Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Preserving the World in Paint - Women Artists of the Stuart Period

by Deborah Swift

The story of  The Lady’s Slipper is a story about a rare wild flower, but it is also the story of the 17th century artist who wished to capture its unique beauty in paint.

When researching the heroine of my novel I looked to female artists of the seventeenth century, especially those who painted flowers and the natural world. Unsurprisingly not many are documented, but here I give you just a taste of three extraordinary women who really lived, and one imaginary artist who only lives between the pages of my novel. Can you spot the imaginary artist amongst the real ones?

Maria Sybilla Merian (1647-1717)
Maria seemed to be an infant prodigy and Maria’s step-father, who was also a painter, doted on her, predicting that she would increase the fame of the Merian family name; so, apparently, did her half-brothers Matthäus and Caspar, twenty years her senior. She studied flowers, and more importantly - insects, keeping her own live specimens, and often travelling abroad in search of more specimens to draw. In her time, it was very unusual that someone would be genuinely interested in insects, which had a bad reputation and were colloquially called "beasts of the Devil." She described the life cycles of 186 insect species, amassing evidence that contradicted the contemporary notion that insects were "born of mud" by some sort of spontaneous generation.

Just one of Merian’s superb paintings
of pomegranates, insects and butterflies

Alice Ibbetson (1635 - 1701)

Alice was an English watercolourist whose studies of natural forms were some of the earliest annotated studies of medicinal herbs and flowers. Brought up by her botanist father John Ibbetson, who built his renowned Physic Garden with the help of John Tradescant, her work was collected by wealthy patrons including Sir John Fairfax. Unfortunately her early studies of flowers and fruit were lost when Parliamentary troops fired her home during the English Civil War, and the family were forced to flee for their lives. John Ibbetson’s notes survive however, and are much influenced by the herbals of Nicholas Culpeper. Ibbetson’s early life was beset by tragedy, but later she made her home in New Hampshire where she continued to record native medicinal flora, some for the first time.
A page from Alice Ibbetson’s notebook. Her flower
paintings were much admired for their fluidity of line.

Mary Beale (1633 – 1699)

Mary Beale was the first fully professional woman artist in England. Her husband Charles even left his job as a clerk to help Mary prepare her canvases and mix her paints. He experimented with pigments and became an expert in the field. She quickly made enough from the business to support her family, including her sons Bartholomew and Charles (later an admired society miniaturist). While she painted, Charles would write up detailed notebooks in which he customarily referred to his wife as 'Dearest Heart' and described the sittings, the sitters and his own technical discoveries. The majority of his notes have been lost, but those for the years 1677 and 1681 survive in the archives of the Bodleian Library at Oxford and the National Portrait Gallery. His notebook of 1677 details a busy year: 83 commissions, bringing in earnings of £429. During the 1660s, when the plague ravaged London, Beale moved her home and workplace out of the city to the safety of Allbrook Farmhouse.

Nell Gwyl (Nell Gwyn) by Mary Beale. I can definitely see
from this painting why she would attract the notice of the King!

Louise Moillon (1610–1696) was one of seven children. Her father was the landscape and portrait painter Nicolas Moillon, but he died when she was an infant, and her mother when she was only twenty. Her mother’s inventory of possessions included a series of paintings on wooden panels by her daughter Louise, so it would appear that Louise showed talent from an early age. The high esteem in which her work was held is demonstrated by the fact that in 1639 Charles I of England had five still life pieces by the artist, framed in pear wood and ebony. Mouillon’s work was admired for its lifelike quality but also for its restrained stillness.

Bowl of Plums by Louise Moillon


I hope you enjoyed the pictures. An earlier version of this post appeared here in 2010.
Twitter @swiftstory

Monday, June 29, 2015

William Hogarth and The Shrimp Girl

by Catherine Curzon

The Painter and his Pug by William Hogarth, 1745In the history of art and painting, some names have endured for centuries. The chroniclers of their times, their reputations have grown through the years and raised them to the status of icon. Of the many glorious artists who emerged from the Age on Enlightenment, one of the most respected, recognised and influential is the great William Hogarth, English painter, satirist and printmaker. 
His work is instantly recognisable and justifiably celebrated, with series such as the magnificent Marriage A-la-Mode endlessly reproduced and rightly lauded. However, my favourite work by Hogarth is not one of his satirical series nor his portraits of the great and good, but a painting of an unknown and far from illustrious young lady, The Shrimp Girl

Although the work is undated, experts believe that the unfinished oil on canvas dates from the 1740s, and was most likely begun as an experiment in working with different styles of painting. If this date is correct, then Hogarth was already at the peak of the art world. He was an established, hugely successful figure with nothing left to prove and perhaps was searching, as Joshua Reynolds often did, for new styles and techniques to stimulate his own creativity. By the 1740s, Hogarth's sitters paid vast sums to commission paintings, and his works were instantly recognisable, influential and lauded by the most illustrious names in the country. Deeply embedded in contemporary culture, the public flocked to printshops to purchase prints of his works. However, Hogarth wasn't content to rest on his laurels with these successes, and when he painted The Shrimp Girl he was looking to develop a less formal style, experimenting with elements of impressionism and a light, frivolous touch.

The Shrimp Girl by William Hogarth, 174o-45
The Shrimp Girl by William Hogarth, 1740-45
The identity of the woman in the painting is unknown and sadly, no records exist to lend so much as a clue to who she might be. However, one thing we can be sure of is that young women like this would have been familiar sights around the fish markets of the capital where Hogarth took his inspiration. That is not a hat the young lady wears, but a basket balanced atop her head from which she sells fresh shellfish, the pewter tankard used as a half-pint measure to properly portion out the goods. Although he never finished the work, Hogarth kept the painting at home until his death. When his widow, Jane Thornhill, showed it to people after Hogarth had passed away, she told them, "They say he could not paint flesh. There is flesh and blood for you".

In The Shrimp Girl we see a joyously beaming face free of make up, fashion or guile that is at odds with the idealised formal portraits that lined the walls of galleries and fine homes. This painting illustrates a long-lost, anonymous moment of London street life, one of thousands of such moments that occurred every day yet Hogarth has captured it as clearly as a photograph might today, immortalising the unknown, cheerful young woman forever. The Shrimp Girl is not Hogarth's most dramatic work, nor his most magnificent; it tells no satirical tale, not does it present us with an illustrious figure of national importance, but it does show us the everyday face of Hogarth's London and that is why, for me, it is his one of his greatest works.

Hogarth, William (1833). Nichols, JB, (ed). Anecdotes of William Hogarth, Written by Himself. London: J. B. Nichols and Son.


Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. Her first book, Life in the Georgian Court, is available now, and she is also working on An Evening with Jane Austen, starring Adrian Lukis and Caroline Langrishe.

Mistaking her Character by Maria Grace

Maria Grace is giving away an e-book copy of Mistaking her Character. This giveaway ends at midnight, July 5.

For more information about the book please click HERE.

Comment on this post to enter the drawing and be sure to leave a contact email address.

Truth or Myth? Of Hairy-breeched and Boneless Vikings

by Anna Belfrage

Just in case anyone is thinking Vikings is a correct portrayal of dear old Ragnar Lodbrok, I thought it time to set the facts straight. (Not that I care, not with Travis Fimmel to rest my eyes on.) First of all, I thought it might interest you to know that Ragnar Lodbrok in essence means Ragnar Hairy Breeches. Secondly, let us keep in mind that Ragnar, like all ambitious little Viking boys, early on dreamed of becoming rich – very rich even – by stealing from others, a.k.a. raiding. If he was successful enough, he’d be able to buy a farm and retire with a comely wife. Plus, if he was really successful, someone might even raise a runestone over him.

