Setting The Scene In Wessex: The 17th Century In Literature And Drama


View over southwest Dorset from Pilsdon Pen, its highest point. 

The 17th Century was a time of major change in English society and government. It began with the decline in health of a childless queen and the plans for a successor, the Scots Protestant son of the beheaded former rival to the childless queen. This new monarch's accession as king of England was followed by an attempt to blow up both King and Parliament, this “Gunpowder Plot” being followed by anti-Catholic reprisals. Several subsequent decades of growing rivalry between King and Parliament, with the latter closed down by the king for up to a decade at a time, led to a bloody civil war after the king entered Parliament with soldiers to arrest MPs. The war ended with the king beheaded, and England a Puritan republic. This led in turn to an attempt at restoration of the kingship, which only succeeded after another decade of strict Puritan rule, but on the king's death was followed by a final civil war battle over a coup d'etat attempt by the deceased king's favourite illegitimate son. Events were finally settled by the so-called “Glorious Revolution,” the pact between Parliament and monarchy which saw the pro-Catholic successor king deposed by his son-in-law in command of imported Protestant forces, and a 'constitutional monarchy' created. The century ended with a new queen about to take the throne, the last of her dynasty to reign.... Thus, there has been plenty of material to inspire novelists and dramatists, and as usual, many of the events played out in Wessex.

IN the first few years of the new century, England's long-reigning queen, Elizabeth, died childless, leaving the Privy Council little choice but to turn to the nearest adult male relative, despite Elizabeth having ordered his mother Mary Queen Of Scots beheaded in 1587. The reign of James I (1603-25) was also the time of Shakespeare (who was sponsored by the Earl of Southampton and may have premiered his play As You Like It at Wilton House outside Salisbury in 1603), and contemporaries like Sir Philip Sidney, also often visitors to Wilton.
For those interested in works published during the era itself, perhaps the most ambitious work was Poly-Olbion [sic], a massive county-by-county multi-book guide by the poet and dramatist Michael Drayton (1563-1631). Published 1613-22 with map-illustrations, this tried to versify the mythic topography of the entire kingdom (“... When down from Sarum's Plains / Clear Avon coming in, her sister Stour doth call, / And at New-forest's foot into the sea do fall.”). At the same time, it is said, it tried to "provide a legendary basis for the Stuart claim to the English throne," for royal favour was essential in those times. James had Elizabeth's favourite Renaissance man, the explorer, poet and Dorset MP Sir Walter Raleigh (who had built Sherborne New Castle in the 1590s), locked up in the Tower (where he wrote a 1611 bestselling History Of The World) and finally executed in 1618 for attacking Spanish possessions during his last Caribbean voyage.
Raised in Scotland as a Calvinist Protestant, James himself had written a book denouncing the “demonology” of witches, and in 1604 his religious concerns led him to sponsor a new translation of the Bible [pictured], completed in 1611 and known as the KJ Version or Authorized Version, which on its 400th anniversary this year is receiving wide media coverage as a literary creation, one of modern England's cultural foundations (right down to now-familiar figures of speech). This was sponsored by James to help unite England in orthodoxy of worship, though some historians have suggested it helped start the subsequent Civil War by failing to please the more extreme Puritan fringe and anti-Catholic elements, who preferred their own older versions.
Religious intolerance by the Church had been a growing concern to the early Puritans who were then a minority, and larger-scale emigration to the new American colonies Raleigh had helped establish began around this time. These colonies were the commercial basis of English sea power. In terms of later works like novels (the novel did not exist in the early 17C), one distinct theme in boys-adventure stories is England's developing naval power in this era. The Silk Admiral: A Tale of Old Melcombe 1585-1627 (1968), by A. J[ackson] Brown MBE, is a fact-based reconstruction (complete with appendices) set in the Weymouth area, about John Browne, a real-life silk merchant who became a rear-admiral knighted by Elizabeth I. The Treasure Of Golden Cap: A Romance Of West Dorset (1922; repr 1982), by "Bennet Copplestone" (Frederick Harcourt Kitchin, 1867-1932), has flashback scenes within a contemporary tale, dealing with West Dorset in the James I - Charles I transitional period of the 1620s. (Nield's Guide To The Best Historical Novels: “The background is quite historical.”)

The reign of Charles I (1625-49) was initially meant to be one of greater toleration, though he soon found himself married off to a Catholic princess who would prove less tolerant. Charles's original idea was to have a civilised court by European standards, and some church-based literature flourished, as did the 'Cavalier' school of poetry. Emma Marshall's 1889 Under Salisbury Spire In The Days Of George Herbert is built around the 1613-33 career of the Welsh poet and orator who became an MP and priest serving 3 years in a parish on the outskirts of Salisbury before dying of TB; his posthumously published poetry volume The Temple was influential in its time, some poems becoming standard hymns. Among the developing school of “Cavalier Poets,” a local example was John Clavel [1603-42] the Highwayman Poet, who was from a Dorset family. Clavel Tower on the Purbeck coastwould be the best known memorial of the family name in posterity would be , a scenic clifftop folly built later on by the family on its clifftop estate, which became a favourite of Thomas Hardy. In 1627 Clavel published a verse account of his life while awaiting execution for robbery, before being pardoned by Charles I due to his family connections, with the royal command he publish his poem as a recantation. As well as the resulting A Recantation of an Ill Led Life [partly online here], he wrote a play, The Soddered Citizen.

