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Mortuary Swords

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Basic cut-and-thrust broadswords favoured by cavalry officers and used throughout the Civil Wars were made in England between 1625 and 1670.  They had a wooden or corded grip,  a metal basket-hilt to protect the hand and usually a two-edged blade between thirty-three and thirty-four inches long.  In 1645, two hundred of them were made for the New Model Army at a cost of five shillings each – hard to believe these days.

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The main point of interest in these swords lies in the basket-hilt.  These were frequently decorated in some form or other; a coat-of-arms, a man in armour, intricate patterns of leaves – presumably whatever the purchaser wanted and was willing to pay extra for.  (It is reasonable to assume that the five-shilling ones, being mass-produced, were plain.)
But following the execution of Charles l in January 1649, a new trend was born.  Basket-hilts started to be engraved with small portraits of long-haired men with pointed beards; faces bearing a striking resemblance to the late King.  And these blades – which were only made in England – soon became known as mortuary swords.

It’s impossible to know how many were made but authentic 17th century examples are now very rare. However, a few days ago I was lucky enough to acquire one – to be honest, something I’ve wanted for years but never expected to own – so hence my excitement and this post.

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When you hold a significant piece of history in your hand, it’s hard not to speculate about its own particular story.  I know that my sword would have been made around 1650 and that it almost certainly belonged to a cavalry officer.  I can guess that its first owner was probably a Cavalier because it seems unlikely that the Roundheads wanted Charles l memorabilia.  And because my sword has seen some action – though not a great deal – I can wonder if it was at Dunbar in 1650 or Worcester in 1651.
Its edge is still extremely sharp, its point thoroughly wicked … and it is still capable of doing a great deal of damage.  And the weight of it gives me a healthy respect for the strength and stamina of the men who wielded weapons like this whilst on horseback.

 

Farewell 2016 … Welcome 2017

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2016 may have been a lousy year on the world-wide stage but it’s been an exceptionally good one for me.
In May, I published the long-awaited fourth book in the Roundheads & Cavaliers series – Lords of Misrulewhich I’m delighted to say made it on to Caz’s Best of 2016 List at All About Romance as well as Wendy Loveridge’s list at Romantic Historical Reviews.

But the biggest adventure of my year was the transformation of four of my titles into audiobooks – something which, back in 2015, I’d never have dreamed was possible.  And along the way, I had the privilege and absolute pleasure of working with Alex Wyndham who, as anyone who has ever listened to him knows, is incredibly talented.  He’s also a thoroughly nice guy.

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The Rockliffe books … The Parfit Knight, The Mesalliance and The Playerwere recorded back-to-back in the spring and released by April.

Once again, I’m delighted to announce that – thanks to brilliant Alex – all three Rockliffe audios made it on to the Best of 2016 at AudioGals and also at Ladeetdareads.  I’d like to say a huge THANK  YOU!  to those reviewers whose ratings and kind remarks put them there.

And last but by no means least, A Splendid Defiance also made it into audio (by the skin of its teeth!) before the end of the year and therefore managed to join the Rockliffe series on the AudioGals Best of  2016 and find a place on Caz’s list at Romantic Historical Reviews.

So … an eventful year for me and a very successful one. I’m currently working on Rockliffe FourThe Wicked Cousin – which I hope to complete by the spring.
Meanwhile, I’d like to wish all my readers, reviewers and friends – and particularly those who are all three – a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2017 filled with everything you wish for yourselves.

The Trial of Charles 1 – a dramatic reconstruction!

Some months ago, I was asked to write a play.
Something suitable to be performed in Sandwich’s ancient courtroom
during both the annual Festival and Arts Week.
This, since I’ve never written a play before, was a bit scary … but here is the result.

MAN OF BLOOD OR MARTYR OF THE PEOPLE?

The cover of our programme

Every member of the cast is portraying a real person and all the language in the actual trial sequences is authentic … words spoken by the King himself and by the various officers of the court. Even my own additional scenes feature people who were really there.  (For my sins, I’ll be playing the part of Anne Fairfax!)  If you’ve ever wondered what really happened during those four days in January 1649, it’s in our play – warts and all, as someone who shall be nameless once said.


Our beautiful courtroom, dating from the reign of Elizabeth 1

To our amazement and delight, tickets for both August performances sold out within five days.  But anyone who missed out will have the chance to catch this unique performance when we repeat it on September 17th & 18th for Sandwich Arts Week.

Welcome to Adrian’s world

In HAZARD, Lord and Lady Sarre’s house-party takes us once again to my own home turf.  Here are a few pictures of the Ancient Cinque Port of Sandwich  – most of which have changed very little since Adrian’s time.

 

Let’s start by wandering down to Sandwich Bay …

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Marcus would put money, if he’d had any, on Sarre having procured a license; and, if that was the case, there was almost certainly only one place he’d go.  The house in that God-forsaken spot on the east Kent coast that he’d always been so bloody fond of.  (Extract from The Player)

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Caroline opened the curtains and found herself gazing across a narrow sand and shingle beach to miles and miles of empty grey ocean.  She shut her eyes and then opened them again.  If one were searching for the bleakest most deserted spot one could find, this should surely qualify.

Adrian’s guided tour – and schoolroom lesson.

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‘During the reign of Edward the Confessor, Sandwich and four similar ports were grouped together to become known as the Cinque Ports.’
‘The other four being …?’
‘Dover, Hastings, Hythe and Romney,’ said Sarre.  Then, ‘Who is conducting this lesson?’
‘You, my lord,’ replied Caroline severely. ‘But you shouldn’t miss things out.’

