guest post, new books, romance, Royalists, Worcester, writing

Meeting Old Friends in Worcester – Guest Post from Alison Stuart

M.J. Logue’s Uncivil War series begins in the fair city of Worcester (RED HORSE), a city which saw its fair share of strife during the Civil War period, ending with the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, a battle that is the starting point for my own GUARDIANS OF THE CROWN series. My latest release,  EXILE’S RETURN, marks the end of the series which spans the years of the Interregnum from 1650 to the restoration of King Charles II in 1660.

Last year I was fortunate to go back to Worcester. I say ‘back’ because, although I’m an Australian, my family has had a long, long association with Worcester, most notably boasting a High Sheriff of Worcester (my great grandfather) and a well-respected MP and County Councillor (my grandfather) and my father served under the colours of the now defunct Worcestershire Regiment.

My last visit to Worcester had been some twenty plus years ago when I was researching a little story I was writing centred on the Battle of Worcester. I wanted to write about a group of friends/comrades and what this seminal battle of the English Civil War meant to them and their families. This led to the Guardians of the Crown series.  The stories follow the lives of three young men, Jonathan Thornton (.  (BY THE SWORD), Kit Lovell (THE KING’S MAN) and Kit’s brother, Daniel (EXILE’S RETURN). To M.J. Logue’s disgust they are, I am afraid, ‘rascally royalists’. However she will understand what it is to have imaginary friends… and how very real the characters in our stories can be so it will come as no surprise to say I arranged an assignation with my characters during my visit!

We moored our canal boat below the Sidbury Lock within spitting distance of The Commandery and the site of what was once the Sidbury Gate through the walls of the old city (now long since gone). Having an afternoon free, I abandoned my travelling companions and stepped down on to the tow path of the canal (which had not been there in 1651). They were waiting for me – Jonathan Thornton, Kit Lovell and his brother Daniel, my companions from the past and they would be my guides for the afternoon.

We began with The Commandery (that was its name long before the events of 1651). In its past it had been a merchant’s house, a hospital and in 1651 became the Headquarters for Charles II.
(Jonathan) attended the meetings at the Commandery and concluded the house had been wrongly named. He saw precious little evidence of command taking place within its walls…In the endless councils that took place in the hall the young King found himself assailed from all sides by conflicting advice.  .  (BY THE SWORD)

From The Commandery we set off up the hill to Fort Royal where a royalist battery had been established to defend the approach to Worcester along the Sidbury road. I won’t go into the details of the battle itself (I’ve written about it elsewhere…click HERE). Suffice to say that while the royalists held Fort Royal, Cromwell had taken Red Hill and Perry Hill. The king himself led an attack on Red Hill but was driven back to the city. Fort Royal fell, the royalist defenders slaughtered to a man and the guns turned on the city itself.

American readers may be interested to know that it was on this hill that an oak tree was planted in commemoration of a visit by Thomas Jefferson who is quoted as reminding all Englishmen that it was at Worcester that the concept of Liberty was fought for… you can read his quote on the plaque below…

My companions led me back down the hill toward Sidbury Gate…
The Parliament guns had been brought to bear on the gate, turning the retreat into wholesale slaughter. Amidst the screaming of man and beast, the carnage of blood and guts and with shot pounding into the walls and the city, the King managed to get back through the gate. Jonathan followed through the confusion, scrambling over an overturned oxen cart to reach his King. .  (BY THE SWORD)

No trace of the gate or walls remain today (destroyed for the building of the canal in the 1760s), just one small plaque on a wall marks its existence. We turned into the city and down one of the last remaining authentic city streets – Friar Street (curse those 70s redevelopments!). Still lined with half timbered houses, it is only here one can still get a feeling for 17th century Worcester.
Wilmot pulled at Jonathan’s arm and they both ran up Friar Street, toward the King’s lodging. Jonathan took only one look back to see Giles, fighting like a virago, a small defence against the mass of red-coated soldiers who now flooded into the city from all gates except one: St Martin’s Gate stood close by the King’s lodging and remained as yet unbreached. .  (BY THE SWORD)