The Civil War And Commonwealth Period, 1642-60
During the 3 stages of the English Civil War period (1642-6; 1648-9; 1649-51), the big set-piece battles were all farther north, but there were various sieges in this area. As the novel form did not exist at the time, long poems took their place. A contemporary literary tribute (now hard to access), from 1645, to the key involvement of local women in the defence of Lyme was James Strong's lengthy poem “Joanereideros, Feminine Valour Eminently Discovered In Westerne Women, at the Siege of Lyme, 1644.”
Moving into the era of the printed novel, Brave Dame Mary (1873) by local novelist Mary Palgrave was first to tell of Corfe's defence in 1643 led by the local landowner's wife, Lady Mary Bankes, and is based on a history by her descendant George Bankes. Swanage-born Audrey Pembroke's 1994 Maid Of Purbeck is set 1643-6 Corfe with a 1660 framework, dramatising how and why Corfe alone stayed Royalist. Emmeline Hardy's 1992 A Ballad Telling of the Siege of Corfe Castle 1643-1646 describes the struggle in the verse format more coeval with the time-setting. The author of the best-known juvenile novel about the Civil War, Captain Frederick Marryat, lived at Lymington 1843-8 and had a brother-in-law who owned nearby Chewton Glen manor 1837-55, where he wrote much of his 1848 children's perennial, Children Of The New Forest [online here]. The novel, adapted for tv several times (usually with exterior scenes filmed on location in the Forest), is set nearby, around the old village of Sway north of Lymington. The novel, never since out of print, would set a trend for children's novels set in the Civil War era, usually focusing on how the war split up families, with the children orphaned or displaced. The Severing Sword by the local vicar of Sopley J. F. Vallings (1853?-1929), is also set in the New Forest in the Civil War. Daventry's Quest by the prolific boys-adventure-tale author Percy F Westerman (1876-1959) is set mainly in SE Dorset during the 1640s. Folly's End (1944) by Doris Leslie (1902-82) is a memoir-style novel with an authentic historical background, narrated by a grandmother recollecting her childhood amidst the Civil War and the intrigues of the secret society known as the Sealed Knot, on the family estate by the Dorset-Devon border. (Leslie: “The prototype of Folly's End can still be found somewhere in Dorset.”) Maurice Hervey's 1896 Amyas Egerton Cavalier covers Charles I's time as a captive in Carisbrooke on Wight in 1647, while Wight-resident Mary Campbell Barnes's recently reissued 1956 Mary Of Carisbrooke tells of a servant girl there who befriends the captive king and aids his doomed escape attempts. Emma Marshall's 1898 juvenile novel The White King's Daughter deals with the captivity and death of Charles's young daughter Elizabeth at the castle in 1650. The naval aspect of the war is the theme of 1904 Sea Puritans, by Frank T Bullen (1857-1915), a prolific author of over 30 sea-stories inspired by his own days at sea, described by Nield's Guide as “of special worth … a good naval story dealing with the career of Admiral Blake,” set at “Lyme Regis and Abroad, 1643-57.” Edward Rutherfurd's 1987 massive ages-spanning saga set in the Avon Valley south of Salisbury, Sarum, has a chapter set mainly in 1643-6.

55 Days is a 2012 play by veteran political dramatist Howard Brenton, set in the period after the capture of Charles I by Cromwell's forces, when he was held in various castles including Carisbrooke on Wight. The drama focuses on the final 55 days of his life, and follows the chain of events and reasoning that led to Charles's execution, using actual speeches where possible. Its London premiere starred Mark Gatiss [pictured] as the doomed king.

The 1651 Royal Escape In Literature And Drama:
The major local-interest episode from the Civil War era was in a sense its last act, ending with the Royalist leader fleeing abroad in 1651. Most people today will be familiar with this historical episode via historical romance novels, films and television, of the young Charles II being hidden by loyal, gallant cavaliers and their ladies, while mounted posses of thick-headed Roundheads thunder by, or brutally search taverns and houses as groups of frightened but outraged women stand by helplessly. The story has moments of both suspense and farce, with a happy ending as Charles escapes by boat to Europe, merrily returning in triumph 9 years later to restore the Monarchy. In particular with the two "royal flight" events of 1651 and its 1685 sequel, we have situations where truth is as dramatic as fiction. But some details of the real story has been sacrificed in these romantic historical novels and costume dramas perhaps out of a perception by novelists and dramatists that the real story is too incredible to be believed. There is an outline of the real events of 1651 and 1685, here.
Immediate celebrations of the Restoration often focused on Charles's 1651 escape. This included an influential sequence of 5 large-scale narrative paintings by Isaac Fuller (16??-72) called The Escape Of Charles II, showing Charles hiding up in the “royal oak” (which became a popular pub name) near Boscobel, riding pillion with his loyal helper Jane Lane, being watched by a large crowd as he enters London, etc. The series dates to the early 1660s, and were influential “court” works, with the one pictured on our companion page here still on display in the House of Commons. There were also nonfiction accounts which were near-contemporary, the authentic basis for later novels. On his 1660 return voyage, Charles told details of his escape to a companion on board, the Secretary of The Navy, the diarist Samuel Pepys. Pepys's as-told-to account, completed in 1689, is reproduced in various history books, including The Escape Of Charles II, 1966, by the English historian (and West Dorset resident) Richard Olland. Charles also told others details, and the oldest nonfiction account seems to be Thomas Blount's Boscobel, published the year of the Restoration. This is a short work without coverage of the local-interest segment of the escape, but other early accounts are accessible online via Google Books. For any future novelists or dramatists etc reading this who needs access to source documents, there is a miscellany-compilation online here .

