Friday, October 9, 2015

Ellis Island: American Dream or Nightmare?

by Vincent Parrillo

Over the years many people have viewed Ellis Island sentimentally. Rev. Sydney Bass, an English Methodist minister, was decidedly not one of them. He would compare the immigrant processing station to Dante’s Inferno and as “worse than the Black Hole of Calcutta.” Here is his story, as he told it and which appears as an anecdote in my new historical novel, Defenders of Freedom, which is about women’s suffrage and Ellis Island between 1907 and 1919.

On a cold morning in January 1911, Rev. Sydney Bass stepped onto the dock at Ellis Island. An English Methodist minister, he had arrived on the White Star’s Adriatic on his journey to become the new pastor of a church in Harrison Valley, Pennsylvania. Foregoing the comfort of a cabin passenger, he instead traveled in steerage to experience firsthand the nature of that passage and to gather stories and experiences of those with him. These, he felt, would serve him well for many sermons to his new congregation.

Upon entry into the Great Hall, a line doctor marked in chalk an “L” (lameness) and “F+” (feet) on his overcoat, and then signaled a gateman to take him to one of the medical examining rooms. Asked to strip down to his underwear, he received a full medical examination to determine any other issues. Finding no others, the doctor discussed with him the physical problems affecting his entry. Because he had polio as a child, he had some atrophy and partial paralysis in his right leg, which was slightly shorter than his left leg, as well as some deformity in his right foot, combining to give him a significant limp.

When the doctor stated these defects would affect his ability to earn a living, Bass countered that it was fortunate, then, that his brains were on the other end, and that he did not preach and lecture with his feet.

Next, he was taken into a large holding room. It was now nine-thirty in the morning. The acoustics in the room intensified the noise coming from six hundred detainees of many nationalities, causing him to cover his ears until he could adjust to the clamor.

As freezing as it was outside, in this poorly ventilated room—filled with so many immigrants—the temperature was so hot that he took off his overcoat, folded it, and sat upon it, leaning his back against the wall near a ventilating shaft. The babble of voices continued to assault his ears. He realized with a strong sense of repugnance that many of those near him were Italians. He was outraged that he, an English gentleman, was placed in the same room as these illiterate, dark-complexioned peasants.

When he began feeling claustrophobic, hemmed in by all these people standing near him, he stood up and discovered to his disgust that the side of his coat touching the floor now had the mucous of someone’s spittle, about the size of a silver dollar.

Before he could give much thought to his revulsion, his nostrils were filled with the odors from the multitude of unwashed humanity surrounding him. Worsening that unpleasant aroma was the smell of garlic that some were eating and the breaths coming from those too close for him to endure. Even though he had ministered in some of the worst slums in England, he found this to be the worst smell he had ever encountered. He could almost taste and feel it.

He pushed his way through the crowd, trying to find somewhere in the room where the scents were not as awful. He located the men’s room and went in to relieve himself. Discovering that the air in this room of urinals and toilets was better than any part of the common room, he remained there as long as he could.

When he had been in the common room for one hour, Bass saw the door open for a moment, and he slipped out. Walking to the nearest official he saw, he asked for permission to wire the British consul and two prominent officials in his church. In a stern voice, the gateman ordered him back into the common room.

Shortly before one o’clock, gatemen moved all immigrants to the dining hall. As they walked, Bass complained to one of them, “You know, it’s ridiculous to detain me for a bad leg and then make me stand on it all these hours.”

The gateman shrugged and said nothing.

The dinner of lentil soup, corned beef with peeled boiled potatoes, peas, and bread was surprisingly good, especially accompanied with a bowl of tea. Returned to the common room afterwards, he sought refuge in the men’s room where the better air could aid his adjustment. A few other English immigrants joined him, until one of the gatemen ordered all of them to leave.

As the next several hours passed slowly, the English detainees found one other and clustered together, a total of sixteen men and four women. They conversed and learned about one another, finding some solace in commiserating with one another.

After their five o’clock supper—consisting of mutton stew, bread pudding with raisins, bread, butter, and tea—officials began leading the detainees downstairs to their sleeping quarters. Anticipating conditions similar to those in the common room with the smells of the Italians he disdained, Bass stood aside and refused to move.

“I will not go down there!” he insisted. ‘We English should not be herded together in such close quarters with so many others. Can’t you at least put the English all together in one room?”

Soon, the sixteen English detainees found themselves together in a dormitory room in the main building on the balcony level. To his dismay, Bass quickly discovered they shared the room with eleven others. Twenty-seven canvas hammocks, damp and impregnated with salt and disinfectant (a probable necessity, he thought), hung suspended from the ceiling in stacks of three and lined up in nine rows. He lay upon one, but he was unable to sleep. Adding to his discomfort was the constant screams of women somewhere in the distance.

Somehow he endured the terrible night. Before morning’s first light, gatemen roused him at four o’clock for breakfast. Twenty minutes later, seated in the dining room, Bass and his compatriots realized they were covered with bedbug bites. He prayed that his oatmeal, baked beans and pork, bread, butter, and tea was the last meal he would have to eat here.

Back in the smelly common room, he heard his name called at ten-thirty. Threading his way through the crowd, he was taken to the waiting room outside Board of Special Inquiry Room Number Two. Some other cases were being heard before his, and so he sat there until told to leave for his midday dinner.

After consuming some oxtail soup, roast pork, mashed potatoes, succotash, bread, butter, and tea, he anxiously returned for his hearing. At twelve-thirty, he was able to plead his case. The board allowed him to speak without interruption.

He explained that he was a minister coming to accept a preaching position in Pennsylvania. He had sixty dollars in his pocket and his property included securities worth hundreds of dollars. He could also present to them his certificate showing his success in examinations and his ministerial credentials, none of which the board wanted to see. At the conclusion of the hearing, the board chairman announced their unanimous decision that he be deported as an alien without visible means of support and thus liable to become a public charge.

Dumbfounded and angry, Bass appealed the decision, got permission to wire the British Consul and his sponsors and—with assurances from church leaders and the British Consul—Ellis Island Commissioner William Williams granted the appeal.

Embittered, Rev. Bass left the island and, six months later, offered vivid testimony at a congressional hearing on the abuses he said he endured. His claims were strongly contradicted by Secretary of Labor Charles Nagel, two New York congressmen, and Ellis Island Commissioner William Williams. The latter asserted that surprise inspections conducted in the past three years by congressional critics and journalists found no such conditions.

What was the truth? No doubt Rev. Bass encountered some unpleasant conditions and culture shock in his treatment, but was it as bad as he claimed? We’ll never know for certain, but his was not the only complaint about immigrant treatment back then. Some of those grievances and the ensuing controversies are detailed both in Guardians of the Gate and in Defenders of Freedom.


