Jemahl Evans guest blogs on War History Online


Caerus Press author Jemahl Evans (The Last Roundhead)  is guest blogger on War History Online and will be doing a series of articles this month related to the English Civil War, the background setting for The Last Roundhead (sequel in preparation).

Opening to the article is posted below, with full article on War History :


The English Civil Wars (there were three, involving all the nations of the British Isles) were some of the most destructive conflicts in British history. From the opening shots in 1642 to the execution of the King in 1649, 10% of the adult male population were killed: compare that with 3-4% of the male population in World War 1 and 2% in World War 2. The conflict also laid the foundations of Britain’s modern democracy, securing the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown. Yet, perhaps the most important event in British History is often overlooked beyond caricatures of the two sides as Roundheads and Cavaliers.

Battle of Marston Moor, 1644.
Battle of Marston Moor, 1644.

So, what caused the English Civil War?

When Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558, she was faced with the immediate prospect of a religious war breaking out between Catholics and Protestants in England, and a Royal Exchequer that was nearly bankrupt. Elizabeth defused both situations with her typical aplomb: her religious settlement compromised between the competing factions and worked extremely well for fifty years.

Elizabeth also dealt with her Parliaments with intelligence and man management that politicians of all ages could learn from. Only Parliament could raise new taxes, so all English monarchs were reliant on it to pay for the Royal administration. Elizabeth did not bulldoze Parliament as her father had done, but cajoled, manipulated and schemed to get her own way. In this, she was just as successful as Henry VIII in controlling the nation, and almost always kept the majority in Parliament on her side. Elizabeth wrapped the commons and Lords around her little finger with brutal charm. All done in the face of potential invasion by the first global superpower – Catholic Spain.

The "Darnley Portrait" of Elizabeth I of England
The “Darnley Portrait” of Elizabeth I of England

The victory over the Armada was seen as national salvation and God’s ultimate judgment on the English church, securing Elizabeth’s historical legacy. She may have suffered from unpopularity in her later years, but after her death, the reign would be remembered as a golden age. Elizabeth cast a long shadow over the Stuart kings.

James I had neither his predecessor’s wit nor wisdom and as a foreigner relied, at least initially, on Elizabeth’s administration. This was to prove vital in 1605 when the Gunpowder Plot was exposed. The impact of the plot on the protestant majority of the population was dramatic, heightening a deep sense of distrust with Catholicism in general. Rather than reigniting the papist cause, the failure of the plot finished any real prospects of an English return to Rome. Many expected a protestant backlash, but James was not about to dismantle the Elizabethan settlement that had kept the peace for fifty years. This angered the Puritans – protestant extremists – who wanted the remaining elements of Catholicism in the English church stamped out…


Full Article on War History Online

Faction or Fiction

Gust post by Margaret Callow, author of ‘Rust’,  a Victorian true-crime novelization based on the Murders at Stanfield Hall.


There have been debates before and doubtless more to come about faction and its place in literature. It is clear there are two camps divided on this subject and as someone who writes historical fiction, I should like to venture a few thoughts.

The blend of fact and fiction has been used many times since the beginning of creative writing and the word faction leaves no doubt as to what it alludes to. I like to describe it as a skeleton of fact with fiction providing flesh on the bones. However you describe it, it seems faction has grown in popularity.

Some have argued that historical fiction “contaminates historical understanding,” others put forward the notion that faction is the result of a poor imagination on the part of the novelist. Naturally these claims are vigorously refuted by those who think otherwise.

My interest in social history was fired even more by the discovery that my great, great grandmother was a pauper inmate in an Union workhouse in 1900. It was when I was reading the names on the Register for that time that I thought how many stories were waiting to be told. It was then, I decided it was important to me to give people who had gone before a voice so that maybe they would finally be acknowledged.

Whilst the likes of Wat Tyler, George Loveless and Robert Kett are remembered in history as men who led risings in England which gave us some of the freedoms which we enjoy today, it was surely the support and sacrifice of ordinary folk who walked with them and fought with them which made victory possible.

However some point out there are pitfalls in writing historical fiction particularly if the novelist is presenting a major historical character for the reader has no idea what is known facts and what is the product of the writer’s imagination. Some have observed that a novelist strays into “dangerous territory” when they fictionalize real people however imaginative their creation might be.

