Sunday, 27 June 2010

For the love of Lucy!

I recently read about Lucy Percy, the countess of Carlisle, in The Man in an Iron Mask by Roger MacDonald. 

What a story!

The Queen of England's closest confidant, Lucy was in fact a spy for France's Cardinal Richelieu. She was known simply as Milédi by her fellow agents.

As a teen, she was considered the most beautiful young woman in England. She eloped with one of the richest men in the kingdom, but found the younger Duke of Buckingham more to her taste. When Buckingham (supposedly) seduced the Queen of France, Lucy became a spy for France's Cardinal Richelieu. 

Suspecting that Buckingham's new diamond studs were a gift from the French Queen, she managed to snip off two, intending to send them to Richelieu as evidence of the Queen's indiscretion. When Buckingham discovered the theft, he ordered the southern ports closed. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that much skulduggery ensued on both sides of the Channel. 

After Buckingham was assassinated, Lucy became the mistress of Thomas Wentworth, the future Earl of Strafford. He ended up losing his head, her hand going to John Pym, leader of the House of Commons, the man who had worked the hardest to convict her former lover.  

Lucy could save lives, as well. On January 4, 1642, Charles I planned to arrest Pym and his supporters. The Queen confided in Lucy, who warned Pym. 

Voluptuous, witty, but always in need of cash, Lucy journeyed to France, where she seduced the  soon-to-be Musketeer, d'Artagnan. When he refused to return to England with her, he ended up in jail. Back in England, Lucy herself eventually ended up in the Tower for plotting against the English Parliament on the King's behalf.

In Dumas's The Three Musketeers, Lucy appears as Lady de Winter.

For more about Lucy, read Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in Seventeenth-Century England by Rose Betcherman. 

A word of caution: Macdonald is a journalist, not a historian, and he tends to play fast and free with the facts, so I cannot vouch for this account. Corrections welcome.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

In the Aftermath of Battle

First up some good news:  both my books, BY THE SWORD and THE KING'S MAN have been re-released,  initially as ebooks (electronic books) - available in all formats including Kindle and Apple. A print version of the award winning BY THE SWORD will soon be available. For details on how to purchase the books, please visit my website


The 14th June marked the 365th anniversary of the decisive battle of the English Civil War, the battle of Naseby. I had intended to blog about the battle but in doing the research for the blog, I became fascinated not so much in the battle itself (about which much has been written- including several books), but about the aftermath of the battle, the prisoners and the wounded.
On the day of the battle, it is estimated that 12,000 Royalist troops took the field to face 15,000 Parliamentarians, a newly formed, well trained and armed “standing army” - the NEW MODEL ARMY of Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. Behind both armies were the baggage lines where the camp followers, the women who followed the drums, prepared themselves for the inevitable stream of wounded to care for. In the royalist lines were the female camp followers, English, Welsh and Irish, soon to become innocent victims in a man’s war.
The battle commenced about 10 in the morning and was all done by 3.30pm with the King and his men in full retreat. The King’s baggage train was overrun and according to legend, the women of the train took flight along the Clipston Road. It was there one of the less glorious moments for “God’s chosen” victors took place. The hatred the English bore for the Irish mercenaries, fuelled by stories of the massacres of good protestants by evil catholics, was borne out on the women of the baggage train. 
Mistaking the Welsh speaking women for Irish, the forces of Parliament carried out a massacre. It is not known how many were killed but there are contemporary accounts of up to 300-400. One contemporary witness reports “The Irish women Prince Rupert brought on the field (wives of the bloody Rebels in Ireland, his Majesties dearly loved subjects) our soldiers would grant no quarter too, about 100 slain of them, and most of the restof the whores that attended that wicked Army, are marked in the face or nose, with a slash or cut.” (Rushworth letter). The common punishment for a whore was to split or cut off the nose of the offender, marking them for life. Those women of more means who were able to gather up wagons and coaches, managed to make some sort of escape without meeting the fate of their poorer sisters.
 Meanwhile the King’s men did not escape lightly, those that were not slaughtered in their retreat, were captured. From a force of 12000 men who had taken the field that morning, less than 4000 reached safety and many of those were badly injured. Parliament’s New Model Army had destroyed the King’s army and the last hope of victory. Casualties on the Parliament side numbered barely 150 while over 1000 of the King’s men lay dead.
The royalist baggage lines proved rich pickings for plunder. The King’s own baggage was taken, including a “cabinet” containing his personal correspondence. This discovery was a God given propoganda opportunity and were published as “The King’s Cabinet Opened” within weeks of the battle.  The letters were a damning indictment on Charles, revealing his attempts to negotiate treaties with the hated Irish and other foreign powers to bring their forces over to England.

