Having read The Last Roundhead, I didn’t think Jemahl Evans could produce a better book, but This Deceitful Light is a tour-de-force. His character Blandford ‘Sugar’ Candy sits right up there with Rose Tremain’s Merivel as one of the great creations of a seventeenth century man. Opinionated and rascally, Candy gives us his take on the chaos of the English Civil War. In the process he gives us a realistic portrait of Cromwell and his unfortunate teenage son, the state of the English Theatre, and the battle of Marston Moor.
The story revolves around a murdered actor, and so involves a chase after the perpetrator as well as English Civil War skulduggery. As with the previous book, the footnotes are fascinating but distracting. I found the best way to read this book was to temporarily ignore them, but then go back to the beginning and savour each one. They are well worth reading and emphasize the amount of scholarship and research involved in producing the novel.
Here are a couple of Candy’s opinions to give you a flavour:
Most servants are mercenary sycophants. Keep them happy, pay them well, and they will desert you when a wealthier patron appears — I do not pay mine well.
‘Torture is a peculiarly continental affectation. The Ottomans are masters of the art – as I know to my cost – but it has never much taken hold in England. We have juries and common law – they have despots.’
‘Three hundred dead; ’tis what the newsbooks proclaimed after our victory. I told Mabbot ’twas drivel – there were at least five thousand naked corpses on the field the next day. I would wager more than a thousand were ours.’
This is a true treasure for fans of the seventeenth century or the English Civil War. I have no hesitation in telling you to go and buy it!
This Deceitful Light is due for release on 20th September. You can pre-order it HERE.
In most of my novels the passing of time is something that is hard to convey in an era when nobody wore a watch, nobody had a mobile phone, and ways of telling the time were by sundial, candle calendar, or by listening out for church bells. Something that is really helpful to do is to make a daily hour calendar, with the hours described in a different way – a way I’ll call the ‘sound of time’.
Here’s my imaginary example of ideas for an average day in autumn in seventeenth century London, when most people gauged the time with ears rather than eyes. Of course every novel is different and every day is different, but it is helpful as a novelist to get a general picture of what might impact the daily routine of your characters. When you have a specific environment in mind, it is even more helpful. For my novel, I know the surrounding streets and trades; where the churches are, where the river is, how far it is to the cock-pit, and so forth, so I know what sounds my characters are likely to hear to help them (and the reader) be aware of the passage of time.
When I’m editing, I’ll make a pass through the book looking for moments when I can make the passing of time feel more natural by incorporating these ideas.
You can’t live in the Westmorland area and not know anything about Lady Anne Clifford. In the 17th century she travelled 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.
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.
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.
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.
Stolen came about after two trips: one to Devon, England, and one to Morocco. The book is dedicated to my husband, who traveled with me. He died suddenly in 2012, before the book was published, but I wanted to include him somehow, because he loved the story and, without him, I would not have visited the places I did.
In Morocco, we saw the underground dungeons where Christian slaves were once kept chained to the walls, until they were brought outdoors into the blazing heat to work on the palaces and temples of Meknes. In Devon, a friend showed us the caves and coves where British pirates operated in the 17th century.
When I discovered that the white slave trade and the Golden Age of Piracy were of the same era, I was intrigued; even more so when I read that the Barbary Corsairs made their raids along the British coast, including Devon, during that age. Soon a character – Lizbet Warren – came into my head — a young woman who loses her parents to the corsairs, who carry them off to the Moroccan slave markets.
I began to wonder what it would be like to be a sheltered young person coming face to face with cruelty both at home and at sea. Britain in the 17th century had incredibly stringent vagrancy laws that meant a homeless person or beggar could be arrested and sent overseas as an indentured servant – in effect, a slave. An indentured servant received no wages, was not free to leave, and often died because of ill treatment. As soon as Lizbet is left on her own, she is in danger of ending up disenfranchised in ‘the colonies’.
Lizbet is a complex young woman, but I suspect no more so than many of us today. She is faced with hard choices, and is troubled by them. She encounters dominant men in her quest to help her parents, and is simultaneously attracted to, and repelled by them. She herself is kept under lock and key for a time, at the mercy of a French privateer and her own emotions.
As I was writing her story, I thought how I wanted readers to enjoy the narrative, despite its darker aspects. To that end, I tried to concoct a plot full of suspense and adventure and triumph over adversity, as well as hard truths. I hope I have succeeded.
I have written two novels set in the seventeenth century and both have their roots in true events. Like most people, I suspect, I’m heartily thankful I did not live in that tempestuous period, yet it is endlessly fascinating. Social and religious pressures had been building up over the preceding hundred years or so, and in the seventeenth century – in England as elsewhere – they exploded. Ordinary men and women were better informed, even more literate, than before. Developments in printing and the foundation of many grammar schools had contributed to educating a population which was prepared to question the traditional religious establishment and the social hierarchy. The dictatorial stance of the early Stuart monarchs, especially Charles I, was the final spark which lit this particular powder keg.
