Cold moonlight flooded through the stained-glass windows, it illuminated the huge rood that hung above the altar and cast strange shadows on the stone paving but he knew that there was nothing to fear here. This church, built by his grandfather William, was his sanctuary; within its protective walls he found peace and comfort when his father’s brutality became too much to bear. He turned into the Lady Chapel…there he lay. The Church’s teaching was that this man should be loved and honoured above all other men but Francis could only feel hatred towards him. He stared into the dead face of his Sire. The once ruggedly handsome features were bloated and heavily lined. The greyish pallor of death could not hide the blotches and broken veins that ran across his nose and cheeks. It was the face of a drunkard. John Lovell’s auburn, shoulder-length hair, liberally streaked with grey, was neatly combed back from his face and he had been dressed in his Baron’s ceremonial robe for this lying-in-state. After a Requiem Mass, to the tolling of bells at dusk tomorrow, he would be wrapped in a cerecloth, coffined and lowered into the grave that had been prepared for him here in this chapel. Francis looked towards the deep hole that had been dug in the aisle and shuddered. It reminded him of a wide gaping mouth waiting to swallow anything that came near, down into the dark caverns of the earth. He rubbed his forearm across his face; searching inside himself, he tried find some feeling of sorrow at the passing of this man; to remember the kindly, somewhat distant father of his early years – the father who taught him about his birthright, of the vast estates and titles he would one day inherit from his grandmother Deincourt; who gave him his first practice sword and chose his first mount, but all that came to mind was his brutality and tyranny in recent years.
Francis knew well the reason for the change in his father – it was the consequence of an absolute, obsessive loyalty to King Henry. For generations both his father’s family – the Lovells and his mother’s family – the Beaumonts, had been staunch supporters of the House of Lancaster. John Lovell had been a brave warrior; one of King Henry’s senior commanders and had fought for his cause to the bitter end. For this, the victorious Yorkist king – Edward had punished him severely. John’s lands were forfeited; and he and his family became entirely dependent upon the good graces and charity of Francis’ grandparents. At the time he had been a small child, scarcely able to understand the world around him but his lady mother’s horror and distress on receiving the new king’s order to vacate their home was a vivid memory, as was her quiet dignity when faced with the humiliation of being escorted out of the Hall by an officious, smirking royal representative who, backed by a company of men at arms, ensured that they took nothing other than their personal belongings. The ignominy had eaten deeply into his father’s soul. The silent, morose man who had returned home shortly after Michaelmas five years ago, was swift to anger and lash out with his tongue. Francis and his sister Joan had very soon learned to stay out of his way. In the end, to regain his lands, John had swallowed his pride and made peace with king Edward, but his problems had not ended there. His lands were returned but the king continued to punish him with ruinous fines and levies on his estates. John found it harder and harder to meet the king’s demands; until, finding himself many thousands of marks in debt, he had been forced to sell off precious land and Manors. He found solace in Beer and the sweet red wine imported from France and Italy.
His father’s unpredictable temper grew more and more violent; his household became the target for his frustrations. At first it was only the servants who suffered from his rages and his fists – whenever he was at home, they slunk around the Hall trying to avoid a whipping and then he turned his temper upon his family. He began to beat his beautiful wife, at times his gentle mother moved around like an old woman whose bones had grown stiff with age. Her life became a bitter struggle to protect herself and her children from the irrational and uncontrolled rages of their father. And Francis was painfully aware that she did not always succeed, the still raw stripes on his back and the bruises around his ribs were testament to this. A fierce anger rose up hot and heavy inside him. “No! I’ll not grieve for you! I am glad you are gone from our lives. He hissed in a low bitter voice. “I will pray that your time in Purgatory is long and hard; for the holy fires will take an eternity to burn away the misery you inflicted upon us all.”