Babbitt, Bristol, Cromwell, Gray, Het, history,, humour, new books, present, South West campaign, Toogood, writing

The Mending-est Lady in Essex….. A Wilderness of Sin – May 1st


But who is she?
You might have to read Wilderness and find out…

Babbitt, Cromwell, Fairfax, history, Lucey, politics, ponderations, Russell, society

The Poorest He that Is In England…

I have thought long and hard about posting this, and I will try to make it as un-spoiler-like as possible, because somewhat astonishingly there are those people who actually want to know what happens to that russet-haired menace and his rebel rabble. And this will not be that post, so you can breathe.

However. I’m told that my Magnificent Octopus (Octopi?) has been passed on to the Leveller Association to cast an eye over – *waves to the Leveller Association* – and that set me to thinking.

Rosie Babbitt is not, by political inclination, a Leveller. He may spend the first book reading Lilburne and he may pal around with Colonel Rainsborough in the second and third, but he’s not a natural activist. What he is, is a man with a (possibly overdeveloped) sense of fairness.
I think it’s fairly obvious even from the synopsis of “A Wilderness of Sin”, that that notorious gobshite and firebrand is going to end up as one of the two regimental Agitators. And he will do it because he has the tools – ie a big gob and a reputation for saying what he thinks – to do it, whereas the other of his Agitators will do it because he’s essentially a crack-brained romantic with a death wish. Glorious martyrdom, any cause you like? Oh, yes, please!

One wonders, three hundred and fifty years later, how many of the Army Agitators went to Putney, and took up their grievances – not out of a desire to change the world, but because it wasn’t fair. To them, right there, right that minute. Starving in the south-west, with Fairfax cutting deals with the Clubmen that there should be no looting, which is very fine and honourable until you bear in mind that until the Parliamentarian treasure convoy finally arrived in the West Country in early October 1645, the soldiers hadn’t been paid for weeks, and were getting restless. (Again, as Babbitt might say, with some cynicism.) Presumably, when Fairfax agreed in mid-July that the local population should be unmolested, and that the New Model Army would pay for supplies, he was either possessed of supernatural prescience or he was having another attack of Elijah and his infernal ravens – never mind, gentlemen, the Lord will provide. Of course the Army will pay for supplies, but until it has the money to do so, you will keep your hands to yourselves, no matter how hungry you’re getting. Jam tomorrow!

Oh no, Hollie Babbitt wouldn’t ally himself with any organised political movement. He might, on the other hand, find himself being asked to speak for a troop who felt that they’d been well and truly shafted by a Parliament who’d asked them to shed their blood and leave their homes and families, to fight for a cause that many of them still didn’t fully comprehend. Our Rosie might be absolutely appalled that Thomas Rainsborough – who’d served the Army so faithfully both on land and at sea in a military capacity even before he started involving himself in military politics (and who, in the Uncivil War series, happens to be a mate of Babbitt’s) – could be brutally murdered, and that rumour might have it that Oliver Cromwell himself might have been responsible for arranging that murder.A literal and figurative stab in the back.

You can see why a plain fighting man who’d never considered himself a great political intriguer, might have been moved to speak on the soldiers’ behalf – not because he wanted to see a finer England, but because he had the care of a couple of hundred lads, and he could not in all conscience stand in front of them and say he hadn’t tried to see them done right by, to the best of his ability.

 You can see why any man with any sense of honour, might feel that the actual fighting men of the Army of Parliament had been somewhat hard done to, and that in denying them their right to protest, the Army Grandees were going back on any number of their previous promises. The ordinary soldier was fighting and dying for a very nebulous freedom that the King apparently threatened, but suddenly when it came to those freedoms being actually granted it was a different story. The King’s a threat to the stout English church… but no one is allowed to preach to the New Model after February 1645 who isn’t an ordained preacher. (Not that we want to stop those nasty little Dissenting voices who wanted to say things like, but you won’t grant us indemnity for crimes like stealing horses that you commanded us to steal, how does that work? That King who’s an evil threatening menace… you want him back? What – tell him he’s been a very naughty boy and he’s not to do it again? That kind of thing?)

