Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/The anglers of the Dove - Part 5

Illustrated by John Everett Millais.

Part 4



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A Sunday like the good old Sundays came round at last. The church bell rang for service; and all day there were throngs in the churchyard. The burials, baptisms, and marriages of several months were to be got through during that day and the next; and the clergyman had his hands so full that Dr. Pantlin appeared,—to help his brother-minister, as he grimly said. If the one administered the sacraments, the other should undertake the preaching; and Dr. Pantlin accordingly caused it to be known that he should hold a meeting in the meadow by the river-side.

There were windows in the Castle which overlooked that meadow; and at one of those windows stood Father Berthon with his glass; and there, presently, stood Polly also, being sent for to look through the glass, and say who was who, and what was being done.

That was Dr. Pantlin holding forth from his stand on the grey rock. There were few of the village people there,—fewer than there used to be on the coldest days of winter; but the church bell accounted for that. Her own parents must be at church; for they were not here: yet they had never thought to miss a discourse of Dr. Pantlin’s. There was a man on horseback; he would not carry away much, if his horse would not stand better. Ah! he had dismounted, and let his horse graze while he listened, holding the bridle the while. That group of women came from the hamlet over the hill yonder; they did not belong to the place. There seemed to be scarcely anybody that did belong to the place. All the men at least were strangers, or nearly so. The two gentlemen with their rods were not exactly strangers,—Mr. Stansbury and Mr. Felton.

“Are they there? Let me see them,” said Father Berthon. “Are you certain?”

“Quite. You may catch them now, coming from behind those alders. You see their rods? What everlasting anglers they are! Sundays and all days!”

“Yes, they are diligent in their pleasures. Do they catch any fish, Polly?”

“Her Grace knows that they do; and so does your reverence. There were trout of their catching, in the spring, in every house they entered. What other sport they may have, each neighbour guesses for himself. But see! they are not listening to the sermon; they are hastening away by the wood. The horseman is mounted, and off at a canter. The people are running over the meadow. What can be the matter?”

“Only the constables, probably. Let me look. Yes; it is so. Your preaching friend will have to go to prison,—as he deserves; and those who have listened to him will be fined. I doubt whether the people have gained much in liberty by the change of religions; and they have lost everything else for it. Wherever Queen Bess travels, she has her road cleared of sour religionists, as she has of deformed and leprous persons. Our Queen-mistress here is less impatient with such people than their own Protestant sovereign. She bore with their serenades of untunable psalms, under her windows at Holyrood, when the cathedral music of France was still sounding in her ears. But the Protestant Queen has all psalm-singers and image-breakers swept out of her path, as if they were so many papists. The Catholics in exile, or in hiding, and the Anabaptists in prison, and the Puritans under her royal displeasure, and put to flight in the meadows like sheep before strange dogs,—such is the religious liberty of England, when fallen away from Rome!”

“And she hates the foreign Protestants, it is said, while there are so few that she likes at home. She says the Netherlanders have corrupted her people, who were a sober people before, but have now learned to swill like Flemish hogs.”

“The tone of English manners is low indeed,” said the priest, “with a bastard sovereign on the throne, and the true Queen in prison; with the true priests in exile, and a bastard clergy in the pulpits, and wild heresy infesting the very woods and hills, and the broad meadows of the land. But a few days more, and we shall see better times.”

“I wish Sampson would come home!” sighed Polly.

“He waits only to bring the news. Be patient, my child, for the sake of what he will bring. And now that yonder meadow is clear, go and see whether there are letters for the Queen.”

