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Blog Seventeenth Century Life

Ten authors you should know about, who write about the 17th Century #HistFic

The Seventeenth Century is undergoing a bit of a revival, with best-selling authors like Philippa Gregory and Tracy Borman, all getting in on the act. Here is my first of two posts recommending authors who write about this period in European history.

Of course in England the 17th Century is rich pickings with the over-turning of the monarchy, a bitter civil war, new advances in science and medicine, not to mention the witch-hunts and religious persecutions. And London, England’s capital was besieged by war, plague and fire.

But there are many other authors writing about this period whose books should not be overlooked. Here’s a list of ten I can heartily recommend. Click on their names to find all their books.

L.C Tyler – the John Grey mysteries are wonderful who-dunnits and there is a lovely wit and irony to these books.

Alison Stuart – Her Guardians of the Crown series set in the English Civil Wars is full of swashbuckling, difficult choices, and romance.

M J Logue – Her ‘Uncivil War’ series and her Thomazine and Major Russell books have an insider’s view of the period and great characters.

Anna Belfrage – if you like time-travel you will enjoy being transported back to 17th Century Scotland in her gripping nine book series The Graham Saga.

Graham Brack – The Master Mercurius books of the 1670’s featuring a cleric who is both Catholic and Protestant are intricate well-researched mysteries with a dash of humour.

Cryssa Bazos – Her acclaimed romances in the ‘Knot’ series are much more than that. Expect impeccable research plenty of action and a thrilling ride.

Elizabeth St John – lovingly authentic reconstruction of a family’s difficulties through the 17th Century, rich with the real intrigue and political strife of the day.

J G Harlond – The Chosen Man Trilogy is chock full of seafaring, spies and treachery in the 1630s and beyond.

Linda Lafferty – her books about Caravaggio and Atremisia Gentileschi shows us the 17th Century movers and shakers in the art world.

Pamela Belle – The Heron Quartet and The Wintercombe Series provide us with fantastic insights into the life of the English Manor and the changing allegiances of its inhabitants during the 17th Century.

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Blog Reviews Seventeenth Century Life

The appeal of the 17th Century to a novelist by Jemahl Evans

this_Deceitful_Light (2)

Today I’m pleased to welcome Jemahl Evans  to my blog to tell us why he’s chosen to write three novels set in the 17th Century. Over to Jemahl.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Seventeenth Century; it is the great turning point in British history. The divisions of the civil war got fixed into our politics: royalist or roundhead; Tory or Whig; Conservative and Liberal (later labour). Our political parties and system is the product of the period. When I looked at a map of the areas that voted leave and remain in the brexit referendum, there is a remarkable correlation between the areas that declared for the king or parliament. Correlation is not causation, of course, but it does make you think about history’s long claws.

The initial spark for writing about the Civil War and its impact was a very bored Year 8 class on a wet Friday afternoon. I ended up telling them the story of William Hiseland (the last cavalier) who fought at Edgehill and then served the colours for the next sixty or so years, even serving under Marlborough at Malplaquet in 1709. Hiseland lived to the grand old age of 113, dying in 1733 as one of the first Chelsea pensioners. His life was feted and he had been granted pensions and awards for his service to the crown.

JemahlThe last roundheads were not so fortunate: pensions promised by the commonwealth were rarely honoured, estates were confiscated (or returned to their rightful owners depending on your point of view), and whilst the restored royal regime was not overly vindictive in 1660, political careers were finished and fortunes lost, at least in the short term. When I remembered that Hudibras, a satirical poem by Samuel Butler, was about Parliament’s Scoutmaster General the story all sort of fell into place – a bitter old man, mocked by the poets of the age, decides to get his version of events down.

By 1719-20, when Blandford is writing his fictional memoir, there was a massive trend for looking back to the civil war. It was just falling out of living memory (much like world war two is for us today) but the impact was still close enough to touch. There was a plethora of memoirs and recollections in the first couple of decades of the eighteenth century (and books like Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier or De Sandras’s D’Artagnan). I really wanted to capture that longer view of the events and the passing of an age. It was trying to find that genuine Seventeenth Century voice and make it accessible and appealing to readers. Although saying all that, there is a lot of my grandfather’s humour in the irascible old man. One of my cousins pointed that out to me the other day.

Thanks for this insight Jemahl.

