Today's announcement (January 14, 2011) that Mrs Daisy Berkeley, wife of Mrs Charles Berkeley, Director of Berkeley Castle, has given birth to a daughter, has me wavering between goosebumps and tears. They are naming her Mary.
This will be the first Mary to live there since Mary, 5th Countess of Berkeley (1767 - 1844) subject of the Berkeley Trilogy. Readers of my books will learn how the events or her life completely altered the course of the succession. The Earldom has long been extinct.
Mr Charles Berkeley has a common ancestor with the Earls of Berkeley in Robert Fitzhardinge, a shrewd merchant of Bristol and Mayor of the town, who sought the favour of his monarch, the red-maned firebrand, Henry II, by lending him vast sums of money.
Well. God bless little Mary. I wonder if the benevolent shades are stirring.
Farren continued to hang up his feathered game like a blind in the window. The taint of the slaughterhouse was stronger than usual. He sawed and hacked at his carcasses, severing bone from bone with a purblind persistence that eluded him in everything else. The sound of offal slithering and slapping into pails could be heard in the living quarters, and water being drawn from the pump to swill the yard of spilled blood. It went swirling in a cordon of lurid red down Westgate dyke.
Mary had had the nerve and the unwisdom to rebuff the mighty Earl of Berkeley whose influence was second to none in the county, and the household was hostile.
“You high-minded prig!” stormed Ann. “You’ve everything to gain! Think of the children!”
“No!” Mary cried, stamping her foot. “You think of them for a change! I tend them and mend for them and all you can do is flaunt yourself before weak-minded men! Must I pay the price of that?”
Jealousy and anger contorted the elder girl’s lively features. Her Romany-dark eyes glinted meanly and Mary saw how soured she had become by living with a husband she had quickly learned to despise, in a trade that was unromantic and could not be made to show a healthy profit.
“Think yourself lucky, my girl! Faith, if his lordship had designs on me, you’d not see me for dust! He’d not be sporting with coy virgins!”
Mary crammed her fists over her ears. “I can’t bear to hear you speak so, with infants upstairs and a husband below.”
“That cock won’t fight when we stink with bills. Left to you, we’d end up in the Poorhouse. Only give me half a chance to turn a wealthy man’s head!”
“But you promised at the altar to be faithful to Will.”
“Tis a pretty enough notion when you’ve the wherewithal, but the rankest moonshine when you haven’t. You’d not find Will creating a stir, I can tell you, if such fortune as yours came my way.”
“Hush, Nan,” said Mary in a stricken whisper. “Don’t you fear the wrath of God? Adultery be mortal sin.”
Ann backed off with a shudder of distaste, as though her sister were a beggar-woman clamouring for a bowl of gruel at the back door. “I’ll have none of that religious cant in this house, thank you, Miss.”
“But marriage is a Holy Sacrament. That’s what Reverend Longden called it when you and Will were wed. He said it was a symbol of Christ’s union with the Church.”
Ann met this with a grimace of profound revulsion. “You’re mad! You should be locked away.” She turned on her heel and went from the room. Mary made to pursue her but the door slammed so that any gesture of conciliation froze before its rigid laths. Upstairs, Henry protested the need for sustenance or a dry breechcloth, or both, and Mary didn’t know which way to turn. She couldn’t talk to her mother, for the poor woman had grief of her own (though Ann vowed she’d be showing her petticoats before long.) Why, when Mary sought everyone’s welfare, had life turned against her? Not only in London among the frivolous rich, but here, too, in the bosom of the lowly Cole family, was virtue neglected and the decencies forgotten. She tried hard to excuse the expediency stemming from a horror of debt, but was not convinced that good could ever spring forth from evil.
Christmas brought an occasion for goodwill and Mary strove not to think of the last one, when Pa had presided at table, a great fire blazing under the canopy in the oak-beamed kitchen of The Swan. They had spit-roasted a haunch of venison, raked hot potatoes and chestnuts out of the ashes, and had wanted for nothing. Several days later, he was dead.
Susan sent no word of her doings, but Cousin Ann from Thornhaugh in the Lincolnshire wolds wrote to her Aunt, Susannah Cole, to say Susan had gone up to London to seek a new post and had not informed them of her whereabouts.
“She’ll be up to no good, the vain hussy,” her mother prophesied. “I’d not dare lift my head if we was all back at Barnwood.”
“Give over,” Ann said. “Let her do as she pleases while she may. Heaven knows marriage is a hard-pinching boot.”
At this the widow dissolved into sobs, never far from the surface. “Your poor Pa was a good un, Nan. He’d have sold his last shirt to keep you in ribbons.
Ann went to the cupboard and brought out a fine decanter, full to the brim, and poured out a fulsome quantity of flame-coloured spirits. “Here, sup that and be grateful.”
A mere whiff caused the widow to revive. “A nice old cognac,” she approved, “and all of seven shillings the bottle! Where did you get this?”
“My Lord Berkeley,” replied her firstborn in a supercilious tone, casually patting her topknot. “He sent a half dozen bottles.”
Mrs Cole blinked and half-choked as the brandy slipped down without the lingering appreciation it deserved. “Nan, he never! Mighty be here, you’d best watch your step! He’s been the ruination of many a poor wench, that one. You’d think with a ring on your finger and a nursery full of trouble….”
“It’s not me, Ma. It’s Miss Prim-and-Proper and she won’t so much as bat an eyelid in his direction.”
“Lord Berkeley’s been setting his cap at our Mary? You’re bamming!”
“Indeed, I am not.”
“Well, I never!” Mary watched the conflicting emotions play alternately upon her mother’s face and was disheartened that she did not instantly leap to her defence. “I’m sure he’d not meet a finer female anywhere to grace his establishment,” speculated she. “Think on’t, a ladyship in the family. We’d be beforehand with the world for evermore!”
“Oh Ma, stop this wild daydreaming!” Mary burst out. “How can you suppose that he means anything so honourable? The Earl of Berkeley wed a butcher’s daughter!”
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...