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Archive for the tag “Charles II”

The road less travelled

Today, I’ve invited Cryssa Bazos to drop by for a visit. Cryssa has recently released her first book (CONGRATULATIONS!!!) and you can find more information about Traitor’s Knot at the end of this post, including my thoughts. Traitor’s Knot is set in 17th century England, which makes me a very happy camper seeing as I love that particular era. So does Cryssa, and her knowledge of the period is quite impressive – as can be seen in the following post!


The award for best true-story adventure of a monarch goes to Charles II of England for the six weeks that evaded his enemies following the Battle of Worcester.

CB Battle_of_WorcesterThe final battle of the English Civil War unfolded at Worcester on September 3, 1651. Oliver Cromwell’s forces outnumbered the King’s Scottish army 2 to 1. By late afternoon, the King’s forces had been captured, killed or were in retreat.

Charles was one of the lucky ones to escape the city. He headed north and got as far as Shropshire before needing to find a place to rest. An officer in his party led them to White Ladies, a farmhouse owned by the Gifford family. But the Giffards weren’t in residence, and instead their servants, the Penderells, were on hand to attend the weary king.

Charles’s situation was desperate and his options limited. He could either head back to London to find a ship bound for France or make his way to Scotland. Charles rejected the latter idea and waffled on the former, but remained firm that wherever he would go, he’d do it alone. After his companions rode off, he finally resolved to cross into Wales.
With the Penderells help, Charles disguised himself as a commoner. They cut his hair, darkened his skin with a rubbing of walnut and exchanged his royal clothes for a coarse noggin shirt, a green suit and leather doublet. Then at dark, Charles and one of the Penderells, Richard, set out on foot to reach the closest ferry crossing into Wales.

CB Boscobel_House

Boscobel House, By Oosoom at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

Around midnight, they stumbled upon a belligerent miller who chased them off like thieves in the night. They searched along the Severn for another crossing, but dragoons watched every route. Admitting defeat, Charles and Richard returned, this time to Boscobel House, a hunting lodge also owned by the Giffards.

The patrols were now scouring the area, and the lodge would be the next place for them to search. While Charles hid in an oak tree, dragoons passed right underneath him and not once did they look up. To this day, a descendent of the original Boscobel tree is known as the Royal Oak.

Next the Penderells spirited Charles away to Moseley Old Hall in Wolverhampton, the home of Sir Thomas Whitgreave, a former Royalist officer. It was there that Charles ran into one of his fugitive companions, Lord Wilmot.

The King's Room at Moseley Old Hall, Staffordshire.

The King’s bedroom, Moseley Old Hall;
Photo courtesy of Moseley Old Hall

Thomas settled Charles into a guest chamber with the additional amenity of a priest’s hole. The following afternoon, a company of soldiers rode up to the manor to arrest Thomas, not for harbouring Charles (they hadn’t a clue), but for breaking parole. Rumours had reached them that Thomas had broken his parole and fought with the King at Worcester (he didn’t). While Charles crouched in the priest’s hole, the dragoons questioned Thomas for hours. In the end, they left without once searching the manor.

Thomas wasted no time to arrange for the next safe house in case the dragoons should return. Charles travelled to Bentley Hall, the home of Colonel John Lane. The Colonel had recently secured a travel pass for his sister Jane and a servant to travel to Bristol where she was to visit a close friend. Originally, the travel pass was meant for Wilmot, but the King’s need was greater. The next morning, they dressed Charles in a grey coat with matching breeches and gave him the role of servant in charge of Jane’s horse, while Wilmot rode ahead on his own.

CB King_Charles_II_and_Jane_Lane_riding_to_Bristol_by_Isaac_FullerThe party had no trouble until they reached the village of Wootten Wawen, near Stratford and found five hundred dragoons blocking their way. Charles hesitated. He didn’t want them to see him turning away for that would stir their suspicions. There was nothing to do but go forward. Bold as brass, the most wanted man in England rode straight for his enemies. As the party approached, the dragoons inexplicably saddled up and pulled out.

When Charles’s party finally reached Bristol, they found their hosts with a house-full of guests. The butler was the only one who took notice of Jane’s ‘servant’. He didn’t immediately recognize Charles, but when he overheard talk about Worcester, he finally recognized Charles. Instead of giving him away, the man pledged to help him find a ship.

None could be found, and the party couldn’t risk staying longer in Bristol. The butler arranged for their next safe house—Trent House in Somerset, the home of Colonel Wyndham. At this point, Charles and Jane parted. Years later during the Restoration, he bestowed upon her a sum of £1000 with which to buy a jewel, this being the price of the reward for his capture.

While Charles hid at Trent House, Colonel Wyndham continued the search for a ship and found a willing master, Captain Limbry. Charles and his party arrived at Charmouth to wait for Limbry, but the captain never arrived. The man’s wife had become suspicious of his venture and locked her husband in the water closet.