Ah, poor old Hollie, he had no choice about it, did he?

Bloody Russell, on the other hand, that rather endearing Puritan nutjob – he’s in it for the dream. Typical bloody Hapless Russell.

(And Luce, that most middle-class and pragmatic of idealists, thinks it’s all a splendid and noble idea, but, er, chaps, can you – you know – not upset anyone? Some of us might have to work again after these wars, you know.)

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you – Thankful Russell and Hollie Babbitt, the first, and to the best of my knowledge the only, Leveller heroes in popular historical fiction.

Babbitt, Bristol, Cromwell, Essex, Fairfax, Gray, Het, history,, humour, Lucey, new books, poetry, politics, sad bits, South West campaign, Toogood, Venning

The New One….. Babbitt #3 Out in May!


June 1645

Shattered after their defeat at the bloody battle of Naseby, the King’s troops are in disarray, their last hope a loyal Royalist hardcore in the West Country.

Parliamentarian Colonel Hollie Babbitt’s troop of cavalry are always in disarray, so he has a degree of sympathy.

But certain members of the troop are hiding a secret, after Naseby – a secret that left the brutal sadist Captain Chedglow dead, Hapless Russell invalided out in Essex under the watchful eye of Het Babbitt, and posh poet Pettitt and fierce, enigmatic Trooper Gray locked in a most unlikely alliance. And they’re not telling.

Hollie’s too busy wrestling with his own conscience to pay too much mind to the internal politics of his troop, though. The Army of Parliament might be winning the war, but their soldiers aren’t seeing much of the benefits, and there are voices within the Army starting to make petition for the common soldier. And Hollie – partisan, cynical Hollie, who’s fought alongside both Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax, who’s always claimed his loyalties lay with himself first and foremost – is beginning to wonder if perhaps he should lend his distinctive Lancashire voice to those petitions. Which is going to make him about as popular as the bloody flux, with Parliament.

Love, in both likely and unlikely places. Death. War. Bubonic plague. Blood. Politics. Intrigue. Transvestite Huguenots, and bad poetry.

Who said the Roundheads were the dreary side?

Babbitt, Cromwell, Gray, humour, Lucey, new books, ponderations, present, Russell, Venning

Rosie Babbitt Reads His Reviews….

Hollie Babbitt lifts his head and stares out of the tiny, greenish-grey bubbled glass panes, out onto the rain-swept gardens of the house where the troop are presently quartered. He looks like an old warhorse, smelling the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shouting.
“Russell,” he says, running a hand through his long and already-disordered cinnamon-brown hair. The scarred lieutenant looks up from scanning the satchel of dispatches that was dumped on him not two hours ago, and raises an eyebrow.
“Are you listening, Hapless, or are you reading your love-letters again?”
“Well.” Russell sets the satchel down and looks smug. “It is funny you say that, sir. D’you remember that lady who spent some time with us last year – writing the books?”
“Could hardly forget the wench. By, she couldn’t half curse. She did make a decent cake, mind. Why – she written to you?”
Russell looks out of the window as well, although the gardens have no more exciting a vista. A careful observer might have noted that Hapless Russell has gone a very faint rose-pink. “Not – recently,” he says cautiously. “But – um – sir, it would seem that we – ah, you – even such as I – we seem to be acquiring a certain, how shall I say, a degree of admiration. From an Amazon, apparently.”
“You don’t want a lass with a habit of violence, Russell. Especially not if she’s lacking a tit. Look where it got Luce, and so far as I know, that lass was in possession of both her bubbies. Not that I looked,” he adds hastily.
“No, no, this one is giving us stars. Five of them. Several times -“
“You what? What the hell do we want stars for? Is it foreign coin, or something, or what?”
“No, sir.” Russell glares at his commanding officer. “For an educated man, you know, you can be remarkably thick at times. It says here that you are oddly likeable -“
“Give that here.” Hollie scans the paper and then looks up, looking smug. “Well, well. Fancy that. So next time somebody calls me a bad-tempered gobshite wi’ no manners – hang on. Raffish? You?”
The prim Puritan lieutenant looks down his elegant nose and smirks. “I don’t believe anyone said you were unconventionally handsome, did they?”
“Good God.”
“Mind your tongue,” Russell chides him, slightly absently, in the manner of a man who knows his breath is wasted. “What would the Amazon think, if she knew you habitually blasphemed as you do?”
“She’d probably think I fit right in with the rest of the bloody Army.” Hollie shuffles the papers on his desk and gives a snort of disbelief. “You do know these buggers think I need a haircut? We’ve all got to have short hair, apparently.”
Russell touches his thick fair ponytail with an expression of horror. “What? Like one of those dreadful apprentices from the Trained Bands in London?”
“Oh aye. And you know that collar of yours with the -” he waves an inky and not too clean hand irritably, “the fancy stuff, that you turn out in when you’ve got your eye to a lass? – that’s got to go, apparently. Poetry – they reckon the King’s men are supposed to have the monopoly on verse. Be a bit of a blessing telling Luce, but I don’t fancy breaking it to Fairfax, do you? And his is worse!”