Of_Blood_Exhausted (3)Of Blood Exhausted

Having read the other two books I knew I was in for a treat, and a total immersion in another age, but you don’t need to have read the other books to enjoy this. One of the things I loved about this book is its sheer complexity; it has been lovingly and exhaustively researched. Now don’t let that put you off, because the plot is easy to follow, and it’s a cracking good read. The main protagonist, the rogue Sir Blandford ‘Sugar’ Candy has an impressive network of contacts; he is well-travelled, well-connected, and has his finger in any number of pies. A somewhat unlikely spy, he is after an assassin called the Black Bear, and this leads to all sorts of shenanigans – rooftop chases, toll-gate fights and desperate duels on the stairs. Although I still have a soft spot for the Parliamentarian Candy, it is the minor characters that I loved;  The redoubtable Sarah Churchill, Candy’s Wapping-born black servant, John, the strangely likeable Thurloe the spymaster, Candy’s love-interest Meg (not above a fight with a whip herself) – and there are warm portraits of Prince Karl Ludwig and Princess Sophia and even the sword-wielding d’Artagnan (of Three Musketeers fame).

‘The rage of a victorious army is a terrifying sight to behold’  the novel says, and the scenes at the Battle of Naseby are gut-wrenching and real. This is the climax of the book and is well-handled giving weight to both sides. The fate of the Royalist baggage train is covered in this book, but I won’t reveal more because of spoilers.

There are footnotes in the text leading to copious amounts of information at the end of the novel for those wishing more detail. There are also appendixes on things like money, and the religious factions of the English Civil War.

A novel that both informs and keeps you on the edge of your seat. If you love this period of history, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can buy Of Blood Exhausted in the UK here or in the US here.

Jemahl Evans’s website

Read more about Jemahl in this interview in Historia.

Categories
Blog Reviews Seventeenth Century Life

Three great books on The Great Fire of London

Rebecca Rideal – 1666 Plague, War and Hellfire

Plague War Hellfire

For most of my research books I prefer hard copy, and this is a brilliantly and evocatively written hardback, beautifully produced.

Here’s are some of the the opening sentences to whet your appetite:

‘Pale winter sun brought the dawn. Casting a mottled-grey glow on glazed windows and icy puddles, it offered light but little warmth. London was a month into a deep frost. Across the capital people woke to clanging church bells and the hubbub of the streets: barking dogs, clattering carts calling pigeons and chattering early risers.’

Written in three distinct sections covering the War with the Dutch, the Plague and the Fire, it is written chronologically beginning with the explosion of the ship, the London and ending with the Fire.  Lavishly illustrated with colour photographs and peopled by contemporary accounts, this is an account full of the vigour of the changing times. Just get it – I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

Ashes LondonAshes of London by Andrew Taylor

Ashes of London is a murder mystery set in the burnt-out remains after the Great Fire. The opening chapter is a tour-de-force. We accompany James Marwood as he watches in amazement and horror as the edifice of St Paul’s Cathedral, the biggest landmark in seventeenth century London, burns before his eyes. He is spurred into action when he sees a young boy try to run into the flaming building. When he throws his cloak over him, he discovers the boy is actually a young woman, but before he can find out more, she runs off taking the cloak with her.

Who is she, and why was she taking such a risk? Later Marwood suspects she may have known something about a body, found in the smouldering remains – a man stabbed to death, with his thumbs tied behind his back.

The Ashes of London is about the search for these answers. Told in chapters alternating points of view between Marwood, and the young woman, Cat Lovett, we learn how little London has settled after the tumultuous events of the beheading of Charles I and the restoration of his son to the throne. The novel deals withn the fact that there is still a royal search for the regicides responsible for the execution, and particularly for the actual executioner himself.

If I have one criticism of the novel, it is that Marwood himself is rather passive; though I can see why – Cat is a vengeful and active protagonist, and two of those in one novel might have been excessive! However it does make for rather slow going in the middle of the novel. Persevere though, because the climax of the novel is another wonderful set piece and well worth waiting for. As a fly-on-the-wall re-imagining of seeing London go up in flames this is superb.

Permission HeavenBy Permission of Heaven – Adrian Tinniswood

As a novelist, I love the specifics – small details of time and place that are often overlooked in the tellings of history. Adrian Tinniswood gives me this is spades, in his book about the Fire of London. From the particulars of the evil portents, to the bungling attempts to control the spread of the flames, this is a close examination of the week that saw the end of Tudor London’s half-timbered houses and jettied windows, to be replaced with Wren’s elegant stone.

