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The Whirlpools of Time, Anna Belfrage author

Whirling through time – of a new release and its historical setting

Today, is the launch date for my latest book, The Whirlpools of Time. Right: I must take a moment here to pat myself on the back. My nineteenth book! Woohoo, me!

P.S. Kröyer “Hip-hip-hurrah”

As the discerning reader can probably guess from the title, there’s some time travel involved. I love writing time travel—but to create the illusion that the reader has been transported in time, it is important to ensure there is a historical context. I’d go as far as to say that unless the writer has invested effort in researching and recreating the historical setting, there’s no point in writing a time travel story. The attraction lies in pretending, at least for an instant, that we can travel back in time and experience the life and events of the past.

In conclusion, a good time travel novel contains huge chunks of historical fiction. And as any writer of historical fiction will tell you, one of the joys when writing historical fiction is the research—which is why I’ve spent a considerable amount of time the past year down a rabbit-hole leading all the way to the early 18th century.

In The Whirlpools of Time, I have my main characters, Duncan and Erin, grappling with the brewing Jacobite rebellion of 1715. And while my characters play no prominent role in the rebellion they do interact with some of the movers and shakers.

But before we introduce the IRL additions to my character cast, allow me to give you some background:

James II & VII

In 1685, Charles II died and his brother became James II. This was a major, major problem for many Englishmen. Why? Because James was a Catholic, and in England most papists were viewed with the deepest mistrust—so deep, in fact, that Parliament had passed the Test Act which effectively forbade anyone of Catholic faith from holding important office. And now the highest office of the land, that of king, was held by a Catholic. Oh, woe us, the English peers moaned.

Had James been somewhat more skilled at reading between the lines, had he been more suave and diplomatic, he might have been able to hold on to his crown. But James was neither particularly diplomatic or all that subtle, and so in 1688 he was ousted from his throne, chased off into exile with his wife and newborn son and in his place the English welcomed the staunchly Protestant William of Orange and his wife, Mary, as their new king and queen.

For James, this must have been the ultimate betrayal as Mary was his eldest daughter. Even worse, the daughter he’d always loved went out of her way to spread lies and rumours about his baby boy, James Francis Edward Stuart. A changeling, people whispered—including Mary and her sister, Anne—not at all a prince. For a man who had seen his second wife delivered of very, very many babies most of whom died, this must have been like being stabbed in the heart.

Anyway: James went off to France where he was offered a safe haven by his cousin Louis XIV. In England, Mary died some years after 1688—childless—and subsequently her sister became Queen Anne when William died. Anne, like her father, was to know, over and over again, the pain of birthing a child and losing it. If one is so inclined, one could argue God was punishing both Mary and Anne for having been faithless daughters, but it is probably more due to genetics.

In 1714, Anne died without an heir of the body. The English peers went into something of a tizzy: who now to seat himself on the empty throne? Quite a few glanced in the direction of the young man called James Francis Edward Stuart, known as James III to his loyal followers. Problem was (duh) that James Francis Edward was as papist as his deceased father, but hey, reasonably a crown was worth a conversion. After all, Henri IV had embraced the Catholic faith to become the king of France, even if “everyone” knew he’d quietly held to his true faith in private. Surely the young and handsome and oh, so kingly James Francis Edward was as pragmatic?

Turns out he wasn’t.
Non, non, non, jamais!” he expressed.
This may not necessarily have been out of a deep faith. James Francis Edward was dependent on Louis of France for what little he had, and Louis XIV was no friend of Protestants. At all. So maybe James Francis Edward was worried that by abjuring his faith, he’d sever the ties to the country that had kept him and his parents alive. Or maybe he was genuinely devout.

Alternatively, our young gallant may have been of the opinion that he should not have to choose: he was, after all, the rightful heir to the English throne, and he would claim what was his! “Bravo!” Louis XIV may have said, applauding weakly (he was old at the time).

Whatever the case, the peers of England turned elsewhere and offered the crown to George of Hanover. Not the most engaging of men, George leapt at the opportunity and soon enough he was in England, bringing with him quite the entourage which included his two mistresses but no wife.

A quick sweeping aside of men George perceived as too loyal to the old regime, a selection of new men, men who owed him their offices and rise to power, and George was ready to go. Except that all that sweeping had led to quite a few noses being out of joint. And seriously, what was this odd German doing on the English throne anyway? He couldn’t even speak a word of English! Resentment bubbled under the surface, and where there’s resentment, rebellion is but a step or two away.

Now, to further complicate things, there were other issues brewing in the recently joined kingdoms of Scotland and England—primarily that some of the Scots weren’t all that keen on this union thing. Quite a few voices were raised demanding that the union be revoked, and with the passing of Queen Anne, I imagine quite a few saw an opportunity to do so. And one way of doing so could be to support James Francis Edward and his claim to the English (and Scottish) crown. After all, the lad was a Stuart, and thereby almost as Scottish as haggis! Err…no.

So we have a rightful heir (albeit papist), some discontent in the north with the recent Act of Union, and quite a few disgruntled former counsellors. A somewhat heady brew.

Some of those disgruntled counsellors decided to throw their lot in with James Francis Edward. Two of these gents play (indirect) roles in The Whirlpools of Time. I give you Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, and John Erskine, Earl of Mar.

Henry StJohn

In 1715, Henry St John was in his late thirties.