None of this was in my mind when I wrote the first of my trilogy. What has occurred to me since is that historical fiction set further back in our past makes the issue less pressing if only because of the lack of accurate material. Here diligent research is key, but finding relevant accounts of the period is still not without problems as I found with two of my books set in 1381 and 1450 where facts were few and filling in the blanks relied on considerable amounts of imagination.

Perhaps it is important to change the names of the real historical characters so that the reader is left in no doubt that the version they are reading is simply not reality. Would this not also give the writer the freedom to take the reader on a bolder journey without any fear. Certainly one could go places out of bounds for historians.

So that brings me to my historical crime novel ‘Rust’ which is due for release on March 19th by Holland House Books. Although it is based on a true story, I have made a point of using fictitious names. Whilst the dreadful murders appalled people far away from Norfolk, it is essentially a crime of the county and especially in and around the city of Norwich in 1848.

This means there are likely to be descendants of the families involved still living in the area. I was anxious not to cause any concern or offence particularly since in places the narrative is much imagined! However it can work both ways and as if to underline my decision, I did in fact receive a letter whilst I was writing the book. A local lady wrote to tell me her family was once in possession of a certain mask attributed to the murderer andthis had led them to believe he was a highwayman. She had heard I was writing the story and was much amused when I told her the man in question was not quite who they thought he was. The mask had been presented to Norwich Castle museum some years ago.

Yes, all historical facts must be meticulously researched, but if both the writing and narrative are good and you can offer your reader the very best of an historical adventure which is fast paced and vivid, what more could anyone want? After all, Hilary Mantel, C.C. Humphreys and Phillipa Gregory have all done a great job with historical fact which is generously laced with fiction. So it is here that I leave you to ponder. . .

Thank you.


Margaret Callow.


Radicals and Reactionaries – The making of modern Britain

It shattered a unified society forever; ever since then we have had essentially some kind of two party system. The division of Roundhead and Cavalier got perpetuated in many ways into Whig and Tory, Liberal and Conservative, Conservative and Socialist. (Prof Ronald Hutton)

Hutton’s words on the English Civil War emphasise the long shadow that it has cast. Even today, modern Britain is defined by the political divisions of the English Civil War – the radical revolutionaries and conservative (with a small c) reactionaries. The leaders of our two main political parties (at the time of writing Jeremy Corbyn is favourite for the Labour Leadership) demonstrate the point.

David Cameron: Eton educated, related to the Queen, the latest politician in a family line that stretches back to the Seventeenth Century. Cameron’s eight times great grandfather was Sir Robert Sawyer; Attorney General and Speaker of the House after the Restoration. Robert Sawyer’s father Sir Edmund was expelled from the House of Commons in 1628, and declared unfit to ever return, after pressuring witnesses to lie to a committee of the House. He had been involved in raising extra, illegal, taxes for the King. He later persuaded King Charles I to indemnify him against prosecution after swindling a widow out of £500 (About £120,000 in today’s terms).

Jeremy Corbyn’s family lineage may not be so, shall we say illustrious? However, today he is as much a part of the revolutionary radicalism born in the 1640s, as Cameron is of the conservative reactionary. Corbyn’s parents, a maths teacher and electrical engineer, were peace campaigners that met during the Spanish Civil War. Corbyn’s own political history as a trade unionist, socialist, supporter of CND, and Stop The War Coalition is very much in the grand tradition of the Left in British politics, if not always as radical as some might think.

The radicalism of the English Civil War that fired the ideals of Levellers like John Lillburne, overthrew the monarchy, and also threatened Cromwell’s dictatorship, seemed extinguished in 1660. The widespread relief that accompanied Charles II early years earned him the moniker Merry with some justification – just ask Nell Gwyn. Charles (with more political nous than his father ever managed) was careful with his early Parliaments, and benefited from the overwhelmingly Royalist makeup of the members. His second Parliament was known as the Cavalier Parliament and lasted from 1661 – 1679; the longest in our history that actually sat. The Long Parliament only lasted from 1640 – 1648, although it made a comeback to dissolve itself and bring back the King in 1659 – 60.

Charles II was not so lucky with his later Parliaments. His suspected Catholic sentiments, and his brother’s open conversion to Catholicism in 1673, reignited the embers of puritan radicalism. In 1679, Charles saw Parliament introduce the Habeas Corpus Act, to enshrine the law against arbitrary imprisonment. The fear of an over mighty Catholic King terrified the Protestant commons. Charles’ lack of legitimate heirs, his brother James’ likely ascension to the throne, and the example of Louis XIV across the channel in France, brought back the ‘Good Old Cause’ against monarchist tyranny.

