When Knighthood Was in Flower
or, the Love Story of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor the King’s Sister,
and Happening in the Reign of His August Majesty King Henry the Eighth
Rewritten and Rendered into Modern English from
Sir Edwin Caskoden’s Memoir by Edwin Caskoden [Charles Major]
Copyright 1898 and 1901 by the Bowen-Merril Company, Indianapolis, U.S.A.
Chapter I: The Duel
It sometimes happens, Sir Edwin says, that when a woman will she won’t, and when she won’t she will; but usually in the end the adage holds good. That sentence may not be luminous with meaning, but I will give you an illustration.
I think it was in the spring of 1509, at any rate soon after the death of the “Modern Solomon,” as Queen Catherine called her old father-in-law, the late King Henry VII, that his august majesty Henry VIII, “The Vndubitate Flower and very Heire of both the sayd Linages,” came to the throne of England, and tendered me the honorable position of Master of the Dance at his sumptuous court.
As to “worldly goods,” as some of the new religionists call wealth, I was very comfortably off; having inherited from my father, one of the counselors of Henry VII, a very competent fortune indeed. How my worthy father contrived to save from the greedy hand of that rich old miser so great a fortune, I am sure I can not tell. He was the only man of my knowledge who did it; for the old king had a reach as long as the kingdom, and, upon one pretext or another, appropriated to himself everything on which he could lay his hands. My father, however, was himself pretty shrewd in money matters, having inherited along with his fortune a rare knack at keeping it. His father was a goldsmith in the time of King Edward, and enjoyed the marked favor of that puissant prince.
Being thus in a position of affluence, I cared nothing for the fact that little or no emolument went with the office; it was the honor which delighted me. Besides, I was thereby an inmate of the king’s palace, and brought into intimate relations with the court, and above all, with the finest ladies of the land—the best company a man can keep, since it ennobles his mind with better thoughts, purifies his heart with cleaner motives, and makes him gentle without detracting from his strength. It was an office any lord of the kingdom might have been proud to hold.
Now, some four or five years after my induction into this honorable office, there came to court news of a terrible duel fought down in Suffolk, out of which only one of the four combatants had come alive—two, rather, but one of them in a condition worse than death. The first survivor was a son of Sir William Brandon, and the second was a man called Sir Adam Judson. The story went that young Brandon and his elder brother, both just home from the continental wars, had met Judson at an Ipswich inn, where there had been considerable gambling among them. Judson had won from the brothers a large sum of money which they had brought home; for, notwithstanding their youth, the elder being but twenty-six and the younger about twenty-four years of age, they had gained great honor and considerable profit in wars, especially the younger, whose name was Charles.
It is a little hard to fight for money and then to lose it by a single spot upon the die, but such is the fate of him who plays, and a philosopher will swallow his ill luck and take to fighting for more. The Brandons could have done this easily enough, especially Charles, who was an offhand philosopher, rather fond of a good-humored fight, had it not been that in the course of play one evening the secret of Judson’s winning had been disclosed by a discovery that he cheated. The Brandons waited until they were sure, and then trouble began, which resulted in a duel on the second morning following.
This Judson was a Scotch gentleman of whom very little was known, except that he was counted the most deadly and most cruel duelist of the time. He was called the “Walking Death,” and it is said took pride in the appellation. He boasted that he had fought eighty-seven duels, in which he had killed seventy-five men, and it was considered certain death to meet him. I got the story of the duel afterwards from Brandon as I give it here.
John was the elder brother, and when the challenge came was entitled to fight first,—a birthright out of which Charles tried in vain to talk him. The brothers told their father, Sir William Brandon, and at the appointed time father and sons repaired to the place of meeting, where they found Judson and his two seconds ready for the fight.
Sir William was still a vigorous man, with few equals in sword play, and the sons, especially the younger, were better men and more skilful than their father had ever been, yet they felt that this duel meant certain death, so great was Judson’s fame for skill and cruelty. Notwithstanding they were so handicapped with this feeling of impending evil, they met their duty without a tremor; for the motto of their house was, “Malo Mori Quam Fedrai.”
It was a misty morning in March. Brandon has told me since, that when his elder brother took his stand, it was at once manifest that he was Judson’s superior, both in strength and skill, but after a few strokes the brother’s blade bent double and broke off short at the hilt when it should have gone home. Thereupon, Judson, with a malignant smile of triumph, deliberately selected his opponent’s heart and pierced it with his sword, giving the blade a twist as he drew it out in order to cut and mutilate the more.
In an instant Sir William’s doublet was off, and he was in his dead son’s tracks, ready to avenge him or to die. Again the thrust which should have killed broke the sword, and the father died as the son had died.
After this, came young Charles, expecting, but, so great was his strong heart, not one whit fearing, to lie beside his dead father and brother. He knew he was the superior of both in strength and skill, and his knowledge of men and the noble art told him they had each been the superior of Judson; but the fellow’s hand seemed to be the hand of death. An opening came through Judson’s unskilful play, which gave young Brandon an opportunity for a thrust to kill, but his blade, like his father’s and brother’s, bent double without penetrating. Unlike the others, however, it did not break, and the thrust revealed the fact that Judson’s skill as a duelist lay in a shirt of mail which it was useless to try to pierce. Aware of this, Brandon knew that victory was his, and that soon he would have avenged the murders that had gone before. He saw that his adversary was strong neither in wind nor arm, and had not the skill to penetrate his guard in a week’s trying, so he determined to fight on the defensive until Judson’s strength should wane, and then kill him when and how he chose.
After a time Judson began to breathe hard and his thrusts to lack force.
“Boy, I would spare you,” he said; “I have killed enough of your tribe; put up your sword and call it quits.”
Young Brandon replied: “Stand your ground, you coward; you will be a dead man as soon as you grow a little weaker; if you try to run I will thrust you through the neck as I would a cur. Listen how you snort. I shall soon have you; you are almost gone. You would spare me, would you? I could preach a sermon or dance a hornpipe while I am killing you. I will not break my sword against your coat of mail, but will wait until you fall from weakness and then…. Fight, you bloodhound!”
Judson was pale from exhaustion, and his breath was coming in gasps as he tried to keep the merciless sword from his throat. At last, by a dexterous twist of his blade, Brandon sent Judson’s sword flying thirty feet away. The fellow started to run, but turned and fell upon his knees to beg for life. Brandon’s reply was a flashing circle of steel, and his sword point cut lengthwise through Judson’s eyes and the bridge of his nose, leaving him sightless and hideous for life. A revenge compared to which death would have been merciful.
The duel created a sensation throughout the kingdom, for although little was known as to who Judson was, his fame as a duelist was as broad as the land. He had been at court upon several occasions, and, at one time, upon the king’s birthday, had fought in the royal lists. So the matter came in for its share of consideration by king and courtiers, and young Brandon became a person of interest. He became still more so when some gentlemen who had served with him in the continental wars told the court of his daring and bravery, and related stories of deeds at arms worthy of the best knight in Christendom.
He had an uncle at the court, Sir Thomas Brandon, the king’s Master of Horse, who thought it a good opportunity to put his nephew forward and let him take his chance at winning royal favor. The uncle broached the subject to the king, with favorable issue, and Charles Brandon, led by the hand of fate, came to London Court, where that same fate had in keeping for him events such as seldom fall to the lot of man.
[From Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/17498]