Last year I was fortunate to go back to Worcester. I say ‘back’ because, although I’m an Australian, my family has had a long, long association with Worcester, most notably boasting a High Sheriff of Worcester (my great grandfather) and a well-respected MP and County Councillor (my grandfather) and my father served under the colours of the now defunct Worcestershire Regiment.
My last visit to Worcester had been some twenty plus years ago when I was researching a little story I was writing centred on the Battle of Worcester. I wanted to write about a group of friends/comrades and what this seminal battle of the English Civil War meant to them and their families. This led to the Guardians of the Crown series. The stories follow the lives of three young men, Jonathan Thornton (. (BY THE SWORD), Kit Lovell (THE KING’S MAN) and Kit’s brother, Daniel (EXILE’S RETURN). To M.J. Logue’s disgust they are, I am afraid, ‘rascally royalists’. However she will understand what it is to have imaginary friends… and how very real the characters in our stories can be so it will come as no surprise to say I arranged an assignation with my characters during my visit!
We moored our canal boat below the Sidbury Lock within spitting distance of The Commandery and the site of what was once the Sidbury Gate through the walls of the old city (now long since gone). Having an afternoon free, I abandoned my travelling companions and stepped down on to the tow path of the canal (which had not been there in 1651). They were waiting for me - Jonathan Thornton, Kit Lovell and his brother Daniel, my companions from the past and they would be my guides for the afternoon.
We began with The Commandery (that was its name long before the events of 1651). In its past it had been a merchant's house, a hospital and in 1651 became the Headquarters for Charles II.
(Jonathan) attended the meetings at the Commandery and concluded the house had been wrongly named. He saw precious little evidence of command taking place within its walls...In the endless councils that took place in the hall the young King found himself assailed from all sides by conflicting advice. . (BY THE SWORD)
From The Commandery we set off up the hill to Fort Royal where a royalist battery had been established to defend the approach to Worcester along the Sidbury road. I won't go into the details of the battle itself (I've written about it elsewhere...click HERE). Suffice to say that while the royalists held Fort Royal, Cromwell had taken Red Hill and Perry Hill. The king himself led an attack on Red Hill but was driven back to the city. Fort Royal fell, the royalist defenders slaughtered to a man and the guns turned on the city itself.
American readers may be interested to know that it was on this hill that an oak tree was planted in commemoration of a visit by Thomas Jefferson who is quoted as reminding all Englishmen that it was at Worcester that the concept of Liberty was fought for... you can read his quote on the plaque below...
My companions led me back down the hill toward Sidbury Gate...
The Parliament guns had been brought to bear on the gate, turning the retreat into wholesale slaughter. Amidst the screaming of man and beast, the carnage of blood and guts and with shot pounding into the walls and the city, the King managed to get back through the gate. Jonathan followed through the confusion, scrambling over an overturned oxen cart to reach his King. . (BY THE SWORD)
No trace of the gate or walls remain today (destroyed for the building of the canal in the 1760s), just one small plaque on a wall marks its existence. We turned into the city and down one of the last remaining authentic city streets - Friar Street (curse those 70s redevelopments!). Still lined with half timbered houses, it is only here one can still get a feeling for 17th century Worcester.
Wilmot pulled at Jonathan’s arm and they both ran up Friar Street, toward the King’s lodging. Jonathan took only one look back to see Giles, fighting like a virago, a small defence against the mass of red-coated soldiers who now flooded into the city from all gates except one: St Martin’s Gate stood close by the King’s lodging and remained as yet unbreached. . (BY THE SWORD)
It was here in Friar Street that Jonathan, Giles, Kit and Daniel lodged in a house that may have looked a little like Greyfriars (now a National Trust property). Here they played cards on the night before the battle.
Another evening at the Commandery had ended in bickering and Jonathan trudged wearily back up Friar Street to his billet ... In the downstairs parlour of the large, half-timbered house, Giles played cards with Kit Lovell, who had recently rejoined them. They were both fiendish card players, with a tendency to cheat, and Jonathan declined their invitation to join them. . (BY THE SWORD)
Further up Friar Street we came to the building now known as The Charles II house (and rather ignomiously - a pie shop) which had been the King's Lodgings and from which he escaped.
They found the King within his lodgings, watching uncomprehendingly as Buckingham burned papers on a hastily lit fire.
‘We must go, Your Majesty,’ Wilmot said.
The King looked up at his old friend and advisor. ‘Leslie will come,’ he insisted. ‘We will rally again.’
‘No, Your Majesty,’ Buckingham spoke. ‘It’s too late. Leslie has failed us, Hamilton is fallen. We must away while we still have breath in our bodies.’
The noise of the fighting, drawing closer up the street, brought the King to his feet. With the Parliament’s soldiers at the front door of the house, the King and his party left by the back. Taking the nearest horses they fled, at a hard gallop, through St Martin’s Gate, the gate that led th(e way to the north. . (BY THE SWORD)
Finally at the great Worcester Cathedral, we took a moment to visit the tomb of bad King John (according to M.J. Logue in RED HORSE, defaced by a large, bad tempered black horse in 1642 when it was used to stable Parliamentary cavalry). The prisoners from the battle had been held in the Cathedral following the battle.
At the end of that bloody day, the King had become a fugitive in his own land and Daniel, nursing a wound to his right arm, had huddled against the tomb of King John in the great Cathedral of Worcester, a prisoner like the hundreds of others who had survived the battle. With the cold stone pressed against his face, he had hoped that no one would notice the shaming tears of humiliation. (EXILE’S RETURN)
Here we parted company, my imaginary friends returning to the past, and I trudged back through the streets of Worcester to meet my real friends at the Worcester Porcelain museum (in what had been a thriving factory on my last visit!).
About EXILE’S RETURN
The breath-taking conclusion to Alison Stuart’s English Civil War trilogy introduces a heroine with nothing left to lose and a hero with everything to gain…
England, 1659: Following the death of Cromwell, a new king is poised to ascend the throne of England. One by one, those once loyal to the crown begin to return ...
Imprisoned, exiled and tortured, fugitive Daniel Lovell returns to England, determined to kill the man who murdered his father. But his plans for revenge must wait, as the King has one last mission for him.
Agnes Fletcher's lover is dead, and when his two orphaned children are torn from her care by their scheming guardian, she finds herself alone and devastated by the loss. Unwilling to give up, Agnes desperately seeks anyone willing to accompany her on a perilous journey to save the children and return them to her care. She didn't plan on meeting the infamous Daniel Lovell. She didn't plan on falling in love.
Thrown together with separate quests – and competing obligations – Daniel and Agnes make their way from London to the English countryside, danger at every turn. When they are finally given the opportunity to seize everything they ever hoped for, will they find the peace they crave, or will their fledgling love be a final casualty of war?
If you would like to hear an excerpt from EXILE’S RETURN professionally read. Click HERE
Award winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion from history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. A past president of the Romance Writers of Australia, Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories. Many of her stories have been shortlisted for international awards and BY THE SWORD won the 2008 EPIC Award for Best Historical Romance.
Her inclination for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles.
And don’t forget to enter my Guardians of the Crown contest (Closes 15 March): click HERE