The atmosphere was whipped into a frenzy by the fabricated Popish Plot, and subsequent Exclusion Crisis, where successive Parliaments tried to remove James from the line of succession. It was in the divisions of the 1680s that the two parties took the names Whig and Tory, that would dominate the next century and a half of British Politics. Tory from the Gaelic, originally meaning bandit, and Whig from the Scots Whigamoor, meaning cattle driver. The attempt to exclude James failed in the face of Royal power. Charles merely dissolved Parliament and borrowed money from his cousin Louis XIV (an option not open to his father in the 1640s). James Duke of York was crowned King in 1685, but the battle lines had been drawn.

As James II, he showed all his father’s cunning and political vision. He was deposed in 1689 by the Whigs, and deserted by his most faithful supporters (including Winston Spencer Churchill’s ancestor John Churchill; the future Duke of Marlborough and victor of Blenheim). James fled the country, and in a fit of petulance threw the Great Seal into the Thames to stop Government business. Parliament simply had a new one made, and invited the Dutch William of Orange to be king – with conditions. William, and later Queen Anne, were careful to include both Tory and Whig in their governments (although Anne would lean to Tory in her later years). The Hanoverians were different, always associating the Tories with the failed Stuart cause. The Tory party would remain out of power from 1715 until 1774, and Lord North’s disastrous government.

The Whig ascendancy accompanied one of the most rapid periods of technological and social change in Britain. New farming methods saw the end of famine, and involvement in the slave trade and colonies saw wealth pouring into Britain at an undreamed rate. There is a dark irony that capital which would fund the Industrial Revolution, and drive the radical movements of the nineteenth century that opposed it, was gained at the expense of African slaves under ‘radical’ Whiggish direction.

English radicalism had by then been exported. The cry of no taxation without representation, would have been recognised by the protestors against Ship Money in the 1630s. The revolution in the American colonies was countered by a conservative reaction in Britain.  In opposition, Charles Fox the great Whig orator, would speak out in favour of the American cause and later The French Revolution. Such a position was not popular, as The French Revolution descended into the chaos of The Terror and then Bonaparte’s dictatorship. The Tory party was re-elected, almost continuously, from the 1770s onwards with the aim of suppressing any hint of revolution at home.

During the Napoleonic Wars (as in the carnage of World War 2) political radicalism was buried in the national interest. Napoleon cast as great a threat to European peace and stability as Nazi Germany would. Afterwards, in spite of the governments best attempts, changing social conditions of the early industrial period caused the pendulum to swing back once again. In 1830, the Whigs were finally returned to power. They completed the abolition of slavery and began a process of extending the franchise with the 1832 Reform Act.

The Peterloo Massacre, Tolpuddle Martyrs, Chartists, Newport Rising, Rebecca Riots; a list of battles between the Left and Right of British politics. The terms Left and Right were born in the positions the delegates in the National Assembly had taken during the French Revolution, but soon attached to the newly named Conservative and Liberal parties in Britain. During the second half of the Nineteenth Century, the two parties swapped power more regularly. The ‘radical’ Liberals periodically extending the franchise, just a pinch, in the face of ‘reactionary’ Conservative attempts to retain the status quo.

There was of course one notable exception to that process in Benjamin Disraeli, who, despite his adherence to the Conservative Party, was more in the radical reforming tradition of his opponents. Disraeli brought in laws that protected industrial workers, allowed for peaceful picketing, and extended the franchise even further. Such was the impact of Disraeli’s changes, that Liberal/Labour MP Alexander Macdonald remarked in 1879: The Conservative Party have done more for the working classes in five years than the Liberals have in fifty. Disraeli’s concept of One Nation Conservatism would dominate the thinking on the right of British Politics until the 1970s.

At the end of the Nineteenth Century, Labour was the new insurgency on the Left. The slow reform process that had defined Liberalism, was challenged on its own ground by the growth of radical Labour. The Liberals were dragged to the left in their last government, bringing in Old Age Pensions, Sick Pay, Labour Exchanges, Free School Meals and National Insurance with support from the few Labour MPs in the House. Conservative reaction was extreme, culminating in the 1910 budget crisis, and only ending when the King filled the House of Lords with Liberal peers. The Parliament Act 1911, was brought in to stop the conservative Lords ever challenging the supremacy of the Commons again. It was the Liberals last hurrah as a radical force in British politics.

