John Dynham & The Wars of the Roses: Part One: A Devonshire Squire

In this series of novels, David Bret chronicles the Wars of the Roses, as perceived through the eyes of a Devonshire lord, his family and friends. John Dynham (1433-1501) rose from obscurity to become one of the key figures in the violent struggle for supremacy between the houses of York and Lancaster. He left his mark on British history in 1459, in the aftermath of the battle of Blore Heath when he escorted the rebel Yorkist lords, including the future Edward IV, to the safety of Nutwell, his ancestral home, and then on to the Calais garrison. Recovering from a horrific injury which almost cost him his life, he went on to enjoy a lengthy and glittering political career, not to mention a complex and unconventional personal life. Twice-married, but openly gay in his private circle, Dynham survived the harsh reigns and dictates of three very different kings: Edward IV, of whom he was one of his closest friends—Richard III, whose regime he held responsible for the deaths of several loved ones, including his first wife—and Henry VII, the first Tudor king whom he secretly despised. His story is one of compelling interest—sex, shady politics, tragedy and intrigue—and is vividly recounted in this, the first part of the Dynham saga which covers the years 1459-63.

 

EXTRACT

We sailed on the twenty-fifth of June, one hour after the wettest dawn imaginable, and for several hours our ships pitched helplessly over the raging, cruel sea. The rain was so bad that our men were compelled to spend much of the village below deck, heaving and shivering. Only John and I braved the weather, standing at the helm with the solid sheet of rain plastering John's hair back and giving him the look of a somewhat formidable bird of prey, what with his hawked nose, and his bright eyes keenly trained on the Kentish coastline.

   He turned towards me, and grinned, “Well, Philip? What do you think of that?”

   This time there was to be no early morning silence—no mere handful of soldiers to welcome us, only to promptly ignore us, thinking that we were timber merchants. The Queen's troops were ready for us. We beached amidst a shower of arrows, some of which sadly found their mark, though for the greater part they veered off target on account of a sudden, it would appear, God-sent gust of wind.

   Our eardrums soon rattled to the clashing of swords. Lord Fauconberg waded ashore and leaped on to the harbour wall like a little monkey—swinging his axe about his head like a madman and bringing down every man in his range, including two of his own. There was a loud cheer as the thick wall of Lancastrians gave way, allowing Fauconberg and his soldiers to storm the market place.

   I got no further than the beach—the fighting ended abruptly, no sooner than it had begun. Within minutes, Osbert Mountford had been captured, and frogmarched to one of the waiting ships. He was a tall, lanky man with a ginger beard and racy tongue. He fought and cursed like a demon—with little wonder, for his fate was clearly sealed. No man could possibly treat the mighty Warwick so shabbily and be allowed to live.

   Forty of our men had been killed. Around the same number of Lancastrian corpses lay strewn about the wharves, their blood coursing into the murky puddles. And that was that! Once again we had succeeded at Sandwich, capturing just about every one of Somerset's most influential allies—only Wiltshire and Exeter were missing, and I was certain that their time would come sooner rather than later.

   “We made it, John,” I panted. “We made it!”

   John stood grinning, just a few yards away. Fauconberg had returned to the beach, and was hugging him. Behind us, Osbert Mountford was getting a thrashing. Once aboard ship they would strip him and set fire to his crotch hair—upon his arrival in Calais, Warwick would have his head hacked off in the most improper public display of barbarity some had ever seen, and tossed into the sea.

   I saw little of what happened next. There was so much noise and confusion. I had caught up with John and we were crossing the wharves. There were seven of us, that much I know—the others were way behind. Fighting gives an edge to the appetite, and with our mission completed there would be ample time to eat and drink before heading back to the garrison. Osbert Mountford's men were being herded together like sheep. No doubt Warwick would give them a severe ticking off—perhaps the worst that would happen would be that one or two might be executed as a warning to their fellows that he was equal to, if not greater than the Almighty.

   Suddenly, a dozen prisoners broke loose and made a dash for the harbour wall. I saw John turn and bawl some order to one of his captains—too late. Two of the prisoners scaled the wall, grasping one of the unguarded bombards. The captain went down, his blood and guts spattering all about him. John's mouth opened as I flung myself at him, in a desperate attempt to save him. There was a tremendous bang, followed by a savage burning in my right shoulder. I stumbled—and through the dense cloud of powder smoke I watched John fall.

   There was a second explosion, from which I was protected by the dead body of a comrade who had landed on top of me. The pain in my shoulder was excruciating, but I cared little for myself. Even when they dragged me free of the gore and debris, I still managed to stagger towards the spot where John had been brought down.

   He lay across the partially demolished harbour wall, his legs buried under tons of rubble. He was still alive, but only just. A massive balk of timber lay across his chest, pinning him down, crushing the breath out of him. His forehead had been split open. Somebody lifted his head to stuff a roll of cloth behind it—I saw that he was bleeding from the mouth.

  Fauconberg and another were holding me up. The little man was crying, his monkey face locked in a grotesque grimace of grief.

   “Poor bugger. He never had a chance...”

   The soldiers lifted the stones off him one by one, trying to get to the balk of timber. One leg was uncovered and seemed untouched by the blast. A shard of bone jutted through the ripped flesh of the other, just above his knee. It was a sickening sight, like the slit throat of a slaughtered animal, the tendons and muscles exposed and twitching. It took four strong men to shift the timber, and as they lifted him his injured leg swung askew—it looked like it had been almost severed. John's eyes were glued shut. His head hung limply on one side, like that of a man just cut down from the gallows.

   The last thing I saw before flaking out was John Dynham’s would-be assassins, being bent backwards over the piles of rubble. Fauconberg’s men were gutting them.