I am so thrilled for Anita to be here today. She's graciously offered simplified answers to one of England's most beguiling eras. The English Civil War period. It's like mini-history lesson and I do hope you'll take advantage and read the post all the way through. Hey, you might learn something!
Let's jump right in.
1) Royalist Rebel is not like your other books in that it seems more biographical than fiction. Is it? and how did that mighty undertaking come about?
In my critique group, one of the big questions after, 'Should I write what I know and feel passionate about?' is, 'What are the publishers buying these days?'
My first two novels and its sequel, was a family saga set during the Monmouth Rebellion and Glorious Revolution [late 17th Century] - neither of these popular genres when I wrote them six years ago. One major UK publisher I submitted them to told me he would have published my first book straight away - if I had submitted it ten years ago!
Determined not to make the same mistake again, I did some research and discovered what publishers did want, was stories based on strong, female characters who went their own way, regardless of the era. Thus I went in search of one from the 17th century, my favourite era, and found Elizabeth Murray, who lived at Ham House between 1640 - 1698, practically on my doorstep.
2) English history is so diverse and bloody -- uprisings against the Monarchy, deception, ruthless battles over Sovereignty, murder, plots to murder.... Can you give those of us with little or no historical background for this era, just what exactly the English Civil War period was all about? (In simplified terms of course.)
Oh dear, that’s quite a question, and I apologise in advance to academics out there who have studied the causes of the wars for years - but here goes:
King Charles I believed in the Divine Right of Kings; that he had been appointed by God and was answerable only to Him. He summoned Parliament only when he required money for his rich and extravagant lifestyle and his personal wars, and didn’t want to hear their proposals for changing the status quo. Parliament would refuse him money if he wouldn’t consider their opinions, which he never did. As a result, Charles I dismissed [prorogued] them, bolted and chained the doors and set separate taxes which he collected personally - like ship money*.
He sold titles, or fined those who wouldn’t buy them, and gave common grazing land to his friends, who threw off the common people and their animals. He also married a French princess, and a Catholic, who openly practiced her faith and did her best to convert her own children to Rome while in exile. She also told her husband never to give in to the demands of his people - big mistake. In frustration, Parliament actually impeached her for treason when she raised a French army to fight for Charles, but didn’t get anywhere as she left England in 1646 and didn’t return until her son was King in 1660.
When Parliament tried to reason with Charles I, saying the common man had rights and needed laws to protect them, he wasn’t interested. His rule was severe and arbitrary, and his religious intolerance against Puritans and other ‘dissenting’ religious groups in an age where people were questioning what their ‘betters’ told them, this turned a large number of people against him. Any attempt to protest or negotiate, was met with summary executions or armed resistance, until Parliament formed an army of their own to defend their rights. Rights the King refused to acknowledge.
At first, King Charles and his Royalists were winning, as they could afford weapons, horses and men from their private estates. Aware of this, Cromwell formed his New Model Army, common men with formal strategic training who soon began decimating the King’s Royalist army. The Royalists were brave, but lacked discipline and resisted being ordered about by their peers, so their battles often turned into shambles because they lacked authority. They spent more time squabbling amongst themselves than fighting, a fact Cromwell took advantage of.
King Charles made promises to the New Model, the Anglican Church and the Scottish Covenanters to bring an end to the war by agreeing to allowing Parliament to be autonomous and pass laws, to religious toleration except for Catholics - but broke them all. Behind the scenes he schemed to bring ‘foreigners’ into the country to fight Englishmen. Oliver Cromwell tried to negotiate with him right up to his trial for treason in January 1649 - but King Charles refused to compromise on anything. When they presented him with a list of proposals, [The Newcastle Propositions] he sent back an entire different set of his own. He had to go!
There were other issues too, all of which are too complicated to explain in a couple of paragraphs. Here is an excellent site which will answer most questions. British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate 1638-1660 [http://www.british-civil-
3) I thought my research was excruciating, but something like this must be mind bending. How do you keep it all straight? Do you use cheat sheets, a giant chalkboard? What helps you the most doing research?
I love the research side, but it’s too easy to get sidetracked and bogged down in trivia, so I have to make myself focus on what aspects of the war would affect my heroine specifically.
I am an inveterate plotter, so I spent months compiling spreadsheets and collecting information. I compile a ‘Scenes’ spreadsheet and a ‘History’ one, so when something happens in my story, I can align it with an actual event in history and include my character’s reaction to it.
It’s very tempting to include non-relevant information, for example and in my current wip I am researching Charles II years in exile and came across an amusing snippet involving Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, [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 ‘airs and his habit of mounting his horse at the bottom of the grand staircase rather than in the courtyard!’
I love it and wish I could include it in my book - not sure yet how though!
While researching Royalist Rebel, I discovered a copy of a travel pass signed by Earl of Essex for Catherine Murray, her four daughters, and fourteen servants to travel to Oxford in the autumn of 1643, where her husband, William Murray, was Gentleman of the bedchamber to Charles I. They stayed until February 1644, and returned by barge, and on reaching Windsor Castle, were all subjected to a search. I also knew there were frequent raids by Parliament soldiers on the city of Oxford, one of which took place in October 1643. This quite sketchy information formed the basis of several chapters in my story - it is fiction after all.
4) Why did you decide to write about this particular time frame? And this particular woman?
The 17th Century has always fascinated me, partly because so much of it still exists in the English towns where I have lived or visited. There are castles, city walls, churches and houses everywhere that were affected by or shot at by Royalist and/or Parliamentarian troops - some by both sides, and every one of them has a story.
The tour guides at Ham House, near Richmond refer to Elizabeth Murray as an irascible, embittered widow stripped of her glory and reduced to genteel poverty in her beloved childhood home. That she was rumoured to have poisoned her first husband to make way for her second and that her ghost roams the mansion, tapping the floors with her stick, her small dog at her side while the scent of attar of roses announces her presence.
In the gallery is a portrait of Elizabeth by Peter Lely when she was eighteen. Not beautiful by modern day standards, but clear-skinned, delicate-boned and proud looking with luminous dark eyes. Not the woman the guides described at all.
I became fascinated by her and the home she loved and fought for, and when I discovered she was believed to have been a spy for King Charles II during the Commonwealth - I was hooked.
The only book I could find about her is her biography, written by Doreen Cripps in the seventies, a fascinating story, and reading this, I felt she deserved some attention. I only hope she likes my version of her story in Royalist Rebel.
5) Okay, easy question -- Do you read other genres or do you stick with English historical?
As a reviewer for the Historical Novel Review Blog and Romantic Historical Lovers Blog, I sometimes try and move out of my comfort zone and read something I wouldn’t normally choose. In many cases I am pleasantly surprised, though I tend to stick with European history. This ranges from Medieval to Victorian, and I am reading Anne O’Brien’s ‘The Forbidden Queen’ at the moment and enjoying her take on Henry V.
*A tax paid by coastal towns and villages for the upkeep of the navy as they benefitted the most by naval protection, but to gain more revenue, Charles levied it on the entire country.
Anita Seymour Davison
Royalist Rebel released January 2013 from Claymore Books