It was here in Friar Street that Jonathan, Giles, Kit and Daniel lodged in a house that may have looked a little like Greyfriars (now a National Trust property). Here they played cards on the night before the battle.
Another evening at the Commandery had ended in bickering and Jonathan trudged wearily back up Friar Street to his billet … In the downstairs parlour of the large, half-timbered house, Giles played cards with Kit Lovell, who had recently rejoined them. They were both fiendish card players, with a tendency to cheat, and Jonathan declined their invitation to join them. .  (BY THE SWORD)

Further up Friar Street we came to the building now known as The Charles II house (and rather ignomiously – a pie shop) which had been the King’s Lodgings and from which he escaped.
They found the King within his lodgings, watching uncomprehendingly as Buckingham burned papers on a hastily lit fire.
‘We must go, Your Majesty,’ Wilmot said.
The King looked up at his old friend and advisor. ‘Leslie will come,’ he insisted. ‘We will rally again.’
‘No, Your Majesty,’ Buckingham spoke. ‘It’s too late. Leslie has failed us, Hamilton is fallen. We must away while we still have breath in our bodies.’
The noise of the fighting, drawing closer up the street, brought the King to his feet. With the Parliament’s soldiers at the front door of the house, the King and his party left by the back. Taking the nearest horses they fled, at a hard gallop, through St Martin’s Gate, the gate that led th(e way to the north. .  (BY THE SWORD)


Finally at the great Worcester Cathedral, we took a moment to visit the tomb of bad King John (according to M.J. Logue in RED HORSE, defaced by a large, bad tempered black horse in 1642 when it was used to stable Parliamentary cavalry). The prisoners from the battle had been held in the Cathedral following the battle.


At the end of that bloody day, the King had become a fugitive in his own land and Daniel, nursing a wound to his right arm, had huddled against the tomb of King John in the great Cathedral of Worcester, a prisoner like the hundreds of others who had survived the battle. With the cold stone pressed against his face, he had hoped that no one would notice the shaming tears of humiliation. (EXILE’S RETURN)

Here we parted company, my imaginary friends returning to the past, and I trudged back through the streets of Worcester to meet my real friends at the Worcester Porcelain museum (in what had been a thriving factory on my last visit!).

About EXILE’S RETURN
The breath-taking conclusion to Alison Stuart’s English Civil War trilogy introduces a heroine with nothing left to lose and a hero with everything to gain…

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?

If you would like to hear an excerpt from EXILE’S RETURN professionally read. Click HERE

EXILE’S RETURN is available on AMAZON, KOBO, Ibooks and all reputable ebook stores

ABOUT 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.

 

And don’t forget to enter my Guardians of the Crown contest (Closes 15 March):  click HERE
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history, new books, politics, ponderations, present, religious ponderations, romance, women

The Tudors are SO 2015. This? Is Where It’s All Happening

But the Tudor era is a period of lust, of intrigue and sexy debauchery and passion and jealousy and desire and excellent dresses…. so why don’t I write about the Tudors?

It’s a funny one. I mean, it’d be easier if I did. I’d be riding on the coat tails of Philippa Gregory and Anya Seton and Hilary Mantel – and everybody knows about Henry VIII and his convoluted love-life, and Elizabeth (and Essex….maybe) and her even more convoluted and intriguing passions. The fashions are gorgeous, the TV producers and the film producers are crying out for bodices to rip open and breeches to undo: why, in the name of creation, am I writing about a period mostly known for its unflattering fashions and spawning the man who coined the term “warts and all”?

And I guess the answer is – because I find principle sexier than unprinciple.

