On a bright but chilly December morning in Rouen, the Corneille Museum was a warm and welcome surprise … and my husband and I had it to ourselves.
The museum is situated in the house that was Corneille’s home for over fifty years. A pleasant, welcoming building with two large, light rooms on each floor which, in additional to relevant theatrical memorabilia, also contain Corneille’s extensive library and his desk.
I should probably admit that I’m not actually a great fan of Corneille’s plays and much prefer those of Moliere.
But I wanted to use French theatre as a background to The King’s Falcon which is largely set in 1652 – and at that time, Moliere’s troupe was still touring the provinces. Corneille, on the other hand – though his popularity had taken a bit of a hit in the late 1640s – was still the foremost French dramatist of his day.
He wrote some forty-two plays during his lifetime, many of which have been largely forgotten and only four are ever performed in any language other than French.
Horace (1640), Cinna (1641), Polyeucte (1642/3) … and the one for which Corneille is best known and which began his rise to theatrical stardom … Le Cid.
Le Cid was premiered at the Théâtre du Marais in 1637. This had been founded only three years before by two actors (Lenoir and Montdory) who felt it was time to end the theatrical stranglehold of the King’s Players at the Hotel de Bourgogne … and it immediately gained the patronage of Cardinal Richelieu. The theatre, which had begun life as a tennis-court, suffered a damaging fire in 1643 which resulted in some re-building – and the installation of the first proscenium stage.
Richelieu had been Corneille’s patron as well as that of the Marais Theatre until the opening performance of Le Cid. The play was an instant success but it was also controversial in that it departed from the existing form and style. Richelieu didn’t like it; Corneille refused to accept the Cardinal’s criticisms and thus a parting of the ways became inevitable. Richelieu, being a fan of Montdory, continued to support the Marais until his own death in 1642 … but Corneille now took his new plays to the Hotel de Bourgogne.
And then, in 1652, something occasioned a change of heart. Perhaps because his recent offerings had been less than successful or perhaps because of some disagreement at the Bourgogne, Corneille gave permission for a revival of Le Cid on the stage of the Marais Theatre where it had premiered some fifteen years before. Readers of The King’s Falcon will recall that Athenais de Galzain took the leading role of Chimene … her first opportunity to play Corneille and an occasion of equal delight and terror.
Like myself, many of you will have seen the epic film, El Cid, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. It’s the tale of an 11th century Spanish warrior – which, naturally, was one of the things Richelieu had against it.
Perhaps, also like me, some of you will remember the final scenes when Rodrigue’s corpse is strapped into the saddle of his horse to put heart into the army for their next battle … and the epic closing line given in voice-over.
And so El Cid rode off the pages of history and into legend.
I can’t help wondering what Corneille would have made of that!
Sir Anthony van Dyck
1599 to 1641
The last self-portrait, painted in 1640-41
Van Dyck was born in Antwerp and probably set up his first studio at the age of sixteen while, at around the same time, he began working as an assistant to Rubens. He made his first brief visit to England in 1620 and was paid £100 by James I for some ‘special service’ the nature of which is unknown. But whilst here he saw the Earl of Arundel’s collection of Italian art – which inspired a burning desire to visit Italy. He went there in 1621 and stayed for six years, travelling extensively around the country and developing what was to become his own personal style.
By the time he returned to Antwerp in 1627 he had an international reputation and commissions flooded in both for portraits and for religious paintings. In 1631, he visited the court of the Hague and there discovered that a Protestant court could provide as much patronage as a Catholic one … and this resulted in a second visit to England in 1632.
It is unlikely that van Dyck intended to settle here but, already familiar with his work, Charles I had other ideas and undertook to keep this talented artist at his own court. Thus began the period in which van Dyck would transform the old stiff, formal face of English portraiture into something more real; something that suggested movement and individuality.