Charles’s party arrived in Bridport and found the port town clogged with Parliamentarian troops. Instead of slinking away, he rode up to the Old George Inn, manoeuvred a stable yard full of dragoons, cutting a path straight through them. However, his luck soured when he reached the stables.

The ostler knew his face, but he had not yet placed him. Charles, being an astute observer of human nature, took the offensive. He questioned the ostler about where he had lived and soon had him convinced they were old friends. But before the ostler could rethink their acquaintance, Charles and his party slipped out of town.

Over the next couple of weeks, they went from one Royalist house to another until they learned of a small barque for hire near Brighton. They arranged to meet the master, a Captain Tattersell, in a private room of an inn. Tattersell recognized Charles immediately. Years ago, when Charles had been briefly in command of his father’s fleet in the Channel, he had seized Tattersell’s ship. But Charles had released the vessel, and now that he needed help, Tattersell remembered that kindness and agreed to help.

Charles wasn’t taking any chances. Ships were hard to come by, and captains willing to accept the risk even more rare. To keep Tattersell close, Charles plied him with drinks for the rest of the night.

On October 15th, the slightly hung-over party set out for Shoreham. They reached the Surprise without incident, and after weeks of hiding, Charles and Wilmot finally sailed for France.

Before we mark this as “The End”, there is an alternative story that was circulating in the days and months following the battle. As Cromwell beat the countryside looking for the King, rumours were spreading through London that a highwayman had helped Charles escape. Parliament was so convinced that the rumours were true, when they captured a Royalist highwayman named Captain Hind they tried and executed him for High Treason.

In my novel, Traitor’s Knot, I’ve chosen the road less travelled and explored the alternative version of Charles’s escape.


CB Traitors_Knot_4Thank you, Cryssa, for that. Quite the exciting story , isn’t it? In Traitor’s Knot, Cryssa’s highwayman James Hart is very much involved in getting Charles to safety, and things are further complicated by the fact that James has an implacable enemy in a certain Puritan named Ezekiel Hammond. Plus, of course, there’s James’ wife who is very much at the mercy of said Hammond. All in all, Traitor’s Knot is a great read, breathing life into both the well-developed characters and the tumultuous events of the time. Warmly recommended!

Traitor’s Knot is available through Amazon.

CB fullsizeoutput_d9Cryssa Bazos is an awardwinning historical fiction writer and 17th century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, is published by Endeavour Press and placed 3rd in 2016 Romance for the Ages (Ancient/Medieval/Renaissance). For more stories, visit her blog Follow Cryssa on FB or Twitter



Of a man and his wandering head

Oliver_Cromwell_by_Samuel_Cooper National Portrait Gallery

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper (National Portrait Gallery)

Today, I thought we’d spend some time with a certain Oliver Cromwell. Well, to be quite correct, not so much with dear Olly himself as with his mortal remains. (I call him Olly, ok? Others call him Noll. I imagine he prefers Oliver when amongst casual acquaintances, and as to what his wife calls him in private, we will never know – the man just smiles) Rarely has a decapitated head seen so much adventure as Mr Cromwell’s did – not that I think Olly cared all that much. After all, he held the opinion that once the spirit had fled, all that remained was dust.

Oliver Cromwell is one of those historical figures who triggers a black-or-white response. Either you’re with him or against him, and all those rooting for the dashing royalists (futile: they lost) will mostly be against him, holding up the execution of Charles I as the prime example of just what a low-life Oliver was.

There is no doubt Oliver Cromwell has a lot of black marks against him – I would personally consider his treatment of the Irish to be far more reprehensible than the execution of an inept king far too enamoured of the concept of Divine Right – but there are other aspects to the man. No man rises to the heights Olly did without having considerable talents, and whether or not we buy into his religious beliefs (somewhat harsh, I would say) there is no denying Olly was a devout man – and a man determined to take up arms against what he perceived as the despotic rule of Charles I.

Cromwell's head Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Charles_I_(1600-49)_with_M._de_St_Antoine_-_Google_Art_Project (1)

Charles I, by Anthony van Dyck

Olly wasn’t the only one who disliked Charles I. Initially, he wasn’t even the leader of the Parliamentarian faction, but as the Civil War went from skirmish to battles, from polite crossing of swords to fields filled with blood and gore and screaming men, Cromwell worked his way methodically to the top, this very much because of his excellent command of his men.

After the king’s execution in 1649, the monarchy was abolished and replaced by a Commonwealth. Initially, Cromwell was one of many leaders, but over the coming few years he established himself as the effective ruler of the country, and as of 1653 he became Lord Protector. Depending on your biases, you may consider Cromwell as being a man dedicated to ensuring an inclusive and relatively tolerant regime, geared at returning permanent peace to the country, or as a bigoted dictator. I lean towards the former – albeit that, as stated above, I have certain issues with some of Olly’s policies.

In general, I find Oliver Cromwell an intriguing man – on the one hand a capable and ruthless general and leader, on the other a caring family man, whose letters to his wife breathe love and affection, even after thirty years of marriage. Driven, courageous, gifted with an innate understanding of tactics – both on the battlefield and on the political stage – Cromwell was also a visionary, and a man most concerned with the state of his immortal soul.