While academic texts usually disdain the 1651 episode as romanticism, and slight it accordingly, Lady Antonia Fraser's 1979 King Charles II is a notable recent example (in paperback) of general biography of the king which incorporates the escape. There is also Charles The Second, King Of England, Scotland And Ireland (1989), by Prof Ronald Hutton of Bristol U. The latest biography of Charles is Jenny Uglow's A Gambling Man: Charles II And The Restoration, 2009. In a sense there is no escaping the story, the primary example of this phenomena, yet it is perhaps fortunate it has come down to us in this fashion, for like many a real-life adventure, the twists and turns of the story would be too incredible for fiction or drama unsupported. As Antonia Fraser says, the true story is as exciting as any fictional version.
As the novel as a literary form scarcely existed in 1660, the first novels covering the escape only date from the early 19C, when Sir Walter Scott first popularised the historical novel genre. Nield's 1929 Guide To The Best Historical Novels cites as the earliest accurate historical-novel version Boscobel (1872) by prolific Victorian novelist W. Harrison Ainsworth (1805-82), which covers the various Dorset adventures and ends after the party arrive at Stonehenge. Though out of print, it is available online as a downloadable PDF, here.
(Nonfiction studies by historians compiling these various as-told-to accounts into printed books began after this, e.g. Allan Fea's The Flight Of The King, 1897.) Nield's 5th edition of his Guide [1929] also mentions a few early 20th-C. novels: Edith E. Cowper's juvenile novel The King's Double (1915), set in Melbury, Sherborne, Bridport etc. in 1651. He also recommends another juvenile novel, Margaret Stuart Lane's The Wild Bird (1926), whose title is the nickname of a girl living in "Langbedding" between Lyme and Charmouth during Charles's escape. The 1919 A Nest Of Malignants by historical novelist Dorothea Moore (1880-1933) is partly set during Charles's flight across southeast Wiltshire. The 1932 Borrowed Names by Elspeth M Briggs (1902-61) is set locally in the 1650s. Since Nield's Guide ended, there has been Georgette Heyer's 1938 costume romance Royal Escape, which is based on historical research, covers the entire itinerary, and is the best-known example. The 1651 escape episode also features in other examples of the less historical genre of adult romantic novels loosely called Regency Romances (the Regency period is actually c1800). Barbara Cartland's 1949 romance Cupid Rides Pillion begins with Charles's being helped to escape the pursuing Roundheads. In Anne Wakefield Madden's 1976 Edge Of Danger, set in "Queen's Mead" Dorset 1651, the "spirited" young heroine helps not the Prince but a young Cavalier supporter.
The other genre that continued to cover the escape have been novels written for the Young Adult market. Barbara Softly's 1962 Place Mill is set around Christchurch's mediaeval mill in 1651, while Charles II is on the run in Dorset. There were also adaptations for radio for the schools age group. 'David Scott Daniell' (Albert Scott Daniell, 1906-1965) was a prolific writer for radio who lived near Bridport and in 1939 wrote for BBC Radio 'Children's Hour' a 4-part series about the 1651 escape, which is presumably the basis of his 1958 YA novel, reprinted in 1962 as a Puffin paperback, Hunt Royal, which comes with a useful route map.
There have also been stage plays and films. Harry Ashley's miscellany Dorset Yarns notes that comic aspects of the escape (perhaps we should say escapade) has provided the basis for Aldwych farces (i.e. stage plays of Ben Travers' Aldwych Theatre school of farce) and Carry On films. Dennis Wheatley, who wrote a 1933 biography of Charles II, Old Rowley, before he became an occult-thriller writer (and longtime local resident at Lymington), said “the Flight of the King” would make “the greatest epic of escape in history.” He may have been prompted by the 1930 biography King Charles II by the Salisbury-resident popular historian Sir Arthur Bryant, who begins his story in medias res with Charles's 1651 escape in progress, the rest of the story told as what we now call flashbacks; it's claimed that this approach made it more accessible and a US Book Society choice and a bestseller. Wheatley's suggestion however was never seriously taken up, and subsequent films have focused on his cavalier helpers, who in real life did risk all to help Charles escape but in novels are usually fictional in all but name.
Charles plays a minor role in the 1958 Technicolor swashbuckler The Moonraker, from a play by former film censor Arthur Watkyn, about the “last Cavalier” (played by George Baker) who is arranging an escape rendezvous for Charles at the Windwhistle Inn “on the Bridport road.” The play was mainly set at this inn, but was opened-out for filming, with an intro shot at Stonehenge, a town scene shot at Lacock preserved village [NT], and after the inn sequence, a swordfight finale atop Stair Hole rock-arch at Lulworth. (See inset opposite for pictures and further details.) In 1988, Barbara Cartland's Cupid Rides Pillion was filmed tongue-in-cheek as The Lady And The Highwayman; the only relic of historical fact in this otherwise unrelated costume romance is the helping-Charles-elude-the-Roundheads opening scene, which is shot locally and quite distinctly in Dorset, though at the Purbeck rather than western end. Here, a fresh-faced young Hugh Grant as the Silver Blade helps Michael York as Charles escape the Roundheads via a diversion into Winspit Quarry caves! There was also a 2010 Radio 4 play by TV dramatist Ian Curteis, Boscobel, on the king's journey as a personal learning curve, though it almost stops short of the Dorset episode, only including the brouhaha at the west Dorset inn where an illegitimate baby's birth allows Charles & co to escape the Roundheads there.

