Authors: M. J. Trow
Tags: #TRUE CRIME / General
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by
Pen & Sword Military
an imprint of
Pen & Sword Books Ltd
47 Church Street
Copyright (c) M J Trow 2010
PRINT ISBN 9781844159642
EPUB ISBN 9781844683079
PRC ISBN 9781844683086
The right of M J Trow to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted by
him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
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Typeset in 11pt Ehrhardt MT by
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List of Illustrations
This book is dedicated to my wife, Carol â Susan Thistlewood and Catherine Despard rolled into one.
âAssassination is political murder, where the motives, no matter how mixed, are all about power; those who do not have power assassinate to get it and those who have power assassinate to keep it.'
The Secret History of Assassination
Dinner at Lord Harrowby's
The first carriage arrived a little after seven. The hour had been called, on that chill, cheerless night, by the square's Charlie, Thomas Smart, as he hobbled by with his lantern and his staff â âseven o'clock and all's well.' All was well â for now.
Arthur Thistlewood recognized the Londonderry arms painted on the carriage door and he knew the occupant, too, his boots grating on the pavement as the footman held the steps steady. He was over six feet tall, strikingly handsome, even in the eerie half-light of the new gas-lamps. There was a rumour that the Marquess of Londonderry, Lord Castlereagh, went armed these days; that despite the sang-froid he always showed in public, he went in fear of his life. There were two pistols concealed in the lining of his frock coat.
The carriage jerked away at the crack of the driver's whip, dark lackeys atop the coach, swathed in layers, their breath snaking out on the night air. Castlereagh was silhouetted for a moment in the lighted doorway, a perfect target for Thistlewood's gun. But Thistlewood waited. He had no intention of deviating from the plan. Castlereagh would go, but he would go with the others â catch one, catch them all.
The flunkey at Lord Harrowby's door was ancient, silver-haired and stooped; he'd prove no problem. And Thistlewood was determined he'd give the man a choice â give all the servants a choice. Join the Government of the People or follow your masters into eternity. It was what lay beyond the bobbing flunkey that grabbed Thistlewood's attention. The
had carried news of this dinner only two days ago. There had been no time to reconnoitre, to plan in detail. The shock of what was to happen would be enough. The blazing lights of the vestibule led into a carpeted corridor that reached a staircase. That was the way Castlereagh went, his greatcoat and hat removed, just before the door closed.
Thistlewood eased himself back into the shadows. It was a minute, perhaps two, before the target appeared in an upstairs window, overlooking the square. He had a glass in his hand and was smiling and shaking hands with his host.
William Davidson was in the shadows too and recognized at once the man with whom Castlereagh was hob-nobbing. It was Lord Harrowby, Lord President of the Privy Council, a kindly old boy with a twinkle in his eye. Davidson had worked for the man in days gone by, as a master carpenter working on some grand design the old man had. But it was not this house. It was Harrowby's country estate near Birmingham and that was a pity. If Davidson had known the layout of the town house, how much simpler the whole thing would have been. For a moment, he caught the laughter of two girls on the far side of the square. What were they? Eighteen, perhaps? Unfortunates? Probably. But Davidson shook himself. Now was not the time. On any other night, when Thistlewood or Edwards had no need of him, he would have crossed the square, tipped his hat to them, waited for their reaction. William Davidson was a free man of colour, as the whites called people like him. But he was tall, good-looking, quick-witted. His father had intended him for the Bar, but fate had driven him to another kind of bar altogether, at the Horse and Groom, the White Lion or anywhere where the disgruntled went. But all that would come later, when William Davidson was a member of Thistlewood's government. Tonight, he stayed in the shadows, checking his carbine lock for the umpteenth time.
John Brunt could see Davidson's carbine quite clearly â too clearly, bearing in mind the desperate enterprise now under way. He had seen carbines like that before when he'd worked for the army at Cambrai. He could see Thistlewood too, from his vantage point in the south-east corner of the square, but he had an oblique, awkward view of the house, merely a series of grand columns and chandelier-lit windows. Mechanically, he checked the brace of pistols under his shabby topcoat. Then the second carriage rattled past him, causing him to duck into the darkness.
