Friday, May 30, 2008

The folly of Thomas Appletree, 1579

On the 17th July 1579 the queen was in her ‘privie barge’ on the river between Greenwich and Deptford, and with her the French Ambassador, Jean de Simier (rather splendidly misreported here as ‘Mounsier Schemere’), the Earl of Lincoln, and her Vice Chamberlain, Christopher Hatton.

Drama followed that would put present day 24 hour news in meltdown:

“it chaunced that one Thomas Appeltree a yong man and servant to M. Henrie Carie, with ii or iii children of her Majesties Chappel, & one other named Barnard Acton, being in a boate on the Thames, rowing up & down betwixt the places aforenamed, the aforesaid Thomas Appeltree had a Caliver or Harquebush, which he had three or foure times discharged with bullet, shooting at random verie rashly, who by great misfortune shot one of the watermen (being the second man next unto the bales of the said Barge, labouring with his Oare, which sate within six foot of hir highnesse) cleane through both of his armes: the blow was so great and grievous, that it moved him out of his place, and forced him to crie and scritche out piteously, supposing himself to be slaine, and saying he was shot through the body. The man bleedin abundantly, as though he had had a hundred daggers thrust into him, the Queenes Majesty shewed such noble courage as is most wonderfull to be hearde and spoken of, for beholding hym so maimed, and bleeding in suche sorte, she never bashed thereat, but shewed effectually a prudent and magnanimous heart, & most courteously comforting the poore man, she bad him be of good cheare, and sayd he should want nothing that might be for his ease, commanding him to be covered till such time as he came to the shore, til which time he lay bathing in his own bloud, which might have bene an occasion to have terrified the eies of the beholders. But such and so great was the courage and magnanimitie of our dread and soveraigne Ladie, that it never quailed.”

Unsurprisingly, the culpably careless Appeltree and his companions were apprehended, he was brought before the Privy Counsel, which found the case ‘most haynous and wicked’, and pronounced a death sentence. Appeltree was put in the Southwark Marshalsea, and the next Tuesday paraded through the city, out to Black Wall, and then to a gibbet beside the river.

Very penitent, on his knees, poor Appeltree spoke of his trust in Jesus, and ‘discoursed very godly’. He also asserted that “GOD is my judge, I never in my lyfe intended hurt to the Queenes most excellent Majesty … I am penitent and sory for my good mayster, M Henrie Carie, who hath bene so grieved for my fault, suffering rebuke for the same.” Carey was a fairly new member of the Privy Council (from 1577), Appeltree may have been connected to his company of players (which would later do him much more credit as ‘The Lord Chamberlain’s Men).

“The teares gusht out of his eyes very fast …And as the executioner as one greedy of his pray, had put the roape about his necke, the people cried, stay, stay, stay, and with that came the right honorable Sir Christopher Hatton Viz-chamberlayne to hir highnesse, who enquired what he had confessed, and being certified as is before expressed, he vailed his bonnet, and declared that the Queenes Majestie had sent him thither both to make the cause open to them how haynous and grievous the offence of the saide Thomas Appeltree was, and further to signifie to him hir gratious pleasure: & so continued his message, as ye may read it printed by it self, and annexed to this discourse…”

[The promised message announcing royal clemency is not in fact in the pamphlet]

“Whether that Appeltree had cause to be joyful or no, I leave to your judgements, who being come downe from the ladder, received his pardon and gave GOD and the Prince praise.”

Everyone present then prayed for the Queen, using the same form of words as in Church. I suppose that the stupidly silly Appeltree was saved by his youth (he is in the company of youthful performers from the Queen’s Chapel), and the interventions of the embarrassed Henry Carey as a character witness. Appeltree was found only ‘traytorlike’, but, it seems, too young to be a plausible assassin in the pay of Rome or Spain. If they were only going to hang him for nearly shooting the Queen, they must even in that have conceded that it had been an accident: a traitor would have had the full savagery of being hanged, drawn, and quartered. The pamphlet’s hostility turns against the executioner, greedy for his prey and his perquisites, and so, on the shoreline near Blackwall, a party of Londoners out to see a hanging get instead a drama of royal clemency. The Queen does indeed seem to have behaved very well through all this.

Afterwards, the lucky Thomas Appeltree, “Justly condemned for his trespasse to die the death …Most gratiously by the singular mercy and bountie of our dread and soveraigne Ladie Queene ELIZABETH preserved” disappears from history, with a story to tell for the rest of his life.

A briefe discourse of the most haynous and traytorlike fact of Thomas Appeltree for which hee shoulde haue suffred death on Tuisday the one and twentith of Iulie last: wherin is set downe his confession. Whereunto is annexed, the report of the message sent to the place of execution from hir most excellent Maiestie, by the right honourable Sir Christopher Hatton Knight, vizchaberlain to hir highnesse (1579)

(I hunted for a suitable image of a royal barge, and only found the unprovenanced and undated woodcut.)

No comments: