They look good, do they not? she asked, catching my stare. A barber-surgeon in Cheapside made them up for me. I cannot eat with them, of course.
Put them away, Johanna, her husband said. The company does not want to stare at those while we eat.
Johanna pouted, so far as an almost toothless woman can, and deposited the teeth in a little box which she put away in the folds of her dress. I repressed a shudder. I found the French fashion among some in the upper classes for wearing mouthfuls of teeth taken from dead people, which in recent years had spread to England from France, rather gruesome.
Roger began talking about his hospital again, addressing his arguments this time to old Ryprose. Think of the sick and helpless people we could take from the streets, maybe cure.
Ay, that would be a worthwhile thing, the old man agreed. But what of all the fit sturdy beggars that infest the streets, pestering one for money, sometimes with threats. What is to be done with them? I am an old man and sometimes fear to walk out alone.
Very true. Brother Loder leaned across me to voice his agreement. Those two that robbed and killed poor Brother Goodcole by the gates last November were masterless servants from the monasteries. And they would not have been caught had they not gone bragging of what they had done in the taverns where they spent poor Goodcoles money, and had an honest keeper not raised the constable.
Ay, ay. Ryprose nodded vigorously. No wonder masterless men beg and rob with impunity, when all the city has to ensure our safety are a few constables, most nearly as old as me.
The city council should appoint some strong men to whip them out of the city, Loder said.
But, Ambrose, his wife said quietly. Why be so harsh? When you were younger you used to argue the workless poor had a right to be given employment, the city should pay them to do useful things like pave the streets. You were always quoting Erasmus and Juan Vives on the duties of a Christian Commonwealth towards the unfortunate. She smiled at him sweetly, gaining revenge perhaps for his curt remark about her teeth.
So you were, Ambrose, Roger said. I remember it well.
And I, Dorothy agreed. You used to wax most fiercely about the duties of the King towards the poor.
Well, theres no interest from that quarter, so I dont see what were supposed to do. Loder frowned at his wife. Take ten thousand scabby beggars into the Inn and feed them at High Table?
No, Roger answered gently. Merely use our status as wealthy men to help a few. Till better times come, perhaps.
Its not just the beggars that make walking the streets a misery, old Ryprose added gloomily. Theres all these ranting Bible-men springing up. Theres one at the bottom of Newgate Street, stands there all day, barking and railing that the Apocalypse is coming.
There were murmurs of agreement up and down the table, and I nodded myself. In the years since Thomas Cromwells fall, the Kings patronage of the reformers who had encouraged him to break with Rome had ended. He had never fully endorsed Lutheran beliefs, and now was moving gradually back to the old forms of religion, a sort of Catholicism without the Pope, with increasingly repressive measures against dissentients; to deny that the bread and wine of the sacrament were transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ was now a heresy attracting the death penalty. Even the doctrine of purgatory was becoming respectable again. All this was anathema to the radicals, for whom the only truth was to be found in the Bible. The persecution had only driven many reformers towards the radical fringes, and in London especially they were daring and vocal.
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