Tuesday, 31 March 2015

An Interview with Rosie Babbitt - live, perfectly exclusive, and remarkably not sweary

March 1646

It's a beautiful spring day at Tresillian Bridge, midway between Truro and St Austell in breezy Cornwall, and the sky is a clear enamel blue with the rooks flung like rag above the trees on a brisk wind off the sea. Babbitt's Troop of Horse are making ready to move off. Sir Ralph Hopton signed the surrender of the King's forces in Cornwall three weeks ago, and Babbitt and his lads have been kicking their heels in and around the locality, scoping out Truro.

I fold my hands and smile nicely at Colonel Holofernes Babbitt. He looks back at me and does not smile, but cocks an eyebrow at me.
The silence lengthens. I wonder if I'm supposed to say something first. I'm not sure what to say, so I content myself with looking at Hollie Babbitt and trying to work out if he's worth looking at or not. He has particularly fine eyes, as Jane Austen might have it. A sort of light hazel, in the sunlight, golden-green and distinctly not amused. He has an undeniably big nose, he equally undeniably hasn’t shaved for several days, and his long, thick, reddy-brown hair would be lovely if he put a comb through it. "Well, mistress," he says eventually. (And I relax, because he has a Lancashire accent you could cut with the back side of a knife, and that means he's nowhere near as tetchy as he's making out to be, because if he was seriously angry he'd have no accent at all.) "What have you got to say for yourself?"

"I'm trying to write about you - your lot," I say feebly. "I'm not spying or anything."

"For which I thank God, for some of the information you send back would beggar belief! Bloody Hapless Russell - raffish. You said. He wasn't fit to live with for about a month. Wench, there are people in - your place - who think that lad just stands in want of a good woman to see him right. Russell. You know, strange lad, somewhat prone to lifting the elbow and starting fights when crossed, particular about his linen - and there's lasses in your place who want to take him on? Bloody welcome to him, mistress." He leans forward and fixes me with a level stare. "I tell you what I will not forgive you for, madam. You introduced Lucey Pettitt's execrable poetry to the world. It is all your fault. I have a lieutenant who thinks he'll be God's gift to the fairer sex in three centuries' time, and a cornet who is periodically possessed by the muse. Dear God almighty, woman, keep away from Venning, I dread to think what you'd do to him."

"And you?"

"Me?" He gives me a wry grin and I decide on two things. One, that despite the streak of white hair over his ear, I doubt he's forty yet. And two, he might want me to think he's a stern and zealous commander, but Hollie Babbitt is quite enjoying the attention of being the first Parliamentarian hero in popular fiction . "I'm not very interesting at all, lass. Plain boring married man, me. A wife, two daughters and a farm in Essex requiring my attention, which it's not getting due to the disobliging nature of His Majesty, the slippery bugger. And don't -" he raises a warning finger at me, "don't mention the Scots, all right?"

"You were born in 1608," I say, "February - what day?"
"The hell should I know, lass? There was only me and my mother there, and she didn't draw breath long enough to tell me." He leans back in his chair, suddenly stony-faced. "I do not know the day of my birth, mistress. You write the damned books, you tell me."

I hold my hands up. "Sorry. I just - well, I wanted to know. People might want to know."

"People can mind their own damned business. February. Het says -" and he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t mean to, but as he says his wife's name his expression softens, "Het says Candlemas. She gifted me with a birth date. Candlemas was the day I left White Notley to rejoin the Army at Reading. 1643, I mind. Bloody hell, lass, I been married nigh on three years. Where’s the time gone? Three years chasing that untrustworthy little -" he stops himself, "His Majesty, round the country, and he's still not give up."

"I think he will," I said gently, and Hollie raises his eyebrows at me.

"Ah-ah, now, what did we agree? I don’t want to know none of it. None of your witchery, mistress. No foretelling the future. I'll not know the date of my death - or that of any of my lads," he says warningly, and I shake my head, because although I know, of course I know, I wouldn't tell him. I'd like to - I know he worries about Luce the too-young widower, who's not written a poem in months, or about Russell, fierce and passionate and miserably lonely, arming himself in a cloak of zeal which is no substitute at all for what he wants. I could even tell Hollie that his Het misses him desperately, in Essex - that baby Joyeux has her first teeth, that bright Thomazine is forming her letters even as we speak. Something of that must have shown on my face. "I'd like to," he says, rather forlornly. "But. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. Don’t hold with kings in our house, lass. Put not your trust in princes or any of them buggers." I think he forgets I'm there, because he looks over my shoulder, out onto the sun-dappled spring river, and closes his eyes, as if he might be thinking, or praying, or possibly both. "Ah, Christ, never mind princes, I've not much trust in Sir Thomas Fairfax, lately."

He puts his hand over the powder-burn in the sleeve of his decent plain grey suit. His rather old-fashioned, neatly-mended suit, that doesn’t quite fit him any more. His broad, flat swordsman's wrists are meant by nature to be somewhat less bone than they are. I'd always imagined him as slight and across the table he's not slight at all, he's just thin. He looks at the burn in his sleeve and then takes his hand away and looks up at me with a challenge in his eyes. "We are neglected, mistress. Expected to live on fresh air, and disciplined when we protest. Unpaid. Ill-provisioned, ill-quartered, ill-kept. I have lost good men in the course of this war, and they talk of treating with His Majesty, of returning him to his place. Uncorrected, of course, because His Majesty does not deal with the likes of we. So my lads gave their lives and their freedoms for nothing. Less than nothing. I'll not have it, lass. And you can put that in your bloody book. No other bugger will speak for those lads, because they are common men, and not bloody politickers born and bred. I've not got a clever tongue, but by God I've got a free one. Go on. Set that down."

I owe him that much. "I will," I say, and he shrugs.

"Get myself into trouble with my big gob, one of these days. Bloody Russell's as bad. We'd mar another couple." He stands up, slings his sword hanger over his shoulder. There is a sudden scent of horse-sweat and black powder and not especially clean male as he brushes past me, and then he turns with a jingle of spurs, sets his hand on my shoulder, gingerly. "Will you - would you tell Het? That I love her?" I look up into his face, backlit by pale spring sun, his russet hair gone to a blood-red halo. He's blushing. It's rather sweet. 

