King John was on A Visit of State to, or rather freeloading on, the wealthy and
powerful Bishop Mauger of Worcester
one spring, being short of ready money yet again, the legacy of the spendthrift
and war mongering brother King Richard who had preceded him.
as King John had been excommunicated he did not have to bother with the
Cathedral services and going through the motions of worship that such a visit
might entail. Bishop Mauger was happy;
it meant he could snooze through the droning of the services instead of being
disturbed by the interminable rattle of the King’s dice on the Cathedral floor
and the yelping of the Royal gambling school.
morning, and in keeping with the ordinary procedure of the Court, just after
the breakfast, time for exemplary cases of justice to be dealt with to keep the
wheels of administration turning, and to clear the dungeons of felons,
heretics, and tax evaders.
King did not believe in the deterrent effects of imprisonment, the sooner
wrongdoers were granted the benefit of the judgement of God, the better for all
concerned, especially those whose lifestyle relied on the raising of
taxes. The first case promised to be
tedious if it was allowed to drag on, and the King did not want to waste the
day on matters such as this.
the Chamberlain had two peasants dragged in and thrown before him. They had been found in the Palace with
several items of the King’s silver plate stuffed up their jerkins, and were
unable to claim benefit of clergy.
The Chief Executioner had been summoned up
from his lair in the crypt, the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Of Mercy, and had
the first thief hauled forward by his hair, “Eh up lad,” John said, the King
was Norman French and his mastery of the many and various local dialects that
plagued England was imperfect, “’oo the ‘ell are you and what’s t’
“I am Adam a’ Winwood of Leigh, and my
family are starving.” “Bad move!” said
the King, and pointed his sword at the jury, who had been dragged from their
ploughs that morning and made to stand at one side, each with a noose around
his neck to remind him of the fallibility of the human mind.
Their plaintive cries of “Yea” were
immediate and unanimous. John nodded to
the executioner who hung Adam from a beam by his legs and then got to work with
an axe. This greatly cheered the King as
an execution or two after his morning spitted wild boar and goose eggs set him
up for the day.
After what was left of Adam was chopped
into smaller portions to be thrown to the dogs the next thief was dragged
before him. King John was now into his
stride, “Right then?” “I am Thomas le
Vobe of Mathon and I was engaged in the necessary business of redistributing
wealth held off balance sheet for the purpose of encouraging consumption to
help overcome the present economic difficulties.”
King John had heard all this before from
his Exchequer, and a preaching friar, Maynard John of Keynsham, had been
bricked up in a wall for a similar suggestion, so he just nodded again, not
waiting for the jury. It was the way
King John smiled when he beat them to the decision that worried them, as well
as the tightness of the ropes, but they gibbered their agreement.
As Thomas le Vobe was being lifted to the
beam, he coughed, pointed to the King’s favourite dogs and said, “Pity about
this I was just going to offer to teach one of them to talk.” King John heaved a deep and weary sigh; even
the most crazed heretic or alchemist had failed to come up with anything like
The King was about to enjoy another blood
bath, but then he felt Queen Isabel, the Beauteous Rose of Angouleme tug at his
sleeve. He had abducted her in a burst
of passion, divorced his wife, and then remarried to Isabel in a haste he had
come to regret. Her urgent voice, told
him that she was at the pleading game again.
Isabel’s command of the local patois was
worse than his, which was saying a lot.
“’ere dearie, just you fink abart it, one, give a bit of mercy now and
again puts points up with God, two, you’re down for a war against the Barons
again after harvest and three, you need your poll ratings up with
peasants. They’d love a talking dog, so
they’d forget this Parliament rubbish, believe you me, God would like that as
King John was not a man who enjoyed being
interrupted, especially when there were things to do. On the list were women taken in adultery to
be trebucheted off the Cathedral roof into the River Severn; to be rescued only
if the King desired to ascertain their vulnerability to this dreadful sin, one
of the few duties he enjoyed.
He needed to cut Isabel short and proceed
with the business. “Can’t we just give
them another baby?” asked the King, “No
you dirty sod, anyhow its Lent, and they are fed up with royal kids, all the
gifts, now a talking dog……” It was a
long ten minutes before he could intervene, when she finally needed to draw
King John was not entirely happy. When he had snatched the maiden from her
betrothed at Baron William de Mowbray’s suggestion, her God thing had not been
mentioned, and she was altogether too keen on it for his taste. At the times he pleasured her, her appeals to
The Good Lord for his mercy for engaging in carnal activity seemed excessive.
Mowbray had time to consider his error now; with his head spiked on London Bridge.
But she was usually right about the
peasants; they seemed very keen on God as well.
The King did not like it, some of them thought that the Deity was on
their side, and even the incessant rambling of certain of the Bishops could
lead to them making such a mistake.
Mowbray had suggested something for the peasants called football instead
to distract them, the fool’s idea that had cost him his head.
As the Chief Executioner was about to swing
the axe, King John raised his hand. He
was reluctant, he never liked to disappoint the Chief, “A word first.” Thomas was lowered, cuffed about the head,
spat on, and then flung down again before the King, according to the ancient
custom. “Oh aye, a dog, talking?”