After a rather wild youth, including incidents such as running naked through a park (although we must take that with a pinch of salt) and years spent abroad enjoying life at the full, he returned to England fluent in French and with a good understanding of the European political scene.

Soon enough, he was on the path of a political career, helped along the way by a good relationship by England’s hero of the moment, John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough, and his capacity to befriend people in both political camps. Henry was a Tory and was rather sceptical to religion in general, but whatever his personal views, outwardly he was firmly Church of England—he had to be, what with his rising star at court.

For years, England had been at war with France, and in 1712 or so, St John (now Viscount Bolingbroke) was given the secret mission of orchestrating a treaty with France. The Whigs in power had no desire to cease hostilities, but everyone else, including the queen, was sick of all this, and so Henry did some discreet undercover work, work that seems to have led to him meeting James Francis Edward.

By now, everyone knew Queen Anne did not have long to live, and a Tory like St John also knew that George of Hanover was very much a Whig friend. Plus, James Edward Francis was substantially more charming than his German cousin. A secret correspondence sprung up between St John and James Edward Francis.

Still: had not George fired the entire ministry immediately upon ascension, had the Tories not lost the following election, God knows what would have happened, but by early 1715 Henry was out on his ear. When the new powers that were went after his precious treaty with France, Henry had had enough and fled in disguise to France where he declared himself a Jacobite and became James Edward Francis’ Secretary of State. From an English point of view, this was treason, and Henry was attainted. He’d risked everything in joining the Jacobite cause.

John Erskine, Earl of Mar

John Erskine, the Earl of Mar, was a Scottish peer who had benefited from the Act of Union, ending up as one of Queen Anne’s  privy counsellors. He comes across as rather self-serving, and clearly his contemporaries didn’t much trust him, given that he was nick-named Bobbing John due to his tendency to change opinions as frequently as others changed shirts—and especially if it benefited him. In 1714, he swore loyalty to George I, hoping perhaps that this would allow him to keep his positions under the new monarch. Did not happen: like most of the old guard, Mar was fired.

This soured any feelings of loyalty Mar had ever had to George and England. Soon enough, he was advocating Scottish independence and in September of 1715, the Earl of Mar raised his standard, proclaiming James VIII (our James Francis Edward) as king. A tad hasty, was our earl, and rather than be delighted by his proclamation, James Francis Edward groaned. It was too early, he did not have all his pieces in position, and now this hot-headed (if charmingly loyal) earl had forced his hand.

But Mar was confident and his call for arms had people streaming across the Highlands to join him at Braemar. Soon enough, Mar was in command of a sizeable army and began to march south. The Duke of Argyll was ordered to muster a defensive force, and this he did, marching his loyalist soldiers to meet Mar’s rebels.

James Francis Edward, The Pretender (or James III, depending on your loyalties)

There were a couple of inconclusive skirmishes, and then in November of 1715, the two armies faced off at Sheriffmuir. Neither side won. Mar’s side should have won, his being the larger force, but he hesitated to press his advantage, and just like that the window of opportunity closed. Instead of marching triumphantly south, Mar and James Francis Edward (who’d rather belatedly come over to Scotland) had to spend a couple of months moving around in Scotland with their shrinking band of followers before finally fleeing to France.

So there they were, Mar and Bolingbroke, in more or less penniless exile. Louis XIV was dead, and the new government of France chose to make peace with Britain which meant James Francis Edward could no longer stay in France. Instead, he went to Italy.

Bolingbroke decided to try and mend his fences with Britain. He deserted the Jacobite cause in 1716 and proclaimed himself loyal to Hanover. Some years later, he was allowed to return home and would spend the subsequent years writing and attempting to rebuild his political career. This latter would end in quite the fracas, which would yet again have him departing England for France, there to lick his wounds. His writing, however, would go from strength to strength, and many of his political essays would inspire and influence men like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

As to Mar, he soon earned a reputation among the die-hard Jacobites as a man one should not trust. Not necessarily a correct assessment, but whether deserved or not, in 1724 James Francis Edward cast him off and John Erskine was to live out the remainder of his life on the Continent, dying in Aachen in 1732.

In retrospect, the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 was a foolish attempt to change the course of history. Some of James Francis Edward’s wiser counsellors—among them his rather impressive half-brother, James FitzStuart, Earl of Berwick—said as much. The consequences were harsh for those who participated, and yet the dream lived on over the coming decades. A dream Bonnie Prince Charlie would capitalise on when he launched the next large Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. That time, there’d be no coming back from the ashes: that time, Hanoverian England would crush the dream into non-existence.

Heavy stuff, all that. And yes, The Whirlpools of Time does have its share of dark and tense moments. Most of all, though, it is a story of two peeps born centuries apart thrown together by fate to navigate the dangerous waters of a brewing rebellion.
“You forgot the love part,” Erin says, rolling her eyes (She thinks I’m a tad too romantic in my outlook on life)
“Eh,” I reply. “Love ALWAYS plays a major part in my books.”
“Thank the Lord for that,” says Duncan (who, like many men, is much more romantically inclined than he would have us think)

Buy the book here!

7 thoughts on “Whirling through time – of a new release and its historical setting”

  1. Just love your Graham Saga books and now this extension of the family, is there a family tree available for the Graham Saga to help me place everyone? Keep writing – fast!!!

  2. Congratulations on your latest book of which I have just availed myself of! And Tatoo for keeping us well entertained over the v last 18 books!

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