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Cancel Christmas!

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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.

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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.

 

THE CAVALIER-POET WHO INVENTED CRIBBAGE

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 …’

LUCY  WALTER

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.

 

THE PRICE ONE FAMILY PAID

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

1618-1642

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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.

THE LADY OF LATHOM

CHARLOTTE DE LA TREMOILLE
COUNTESS OF DERBY
1599-1664

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.

‘WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR’

Sir William Waller
1598 – 1668

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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.’

THE CHEAPSIDE HOARD … AND LUCIANO DEL SANTI

Selection of items from the Cheapside Hoard. The Cheapside Hoard was uncovered by workmen during demolition work at 30-32 Cheapside in 1912. The three tenements had been the property of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths for centuries. The hoard was discovered buried under the floor and the reason for its burial remains a mystery. What the workman uncovered was the greatest hoard of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery ever found. The hoard constitutes the stock-in-trade of a working goldsmith; it contained finished and unfinished articles, loose gems and a variety of finished jewels.
Selection of items from the Cheapside Hoard. The Cheapside Hoard was uncovered by workmen during demolition work at 30-32 Cheapside in 1912. The three tenements had been the property of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths for centuries. The hoard was discovered buried under the floor and the reason for its burial remains a mystery. What the workman uncovered was the greatest hoard of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery ever found. The hoard constitutes the stock-in-trade of a working goldsmith; it contained finished and unfinished articles, loose gems and a variety of finished jewels.

Some of you who follow me on this site have asked whether I’ve seen the Cheapside Hoard at the London Museum. In fact, I visited it some years ago and returned yesterday to see the extended exhibition – which is both amazing and fascinating.

The collection defies description, so I won’t try. I’ll merely say that I fell in love with some of the daintiest pendants I’ve ever seen; that the emerald salamander [photo below] is barely more than an inch long but beautifully-detailed; and that my personal favourite was the emerald  parrot [see above] which is no larger than the nail on my little finger – but perfectly recognisable.

Thanks to a surge in publicity lately, I imagine most people at least know of the Hoard’s existence – but due to what I’ll call the ‘Luciano connection’, I thought it might be interesting to fill in some background information.
Basically, the Hoard is an unbelievably large collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewelry, coins and uncut gems. It was discovered in June, 1912 by workmen demolishing numbers 30-32 Cheapside, on the corner with Friday Street. The men found it buried in the earth floor of a cellar, caked in mud and virtually unrecognisable as what it actually was. Finds of various nature were not uncommon in London at that time and a gentleman known as Stony Jack Lawrence had for years been trying to teach workmen that even the merest fragment of metal or pottery could have archaeological significance.
Stony Jack was a number of things; collector, antiquarian and pawnbroker as well as library assistant for the Guildhall Museum. When he received the first installment of the Hoard – there were several of them – he realised that there was only one possible home for it. Within two days, he had been appointed Inspector of Excavations for the London Museum – but the incredible discovery was kept severely under wraps for a further two years. Not until March, 1914 did the Hoard go on display to the public in the Gold and Silver Room of the museum’s new home in Stafford House.

One naturally marvels at the sheer wealth of the collection and the many exquisitely-crafted pieces … but the inescapable questions arise. Who buried it in that cellar – and when – and why?

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Well, there are plenty of possible theories and only one fairly conclusive fact.
The part of Cheapside where the Hoard was found was known as Goldsmiths’ Row and most, if not all, of the properties were owned and leased out by the Company of Goldsmiths. This, and the large number of uncut stones from places as far apart as Russia, South America and India along with certain unfinished pieces, suggest that the Hoard was stock of a working goldsmith.

As for the rest, if we can answer the ‘Why?’, we’ll probably also know the ‘When?’
As we are all aware, there were frequent outbreaks of Plague – most notably in 1625,1636 and 1665. But generally speaking, men of substance were able to flee the City for the duration and would almost certainly have taken their valuables with them.
The Great Fire of London might be a possibility – except that it took two days for the blaze to reach the west end of Cheapside. Shopkeepers there had plenty of time to remove their valuables and it’s hard to believe a goldsmith would choose to bury items of such value beneath premises that might well be burned down.
This leaves us with the Civil War. Did our goldsmith quit his trade to fight for one side or the other? Unlikely, I’d have thought – though if he went to war and never came back, it would account for him not retrieving his treasure. Or did he bury the Hoard because he was going away and was unable to either take it with him or entrust it to someone else?
This last, if you’ve read The Black Madonna, is obviously my favourite.

