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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hint of History - To Kill a King

Thank you to everyone who called past and downloaded THE KING'S MAN. I hope you enjoy the read and I hope you will find the time to leave a rating and/or review on KINDLE and/or GOODREADS .

So often truth is stranger than fiction, coincidence happens every day in real life but put it in fiction and it looks contrived and sometimes as a writer you come across real events and people that you couldn't have dreamed up in your wildest imagination.

Oliver Cromwell
This was the case when I was writing THE KING'S MAN. What began as a single paragraph in Antonia Fraser's excellent biography of Cromwell, became the basis for a whole story. In February 1654 Oliver Cromwell, on his way to dine with the Lord Mayor of London, in much state (and wearing a "musk" coloured suit) had his grand parade halted when a brick bat was thrown at his coach by a "Miss Granville". I never discovered who the real Miss Granville was or why she hurled a brick bat at Oliver Cromwell's coach but I had fun writing a story about her.

As I started to read more about the events of 1654, I uncovered a nest of plots against the life of Oliver Cromwell. 

In February, the same month as Miss Granville was hurling brickbats at the Lord Protector, a small group of disaffected royalists were meeting in the Ship Tavern in the Old Bailey, hatching a plot to seize Whitehall, St. James and the Tower and the guards about the city. Captain Dutton was dispatched to garner support from known Royalists in the country and it was decided Colonel Whiteley should go to France to get the support of the King in exile. An argument about payment of his expenses ensued with none of his co-conspirators willing to pay a farthing. One of their number (I won't say who) betrayed the plot to Thurloe and the conspirators were arrested at the Ship Inn. None of those concerned were ever brought to trial.

However during the course of examining the conspirators the existence of a more serious organisation, apparently holding the King's Commission, was revealed. Known as "The Sealed Knot", it had been formed some time in 1653. This was the only group of plotters who were to be any real threat to the Protectorate and when they eventually rose in 1655, were swiftly subdued. Charles II himself appeared to be ambivalent to much of the plotting. He did not believe that the assassination of Cromwell would necessarily result in his return to the throne and in that he was probably correct. At that time Cromwell was at the height of his power and he had able Lieutenants who would have stepped into his place. 

In May of 1654 another plot headed by John Gerard was hatched. The plan was to seize Cromwell as he travelled between Whitehall and Hampton Court. Fortunately for Cromwell, his ever efficient Secretary of State, John Thurloe (see my blog on John Thurloe on Hoydens and Firebrands) through his efficient penetration of such enterprises foiled the plot. The conspirators were tried, three were transported and two executed.

Implicated in "Gerard's Plot" (as it came to be known) was an absurd character, a French emissary sent by Cardinal Mazarin to aid the French Ambassador, Bordeaux, in diplomatic negotiations with the English. De Baas was a Gascon whose brother Charles adopted his mother's name D'Artagnan and was  the protoype of Dumas' hero (yes really!). De Baas was brash and overconfident and with little understanding of the English decided that Cromwell's regime was of no importance and could easily be overthrown.  His arrogance was manifest in his refusal to uncover his head in the presence of the Lord Protector and his assertion that the soldiers who supported the regime were "feeble and dissipated". His grounds for this assertion? The sentinels on duty wore "nightcaps under their hats". On the discovery of the plot the arrogant Frenchman was given three days to leave the country.

With such a bizarre cast of characters, THE KING'S MAN practically wrote itself. 

John Thurloe
One of my favourite characters remains John Thurloe. I own a rather fine print of him that hangs on my staircase. Someone recently asked me if I felt I was being true to John Thurloe in my books. I think the key to the man is in the famous words of Richard Cromwell who once  famously remarked “Thurloe has the ability to find the key to unlock wicked mens’ hearts”.  While the tactics my fictional Thurloe may employ are entirely figments of my own imagination, I think they are consistent with his modus operandi. He had the ability to exploit a man's weakness which he tries and fails with Jonathan Thornton in BY THE SWORD and succeeds with Kit Lovell in THE KING'S MAN.