Much has been made of Cromwell’s religious fervour and his determined efforts to clamp down on all kinds of sins. Absolutely, this was a man who believed in upholding high morals and went as far as to banish certain customs (such as Christmas) to reduce the risk of sin. But he was also a man who believed firmly in “liberty of conscience” whereby man (and woman) should be free to worship as per their own beliefs – assuming, of course, that their beliefs fell within the overall umbrella of Protestantism.

In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died. He was magnificently buried in Westminster Abbey, next door, more or less, to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. I imagine these royal corpses were less than thrilled with their new neighbour, but seeing as they were dead, no one asked their opinion. With Oliver’s death, the backbone of the Commonwealth sort of evaporated, and after a couple of years of general confusion, Parliament decided to invite Charles II back. Needless to say, our man Charles Stuart leaped at the opportunity.


Charles II

Now, if you were Charles II, it would have been very, very difficult to endow Olly with any positive traits. After all, Cromwell had been one of the most vociferous proponents of executing Charles I, and it is hard to forgive a man for having condemned your father to death – or for having forced you to live as an impoverished exile for close to a decade.

To give Charles II his due, he did not return to his kingdom to wreak revenge on all those accursed Parliamentarians who had caused him, his family, and their loyal retainers so much grief. Instead, Charles II showed admirable restraint, issuing a general amnesty. Well, with one exception: the men who had sentenced Charles I to death – the so called regicides – were all to be subjected to being hanged, drawn and quartered.

At the time, many of the 59 men who’d signed the execution order were already dead. Twenty of them, to be exact, including our Olly. Nine of the remaining 39 were to suffer  that most gruesome of deaths, a number fled abroad, and several were granted the mercy of having their sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

Three of those already dead were condemned to posthumous executions. One of these, unsurprisingly, was Olly. (One of the others was his son-in-law, Henry Ireton). While it may seem more than petty to disinter people and subject their remains to an execution, I suppose that Charles II felt there was a high level of symbolism in doing this.

Whatever the case, the whole thing was rather ghoulish. First, the bodies were disinterred. Due to his relatively recent death and a competent embalmer, Olly’s corpse was in better shape than the two other gents who were to share the gallows with him. Ireton had been dead close to a decade, and the other corpse belonged to a certain Mr Bradshaw who had presided over the court that had sentenced the former king. Bradshaw had only been dead for a year or so, but someone had screwed up with his embalming, so he probably smelled a LOT more than the other two.

Cromwell head Execution_of_Cromwell,_Bradshaw_and_Ireton,_1661

The “execution” of Cromwell – the heads are already on their pikes…

The remains were transported to Tyburn, still in their cerecloth wrapping, where they were “hanged” mid-morning. After some hours of swinging back and forth, they were then taken down and the executioner proceeded to hack off their heads. In Olly’s case, all that cerecloth required several blows with the axe before his head finally separated from his body. I imagine there was some weak cheering – the evil Protector had been justly punished.

In difference to Olly, who ensured Charles I was buried WITH his head, Charles II ordered that Oliver’s embalmed – and now decapitated body – be thrown into a pit, while his head was to be mounted on a spike and set to adorn Westminster Hall.

And here, with Olly’s bits and pieces rotting in a pit, the head slowly disintegrating on its spike, things could have ended – rather ignominiously. If it hadn’t been for that storm late in the reign of James II which toppled the stake upon which Olly’s head balanced, thereby sending the skull to crash land on the ground far below.

By some miracle, the skull did not disintegrate, and as per tradition one of the sentries – a former Parliamentarian – found the head, swept it into his cloak and carried it home. Some years later, said sentry died, and his daughter sold the head – by now not much more than leathery skin and some stubborn strands of hair attached to the bone – to an eager French collector. Here, at last, was a nice gory exhibit for his little museum.

At some point, Cromwell’s blood relatives heard of the exhibited head, and one of his indirect descendants bought his skull and brought it home to Huntingdon. Unfortunately for Olly’s head, some generations later another member of the family – something of a drunk wastrel – took possession of the skull which was now paraded around various pubs. By now, there was not all that much left of the so carefully embalmed features. Olly was missing an ear, people had gouged out keepsakes from his desiccated facial skin, and as to his hair, well… Apparently, stealing a lock from the severed head of Cromwell was something many wanted to do.

Eventually, the drunk wastrel – Sam to his pub mates – had gone through all his assets. The only single thing of value he had left was the skull of his distant relative. After signing one IOU too many, he no longer had that, his creditor a certain jeweller named Cox who walked off with something of a spring to his step, Olly’s poor head cradled in his arms. Why the jeweller wanted something as ugly as an old skull is beyond me – maybe he was an admirer of Cromwell. Or maybe he was gambling on the value of the head increasing.