And finally to the ‘Luciano connection’. When I originally wrote The Black Madonna [back in 1991]I didn’t know of the Hoard’s existence until the book was more than half-written. Consequently, by the time I did learn of it, I had already set Luciano del Santi’s goldsmith’s shop on the corner of Friday Street and Cheapside – and thus, purely by accident, created a coincidence that was just too delicious to resist.
And since, to this day, nobody knows the real answers to the mystery of the Hoard and there is nothing amongst what we do know to contradict my fictional theory,  I think it is probably as good a suggestion as any other.

The extended exhibition runs until April 27th and is well worth a visit.  Magnifying glasses are supplied!

THE KING’S CHAMPION

James Graham 1612 to 1650
5th Earl and 1st Marquis of Montrose

_Honthorst_-_James_Graham,_1st_Marquess_of_Montrose,_1612_-_1650._Royalist_-_Google_Art_Project

Portrait by Gerrard von Honthurst

I should begin by saying that, since Montrose is one of my great heroes, I won’t be making any attempt to be unbiased here. This one is personal.

Born at Montrose and heir to one of the most ancient and noble Scottish families, James Graham might well be described as the perfect Renaissance gentleman. He was a soldier, a scholar, a poet and the epitome of Christian chivalry. He rode well and was extremely athletic; he enjoyed books and the arts and held deep religious convictions. He was also very good-looking – curling chestnut hair, clear grey eyes and a splendid figure.

When Archbishop Laud’s new prayer book was introduced in Scotland in 1637, Montrose – though a Royalist – was one of the first to sign the National Covenant. Originally, he didn’t see this as opposition to the Crown. He saw it as a matter of spiritual liberty and, initially, even fought in the Bishops’ Wars of 1639-40 until doubts set in, causing him to distance himself from the increasing despotism of the Kirk. This brought him into conflict with Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll – with the result that Montrose, by now in direct contact with Charles 1, was imprisoned for five months without trial.

Montrose finally joined the King in Oxford in 1643 and, in March of the following year, rode north as His Majesty’s Lieutenant-General in Scotland. With only two companions but recruiting as he went, he winnowed his way through the Covenant-dominated lowlands to his home territory of Perthshire; and there, in July, his thousand or so Highlanders were joined by 1,600 Irishmen led by the somewhat colourful Alasdair Coll Keitach.

As Max Hastings puts it in his outstanding biography, The King’s Lieutenant-General had been granted the steel spearhead of an army. Montrose’s Year of Miracles had begun.

Inevitably, this little army was ill-armed and poorly-equipped. But in August 1644 at Tippermuir, Montrose defeated a force twice the size of his own and took Perth. A month later, it was the turn of Aberdeen – by which time Argyll was giving chase. It is worth noting here that, due to Argyll’s seizure of their lands, both the Highlanders and the Irishmen were blood enemies of the Clan Campbell.

Drawing the Covenanting army out of England was exactly what Montrose had been hoping for but his own inferior numbers made it necessary to lead Argyll a merry dance, rather than be brought to battle at a time and place not of his choosing. In October and virtually out of ammunition, he was at Fyvie Castle melting pewter chamber-pots down to make bullets. And then, as winter was setting in, he and his small army did the impossible.

They vanished into the sow and ice of the Grampians, crossing the mountains in severe weather and with little suitable clothing. Their journey covered some 200 miles and, tiring of both pursuit and the freezing conditions, Argyll retired to his castle at Inverary – a decision he was to regret when Montrose’s force arrived without warning in January of 1645 and the Irish and Highlanders book both the castle and their long-awaited revenge.

The Annus Mirabilis continued. Montrose triumphed at Inverlochy in February, Auldearn in May and Alford in July. His victory at Kilsyth in August made him master of Scotland. Glasgow opened its gates and Edinburgh freed its Royalist prisoners. It seemed the moment was now ripe for Montrose to march south and mend the King’s fortunes in England.

It was not to be. The Highlanders and Irish refused to march south with the Clan Campbell in their rear. Consequently, Montrose left Glasgow with only six hundred men to face six thousand under the command of David Leslie. The result was a foregone conclusion. Montrose was utterly defeated at Philiphaugh near Selkirk in September and the Year of Miracles was over.

Now a fugitive, Montrose fled to the continent. He was hailed as a hero in Vienna and Paris, given a Marshal’s baton by the Emperor and offered high military command by Mazarin. It is also possible that, at this time, he formed a close relationship with Rupert of the Rhine’s sister, Princess Louise, and that they planned to marry. This may be no more than a charming story – or it could be true. The portrait of Montrose [above] is ‘attribulted’ to Gerard Honthurst – but Louise was a talented artist who had studied under Honthurst. Since her family was always short of money, she needed to sell her work and some of it was signed by Honthurst because his name fetched a higher price than her own. So did Honthurst paint Montrose – or did Louise? Sadly, we’ll never know.