I’m fascinated, intrigued, and ultimately repelled by the English Civil Wars – a war without an enemy, as the Parliamentarian commander William Waller wrote in 1643 to his friend the Royalist commander Ralph Hopton. “We are both upon the stage and must act such parts as are assigned us in this tragedy, let us do it in a way of honour and without personal animosities“.
I think it’s interesting that many people’s perception of the protagonists now is that the King’s supporters were fun-loving, free-spirited party animals who loved wine, women and song – 17th century rock stars, in effect – whilst Parliament’s were dour, short-haired, joyless and worthy.
It’s cobblers, of course – both sides had men of fire and honour, as committed to their cause as each other.
And to me, that’s considerably more appealing than a fat old guy with a bad temper and a gammy leg, a sexual predator who abused his power to bribe, flatter and coerce women into his bed and whose politics were – allegedly – based in his codpiece.

I think we love the idea of the Tudors because they’re so marvellously larger than life, an almost Machiavellian world of political treachery and intrigue apparently centred on a thing we all understand – sex. We “get” desire, and jealousy, and love-conquers-all; we understand, we sympathise with, a world where a man-monster is a figure of terror as well as desire – almost the ultimate Christian Grey, the sexy uber-CEO who manipulates as well as seduces.
And maybe the idea of a quieter passion isn’t so flamboyant. The Wars of the Three Kingdoms don’t inflame the public imagination the same way because there is, simply, no sex involved. Oliver Cromwell looked like a potato. (Elizabeth must have seen something worth the having in him, because they had a long and happy marriage and a number of children.) Thomas Fairfax was married to the somewhat volatile Anne for twenty-seven years, and praised her lack of beauty as a virtue in his – somewhat dodgy – poetry. Charles and Henrietta Maria were uxorious enough that she went over to Europe, sold her jewellery, and raised troops for him. Rupert – well, Rupert never married, so let’s not mention Rupert’s love life. (Suffice it to say it was varied and active.)

It’s not that women were not strong, involved, characters in their own right. Why should Brilliana Harley, sending the family plate to safety in boxes marked up as “Cake” to avoid detection by Royalist troops, be any less appealing that poor hapless Anne Boleyn?
Or if your taste runs towards tragic romantic heroines, Bridget Cromwell, travelling across a war-torn country to marry her scarred hero Henry Ireton under siege in Oxford, only to be widowed so short a time later?
Or the King’s spymistress, Jane Horwood, intelligencing for him and loving him at one and the same time? (Oh, I hope she had some happiness with him, even if his letters to her portray their liaison as more pragmatic than romantic. Her husband was such a vile, abusive, violent piece of work, I do hope that Jane found love, after a fashion, with Charles – someone who was decent, and honourable, and treated her with courtesy. Not my type, but then what do I know? I’m a Fairfax girl…)

So many stories, and so much passion – but for the spirit, not for the body. For a cause, for a thing which people – both Royalist and Parliamentarian – believed in with, literally, the last drop of their heart’s blood.

And as for the fashions? Quite like the Elizabeth of Bohemia look, myself.

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In the Shadow Of The Storm by Anna Belfrage – a review

In The Shadow of The Storm: Book 1 of The King’s Greatest Enemy

I have to admit to a degree of worry as I started to read this new book, because I am a great fan of Ms Belfrage’s Graham Saga.

My first worry was that it wasn’t going to be as good – and my second was that it was going to be Alex and Matthew in the 14th century: a trap that many successful authors fall into, of replicating carbon copies of their successful characters in another period of history.
Well, I needn’t have worried on either head.

I am very fond of Alex and Matthew Graham, but there is always – in my reading – that element of tension in their relationship. With Adam and Kit, despite the somewhat – unusual – beginning of their marriage, there is never any doubt for me that no matter how tumultous this period of history is, their love is solid. This is not, I don’t think, a will-they won’t-they story, set against a faintly-drawn generic historical background. It’s a story of will Fate let them, in what has to be one of the most violent, tumultous, passionate, uninhibited periods of English history. A man and a woman, who find each other, and are determined that conflicting loyalty, intrigue, and murder will not come between them.