Van Dyck virtually painted an entire who’s who of the period – and if proof of this is needed, you need only look at my own Who’s Who – in particular those of Lucy Carlisle (The ‘Real’ Lady de Winter?’) and Lord George Stuart (The Price One Family Paid). His many portraits of the Royal Family created a sense of both informality and noble elegance. In reality, Charles I was neither a tall man nor a particularly imposing figure … but van Dyck gives him stature, nobility and power.
Probably the most famous painting of Charles I – and certainly my own personal favourite – is the Triple Portrait showing the King full-face and in both right and left profiles which was painted in 1635-36 so that Bernini could carve a marble bust. (This was completed in 1637 and sent from Rome under special escort for presentation to Charles and Henrietta Maria.) Van Dyck’s Triple Portrait remained in the hands of the sculptor and his descendants until 1822 when George IV bought it for £1000 guineas. It is now part of the Royal Collection and housed in Windsor Castle.
During his years in England, Van Dyck continued to receive commissions from all over Europe, resulting in a great deal of travel but, when in London, he lived by the river in Blackfriars. He married Mary Ruthven in February 1640 and by August 1641 was reputed to be in ill-health, due to over-work.
His daughter, Justiniana, was born on December 1st 1641 and was christened on the 9th … the day her father died.
Van Dyck was buried in the choir of St Paul’s cathedral … the one burned down during the Great Fire of London. His remarkable legacy, however, lives on.
General George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle
1608 to 1670
George Monck was born near Torrington in Devon. His military career began at the age of sixteen when, having thrashed the sheriff who’d arrested his father for debt, he was packed off on the ill-fated expedition to Cadiz. In the years that followed, he fought at La Rochelle and the Low Countries – distinguishing himself at the siege of Breda in 1637. He fought for Charles l in the Bishops’ Wars, commanded a regiment of Foot against the rebels in Ireland and would have continued serving the King throughout the first Civil War had he not had the misfortune to be captured at the battle of Nantwich in January 1643 – with the result that he spent the remainder of that conflict in the Tower. Had he agreed to turn his coat, he would have been released in an instant but he refused to do so and insisted on remaining loyal to the King. Instead, he passed the time writing a book – Observations upon Military and Political Affairs – and having an affair with his laundress, Nan Ratsford.
When the King’s cause was irretrievably lost, Monck finally agreed to fight for the Parliament and spent two years serving as Major-General of Ulster and a further two creating order in Scotland. Then, in 1652 with the advent of the first Dutch War, he went to sea as an Admiral. Not surprisingly, he didn’t have much of a grasp of nautical language and, according to his sailors, was more likely to shout ‘Wheel right!’ than ‘Hard to starboard!’ Yet he proved a successful naval commander and it was he who won the decisive battle which ended the war in 1654.
At around this time, Nan Ratsford was widowed and Monck married her – a happy and surprising ending to a long-standing love-affair. Monck’s next posting was as Governor of Scotland where he ruled with moderation and was as popular as a man in that position was ever likely to be. It was this part of his career which was to prove immensely important for, during it, he built up great authority in Scotland – along with his army and a full treasury. All these placed him in a key position in the crisis which built up after the death of Cromwell in September 1658. For six months, George Monck became a prominent and powerful figure in English politics and the use he made of this power changed the course of history.
He supported Richard Cromwell’s brief term in office and gave no support to the Royalist intrigues of 1659. But when Lambert and Fleetwood expelled the Rump in October, Monck was moved to act and lead his army south. By the time he crossed the Tweed on New Year’s Day in 1660, the Rump had been recalled but Monck marched on, arriving in London on February 3rd. The chaos within government was such that he became convinced that only the return of Charles ll could prevent anarchy. The advice, sent orally rather than on paper, to the king-in-exile formed the basis of the Restoration settlement. Fresh elections brought a strong Royalist majority, causing Monck to reveal his approval of the return of the monarchy. And appropriately enough, it was he who greeted Charles ll on the beach at Dover in May, 1660 and, in effect, handed his kingdom back to him.
