neglected history

Death-marching through The King’s War (five hundred pages down; one hundred to go), I find myself considering a question that’s been in my mind for some time.

Why is seventeenth-century England so neglected in fiction?

Seventeenth and eighteenth both, really, but I haven’t gotten into researching the eighteenth yet. There’s some stuff there, but they get trampled by the Elizabethan period from one end and the Victorian from the other. (Starting early with the Regency.) Tonight I’m probably going to take time off from the death-march to watch one of the only pre-Restoration movies I’ve been able to find (To Kill a King). I know of almost no fantasy novels set during the Stuart era.

Yet the seventeenth century is chock-full of conflict and change. You’d expect to find lots of fiction exploiting that . . . but you don’t. Why?

We can frame it as a question of “what does the Elizabethan period have that the seventeenth century doesn’t?” Sexiness. Elizabeth is a far more charismatic character than Charles; Shakespeare stomps Milton into the ground. (Shakespeare, obviously, extends into James’ reign; as you might expect, I’m looking more at the middle of the century.) And Elizabeth comes out of the Tudor dynasty, so she’s joining forces with her father and sister to make for an interesting setting. Charles? Has James. Yeah, not so much.

Or perhaps it’s what the seventeenth century has that the Elizabethan period doesn’t: more complications than you can shake a historian at. Not that Elizabeth’s reign was simple, but every bit of reading I do just underscores the impossibility of drawing clear lines through, well, anything during this time. Peoples involved during the Civil War: English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, and half of Europe, as the Queen and other emissaries ran around trying to recruit help from anybody who would stand still long enough to listen. (Charles even sent a message to the Vatican.) Religions: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, and the Independents, who were a grab-bag of everything fringe. There were peers on both sides, and gentry, and merchants, and common folk; about the only division you can find there is that Royalists tended on the whole to be younger. Brothers fought on opposite sides, as did fathers and sons, even husbands and wives; people changed sides, sometimes more than once. Some towns exchanged hands so often you wonder if the locals thought about installing a revolving door. And none of these categories match up: there were Roman Catholics in Presbyterian Scotland, Protestant Irish refugees in Wales, Anglo-Norman-Irish Catholics trying to support the Anglican King against the Puritan Parliament . . . maybe writers just look at it and say, “screw it, I’m going somewhen easier.”

But maybe it’s just that they’re all a bunch of unlikeable bastards. Charles was arrogant and intransigent, and far too inclined to stick his fingers in his ears and go “la la la the Irish army will come save me any minute” when his more level-headed advisers told him he was screwed and by the way allying himself with Catholics was a bad idea. Pym was a brilliant politician, but I can’t like him when I detest his tactics — declaring everything he didn’t like a breach of privilege of Parliament (GOD have I come to hate that phrase), voting his political opponents to the Tower until nobody was left but his allies, carrying out the exact same actions for which he had been lambasting the King just a short while before. (But it was all in a good cause — a godly cause — which makes it okay, right? Yeah, that hits too close to home to be remotely amusing.) Neither side is really all that admirable to me, and the moderates, whom I might find sympathetic, were politically naive to the point of idiocy.

I know some of you are at least moderately familiar with the period, though, so I thought I’d toss it out there. Why the lack of love for Stuart-era fiction? And can you make me any good recommendations of pre-Restoration novels or movies?

0 Responses to “neglected history”

  1. cheshyre

    Not sure these qualify as “good” but…

    a) There was a recent YA fantasy (title I, Coriander) set in Interregnum London; not terribly noteworthy.

    b) Have you heard of Forever Amber? 1945 bestseller, in the vein of GWTW, in which major political upheavals are background to a determined woman’s attempts to claw her way to the top. [I hope I’m not spoiling the story too much by saying the protagonist does manage to become one of Charles’ mistresses]

    George MacDonald Fraser, in his Hollywood History of the World (yes, there was a movie adaptation), describes it thus:The book was a huge bestseller, daring for forty years ago, which is to say coy by today’s standards, and it paved the way for countelss inferior imitations set in a fantasy world anywhere between the Middle Ages and the Crimea, in which gypsy wenches were branded for poaching at Glasgow Assizes (sic), Victorian landlords exercised the droit de seigneur, and voluptuous heroines of humble birth went through legions of rakes, cavaliers, pirates, slavers, dukes, maniacs, and Highland chiefs (who ravished them as a preliminary to the wedding haggis) and other assorted lovers on their way to a title, commercial empire, or the king’s bedroom. ‘Forever Amber,’ as I remember, was well researched in a sound historical framework, but its fictional heroine and plot had an enormous influence on pseudo-historical fiction writing which, to judge from American paperback stalls, still continues, and the film no doubt encouraged the trend.