Polly had for some days known the secret of the Queen’s post-office,—the place in the terrace wall which a good climber could reach from below, by means of a hidden cord, and staples carefully inserted. There were no letters, though the Queen was singularly impatient for them. Time after time that day Polly was sent to look; and still there were none. Two persons below were equally eager to deposit something there. Felton and Stansbury had been to visit the Wise Man, on the dispersion of Dr. Pantlin’s congregation, to warn him of danger. The general restlessness and alarm of the neighbourhood wanted an object; and such an object was always found in the nearest reputed witch or sorcerer. The Devil’s priest, and his retreat in the wood, had been in everybody’s thoughts that day, after the warnings from both pulpits about the Devil’s work that was going on in those parts. If there was hatred loudly expressed towards the dangerous woman up at the Castle, there was no less fear of the wizard in the forest. The good-natured gentlemen had put the Wise Man on his guard; and he, for his part, bade them beware of desperate perils hanging over their idol Princess, and all who worshipped her. Stansbury jested with him about his being no conjurer, for this time. He had seldom made so bad a guess; and Felton had hurried his indiscreet comrade away. The Wise Man stood looking after them till they were out of sight among the trees. Then he turned into his house with a sigh, saying to himself that it was not for him to admit trouble of mind about the turns of human fate: but he had not got over the weakness of mourning over the waste of such men as these. He should never see them more; and he dreaded what he might hear of them. He proceeded to gather up his papers, and his medicines, and his books, and to deposit them in a certain cupboard he had made long before in a hollow tree in the depth of the wood. Then he spread his board, and fed the fire, so that there was every appearance of his intending to return to the next meal; he dressed himself like a traveller, strapped his tabor and pipes on his shoulder, and started as an itinerant musician in the opposite direction from Tutbury. Comrades must be on the look-out for him on the Lichfield road; and they would set the people dancing in all the villages till the times should be more settled, and philosophers might be safe in their retreats again.

The next day the October sun rose clear; and the mellow sunshine rested on the variegated foliage of Needwood Forest, and made the meadows as green as May, and the waters of the Dove as clear as the morning air. Before Mary had left her bed, her ladies brought her what she longed for. It was but one letter; but it promised more. Polly had found it at dawn where at sunset there was nothing.

There was a radiant joy to-day in the face which had seemed more beautiful in its melancholy than any other: yet now it was plain that joy became it best. Her appetite at breakfast rejoiced her ladies; and her enjoyment of the sunshine on the terrace cheered her industrious needleman at his work, as her figure passed and repassed his window. As Polly stood aside at the stairfoot, with a low obeisance, her royal mistress stopped to whisper some words with a smile. She told Polly that somebody was coming to-day, and she had better look out for him from a certain window which commanded the road. With the light step of girlhood, she paced the gardens, and returned to the terrace, and then to the gardens again; and there she found the Earl,—all unconscious, as she supposed, of what was in her heart. He had indeed not heard, though the tidings were on the way, that at any moment now, Mary might have set forth to London, to take possession of the throne. The Pope’s bull, excommunicating Elizabeth, had arrived; and so probably had the French fleet for which Mary’s friends were looking out for miles along the rocks from Hartlepool. The Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland were supposed to be marching thither with their forces, in order to proclaim Mary at York, where the Duke of Norfolk had prepared a rising for the moment when the French should have landed. As the Earl paid his respects to his guest, she smiled to think what his obeisance would have been if he had suspected that he was addressing the real Queen of England and Scotland, as well as the titular Queen of France. She reined in her emotions; but her manner was still gayer than for many a day past. The Earl was sensible of it, and involved a compliment in his dutiful inquiry for her health.

She condescended to enlarge the boundary of her walk, as she had liberty to do when the Earl or the Countess was present. The further terrace to which the party now proceeded commanded the three roads which converged towards Tutbury. For some time nothing was visible on them but slow pack horses, and single wayfarers, and a country cart or two: but at length, far away, a cloud of dust arose; and there was a momentary sparkle of a weapon in the sun. Mary stopped for an instant, but only for an instant. The Earl saw her colour rise, and noticed the throb of her ruff, as from a wildly beating heart. He glanced from one to another of the group; but the ladies maintained their composure. He had seen the Queen’s secretary busy at his desk as usual; the needleman, whom he had distrusted more and more, was stitching at his board, and had been humming a country song a minute or two ago. It was natural that a party of armed horsemen should rouse many emotions in the poor lady’s breast. It must be this, and nothing more. Yet he leaned on the terrace wall, and watched the approaching horsemen so earnestly that he did not hear the ladies withdraw. Mary was anxious now for the privacy of her own apartments.

“That was not the road. You must have made a mistake,” said Father Berthon to Polly, when she carried him the news, and asked whether Sampson must not be one of the party. “That road is the London road. The easternmost is the Yorkshire road. I will show you, if the coast is clear. Go and see.”

