Letters to Thurloe 4-6
Monday 17th September 1646.
Since conducting my first interrogation I have discovered more about the prisoner, Edmund
Dawes. The boy, it seems, does not lack courage for I have learned of a remarkable sequence
of events that took place prior to the siege.
Dawes had been billeted at Pendennis Castle for less than two weeks in the role of ensign
when the Prince of Wales took refuge there prior to his escape to France. This was in March.
As you will recall Fairfax was sweeping through the south west and forces loyal to the king
were engaged in a desperate retreat. I believe I am correct when I say that these two
characters, Dawes and Charles the younger, brought together through the cold hand of fate,
are of similar age – sixteen years both - yet are many leagues apart in education, upbringing
The plan for the Prince of Wales’s escape had been determined thus: a schooner was lying
in wait, anchored off the headland. Upon the given signal the Prince and his retinue left the
castle via the southern wall and made their way down the steep gradient, populated by dense
woodland, in order to rendezvous with a smaller vessel that would ferry them alongside ship.
The Prince’s retinue comprised of Sir Abraham Shipman, Major General Molesworth,
Richard Arundel (son of the castle governor and de facto Lieutenant-Colonel), a trooper
(name unknown) as well as the aforementioned ensign, Edmund Dawes. Dawes was placed at
the rear of the group. His sole occupation during the operation was to bear the royal standard.
The group’s progress was slow. The Prince, unused to prolonged walking, and finding the
steep descent tiresome, required numerous stops, whereupon Sir Abraham Shipman was
instructed to produce a silver flask filled with brandy in order that His Royal Highness might
stiffen his resolve. Shipman and Molesworth were nervous. They were aware that Fairfax had
taken Launceston and parliamentary forces were expected in Falmouth town at any moment.
The crew manning the tender, also fearful - in their case of hostile parliamentary ships - sent
repeated messages by torchlight that they were ready and willing to depart.
Three quarters of the descent had been negotiated when the Prince asked once again for a
moment of rest. The small boat was in sight. Men were in place on the jagged grey rocks to
help Charles the younger navigate his way towards the tender. It was during this pause that
Dawes was the first to spot a shape - an unknown figure lurking amongst the trees. Before he
could alert the others the figure fully revealed himself - a ragged naer-do-well, his beggarly
countenance compounded by shrieks and wails. The man ran in the direction of the prince
and his retinue. Dawes was able to see that the foul individual was brandishing a knife and he
stood himself ready, the attacker oblivious to all possibilities of danger in his quest to murder
the young royal. As the Prince’s would-be-attacker gained momentum Dawes took decisive
action. He used the flag pole he was carrying as a weapon, extending it towards the assailant
at the optimum moment. Upon impact the brute was knocked off course and flailed
helplessly, allowing time for Molesworth to shield the prince and the trooper to draw his
sword. Floundering between the trees, the wretched attacker was promptly dispatched
whereupon the Prince made haste to the tender and made good his flight.
Thursday 20th September 1646.
Yesterday I once again visited the castle.
Upon my entrance into the prisoner’s cell Dawes asked if I might refrain from bringing in
torchlight as he had become so accustomed to darkness. He seemed calmer and more lucid
than on my previous visit and so I ordered the guard to provide us with a single lighted
candle. Once settled, I asked Dawes if he was being given sufficient nourishment. Through
the gloom I became aware of his sunken eye sockets as well as the gauntness of his face. He
replied that he wanted for little solid food, preferring water to sustain him. Despite his calm
nature he persevered with the random ticks and nervous scratching I noted during my
previous visit. I was left with the impression that his mood was subject to rapid change, at
once benevolent and reflective, at other times anxious and severely distraught.
We sat opposite one another in the manner of two friends. At no time did I feel threatened
by the young man. His speech was measured and without anger throughout. I asked him to
confirm the incident with the Prince of Wales, which he did. He described how the prince
approached him in the aftermath of the incident and ordered him to kneel. The prince then
praised god for his own deliverance from danger, proclaiming that the young ensign had
acted bravely under the lord’s guidance. Before he boarded the tender the prince announced
to Sir Abraham in full voice that Edmund Dawes should be rewarded for his courage and
promoted through the ranks.
Dawes fell into a deep silence then. He rocked to and fro on his stool, shivering as if
suddenly overcome by a curious affliction of the brain. I ordered him sharply to stop and he
did so. Then, when he was settled, I told him I was curious to hear as to what happened when
he returned to the castle.
‘I was taken to the governor’s quarters, sir’ he said. ‘Sir Abraham recounted to the governor
the events that had taken place. He said that the Prince had ordered that I should be granted a
promotion as reward for my endeavours.’
‘And what did the governor say to this ?’
