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Historical Note, A Rip in the Veil

A Rip in the Veil, by Anna Belfrage, coverHistorical Note, A Rip in the Veil

I have always found the period of almost a decade when England, Scotland and Ireland were ruled by Cromwell fascinating. Initially, this fascination sprang from the idea of Roundheads and Cavaliers facing off in bloody but honourable battle (I was quite young at the time), but over the years it’s the underlying ideas, the for the times very radical notion that free men rule themselves, albeit under the Argus eye of a forbidding God, that has permanently hooked my interest.

Seventeenth century Europe as a whole was defined by religion. The Thirty Year War was fought due to religious issues (at least on the face of things; personally I believe Gustavus Adolphus was as motivated by gold as by religion. Also, it might be interesting to know that Catholic France bankrolled Protestant Sweden’s war efforts …). People died for their beliefs, were persecuted for reasons most of today’s secularised Europeans can’t even begin to comprehend. Being a Quaker was dangerous, being a papist priest in England was very dangerous, and being a Protestant spy in Spain could end at the stake. Phew.

In England and Scotland, religious tensions erupted into Civil War. Of course there were other, political, reasons for the war, but for many – and especially for the Scottish Covenanters and the English Puritans – the Civil war was about their right to hold to their faith. While at first the Puritans and Covenanters cooperated, by the end of the 1640’s the relationship was not quite as cordial – probably because the Scottish Parliament entered into a secret treaty with Charles I and invaded England on his behalf.

The Scottish Army was routed by Cromwell’s New model Army in the Battle of Preston, and once Cromwell had disposed of the king and instilled some sort of order in England he decided to bring his former Scottish allies to heel. In Scotland, the beheading of Charles I had sent waves of shock through the nation, and in a defiant gesture the Scottish leaders invited the dead king’s son to Scotland and crowned him as Charles II. In retribution, Cromwell invaded Scotland and by 1652 Scotland was adequately pacified.

All of the above shaped Matthew Graham. Raised a devout Covenanter by his father, having spent years fighting in the New Model Army, he was a man with little respect for kings and such. No wonder Matthew felt General Monck betrayed the Commonwealth by engineering the restoration of Charles Stuart. However, it must be remembered that Monck probably did his country and its people a huge favour by negotiating a (more or less) bloodless Restoration.

Some of you may have raised a surprised brow at the fact that Matthew was divorced. Come on, divorce in the seventeenth century? Was that at all possible? The answer is that in England it wasn’t, but in Scotland divorce on the grounds of adultery had been allowed since the year of the reformation, 1560.

I have had people ask me if Alex and Matthew would really have understood each other. Well, not if Matthew had spoken the Scots of the times (possibly not if he’d spoken the Scots of today either). However, I’ve taken the precaution of giving Matthew a background in England, surrounded by English soldiers, so I’m pretty sure he’d be able to moderate his speech. In general, we tend to think we’d not understand the people of the seventeenth century. I would argue that isn’t true. It suffices to read personal letters from the period to realise just how “modern” their English was.

I have taken some liberties:
Matthew has just escaped gaol – and while there were prisons (horribly stinky, crowded, desperate places) in the seventeenth century, men suspected of treason were generally either freed or executed. In this particular case, Matthew is saved by his obvious and devout faith and his years of service with the Commonwealth armies. plus he did have a fantastic lawyer … I am supposing that while the court could not condemn him to death, neither did they want an able-bodied POTENTIAL royalist free to roam the moors – not with all the trouble these renegades were causing – and as there must have been many men in similar positions, well they lumped them all together in one place.

Also, I seriously doubt a willow rooted in the moor would grow to the height and size described in Chapter 10. As far as I know, shop windows weren’t invented in the seventeenth century, but I needed a window to display the painting in, and so … But hey, this is a work of fiction – after all, people don’t drop three hundred years backwards in time. Or do they?