Getting his own back: of Charles II and the persecution of the Scottish Covenanters
The 17th century was a period of much instability and religious strife throughout Europe – and especially in Britain. Ever since the Reformation, there’d been a lot of tension between Catholics and various Protestant factions, such tensions coming to a head in The Gunpowder Plot of 1605. As the century wore on, the Protestants fell out amongst themselves, united only in their distrust of all things papist.
In this environment, it was perhaps not the smartest of moves for the future Charles I to marry a Catholic princess. On the other hand, it wasn’t as if there was a huge selection of eligible Protestant princesses, and Henriette Marie came with the benefit of being French, thereby creating some sort of tenuous treaty between France and England.
It was even less of a smart move for Charles I to attempt to impose his brand of Protestantism, the Anglican Church, on all his subjects. Scotland exploded in flames at having a Common Book of Prayer thrust upon them, and Scottish nobles, ministers, gentry and common folk streamed to Edinburgh to sign the National Covenant (a document that in principle told Charles I to back off, or else…) King Charles I had a religious war on his hands – a war that would escalate well beyond the borders of Scotland and ultimately result in the deposition and execution of Charles himself.
Charles I and his queen were gifted with a large nursery, headed by their eldest, the future Charles II. By all accounts an intelligent person, Charles II lived first-hand the violent upheaval of the Civil War, and upon his father’s beheading he was promptly pronounced Charles II by the die-hard royalists – which included the Scots, who in general were quite shocked by the execution of Charles I. In an act of belligerence against Cromwell’s Parliament that now ruled England, the Scots promptly proclaimed Charles II as their king and the young man was whisked off to Scotland for a coronation.
For a couple of years, Charles II remained the guest/hostage of the Scottish Covenanters. Surrounded on a daily basis by the stalwarts of the Covenanter cause – most of them rather dour men who intended to use the young king to push through their own ideas – Charles developed a permanent dislike of Covenanter religious ideas.
As we all know, Charles made a desperate attempt to regain his kingdom with the aid of the Covenanter Army, but in September of 1651 he saw his troops bite the dust at the hands of the Parliamentarian Army and was forced to flee from the Worcester battlefield, spending anxious days and nights in hiding before he was finally smuggled out of England and back to the continent.
In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died. With him died the passion for keeping England a republic. There were no obvious leaders to take up where Oliver left off, and as no one wanted a return to Civil War, overtures were made to Charles II. He was offered to return to his kingdom assuming he promised not to wreak vengeance on Parliament and its long serving officers. Charles promised to grant a general amnesty – excepting the regicides, the men who had signed the Execution Order for Charles I. This was seen as a fair compromise, and in May of 1661, Charles II was restored to his kingdom amidst much joy and celebration.
Charles II was marked by his years in exile, and excelled at navigating the turbulent waters of Restoration England without giving anybody much of a glimpse into what he truly thought. Instead, he retreated behind the façade of the carefree Merry Monarch, a man who seemed more interested in the pleasure of the senses than in statesmanship. He was also not about to do anything that jeopardised his restoration, and when the men closest to him started pushing for the implementation of the Clarendon Code, a whole new set of laws aimed at restricting the forms of worship to the Anglican Church, he went along, even if it appears that Charles perceived issues of faith to be of a very personal nature, not something the state should meddle in.
He did, however, have a deep-seated distrust of Scottish Covenanters – indirectly, they were the cause behind his father’s loss of head. Actually, come to think of it, the Scots were the direct reason behind Charles I’s decapitation as it was the Scottish Covenanter Army that captured the fleeing king and returned him to Cromwell’s not so gentle care. Maybe this is why Charles II chose to turn a blind eye to the potentially violent consequences of the Clarendon Code in Scotland.
In Scotland, the new laws were a punch in the face of the Scottish Kirk, as among other things they required people to recognise the king as the head of the church. Anathema to the Scots, and stubborn ministers refused to kowtow which lead to them being evicted from their livings and in some cases being branded as outlaws when they continued preaching the word of God as they knew it, often out on the moors somewhere.
The men and women who clung to their Presbyterian faith were to pay a high price. With an open season on anyone who refused to acknowledge royal authority in all matters of state and church, they were in many cases forced to abandon their homes. Many were fined, quite a few were bonded out as indentured servants overseas, and just as many would pay for their stubbornness with their lives.