Although George – now created Duke of Albemarle – served Charles for ten more years, the most momentous moment of his career was over. He had restored the monarchy without spilling a single drop of blood but, modest and old-fashioned, he was out of place at the Restoration court – though still respected in military matters. He dealt with the disbandment of Cromwell’s army and went to sea once more, less successfully than before, during the second Dutch War of 1664-67. He died in 1670 and was buried with much ceremony in Westminster Abbey.
The restored monarchy didn’t have the money to build a monument to General Monck and historians have tended to neglect him. But it was he, believing that soldiers should be a tool in the hands of civil authority rather than weapons in those of ambitious generals, who put an end to military rule in England. He said, ‘I am engaged in conscience and honour to see my country freed from that intolerable slavery of a sword government …’ If he truly believed this – and it seems that he did – I can’t help but wonder what he thought Cromwell had been doing from 1653 onwards and why, despite that, he continued to support him. Loyalty, perhaps?
Sir Richard Willys 1614-1690
The Sealed Knot was a secret organisation formed between November 1653 and February 1654. It’s purpose was to co-ordinate and control all Royalist conspiracies in England,to keep the wilder elements in check and to prepare for an uprising against the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. Centuries later, this idea conjures up romantic images of gallant gentlemen risking their lives in Scarlet Pimpernel-like activities. Sadly, the reality was rather different … because the Knot never really achieved anything.
It was made up of six members. Five were younger sons of influential and, in most cases, rich families; the sixth man wasn’t.
Lord Belasyse, the second son of Lord Fauconberg was related to both John Lambert and Thomas Fairfax.
Lord Loughborough was the second son of the Earl of Huntingdon.
Sir William Compton was a younger son of the Earl of Northampton.
Colonel John Russell,third son of the Earl of Bedford, was related to Lords Bristol and Newport.
Colonel Edward Villiers, also a younger son, was related to the Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Suffolk and Sir Edward Hyde – to name but a few.
Sir Richard Willys was the son of a Cambridgeshire lawyer and wasn’t related to anyone of note.
Willys fought abroad in the Thirty Years War before returning to serve King Charles in 1639. He earned his knighthood and the rank of Colonel during a cavalry skirmish in October 1642. Two months later, he was taken prisoner but managed to escape and in 1643 he became a Major-General of forces in Cheshire and Shropshire. He was captured again in January 1644 and spent nine months in the Tower before being released in an exchange of prisoners. Once free, he joined forces with Prince Rupert at Bristol.
In May of 1645, Willys was appointed Governor of Newark … and this is where bad-timing, conflicting personalities and tactlessness all came into play.
In June, the King’s army was destroyed by the New Model at Naseby. In September, the surrender of Bristol cost Prince Rupert his commission, his uncle’s favour and his reputation. He was ordered to leave the country. He didn’t. Instead, he followed Charles 1 to Newark, intent on getting a court martial to clear his name.
Richard Willys was pro-Rupert and didn’t mind showing it. When the King arrived at Newark, Willys met him at the gate; by contrast, when Rupert turned up shortly afterwards, he greeted him two miles outside the town with a full military escort. Already critical of the behaviour of some of Willys’s men, Charles took this as an act of defiance and a personal affront. Although he allowed Rupert a court-martial (which found the Prince not guilty) he revoked Willys’s appointment as Governor of Newark and replaced him with Lord Belasyse.
The result was an angry, undignified and public quarrel. There were even treasonous rumblings about making Rupert King – an idea the Prince strongly repudiated. (See A Splendid Defiance for more on this). Rupert’s friends took Willys’s dismissal as a further attack on them while Willys himself took umbrage at the slur on his ability to command and challenged Belasyse to a duel. Actually, provoking Belasyse wouldn’t have been very difficult his lordship already had a reputation for duelling. But the King forbade the two men to fight – with the result that ill-feeling between them lingered on and manifested itself a decade later in the affairs of the Sealed Knot.