Vincent N. Parrillo is professor of sociology at William Paterson University, where he twice received the Faculty Achievement Award for Distinguished Scholarship and Creative Expression. He is executive producer, writer, and narrator of four award-winning PBS television documentaries, including Ellis Island: Gateway to America. An internationally recognized expert on immigration and Fulbright scholar, Vince has given talks at more than 100 universities in Asia, Europe and North America, including Roehampton University. He has also published numerous articles and textbooks on immigration and diversity, is co-lyricist of Hamlet: The Rock Opera, and directed an outdoor production of The Comedy of Errors in New Jersey.

The Importance of the Battle of Nantwich

by DW Bradbridge

The battle which took place on 25 January 1644 in the fields just outside the Cheshire town of Nantwich is not generally considered to have been one of the most important of the military clashes that took place during the English Civil War. To begin with, less than 300 people were killed in the battle, which took place in what was considered by many, at the time, to be very much a backwater in terms of the national picture.

However, Sir Thomas Fairfax and Sir William Brereton’s defeat of the forces controlled by John, Lord Byron, was strategically significant in that it was the first clear cut parliamentary victory in the entire conflict and, as such, prevented the Royalists from gaining ascendancy in the North of England, thereby potentially altering the course of the whole war.

In order to grasp the significance of the events which took place in and around Nantwich in December and January 1643-44, it is necessary to understand the balance of power in North-West England at the time.

By the late summer of 1643 the Royalists were as close as they would come to winning the war. Thanks to Sir Ralph Hopton in the south-west and the Marquis of Newcastle in the north, Royalist control extended over significant parts of the kingdom, and having won considerable victories at Roundway Down and Adwalton Moor, as well as having taken Bristol, hopes were again being revived of a triumphal march on London by the King. The one area outside of the south-east where Parliament was holding its own was in Cheshire and Lancashire.

Sir William Brereton
Chester itself was a Royalist stronghold, but the rest of Cheshire was in the hands of Sir William Brereton, who during the early part of the year had been victorious at the first Battle of Middlewich as well as capturing the garrison at Warrington. Despite being surrounded by Royalists in Shropshire, Wales and the Wirral, Brereton spent most of the summer of 1643 launching raids into Staffordshire, Shropshire and North Wales.

It gradually became clear that Cheshire was a strategically important location, because it sat between Hopton’s group in the south-west and Newcastle in the north. It was also a key link between the port of Liverpool and the Midlands and, therefore, the road to London.

During the Autumn of 1643, however, things began to change. Not only had the advances made by Hopton and Newcastle ground to a halt, resulting in the opportunity of capturing London being missed for the second year in succession, Parliament had finalised the Solemn League and Covenant with the Scots, who had promised an army to support Parliament’s cause in the north.

At the same time, on the other side of the Irish Sea, Ormond had arranged a one year truce with the Irish rebels, allowing him to send over reinforcements to Chester.

Lord John Byron
In late November 4,000 infantry landed at Mostyn on the Flintshire coast and proceeded to Chester. They were joined shortly afterwards by their new commander Lord Byron, who had ridden from Oxford with 1,000 cavalry. The Royalist plan was for Byron to overpower Cheshire and Lancashire, before bolstering Newcastle’s forces, allowing the Royalists to mount a defence against, and eventually defeat, the Covenanters before marching on to London.

Many have asked why Byron did not target Liverpool rather than Nantwich, and why he did not wait until Spring when he would have been fully reinforced, but it is also true that if Nantwich had fallen during the winter of 1643-44, Cheshire and most of Lancashire would have been under Royalist control, leaving Newcastle free to conduct a strong defence against the advancing Scots.

In the event, Byron, after a short rest, advanced on Nantwich, capturing the garrisons of Hawarden and Beeston on the way. He did not go unopposed, for Brereton tried to break through to come to Nantwich’s aid, but he was defeated on 26 December at the second Battle of Middlewich, leaving him to retreat into Manchester for reinforcements.

Sir Thomas Fairfax
Flushed with success, and realising he now had time on his hands, Byron mounted a full siege of Nantwich. However, a measure of the importance of Nantwich to the Parliamentarian cause can be seen by the fact that Sir Thomas Fairfax was ordered from his winter quarters in Lincolnshire to come to Brereton’s aid. He joined up with Brereton in Manchester, and, together with Lancashire Parliamentarians, they marched on Nantwich, arriving outside the village of Acton, a mile or so from their goal, on the afternoon of January 25.

There are several reasons why Byron lost the ensuing battle. Firstly he had delayed abandoning the siege until the very last minute in the hope that the town would surrender, or at least in order to minimise the opportunity for the townsfolk to restock provisions while Byron was away fighting Fairfax. This meant that Byron was forced to fight much closer to Nantwich than he really wanted to. There is evidence that his preferred location was Barbridge, a couple of miles further up the road towards Chester, which would have minimised the chance of the garrison breaking out to come to Fairfax’s aid.

Secondly, there was a great thaw the night before the battle, which resulted in the River Weaver sweeping away the temporary bridge built at Beam Heath and stranding a large part of Byron’s forces on the wrong side of the river. These men had to march six miles via the nearest bridge and barely made it onto the battlefield in time.

Thirdly, the guard placed by Byron to stop the garrison breaking out was far too small and was quickly overwhelmed, allowing the garrison to attack the rear of the Royalist centre, which had, at this point, barely engaged the enemy.

Nantwich was a disaster for Byron. Although he managed to escape back to Chester with his cavalry and his left flank, as many as 1,500 men were taken prisoner, many of whom switched sides after the battle. In addition, Byron had lost several hundred men a week previously in a failed attempt to storm the town, most prominent of which was the valiant firelock Thomas Sandford, who had famously stormed Beeston Castle with only eight colleagues a month earlier.

In the weeks following the Battle of Nantwich several minor garrisons fell, completing Brereton’s dominance in the region. The Royalists never came close to military supremacy in Cheshire again, and it quickly became clear that if Byron was not reinforced, Chester itself would end up being the subject of a siege. At a stroke the momentum in the war in the North-West had been turned on its head.

Fortunately for Chester, Prince Rupert saw the danger and was in Chester by early March, and he became the focus of parliamentary attention over the coming months as the Prince Robber cut a swathe through the north on his way to his devastating defeat on July 2, 1644 at Marston Moor.

Although Rupert’s defeat at Marston Moor was decisive and effectively ended Royalist ambitions in the North, it can be argued that the chain of events which ended in that stunning parliamentary victory was set in motion with Fairfax’s triumph in the fields of Cheshire.


DW Bradbridge lives near Nantwich in Cheshire and is the author of the Daniel Cheswis series of murder mysteries, set in Cheshire during the English Civil War. The first novel, The Winter Siege, is set against the backdrop of the Siege and Battle of Nantwich.


