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.








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Awarded for Excellence in Research by 17th-Century Specialists

Awarded for Excellence in Research by 17th-Century Specialists