In May 1654, Willys was arrested in the wake of a plot to assassinate Cromwell – a plot he’d had no part in – and was convinced that he had been betrayed to the authorities by Lord Belasyse. In this, he was mistaken. His arrest was merely one of many at this time – in fact, Edward Villiers was detained along with him. Interestingly, neither arrest was anything to do with the Sealed Knot … for though Secretary of State and Spymaster-General John Thurloe already knew it existed, he didn’t yet have any names. If he’d known he had two of its members in custody, the next phase of Willys’s story might have happened sooner.
In the latter part of 1656 and while still a member of the Knot, Willys started supplying Thurloe with information. His reasons for this are unclear but the most likely one is that he thought the writing was on the wall and the King’s cause irretrievably lost. At any rate, he seems to have been selective about what he told Thurloe and also made it a condition that no Royalist should be executed as a result of his information.
For three years, apparently unsuspected by his friends and associates, Willys remained a double-agent, contributing to the Sealed Knot’s consistent lack of success. And when his treachery finally came to light in July 1659, it wasn’t thanks to the Knot. He nefarious doings were revealed to Sir Edward Hyde by one of Thurloe’s assistants.
As a consequence and regardless of his military achievements, Sir Richard Willys has gone down in history as the man who betrayed the Sealed Knot.
At the Restoration in 1660, he was denounced as a traitor and condemned to death. He was later pardoned on condition that he never attended court or came into the presence of Charles ll. He lived quietly in Cambridgeshire until his death in 1690.
Some weeks ago, a reader asked me which books remain old favourites; the ones I come back to time and again. This, I found, isn’t as easy as it sounds – but I thought I’d give it a go and so here they are with apologies for the places I just couldn’t decide!
Top of the list – and deservedly so – is The Way To The Lantern. I first read this when I was seventeen and it has remained a firm favourite ever since. Set largely against the French Revolution, this is the tale of Actor Roberts, “a virile, jaunty, cocksure yet anti-heroic figure.” It is funny and sad, clever and risque – and, even for today’s market, wholly original in concept. Sadly, it has been out of print for a very long time but used copies are available cheaply on the internet. I can’t praise this book too highly. Even my husband – who rarely reads novels (other than mine) has read it three times and that’s praise indeed!
Actor Roberts narrates the story and, when the book opens, he is a hairsbreadth away from execution by two different Revolutionary committees – one of which thinks he’s an English spy while the other is convinced he’s a French aristocrat. Neither, of course, are correct. But before life takes this unfortunate turn, our not-quite-a-hero learns how (and how not) to play a role on stage.
‘The Fashionable Lover’ started off very well. Our Lord Abberville would have done better to earn his living off the land but he wasn’t as bad as the maidservant who led him on. She dried up on her opening line. The wind made a helpful entrance at this point and all four candelabra blew out, followed loyally by the floats. The maid lost her head. Apparently Lord Abberville stumbled in the darkness and struck an unfortunate part of her. She yelled out, ‘Leave me alone, you filthy brute!’
I thought myself resourceful when I held up the two prompt candles. There was a delighted squeal from the audience. It was certainly a most effective piece of lighting. The maid had tripped over a stool and pulled her dress right off her shoulders. She was lying across Lord Abberville’s lap with two of the largest breasts exposed that I had ever seen. Lord Abberville also lost his head. He shouted at her, ‘If you think I’m after that glass-blower’s paradise you’ve made a mistake, my girl!’
We were astonished by our notices. One of our severest critics wrote, ‘The Little Apollo re-opened last night on a bawdy romp which, while effective, over-did the lighting tricks.’
I was introduced to Georgette Heyer by an elderly lady when I was sixteen. She lent me Arabella, then The Grand Sophy – and after that I was hooked! I read all her books and amassed a complete paperback collection, most of which, sadly, I no longer have. And though I haven’t returned to her work for many years – not, in fact, since I started writing – I’m sure I’ll go back to it one day.
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to choose just one favourite. I love These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub – and I can’t not mention The Spanish Bride.
