Constable Heartless 1640-1718
I am known by the name Constable Heartless. I believe that I was born in England a year or two before the hostilities of the First English Civil War began in 1642. I never knew my parents and can only presume that they were killed during the war. My earliest memories take me back to the violent streets of London England near the ports of commerce. I remember as a young child stowing away on a merchant vessel named “Angel” bound for the East Indies that was carrying English goods to be traded for spices and silk. On the very first night of the voyage I was caught by the ship’s Captain as I tried to steal bread from the ship’s galley. I remember being very frightened as I knew that the Captain had the right to throw me overboard to drown, or hang me from the ships mast by the neck until dead. I had heard many stories about such things. To my surprise no harm came to me. The Captain instead gave me food and drink and offered me the opportunity to earn my keep aboard ship. I served the captain well as a cabin boy and powder monkey for the two swivel guns aboard. They were used to fend off three separate skirmishes of would be Pirates on the voyage to the East Indies. I learned from the first officer a year later that the Captain had lost his wife and young son during the war. I was about the same age and stature of his son when he was killed. The Captain was a good and decent Christian man that treated his crew well. I learned much from him and he gained my respect, loyalty and admiration for all time. To this day he is still in my thoughts and prayers.
In the year of our Lord 1648 as we were returning to London with goods from Ireland, we came across an unarmed sailing sloop that was under attack from a heavily armed cutter. The cutter was flying no nation’s flag. Even though we were heavily outgunned the Captain told the crew that it was our Christian duty to render assistance to an unarmed English flagged ship. We all agreed with the Captain. The Captain took the helm and placed our vessel between the sloop and the cutter. He signaled the attacker to cease. I could see the scurvy dogs on deck reloading their six Pounders and targeting our beloved “Angel” along with the sloop. Upon their first shot we lit off our rail guns with 2 pounds each of grape shot. Many men dropped on the deck of the cutter but others continued to fire. One round struck the main mast a foot off the deck and the mast fell aft on the Captain and first officer. A second round caused great damage to the haul at the water line and I knew it was the death of our ship “Angel”. As we began to list heavily and I looked around our deck I could see no man alive including my Captain.
Even though I was still a lad barely 11, I was no longer just a cabin boy or powder monkey. I had become a seasoned man of the sea and skilled cannoneer. After seeing my captain lifeless under the main mast, I was filled with rage and reloaded the rail gun and fired over and over again until the “Angel” was more than three quarters submerged. I could see the cutter retreating. I heard one last four pounder from the cutter fire and then all went dark. The 4 pound iron ball had found its mark striking my magazine just feet away. As I awoke and looked up I saw a very tall military officer looking down at me.
I was told three full days had passed and I was aboard the sloop that we had saved. The officer told me that his name was Sir Thomas Fairfax and that he was the Lord-General of Commonwealth for all land forces in England and Ireland as well as the Constable of the Tower of London. He told me that I had fought well and that he will always be in debt to my captain and crew for saving him and the other dignitaries aboard ship from the rebel privateers. He asked me my name but I could tell him none. I told him Sir I am just a Christian sailor that served on a small merchant vessel loyal to his Captain, crew and ship. For now I have no captain, no crew and no ship and don’t even have a name.
Days later as Sir Thomas Fairfax ordered the sloop to drop and set its anchor outside the channel of the London harbor and I was able to stand without assistance for the first time on deck, Sir Thomas Fairfax turned and looked at me and stated you no longer have a captain, no crew, no ship not even a name so come with me to the Tower and apprentice under me. You may one day have a real name and one day if you wish you may have an opportunity to purchase your very own ship. I cannot resurrect your Captain I only can give you the opportunity to honor his memory.
In just one short year I learned much from Sir Thomas Fairfax of the duties and studies of the Constable of the Tower of London. Sir Thomas Fairfax also enlightened me as to the many difficulties facing England resulting from the Second Civil War between Parliament and the Royalist. I set the politics of the day aside and concentrated on my duties as assistant to the Constable of the Tower. For every ship that came to London had to moor at Tower’s wharf and give a portion of the ship’s cargo to the Constable of the Tower as payment for the protection offered by the Tower’s cannons. These dues included oysters, mussels, cockles and wine.
The Constable also had the responsibility for the prisoners held in the Tower. Upon assuming those duties Sir Thomas Fairfax spoke to me these words: “You are to guard them securely in the prison of our said tower in such a way that you shall answer for them body for body. Fail in no part of this on pain of forfeiture of life and limb and all property you hold in our realms.” Upon assuming these duties also learned that I was the keeper of the ‘Rack to extort Confession’ which over time I became very skilled in its use.
In 1650, Sir Thomas Fairfax resigned as the Constable of the Tower and as the commander of the army after failing to lead a pre-emptive incursion of Scotland in opposition to Charles II and the Covenanters during the Third English Civil War. He chose to quietly retire during the Commonwealth and Protectorate years living at his Yorkshire home of Nunappleton Hall. Sir Thomas Fairfax applied himself to literary activities and religious observances. Little did he know that ultimately his services to England would once again be required.