His website can be found at
He also runs a blog
Follow him on Twitter at @dwbradbridge

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Aft through the Hawse!

by Julian Stockwin

In the Royal Navy in the Age of Sail, an officer who had served as a seaman before being promoted was said to have ‘come aft through the hawse.’ A typically colourful mariner’s term! In a ship the hawse is right forward, where the anchor cable comes in at the bow, a tough way of crawling aboard and all the way aft to the quarterdeck...

Officers risen from the ranks of seamen were also known as ‘tarpaulins’, after the canvas cloth impregnated with tar sailors used to waterproof their clothing, the smell of which was said never to leave them.

Richard Gere famously overcame modern day hurdles to become an officer and a gentleman, but they were nothing compared to the almost impossible odds two hundred years ago of moving from one social class to another! The Royal Navy (unlike the Army in which commissions could be bought) although steeped in custom and tradition, did provide a rare means for someone low born to achieve high status – to become a gentleman.

When they first joined a ship, sailors, whether pressed men or volunteers, were all ‘rated’ according to their experience – landmen, the lowest of all and with no useful sea skills; ordinary seamen, the first rung on the ladder for men who knew enough to be useful on deck and then the able seaman who could be trusted aloft and could ‘hand, reef and steer’, the best of these being an elite topman. After this there was opportunity for sailors with leadership skills to become petty officers, then as now the backbone of the Navy.

Of the six hundred thousand or so British seamen who fought in the Napoleonic wars, amazingly, around 120 became officers, crossing the great divide between officers and seamen. Of these, perhaps twenty or so were promoted to captain of their own ship – and five made admiral! History has left us little record of these achievers, but I’ve been able to glean details of some who started their career this way, a number of whom were even press-ganged into the Navy and took to the life.

The Press Gang

There are many misconceptions about the Press Gang. Impressment actually goes back to Anglo-Saxon times, but it reached its heyday in the French wars from 1793-1815. Despite the cartoons by Cruikshank and the like, pressing the general public was in theory off limits. The gangs could only legally seize able-bodied seamen or watermen, who had to be British subjects between 18 and 55, and not carrying a certificate of exemption – these applied to apprentices, masters and mates of merchantmen, crews of merchant men outward bound and Trinity House vessels. Each gang had to be led by a commissioned officer, bearing a warrant signed by a magistrate. There were some abuses of this, and in fact I have my hero, a wig-maker, being caught up in a hot press and being whisked away before anyone could object. Impressment ceased for all intents and purposes with the end of the war in 1815 but the right to operate press gangs remained until modern times. In point of fact this restriction to trained seamen was intended to seize men in the merchant service who could earn anything up to four times the wages of the Navy and who would be immediately effective. If anything, conscription these days, which takes all and every, is much less fair.

As an aside, Georgian terminology has possibly confused the issue of the size of the press gang haul with ‘prest man’ vs. ‘pressed man.’ A prest man received a prest sum of money as an advancement to join; a pressed man was one taken against his will.

Hero from the Isle of Man

John Quilliam, a farmer’s son from the Isle of Man was impressed into the Royal Navy in 1794. He rose rapidly in the Service. Like my hero Tom Kydd he first came into notice at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797, when he was made a lieutenant. At the Battle of Copenhagen, in 1801, he was in a frigate under very heavy fire and all his superior officers were killed; he was left in command. At this juncture, Horatio Nelson came on board and enquired who was in charge of her, when a voice, that of Quilliam, was heard, ‘I am,’ and, on the further question, ‘How are you getting on below?’ the answer to the unknown inquisitor was “middlin’ ”.

This apparently amused Nelson, and appreciating Quilliam’s coolness, Nelson took an early opportunity of appointing him to his own ship Victory, where he was first lieutenant. After Trafalgar Quilliam was promoted to captain and placed in command of HMS Ildefonso. He returned to the Isle of Man for a time but went back to sea in various ships until the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

Simply the best

There have been many outstanding maritime explorers – Columbus had great practical skill, Magellan pushed the bounds of discovery to unknown lands, Dampier was a keen observer of natural history and native peoples. But in Captain James Cook, these skills were united to a degree unmatched by any other in history. Cook was born in very humble circumstances, a labourer’s son who began his sea career as an ordinary seaman – and later joined the exalted ranks of those few who had come aft through the hawse.

In 1776 he was made commander of HM Bark Endeavour for the first of his famous three voyages of discovery. Among his many achievements: he dispelled the myth of a Great Southern Continent, established that New Zealand was two islands and discovered and charted the eastern coast of Australia to a high degree of accuracy. Tragically, Cook lost his life in Hawaii, killed ashore in Kealakekua Bay by natives.

Ninety Six Years of Service!

Only a fraction of those who came aft through the hawse made admiral, but one in particular stands out for a Service record that will never be beaten. Provo Wallis joined the Royal Navy as an able seamen in 1795 and died in 1892 an admiral of the fleet. How was this possible? In 1795 his father managed to get Provo, then aged four, registered as an able seaman on the 36-gun frigate HMS Oiseau. In 1796, young Provo became a volunteer in the 40-gun frigate Prévoyante where he remained (on paper at least) for two years, before returning in the 64-gun Asia where he served until 1800, then was promoted as a midshipman into the 32-gun frigate Cleopatra. It was in the War of 1812, during the now-famous Shannon and Chesapeake action that Provo showed his real mettle. HMS Shannon captured USS Chesapeake off Boston on 1 June 1813. Shannon‘s captain, Philip Bowes Vere Broke, was badly wounded during the action and her first lieutenant was killed.

Second Lieutenant Wallis found himself in command of not one but two ships crowded with dead and wounded – as well as prisoners – and close to the enemy coast. In deference to Captain Broke, lying near death in his cabin, Wallis ordered a silent ship. He then sorted out the most pressing concerns, including organising essential repairs, and set course for Halifax. Such was the burden of this command that he did not change his clothes during the six-day voyage and scarcely slept.

Provo went on to serve in various theatres and eventually became admiral of the fleet in 1877. By having commanded a warship between 1793 and 1815 he had the right to remain on the active list as long as he wished. The Admiralty suggested he might wish to voluntarily resign so as not to have to worry about having to be sent to sea again – but Provo would have nothing of the idea and carried on as the navy’s oldest active service officer into the age of steam and steel, electricity and torpedoes as our own age began.