    • cheshyre

      Further thoughts

      I can think of a number of Restoration-era stories and films, but not so much with post-Shakespeare James thru the Interregnum.

      As far as film is concerned, they are called costume dramas, and movies tend to focus on eras with cool fashion. Early 17th C, may as well just go Elizabethan which audiences are more familiar with. And then you have those drab and dour Puritans until the Restoration brings back the gaudy gowns again…

      • Marie Brennan

        Re: Further thoughts

        Pretty clothes aren’t the only reason to make a historical film, but you’re probably right that they can be filed under “sexiness.”

    • kernezelda

      Re: Not sure these qualify as “good” but…

      I remember only one thing from Forever Amber, other than its general unpleasantness. A woman, probably the heroine, got very sick, including as a sympton a fur-like growth on her tongue. Ugh.

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: Not sure these qualify as “good” but…

      a) Even if it isn’t noteworthy, I’m glad to know about it. I might give it a look.

      b) I think I heard about that, yeah. Not sure it’s any good, but again, I might still give it a look.

      • fjm

        Re: Not sure these qualify as “good” but…

        a) don’t.

        The history is toothachingly wrong.

        • Marie Brennan

          Re: Not sure these qualify as “good” but…

          Nevermind then. Since the history would be what I was reading for.

          Thanks for the warning.

  2. sartorias

    I think it’s because the thirties especially were so crammed with manly, bloody swashbucklers that stories set there became a dead cliche through the fifties (which discovered the Biblical epic and the Troy model) through seventies–by which time history wasn’t taught in schools any more, so no one under, say forty, knows much about the period. (VAST generalization, but you get the idea.)

    Leslie Whyte, The Devil in velvet–all those many, many spinoffs from Henry Esmond are mostly in collectors’ hands now, or ancient libraries. I keep meeting people who’ve never heard of Whyte, and he was the BIG seller of the forties historical scene.

    • Marie Brennan

      I certainly knew jack about the period before I started researching.

      Add me to the list of people who have never heard of Whyte. Maybe I’ll see if my library has his stuff.

  3. drydem

    Elizabethan Era: Revolutionary War
    as
    Early Stuart Period: War of 1812

  4. thespisgeoff

    Part of the issue with the Jacobean and Commonwealth periods is that the art coming out of England pretty much blew. Jacobean Theatre is bloody-minded, petty, and completely unreadable. Cromwell closed the theatres. So the places historical fiction writers generally run to for inspiration just don’t exist – or if they do, they suck.

    The Sciences, however, rocked pretty hard through it – enough for Neal Stephenson to make really great historical fiction work (I thought) with The Baroque Cycle.

    • Marie Brennan

      I would disagree that historical fiction writers generally draw their inspiration from the theatre of the period; it’s one source, certainly, but far from the only one. There’s lots of other literature — Stuart England had some decent poets — and many things other than literature.

      One of these days I will have time to read The Baroque Cycle.

      • thespisgeoff

        Well, yes – but you’re talking to a theatre guy, so that’s my frame of reference. It’s a huge hole in theatrical history, so with my blinders on, it feels like a huge hole in creative history.

        Honestly, you can do Quicksilver and stop there, although the next two volumes are also pretty darn good. They’re novels written just for Plan IIers.

  5. xmurphyjacobsx

    Tangential — Antonia Fraser’s book “The Weaker Vessel”, as I recall, was written to demonstrate that there actually WERE women in England in the 17th/18th century, because they certainly didn’t show up much.

    • fenrah

      Alison Plowden’s _Women All on Fire_ is about about women involved in the Civil War. I thought she brought them to live quite well, although the chronology jumps around a bit.

      • Marie Brennan

        If I were going to write about the actual waging of the Civil War, instead of skipping over it, I would totally read that book. But the stack of things critical to my actual years is high enough that I don’t think I’ll get there, alas.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve liked whatever things I’ve read so far of hers; I might check that out.

      • xmurphyjacobsx

        Paranoia made me check for my copy (which I actually FOUND) and I was paraphrasing the first line of the author’s note. I completely enjoyed the book until the last chapter/epilogue.