Cromwell's_head,_late_1700sIn the event, Cox did make quite the handsome profit when he sold the skull in 1799. The eager buyers, a pair of brothers named Hughes, paid him twice as much as the original value of the IOU. Cox’s walk was, I assume, even springier this time round, and brothers hastened off to exhibit Cromwell’s head to the public. At the time, there were TWO heads exhibited as being Olly’s, and whatever we may think of him, he was no two-headed monster, so one of them was obviously a fake. As per the brothers, theirs was the real thing, but it was becoming difficult to prove.

The brothers died, the head changed hands yet again, this time ending up in the hands of a doctor Wilkinson. Our good doctor had the head examined and decided it had to be the genuine thing. For the coming century or so, the Wilkinson family hung on to the head, now and then showing it to specially invited guests. Somewhat macabre, IMO. “Want to join me for a nightcap and a peek at my skull?” is not a line that would have me skipping with eager anticipation…

In the 1930s, the head was subjected to a thorough examination by cranial experts. These specialists concluded that the head had belonged to a man in his sixties, had been trepanned after death – as required to embalm a body in the 17th century – and that several strokes had severed the head from the neck post-mortem. Not that many embalmed bodies would have been subjected to such treatment. Add to this the remnants of a moustache and beard, the depression left behind by a wart over one of the eye sockets, and it was considered more than likely this was, in fact, Oliver Cromwell’s rather battered head.

Finally, in early 1960 a certain Horace Wilkinson died and bequeathed the head to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Why this particular college, you may wonder, and the simple reason is that this was Cromwell’s college, back when he was young and eager, not yet twenty years old but already determined to make his mark on the world. After spending his entire childhood and youth in a household dominated by women – his widowed mother and seven sisters – college must have seemed a bright new world indeed, although Olly seems to have been one of those men who genuinely liked and respected women. Right: neither here nor there…

Cromwell's head 800px-Sidney_Sussex_College,_Cambridge,_July_2010_(01)

Sidney Sussex Chapel, photo Ardfern Creative Commons Attr

Anyway: the college decided the time had come to bury this rolling stone of a head, and so, more than three hundred years after his death, Cromwell’s skull was secretly interred, somewhere close to the chapel. No plaque marks the spot itself, but I don’t think that old skull really cares. It lies safe at last, hidden from gawking eyes and grasping hands. And as to Olly, I imagine he now and then pops by to check on what little remains of his remains, a gust of a chuckle escaping his soul as he considers just how hardheaded his skull must have been to survive all its adventures!


For those that want to know more about Cromwell’s head, I warmly recommend the entertaining – if at times fictitious – The Embalmed Head of Oliver Cromwell – a memoir by Marc Hartzman.

Behind the Cover – Featuring Ms Stuart

Now and then, I enjoy inviting people to drop by on my blog. Today, I welcome Ms Alison Stuart, an Australian writer who writes about the English Civil War. Her latest book “Exile’s Return” is set just around the Restoration – and I must say I find it rather coincidental that my lady visitor shares a last name with the king who regained his throne in 1660. Anyway; today is not about me or my musings, so with this short intro I hand you over to Ms Stuart.

Behind the Cover – researching Exile’s Return

AS C0F22CEA-0F0D-4D63-8EC6-A13137E5B2A2“…Jonathan broke the seal and scanned the contents, his face grave. He crumpled it in one hand and tossed it on the fire where it sparked and glowed before bursting into bright flame.
‘Thank you for bringing me news from the court,’ he said. ‘England balances on a fine wire at the moment.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘The restoration of the King seems inevitable, but yet there is still so much to do to accomplish it.’ He glanced at the fire as the letter dissolved in ashes and fell into the hearth. ‘The time for the sword is past. Old soldiers like Giles and I can be of little use in the months to come. We must put our trust in politicians…”

Thank you for inviting me to be your guest today, Anna!

EXILE’S RETURN, the latest (and last book) in my English Civil War set trilogy, Guardians of the Crown, has just been released. I found it a particularly challenging book to write because unlike the previous two books I had a less intimate knowledge of the Restoration then I do of the earlier events of this period. I also had a very tight contractual time frame to write the book.

We all know the following material facts:

  • Oliver Cromwell died on 3 September 1658 to be succeeded by his son Richard (known by all as ‘Tumbledown Dick’)
  • Richard Cromwell was deposed and forced into exile 6 May 1659
  • Charles II officially returned to England, entering London on 29 May 1660 (Oak Apple Day)

Notice the gap?  Somewhere between May 1659 and May 1660 something happened… what?

The truth is a great deal happened to allow a peaceful return to the monarchy without further bloodshed. Whitehall politics at its very best – Army vs politicians. Throw in secret negotiators, secret organisations and an attempted uprising and it all makes for a very complex (and interesting) time to be living and all far too complex to explain in a short blog post.

AS George Booth

Mr Booth

So instead I thought I would talk about one small bit player in the drama of the Restoration, Sir George Booth. I researched him extensively but for various reasons he did not make the ‘director’s cut’ and is only mentioned in passing in EXILE’S RETURN.