But after a great deal of thought, I’ve chosen The Talisman Ring because it’s a light, beautifully written comedy and it never fails to make me laugh. I love the way upright, perfectly proper Sir Tristram drifts deeper and deeper into Ludovic and Eustacie’s mad schemes; and Justice of the Peace, Sir Hugh’s attitude towards the contraband in the cellar is priceless.
I’m an enormous fan of Terry Pratchett and have read rougly 90% of his immense output, most of which are still on my shelf. The whole Discworld thing and the way Pratchett uses it is not just a lot of fun but also exceptionally clever.
Like Heyer, choosing a favourite is a near-hopeless task but I’ve opted for Guards! Guards! and its sequel, Men At Arms. Sam Vimes, Carrot, Nobby and Colon are all old friends … and then there’s Gaspode.
In the cemetery the solitary gravedigger filled in the hole that was the last resting place of d’Eath senior. He became aware of what seemed to be thoughts in his head. They went something like this:
Any chance of a bone? No, no, sorry, bad taste there – forget I mentioned it. You’ve got beef sandwiches in your wossname, lunchbox thingy, though. Why not give one to the nice little doggy over there?
The man leaned on his shovel and looked around. The grey mongrel was watching him intently.
It said, ‘Woof?’
I read all of Anya Seton’s books in my late teens and enjoyed them all. But for me, Green Darkness is the one that really stands out and the only one to keep its place on my bookshelf.
In Tudor England, Celia de Bohun falls in love with a Catholic priest … a forbidden passion which makes them the victims of the times in which they live. And centuries later, their tragedy threatens the life of another Celia who can only be saved by ‘piercing the green darkness of the past and revealing its mysterious truth’.
I find reincarnation fascinating and this is, without doubt, the best novel of its type that I’ve ever read.
I love this whole series by Margaret Irwin.
The Stranger Prince is the story of Rupert of the Rhine; The Proud Servant is the Marquis of Montrose; The Bride tells the doomed love of Montrose for Rupert’s sister, Louise; and Royal Flush features Charles the Second’s little sister, Henriette.
My copies are ancient and rather tatty – in fact, all but one was bought second-hand. But they’re beautifully-written stories about people I care for – so they’ve more than earned their spaces on the shelf.
For the rest, Pride and Prejudice obviously has a place along with a handful of other classics.
Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy – particularly The Crystal Cave – is a favourite, as is her Airs Above The Ground.
And then we come to more recently-written books, all of which I’ve read more than once but have yet to stand the test of time. These, in no particular order, are :-
Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale
The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne
The Morrigan Cross trilogy by Nora Roberts (I’m a sucker for vampires!)
Bound By Your Touch by Meredith Duran
The Last Hellion by Loretta Chase
There are many others I could have listed but ‘sufficient to the day’ and all that.
If anyone would like to comment or perhaps share their own A List, please feel free.
I’d also be interested in readers’ views on their favourite hero and/or heroine amongst my own books. The one I love best is always the one I’m living with at the time – which makes it impossible to choose.
It’s impossible to determine how much of the following is actually true and how much a romantic legend. But when, centuries after a man’s death, his charm, good looks and daring cause plays and comic books to be written about him, perhaps the legend is what matters most. And so, for the first (and probably the last) time in my Who’s Who, I give you a biography of Claude Duvall that probably owes as much to fiction as to fact.
He was born in Domfront, Normandy in 1643. His family was a poor one – possibly aristocratic but probably not.
At the age of 14, Claude went to Paris where it would seem he entered the employment of the Duke of Richmond for, when Charles ll was restored in 1660, our hero came to England in the Duke’s service. Richmond paid him well enough to rent a house in Wokingham – but presumably not enough to indulge his taste for fashionable clothes. At any rate, at some point between 1660 and 1666, Claude turned his hand to highway robbery.
Like many other Gentlemen of the Road, one of his favourite haunts was Hounslow Heath in Middlesex. Here, he soon gained a reputation for devil-may-care charm and sophistication … and it is this that has survived rather than the darker picture painted of him in the Newgate Calendar.
