‘I am in my twilight years.’
Mercurius, reflecting on his long life, remembers a trip to England in 1676. And here is his account of that trip, as dictated to his clerk, Jan van der Meer.
In 1676, Master Mercurius was a lecturer at the University of Leiden. Two years earlier, he had helped the Stadhouder, William of Orange. And now he is called upon again. William of Orange wants Master Mercurius to be part of a diplomatic mission to London, to help assess the suitability of Princess Mary (the fifteen-year-old niece of King Charles II) as a wife. William needs a Protestant wife, but he knows he must tread carefully: there are egos involved after all.
‘Ostensibly you’ll be there to ensure that the Princess Mary is a sound Protestant, but what I really want you to do is look out for anyone who may be plotting against the marriage so it can be nipped in the bud.’
So, Master Mercurius, an ordained minister in the Dutch Reformed Church (and a secretly ordained Catholic priest) travels to England. He does not speak much English, and the court of Charles II is quite unlike anything he has ever experienced but he is resourceful.
‘There are people who will tell you that if you just speak Dutch slowly and loudly, the intelligent Englishman will understand you. That may be true, but we cannot rely on always having an intelligent Englishman to hand, and I understood not a word they said in their barbaric language. Nevertheless, I thought, if I can master Latin and Greek, I can surely pick up some English.’
Not long after the mission arrives in London, a member of the delegation is murdered. Who murdered him, and why? Could he have been a spy? The murder becomes more curious, especially when they discover that the dagger in his back is not what killed him.
Not everyone in England is in favour of Princess Mary marrying William of Orange. And there are women trying to distract Master Mercurius from his task as well, including one of the King’s bastards. Master Mercurius persists with his investigation, has some interesting and humorous exchanges with King Charles (and others) and manages to solve the case. But not before exposing a few holes in the fabric of the reign of the Merrie Monarch.
Master Mercurius is both thorough and witty, and this series is a delight. I especially liked the ending and am looking forward to the next instalment.
‘As it says in the good book, Matthew, chapter seven, verse seven: “Ask, and it will be given to you.”’
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.