One of the things I liked was the use of maps at the start of the chapters to show the spread of the fire, and the extensive descriptions of fire equipment – the billhooks for pulling down hoses, the fire ‘machines’ that proved ineffectual against such a blaze.

The aftermath is also particularly well covered. More than 13,o00 houses were desroyed, innumerable churches and public buildings, leaving London economically impoverished, and half the population as refugees in Moorfields or other open spaces. Do get the paperback rather than an ebook, you’ll want to refer to it over and over.

Fire

Still on my list, is CC Humphey’s ‘Fire’.  And via Twitter, I’ve just heard of another – ‘The Prospect of This City’ by Eamonn Griffin. And if you have had enough of all this destruction , do try The Phoenix by Leo Hollis, which I really enjoyed and tells of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire.

So why all the interest? My third book in the Pepys series (still in the research phase) takes place during the Great Fire, but is scheduled for publication in 2019, so do enjoy these whilst you wait!

 

PhoenixProspect

 

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Blog Seventeenth Century Life

Nettle Shirts and Cunning Women – herbal secrets of 17th century England

gentlewomans-manualI have loved researching 17th Century botany and herbs for my novels, The Lady’s Slipper and The Gilded Lily. For both of them I have had to research the botanical beliefs of a society that relied on native plants for a good many things, including medicine, cleaning agents, and home-manufactured goods such as cloth. One of my characters in The Lady’s Slipper is a “cunning woman”, a person skilled in folk medicine. She has no daughters and is looking for someone to whom she can hand down her vast store of knowledge. Remedies were passed down orally, and the plants used were readily and commonly available to a populace which was mostly illiterate. Because little was written about it, evidence of these remedies is most often to be found in kitchen manuals because cooking and medicine were so closely related.

The difference between folk medicine and the “official” medicine was largely that folk medicine used plants that occurred naturally in Britain and had not been brought over from abroad. Official medicine drew on metals, chemical compounds and herbs and spices imported from other countries, such as the Mediterranean or Arabia. Physicians could charge more for their exotic-sounding imports, which by the dint of their strangeness appeared to offer more appeal.

In the 17th century many Folk remedies were “simples”, ie a single species of plants used as a cure or palliative, whereas apothecaries mixed perhaps thirty or more of ingredients for their “treacles”. Venice treacle, given by Thomas Sydenham to Lady Sedley in 1686, contained more than seventy ingredients including: wormwood, orange peel, angelica, nutmeg, horseradish, scurvy grass, white horehound, centaury, camomile, and juniper berries. All infused in 5 pints of sack!

And what was this medicine for? A headache.

antique-herbal-print-elder-fennel-endive-culpeper-1790-e400797bb85ec9d8e148d53ae2034cfcServants probably made do with feverfew leaves, and were probably better off for it. So in one of my books the middle-class Thomas Ibbetson is given a ‘drench’ (Pouring a vast quantity of liquid medicine into the throat) which worsens rather than cures his condition. In the 17th century, the richer you were, the more likely you were to die of the treatment rather than the disease. Mercury and antimony were common remedies, as was copious blood-letting to release stagnant humours.

Seventeenth century herbalists such as Gerard, Pechy and the Puritan, Culpeper, were immensely influential in their day, and there was much cross-over between the medicinal and the domestic. For example Culpeper recommends the leaves of the Alder tree for burns, but also for attracting fleas. The leaves were strewed on the ground to attract the fleas, and then the whole lot could be swept out and disposed of. Culpeper’s Herbal is one of the few Seventeenth Century books still in print today.  I can also recommend Nicholas Woolley’s book about Culpeper, The Herbalist.

nettle-shirtNapier’s History of Herbal Healing says that nettles were used as a pot herb in the Spring, but also its fibres were used in weaving instead of flax, to make tablecloths, sheets and even shirts! Read this fascinating article about making a medieval nettle smock. It was used medicinally to treat anaemia and as a general tonic, and also to dye the hair as it produced an intense yellow dye. With interest in ‘green’ products today, nettle fibre is growing more common as a yarn for making clothes.

