Books for my Desert Island

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.

Duvall … the ladies’ joy

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.

‘The most cunning of Machiavellians’?

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.

Cancel Christmas!


Before the English Civil War, Christmas continued to be celebrated in England much as it had always been.  December 25th was a public holiday on which shops and businesses were closed and special church services were held.  Buildings were decorated with rosemary, holly and ivy and  people did pretty much the same kind of thing we do today.  Eating, drinking, carol singing, drinking, dancing, drinking, perhaps watching a play … and yet more drinking.  And, to a greater or lesser degree, it went on for the full twelve days and culminated in the biggest knees-up of all on the Last Day of Christmas.

Inevitably, all this drinking led to drunken brawls and Lewd or Promiscuous Behaviour.  Or so the killjoys said.  They may have had a point.  On the other hand … cancelling Christmas?  It’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?

But that’s exactly what they did.


In 1644, two years after the start of the Civil War, Christmas was banned by Act of Parliament and decreed, henceforth, to be an ordinary working day.  The Puritans considered twelve days of roistering and jollification wasteful, decadent, morally deficient and almost unchristian.  Some of them  blamed it on on the Catholics; others said it was Pagan.  None of them liked it.

So Christmas became illegal and went underground – taking the mince pies, plum puddings and Christmas songs with it.  Officials roamed the streets, ready to arrest anyone caught burning a Yule Log or doing anything the least bit Merry. Wassailing was now a thing of the past. Presumably, the Puritans were happy – mostly because no one else was.

Illicit pamphlets were printed containing verses about Old Christmas so everyone remembered what they were missing.

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Naturally, not everyone took the new law lying down. Yuletide discontent was responsible for angry mobs, riots and would-be Wassailers knocking seven bells out of the officials trying to arrest them.   Everybody (except the Puritans) felt strongly about their Right To Party.


Unfortunately, they had to wait until 1662 before the Merry Monarch made it legal again and Old Christmas was finally able to come out of the closet.

Love and joy come to you and to you your Wassail too

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year

And God send you a Happy New Year!

And my own very best wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.



Sir John Suckling

1609 to 1642

Sandy-haired and slightly-built, Sir John Suckling had a passion for clothes, cards and women. He was also a courtier, an MP, a soldier, a wit and a poet. In January of 1641, he attended the marriage festivities of the Earl of Suffolk’s daughter, Margaret, to a son of the wealthy Earl of Cork and composed a ballad for the bride.
Her feet beneath her petticoat like little mice, stole in and out as if they feared the light;
But oh she dances such a way!  No sun upon an Easter-day is half so fine a sight.

Within eighteen months of this happy occasion, Suckling would be dead.

He was born in Twickenham, Middlesex, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and inherited his father’s estate at the age of eighteen. After a couple of years travelling abroad, he returned to England in 1630 and was knighted by Charles l but the following year saw him volunteering to fight in Germany under Gustavus Adolphus, one of the best military brains of his day. Once more back in England, Suckling turned his attention to less war-like pursuits.

He was a highly-adept  card-player, his preferred game being Cribbage which he is reputed to have invented himself.  He apparently travelled around the homes of various friends with whom he played ‘crib’ – from which he seems to have won an extraordinary amount of money.  Perhaps as much as £20,000 which would equate to something in the region of four million by today’s values.  If this was so, later events shed some light on what he did with this fortune.

Suckling and his friends William Davenant, Richard Lovelace and Edmund Waller have become known to us as the Cavalier Poets.  There were other Cavaliers who wrote poetry but these four are considered a case apart – mainly because of their involvement in the conflict between Charles l and his Parliament.  Of the four of them, Suckling probably took his poetry least seriously but much of it remains known to us.  In 1638 he published his play Aglaura which, though not a critical success, was performed twice at the palace of Whitehall.  Later in the same year, he followed Aglaura up with The Goblins which may have been his best work – although it was clearly influenced by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  A collection of his poems was first published in 1646 and would have included well-known verses such as Out Upon It I Have Loved, Why So Pale And Wan Fond Lover and When Dearest I But Think On Thee.

In 1639 and at a personal cost of £12,000, Suckling raised a troop of Horse to serve the King in the first Bishops’ War in Scotland.  But by May of 1641, the world was rapidly changing as relations between King and Parliament deteriorated.  Suckling took an active part in a plot to rescue the imprisoned Earl of Strafford and then in the so-called Army Plot, the aim of which was to seize the Tower of London.  His involvement in both of these enterprises was betrayed to the Parliament by his brother-in-law, George Goring and, having been declared guilty of treason, Sucking was forced to flee the country.