By the close of the 1650s the one secret organisation holding the King’s own commission, The Sealed Knot (see book 2 in The Guardians of the Crown Series, THE KING’S MAN), had been discredited and as Cromwell’s death began to raise hopes of a restoration, the King commissioned John Mordaunt to organise a new ring of conspirators (mostly comprising members of The Sealed Knot) to be called The Great Trust and Commission with the aim of taking advantage of the instability of the Government following the fall of the Cromwells.

Their first plan was a nationwide uprising  and by August 1659 all was in readiness. Of course nothing happened in the King’s court without the spymaster in Whitehall  knowing all about it (Thurloe had been succeeded by  Thomas Scott following the fall of Richard Cromwell) and on the day of the uprising (5 August) any unrest was speedily dealt with and further action cancelled.

Unfortunately the message did not get through to Cheshire where George Booth, a former Parliamentarian who had become disenchanted with the regime under Cromwell had been hard at work.

With a force of 5000 largely untrained men, he gained control of Chester and set out to march on York. However General Lambert was waiting for him and Booth’s scratch force was resoundingly defeated at the Battle of Winnington Bridge on 19 August 1659.

AS King coronation

Booth escaped, ignominiously dressed as a woman. He was betrayed by a Buckinghamshire inn keeper who became of suspicious of the strapping ‘Mistress Dorothy’ who wore large square toed shoes, strode like a man and had an unusually large escort of male protectors. Mistress Dorothy was quickly apprehended and her alter ego, Sir George Booth, found himself in the Tower of London where he remained until he was released in February of 1660 without ever having been brought to trial.

Restored to Parliament, he was one of the 12 members deputed to take the message to Charles II, inviting him to return and in the early months of the restored monarchy was well rewarded with both money and a barony.


England, 1659: Following the death of Cromwell, a new king is poised to ascend the throne of England. One by one, those once loyal to the crown begin to return …

Imprisoned, exiled and tortured, fugitive Daniel Lovell returns to England, determined to kill the man who murdered his father. But his plans for revenge must wait, as the King has one last mission for him. 

Agnes Fletcher’s lover is dead, and when his two orphaned children are torn from her care by their scheming guardian, she finds herself alone and devastated by the loss. Unwilling to give up, Agnes desperately seeks anyone willing to accompany her on a perilous journey to save the children and return them to her care. She didn’t plan on meeting the infamous Daniel Lovell. She didn’t plan on falling in love.

Thrown together with separate quests – and competing obligations – Daniel and Agnes make their way from London to the English countryside, danger at every turn. When they are finally given the opportunity to seize everything they ever hoped for, will they find the peace they crave, or will their fledgling love be a final casualty of war?

BUY LINKS: Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Nook.


AS Alison-8125-LR-ColorABOUT ALISON

Award winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion from history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. A past president of the Romance Writers of Australia, Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories.  Many of her stories have been shortlisted for international awards and BY THE SWORD won the 2008 EPIC Award for Best Historical Romance.

Her inclination for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles.

Readers can connect with Alison at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


Thank you, Alison! Well, it seems to me poor Mr Booth does deserve a book of his own – maybe something to consider in a future project for Ms Stuart. And as to all that negotiation that went on prior to the restoration, I cannot fight the temptation to mention George Monck – once a royalist, then a Parliamentarian, one of Cromwell’s most trusted men, in fact, and ultimately the architect behind the Restoration. Fascinating man. He also deserves a book…

When Downing downed the regicides

When I was a little girl, I devoured all kinds of historical fiction, and when the novels didn’t tell me enough I went to the history section, checking out heavy dusty tomes to further dig into what details there were. During one rather long period, I was stuck in the English Civil War, with my heart firmly in the Royalist camp.

Today, I am still stuck in the Civil War – or rather its aftermath, as I have a particular fondness for the latter half of the seventeenth century, but these days I tend to root for the Parliamentarians. A somewhat fruitless position one could argue, given that ultimately Charles II was reinstated, but there you are.

Charles_II_by_John_Michael_Wright_or_studioAs we all know, the Restoration as such was a bloodless event. The returning king was wise enough not to demand redress for years of exile and penury, nor did he actively persecute former Parliamentarians – well, with one exception, the regicides.

Fifty-nine commissioners signed Charles I death sentence, and of these, twenty were already dead when Charles II ascended the throne, nineteen were imprisoned for life, three were disinterred and executed “after the fact” so to say (including Cromwell), and nine were hanged, drawn and quartered.

The story surrounding the arrest of three of the regicides reads like a seventeenth century James Bond, starring George Downing of His Majesty’s Secret Service. (In actual fact he was the English ambassador to the Netherlands, but I prefer imagining him as a sinister guy in immaculate black velvet, rapier in hand as he trawls through the seedier parts of Delft in search of the wanted men.) And yes, in case you’re wondering, it is this individual who has given his name to the address at which the British Prime Minister resides. Not an honour he entirely deserved, if you ask me…


Purportedly Mr Downing

George Downing was born in 1623 in Dublin, spent his childhood in England, but accompanied his family to Massachusetts when he was fifteen where they settled in Salem, as yet a place unburdened by its future notoriety. He was in the first class ever to graduate from Harvard, spent some time in the West Indies and subsequently ended up as a chaplain in a regiment commanded by one John Okey.