“Sir, what are you talking about?”

Hollie rubs the bridge of his nose and sighs, unaware of the smear of ink he has just transferred to that prominent feature. “D’you know what, Hapless, I don’t know why we bother. According to this – to that lady-friend of yours with the books – we’re supposed to be a load of abstinent, godly types, apparently with nits going by the haircuts, who never do nowt but sing psalms and probably take their wine watered. They never seen Cromwell on the spree, evidently. Apparently people think the Cavaliers had all the fun, and we spent most of the war praying and prosing.” He stands up and crosses to the window, and the colonel and his subaltern look out into the rain, watching Drew Venning strut across the grass in a hat that must have left several ostriches bald-rumped. “Mind,” Hollie says thoughtfully, “the Cavaliers could have kept that feathered excrescence, and welcome.”

“Ah, well, fashion knows no politics,” says Russell, who wears black a lot, not because of his puritanical leanings, but because he’s a vain so-and-so on the quiet and well aware that at just over six feet tall, with pale blonde hair and dark eyes, black suits him very well indeed. “Now where are you going, sir?” 

“I’m going to have a word with that lady-friend of yours with the books, lad. On the matter of that slander on the private life of the Army of Parliament. You coming?”

Cromwell, food,, Mrs Cromwell, ponderations

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (Except They Are In Oliver Cromwell’s House)

In my wanderings throughout the internet I came across this splendid gem on a website called “The Foods of England”. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if it were true?

“There is a curious story that roast veal in Orange Sauce was Oliver Cromwell’s favourite dish, and that when no oranges were available, his wife Elizabeth used beans instead, saying something along the lines of “You should have thought about orange sauce before you declared war on Spain.” This tale is told at Cromwell’s House in Ely, in ‘Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine’ by William Carew Hazlitt (1902) and may originate in a spurious little cookbook titled ‘The Court and Kitchin of Elizabeth, Commonly Called Joan Cromwel, the Wife of the late Usurper, Truly Described and Represented’ published in 1664.

This cookbook was originally written by triumphant Royalists with a perverse sense of humour, intended to show Elizabeth Cromwell up as a frumpy provincial housewife, more fitted to life on a backwater country estate than at Whitehall – and just as a by the by, this was published in 1664, and she died in 1665, so I hope she thought it was as funny as I did. I love the idea of the Lord Protector of England’s foreign policy being dictated by what his wife wanted on the table, though. And oranges, believe it or not, are quite popular in 17th century cooking, although normally with capon or fowl rather than veal. Perhaps Mrs Cromwell didn’t like chicken?

