Sunday, March 7, 2004

Almost history, certainly Cambridge

In 1646 (or near enough as makes no odds) the Civil War reached quiet Cambridge, Cromwell’s horses were stabled in King’s Chapel and the Parliamentarians grabbed most of the colleges silver. Somehow, Trinity Hall, almost uniquely, came away with its silver intact. We are now able to present, almost from original sources, the negotiations that may have transpired (just about) ...

The Master of Trinity Hall sits at a table, in a ruff, reading papers. The desk is covered in a cloth. Enter Cromwell.

Cromwell: “Right, the Bursar wasn’t in, so they sent me up here. If you’re the Master of Trinity Hall, I’m here about –”

Master: “It’s closed.”

Cromwell: “I beg your pardon?”

Master: “My door is closed.”

Cromwell: “Not since I opened it.”

Master: “My door is closed. This is my research time. There is a clear note affixed to the door by means of a stout tack detailing student consultation times.”

Cromwell: “Have you got any idea who you’re talking to? I am Oliver Cromwell!”

The Master looks up at Cromwell.

Master: “Not a student then?”

Cromwell: “Not recently. I’m here about the silver.”

Master: “What do you mean, you’re here about the silver?”

Cromwell: “Have you been listening? My name is Oliver Cromwell.”

Master: “Yes, and I’m the master of Trinity Hall. Now, what silver are you referring to, young man?”

Cromwell: “I’m here to collect the college silver.”

Master: “I wasn’t aware you’d been hired to clean it.”

Cromwell: “Noooo. I’m not here to clean it. More – confiscate it.”

Master: “Confiscate the silver? But the president’s cup alone is worth hundreds of ducats! It was a gift from the Pope!”

Cromwell: “I’m not sure you’ve really grasped the implications of what’s going on here. I’m Oliver Cromwell.”

Master: “And?”

Cromwell: “Commander of the New Model Army? Lord Protector? Ring any bells …?”

Master: “Oliver Cromwell?”

Cromwell: “Yes.”

Master: “Cromwell? Cromwell, sounds familiar … ”

Cromwell: “Look, if you could just fork over the silver then, I’ll be going. I have a Civil War to run, the New Model Army to pay, Parliament to reform and it’s not going to happen without cash. The King’s Court has retreated to Oxford and now is the moment to press our advantage.”

Master: “Oxford? The King’s in Oxford you say? Well, I have to admit that’s news to me … Oxford? Well! Perhaps monarchy isn’t such a good idea after all.”

Cromwell: “That is rather why there’s a civil war on.”

Master: “Cromwell! Yes, I remember you now!”

Cromwell: “Sweet merciful Mary and Magdelene, the light finally dawns!”

Master: “You were at Sidney Sussex, weren’t you?”

Cromwell (through gritted teeth): “Yes!”

Master: “Well, don’t you think you should approach your own college for funding first?”

Cromwell: “No, you’re just not listening. I’m head of the New Model Army! I’m not a student, I’m not applying for post-doctoral research. I’m Lord Protector! My army is out there, right under your bloody window! We’re off to attack Oxford this afternoon. I am, if need be, by force of arms, confiscating your bloody silver in the name of Parliament, freedom and the Commonwealth of England!”

Master (peering out the window): “Good lord! Is that your army?”

Cromwell: “Impressive isn’t it?”

Master: “Impressive? It’s outrageous. It’s unbelievable! They’re … they’re standing on the fellow’s lawn! … Wait! Did you say - attack Oxford?”

Cromwell: “Yes!”

Master: “Well that sounds promising. Attack Oxford, eh? Well, I know you’re not a member of the college but … (conspiratorially) if you don’t mention it to the bursar … I could probably get you a travel grant.”

Cromwell: “Look you jumped up fart in a cassock and frilly shirt, could you concentrate just long enough to join us over here in the seventeenth century? Listening? Excellent. Let’s start with the basics, shall we? In case you hadn’t noticed there’s a bit of a civil war on and … I … am … Oliver … Cromwell. Yes? I run the country. I’m here to take you silver. Now give it to me before I have your extremities and appendages ground down and fed to my horse.”

Master: “Um, no.”

Cromwell: “No? No? I’ve got the bleeding New Model Army under your window! What the Cam-punting kind of an answer is no?”

Master: “Well, we can’t give you the silver. We’ve … um … mislaid it.”

Cromwell: “You’re the smallest college in Cambridge. You’ve got a tree takes up a quarter of the available space. How in the name of apostle-buggery do you mislay the silver?”

Master: “Well, the Bursar told me he’d sent it elsewhere for safe keeping. But we’re involved in a bit of contractual wrangling with service-provider. They won’t tell us where they’re keeping it until we pay up.”

Cromwell: “Where in the name of Beelzebub’s morning bile and bowel movement is this Bursar? You’ve hidden him haven’t you?”

Master: “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Cromwell: “Right, I’ve had enough of this. Just tell me where he’s sent it to.”

Master: “Rome.”

Cromwell: “Rome?”

Master: “Yes, it’s with a chap called Bernini. Went and got himself made pope, though. Makes things rather difficult.”

Cromwell: “The Pope?”

Master: “Well, you try asking the Vicar of God for your silver back, see how far you get. It’s no fun negotiating a contract with a man who’s infallible, I can tell you.”

Cromwell: “Demon-spunk gargling son of a Babylonian strumpet! And the Bursar?”

Master: “At the Vatican. Fact-finding.”

Cromwell: “You simpering, flatulent, gnat-witted, simian-faced, goat-pizzled, priest-poking, choirboy squeezing, idolatrous, mendacious, parricidal, pustulous, bursting excrescent carbuncle upon the foul and wizened nether cheeks of Satan!”

Cromwell storms out.

Master (calling after him): “Good luck laying waste to Oxford! Sew some salt into the fields for me!”

Master (peering under the cloth on his table): “It’s alright, Bursar. I think he just about bought it.”

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