I take a deep breath. "I will," I say. "I promise. And the girls."

And then he's gone, out into the sun, and I hear him yelling indulgent abuse at Venning and where the hell is Lucey bloody Pettitt, and then I hear Luce apologising, he was just getting his books together, and Venning's dog is barking and someone's horse is whinnying and I hear Cullis giving the orders to mount up.

And then there's a great clattering of hooves on Tresillian Bridge and I stand in the inn door and watch Hollie Babbitt's brave, ruffianly, steadfast company head further into the West, until they are quite gone from view. And I wish I could do more for them. 

And then I pick up my pen. "To my most esteemed friend Mistress Henrietta Babbitt," I write.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

And speaking of Hapless...."A Cloak of Zeal" free to read until 2nd March (with a link that works....)

A Cloak of Zeal by M. J. Logue A Cloak of Zeal  
A Cloak of Zeal - free until the 2nd March

A Wilderness of Sin - pretties

Friday, 27 March 2015

Mistress Het's Physick Garden Created - #1

I've always wanted a 17th century garden.

We live in an old granite cottage, in a sheltered dip where the Cornish gales blow overhead. We have a long front garden, and a small enclosed back yard.
There are certain things in our current garden which are givens -
- an apple tree, coming now to the end of its useful fruiting life, but rather lovely.
- two Williams pear trees, planted to mark William's birth five years ago.
- an olive bush
- two sheds, somewhat non-negotiable, full of Living History kit
- a small and somewhat barren vegetable patch; the space can be re-used, but the raised bed itself is a fixture
- a very elderly rosemary bush
- three old-fashioned scented roses
- a flourishing bay tree
- naturalised wallflowers and primroses

The gardens of period town houses were generally modest and of a functional nature, based on medieval patterns, to provide plants of medicinal, culinary and household uses. Illustrations of town gardens from this period frequently show the garden adjacent to the house and enclosed by walls, hedging, fencing and/or painted rails. A wide variety of herbs, vegetables (known as pot herbs) and flowers were grown, probably in geometrical, raised beds surrounded by gravel. Small fruit trees, sometimes trained as espaliers on the sunny walls, and arbours covered with vines were common features.

I have prostrate rosemary and boxes of herbs at my front gate (in need of some overhaul) as well as a large rosemary bush at the front door to keep the witches away. I have bronze (Florentine) fennel, feverfew, lovage, savory, lemon thyme, sops-in-wine, houseleek....I also have three cats and a small boy who likes to dig holes.

So, then, the first challenge is to populate my shady corner by the shed, currently inhabited by some straggly "architectural" plants and a patch of wet and well-trodden soil. The idea is to build a raised bed by the shed and then put a narrow gravel path in front of it and behind the shed.

Suitable period plants for shade - their properties are taken from Culpeper (I do like his habit of calling cultvated plants "tame"...):

Sweet Woodruff -

Virtues. The Woodruffe is accounted nourishing and restorative, and good for weakly consumptive people; it opens obstructions of the liver and spleen, and is said to be a provocative to venery.

Angelica -

Government and virtues. It is an herb of the Sun in Leo; let it be gathered when he is there, the Moon applying to his good aspect; let it be gathered either in his hour, or in the hour of Jupiter; let Sol be angular: observe the like in gathering the herbs of other planets, and you may happen to do wonders. In all epidemical diseases caused by Saturn, that is as good a preservative as grows; it resists poison, by defending and comforting the heart, blood, and spirits; it doth the like against the plague and all epidemical diseases, if the root be taken in powder to the weight of half a drachm at a time, with some good treacle in carduus water, and the party thereupon laid to sweat in his bed; if treacle be not to be had, take it alone in carduus or angelica-water. The stalks or roots candied and eaten fasting, are good preservatives in time of infection: and at other times to warm and comfort a cold stomach. The root also steeped in vinegar, and a little of that vinegar taken sometimes fasting, and the root smelled unto, is good for the same purpose. A water distilled from the root simply, as steeped in wine, and distilled in a glass, is much more effectual than the water of the leaves; and this water, drank two or three spoonfuls at a time, eases all pains and torments coming of cold and wind, so that the body be not bound; and taken with some of the root in powder, at the beginning, helps the pleurisy, as also all other diseases of the lungs and breast, as coughs, phthisic, and shortness of breath; and a syrup of the stalks do the like. It helps pains of the cholic, the stranguary and stoppage of the urine, procures womens' courses, and expels the afterbirth: opens the stoppings of the liver and spleen, and briefly eases and discusses all windiness and inward swellings. The decoction drank before the fit of an ague, that the patient may sweat before the fit comes, will, in two or three times taking, rid it quite away: it helps digestion, and is a remedy for a surfeit. The juice, or the water, being dropped into the eyes or ears, helps dimness of sight and deafness; the juice put into the hollow teeth, eases their pains. The root in powder, made up into a plaister with a little pitch, and laid on the biting of mad dogs, or any other venomous creature, does wonderfully help. The juice or the water dropped, or tents wet therein, and put into filthy dead ulcers, or the powder of the root (in want of either) does cleanse and cause them to heal quickly, by covering the naked bones with flesh; the distilled water applied to places pained with the gout, or sciatica, gives a great deal of ease.
The root is used in many of our shop compositions as in the plague water, &c. and the dried leaves are a principal ingredient in the ladies red powder, famous for the cure of fevers.

