Sunday, 27 January 2013

Royalist Rebel by Anita Seymour

Whilst searching for a strong female protagonist from the 17th Century on whom to base my latest novel, I discovered one practically on my own doorstep. At the time I lived around the corner to Ham House, a stunning red brick Jacobean mansion on the River Thames, the home of Elizabeth Murray, Lady Dysart and Duchess of Lauderdale. Her second husband, John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, was one of Charles II’s Cabal ministry and between he and Elizabeth, turned Ham into a palace fit for their king.

Bishop Burnet, described by Elizabeth’s biographer, Doreen Cripps as ‘that spiteful old busybody’, left a sketch of her character coloured with his prejudice and personal malice.

She was a woman of great beauty, but of far greater parts. She had a wonderful quickness of apprehension, and an amazing vivacity in conversation. She had studied not only divinity and history, but mathematics and philosophy. She was violent in every thing she set about, a violent friend, but a much more violent enemy. She had a restless ambition, lived at a vast expense, and was ravenously covetous; and would have stuck at nothing by which she might compass her ends. She had blemishes of another kind, which she seemed to despise, and to take little care of the decencies of her sex.

Elizabeth's mother, Catherine Bruce Murray, took seventeen-year-old Elizabeth and her three younger sisters to the exiled Court at Oxford during the winter of 1643/1644, where Charles I had fled after the Battle of Edgehill, where they most likely saw first hand how difficult life had become for many followers of the king.
Catherine Bruce Murray

Elizabeth’s father, William Murray, Earl Dysart, a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to King Charles I and one of his closest friends, was once his ‘whipping boy’, and received chastisement for the young royal. Murray was Charles I’s envoy and made many dangerous trips across country and the continent for his master.

On his return to England in February 1646 he was seized as a spy in Canterbury and sent to the Tower of London, where he remained through the summer. With the help of the Scottish Lords, amongst them Earl Lauderdale, he was released on condition he did all in his power to induce his master to yield to the conditions of the Parliament. [And we all know well how that turned out!]

Parliament decided Murray, who had Scots Covenanter relatives, was a bad influence on the king and banished him to Queen Henrietta Maria’s court outside Paris. Despite this dangerous disgrace, Elizabeth’s formidable mother, Catherine Bruce Murray, allegedly invited Cromwell to dine at Ham House when King Charles I was under house arrest at Hampton Court, five miles downriver.

The young Elizabeth charmed Oliver Cromwell with her wit and intelligence, and they remained in contact, even through King Charles II’s exile in the 1650’s, when Elizabeth was reputedly a member of The Sealed Knot carrying money and information to the exiled king.

That meeting between the Royalist girl and the Lord General of the Roundhead army must have been a difficult one, for several attempts had been made by the Surrey Sequestration Committee to seize Ham House and the family's estate, threatening to leave them all homeless.

Cromwell was well known to despise Earl Lauderdale, and when he was captured after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, it was a tribute to Elizabeth's diplomacy, that when she pleaded for mercy for Lauderdale, Cromwell commuted his sentence to imprisonment.

Elizabeth married Sir Lionel Tollemache 2nd Bart when she was twenty-one, a non political Suffolk landowner who attracted neither Royalist or Parliamentary attention. The marriage was a successful one, and secured Ham House for Elizabeth and her three sisters, and she bore him eleven children in twenty-two years, five of whom lived to adulthood. Elizabeth maintained contact with Earl Lauderdale, who spent seven years in prison, and when Lionel died in 1669, Lady Mary Lauderdale went to Paris, apparently to distance herself from the burgeoning friendship between her husband and Elizabeth.

Mary died in 1672 and six weeks later, to the outrage of London society, John Maitland, Earl of Lauderdale and Lady Elizabeth Tollemache were married.

Sir Lionel and Earl Lauderdale were both early Freemasons and Ham House was the scene of many lodge meetings. It wasn’t until her forties, when Elizabeth’s political manoeuvrings as Duchess Lauderdale were frowned upon, that she was rumoured to have been not only Earl Lauderdale's mistress when they were both married to other people, but also Cromwell's mistress, suspected of spying for both sides during the Interregnum:

She is Besse of my heart, she was Besse of old Noll;
She was once Fleetwood’s Besse, now she’s Bess of Atholle;
She’s Besse of the Church, and Besse of the State,
She plots with her tail, and her lord with his pate.
With a head on one side, and a hand lifted hie,
She kills us with frowning and makes us to die.
Ham House North Front

Elizabeth died at Ham in 1698, aged seventy two, having outlived her sisters and two of her adult children.

‘Royalist Rebel’, The biographical novel of Elizabeth’s youth will be released in paperback by Claymore Books, an imprint of Pen and Sword Publishing on January 31st 2013.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Soul is Symphonic: The Music of Hildegard von Bingen

Born in the Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179) was a visionary nun and polymath. She founded two monasteries, went on four preaching tours, and wrote nine books addressing both scientific and religious subjects, an unprecedented accomplishment for a 12th-century woman. Her prophecies earned her the title Sybil of the Rhine.