Runestone: I,Berig
CreativeCommons Licence
None of the above ever came true for Ragnar. The runestone thing mainly because Ragnar did not exist outside the sagas (although some say otherwise). The retirement thing because fate had other plans for Ragnar. You see, the Norse sagas are rarely very keen on the Happily Ever After. Such notions are for wimps, not for die-hard warriors like our Scandinavian forebears. No, the sagas are harsh and gritty stories of man pitted against his destiny, with not as much as a whiff of romanticism. Hang on: the sagas DO actually romanticise one thing – the concept of honour, of men who will die rather than betray their own integrity.

These days, things have gone downhill when it comes to honour and integrity – at least here in Sweden, where neutrality rather than integrity has been evoked as a guiding principle in (relatively) recent major conflicts.

Neither here nor there – let’s get back to Ragnar. We have here a young man eager for adventure – and riches. So when he heard of poor Tora Borgarhjort, a pretty maiden whose bower was encircled by a fierce and deadly serpent, he decided to do the right thing and save her, to a large extent motivated by Tora’s father’s promise that whoever killed the monster would wed his daughter and inherit his titles and riches.

We’re talking a huge serpent here, a vile creature that considered Tora its property and defended her from any potential suitor through a combination of fangs and poison. So potent was its poison that it burned holes through garments and human skin, and as a consequence, there was a pile of young dead men at the door of Tora’s bower.

Ragnar was a bright young man. Approaching the serpent obviously required protective gear, which is why he fashioned himself a pair of breeches out of untreated goatskins (ergo the hairy breeches). These he then dipped in pitch and rolled in sand, so that they became more or less impregnable. In these pants and with a spear in hand, he snuck up on the serpent and managed to slay it, thereby gaining Tora’s hand and a jarldom.

I can hear some of you say, "What? Tora? Who's this Tora, and where is Lagertha?" Sorry to tell you that the sagas are not always consistent, so in some Ragnar does wed Lagertha for a short while (after first having killed her tame bear and hound - beasts set upon him as a test by Lagertha) but divorces her to marry Tora, a much better catch seeing as she's a jarl's daughter and Danish - just like Ragnar.

By all accounts, Tora and Ragnar were very happy. Too happy as per the Norns, those rather cold-hearted crones that spin the threads of fate. Which is why they decided to cut Tora’s thread, and Ragnar was left a devastated widower. As any grieving Viking would do, Ragnar set off on a raiding expedition, hoping to dull the constant ache in his heart through violent action and plunder.

Ragnar and his men were in a Norwegian fjord, and Ragnar sent some of his men off the ship to do some baking (and I rather like the resulting picture of self-sufficient Viking warriors with bulging biceps kneading dough). As they were doing their bread thing, the men were distracted by the sudden appearance of a young girl called Kraka. So beautiful was she that the bakers forgot their task, mouths agape as they stared at this female apparition. As a result, the bread was badly burnt, and Ragnar was less than pleased when his men returned to the ship.

"It was Kraka’s fault," the men said, going on to describe this gorgeous creature. Ragnar was intrigued not only by the description, but also by the amusing fact that someone so beautiful should be named Kraka, which means crow. Whatever the case, Ragnar decided it was best if he did some inspecting of his own, but before doing so, he tried to do some research.

In an age devoid of internet, finding out more about Kraka proved difficult for Ragnar. Fortunately for you, dear readers, I do have internet (and books) so I can tell you in confidence that Kraka was really named Aslög, and she was the daughter of Brunhilde and Sigurd Fafnesbane of Wagnerian fame. Now that story of love, betrayal, blood and death is so complicated it would take an entire post to explain it all, so let’s just summarise by saying little Aslög is left an orphan when her parents die, and she is smuggled to safety in a harp (?) by a gentleman named Heimer. When Heimer asks for lodging with a poor couple in Norway, the wife urges her husband to kill their guest as she can see that he is rich, and among his belongings they discover the girl whom they rename Kraka and set to hard work.

Sigurd defeating the dragon
Ragnar got as far as the Sigurd Fafnesbane bit and was very impressed – especially as Sigurd had died like two centuries prior to Ragnar seeing the light of the day, so either Kraka was very old, or there was magic at work. When in doubt, go with magic, and Ragnar found this additional ingredient quite alluring. So he decided to set the young woman a test and invited her to visit him on his ship “neither dressed nor naked, neither hungry nor full, neither alone nor accompanied”. Clearly, my ancestors enjoyed speaking in riddles…

Kraka/Aslög rose to the challenge and appeared swathed in fishnets having eaten a clove of garlic and with a dog at her heels. This, apparently, sufficed to sweep Ragnar off his feet, and he carried Aslög with him back to Denmark where he promptly married her and had many, many children with her.

Together, Aslög and Ragnar had four sons: Ivar Benlös (boneless), Björn Järnsida (ironside), Sigurd Ormöga (serpent's eye) and Vitsärk (white shirt). Ivar Benlös was supposedly afflicted with some sort of disease (in some cases attributed to his parents having had sex before marriage, but I believe this is a later addition, intended to curb the rather relaxed attitude to sex Scandinavian have had since time immemorial), but it doesn’t seem to have hampered his style much, as he and his brothers grew up to be as fierce as their father. So successful were the brothers in their raiding expeditions that people began to mutter that the sons were better warriors than their father. This Ragnar did not like. At all.

In an effort to set things straight, Ragnar launched his own little raiding party – and he was going west, to ransack the lands of King Aella of Northumbria. To really show the world just what a fearsome warrior he was, Ragnar decided to go with only two ships, sufficient, in his opinion, to defeat that milksop of an English king. Aslög begged him not to go, plagued by foresight. When he insisted on going, she gave him a magic shirt, a garment which could not be penetrated by iron. But she was weeping as he left, knowing deep inside she’d never see him again.

Ragnar arrived in England only to crash straight into Aella’s army. Thanks to his shirt, Ragnar survived while one by one his men died, and so he was captured alive and hauled before a smug Aella who demanded to know his name. Ragnar refused to tell him, and so Aella had him thrown into a pit with vipers, there to die a slow, painful and – most distressing for a Viking – ignominious death.

“The piglets will squeal when they hear how the old boar suffered,” Ragnar supposedly said before dying, smiling at the thought of the revenge his sons would wreak on Aella.

The piglets most certainly squealed. As per the saga, the brothers were in their hall when the messenger carrying the tidings of their father’s death reached them. Vitsärk was playing draughts, and squeezed so hard round the piece in his hand that blood began to well. Sigurd was paring his nails and cut himself to the bone. Björn was honing his spear, and tightened his hold on the shaft until it splintered. Ivar calmly asked the messenger to tell them everything. Everything, mind.

The three younger roared and gnashed their teeth together, wanting to set off immediately to kill Aella. Ivar urged caution and stealth.

“Revenge is a dish best eaten cold,” he said, but was overruled. So off the brothers went, with Ivar choosing to distance his ships and men from his revenge-maddened brothers.

Aella was no fool. Upon realising who had died in his snake pit, he knew it was just a matter of time before the sons came, so he’d amassed a sizeable army, big enough to beat back the brothers who turned tail and ran back to their ships. All except Ivar, who decided to visit with Aella and expressed himself willing to accept weregild for his father’s death. Aella was more than happy to oblige, and settled sizeable land on Ivar, who seemingly was content to live in proximity with his father’s murderer. Not...