The Restoration Era, 1660-85
For those wanting to read works written in the actual Restoration Era, there are a number, the arts flourishing after the censorship and repression of the Puritan Commonwealth of 1649-60. Right at the outset of the era came works celebrating the Restoration, mainly by portraying Charles's 1651 escape as described above, cf the narrative paintings of Isaac Fuller. Another Fuller, the Revd Thomas Fuller (1608-61), Rector of Broadwindsor [one of Charles's 1651 stops] in west Dorset, had been one of the monarchy's allies in the Church, acting as chaplain and tutor to Charles's infant daughter Henrietta during the war, and was classed as one of "the great cavalier parsons." At Broadwindsor, he became a prolific author, best-known for his bulky History Of The Worthies Of England, a county-by-county series of profiles of men like Sir Walter Raleigh. He died in 1661, and Fuller's Worthies, as it came to be called, was published posthumously. (The memorial stone at Lee Lane, scene of the "Miraculous Divergence" i.e lucky escape of 1651, quotes him.) His last work was “A Panegyrick To His Majesty On His Happy Return” celebrating the Restoration, which some historians suspect he may actually have helped arrange as an influential churchman.
All the arts boomed, with new genres appearing. The theatres re-opened, dominated by a new popular genre of bawdy satire, not possible during the Puritan hegemony, being named simply after the era itself - the “Restoration Comedy.” Charles II's most famous mistress, who had begun as an orange seller, was a stage actress, Nell Gwynn.
For a frank behind-the-scenes picture of the 1660s, we are indebted to Charles's Secretary of The Navy, Samuel Pepys, who kept a secret diary in shorthand code, which describes events like the Plague and Great Fire in London in 1665-6, and has since been a goldmine for novelists as well as historians. A key event of this time remembered locally was the visit to Dorset of Charles with the favourite among his illegitimate sons, James Scott Duke of Monmouth, to escape the plague.
This was the visit where a famous incident occurred. Charles stopped at the smithy at Godmanstone and commissioned it on the spot as an inn so he could have a drink, leading to it becoming for centuries [1665-2005] the smallest wayside inn in England, with a signboard telling the legendary story. (See our "Sites of Interest" page for details.) He also visited Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper at his family seat of Wimborne St Giles in east Dorset. Cooper was strongly opposed to a Catholic regime, and combined with Charles's parading the young Duke around as an obvious favourite this would lead to the overconfident young Duke's disastrous return visit to Dorset with a pocket army in 1685.
The 6th Earl of Dorset, Charles Sackville, came from a Royalist family with long-standing literary interests. He became one of Charles II's rakish courtiers known for his cynical wit and outré behaviour (charged with public indecency, the murder of a suspected highwayman etc), and a poet (his 1665 song “To All You Ladies Now At Land” is his best known work) whose lampoons won the admiration of Alexander Pope, Congreve, and Matthew Prior. Samuel Johnson included him in his Lives of The Poets. Sackville's lampoon of the king's brother's mistress the Countess of Dorchester as one of England's “most eminent ninnies” would prove impolitic when James succeeded his brother in 1685, but he survived this to become a courtier of William and Mary in 1688. He was a patron of other literary men of the day, including England's first Poet Laureate, John Dryden, after he was sacked from his post by William.
Dryden was probably the most versatile literary figure of the era, writing verse, drama, essays and literary criticism. Dryden's 1681 poem "Absalom And Achitophel" was an example of another new genre: political satire, referred to as “perhaps the first political poem in the English language” [Faber Book Of English History In Verse, 1988]. The poem used Old Testament figures to allegorically portray the intrigues of Charles's illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth ("Absalom") and his backer, Ashley Cooper ("Achitophel") the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, two men whose anti-Catholic intrigues would lead to the disaster of 1685.
Dryden's 1681 allegory got Cooper arrested by the king for plotting treason, though a picked “Whig” jury acquitted him. However due to his plotting to assassinate James II and if necessary the ailing present king to force a return to a Protestant monarchy, he was forced to flee abroad to Holland, where he died in 1683. He did act as patron to philosopher John Locke (1632-1704), whom he hired as his parliamentary secretary in 1673. Locke also had to flee abroad with him, but was later able to return and became tutor to the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper (1671-1713), who became known as a writer of essays on ethics. Known as the philosopher-earl, he was inspired by the French essayist Montaigne to live in a tower, which he had built near the family seat of Wimborne St Giles.
Prolific poet Matthew Prior (1664-1721), known locally as "Wimborne's most famous son," who has a monument in Westminster Abbey's Poets Corner, was a diplomat in the latter half of the 17C, succeeding John Locke as trade commissioner, but would write much of his verse after he being put in the Tower late in life, when he became politically suspect following the death of Queen Anne. Thackeray described his work as “amongst the easiest, the richest, the most charmingly humorous of English lyrical poems.”