Julian Stockwin was sent at the age of fourteen to Indefatigable, a tough sea-training school. He joined the Royal Navy at fifteen before transferring to the Royal Australian Navy, where he served in the Far East, Antarctic waters and the South Seas. In Vietnam he saw active service in a carrier task force. After leaving the Navy Julian attended university; he became a teacher and later practised as an educational psychologist. Julian lived for some time in Hong Kong, where he was commissioned into the Royal Naval Reserve. He was awarded the MBE and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He now lives in Devon with his wife and literary partner Kathy. More information can be found on his website Julian also posts to his own blog, BigJules, and is on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

He has written sixteen books to date in his Thomas Kydd historical action adventure fiction series. Although they form a series each title can be read as a stand-alone novel. These are in order: KYDD, ARTEMIS, SEAFLOWER, MUTINY, QUARTERDECK, TENACIOUS, COMMAND, THE ADMIRAL’S DAUGHTER, TREACHERY (published in the US as THE PRIVATEER’S REVENGE), INVASION, VICTORY, CONQUEST, BETRAYAL, CARIBBEE, PASHA and TYGER. In parallel to the Kydd novels, he is writing a series of standalone novels, based on pivotal points in history. THE SILK TREE is the first of these; the second, THE CRAKYS OF WAR, is scheduled for publication in 2016. Julian has also written a non-fiction book, STOCKWIN’S MARITIME MISCELLANY.


Captions and illustrations copyright notices:-

Pressgang Caption: Contemporary caricature of the press gang. Image credit: By Unspecified (scanned from Vaisseau de Ligne, Time Life, 1979) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Quilliam Caption: John Quilliam. Image: Courtesy of Manx National Heritage

Cook Caption: Captain Cook. Image credit: Nathaniel Dance-Holland [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wallis Caption: Provo Wallis

Victory Caption: Julian Stockwin at HMS ‘Victory

[Giveaways: 1 hardback of TYGER UK edition, 1 hardback of TYGER US edition]

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Fate of a Grand House in the English Civil War

by Deborah Swift

Towards the end of the English Civil War, many English manor houses and stately homes lay in ruins, their treasures plundered, their art-works melted down, destroyed or divided. One good example of this is Basing House, near Basingstoke.

As the King's cause became more and more hopeless, and he lost the crucial towns of Leicester, Bridgewater, Bath, and Bristol to Cromwell's New Model Army, Cromwell moved on towards London. He wanted to keep the road to the city open, and one of the places that stood in the way was Basing House. The house itself had been under siege on two previous occasions, but this was to be its last stand.

Old postcard of the Garrison Gate at Basing House (circa 1900)

An elegant walled and turreted red-brick stronghold with its own chapel, Basing House was home to the Marquess of Winchester. When it was first built it was the largest private house in the country with around 360 rooms. In Tudor times it was frequently visited by Kings and Queens, including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and not forgetting Philip II of Spain and Queen Mary I who spent their honeymoon there in 1554. This fabulous piece of Tudor history was soon to be left a pile of smoking rubble.

Ernest Crofts - Cromwell at the siege of Basing House
The Catholic defenders of the house were not only accused of being 'a nest of Romanists' - but also bad landlords, greedy and self-serving, who cared little for their tenants or neighbours. However, they were to stand no chance against the assembled siege-train of five enormous demi-cannons and a sixty-three pounder cannon, which blasted their way through the walls.

Once the stronghold was breached, the Roundhead storming parties swarmed over the doomed mansion, and the defenders, though they fought bravely, were far too few to stand a chance against the might of the incoming army. Women witnessed their husbands, fathers, and brothers slaughtered before them, and rushed in to try to prevent the attackers, but they were bludgeoned down.

CW Cope - The Defence of Basing House
The house was a treasure trove of beautiful artifacts, silver and gold plate, tapestries, and elegant furniture, so unsurprisingly, the soldiers thoughts soon turned to booty. The treasures in the house were said to have been worth £200,000, and Hugh Peter, Cromwell's chaplain, in his eyewitness account, the Full and Last Elation of all things concerning Basing House, speaks of 'a bed in one room furnished that cost £1300' - nearly $2000, an enormous sum in the seventeenth century.

Landseer - The Plundering of Basing House
The scene by Landseer above shows the Marquess sitting distraught, comforted by his daughter and his dog. Dead on the floor lies Major Cuffle, whilst Hugh Peter, the chaplain, is swigging stolen wine in the background.

In the wardrobes of the house were more than a hundred richly embroidered petticoats and gowns in silks and satins. These were prey to the plunderers, but not content with these, the ladies were stripped of their outer-garments, the dresses taken literally off their backs until they were left clad only in their shifts. Men were also de-robed, and poor old Inigo Jones, famous architect of Whitehall Banqueting House, had to be carried out of the house naked, but wrapped in a blanket.The Marquess of Winchester himself is said to have been captured whilst hiding in a bread-oven.
after that they sold the household stuff, whereof there was a good store; and the country loaded away many carts, and continued a great while...till they had fetched out all the stools, chairs and other lumber, all of which they sold to the country people piecemeal. In these great houses there was not one iron bar left in all the windows before night... and the last work of all was the lead, and by Thursday morning they had hardly left one gutter about the house.
~Hugh Peter
Fire was the great house's final indignity. The flames spread rapidly, burning for twenty hours, leaving little remaining but charred and blackened walls. With the house still hot from the flames, country people flocked in crowds to buy the cheese, the bacon, and the wheat which had been hastily dragged out. A cart took all the popish books, idols, rosaries and relics to London, to be burned on a public bonfire.

Even after his house was burned and looted, the Marquess was heard to say; "If the King had no more ground in England but Basing House, I would adventure as I did, and so maintain it to the uttermost. Basing House is called Loyalty."

When Parliament was queried about the bloodshed, the reply was; "You must remember what they were: they were most of them Papists; therefore our muskets and our swords did show but little compassion, and this house being at length subdued, did satisfy for her treason and rebellion by the blood of the offenders."

The experiences of the Royalists of Basing House were not uncommon. In my most recent novel, Spirit of the Highway for teens and adults, the setting is a house that has been attacked and plundered in just such a way. Some Royalists, left homeless, with their houses requisitioned by Parliament, turned to highway robbery to survive.

Although the remains of Basing House were demolished by order of Parliament, and much of the masonry carried off to be re-used in other buildings, the ruin can still be visited today.

Pictures :
Further Reading:

By The Sword Divided - John Adair
The English Civil War at First Hand - Tristram Hunt
Going to the Wars - Charles Carlton
British Civil Wars Project
Basing House
Historic Old Basing

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Ill-Fated House of Lancaster

by Anne O'Brien

The House of Lancaster has become of interest to me since writing about Elizabeth of Lancaster in The King's Sister and then more recently about the marriage of King Henry IV and Joanna of Navarre in my new novel The Queen's Choice to be published in January 2016. 

What a short-lived dynasty the House of Lancaster turned out to be in spite of the promising beginnings.

