October 1630 Downham Market, Norfolk
To John Paulet, Winchester
To my good friend John, and to your lady wife Jane, we congratulate you at the glad news of the birth of your first son, Charles. We hope both mother and child are well, and his auspices are favourable.
John, Mary and I have heard of last year's Parliament from my lord Francis Russell, earl of Bedford. From the problems in your last note in June, we have been concerned for you both, it is hoped that outgoing expenses during your attendance as a Member in London were not extreme, and recovery of your estates continue. We had not expected your father's past entertainments would be covered by the banks to such an extent, nor the reports in the London papers to bring such unwelcome public revelations on his death.
On a happier note, I must let you know your visit to London has also caused trouble in the Weasenham house. We hear an ode to your wife's presence and beauty at Court is published by that Cambridge upstart John Milton, and is available in his latest collection from publishers in the Strand. Mary has asked, in jest hopefully, how I might commission one for her. No trips to London for us I think, but now must take her with us to Hamburg to shop whilst my Uncle and I arrange future trade.
However, mainly I write of the King's Commission at Lynn this past week. Attending on behalf of our family's trading and estate interests, my brother and I heard that the proposal from the king's embankment engineer, Sir Cornelius Vermuyden, to drain the Great Fen has finally been agreed at the Privy Council, but in detail I have some surprising news.
Lacking capital to the satisfaction of the Drainage Commissioners, Vermuyden is no longer undertaker of the venture. Representations (and, we are sure, some monies) from attending landowners persuaded the commissioners that further capital is required to complete the works.
After the deaths and riots at the works at Aldeney Island and Hatfield Chase, the cases still in the Lincoln court against the king rumble on. We witnessed at the meeting many, including a spectacular oration from a Cambridgeshire squire, Cromwell, ranting on for an age about the “ancient rights of pasture and hunting on common land by god fearing fen-men being denied and ignored by land hungry foreigners.” Much upset was displayed during the meeting, and the commissioners adjourned for a third day for overnight discussions with the major landholders and the bishop of Ely.
In reaching agreement, and to avoid further legal complaints, the Cambridge and Norfolk shire lords and landowners must now lead the enterprise. Francis Russell is now the undertaker, his holding of Thorney being the largest property affected by the scheme. He has promised ten thousand pounds capital to the corporation, with the expectation of retaining forty thousand acres to improve his holdings and a further ninety thousand pounds promised for the corporation from the other investors.
As you know Francis' estates in the east have not returned well without direct access to the king's highways or to port. With the new land, and an open aspect, he has boasted he now retains the architect Jones to rebuild Woburn Abbey as his family seat, and from whence he may manage his holdings and travel to London as needed.
For my family, a new great drain for the River Ouse from St. Ives to Downham Market shall cut somewhat through our lands at Hilgay, but we expect equal replacement, and are promised in writing an addition of five hundred acres from reclaimed sections for assistance in canvassing parish landholders and using our family links with the town council at Lynn to agree the plans.
Vermuyden shall continue in the syndicate as works director, and other English and Zeeland connections are also promised their own land grants at the end of the task, to the satisfaction of the commission. Ten thousand men to labor are expected, preference now offered to local men, then Protestants from the Spanish Netherlands and lastly from the Dutch Provinces.
The Commissioners shall sponsor an Act of Parliament, “The Lynn Measure.” If the works can keep the designated land clear for two consecutive summer growing seasons by 1638, then parcels and land grants shall be allocated. If not, the Company must bear the brunt of all capital costs, with no recourse to the courts or the king. Let us hope this is an end to open envy speculation, and with a clear relationship between a man's effort (or capital) over seven years, and the resultant land assigned to him.
At market, the grain harvest is good and fine this year, however prices are still depressed below last. In our eastern counties landowners are attempting other alternatives from the Gardeners' Company. Grain is hardly profitable, and in many places in Norfolk is grown only to feed the families idling on estates. We understand in the southern counties you have similar experiments, with George Bedford working to producing the dye madder for the first time outside the Low Countries.
Baltic grain does not land; most is diverted to the Germanies via Hamburg, and we expect none for some time. Our farmers with small plots are now completely dependent on any local surplus from market in good harvest years. We expect hunger, suffering and death when the dice rolls the other way, which it must.
Sufficient timber arrives from Sweden and the Pole's lands at our yards at both Lynn and Wisbech before the winter gales. I shall include this note and packet with the final shipment of Polish oak beams to the Cathedral School at Winchester, via Southampton, and hope it reaches you before the end of the year.
Lastly, my father has asked to enclose samples of good seed on trial from the Gardeners' Company in London, with directions on handling. He asked that you attempt them on your lime soil at your estate in Southamptonshire, as we do not think of them well in our peat, nor do we have space apart from our part of the ongoing woad experiments for the Dyers Company.
Be well with God my friend, and do let us know if there is anything further we can do to assist in balancing your estate debts. As usual, we shall keep an ear to the news coming our way from London, from the Germanies and Baltics, and shall share anything to our mutual advantage.
1632, November, A Road near Heidelberg
"Can you remind me again why I'm freezing my arse off on this god-forsaken mission of yours?" grumbled a faint voice thru the driving sleet, from under a wet fur hat.
"Oh, the usual when dealing with the London Companies—connections, bribery and profit, especially the bribery and connections," Rob shouted back through the wind.
Tom Cotton was a city boy in his late thirties, and not a great traveler. "I'd rather be in a gaming house in London at this time of year, not plonked on the back of a bony nag in bad weather. Or at least give me a coach with soft pillows, and a curtain to keep off the wind."
