It might sound a strange thing to say, even for a writer, but the English Civil War was something I have always been aware of, its highlights and some of its tragedies - not all of them of course as it was a very involved conflict - but I seem to have absorbed the flavour of the times - like osmosis.
Every English historic country house I have visited, and I have been to lots, was involved in that war in some way, either as a Royalist stronghold or a Parliamentarian garrison. Many of them still have musket balls lodged in walls, and ditches, or shadows of ditches, dug to repel invaders outside the boundary walls. I like to walk the floors they walked, look through the same windows on the same landscapes where those events happened.
Ham House, for instance, is a classic example. Built in 1610, it is located about five miles downriver from Hampton Court Palace. The mansion has been restored to reflect the days when it’s most famous owner, Elizabeth Murray, lived there between 1638 and 1698. Much of her original furniture has been reclaimed, as have the paintings that hung there during her day. In this setting, with no other houses close by and a frontage straight onto the River Thames, it’s not difficult to visualise Elizabeth moving through the rooms, issuing orders to servants, arguing with her family and rushing out of the front door to confront Roundhead soldiers lined up at the gates.
Research for me begins by placing an historical character into which space they occupied in history. My current work in progress requires me to keep track of the young King Charles II as he travelled through Europe between 1653 and 1660. As one by one, Holland, France and Spain signed treaties with Lord Protector Cromwell, Charles was forced to leave those countries, and move elsewhere, appealing for monetary handouts from royal relatives to support his entourage, and often hampered by reluctant ministers of those same relatives who held the purse strings.
I found a two-volume book online by Eva Scott, where Charles’ days of exile are written in impressive detail, together with letters and conversations between him, Cromwell’s spies and members of the European royal houses transcribed almost verbatim. My problem now is how much of this engrossing history should I include in my novel and which to leave out.
One interesting and amusing snippet involved Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who was King Charles’ youngest brother and who tragically died of smallpox at 20, a few months after Charles regained his throne. Apparently a sweet and charming young man, at thirteen, his sister the Princess Royal, Mary of Orange was asked by her ministers to request her brother leave the palace at The Hague because of his habit of mounting his horse at the bottom of the grand staircase rather than in the courtyard! According to Ms Scott’s account, their discreet request was ignored by Princess Mary, though Charles acceded and Henry left soon afterward for Cologne.
I love it and wish I could include it in my book - maybe the king could mention it as an aside in one of his letters to my heroine?
Only a few of these facts, absorbing though they are, will find their way into my book - unfortunately - it’s easy to get bogged down by the trivia of these characters. However, they help me understand how twelve years of King Charles II’s nomadic life, the humiliation, penury and a constant nagging uncertainty about his future affected not only him, but the Cavaliers, those reckless, pleasure-loving men who formed the decadent values of the Restoration Court.
Anita Seymour Davison Bio
Born in London, Anita has always been fascinated with the history of that city. She began writing historical family sagas, then experimented with Victorian Gothic romance, though now she feels she has found her niche with 17th Century historical biographical novels with her latest book, 'Royalist Rebel' released by Claymore Press in January 2013. She writes for several blogs, including English Historical Fiction Authors, [http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.co.uk/] Hoydens and Firebrands [http://hoydensandfirebrands.blogspot.co.uk/] and also reviews for the Historical Novel Review Blog. [http://historicalnovelreview.blogspot.com]
Royalist Rebel, Please leave a comment at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of the paperback [after publication naturally and I could have trouble with the signing bit as I will have to send it via Amazon direct to the recipient - but I could organise a bookplate or something.]
Royalist Rebel by Claymore Press, an imprint of Pen and Sword, is released in January 2013
For a little background on the novel and it’s era.
The National Trust Website of Elizabeth Murray’s former home, Ham House, at Petersham near Richmond, Surrey