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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Anita Seymour and The Exeter Guildhall

Anita Seymour and I were founding members of the Hoydens and Firebrands... a blog which ran for 8 years, devoted entirely to all things 17th century.  We both share a passion for this period of history and there have been a great many parallels in our lives (even though we live at opposite ends of the world).

Anita was born in London, a city with a strong sense of times past, which she connected with at an early age. Her work within the genre of Historical Fiction is borne out of that enthusiasm. Anita is the author of four previously published works, 'Duking Days Rebellion' (2007) and 'Duking Days Revolution' (2008) and two Victorian Romances, 'Trencarrow Secret' and 'Culloden Spirit' (2011). She is the author of a wonderful fictionalised accont of the life of Elizabeth Murray (Royalist Rebel) and, like me, is turning to crime with her first "cosy" mystery, Flora Macguire, due to be released soon.

Like my first two books, Anita's first books set around the Monmouth Rebellion (The Duking Days Rebellion and the Duking Days Revolution) have just been re-released with spiffy new covers AND new titles! 

I would have expected nothing less than wonderful, well thought out post by Anita on the role of the Exeter Guildhall in the history of England....


Thank you, Alison, for inviting me to participate in your ‘Friday Fun Facts’.

The Exeter Guildhall
My novel The Rebel’s Daughter, which is published under the name Anita Seymour, is based on the events that took place in the West Country during the summer of 1685. For several weeks during days that changed from bright, hot sunshine to torrential rain that dragged down the spirits, and the progress of the Duke of Monmouth’s army of seven thousand artisans, weavers and workmen in what was known as The Pitchfork Rebellion. His intention was to advance on London and demand the Catholic King James II protect the Protestant religion.

What actually happened was, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, through his own vanity or because his cunning cohorts convinced him the English people wanted him and not his uncle, James, as their king. Tutored by his mother, Lucy Walter to believe she had married his father, Charles, the then exiled Prince of Wales, he declared himself the rightful monarch and accused his uncle of poisoning James’ father.

This action marked him out immediately as a traitor and he was captured and beheaded without a public trial on Tower Hill a month after his three ships landed.

My heroine in The Rebel’s Daughter, is Helena Woulfe, whose father, an Exeter nobleman rides off to Lyme to join the Duke’s men, along with his brother and son. When the rebels are defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor, Helena goes in search of her menfolk but returns unsuccessful. She and her brother Henry are driven out of Exeter when their family home is seized and given to their enemy, so they begin a new life in London.

Much of my research was done in Exeter, where what became known as ‘The Bloody Assize’ was conducted at the Guildhall where approximately forty men were tried, thirteen of them condemned to hanging at the Heavitree. This trial was less shocking than the one held in Winchester, where over three hundred men were tried and executed, including an octogenarian Dame Alice Lisle for harbouring rebels. However this may have been a backlash for the fact her husband, John Lisle signed Charles I’s death warrant.

A guildhall has stood on this site since at least c.1160, therefore it is probable sections of earlier medieval halls survive concealed above or below ground. The building as it stands today dates back to the late 15th century, its walls dressed blocks of red Permian breccia found in the area. The interior walls of the main hall are covered in eighty panels of oak, with no two carved alike and installed in 1594, the cost mainly covered by the city trade guilds.

The Exeter Princess
There are two important portraits in the Guildhall. The first is of Princess Henrietta Anne (1644-70) the youngest sister of Charles II, given by him as a gift for services provided to ‘the Exeter princess’. 

When a heavily pregnant Queen Henrietta Maria fled Oxford ahead of Parliament troops in 1644, she gave birth to her last child at Bedford House. She managed to escape to France, but had to leave baby Henriette Anne behind. The little girl wasn’t reunited with her mother for another two years, when her nurse, Lady Dalkieth disobeyed orders to take the baby to London where the child was to become a prisoner of Parliament. Henriette, raised in Paris,  married Philippe d’Orleans, the brother of the French King, but died at the age of twenty-six of suspected peritonitis.

George Monck, 1st Duke Albermarle
The other picture is of General Monck KG, 1st Duke of Albemarle (1608-70) - famous for having brought Charles II back from exile in 1660. Monck was born at Great Potheridge at Merton near Torrington in north Devon, where his house still stands.  He was High Steward of the City in 1662.

In The Rebel’s Daughter, it is at the Guildhall that Samuel Ffoyle sits among the guild members listening to the roll of the men who stand condemned. He hopes his friends’ names are not among those brought to face a traitor’s death, but has to endure Judge Jeffreys haranguing the prisoners. He makes a rapid exit, but is approached by a clerk who, to Samuel’s horror, tells him he is requiredin the judge’s presence.

As Alison says, good research should be unobtrusive and become part of the fabric of the story instead of jumping out at the reader. In most cases the hardest part is what to leave out. It was very tempting to overload the narrative with all the fascinating details I had learned, but I had to remind myself I was writing a story, not a history book!
(Sources: and

To find out more about Anita vist her,


Helena Woulfe, the daughter of a wealthy Exeter nobleman leads a privileged life, however, when rebellion sweeps the West Country, her family is caught in its grip. After Monmouth’s bloody defeat in battle at Sedgemoor, Helena sets off for Somerset to find the three missing members of her family.

With the Woulfe estate confiscated by the crown, Helena and her younger brother Henry hope the anonymity of the capital city will be more forgiving to the children of a convicted rebel. However, Helena finds her search for security and respectability in London are threatened by someone who wishes harm to a traitor's daughter.