Polly was long gone. The suspense was too much for the practised patience of the disguised priest. He took some silk patterns in his hand, and went forth as if to ask at the porter’s room whether certain goods had arrived; but, as soon as he entered the court-yard, now full of reeking horses and their grooms, he was ordered “Back!”—“Back!” and fairly driven away. He saw the Countess; but she was not gracious. He caught a glimpse of the Earl, reading a letter which bore an enormous seal. Among the gabble of the attendants he caught a few words which sent him at once to the Queen.

By a sign from him, the door was closed and fastened: and he prostrated himself before Mary, claiming to be the first to salute her as the reigning Queen of England. The secretary and the ladies proffered their congratulations, and were affectionately desired to reckon always on the friendship of the sovereign to whom they had been friends in her adversity. Then followed the news.

Who the party were, Father Berthon had not learned, and could not as yet ascertain. No—he had not seen Sampson; he had not seen any face he knew. It would soon be evident who they were: meantime the great event was that the bull of excommunication which dethroned Elizabeth was actually posted on the Castle gate; and not only there, but on the church door; and some of the people had said that it had been found two mornings since posted on the Exchange in London, and on the door of St. Paul’s. Mary was Queen indeed; and her ladies might prepare for the progress to London, where her Majesty would no doubt repair without delay. Mary replied that all things should be considered; but she must first retire to her oratory, to gain strength for the part she was now to play.

While she was in that retirement, a busy whispered consultation went on among her attendants. Had the French landed? How far had they yet penetrated? Were the Scots marching down? Had they joined the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland? Was it certain that the country would rise for Mary? or ought she to wait for an escort of troops? Nobody could tell: and they had abundant time for their conjectures, for nobody came near them.

At the end of an hour, they began to suspect that the horsemen were not of Queen Mary’s party, but messengers of evil tidings to the Earl. This was in every way true; but not in the precise sense supposed.

By the Earl’s gait, as he turned from the terrace and entered his private apartments, it might have been supposed that he had not regained his strength after his illness of the summer. He had been a strong man for weeks, however; but he had received a shock such as might stagger the strongest men.

The Countess scarcely dared to speak to him; but she followed him in, and waited till his conference with the leader of the party just arrived was over.

“Bess!” said he to her when they were alone, “what do you suppose is in this red box?” laying his hand on what stood before him.

She answered by a look which had something like fear in it.

“It is the Great Seal,” he said in a whisper.

“What for? Who sent it here?”

“Her Majesty caused it to be sent, by desire of the Council of England,—the urgent desire of the whole Council. Ay! you will not again ask why.”

“Yes,” said the Countess, though her voice failed her; “I do again ask why.”

“For the execution of the Queen of Scots.”

“Her execution! you mean her trial!”

“Alas! no. If it were her trial that was decreed, I could prepare for it willingly; for where she breathes, there is treason: and her complicity with these events of to-day is not to be doubted. But to execute her in this, my Castle, without impeachment and defence, is a command which I never thought to receive,—a command such as no sovereign but a Saracen despot ought to impose on any noble gentleman.”

“But will you do it?” the Countess asked, grasping his arm, and gazing in his face.

“I know not,” he replied, in a voice of despair. “Never was man in such a strait! And she as blithe this day as an innocent child!”

“I think nothing of that,” said Bess. “She is no child, and knows nothing of innocence, and ought never to be gay at heart again.”

“Bess, you are so hard!”

“Ah! that is the old story! But am I not always right? Why is she blithe to-day, but because she believes herself Queen of England? And is she not all the gayer for the Pope’s bull having been set up on our own gate? That insult to us is the secret of the fine colour in her face this morning.”

“How should she know it?”

“That is a question for you to answer. Since you forbade me to trouble her with my presence, the guardianship has been yours. Whether you have done the duty better than I should, let this day’s events show.”

“Bess, there must be an end of disputing. A day like this is no time for altercation between us. Your husband’s honour and safety are at stake—”

“And what of the Queen’s? That is of somewhat greater concern, I imagine. I said once that women make the best gaolers. I say now that women make the most loyal subjects. While you are thinking of your own honour and safety, I am thinking of the Queen’s.”

“Leave me!” cried the irritated Earl.

“I will; and the more readily because the Queen’s service demands instant care. The Pope’s bull must be torn down from our gate.”

“It is done.”

“And from the church-door.”

“It is done.”

“And discovery made of the audacious hand which posted it.”

