Monday, 28 September 2015

Book Review - A Wilderness of Sin by MJ Logue

A Wilderness of Sin is chronologically the fifth in MJ Logue’s “An Uncivil War” series of novels featuring Colonel Hollie Babbitt and his troop of parliamentary soldiers during the English Civil War. For personal reasons Logue published A Wilderness of Sin out of sequence (at the time of writing this review books 3 and 4 were still to be published), but as Logue herself says in the pre-amble, “you’ve missed nowt.”

At first sight you might be forgiven for thinking that Logue’s books are similar in style to those of Michael Arnold, but as you read them, you realise that her novels are less concerned with the historical course of the military campaigns or with the blood and guts of warfare, than with human interaction at times of crisis, and the description of relationships is something which Logue does particularly well.

A Wilderness of Sin is the author’s best book yet, and as the series develops, the depth of her characterisations have grown accordingly. Here the main story revolves around three key relationships – the shared experience of Babbitt’s junior officer Luce Pettit and the diminutive trooper Gray (I will not expand on this here for fear of ruining the story), the interaction between the convalescing Thankful Russell, Babbitt’s wife Het and Babbitt’s two year old daughter Thomazine, and the love-hate relationship between Babbitt himself and his preacher father Elijah.

I found the description of the relationship between Russell as he slowly regains his sight and Thomazine to be particularly poignant.

Logue never lets you forget the fragility of life under conditions of war, but the underlying message of her story lines is that, even at times when human beings are being stretched to the limits of their endurance, the underlying goodness of humanity will always shine through – and that’s what makes A Wilderness of Sin such an uplifting read.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Blood Loyal - A Civil War Film by David Rowlinson
'Blood Loyal' is an excellent short film by young film maker David Rowlinson, who I had the pleasure to meet for the first time last week at the Sealed Knot re-enactment in Chester. David first sent me his film for review a couple of months ago. I didn’t realise it at the time but David is a member of the Earl of Manchester’s regiment of the Sealed Knot, which I joined recently. Many of the extras in the film are people who I have got to know since I first saw the film, and so I thought I would give the film a plug, not least because it is well worth watching.

‘Blood Loyal’ tells the story of Will Fletcher, a boy in his late teens left to live alone, after two years of civil war has torn his family apart. After sighting his brother, Sam, alive in a Royalist patrol, he is captured by two Parliamentarian scouts, Thomas Mason and John Turner. Together they must travel back to the remainder of their company, who were part of a crushing defeat several days earlier, a defeat that still haunts Thomas and John.

To watch the film on Youtube, click here or on the image.

The Rise of Sir William Brereton

Daniel Cheswis, the lead character in my novels, The Winter Siege and A Soldier of Substance is one of the petty constables in the Cheshire town of Nantwich at a time when the established structures of local government had collapsed during the early part of the First Civil War. In creating an environment for him to operate in, it was necessary for me to carry out considerable research into local Cheshire politics at that time, and what I found was a fascinating story of one man’s rise to prominence against the established social order and the creation of a political structure which allowed him to maintain power, almost unchallenged, until after the conclusion of the Siege of Chester.

On the face of it, Sir William Brereton was not the obvious choice to assume undisputed command of the war effort in Cheshire. Although he was from a gentry background, he was the social inferior of the local barons and of leading local families such as the Booths, Delves, Mainwarings and Wilbrahams. Brereton was extremely active socially during the 1630s, but his prominence and position of influence in Cheshire politics largely came about due to the fact that he was the only Cheshire MP to continually sit in the Commons after July 1642.

During the period leading up to the start of the First Civil War Cheshire MPs and the county elite were essentially moderate in nature, looking to avoid conflict as much as possible with a view to avoiding the risk of a collapse in social structures. At this time, however, Brereton began to be viewed as something of a political and religious radical, attracting the support of local Puritans. He was also influential on many government committees at the time.

It is not known for certain, but it is likely that his change in image was a reason why Brereton was not chosen as a candidate for election to the Long Parliament. Instead he stood as an independent, defeating the candidates chosen by the local barons and baronets.

 He was elected to the Long Parliament as an independent having been chosen by neither the barons nor the baronets, including the likes of Sir George Booth, whose daughter Brereton had been married to before her death in 1637. Brereton also sat on numerous parliamentary committees in the period leading up to the war, increasing his influence still further.

Brereton’s continuing involvement in Westminster politics gave him a personal influence he would not otherwise have been able to secure, and to the surprise and dismay of many of his political opponents, he was promoted by parliamentary ordinance to positions of significant power from where he could control the military operations of Parliament in Cheshire.

Brereton’s overwhelming control of events in Cheshire can be ascribed to two key ordinances.

The first, in March 1643, gave him supreme military command in Cheshire, including the sole right to make military appointments and the ability to take control of troops raised by his social superiors, including Sir George’s grandson, also called George Booth, who was in command of the Nantwich garrison during the 1644 Battle of Nantwich described in The Winter Siege. Gradually, over a period, many of the county elite stepped down or were removed from military command to be replaced by professional soldiers who had Brereton to thank for their advancement. Examples of this are James Lothian and Thomas Croxton, both of whom make appearances in The Winter Siege and A Soldier of Substance

The second major ordinance was in March 1644. Prior to this date administrative powers in the county were in the hands of five or more Deputy Lieutenants. The new ordinance, however, stipulated that power could be exercised by Brereton together with any two or more of the Deputy Lieutenants. Brereton therefore not only had a veto on any local decisions, since he knew he could always find at least two people to support him, he was able to set up a network of committees all dominated by his own chosen followers. Moderates such as Sir George Booth, Philip Mainwaring of Peover and others were shut out of any influence in local politics until almost the end of the First Civil War.

This blog post was originally written for Andrea Zuvich's blog site 17th Century Lady