The explosion of World War One, and the impact of the Russian Revolution, both invigorated discredited the radicalism of the Left, just as the French Revolution had done to the Whigs a century before. David Lloyd George, the radical of 1906, was kept in power by Tory support to maintain the status quo. This he did with aplomb, handing out titles like confetti to his friends and donors, and failing in his promise to deliver a land fit for heroes.

The interwar years were dominated by conservative governments, determined that the red menace would not succeed in Britain, and Labour failed to establish a clear mandate to rule. The nine day General Strike in 1926 and the forged Zinoviev letter appalled the middle classes, so vital to revolution in the 1640s and the Liberal reformers of 1906. Even Ramsay Macdonald – the first Labour Prime Minister – deserted his radicalism in the face of the Great Depression, remaining in power only with Tory support and imposing crushing austerity.

War, as Trotsky said, is the locomotive of history. By 1945, two world wars had transformed British society. The post-war Labour government led by Clement Atlee was one of the most radical in our history, establishing a political consensus that would last thirty years. A massive rebuilding programme, the NHS, and nationalisation of essential services; all defined the social change that continued in the white heat of technology until the end of the 1960s.

Like Benjamin Disraeli a century before, Margaret Thatcher was a radical reformer more in the tradition of John Lillburne or even Atlee. First, she challenged Disraeli’s concept of One Nation Conservatism, then the established social consensus was ripped apart by her governments of the 1980s and 90s. In opposition to that change was the potential new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. His vision of Social Democracy, that seems so radical to some today, was the post-war consensus that Thatcher destroyed.

Still the pendulum swings and History rhymes if it does not repeat. Tony Blair’s New Labour accepted the Thatcherite vision of society, just as Macmillan’s Conservatives adhered to the post-war consensus. The financial crisis of the 1630s and 40s gave birth to the idea of radical reform in society; the financial crisis since 2008 has seen the rise of their successors in British politics. The SNP, The Green Party, and the enthusiasm in the Labour membership (if not the Parliamentary Party) for Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas, even UKIP; all point to a periodic radical shift in British politics that has happened every thirty years or so since the English Civil War.


Jemahl Evans is the author of The Last Roundhead published by Holland House Books. He started writing The Last Roundhead in 2013 and early revisions won awards on the British Arts Council site YouWriteOn and Harper Collins Authonomy. The novel was released in August 2015 and nominated as one of Netgalley’s top ten UK books of the month. His interest in the English Civil War was sparked as a child after reading Simon by Rosemary Sutcliff, which is probably why his sympathies lie with Parliament! You can follow him on Twitter @Temulkar


Review from The Historical Novel Society

Historical fiction writing: A Sulphurous Spirit.

hogarth hubridas Front web

“…the research is impeccable and the writing full of verve” Antonia Senior, The Times

Lucy Hay features considerably in the Last Roundhead; this short piece by Jemahl Evans highlights the career of the

‘real Lady de Winter’.


Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle (1599 – 1660)


A woman who had committed many crimes with the spirit of a man …… Her desires were so ardent that she oftener made advances to the other sex than waited for solicitation. She had frequently, before this period, forfeited her word, forsworn debts, been privy to murder, and hurried into the utmost excesses by her extravagance and poverty. But her abilities were by no means despicable; she could compose verses, jest, and join in conversation either modest, tender, or licentious. In a word, she was distinguished by much refinement of wit, and much grace of expression.

Sallust’s description of Sempronia sister of the Gracchi was well known in the Seventeenth Century. Ben Jonson had published the play ‘Catilline, His Conspiracy,’ that portrayed the scheming Sempronia at the heart the Roman Republic. During the English Civil War, it was a moniker attached to one of the great plotters of the age – Lucy Hay the Countess of Carlisle.

Born in 1599 to Henry Percy the 9th Earl of Northumberland, Lucy saw her father imprisoned for association with the Gunpowder Plotters. The Earl spent seventeen years in the Tower in relative comfort, but insisted on his daughter living with him. At the age of seventeen, Lucy – already renowned as a beauty – became involved with Sir James Hay. Despite her father’s disapproval, and attempts to stop the marriage, Lucy married Hay in 1617.

