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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 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

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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