Letters to Thurloe 7-9
Wednesday 26th September 1646.
I had been warned, dear Thurloe, by the Colonel of our forces in Falmouth that the former
governor of Pendennis Castle, Sir John Arundel, had not been blessed with an agreeable
constitution. And so it was that I travelled to his manor which lies in the parish of Newlyn –
Trerice House, the Arundel family seat, resplendent in its well-commissioned and
considerable grounds which extend to pretty orchards and many hundreds of acres
I was shown into the sitting room. Arundel was standing before the fire place, his left arm
in a sling. I was introduced by his maidservant and the former governor gazed upon me with
much distaste and distrust, setting me at unease. A rotund, red cheeked man with wisps of
grey white hair, he looked in fine health and fettle for a man aged eighty years and more.
I put forward to him the nature of the inquiry Parliament was undertaking and my role in it.
I took out my notebook and asked if he might recall, as lucidly as he was able, the events that
led to his wounding.
His response was sharp and to the point: ‘I was callously attacked by a near-do-well who
was subsequently detained and set in chains. Go to the castle gaol, boy – that’s where you
will find the culprit. The scaffold planks are housed in the castle stables. The hanging rope
sits in the stable loft.’
I ignored his request and answered that I knew well enough where the boy Edward Dawes
resided and that I had already spoken with him.
‘Does he deny that the act he undertook was initiated with recourse to murder ?’
I said that he had already confessed to the charges laid against him.
‘Then the die is cast, is it not ? The boy must hang for his crime.’
‘A parliamentary committee will set his punishment, sir’ I said. ‘I am merely interested in
how a boy, who so recently showed great courage in defending the monarch’s son, found
himself obliged to strike a blow against his governor.’
Arundel snorted, pulled his white shirt away from his shoulder with his good hand,
exposing his bandaged wound. ‘I know only this, sir’ he said and ordered me to come close to
him so I could properly gaze upon the spot where Dawes’ knife had pierced his flesh. I
declined his offer, saying that I was able to see the wound well-enough from my standing
position. The governor, irked by my answer, re-adjusted his shirt. ‘Tell the bumpkins in
Parliament I expect justice’ he said ‘else I’ll re-form the Trained bands and snag at Fairfax’s
army when he least expects it. Cornwall will forever stand with the king!’
Later that same evening, over dinner, I recounted to our Colonel my exchanges with
Arundel. He nodded sagely as I spoke and said there were stories that he’d heard about the
old man, stories that confirmed Arundel’s bitterness towards Cromwell and Fairfax and his
insistence that the natural order of things be returned.
‘His threats do not come as a great surprise’ the Colonel said. ‘But Parliament has a
decision to make: to accommodate the aristocracy in the coming Commonwealth or face a
constant war, a war of attrition in which the defeated part of this island fails to recognise the
legitimacy of the victorious part.’
It is a thought that I have turned over and over these past hours, Thurloe. In the case of
Edmund Dawes will Parliament choose justice or will it sacrifice his young life on the grim
alter of appeasement ?
Friday 28th September 1648.
Yesterday, Thurloe, I interrogated Edmund Dawes for the last time. He was set at the
highest emotions - constantly pleading with me to take him to his grandmother. When I
recounted my meeting with her he accused me of deceiving him, saying (somewhat bizarrely)
that the old woman was already dead. I assured him this was not the case and described, as
best as I was able, the crude dwelling in which she lived. But to no avail. He stood up and
said I was a messenger of Satan, sent to condemn him. The boy’s eyes were ablaze, as if a
demon lurked therein, and I thought of the strange apparition (if it were so) that I encountered
on my evening walk. I tried to reason with the prisoner but his fevered mind was set.
‘Satan made me do it’ he said. ‘Satan guided the knife into my hand and led me by an
invisible chain to the governor’s quarters. And when I was in his company it was Satan who
whispered in my ear – “Go forth and prick the dolt asunder with your blade! Let flow the
criminal’s blood! Slit his haggard old throat. Throw his head onto the parade ground, for his
refusal to surrender will kill you all!” I felt the force of the Devil take me to him and strike
out. But the Devil’s thrust was untrue. The blade lodged in the governor’s shoulder and his
cries were heard. I am innocent of all charges against me. It is Satan you must judge. The
governor would not surrender and yet you will guide me to the gallows.’
It was at this point that the prisoner began to scream and beat madly at his bed. Fearing for
my safety I ran to the door, alerting the guard. As soon as the cell door was opened I ran
through it and soldiers proceeded to quieten the young madman in a most rough and ready
I sat outside on the parade ground for a while in an attempt to regain my wits, so shaken
was I. My thoughts swelled and crashed in the manner of the waves on the rocks. Fear of the
madness of what has gone before, as well as fear for the new madness that will surely engulf
us, gripped and squeezed my soul. When will it stop, Thurloe ? When will peace and
harmony descend upon our ravaged island again ?
Friday 19th October 1646.
We assembled this morning at dawn on the parade ground of Pendennis Castle. The
gallows, roughly made during the course of the past week, was in the process of being tested
as we arrived. The Colonel remarked that bad weather was expected later in the day and
complimented the view of the sea from where we stood. I noticed the castle’s governor, Sir
John Arundel, in attendance. His arm has healed itself enough for his sling to have been
discarded. He did not acknowledge me, even though his eyes flitted themselves in my
direction on a number of occasions.
The guard and priest escorted the prisoner out of the castle. Dawes seemed to be indifferent
to the moment, gazing at the morning sky as he made his way to the steps of the wooden
structure. Even when he had mounted the platform he seemed to be carefree regarding the
cruel punishment that awaited him. He looked towards the crowd of onlookers and grinned
and I recalled then being told, once long ago, about condemned persons being overcome by a
form of ‘death madness’ – an inability to comprehend the reality of their fate. His demeanour
changed, however, when the noose was raised above his head. He began to struggle and had
to be contained by the guard. The masked executioner also intervened in order that the rope
might be tightened around the boy’s neck. Dawes was shouting now – all manner of
desperate pleas – which cut across the priest’s final entreaties so that, alongside the crashing
waves and the murmurs of the crowd, a fevered collage of noise was all that could be heard.
Then his struggles began to subside and the guards stepped away. It was too painful a
moment for me and I resolved to turn my head away. A shout was given and the trap door
sprang open. When I opened my eyes again I saw the governor looking on, as if he wished
the object of his anger to suffer an even greater humiliation.
When all was done I sat near the sea front in trembling contemplation. Then I made my
way to Arwenack House. The Colonel, perhaps alert to my evident distress, offered up a glass
of brandy. He raised a toast: ‘Let us be thankful that this investigation is over and the will of
Parliament had been carried out’ he said and we drank the fiery liquid.
I am due to return home tomorrow, Thurloe. God wish me speed to leave this place and
return me safely to my home.