Hay was a favourite of both James I and his son Charles, and used as an ambassador to various European courts, leaving his young wife at home. By 1622, Hay was made Earl, but the marriage was not successful in producing children, nor it seems particularly happy. Lucy was made Lady of the Bedchamber to the new queen Henrietta Maria in 1626 and was soon firmly ensconced as the Queen’s favourite. The prim and proper Henrietta Maria was fascinated and scandalised by Lucy’s wit and behaviour. Lucy became the Duke of Buckingham’s mistress, and it is here that her name first becomes attached to fiction.

Buckingham’s affair with the Queen of France led to the theft of the Queen’s diamond necklace. The culprit was alleged to be Lucy Hay. The French writer François de La Rochefoucauld who knew all three of the protagonists, Buckingham, Lucy, and Anne of Austria recorded the story in his notes. Later, Alexander Dumas would use La Rochefoucauld’s revelations for the plot of his novel The Three Musketeers, and Lucy Hay as the basis of Milady D’Winter – one of the great femme fatales of literature.

Lucy had by now also become the muse for Caroline poets. Sir John Suckling’s risqué, sexually charged poem Upon My Lady Carlisle’s Walking portrays her at the height  of her beauty and fame.

In spite of masks and hoods descry
The parts denied unto the eye.
I was undoing all she wore,
And had she walked but one turn more,
Eve in her first state had not been
More naked or more plainly seen.

When James Hay died in 1638 he left Lucy as an extremely wealthy influential  widow. She quickly became embroiled in a torrid affair with the King’s most important advisor – the Earl of Strafford. As Strafford became an object of hate for the Puritan faction in Parliament, Lucy schemed tirelessly on his behalf. The King’s betrayal of Strafford and the Earl’s impeachment and execution in 1641 saw her turn against the royal couple with a vengeance.

Her next step has left historians perplexed for centuries. She became John Pym’s mistress. Pym the architect of Strafford’s execution now took Strafford’s place in her bed. As the crisis of the January 1642 reached a head, Lucy was passing intelligence from the Queen’s household to Pym and the other leaders of the Puritans. When Charles set out to arrest the five members, they were already forewarned, most probably by the Countess. Charles failure to arrest the five members, and subsequent flight from London set the nation on course for Civil War.

Pym’s death in the autumn of 1643 and the rise of the Independents saw Lucy’s influence with the Parliamentary faction wane. She drifted back towards the peace party, involving herself in numerous plots and schemes – none of which were successful. During the second civil war, she sided with  the Presbyterian faction, pawning her jewels and maintaining correspondence on the King’s behalf. She was finally arrested in March 1649 and threatened with the rack. After her release from the Tower, Lucy – by now in her fifties and in declining health and influence – retired to her house in London. She died there not long after the Restoration.

Lucy Hay

Historical Fiction Writing: England’s Don Quixote

Sir Samuel Luke

by Jemahl Evans



Sir Samuel Luke(1603 -1670) – Parliament’s Scoutmaster General.

He was in LOGIC a great critic,

Profoundly skill’d in analytic;

He could distinguish, and divide

A hair ‘twixt south, and south-west side:

On either which he would dispute,

Confute, change hands, and still confute,

He’d undertake to prove, by force

Of argument, a man’s no horse;

He’d prove a buzzard is no fowl,

And that a lord may be an owl,

A calf an alderman, a goose a justice

And rooks Committee-men and Trustees.

He’d run in debt by disputation,

And pay with ratiocination.

Samuel Butler’s words in the first canto of Hudibras describe the protagonist as a pernickety argumentative and ever so ridiculous character. It is of course a fiction, and a grave disservice to the man Butler based his poem on – Sir Samuel Luke of Woodend, Cople (1603 – 1670). What made the caricature worse was Butler’s betrayal of a former benefactor. Hudibras was a cruel repudiation of Butler’s own Civil War career. As Luke’s secretary in the First Civil War, Butler had served Parliament’s cause dutifully.

Luke was born into a prominent Buckinghamshire family. His father Oliver was a Member of Parliament and influential Presbyterian and the family owned a manor near Cople. He was famously short – Royalist newsbooks would taunt him as a dwarf – but this seemingly did not stop him progressing in society. He married in 1624, and was father to numerous young children at the outbreak of the Civil War.

