Blood’s Revolution: Historical Note

This is an edited version of the Historical Note published at the end of Blood’s Revolution. It contains a few minor SPOILERS so, if you haven’t read the book yet – and, if so, why not? – you might not want to read this. It is also quite long – more of an essay than a blog – and it doesn’t have many pictures. Hey, I’m really selling this, aren’t I? But I like reading historical notes, even if I haven’t read the book, and I suspect I’m not alone in this quirk. It also has, I hope, some interesting information about the main characters and the turbulent period in which the book is set. Anyway, here goes . . .

Blood's Revolution

The protagonist of Blood’s Revolution is a man called Holcroft Blood. He is what I would call a semi-fictional character. There was a man of that name and background and he did some of the things I have him do in this series of novels but I’ve also taken a good many liberties with the historical man’s life, career and personality. I have no evidence, for example, that Holcroft was, as we would describe it today, somewhere on the autism spectrum – although he was, apparently, rather withdrawn and mathematically inclined, indeed quite brilliant at all things numerical. However, whenever possible, I did adhere to the historical truth as we know it. 

Son of crown-stealing Colonel Blood

The real Holcroft Blood was the third son of the notorious outlaw Colonel Thomas Blood and we know that he went to sea shortly after his father’s attempt to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London in 1671 (as told in my novel Blood’s Game). The historical Holcroft served in the Royal Navy during Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674). He then studied gunnery and engineering as a Cadet in the Royal Guard of Louis XIV, probably under the false name Leture, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to discover very much about what he did while in French service.

Colonel Blood was reputed to have spied for Charles II in the later part of his career, and his son Holcroft was mysteriously granted a sinecure by the Merry Monarch in 1676; he was appointed as Clerk of the Crown and Peace in County Clare, Ireland, for unknown services to his King. Holcroft was well paid but never took up this post (the work was done by a local deputy) and he is listed as being “so absent by the King’s command”. This is all the evidence I have that Holcroft may have worked as an espionage agent in France. It is flimsy, admittedly, but it makes sense to me. By its nature, spy work is kept secret long after the fact, so there is no reason we should know what Holcroft was up to when abroad for more than a decade.

Stormy marital relationship

The real Holcroft Blood was back in London around the time that James II came to the thrones of the Three Kingdoms in 1685, and we know he was employed by Lord Dartmouth, Master-General of the Ordnance. He married Elizabeth Fowler, daughter of the barrister Richard King, and widow of Captain Fowler of the Royal Navy, in 1686. Their relationship was stormy, to say the least, and contained a good deal of physical violence and infidelity. She shouted at him several times in public calling him a “rogue” and a “dog”. But I must admit that the extreme volume at which Elizabeth normally speaks is an invention of mine – and probably a gross slur on the lady’s memory. For that, apologies. Also, I have no evidence that Holcroft was at Sedgemoor in July 1685, although as the Train from the Tower was a powerful one, and it was further strengthened by a “bye-train” coming up from from Portsmouth, to bring the Royal artillery up to twenty-six guns, it does not seem unlikely that as a junior Ordnance officer, well trained in France, he might have taken part in the battle.

The Royal Train of Artillery was commanded by Colonel Henry Sheres (later Sir Henry) and the guns were, as I have described in the book, positioned to cover the main road to Bridgwater behind the Bussex Rhine. Colonel Sheres missed most of the battle as he was sleeping in Middlezoy, a hamlet two miles behind the lines, although I’ve no reason to believe that he was the sad drunk I’ve made him out to be.

Battle of Sedgemoor

Monmouth’s army, hoping to surprise the Royal force made a long, looping night march and attacked from the north but, as in the novel, Monmouth’s regiments mistook the glowing matches of Dumbarton’s as the centre of the King’s line, rather than its right flank. The guns of the Train were indeed all pointed in the wrong direction when they attacked and had to be quickly moved in the middle of the night after all the draught horses had bolted and the civilian drivers had fled in panic. 

One of the most interesting characters to take part in the battle was Peter Mews, Bishop of Winchester, who had served with distinction as a Royalist captain in the civil wars against Parliament. At the age of 66, he took his fine carriage down to Somerset to see the battle of Sedgemoor and, in the nick of time, he offered his horses to help move the stranded guns of the Train. He, rather than Holcroft, was the true hero of that night’s work. However, Bishop Mews was not, as I have him, one of the Seven Bishops who resisted the King’s order to have his Declaration of Indulgence read out in every pulpit in the land. He would almost certainly have been among their number, as a staunch defender of the Established Church, but he was ill at the time when the Seven Bishops (and the Archbishop of Canterbury) were making their stand against the King’s declaration. Having come across Bishop Mews when I was researching fight at Sedgemoor, and rather admiring him, I wanted to involve the piratical old prelate even more in my story and so I invented his part in later events.

