Sunday, 25 September 2011

VENGEANCE THWARTED - A New book of the English Civil War by Prue Phillipson

This week, Hoydens welcomes debut author, Prue Phillipson. Of her novel, Prue comments ‘I have studied the history of the mid-seventeenth century and am fascinated by its impact on the daily lives of families. A true story of a haystack firing followed by a summary hanging gave me the idea for an exciting opening but under different circumstances.  I enjoyed working out the unusual plot, tracing two lives from one incident that powerfully involved them both until they again intertwined.’ Over to Prue....

We think of the mid-seventeenth century as a time when great matters were settled by fighting. Who rules England? A divinely appointed king or an elected parliament? But behind the scenes were serious efforts on the part of both factions to maintain a framework of legality. In Vengeance Thwarted I show how these efforts touched the lives of two ordinary families, the Hordens of Northumberland and the Wilsons of Yorkshire, from 1640 to 1647.
Sir John Horden is a magistrate faced with a case of theft and rick-firing. The Scots army is advancing to take over the county after the Battle of Newburn-on-Tyne. Sir John is anxious to try the case properly. The furious villagers claim that the culprit is a Scots deserter but the magistrate establishes that the man has actually deserted from the English army. He wishes to show the Scots that looting and pillage must be tried and punished without fear or favour. He convenes a hasty trial in the Dame School and picks a jury of twelve men who are not witnesses. While the case looks strong he is concerned that the accused seems to be a half-wit, but when a messenger rides up and shouts out that the Scots forces are coming, he asks the jury their verdict and the cry of guilty triggers a lynch mob and a summary hanging.
The magistrate, a genuine lover of the due processes of the law, is troubled in his mind. He would be even more so if he knew the true culprit! Read the book to find out.
When the Wilson family learn of their son’s death the enraged mother urges her other son to avenge his brother but his father seeks redress under the law by appealing to the Star Chamber Court system whereby a citizen could approach the king’s representative directly. In this case it is the Earl of Strafford presiding over the Court of the North at York. There is a delay while Strafford is engaged with the Council on the peace treaty but an answer comes at length, under his signature and couched in the legalese of the time, assuring the family of the fairness of the trial. That there had been cunning work by Sir John’s son, Robert, in the meanwhile, backed up by bribery of a clerk of the court, does not invalidate the fact that the appearances of justice were maintained.
When Parliament under Pym’s leadership was in the ascendancy new anti-Papist laws were passed so lists were made of Catholic households whose goods were sequestered. The bureaucracy must have been immense since the lists included any who had even harboured Catholics. Every document of sequestration had to be delivered and details of family members noted, since a proportion of the value of each estate could be kept back for their support.
Sir John Horden himself comes under this punishment in the novel, and the Wilsons suffer under the subsequent laws affecting those who refused to sign the Covenant.
Parliament passed many draconian laws in the mid-seventeenth century but it was still crucial to carry them out as fairly as possible. Spurious laws and often spurious justice, but the keeping of written records and the holding of trials with witnesses and juries persisted. Chaotic and apparently lawless as much of the country was where actual fighting was taking place there remained an underlying loyalty to the idea of justice enshrined in law. 


1 comment:

Jen Black said...

Loved your book, Prue, and learned lots about the seventeenth century from it. Good luck with it!