Time wore on but Montrose’s loyalty and hopes were still with the Royalist cause and in April 1650 he returned to Scotland with a few hundred men from Orkney and a handful of Danes. Three weeks later, his forces were annihilated at Carbisdale. Former friends who might have helped him didn’t and he was captured. Under the auspices of his old enemy, Argyll, he was executed at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh on May 21st.

His last words from the scaffold were:

I leave my soul to God, my service to my prince, my goodwill to my friends, my and love and charity to you all.

His head was placed on a spike at the Tolbooth prison and his limbs severed for distribution to Glasgow, Stirling, Perth and Aberdeen.
montrosegraveEleven years later on May 11th, 1661 while Argyll lay in a dungeon awaiting his own fate, the people of Edinburgh lined the streets as the remains of the Lord Marquis were given a State Funeral and interred in a magnificent tomb in St Giles’ Cathedral. The King’s Champion was finally laid to rest with all the honour that was his due.

The inscription below the effigy are words of Montrose’s own, written whilst awaiting execution.

Scatter my ashes, strew them in the air;
Lord! Since thou knowest whence all these atoms are,
I’m hopeful thou’lt recover once my dust,
And confident thou’lt raise me with the just.

I’ve visited Montrose’s tomb many times over the years. It’s not just beautiful; it’s a little oasis of tranquillity where one may sit for a while and remember a remarkable man. Like other visitors, I’ve always left a small tribute – my preference being for a single red rose. But on one occasion when this wasn’t possible, I left a large purple thistle. I don’t say the one in the photograph above is mine – but it very well could be.

And a brief footnote to this tale of two Marquises …
On May 27th 1661, the Marquis of Argyll was also executed at the Mercat Cross and his head placed on the same spike previously occupied by Montrose. I call this fitting. Argyll’s tomb lies on the opposite side of the nave of St Giles’ Cathedral to that of my hero.
I have never seen it.

He gained, then lost it all

MAJOR-GENERAL JOHN LAMBERT
1619 TO 1684

John_Lambert_painting_s

Lambert was born the same year as Rupert of the Rhine and, like Rupert, would have been just twenty-three years old when the Civil War began. I’ve always had a sneaking fondness for him – which anyone who has read Garland of Straw, where he features as Gabriel’s superior officer, will already know. And he’s back in The King’s Falcon – this time as Eden’s commander between Scotland and Worcester.

Some of the Roundheads – such as Cromwell, for example – who were leading players in the conflict were born around the turn of the seventeenth century and didn’t achieve prominence until they were well into their forties. Others, like Ireton and Lilburne, died before reaching that age. By the time John Lambert was forty, he had achieved everything and lost it all … and he spent his remaining years in prison.
How did that come about?

Lambert was born in West Yorkshire.  He began his military career as a Captain in Fairfax’s cavalry and was a Major-General by the young age of twenty-eight – a swift rise which reflects his strategic brilliance.  He fought at Marston Moor in 1644, Preston in 1648, Dunbar in 1650 and played a vital role in the victory at Worcester in 1651. He was popular with his own men and the Cavaliers disliked him less than most of the other Roundhead leaders – probably because he was less Puritanical. He kept his religious views to himself, was a cynical realist and combined ambition with a gift for intrigue.  He lived in style with his wife, Frances, at Wimbledon House where his hobby was cultivating tulips – on which he spent a great deal of money.

Having covered it in detail in Garland, I’ll pass over Lambert’s involvement in the complex politics of 1647-49 and simply say that he had no sympathy at all with the radicals and wasn’t one of the regicides. But in 1653, he engineered the dissolution of the Barebones’ Assembly and produced the first draft of a document which led to the establishment of the Protectorate. This is interesting because I get the impression that he didn’t particularly like Cromwell – and Cromwell clearly didn’t understand Lambert at all, describing him as ‘bottomless’. Certainly Lambert opposed the move to make Cromwell king or the Protectorate hereditary – a stand which led to his dismissal.

In May 1659, after the death of Cromwell and the overthrow of his son, Richard, Lambert regained his previous military commands when the Rump was recalled.

But this is where everything seems to have gone awry.