Louis de Duras, Earl of Feversham, did indeed sleep through much of the battle of Sedgemoor, and was teased for it long afterwards. However, it may not have been his fault. His skull was damaged by a falling timber in 1679, indeed nearly smashed in, but he was trepanned and eventually recovered. But this injury meant that he slept unnaturally deeply and could not easily be roused, even in an emergency. He did take command near dawn, ordering the cavalry attacks on the routed Monmouth regiments and overseeing the hunting down of the fleeing rebels. However, it was clearly Lord Churchill’s victory. His swift and decisive actions when the enemy attacked out of the mist in the darkest hours saved the Royal army and led to the failure of the rebellion.

Botched execution of Duke of Monmouth

The Duke of Monmouth’s execution (below) was indeed botched by Jack Ketch, who took between five and eight strokes of his short-handled axe to partially sever Monmouth’s neck. The final strand was cut through by a knife. The London crowd, many of whom were supporters of the Protestant Duke, were incensed by his gross ineptitude and the hapless executioner had to be escorted away from Tower Hill to safety by soldiers, otherwise he would have been torn apart by the near-rioting mob. 

My dastardly French spymaster Narrey, who witnesses the Monmouth execution, is an entirely fictional creation, as are Patrick Maguire and his three brothers, but the Liberty of the Savoy was a real place, under the jurisdiction for complicated historical reasons of the Duchy of Lancaster, and it was notorious even into the 19th century for its squalor and lawlessness. A colony of Jesuits was established in the Savoy at the beginning of James II’s reign (1685) under one Father Palmer, who set up a free school for local children. Some four hundred pupils were educated there each year, half Protestant, half Catholic, and were taught Greek, Latin, poetry and rhetoric for no more than the cost of quills, ink and paper. The school, which was abruptly closed after the Glorious Revolution, also had a printing press. 

The Warming-Pan Plot

I have co-opted something called the Warming-Pan Plot into the story. It was a real plot, or rather it was believed to be real at the time. After the birth of James’s son and heir (who later became known as the Old Pretender and was focus future Jacobite rebellions) a rumour spread throughout the Three Kingdoms that the child was not born to Mary of Modena but was introduced into the birthing chamber in a warming pan, a long-handled brass container normally filled with live coals used to heat up chilly or damp beds. It is untrue, of course, but a many people including Princess Anne, then second in line to the throne after her sister Mary of Orange, believed that the baby was, in the parlance of the day, “supposititious”, ie, substituted with the intent to deceive. 

It was the birth of a male heir, who would be presumably raised as a Catholic, that was the trigger for the Glorious Revolution. Until then (June 10, 1688) many Britons would have been content to allow the deeply unpopular but childless James to continue to rule, believing that the next monarch would be Protestant Mary. The birth of James Francis Edward Stuart changed all that: the Three Kingdoms were now facing the prospect of a Catholic dynasty and potentially a return to the bad old days of Bloody Mary, Protestant martyrs and the forced reintroduction of the Romish faith.

Betrayed by the future Duke of Marlborough

When I began researching Blood’s Revolution, I was struck by how unjustly James II was treated by his subjects – particularly by Jack Churchill, whom he had favoured all his life, and who, indeed, owed him his whole career. Churchill’s betrayal of his master deeply wounded James. But his desertion, along with the other plotters from the English army, undoubtedly prevented a good deal of unnecessary bloodshed. I genuinely think that Churchill (the future Duke of Marlborough) was doing what he thought was best for the country. He was also doing what was best for the Churchills. 

The change of regime was not entirely without violence – there were some small skirmishes and rioting across the country claimed several lives, and certainly a great deal of blood was spilt later in Ireland (to be told in my next book, Blood’s Campaign) – but it could have been a great deal worse. Without the defection of much of James’s officer corps, a bloody war between William’s troops and James’s army might have raged across England and elsewhere for months, maybe even years.

A tactless monarch but no tyrant

James was, without a doubt, a difficult man to deal with, autocratic and tactless, who believed that as King it was his right to rule as he pleased. But the civil wars that destroyed his father, the first King Charles, had changed that model of governance for ever in Great Britain. The rule of autocratic kings who governed by their Divine Right could no longer tolerated. For the British people: Parliament was sovereign. And the laws of the land were made by this gathering of (wealthy and Protestant) representatives of the folk who were to be governed. We in the 21st-century West sometimes take this form of government for granted but, in the late 17th century, it was very far from an established norm. Across the Channel, Louis XIV had taken his country on another path. In contrast to Charles I, the Sun King had won his civil wars (a prolonged series of conflicts known as the Fronde) and was moving away from what we might very loosely call “democracy” and was determined to concentrate all power in his own hands. Louis was a dictator, appointed by a Catholic God to rule France as he saw fit, and most people in Great Britain did not wish to be governed in this way. Catholicism, for many British Protestants, meant rule by a brutal tyrant. 

The irony is that James was not trying to become another Sun King, he did not seek absolute power, he was merely trying to introduce more tolerance in Anglican Britain for Catholics – and other dissenting groups such as Quakers and Baptists, etc.

Today we prize tolerance very highly. But it was an attempt to foster tolerance in the Three Kingdoms that brought about James’s downfall in the Glorious Revolution.

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