He didn't see the gilded crest on the paintwork, but he knew the coach's occupant well enough. Even before he turned to enter the house, nodding to the flunkeys, he recognized the set of the shoulders, the great stride. Wellington. He'd seen the man, all nose and iron, in his days working with the Blues, when the saviour of Europe had inspected the Horse Guards. He was the hero of Assaye,
Talavera, Salamanca and Waterloo; he would not go quietly. All Brunt knew of the general's reputation told him that Wellington would not be armed, but he knew, too, that there would be weapons enough in that dining room for a man like him â knives, forks, candelabra, chair legs. No, Wellington would not go quietly.
James Ings carried no watch. He'd pawned that years ago to keep the wolf from his family's door. So he had little idea of the time as the third carriage squealed to a halt, hard on the wheels of Wellington's. But he recognized the occupant, helped down by a footman â the smirking, furtive features of the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth. His was the throat he would cut in a few minutes' time. He had rehearsed this moment a thousand times in his dreams. The tune of that damned song drummed through his brain â âGive me liberty or give me death'. Liberty was an alien concept to Sidmouth, a lost cause. This was the man who had suspended habeas corpus, denying freeborn Englishmen their basic rights. He had passed the Six Acts in that cesspool of corruption, Parliament, increasing the government's arbitrary powers. This was the man who had smirked still wider when he read the news from Manchester, of the massacre there, when the Hussars had trampled the unarmed crowd and the Yeomanry butchers had hacked down the people who had only gone to listen to Mr Hunt. He spat onto the cobbles as Sidmouth reached the safety of Harrowby's front door. Under his greatcoat, Ings was proud to wear his butcher's apron and under his left arm bulged the cleaver that was the tool of his profession.
Richard Tidd was not a happy man. He'd kissed his daughter Mary as he left Hole-in-the-Wall. And yes, he'd stopped off for some grog at the White Lion. It had been nearly empty then as dusk had settled on the West End. It seemed a long way from there to the Horse and Groom and his nerves were frayed. He'd looked across from the pub's candle-lit windows to that ill-lit stable in Cato Street which was their rendezvous. He'd seen that idiot Davidson, strutting backwards and forwards with his carbine on his shoulder and his white cross-belt bright even under the waxing moon, like some London version of the slave-leader l'Overture. Tidd had downed his rum and gone to join him. That must have been two, nearly three hours ago. Now, his head ached from the grog and his clogs slipped now and then on the frosty cobbles as he moved between the plane trees. But he was still in command, he told himself, still ready to do his duty.
âEldon', a voice hissed in the darkness. George Edwards had been there for
longer than any of them, chatting with the Charlies, Bissex and Smart, with some cock-and-bull story that he was waiting for his master and he hoped the watchmen would ignore him so that no one would notice his pockets were bulging with large amounts of mail for the master who was arriving that very day from the Indies. As Edwards had hoped, Charlie Bissex and Tom Smart weren't the brightest apples in the barrel and they'd waved their staves at him as he fingered the hand-grenades that lay waiting in his deep pockets.
Tidd jumped as Edwards passed. It was a toss-up really between the two of them, Edwards or Thistlewood, who was the more focused, the more determined. Which of them, Tidd wondered again, would run the People's Government when the time came? Thistlewood was the gentleman certainly and from Tidd's own county but Edwards, the impoverished doll-maker, was dressed very flash these days.
Eldon's coach was already rattling away and the Lord Chancellor of England looked decidedly small without his huge wig, his gold chain and his glittering robes of office. But he had sat heavy on mankind for too long. He did not invent the Bloody Code, but he approved it and day after day he had presided over the law courts which hanged little boys for stealing a shilling and saw women whipped at the cart's tail. Neither Tidd nor Edwards knew that, in his cups, Eldon had said that if he had his life to live over again, he would be an agitator, damn his eyes. They would not have believed it had they known, but they would damn his eyes all right â forever.
Now, all the carriages had come and gone. True to form, Lord Westmoreland had been the last to arrive. He'd only had to cross the square, from the north side and he came alone, with no servant at his elbow. He nodded to the Charlies who saluted him and tipped his hat to the decently dressed man who would kill him four minutes later.
Arthur Thistlewood was making his rounds for one last time, the fake letter from Carlton House in his pocket. It must have been about a quarter to eight and all the guests had now assembled. His Majesty's Secretaries of State, the King's Ministers, the whole nest of noodles in one, helpless trap. Thistlewood had fifteen men around the square and there were fifteen members of the Cabinet inside. How many servants Harrowby had was anybody's guess, but Davidson's carbine would overawe the lot until Edwards could lob his grenades into the kitchen passages.