Over the coming years, Ivar fostered unrest and resentment among Aella’s vassals, and once the kingdom had been sufficiently destabilised, he sent for his brothers. This time, there was no army to defend Aella. This time, he was captured and dragged alive before Ragnar’s four sons. Not for Aella the snake pit, no, Aella was undressed, thrown to the ground with his back bared to the sky, and ever so slowly Ragnar’s sons “carved a blood eagle” on him. This entailed slicing through his back, breaking the ribs and pulling them wide apart to resemble wings, and then pulling the lungs out through the resulting hole. Nice.

The sons returned to Aslög, and she was satisfied that her husband had been adequately avenged. Björn and Sigurd went on to become kings of Sweden and Denmark respectively. As to Ivar, he stayed on in England – as per the saga as king of all England, as per what little facts there are, as the leader of the Viking army that despoiled most of Mercia and East Anglia in the late 9th century.

There is an interesting little add-on to Ragnar’s saga, which refers to Ivar’s final resting place. It is said Ivar ordered his burial mound to be built just at the edge of the sea, prophesising that as long as his bones lay untouched, no one would be able to invade England from the sea. According to this little codicil, “the bastard William” found the mound and had it opened. Upon finding Ivar’s body un-decayed, William ordered a pyre to be built, and only once Ivar’s bones had been reduced to ashes did he proceed with his invasion plans. I’m thinking Ivar would have applauded William – after all, they both had Viking blood, a gift for violence and pillage.

Beware of the Norns!
So, did Ragnar exist in any form? We don’t know, sources from the 9th century being understandably scarce. Some people seem to think there was a historic Ragnar, a Danish Viking of great renown. But for him to be married to a woman whose father slayed a dragon, well, that does seem difficult to believe, doesn’t it? Whether real or not, the story of Ragnar and Aslög is a story of two equals, two people who meet and know immediately they belong together. Maybe it was Aslög seeing the hole of grief in Ragnar's heart. Or maybe it was Ragnar seeing in poor Kraka a woman with the spirit of a lion. Or maybe it was those pesky Norns, thinking it would be fun to twine these two threads together and see what happened. A lot, as it turns out. Enough to build an entire TV series on.


Anna Belfrage is the successful author of eight published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind - two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him.

Anna's books have won several awards and are available on Amazon, or wherever else good books are sold.
For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Lady Protectress: Elizabeth Bourchier Cromwell

by Lauren Gilbert

Elizabeth Bourchier
by Samuel Cooper

Even her date of birth is unclear.  Very little is actually known about the wife of Oliver Cromwell.  Her name was Elizabeth, and she was the daughter of Sir James Bourchier and Frances Crane.  Sir James was a successful London merchant in the fur and leather trades.  He was knighted in July of 1603 by James I and given a grant of arms in 1610.  Elizabeth was born in Felsted, Essex, apparently sometime in 1598, and was one of eleven children, possibly the oldest.  She is believed to have some education.  However, nothing is known of her childhood or girlhood.  For all intents and purposes, she came to life on August 22, 1620 when she married Oliver Cromwell.

There is no indication of when or how they met.  The Bourchiers and the Cromwells were both established in Essex.  There was also a family connection in that Elizabeth’s Aunt Eluzai Crane married Oliver’s Uncle Henry Cromwell.  While it seems likely that they may have met as children (being close to the same age, Oliver born April 25, 1599), it is equally possible that they met in London.  At any rate, they were married in London at St. Giles Cripplegate.  It is known that she had a dowry of 1500 pounds, but not whether their marriage was arranged or an affair of the heart.  The marriage was definitely an advantage for Cromwell, as his father-in-law’s connections in the London merchant community were politically valuable.  

Elizabeth and Oliver began their married life in Huntingdon and began having children.  However their marriage began, it appears that they developed a sincere affection for each other.  At some point later in the 1620’s, Oliver went through a period of depression and illness from which he emerged a devout  and radical Puritan. By 1628, he was Member of Parliament for Huntingdon, a position he held 1628-1629.  King Charles dissolved this Parliament and Parliament did not meet again for 11 years.

Unfortunately, the Cromwells were not successful in Huntingdon.  In 1631, Oliver ended up selling what property he had left in Huntingdon, and he and Elizabeth relocated to St. Ives. There, he rented a farm and supported his wife and children by farming, a significant reduction in status.  The farm produced chickens and sheep, generating eggs and wool which Oliver and his brother sold.  Being a small farmer’s wife cannot have been easy for Elizabeth, especially as the mother of six children (the oldest about ten). 

 This state of affairs lasted for five years, when in 1636 he inherited a house and other significant advantages (including a job as a tithe collector) in Ely from his mother’s brother. At this point, Oliver and Elizabeth had had seven children, five boys and two girls.  The youngest son, Robert, had been born and died in 1632.  Apparently, during this difficult period prior to the inheritance, no more children were born.  It is not known if there were unsuccessful pregnancies, or if there were other causes for the break in the births of children.  At any rate, Oliver and Elizabeth had two more children, both daughters in 1637 and 1638 respectively and, by the end of the 1630’s, the Cromwells had regained their position as gentry.

In 1640, the family was living in Ely.  King Charles called another Parliament and Oliver was returned to Parliament as the member for Cambridge, and the family moved to London.   This particular Parliament became known as the Short Parliament as it lasted only three weeks before the King dissolved it.  However, Parliament was called again later in the year, and Oliver was returned as member for Cambridge.  During this period, Oliver became linked to a group of members of the Houses of Lords and of Commons with a strong reform agenda.  There is no indication that Elizabeth took any sort of active role outside of the positions of wife and mother.  She was very concerned about domestic affairs, and was apparently known throughout her life for her frugality, which I would think had been hard-learned during her family’s years on the farm.

In 1642, the English Civil Wars began.  Oliver raised a troop, had success at Marston Moor, and the rest is history.  He rose to general of Parliament’s army, and seemed to have had an instinct for command despite his lack of military background.  During the war years, He wrote to Elizabeth and she to him.  Two of his letters and one of hers survive, and show their loving relationship and mutual affection.  

King Charles was captured, but would not compromise with the Parliamentarians.  King Charles escape led to the second Civil War, which resulted in his being recaptured, tried and convicted of treason.  King Charles was ultimately executed in 1649 by the Rump Parliament, an act for which Oliver bears significant responsibility (he was a dominant member of the Rump Parliament and signed the warrant).   After the execution, he led the Rump Parliament and exercised power over the short-lived Commonwealth.  Disillusioned with Parliament, he dismissed it April 20, 1653 and ultimately became Lord Protector December 16, 1653.

  As Cromwell rose in power, the family moved to different quarters, reflecting their changing status.  From lodgings adjoining Whitehall Palace, they moved into apartments in the Palace itself in the spring of 1654.  Elizabeth seems to have exercised great discretion, and stayed out of the limelight as much as possible.  There is no record that any member of her family received preferment, and comments about her simplicity and frugality as Lady Protectress would appear to indicate that she did not attempt to appear to shine in a court-like setting.   Personal taste for a simpler life and long habit could have been factors; she may also have wished to avoid any comparison to Charles I’s queen Henrietta Maria.  She did help entertain at state dinners and with the wives and daughters of various dignitaries, but apparently had no formalized role in the Protectorate.