        If your research goes in that direction, I have one or two good references about costume/clothing for that period I picked up at the British Museum book shop a few years ago.

  6. fenrah

    Prince Rupert

    Aw, I love you for this post. I collect books on Prince Rupert. I think he had a fascinating life, involved with everything from the Thirty Years War to the English Civil War to the early days of the Royal Society, the beginnings of the modern British navy, and the early American collies. He was essentially a pirate during the interregnum and helped to support the British court in exile. He knew all kinds of interesting people. His mother, Charles’s sister, was a crazy eccentric who raised her huge, impoverished royal family among a small menagerie of animals in the Netherlands. Rupert himself had a standard poodle who accompanied him into battle and died at Marston Moor. The Parliamentary forces spread rumors that the dog was his familiar. Rupert was colorful, flamboyant, sexy, and inscrutable. He captured the imaginations of people at the time and is alternately demonized and adored, depending on who you read. Most of my Rupert books are biographies. I’ve found just a smattering of fiction, none of it very good. Anyway, I’m rambling, but I agree with you: this period is overlooked by novelists. By everyone, really.

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: Prince Rupert

      I can’t see demonizing Rupert from a historical perspective. He was reasonably intelligent and honorable, and might have squeaked a victory for Charles if politics hadn’t tripped him up; you might disagree with the side he chose, but he was still a good guy.

      Now, demonizing him from a contemporary perspective? Hell yeah. He was pretty much the worst thing that happened to the Parliamentarians. (I was going to say “except for Montrose,” but Montrose was really an awful thing happening to the Covenanters in Scotland instead.)

      I didn’t know about his connection with the Royal Society, though.

      • fenrah

        Re: Prince Rupert

        As you said, he wasn’t good at the politics. If I’m remembering correctly (it’s been a while) Earl of Clarendon’s History of the Great Rebellion is not complimentary. Clarendon was a political enemy, but he was also an eye-witness, so his book was serious source material for later historians. Rupert was put on the defensive in his own lifetime for claims coming from Clarendon and similar that he could not control his own cavalry or his desire for plunder, thereby losing battles. Frank Kitson spends a good deal of ink arguing against these ideas in the first book of his biography, Portrait of a Solider.

        You’ve been reading this recently, though, so you probably know this better than I do. It’s been a few years since I read these books, and I haven’t actually read Clarendon’s, only quotes from it.

        About the Royal Society…let’s see… *digs through her books* OK, this is from Frank Kitson’s Admiral and General at Sea:

        “In December 1662 Rupert was made a member of the recently formed Royal Society. Seven months earlier he had gone as a guest of John Evelyn to watch an experiment carried out under the Society’s auspices on the effect of a vacuum on a man’s arm. Over the coming years a number of his own inventions and experiments were demonstrated to the Society, although he himself seldom attended in person” (139).

        • Marie Brennan

          Re: Prince Rupert

          Not being able to stop one’s troops from plundering is pretty much the default in those times, rather than something I consider exceptional. And Wedgwood (who’s the one I’ve been reading) cites instances where he did try, and even succeeded, at restraining his men. He certainly offered gentlemanly terms after a number of his victories.

          But I was semi-glossing over the accounts of the battles (I’ve read 616 pages since yesterday evening), so I can’t really analyze his losses. Some of them were Digby’s fault, or the general failure to have a centralized command of Royalist forces, but others he was probably at fault for. (Marston Moor?)

          • fenrah

            Re: Prince Rupert

            > Not being able to stop one’s troops from plundering is pretty much the default in those times,

            This is true. The Royalist troops were not consistently supplied, fed, or paid, which didn’t help.

            > I’ve read 616 pages since yesterday evening

            Good gracious. You’re fast.

            > but others he was probably at fault for. (Marston Moor?)

            Oh, no doubt. He was only 23 when he was leading Charles’s army. Granted, he’d been soldering since 14, but not continuously. He was more-or-less a foreigner, trying to navigate court politics that he did not fully understand. He gave Charles at least two clear shots at London, but he could not get the king to _act_. He did not play well with non-military types, which included many of Charles’s closest advisors. He was also the only Royalist commander who seemed to have consistent success (if you don’t count what was going on in Scotland). At Marston Moor, he was up against Fairfax, Cromwell, Leslie, and other competent commanders. He was outnumbered, and he felt that he had to fight because he was going to the relief of the king. He took full responsibility for the defeat and did not attempt to blame any of his officers. Finding that his dog had been shot must have felt like par for the course.

