Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why I Love the English Civil War by Alison Stuart

Firstly thank you for inviting the Hoydens and Firebrands to participate in your blog. It is very exciting to be here!

My love affair with the Roundheads and Cavaliers began when I was probably no more than about 8 or 9. My darling father would read to us every Sunday afternoon (no TV in Kenya in those days!). He had a wonderful reading voice and if his choice of subject matter tended to rather reflect his taste than ours, neither my brother nor myself complained.

One such book he chose was Daphne Du Maurier’s THE KING’S GENERAL, the story of the ill fated love affair between Sir Richard Grenville and his crippled mistress HONOUR . Du Maurier remains one of my all time favourite authors and the struggle between King and Parliament, laced with romance and skeletons in secret tunnels had me in a thrall. I was lost!  The very idea of a Civil War threw up so many possibilities for an over active imagination: father against son, brother against brother, friends destined to become foes!

A few years later the movie CROMWELL was released with Richard Harris as Cromwell and the wonderful Alec Guiness as Charles I (and of course who can ever forget a young Timothy Dalton as Prince Rupert*!). ignoring the historical inaccuracies, it still gave form and substance to my growing passion for the period and I immersed myself wholeheartedly in it.  I kept scrapbooks of articles cut from magazines, I read every single book (fiction and non-fiction) I could find in the local library and lived and breathed English Civil War from the moment I woke up until sleep claimed me.

My best friend at school was a budding writer like myself and we set out on our first venture to write a novel at the grand age of thirteen. Mine was, of course, set in the English Civil War and titled “The Locket of Grace” (note to self:  not a bad title – I should find an appropriate use for it!). Hers was science fiction and titled “The Intermittent Brain”. We did wonderful illustrations but I don’t think either of us ever finished our ‘oeuvres’. Over my school years I filled shorthand notebooks with stories, all of which closely resembled the last book I read!

Of course nothing is more guaranteed to kill a grand passion more than studying it at university and in first year of my Arts degree I made the mistake of taking “Sixteenth and Seventeenth History”.  All my wonderful imaginings and colourful characters were rendered dull and lifeless and I have to confess it was many years before I started writing again, but when I did (following a fortuitous skiing accident) I went straight back to my roots and the book that was to become my Eppie Award Winner, BY THE SWORD, was born.

I’m not sure if I have really answered the question. When something grips you as a passion, it is very hard to put a logical rationale to it. I just love the English Civil War- I love bucket top boots, lace collars, wide brimmed beaver hats, buff leather coats and lobster pot helmets! Above all I love the opportunity, through my stories, to share this wonderful period with readers. Sadly, because it is not well taught at schools (despite being such an important foundation stone of our modern democracies and judicial systems), or lacks the “glamour” of the French and American Revolutions, it is often overlooked as a rich source of fabulous stories and interesting characters. I have lost track of the number of publishers who have told me they love my books but sorry, “we can’t market the period”.

So, if you are bored with regencies, medieval and blokes in kilts, do come and visit us at Hoydens and Firebrands for something a little bit different!

(For the scene in Cromwell where Charles banishes Rupert – go to Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuKrzaycK2k and you may get an inkling of why I love the English Civil War!)


To learn more about Alison and her books, check out her website at AlisonStuart.com


  1. I was lucky enough to go see Cromwell for a School Trip and from then on my love of History was set and have always had a soft spot for the Cavaliers.

  2. In the immortal words of Sellers and Yeatman in 1066 and All That - the roundheads were "right but repulsive" and the cavaliers were "wrong but wromantic" (and yes that is the spelling) LOL
    Alison S.

  3. Love that quote!

    Thanks so much for your post Alison. I love hearing about how people came to appreciate their particular eras.