Elizabeth Bourchier Cromwell, 
Lady Protectress of England, Scotland and Ireland 
by Robert Walker, c. 1653

The portrait of Elizabeth as Lady Protectress shows her in a formal black velvet gown with orange lining, and pearls, looking very elegant.  Her important status is clearly shown.  (It must be remembered that black was a stylish colour at the time.)   However, to my mind, it also shows a certain discretion.  There is no diadem, crown or other elaborate ornament on her head, and her hands and wrists are not overloaded with jewels.  Although no longer a simple housewife, this portrait shows Elizabeth as a woman of wealth and rank but not necessarily royalty.  I believe it is an accurate reflection of her position in England at the time: the wife of a powerful, important man who was not a king, in its way a statement as much about her husband’s position as her own.

There was great sadness following the death of daughter Elizabeth Claypole in August of 1658, which exacerbated things.  Oliver died September 3, 1658 at the age of 59 in Whitehall. He apparently suffered from malaria and urinary tract problems. He was buried with great ceremony (based on the burial of James I) at Westminster Abbey.  His daughter had been buried in Westminster Abbey already.  There is no record of how this double blow affected Elizabeth or if she attended his funeral.  She was offered an annuity and lodging in St. James’ House, and son Richard took on the Protectorate.  However, the army refused to follow Richard and his protectorate fell in the spring of 1659.  The army did propose a generous pension for Elizabeth.
Charles II was invited to return as King.  In April of 1660, just before the Restoration, Elizabeth left London.  She was accused of stealing jewels and other possessions belonging to the crown, charges she vigorously denied.  Her whereabouts during this time are not known; however, it appears that her letter to Charles II denying the thefts was written from Wales.  She denied having taken part in Oliver’s regime and promised her obedience as Charles’ subject.   Elizabeth was allowed to take up residence with her widowed son-in-law John Claypole at Northborough Manor in Northamptonshire.

Being out of London meant Elizabeth missed the posthumous trial of her husband, the exhumation of his body (and those of others although daughter Elizabeth’s still remains in Westminster Abbey) and the “execution” which resulted in Oliver’s mummified remains being dragged to Typburn when they hung for the day of Charles I’s death.   Elizabeth lived with her son-in-law until her death.  Like so much else about Elizabeth Bourchier Cromell, the date of her death is not clear.  She supposedly died in November of 1665, and was buried in Northborough Church November 19, 1665.  However, there is an indication that this death date is a blind, put about protect Elizabeth, and an alternative date in October of 1672 is suggested.  There is a memorial tablet at St. Andrew’s Parish Church at Northborough that shows she died in 1665.  As with so many other details of her life, the correct date of her death may never be known.

Sources include:
Find A Grave.  “Elizabeth Bourchier Cromwell.”  http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=44873970

Good Gentlewoman blog.  “Elizabeth Bourchier-Mrs. Oliver Cromwell” posted 6/9/2012. https://goodgentlewoman.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/elizabeth-bourchier-mrs-oliver-cromwell

The Cromwell Association website.  “Cromwell’s Family.”  (c) 2001-2005.  (No author or post date.)  http://www.olivercromwell.org/faqs6.htm .  The letters of Oliver and Elizabeth Cromwell mentioned in this post can also be found on the Cromwell Association site.

Westminster Abbey.  “Oliver Cromwell and Family.”  No author or post date.  http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/people/oliver-cromwell

Wikipedia.  “Elizabeth Cromwell.”  Last modified 6/23/2015.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Cromwell

THE SECRET LIVES OF ROYAL WOMEN True Stories of Queens and Princesses, from the Tudors to the Windsors.  Editors of BBC HISTORY Magazine.  “Elizabeth Cromwell’s Shadowy Queen” by Simon Guerrier.  PP. 82-85.   (c) Immediate Media Company Bristol Limited, 2015.

Elizabeth Bourchier image from Wikimedia Commons: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/Elizabeth_Bourchier.jpg

Elizabeth Bourchier Cromwell image from Wikimedia Commons: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0d/Elizabeth_Cromwell%2C_Her_Highness_the_Protectoress.jpg/480px-Elizabeth_Cromwell%2C_Her_Highness_the_Protectoress.jpg


Lauren Gilbert has always been an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction with a particular interest in English literature and history.  She earned a BA in English Literature and is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America.  Her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel was published in 2011.  Her second, A Rational Attachment, is expected to be released later in 2015.  She lives in Florida with her husband.  Visit her website at www.lauren-gilbert.com

Historical Fiction Awards Given at the Historical Novel Society Conference

by Debra Brown

Besides a choice of Herb roasted Chicken Breast, Grilled Marinated Flat Iron Steak w/Geenchili-chimchurri sauce, or Portabella Mushroom Ravioli, and the company of novelists eager to meet after years of online friendships, the Saturday evening banquet at the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver, Colorado, USA was the setting for the announcement of the winners of two awards.

The first presentation made was to the winner of the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. This first time award honors and memorializes Ms. Bennetts with the goal of making her exceptional work better known. Soon after publication of her novels May 1812 and Of Honest Fame, she became ill with what was to take her life. Her publisher turned the books back to her, and in promoting them on her own she became a friend to us here at the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. M.M. was an editor of our blog's anthology, Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. The idea for an award began with another friend, Terry Kroenig, and we were able to carry it forward. Anna Belfrage presented the award to Greg Taylor for his novel, Lusitania R.E.X.! See Greg's biography. Other finalists were David Blixt and Steve Wiegenstein.

The final presentation was that of the HNS Indie Award 2015. Helen Hollick took on the role of Managing Editor of the HNS Indie Reviews. She had two main goals. First, she wanted to encourage an increase in the quality of Indie and Self-Published historical fiction. To do so the decision was made to review only novels that were properly formatted and presented with a cover design befitting a good book. Secondly, Helen set up an annual award for the best in Indie HistFic with the first accolades given in 2014 to the winner Virginia Cox for The Subtlest Soul and the runner up, A Gift For The Magus by Linda Proud.

Tonight Helen presented the 2015 Indie Awards to Anna Belfrage for Revenge & Retribution! The runners-up were the authors of A Day of Fire.

Congratulations to both winners as well as to all the finalists in both contests. Write on!

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Childe of Hale

by Elizabeth Ashworth

In 1578, John Middleton was born in Hale, on the banks of the River Mersey, not far from Liverpool. He lived with his widowed mother and seemed to be a normal child until he grew and grew until he could only enter the cottage on his hands and knees, and once inside he  could only stand upright under the highest point where the ceiling had to be cut away to accommodate his height. Legend tells that when he went to bed, he was obliged to sleep with his feet hanging out of the upstairs window.

Locals attributed his size to magic and said that it came about because John had drawn the image of a giant in the sand on the riverbank and then fallen asleep within the image. When he woke he had grown to fill the outline and burst out of all his clothes. The real reason was probably that he suffered from a hormonal growth defect.

In 1617, Sir Gilbert Ireland, the Lord of the Manor of Hale decked John out in fine clothes. He wore
a  crimson and white striped doublet with ruffs around his neck and wrists, white breeches with blue flowers, a blue girdle embroidered with gold, green stockings and shoes tied with red ribbons. Sir Gilbert took him to London to challenge King James’ prize fighter to a wrestling bout. Of course John, who was nine feet three inches tall, defeated the king's champion, who suffered a dislocated thumb. Reports say that the king was furious, but he gave John a prize of twenty pounds, a huge sum of money at the time.

On the way back to Hale, the party stopped off at Oxford, where Sir Gilbert had recently graduated from Brasenose College. Here two portraits of John were painted. One of these now hangs in Speke Hall, not far from Liverpool, and the other provides inspiration to the Brasenose College Boat Club whose boat is named The Childe of Hale.