Along with the practical uses of plants was a vast body of mythological lore, both superstitious and religious. Ideas such as that making love under a Rowan Tree was a certain cure for infertility, were common. So the herbs themselves were used in a broad rather than a narrow context, embracing the physical, emotional and spiritual being of the user. Many people believed in the “doctrine of signatures” of Paracelsus. This suggests that each plant bears a physical sign, placed there by God, of what it should be used for. So the small bulbs of celandines should be used for piles, because that’s what they look like. Women with knowledge of these ideas were known as ‘cunning women’, and were consulted for a wide range of cures and for advice in childbirth and in the rutuals of ‘laying out’ after death.

the-ladys-slipper-ladys-slipper-orchidIn The Lady’s Slipper, Alice Ibbetson is an artist fascinated by painting wild-flowers, the lady’s slipper being a rare wildflower with both medicinal and poisonous properties. In The Gilded Lily the plants are used as a beauty aid by Ella Appleby, a serving maid who becomes obsessed with her appearance and the glitter and glamour of Regency London. Many seventeenth century beauty preparations involved common plants. One for a fair complexion is to “take wilde Tansy and lay it to soake in buttermilke.”

A version of this post first appeared on the Hoydens and Firebrands Blog.

the-lady-slipper-2d-final-design-quire-booksEXTRACT from The Lady’s Slipper , featuring Margaret Poulter – the cunning woman.

Margaret Poulter had lied to Alice. She was not exactly lodging at the Anchor. She could not afford to pay for a room. But the landlord turned a blind eye to the fact that she slept in the hayloft above the stables, and tolerated her peculiar comings and goings in exchange for remedies for his children. He had five children, all of whom suffered from one malady or another – mostly coughs and lice, from what Margaret could see.

After Margaret  left Alice in Netherbarrow, she took her time returning to the inn. This was her gathering time, like her mother and her grandmother before her. The world was one big apothecary’s shop to Margaret, and the source of a good living. She was stocking up; for in times of good health and plentiful harvests like these she was often poor and hungry, whereas at times of war or plague, or when harvests were thin, her draughts and remedies were needed. Then Margaret  grew fat and comfortable whilst others suffered famine and disease.

Daylight hours were for scouting along the hedgerows looking for anything useful, and watching out for signs or omens or shifts in the weather. The underlying web on which the world was hung might be moving or shifting. This was her way – to find out how the land lay – and she did this quite literally, through  her senses, sniffing, poking, tasting and fingering with her nut-brown  hands. Wherever she went she collected small observations  in the same way as she collected the ticks that stuck to her skirts.

She paused in her tracks, thinking of Mistress Ibbetson, and the lady’s slipper, for she was keenly aware that she had reached her autumn years and had not been blessed with a daughter whom she might instruct in the craft. She had been secretly keeping watch on Mistress Ibbetson since the last waning quarter-moon; her fame for painting beautiful life-like pictures of flowers had reached even as far as Preston, and Margaret’s sharp ears.

She might do, Margaret  thought. But these gifts could not be given lightly. No, she must be sure and certain Alice Ibbetson was the one, and judging by the look of her, even if she was, she would need some coaxing, and she would have much to learn.

Pictures from wikipedia unless linked.
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Blog Reviews Seventeenth Century Life

Five Novels of The English Civil War

last-roundhead-2My recommended read for this week is The Last Roundhead by Jemahl Evans. This is a one-off – you will read nothing else like it. Meticulously researched, this is the story of one man’s journey through the battles of the English Civil War. If you want to know what it was like at Edgehill, and experience both the ludicrousness and tragedy of the English Civil War, then look no further. Blandford (‘Sugar’) Candy is a vivid recreation of a seventeenth century man who gets caught between various allegiances and has to bludgeon, lie or bed his way out of trouble. One of the delights of this novel is the ‘voice’ of the character, now an elderly man, but re-living the fast and furious days of his youth as a soldier in Samuel Luke’s Cavalry. Bawdy, cowardly and courageous by turns, he is placed against the genuine historical characters and events of the time.

It includes copious notes and footnotes for the history buff.

So I can’t be accused of bias to Roundheads or Cavaliers, here are four more novels you might like to try – all set during the English Civil Wars, one of my favourite periods which has shaped all our English politics since.

 

royalist-rebelRoyalist Rebel by Anita Seymour.

The novel features the real-life historical figure of Elizabeth Murray, who serves as the novel’s central character.

Intelligent, witty and beautiful, Elizabeth Murray wasn’t born noble; her family’s fortunes came from her Scottish father’s boyhood friendship with King Charles. As the heir to Ham House, their mansion on the Thames near Richmond, Elizabeth was always destined for greater things.