The coming years had George seeing very much fighting first hand, and through a series of advantageous career moves plus, one must assume, considerable skills, he advanced steadily from chaplain to spymaster and then all the way to one of Cromwell’s most trusted diplomats.

So far, George had been a steadfast supporter of the Commonwealth cause. His whole career had been built on his staunch Puritan convictions and his loyalty to the Protector. Unfortunately for George, Oliver Cromwell went and died in 1658. Fortunately for George, at the time he was the English ambassador to the Netherlands and managed to cling on to this post throughout the eighteen months of turmoil that followed on Cromwell’s death. And while he was at it, dear George took the opportunity of mending his fences with Charles Stuart – also in the Netherlands – expressing that his life so far was a lie, built on the erroneous principles that had been inculcated in him during his years in the radical Colonies. But, our George assured Charles, penitent eyes wide open, he had finally seen the light, and wanted nothing more than to serve his royal master faithfully.

I’m not sure Charles bought this “volte-face”. In actual fact, I am quite convinced he didn’t, just as he didn’t buy any of the cock-and-bull stories of the men and women who now, in the twelfth hour of his exile, bounded over to Holland to pledge him their undying loyalty. I do, however, believe that Charles Stuart had learnt the hard way how important it was to surround himself with capable men, and George Downing was nothing if not impressively capable.

A tenuous relationship was established, resulting in George still being the ambassador to the Netherlands when Charles set off to claim his throne. There were a number of people in Charles’ inner circle that were anything but thrilled by this development, and somehow George needed to quench all doubts as to where his loyalty lay. (A sarcastic person would conclude he was mostly loyal to his own interests rather than to his professed convictions – seems to have been the guiding light throughout his years…) A golden opportunity to openly declare his total devotion and loyalty to the king arose in early spring of 1662.

Price of conv 2


After several years as a spymaster and an ambassador, George had a number of spies in his service, one of whom lived in Delft and was called Abraham Kick. How unfortunate for the three regicides, Barkstead, Corby and Okey – yup, George’s former commanding officer – that they used Kick as their contact when fleeing the long arm of royal justice. But George, well he must have rubbed his hands together in glee at this most happy turn of events. Here was what he needed, three regicides to bundle together and present to his new master.

The Dutch were ambivalent to the new English king, and were on the whole very sympathetic to Puritans fleeing England for their land. George couldn’t risk such sensitivities getting in the way of his plan, and once he had a warrant for their arrest, he set off to do the actual arresting on his own, with people he could trust.

Night was closing in when George and his men burst into Kick’s house. I wonder what he said to Okey, if he could look these former comrades of his in the eyes when by his actions he was effectively condemning them to gruesome death. Whatever the case, he had the three regicides dragged off to Delft’s town jail and set about organising the logistics of transporting them back to England and the waiting gallows.

The people of Delft were not pleased by George’s nightly raid. The magistrates demanded that the three unfortunates should have their case tried, and public opinion was loud in their support. For a while, it seemed this most juicy plum was about to be plucked from George’s hand, but resourceful as ever, he secured a handover document at lightning speed from the powers that were.


View of Delft, Vermeer

Imagine a cold March dawn in seventeenth century Delft. Mists hung like sheer veils over the network of narrow canals, and this early there were no lights, no sounds but the occasional bark of a dog. A soft splash, a muted curse, and a small boat appeared through the fog, rowed up the canal that lead to the back entrance of the jail. In the prow sat George with his precious document, and minutes later three bound men were man-handled into the boat, muted screams leaking through their gags. Well before sunrise the boat had left Delft far behind and some days later Downing’s precious cargo was deposited on English soil.

The regicides were doomed. In April 1662, Barkstead, Okey and Corby were hanged, drawn and quartered, one of those bloody spectacles that had people cheering and yelling while the men slowly died before them, being first hanged, then castrated and disembowelled. A skilled executioner would ensure the victim lived through every excruciating cut. I am hoping such skilled executioners now and then took pity on their victims and shortened their suffering.

In July of 1663, Downing was made a baronet, dying a couple of decades later as a very wealthy man. But now and then I suspect it came back to haunt him, that day when he arrested those three men. Did he twist in bed as he recalled Okey’s frenzied pleading that he please not do this? Were his nights plagued with echoes of their begging voices, with the sight of the fear in their eyes? Did he sometimes shiver awake in the predawn, convinced that it was Okey’s hand that clutched at his neck? I somehow hope he did. He could have let them run. He chose not to, thereby building his future success on the blood of the men he had once called his brethren. Not, IMO, the actions of an upright man, rather those of a self-serving scoundrel.