In 1399 Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, son and heir of John of Gaunt and grandson of Edward III,  usurped the Crown of England from his cousin Richard II and was himself crowned King Henry IV after acclamation by the Lords and clerics.  Thus the first King of the House of Lancaster took the throne of England.  With four healthy sons and two daughters, all grown to adulthood, all married, Henry might have expected that England was set fair for a time of regal stability with a healthy and increasing number of Lancaster children and grandchildren to occupy the throne.  Even though Henry's wife, Mary de Bohun, was dead by 1399, and Henry had no more children with his second wife Joanna of Navarre, probably due to his own ill-health, Henry had no need of more heirs.

In 1399, with a new and potent king, who would have believed that the House of Lancaster would have been so short lived, that by 1471 it should have come to an end with no more possible claimants?  Although its demise was indisputably influenced by death in battle, disease and mental frailty - all prevalent in many medieval families at this time-  it was also due to the Lancaster inability to reproduce themselves, or at least legitimately. 

Without legitimate descendents, the House of Lancaster was doomed.

Henry's four sons laid down the pattern for lack of heirs.

Henry, Prince of Wales, later Henry V:  his marriage to Katherine de Valois, of short duration, produced only one son who would become Henry VI.  Henry V died at Vincennes in France, probably from a severe form of dysentery in 1422 at the age of 35.

Thomas, Duke of Clarence: married to Margaret Holland but killed in 1421 at the Battle of Bauge in France at the age of 34 without legitimate issue.  He had one illegitimate son, Sir John Clarence, who was granted lands in Ireland and is buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

John, Duke of Bedford: married twice, first with Anne of Burgundy and then with Jacquetta of Luxemberg.  There were no children from either marriage.  In addition, out of wedlock he had a daughter named Mary, who married Pierre de Montferrand with whom she had a son, Richard.  John died in 1435 at the age of 46.

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester: also married twice, first to Jacqueline of Hainault, a marriage that was annulled, and then to Eleanor Cobham.  There were no children from either marriage.  Humphrey had two illegitimate children:  Arthur of Gloucester who died in 1447 and Antigone of Gloucester who married Henry Grey, Earl of Tankerville, Lord of Powys.  Humphrey was the longest lived of the four sons of Henry IV.  He died in 1447 at the age of 57.

So of the four sons of Henry IV, there was only one legitimate descendent to carry on the royal claim to the throne. 

Henry IV's two daughters fared no better:

Blanche married Louis, the Elector Palatine.  She died in childbirth in 1409 at the age of 17 after the birth of a son Rupert.  This young man died in 1429 at the age of 19 years, unmarried and without issue.  Blanche's dowry included the oldest surviving royal crown known to have been in England.  It probably belonged originally to Anne of Bohemia, Queen of Richard II.

Philippa married Eric, King of Denmark, Sweden and Norway.  She gave birth to a stillborn boy in 1429, and herself died in 1430.  Philippa was the first documented princess in history to wear a white wedding dress during a royal wedding ceremony: she wore a tunic with a cloak in white silk bordered with grey squirrel and ermine.

Henry IV had an illegitimate son Edmund Lebourde who was born in 1401.  He was educated in London.  It is thought that he entered the church since in 1412 a Papal dispensation was granted to allow this, but Edmund thereafter disappeared from history as so many illegitimate children did.

The legitimate line of Lancaster after Henry V fared no better with Henry VI.  Mentally unstable, he married Margaret of Anjou with whom he had only one child, a son Edward of Lancaster.  Edward, married to Anne Neville, had no children and died in 1471 at the Battle of Tewkesbury.  Henry VI died, murdered, in the same year. 

Thus ended of the House of Lancaster.  What a sad tale of inability to produce legitimate heirs to the crown.  Battle and disease took its toll, far more than with most medieval families, yet we might have expected a much higher degree of fertility, being descended from Edward III who, with Philippa of Hainault, had thirteen children. Henry IV's family had promised so much but lasted less than a century.


My novel of Joanna of Navarre, The Queen's Choice, will be published in hardback in the UK on 15th January 2016.  To keep up to date with all events and promotions, visit my website.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Giveaway: Tyger by Julian Stockwin

Julian is giving away a copy of Tyger to a winner in the US and one in the UK. You can read more about the book HERE. Enter the drawing in the comments below, and please remember to leave your contact information. 

John’s Man in Lincoln: Gerard de Camville

by Charlene Newcomb

Gerard de Camville (or de Canville) was Sheriff of Lincolnshire various times during the reigns of Richard I (1189-1199) and John (1199-1216). De Camville was born circa 1132-35. Little is known of his early life. He was the son of Alice and Richard de Camville. Richard had faithfully served Kings Stephen and Henry II. He held lands in Normandy, and had acquired lands in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Essex, and Somerset through grants from the kings and through marriage. Richard was trusted by Henry to accompany his daughter Joanna for her wedding to William II of Sicily.

Gerard de Camville comes into the records more prominently upon his father’s death in Sicily in 1176. Like his father, Gerard appears to have had the good fortune of being in Henry II’s favor. Gerard married the wealthy widow Nichola de la Haye before 1185.
Lincoln Castle
Through her father, Nichola was the hereditary castellan of Lincoln, and upon their marriage, Gerard acquired that office as well as that of Sheriff of Lincolnshire. When Richard I became King of England, Nichola and Gerard journeyed to Normandy to confirm her inheritance. However, appointment as castellans often came at a price. Richard I sold the offices to raise money for the Third Crusade. Gerard and Nicola received the official charter confirming Nicola’s rightful inheritance and Gerard as Sheriff for 700 marks in 1189. (On an interesting side note, William Marshal offered fifty marks for the Gloucestershire shrievalty and castle.)

While Gerard remained in England, his younger half-brother – also a Richard - was one of three men charged with overseeing King Richard’s fleet during the Third Crusade. When 700 men from King Richard’s fleet were arrested after a night of wild, unlawful behavior in Lisbon in 1190, Richard de Camville had to treat with the King of Portugal for their release so their vessels could rendezvous with King Richard in Marseilles. (They were late; Richard hired other busses and left without them!) Following the fleet’s winter stay in Messina, Gerard’s brother became a joint governor of Cyprus, but later joined the King at Acre and died of illness there.

Jew's House, Lincoln
Gerard was impacted in other ways by the call to Crusade and King Richard’s absence. Lincoln was home to one of the most important Jewish communities in England. Religious fervor stirred outright violence against Jews throughout the country, culminating in the massacre at York in March 1190. Jews were murdered in Lynn (Norfolk) and Stamford, and crowds in Lincoln were incited. With Lincoln’s Bishop, Hugh of Avalon, Gerard provided a refuge for Lincoln’s Jews in the Castle.