In conclusion, Restoration Scotland was not the most salubrious of environments if one was a convinced Presbyterian – something which my protagonists in The Graham Saga were to experience first-hand. In The Prodigal Son, Matthew Graham is at constant loggerheads with the powers that be, and more than once he places his life – and the life of his wife and children – at risk to save dissident minister Sandy Peden. At times, this leads to substantial strain in the Graham marriage. At others, it is through proximity to each other that Alex and Matthew can escape the fears and concerns that colour their everyday life. Which is why I chose the below excerpt from The Prodigal Son…
This is ridiculous, Alex berated herself, he’s been gone for a day and you go all weak-kneed at the sight of him. He’s your husband, for God’s sake, calm down, woman! Except that she’d woken with a hunger for him, and he hadn’t been there, and all day half of her had been thinking of him and the things she wanted him to do to her. Now he stood on the other side of the clearing, and she was squirming inside with lust, but was rooted to the spot by his eyes, and so she just remained where she was, waiting. A dull ache sprang from a point in her lower back, spread like tendrils down into her sex, up into her womb. Like a contraction, a huge, burning contraction, and she was aware of thousands upon thousands of nerve ends, all of them shrieking for him.
At his continued silence she drew the pins from her hair and shook it out, hearing his loud intake of breath. She undid the bodice and let it drop to the ground to join her discarded straw hat and cap, and shifted from one foot to the other to bring her thighs together in a soft rubbing motion that almost made her moan.
He gestured at her skirts. The look in his eyes made her clumsy, her fingers struggling with uncooperative knots, with fabric that slipped through her sweaty hold. She wriggled her hips and the heavy wool slid down her legs to puddle round her feet. It was an effort to breathe, to move. Her knees folded and dipped, her heart was pounding against her ribs, and for some reason her mouth was dry, she had to lick her lips to moisten them.
The grass below her feet tickled her soles, sunlight danced through the foliage above her, touching his hair, gilding his shoulders. She raised her hands to the lacings of her shift, the thin linen an oppressive weight she had to discard. Her skin screamed for his touch, her mouth begged for his lips, and there was a hollow sensation between her legs that only he could fill. The shift fluttered to the ground and she was as naked as the day she was born.
Lord, but she was beautiful, quivering like a cornered doe below the spreading branches of the oak. Matthew kicked off his breeches and advanced towards her in only his shirt, aware that his cock protruded like a prow before him. Her mouth… he wanted her mouth, and then he was going to use his own, and… his cock jerked. He beckoned her to him and she stumbled, nearly falling before she righted herself.
He traced her brows, her nose, the line from her jaw to the hollow between her collar bones. He so wanted to say something, to put words to the emotions that surged through him, but all he could do was kiss her, softly at first, a bare brushing of lips that changed into an intense, hungry possession, with her as hungry as he was, her fingers closing painfully in his hair to hold him still. And then she knelt before him… he swayed, his hands on her head, eyes closed against the glare of the sun.
“No,” he backed away, “not yet… I want…” He fell to his knees beside her, and now he had words, telling her she was his heart, the sun in his life, the single thing he could never do without, and Alex laughed and cried at the same time, her hands on his arms, his chest.
Together they rid him off his shirt, and he held her eyes as he eased her down to lie on her back. There was the softest of exhalations when he entered her. She tightened her hold on him, he pressed his groin against hers, bracing on his arms to keep his weight off her rounded belly. Her mouth fell open, her eyes closed, and she lifted her hips towards him. He was drowning in a sea of sensations; the sun on his back, the rough texture of the grass under his knees and shins, but most of all his wife, the softness of her skin, the urgency of her hold on his hips and the moist, welcoming warmth of her cleft. Heat surged through his loins, his cock twitched and roared, and Matthew came, wave after wave of bright red pleasure washing through him.
Afterwards he spooned himself around her.
“I missed you,” she said, making him laugh.
“Aye, I gathered that.” He nibbled her nape. “I missed you too, but then I always do.”
“Liar, I bet you didn’t think of me once last night.”
“Too much beer.” Too many other things to think about, but he had no desire to ponder upon them now, so he scooted closer to her and pillowed his head on his arm.
She took his hand and lifted it to lie between her breasts, toying with his fingers. He yawned, slipping into that agreeable state halfway between wakefulness and sleep. Alex turned fully in his arms, raising her hand to his face.
“I once read in a book that making love is something you get better at with practice – a lot of practice, preferably with the same person. We’re getting pretty good at this, Mr Graham.”
He opened one eye and smiled. “Aye, but practice is always good, lass.”
“Now?” she asked huskily.
“Now,” he nodded and rose on his elbow to look at her before he lowered his head to kiss her.
Thank you, Lord, for my marvellous wife, this woman that drives me to the precipice of lust and beyond, who holds me so tenderly, who loves me so entirely.
Oh God; oh God, oh God, oh God… This is my man, God, and you gave him to me.