This post has, in a somewhat different form, previously appeared on the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog


The king, his sister, and the secret treaty

One of the things that I find very endearing about Charles II, is that he was very much a family man. Not, I hasten to add, family man in the sense that he liked sitting at home with the wife and have tea (our Charles was quite the bounder, more than fond of an intense and…err…varied nightlife), more in that he held his Stuart family close to his heart.

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Because I love it…van Dyck, the five eldest children of Charles I

I suppose to some extent this is the lot of the eldest sibling. Charles took his role as big brother seriously. Even more, I assume this is due to his father’s execution, leaving not only Charles, but his brothers and sisters, fatherless at a very young age. Charles was not quite nineteen that icy January day when Charles the First stepped out onto the temporary scaffold erected outside the Banqueting House.

charles_executionThe moment Charles’ severed head was displayed to the assembled crowds, Charles junior became king – in his heart, in his mind, and definitely in the opinion of the die-hard royalists. He also became the head of his family – albeit that his mother comes across as a forceful lady. At the time, two of his siblings were in Parliamentarian hands – youngest brother Henry and middle sister Elizabeth. His oldest sister was safe in the Netherlands, his closest brother was in France, as was the baby of the family, little Henrietta.

Charles would always have a soft spot for this his youngest sister. Nicknamed Minette, the little princess grew into quite the little charmer, and one of those she wound successfully round her little finger was her big brother – probably because she represented something of a sunbeam in a life defined by the pressure of being an exiled king.

Princess Henrietta was born in 1644, lived in England for the first few years of her life until the development of the Civil War led to the princess being carried overseas to the safety of the French Court. Once there, the little princess was given an additional name, Anne, in honour of her aunt, dowager queen of France.

In many ways, Henrietta was the luckiest of the Stuart siblings: too young to know her beheaded father, too young to miss England, she was also something of a pampered favourite at the French court. In difference to Charles, who was to spend a decade in more or less constant penury, painfully aware of just how insignificant an exiled king could be, Minette was brought up as a lady at the French court – even to the point of being raised a Catholic, this despite having been baptised into the Church of England.


Henrietta Maria

She did, however, have to deal with her mother’s utter devastation upon hearing of her husband’s death. Luckily, Henrietta Maria rallied from her paralysing grief and did what she could to support her surviving children. A devout Catholic, Henrietta Maria was of the opinion it would be best for all her children to embrace the true faith. She got little response there, as Charles was not about to risk his claim to the English throne, Mary was married to a staunch Protestant, Henry was a fervent Protestant, and James was far too busy covering himself in glory as a soldier – just as Henry, both brothers eventually ending up fighting for the Spanish against the French.

Henrietta grew up to be an attractive girl – sufficiently so for her mother to propose her as a bride for Louis XIV. (Marriage between cousins was apparently considered a good idea not only by the Hapsburgs.) Anne of Austria was not all that thrilled: while she was fond of her pretty namesake, an impoverished exiled princess was not what she had in mind for her son.


Henrietta, aged about 17

Louis XIV went on to marry his Spanish cousin in 1660 (a Hapsburg bride, marrying the son of a Hapsburg mother…What can I say?) By then, of course, Minette’s status had changed for the better – her eldest brother had been invited back to England, there to reclaim the throne of his father. This substantially increased Henrietta’s value as a bride, and suddenly Louis’ brother, the flamboyantly homosexual Philippe, the Duc d ’Orleans, expressed a desire to wed the precious Minette. Probably Philippe realised he had no choice: he was expected to marry and produce an heir, and if so obliged, why not choose someone he knew and cared for – albeit not like that.

Before any wedding could take place, Henrietta and her mother went to England. An intended joyous occasion – the reunion of the royal Stuart family – became instead one of common grief, as Prince Henry succumbed to smallpox in early summer of 1660. Obviously, Henrietta and her mother had to stay for longer than intended – Charles needed their support and love. Things did not exactly get better when yet another of the siblings contracted smallpox. In December of 1660, Princess Mary died as well. 1660 might have been the year when Charles finally got his crown back, but it was also the year in which he lost two of the four siblings remaining to him.


The Conde de Guiche

Henrietta returned to France and her waiting groom. By all accounts, that first year of their marriage was a happy one, and a year or so later, little Marie Louise saw the light of the day. Henrietta was devastated by the fact that she’d given birth to a girl, not a much longed for son. Her husband, however, was thrilled – but he was less than pleased by the rumours that hinted at illicit liasons between his wife and other men, notably his own brother and a certain Conde de Guiche – who was also Philippe’s lover. It seems our Minette had acquired extensive skills in the subtle art of flirting, or maybe she was just getting her own back by pretending to seduce the handsome count.

Henrietta was getting tired of Philippe and his handsome young men – especially the dashing Chevalier de Lorraine, rather quaintly described as “as greedy as a vulture”. The Chevalier bragged that he could easily convince Philippe to divorce his wife – the Duc d ‘Orleans was far more attached to his male lover than his wife. This did not go down well with Henrietta – or Louis XIV. Philippe, however, was totally devoted to his lover, so much so that he even installed him in his household, creating an anything but cosy ménage-a-trois.



