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Sir Lewis Dyves Escape

Frontispiece to the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society volume on Sir Lewis Dyve
Frontispiece to the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society volume on Sir Lewis Dyve

In January 1648 Sir Lewis Dyve, a prominent supporter of King Charles II and his Sergeant Major General of Dorset, who had been captured by the parliamentary army at the fall of Sherborne in August 1645, escaped from imprisonment in London. He published an account of his escape which is set out below complete with original spelling. It was called A letter from Sir Lewis Dyve: written Out of France to a Gentleman, a Friend of his in London. Giving Him an account of the manner of his Escape out of the King's Bench and the Reasons that moved him thereunto, Printed in the Yeare 1648. The document was later published in Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume XXVII, which was devoted to Sir Lewis Dyve, was edited by H. G. Tibbutt and published in 1948.

When the Lieutenant of the Tower [of London] had discharged himselfe of me by delivering me over into the hands of other Jaylors, I was by them that Evening brought to Sir John Lentall, who treated me with much civilitie; and having (as it should seeme) understood by some who had long knowne me, that if I would engage my Word unto him of being a true Prisoner it would hold me faster then all the Locks and Guards he could devise to put upon me, he in a very generous and free manner proposed it unto me, telling me withall that he had ever heard me esteemed for a man of honour; so as, if I would engage my Word, he would esteeme it as the best Securitie that could be given him. The franknesse of his proceeding prevailed with me (I must confesse) even against the Resolution I had taken not to bind my selfe up by my Word upon any Condition whatsoever: which I yeelded nevertheless to doe, being overcome by his kindnesse, adding this Protestation withall, That, were it to save my Life, he might be confident I would not breake with him, untill I should first give him faire warning by revoking it; Provided alwayes that he should put no Guards nor Keeper upon me, which I  should udnerstand as a disingagement of my Word, for that it would be an argument unto me that he did not relye upon it; Which he approved as reasonable; and so I parted from him for that time, and went to provide me a Lodging within the Rules as might affoord me best accommodation.

After this, there was seldome any day past that I came not by way of Gratitude to visit him or his Lady, resolving in my heart not onely to pay him all Respects that was due to him fro  me as a Prisoner, but to requite those Civilities I received from him whensoever I should by God's blessing be in a capacitie to doe it. Sometimes, as my Occasions required, I went abroad, which I did openly and avowedly, not conceiving it would have been judged a Trespas in me, more then in other men in the same Condition that I was. But it soone grew an occasion of expectation to some, who, never satisfied with their owne unlimited Priviledges, held it too great a one for me to breathe the common Ayre with other men, and through the feares and jealousies which the guilt of their owne soules suggested unto them did fancie my being seene abroad a matter of most dangerous consequence, insomuch as M. Speaker of the House of Commons was immediately inform'd of it, who thereupon sent to his Brother Sir John Lentall [the speaker was William Lenthall], giving him a strict Charge (as he told me himselfe) to have a speciall care of me as of a most dangerous person. He therefore in a friendly way desired me that for his sake I would for some dayes forbeare to be seene abroad, untill the heat of this anger were over-past, lest it might turne to his prejudice. The answer I made him, to my best remembrance, was to this effect; That I could not but thinke my selfe very unfortunate, after so many miseries, to be still made the object oft heir malice: which since I saw I could not otherwayes avoid, but either by forfeiting my Loyaltie to my Soveraigne or betraying my owne onnocencie, I had by God's assistance armed my selfe with that Resolution that I little regarded what their Power could exercise upon my person, and should esteeme my Sufferings a happinesse and glory to me in so good a Cause: so that, if I restrained my selfe of that just Libertie I ought to take, it was meerely for his sake; wherein I would be so carefull for the future, that when the necessitie of my occasions should draw me forth, it should be with that Caution, as should give no advantage against him. And I was sp precisely carefull herein as for divers dayes after I stirred not out of the Rules.

By this Retirement I well hoped to have taken away the occasion of troubling their thoughts with a subject so little considerable as my selfe; which would have been farre better impolyed in perfecting the happie Reformation, so worthily begun, and in setling a well-grounded Peace in the Kingdome, which, in that Confusion they have now brought it, will be a Worke of their best skill to performe. But, contrarie to my hopes, the next newes I heard was that it was resolved the fittest place to secure me was in the Common-Goale: and I had farther intelligence given me by two persons considerable with them, and no stranters to their Counsells, that there were desperate intentions against me, and therefore wished me as I tendred my Life to make an Escape now I had opportunitie to doe it, for the meanes might otherwayes be suddenly taken from me.

This intelligence comming to me at so seasonable a time, and my owne innocencie, besides the authoritie and credit of the persons from whom I received it, made me the apter to beleeve it to be true (knowing that my enemies thirst most after innocent bloud), and might have prompted me (considering the danger I was in) to have followed his Advice; but my Word being given to Sir John Lentall, I was resolv'd to run the uttermost hazard of my Life, rather than violate that in the least degree. This made me bethinke my selfe how I might best come off from that ingagement with least suspition, which the very next day was offered unto me upon this occasion.