          • Marie Brennan

            Re: Prince Rupert

            Good gracious. You’re fast.

            There’s a reason I referred to this reading as “death-marching.”

            It’s entirely possible that some of the times Rupert was held back, he would have overextended himself and lost; I’d have to study the war more to know. On the other hand, he might have won things for Charles back in ’43. God knows he would have done better were it not for Digby and Henrietta Maria. (Though I must say, I’ve gone from knowing nothing about H.M. to thinking she’s kind of cool. Sometimes shrill and short-sided, no doubt — but she campaigned rather impressively for Charles, both in Europe and in the field, when she was running around with her own set of army commanders.)

            I wonder if anybody’s written an alternate history on the premise that Rupert did win the war and Charles established an absolute monarchy in England. Might have had impressive ramifications for American and French history. Maybe Irish, too.

          • fenrah

            Re: Prince Rupert

            Heh. Digby might as well have been working for Parliament.

            > (Though I must say, I’ve gone from knowing nothing about H.M. to thinking she’s kind of cool.

            Oh, she was! It’s not hard to see why Charles loved her. And while she was running all over the place begging for help and selling her jewels and fighting, she seems always to have been in some state of pregnancy. Rough sea travel, rough land travel, war everywhere, and always pregnant – what a way to live. If I remember correctly, she and Rupert mended their fences later. He sent the court in exile a good bit of money from captured ships. He saw himself as a privateer (or perhaps the sole unit of the Royal Navy). Parliament, of course, saw him as a pirate.

            >I wonder if anybody’s written an alternate history on the premise that Rupert did win the war and Charles established an absolute monarchy in England. Might have >had impressive ramifications for American and French history. Maybe Irish, too.

            That would be interesting. I wonder if it would have more to do with inserting Charles I’s influences or with excising those of the Interregnum. Because you’d pick right up with Charles II either way. I don’t know much about the Interregnum, except that there were a lot of pamphlets, and it was a bad time to be Irish.

          • Marie Brennan

            Re: Prince Rupert

            I was thinking more of the lack of Interregnum, and its peripheral effects. Fighting for so long beforehand led to a state where all the usual hierarchies came under question — you had farmers and weavers leaving their home counties and marching all over England, which eroded some of the powerful provincialism that otherwise dominated the land, and you had them knocking their betters over the head and being encouraged to despise them as fools or villains. Plus all the pamphleting, the alliance that grew up between the Levellers and the Army — heck, the creation of the New Model Army in the first place — even if the social changes didn’t stick, they certainly left their mark.

  7. kateelliott

    By The Sword Divided is an British miniseries about the English Civil War. I saw it donkey’s years ago and liked it then; can’t say how I’d feel about it now.

    But otherwise – yeah – not much.

  8. juushika

    I’m currently reading The Nature of Monsters which takes place in 1716 and the few years following. The prologue is set during the burning of London, so it’s a factor—but the main character is a servant maid, and the restoration and politics take a background role. It deals more with the theories in medicine and the status of the working class in that era. It also qualifies as one of the “gritty underbelly” sort of works you looked for a while ago, although it is a book not a film. The book isn’t exceptional by any means, but it is at least there.

  9. dsgood

    Readers aren’t likely to believe that someone like John Lilburne would die of old age. Wrote pamphlets against every government of that period (and at least one against his wife, if I recall correctly), and didn’t confine his political activity to pamphleteering.

    • Marie Brennan

      I haven’t seen any mentions of pamphlets against his wife, but I did find an amusing anecdote about when he was imprisoned in the Tower; he was supposed to be held incommunicado, but she accused Parliament of putting asunder what God had joined, and they had to let her in to see her husband.

      Reading more about Lilburne and his ilk is on my list of things to do. First, though, I’ve got at least two other books to get through.

  10. fjm

    Do you know about Royal Oak day? As late as the 1950s villages who supported the Royalists would beat up the neighbouring village who supported Parliament. This stuff wasn’t *safe* to write about.

    YA books which cover the period.

    Children of the New Forest by Frederick Maryatt, 1847 (Royalist)

    For the King, by Ronald Welch (Royalist)

    Simon, by Rosemary Sutcliff (Parliament)

    Plain Jane, by Barbara Softly (my vague memory was that this was unaligned.

    Silver Guard, by Geoffrey Trease, sort of Parliament, but told from the view of an American visitor.