“It is done; and the man is arrested. Felton did it. There is proof which you can hear another time. Will you leave me?”

“When I have heard what you intend to do,” coolly replied the Countess, nodding towards the box which contained the perilous licence to destroy the Queen’s chief enemy.

“To-day I shall do nothing. I forbid you, Bess, to approach her. Let her have due service, and nothing more. In a few hours she must hear of the disclosure of the conspiracy, and of the desperate peril of her friends. Let her spirits fall by suspense, or the shock may kill her.”

“Can you wish that it should not?” the Countess asked: and her husband answered only by a shudder.

Hour after hour passed, and no news arrived to those who sat waiting for it. There were jests, at which Mary herself smiled, on the undignified reluctance of her hosts to inform her of her release. It was exactly like Bess of Hardwick, the ladies said, to suppress good news as long as possible. From the Earl they should have expected something different; but he was no doubt preparing to pay his duty with the greater state, and to conduct his sovereign through a country which he was raising in her honour. The number of horsemen who were heard and seen to depart in various directions gave some countenance to this idea. Father Berthon, however, became evidently uneasy as the day wore on: and at nightfall he could no longer refrain from seeking news. He did not return. The secretary refused to go in search of him, saying that it was his special duty to abide by the Queen. He feared detention, the ladies whispered to each other. Could it be that the Earl and Countess meant to resist the new order of things!—to resist the Pope, and France, and Spain, and the whole worthy part of the English nation? Such resistance could be but a brief folly.

As doors and windows stood wide, that warm autumn evening, when all were bent, mind and body, on listening, the gentle breeze brought the sound of bells. The church bells were certainly ringing. All spirits brightened, and Mary herself observed that it was cheering to hear some sounds of joy before the first day of her new reign should close. It was surely the strangest accession day that any sovereign of England had ever known.

“And here are other signs, even more sure than the bells,” her secretary, De Naon, observed. “If I mistake not, the people are building a bonfire in the meadow below.”

Polly, who had been gazing abroad through Father Berthon’s glass, now announced that there were bonfires on all the hills round, and cressets were already alight on every church steeple. The whole country would be aglow, as soon as it was dark.

It was this spontaneous illumination which brought the Earl to the Queen’s apartments now, instead of the next morning. He begged an audience, and would evidently not have taken a refusal. He desired to see her Grace alone, sending away even the secretary. The ladies persuaded themselves and one another that this reluctance to accept events was ungenerous, disloyal, every way unworthy; and pray Heaven! it might not be dangerous! Yet there was that in the Earl’s face, stern and colourless, which made them anxious to believe their own explanation of the mystery of this day.

“He looks not as a subject come to greet a new sovereign,” the ladies observed; and De Naon wished their mistress was fairly out of the Castle, and released from a host whose position was one of divided duty. He should not consider the Queen safe till she was among her people, with her nobles and their troops around her.

“Yet see how the country is lighting up,” said Lady Janet Hamilton. “Where were there ever signs of popular rejoicing, if not here?”

It was indeed a fine sight,—the kindling of the fires over a wide expanse of varied landscape. The Castle itself was illumined in all its prominent parts by the great bonfire in the meadow below. The flames disclosed the deep glades of the forest, and reddened the stems of the nearer trees; and the rushing Dove was like a river of fire. Crowds gathered in the meadows; and yet there were sounds from afar—shouts and singing which told of other collections of people about the churches and in the villages. One distant flash after another showed where fresh fires were kindled; and red smoke-clouds floated here and there, as far as anything could be seen.

“See,” cried Polly, “how the people below are looking up all at once! Let us go upon the terrace and show them how happy we are.”

“Stay!” cried De Naon. “It is not to be thought of.”

“But I know them so well!” said Polly. “There can be scarcely a face there that I do not know: and they are so happy! and so are we! See how their faces are all upturned at once!”

“We must withdraw from the windows,” De Naon declared. “We may not have been seen; but we must do nothing without the Queen’s order;—no, not even rejoice.”

His voice chilled the hearts of his companions; and so did the countenance of the Earl as he came forth, and signed to the ladies to return to their mistress. As he opened the door to the corridor, two armed men entered and carried off the secretary.