The Good Huswife’s Jewll for the Kitchen (1594) suggests that Mrs Cromwell should… “take red wine, Synamon, Sugar, Ginger, the grauie of the Capon, or a little sweet butter: slice an Orenge thin, boyle it in the stuffe, when your Orenges be tender, lay them vpon your sops, mince some of the rynde and caste on the sops, and so serue them.”

To boil a capon with oranges, after Mistress Duffield’s way, ...“take a Capon and boyle it with Veale, or with a mary bone, or what your fancie is. Then take a good quantitie of that broth, and put it in an earthen pot by it selfe, and put thereto a good handfull of Corrans, and as manie Prunes, and a few whole Maces, and some Marie, and put to this broth a good quantitie of white wine or of Claret, and so let them seeth softly together: Then take your Orenges, and with a knife scrape of all the filthinesse of the outside of them. Then cut them in the middest, and wring out the ioyse of three or foure of them, put the ioyse into your broth with the rest of your stuffe, then slice your Orenges thinne, and haue vpon the fire readie a skellet of faire seething water, and put your sliced Orenges into the water, & when that water is bitter, haue more readie, and so change them still as long as you can finde the great bitternesse in the water, which will be sixe or seven times, or more, if you find need: then take them from the water, and let that runne cleane from them: then put close Orenges into your potte with your broth, and so let them stew together till your Capon be readie. Then make your sops with this broth, and cast on a litle Sinamon, Ginger, and Sugar, and vpon this lay your Capon, and some of your Orenges vpon it, and some of your Marie, and towarde the end of the boylin”

There’s also a thickened version of Mistress Duffield’s recipe in the same recipe book, using egg yolks to thicken the sauce into a sort of Christmassy custard. I’m happy to say that Robert May in “The Accomplish’t Cook” gave a much plainer and simpler recipe: “Take slices of white-bread and boil them in fair water with two whole onions, some gravy, half a grated nutmeg, and a little salt; strain them together through a strainer, and boil it up as thick as water grewel; then add to it the yolks of two eggs dissolved with the juyce of two oranges.”

On the other hand, there’s mutton with lemons.
When your Mutton is halfe boyled, take it vp, cut it in small peeces: put it into a pipkin, and couer it close, and put thereto the best of the broth, as much as shall couer your Mutton, your Lemmons being sliced verie thin, and quartered, and Corrans, put in pepper grose beaten, and so let them boyle together, and when they be well boyled, season it with a litle Uergious, sugar, pepper grose beaten, and a little sanders, so lay it in fine dishes vpon sops. Jt will make three messe for the table.
This version sounds a little less – festive, sorry Oliver – but in the early 17th century (and earlier) sanders, ie sandalwood, was used for colouring rather than flavouring. It’s red, but I’d be inclined to replace with a little saffron, just to give it that slightly aromatic, musky taste.  

So – apologies to the Lord Protector, but I’m with Elizabeth on this one. A much better use of oranges can be found:
TAke your orenges, and lay them in water a day and a night, then seeth them in faire water and hony, and let them seeth till they be soft: then let them soak in the sirrop a day and a night: then take them forth and cut them small, and then make your tart and season your Apples with Sugar, Synamon and Ginger, and put in a peece of butter, and lay a course of Apples, and betweene the same course of apples, a course of Orenges, and so course by course, and season your Orenges as you seasoned your Apples, with somewhat more sugar, then lay on the lid and put it in the ouen, and when it is almost baked, take Rosewater and Sugar, and boyle them together till it be somwhat thick, then take out the Tart, and take a feather and spread the rosewater and Sugar on the lid, and set it into the Ouen againe, and let the sugar harden on the lid, and let it not burne.

And failing that, you can always use them to make marmalade – after all, everyone in the 17th century knows of the aphrodisiac properties of marmalade, don’t they?