Following [yet another] quarrel between Parliament and the Army, Lambert repeated history by expelling the Rump. This drew General Monck down from Scotland to restore civil authority and – inexplicably, to me at least – Lambert’s troops deserted him rather than fight. The result was that he was captured and put in the Tower. He escaped, tried to rally the Army in a last ditch attempt to prevent the Restoration – and was recaptured. In 1662, he was tried, condemned to death, reprieved and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent his remaining twenty-two years as a captive – first on Guernsey and then on Drake’s Island in Plymouth Sound.

Perhaps Lambert’s tragedy was that he reached his peak too soon and couldn’t accept that his meteoric rise might come to an abrupt end. It’s true to say that, if he had been less ambitious, he might not have begun the troubles of 1659 which resulted in the Restoration; but equally, if his principles had been of the more flexible kind, he might have gained further honours by betraying his friends and throwing in his lot with Charles the Second.

At the end, Lambert plainly did what he’d always done – he stuck to his guns. And for two decades, the intelligence and courage of a natural leader were utterly wasted.

In the words of one of the great Cavalier heroes, horribly murdered nine years before the return of the King …

He either fears his fate too much or his deserts are small,
Who puts it not unto the touch, to win or lose it all.

James Graham, Marquis of Montrose

One of the ‘Roaring Boys’?

Lord George Goring 1608 to 1657

When he was twenty-one years old, George Goring married the daughter of the millionaire Earl of Cork. She brought him an impressive dowry of £10,000 – which he soon squandered on cards, dice and debauchery before taking military service in Holland. By the time he was thirty, he had acquired a reputation as a gambler, a libertine and a soldier.

George_Goring,_Baron_Goring_after_Sir_Anthony_Van_Dyck

The famous siege of Breda in 1637 left Goring with a shattered ankle, a permanent limp – and presumably also permanent pain – but he didn’t let this stand in his way and, when he returned to England, he accepted the post of Governor of Portsmouth.

The Earl of Clarendon [who plainly didn’t like him!] declared that, ‘he would have broken any trust or done any act of treachery to satisfy an ordinary passion or appetite.’ A severe criticism perhaps, but not unjustified. Goring’s actions between 1640 and 1642 don’t do him much credit. He managed to convince Parliament of his loyalty whilst making Portsmouth a base for the King; he was deeply involved in the Army Plots of 1641 but betrayed both of them to the Commons; and when the Civil War began, he declared openly for Charles 1 but surrendered Portsmouth within a month and decamped for Holland.

He didn’t remain abroad for long. Once back in England, he distinguished himself as a cavalry leader in the north, was taken prisoner in 1643 and released in 1644. He commanded a wing of the Royalist Horse at Marston Moor where he acquitted himself well against Fairfax only to be routed by Cromwell – and it was at this point that the rot seems to have set in. Goring had always been unreliable and was notorious for letting his men run amok. But after Marston Moor he appears to have started hitting the bottle with serious regularity whilst going out of his way to become a thorn in Prince Rupert’s side.

In the latter, he was ably assisted by Lords Wilmot and Digby – the three of them joining forces to intrigue against Rupert and to obstruct him at every turn. Inevitably, this constant ill-feeling and the resulting arguments was to eventually prove disastrous to the King’s cause.

In August 1644, Goring – now Captain of Horse in the West Country – let the Roundhead cavalry slip through his fingers at Lostwithiel but redeemed himself with a gallant showing at the battle of Newbury two months later. However, the following year saw him refusing to join Rupert before the battle of Naseby, preferring to spend his time in idle, largely drunken resentment – occasionally punctuated by bursts of action. During the next few months, he lost Taunton and caused a local rebellion by letting his men loot homes and kill livestock. By the time the Roundheads wiped him out at Langport in July 1645, he was widely regarded as ‘the evil genius of the war in the West‘.

With the King’s cause past saving, Goring went to the Netherlands and, from there, to command English regiments in Spanish service. He was to spend the rest of his days there, dying in Madrid in 1657.

So what do we make of this man who, both during his lifetime and long after it, was either loved or reviled? Egotistical, charismatic, pleasure-seeking, wasteful, intelligent, quarrelsome, brave? All of those things, probably. He had a way with the ladies and was the kind of rakehell more commonly found after the Restoration. He diced and whored and drank … but he also had a natural military talent and the ability to inspire men. He was wildly ambitious – and equally wildly irresponsible; and though he possessed the potential for brilliance, he rarely achieved it.

Nowadays, a lot of people probably consider swaggering, hard-drinking, sword-out-at-the-drop-of-a-hat George Goring to be a typical Cavalier. I don’t think this is true. He was more than those things – and many of his contemporaries were none of them. But there seems little doubt that he was one of the Roaring Boys.