The Addiction Of Non-Fiction – the pitfalls of writing history….

I’m doing quite a lot of work at the moment on a non-fiction book, a biography of Sir John Arundell, “Jack For The King” – the man who held Pendennis Castle for the King, aged 70, against everything Thomas Fairfax and the Army of Parliament could throw at him.
He’s an absolutely fascinating chap, and the main thing I’m discovering is that there’s an awful lot of rubbish written about him.

As an instance: one source has him down as having five sons, three of whom died young in the service of the King.
Another one has him down as having four.
A contemporary sexton’s account has one of John’s sons as an ensign who died at the battle of Windmill Hill, in Launceston, in 1643, and being buried there.
One of his sons turns up recorded as a brother in some accounts.

And all of that’s interesting – it’s fascinating – to unpick, but the problem is that when I’m not unpicking the tortuous genealogy of the Trerice Arundells, I’m a novelist.

So okay. I’m assuming, if you read my blog, you either read or write historical fiction, so I’ll give you a scenario.

Three members of a family die within eight weeks, one long summer: a mother, a son and a daughter.
Plague is reported in neighbouring parish records, but mortality bills aren’t kept in the parish where they’re buried.
Father is away at the time with two of his other sons, about twenty miles away in a castle under siege.

Now you could extrapolate a number of things from that. You could interpret it to mean that one son hadn’t gone with his father and his brothers to the castle’s defence, and that perhaps the family were intending to not put all their eggs in one basket, leaving at least one of the male line on the family estate to make sure that no roving Roundheads settled themselves there while all the handy Arundells were locked up inside Pendennis keep.
You could interpret it that all three died of the epidemic that we know was rife in the locality (although we don’t know what it was.)
You could interpret that after burying her eldest son and her daughter in the space of a month, unsupported by her husband and her other sons, worn out by war and worry – Mrs Arundell died quietly two weeks after her firstborn.

You could, and a novelist probably would, and a historian can’t.

It’s interesting to try and keep a narrative in your head when you’re writing a biography, but it’s also tempting to attribute thoughts and feelings to the people in it. (We assume that Mrs Arundell loved her husband and her children, and that their absence, and loss, would have grieved her. We don’t know it, because we have no evidence to support it: none of their correspondence survives. Although the fact of six children implies a degree of familial affection, doesn’t it?And again, with my novelists’s head on, I interpret a lack of correspondence to mean that he didn’t spend prolonged periods of time away from her, if he could help it.)

It’s out there. The information that’s going to make up a coherent whole is out there. It’s just piecemeal, and the trick is to find the pieces that are in the original jigsaw, and not the pieces that have been put in two hundred years later by someone with an agenda of their own. And I know what the picture looks like.
At the moment, it’s as if someone’s jumbled up two or three separate jigsaws, all equally interesting. (Little brother Thomas. And that’s all I’m going to say. Little brother Thomas deserves a monograph of his own, if only to blow a particular persistent myth about the Civil War in Cornwall right out of the water…)

I think I’ve got the corners. I think I’ve got eight corners, actually – John and little brother Thomas – and that’s all right, because let’s just say that you’re not going to mistake one for another in their particular avenues of activity during the 1640s.

Thomas’s picture is significantly different than John’s, and that’s going to make things easier, too.
But for now, it’s back to looking for straight edges.

Making Provision for Those That Shall Be Maimed In This Present War – Medical Care in the English Civil War

Originally blogged on the English Historical Fiction Authors website, a year ago today:

Making Provision For Those That Shall Be Maimed In This Present War

But on this anniversary of the battle of Edgehill, I think it bears re-blogging.

After the first battle of the English Civil War at Edgehill on 23rd October 1642, the people of Warwickshire found themselves with an estimated butcher’s bill of between one and two thousand men injured in the fight.

Camp-followers and soldiers’ wives who followed the Army were able to care for their injured menfolk, but a casualty list of such magnitude was beyond either their capability or their resources. Most sword-cuts were not able to penetrate the sleeve of a buff-coat – but not every soldier owned a buff-coat. A musket-ball was an ounce of lead, and would break thinner bones, such as ribs; thicker bones, such as limbs, tended to be shattered on impact. Not, as you can imagine, the sort of injury with which the ordinary woman – or, indeed, the ordinary medic – would be greatly familiar with from a civilian existence!