Gerard should have been set: lands and estates inherited from his father; his wife’s inheritance; and that nice, cushy job at one of the most formidable castles in England. But with King Richard off at war, the king’s chancellor, William Longchamp, sowed seeds of discontent among the barons. Longchamp removed one sheriff after another and placed his own friends and relatives in positions of authority. When he demanded that Gerard relinquish Lincoln Castle, Gerard did homage to Count John, the king’s brother. Chronicler Richard of Devizes claims that Gerard was “a factious man and reckless of allegiance” who helped John occupy Nottingham and Tickhill. Meanwhile, back in Lincoln, Devizes writes that Gerard’s wife Nichola “proposing to herself nothing effeminate, defended [Lincoln] Castle like a man” against a 40 day siege by Longchamp’s forces. Gerard’s shrievalty was affirmed after John and Longchamp met in July 1191 to arrange a truce.

Gerard appears to have no decisive role in the rebellion of 1193 when Count John conspired with King Philip of France to overthrow the absent King Richard. John and Philip offered silver to the Holy Roman Emperor to hold Richard in custody in Germany; Philip helped pay Flemish mercenaries to invade England on John’s behalf. John had ordered all his castles to be defended against the king’s men.

Golding does note that Gerard supported John, but there appears to have been no action at Lincoln in 1193 even after Queen Eleanor ordered sieges against John’s castles. Perhaps Gerard, who had been granted the honour of Wallingford, was involved in sieges there during this time though my research on that matter does not turn up his name.

Nottingham Castle (circa 1250)
King Richard’s return from captivity in 1194 and Richard’s decisions at the subsequent Council of Nottingham in late March/early April ended de Camville’s position as Sheriff of Lincolnshire and castellan of Lincoln Castle. Like many others, Gerard de Camville’s support for John cost him all his lands and titles. Richard, aware of the need to raise monies to support his war against Philip of France, did restore Gerard’s lands upon payment of 2,000 marks.

When John succeeded Richard as king in 1199, Gerard was rewarded for his loyalty. He was named castellan of Lincoln Castle once again and appointed Sheriff of Lincolnshire. His name appears infrequently in the historical records for the years 1194 – 1215, including the years 1199 – 1205 while he served as Sheriff. He was present when William, King of Scots, appeared before King John in Lincoln in 1200 and was involved in a marshland dispute. Well past his 70th year, he was collecting revenues and serving as an itinerant justice.

Gerard de Camville died in 1215. His exact date of death is not known. There is no evidence showing his awareness of the English barons’ discontent with King John and Magna Carta. However, Gerard’s wife Nicola stood by the king, and within months of John's death, she once again defended Lincoln Castle against the French.

Devizes, R. The Chronicle of Richard of Devizes concerning the deeds of Richard the First, King of England. (1841). Trans, and ed. By J.A. Giles. London: James Bohn.

Golding, B. (2006) “Canville , Gerard de (d. 1214).” Brian Golding In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman.

Heiser, R.R. (2000). "Castles, Constables, and Politics in Late Twelfth-Century English Governance.” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Spring, 2000), pp. 19-36

Miller, D. (2003) Richard the Lionheart: the Mighty Crusader. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Newburgh, W. “William of Newburgh.” Trans. & ed. by Paul Halsall, 2000. Internet Medieval Source Book. Book 4

Newcomb, C. (2014) “In Search of Facts…For My Fiction.” The Many Worlds of Char

Turner, R.V. (2009).  King John: England’s Evil King. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press.

Vincent. N. (2004) ‘Canville , Richard de (d. 1191)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press []


Lincoln Castle "Lincoln Castle Entrance" by Uday R Nair - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Jew’s House By Marek69 [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via WikimediaCommons

Nottingham Castle by kstatelibrarian (i.e., me). CC BY-SA 4.0 via FLICKR

* * * * * * * * * * *

Charlene Newcomb is the author of Men of the Cross, Book I of Battle Scars. This historical adventure, set during the Third Crusade, is a tale of war’s impact on a young knight serving Richard the Lionheart and of forbidden love. Book II, For King and Country, will be published in 2016. 

Visit Charlene’s website,
On Facebook at CharleneNewcombAuthor
On Twitter @charnewcomb.

Book link: Amazon

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Queen Emma - One of the Neglected Figures in English History

by Helen Hollick

This is part of an essay I wrote in 1997 for a history degree course at Birkbeck College, University of London. Unfortunately I never found the time to complete the degree!
The full, original essay is here:

The first chapters of the Norman conquest of England began in the spring of 1002, with the marriage of Emma of Normandy to Æthelred, King of the English. She was a daughter of Richard of Normandy, great grandfather of William I of England. Although of Scandinavian (Viking) descent, these "Northmen" were, by the early eleventh century, mostly Christian, and an alliance would prevent Vikings from using Norman ports from which to harass England. Henceforth, the Counts of Normandy would have a considerable interest in the English crown, with the ambition being that a son of Emma's would succeed to the throne. Two, Harthacnut and Edward, did rule, but both were childless, thus eliminating the prospect of Norman rule by direct succession. Considering that the alliance was to bring security from Viking raiders, it is ironic that when Æthelred died in 1016, Emma then married one of the most prominent Vikings of this period, Cnut, who conquered England and became King.

Emma became a queen who carved for herself a significant position within the political estate of England. Her first son, Edward, was born circa 1005 with a second son, Alfred, a year or so later. The succession to the throne however, was disrupted in 1013 by an invasion by Svein Forkbeard of Denmark and his son, Cnut. In the autumn, Emma and her sons, at her initiative, fled to Normandy soon followed by Æthelred himself.

In the spring of 1014 Æthelred dispatched ambassadors to England, with his young son Edward accompanying them, to negotiate a return to the English throne. Shortly after Æthelred's reinstatement, his son by a first (common-law) wife, Edmund Ironside, began to act independently of his father. Emma, it seems, was also dissatisfied with her husband’s failures, for she apparently transferred her support to Edmund. In the Encomium Emma Reginae (her biography written during her lifetime) Æthelred is not merely omitted as her husband, but his existence is significantly suppressed. Emma was a strong and determined women who knew her own mind, what she wanted, and was ruthless in her ambition to obtain it. It is doubtful that she would have chosen to ‘forget’ her first husband because of infidelity; more likely she was dissatisfied with his failures and weakness as a king.

A Hollow Crown cover
depicting the frontispiece of the Encomium
showing Emma, Harthacnut and  Edward
(fourth person unknown, possibly the Encomum's author)
Æthelred died in 1016. Edmund Ironside occupied the throne and withstood Cnut, with the boy Edward, who was possibly no older than thirteen, at his side. That Emma had deliberately sent her eldest son to be with his half-brother is typical of her character. Edward would have been too young to stand against Cnut on his own; her only chance of recovering her position, wealth, and estates would have rested on Edmund's success - with Edward as his successor. Unfortunately for Emma, Edmund died in 1016, and Cnut became King of England.