Royalist Rebel is the story of Elizabeth’s youth during the English Civil War, of a determined and passionate young woman dedicated to Ham House, the Royalist cause and the three men in her life; her father William Murray, son of a minister who rose to become King Charles’ friend and confidant, the rich baronet Lionel Tollemache, her husband of twenty years who adored her and John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, Charles II’s favourite.

 

traitors-bloodTraitor’s Blood by Michael Arnold.

Captain Stryker is a hardened veteran of the wars in the Low Countries, he has come home to England to seek revenge on the man who left him for dead and scarred him for life. Stryker is driven by loyalty rather than conviction to serve King Charles’s cause. He has no truck with aristocracy, preferring the company of a handful of trusted men, including sometime actor Lancelot Forreseter and his foul-mouthed sergeant, Skellen.

When the existence of a dangerous spy at the heart of the Royalist establishment is discovered, it is Stryker whom Prince Rupert chooses to capture the man before he realises the game is up.

Smell the gunpowder and hear the cannon fire, as you’re thrust into the mud and blood of the battlefields.

 

kings-manThe King’s Man by Alison Stuart. New Release!

London 1654: Kit Lovell is one of the King’s men, a disillusioned Royalist, who passes his time cheating at cards, living off his wealthy and attractive mistress and plotting the death of Oliver Cromwell.

Penniless and friendless, Thamsine Granville has lost everything.  Terrified, in pain and alone, she hurls a piece of brick at the coach of Oliver Cromwell and earns herself an immediate death sentence. Only the quick thinking of a stranger saves her.
Far from the bored, benevolent rescuer that he seems, Kit plunges Thamsine into his world of espionage and betrayal – a world that has no room for falling in love.Torn between Thamsine and loyalty to his master and King, Kit’s carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. He must make one last desperate gamble – the cost of which might be his life.

 

red-horseRed Horse by M.J.Logue.

1642. The King raises his standard at Nottingham, and Captain Holofernes (Hollie) Babbitt is encouraged to raise his, by the commander in chief of the Army of Parliament, the Earl of Essex.
Being Hollie – angry, miserable, hard done-to, ungovernable Lancashire boy with a shady past as a mercenary in Eurooe and a chip on his shoulder the size of Worcestershire – he won’t be told what to do by Essex. (Even if Essex does pay his wages. Which is the sort of attitude that’s got him into trouble before….)He doesn’t take kindly to Essex palming off a spy in his camp, although a less likely spy than gentle, kind, all round good egg Luce Pettitt – who happens to be a distant cousin of Essex’s first wife – you would go a long way to meet. You get a sweet, dreamy, innocent young man, and you put him in harness with a ragged, cynical mercenary. Drop him in the middle of a brutal war without an enemy, and he’s going to have to grow up fast. Find his feet. Become a competent, capable officer. Not get killed.

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Blog Seventeenth Century Life

A Seventeenth Century Quaker Character

One of the main characters in The Lady’s Slipper which has just been re-released, is Richard Wheeler.
Like all my favourite characters he is determined, strong and capable, but unlike most other heroes when the novel opens he has just become a “seeker after Truth” or a Quaker. Today we tend to view the Quakers as quite conservative, but in the 1650’s when the movement began they were seen as dangerous, radical, even insane. Through the latter half of the 17th century and beyond they were persecuted for their beliefs which were seen as challenging the stranglehold supremacy of the church. Even when they fled to what was then called the New World, the persecution continued.

Richard Wheeler was brought up as the wealthy son of a landowner, but his life changed when he followed Cromwell and his parliamentary troops in the War against the King. Richard saw this as a battle for the common man and democracy, so that ordinary people could have more control over their land and property. During The Civil War the English nation tore at its own throat and the battle of brother against brother claimed thousands of lives.
cromwell-at-siege-of-basing-house
Richard fought for Cromwell against his own ruling class, but the horrific bloodshed he witnessed made him vow never to take up arms again, and led him to join the fledgling Quaker movement which had made a pledge for peace. Quaker meetings are a “sitting in silence” – but the restless man-of-action Richard finds the silent reflection both refreshing and difficult.