In 1642, he was MP for Bedford and a prominent opponent of the King. He raised a troop of Horse and fought in Fielding’s Regiment at Edgehill, with some distinction. It was away from the field of battle that Luke would make his greatest contribution to Parliament’s cause. In January 1643 he was appointed Scoutmaster General to the Earl of Essex, and voted funds to create a special group of scouts to feed the army’s intelligence efforts.

Luke left a wonderful historical record of his intelligence efforts. His letter-book and journal are filled with the work of his scouts, the news they brought, and the shadow war being fought by agents and spies on both sides. He was present at Chalgrove Field when John Hampden received a mortal wound, and later followed the Earl of Essex to the relief of Gloucester, and First Battle of Newbury.

In 1644 he was made Governor of Newport Pagnell – a vital roundhead outpost – and worked closely with Cromwell and the Eastern Association as well as continuing his intelligence operations. One luminary who served under him in the garrison there, was Oliver Cromwell’s eldest son. Another was John Bunyan, who far from being the radical evangelist, was renowned in the garrison as a foul-mouthed trouble maker.

Luke was an important element of the Parliamentry war machine, and his intelligence was vital in the build up to the Battle of Naesby. Like Cromwell, and a few others, he initially had his appointment prolonged – despite the Self Denying Ordinance barring politicians from military command. However, the creation of the New Model Army, and the growing power of the Independent faction led to his resignation and he retired to Cople in the summer of 1645.

Much of the next two years was spent petitioning Parliament for costs incurred as governor in Newport. At the outbreak of the Second Civil War, he supported the Presbyterian faction but took no active role – he knew Cromwell’s ability too well to stand against him. Luke was arrested and excluded from Parliament in Pride’s Purge, but was swiftly released.

He lived quietly until the Restoration, when he was again elected for Bedford, but his later years were undistinguished. Butler, his secretary during the 43-45 period, published his attack in 1662 and it became fantastically popular. Not everyone liked it; Samuel Pepys tried twice to read the poem, but found nothing humorous in it. Hudibras was a quite vindictive and bitter character assassination – and successful. Butler transformed one of Parliament’s most pragmatic, intelligent, and successful officers into England’s Don Quixote. Luke’s reputation has never quite been redeemed. Despite the wealth of information he left us, beyond historians of the period, Luke is barely mentioned in connection with the Civil War.

What Samuel Luke himself thought of Butler’s poem he did not record. Perhaps, with the razor sharp intelligence he shows in his war letters, he understood the-times-they-were-a-changin’. He, like many old Roundheads faced with the restoration, retired to his estates and from public life, living quietly until his death in 1670.


‘Yes, he looks enough like my sister, that I would know him in a room of strangers. Though it would make her weep to see a child of hers in such a state,’ said the short man.

I blinked as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom. The man who had spoken was lean and grey haired, with what can only be described as a beak of a nose. He was dressed in a fine black doublet with high white collar.

‘Uncle Samuel?’

He really was tiny but perfectly formed. I wondered if he knew my father called him a dwarf.[i] Blake came into the room behind me, closing the doors, making it even darker.

(The Last Roundhead, by Jemahl Evans)

[i] Sir Samuel Luke of Cople (1603 – 1670)  was famously short and described in the Royalist press as a ‘deformed hunchback’, or a, ‘grotesque’. Blandford makes no mention of any deformity and his description tallies with non-Royalist sources, and two surviving pictures in the National Portrait Gallery. Luke and his father were prominent members of the Presbyterian faction in Parliament. He has long been identified as the character of Sir Marmaluke in Samuel Butler’s poem Hubridas. The poem was similar in structure to Don Quixote, on which it was based, but was far more personal and vindictive in its attack on Puritanism, and Luke in particular. It was fabulously popular in its time and Butler’s metre was praised by Blandford’s later neighbour Alexander Pope. Blandford has already identified himself as Sir Marmaluke’s dim-witted squire Ralpho, although, Butler’s portrayal of him as a dogmatic puritan seems somewhat wide of the mark.