It is little wonder that the times gave rise to the revolutionary ideas of Levellers and Diggers, to confrontation between an elected Parliament and an anointed king, to clashes between Puritans and traditionalists. Opportunist land-grabbers fought with rural communities. Soldiers mutinied. Portents were observed. And innocent people – often old and poor – were sentenced to death for witchcraft.
The first of my novels set in this period, Flood, arose from my reading about how unscrupulous speculators seized the communally-held lands of East Anglia and undertook illegal drainage schemes with often disastrous results. The local people fought back, and amongst their leaders were many women. To compound the horrors of the situation, this was also the time of ‘licensed’ iconoclasts who smashed up parish churches, and of the monstrous career of Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General, whose fanatical search for victims ranged over the same area. I chose as my protagonist in Flood the daughter of a yeoman farmer who becomes one of the leaders of the fenlanders, fighting for her family and village, trying to save their lands and livelihood.
So how did I come across the account of this struggle in the first place? It was during my research into events in England in the mid seventeenth century for quite a different book. As part of the general research, it never became an element in that book but remained filed away in my memory, to emerge again later as the story of Flood
And what was the other book? This Rough Ocean.
I suppose I’m like most writers: some ideas come swiftly and are written at once, others stay with you for a long time, quietly maturing, like a fine wine.
We need to backtrack many years here. My father-in-law had done some research into the Swinfen family of Swinfen in Staffordshire, partly spurred on by another descendent who worked for Burke’s Peerage. It emerged that the family was very well documented. A Norman knight, shortly after the Conquest, had married the heiress to the Swinfen estates and taken the name Swinfen in place of his own (de Auste). As landed gentry, they were well covered in the historical record and early genealogies. Like most families of their class, they carried out their duties as substantial landowners over the centuries – not aristocracy but holding an important position in their own shire.
Also like other gentry families, they began to rise under the Tudors and came to real prominence in the seventeenth century. An interesting link with my own Christoval Alvarez series of novels is John Swinfen (c.1560s-1632), grandfather of one of the protagonists of This Rough Ocean. When Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was executed for treason in 1601, his widow, Frances Walsingham, daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham (Christoval’s employer), was deprived of her lands and her son of his inheritance. John Swinfen helped her to recover them from James I. He also christened one of his sons Deveroxe just after Essex’s execution, which must have taken some courage.
However, it was this John’s grandson, John Swinfen or Swynfen (1613-1694) who is the most interesting. He attended Cambridge and Grey’s Inn, then became a Member of Parliament at a young age. He was therefore at the centre of the most dramatic events of the seventeenth century – born while Shakespeare was still alive, he lived through the reigns of James I, Charles I, the Protectorate, Charles II, James II and William and Mary, and also through the Plague and Fire of London. He was caught up in the struggles between Parliament and the king. He was imprisoned twice – once by Cromwell for opposing the killing of the king, once by James II on a trumped-up accusation of being involved in Monmouth’s rebellion. Ah, the dangers of being a Moderate! Both extremes hate you! He lived long enough to be one of the founders of the Whig (Liberal) Party.
I found this entire career fascinating, and my husband plans to write the definitive biography, but I wanted to capture some of this rich life in a novel. Clearly the whole life was far too large a subject, so I decided to concentrate on the period immediately following Pride’s Purge. John and his Moderate colleagues had persuaded Parliament to vote to treat with the king on the basis of an agreement whereby most of the powers of government would be handed over from the king to Parliament. The Moderates rejoiced. An end to the Civil War at last, on terms favourable to Parliament.
The next morning, all those MPs who had supported the treaty were driven away from Parliament by armed soldiers of Cromwell’s army. The most important, including John, were imprisoned. The remaining MPs were believed to be favourable to Cromwell and his supporters, but many soon followed their consciences and withdrew, leaving the mockery of the ‘Rump Parliament’.
My novel, This Rough Ocean, tells the story of the imprisoned John and his wife Anne, who makes a dangerous winter journey home to Staffordshire with her young children. Once there she finds the estate and its people on the brink of collapse into ruin and starvation. She alone must take on her husband’s role, running the large estate and averting disaster. The two stories are intertwined, as husband and wife each fight for survival.
I have always been intrigued by the lives of ordinary people in the past. We hear much about great rulers and men of power, but dig a little deeper and there is a great deal to be discovered about everyone else, the poor, the quiet farmers, the craftsmen, the minor players in the large events. In Flood and This Rough Ocean I’ve sought to tell two stories of those turbulent years of the seventeenth century, about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events.
Would you like to post on Royalty Free Fiction? I feature Historical Fiction about extraordinary people with extraordinary stories, but no Kings and Queens. Contact me at authordeborahswift at gmail dot com
Just occasionally I highlight something new on the blog which I think looks particularly exciting.
I’m a massive fan of books set in the English Civil War and the 17th Century, so when I saw this new historical mystery series set in that period I knew I had to feature it.