Cnut turned to securing his position and took Emma as his second wife in July 1017. He had a reputation of paganism and needed to establish his Christianity. The degree of involvement that Emma herself had in the betrothal negotiations is unknown, but she was certainly shrewd and politically wise. As Queen, Emma had acquired expertise in English politics, and marriage to her diverted support away from the two royal English sons, neutralizing them as potential opponents. The master plan of the sixth or seventh century usurper had three stages: murder the king, get the gold, marry the widow. Since the widow usually sat on the gold, the two went together.

Emma achieved a position of prominence under Cnut that she had not enjoyed under Æthelred. She benefitted from her second husband's control of three kingdoms, and by Cnut she had a third son, Harthacnut, reducing Æthelred's sons who were again in exile in Normandy to little more than pawns. When Cnut died in 1035, Harthacnut was ruling in Denmark, and Emma pressed for his succession, not Edward's. Harthacnut would retain for her, as King of England and Denmark, her wealth and status and would be more likely to receive support from the Angle-Danish aristocracy who had risen to power under Cnut. Her main ally proved to be Earl Godwine of Wessex. When Edward and Alfred arrived in England in 1036 to make a claim for the throne, there was virtually no support for either brother, including none from Emma herself.

Emma was a woman of considerable wealth and because of that, she held great political power. She held three types of property which would provide her with revenue. The possession of the royal treasury was crucial. It would contain essential royal documents, such as tribute lists, gold, silver, precious stones and weapons. Possibly also, the royal insignia. By having control of the treasury, Emma was able to attract - and hold - support. Harthacnut, however, remained in Denmark and when Godwine, the crux of Emma's success, unexpectedly switched sides to support Cnut’s illegitimate eldest son, Harold Harefoot, Emma fell swiftly from power and went, once again, into exile.

Harefoot died in 1039 which gave Harthacnut opportunity to renew his claim on England. It may have been during her exile that Emma commissioned the Encomium Emmae Regina to be written; a work of praise for herself and a demonstration that Harthacnut was the right choice as King of England. It shows that Emma was literate and of distinguished learning.

Harthacnut's reign was brief; he died in 1042. After all her struggles Emma must have been devastated; the crown passed to Edward, but it was of little comfort to her. For most of his life Edward had lived in exile in Normandy. His mother had abandoned him, and there was no love between son and mother. Soon after his consecration in 1043, Edward rode to Winchester to accuse Emma of treason and to dispossess her of lands and movables, although he stopped short at exile. According to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, "They came unexpectedly upon the lady and deprived her of all the treasures …because she had been very hard to the king, her son...”

Whether by her own strength of character or her son's remorse, she was soon reinstated into favour, although at a lower scale. He took Earl Godwine’s daughter, Edith, as wife – although the marriage produced no children, and Emma retired to Winchester, an indication that her influence had decreased. She died on 6th March 1052 and was buried in the Old Minster, Winchester near Cnut and Harthacnut.

Post 1066 queens of England are discussed at length, appreciated or condemned, depending on their worth, while those of pre-Norman history are considerably neglected - even ignored. Emma was the only woman in British history to have been Queen twice, the wife of different ruling kings. This makes her unique. She was an intriguing woman, on a par with the later Eleanor of Aquitaine, and she has a significant place in English history.

Pauline Stafford
Queens, concubines and Dowagers: The king's wife in the early middle ages
Henrietta Leyser
Medieval Women: A social history of women in England 450- 1500
Christine Fell
Women in Anglo-Saxon England
Frank Barlow
Edward the Confessor
Translator, Anne Savage:
 The Anglo Saxon Chronicles


Helen Hollick is the author of A Hollow Crown (UK edition)/The Forever Queen (US edition). 
The Forever Queen was a USA Today bestseller.
Emma's story continues in Harold the King (UK title) / I Am The Chosen King (US title)

For more information  about Queen Emma : click here 

Buy the book in paperback or on Kindle: Amazon

Friday, October 2, 2015

Who Wants to Kill a King?

by Anthony Anglorus

How did the English come to execute their king? This is a question which many with an interest in history ask, and there is never a clear answer, despite the fact that the evidence is clearly available and well documented.

In reality, only a very small handful of people sought his death. The general populace simply wanted life to return to normal so that they could ply their various trades in peace. If asked, some might have wanted him to be brought down a peg or two, but most simply wanted to live their (usually miserable) lives without interference. Those of Royalist persuasion obviously wanted him back on the throne and even the majority of Parliamentarians only sought that he be deposed or his powers curbed.

But within the ranks of the Parliamentarians, there was a small coven of individuals who wanted him dead. Amongst these was the firebrand General Henry Ireton, who also happened to be Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law.

Oliver Cromwell himself was in the group who sought simply to curb the powers of the King. Indeed, he put considerable effort into trying to persuade Charles to accept a reduction of powers. But at some point, he gave up trying. One can only surmise, but the logical answer as to why this happened is that after a particularly difficult session with the King, he spent some time with Ireton - perhaps at a family dinner - who persuaded him that the King could never be trusted to honour an agreement even if one was possible. However it happened, Cromwell suddenly became one of those determined to see the King executed.

But what was Cromwell like? He was something of a chameleon; at times almost kindly, at other times downright vicious. The Irish remember him mostly for his later brutality at Drogheda, where he ordered the butchery of every soldier and most civilians - and even some soldiers who had surrendered and been promised safe passage. The English have a soft spot for him, tending to overlook his shortcomings but highlight the fact that he was instrumental in putting in place the modern system of a parliamentary democracy with a Royal head of state. But most of all, in reality, he was the consummate politician as we know them today.

In contrast, Sir Thomas Fairfax was an utterly lamentable politician. Contrary to popular belief, Cromwell was not head of the New Model Army at this time; it was General Sir Thomas Fairfax. Fairfax was in fact the most successful of the Parliamentarian Generals during the Civil War and was a determinedly honourable man. His wife was an outspoken Royalist who later twice disrupted the King’s trial and was ejected forcibly from the chamber. He was himself of the opinion that the King needed to be brought down a peg or two but was strongly opposed to the concept of rule without a King and certainly not in favour of his execution.

Charles was an arrogant man who truly believed that he had a God-given right and duty to rule. Given that this was an extremely religious time, the phrase ‘God-given’ carried more weight then than it would today. His father, James I, had been possibly more arrogant still so it is easy to see where it came from. As a ruler, he was not particularly effective, probably even poor, but he certainly was not an evil man. Devious in many ways, he was also sometimes extremely rigidly honourable, as in when he refused an opportunity to escape captivity because he had given his parole to the senior officer guarding him that he would not seek to escape.

In November 1648, Cromwell was campaigning in North-East England, mopping up the last shreds of Royalist opposition when he was ordered by Parliament to return to London. For reasons forever lost in the mists of time, he obeyed this order, but deliberately prevaricated. He moved south slowly, even taking the time to take his army across England to visit Pontefract, where another general was engaged in a long siege. All was under control there, no interventions were sought, needed or given, but he spent a couple of days there before resuming his slow journey south.