Samuel Luke

Historical Fiction Writing: Fact and Fiction and the English Civil War

 (Continuing a series of posts by various authors on various aspects of historical fiction, whether research, writing or a favourite read)

 Fact and Fiction and the English Civil War

by Jemahl Evans

hogarth hubridas Front web

The Last Roundhead is a work of fiction, but it is based on meticulous research. The protagonist, Sir Blandford Candy, was inspired by the records and a dash of 1930s satire. Blandford’s fictional descendant Clive Candy (Colonel Blimp) was created by the cartoonist David Low in the 30s. The later satirical film ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,’ starring Roger Livesey and Deborah Kerr, was hated by Churchill, and attacked for pro-German (if anti-Nazi) sentiment during the Second World War. The real Candy family hailed from Frome in Somerset, and were involved in the cloth trade. One of Blandford’s cousins, was the first Candy (or perhaps the second) in America in the 1680s. The name Candy itself seems to have come to England during the Norman Conquest as a variation of Conde.

All of Blandford’s grandparents existed, most prominently on his Luke side. Blandford’s mother Elizabeth was the daughter of Oliver Luke, but little else is known of her. Like so many in history, she left only a name to mark her time on earth. The Luke’s were a prominent Buckinghamshire family with a large manor at Woodend in Cople. Oliver Luke’s wife Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir Valentine Knightly. Their daughter’s marriage to the ‘charming’ Christopher Candy is an invention, but such matches were not unusual. The period saw the growing strength and wealth of the gentry class, and even a family that had made their money from trade, could aspire to a good marriage and a seat in Parliament.

The Last Roundhead is populated with such people; even minor characters owe their part to historical record. Where possible, and especially for major historical figures, the words they speak are the ones written down in the sources. Blandford’s fellow scouts were detailed in Samuel Luke’s journal, along with their activities as intelligencers. William Everard would become the most famous when, along with Gerard Winstanley, he founded the Digger Movement.  John Hurry’s chequered career shocked even his contemporaries, whilst Anne Crosse, Margaret Cavendish, Jane Whorwood and Lucy Hay show the growing influence of women in a patriarchal society.

Many of Blandford’s actions in the novel were carried out by unnamed individuals, and in this respect Blandford is a composite of those unknown men. Similarly, the battles and skirmishes Blandford describes were well documented at the time. Edgehill, Turnham Green, Reading and Chalgrove were all reported in the newsbooks and described in letters. Blandford’s focus was the army under Essex, and the actions of his troop at Edgehill and Chalgrove in particular are recorded. The battlefields at Turnham Green and Chalgrove have been obscured by four hundred years of building, and the trench works that surrounded London and Reading are long lost, although some remnants exist in the gardens of the Imperial War Museum. Caversham Bridge was replaced in the 18th Century, but Staverton Bridge is much as Blandford describes it. The battlefield at Kineton is mostly unchanged, although some MOD buildings impinge on the Parliamentarian positions and access is difficult. The view from the Edgehill escarpment down into the vale is, however, spectacular and must have been even more so in October 1643.

Other places written about existed, and can still be visited today. The Spotted Cow (now The Turf Tavern) in Oxford is the venue where former US president Bill Clinton ‘did not inhale.’ The Devil’s Tavern or Pelican in Wapping, is now called the Prospect of Whitby, and lays claim to being the oldest riverside pub in London. The Prospect’s former clientele include the infamous Captain Kidd and Hanging Judge Jefferies. This author can vouch for its wonderful selection of cask ales and great food! The Ship Inn at Beaconsfield and its grisly collection of heads were documented. The pub changed its name at the restoration to the Royal Standard of England and is still open today.

The Great Hall of Christ Church is in use at Oxford University, although it is probably better known as the refectory of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movie franchise. Somerset House is along the Thames in London, but has been dramatically. The old Tudor building was rebuilt in the eighteenth century, but Syon House in Brentford is as spectacular as ever, still owned by the Percys, and well worth a visit on a sunny day. Alexander Pope’s house was pulled down, but the grotto can be visited by special arrangement during the Twickenham festival in June.

Fire, slum clearances, and finally the Blitz would make London unrecognisable to a 17th Century visitor. Little remains of the old city apart from street names. The Fleet River now flows under Londoners’ feet, and the Phoenix Theatre was destroyed in the Great Fire. The wooden tenements and crowded narrow streets that Blandford describes went the same way. St Paul’s Cathedral was of course rebuilt by Christopher Wren, and the Thames, once thronging with traffic, now hosts only houseboats and pleasure cruisers. The Tower remains, still watching over London after nearly a millennium. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country and houses collections of royal jewellery alongside the weapons used during the civil war period. It is a great day out for anyone interested in the period.


