The defeat of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair

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The immediate events leading to the defeat of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair draw to a crisis after Jonathan Strange returns to England in the Pillar of Darkness.
At this point characters who until then had scarcely been aware of each other begin to be brought together. The significant actions all take place in Yorkshire, and in a near vicinity: they are described in chapters 63 – 68.

The return of Strange


Strange returns from Italy to further the rescue of his wife. To do this safely he calculates he needs the help not just of the library at Hurtfew Abbey, with its vast corpus of magical knowledge, and of the only other significant magician of the age – Gilbert Norrell - but the personal assistance of the Raven King himself.

Strange therefore appears at Hurtfew, where Norrell is preparing to confront him. Norrell is now without his servant Childermass, who has been dismissed from his service after a violent quarrel with Henry Lascelles. (Using the Tarot, Childermass had found that Lascelles had kept from him something Strange had sent from Italy. This was, though Childermass did not know it, the finger taken from Lady Pole as a token of the fairy’s power over her). Under guise of struggling with Lascelles Childermass steals the token from his pocket, and on leaving Hurtfew rides the twenty miles to Starecross to restore it to Lady Pole.

Strange meanwhile breaks the labyrinth surrounding the library and enters. He also creates another labyrinth, forcing Mr Norrell to spend some hours overcoming it to reach him. When Mr Norrell finally enters the library however he does so alone, Lascelles and the servants having been unable to follow. (They subsequently leave Hurtfew: Lascelles is shortly after entangled in a spell and takes no further part in events.) To Norrell’s surprise Strange is not angry with him but almost affable, leafing through books and calmly discussing magic. He explains to his old tutor that he wishes to summon the Raven King, whom he feels might help in the rescue of his wife. Norrell demurs: in the first case the King is not easily summoned, and in the second case he, with his fairy upbringing, would not consider the rescue of Mrs Strange as important. Still, Strange insists.

Stephen and the Gentleman


Meanwhile back in London the gentleman with the thistle-down hair appears suddenly to Stephen Black in great alarm, fearing that Strange’s return bodes him ill. Though Stephen is able to soothe his terrors, nevertheless the Gentleman decides he must kill someone anyway, to restore his shaken equanimity. He therefore asks the North Wind and the Dawn to take him at once into the presence of his greatest enemy. He also brings Stephen with him, since he says he has a delightful surprise to give him – he has found out Stephen’s true name! They are transported to a barren moor, which Stephen recognises as being near Starecross Hall. A distant figure is approaching.

Strange and Norrell 'summon' the Raven King


Meanwhile at Hurtfew Strange and Norrell have performed a spell of summoning which, though not precisely commanding the King’s presence, seems at least briefly to attract his attention. Unfortunately it brings upon them the Chaos of Ravens, which utterly stuns them. They slowly set themselves to rights and begin a seeking spell to find where the King might now be.

The Gentleman murders Vinculus and threatens the life of Lady Pole


Back on the moor the Gentleman confidently prepares to kill the person coming towards him, but whilst waiting he gleefully boasts of his cleverness in discovering Stephen's true name – a process which, Stephen realises with horror, has cost a great many innocent lives. The man approaching turns out to be Vinculus, whom to Stephen’s anguish the Gentleman swiftly hangs. But as he does so the fairy realises with fury that the spell binding Lady Pole to him has been broken! (This has been accomplished by Childermass and Mr Segundus between them, who have restored to her her lost finger, token of the Gentleman's ascendancy over her.) Enraged at this perceived affront the Gentleman at once starts for Starecross to carry out his intention of destroying Lady Pole, and Stephen, unable for the moment to think how to prevent him, wretchedly follows.

Meanwhile Childermass, returning to aid Strange and Norrell in their efforts, comes across the hanged body of Vinculus. He takes it down from the tree, and for the first time sees the marks upon the skin. He understands immediately what they are. He has found the missing Book of the King! But he can neither read the writing, nor copy it, he cannot stay with the body and he cannot bear it away. At this impasse he is interrupted by a strange young man who appears suddenly beside him from nowhere - a gentleman by his dress and bearing, but uncouthly spoken. He apparently knows Childermass well, but though he seems familiar, Childermass cannot name him. The young man stoops over the body of Vinculus and places a pearl of light, taken from his own mouth, into his. Childermass desperately warns him to leave the body alone, preparing if need be to fire upon him if he does not obey; and indeed, he does fire. His shot is rendered harmless. At the strange young man's bidding he falls into a trance and when he wakes, the stranger is gone, the wound upon his face has healed, Vinculus is stirring upon the ground, and Childermass can no longer recollect recent events accurately. He forgets the young man. He believes that he has arrived just in time to save Vinculus from death. Both men then realise that the writing upon Vinculus' body is no longer the same. Though he may still bear a prophecy of the King, it is not the one he bore before.

Stephen destroys the Gentleman and takes his place as ruler of Lost-hope


At Hurtfew, Strange and Norrell have discovered that the Raven King, though not precisely with them, is at least nearby. He is indeed in Yorkshire! Mr Norrell hastily suggests that rather than make a second rude attempt to force his Majesty into their presence they try instead to gain his attention more respectfully, by performing an old spell which causes England – her hills, rocks, sky, rivers, rain etc – to declare her love and fealty. They accordingly call upon all England to honour her King - and in so doing they crucially address Uskglass by an early title he once called himself, “the nameless slave”.

The land, awoken, casts about eagerly to find her lost King and carry out the magicians' bidding. And it is at this moment that Stephen Black finds himself being suddenly demanded by England - her rocks, trees, sunlight, clouds, rivers and all - whether he may be perhaps "the nameless slave"? And when he answers with perfect truth that he is, Stephen finds England instantly laying herself at his feet! and desiring nothing better than to obey his commands. He understands what he must do to save Lady Pole. Seizing the moment he promptly orders England to destroy the murderous fairy known as the gentleman with the thistle-down hair: and despite all the latter’s magical power, his ageless guile and bloody ferocity, the land inexorably does.

But after she has done so she slowly realises that Stephen is not the person she supposed - that though indeed a "nameless slave", he is not the"nameless slave" she sought. He is not John Uskglass. She thereupon mournfully withdraws her powers from him, and Stephen – left almost stunned by the momentous events of the hour, grieved even by the necessity of destroying the Gentleman, bereft now of all former ties – wanders out of England and into the one place where he had always been a welcome guest: Lost-hope. There the inhabitants hail him with joy (and considerable relief) as their new king. Stephen accepts the burdens of office. The reign of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair is ended and that of Stephen Black begun.

Aftermath


The gentleman's death ends the enchantment binding Arabella Strange to remain in Lost-hope. Suddenly set free, she flees along the path her husband had set out for her, reaches the mirror he had left in the charge of Flora Greysteel, passes through it and is safe. But though she is back in the land of the living, she is not yet reunited with Strange.