Holcroft Blood: a most unusual hero
I had imagined, six or seven years ago, when I first conceived of writing a book about the attempt to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London in 1671, that the hero would be the rascally adventurer Colonel Thomas Blood. He was dashing, he was wicked, he was handsome, clever and audacious – perfect hero material, you might think. This is an artist’s impression of the guy . . .
Very Errol Flynn, yes? But that was not to be. The Crown Jewels story turned into the novel Blood’s Game (now available in hardback and e-book format and out in paperback in September 2018) but Thomas Blood was already in his fifties when he committed the Crown Jewels heist, and he died nine years later, and I wanted to have a series that could, potentially, run and run. So I deemed Blood senior too old. And there was another reason, too, why I chose not to make him the hero. He wasn’t actually a very nice chap. When I did my research, I came to know him quite well and discovered that not only was he consistently horrible to women, particularly his long-suffering wife Mary, but he was also, greedy, callous, unprincipled, dishonest, self-serving and sometimes rather incompetent.
I found I rather disliked Thomas Blood. And many people who read Blood’s Game told me the same thing. But as I researched further into his family, I discovered his third son Holcroft Blood – and he seemed a much more intriguing prospect for a long-running and sympathetic hero. Holcroft was rather shy, socially awkward and mathematically inclined. (And I suggest in the novels that he may be somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum.) But he did have a very interesting life. He served King Charles II in at sea during the Third Dutch War, then he joined the French service as a Cadet in the Royal Guards, where he studied engineering and gunnery. He came back to England and joined the Board of Ordnance as an engineer and artillery officer. He fought successfully in the Williamite campaign in Ireland to defeat Catholic James II. He fought in Holland and the Low Countries, and ultimately became the most senior artillery officer in the British Army, a Brigadier-General, fighting with inspired genius under the Duke of Marlborough, at the crucial battles of Blenheim and Ramillies.
In short, he was a bit of a star.
This, I thought to myself, is someone who could be made into the hero of a cracking long-running series. And so I decided to make Holcroft Blood and Jack Churchill (the future Duke of Marlborough) boyhood friends and have them fight battles together, as often as history would permit. And to make Holcroft a mathematical genius, a natural at secret codes, high-stakes card games and the complex calculations of 17th-century cannon fire. I found that I really liked him, which is a relief. Although he is not by any means a perfect man – he had a tempestuous relationship with his fiery wife Elizabeth Fowler, engaging in public, physical fights with her. He apparently persuaded her to let another woman, his mistress Mary, come into their bed for a threesome. He also robbed a postman of his mail, at one point, a serious offence – so a bit of a chip of the old block. Anyway, not perfect. But he is, I think, an interesting hero for a series of historical novels. I hope you feel the same way about him.
Holcroft’s next adventure is called Blood’s Revolution, which comes out in hardback in October 2018.