Fairfax, heroes, ponderations, present

Whispers of Immortality

It must have been a long, hard couple of weeks for the Grim Reaper – first Lemmy, then Bowie, and now Alan Rickman.
(I am imagining the poor bony sod with Lemmy’s gravelly sweariness down one ear, Alan Rickman being sinister and growly down the other, and trying to work out which David Bowie he’s got hold of – but there we go.)

It is an odd thing, but I have been much possessed by throughts of mortality of late – not my own, I’m not that old, but in general.
I think I have a fairly solid attitude to death. When it’s your time, you go, and that’s all there is to it. Sometimes it’s fair, and sometimes it’s not fair, but there is no raging against the dying of the light. We have not that choice.

We do have a choice about how those of us who remain, go on. Whether we love, and remember the good things, or whether we try and stop ourselves at the moment when we lost part of our lives. And I think, I hope, I will choose the first.
I remember very clearly speaking at the Wascally Woyalist’s memorial service, at Veryan church on a bright and breezy spring day with the rooks thrown like rags over the high trees. (Bloody cold in that church it was, as well.) I remember the sunlight being behind me, though there wasn’t much warmth in it, and I remember being very passionate that we should not forget Ensign Crowhurst of the 32nd Cornwall Regiment of Foot, but nor should we make him into a thing he was not. He was who he was – he was kind, and funny, and intelligent. He was also useless with a paintbrush, fiercely conservative, and prone to farting in the freezer department of the supermarket and running away.

There will always be someone left behind. That is the nature of mortality; it’s probably the one thing you will do, absolutely alone. No one else can go with you, no one can prepare you for it or do it for you.

I was saying last night to someone that in my fantasy-Hollywood casting of “Red Horse”, Alan Rickman would have been my choice for the Earl of Essex. And I’m not sure any more that’s true.
By all accounts decent, poetry-reading, a man to whom no breath of scandal was ever attached: a good man, with a reputation of honour and decency and kindness. He’d have had to be Fairfax, wouldn’t he?

Standard
Babbitt, Fairfax, Gray, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Lucey, new books, Russell

The Smoke of Her Burning – and a bargain!

 
To celebrate Yorkshire Day, an exclusive cover reveal of the new book, The Smoke of Her Burning, set in Selby 1644. And to celebrate the cover reveal, the first three books in the series will remain at 99p each till the end of August! – help yourself here.

I hope there’s a good explanation for this, Colonel Babbitt,” Fairfax said, with a sigh. 
“No,” said Hollie honestly, “but there is an explanation.” 

There’s a lot of miles between Essex and Cheshire…. 

…and newly-promoted Colonel Hollie Babbitt is cursing the most recent additions to his company, for every step of them. 

A scarred lieutenant with a death wish, and they don’t call him Hapless for nothing. 
Captain Drew Venning. And his dog. 
Captain Penitence Chedglow, last seen smashing up the inside of Worcester Cathedral in an excess of godly zeal, and his new companion in bigotry, the silent but violent Webb. 
The mysterious Trooper Gray, a one-man insurrection. 

Forced to leave a posting to Cromwell’s Eastern Association as a result of some more than usually scatter-brained chivalric meddling by the posh poet Lucey Pettitt, Hollie finds himself up to the elbows in freezing mud at Nantwich, mired in intrigue and insubordination. 

When Hollie’s old nemesis Prince Rupert relieves the siege at Newark, freeing up a cavalry force to hammer Fairfax’s garrisons in Yorkshire, it looks as if the gallant Parliamentarian defenders will be overwhelmed in the North. But after a fierce attack is repulsed, the Northern Royalists retreat to their foothold at Selby, with its vital strategic command of both the Ouse and the road to York. 

It will be hard. It will surely be bloody. But Hollie’s rebel rabble may be the difference between victory and defeat for Parliament in the North.

Standard
Babbitt, Fairfax, Het, history, new books, ponderations, Russell, writing

Babylon is Fallen, to Rise No More

Well, the good news is, I’ve finished the new book.
The bad news is, it is not “Babylon’s Downfall” – it’s part one of the road to Marston Moor, it’s the battle at Selby in 1643, and it’s called “The Smoke of Her Burning”.