The carpenter Richard Bradburn straightened as he passed. James Gilchrist was checking his shoemaker's knives. John Monument looked pale, but something in his eyes told Thistlewood he was ready. John Shaw was leaning against the portico of a house in the south-west corner, whittling silently as the night deepened. Cooper the bootmaker, Ings the butcher, Wilson the tailor, Tidd the bootmaker, Davidson the cabinet-maker and Edwards the man recently come into money; money he'd spent on the arsenal for tonight. They were all ready, ready to end tyranny and to make history their own.
It was time. Thistlewood crossed the square boldly, from left to right, his boots crunching on the hoar frost. He saw Charlie Bissex wandering in the pool of the gas light. He'd call the hour shortly â âeight o'clock and all's far from well'.
He rapped on Harrowby's door, the brass knocker barking his arrival. The flunkey opened it, rather bemused. Everyone was here. What late arrival was this?
âMy apologies,' said Thistlewood. âI have an urgent letter for the Prime Minister, from his Majesty.'
He thrust the envelope into the flunkey's hand. The old man frowned. There was no royal crest. Nothing at all. Only a badly scrawled name âLord Liverpool'. He looked up, as if to ask for an explanation and found himself staring down the barrel of a horse pistol pointing at the bridge of his nose. Thistlewood held his left index finger to his lips and motioned to the flunkey to step back.
George Edwards was at his elbow and he ducked inside, to his left, to the stairs that must lead down to the kitchens. Gilchrist was with him and Cooper and even before he disappeared around the corner of the stairway, Thistlewood saw Edwards handing out the grenades.
The others were with him now, blinking in the unaccustomed brightness of Harrrowby's hall. Strange was the last and he clicked the door closed. Thistlewood could wait no longer. He had been planning this or something like it for over two years. He brought the pistol barrel down hard across the old flunkey's temple and hopped over the fallen man, who lay slumped and bleeding on the lower stairs. Then they rushed upwards, three abreast, to reach that room and begin their work. The West End job was under way at last.
The double doors along the upstairs landing were closed. Davidson at least knew that there were likely to be two attendants flanking the other side of it. He
would cover one with his carbine if Ings took the other. That would leave Thistlewood to go about his business, confront the smug, murdering bastards around the table.
âReady, T,' he nodded to his captain.
Thistlewood kicked open the doors and stood there, the horse-pistols cocked in both hands. Ings grabbed the nearest flunkey and threw him against the wall, scattering silver tureens off the sideboard. Davidson jabbed the servant on his side in the waistcoat and he fell back with the others.
For the briefest of moments, the only noise in the room was the rolling of the last tureen around the floor. All fifteen men at the table sat frozen, their appalled faces lit by the flickering candles reflected off the silverware â the silverware that would keep Ings's family fed for years.
A burly butler broke the silence, striding towards Thistlewood and his cocked pistols. âWhat the devil do you mean, sir?' he asked him.
âIt's all right, Joseph,' a kindly voice rang from behind him. Lord Harrowby was sitting, as host, at the head of the oblong table. He dipped his spoon into his soup and turned to his Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, to his left. âFarley's White Soup,' he said, as though someone had just dropped a napkin. âCook tells me you put a knuckle of veal into six quarts of water, with a large fowl and a pound of lean bacon. Add half a pound of rice, two anchovies, a few pepper corns . . .'
âMy Lord!' Thistlewood's broad Lincolnshire accent stopped Harrowby's flow. âWe are representatives of the People's Government. As I speak the Committee of Two Hundred is raising London. You, gentlemen, have one chance. Refuse and you will die now.'
âHere's men as good as the Manchester Yeomanry!' Ings bellowed. It was a line he had been rehearsing for some time.
Another silence. There had been no explosions from downstairs. Edwards had not used the hand-grenades; had not fired a shot. That was to the good. If the servants and lackeys of the West End had come over, everyone would follow and by dawn, the whole of London would be reformist. Manchester would be avenged. There would be a new world.
âThe most important thing', Harrowby continued in his calm, collected voice, âis the celery heads and the sweet herbs, because . . .'