Above is a painting of Basing House, which  was attacked by Parliamentary troops on three occasions. The final assault came in August 1645 when 800 men took up position around the walls. Between forty and a hundred people were killed. Parliamentary troops were given leave to pillage the house and a fire finally destroyed the building. Richard Wheeeler remembers his part in the atrocities of war and wrestles with his conscience, particularly as he finds he is attracted by Alice, his artist neighbour. Not only does she have radically different religious and political views from his own, but also she is a married woman.

Becoming a Quaker – giving up his fine things to live a simpler life – leaving behind his luxurious lifestyle and fine clothes, is not nearly as easy as Richard anticipates, but harder still for an active man is the idea of “turning the other cheek” when threatened or challenged. The seventeenth century was a violent and bloodthirsty period, a period in which hangings and burnings were commonplace entertainment, and Richard is trained as a swordsman in an era where to be manly is to be able to handle oneself well in a fight. So what happens when Richard becomes locked in a bitter battle against his former childhood friend, and worse, when the life of the woman he loves is in danger? Will Richard fight to defend her, or will he stick to his Quaker vow of non-violence?

My research for Richard Wheeler took me to fields where the Civil War was fought, to the Armouries Museum at Leeds, and to libraries where I looked at Quaker journals and George Fox’s diary. Richard Wheeler’s House was based on Townend in Troutbeck, Cumbria which was built in 1645. See the picture below. Weirdly enough, after I was almost finished with the book, and thinking of writing a follow-up, I found a real Quaker called Richard Wheeler in the 17th century archive at my local library. Moments like that are spooky, and bring the past alarmingly alive in the present.

townend-4
Inside Townend, Cumbria

This post first appeared at Historical Tapestry, why not visit them to see what’s new .

Pictures from wikicommons, unless linked.

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Blog Seventeenth Century Life

Recommended Research – Eyewitness books on the Stuart Period

Just found this great little hardback book whilst browsing Carnforth Bookshop (which has more than 10,000 second hand books!). Also in this series by A F Scott are titles ‘The Plantagenet Age’, ‘The Tudor Age’ and ‘The Georgian Age.’ Compiled as a series of quotations, each book contains observations about every part of the lifestyle and social concerns of the era, drawn from eyewitness accounts.

DSCN0791

Here’s a flavour from Thomas Dekker’s description of London in 1606;

‘In every street carts and coaches make such a thundering as if the world ran on wheels. At every corner men, women and children meet in such shoals, that posts are set up on purpose to strengthen the houses, lest with jostling one another they should shoulder them down. Besides, hammers are beating in one place, tubs hooping in another, pots clanking in a third, water tankards running at tilt in a fourth. Here are porters sweating under burdens, there merchants’ men bearing bags of money. Chapmen (as if they were at leap-frog) skip out of one shop into another. Tradesmen (as if they were dancing galliards) are lusty at legs and never stand still. All are as busy as country attorneys at an assizes.’

The Seven Deadly Sinnes of London

from The Stuart Age

Other books with eyewitness accounts I can recommend are:

Going to the Wars by Charles Carlton (English Civil Wars)

Voices from the World of Samuel Pepys – Jonathan Bastable (Restoration)

And talking of the Seven Deadly Sins, you might like my Seven Deadly Sins of Historical Fiction.

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Blog Featured Seventeenth Century Life

The Last Roundhead – the power of the written word in the 17th century

The Seventeenth Century was highly literate and the printing press really was a contemporary information superhighway.

Jemahl Evans

I’m delighted to welcome Jemahl Evans as my guest today. Jemahl is a fellow enthusiast of the era of the English Civil Wars and its aftermath,  so I asked him what provoked his interest in this period. Here ‘s his reply:

Last Roundhead

evans

The idea for The Last Roundhead came to me on a wet Friday afternoon in 2009. My Year 8 class (who were remarkably efficient in sidetracking me from my lesson plans to tell them historical anecdotes) were supposed to be finishing the English Civil War as a topic – Cromwell’s death and The Restoration. As we started the lesson outline and objectives, a young man (I shall call him Chuckles because, a, I cannot remember his real name, b, everyone called him Chuckles, and c, he really did chuckle a lot) put his hand up.

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Is that it?’ asked Chuckles.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Is that it; what happened next? What about all the Roundheads and Cavaliers? The King comes back and they all party?’

‘Well,’ I said, and then stopped myself, realising that this was a work evasion tactic and just how big the question really was. But, it was last lesson on a Friday; it had been a long week.