The Warrant for my Close Commitment I knew precisely (as I said before) when it would be brought to Sir John Lentall; and that very night, Friday the fourteenth of January, I went (as I was formerly accustomed to doe) to visit Sir John Lentall at his owne House; where, finding him sitting in conversation with his Lady and some others of his Family, I fell into discourse with him, and after a while I tooke occasion to tell him that out of my respects to him I had confined my selfe in the nature of a Close Prisoner for a good while, but that having some speciall occasions to draw me into the Towne the next day I intended to goe in the Evening, which should be done with that wariness as to notice should be taken thereof. This stroake gave fire imemdiately, according to my expectation; whereupon he said that it was in his thoughts to have spoken unto me the next morning by way of prevention, for that divers of the House were so much incensed at my going abroad as he beleeved there would be an Order for my Close Imprisonment: I seemed much moved with the newes, and hold him I hoped he would not be the instrument to execute so unreasonable and unjust an Order, having given him my Word to be his true Prisoner: Alas (said he) what wpuld you have me doe, in case I am commanded? For as I am their servant, if I disobey their Orders, they will thrust me out of my place, and ruine me: By the same reason (said I somewhat tartly to him) if they should bid you knock out my braines, or starve me, you must then doe it. He desired me not to make such inferences, for that he knew they would command him no such thing; but for the keeping me a Close Prisoner, in that he was bound to obey them. When he had thus farre declared himselfe, I held it a fit time for me to revoke the engagement of my Word; which, that he might suppose it to be done rather out of Choler then Designe, I fell into a strange passion (not misbecomming my Usage though it might be thought it did my Condition) and in great heat told him I would not longer be ingag'd upon my Word, with some other expressions of deepe resentment of the barbarous usage I had from time to time receiv'd, but that I valued not the uttermost extremitie that Tyrannie could inflict upon me; and so, thrusting the Chaire from me wheron I sate, I made a short Turne in the Roome, taking a Candelstick in my hand which stood upon a side Table, and striking it with violence upon the Board, did much bruise the fashion thereof; and all this was done in a breath, so as it seemed but one motion.

The women that were there were somewhat amazed at this, but the Lady Lentall her selfe, who holds it a high reputation to be thought a woman of spirit, what with the bruising of the Candelstick and some words that fell from me, which she interpreted to the disparagement of her Husband, though I professe they were spoken with no such intent, frew suddenly in such a fury, as passionate women are wont to express when they are thoroughly angered; the words that kindled her choler, was, as I remember, somewhat that touched upon my being turn'd from Jaylor to Jaylor, which she highly aggravated after her manner, entring into comparisons of her Husband's worth, which I meant not in the least to diminish; with whom being performed to have any dispute the work for which I came being performed, I went towards the door with intention to retire to my lodging, there to bethinke me selfe of what more imported me; but, as it happened, her Ladiship at that time fill'd up the passage with her person, so as to passe by I tooke her by hand to remove her a little out of the way, which she took for so great an affront that she presently cryed out that I had strucke her; but the truth is, had not Sir John Lentall himselfe, and some of his Daughters in the roome, interposed betweene her and me, I verily beleeve it would have fallen to my share to have complained of a beating, which I should  hae much better have borne from a Ladie's hand, then the reproach she layd on me of having strucken her; I then became a stickler to perswade her tp patience, and to desite her that she would not through passion doe her selfe so much wrong as to say that of me, which, should she sweare, would never be believed by any body that knew me, and to entreat her pardon if, by transportation of the same passion which was now so prevalent in her self, I had either said or done any thing that might give her the least offence; with these and the like perswasions we all grew after a while into a more sober temper, and then I took my leave of them both, & was from thence wel guarded to my Lodging. The next morning, my Kinsman, Sir John Wake, came unto me, and told me for certaine That Sir John Lentall had received an Order from the House of Commons to remove me that night into the Common Goale; I desired Sir John Wake to goe to Sir John Lentall from me to request this favour in my behalfe, that myu removall might be suspended for a day or two untill I might be able to furnish my Lodging with Bedding and other necessaries fit for me; but the answer I received was That he durst not doe it for feare of the displeasure of the House. When I saw there was no remedie, i sent to have the Chamber made clean & aired with a good fire, as there was good cause, for I was told by some that saw it that it was a most nastie and filthy roome, not fit for a Dogge to lye in. Whils't this preparation was making, and a heape of Coales which lay in the Chamber removing the evening grew on, and my fatall houre of removing to a quick buriall. In the meane time I bespake supper, and invited divers Gentlemen of my acquaintance in the Rules to sup with me to take a farewell of them, not knowing when I should have the hapinesse to see them againe: four of five were pleased to come to me to affoord me that favour, all of them much lamenting my condition: by this meanes there was a necessitie of passing to and fro out of my Lodging, by reason my Supper was dress'd abroad. I sent for Wine and disposed my selfe to be merry with my Friends, not imparting my intentions to any creature; always having a watchfull eye how those that were set to guard me were placed; with a resolution to have forced my way through them, if there had beene no other remedie. But the darknesse of the Night favoured my Attempt so as, taking the nick of time when the Supper was bringing in, I slipt from my Companie, and got out of the Gate unespyed. conveying my selfe suddenly into a place where I knew I should be welcome, leaving my Friends to be merry without their Host.

For some few dayes I lay close, untill I found an opportunitie to convey my selfe, where by God's blessing I have now the leysure to satisfie both you and the rest of my Friends with this true relation of the Businesse; hoping there can nothing be objected against me in the whole progresse thereof misbecomming a man of Honour and Honestie, who desires and shall ever endeavour ti approve himselfe so in all his actions to the World, and more particularly to your selfe.