In England we are lucky with the resources available to us if we want to learn about the civil war which tore our country apart during the 17th century. As well as countless books on the subject you can conduct research online or maybe visit the National Civil War Centre in Newark, but to get a real experience of what life was like when parliament rose up against the king we have a number of wonderful re-enactment societies.
Both the Sealed Knot and the English Civil War Society provide authentic re-creations of both civilian and military life, and the information they provided was very helpful to me whilst I was conducting research for my novel ‘The Cavalier Historian’. You may think that re-enactment societies glorify war but that is far from the truth, and those who take part in these activities would say that their aim is to honour those who died in battle as well as to educate people about life in the 17th century. I can well remember the re-enactment of a battle which I attended at Faringdon in Oxfordshire some years ago with its guns and smoke, its sights and sounds of civil war. The battlefield commentary explained tactics and weaponry, and as I strolled around the campsite I was able to see authentic artefacts and clothing. I certainly felt that this was a great learning experience for the whole family.
If you have never seen a re-enactment featuring Cavaliers and Roundheads I would heartily recommend it. Wherever you are in the country you should be able to get to an event hosted by either the Sealed Knot or the English Civil War Society. Maybe you will be lucky enough to see a full scale battle with hundreds of infantrymen on each side as well as artillery, cavalry, and a huge array of camp followers. Perhaps it will be the re-creation of a specific battle, or maybe just a fictional episode designed to demonstrate the art of 17th century warfare. If you are not able to get to a battle then maybe you can see a skirmish, which is much smaller and has a focus on infantry with only a few cannons or cavalry men.
Whatever event you are able to attend you should also have the opportunity to see what camp life was like during the civil war. Take the time to wander around the tented areas where you will see re-enactors dressed in authentic costumes and carrying out authentic trades. There may be blacksmiths and armourers, barber-surgeons and laundresses, as well as kitchen areas providing food for both the officers and ordinary soldiers.
As well as re-enactments these two societies will also visit schools to give students a taste of 17th century life, or sometimes staff a whole house with a costumed population for a truly immersive experience (this is part of the premise of The Cavalier Historian). So, if you are interested in the English Civil War, or history in general, why not try to see a re-enactment this year? I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it!
In 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…?