    Trumpets in the West, by Geoffrey Trease, is a lovely eighteenth century story (young musician goes to London and is caught up in the fire.)

    Trease is worth checking out as he wrote a series of Marxist historical novels for chidren covering most of English and a fair bit of European history. Bows Against the Barons, is “Robin Hood was a revolutionary and they’ve covered it all up” book.

    There are a three Jean Plaidy books devoted to the three periods of Charles II’s life.

    • akashiver

      Walter Scott’s Woodstock (set in England in 1652) and Peveril of the Peak (set in 1678) spring to mind as influential historical fiction about the period. I don’t know how they are to read, though.

      Maybe you need this book: http://www.greenwood.com/catalog/GR1425.aspx

    • Marie Brennan

      I knew about Royal Oak Day, but not the tradition of beating up the neighbors. Interesting. I suppose between that in the U.K. and ignorance in America, I might have an answer.

      Thanks for all the recommendations! I wonder if my library has any of them.

  11. fjm

    Historical theory.

    There were peers on both sides, and gentry, and merchants, and common folk; about the only division you can find there is that Royalists tended on the whole to be younger

    There are two explanations here: the common one is that the younger aristocrats had been fighting on the continent as neo mercenaries and had come back restless.

    But this still leaves the question of why they were there any way.

    My theory, and a couple of friends who work on the period reckon it’s not unsound, is that the disollution of the monasteries had removed the option for younger sons, and also left them in the breeding pool, so that there were an increasing number of young landless aristocrats floating around. These could only get preferment via the king, but were not actually vulnerable to his dafter ideas about taxation etc because they didn’t have land to tax.

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: Historical theory.

      Interesting. Did these younger sons have more options in later decades and centuries, then? (Trade or what have you.) Certainly the proportion of a society made up of young men seems to be directly correlated to the level of interpersonal violence, or so I recall reading.

      I also suspect there’s a certain element of romance (not in the “love” sense) to it all. More appealing to be a swashbuckling cavalier racketing about the countryside with Prince Rupert than a sober, godly man for Parliament. I was fascinated to discover that the disintegration of the cavaliers gave rise to the highwayman . . . .

      • fjm

        Re: Historical theory.

        I later decades we see the emergence of the gentry, a class of the downwardly mobile who identify with their richer relations rather than the yeomanry with whom they often have economic interests. It is the gentry who develop areas such as law and medicine.

        • Marie Brennan

          Re: Historical theory.

          Well, but the gentry existed for quite a while before that. Or do you mean gentry who were younger sons and cadet branches of aristocratic families, instead of upstart merchants?

  12. fjm

    See also Thomas, by Hester Burton, set in 1665. Young man of the gentry joins the Quakers. Father is not pleased.

  13. jewell79

    I’ll second the Jean Plaidy recommendation, they’re kind of old-fashioned, but strangely good anyway. There seems to be more around Charles II than Charles I.

    There’s a Robert Westall short story in which an unhappily married woman is inspired and comforted by the ghost of a Civil War man, and proceeds to try to write his life – I can’t remember which book it’s in, though.

  14. tybalt_quin

    Why is seventeenth-century England so neglected in fiction?

    Shh!!!!! I’m writing scenes set in 17th c England! You’re encouraging people to crowd my market!!![/flails][/tongue in cheek]

    Tonight I’m probably going to take time off from the death-march to watch one of the only pre-Restoration movies I’ve been able to find (To Kill a King).

    I don’t know if it’s any use to you (or even if you’ll be able to find it), but the BBC did a drama series in the 80s called By The Sword Divided, which was about two families in the run-up to the English Civil War (Charles -v- Cromwell). It was an absolutely wonderful series that made a huge impression on me as a child (in fact, I still have a secret yen for men with long hair and elegant moustaches). Might be worth contacting the BBC to see if they’re going to release copies or otherwise able to tell you how to get one.

    There was also a documentary series about the English Civil War (particularly looking at the political build up) that was hosted by the English comedian/commentator Jeremy Hardy. I’m drawing a blank on the title, but it might be mentioned on his website or otherwise Googlable. I’d be happy to take a look this weekend if you’re in no crash rush.

    I agree that Stuart era fiction is grossly neglected – particularly when you think how much of what happened then affects modern British society (e.g. Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland, the question of Parliament’s rights, the role of the monarch and religion). In addition to the English Civil war, you could also make the point that there’s very little modern fiction that addresses the Jacobite plots (afterall, Jacobite plays are some of the bloodiest and darkest ever written).