For any victorious army, prisoners are a problem and accounts suggest that the royalist prisoners numbered between 4000-5000. These were all men who needed to be fed, sheltered and their wounds treated. Local churches, being large and easily secured, were used as temporary lock ups. The majority of them were marched south to London where they were paraded, along with the captured colours, through the streets of London. A gibbet was prominently on display in case any took it into their heads to take flight or cause trouble. After wringing the most of the propoganda value from the display as they could, it was decided that the majority of the prisoners should simply be released to go home on giving their promise not to fight again. The majority who chose not to give that undertaking were sent to serve “in Foreign parts” (Ireland, Spain or France) or were simply imprisoned for a couple of years. The royalist officers (numbering just under 500 - mostly infantry) were held separately from the common soldiers.
Not included in the figures for the prisoners were the seriously wounded, numbering about 500. They were distributed around the nearby villages. There are ample contemporary accounts of the local villagers claiming compensation for their troubles in caring for the wounded of both sides after Naseby. Payment for treating the winning side tended to be more generous. For the romantically inclined there are stories such as those of “Mr. Mansell” who was found alive by a young woman who nursed him back to health.
Finally in the aftermath of a great battle comes the thankless task of clearing the battlefield, a task which extended well beyond the confines of the Naseby field as the flight of the royalists was marked by the dead and dying. Tradition tells us the task fell to the local villagers who stripped the bodies and buried them in mass graves, some so shallow that within a short time, they “became very offensive, that matter issued from the graves and ran several yards upon the ground, which, having subsided the cattle ate those spots, for several years remarkably bare.”(Mastin 1792).
I have visited the battlefield at Naseby twice (see photo). It is now cut in two by a major arterial road (it is hard to imagine the Americans allowing such a sacrilege to happen to their battlefields!). Apart from an obelisk erected in the nineteenth century, there is little to mark such a decisive battle and even harder to imagine the carnage of that awful day.

To read more on the Battle of Naseby see:
Naseby, The Decisive Campaign by Glenn Foard

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Guest Post: History's Black Widow

This week I'd like to present a guest post by C W Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici. Although Catherine de Medici lived in the 16th rather than the 17th century, I felt she was nonetheless appropriate for this blog since she is most certainly a Hoyden, if not an outright Firebrand. Many of you already know Gortner from his previous novel, The Last Queen, which presents a sensitive portrait of the tragically misunderstood Juana "La Loca" of Castile. Gortner has passionately rewritten the histories of these maligned women, giving them voice and allowing them to tell their stories and set the record straight. And you never know . . . he might eventually write about a 17th century Firebrand.
-Mary Sharratt

History’s Black Widow: The Legend of Catherine de Medici

Catherine de Medici is known as the evil queen who masterminded a massacre. Or so the legend says. In truth, Catherine has been the target of a smear campaign that began in her lifetime and culminated with Alexander Dumas’s famous depiction of her in his novel La Reine Margot. Dumas exalted the queen we love to hate and enshrined her as history’s black widow.

Of Italian birth, Catherine came to France as a teenager to wed Henri II. To this day, she is not considered French; her background as a Medici made her a parvenu and prejudice against her because of her nationality haunted her throughout her life. Italians were despised as experts in the black arts; Catherine’s natural inclination toward her fellow countrymen was thus often used against her.

One of the greatest misconceptions is that Catherine nurtured a “passion for power”—another Italian trait. Though not raised to rule, she became regent for her sons in a kingdom torn apart by war. Her alleged ambition was in fact an effort to defend her adopted realm. While she made serious errors, she was usually motivated by the urgency to salvage a crisis than any cold-blooded urge to her foes.

In the end, she is best revealed by her own words: “It is great suffering to be always fearful.”

Thank you so much for spending this time with me. To find out more about The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, please visit:

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Putney Debates

By summer 1647, the Roundheads were winning the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army had crushed the Cavaliers at Marston Moor and Naseby, and King Charles I was in custody at Hampton Court Palace. Albeit an easy captivity for he was allowed to see his children and his friends, play bowls and go hunting.

The New Model Army could see an end to their usefulness and with negotiations with the King in sight, the generals, the ‘Grandees’ feared Parliament would sell them out. On the other hand, Parliament feared the religious fanaticism of the army, many of whom were Puritans and Levellers.

The most famous 'Grandees' were, Sir Thomas Fairfax, Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton, The prominent Levellers were, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, John Lilburne, Richard Overton, Edward Sexby and John Wildman.