Lemon Balm -

Government and virtues. It is an herb of Jupiter, and under Cancer, and strengthens nature much in all its actions. Let a syrup made of the juice of it and sugar (as you shall be taught at the latter end of this book) be kept in every gentlewoman's house, to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor sickly neighbours: as also the herb kept dry in the house, that so with other convenient simples, you may make it into an electuary with honey, according as the disease is, as you shall be taught at the latter end of my book. - The Arabian physicians have extolled the virtues thereof to the skies; although the Greeks thought it not worth mentioning. Seraphio saith, it causes the mind and heart to become merry, and reviveth the heart, faintings and swoonings, especially of such who are overtaken in sleep, and driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind, arising from melancholy or black choler: which Avichen also confirmeth. It is very good to help digestion, and open obstructions of the brain, and hath so much purging quality in it (saith Avichen) as to expel those melancholy vapours from the spirits and blood which are in the heart and arteries, although it cannot do so in other parts of the body. - Dioscorides saith, That the leaves steeped in wine, and the wine drank, and the leaves externally applied, is a remedy against the stings of a scorpion, and the bitings of mad dogs; and commendeth the decoction thereof for women to bathe or sit in to procure their courses; it is good to wash aching teeth therewith, and profitable for those that have the bloody flux. The leaves also, with a little nitre taken in drink, are good against the surfeit of mushrooms, helps the griping pains of the belly; and being made into an electuary, it is good for them that cannot fetch their breath: Used with salt, it takes away wens, kernels, or hard swelling in the flesh or throat: it cleanseth foul sores, and eases pains of the gout. It is good for the liver and spleen. A tansy, or caudle made with eggs, and juice thereof while it is young, putting to it some sugar and rosewater, is good for a woman in child-bed, when the after-birth is not properly voided; and for their faintings upon or in their sore travail. The herb bruised and boiled in a little wine and oil, and laid warm on a boil, will ripen it, and break it.  

Sweet Cecily -
Government and virtues. The garden chervil being eaten, doth moderately warm the stomach, and is a certain remedy (saith Tragus) to dissolve congealed or clotted blood in the body, or that which is clotted by bruises, falls, &c. The juice or distilled water thereof being drank, and the bruised leaves laid to the place, being taken either in meat or drink, it is good to help to provoke urine, or expel the stone in the kidneys, to send down women's courses, and to help the pleurisy and pricking of the sides.
The wild chervil bruised and applied, dissolveth swellings in any part, or the marks of congealed blood by bruises or blows in a little space. 

Fennel -  
Government and virtues. One good old fashion is not yet left off, viz . to boil fennel with fish; for it consumes that phlegmatic humour which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason of its benefit this way is, because it is an herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces. Fennel is good to break wind, to provoke urine, and ease the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed, boiled in barley-water and drank, are good for nurses, to increase their milk, and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stays the hiccough, and takes away the loathings which oftentimes happen to the stomachs of sick and feverish persons, and allays the heat thereof. The seed boiled in wine and drank, is good for those that are bit with serpents, or have eat poisonous herbs, or mushrooms. The seed, and the roots much more, help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby help the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice; as also the gout and cramps. The seed is of good use in medicines, to help shortness of breath and wheezing, by stopping of the lungs. It assists also to bring down the courses, and to cleanse the parts after delivery. The roots are of most use in physic drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, to open obstructions of the liver, to provoke urine, and amend the ill colour in the face after sickness, and to cause a good habit through the body. Both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof, are much used in drink or broth, to make people lean that are too fat. The distilled water of the whole herb, or the condensate juice dissolved, but especially the natural juice, that in some counties issues out of its own accord, dropped into the eyes cleans them from mists and films that hinder the sight. The sweet fennel is much weaker in physical uses than the common fennel. The wild fennel is stronger and hotter than the tame, and therefore most powerful against the stone, but not so effectual to encrease milk, because of its dryness.

The left side of the bed gets full sun almost all day, but it's still quite damp down there. My fennel is presently in a small trough and is feeling a bit sorry for itself, so the opportunity to get out and stretch its roots somewhat will be welcome! But if I put the tall, feathery plants to the back of the bed - fennel and angelica and cecily - that's a fairly architectural display in its own right. And for a truly seventeenth-century look, it's important that the plants are as elegantly arranged as possible in order of height, unlike our modern fashion for a brave disorder.

So.... the planning begins, and I will keep posting updates.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Surely some mistake, Colonel Rainsborough - Royalist propaganda or war criminal?

“For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under…”.
Thomas Rainsborough, Putney Debates, 1647

When I first started writing the Uncivil Wars books I had a fairly clear picture of the martyred Leveller colonel Thomas Rainsborough, in my head.

The known facts of his early life are fairly scant. He was born in Wapping in 1610 - son of Vice-Admiral William Rainsborough, a captain in the Royal Navy and Ambassador to Morocco. Vice-Admiral Rainsborough was offered a baronetcy for his efforts to end white slavery - an honour which he then declined. Republicanism, then, we can infer, was in the Rainsborough genetic make-up.

Thomas, then, began his career before the civil war in the family business; he and his brother William were involved in an early naval expedition to the Puritan Providence Island colony, off the coast of Nicaragua - and, it may be suggested, a degree of mild pirating of those antipathetic towards England's interests.

However, after an early command of the Swallow and the Lion in the embryonic Parliamentarian navy (Hull, 1643 - where he first meets Hollie Babbitt in "Command the Raven) he then transferred to the Eastern Association - Oliver Cromwell's haunt, although bearing in mind that Old Noll was no more than a plain Colonel of Horse himself at this point - where he was himself commissioned an infantry Colonel by the Earl of Manchester. In May 1645, he became a colonel in the newly-formed New Model Army. He fought and distinguished himself at Naseby. He went with Fairfax into the West Country and distinguished himself again at the battle of Langport.

And then at the siege of Bristol, after fierce fighting as the town surrendered, Rainsborough's troops massacred the defenders of Prior's Hill Fort. Allegedly.

It says so on Bristol local history sites. It says so in assorted fictional accounts. What it doesn’t say is where primary source evidence on this massacre might have been found. None of the accounts I have discovered (bearing in mind I don’t live in Bristol, so my hands are somewhat tied regarding physical archives…damn it all) annotate this.

However. So. Maybe that upright seagoing Republican with the staunch Puritan friends who came back from New England to fight for Parliament alongside him, maybe he did give the orders to massacre the defenders of Prior's Hill Fort. Also note that every account I've discovered uses the word "massacre". Now that's either very definite…or they’re all using the same source material. Interesting.

Now. Rainsborough was then elected recruiter MP for Droitwich in Worcestershire in January 1647, but was allowed to continue with his military duties. Probably just as well, because in his absence in May 1647 his troops mutinied at Portsmouth in protest at Parliament's plans to disband the New Model without addressing the soldiers' grievances. Petty grievances, of course, set against the weightier matters of national governance - matters like not being paid for eight weeks, or being sent to fight abroad (in the case of Rainsborough's troop, in Jersey) without seeing any of their back pay, or the unsettled matter of punishment for "war crimes" such as stealing horses under martial direction for use in cavalry regiments. That particular war crime had ended in the hanging of several soldiers after the first Civil War. I imagine there were any number of uncomfortable troopers around with that particular sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. (There - and you thought Eliot and Ward were made up, didn’t you? Nope…that pair of light-fingered buggers are very much based on historical persons.)