Modern Literary & Dramatic Works Set In The Restoration Era
In terms of more recent works, there are any number of historical novels, mainly romances, covering the Great Plague and Fire of London, and portraying Charles as the Merry Monarch (playing cards while surrounded by spaniels, cavorting with Nell Gwynn etc), but these seem all London-centred, with no local setting. The local area has been used as a filming location for a number of works set geographically elsewhere, including the film version of the Rose Tremain novel Restoration, a large-budget extravaganza made for the British Film Centenary 1996 (with Sam Neill as Charles, in a supporting role); this is not set locally story-wise, but uses two Dorset locales: Forde Abbey [N of Lyme], and Mapperton Gardens in west Dorset.
The 2005 film The Libertine, from the 1994 Stephen Jeffreys play, with Johnny Depp as the debauched 2nd Earl of Rochester and John Malkovich as Charles II, was shot partly at Montacute House, Somerset, which portrayed Rochester's country seat. The 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647-1680) was the son of Charles's 1651 helper Col. Wilmot, who he had rewarded with a peerage. The son became a noted poet, wit and rake whose admirers would include Defoe, Voltaire, Hazlitt Tennyson, and Goethe. In the play and film, he is banished from court for writing a scurrilous satire (spelt Satyre as a pun on satyr) on Charles II. (“I handed you a chance to show your shining talent and what do you give me in return? A pornographic representation of a royal court where the men only deal in buggery and the women's sole object of interest is the dildo!”) Charles nevertheless tries to enlist his help as a propagandist in his political schemes. This may have been because it was Rochester who composed the lines which became the definitive quote about Charles: "He never said a foolish thing, nor ever did a wise one." (There are actually several versions; the one supposedly inscribed on Charles's bedchamber door is: “Here lies our sovereign lord the king, / Whose word no man relies on; / He never says a foolish thing, / Nor ever does a wise one.”) Charles rejoined that this was true as his words were his own, but his actions were those of his ministers. (This is included in the BBC 2003 drama Charles II.) The lines would become Charles's epitaph.

Works covering a regnal era naturally focus on the personal rise and fall of the monarch, but the real story of Charles's reign was so much more complex than his Merry Monarch popular image. The era was so complicated by religious politics that it is only recently we have had a dramatization that tries to deal with this. The 4-hour 2003 BBC TV drama Charles II: The Power And The Passion does not have any local settings, but it and the accompanying documentary material on the DVD, provide useful background for understanding the context of other more limited works. The BBC's 4-part drama, scripted by Adrian Hodges and directed by Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement), with Rufus Sewell as Charles II, covers the entire Restoration Era. (North American readers should note the US version, inanely retitled "The Last King," lost nearly an hour of scenes, the original 235 minutes cut down to fit two 2-hour slots with commercials.) Its revisionist approach portrays Charles not as a witty "Merry Monarch" in a court of learned men, but as a man surrounded by women who make his life miserable until they get their way - whether it is money, titles, or the persecution of Catholics. (The infamous libertine the Earl of Rochester makes a cameo appearance with his famous quote about the king, soon after Nell Gwynn appears.) The drama, opening in 1660, does not cover the 1651 escape. However on the DVD, the accompanying documentary The Boy Who Would Be King features biographers and TV-presenter historians discussing his earlier life, with the 1651 escape covered by a mix of re-enactment and present-day visits (Michael Palin trying out a “priests hole” hideaway), though again stopping short of Dorset locales.
Stephen Coote's 2008 biography Royal Survivor says that despite the witty Merry Monarch image, Charles after his return was often silent and withdrawn. This is scarcely surprising under the circumstances. His 40 days and nights in the wilderness must have been an eye-opener as well as continual nervous strain. It's the classic story of the king going out in his own kingdom to learn a few home truths, but little seems to have been with this dramatically. The 2008 Radio 4 radio play Boscobel by distinguished TV dramatist Ian Curteis did focus on the prince's cross-country journey as something of a learning experience, though it ends almost as soon as he reaches Dorset.

The youthful Charles had been tutored in exile by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the Wiltshire-born author of the 1651 key political-philosophy tract Leviathan, with its famous quote about life for most people being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Actually Hobbes said it would be so, were it not for the political class imposing order on chaos (i.e. civil war) - best done, he argued, via absolute monarchy. Somewhat ironically, Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, with its dramatic cover [pictured right] and arguments for a 'social contract,' so alarmed the royalists Hobbes lived in exile amongst in Paris that he fled, seeking the protection of the Puritan government in London. This confusion was typical of the time, when open arguments about (in this case, against) any separation of powers between monarchy, civil state and Established (i.e. official, meaning Anglican) church were new to people, and complicated by existing dogmatic Catholic v Protestant tenets and hatreds.
These issues were to come to a head when Charles died in 1685, and his pro-Catholic brother James assumed the crown. Attempts by Protestant forces to remove James II began the first months of his reign, with the short-lived, disastrous Monmouth Rising, whose principal events occurred in this region, from the Duke of Monmouth's landing at Lyme Regis in June 1685 to his post-defeat flight eastward across Dorset.