He died a year later  in Paris, utterly penniless and was buried there in a Protestant cemetery.  Some say his death was caused by a razor-blade or nail driven into the sole of his boot by a thieving and ill-natured servant.  The truth, sadly, is that he almost certainly perished by his own hand, having taken poison.

I prithee send me back my heart since I cannot have thine
For if from yours you will not part – why then shouldst thou have mine?
Yet now I think on’t, let it lie … to find it were in vain
For thou hast a thief in either eye to steal it back again.


‘A Welshwoman of no good fame, but handsome …’


1630 – 1658

Lucy was born in Roch Castle near Haverfordwest in Wales, the daughter of middle-class gentry.  Her family supported Charles 1 and, as a consequence, Roch Castle was burned by Parliamentary forces in 1644.  Lucy lived in London for a time before travelling to The Hague where, in the summer of 1648, she caught the eye of the young Prince of Wales.  She may have been Charles’s first real mistress but he was certainly not her first lover.  An earlier affair had taken place with Colonel Robert Sidney – whose brother, Algernon, had paid fifty gold pieces for Lucy’s favours but been forced to rejoin his regiment before he could claim them.  This seems to say everything we need to know about Lucy’s morals.

In April 1649, Lucy bore a son, James.  Charles acknowledged paternity and later created the boy, Duke of Monmouth.  Then, in June of the following year, Charles sailed to Scotland where he was crowned in January 1651 and led the ill-fated Worcester campaign in an attempt to regain his throne.  While he was away, Lucy had an affair with Viscount Taafe and produced a daughter, Mary.

On his return to Paris from Worcester in the autumn of 1651, Charles officially ended his liaison with Lucy with a gift of pearls – though it’s hard to say how he afforded them.  Lucy then set about trying to get his attention by involving herself in a series of embarrassing scandals that rocked and dismayed the English court-in-exile.  Charles wanted to remove young James from her influence – even attempting to kidnap the child – but to no avail.  In 1656, Lucy took both children to London where she was arrested as a spy and incarcerated in the Tower of London for a couple of weeks before being released and deported to the Low Countries.

She died in in Paris in 1658 – probably of venereal disease.

Lucy’s importance to history is solely through her son, James.  When, in the mid to late 1670’s, it became clear that Charles ll would never have a legitimate son and that his successor would therefore be his Catholic younger brother, the Country Party in England devised something they called the Exclusion Bill.  Its purpose was to exclude the Duke of York from the succession and replace him with Lucy’s son, the Protestant Duke of Monmouth. This meant it would be extremely convenient if  Monmouth could be proved (or at least seen to be) legitimate.  And since Charles stubbornly refused to budge on the issue, many people chose to believe that he and Lucy Walter had been secretly married … and that their marriage-lines reposed in a mysterious Black Box belonging to the bishop who’d heard Lucy’s final confession.

It is certainly true that, when Charles first terminated their affair, Lucy went around calling herself his wife.  But is it really likely that, either during the last months of his father’s life or in the first months of his own kingship, Charles would have done anything so rash and stupid?  I think not.

You can meet Lucy in The King’s Falcon, due for release soon.



This is a bit different to my usual Who’s Who in that it’s not nearly as detailed.  George, John and Bernard Stuart are largely known to us through Van Dyck’s outstanding portraits and details of their actual lives are very thin on the ground.  Despite this – and for reasons that will become clear as you read the few lines below – I felt there was a strong case for featuring them.

Esme Stuart, 3rd Duke of Lennox and his wife Katherine had eleven children, six of whom were sons.   Henry died at the age of sixteen, Francis at less than a year.  Of the remaining four, only one – Ludovic –  survived the Civil War.

Lord George Stuart, 9th Seigneur d’Aubigny



George was brought up in France by his grandmother and, on the death of his father, he became a ward of Charles 1. When his brother, Henry, died in 1632, he inherited the title of Lord d’Aubigny.
Returning to England in 1636, he married Katherine, daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, secretly and without her father’s permission – which suggests that the two of them were very much in love. They had two children, a son and a daughter.

George died of injuries received at the Battle of Edgehill in October 1642.  He was twenty-four years old.