Rainsborough's troops were preparing to march on Oxford and seize the artillery based there, until the man himself came back and met with them at Abingdon and talked them out of it.
That's twice that Rainsborough is recorded as being charismatic, and personally involved, enough to influence people who have pretty good reasons not to do what he ends up getting them to do: the officers from New England had the reasonable excuse of several thousand miles of implacable Atlantic between themselves and the troubles back home, and Rainsborough's own troops wouldn't have been the first to disregard their commander - look at Waller's disobedient London-raised troops, who were reluctant to fight outside their home turf regardless of his orders.

So, then, we see Rainsborough as clearly a very charismatic, very engaging, very hands-on man, fully engaged with his own men on a direct and personal level. Evidently a very popular leader and seen as both influential and reliable - he was one of the officers that presented the Heads of the Proposals to King Charles in July 1647. Turned down flat, in the most high-handed manner imaginable, by the King. 1647 really marked the beginning of Rainsborough's overt involvement in the Army's political activities, and his role as a leading Leveller light. He led the advance guard of three regiments of foot and one of horse when the Army marched to occupy London, successfully seizing Southwark - where, it must be noted, he had previously inherited property, and was presumably well-known to the locals, being a Wapping boy himself, so unlikely to be seen as some kind of brutal interloper.

During October and November 1647 he was lively at the Putney Debates, siding with the Leveller radicals in calling for negotiations with the King to be broken off immediately and for a new constitution of their own terms to be implemented. (That rebuttal of the Heads of Proposals must have still rankled.) He was also arguing for manhood suffrage, which didn’t go down well with Cromwell and Ireton either. And then in November 1647, he attempted to present a copy of the Levellers' manifesto, and was ignored by General Fairfax.

January 1648 saw a return to naval service, given command of a squadron guarding the Isle of Wight where the King was held prisoner.

But. What we have been seeing before is a humanitarian man, vociferous in his support for the common soldier...who was so absolutely unpopular with the Navy that a number of Parliamentarian warships declared for the King in the spring of 1648 rather than carry on serving with him, and Rainsborough was put ashore from his own flagship by his crew. Parliament had to re-instate the Earl of  Warwick in his place to restore the loyalty of the seamen. It destroyed Rainsborough's authority within in the navy, and he transferred back to the Army and took command of a newly-raised London regiment at the siege of Colchester.

And this is where I really begin to struggle with Rainsborough. Because the siege of Colchester was a filthy, vicious, uncharacteristically cruel assault, wholly out of character for both Thomas Fairfax and what we have seen of Thomas Rainsborough. The siege began in June 1648 and lasted for 11 weeks - a siege in which townspeople consistently loyal to Parliament, were barricaded in with an occupying force who were not precisely sympathetic.

Again, anecdotal evidence for Fairfax's atrocities includes the torture of a messenger boy, the desecration of Sir Charles Lucas's family vaults during manoeuvres; the inhabitants were certainly starving, reduced to eating cats, dogs, candles and soap - civilian and military alike. Fairfax is alleged to have agreed that his troops could cut off the hands of Royalist soldiers to take rings as booty. It is certain that a starving deputation of women and children was sent to Fairfax to ask for mercy, and were refused. It is again anecdotal that a second deputation of starving townswomen presented themselves to Rainsborough and were stripped, for the amusement of his troops.

Edited: at the end of the siege, Colchester was fined the MASSIVE sum of £14,000 - reduced to £12,000. Previous to the siege the town had been one of the biggest ports in Essex. Afterwards - a rural backwater. Fairfax broke the town utterly.

So. As Hollie Babbitt might put it, not much bloody further on, are we, after all that?

On the one hand, we have Rainsborough the compassionate republican, demanding fair and equal treatment for the poorest he that is in England. On the other we have a war criminal, even by the standards of the 17th century.

But. (I like big buts, and I cannot lie.)

I like a mystery, and I likes both Fairfax and Rainsborough, and it may take me a while, but I'll get to the bottom of this one. The Lord has smiled upon my endeavours.... Him Indoors is an Essex boy!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

WORLD POETRY DAY - the posh poet goes for it....


O shagg'd cavalier! No more to begg,
To fetch, or steal a bone -
The noblest of Prince Rupert's trayne
Doth lie here overthrown.

For all thy pride and high degree
Brave Cur, now thou hast had it
Cut down in thy prime of life
By, likely, Hollie Babbitt.

Yet, Boye, mind well, thou proudest Dogg
That ever tupped a bitch
The paths of glory do but lead
Into a Yorkshire ditch.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Thankful Russell - in hiding till "Poldark" finishes

Experts reveal the historical hunk that makes women swoon

"You're putting me on," Hollie Babbitt says faintly. "For sure?"

Russell does not look flattered. Russell, in point of fact, looks scared witless. "You have a look," he says, in a very odd voice. Hollie looks up and raises an eyebrow. "Russell, what you talking like that for? With your mouth shut?"

The scarred lieutenant points. (That damned Amazon female. She has a habit of passing her ill-conceived and unwomanly pamphlets of seditious literature by Russell, and she knows what it does to him.)

"Seductive smile," Hollie reads, with mild disbelief. "What, him? That bugger was in my troop and I'd have him buck his ideas up, for sure. Running round half-dressed, he'll catch his death of cold. Small, straight incisors -" he pokes his own straight teeth with a thumb, and then looks at Russell in the manner of a man assessing the age of a horse. "Well, you do have all your own teeth, Hapless. That is true. And they are, surely, straight.  Though I wouldn't call you seductive. You don't do much for me, anyway."
This is evidently of little consolation to Russell, who keeps his mouth firmly closed over admittedly-good teeth and looks quizzical.