His most famous escapade took place one moonlit night when he waylaid a coach in which a gentleman and his lady were travelling – apparently with £400 in cash. Oddly enough, the lady happened to have a flageolet (a sort of small recorder) with her and, even more oddly, decided to play it. This prompted Claude to invite her to dance a couranto with him – which, presumably with some enthusiasm, she did. As for what happened next, there are several versions. Some say the gentleman handed over his £400 but Claude, having enjoyed both the dance and the lady’s music, accepted only £100 of it. In another account, Claude said, ‘Sir, you have forgot to pay for the entertainment’, upon which the gentleman replied, ‘No, sir, I have not’ – and cheerfully paid the highwayman £100. Either way, it was this episode that created the gallant fable of Monsieur Duvall and which William Powell Frith immortalised in his painting.
He was eventually captured whilst drunk in a tavern popularly known as the Hole-in-the-Wall in Chandos Street. A public house, The Marquis, still exists on this spot and celebrates Claude at its entrance. But the gentleman himself was taken to Newgate Prison, tried, found guilty of six robberies and duly sentenced to death. Many ladies visited him in prison and many more begged the King to grant him mercy; so many, in fact, that Charles ll might have done so had not the presiding judge – one Sir William Morton – threatened to resign his position if his verdict was over-turned. And so it was that, on January 21st, 1670 and watched by numerous sobbing ladies, Claude Duvall was hanged at Tyburn.
After being cut down from the gallows, his body was removed to the Tangier Tavern in St Giles and laid in state – where so many people were determined to pay their last respects that there were fears of public disorder. In his pocket, a friend found the following note.
I should be very ungrateful to you, fair English ladies, should I not acknowledge the obligations you have laid me under. I could not have hoped that a person of my birth, nation, education and condition could have had charms enough to captivate you all; though the contrary has appeared, by your firm attachment to my interest, which you have not abandoned even in my last distress. You have visited me in prison and even accompanied me to an ignominious death. From the experience of your former loves, I am confident that many among you would be glad to receive me to your arms, even from the gallows.
The legend (if legend it is) says that Claude was buried in the centre aisle of St Paul’s church in Covent Garden beneath a white marble stone inscribed with this epitaph.
Here lies Duvall, Reader if Male though art look to thy purse
If Female, to thy heart
Much havoc has he made of both;
For all Men he made to stand and Women he made to fall
The second Conqueror of the Norman race
Knights to his arms did yield and Ladies to his face
Old Tybyrn’s glory; England’s illustrious thief
Duvall, the Ladies joy; Duvall, the Ladies grief.
Since St Paul’s, Covent Garden caught fire in 1795 causing the roof to collapse, this stone now lies amidst piles of other rubble beneath the existing church
A long-serving church caretaker informed me that there is no record this stone ever existed.
I like to believe that it did.
Today is the 369th anniversary of the execution of Charles l and I’ll be attending the annual commemoration of it in Whitehall. Then, off to the Royal Academy of Art for Charles l: King and Collector … the first time this collection has been assembled since being sold off piecemeal after the king’s death.
On January 30th 1649 at around two o’clock in the afternoon, Charles 1 walked through his Banqueting House for the last time. It was no longer the beautiful room it had once been. It was dark and bare and the exquisite paintings by Rubens that graced its ceiling must scarcely have been visible in the dim light. But Charles knew those paintings well. They represented the triumph of wisdom and justice over rebellion and falsehood … an irony, given his current situation, that cannot have escaped him. Then, leaving them behind him, he stepped out through a window and on to the scaffold.
It was an exceptionally cold day. Charles had taken the precaution of wearing two shirts so that he wouldn’t shiver and be thought afraid. Outside in Whitehall, crowds of people had been waiting for several hours … stamping their feet and blowing on their fingers … and wondering if this unheard-of thing was actually going to happen.