On a separate note, his widow later re-married and became Lady Newburgh.  She and her husband were suspected of Royalist plotting after the 2nd Civil War and forced to flee abroad – though the date they did so is unclear as we know Charles 1 spent a night at their home on his final journey from Carisbrooke to London.  You can meet Katherine [Kate] at the King’s trial in Garland of Straw.


Lord John Stuart 1621-1644  and  Lord Bernard Stuart 1623-1645


Like his brothers, John [the one wearing gold]  entered the King’s service at the start of the Civil War.  He died at the Battle of Cheriton in March, 1644, aged twenty-three.

Bernard was created Earl of Lichfield as a reward for his gallantry at the first and second Battles of Newbury.  He died of wounds sustained whilst leading a sortie against Parliamentary besiegers at the Battle of Rowton Heath.  He was twenty-two.

All wars are fought by young men and the Civil War was no different.  At present, many people around the world are remembering the sons and brothers, husbands and fathers who lost their lives in the First World War.  The tragic losses suffered by the Stuart family in the 1640’s is a perfect illustration of  how little things change.

As with several other portraits in my Who’s Who collection, the ones shown here are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, London.



Countess of Derby

Of all the ladies who defended hearth and home in the absence of their menfolk, Lady Derby is probably one of the most well-known.

Born at Poitou in France, Charlotte was the daughter of the Duc de Thouars and Princess Charlotte Brabantine of Orange-Nassau. She was a grand-daughter of William the Silent and like her cousin, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, she came from the world of Calvinist royalty and the high nobility of Europe.

In 1626, Charlotte married James Stanley, Lord Strange, in a splendid ceremony in The Hague. But when the couple returned to the English court, they found little favour with either Charles 1 or Henrietta Maria and retired to their principal family seat at Lathom House, a few miles north-west of Manchester, where they lived quietly for the next fifteen years.

Everything changed in 1642. Civil War broke out and James’ father died, making him the 7th Earl of Derby. High-handed, confrontational and reputedly quarrelsome, the new Earl was no favourite with the Lancashire Roundheads; and Charlotte, regardless of her Huguenot connections, had no love for the Puritans – looking on them as rebels, not only against the King, but also against her own family. With the stage thus set, Lord Derby rode off to fight for Charles 1 … and Charlotte was left to hold Lathom House.

Lathom was a fortified palace, dating from the time of Henry V11. Surrounded by turreted battlements and a moat, it was difficult to storm and virtually impossible to bombard. The first summons to surrender came in 1643 and Charlotte replied with a indignant refusal. For the next few months, although a virtual prisoner inside her own walls, she was left in relative peace and was able to lay in supplies in the event of a siege and also to increase the size of her small garrison to a total of roughly 300 men.

Her precautions were to prove wise. In February 1644, the local Roundheads decided it was time to crush the nest of Cavaliers within their midst. Thanks to the presence nearby of Sir Thomas Fairfax, this began civilly enough. Charlotte was asked to leave, refused to do so, invited Sir Thomas to call on her and sent him away feeling reluctant to assault a lady of high birth in her own house. So far, so good. Fairfax left Colonel Alexander Rigby with instructions not to attempt to storm the house but simply to lay siege in the hope that Charlotte would eventually surrender.

She didn’t. Rigby, a fanatical Puritan and bitter enemy of Lord Derby, followed Fairfax’s orders to begin with because he’d been told that Lathom’s supplies wouldn’t last more than two weeks. Needless to say, the realisation that he’d been mis-informed made him rather annoyed.

The first shot in what was to be an eleven week siege was fired on March 12th, 1644. Charlotte and her garrison were ready and, on the following day, made a sally during which 30 of the enemy were killed at no loss to themselves. Other sallies slowed down construction of the Roundhead earthworks – so much so that it was three weeks before they were able to start using their cannon and even then their shots went too high to do much damage.

At this point, Colonel Rigby sent to London for a huge mortar. This fired grenadoes [a sort of bomb] and eighty-pound boulders on to the house and, for the first time, lives inside Lathom House were at risk. One grenado exploded close to the room in which Charlotte was dining with her officers; another demolished buildings in the courtyard; and a boulder smashed through the window of Charlotte’s bedroom.

At the end of April, Rigby resolved to use fireballs but presaged this by yet another summons. Charlotte replied that she’d set fire to the house herself and perish within it before handing it over to an insolent rebel. Then, as soon as the Colonel’s messenger had left, she planned a particularly daring exploit. At dawn the following day, her soldiers sallied out, drove the enemy from their works and captured Colonel Rigby’s mortar. In triumph, they hauled the hated weapon back to Lathom and rejoiced to see it lying amongst them like a dead lion.