John Middleton died six years after his trip to London, in 1623. For years his bones were kept at Hale Hall as a curiosity, before being given a decent burial. But even then John was not allowed to lie in peace. Arguments and doubts ensued about how big he had really been and his remains were exhumed in 1768, when examination proved that he had been as tall as people claimed. John now rests in the churchyard at the parish church of St Mary. The inscription on the grave reads:"Here lyeth the bodie of John Middleton. Nine foot three. Born A.D. 1578. Dyed A.D. 1623."


The story of The Childe of Hale first appeared in my book Tales of Old Lancashire. I've also written another book about other interesting burials: Lancashire: Who Lies Beneath. I have some copies of this book for £3.99 including postage (UK only) if anyone would like one. Please just leave a message at: elizabethashworthauthor@gmail.com.

Raising the Calf, 1887 and 2015

by p.d.r. lindsay

I had a wonderful topic all sorted for this blog piece. The history of gingerbread, in particular the development of ginger bread from bread crumbs to cake. The eponymous heroine of my novel, Tizzie, spent much of her time in the kitchen and the dairy, and as it was 1887 the methods of making butter, cheeses, baking, and cooking were quite different from the ones I use today. Tizzie’s favourite recipe was for gingerbread. I had my copy of Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management, an 1880s version, all ready, along with Elizabeth David’s excellent book on bread, (from B.C. to today) a 1940s Cordon Bleu recipe book and my grandmother’s family gingerbread recipe from the 1880s. A little history of baking was going to be fun. Or it was.

Then I had a Tizzie week and had to play dairy maid and nurse to my calving heifers. I have a lifestyle block of 12 acres without modern conveniences like electricity outside, modern barns or mechanical aids. Even my house is 19th century and so it’s a hands on place, just as it would have been in 1887. The methods I use are the same as those used in the 19th century.

In my novel Tizzie was the dairymaid and general helper on her brother’s farm. The story begins as Tizzie is learning to remove her rose tinted spectacles, helped by her beloved niece, Agnes, and see that she is actually more a slave than a beloved sister-aunt. But she does love her cows. She hand rears them as calves and gentles them until they are heifers, and she finally helps them through their first calving. Once bonded with their first calf, through Tizzie’s help, she then has a useful and gentle cow for the rest of its life.

Have you any idea of just how much work that actually is? Well, I thought I had a fair idea, having done some of it. I hand raised my heifers from tiny calves. I did this as Tizzie did, as good dairymaids have done since cows became the prime farm animal. The advice is briefly mentioned in the farm manuals. Henry Stephens’s Book of the Farm (first published by Blackwood in 1844 and Hillyard’s Summary of Practical Fanning (1836) make mention of this aspect of dairy work, but Tizzie and her farming community would probably have garnered their information from the many farming journals, newspapers and periodicals published by agricultural societies formed in the 1840s. The Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England would have been too grand for Tizzie but the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s pamphlets and papers would certainly have been available to her. Then there were the local agricultural shows which allowed a sharp eyed dairy maid to compare her cows and calves with others and learn new skills. Like Tizzie I also had knowledge passed to me by experts. Tizzie’s mother and grandmother passed on their knowledge to her as she was now teaching Agnes. I had done brief stints as a student on a dairy farm, but we used milking machines, modern feeding systems and dealt with the milk in a stainless steel dairy. Still calves were always handled carefully. I made pets of mine, fed and groomed them, spent an hour or two each day with them so that I would be able to manage with them full sized, but I only have two heifers not Tizzie’s ten. Her day was full; so was mine during calving time. What a performance, and one which has not changed much from Tizzie’s day.

Littlest heifer, Holly, kindly had her calf early in the morning so that when I went to call the heifers for food she was struggling to deal with this…thing? Imagine being a heifer who nine months previously had had fun with a nice friendly bull which popped into her life for a brief period of 6 or 8 weeks all those months ago. She had forgotten Murphy the Dexter bull, and now his gift to her scared her silly. I spent most of the morning coaxing her to lick the calf dry and let it nudge her udder. The ginger calf, the image of his Dad, knew much more than his Mum and tried to latch into a teat. I found myself stroking the udder, massaging teats and calming the heifer. Just as Tizzie and every dairy maid has done over the centuries. The 1887 Paget Report earnestly recommended the provision of county agricultural schools, something which Sir Charles, Tizzie’s village landlord, was busy trying to implement.The report wanted knowledge like Tizzie’s to be handed on so that people knew the best practices.

Once Holly had accepted her baby I had to separate her from the other heifer, Curiosity, who lived up to her name and kept poking her nose in between calf and mum. Holly would follow me to the shippon (cow shed), but the calf would not. Have you ever tried to pick up a calf? Even new born it weighs far more than you think. I am so pleased I deleted a passage where Tizzie was carrying calves about like bundles of hay. Nervous cows tread all over your feet as Holly did. I had remembered that, and Tizzie had strong boots.

Worse was yet to come. Two days later Curiosity attacked Holly and chased the calf all round the field. Holly dived back into the shippon, and I managed to get the calf in after distracting Curiosity with food. How had Tizzie managed with ten calving around the same time? Poor Curiosity wanted privacy for her calving, hence the chasing off of her companions. Alas, after one hour she was distressed, and I was not Tizzie who could slid a greased arm inside the cow and set the calf right for its birth. The vet came, and together with ropes and chains and a thing like a car jack we hauled one large bull calf into the world. It took two hours of really hard work, me pulling along with the vet. I am ashamed to think I had Tizzie doing a similar though less complex birth more quickly. The vet did assure me that if a calf is turned to present itself properly in the birth canal the cow can usually deliver it herself with just a little gentle tugging. Curiosity’s calf was too big, and she had no hope of delivering it without our help. In the 1880s soft calving ropes were available to tie round the forelegs and head of a stuck calf, but it would have taken two strong men to release a calf the size of Curiosity’s. I cannot find details of this kind of calving to know if they bothered. Tizzie would have tried, but natural selection was allowed to take place so that only the cows capable of easily birthing calves would survive.

Both heifers have now settled into being anxious mums watching over their crazy little calves, and I wish I had added something somewhere in the novel about Tizzie having fun watching the comical antics of day old calves as they skip, hop, leap and chase each other. It’s a sight to make anyone smile.

Why would a farm dairy maid spend so much time and effort on a few calves? Most of those small farms in the Yorkshire Dales ran only three, no more than ten cows. But, like today, calves in 1887 were worth a lot of money. An extract from the 1883 ‘The Leeds Mercury’ newspaper for Monday 22 October has a report on Gunnerside Fair, "There was a large company present and an active business doing at this fair. Calving cows made up to £22, calving heifers £17 to £20, calves from six to ten months old up to £8, two-year-old bullocks £12 to £14…" That was a fair sum of money for a small Dales farm, and many of the small farms were only 30 acres or so. They needed every penny they could make.

Then consider the price of the produce. Again an extract from ‘The Leeds Mercury’ on Monday 7 July, 1884. "Richmond, Saturday:-Butter 1s to 1s 2d per lb; eggs 12 and 13 for 1s;…Swaledale and Wensleydale cheese 80s to 86s per cwt." (s stands for a shilling and d stands for a penny or pence.) Dales farmers needed good and careful dairy maids to earn them top prices for butter, cheese, cream and the milk they sent to the large towns on the new railway. Money, actual cash in hand, was important when most farmers had to buy in hay, and hay prices fluctuated wildly depending on the weather. An extract from ‘The Leeds Mercury’ in 1889. "The price of hay has worked its way up from 4½d to 9d per stone. It costs some of the farmers over 1s per stone and means ruination to many."