Even though I was not of noble birth nor had I ever been a senior military officer for my loyalty and dedication to Sir Thomas Fairfax and Parliament I was appointed officially the new Constable of the Tower in 1650. Sir John Robinson objected to my appointment and came to the Tower on many occasions to observe and criticize my service. He was indeed a man with no soul and no allegiance to anyone but himself.
But these were very troubling times for England and there were many battles to be fought. The duties and responsibilities for the Constable of the Tower steadily increased and there were many men waiting and watching for an opportunity to seize power at any level. There were also numerous occasions to utilize the Rack to extort Confession. It was during one of these occasions in which some of the tower guards began referring to me as being “Heartless”. I of course was only fulfilling my duty to Parliament and all loyal subjects of England. Even after nearly a full decade of service my duty was always clear in my mind but my thoughts had always been returning to the sea. The rage within my spirit grew every day longing for an opportunity to avenge the loss of the “Angel” and her crew.
In 1659 after the collapse of the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell and the potential restoration of the crown I could see my days as Constable of the Tower numbered. As a servant loyal to Parliament upon coronation of Charles II I was destined to become a prisoner myself in the Tower. As fate would have it, Sir Thomas Fairfax now known as Lord Fairfax had aligned himself with Charles II prior to the collapse of the protectorate. In 1660 Sir John Robinson was appointed by Charles II as the new Constable of the Tower of London and was given orders to capture and kill the Constable known as Heartless for being an alliance with Parliament.
In his new position as a Member of Parliament for Yorkshire Lord Fairfax was privilege to the information concerning Sir John Robinson’s appointment and his orders prior to the public proclamation. Lord Fairfax secretively informed me and arranged passage for me out of London. Assuming for months that my escape may be necessary I had taken the liberty of removing much treasure from the Tower’s stores including a few of the finest articles from the crown jewels.
I was now a fugitive, but at last I had a real name, “Constable Heartless” and with the treasure I was a very rich fugitive.
King Charles II was so enraged upon learning of my escape and the liberation up much of his treasure that he ordered the purging of all records and references concerning The Constable of the Tower during the years of 1650 through 1660. My existence would be lost to history and known only to those charged with my pursuit.
I fled to a small seafaring town in Ireland where I assumed the identity of a semi-retired merchant seaman named Mr. Teach with resources to invest in ship building. With hostilities on the horizon between England, France and Spain I found a lucrative market for the design and construction of private ships of war for use by privateers. In 1685 after the death of King Charles II I felt safe in returning to England to continue my new found enterprise but I remain cautious and ever mindful of those that may still be in pursuit. I knew that there would always be a price on my head and those with a desire to collect. Even though I was becoming senior in years and now had a thriving business my desire to return to the sea was becoming overwhelming.
In the spring of 1691 I happened to meet a very seasoned and experienced sailor by the name of John Sterling. I was very impressed with his vast knowledge of ships of war and what I felt his natural ability to be a leader of men. He reminded me a lot of my Captain from when I was a boy sharing many of his mannerisms. John Sterling was looking for a ship and I was looking to build another. A grand private ship before, fast, low draft and heavily armed. I wanted to build a new Angel, larger, faster and more heavily armed than the original that could easily overwhelm any armed cutter. This new ship would be known as the Archangel in honor of the Angel and her Captain.
I decided to approach John Sterling with a proposition I felt he could not refuse. I offered to build him the ship and make him the Captain and master of the vessel. I would arm the vessel with the finest guns and fill her whole with adequate provisions for her first excursion. My conditions would be modest but firm. First being that he allow me to sign a board as an able bodied Seaman even though my age would normally prohibited. Second allow me to use my vast knowledge and experience as a cannoneer and armor in defense of the ship. My third condition would be when I felt the time being right provide me passage to the new world where I would be free to retire in the new colony of Virginia or Carolina were hopefully I could live out my final days in peace. My fourth condition would be that he never reveal my identity as a benefactor to anyone and that I be treated the same as any other member of the crew. I would just be known as Constable. My last condition is that he as the Captain always remain a good and decent Christian man that will always treat his crew well.
In early December of 1702 the Archangel, a private ship of war was launched in London England and John Sterling was commissioned as her captain and master. This old Constable signed on for her first voyage of conquest with the letter of Mark from the King in the early spring.
Thus far we have engaged in many battles and have been victorious and prosperous. But no one on board knows that I am interested in only one prize. There is one armed cutter out there somewhere that flies no nation’s flag that the Archangel will find and send to the bottom of the sea to avenge the Angel, my captain and my first crew. And after that who knows? If I ever get to the Virginia or Carolina colony and remain, I may just have to build another ship, maybe a single masted sloop and take on a small crew. I have always liked the name “The Adventure”. It would be a fitting name for a vessel sailing around the Chesapeake and the colonies of the new world.
Continued in part 2: “Constable Heartless becomes Captain of the Blackbeard’s Crew.”
(As soon as I get drunk enough to write it!)