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Storms In English History: A Glance At The Reign Of Henry VIII
by [?]

The following report, which Mr. Froude views as the liveliest of all that Bishop Bonner’s zeal has spared, offers a picturesque sketch of such cases, according to the shape which they often assumed. In Chaucer’s tale, told with such unrivalled vis comica, of the Trompington Miller and the Two Cambridge Scholars, we have a most life-like picture of the miller with his ‘big bones,’ as a ‘dangerous’ man for the nonce. Just such a man, just as dangerous, and just as big-boned, we find in the person of an abbot–defending his abbey, not by any reputation for sanctity or learning, but solely by his dangerousness as the wielder of quarter-staff and cudgel. With no bull-dog or mastiff, and taken by surprise, such an abbot naturally lost the stakes for which he played. The letter is addressed to the Secretary of State:–‘Please it your goodness to understand, that on Friday the 22nd of October (1535), I rode back with speed to take an inventory of Folkstone; and thence I went to Langden. Whereat immediately descending from my horse, I sent Bartlett, your servant, with all my servants, to circumsept the abbey [i. e. to form a hedge round about], and surely to keep [guard] all back-doors and starting holes. I myself went alone to the abbot’s lodging–joining upon the fields and wood.’ [This position, the reporter goes on to insinuate, was no matter of chance: but, like a rabbit-warren, had been so placed with a view to the advantages for retreat and for cover in the adjacent woodlands.] ‘I was a good space knocking at the abbot’s door; neither did any sound or sensible manifestation of life betray itself, saving the abbot’s little dog, that within his door, fast locked, bayed and barked. I found a short pole-axe standing behind the door; and with it I dashed the abbot’s door in pieces ictu oculi [in the twinkling of an eye]; and set one of my men to keep that door; and about the house I go with that pole-axe in my hand–ne forte [“lest by any chance”[2]–holding in suspense such words as “some violence should be offered”]–for the abbot is a dangerous, desperate knave, and a hardy. But, for a conclusion, his gentlewoman bestirred her stumps towards her starting holes; and then Bartlett, watching the pursuit, took the tender demoisel; and, after I had examined her, to Dover–to the mayor, to set her in some cage or prison for eight days. And I brought holy father abbot to Canterbury; and here, in Christ Church, I will leave him in prison.’

[Footnote 2: Ne forte‘ is a case of what is learnedly called aposiopesis or reticentia; that is, where (for the sake of effect) some emphatic words are left to be guessed at: as Virgil’s Quos ego—-(Whom if I catch, I’ll—-) ]

This little interlude, offering its several figures in such life-like attitudes–its big-boned abbot prowling up and down the precincts of the abbey for the chance of a ‘shy’ at the intruding commissioner–the little faithful bow-wow doing its petit possible to warn big-bones of his danger, thus ending his faithful services by an act of farewell loyalty–and the unlucky demoisel scuttling away to her rabbit-warren, only to find all the spiracles and peeping-holes preoccupied or stopped, and her own ‘apparel’ unhappily locked up ‘in the abbot his coffer,’ so as to render hopeless all evasion or subsequent denial of the fact, that ten big-boned ‘indusia’ (or shirts) lay interleaved in one and the same ‘coffer,’ inter totidem niveas camisas[3] (or chemises)–all this framed itself as a little amusing parenthesis, a sort of family picture amongst the dreadful reports of ecclesiastical commissioners.

[Footnote 3:
Camisas:’ i. e. chemises; but at one time the word camisa was taken indifferently for shirt or chemise. And hence arose the term camisado for a night-attack, in which the assailants recognised each other in the dark by their white shirt-sleeves, sometimes further distinguished by a tight cincture of broad black riband. The last literal camisado, that I remember, was a nautical one–a cutting-out enterprise somewhere about 1807-8. ]