When these Victorian Dales hill farms ranged from 30 to 100 plus acres, usually of pasture and meadow land, they could only manage to farm small numbers of animals. One farm of about 110 acres hoped to farm 300 sheep, milk 9 or 10 cows and "bring up a good few young calves." There was great value to a farming family if they had healthy contented calves and cows to sell. There still is today.

The Development of the Victorian Agricultural Textbook by Nicholas Goddard
Department of Geography, Anglia Polytechnic University.

‘The Leeds Mercury’ newspaper
Details: http://leedsmercury.mirfield-2ndlook.info/LMabout.html
Archive access at the site.


p.d.r.lindsay's title Tizzie was a semi-finalist in the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction.

p.d.r. lindsay (no capitals please in tribute to one of her favourite poets, e. e. cummings) makes New Zealand home. Born in Ireland, educated in England, Canada, and New Zealand, and having worked in many different countries, she calls herself a citizen of the world.

As a novelist she prefers writing historical stories about ordinary people, the ones whose names and lives we don't know much about. Major events and political figures, kings and queens are well chronicled in the usual history books. It is how those events affected ordinary people which stimulate her to first reading the diaries and letters of parsons and farmers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, merchants and tradesmen and then finding a way of telling their stories.

When home in New Zealand, p.d.r.lindsay tutors would-be writers and promotes New Zealand novels and their writers, especially the Independent Published writers. Originator and founder member of Writer’s Choice Writer’s Co-operative, she works with her colleagues to publish the best quality fiction, professionally edited and designed, for readers’ enjoyment.

Find p.d.r.lindsay and the Writer’s Choice novels at:
Writer’s Choice

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Battle of Waterloo June 18th 1815

by Richard Denning

The Battle of Waterloo on June 18th, 1815 was the climax to over 20 years of wars that had devastated Europe. It was the moment Napoleon was finally defeated, and it is seen by many as the birth of modern Europe.

Setting the Scene

In my other article on the Battle of Quatre Bras I go into more detail on the origins of this battle. In brief, on returning from exile on Elba Napoloeon had gathered an army of veterans and marched on the combined Anglo Dutch under Wellington and Prussians under Blucher. The allies were positioned in Belgium waiting to attack France. Napoleon did not dance to their tune but attacked them first and drove into the gap between the two allies. On 16th June, at the cross roads of Quatre Bras, the French under Marshall Ney and Anglo Dutch under Wellington were locked into a stalemate battle - neither side being able to send aid to the main battlefield of the day - Ligny. At Ligny Napoleon battered the Prussians and forced them to retreat BUT because Ney had not broken through at Quatres Bras had not had enough troops to crush Blucher.


 On the 17th June Wellington was forced to fall back to the position at Waterloo whilst waiting and hoping that the Prussians would also retreat northwards - keeping in contact and able to aid the British. Blucher did this, and as dusk fell on the 17th the scene was set for the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon was conscious that Blucher might try and rejoin Wellington and sent a third of his army under Grouchy to pursue the Prussians with strict instructions NOT to allow that to happen. Blucher left just 1 corps (a quarter of his force) to hold the French at Wavre whilst the other three set off at once towards Waterloo. Their arrival would be critical, as we shall see.

  The Battle of Waterloo

Hearing that Blucher was marching from the village of Wavre (where the Prussians had reached the night before) Wellington deployed his army on the northern side of a valley near a small Belgian village of Mount St Jean just south of the town of Waterloo. Wellington was a genius at the defensive battle and had seen that this location was perfect. The ridge itself would hide his men and forward of the slope there were three strongholds. On his right wing sat the fortress of Hougoumont. Here he deployed some of his guards companies. Covered by woods to the south (in which he placed light infantry) the Chateaux had tall stone walls and thick gates. In the centre of the position was the fortified farmhouse of La Haye Sainte.  To the left were several connected buildings at Papelotte.

11am. The French Attack Hougoumont


Napoleon opened his attacks by sending Reille's II Corps to assault Hougoumont hoping to draw the British away from their left wing where he had prepared a hammer blow. Intended as a diversion, more and more French forces were drawn into the battle around the fortress which caught fire but never fell.

1pm D'Erlon attacks

Napoleon now sent forward the 16,000 infantry of D'Erlon's I Corps to try and smash through Wellington's left wing. The French attacked in dense columns and the sight must have been terrifying. But the British had seen this before many a time in Spain and calmly stood up in line, levelled muskets and blasted the French Regiments.

  2PM: Uxbridge Charges


With the French regiments in disarray Wellington committed his heavy cavalry under Uxbridge. Thought to be the finest mounted cavalry in Europe, the Heavy cavalry of the Scots Greys and other regiments thundered through the gaps in British regiments and shattered the French. D'Erlon's men ran, and the horses pursued. BUT they now made the mistake British cavalry always did: they went too far. With cries of 'Tally-Ho' - as if they were hunting fox in Leicestershire they found themselves winded and far away from the British lines when the French lancers caught them and destroyed them.

4pm Ney leads the French Cavalry forward

Around 4pm the British, having repelled the French attack, reorganised their lines and pulled back over the ridge. Napoleon was at this moment ill (he had a stomach ulcer) and Ney who was in charge saw this movement and thought Wellington was retreating. He ordered the entire French Cavalry reserve to attack at once. The charge by the French cavalry at Waterloo would have looked terrifying and magnificent at the same time. Initially 5000 horses charged but when they crested the ridge they found the British were NOT retreating but had formed square - the best defence against cavalry. Scattered like a chess board these squares resisted no less than 12 French charges with as many at 9000 Cavalry at once. The British endured and held on.


4pm The Prussians Arrive

The Prussian's finally started to arrive from about 4pm onwards. Napoleon sent his Guard and a reserve Corps to hold them back. To begin with they defended easily, but more and more Prussians arrived, and gradually the French fell back into Plancenoit. That town fell, and the French used the Young Guard to assault it and recapture it. Things were getting desparate though. Napoleon knew he HAD to break Wellington NOW or lose the battle.

7pm The Guard Attack - final throw of the dice.

"Give me night or give me Blucher" - Wellington at Waterloo (There us a dispute about this prayer - maybe he never said it, but he certainly felt it) Napoleon gathered all his resources. He threw forward a heavy attack to take La Haye Sainte. Then vast clouds of skirmishers supported by artillery and cavalry pounded and pulverised the Anglo-Dutch lines who could do little save stand and suffer. Wellington, trusting that the Prussians would fill the hole, abandoned Papelotte and concentrated all his men in the centre of the line. He held on and endured.

Now was the time for the thunder strike.

Napoleon sent forward his Imperial Guard, veterans of many battles, to assault the British between La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont. These were the men who had conquered Europe, and he needed them to do it one more time. They stomped up the ridge towards the British.

But what was this? The ridge seemed empty.

All they could see was a few officers. Was that Wellington up there on his own?

 This was victory ...this was glory! "En Avant. Vive L'Empereur!"

And then one phrase changed everything. One phrase spoken loud and clear by Wellington: Now Maitland. Now's your time!

One authority had him adding Up Guards, ready.

As one the British Guard's Regiment under Maitland rose from where they were kneeling in the grass. They levelled their muskets and fired. The best marksmen in the world now fired devastating volley after volley. The Imperial guard - never before defeated - wavered, fell back and RAN.