The Last Roundhead is now available from all major retailers

Historical Fiction Writing: They Said It Couldn’t Be Done

As we draw closer to the publication of our first title, The Last Roundhead, Caerus Press is hosting a series of essays, articles and more relating to various aspects of history: whether fiction writing, research,factual narrative, favourite authors and books, or art, architecture, socio-politcal changes and so on.

Starting with Marlene Lee (Rebecca’s Road, The Absent Woman, Scoville), who explores the adventure of research when writing the biography of Agnes Smedley:

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done

By Marlene Lee

“You can’t just drive to San Diego on the spur of the moment and expect to learn anything,” said two friends when I described my impulse to turn the weekend into a spontaneous research trip. “You have to call ahead, locate materials, reserve time in rare book rooms, look at old photographs.”

“I’ll take a chance,” I said, and left Orange County, California for San Diego before daylight. Stopping for coffee in a town off the freeway, I made a wrong turn and got lost.  My friends are right, I thought.  I should have made plans. I can’t even find San Diego.

Anyway, the school where Agnes Smedley had taught business and typing from 1914 to 1916, almost a century earlier, would be gone. No one now living would remember it.

“Old Town,” said a freeway exit sign as I approached San Diego. Since “Old” was what I was looking for, I followed the off-ramp to a crooked street where I saw an old man walking an old dog.

“Excuse me, sir,” I called through the open car window. “Do you know where I can find the old normal school campus?”

The dog lay down in the grass beside the sidewalk. Dropping the leash, the old man came closer. “Normal, you say?” Reviewing the past century, his rheumy eyes rested on the redundant leash; that dog was never going to run again. “There’s a Normal Avenue about a mile up ahead,” he said.

Normal Avenue! Probably named after the teachers’ normal school! I might be in the right place after all!

When I first met Agnes Smedley in the biography section of a small library in Washington State, she’d caught my attention, like an unplanned glance in a mirror. I’d read everything I could find about her and her world. In fact, my historical novel was a way of trying to be Agnes Smedley. I’d already followed her footsteps to her birthplace, Sullivan County, Missouri; to the mines in Colorado where her father found work; to New York City where she was politically radicalized; to Germany, Denmark, and China. But I hadn’t been to San Diego where, as a young woman, she’d taught in the teachers’ normal school.

The crooked street finally emptied into Normal Avenue, just as the old man had said. By now it was nine o’clock in the morning and the sun was bathing both sides of the avenue in nostalgic pink. I approached a complex of modern brick buildings, the largest of which bore the sign, “San Diego Unified School District, Since 1854.”

I brightened. Compared to 1854, 1914 was only yesterday. But these buildings had been constructed years after 1914. As I scanned the acreage I saw, back behind the newer brick, a tall, dirty-white structure with columns and pediments, a whiskered old man among youngsters.

I wound my way back to the boarded-up building and parked on gravel behind the soiled back wall. Passing through the dust stirred up by my tires, I began to circle the building until I reached the cornerstone beside the front steps and read the Roman numerals: MCMXIII. 1913.

This building was standing when Agnes Smedley taught here!  I imagined her climbing the steps to teach her classes, then descending them at the end of the day.

But where did she live? Probably nearby. She was too poor to own a car.

After spending a long moment considering Agnes and the present as child of the past, I walked back to my car and set out looking for the neighborhood (no, a neighborhood) where she might have lived. For this, I had no facts. No address. This wasn’t research in the classic sense of the word, but factual terrain for the imagination to roam in.

I began driving randomly, un-research-like, no destination in mind. I now knew that the normal school where she had taught every week day from 1914 to 1916 was located on property near the San Diego Back Bay and that her workplace had smelled a little fishy, a little salty, and had often been a little damp and a little foggy, as it was today. Driving through the surrounding neighborhoods lined with wooden bungalows, I could surmise the kind of street and house where she’d lived.

Maybe I can write a scene,  I thought,  where her estranged husband finds her on one of these sagging porches, washing a window (I knew from my reading—classic research—that she was a demon worker), and where they sit in the old kitchen drinking cheap wine and discussing their failed marriage (a fact picked up in her autobiography), and the bedroom where they try again—and fail—to make love because Agnes Smedley is terrified of sex. (There is much evidence to support this fact.)

That afternoon, floating north along the freeway, San Diego scenes came to life and I felt deeply satisfied (not to say smug) that I had learned exactly what I needed to know for my historical novel.

Agnes Smedley