‘He proclaimed that I was to return to my duties as ensign, sir. And no more was said about
I remained with the prisoner for another hour. His manner during this time seemed to
improve although he again showed signs of his distress when I asked him about life at the
castle during the months of siege. I must say, Thurloe, he described conditions that were both
foul and loathsome in the extreme. The population of the castle during the siege comprised
five hundred soldiers. Some, fearing the wrath of the Parliamentary army, had managed to
spirit their families into the compound before Fairfax entered town. The barracks were only
partially used to house these pitiful wretches. The governor ordered the troops whose women
and children had arrived to make their own shelter on the parade ground and these flimsy
constructions, a combination of fallen boughs and bracken scavenged from the nearby forest,
gave little protection from the wind and rain, not to mention the missiles that were fired in the
castle’s direction by our occupying forces. Dawes recounted moments of great terror. Not
only were these poor souls subject to artillery fire, but food was scarce and disease was given
free rein. Meanwhile the governor and his commanders remained protected within their
quarters on the upper level, enjoying meat and good wine which had been stored in the cellar
for their exclusive consumption. Governor Arundel refused all offers of an honourable
surrender and much needless suffering was caused by his stubborn intransigence.
I left Dawes in a subdued frame of mind. As I prepared to take my leave he implored me
once again to visit his grandmother. I said that I would try my best if the business of my
investigations allowed me to do so. We parted on good terms. The images he described
stayed with me for the following days.
Sunday 23rd September, 1646.
Thank you, dear Thurloe, for your letter. It arrived yesterday. You must not worry yourself
about the toll this particular investigation is taking upon my spirit. I put faith in God and in
Parliament’s ability to dispense justice in our ravaged land, as well as in my own strength of
character to unravel the truth of this case.
I did as you requested and visited the grandmother of Edmund Dawes. She was a pitiful
sight to behold – aged and infirm, given to indecipherable mutterings, sometimes in the
Cornish tongue. She lives in a hovel, subsiding on food begged from the town market. I asked
her about her grandson and she looked at me with a sense of incomprehension. Eventually
she told me that her daughter, Dawes’s mother, was a godless soul who had succumbed after
a life of wastefulness and drink, leaving the old woman to raise the boy alone despite her
advanced age. I told her, gently, of the charges levelled against her grandson. To this she
merely shook her head and said that God would judge. I felt obliged to give her a shilling for
her time. She kissed the coin and my hand and returned to her chair next to the lukewarm
brazier where I suspect she remains with only herself for company.
Before my meeting with the governor of the castle, which has been arranged for
Wednesday, I have spent time in Falmouth town, observing the locals as they go about their
daily business. The wharf is always busy with small boats landing their catch and two
Parliamentary cutters patrol the Carrick straits. I am aware that I am looked upon with
suspicion as I stroll along the high street. The market especially is a place of seditious activity
- our Colonel warned me that many free thinkers and braggards loyal to the king assemble
there, inciting rebellion. Roundhead soldiers patrol the area with regularity but the culprits, if
they are seen, soon fade into the shadows, helped by the local population who harbour these
troublemakers despite threats of punishment.
I have also spent time walking along the sea front, in order to take in the fresh air. The
castle looks down from the tip of the peninsula like a stern, unwelcoming dowager. During
one such evening walk, as I made my way along the sea front road, I saw black smoke rising
from within the castle walls. I have since learned that the smoke was the result of troops
burning the accumulated debris from the siege – the shelters and wooden dwellings
constructed by those squatting on the parade ground. At that moment I felt an overwhelming
grief for the young soul locked therein, pacing to and fro in the cold and darkness of his cell.
The sad image of Edmund Dawes was imprinted upon my mind and I lingered a while as the
day’s light began to fade in order to regain my composure. I closed my eyes, Thurloe, and
prayed to God that He grant the boy peace and freedom despite the nature of his crime. When
I opened my eyes I looked up and saw that another fire had been lit, this time amongst the
trees on the steep slope of the headland. With the incident concerning Dawes and the Prince
of Wales still fresh in my mind, I was drawn towards the expanse of woodland, so curious
was I to detect the fire’s precise location. Only a muddied track gives access to this region
and I followed it, steadily rising above the rocks and sea. It took me close to a half hour to
make my way to the level of the small blaze, the day’s light diminishing with every step.
When I eventually came upon the fire I saw two distinct forms moving thereabouts – one a
man, broad and wearing a long black cloak and boots not unlike my own; the second a ragged
girl aged no more than nine or ten years. I settled myself behind a bower and looked on as the
two of them sat before the blaze with their backs to me. I must have made an inappropriate
movement triggering a noise that alerted them to my presence. It was the girl who first looked
in my direction. She possessed a sweet, angelic face for a vagabond. She then stood and said
something to the figure beside her. Now the man turned. Thurloe, I can only conclude that the
figure before me was not after all human. He was much older and his eyes were bright red –
fierce, reptilian eyes that burned into mine own. His was the gaze of a supernatural being – a
being that made me sickly in my gut, as if I had looked on the Devil himself. I turned in panic
and scurried as fast as I was able along the trackway, not once turning to see if the demon
was in pursuit. It was only when I emerged from the woodland onto the sea front road that I
dared to look up – and now I saw that the fire had been extinguished. It was if the strange
beings no longer existed or had been transported back to the shadowy realm to which they
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