With the Middle Guard streaming back from the ridge and the Prussians surging through Plancenoit again, the French morale cracked, and the army started to run. Wellington raised his hat and waved it forward with the words: "The whole line will advance!" The Anglo Dutch and Prussians surged forward, and the French routed, and that was that. Within an area of 2 miles by 2 miles there were 48,000 bodies and the wounded desperately crying for aid.

Wellington and Blucher met at La Belle Alliance
It was Wellington's last battle. It was a bloody and costly battle, but finally Napoleon was defeated.


Richard Denning is a historical fiction author whose main period of interest is the Early Anglo-Saxon Era. His Northern Crown series explores the late 6th and early 7th centuries through the eyes of a young Saxon lord.

Explore the darkest years of the dark ages with Cerdic.


A Most Successful Bigot - of Politics & Religion in 17th Century England

by Anna Belfrage

It is easy to sit on the lofty pinnacle of hindsight and condemn people who have lived long since for being bigoted. I guess there will come a time when the people of the future will sit on their equally lofty pinnacles and laugh softly at us and our stupid mistakes – assuming of course, that there will be a future world with people to build hindsight pinnacles.

This does not mean that our ancestors weren’t bigoted. Of course, they were. But their beliefs and prejudices were the consequences of the world they lived in, which is why it makes little sense to accuse a 16th century man of being a misogynist, or bemoan the lack of strong independent female role models in the 17th century. (Although, in actual fact, there were plenty of strong women in the 17th century – as in all preceding centuries. If not, the human race would have died out long ago…)

Today’s post is about a man I don’t like. And yet, I find him fascinating – plus I can’t help but admire just how adroitly the man shifts his allegiances, managing always to stay ahead in times as tumultuous as those of the 17th century. So, with no more ado, I give you Anthony Ashley Cooper – not always likeable, but always a man true to his own interests, which, of course, is a doubtful quality at best.

Anthony Ashley Cooper
Our hero entered the world in the summer of 1621, into a comfortable life of well-to-do gentry. His father was a Sir John Cooper, but before the age of nine, our Tony was an orphan, left in the tender care of guardians. These guardians would ensure Anthony got a good, Christian education, mostly at the hands of Puritan tutors – something which would affect Anthony’s outlook on life significantly in the future.

A bright and ambitious boy, Tony matriculated at Exeter College in Oxford at the tender age of 15, but was kicked out within the year due to having “fomented a riot”. Tony was destined to go through life fomenting riots of one type or the other, so this early start should not come as a surprise – the fledgling man was merely flexing his wings.

So, no degree at Oxford, and instead Anthony was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, there to study – unsurprisingly – the law. He was probably happy to be able to combine his studies of the temporal with further advancement of the spiritual, and was yet again exposed to Puritan beliefs, this time at the hand of two zealous chaplains.

One could see where this was leading: an intelligent, independently wealthy young man, influenced by the beliefs of the Puritans – wow, we had a Commonwealth man in the making! Except that we didn’t. At 19, young Tony married Margaret Coventry, who came with the obvious advantage of being the daughter of Thomas Coventry, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. No matter his religious preferences, young Tony had thereby entered the royal circle – a good place to be, for a man who had every intention of leaving his mark on the world.

While still a minor, Anthony was elected an MP for Tewkesbury in the Short Parliament. As the name indicates, this was a short parliament – very short, even – and when elections were called for the Long Parliament, Tony was asked not to stand. He did anyway, won the seat, but was blocked from taking it because it was suspected Antony would prove too sympathetic to the king.

Charles I - by divine right
By now, England was already sliding down that very muddy slope leading to Civil War. Charles I had his own ideas as to how to rule, most of them based on the fact that he was king by divine right and therefore had little reason to listen to Parliament. This was not an opinion appreciated by the MPs – or a majority of the landed gentry. But from a genuine desire to rein in the king to actually challenging him on the battlefield, the step was huge. And yet, in 1642, England exploded into war, with our Tony firmly in the royalist camp – despite a strong belief in Parliament as an institution. I guess at the time he believed the king would prevail…

Handsome Maurice
In 1643 he raised his own troop, fought bravely at various battles – and ended up in a major quarrel with Prince Maurice, yet another of the king’s Palatinate nephews, but (deservedly) of much less fame than handsome dashing Prince Rupert. Anthony was miffed, to say the least, and maybe this was why he defected to the Parliamentarian side in 1644. Or maybe Anthony, ever the opportunist, realised how things would end. Whatever the case, our Tony shifted allegiances for the first – but not the last – time in his life.

The Parliamentarians viewed their new recruit with some suspicion – until Anthony explained he just couldn’t stand it, how the Catholics were influencing the king. Well, every good Puritan knew just how evil the papists were, and for a man to attempt to flee their control was totally understandable. This is a first instance of what would become a tiresome chorus in Anthony’s future political life – a deep-seated fear of all those who clung to the Catholic faith.

The war ended. Anthony was probably among those who opposed the regicide of Charles I, but was savvy enough to keep his head down, which resulted in him working closely with the interregnum government. He also found time to replace his dead first wife with a new, nubile little thing named Frances Cecil, with whom he was to experience three years or so of contentment before she died in 1652, leaving him a widower with two toddlers of which only one would survive into adulthood.

Our Anthony had other matters with which to concern himself than the raising of his children. He was an up-and-coming man, forgiven the sin of once having been a royalist, and a member of the Council of State. He had the ear of Oliver Cromwell – even voted for having Cromwell acclaimed as king in 1654 – but remained a firm believer in Parliament as the cornerstone in governing England. When Cromwell showed tendencies to want to rule without Parliament – after all, Cromwell had a huge Army at his disposal – Anthony broke with Cromwell. The man, it seemed, had some backbone, as he would show over the coming years when he opposed several of Cromwell’s proposals.

Tony spent some years out in the cold. The impoverished and exiled Charles Stuart contacted him, promising all sorts of things if Anthony were to re-join the royal camp, but in 1655 only a fool would bet on Charles against Oliver – Cromwell was too powerful and capable to be overthrown by a royalist rabble.

However, Cromwell died sooner than expected. His son was a pathetic failure, and all over the country closet royalists sniffed the air and hoped for change. Ever sensitive to changing moods, Anthony therefore decided to throw his lot in with Charles Stuart – rather late in the day, one would think, seeing as this was 1660, but the new king was grateful and Anthony was created Baron Ashley – after being pardoned for his support of the English Commonwealth.

From Anthony’s perspective, the new king ascended his throne under a huge burden of gratitude towards the Parliament who had invited him to return. Expectations were therefore that Charles II would do little without consulting this august body – but Charles’ advisors had other ideas (as did Charles himself: he may have deplored some of his father’s actions, but wasn’t about to roll over and play dead at the say-so of Parliament)

Charles II - restored
Once the king was happily crowned, Anthony returned to politics with fervour – and a tendency to bite the hand that fed him. He opposed the king’s marriage to Catherine of Braganza, he opposed any policy that moved England in the direction of popish France, and out of principle he opposed anything Charles’ Lord Chancellor, the Earl of Clarendon, might propose.

He was a vociferous opponent of the Clarendon Code – the act of legislation whereby it would be forbidden to adhere to any church other than the Church of England. He even went as far as recommending that not only Protestant non-conformists, but also loyal Catholics (assuming they kept well to the background) should be excluded from penalties. The king agreed; Parliament did not.