"Manly," Hollie goes on, "but not too muscular." That leaves him somewhat at a loss. "You know a lot of fat cavalry officers?" he asks the ceiling. "- all right, Venning's built on the perpendicular, but even he's not fat. Say square, rather. Hapless, you want to have a word with that lass of yours. What is this rubbish? Manly - well, aye, we are, for the most part, fellers, yes. With one or two significant exceptions." He glowers at Luce, who ignores him. Old news. "And not too muscular. Well, that's three of us in this room who are masculine by gender and all of -"
"Slight," Luce prompts.
"Elegant build," Hollie corrects him, with a sidelong glance at Russell's lithe and greyhound-lean person. Russell - still with his mouth closed - says nothing, but tries to look untidy.

"Pert posterior."
"Oh God," Russell says faintly. He is, after all, a cavalry officer. Most gentlemen with a deal of acquaintance with horses have -
"Calluses on their arse," Hollie adds. "What kind of lass is this anyway, goes around assessing men by the quality of their backsides?" He - a married man of several years' standing - looks up in indignation. His two junior officers are looking distinctly dreamy. "I wouldn't mind?" Luce says hopefully.

"Aye, and you probably do look good in a frock, brat. The hell is this, Hapless? Oh - frock coat. What's one of them?" He almost throws the pamphlet at Russell and then goes back to it. (They are strangely addictive, these things.) "Plain soldier's coat not good enough for these wenches, is it not? Bloody soft-handed womanish - thing - look at the bloody state of him. Flailing about in the water like the Lord had meant him to be a bloody fish. Wouldn't know proper soldiering if it bit him in the ar- back of the leg." Hollie scratches at three days' worth of ruffianly cinnamon stubble. "Too clean by half, that boy. Give me a week with him and I'd make a bloody trooper of him, you see if I wouldn't."

An accent, apparently. This paragon has to have a deep, gravelly voice. Luce the Essex boy looks relieved. Russell with his soft Buckinghamshire burr, and Hollie the North Countryman, exchange a horrified glance. Luce gets up and peers at the inflammatory pamphlet. "And long hair, apparently," he says. "How fascinating."

Hollie shifts in his seat, awkwardly, touching the thick russet ponytail that hangs straight down his back. And Russell - thick fair hair worn loose, most of the time, just past his shoulders. It covers the -
"Scar," Luce says. "Good lord, Thankful. Apparently this gentleman was badly scarred in the face as a young man in the wars in Spain. They say it's most appealing to the ladies."

It's not helping, of course. The fact remains, no matter how many of the traits the experts deem so desirable may happen to be possessed by Russell, the scarred (and not unhandsome) lieutenant remains unconvinced. And, possibly, therein lies his appeal. He thinks it's all cobblers. Funny, but cobblers.

Hollie's married, so he doesn't care, although he folds up the inflammatory pamphlet to show Mistress Babbitt. He happens to share many of these desirable traits, and he'd like to confirm his good lady's agreement with same.

Luce? Well, Luce is - currently - single, and ready to mingle. He pulls the cord loose that binds his own fair hair neatly back, and wonders if a shaving-cut from this morning counts as a fabulous flaw....

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

By! It's either a feast or a famine....

(As the lovely Hollie would say, being a North Country boy, and prone to such peculiar expressions.)
Three people are going to be very fortunate - my rather elegant new cover!


    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        Red Horse by M.J. Logue



          Red Horse


          by M.J. Logue


            Giveaway ends March 30, 2015.

            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.




      Enter to win

Monday, 16 March 2015

A Wilderness of Sin - available for pre-order (and the first chapter for your delight and astonishment)

Naseby, Northamptonshire
June 1645

It was a pale pearl of a midsummer dawn, and Thankful Russell looked like a dead man.
            Sitting on his bed, he looked fragile and very, very young. As well he might. He'd turned twenty-one two weeks before the battle at Naseby. He was twenty-one, poor bugger, and as of three days ago, he was blind.
It had been an accident, or a case of mistaken identity, or something of the sort that inevitably happened to Russell. It hadn't even been during the battle. Colonel Hollie Babbitt hadn’t got to the bottom of it, didn't want to get to the bottom of it. Thank God, he had spent most of that particular sickening low point in the trajectory of the New Model Army, laid out cold in a churchyard in the nearby village of Marston Trussell, perfectly, and literally, unconscious of the vile massacre being enacted by men he'd fought shoulder to shoulder with. His own troops. One of the troops under his command, at least. Hollie had been endeavouring to stand between the ravening ranks of the godly, hellbent on unjustified revenge, and those poor bloody brave, stubborn, doomed camp-followers. One of the women had had smacked him in the side of the head with a griddle. Collapse, as Lucey would put it, of stout party. It had done no good in the end, either. There'd been over a hundred of those poor women dead or mutilated - hacked apart by good Parliament men. And there had been nothing Hollie could do to stop it.
            Whatever Russell had been doing to stop it, he ought not to have, because it had ended with him shot in the head, not to say having been, by the look of him, very badly beaten. Sitting upright on his bed after three days unconscious, Russell was a horrible sight, and he hadn’t been that lovely before. The scarred lieutenant had a stunning black eye, and a series of clotted, black gouges torn into the cheek that wasn't already marred: his mouth was swollen and torn, and there was old, dry blood on his top lip and his chin. The funny thing was, the pistol ball had only grazed his skull - the troop bonesetter had taken it out from under his skin with no trouble at all. Hollie had always said Russell had a thick head, and now he had actual, slightly-flattened, lead evidence of same. It had been enough to leave him senseless for the better part of three days, though, and it had bled something fierce. 
"You can’t do this, Hollie." Luce was bumping about like a bee in a bottle, trying every way he knew to deflect Hollie from his stated business of removing Russell to a place of safety. "You can not expect a man with a serious head wound to ride sixty miles. You'll kill him."
Russell turned his head to look in Luce's direction. That was the pitiful thing, that the lad was trying to look as if he was intact. Looking at the blank wall behind Luce's head, his head slightly cocked, looking alert and intelligent and facing in just slightly the wrong direction, his eyes not moving. "I should rather not be left behind," he said, his voice as cool and accentless as ever it was. "That would kill me, Cornet Pettitt."
"My baggage is packed, sir. I will ride when the colonel wishes to leave. At first light."
Luce looked at Hollie and his mouth quivered. It was first light. And proper, impeccable Russell's baggage was shoved anyhow into a saddle-bag, one forgotten stocking still flung across the bed where it had been missed. Hollie reached across and very quietly emptied the bag, smoothing the crumpled shirts and folding them before replacing them. Russell was frowning very faintly, his head jerking almost imperceptibly as he tried to pinpoint the sound. "What are you doing?" he said, and his voice had gone high with anxiety. "Sir? What -"
            Hollie put his hand on Russell's shoulder. "Nowt, lad. I'm not doing nowt. I just thought I'd dropped summat a minute ago."
"Colonel Babbitt, sir, I will not allow the lieutenant to leave my care!"
All he needed, bloody Witless. The troop bonesetter, who may have been christened Witcombe but who was definitely Witless, was a fat young man with bad skin who stuttered and blushed and only had any degree of competency at all when he was bloody to the elbows. As a plain trooper he was almost wholly useless. He'd managed to put a pistol ball through the brim of his hat in battle, on one occasion. Clear through, clear enough to see daylight. Give him a lancet or a fleam and he was transfigured. The worst thing was, that lummox had trained Luce in his own image, and now the brat was an eager apprentice in his own right. Frightening.
            "Why? You going to give him a better haircut?"
Russell looked uncomprehending. Actually, he looked like a lunatic, with a patch of hair cropped to the skin where Witless had stitched that bloody runnel through his scalp. Witless was never going to make a gentleman's gentleman. He'd hardly flattered Russell's vanity, such as he had had in the first place. What the lieutenant was going to say when he regained his sight - and he bloody well would, Hollie would not have it any other way - and realised that possibly the only beauty he had remaining to him was stuck out at crazy angles to his head and matted with blood. Hollie shook his head, and then remembered that he had a row of stitches of his own, slightly more considerately put in by Luce, who might only be a half-trained butcher but at least he had warm hands. Head-shaking, notwithstanding, made him feel somewhat dizzy.
"I'm not sure you ought to be racketing about the countryside on your own, either, Hollie," Luce said gently, and Hollie scowled at him.
"That'd be it, then, brat." Luce might be his dearest friend in the world, but he was still ten years, and at least one rank, Hollie's junior. Brat he was and brat he would remain. "You can come with us. There you go, Witless. Lieutenant Russell's got his own private physician. There's posh for you, Russell."