As the mission leader, Rob Weasenham was enjoying his cousin's discomfort, watching his companion hunched unhappily on the horse in front. Tom had always been a bit of a fashionist, too much time dressing up at Court, not enough in the fresh air. Their small trade party was well covered with guards, but they needed to move quickly to avoid the worst of the winter.
"Let us hope the next change of horses is an improvement," Tom muttered.
"Take Tom, you'll need someone who knows books" a friend in London had suggested. “He's been a miserable git, moping about town since his father died." Well, Rob had him now, but he could have done without the constant whining about the weather, mud on his fine clothes, traveler's rations, rotgut wine, and a hundred other complaints through Dover, Calais, Paris, and parts east. And now diverting further south was wasting valuable time, and costing more than Rob had expected, the Swedish armies had taken the Rhine/Main junction at Mainz last year, and that route was reported as still not safe.
"Another hour, we should find the inn. Soon, Tom; another hour and you can drink yourself silly with some hot wine." Rob resigned himself to another bad night shepherding his investment, and an expectation of another thumping head in the morning. His cousin's drinking had always been a bit free in Oxford, but he'd settled down when he'd married Margaret, and running the estate at Connington. Taking on his father's responsibilities last year had been a bit of a shock, but what do could you expect when the king put the old man in the Tower over winter? Rob had not spent time with Tom for a few years, and was tired of dealing with a relation continually looking for answers in the bottom of a glass.
But the bulge under Rob's coat with the packet of letters from London was a constant reminder of the opportunities for, at least, some major favors awaiting back home.
Most of the letters and lists were due to connections in the City, mainly flapping tongues in trade halls and the Exchange in the City. The Apothecaries had started it—“Dr. Harvey has promised some seeds to a Master Little for a physic garden, and we must have some cannabis from Mr. Stoner.”
It went from there to the Mercers—“find any almanacs, especially information on harvests and the weather.” “Riiiight,” Rob thought. “Try to fix the price of grain for the next twenty years.” Rob and his uncle didn't believe those London pedants had thought through that more could be made playing the European shipping insurance market to best advantage with the same information.
Next, the Gardeners' Company chimed in—“we have heard Grantville plants cabbage, squashes and other Dutch crops in the way of our market gardeners. Record growing methods, and any seed varieties. We also have been unable to grow potatoes well, unlike Ireland. Do they have some that would suit England?”
And the Silk Makers—“if this place is truly from Virginia in the Americas, search for Red Mulberry trees, as the seeds and cuttings from Jamestown have not served us well from long ocean voyages. Mayhap seed available closer to and planted earlier shall be more palatable to our silk worms.”
And the rest. Rob carried wish lists from all the other London Companies wanting an English merchant with active trade contacts in Thuringia.
The court was in quiet turmoil, but for once the palace birds were not squawking and little of the king's intentions were known. Concerned at the rumors, his worship the mayor of London, had arranged a secret Companies meeting in the Guildhall, along with the professors from Gresham College, for advice on what to do next. London's trade must not suffer, and when money was at stake, when did the City and its merchants wait for guidance from any king?
His old Oxford college friend—now a professor—John Greaves had therefore suggested the Weasenhams at Lynn for an off-the-books visit. The Dyers Company also had connections to Erfurt from ten years before because of Rob's uncle William supplying German woad plants and extraction methods to various landowners in an attempt to make England self-sufficient in the blue dye.
So here Rob was. October and November in the rain with a grumpy cousin, the license to travel to Grantville that had been much harder to obtain than anyone would believe, and a pocket full of wild expectations. He had hoped to use the existing relationship with Erfurt as an excuse to travel, but the French were having none of it. He and Tom were both taking a calculated risk to get to Grantville before winter set in, and get out before any more roving armies attempting to flatten it the following spring arrived.
Another note that had caused them to be on their horses in filthy weather was sitting safely in a desk at home. Stark bribery! Uncle William had judged the risk and that had tipped the balance. Rob and Tom were to go to Grantville.
To Master William and Journeyman Robert Weasenham, Hilgay, Norfolk
Most Private and Confidential
Professor Greaves was kind to mention you have agreed to visit Thuringia and Grantville for his worship, the mayor. May I also ask to add a charge of my own, and to your family's benefit?
With the new tasks in the Great Fen, and developing Covent Garden in West London, I have secured against all capital and a percentage of my rents for next years. My fellow investors must know if our intended endeavors succeed, and what troubles to avoid on the way.
There have been mentions of a great “English Encyclopedia," and other history books in the Grantville Library that is open to all that come. It is hoped that somewhere an indication of the result of the Lynn Measure in six years shall be recorded.
As for Covent Garden, I continue to be exasperated. Our king demands beauty in design and form, but it is not his monies at risk if I may not find tenants. Acquire a selection of some building designs from Grantville suitable for his majesty's approval, and any plans that shall help my agents in London to keep my bankers at bay.
If you can find what you may before summer next, the Levels Corporation shall add five thousand acres to your family's allotment at the Isle of Southery from Mr. Lien's piece.
Robert, I have also contacted your cousin Thomas, and in confidence have encouraged him to travel with you. He is still not attending to business and is continually in his cups in town, and gambling heavily since your godfather, Sir Robert, passed. Thomas now holds the largest library in England and should be certain to sift information wanted by the London Companies and myself, for you were never one inclined for the books unless it contains a column of numbers. If we can include him a part of this mission and under your direction, mayhap the cloud may be lifted from his countenance.
In your debt,
Francis, Baron Russell, Earl of Bedford
1632, December, Grantville