In general, for the first few years, Charles found Anthony an able servant. But by 1666 they had their first serious falling out over Irish politics, and in 1667 they clashed again – this time over Clarendon. At the time, Clarendon was out of favour – he had failed miserably in convincing Parliament to deliver to Caesar what Caesar wanted, whether it be money or laws. Charles was angered – and sick and tired of Clarendon’s tendency to treat him as if he were a mindless boy – so he didn’t exactly protest when some of his nobles banded together in an effort to impeach Clarendon.

One would have thought Anthony would have joined the band-wagon, but instead he seemed to take a perverse pleasure in supporting the under-dog – and aggravating the king, especially in view of the fact that Anthony and Clarendon had been at loggerheads for years. Whatever the case, there was no impeachment. Instead, Clarendon was run out of the country.

In Clarendon’s place, the King now relied on the Cabal Ministry, so called because it consisted of the Lords Buckingham, Ashley, Arlington, Lauderdale and Clifford. Not that the Cabal ever really worked together – initially Anthony was in the dog-house for supporting Clarendon, while Buckingham and Arlington were busy tearing at each other.

The Cabal quickly acquired a reputation for lewdness and debauchery. Buckingham, as an example, duelled openly with the husband of his mistress (!), and, even worse, insisted his illegitimate son with said mistress be baptised in Westminster Abbey. Lauderdale was a larger than life character whose behaviour rarely conformed to what was expected of a statesman. Anthony, on the other hand, was a man who rarely gave way to private indulgences, his focus always on the one thing he truly coveted: power.

Anthony Ashley Cooper
In 1672, Anthony was created Earl of Shaftesbury and Lord Chancellor of England. He had reached his pinnacle, and an element of gratitude on his side would not have come amiss. Our Tony did not reason quite like that – he was the most capable man around, and the king was damned lucky to have him. Besides, Anthony wanted more: he wanted an England happily rid of Catholics in position of power and was irritated by the king’s less than enthusiastic reaction to this oh, so important undertaking.

The king, unfortunately in Anthony’s opinion, was married to a Catholic – a barren Catholic to boot. Even worse, Anthony was beginning to suspect that the Duke of York, Charles’ brother and heir apparent, was a closet papist. Not good, as per Anthony.

He wasn’t alone in voicing that opinion. While others proposed the king legitimise his eldest bastard son, the Duke of Monmouth, Anthony instead suggested the king divorce his useless wife and marry a fertile Protestant princess. The king’s saturnine face set in a mask of displeasure at these suggestions. Charles loved his son, but he had no intention of legitimising him, as he saw this as potentially weakening the royal position – plus he had serious doubts as to his son’s ability to rule. And as to his wife, Charles was more than aware of how hurt she was by his constant infidelities. He wasn’t about to add the humiliation of divorce to her heartaches.

Anthony retaliated by supporting the 1673 Test Act, legislation aimed at barring Catholics from holding civil or military offices in England. In brief, the Test Act required that all holders of such office take communion as per Anglian rites at least once a year.

The Duke of York did not take communion. Instead, in September of 1673, the Duke married Catholic Mary of Modena, a pretty fifteen-year-old branded “the Pope’s daughter” by the English. Suddenly, there was a real possibility that the by now openly Catholic Duke might sire a son – a Catholic son who would, in all possibility, inherit the English throne. A catastrophe in the making, in Anthony’s opinion, and for the rest of his life he dedicated a significant part of his talents and energies to attempting to stop the Duke of York from ever becoming king. Obviously, this didn’t exactly endear him to the king.

Useless Catherine...
Nor was the king all that pleased by Anthony’s insistence that he divorce his Catholic wife and remarry, which is why in 1673 he removed Anthony from the post of Lord Chancellor. He may have pulled Anthony’s claws, but not his teeth, and in 1674 an incensed Anthony gave a speech in the House of Lords, warning his peers that the 16 000 Catholics living in London were on the verge of rebellion. Not true, but the speech was well received in these anti-papist times, and the poor Catholics were forcibly expelled from London.

Anthony went further, suggesting to Parliament that any king or prince of the blood who married a Catholic was effectively committing high treason. The king was livid. The Duke of York was apoplectic. Anthony sat back and smirked, fanning the flames of bigotry in Parliament until there was serious intent of accusing the Duke of York of treason. The king prorogued Parliament to protect his brother. Charles also sacked Shaftesbury (Anthony) from all royal offices – the rift between the two was never to be healed.

In 1678, things came to a head. This was the year when that despicable creature Titus Oates rose to prominence by disclosing the Popish Plot. Not that there was any plot – Titus had made it all up – but the resulting furore created just the platform our boy Tony needed. “I will not say who started the Game, but I am sure I had the full hunting of it,” he said. He most certainly did, using Oates’ twisted inventions to purge Parliament of papists and to launch his final effort to permanently bar the Duke of York from the succession, the Exclusion Bill.

Once again, Anthony suggested the king divorce his wife and marry someone younger and fertile. Once again, Monmouth was put forward as a far more palatable heir than the Duke – merely because he was Protestant. Not that Anthony held Monmouth in high regard – he considered the young man vain and spoiled, and initially scoffed at the notion of having a bastard ascend the throne. At the same time, there was something very tempting about the idea of having a king permanently beholden to Parliament for his title – after all, should he not perform, all one had to do was to bring up the bastardy issue.

Anthony underestimated the king. In fact, most of his contemporaries committed the same mistake, failing to recognise that on some issues, this flexible king would not be moved, and these issues included the succession, his refusal to legitimise Monmouth, and his approach to his marriage – divorce was not an option.

Anthony also underestimated his companions. Not all of them wanted to be tethered to a man described by Dryden as “Restless, unfixed in principles and place”. Below Anthony’s feet, the ground began to shift, old loyalties dissolving, new ones forming. The excesses fuelled by the Popish Plot, resulting in the death of innocent men such as Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Ireland, were laid (justly) at Anthony’s feet.

In 1681, Anthony ended up kicking his heels in the Tower – accused of treason. The charges, however, could not be made to stick, and in 1682 he was released, but the mood of the country had changed, the Whig party to which Anthony belonged (he’d more or less founded it) challenged by the emerging Tories.

Feeling isolated and threatened – and still convinced it would be a disaster to the country to have a Catholic king – Anthony urged Monmouth and fellow conspirators to raise the flag of rebellion. The others weren’t all that keen, so instead Anthony began to toy with the idea of assassinating the king – and the Duke of York. Our hitherto intelligent – if bigoted – hero was losing it, finding little support for this radical idea. (A year or so later, in 1683, others would attempt to murder the Stuart brothers in the so called Rye House Plot, but by then Anthony was dead and no longer in a position to care about the English succession.)

By November of 1682, things were becoming sticky for our Tony, which is why he fled the country, seeking refuge in Amsterdam, where he died alone in January of 1683 after an extended illness. I don’t think all that many mourned his loss – least of all the Duke of York.

Anthony Ashley Cooper
Anthony Ashley Cooper was a crass and unsentimental character, quick to jump ship when his personal interests so required, incapable of rising above his religious prejudices. But in some things he was fanciful, such as in his belief that the souls of dead men rose through the skies to animate a distant star, forever tied to heaven’s firmament. If so, his star must be singularly dark, as red as the blood of the poor Catholics he spent a lifetime persecuting. But then, as I said in the beginning, it is easy to claim the moral high-ground from the perspective of three centuries and more. Who knows what any of us would have said or done, had we been born in a time so defined by religious tension and political instability as the 17th century?


Anna Belfrage is the successful author of seven published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind - two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him.

Anna's books have won several awards and are available on Amazon, or wherever else good books are sold.
For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.