It is not known whether either Army’s medics operated a triage system. What is known, however, is that after Edgehill as many casualties as possible were removed to a more stable environment to provide the best care. In the Army of Parliament both Lord Brooke and the Earl of Essex are documented as having provided funds for the ongoing care of their casualties by local people: a receipt presented by Katherine Hobson of Warwick, after the battle, shows that she received £25 for the care of around 150 men. (Kington being Kineton, ie Edgehill)

These are to certifie to all those whom these may any wayes concerne
That I Katherine Hobson of Warwicke dureing the time of wars imployed by the Lord Brooke in the Attendinge & dressing of the wounded soldiers that came from Kington battel (wh[i]ch said Souldiers were in number aboute Seaven score & the said battell was in The year of our Lorde God 1642) I say Rec[eive]d of Mr Richard Lacell then Bayleff of Warwicke the sume of Twenty five pounds, for the buying Of necessarys for the said Soldiers

It is not known whether the King’s troops enjoyed a similar care: the wholesale destruction of His Majesty’s always-lackadaisical administrative paperwork after the surrender at Oxford means that it is impossible to say with any certainty. It may be guessed from contemporary Royalist sources that perhaps it was not always the case; it was conceded by many that the Parliamentarian medical services were far superior to the King’s, despite having men such as the physicians Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689) “the English Hippocrates”, and Richard Wiseman (1625-1686), the greatest English surgeon of his day, in the ranks. These practitioners fought in opposing camps. Sydenham was a cavalry officer for the Parliamentary forces, whereas Wiseman was an ardent Royalist. Moreover, Wiseman became a personal friend of King Charles II, just as the pre-eminent physician William Harvey (1578-1657) had been a good friend (and hunting partner) of King Charles I.

Sydenham was enrolled at Magdalen College, Oxford, at the beginning of the war, and qualified as a Bachelor of Medicine in 1648 – presumably using some of the experience and knowledge gained in active service, in his practice. Wiseman wrote a book on field surgery, Several Surgical Treatises, and was an advocate of early amputation on the field of battle as well as an expert on gunshot wounds – also, presumably, using his field experience! He was of a similar age to Sydenham, but had entered the ranks of Barber-Surgeons just before the Civil War. (One of the main differences between doctors and barber-surgeons was that doctors were academically trained, and barber-surgeons were apprenticed.)

Edgehill seems to have been significant not only for the aftercare of its soldiers but for the fortunate coincidence of cold weather conditions which saved the life of many left on the battlefield unattended. The eminent physician to Charles I, William Harvey, who was present at the battle of Edgehill reported:

… that Sir Adrian Scrope was dangerously wounded there, and left for dead amongst the dead men, stript; which happened to be the saving of his life. It was cold clear weather, and a frost that night; which staunched his bleeding, and at about midnight, or some hours after his hurte, he awaked, and was faine to draw a dead body upon him for warmth-sake.” Harvey was also familiar with the best way of raising body temperature: “I remember he kept a pretty young wench to wayte on him, which I guess he made use of for warmth-sake as King David did, and he took care of her in his Will.

On 25 October 1642, within hours of the stalemate at Edgehill, Parliament passed an Act that for the first time acknowledged the State’s responsibility to provide for the welfare of its wounded soldiers and also for the widows and orphans of those killed -“An Ordinance of both Houses, declaring their Resolutions of making provision for those that shall be maimed in this present war, who are in the service of Parliament; and for the wives and children of those that shall be slaine“. Three weeks later, on 14th November with the pressure for care for the wounded rising, Parliament formed “The Committee for Sick and Maimed Soldiers” to rationalise the organisation and implementation of its aftercare arrangements.

Edgehill was significant not only as the battle which began the English Civil War, but, to a degree, the battle which began the concept of state responsibility for those hurt in its service. Diverse wounds and missing limbs often prevented returning soldiers from earning a living – these survivors seem to have been given a lump sum of £2 (in context, a colonel of horse in the New Model Army, three years later, would have received wages of a pound a week: £2 was a hefty lump sum, but not enough to retire on!) whilst a regular pension was agreed on. Significantly, widows and dependents of soldiers were also allowed to enter a claim for maintenance, provided they were able to provide relevant war records. Many of these widows were also in the position of having cared for injured soldiers who were wholly unrelated to them, after battle: Hester Whyte cared for wounded Parliamentarian soldiers after Edgehill, “who continued at her house in great misery by reason of their wounds for upwards of three months. She often sat up night and day with them, and in respect of her tenderness to the Parliament’s friends, laid out her own money in supply of their wants.” (Petition to the Committee of Safety for Warwick and Coventry)

There is much, much more to be said on the matter of Parliamentarian care of its soldiery – the hospital structure, the diet of sick and hurt soldiers, the value of opportunities afforded for women to be recognised in paid employment outside the home. In 1657 four women were interviewed for the single position of ward Sister at a London soldiers’ hospital. A nursing post in one of the London soldiers’ hospitals would have attracted a wage of 5s per week, with accomodation and food provided. (Set that against the widow’s pension of 4s per week, and it’s a much less impressive deal.)