Be not misled, gentle reader. We are not in the realms of courtly love here. We are dealing with a real and passionate period, where a brutal punishment can be meted out to a man in scenes of graphic savagery, and a woman be poisoned to death by her own family – and where the same man who raises a sword with violent skill, can make love to his wife with kindness and tenderness.
We are also dealing with a very accomplished author, who can describe love as well as pain with skill and empathy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Alex and Matthew are very much a self-contained unit, but Kit de Courcy and Adam de Guirande are a fantastically-drawn pair of lovers enmeshed in a complicated political and social web. And a well-researched, authentic, believable one, that feels as right to the reader as a warm wool surcote.

Be warned: there is a considerable amount of brutality in this book. The Welsh Marches in 1321 were a place of unpredictable political allegiances, where a wise man keeps an eye on the main chance. Not a period where an author should tread, without a considerable amount of background research, and certainly not a period where an author who fears to describe spilled blood should go. (Just as well this author fears neither.)

I scent a long and happy relationship for this reader, with the de Guirandes….

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Gray, humour, Lucey, poetry, politics, romance, Thomazine. writing, women

To His Coy Mistress, Some Lines After the Battle New-fought at NASEBY

Why court’st thou death instead of me?
Why, mistress, must thou prove thy worth
By putting all thy foes to flee
Despite the virtues of thy birth?
For lady, spurn me as you must
I know and love thy bravery
That’s never failed to keep thy trust
In th’face of the King’s knavery
Yet may I hope, my mistress gay,
My plea your fair ear reaches:
You dress yourself in fine array
And put on skirts instead of breeches?
I dare not test, lest what I find
Is frailer yet, a bubbled glass
That shatters in a changing wind
Or withers, like the mower’s grass
Yet, lady, your secret’s secure
– As yet is mine: that I am yours.
If you wondered what Luce was writing during A Wilderness of Sin….
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Saturday Scenes – The Battle of Cheriton, 1665

#saturdayscenes, in which we realise that all is not well in the romantic camp of one Thankful Russell and his somewhat clumsy courtship.
And the real Battle of Cheriton did not take place in 1665. Hollie Babbitt, after the Restoration, breeds horses on his farm in Essex. It is a standing joke that all his horses are named after Parliamentarian battles of the Civil War… hence Cheriton is the name of the nervous colt.

My first foray into romantic fiction!