I should like to say, worry not, I am not turning into George R R Martin (tha knows nuthin‘, Hollie Babbitt)

But I’m not sure that I’m not.

I can honestly say no one comes back from the dead, mind, but there is a Walk of Shame, all the way from Essex to Yorkshire. Instead of the Wall I have the Ouse. I have in-fighting Babbitts, disfigured heroes (yes, Russell’s back!) stern heroines, and there may even be one or two scenes of Het Babbitt without her stays on.

Game o’ thrones, my lily-white backside, as Rosie would have it.
Bloody game o’ commonwealths, more like it.

Standard
Colchester, conspiracy, Fairfax, history, Levellers, politics, ponderations, Rainsborough, women

Surely some mistake, Colonel Rainsborough – Royalist propaganda or war criminal?

“For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under…”.
Thomas Rainsborough, Putney Debates, 1647
When I first started writing the Uncivil Wars books I had a fairly clear picture of the martyred Leveller colonel Thomas Rainsborough, in my head.
The known facts of his early life are fairly scant. He was born in Wapping in 1610 – son of Vice-Admiral William Rainsborough, a captain in the Royal Navy and Ambassador to Morocco. Vice-Admiral Rainsborough was offered a baronetcy for his efforts to end white slavery – an honour which he then declined. Republicanism, then, we can infer, was in the Rainsborough genetic make-up.
Thomas, then, began his career before the civil war in the family business; he and his brother William were involved in an early naval expedition to the Puritan Providence Island colony, off the coast of Nicaragua – and, it may be suggested, a degree of mild pirating of those antipathetic towards England’s interests.
However, after an early command of the Swallow and the Lion in the embryonic Parliamentarian navy (Hull, 1643 – where he first meets Hollie Babbitt in “Command the Raven) he then transferred to the Eastern Association – Oliver Cromwell’s haunt, although bearing in mind that Old Noll was no more than a plain Colonel of Horse himself at this point – where he was himself commissioned an infantry Colonel by the Earl of Manchester. In May 1645, he became a colonel in the newly-formed New Model Army. He fought and distinguished himself at Naseby. He went with Fairfax into the West Country and distinguished himself again at the battle of Langport.
And then at the siege of Bristol, after fierce fighting as the town surrendered, Rainsborough’s troops massacred the defenders of Prior’s Hill Fort. Allegedly.
It says so on Bristol local history sites. It says so in assorted fictional accounts. What it doesn’t say is where primary source evidence on this massacre might have been found. None of the accounts I have discovered (bearing in mind I don’t live in Bristol, so my hands are somewhat tied regarding physical archives…damn it all) annotate this.
However. So. Maybe that upright seagoing Republican with the staunch Puritan friends who came back from New England to fight for Parliament alongside him, maybe he did give the orders to massacre the defenders of Prior’s Hill Fort. Also note that every account I’ve discovered uses the word “massacre”. Now that’s either very definite…or they’re all using the same source material. Interesting.
Now. Rainsborough was then elected recruiter MP for Droitwich in Worcestershire in January 1647, but was allowed to continue with his military duties. Probably just as well, because in his absence in May 1647 his troops mutinied at Portsmouth in protest at Parliament’s plans to disband the New Model without addressing the soldiers’ grievances. Petty grievances, of course, set against the weightier matters of national governance – matters like not being paid for eight weeks, or being sent to fight abroad (in the case of Rainsborough’s troop, in Jersey) without seeing any of their back pay, or the unsettled matter of punishment for “war crimes” such as stealing horses under martial direction for use in cavalry regiments. That particular war crime had ended in the hanging of several soldiers after the first Civil War. I imagine there were any number of uncomfortable troopers around with that particular sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. (There – and you thought Eliot and Ward were made up, didn’t you? Nope…that pair of light-fingered buggers are very much based on historical persons.)
Rainsborough’s troops were preparing to march on Oxford and seize the artillery based there, until the man himself came back and met with them at Abingdon and talked them out of it.
That’s twice that Rainsborough is recorded as being charismatic, and personally involved, enough to influence people who have pretty good reasons not to do what he ends up getting them to do: the officers from New England had the reasonable excuse of several thousand miles of implacable Atlantic between themselves and the troubles back home, and Rainsborough’s own troops wouldn’t have been the first to disregard their commander – look at Waller’s disobedient London-raised troops, who were reluctant to fight outside their home turf regardless of his orders.
So, then, we see Rainsborough as clearly a very charismatic, very engaging, very hands-on man, fully engaged with his own men on a direct and personal level. Evidently a very popular leader and seen as both influential and reliable – he was one of the officers that presented the Heads of the Proposals to King Charles in July 1647. Turned down flat, in the most high-handed manner imaginable, by the King. 1647 really marked the beginning of Rainsborough’s overt involvement in the Army’s political activities, and his role as a leading Leveller light. He led the advance guard of three regiments of foot and one of horse when the Army marched to occupy London, successfully seizing Southwark – where, it must be noted, he had previously inherited property, and was presumably well-known to the locals, being a Wapping boy himself, so unlikely to be seen as some kind of brutal interloper.
During October and November 1647 he was lively at the Putney Debates, siding with the Leveller radicals in calling for negotiations with the King to be broken off immediately and for a new constitution of their own terms to be implemented. (That rebuttal of the Heads of Proposals must have still rankled.) He was also arguing for manhood suffrage, which didn’t go down well with Cromwell and Ireton either. And then in November 1647, he attempted to present a copy of the Levellers’ manifesto, and was ignored by General Fairfax.
January 1648 saw a return to naval service, given command of a squadron guarding the Isle of Wight where the King was held prisoner.
But. What we have been seeing before is a humanitarian man, vociferous in his support for the common soldier…who was so absolutely unpopular with the Navy that a number of Parliamentarian warships declared for the King in the spring of 1648 rather than carry on serving with him, and Rainsborough was put ashore from his own flagship by his crew. Parliament had to re-instate the Earl of  Warwick in his place to restore the loyalty of the seamen. It destroyed Rainsborough’s authority within in the navy, and he transferred back to the Army and took command of a newly-raised London regiment at the siege of Colchester.
And this is where I really begin to struggle with Rainsborough. Because the siege of Colchester was a filthy, vicious, uncharacteristically cruel assault, wholly out of character for both Thomas Fairfax and what we have seen of Thomas Rainsborough. The siege began in June 1648 and lasted for 11 weeks – a siege in which townspeople consistently loyal to Parliament, were barricaded in with an occupying force who were not precisely sympathetic.