How do you explain in a lesson the long shadow the Civil War cast, the Wars with France, the Glorious Revolution, the American colonies, the slave trade, pirates, The Enlightenment, theatre and literature, Isaac Newton, Whigs and Tories, the birth of modern Britain in 40 minutes flat?

Last
Hiseland, the Last Cavalier

So, I told them the story of William Hiseland – the last cavalier. Hiseland had been born in 1620, fought for the King at Edgehill, and followed the colours for the next seventy years fighting under Marlborough at Malplaquet in 1709, became one of the first Chelsea Pensioners, and  married at the grand old age of 100, only dying in 1733. Look him up, he had an amazing life!

As my class filed out, Chuckles chuckling happily at the lack of work, I started thinking about the last roundheads. Hiseland had been feted as a loyal subject of the crown, but the men who fought under Cromwell faced a far more uncertain life after the restoration.

I didn’t start writing straight away; the idea sat and germinated as I gathered sources together and read a lot. The Seventeenth Century was an unexplored country for me historically. I hadn’t really studied it since my A levels a nearly thirty years ago, and the National Curriculum means it is rarely taught past Year 8 in schools. However, I had studied restoration satire as a minor in my first degree, and the poem Hudibras by Samuel Butler really became my focus. Butler had written the scathing indictment of puritans and roundheads centred about Sir Samuel Luke (Sir Marmaluke in the poem) Scoutmaster General to the Army under Essex and Governor of Newport Pagnell.

samuel-luke
Samuel Luke   National Portrait Gallery London

The poem is incredibly biased and one sided, and particularly vindictive as Butler had worked for Luke during the first civil war (1642 – 46) after being dismissed from his previous employment under a cloud. So, The Last Roundhead became a response to Hudibras by one of the characters pilloried in it.

In 2010, I came home to Wales when my father died and my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Teaching part-time gave me a lot more time to start scribbling things down, and in the summer of 2013 I began writing seriously and trying to put a novel together. It takes the form of a Georgian Apologia by an unreliable, and irascible, narrator out to clear his rather sullied reputation. I peopled it, as far as possible, with real men and women from the time and used their words if I could. That gave me the opportunity to include individuals like Lucy Hay (the real Milady D’Winter who actually did purloin the Queen of France’s jewels), Margaret Cavendish, Jane Whorwood and Anne Crosse, all women who pushed at the boundaries of social norms, as well as the politicians and generals that always dominate our history.

The power of the written word during the period really influenced me, newsbooks, letters, journals, memoirs – people wrote about everything, all the time. I think in our modern world of the internet, TV, film, radio, pro sports etc, it is very easy to forget just how important poetry, the theatre and the bible were to ordinary people. The Seventeenth Century was highly literate and the printing press really was a contemporary information superhighway. It meant lots of literary references that would be natural to someone born in the period, and language style that mimics the period vernacular. There is some language that could be described as a bit fruity, but all of it comes from period letters and poems. When you quote Rochester that can happen!

The Last Roundhead was picked up by Holland House Books in 2014 and published in August 2015. It’s been well received, with good reviews in The Times and from the Historical Novel Society, and is available from Amazon and other retailers.

Read a Sample of the Book

Jemahl’s website

Categories
Blog Seventeenth Century Life

Lady Anne Clifford – travelling 17thC style, with 40 carts

You can’t live in the Westmorland area and not know anything about Lady Anne Clifford. In the 17th century she travelled William_Larkin_Anne_Clifford,_Countess_of_Dorset (2)around her vast Northern estates accompanied by more than forty carts which contained everything she needed to make herself comfortable at her great castles, which were in ill-repair. What she took with her included her large oak bed, and a pane of glass (very expensive in those days) for her bedroom window.

As well as restoring her ruined estates, from 1649 to 1662 she was a patron of the arts, including architecture, sculpture and painting. She also had a keen interest in books, including manuscript illumination and calligraphy. These were passions gained from her mother, Margaret Clifford, from whom she inherited not only her staunch Anglican faith, but also a love of literature and the classics. However, her early life was far from easy, as she spent much of her life in a long and complex battle to regain her inheritance.

800px-George_Clifford_3rd_Earl_of_Cumberland_after_Nicholas_Hilliard
George Clifford (after Hilliard)

She was born at Skipton Castle, the daughter of George Clifford, who had been a favourite at Queen Elizabeth’s court as a skilled jouster, and by now had been given extensive lands in the North, including no less than four castles. When Anne was only 15, her father died, and as her two brothers both died young, that left Anne as the only surviving heir.