Doubtless gnashing his teeth, Rigby now had little choice but to starve the garrison out. However, on May 27th came news that Prince Rupert was approaching and the Colonel wisely decided not to stay and meet him. The Roundhead army fled and the siege was over. Only six members of the garrison had died and Rupert gave Charlotte all of Rigby’s colours as a tribute to her gallantry.

After the defeat at Marston Moor spelled ruin for the Royalist cause in Lancashire, Lathom was again besieged – but this time it was captured and then razed to the ground.

During the 1650’s, Charlotte and her daughters lived in severely reduced circumstances on the Isle of Man. Lord Derby joined Charles 11 on the Worcester campaign of 1651 but was caught and executed in October of that year.

When Charles was restored in 1660, Charlotte campaigned vigorously but with little success to have all the the family lands returned to her son, the 8th Earl. She died four years later and is buried in the Derby aisle of the church in Ormskirk.


Sir William Waller
1598 – 1668


Everyone’s heard of Oliver Cromwell and yet, by March 1645, when Cromwell was still a subordinate officer, Sir William Waller had been leading a Parliamentary army for two years. So who was this man most people have never heard of?

He was born at Knole House in Kent but, when he was five years old, his father became Lieutenant of Dover Castle and the Cinque Ports so William spent his childhood there. He was educated at Magladen Hall, Oxford before travelling to Italy – where, with a number of other young Englishmen, he enlisted in the Venetian army and had his first taste of military action.

By November 1620, he was defending the Protestant cause of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and her husband, Frederick, the Elector Palatine. After the Palatinate forces were crushed at the Battle of the White Hill and Prague was over-run by the Austrian army, Frederick and Elizabeth – along with their one-year-old son, Rupert – were forced to flee through the snow, escorted by a few English officers. One of these was William Waller and another was Ralph Hopton – who I mention now for reasons which will become apparent later.

Returning to England, Waller was knighted by James l for services to both the Protestant religion and also, one would assume, to James’s daughter, Elizabeth of Bohemia. He then married Jane Reynell [which whom he was deeply in love] and abandoned military life in favour of managing his father-in-law’s Devonshire estates. For the next thirteen years, he lived peacefully at Forde House near Newton Abbot.

When the Long Parliament convened in 1640, Waller sat as the member for Andover and was soon prominent amongst those in opposition to Charles l. Naturally, when the Civil War broke out, his previous military experience earned him command of all the Parliamentarian forces on the south coast; and during the first year of the war, he was the most successful of the Roundhead generals – taking Portsmouth, Farnham, Winchester, Arundel and Chichester. Indeed, he was so successful that the news-sheets nicknamed him ‘William the Conqueror’.

I’m not going to detail Waller’s entire Civil War career. Suffice it to say that his luck didn’t last. He was possibly not the most effective disciplinarian and was frequently plagued by mutinies among his troops. In 1643, he was soundly defeated by Sir Ralph Hopton at Roundway Down [the battle the Cavaliers liked to call Runaway Hill] and, in ’44, was mauled by the King at Cropredy Bridge. [Both feature in The Black Madonna]. His military career ended in 1645 with the Self-Denying Ordinance – the decree which said members of Parliament had to resign either their seat in the House or their military commission.  Interestingly, Cromwell managed to keep both.

In the years that followed, Waller was a notable Presbyterian leader of the House of Commons and a bitter enemy of the Army commanders.  He was driven  into brief  exile in 1647, was one of the Members purged from the Commons in 1648 by Colonel Pride [see Garland of Straw] and subsequently suffered at least two spells of imprisonment. Finally, in the later 1650s, he was driven to contact the exiled Royalists – though this earned him no reward at the Restoration.

On a personal level, Waller had all the sterling qualities of a medieval knight. He was brave, honourable and deeply religious. He was one of many moderate, humane men on both sides of a terrible civil conflict. And the main reason I’ve chosen to add him to my Who’s Who list, and possibly also one of the best reasons to remember him is contained in a letter he wrote to Sir Ralph Hopton – his friend for more than twenty years but now also his enemy – on the eve of the battle of Lansdown in 1643.

The great God, which is the searcher of my heart, knows with what a sad sense I go upon this service and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemy.’