Mary was not fainting; but she was stunned, though the Earl had discharged his duty as gently as he knew how. He said no word to her of her own danger in his hands. The Countess thought this pusillanimous, and almost disloyal; but it was a point on which the Earl was firm. It might be unnecessary ever to use the warrant which he held: the Queen and the Council might change their minds; time might bring about explanations of many things; and, if the maintenance of the religion and the peace of the realm should be found compatible with the life of the Queen of Scots, she might be spared the knowledge of what was now proposed. The Countess was positively forbidden to reveal the fact of the warrant being in the castle to any person whatever: and the secret was in fact well kept for some years. Bess of Hardwick had not supposed that she could come so near quailing before any event as she now found possible. Many a shudder came over her during the day; and she started from her sleep at night when the thought occurred of the black scaffold and the headsman in her own halls, and of a guest, a royal guest, being carried forth a headless corpse from her gates. As she watched the roads for approaching horsemen, forgetting the passage of the hours, she grew more apprehensive of messages from London than the Earl himself.

To Mary the Earl would have given more comfort than terror by producing her death-warrant that night. It was a night never to be referred to again, and such an one as could scarcely have been borne twice. The wreck of hope was complete. The Duke of Norfolk was arrested; the northern Earls were summoned to London, but had fled. No foreign force had arrived to support the Scots; and the Scots had marched back again. The burning of the Bible and Prayer-book in Durham Cathedral had exasperated the whole country round. What the spirit of the realm was might be seen by the way in which the news was everywhere taken. Everywhere the people turned out for their Protestant Queen, rang their bells, lighted their bonfires, and cursed the Popish witch who betrayed to death every man who came under the glance of her eye, and the tone of her voice. The Earl said as little as he could; and Mary could not make inquiry, because it was her part to appear ignorant of any conspiracy. But what she heard was as much as she could bear. All! all lost! Every one who had perilled all for her, doomed and lost! Her own life a blank! to be passed in a loathed prison like this! A life spent with Bess of Hardwick for a gaoler! And the realm not recovered for the Church, but fresh strength given to the damning heresy of the age! The world seemed God-forsaken that night; and, when morning came, the worn and sleepless group started from each other’s looks, and might well bar their doors against all witnesses of their woe.

Yet evil tidings found entrance to them in their closest seclusion. The Countess considered it good for their souls that they should know the mischief for which she considered her royal prisoner responsible. She despised the weakness of concealing from Mary the fact that her head was in the Earl’s power; but she was so positively forbidden to disclose the truth that there was no help for it; and she made amends by conveying to the secluded ladies the assurance that they would never again see the pair of devoted anglers fishing in the Dove.

Mr. Felton had been ordered for trial on the charge of posting the Pope’s bull on the church-door and the Castle-gate; and the evidence of eye-witnesses left him no chance of escape. His friend would suffer with him; for of their complicity with the conspiracy there could be no doubt. The Countess was less eager to tell of the prospects of the Queen’s late needleman. She had been so resolute in rebuking the Earl’s suspicions of the clever tailor she had hired for the Queen’s service, that she would not believe to the last moment that she had been duped by a popish priest. She pitied him as one of those victims sure to be drawn into the vortex of destruction when unscrupulous treason is making its plunge down the precipice. The poor man would be lost, she said, unless the Earl would allow her to take his case in hand. The Earl committed the case to those whose proper business it was; and the disclosures which ensued humbled the Countess in a very wholesome way. On the day of his execution, she sighed, and said he deserved his fate ten times over for bringing his plots into the house of a good subject, and making a fool of a patron to whom he pretended to defer. The effect of her contrition was seen in her allowing her husband, without any interference, to make his own appointments when the Queen’s servants were changed; and when at length he was able to repair to Court to receive further instructions, and, as he hoped, to deliver up the burden of the power over Mary’s life, the Lady Bess was really glad to have the assistance of the Earl of Huntingdon in guarding the prisoners till her husband should return to conduct them to Fotheringay Castle.


It was mid-winter before the reek went up once more from the Wise Man’s chimney. A few days after the thin blue jet of smoke was first seen from the Castle terrace, now occupied only by sentinels, the returned tenant heard a timid knock at his door. It was Polly, grave and resolute, but plainly in need of resolution.

“May I come in?” she asked.

“That depends on a condition which you can hardly have forgotten, Polly. You must bring me no state secrets, you know. I can hear nothing of any plots.”