Over eight centuries after her death, Hildegard was canonized in May 2012 and on October 7 was elevated to Doctor of the Church in October, a rare and solemn title reserved for theologians who have made a significant impact. Hildegard is only the fourth woman in the history of the Church to receive this distinction.

But to most people today, Hildegard is known best for her soaring ethereal music.

The first composer for whom we have a biography, she composed seventy-seven sacred songs, as well as Ordo Virtutum, a liturgical drama set to music.

Her melodies are completely unlike the plainchant of her era—or anything that has come before or since. Likewise her lyrics are highly original and feel fresh to us even today. She was the only 12th century writer to compose in free verse.

A Benedictine superior, Hildegard and her nuns sang the Divine Office eight times a day. She believed that song was the highest form of prayer—the mystical power of music reunited humankind to the ecstasy and beauty of paradise before the fall, connecting the singer directly with the divine, and joining heaven and earth in a great celestial harmony.

Singing the divine praises was absolutely central to Hildegard’s identity as a nun. But late in her life, the great composer and polymath was silenced.

Hildegard and her nuns were subject to an interdict, or collective excommunication, when they refused to disinter a supposed apostate buried in their churchyard. As punishment for their disobedience, they were forbidden the sacraments, the mass, even forbidden to sing the Divine Office.

It was the prohibition against singing that hit Hildegard the hardest. She wrote a passionate letter to her archbishop in protest. “The soul is symphonic,” she told him. She also warned him that by forbidding her and her daughters from singing God’s praise, the archbishop himself risked going to an afterlife destination where there was no music, ie hell.

Hildegard’s words seemed to give the man pause for thought. He lifted the interdict just a few months before her death in 1179.

“There is the music of heaven in all things,” Hildegard wrote. “But we have forgotten to hear it until we sing.”

I find her song Caritas Abundant in Omnia (Divine Love Abounds in All Things) to be particularly stirring. Hildegard conceived of Caritas, or Divine Love, as a feminine figure, an aspect of the Feminine Divine:

                         Caritas habundat in omnia

Divine love abounds in all things.
She is greatly exalted from the depths to the heights,
Above the highest stars,
                        And most loving towards all things,
                        For she gave the highest King the kiss of peace.

Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen is by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is Kirkus Review 2012 Book of the Year. Visit Mary’s website.

Monday, 14 January 2013


I am currently reading THE KING'S REVENGE by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh. This book follows the fate  of the 59 regicides (the men who signed the death warrant of Charles I), following the restoration of the monarchy.

The death warrant of Charles I

Back in 2009 I wrote about my own family connection with the regicide, Sir Michael Livesey.  Whether I am indirectly descended from Sir Michael or not, the fate of the regicides has always been of interest to me and as the anniversary of the execution of Charles I rolls around (Jan 31), this book was top of my list for Christmas.

The Commissioners of the King's trial

News of the King's execution (January 31 1649) reached the exiled royal family on February 4. On being told of his father's death, the young prince (now king), Charles burst into tears and fled from the room. He vowed vengeance on the men who had sent his father to his death. 

After his unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne by force (1650-1), Charles II retired to exile on the continent The following years (the Interregnum) was marked by failed plots to assassinate Cromwell (one of which was the subject of my own novel THE KING'S MAN) or to raise the country and restore the monarchy by force of arms. In 1658 Cromwell died, to be succeeded by his son Richard. "Tumbledown Dick", as he was nicknamed, was not the man his father had been and secret negotiations began to restore the monarchy.

Some of the men now treating with the King were the same men who had set their hands to his father's death warrant, but Charles was always a pragmatist and restoration at whatever cost was the endgame.

Before Charles II set foot back in England the round up of the regicides begain. The first five men were arrested in Ireland and imprisoned. The capture included the prosecuting lawyer, John Cook (see Geoffrey Robertson's excellent biography of Cook, THE TYRANNICIDE BRIEF). Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw (the judge at Charles' trial), all of whom must have topped the Most Wanted list were already dead. The first arrest on English soil was Cromwell's old comrade and the chief architect of the King's trial,  Sir Thomas Harrison.

In order to secure his restoration, Charles II issued the Declaration of Breda in which he promised clemency to those of his father's enemies who swore their fealty within forty days.  There was, of course, an exception. There would be no clemency for those excepted by Parliament. On 9 May 1660 Parliament began to debate  the "Bill of General Pardon, Indemnity and Oblivion". Despite assurances of the King's mercy, many of the regicides saw the writing on the wall and fled England. 

