In retrospect, I suspect my subconscious had been doing its own little things for years before I finally sat down to write The Graham Saga. Since well over a decade, I had nursed an interest for the 17th century, and in particular for the religious conflicts that dominated this period in history. Why, you might ask, and the reason for that is quite personal.
My husband comes from a family old as the rocks (most of us do; it’s just that the majority of us spring from families that were illiterate and dirt poor, ergo leaving nary a trace in the historical documents) that emigrated from Scotland to Sweden in the early 17th century. In actual fact, the only ones that emigrated were a twelve year old boy called John, and his mother Joneta. This woman with her most unusual name was of Stuart blood – albeit a cadet line – but for whatever reason she was compelled to flee Scotland, citing religious persecution as her reason.
While subsequent research has never succeeded in establishing just how Joneta was being persecuted, it is undisputable that the 17th century was extremely turbulent from a religious perspective. The Reformation movements of the 16th century spilled over into the new century, and with the Protestant view that man was fully capable of reading the Bible and understanding it all on his own, the door was opened wide on multiple orientations. In Scotland, the formidable Scottish Kirk, originally headed by John Knox, proclaimed a “tough-love” version of Christianity, while in England the Anglican Church was more moderate.
As we all know, the religious divides in England would develop into a political schism that would explode into a Civil War. Of course Scotland was affected by this as well – Charles I was king of Scotland just as much as England – and people didn’t know what leg to stand on; become a Covenanter and support the Scottish Kirk, or remain a loyal subject of the king? Maybe this is what Joneta fled from, and even if she did make it over the North Sea to build a new life for herself and her son, the price was high; she was never to see her husband again.
The third book in The Graham Saga, The Prodigal Son, is set in the years just after the restoration of Charles II (and yes, it can be read as a stand-alone). The reality Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex, experience is a consequence of the religious upheaval in the preceding decades. Charles II came to the throne with the intent of staying on it – and while he showed commendable clemency on most matters, he came down like a ton of bricks on the men who had signed the order of execution for Charles I and on anyone arguing religious matters fell outside the king’s control. This included those stubborn, loud-mouthed Scottish ministers and their refusal to kowtow to their king as overlord of their Kirk.
For men raised on the National Covenant, for men who had fought for their right to pray and believe as was taught by their Kirk, it was impossible to meekly abjure their faith. Instead, the congregations followed their ministers out on the moor to listen to the word of God as they considered it should be preached (a lot of brimstone and fire, no mealy-mouthed references to gambolling lambs in green pastures, not in a land defined by its core of harsh granite – both in its mountains and in its people). A deadly cat-and-mouse game followed, with the soldiers of the king chasing ministers and followers over the moors, while said ministers (and followers) did their best to evade them. Men were fined, they were flogged, and many of them were deported, some were executed in creative ways (such as being tied to a stake while the tide was out and left to drown when the tide came back in…) Still these stubborn Scots clung to their Kirk, still they refused to accept the hegemony of the king.
“Idiots,” Alex Graham mutters when she reads this. (For Alex all this religious stuff is totally incomprehensible. Well, it would be, seeing as she was born in 1976… Being yanked out of her time and propelled three centuries backwards comes with serious complications.)
“How idiots?” Matthew looms over his wife. He looks quite intimidating, but Alex seems unperturbed.
“You’re risking everything. What if…” She breaks off and turns her back on her husband. “One day your luck will run out, Matthew Graham, and then what?”
“I go canny, lass. But you can’t expect me to sit on my hands when…”
Alex wheels. “Why not? Why can’t you just stay out of it?” Her hands whiten as she tightens her hold on her skirts and her eyes are uncommonly dark in her pale face.
“I can’t. These are my brothers, Alex, these are my ministers. Of course I must help.”
“And risk your life – our lives.”
“It won’t come to that,” he tries, placing his big hands on her shoulders.
“How do you know?” Her voice wobbles. “How can you stand here and tell me things will be okay when both of us know that sometimes they go very, very wrong?”
Alex holds up her hand and backs away. “I don’t want to hear, okay?” She stumbles off. I think she’s crying, but knowing Alex, she wouldn’t like me to go after her – at least not now. I throw Matthew a long look.
“She’s right, you know. Your involvement may come at a heavy price.”
He gnaws his lip. “I must follow my conscience.”
“And what about her?” I point at his wife, now halfway up the hill. “Who comes first, Matthew? Your wife and family, or your faith?”
“Both,” he tries.
I shake my head, “Ultimately you’ll have to choose. Don’t leave it too late, okay?”
“Too late?” His eyes are stuck on Alex.
“Too late,” I nod. “Some things lost can never be replaced.”
Matthew blanches and looks at me. “I have no choice,” he says hoarsely.
“Of course you do – all of us do.” I pat his arm. “Let’s just hope you make the right choice – for you and for her.” I’m talking to air. Matthew is bounding off in pursuit of his wife.
It is somewhat ironic that the two king(s) that succeeded in totally rubbing most of the Scottish Protestants up the wrong way were, in fact, Scots. Charles I and his son were Stuarts, a dynasty young on the English throne, old on the Scots, but they were quick to forget their old homeland when presented with the tantalising – and exceedingly richer – aspects of their new, southern kingdom. As we all know, pride comes before fall, and some years on the last Stuart king would lose his throne to a large extent due to the lack of support from the Lowland Scots. But those events, dear reader, are the matter for a future instalment in The Graham Saga.
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