The 1685 Monmouth Rising In Literature And Drama
The Monmouth Rebellion, which began with the Duke of Monmouth's landing at Lyme Regis in June 1685 and ended with the Bloody Assizes at Dorchester and elsewhere a little over a month later, has inspired a series of historical novels, perhaps because it is claimed to be the last battle fought on British (or English) soil. With its grim ending, the entire episode lacks the "Cavalier" glamour of the events of 1651, so it has not attracted romantic novelists to the same extent. Instead, there are a number of boys' stories of youths caught up in the call to arms and then the confusion and despair of the rout. Even nonfiction biographies, the basis for historical fiction and drama, of Monmouth were few before JNP Watson's of 1979: one by George Roberts 1844, one by Alan Fea (1860-1956) 1902 [King Monmouth, reprinted 2009] and one by Elizabeth D'Oyley 1938.)
Nield's Guide To The Best Historical Novels cites as covering the rising over a dozen Victorian novels and romances, mostly long-forgotten, such as G.P.R. James's 1851 The Fate and Sir Walter Besant's 1889 For Faith And Freedom. These are mainly from the viewpoint of a lad caught up in events as a participant or bystander. Dorset's involvement in the Monmouth rebellion provided the background for Mary E Palgrave's 1884 Under The Blue Flag, set largely in Purbeck, and her Deb Clavel: A Story of a Sister's Love [reissued in 2009-10 as SPCK facsimile reprints]. The better-known authors include R.D. Blackmore, Rafael Sabatini, Conan Doyle and Poet Laureate John Masefield. Blackmore's Lorna Doone, set on Exmoor 1673-88, alludes to the Rebellion from the viewpoint of Somerset farmers, and has a Sedgemoor sequence. The Duke Of Monmouth, an early (1836) adult novel by the noted 19th-C. Irish writer Gerald Griffin, covers the events more comprehensively. (Note that some works refer to the presence of a young Daniel Defoe in the campaign, which is correct, but perhaps out of prudence, he never wrote fiction based on his own experience.) The 1910 Anthony Wilding, (also called Mistress Wilding and in the US Arms And The Maid), by Rafael Sabatini [author of Captain Blood, which opens in 1685 Devon], is more of a romance, set only partly in Dorset. Conan Doyle's first historical, Micah Clarke, available online, has the young hero wandering around the West Country before arriving at the Battle of Sedgemoor, encountering Monmouth, Churchill, James II, and Judge Jeffreys. In the 1927 The Sword Of Fortune by 'Ben Bolt' [the Rev. Ottwell Binns, 1872-1936], the young hero again has a peripheral i.e non-fatal involvement in the battle. In Poet Laureate John Masefield's 1949 boys' adventure Martin Hyde, The Duke's Messenger [now available online], the 13-year old narrator goes to sea as a cabin boy but ends up in an intrigue following Monmouth's advance from Lyme. Thomas Hardy's short story “The Duke's Reappearance” is based on a family tradition of the owners of Monmouth Cottage in Melbury Osmond that a stranger like the Duke had stayed a night after the battle.
Since Nield's Guide was published, there have been other novels. The 1945 Green Willow: A Novel Of The Time Of Sedgemoor by onetime Purbeck resident Monica M. Hutchings (1917-77) has a modern flashback-framework (an American girl visiting Somerset in WWII searches out her ancestors) to set up “John Lynn's narrative,” which ranges in locale across the West Country but includes the Battle of Bridport.
Novels written for adults, including romantic ones, often dwell on the “black box” in which Charles supposedly kept his marriage license to Monmouth's mother Lucy Walter, with whom Charles had had a youthful dalliance in exile - as this would have proved the Duke was a legitimate claimant to the throne. She spent years trying to coerce Charles into recognising the boy as the legitimate heir. The box was never found, but rumours (no doubt encouraged by Protestant interests) spread so widely that Charles II had to repeatedly swear oaths to the Privy Council he had never married Monmouth's mother. This is part of the 2003 BBC drama Charles II mentioned above, but the contents of the black box are never revealed to us.
W. Bourne Cook's novel The Black Box may (it's long out of print) be inspired by this rumour, with 1685 events told from the viewpoint of a Lyme youth; the vintage novel is now the subject of a mash-up fanfic version by William Cook which takes the lead character into new adventures. Taking its title from the heraldic motif for illegitimacy, Bend Sinister (1962) by Juliette Dymoke (~de Schanschieff, 1919-2001), is told by a longtime companion of Monmouth who becomes one of his officers; it covers from the 1660s on and focuses on the preceding events of the Duke in exile, to which the Rebellion itself forms the final act, from the landing at Lyme through the narrator's capture with the Duke. Jude Morgan's 2003 The King's Touch tells the story of Monmouth's pre-1685 life in exile from a first-person viewpoint (so the Rising has to be related via an appendix). John Whitbourn's 1998 The Royal Changeling is not a historical novel but a fantasy treatment, where Monmouth on returning discovers he is half Elf, and must do magical battle with an undead King Arthur for the national soul.
Apart from a Sedgemoor scene in some of the many Lorna Doone adaptations, there seem to be no screen versions of the Rising. BBC's 1969 studio-shot drama serial The First Churchills, based partly on PM Winston Churchill's biography of his ancestor the Duke Of Marlborough, dramatized events from 1673 on.

