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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

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.

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Inside Townend, Cumbria

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

Pictures from wikicommons, unless linked.