(c) Sandwich Guildhall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Adrian would have recognised his town in this painting.  It shows the bridge over the River Stour and the Barbican; and, dominating the sky-line, St Peter’s church.

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A similar view today. Adrian would have known the drawbridge built in 1757, not the more modern swing bridge we have now. But he’d recognise pretty much everything else.

‘The bridge is only about twenty years old,’ he remarked.  ‘I remember it being built. Before that, one had to cross the river by ferry.’  Then, pointing to an odd building comprising two conical parts connected by an arch spanning the road, ‘The Barbican, on the other hand, pre-dates it by over two centuries.  Tolls are payable there for every carriage, cart and cow wishing to use the bridge.’

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Caroline strolled along, admiring a row of black-and-white half-timbered houses.  She said, ‘I’ve never been anywhere like this.  It’s charming.’
‘I’m glad you think so.  In the sixteenth century, these houses and others like them were probably occupied by Flemish Huguenots who came here to escape religious persecution.’  He gave her a half-smile.  ‘Many of them, it may interest you to know, were weavers by trade.’

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The Guildhall Courtyard where Adrian and Caroline met Mr Bailes.

Sarre took in the thin coat hanging loosely on a too-thin frame and the swollen joints in the rheumatic hands.  Then, turning to Caroline, he said, ‘I’m being very rude.  This gentleman is Mr Bailes.  He was head-gardener at Sarre Park when I was young.  Mr Bailes – this is Mistress Maitland.  She is a friend of mine.’
‘Honoured, Miss.’ Bailes touched his shapeless hat and looked back at the Earl with a sigh. ‘I’m glad to have seen you, m’lord – but I’ll be on my way now.  It’s not right keeping the young lady standing about in the cold.’
His lordship detained him with a hand on his arm.
‘It isn’t – which is why we’ll go over to the Old New Inn so that she can sit by the fire while you tell me everything.’

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Inside the church of St Peter …

With no music, no flowers and an openly disapproving vicar, the ceremony was both simple and no longer than necessary.  The ring slid on to her finger, warm from his hand.  She stared at it for a second, transfixed, before looking into his face to discover that he was doing the same thing, his expression oddly intent. Then the silver-grey eyes flicked back to her face and the shadows vanished in a dazzling smile.

This has changed a bit.  These days, St Peter’s is no longer a functioning church – but the curfew bell, telling locals they may let their pigs and geese into the streets is still rung there every evening at 8 pm

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And finally, Walmer Castle – scene of the confrontation between Adrian and Marcus.

Marcus swallowed.  ‘Come to gloat, have you?’
No, you malicious ass, answered Adrian silently.  I’ve come to rub your nose in the mess you’ve made of your own life and done your damnedest to make of mine. And to find out why.

Originally built as one of Henry the Eighth’s coastal defences, the castle later became the home of the Lords Warden of the Cinque Ports.  In Adrian’s day the current Lord Warden was the Earl of Holderness.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour around Adrian’s town.  As you may possibly have guessed, I’m proud to live here.

 

Katherine Stuart, Lady d’ Aubigny

Daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, little is known of Kate’s early years or education. In May 1638 she secretly married Lord George Stuart, ninth Seigneur d’Aubigny and second son of the Duke of Lennox.  Clearly, it was a love-match; less clear is why neither Kate’s parents nor the King, who was guardian to the Stuart brothers, would consent to the match.  But the young pair did it anyway and had it commemorated in two sumptuous portraits by Van Dyck.  The one of George (now in the National Portrait Gallery) bears the motto, ‘Love is stronger than I am’.

The couple had two children.  Tragically, however, George was killed at the battle of Edgehill in October 1642 leaving his young widow not just heart-broken but in financial difficulties. Since George hadn’t made a will, Kate couldn’t gain access  to his money.

In May 1643, she got Parliament’s permission to come to London to deal with her husband’s affairs.  Kate used this opportunity to deliver the King’s Commission of Array (aimed at raising forces among royalist sympathizers in the city) to fellow-conspirator Edmund Waller.  It’s said she frequently carried secret messages hidden in her curls! Unfortunately, the Waller Plot was betrayed and some of the obscurer figures involved in it were hanged by Parliament. Kate claimed the protection of the French ambassador, by virtue of her husband’s French title, but was none the less imprisoned in the Tower for some months.

By late 1648 Katherine had married her second husband, a Scottish gentleman of the bedchamber to the King – James Livingston, Viscount Newburgh.  They did not have children.

In December 1648, only weeks before his trial and execution, Charles I spent a night at the Newburghs’ house in Surrey, on his way from the Isle of Wight to Windsor, and the couple seem to have made some attempt to secure his escape. Their plans were foiled by the precautions of Major-General Thomas Harrison, but they were able to pass messages from Charles to his exiled queen.

Following the regicide the Newburghs joined other royalist exiles at The Hague. Kate died there in 1650 and was survived by her husband, who was created Earl of Newburgh in 1660 on the Restoration.

WENDY’S FAVOURITES – AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: LES MÉSALLIANCE BY STELLA RILEY AND NARRATED BY ALEX WYNDHAM

(Rockliffe, #2) Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1767 and 1775) Cover Blurb: The Duke of Rockliffe is 36 years old, head of his house, and responsible for his young sister, Nell. He is, theref…

Source: WENDY’S FAVOURITES – AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: LES MÉSALLIANCE BY STELLA RILEY AND NARRATED BY ALEX WYNDHAM