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Writing. It's a dirty job, but....

Caution - a totally non-historical, and apolitical, post...

It is an odd thing, but there comes a time when you write when you realise that actually, you're not writing for yourself any more.

You put the words on the page, and they come out of your head, but actually, there are people out there - real, living, breathing, feeling people - who read them and care what happens to your characters. And that's a sobering reflection.

Now I am not, by any stretch, a best-selling author. Meh. Occasionally. But it scares me that that rebel rabble are out there - unsupervised - and that I have a sort of moral obligation to take care of them. They have acquired a life outside my head, and people have been known to talk to me about Luce and Rosie and Hapless as if I know them and may bump into them shortly this week.

Absolutely, Russell will be a lot happier when he gets a steady girlfriend. (I'm sure he will, he's just a little busy with Army politics at the moment.) - but he's not very old, remember, they can be a little silly at that age. He'll steady up when he settles down with a nice girl.

Luce is going to be fine. He's young, he'll get over it.

Yes, I think Rosie should be sterner with his daughters, too. Hardly fair, to come home every six months and spoil them rotten, then get off and leave his poor wife to clean up the wreckage. Typical, though.

There is a part of me that thinks it's funny that there really are people who believe there was a Caroline poet called Lucifer Pettitt who was the 17th century's answer to William McGonagall. And I am toying with the idea of the Holofernes Thomas Babbitt Wikipedia page, detailing his military campaigns. (1632, Siege of Nuremberg, serving with Wallenstein - in a ditch, mostly drunk, or suffering from a lesser pox. You can see how it'd go...)

Always happy to provide Het Babbitt's recipe for ember tart, on request. Hetta really does exist. Het is every woman who's ever stood behind a famous man and looked obliging and serene, whilst secretly trying to work out how many clean shirts he's got left and how many more meals she can get out of the ham bone in the pantry. I have been accused of being Het's non-fiction alter ego and I'm not altogether denying it.

...And on that note, my Real Life cat has just stuck his Real Life wet nose down my ear and demanded that I feed him.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

John Webster - With A Soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails

 Is that not absolutely the BEST review of a book ever?? Three copies to give away.... find out for yourself!


    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        A Wilderness of Sin by M.J. Logue



          A Wilderness of Sin


          by M.J. Logue


            Giveaway ends April 12, 2015.

            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.




      Enter to win

Friday, 6 March 2015

The Poorest He that Is In England...

I have thought long and hard about posting this, and I will try to make it as un-spoiler-like as possible, because somewhat astonishingly there are those people who actually want to know what happens to that russet-haired menace and his rebel rabble. And this will not be that post, so you can breathe.

However. I'm told that my Magnificent Octopus (Octopi?) has been passed on to the Leveller Association to cast an eye over - *waves to the Leveller Association* - and that set me to thinking.

Rosie Babbitt is not, by political inclination, a Leveller. He may spend the first book reading Lilburne and he may pal around with Colonel Rainsborough in the second and third, but he's not a natural activist. What he is, is a man with a (possibly overdeveloped) sense of fairness.
I think it's fairly obvious even from the synopsis of "A Wilderness of Sin", that that notorious gobshite and firebrand is going to end up as one of the two regimental Agitators. And he will do it because he has the tools - ie a big gob and a reputation for saying what he thinks - to do it, whereas the other of his Agitators will do it because he's essentially a crack-brained romantic with a death wish. Glorious martyrdom, any cause you like? Oh, yes, please!

One wonders, three hundred and fifty years later, how many of the Army Agitators went to Putney, and took up their grievances - not out of a desire to change the world, but because it wasn't fair. To them, right there, right that minute. Starving in the south-west, with Fairfax cutting deals with the Clubmen that there should be no looting, which is very fine and honourable until you bear in mind that until the Parliamentarian treasure convoy finally arrived in the West Country in early October 1645, the soldiers hadn't been paid for weeks, and were getting restless. (Again, as Babbitt might say, with some cynicism.) Presumably, when Fairfax agreed in mid-July that the local population should be unmolested, and that the New Model Army would pay for supplies, he was either possessed of supernatural prescience or he was having another attack of Elijah and his infernal ravens - never mind, gentlemen, the Lord will provide. Of course the Army will pay for supplies, but until it has the money to do so, you will keep your hands to yourselves, no matter how hungry you're getting. Jam tomorrow!