The Rising's grisly aftermath, the summary trials around the south-west known as the Bloody Assizes, has long attracted novelists. For James II's Chief Justice, Baron Jeffreys, was a persecutor so rabid he could have been a villain straight out of a costume melodrama, letting his religious prejudice guide his conduct. (“Show me a Presbyterian and I'll show thee a lying knave.”) He condemned hundreds at his 'Bloody Assizes' held in Dorchester and elsewhere. Dozens who pleaded guilty were hanged, drawn and quartered, often on no more evidence than being reported away from their work during the rising. Their heads were stuck by Jeffreys' order on poles all around the County as a warning.
Others who accepted Judge Jeffrey's 'advice' to plead guilty were given clemency and merely shipped off to the West Indies as slave labour (as happens to Dr Peter Blood at the start of Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood). Jeffreys's first victim was actually a 67 year old local widow, Dame Alice Lisle of Moyles Court manor near Ringwood, whom Jeffreys ordered to be immediately burnt for sheltering two fugitives, a sentence James commuted to public beheading at Winchester. Her story is novelised in Gladys Murdoch's 1914 Winchester-set Mistress Charity Godolphin. The 1985 novel A Head On My Shoulders by a 20C resident of Moyles Court [later a school], Vesper Hunter, is a diary-style novel set in 1674, covering Alice Lisle's earlier life, after her husband was assassinated for being one of those who had signed Charles I's death warrant. She is also a character (with some dramatic license taken) in the “Alice” chapter of Edward Rutherfurd's ages-spanning 2000 novel The Forest (Moyles Court being on the western edge of the New Forest), which also has earlier-set scenes with the king hunting in the adjacent forest.

Epilogue: The Glorious Revolution of 1688
Representatives of Parliament and the nobility worried by James II's pro-Catholic stance invited James's nephew William of Orange to land with an army and force James to abdicate, which he did in November 1688. William agreed in turn to a more constitutional, i.e. non-absolute, monarchy. This second 'restoration' of the monarchy in 1688, forming an epilogue to the long drama of the Civil Wars and their aftermath, did see a lessening of censorship at the time, paving the way for the development of forms like the political essay. With no dramatic local battles, this era has attracted fewer modern novelists, though some of the 1685-set novels mentioned above use William's 1688 landing at Torbay as a natural epilogue to the story.
The 1923 boys' adventure story by “Herbert Strang,” Winning His Name Nield's Guide describes as “an exceptionally good tale of a lad's adventures in the Devon-Dorset region, etc.” in 1688. The 1960 Against The Tide, by historical-adventure author “Mary Bawn” (Mary Wright, 1917-) is a tale of smuggled messages of Catholic v. Protestant intrigues in Poole in 1688. Una L Silberrad's 1911 Sampson Rideout Quaker is set c1700 in Shaftesbury, Salisbury etc.
A few historical sagas span most of the century through 1688, and sometimes beyond, into the reign of Queen Anne [1703-14] as last of the Stuarts. Emma Marshall's 1891 Winchester Meads focused on Bishop Thomas Ken, a leading churchman in the period 1672-1703, whose career included connections with the royal court, from Charles II (at his deathbed) to William of Orange to Nell Gwynn. The time-setting of Pamela Belle's 'Wintercombe' series which she began in 1988, the 300th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution, used a fictional Puritan Somerset family to dramatise the experience of living through the century's main events: Wintercombe is set during the Civil War of the 1640s, Herald of Joy in 1651, A Falling Star in 1685, and Treason's Gift in the run-up to William of Orange's accession in 1688. Edward Rutherfurd's 1987 saga of life in the Avon Valley south of Salisbury over the ages, Sarum, has a chapter set mainly in the 1640s but with followups in 1653 and 1688.

BBC's 1969 drama serial The First Churchills is one of the few dramas to cover the reign of William & Mary.

BBC's 1969 drama serial The First Churchills is one of the few dramas to cover the reign of William & Mary. It is based on the biography by PM Winston Churchill, whose namesake forebear was a 17C MP for Dorset.


The King James Bible

The King James Bible, known as the KJV or Authorized Version, was subtitled "Appointed to be read in Churches.” Only a few hundred copies were printed, nearly all lost, but this year a copy was found in a tiny Wiltshire village church, where it had sat on a shelf for 400 years. Commissioned to supersede various partial translations into English with a definitive official version, the KJV was commemorated in 2010, its 400th anniversary, for its influence on secular writing of the time. For example, it may have helped inspire the "Puritan poet" John Milton's 1652 verse-epic fable of war in heaven, Paradise Lost, and the Biblical allegory The Pilgrim's Progress [1678-84], begun in gaol by a young conscript Roundhead soldier turned itinerant preacher, John Bunyan. Its Elizabethan prose style has not dated as other translations have, with various expressions it coined still in use today. BBC History Magazine referred to it in a 2010 issue as The Book That Changed The World.