The scaffold was draped in black and already crowded with people. Colonels Tomlinson and Hacker, several soldiers, two or three journalists and the executioner – who wore, not only a mask, but also a wig and a false beard; and between the platform and the waiting crowd, mounted troops stood ready to crush the first sign of trouble. They also created a barrier beyond which the King’s last words would not reach the ears of his people
Recognising this, Charles chose to address those around him. He spoke of his duty to both God and his country … of his innocence and the injustice of his sentence … and he forgave those who had brought him to this place. Finally, he handed the insignia of the Garter to Bishop Juxon with a single word. ‘Remember.’
The block was so low he had to lie flat in order to place his neck on it. A terrible silence fell over those on the scaffold, on the surrounding troops and on the crowd.
When the King stretched out his hands in signal and the executioner severed his head with a single blow there came from the people ‘such a groan as was never heard before‘.
In his words from the scaffold, Charles referred to himself as ‘the Martyr of the people’. Colonel Harrison (first of the regicides to be hanged, drawn and quartered) called him ‘that man of blood‘. Neither is completely true. My own view is that Charles was neither a particularly bad man nor even a particularly bad King. His problems were born of obstinacy, an unshakable belief in Divine Right … and an unfortunately tendency to play both ends against the middle; faults which don’t make him one whit worse than the fifty-nine men who signed his death warrant.
Henry Ireton 1611 to 1651
Ireton was born in Nottinghamshire, the son of Puritan gentry. He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford and then the Middle Temple. In 1642,serving under Lord Essex, he led a troop of Horse before Edgehill but doesn’t seem to have met Cromwell until the following year. From then on, Ireton’s career was closely linked with that of Oliver. They make an interestingly contrasting pair. Cromwell the emotional extrovert, passionate and ebullient; and Ireton … the dark, ice-cold, ruthless intellectual.
Ireton fought at Marston Moor, Naseby and Bristol. And after the surrender of Oxford in June, 1646,he married Cromwell’s daughter, Bridget. Although he was a brave soldier, he wasn’t a particularly distinguished military commander. He did, however, have a very sharp intellect and managed to combine constitutional law with political reality – a rare gift among his fellow officers in the New Model.
He was effective if somewhat long-winded orator. Judging from the Putney Debates of 1647, he seems to have had a habit of saying that he desired ‘but one word’ and then remaining on his feet for half an hour or more at a time. The Debates were complex; an attempt to deal with the Army’s negotiations with the King, the Presbyterians in the Commons, the Agitators in the rank and file and, in time, the newly emerging Levellers. It was John Lilburne who described Ireton as ‘the cunningest of Machiavellians’ – a description open to argument. Certainly, during the talks at Putney, Ireton’s aim was to create a settlement which would guarantee peace, religious toleration and reasonable terms of disbandment for the common soldier.
Ireton was the principal architect of the Heads of the Proposals – the terms offered to Charles l in 1647. Terms which, though he didn’t immediately say so, the King had no intention of accepting.
During the Second Civil War in 1648 Ireton was responsible for putting Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle before a firing squad after the fall of Colchester. Then, later that same year, Ireton set in motion the moves which culminated in Pride’s Purge.
At the King’s trial, Ireton’s name was 4th on the list of Commissioners, only preceded by those of Bradshaw, Cromwell and Fairfax.
After the execution of Charles l, Ireton was appointed as Cromwell’s second-in-command in Ireland and, in 1650, he became Lord Deputy there. He took both Waterford and Limerick and gained a reputation for the ruthlessness with which he crushed the Irish. After the summary executions of Lucas and Lisle, this is hardly a surprise.
Weakened by incessant work and recurrent bouts of fever, he died in Ireland in November 1651 and was given a state funeral in Westminster Abbey.
After the Restoration, his remains were dug up and, along with those of Cromwell and Bradshaw, taken to Tyburn and hung there for a day. His head was cut off and exhibited in Westminster Hall where it remained for the next twenty-four years.
One final, interesting thought is this; if Ireton had survived Cromwell, might he have prevented the Restoration? Might he, indeed, have ended his days as Lord Protector? It’s not impossible.