Oh no, Hollie Babbitt wouldn't ally himself with any organised political movement. He might, on the other hand, find himself being asked to speak for a troop who felt that they'd been well and truly shafted by a Parliament who'd asked them to shed their blood and leave their homes and families, to fight for a cause that many of them still didn't fully comprehend. Our Rosie might be absolutely appalled that Thomas Rainsborough - who'd served the Army so faithfully both on land and at sea in a military capacity even before he started involving himself in military politics (and who, in the Uncivil War series, happens to be a mate of Babbitt's) - could be brutally murdered, and that rumour might have it that Oliver Cromwell himself might have been responsible for arranging that murder.A literal and figurative stab in the back.

You can see why a plain fighting man who'd never considered himself a great political intriguer, might have been moved to speak on the soldiers' behalf - not because he wanted to see a finer England, but because he had the care of a couple of hundred lads, and he could not in all conscience stand in front of them and say he hadn't tried to see them done right by, to the best of his ability.

 You can see why any man with any sense of honour, might feel that the actual fighting men of the Army of Parliament had been somewhat hard done to, and that in denying them their right to protest, the Army Grandees were going back on any number of their previous promises. The ordinary soldier was fighting and dying for a very nebulous freedom that the King apparently threatened, but suddenly when it came to those freedoms being actually granted it was a different story. The King's a threat to the stout English church... but no one is allowed to preach to the New Model after February 1645 who isn't an ordained preacher. (Not that we want to stop those nasty little Dissenting voices who wanted to say things like, but you won't grant us indemnity for crimes like stealing horses that you commanded us to steal, how does that work? That King who's an evil threatening menace... you want him back? What - tell him he's been a very naughty boy and he's not to do it again? That kind of thing?)

Ah, poor old Hollie, he had no choice about it, did he?

Bloody Russell, on the other hand, that rather endearing Puritan nutjob - he's in it for the dream. Typical bloody Hapless Russell.

(And Luce, that most middle-class and pragmatic of idealists, thinks it's all a splendid and noble idea, but, er, chaps, can you - you know - not upset anyone? Some of us might have to work again after these wars, you know.)

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you - Thankful Russell and Hollie Babbitt, the first, and to the best of my knowledge the only, Leveller heroes in popular historical fiction.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The New One..... Babbitt #3 Out in May!


June 1645

Shattered after their defeat at the bloody battle of Naseby, the King's troops are in disarray, their last hope a loyal Royalist hardcore in the West Country.

Parliamentarian Colonel Hollie Babbitt's troop of cavalry are always in disarray, so he has a degree of sympathy.

But certain members of the troop are hiding a secret, after Naseby - a secret that left the brutal sadist Captain Chedglow dead, Hapless Russell invalided out in Essex under the watchful eye of Het Babbitt, and posh poet Pettitt and fierce, enigmatic Trooper Gray locked in a most unlikely alliance. And they're not telling.

Hollie's too busy wrestling with his own conscience to pay too much mind to the internal politics of his troop, though. The Army of Parliament might be winning the war, but their soldiers aren’t seeing much of the benefits, and there are voices within the Army starting to make petition for the common soldier. And Hollie - partisan, cynical Hollie, who's fought alongside both Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax, who's always claimed his loyalties lay with himself first and foremost - is beginning to wonder if perhaps he should lend his distinctive Lancashire voice to those petitions. Which is going to make him about as popular as the bloody flux, with Parliament.

Love, in both likely and unlikely places. Death. War. Bubonic plague. Blood. Politics. Intrigue. Transvestite Huguenots, and bad poetry.

Who said the Roundheads were the dreary side?

Monday, 2 March 2015

Kitty, My Rib - the story of Katie von Bora

Now I have two heroines in this world, and one of them is Elizabeth Cromwell (well, dear, if you wanted orange sauce, you shouldn't have made war on Spain, should you?) and the other is Katharina von Bora, die Lutherin. After those two stubborn, domesticated, marvellously level-headed females is Het Babbitt patterned.

There is an argument which I often hear, and it goes something like - but women in the 17th century, they were the weaker vessel, right? Poor dependents, meek and milky and subservient.... right?
Well - some names to look up, to begin with, then. Bess of Hardwick. Elizabeth Cromwell. Elizabeth Lilburne. Brilliana Harley. Anne Fairfax.

All noblewomen? Hardly. Elizabeth Lilburne and Elizabeth Cromwell were merchant's daughters - and Bess of Hardwick knew how to make a penny work for its living, by all accounts.

But die Lutherin is sadly neglected. Her 16th-century life-story reads like something from a lurid romantic fiction - convent-educated, she was brought up in cloisters until at the age of 24, she started to become interested in the growing reform movement and became unhappy with her secluded life within the Cistercian monastery. Now, the weaker-vessel argument would have die Lutherin meekly submitting to male domination, right? Um, nope. She wrote to Martin Luther, a 41 year old rebel, subversive and politically active cleric. An excommunicated priest, mind, who was not known for his tactful expression of his opinions. Katie von Bora wrote to Martin Luther - a man she had presumably never met formally in her life - and asked him to bust her and another twelve nuns out of the Cistercian monastery.

And he did. They were smuggled out in the back of a cart, in herring barrels. A credible fiction author could not make this up.

Luther, despite being the man behind the Reformation, now had twelve rogue nuns on his hands. Their families wouldn't take them back, this being a breach of canon law, and so he found them all husbands. In the end, there was only Katie left. He found her husbands. Nope. Eventually she gave him the ultimatum - sorry, Martin, the only man I'm taking is either you or Nicolaus van Amsdorf, your friend. (Check out the portraits. She made a good call in Martin.)