"The Cruelties of The Cavaliers", a woodcut illustration for a 1644 propaganda pamphlet. The victims shown are meant to be Puritans.

Children Of The New Forest

Captain F. Marryat's 1848 The Children Of The New Forest: the family home burns.

Some early novels for young readers were more like historiography than history as we know it today, meant to provide morally uplifting examples. Note the publisher: the Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, which was active in this field.

Hunt Royal

The Moonraker
A 20th-C. play which survives as a film [issued on DVD in 2010] shot partly in this area is The Moonraker (ABPC Pictures 1957, 82 mins), written by a former film censor, Arthur Watkyn and directed by David MacDonald, and starring George Baker, Sylvia Syms, Peter Arne, Marius Goring. "The Moonraker" is the nom de guerre by which the hero (a dashing young George Baker), Earl Of Dawlish and "last of the Cavaliers" is known, as he helps arrange Charles escape to the South Coast to take ship for France.
The Moonraker

The title is nothing to do with the historic meaning of the Wiltshire smugglers who disguised their activities by posing as simple-minded rustics. This was one of those 1950s attempts to establish a British action genre with a Technicolor swashbuckler, though Jeffrey Richards's history of screen swashbucklers says there were only four such films made about the Cavalier-Roundhead conflict; the others are probably Children Of The New Forest adaptations. Its star George Baker, a veteran now of many local shoots, recalls the film as his big break, at once eclipsed by the advent of the angry-young-man film which sidelined his film career at the outset as he was regarded as one of the upper class old guard about to be swept away.
Baker also called it at the time “a fine British western.” Director David MacDonald was keen on location filming, so the film is 'opened out,' with the play's main setting, an inn, bracketed by location scenes. The hero thus gallops through English greenery, outdistancing Roundhead patrols as if he were Dick Turpin on Black Bess. However the film's geography becomes slightly confusing: the story opens with the hero meeting the fugitive king at Stonehenge (where Charles did actually spend a day or so hiding). From there they ride south, and reach a town portrayed by Lacock (in North Wilts). The Roundheads' HQ for their hunt for the Moonraker is portrayed by castles in Sussex and Kent (while Cromwell himself, played by John Le Mesurier, lurks at Hampton Court).
George Baker, Sylvia Syms, Peter Arne

The original play was written by Arthur Watkins, the man who was Britain's Chief Film Censor 1948-56, and had banned the Marlon Brando film The Wild One as being unshowable due to its mocking defiance of authority. Presumably he took a more favourable view of the rebel-with-a-cause protagonist here, who after all is conservative in the sense of being a royalist, wanting to roll back a socialist republic. Being adapted from a play, the central dialogue scenes are soon confined to one soundstage set, the clifftop "Windwhistle Inn," where the hero is in meek disguise, a la the Scarlet Pimpernel, and the serving wench is a sympathetic Sylvia Syms, as “Ann Wyndham.” (A real name from the 1651 episode.) The inn is said to be on the road to Bridport, where the real Charles did try, unsuccessfully, to board a ship for France. However the real Windwhistle Inn, long a notorious haunt of smugglers and cut-throats, was inland atop the chain of hills stretching north of Lyme Regis, where it still stands today. Exterior location work reappears in the obligatory swordfight finale as the hero duels with Cromwell's agent (Peter Arne) atop Stair Hole rock-arch at Lulworth, plunging into the sea and freedom aboard a waiting ship at film's end.
Swordfight at Stair Hole

The Lady And The Highwayman (Gainsborough 1988)
The Lady And The Highwayman (Gainsborough 1988
Directed by John Hough, this was the second of the revived Gainsborough Studio's Barbara Cartland adaptations for US tv, this one from her romance "Cupid Rides Pillion." Here, the heroine Lady Vyne is saved from a Marriage Worse Than Death by the mysterious hero known as the Silver Blade (a young Hugh Grant). The Winspit quarry caves and Purbeck Downs appear in the opening scene involving, the escape of Charles II (Michael York) with the help of his dashing Cavaliers. The location then shifts elsewhere (Dover Castle, etc.)


Charles arriving at Dover in 1660 to reclaim the throne. An old textbook illustration modelled on a painting by the Anglo-American painter of large-scale "history paintings," Benjamin West RA (17381820).

Official portrait of Charles II




Hobbes's Leviathan

The startling cover of Hobbes's Leviathan, showing the constitutional "body politic" as a crowned and armed giant made up of the bodies of others. It addressed many of the political and philosophical issues of the civil-war era, though at first this made the author so unpopular he had to seek official protection.

 The Wounded Cavalier by William Shakespeare Burton

The Wounded Cavalier by William Shakespeare Burton, 1855: The many personal tragedies of the Civil War era became a popular theme of later works such as novels, poems, films, and here in this sentimental "narrative" painting in Pre-Raphaelite style.






Wintercombe First Churchills
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