Throughout these rather tempestuous years of her life, Minette kept up a regular correspondence with her brother. They shared a close bond, were perhaps the most similar in temperament, and Charles was more than aware of how unhappy Henrietta was with her husband, even if now and then the couple reconciled sufficiently to make a new child. In total, Henrietta gave birth to four children including Marie Louise, one of which was a beloved son who died of convulsions before the age of two, one a stillborn daughter. The last, born in 1669, yet another little girl named Anne Marie.

Not only did brother and sister correspond about family news. Henrietta was instrumental in the sensitive negotiations between France and England. Louis XIV wanted England to ally itself with France so as to crush that annoying pest William III, the soon-to-be Stadtholder of the United Dutch Provinces. William was a voluble defender of Protestants everywhere – and he was also Charles II’s nephew, which made the entire situation somewhat delicate.


The Chevalier de Lorraine

In 1669, Henrietta lost her mother to an overdose of opiates. She was devastated, even more so when her husband hastened to claim his mother-in-law’s possessions. Having the smirking Chevalier de Lorraine lounging about in her home did not improve matters, and this time Henrietta appealed to the king. Louis XIV listened and decided to help his sister-in-law, not that he held any hopes of ever being able to wean his brother of his addiction to the charming, beautiful and remarkably intelligent Chevalier.

The Chevalier was exiled in January 1670. He was back home a month later, Louis XIV having succumbed to his brother’s pleas. Obviously, this little fracas did not improve the relationship between Henrietta and her husband, but for the moment she had other things to concern herself with, starting with her recurring digestive problems. Since 1667, Henrietta had suffered intense pangs of pain in her side, and in April of 1670, things got so bad she could only drink milk.



Fortunately for Henrietta, she had something with which to distract herself from her constant pain: years and years of careful overtures to her brother Charles were finally bearing fruit. At last, Charles was seriously considering a treaty whereby France would help Charles bring England back to the Holy Roman Church. In return, England was to abandon the triple alliance with Sweden and the Dutch Republic and help Louis XIV conquer the Dutch. Should this venture be successful, England was promised control over several profitable Dutch ports.

Specifically, the treaty called for Charles to officially announce his intention to convert, at which point he would receive the handsome sum of two million crowns to support his massive conversion programme. Simultaneously, England was then to declare war on the Dutch, thereby allying themselves with France’s invasive force.

Needless to say, the above was so incendiary that, should it have become public, chances were Charles II would have ended up as his father. Only two men knew of Charles’ desire to embrace the Catholic religion – or of the treaty as such. One of these men, Thomas Clifford, was a devout Catholic. The other, Henry Bennet, was convinced it was in England’s interests to help France crush the Dutch.



It was decided that Henrietta should travel to England, there to sign the treaty on behalf of Louis XIV. She was delighted at the opportunity to see her brother again, and in May 1670 she landed in Dover. Brother and sister had a tender reunion scene before settling down to business. On June 1, 1670, the (secret) Treaty of Dover was signed – and it was so secret no one knew about its existence until the late 18th century. Once all the paperwork had been concluded, Henrietta decided to spend a further few weeks in the company of her brother, and by all accounts they were both delighted to spend time with each other.

By late June, Henrietta was back in France, back to handling her husband, his enervating lover, and her constant stomach pains. On June 29, she drank a glass of iced chicory water. Immediate pain had her crying out that she’d been poisoned, and people rushed to give her assorted anti-dotes. Nothing helped. Nine hours later, Henrietta was dead, just 26 years old.

Her husband and his lover were immediately suspected of having poisoned her. It is said that when Charles found out his sister had died – and how – he exclaimed “Philippe!” before retiring to grieve in solitude. An autopsy, however, revealed she’d died of gastroenteritis. Henrietta’s contemporaries were not convinced…

Ironically, Henrietta’s daughter Marie Louise was to die of similar symptoms and at the same age. Yet again, there would be cries of poison, yet again, such suspicions would remain unproven.


Elisabeth Charlotte

Henrietta was buried in Saint Denis on the 4th of July 1670. Of all her siblings, only two remained: a grief-struck Charles II, and a somewhat less devastated Duke of York. As to her husband, he was to remarry with almost indecent haste. The man needed a male heir, and this time he requested his royal brother’s help to find him a suitable bride. The lot fell to Elisabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatinate – granddaughter to Elizabeth Stuart, Charles I’s sister. It would seem Philippe was stuck with Stuart women…In any case, in difference to Henrietta, Elisabeth was to present her husband with a son. Just like Henrietta, Elisabeth would live cheek to jowl not only with her husband, but also with his lover, that irrepressible Chevalier de Lorraine.

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.

Book_of_common_prayer_Scotland_1637It 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.

EHFA Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Five_Eldest_Children_of_Charles_I_-_Google_Art_Project

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.


A young Charles II

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_by_John_Michael_Wright_or_studioCharles 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.


Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon & very anti-Covenanter

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.

9781781321713-Cover.inddIn 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.

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