Katie von Bora then took on the massive tasks of a) running the enormous monastery estate atWittenburg, where they boarded at the Cistercian monastery, b) running the brewery there, c) running the hospital, d) looking after all the students and visitors coming for audience with the notorious rogue priest behind the Diet of Worms, and e) keeping an eye on Martin, who had not been exactly the most promising of eager bridegrooms - he admitted himself that before his marriage his bed was often mildewed and not made up for months on end. By the sound of Katie, she'd have put up with neither the mildew, the unmade bed, nor the grubby husband.

The Luthers had six children (not all of whom survived to adulthood, sadly), Katie had one miscarriage, and they brought up another four orphans. This was not, clearly, a nominal marriage of platonic and dutiful affection. Martin freely admitted prior to his marriage that despite his clerical celibacy he was aware of the existence of the female form, even in spite of the mouldy bed. Had it not been for the admittedly rather pretty Mistress van Bora, it's not impossible that the Protestant clergy would have remained formally celibate for many years - not that Martin and Katie were the first, but their wedding set the seal of approval on clerical marriage. It was a long and happy marriage, if often short of money, and even then it seems that she had the habit of accepting gifts from benefactors on his behalf, and putting the money away for the rainy day that seemed to follow the Luther household around.

They were married for almost twenty years, and he had counselled her to move into a smaller house with the children when he died, but she refused. A sentimental attachment to the marital home where she'd been happy and useful for so long? Struggling financially without his salary, she stayed stubbornly put until soldiers in the the Schmalkaldic War destroyed farm buildings and killed the animals on their farm, and she was forced to flee, living on the charity of the Elector of Saxony until it was safe for her to return to Wittenburg. Bubonic plague then forced her to flee a third time, this time to Torgau, but she was thrown from her cart near the city gates and very badly bruised, and died less than three months later.

She was not buried near to her Martin in Wittenburg, but since one of the Lutheran doctrines was that "It is enough for us to know that souls do not leave their bodies to be threatened by the torments and punishments of hell, but enter a prepared bedchamber in which they sleep in peace," - she probably didn't mind too much.

Ladies  and gentlemen, a toast to die Lutherin, Katie von Bora - the role model for the Mrs Cromwells and Mrs Fairfaxes, the domestic rock on which a political citadel stood firm.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Rosie Babbitt Reads His Reviews....

Hollie Babbitt lifts his head and stares out of the tiny, greenish-grey bubbled glass panes, out onto the rain-swept gardens of the house where the troop are presently quartered. He looks like an old warhorse, smelling the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shouting.

"Russell," he says, running a hand through his long and already-disordered cinnamon-brown hair. The scarred lieutenant looks up from scanning the satchel of dispatches that was dumped on him not two hours ago, and raises an eyebrow.

"Are you listening, Hapless, or are you reading your love-letters again?"

"Well." Russell sets the satchel down and looks smug. "It is funny you say that, sir. D'you remember that lady who spent some time with us last year - writing the books?"

"Could hardly forget the wench. By, she couldn’t half curse. She did make a decent cake, mind. Why - she written to you?"
Russell looks out of the window as well, although the gardens have no more exciting a vista. A careful observer might have noted that Hapless Russell has gone a very faint rose-pink. "Not - recently," he says cautiously. "But - um - sir, it would seem that we - ah, you - even such as I - we seem to be acquiring a certain, how shall I say, a degree of admiration. From an Amazon, apparently."

"You don’t want a lass with a habit of violence, Russell. Especially not if she's lacking a tit. Look where it got Luce, and so far as I know, that lass was in possession of both her bubbies. Not that I looked," he adds hastily.

"No, no, this one is giving us stars. Five of them. Several times -"

"You what? What the hell do we want stars for? Is it foreign coin, or something, or what?"

"No, sir." Russell glares at his commanding officer. "For an educated man, you know, you can be remarkably thick at times. It says here that you are oddly likeable -"
"Give that here." Hollie scans the paper and then looks up, looking smug. "Well, well. Fancy that. So next time somebody calls me a bad-tempered gobshite wi' no manners - hang on. Raffish? You?"

The prim Puritan lieutenant looks down his elegant nose and smirks. "I don’t believe anyone said you were unconventionally handsome, did they?"
"Good God."
"Mind your tongue," Russell chides him, slightly absently, in the manner of a man who knows his breath is wasted. "What would the Amazon think, if she knew you habitually blasphemed as you do?"

"She'd probably think I fit right in with the rest of the bloody Army." Hollie shuffles the papers on his desk and gives a snort of disbelief. "You do know these buggers think I need a haircut? We've all got to have short hair, apparently."

Russell touches his thick fair ponytail with an expression of horror. "What? Like one of those dreadful apprentices from the Trained Bands in London?"
"Oh aye. And you know that collar of yours with the -" he waves an inky and not too clean hand irritably, "the fancy stuff, that you turn out in when you've got your eye to a lass? - that's got to go, apparently. Poetry - they reckon the King's men are supposed to have the monopoly on verse. Be a bit of a blessing telling Luce, but I don’t fancy breaking it to Fairfax, do you? And his is worse!"

"Sir, what are you talking about?"

Hollie rubs the bridge of his nose and sighs, unaware of the smear of ink he has just transferred to that prominent feature. "D'you know what, Hapless, I don't know why we bother. According to this - to that lady-friend of yours with the books - we're supposed to be a load of abstinent, godly types, apparently with nits going by the haircuts, who never do nowt but sing psalms and probably take their wine watered. They never seen Cromwell on the spree, evidently. Apparently people think the Cavaliers had all the fun, and we spent most of the war praying and prosing." He stands up and crosses to the window, and the colonel and his subaltern look out into the rain, watching Drew Venning strut across the grass in a hat that must have left several ostriches bald-rumped. "Mind," Hollie says thoughtfully, "the Cavaliers could have kept that feathered excrescence, and welcome."

"Ah, well, fashion knows no politics," says Russell, who wears black a lot, not because of his puritanical leanings, but because he's a vain so-and-so on the quiet and well aware that at just over six feet tall, with pale blonde hair and dark eyes, black suits him very well indeed. "Now where are you going, sir?" 

"I'm going to have a word with that lady-friend of yours with the books, lad. On the matter of that slander on the private life of the Army of Parliament. You coming?"

Follow by Email

Awarded for Excellence in Research by 17th-Century Specialists

Awarded for Excellence in Research by 17th-Century Specialists