Paul Doherty: Satan in St Mary

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Paul Doherty Satan in St Mary
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    Satan in St Mary
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"Master Hugh, " Burnell said, putting his cup down. "The work that you did was good, very good. That nest of traitors has been netted, some were tortured and so many more have been hanged. A few, " he smiled evilly at Corbett, "will be hanged by the purse. Huge benevolences. Loans to guarantee their future good behaviour. Your part in this will never be forgotten. Oh, " Burnell added, almost as an afterthought. "Master Hubert Seagrave. Do you know his whereabouts?"

"Seagrave, " Corbett flatly replied, "was a traitor and I have executed him. He was giving information to the highest bidder. He deserved to die!"

The Chancellor was going to speak but stopped and shuffled amongst the papers on his desk. "There was the woman, " Burnell said slowly. "Alice atte Bowe, her maiden name was Fitz-Osbert. She was arrested on the Dover road by a mounted patrol and brought back to the city. "

"And, " Corbett heard his voice interject like ice snapping, a sound from far away.

"And what?" Burnell asked.

"The woman!" Corbett exclaimed. He could feel his heart pounding like the hooves of a charging horse. "The woman! What happened to her?" he cried.

"Oh, " Burnell replied, not raising his eyes. "She was not tortured. She confessed all and then cursed us just as clearly. She was brought here before King's Bench and accused of treason, murder and witchcraft. Alice atte Bowe was found guilty and burnt at Smithfield for her crimes!"

The Chancellor's voice trailed off as Corbett sat, white-faced, his nightmares realized. He had almost prepared himself for such news and only this prevented him from giving voice to the terrible pounding in his ears and the shrill screaming in his head. Corbett was stunned. Images whirled like blazing wheels through his brain. He heard the Chancellor cough and begin speaking again.

"I am sorry, Hugh. So very sorry. I, too, found her beautiful. She left you this. " He tossed a small, black, silken glove into Corbett's lap. "She gave no other message. She did not suffer, " Burnell's voice slightly faltered. "I – I ensured that she did not suffer. A cup of wine, heavily drugged, was given to her before the fires at Smithfield were started. "

Corbett, still dazed, heard the Chancellor's voice as if from a great distance, but he did not care. He felt the room turn and spin, his mouth was dry and he felt nauseous and weak. He rose, the small black glove clutched tightly in his hand. He heard Burnell call out but he walked from the chamber, pushing aside startled officials who might have objected but swallowed their words when they saw Corbett's harassed face.

Eventually, Corbett fought his way out of the Hall and almost ran down to the riverside wharf where, out of breath, he slumped down at the top of some crumbling weather-beaten steps. He tried to calm his breath, to still his thudding heart. Alice was gone, dead, the world was empty without her. Above him, a gull screeched against a steel-grey sky. Corbett smelt the glove, Alice's faint perfume recalling the very essence of her being. It was almost warm against the icy coldness of his face. He held the glove gently in his hand, then let it drop like some rare black flower into the river below. It bobbed, stirred, and then the current caught and pulled it. The river lapped round the glove before driving it out to the vastness of the open sea.

Author's Note

The reader may be interested in the following extract from a London chronicle written in Latin at the time. The translation runs as follows: -

"In that year Lawrence Duket, a London goldsmith, mortally wounded Ralph Crepyn in Cheapside and fled to the church of Saint Mary Le Bow. Afterwards certain evil men from the party of the said Ralph entered the church by night, killed the said Lawrence by hanging him from a window bar. A postmortem was held on this and the verdict reached that the said Lawrence had committed suicide; on account of this the body was dragged by the feet outside the city and interred in a ditch. Soon afterwards, because of the confession of a certain boy who had lain with the said Lawrence on the night of his death but then escaped, the truth of the matter came out. On account of which a certain woman, Alice atte Bowe, who was the author of this crime, together with sixteen men were imprisoned and afterwards many of these were hanged and the woman burnt. The said church was put under interdict by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the doors and windows being blocked up with thorns. Lawrence Duket was exhumed from the place where he had been buried and re-interred in hallowed ground. "

Alice atte Bowe, therefore, did exist. She was the organizer of a gang or coven which committed sacrilege and murder in the church of Saint Mary Le Bow in 1284. London at that time was in the middle of political change and tumult and the crime may well have been something to do with the murky politics of the time. De Montfort was destroyed at Evesham in a bloody and barbaric way and his followers did later carry out assassinations. The church of Saint Mary Le Bow was the centre of Satanic practices, for Fitz-Osbert was a historical person, who for a short time wielded considerable political power in the capital.

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