Tag Archives: art

Children at war- ‘And when did you last see your father?’

Many of you will recognise this painting; it is called ‘And When Did You Last See Your Father?’ and was painted by William Frederick Yeames in 1878 (oil on canvas). It is a painting which I have always found fascinating as there is so much going on. With the deftly painted depictions of people and emotions you can’t help but be drawn into the story, in fact I have seen this work of art used by school teachers as an introduction to the topic of the English Civil War. So, what exactly is going on here, and how does it fit into this period of our history?

The scene depicts events in a Royalist household when a young boy is questioned about when his father was last at home. The house has obviously been captured by Parliamentary forces as can be seen by the central figure lounging in a chair – he wears the military clothing of a Roundhead cavalry officer, including long riding boots and orange sash.

The young boy and the females are all dressed in Royalist style; the young girl who is crying appears to be next in line for interrogation whilst the mother, and possibly elder daughter, watch.  The man with his arm around the shoulders of the young girl is carrying a halberd which identifies him as a sergeant; it is likely that his role was to arrest the family and bring them before the Parliamentarian questioners. Amongst the other characters in the painting are a clerk who is making notes and bringing the air of a courtroom to the proceedings, and two Puritans (wearing the tall black hats and white collars) who appear stern and obviously pleased to have another dangerous Royalist within their grasp.

Most people believe that this is a fictional scene although John Adair, who wrote ‘By the Sword Divided’, says that it depicts what happened to the family of Bulstrode Whitelocke whose house at Fawley Court near Henley was ransacked by both Royalist and Parliamentary forces during the war. I suppose we will never know whether this painting is a depiction of a real event or pure fiction, but for me at least that doesn’t really matter. What is important is the quite accurate glimpse which it gives into a conflict which tore England apart in the seventeenth century, dividing people on grounds of politics and religion. It is interesting to note that although the painting depicts a frightening time for the Royalist family it is not overly aggressive. One can almost imagine the sergeant has placed a hand on the young girl’s shoulder to comfort her, and the lead questioner appears to be leaning sympathetically towards the little boy. But that does not take away from the seriousness of the situation, or the conflict which the child faces. A young boy in his position would have had the ideal of honesty instilled into him from an early age, and he would know that he should not tell a lie. Yet, on the other hand, to tell the truth might put his father’s life in danger. What should a small boy do? How would he respond to such pressure?

My admiration for this beautiful piece of art, and the way it fired my imagination as to ‘what happened next’, led to my writing a particular scene in The Cavalier Historian where the young hero of the novel is questioned about his father’s whereabouts as things begin to look increasingly bleak for the followers of the King…

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Book review – ‘The Truth of the Line’ by Melanie Taylor

the-truth-of-the-line-by-melanie-taylorIn 1572, the good looking and talented Nicholas Hillyarde paints the first of many portraits of Elizabeth I, England’s “Virgin Queen”. His ability to capture the likeness of his patrons makes him famous and his skills are much sought after by the rich and powerful members of the Elizabethan Court. His loyalty to Elizabeth even leads him to becoming part of Sir Francis Walsingham’s information network. One day he is approached by a young man with an intriguing commission. Hillyarde is to paint the man holding a lady’s hand – a hand which descends from a cloud – complete with a puzzling motto: “Attici Amoris Ergo”… There is something familiar about this young man’s face, and Hillyarde is led down a dark path of investigation to discover who this young man may be. Who is the young man? Has Hillyarde stumbled across a dark royal secret, and, if so, is there evidence hidden elsewhere?

‘The Truth Of The Line’ is an intriguing novel. On the one hand it is steeped in historical fact from descriptions of life at Elizabeth’s court to the life of a gentleman at home, from the political situation at the time to the detailed descriptions of Elizabethan art; on the other hand it is an historical novel which will keep any lover of mystery entertaind.

‘The Truth Of The Line’ is a testament to the detailed research which historian Melanie Taylor has put into this book. Nicholas Hilliard was a ‘court limner’ who painted miniature portraits; he was also a goldsmith, which enabled him to create beautiful settings for his portraits. (You can see some of his work in the National Portrait Gallery, London). It was this position at court which enabled Hilliard to come into contact with many of the key players in Elizabethan society, and to be a part of some of that time’s most memorable moments. Quite a lot is known about the life and work of Nicholas Hilliard, but this novel is the first book that I am aware of to hint at a secret which the artist may have discovered when painting the mysterious young man who appears on the cover of this book. Who was he? And why the strange, almost nonsensical, motto? Although a work of fiction the details of the clues which Hilliard follows are based on Ms Taylor’s skilled interpretation of actual documents and paintings. There was a great deal of symbolism in Tudor art which enabled people to pass on a message without the use of incriminating words, and the author seamlessly moves from those symbols which are known in the art world to others which she has ‘discovered’ through her own detailed research. You will certainly be left wondering if Hilliard’s (and Ms Taylor’s?) conclusions about the young man he painted, and his relationship to key members of the royal court, could possibly be true.

If you are interested in history, or art, or cryptic clues then I think that you will enjoy this novel. It certainly left me wondering – what if…?

You can find out more about Melanie Taylor here

‘The Truth Of The Line’ can be found on Amazon

You can find more of my book reviews here