Waiting first for the Royal goblet to be
flung to bounce off his head, Thomas raised himself cautiously, pausing and
giving meaningful weight to his words.
“Indeed, Sire, give me a year, with my well tried linguistic training
techniques, preferential feeding, and psychological incentives, and you will be
able to hold an intelligent conversation with the animal to your entire
The court was silent, this was a new one,
and John’s reactions were variable at the best of times. It was a little while
before the King spoke, he was sure he could find a way to have the insolent
head, greed usually tripped up people like this. “And I suppose you will want a fortune and an
Thomas brightened, smiled, and all thought
he had been hooked, “By The Lord no, Sire, decent board and lodging only, time
and the right to walk the dog.” The
grunt of dissatisfaction was audible.
The Queen squealed with joy, with luck Thomas le Vobe would be the first
English Saint since Thomas A’ Beckett.
Modern Archbishops and the clergy had
become more circumspect in recent years and cautious of martyrdom. Even Gerald of Wales had learned when to be
quiet, but then there had been a glut of Welsh martyrs on the market. This could be better than Francis of Assisi,
The Church would have a new Order, The
Caninian Order of St. Thomas even, and if she
played the game right, the offerings would be rolling in, and there would be
joy in the Vatican. A happy Pope made a happy Church she was fond
of saying to her husband, who did not always agree.
“Nothing more?” The King was feeling trapped, then Thomas
spoke again and the King’s hopes were raised.
“Well, Sire, just one thing,” “Got
‘im” thought the King. “The executioner,
I wouldn’t like him to lose his fee or bonus, well, it’s only right.” The Queen clapped her hands, the Bishop
nodded, and the King had lost.
“Right, right, yeah, one year, then we
see.” King John pointed to the most
stupid hound he had and it was brought to Thomas, who was led away, clutching
the dog. “Next!” shouted the King with
an edge of venom in his voice. All the
courtiers twitched in fear. The jurors
looked at each other and began to pray.
The Chamberlain had brought in a shrunken
weakly figure. It hobbled unevenly
across the floor, lurching and lumbering.
A large cowl enveloped the shoulders and upper torso. It looked like a under sized goblin. The Chamberlain pulled back the cowl to
reveal a scarred and lopsided face of surpassing ugliness.
“’oo’s this then?”, asked the King. “Robin the Hood, son of Lawrence the Scrivener of Eastwood in the
Shire of Nottingham.” The King liked the
odd joke on these occasions, the question in the courtiers’ minds was always
who would be the victim. He sat back,
waved his arm with a generous gesture at the specimen before him and declaimed,
“Ha, look, someone’s son and lover!”
The courtiers paused, uncertain of the
context, the King could be playing tricks again, and the King was below his
performance target on the body count for the month. But they saw the Plantagenet smirk on the
mouth, relaxed, and laughed as loudly as they could. The King let them go on until they all began
to wheeze and then flapped a hand.
“And?” said the King. The Chamberlain delivered the charge. “Branch Secretary of the Amalgamated Union of
Foresters And Related Trades; responsible for your job creation scheme in the
North Sherwood District to employ and train local unemployed bandits into
revenue collectors. Failure to keep up
to date accounts and to consult fully with senior management before introducing
new work procedures.”
The King bent forward with a smile of sheer
malice playing on his face. The Hall was
warmed with more laughter from the audience; they knew what was about to
happen. The sword was raised, the Jurors
cried “Yea” with a religious rapture previously unknown in the Cathedral, and
the King roared, “So, you forgot to pay the Sheriff his consultancy fee?”
The King picked up a slice of wild boar and
waved it above his head. “Chop, chop!”
he cried, and the courtiers roared with helpless relief and joy. Cardinal Langton waved a chalice of claret
above him cried “Errare humanum est!” and then fell off his stool. Even the Chief Executioner laughed so much
that he had difficulty in hoisting Robin to the beam. Outside in the cloister, Thomas heard the
merriment and began a cold muck sweat.
Two weeks later in the quiet of the Chapel
of the Blessed Virgin of Mercy, a place never visited by any of the Court,
Thomas le Vobe and the Chief Executioner were sharing a gallon of ale, a haunch
of venison, and a few other good things and passing the time of day. “You know, that Robin was a rare giggle,”
said the Chief, “His last words were I should have stuck to being a
There was a short silence then the Chief
spoke again. “I’m going to be sorry to
do for you, you know, at the end of the year, I’ve learned a lot from you, and
I like your theory that unpredictable monetary movements are the cause of all
the trouble and not the Devil going round shagging old women.” “Who knows?” said Thomas, throwing a lump of
meat at the chosen dog. “Woof!” said
Thomas, “Woof, woof.” replied the
The Chief shook his head. “Look, this is
the age of instant communication, in a years time bits of you are going to be
nailed to the doors of Parish Churches all over the Kingdom as a dire
warning.” Thomas waved a bone at him. “No, no, no, look at it this way, in a year,
I might die anyway, you might die, indeed the King might die, and that brings a
pardon. Who knows, even this young dog
might die.” The Chief shook his head
again. Thomas threw a larger piece of
meat and barked at the dog. “Aaargh Woof.”
“Aaaarrrgh Aaaarrrgh, Woof Woof.” responded
“And the dog might talk,” said Thomas.