Daniel Diehl Day 5

At the end of the interview I did with Julie you will find the opening chapter of ‘Nothing Left
Sacred’.  Here we set the stage for the action that will come over the following 545 pages.  Now
I offer you a second glimpse into this drama of the destruction of a way of life brought about by
greed, insanity and revenge.  This next excerpt comes from Chapter Twelve.  At this point we are
almost exactly halfway through the book and the mounting disaster to come is becoming clear to
both the reader and the characters.

Nothing Left Sacred

 Hexam, Northumberland
Thursday & Friday – 19th & 20th October 1536
       Even in quiet times the appearance of armored soldiers carrying the king’s colors created a
stirring of fear in the remote north-country.  This was not the kind of place the king much
bothered with unless there was a serious problem like an invasion of Scotts – which was usually
announced by a series of border raids, of which there had been none – or a local uprising of the
type now taking place throughout the region.  To those who witnessed Norfolk’s small company
charging past, the reason for their presence seemed obvious; the soldiers had come to put down
the Pilgrimage of Grace and protect the swarm of breakers busily destroying one monastery after
another.  To the town and abbey of Hexam - only ten miles south of Hadrian’s Wall – their
purpose was even more obvious and more ominous.
       When a train of wreckers’ carts had been sighted lumbering inexorably down the rutted
lanes leading toward Hexam three days earlier, a group of anxious farmers had reported the news
to their priest.  Rushing to the bell tower of the church, the priest sounded the alarm, summoning
his parishioners to come to the aid of their abbey.  Grabbing anything that looked like a
serviceable weapon the populace of Hexam alerted Abbot Trevor MacDonald of the coming
danger, formed a defensive ring around the abbey and prepared for the wreckers carts to pull
through the town gates.  While the townspeople waited, food and supplies were brought to both
town and abbey in the event of a prolonged siege and runners were sent to nearby towns and
villages, urging people to stand in opposition to the threat.
       With the town in a state of nervous readiness, the monks set about to aid in their own
defense.  From local landowners they gathered oddments of armor, swords, spears and an old
wall cannon, which had not seen service for nearly a half-century.  The ancient gun was hoisted
to the top of the stout stone wall surrounding the abbey, primed and readied.  At other points
along the walls bags of quicklime – normally used to aid in the decomposition of the dead –
stood open and ready to be shoveled over the walls, burning and boiling its way through any
exposed patch of skin it fell on.  At other points, fires were built as cauldrons were hauled out
from the abbey kitchens, filled with gallons of water and oil, ready to be dumped in the faces of
anyone who came too close. 
       The following morning the unsuspecting wrecking crew pulled their carts through the town
gates, only to have them slammed shut and securely barred behind them.  Had they known it,
outside the gates hundreds of Hexam’s neighbors gathered to make certain none of the uninvited
guests escaped to summon help.  Within sight of their prey, the wreckers were unable to move in
either direction; there was no way to get to the abbey and no route of escape.  The already tense
situation was only made worse when news arrived that a troop of heavily armed riders was
approaching along the Hexam road; at its head the king’s banner flew atop a long, graceful lance
shaft.  His attention drawn by the abnormally large crowd gathered around the closed gates,
Norfolk sent a rider ahead to find out what was going on and whether the people needed any
       “My Lord, it seems the town gates have been closed to prevent the breakers from seizing
control of the local abbey.”
       Norfolk rose in his stirrups, squinting into the distance; his constantly sour expression taking
on more lines and wrinkles than normal as he stared into the sun’s glare.  “I see no breakers.”
       “They are within; trapped there by the townsmen.”
       Norfolk lowered his weary, dirt encrusted face into one hand and wagged it slowly back and
forth in a sign of weary resignation.  “Then who, in God’s name, is this rabble before us?” he
mumbled through his glove.
       “Well-wishers, it would seem.”
       Motioning for two of his lieutenants to advance, the Duke straightened his aching back and
said, “My lords, the Scotts shall have to wait, for it appears that these good people before us have
made prisoners of one of the Vicar General’s teams of house wreckers.  I would not make an
already tetchy situation the worse for threats, so the three of us shall ride in alone and discover
the truth of the matter.”
       “Is this wise, Your Grace?”
       “No, Sir William, it is likely not very wise, but it is best if we avoid heaping faggots onto the
fire of religion that already enflames the kingdom.”    Without waiting for an answer, he drove
his spurs into his horse’s flanks and charged ahead, his lieutenants in hot pursuit.
       After more than an hour of careful negotiating, punctuated by more diplomacy than Norfolk
enjoyed summoning, the gates were opened far enough to allow him, and his entire body of men,
inside the beleaguered town.  Behind them the gates of the town were again barred and nearly a
hundred angry men moved to block access to the gates, making it impossible for the bar to be
removed without an awful slaughter.  At the far end of the town’s main street, an even larger
crowd milled around a string of fifteen or twenty heavy carts, each one filled with terrified men
clutching hammers and wrecking bars, ready to fend-off anyone who tried to climb onto the carts
or attack them.  Only forty or fifty yards in front of the lead cart rose the high walls of Hexam
Abbey.  Standing on top of the walls were no less than twenty men in a conglomeration of
mismatched armor; at their center, directly above the abbey gates, the ugly looking snout of a
cannon poked through the crenellations.  At some distance on either side of the gun flames
danced beneath cauldrons suspended on iron tripods.  Slowly, carefully, Norfolk nosed his horse
through the crowd, his eyes fixed firmly ahead, never once looking down at the scowling faces
staring up at him.
       “And who be ye and why come ye to this place?”  The voice floating down from the abbey
wall was deep, sonorous, obviously Scottish in origin and very no-nonsense sounding.
       “My name is Thomas Howard.  I am the Duke of Norfolk, head of His Majesty King
Henry’s armies and I come to find out what, in Christ’s holy name, you think you are doing.”
       “I am called Trevor MacDonald, abbot of this place, and in Christ’s holy name I am
protecting this house of God from the minions of Satan’s Ambassador.”  It was all Norfolk could
do to stifle a grin at this popular and rude reference to Thomas Crumwell, but he forced his face
to remain impassive.  “Afore any of our lands, goods or houses be taken from us we shall die,
and that is our full answer to both ye and these agents of destruction.  Now be gone and disturb
God fearing men no more.”
       “Abbot MacDonald, I have no argument with you or your house, but I am sworn to uphold
the king’s law and keep his peace.  I cannot allow you to hold these men captive, nor threaten
them, nor prevent them from carrying out their sworn duty.”
       “Their duty to the king concerns me not.  Take them away with ye and I will allow ye to
leave in peace. If ye remain, ye do so at your peril, but neither ye nor they shall pass through
these gates.  Upon my life ye shall not.”
       Norfolk pushed his helmet back on his head far enough to scratch at his forehead.  “Does not
our Lord teach us to beat our swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks?”
       “Aye, and so we have always done, Laird of Norfolk, but He also teaches us not to pull
down the ancient monuments which our fathers have set, and that He helps those which help
themselves.  That is all we are set about doing and we shall not surrender this house of God
whilst one stone stands upon another.”

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