriage Mr Figges, do not presume. But you are
too close, always disapproving without saying anything.
Sometimes it is best not to be free with speech.
But with me Mr Figges? Can you not trust even me?
I am sorry I said quietly, and her hazel eyes searched
mine, although I am not sure what she was looking for.
I did admire the poem you wrote for me. I have it by my
And with that she left me for her world in the kitchen.
I walked back to my hut; I should really have worked but I felt
melancholic and needed to sit by myself. My room was dark and smelt of sweat
and unaccountably of pig. In the past I would have written some rhyme, but
since coming to Yorkshire I had become a gardener and my past life was gone. It
was foolish to weep over Mistress Browne but I did so, and I wept over My Lady
who was pursued by knaves and fools and sooner or late would succumb.
I walked the gardens in the evening, it was still warm but with a faint
breeze. The perfume of the flowers was pleasing, and slowly I became aware of
the sound of a violin plaintive and melodic, coming from the house. I stayed
still and listened, entranced by such beauty, and to my surprise realised that
the music could only be from Lord Edwin, that clumsy fool who even the servants
despised. Alas all too soon the sound stopped and after a moment of
contemplation I walked back to my hut and my bed.
Lord Edwin was gone the following morning, My Lady did not see him off,
although her Mother-in-Law, looking dark and forbidding in the early morning
was there, and he kissed her hand in an apologetic manner. I walked amongst
rotten apples and from a window high above I saw a pale face looking down, and
I was sure that I could see her eyes dark and endless; containing ageless grief
He was tall, well-dressed and had an air of absolute authority; My Lord
Waugh strode towards me, whilst behind him My Lady demanded where is my
gardener? she sounded nervous and was clearly in thrall to the man who
had come to take her heart. She shivered in the January mist. Apparently Lord
Waugh had lived abroad after the death of King Charles, but I recognised him
from before the war; one of those who had been close to the king, one of his
better advisors, and a brave soldier by all accounts.
He looked at me satirically.
What is your name? I could smell his scent and his
Figges My Lord.
There was a poet named Figges, a friend of that traitor Cromwell,
a scribbler of nonsense. He fled aboard, or possibly to the North. Is he a
relation? Your twin perhaps?
My Lady was looking at me for the first time, registering me, but there
was little humanity in her look, just contempt and perhaps curiosity.
A distant relation I believe My Lord.
I hope you are a better gardener than he was a poet. And
then he left, My Lady following in his wake, the Mother-in-Law cast a look at
me as she went past; she was less haughty now, as if usurped, and I could see
the fear and sadness behind her austere manner, and was that the faintest of
smiles she bestowed upon me?
It was the fast to commemorate the death of Charles, the Holy Martyr,
and we had all attended the chapel that morning, Lord Waugh looking stern and
his eyes watching all the servants and even My Lady, as if to make sure that we
were suitably sad and understood the importance of the service. For a few
moments he looked directly at me, his eyes hard and there was a flicker of
recognition, of that I was sure, and for a moment my heart shrivelled within
Much later I stumbled upon the Mother-in-Law standing under a quince
tree, staring straight ahead; in the distance there was the sound of Waugh
surrounded by servants and My Lady, all in thrall to this force of nature.
We stood together, as if communing, she looked solemn in black, but was
beautiful and I realised that she was probably only a little older than me.
Have you ever lost anybody? she asked after a moment, her
voice surprisingly young and kind.
I remembered the king, his neck so pale and clean, and the axe biting
into it, and the sound it made, as if cutting a branch or a post.
Yes My Lady, many years ago.
Do you still mourn for them?
Sometimes my lady.
She nodded, as if to herself. My son was a fine young man,
but now he is all but forgotten, even by his wife who is desperate to marry
She shivered in the cold and I wished that I could show her some
gesture of affection but I knew that would be wrong.
I am sorry My Lady.
She shrugged slightly.
Is it true, Were you a supporter of Cromwell? Did you
Yes My Lady, awhile ago, my life is changed, and I am beginning
to regret the past.
Please dont, you have nothing to be ashamed of.
I bowed to her, will you stay here? I asked her.
No. I will go and find somewhere, I have money of my own, I am
the last of the family but I will be comfortable
She walked away and I wondered if it was the Mother-in-Law, whose cries
of anguish scared the maids at night, and why she was the only person I had
told of my past.
I was talking to Mistress Browne in the kitchen garden; she looked
beautiful in the cold light and smelt of apples and milk. And then there was My
Lord Waugh coming towards us, stern and contemptuous as if I was a repulsive
thing that he was forced to deal with.
You worry me Figges, your brother was traitorous, and you are
from the same Mother.
He was not my brother.
He slapped me hard so that I stumbled, the regicides need to be
gouged out of Albion and executed every one of them, wherever they are
Better men than you died on both sides. I told him and
looked at him with anger, my fury overwhelming me for the first time since I
was a soldier fighting the likes of Waugh and his brethren.
He flushed with rage and reached for his sword, but before he could do
so, I pushed him violently, and he fell heavily, grunting as he landed on the
frozen ground. I swiftly stood over him, my foot hard on his chest, measuring
his worth and finding him wanting and then after a moment I stood aside and
watched as he slowly pushed himself to his feet, and with the icy mud clinging
to his fine clothes, he stormed back to the house, cursing under his breath, I
was perhaps fortunate that he had come out alone.
Come Mister Figges Mistress Browne said and kissed me,
I will get the boy to prepare the cart. Knaresborough is not far. Pack
your belongings and hurry, you have insulted him and he is Lord of this place,
in all but name, and will have his revenge.
I hurried away, scared at what I had done and yet also with a peculiar
feeling of release, as if I had kept my angst hidden away for too long.
The cart was waiting when I left my hut with my bag; already packed
ever since My Ladys suitor had arrived. To my surprise it was not the boy
who was sat at the front of the cart.
What are you doing Mistress Browne?
She looked beautiful and happy sitting up front with the horsewhip in
I would like to go with you Mr Figges; I do not particularly care
where to. Companie and kindness are not to be sniffed at, and in truth Orlando
I think you need some loving.
And in truth I did, and for the second time in my life she kissed me on
the lips, and I felt her warm against me.
I always felt there was something hidden about you, I am glad
that it is out in the open. She said as we rode away, the world is
a large place and we can find somewhere safe where we can be happy.
I looked back at the house, partially hidden in Winters darkness,
and I thought of the gardens, appearing dead and unloved and hoped for a
glorious Spring when all would be beautiful again, and the dead would arise and
claim their inheritance.
The trees will bloom once again, and then the young and old will
eat their fruits together in blissful harmonie. (Orlando Figges).