Her father, fearing she was still too young to manage all his lands, left his entire estate and all his titles to his brother Francis Clifford, leaving Anne £15,000 in compensation. Anne was outraged, for she knew this to be in breach of a legal entail, one which stated that the Clifford lands were to be left to the eldest heir, whether male or female. This law dated back to the time of King Edward II. The lands included Skipton, Pendragon, Appleby, Brough and Brougham Castles.

brough-castle
Brough Castle – owned by the Cliffords. Now a ruin, it was one of the castles she restored, now with English Heritage

But Anne was stubborn and determined. She began legal proceedings, and in 1607, the judges decided that the Skipton properties were rightfully Anne’s. Her uncle, however, was not prepared to give up without a fight, and refused to give up the estates.

Skipton
Skipton Castle Yorkshire

Two years later Anne married Richard Sackville, the third earl of Dorset, who tried to take charge of her affairs. In 1617, despite the advice of her husband, and amid growing pressure from King James I himself, she refused to accept a settlement of the dispute. Hardly surprising, considering it proposed all the estates were to be given to Francis, her uncle, and his male heirs, and only £17,000 was to be given in compensation to Anne. Nevertheless, the settlement went through, and to Anne’s frustration, her husband quickly took control of the money.

Anne had to wait for the death of her cousin in 1643, before finally getting back her inheritance, but there is a happy ending to this tale. After the English Civil Wars had ended, Anne moved back to the North. An old woman by now, she spent the next 26 years of her life lovingly restoring her ruined family castles along with the churches on her lands.

Lady Anne Clifford died in 1676 at Brougham Castle, in her family home. Read more about her in her own diary, surprisingly available on kindle a mere three hundred and fifty years later. Told in a sparse matter-of-fact way, it details the comings and goings of this remarkable woman, who was never in one place for long, and seemed to have inexhaustible reserves of energy.

Appleby Castle
Appleby Castle, one of Lady Anne Clifford’s estates
DSCN0761
Almshouses built for poor widows by Lady Anne Clifford, in Appleby

 

 

Categories
Blog Cabinet of Curiosities Seventeenth Century Life

Cabinet of Curio-stories – Shoes from the Mary Rose

Mary Rose A-row-of-leather-shoes-The Mary Rose, warship of  King Henry VIII, lay undiscovered beneath the waves for almost 300 years until one day, a fisherman’s line got tangled in the wreckage and her whereabouts became known. That was in 1836, but the salvage wasn’t attempted until the 1980’s when about 60 million people around the world switched on their TVs to watch the salvaged hull rise to the surface.

The ship is now on permanent display at the Mary Rose Museum. Approximately 19,000 artifacts were discovered in the wreckage, ­including domestic items such as leather shoes and a velvet hat, alongside militaria such as weapons and the paraphernalia of war.

Very little is known about the clothing worn by everyday people in Tudor times, because most paintings depict royalty or rich people in court dress. The Mary Rose gives us a unique insight into what the average man wore in 1545. Preserved in the silt all that time, leather shoes survived well, as did garments made from wool or silk. Linen degrades in the damp, so few undergarments have been found as these would have been made from linen.

There is a collection of over 500 shoes. Doesn’t it make you shiver to look at them? Weirdly, my husband has a pair of leather loafers almost identical to these, and just as old-looking! More than  a hundred and thirty longbows and several thousand arrows were among the finds, so I guess these shoes may have belonged to English archers.

More about the Mary Rose on Wikipedia – (actually a rather well-compiled article)

Lovely unusual words for Tudor and Stuart footwear:

Buskins –  calf length boots, often open at the toe or worn as overboots. The word buskin, first recorded in English in 1503 means “half boot”, and is of unknown origin, perhaps from Old French brousequin

Gamaches – high boots

Chopines – sometimes called Chapineys, were slip-on over-shoes made of wood and covered with leather

Galoches – or Galage, was a protective overshoe – we get the more modern word ‘galoshes’ from this. It originally meant clog, in french.

Pantofles – soft slippers for indoors

Pinsons – or pincnets, delicate indoor shoes (see below)

elizabethan-shoes
Pinsons

Links:

The Mary Rose Museum

The BBC website

The Guardian

The Elizabethan Era

In my Cabinet of Curio-stories you might also like: An Apostle Spoon , Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn Entwined