The bay colt stopped ten yards away with his sea-horse head flung up, white-eyed and trembling. Thomazine gave a deep sigh. “He won’t, will he?”
Hollie Babbitt put the hand holding the halter behind his back. “That lad’s not daft, Zee. He knows you’ve got something he wants -” and she smiled wryly, and set the pan holding the last of the oats on top of the gatepost, “- but he’s scared stiff of putting his head in a halter.”
She clasped her hands around the oat-pan. “He’s not going to come to me this time, though, is he?”
It wasn’t a question, and Hollie wasn’t supposed to answer it, but he did anyway, carefully. “If he thinks you’re going to hurt him – no. No, he won’t. He was half way to trusting us, and we scared him off. He’s nervous. He’s unused to being around people, that one.” Wilfully misunderstanding the pronoun, because his daughter wasn’t talking about handling the bay colt, any more than Hollie had been strictly referring to halter-breaking the wary yearling.
Thomazine gave another deep sigh, and the wind lifted her modest plain linen collar, flicking it into the air. The colt jerked back onto his quarters, stiff with panic at the sight of that innocent fluttering corner of white fabric. “I begin to think he is unmanageable,” she said, and she still wasn’t talking about the yearling.
Hollie shrugged, watching the colt’s flickering ears. Anxious, and afraid, and wanting to know what the hell was going on here, and what he was missing out on, and what all the fuss was about, and yet too shy to take those three strides across the spring mud and stick his quivering velvet muzzle in Thomazine’s oat-pan.
Actually, that was not a metaphor he chose to dwell on, given the tenuous nature of the relationship between his innocent young daughter and his former lieutenant of his younger days in the New Model Army.
And actually, she was twenty, and more than of marriageable age should she choose to be, and his erstwhile lieutenant had been a Major under General Monck these ten years and more.
Even so. If Hapless bloody Russell had had his marred nose in Thomazine’s oat-pan, he was going to get taken round the back of the barn and given the hiding of his life –
They’re betrothed, Hollie. Russell might be forty-two, forty-three now, almost. She might be twenty and about as interested in lads as that colt is in learning to dance. She’s only ever been interested in onelad, and well you know it, since she was toddling. And she’s promised to him. What if they have – anticipated matters? You did. Twice, you degenerate ruffian. And you lived in sin with your first wife for many a month, before she finally consented to make it lawful.
The colt was still watching them, wide-eyed. Braced ready to bolt, but screwing his courage to the sticking-post. “Daddy,” Thomazine said, in a small voice, and turned to him.
He had half-expected that she would be crying, and tears had never made Thomazine lovely. Her sister, yes. Joyeux had the knack of dropping her lashes so that tears sparkled on them like dew on long grass, and letting her voice break prettily. Thomazine’s nose turned pink – Thomazine’s nose was pure Babbitt, like her father’s, long and straight and undeniably prominent. It was a very much beloved nose, and if that bloody Russell had done something more than usually stupid to have it turning pink, then the lad was going to unleash the wrath of God on his sorry carcass –
She wasn’t crying. She looked very white and very woeful, and she looked as if she had been crying, not so long ago, but her eyes were quite dry. “Daddy,” she said again, and reached into her bodice and took something out.
It was rolled, and somewhat worn looking, as if someone had been deeply attached to whatever it was, and had unrolled it as often as possible. It wasn’t especially pristine, but that might have been because it had been stuffed untimely down the front of Thomazine’s workaday gown.
She held it out to Hollie.
She held it out very carefully, because it was torn down the middle. Quite neatly, and quite precisely, but torn. He recognised his own handwriting, or part of it at least.
“A bargaine of hand
Russell, and Thomassyn
and as may apeare
howse at Fowre Ashes in -“
“Zee,” he said, carefully. “Zee, lass, that’s your – that’s your betrothal lines. What’s – how come you’ve got them?”
“I told Thankful we should not suit,” she said in a small voice.
“And he tore it up? The -“
“No, daddy.” The corner of her mouth turned up. “I did.”
“Oh dear,” Hollie said feebly. He could think of little else to say. The colt swung his head and looked from one to the other of them.
“I wish I hadn’t.”
“Oh dear,” he said again. She took a step closer to him, and he sighed. He’d have made it better, if he could. He’d always wanted to make it better for his girls. He’d never managed it, for any but this one. Too big, and too clumsy, and he wasn’t deft with making or mending: the least he had been able to manage for his children was bedtime stories of the glory days of the Army, and spit-on handkerchiefs for bloody knees and scraped palms. Thomazine was his firstborn and he’d loved her, with an absolute, astonishing, unconditional wonder, from the first moment he’d set eyes on her comically-cross little face. He’d always been able to make it better for Zee.
And now he couldn’t, because she had chosen her own path, and he might not like it, but it was hers, and he couldn’t walk it for her, any more than he could have guided her first fumbling footsteps across the parlour.
The which he hadn’t done anyway, because she had learned to walk proper holding Thankful Russell’s hands. Russell had been there, and Hollie had not.
He puffed his cheeks out, and the bay colt tossed his head nervously again. He could not put things right between his daughter and Russell. That was hers to mend. Between Zee’s red-haired temper and Russell’s tendency to brood on imagined slights, it would want a deal of mending, if they were to deal together as happily as Hollie had dealt with his Het these last twenty years.
But.

“Bit o’ paste will set all to rights, lass,” he said comfortingly. “Your mother’s skilled with such things. Come on. The lad won’t melt, if we leave him to his own devices another night.”

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