Meanwhile, in London his son-in-law had either forged or tricked Fairfax into signing an order for Parliament to be blockaded, and it was enacted on 6th December in an action immortalised as ‘Pride’s Purge’, named after the Colonel who had the task of standing with Lord Grey in the House of Commons doorway.
Lord Grey had drawn up a list of members of Parliament separating out those who would probably vote for a bill to place the King on trial, those who would not and those who would be so opposed to it that they would represent a danger even from outside. As the Members arrived at the doorway, admission was refused to those who would oppose, granted to those who might vote for the bill and those who represented a danger were arrested.

Inside the House, once there was a quorum the debate began, and the bill ultimately passed.

Under English Law, a bill passed by the House of Commons must then be passed by the House of Lords, and only then does it go to the Monarch for final ratification and signature - a system in place then for centuries and still in place today. As the King was under arrest, a bill was also passed removing the need for the King’s signature.

When the bill reached the Lords, they firmly voted against it, and then, fearing physical reprisals, they declared a holiday for themselves and rapidly dispersed.

Meanwhile, by an amazing coincidence (or perhaps not), Cromwell had finally arrived in London the day after Pride’s Purge, claiming no prior knowledge of the violation of democracy that it represented but also announcing that he approved of the outcome.

Once the Commons learned that their bill had been rejected by the Lords, they reacted by passing a further bill that the House of Lords were no longer necessary for the passage of Laws in England, and that the Commons alone were the source of governance. It was then easy to pass the laws they wanted to bring the King to trial.

One should note at this point that under English Law at that time, there was no provision in Law for the Monarch to be brought to account; the Monarch was the source of all law and therefore could not be brought to account under the law. Subsequently this was changed, although Parliament has not interfered with the Monarch in recent times.

It took several weeks to prepare for the trial. The hall had to be completely refurbished and a suitable judge appointed. All of the senior legal minds knew that the trial was illegal under English Law, and to a man they went away on holiday. Finally, they appointed John Bradshaw, a junior lawyer who himself refused at first, but was eventually persuaded - and was extraordinarily enthusiastic in his post thereafter.

Come the day of the opening of the trial, Bradshaw turned up with body armour beneath his robes and surrounded by numerous bodyguards. Troops lined the courtroom, all facing the public gallery. A roll call of the selected commissioners was made, and when Fairfax’s name was called, there was no reply - he was absent. From the public gallery came a cry ‘Aye, he hath too much wit to be here!’. The heckler was hustled from the gallery, but not before she had been identified as Lady Fairfax.

The trial continued over several days. The King contested the legality of the trial, but Bradshaw overruled him and carefully avoided giving the King any opportunity to defend himself. At one point, the King requested the right to address the House of Commons and Lords together, but Bradshaw denied it, causing John Downes, one of the commissioners, to leap to his feet and question the morality of such a denial. Cromwell ordered him to sit down and shut up, but he persisted, causing a temporary adjournment of the proceedings while the commissioners talked in private. When they emerged, the protesting commissioner was missing along with several others. The predetermined outcome was reached with the predetermined sentence laid down ‘in the name of the people of England’, at which point a voice rang out from the Gallery.

“This is not for the people of England, nay, barely any would condone this."

Again, the heckler was hustled from the gallery, this time at gunpoint, and again was identified as Lady Fairfax.

Sentence was to be carried out a few days later on January 30th, 1649, and the King was held in a nearby apartment.

At his London home, Fairfax (who was, remember, Cromwell’s superior officer) was receiving pleas and protests from the City Fathers (London) and numerous foreign embassies, all pleading for a remission of sentence. On the morning of the execution, once he had seen the last of the ambassadors, Fairfax went to the site of the execution with the intent of forcing a deferral of sentence. The actual execution had been delayed while Parliament passed a law making it illegal to declare Charles’ son (also named Charles) as King once the execution took place. As Fairfax arrived, Cromwell had just returned with the new law, which was being read out to the assembled crowd.

Guessing Fairfax’s intentions, Cromwell gave the nod to the officer responsible for overseeing the execution, then took Fairfax into the chapel "for some peace and quiet". Whilst discussing matters, a huge groan was heard from outside - a witness to the execution described the sound as one "I have never heard before and wish never to hear again." This occurred at the moment the executioner’s assistant held up the King’s severed head for all to see, announcing "behold, the head of a traitor".

The King was dead.


Whilst the execution is not directly the story I have written, it is a pivotal point in both British History and also my novel, which is about a Royalist highwayman who was active at that time and indeed had become a folk hero. There is more detail there than here, and if you want to know more you should read The Prince of Prigs published by Bygone Era Books and available in paperback ($17.95) and e-book ($4.99). The sterling price fluctuates with the rate of exchange but is around £11.95 and £3.33.

My working life was spent far from both History and Literature initially. But I did enjoy reading, and as I tired of Science Fiction, I started reading Historical Fiction - and I was hooked.

From then onwards, I would enjoy the history of the world wherever I travelled, indeed I avoided anywhere lacking historical content.

I had been ‘guided’ towards accountancy, and this was my career from around age In 2000, I moved my office to Leicestershire and it was here that I learned about one George Davenport, ill-fated highwayman of the late 18th Century.

Once I reached the first stage of my retirement in 2009, I found myself with more time on my hands, and I decided to research this character. As I delved, a fascinating story emerged, and I resolved to write his story, a task which eventually became “The Other Robin Hood”, available from Smashwords and Amazon.

This was my first real attempt at writing a book, and it showed; I made numerous mistakes. But I knew what they were, and resolved that the next book would be free of them. I decided to stick within the ‘highwayman’ genre, and did extensive research on the history of highwaymen. Eventually I alighted upon Captain James Hind.

I tell the real-life story of the Captain on my webpage, but for the novel, I wrote his story from age around 32. This was because there is little to catch the eye in a rebellious teenager, which was how he started. I decided to weave in a bit about events surrounding him, then I wove in another highwayman and before I knew it, I had the elements in place to write a satisfying conclusion to the book.

Numerous rejections later, I had enough comments to reorganise the opening chapters, and once that was done, I immediately got interest from two publishers. Bygone Era Books responded first, I liked the contract, and so I was suddenly a Published Author! The Prince of Prigs was released on 6th July, 2015.

As I am now in my sixties, retirement beckons. But I shall continue writing until my last breath, and we are currently creating a writing room in our retirement home in rural France.

At the point of writing this, I have just started writing the sequel. Whilst there was enough material in the true story to mean that much of The Prince of Prigs is simply a dramatisation of the truth, the absence of subsequent information gives me a blank canvas, one which I hope to fill with a book at least as good as the opener.

Watch This Space!