Here’s the blurb:
The theatres are padlocked. Christmas has been cancelled. It is 1657 and the unloved English Republic is eight years old. Though Cromwell’s joyless grip on power appears immovable, many still look to Charles Stuart’s dissolute and threadbare court-in-exile, and some are prepared to risk their lives plotting a restoration.
For the officers of the Republic, constant vigilance is needed. So, when the bloody corpse of a Royalist spy is discovered on the dung heap of a small Essex village, why is the local magistrate so reluctant to investigate? John Grey, a young lawyer with no clients, finds himself alone in believing that the murdered man deserves justice. Grey is drawn into a vortex of plot and counter-plot and into the all-encompassing web of intrigue spun by Cromwell’s own spy-master, John Thurloe.
So when nothing is what is seems, can Grey trust anyone?
‘A cracking pace, lively dialogue, wickedly witty one-liners salted with sophistication… Why would we not want more of John Grey? No, I don’t know the answer to that one either!’
I was tagged by Barbara Kyle in a game where you have to reveal the seventh line of the seventh chapter of the book you are working on. So here’s mine – from my current work in progress which is based around Pepys’s Diary. According to the Diary, John Unthank was Elizabeth Pepys’ tailor, and he had a large shop at Charing Cross which served as a meeting place for ladies to gossip.
‘Despite her protestations that she did not need new clothes, a carriage was called, and they put up their hoods and set off to Unthank’s. Unthank’s Tailors was a small cramped shop that smelt of wool and velvet and the sweat of Mr Unthank’s underarms. Once out of her wet cloak, Deb fidgeted and held her breath as the tailor lifted his arms to measure brusquely around her chest and waist.
She showed no enthusiasm when a bolt of lilac twill was thrown onto the table. Elisabeth exclaimed over its shade and texture, and asked its price, but Deb was silent. To think, a letter about her mother was waiting for her at this very minute and she had to be here fussing over cloth and trimmings.’
Perhaps they were about to have something like this made? This dress, influenced by fashions from France, dates from approx. 1695. I would like to tag authors Gabrielle Kimm, Carol Cram, Carol McGrath, Judith Starkston, Debra Brown, Judith Arnopp and Philippa Keyworth.
In A Divided Inheritance, Elspet Leviston stands to lose her family’s house and business to a cousin she never knew existed. To recreate the house in my mind I researched the late Elizabethan and Early Jacobean style – a period much overlooked, but with its own distinct characteristics.
Elspet lives in London and her house has been in the family for generations, so it is likely that the actual fabric of the building would have been Tudor or even earlier, but with more modern furnishings. She also tells us in the novel that her father is quite reluctant to update the house – to buy new drapes or replace worn items. Westview House in the novel would be quite shabby, but with good quality furniture. In the picture below of Crewe Hall, notice the typical ceiling of the period with its pendant plasterwork, which would soon have grown grubby from the smoking fires and tobacco.
I used a real house to model Elspet’s home on. I find it much easier to write if I have a good sense of the geography of a house and a real picture of where doors, windows and so forth would have been. I couldn’t find a suitable house in London of the right middling size, though I used the street map of the time to locate where the house would have stood. Much of this area of London was lost in the subsequent Great Fire of 1666.
The house I chose to use is Bampfylde House which is actually in Exeter, but was the period and style which would have been similar to London houses of the time. Sadly this building no longer stands, as it was destroyed by incendiary bombs in 1942. Such a catastrophe! It had survived right up until the twentieth century intact. But there is a fascinating article about its history here, along with interesting tales of when it was visited by the Duke of Bedford.
The paintings of the house were done by Robert Dymond, an antiquarian who visited it when it was still there, in 1864. The house has a small courtyard and the front, and a larger one behind, which I make good use of in the novel for Zachary Deane’s sword practice.
Jacobean furniture was massive, heavy and built to last. Often from oak, and built on simple lines, it is characterised by ornate carvings, and friezes of decorative designs. Chairs were probably quite uncomfortable as upholstery was little-used.
Shutters were used at the mullioned windows to keep in the warmth, and drapes possibly hand-embroidered with crewel work. Here are some examples of crewel work designs from the Victoria and Albert museum. Elspet’s mother may have spent long hours embroidering items such as these, and rubbing them with lavender or sandalwood to keep off moths.
It was crucial to me to have a real sense of what Elspet might lose if she failed to keep her family’s house, so the reader can empathise with that. Re-creating the dark, somewhat structured interior of the house was also vital as a contrast to what Elspet later finds in Spain when she has to pursue her cousin to hot and dusty Seville. At the time Seville is the busiest port in Europe during Spain’s Golden Age, full of new and exciting sights, scents and sounds. There Elspet finds a completely different lifestyle, architecture and customs. Not only that, but she finds a new physical freedom she could never have found in London.
By the way, those interested in Jacobean houses might also find this article of interest – how Apethorpe Hall, a Jacobean treasure, was saved by one man.