Keen for a final settlement with the King, Parliament also wanted to cut soldiers' pay, disband regiments, refuse indemnity for war damage and pack them off to Ireland. Worse, they looked set to betray the religious and political ideals the New Model Army had spent five years fighting for. The soldiers complained: ‘We were not a mere mercenary army hired to serve any arbitrary power of a state, but called forth ... to the defence of the people's just right and liberties.’

The ‘Grandees’ responded by inviting the Leveller Agitators to debate their proposals before the General Council of the Army that took place between the 28th October to 9th November. With Oliver Cromwell in the chair, the New Model Army came together at St Mary the Virgin Church at Putney, in October 1647, to argue the case for a transparent, democratic state free from parliamentary or courtly corruption.

The Issues:

Should they continue to negotiate a settlement with the defeated King Charles I?
Should there even be a King or a House of Lords?
Should suffrage (a civil right to vote, known as the franchise) be limited to property-holders?
Would democratic changes lead to anarchy?
Would the people be granted religious toleration for Puritans, Quakers, Anglicans and Presbyterians?
What to do with Charles I?

The Levellers

The Grandees had submitted to the King, ‘The heads of the proposals’ – a conservative document that did little to challenge the existing power structures.

Levellers offered their own manifesto entitled the ‘Agreement of the People’, which set out a constitutional settlement urging religious toleration, a general amnesty and an end to conscription; a system of laws that apply equally to everyone with no discrimination on grounds of tenure, estate, charter, degree, birth or place. They also demanded regular, two-yearly parliaments and an equal distribution of MPs' seats by number of inhabitants.

They believed in human liberty and a conviction that politicians were as dangerous as princes when it came to undermining personal freedom, and that all those who placed themselves under government should have the right to elect it.

The wealthy, socially conservative Grandees were horrified, assuming this would mean anarchy and corruption with wealthy politicians buying up the votes of the uneducated, dependent masses.

Instead, Cromwell's son-in-law, Henry Ireton, proposed that the franchise be limited to those with a ‘fixed local interest’, that is, the independent property owners.

Colonel Rainsborough declared this a betrayal of the civil war sacrifice, and finally a compromise was reached that the vote should be granted to all adult males - excluding servants, apprentices, foreigners, beggars and, of course, women.

As for the King, the mood had by this time hardened against that ‘man of blood’ and general opinion turned to putting him on trial for high treason.

The issues of the Putney Debates - liberty of conscience; a government dependent upon the sovereign will of the people; equality before the law - would, via the ministrations of John Locke, make their way into the American constitution. In Britain, these philosophies remained buried late into the 19th century mainly thanks to ASP Woodhouse's 1938 work, Puritanism and Liberty, which implicitly conjoined the struggle against fascism with Rainsborough's cry of liberty.

What the Levellers proposed nearly 400 years ago was precisely the kind of secular constitution that guaranteed freedom of conscience and speech alongside a sovereign parliament.


Putney in 1647 was a small Thames-side town of about 900 people, strung out along the High Street and the river bank. London was just six miles away and easily accessible by horse, coach or boat.

About 40% of the householders employed locally were described as watermen, who worked on the cross-river ferry to Fulham (there was no bridge yet), on the long ferry to London and in goods transport, and the Army must have provided good business for them. Putney also attracted gentlemen, office-holders and merchants, who occupied the 16 or so large houses and tended to use them as summer houses or for long weekends.

The inhabitants of the town no doubt bitterly resented having soldiers billetted upon them without being paid for it. Lord Thomas Fairfax stayed at William Wymondsold’s, the largest house in Putney. Cromwell lodged at Mr Bonhunt’s, [possibly Thomas Bownest], and Henry Ireton, stayed at Henry Campion’s near the corner of the High Street and Putney Bridge Road.

Thomas Rainsborough was able to stay at his brother’s house in Fulham, while the agitators lodged at Hammersmith, and presumably passed to and fro on the river, but they met at least once at Hugh Hubbert’s house, close to Putney church. The New Model Army’s headquarters were at Putney, so officers and soldiers must have been a familiar sight on the streets, and a great deal of political debate must have taken place in houses.

Right-St Mary of The Virgin Church Putney

Inscribed inside St Mary’s Church, are the immortal words from the Debates of Colonel Rainsborough, the highest ranking officer to support the ordinary solders:

’I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he’

There is a permanent exhibition of The Putney Debates at St Mary's Church in Putney - also more information, and the source of these images is available on the website here