“I do not forget that, nor—nor some other things you said when I came before. But I am come now to ask,—not to tell.”

“You can ask. About the answering, we will see.”

“I am so perplexed about something! And I am sure you, who know so many things, can tell me the truth. I want to know whether Sampson Rudd is really a Catholic or a Protestant.”

“Sampson Rudd! Why, I thought he was your husband.”

“To be sure he is; and that is why it is so necessary for me to know: and nobody but a conjurer could find it out to a certainty. To hear him tell when he and I are alone, and nobody within hearing, of the execution of those gentlemen, Mr. Felton and Mr. Stansbury, one would think he was as true a Catholic as they were; but—”

“Did he see them die?”

“He did. Mr. Felton denied nothing. There would have been no use in it; for there were eyes abroad that night that saw him fasten that terrible paper on the gates. He said he had risked his life for the true religion of the kingdom, and for its true sovereign; as he had failed, he had no more to say but that he trusted that true sovereign would not regret his fate so much as he did her disappointment. Mr. Stansbury spoke quite differently. He said he was not the man to go into any plots beyond that of circumventing salmon in the rivers, and foxes on the moors. Where his friend was, there he was; and therefore such danger as his friend was in, he was in too: but it was his friendship that accidentally brought him there, and not any artful treason. He had been aware of a few things; but no gentleman of spirit would expect him to babble of them: and if he was to die for holding his tongue about other men’s secrets, so be it! He had none of his own. He had nothing to repent of; and a man could not die at a better time than when he could say that. Sampson feels all this very much.”

“How did her Grace feel it? I suppose she knew it before she left Tutbury?”

“There was no saying how she felt any one thing when there were so many. She cried lapfuls of tears before I was sent away; and as she rode by in departing, she looked as if her whole life must be as full of tears as her days and nights have been of late. But how to speak of her,—how to think of her now, I don’t know, unless I knew what Sampson really is. My father says if I will own myself bewitched by all these people, he will forgive me; and I can’t be sure whether I have been bewitched or not; only, I know that I had no hand in my little brother’s death.”

“Certainly,—certainly, Polly. Your father will grow reasonable about that. But how can he and Sampson agree?”

That was the question. Polly sometimes thought Sampson would, after all, go into the pulpit (studying a year for it), if the Earl or anyone would ask him, as had been once thought of; and he certainly spoke of the Protestant confessors abroad as if he had been one with them; yet, not only had Father Berthon married him and Polly, but there was another sign,—nothing could induce Sampson to get rid of something which he carried about with him, and which seemed to Polly very dangerous. She feared she was wrong in bringing it; but she did so need advice from one who knew everything! And she produced the medal. Was it, or was it not, of the nature of a charm? If it was dangerous, might she drop it into the Dove, and say she had lost it?”

After close examination, the Wise Man told her she must restore it to her husband, and never tell that any one had seen it. What danger there was in it, her husband must be aware of. As for the rest,—the question of Catholic and Protestant,—how was it with Polly herself? Her position at home seemed to depend on that.

This was the very difficulty. Polly really had no idea what was true, when Father Berthon had told her one thing, and Dr. Pantlin had said the very opposite, and every church preacher had abused Dr. Pantlin. If she could find out what Sampson really believed, she would be of his mind: and this the Wise Man thought was decidedly the best way.

But the neighbours! They would never leave her in peace about her little brother having died when all the household but herself were in the harvest-field. Cicely and Dolly would always look askance at her on account of what they said they had seen: and she was very unhappy.

The Wise Man had skill enough to see what counsel would be welcome. There were many places in England now where Sampson’s handicraft prospered and was valued; and nowhere more than in a part of London where silk-weavers from foreign parts were said to have settled in great numbers. Sampson must know all about those people and their trade. He had better give his mind to his loom, whether he lived in one place or another.

There was one person in the neighbourhood of Tutbury Castle who was not surprised to hear, in early spring, that Sampson and Polly Rudd had stolen away one day, while the household were out sowing. Three years after, it was reported by the pedlars who visited Needwood Forest that the black silk hood and mantle which were a part of Queen Bess’s mourning for the Huguenots, after St. Bartholomew’s day, were from the loom of one Sampson Rudd, who was thenceforth the craftsman in silk wares most favoured by the whole Court.