A  "death list" of seven regicides was agreed to: Harrison, Jones, Barkstead, Lisle, Scot, Holland and Saye. Three days after announcing the seven another fice were added - not judges but officials of the court (including Cook) and the king's executioners. However only Harrison, Cook and Jones were in custody, the others had slipped away. By the end of May a full blown manhunt was on for those regicides still in England. 

By October, the death list comprised thirty two men (23 judges and 9 officials). The trials began in October 1660. All thirty two were to be excepted from pardon. A further nineteen living regicides, who had surrendered by the 40 day deadline, were granted exception. At the end of their trials, ten were sentenced to immediate death and were  executed in the  barbaric manner of the time - hanging drawing and quartering. 

As an example to Hugh Peters who waited his turn, John Cook's end was particularly grisly. He was hanged until just conscious, cut down and his genitals cut off and dangled before his eyes. A screw (like a corkscrew) was inserted and twisted to slowly extract his intestines and these were held to the torch while Cook still lived. Normally the victim's suffering would end with the cutting out of his heart but the executioner prolonged Cook's agony until the man expired. The body was then beheaded and cleaved into 4 pieces (lengthways and horizontally) so that the four quarters could be impaled on the city gatehouse.

If the diarist John Evelyn is to be believed, the King himself was present at the executions. Evelyn wrote "I saw not their execution, but met their quarters, mangled and cut and reeking as they were brought from the gallows in baskets on the hurdle."

Those who had predeceased the restoration were not spared. The bodies of Cromwell, Ireton, Bradshaw were disinterred and hung on the gibbets at Tyburn before being beheaded. 

And all of this before the king's coronation in May 1661. 

Having dealt with the remaining English regicides, Charles unleashed a man hunt for the nineteen regicides who had evaded capture on English soil. Agents were dispatched to America and Europe, organised by a former parliamentarian, Sir George Downing (after whom Downing Street is named). His clerk, Samuel Pepys recorded the extent of Downing's intelligence network. One of Downing's agent was the beautiful female playwright, Aprha Behn (see Anita Davison's article Aphra Behn) who was sent to "turn" her former lover, William Scot into a spy for the King. 

For those surviving regicides now living on the continent or in hiding in America, they lived their lives in constant fear of assassination or kidnap. Only Edmund Ludlow lived to see Charles II's death, dying of natural causes in Switzerland in 1691. My own reputed ancestor, Sir Michael Livesey died in the Netherlands in 1665, allegedly at the hands of Downing's agents.

It is a fascinating book and, for someone like me, with the reading attention span of a gnat (these days), an easy, if disturbing, read. 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


A very happy Hoydens New Year to all our followers.

2012 has been an exciting year for all of us and to bring everyone up to date...

ANITA DAVISON (writing as ANITA SEYMOUR) has a new biographical novel,  coming out on 31st January.  With her feet firmly planted in the seventeenth century, ROYALIST REBEL tells the real life story of Elizabeth Murray.
It will be available from Amazon UK and US and all good book stores in the UK (and hopefully beyond!).

SANDRA GULLAND shared the outstanding news that the TV film rights for her Josephine Bonaparte Trilogy have been optioned with Michael Hirst as screen writer (who scripted THE TUDORS and ELIZABETH) and Kelsey Grammar as producer.

DEBORAH SWIFT's latest book THE GILDED LILY was released in late 2012.
The Gilded Lily was selected as one of the '13 must reads in 2013' by GoodMorning Texas TV programme.

Dee has been invited to appear on two panels (
'Making it to Mainstream' about my unusual route to publication, and 'The Virtual Salon' about how blogging can link writers with readers) at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Florida.  Dee says  "If anyone is going to the conference, particularly if you are a fan of Hoydens and Firebrands or the 17th century, please come and say hello. "Or you could rescue my husband who as yet does not know what he is letting himself in for!"

She has just finished working with the copy-edits for her next book 'A Divided Inheritance' and it's scheduled for publication with Macmillan in October 2013.

ALISON STUART'S latest book, a "Downton Abbeyesque" ghost story, GATHER THE BONES, set post World War I, also came out in late 2012. Her next book, a historical time travel SECRETS IN TIME is out in April. It is her first unashamedly romance book with a cavalier hero (of course).

Late breaking news:  GATHER THE BONES has been nominated as a Finalist in the Australian Romance Readers Awards.

KIM MURPHY has finished writing her non fiction book on rape in the American Civil War. A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH will be released either this fall or January 2014. She is currently working on the sequel to THE DREAMING: WALKS THROUGH MIST. The title for the sequel is THE DREAMING: WIND TALKER, which will include more conflict between the colonials and the Powhatan chiefdom in the seventeenth century.

MARY SHARRATT also had a late 2012 release with ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN which has been selected as a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus, WGBH Greater Boston Public Television, The Examiner, The Reading Frenzy, and She Knows.

We may often write about different periods of history but our hearts belong to the seventeenth century. 

Here's to another successful year for the Hoydens.