Categories
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

This Deceitful light by Jemahl Evans #HistFic

61-HYgY6URL._SX300_BO1,204,203,200_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.

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.

Categories
Blog Seventeenth Century Life

17th Century Research Find of the Week

My local bookshop has 100,000 second hand books. It’s a five minute drive, or a brisk half hour walk along country lanes. I always think I must have exhausted their supply oDSCN0739f Tudor and Stuart gems, but they keep getting more stock, and this week I was lucky.

Here is my find – ‘Rude Forefathers’ by F H West. The title doesn’t give much away, but the subtitle , ‘the story of an English Village 1600-1666’ made it well worth my £2.50. Since then, I’ve looked, and the book is also available on various online sites such as Abebooks.

First published in 1949, its chapters are focused mainly on the Churchwarden and the Constable and their role in village society, as gleaned from account books of the time. The study was undertaken by Francis West, the Archdeacon of Newark who collated the information from the Churchwarden’s book which dates from 1601-42, and from the Constable’s book from 1642-1666.

Nearby, Newark was under siege during the English Civil Wars for much of that time, so these records of one of the outlying villages make for great reading. ‘Rude Forefathers’ also has chapters on the English Civil War and the Plague. Although this is a slim volume, (90 pages) and somewhat knackered, it was a great find, and will be of interest to anyone who studies the late Elizabethan, Jacobean or Stuart period.

And talking of the Plague, which I am researching right now – I recommend Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of The Plague Year. Written only sixty years after the event, it is full of facts and figures of the weekly death toll, as well as being a wonderful (if gruesome) description of events.

More reading? A controversial Historical Fiction article that might be of interest is here.