    I wonder if it’s perhaps because the period is so often depicted to children in terms of black and white, i.e. Charles = bad, Cromwell = good. We tend to gloss over things like how Cromwell seriously considered setting himself up as king and the abuses that Parliament later committed against the country.

    • Marie Brennan

      <g> Yeah, I wonder if I’m staking out new territory in my own little micro-genre here. There certainly don’t seem to be many of us.

      I don’t recall seeing Cromwell=good, but then, I’ve mostly started learning about this later in life, not as a kid. And there’s something about the phrase “Lord Protector” that I knee-jerk read as a euphemistic cover for the abuse of power.

      To Kill a King was interesting; it decided to position Fairfax as its hero, depicting him as an idealist who grieved to see Cromwell fall into fanaticism. It ran roughshod over the details of history — Holles was never Speaker! The army loved Cromwell as much or more than Fairfax! — but I think it’s one of those periods where you have to go with the best of a bad lot in choosing your sympathetic central character.

  15. feed_your_muse

    There’s also ‘Aristocrats’
    “Aristocrats,” a sumptuous, glittering miniseries about the famous and/or infamous Lennox sisters, who were the great-granddaughters of Charles II and his mistress Louise de K√©rouaille. (taken from E.A. Solinas’ review on Amazon UK)
    Was reminded of this because my housemate was watching it at the weekend!
    The DVD was based on the book by Stella Tillyard.

  16. cheshyre

    Oh, duh. There’s Eric Flint’s 1633.
    Though the first book takes place on the continent, the second one does include a trip to Charles I’s London in the aforementioned year.

    Unfortunately, the sequel was, imo, a lousy book. Very lecture-prone. Because Flint was opening up the universe to contributors, it felt like he wanted to seal the portrayal of historical figures: who were the good guys and who the bad guys. [a more-detailed review I blogged at the time]

    If you’re really interested in identifying other Stuart-era fiction, my company does make a kind of “readers’ advisory” database, and I can probably compile a list for you…

  17. carbonel

    I’m very fond of Campion Towers by John and Patricia Beatty, which is a YA about Charles II before he was crowned, told from the point of view of a Puritan girl from the Colonies, brought over to visit her dying grandmother.

    Actually, I liked everything by those two. When John Beatty died, Patricia Beatty wrote American historical children’s novels, which didn’t interest me as much as the YAs set in Tudor and Stuart England.

  18. shui_long

    Robert Neill wrote several books set in the 17th and 18th centuries, and seems to have a real feeling for the period. Perhaps over romanticised – a tendency towards “happily ever after” – but well-written, with good use of historical detail.

    Mist over Pendle is probably the best known, about the Lancashire witches in the early C17; Witch Bane is the story of a farmer’s widow accused of witchcraft during the Civil War; Rebel Heiress deals with some of the problems of the Restoration, as some who had followed Charles II into exile returned home in 1660 to reclaim lands and property; Moon in Scorpio is set amongst the tensions caused by the Popish Plot of 1679; Lillibullero at the time of Monmouth’s Rebellion of 1685. Others include Crown and Mitre and The Golden Days.

    Apart from Mist over Pendle, which was re-titled The Elegant Witch for the US market, I think these were only published in the UK. Probably all long out of print, too (originally published in the 1950s to 1970s).

  19. leaina

    Oddly enough, I just finished reading a novel half-set in 1625 (the other half is set now). In the historical plot, apparently based on a true story, the congregation of a Cornish church is taken one Sunday morning by Barbary pirates and carried off into slavery in North Africa. There’s not a lot of specifically English politics, but there is a certain amount of discussion of the international situation, much of which I had no idea of before. The book itself is only okay, but the historical details were very interesting. The Tenth Gift, by Jane Johnson.

    • Marie Brennan

      . . . that is another example of history being weirder than fiction. Barbary pirates? Seriously?

      • leaina

        Seriously. Another historical fact (according to the author’s note): one corsair fleet actually occupied the isle of Lundy (in the Bristol Channel) in 1625, as a base from which they harried England’s south coast.

        The Barbary pirates apparently included native North Africans, Moors expelled from Spain, and European pirates no longer supported by their governments, who would rather convert to Islam and stay pirates than go home and settle down. During the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, they apparently took nearly a million Europeans as slaves. Seriously! As I said, the book itself is not all that great (the period dialogue is pretty annoying) but the history is very cool.

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