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most eventful and warlike that has yet been known in England since the days of the Red and White Roses, when this land might almost be said to have been fertilized with the blood of its own children. Now that I have been so mercifully spared to see in my old age the restoration of peace and order to my dear country, I look back on my early days with much the same feelings as we do on the terrors of a frightful dream.
The great occurrences of the Civil Wars have become subjects for history; and for history I leave them. It is not of such matters that I propose to write to you, my son; I shall only touch lightly on these when the circumstances of my life compel me to do so. It is of a domestic tale that I propose to write. I wish to leave with the inheritance that is your birthright a memorial of the mind and the character of your father. In fine, I propose, in the following pages, to treat not merely of events, but of motives and principles. In penning these memoirs I feel I shall have infinite delight; for it is as natural for an old man to be retrospective as it is for a young one to be hopeful; and doth not Aristotle say of old men, that "they live more in memory than in hope." Having said this, I shall at once commence my narrative.
As I write for the information of my friends, and not exclusively for you, my son, I shall begin with saying I was the only child of the late Colonel Henry Courtenay. At the time of my birth (which took place on Christmas Day, in the year of our Lord 1619) my father lived at St Bennet's, in the parish of Lanvert, in the county of Cornwall. I have been told I was a thriving infant. The most remarkable circumstance which befel me at this early period, and which, indeed, influenced all my future life, was, that the Lady Howard, sole heiress of some of the most considerable estates in the county of Devon, answered for me at the font; and my parents esteemed themselves fortunate in having obtained, as the godmother of their son, a lady so celebrated throughout the West for her rank, wealth, and power.
I was yet a child not five years old when I had the misfortune to lose my most dear and tender mother, and my father an excellent and dutiful wife, after a very short illness. She died of a fever, which she unfortunately took, on her return from visiting my Lady Howard, in passing through Tavistock in the autumn of the year 1623, when the disease raged so fearfully in that town, and ravaged it almost as much as did the plague two years after.
Very young children can form no real notion of what death is ; at least, I know I could not. I saw the house in trouble; the rooms dark, and the windows shut up; my father crying more bitterly than I had ever done. I saw nowhere my mother, for whom I had every day asked since she had left home. She was nowhere to be found.
I could not comprehend what my nurse meant when she told me that my mother was dead; but I was made to understand I should see her no more; and then I wept as if my young heart would break; and I let my maid put on me a black frock and Bash, and never asked why she did it.
Never shall I forget my poor father at that time. He would sit listlessly for hours together, when he was not weeping, and seem to hear or see nothing that was in the room. Sometimes when I went to him, and teased him to lake me up on his knees, or to speak to me, he would not do it; or he would put me aside, as if I troubled him. And then, if his repulses made me cry, he would look upon me with such a look of misery, and suddenly snatch me up in his arms, devour me with kisses, and weep more bitterly than I did, as he pressed me to his widowed heart.
At length time, the great physician, brought resignation to my father's mind, and cheerfulness to mine. And then came a change in our affairs. I was sent to Winchester school, and continued there for some years, never coming home to St. Bennet's, except during my summer holidays.
St. Bennet's had been a convent of the Benedictine order of nuns. It shared the fate of other religious houses at their
general suppression in the reign of King Henry the Eighth. But the building and the very beautiful cloisters, for the greater part, had escaped uninjured. For some generations it had been a favourite residence with our branch of the ancient and noble family of Courtenay, having been purchased by one of its younger members, soon after the extinction of religious houses in the West.
The old nunnery was pleasingly situated in a sequestered spot, shut out from all the world, and surrounded by gentle hills and hanging woods. A stream of the purest water flowed near the house; wehad also pasture grounds, an orchard, and a pleasaunce.* Beyond its precincts were seen the finest forest trees; and many a stone seat was placed under some antique oak or elm, that was as old as the convent itself, and most likely older. Taken altogether, there was much of beauty, of grandeur, in the ancient nunnery and domain of St. Bennet; it was imposing, and calculated to supply food for a meditative mind, in the day-dreams of early youth.
During my occasional visits to my home I was left much to myself, for my poor father was not social even with me. He had never entirely recovered the shock he sustained in my dear mother's untimely death; and he never married again. Some years after her decease (at first, I believe, more with a view to drive away melancholy than from any other motive) he took an active part in public affairs. The times were at that period becoming very stormy, on account of the outcry that was raised against the unfortunate Duke of Buckingham, after his most disastrous retreat from before the walls of Rochelle.
But my father was not so wholly engaged in politics as to forget me; and in due season I was removed from Winchester to
» A pleasaunce was a sort of old-fashioned labyrinth with winding walks between hedges of lanrel and yew. It was frequently adorned with alcoves.
Oxford, where I went through the usual course of studies, creditably enough. I was not, however, trained for any one of the learned professions, because my own feelings had ever inclined towards a military life. My father did not oppose my inclinations; and gave his consent that I should enter the army at a proper age. But of this more hereafter.
Whilst I was at college, the only circumstance I can remember worthy of notice was, that I there formed an intimacy with a young gentleman of singular merit, who became to me a most faithful and beloved friend—Mr. James Chudleigh, son of that Sir George Chudleigh who was afterwards so famous a general in the Parliamentary army, and often so successfully opposed to the King.
Soon after he left Oxford, James Chudleigh suggested to me that we should travel together for two or three years abroad. I was pleased with the proposal, for I longed to see foreign parts, and my father readily enough gave his consent to the journey. We set out therefore together, and after a while reached Paris. But we had not long been resident in that gay city when I was very suddenly recalled home. I took an affectionate leave of Chudleigh (whose prejudiced feelings against the King, and growing zeal for the Parliament, gave me much uneasiness), and hastened back to England.
I found my father at Oxford, together with Sir Balph Hopton, Sir Bevil Grenville, and other gentlemen of the West, in attendance on the King. His Majesty had just before been pleased to give my father a commission as colonel of horse under the Marquis of Hertford, then stationed in the western division of the kingdom.
I yet held no commission; but, by the desire of my father, I accompanied him into the West, where (in the spring of 1642) we found a temporary repose. From this, many who were friends to peace hoped much; and that our public disputes would soon be brought to a settlement, satisfactory both to the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. But, alas! an end so desirable for the general good was not yet at hand. England had still to pass through her fiery trial before she was sufficiently purified to receive those blessings, which are now, it is to be hoped, reserved for her throughout all time.
I had not long returned to the West when an event took place which changed entirely the prospects of my future life, and was likely to raise me from the condition of a gentleman of small estate to vie with those of the greatest expectations in the kingdom. Although, whilst this matter was yet pending, much secresy was observed, it was not altogether kept so close but some rumour of it crossed even the Channel, and reached the ears of my friend Chudleigh, who, still at Paris, thus wrote to me on the occasion :—
"To William Henry Courtenay, Esq. St. Bennet's, these.
"Paris, April 10th, A.d. 1642.
"My Dear Codrtenay,
"Take it not amiss that I have hitherto been silent to my dearest friend; or that I have lingered thus long on the continent, and more especially in this gay city, when you are no longer near me. Wanting your society, this place, with all its attractions, its brilliant court, and its thoughtless gaieties, has very little in it to charm me,—whose affections are in another land, whose thoughts are serious, if not sad, with dreams of impending evil, and whose spirit is grieved at the prospect which presents itself on my expected return to my country and my home.
"For then I know that I must meet the friend of my bosom with an aching heart; though still cherishing that regard for which hitherto has never felt nor feared a wound, till these wretched divisions arose, which, should these unhappy contests, that now shake to the very centre the stability of our native land, extend to the West, must one day place William Cour