Thursday, 2 May 2013

GUEST BLOG: Changing Hats: Who Would You Have Been in the British Civil Wars? - Robert Wilton

Having loved Robert's debut Emperor's Gold (recently rereleased as Treason's Tide) we couldn't wait to have him back with his new book Traitor's Field.

Here, Robert brings his own take on the English Civil War.....

Cavalier or Roundhead?

The first historical espionage novel drawn from the archive of the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey had illuminated that curious organization's role in the shadows in 1805, as Britain faced the imminent threat of invasion by Napoleon. (You heard it here first: Falcata Times June 2011 - When I was wondering which bit of the Comptrollerate-General's history to focus on next, there happened to be a book about British Civil War battles on the shelf beside me and, as usual, I instinctively asked myself that question: Cavalier or Roundhead?

I think I'd always assumed Cavalier. Something about the hats with the big feathers, and the romantic sense of a lost cause.

But there'd been a book I'd read recently about Oliver Cromwell, and I'd been struck by his struggle to balance the principles he believed in passionately with the need to maintain some kind of stable government in the country. And now, scanning the shelves, I was wondering about the Comptrollerate-General: what does a secret organization dedicated to maintaining national stability do when that stability is irretrievably smashed? How did the Comptrollerate-General, the secret power behind Government for four centuries, manage the transition from Charles I to Cromwell?

The answer to my question turned out to be Traitor's Field, out now from Corvus.

Traitor's Field reveals the story of the organization, and the country, from the King's execution to the defeat of Royalism and the flight of the young Charles II in 1651. Drawing as usual on documents from the Comptrollerate-General archive, it throws light on a series of mysteries.

At the heart of the narrative is a secret battle between two remarkable men: one an old Royalist, ruthless veteran of decades of European war, ready for any intrigue or outrage in his effort to protect the old order; the other is a young official rising in Cromwell's service, a brilliant product of the new order starting to realize just how much of a challenge the country is facing. Through the great battles of the period - from Preston, through 'Cromwell's miracle' at Dunbar, to Worcester - through the desperate struggles over political liberty and religion, through a spiralling campaign of deception and violence, these two men fight and take each other's measure, until finally they meet face-to-face, for the first and last time.

Traitor's Field is their story, and it leaves neither of them the same. In passing, we also learn more about some incidental mysteries: about what was behind the assassination of Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, the loved and loathed, revered and feared figure murdered in a Doncaster street in 1648; about the fate of the Crown jewels; about the soldier in the grave.

The more I read around the period, the more fascinating and nuanced I found it. It was a truly dramatic time in British history, when the old idea that there was and could only be one model of government, and one form of religion, was broken for ever; suddenly one truth was replaced with a multitude of possible truths, and the spread of printing meant that each of these possible truths - about how to run a country, or how to worship God - could be heard by large numbers of people. For the first time people could express an independent opinion; and for the first time people could choose between competing opinions.

Amongst other things, this national chattering was a environment perfectly fitted for spies - for those wanting to spread deception. Traitor's Field contains some of their work - competing versions of the truth and outright lies; revelations desperate and inexplicable; coded messages and coded messages written by the wrong hands - all offered for the reader to choose between them.

And the more I read, the more I began to wonder who I would really have supported. There was a nobility about the Royalist struggle to preserve all that they knew and loved. But there was also something inspiring about those trying to seize the opportunity to change the world for the better: not only those wanting more power for Parliament, but those starting to explore wild new ideas of political, social and economic equality that wouldn't be realized for another three centuries - even the first stirrings of environmentalism.

It also turned out that some people on both sides wore those splendid hats with the feathers. What to choose? How to survive? How to protect what you hold dear? Cavalier or Roundhead?

Additional News:  Our Friends at Atlantic Books have let us know about this exciting V-Blog by Robert about Traitor's Field:

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