Again, anecdotal evidence for Fairfax’s atrocities includes the torture of a messenger boy, the desecration of Sir Charles Lucas’s family vaults during manoeuvres; the inhabitants were certainly starving, reduced to eating cats, dogs, candles and soap – civilian and military alike. Fairfax is alleged to have agreed that his troops could cut off the hands of Royalist soldiers to take rings as booty. It is certain that a starving deputation of women and children was sent to Fairfax to ask for mercy, and were refused. It is again anecdotal that a second deputation of starving townswomen presented themselves to Rainsborough and were stripped, for the amusement of his troops.

Edited: at the end of the siege, Colchester was fined the MASSIVE sum of £14,000 – reduced to £12,000. Previous to the siege the town had been one of the biggest ports in Essex. Afterwards – a rural backwater. Fairfax broke the town utterly.

So. As Hollie Babbitt might put it, not much bloody further on, are we, after all that?
On the one hand, we have Rainsborough the compassionate republican, demanding fair and equal treatment for the poorest he that is in England. On the other we have a war criminal, even by the standards of the 17th century.
But. (I like big buts, and I cannot lie.)

I like a mystery, and I likes both Fairfax and Rainsborough, and it may take me a while, but I’ll get to the bottom of this one. The Lord has smiled upon my endeavours…. Him Indoors is an Essex boy!

Standard
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.

Standard
Babbitt, Bristol, Cromwell, Essex, Fairfax, Gray, Het, history, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, 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?

Standard