Monday, 13 January 2014

CLAIMING THE REBEL'S HEART - a novel of the English Civil War

In earlier Hoydens blog posts about the English Civil War, I have written about the women who were left behind to defend their family and their husband's properties.   As I looked into the lives of women such as BRILLIANA HARLEY and the formidable COUNTESS OF DERBY, the writer's "what if" antenna started twitching and I started to play with the idea of a castle, a siege, a strong woman and a hero to love. I make no apology for the fact that I write historical fiction with a romantic theme. I like a hero and heroine and a happy ever after but I like to think it is the bit in the middle and how my hero and heroine earn their happy ever after that distinguishes mys stories from what is generally perceived as "historical romance". History first, romance second... or a very close equal first. 

I love my history and I love writing about the period of the English Civil War.  War throws up the possibilities for conflict so beloved of writers and in a civil war you have families pitted against each other. Doesn't matter whether you are English or American or Russian, or French or German... wherever there is civil war, emotions run high.

I also wanted the challenge of writing a story from the parliamentary perspective. It is too easy when writing stories set in this period to come down on the side of the losers, the cavaliers who were "wrong but wromantic" (to use Sellers and Yeatman's description from 1066 and All That). The "roundheads" tend to be universally depicted as "right but repulsive" (Sellers and Yeatman again). So how to make a hero, fighting for the parliamentary cause, "right AND wromantic". 

Drawing heavily on Brilliana Harley and the siege of Brampton Bryan Castle with a sprinkle of Lathom House and Charlotte, Countess of Derby thrown in, I started with a fictional castle in Herefordshire (just over the border from Shropshire...). Herefordshire was a stronghold for the royalist forces  and like Brampton Bryan, I have set my story in one of the few strongholds for the Parliamentary cause, the fictional Kinton Lacey.

A man…a woman… and a castle - CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART by Alison Stuart

Herefordshire, England 1643

As the English Civil War divides England and tears families apart, Kinton Lacey castle is one of the brave few loyal to the roundhead cause.

With her father away, Deliverance Felton will do whatever it takes to defend her family home against the royalist forces ranged against it. She can shoot and wield a sword as well as any man and anything she needs to know about siege warfare she has learned from a book...but no book can prepare her for what is to come.

Captain Luke Collyer, soldier of fortune and a man with his own reasons for loyalty to the parliamentary cause, is sent to relieve the castle. Everything he knows about siege warfare in general and women in particular he has learned from experience, but when it comes to Deliverance Felton has he met his match?

Deliverance will not give up her command lightly and Luke will have to face a challenge to his authority as fierce as the cavalier foe outside the walls. He will do whatever it takes to win Deliverance’s trust but will he run the risk of losing his own, well guarded, heart?

To find out more and to read an excerpt visit my website:  Click HERE


The following is an excerpt from the first chapter… meet the unbiddable Mistress Felton and Captain Luke Collyer - a man with secrets of his own!

Chapter 1
Kinton Lacey Castle, Herefordshire
July 25, 1643

Startled out of an uneasy doze by the crackle of musket fire, Deliverance sent books and papers flying as she rummaged through the detritus on the table in her search for the flint. As the candle sputtered into life, the door opened and her steward, Melchior Blakelocke, stood outlined in the doorway, holding a covered lantern.
“Are we being attacked?” Deliverance asked.
“I don't think so,” Melchior replied. “In fact, my lady, I think it is our besiegers who are being attacked.”
Hope sprang in Deliverance’s heart. “Is it Father? Has he come to relieve us?”
She reached for the elegant French Wheelock musket her father used for hunting, running her hand over the well-polished wood of the stock. It had a kick that threatened to dislocate her shoulder every time she used it, but she took pride in her mastery of the weapon.
Outside, the entire garrison of Kinton Lacey Castle had deployed along the walls, but to her relief, the firing and shouts came from beyond the crumbling walls of the old castle. She took her now accustomed vantage point on the northern tower of the bastion gate and squinted into the darkness and confusion.
Smoke and flame from burning outbuildings lent a surreal light to the melee of men that whirled and danced in the shadows as if re-enacting some ancient pagan ceremony. Only the clash of steel instead of cymbals brought home the grim purpose of the bizarre pageant.
Two men on horseback appeared out of the smoke and cantered towards the castle. Backlit by the fires, they could have been a pair of vengeful spirits.
Her heart pounding, Deliverance raised her musket and fired, cursing in a most unladylike manner as the musket ball skimmed past the two men, taking the taller man's hat. His horse, startled by its rider's jerk of alarm, reared up depositing the soldier on the ground. For a moment he lay still, before rising to his hands and knees. Shaking his head, he rose slowly to his feet, casting an upwards glance in the direction of the castle, as he dusted off his hat and remounted his horse.
Melchior cleared his throat. “While that is excellent shooting, I think you will find they are friends not foes.”
Deliverance’s stomach lurched. “How can you tell?”
“They wear the orange sash of the parliamentary forces, my lady.”
Deliverance leaned the musket against the wall, clenching and unclenching her hand in an effort to disguise her shaking fingers. Nausea rose in her throat. It was the first time she had fired the weapon intending to kill and she had nearly killed one of their own relieving force.
She took a deep breath, struggling to regain her composure as the two men came to a halt at the bridge over the castle’s defensive ditch. Facing them were the stout oaken gates to the castle that Deliverance had shut on her foe two weeks earlier.
“Hold your fire.” The man she had shot at called up to the defenders. “We are sent by Sir John Felton to relieve this castle.”
Deliverance picked up her musket and drew back to a vantage point where she could see without being seen. “You answer, Melchior.”
Melchior cast her a sidelong glance and stepped forward to the battlements. “Your name, sir?”
“Captain Luke Collyer.”
“How do we know they've come from Father?” Deliverance prompted her steward.
“How do I know you are sent by his lordship?” Melchior demanded.
The man who had identified himself as Captain Luke Collyer produced a paper from his jacket and waved it at the wall.
“These are my orders. While I don't wish to appear churlish, sir, we have no great desire to remain outside these walls when those knaves could be back at any moment.”
“What do you mean?” Melchior asked, leaning further over the ramparts.
“We appear to have seen off your besiegers for the moment.” The man’s voice rose to make himself heard by all on the castle wall.
Deliverance drew a sharp intake of breath as relief flooded through her. The siege was over but she still had to be careful. She put no trust in Farrington not to try and gull her in this fashion.
“Very well, Melchior, let them in, but I want every man with a weapon to have it trained on them.” She tapped a fingernail on the stock of her musket. “I will meet them in the Great Hall.”
“May I suggest a change of dress, madam?”
She looked down at her breeches. “Demure and ladylike?”
Melchior nodded. “Demure and ladylike.”


Kate Bunting said...

Sounds great. I know that area and have read about Lady Harley of Brampton Bryan.
Just one quibble; if the father is "Sir John" he isn't a lord, nor is his daughter "my lady". The same mistake was made in the BBC dramatization of "Bleak House", where Sir Leicester Dedlock was sometimes referred to as "his lordship".
Sorry - just me being pedantic.

Alison Stuart said...

Hi Kate... you are quite right to be pedantic. I should have picked that up (grrr...). It will be revised but int he meantime put it down to a personal quirk of Melchior!

Anita Davison said...

I loved this book Alison, a lovely romantic story. Congratulations on the release