That, however, is for another day entirely. On this anniversary of the battle of Edgehill, let us raise a toast to the Committee for Sick and Maimed Soldiers: the first of its kind in England.

Goring. Distinctly not boring.

Well. What a marvellous, wicked, wanton, dissolute, all-round menace of a caricature Cavalier he was, and now here he is, turning up in Fairfax’s South-Western campaign of 1645 just in time for me to make sport with him.

(An aside – he might have been a most rascally Royalist type, but there’s something strangely appealing about him…)

His early days should have tipped Charles Stuart off to the fact that he was a little bit fly.Lord Goring was a courtesy title only – probably more courteous, and possibly less well deserved, than “Take your hands off there sir!” Goring – as he was the son of the first Earl of Norwich. He had an enigmatic limp gained in his soldiering service at Breda, in the Low Countries . He had a reputation, to quote Clarendon, as a man who “would, without hesitation, have broken any trust, or done any act of treachery to have satisfied an ordinary passion or appetite; and in truth wanted nothing but industry (for he had wit, and courage, and understanding and ambition, uncontrolled by any fear of God or man) to have been as eminent and successful in the highest attempt of wickedness as any man in the age he lived in or before. Of all his qualifications dissimulation was his masterpiece; in which he so much excelled, that men were not ordinarily ashamed, or out of countenance, with being deceived but twice by him.

Officers stationed in York in 1641 proposed to petition the king and parliament for the maintenance of the royal authority. A second faction was in favour of more violent measures, and Goring, in the hope of being appointed lieutenant-general, proposed to march the army on London during the trial of the Earl of Strafford in 1641. This proposition not unreasonably being rejected by his fellow-officers, he dropped them nicely in it by betraying the plot in April 1641. (A nice example of taking one’s ball and going home.) As a result, he was called to give evidence before the Commons, who commended him for his services to the Commonwealth. Having been commended, he promptly declared for the King in August.

Now, this is where it gets whizzy. Appointed Governor of Portsmouth by people who should have known better, he surrendered the port to the besieging Army of Parliament in September 1642, and scuttled off to the Netherlands for a spot of light recruiting. (And, one assumes, a little light recreational drinking and whoring.) In December that year he returns, after what success is not recorded, and then some fool – oh! that will be the Earl of Newcastle! – appoints him to a cavalry command. He defeats Fairfax at Seacroft Moor, in one of his occasional flashes of brilliance, in March 1643, and then cocks it all up again in Wakefield two months later and is taken prisoner by Fairfax in an attack on the town. April 1644, he effects an exchange, and then – this is the man who’s handed over Portsmouth and then lost Wakefield, remember – some numpty gives him charge of the Royalist left flank at Marston Moor. Which commission he carries out initially with great success…. and then allows his troops to scatter in search of plunder. I am delighted to relate that Oliver Cromwell took full advantage of this shocking want of discipline and gave him a right pasting.

In August Rupert dispatched him to the south of England to serve as  as lieutenant-general of the Royalist horse. (God alone knows what Rupert was thinking.) His campaign in the south-west was so vicious that he and his men were cordially loathed by the local residents to the extent that after the battle of Langport in July 1645 the local Clubmen massacred as many fleeing Royalists they could lay hands to in revenge for the Royalist depradations. Which rather makes you wonder about the calibre of officers he attracted…. great minds thinking alike and all.

He made no further serious resistance to the parliamentary general, but wasted his time in frivolous amusements. In November 1645 he obtained leave to quit his disorganised forces and retire to France on the ground of health – possibly the threat to his own of his comrades being so sick and tired of his wanton viciousness, debauchery, and general excessive cavalier-ishness that they might have considered knocking him on the head.

There he is, ladies and gentlemen, Lord George Goring. I couldn’t have invented him if I’d wanted to.