Assassins, Miles Sindercombe, and fiddling things

Miles Sindercombe was a fascinating surprise to me as I researched my book, Sharavogue. I was looking for any assassination attempts on the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th Century, because my protatonist would be attempting to do exactly that. Being American, I had never heard of Sindercombe, so I wonder if he is better known in the UK. He tried twice and failed to kill this uncrowned king.

Wikipedia gives a pretty good history of assassination that’s worth the read, tracing it back to 1080 and the Order of Assassins founded around the time of the Crusades. In Cromwell’s case the attempt must have come as no surprise, at least to his security crew, considering Cromwell had won a bloody civil war and then beheaded the king, Charles I. He also had led a brutal march across Ireland to put down a rebellion. The man did not lack for enemies and controversy over him continues to this day.

What’s interesting is that Sindercombe seems to be an unlikely and tragic figure. I was unable to turn up an illustration of him, but it seems he was a thin, mild-mannered sort who went by the name of “Fish.” A former soldier, apprentice to a surgeon, he aligned with others he met in taverns (i.e. Edward Sexby) who had fought against the Royalists but had fallen out with Cromwell’s policies.

The first plan against Cromwell was to shoot up his carriage as it slowed to go through a narrow pass on the way to Hampton Court. But, Cromwell decided to go by boat so the plot failed. The second attempt was to shoot Cromwell from the window above the side exit from Westminster Abbey where Cromwell would pass after hearing a sermon. But Crowell was surrounded by crowds, they could not get a good shot, and the plot was discovered. Sindercombe and his accomplices were arrested. Sexby was questioned by Cromwell himself, was sent to prison and soon died of a fever. He was the lucky one. Sindercombe was sentenced to a traitor’s death (the whole hideous bit, with the hanging, disembowelling while still alive, and body parts on pikes for display). To help him avoid this, friends sent him letters coated with arsenic which he rubbed on his face and neck, poisoning himself to death the night before his planned execution. His body was buried beneath the highway where no one could mourn him.

Cromwell made light of the whole thing, calling such attemps on his life “little fiddling things,” so as not to encourage the Royalist-spread rumor that he so feared assassination he was drinking himself to death. My recent visit to the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon confirms the rumor of his fear, if not the drinking. A display shows an inlaid cabinet of perfumes, ointments and soaps–a gift from the Grand Duke of Tuscany–that he never used, most likely fearing a poison. Cromwell’s doctor is quoted as saying “He is possibly afraid that they will be bitter, being fearful of his own shadow, so to speak, and living in constant apprehension of everything for he trusts no one.”

History has Cromwell dying of natural causes in 1658, but after his death his own doctor, secretly (or suddenly?) a Royalist, was rumored to have poisoned him in favor of the return to monarchy.

Following the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was not so fortunate. His life is revisited in the new movie, Lincoln, just out this week. His assassin John Wilkes Booth was trapped in a burning barn and shot by a US cavalry officer, and died from the wound hours later. It is an unforgettable episode in our history, unfortunately repeated several times.


Tale of Two Cromwells

When I talk to people about the setting of my book Sharavogue, and mention the name Cromwell, I get confused looks: cognitive dissonance. Most people have heard of Cromwell, but I am writing about the 17th century, and the man they tend to think of by that name lived in the 16th century, serving the court of King Henry VIII. After Cardinal Woolsey fell from favor by failing to produce this king’s annulment from Queen Catherine of Aragon, his protege Thomas Cromwell took up the work. It was Thomas who orchestrated the marriage to Anne Boleyn, and who dissolved and destroyed the country’s monasteries and churches to fill the king’s coffers with their riches. By 1540, Thomas himself fell from favor and was executed for treason, though good Henry later regretted it.

More than a century later, Oliver Cromwell gained prominence through the Parliamentary army’s victory in the English civil war. And for anyone with a drop of Irish blood in their veins, it is this Cromwell who makes that blood run cold. Oliver shook the foundations of Europe’s monarchies when he beheaded King Charles I for treason in 1649, and later became Lord Protector (rather than king) of the English Commonwealth. But between those two historic events, he marched his army across Ireland to massacre the Irish people and crush a rebellion. If you’ve ever heard the term “decimation,” it comes directly from his practice of killing every tenth man among his captives, and shipping the rest to the West Indies to work until they died.

Cromwell by Antonia Fraser

Cromwell, by Antonia Fraser, including my bookmarks and sticky notes

Ironically, Oliver Cromwell wasn’t really a Cromwell at all. He was a Williams. As Antonia Fraser deftly explains in her definitive biography, Cromwell, Oliver descended from Thomas Cromwell’s sister Katherine, who married Morgan Williams. Their son Richard adopted the “more celebrated” Cromwell name and this continued to be used by Richard’s descendents. Apparently it was not uncommon during this time for families to adopt the name of a famous relative in hopes of benefitting from that prominence.

But wait, the ironies continue. The true descendents of Thomas Cromwell became Earls of Ardglass, and this family supported the Royalist side, opposing Parliament when Oliver led that army to victory.  And though Richard Williams took the name Cromwell as a means to elevate his family, eventually it backfired as the two Cromwells became one in the modern mindset, and in addition to the brutal killings in Ireland, Oliver Cromwell also takes the blame for the hated archtectural destruction perpetrated by Thomas.

Oliver does retain his fan base, however. Though hated for his violence and brutality in Ireland and his Puritan oppression of the English court, he is revered by some for his military prowess and for introducing the idea of a commonwealth for England.

Live on Kindle!

Sharavogue went live on Kindle today and I feel like I was just awarded my PhD! Isn’t that funny? A decade of research, writing, reviewing, rewriting and so forth, I guess it is fairly similar! Had I any idea the amount of work that goes into a novel I would have taking up knitting instead, I think! But a lot of passion goes into it also. I’m not sure how many people are passionate about knitting — a whole industry exists for it so I guess there are quite a number. Each to his or her own! My author friends will agree, the writing passion will not be denied.

Anyway, for me this is a kind of ending even as it is a new beginning. Perhaps it is ironic that “Sharavogue” comes from the Irish meaning “bitter place” — I had many bittersweet times with this work. At times I could not stay away from it, and at other times I swore to never write again (sound familiar, anyone?). I am ready to share Sharavogue with my friends and readers, and will be doing some promotions around it just to get it “out there” a bit, but also will be deciding what comes next for me. Just as this story chose me (woke me up out of a dead sleep!), I suspect there is something in store I have not yet dreamed of.

Enormous thanks to all of you who supported me over the years as I worked on this book. After all that time, during my final proofing I found that I still love the story very much. I hope you’ll love it too.

Crimson Petal Watcher

Just finished watching The DVD disks for The Crimson Petal and the White. I remember feeling excited when the book came out and I bought it immediately, but then I had trouble reading it. I am not a fan of reading about the “dark, gritty underbelly” of anything, and the book is rife with it especially at the beginning, so that my mind could not latch on to one character. I did not finish the book and eventually ended up giving it away. I wish I had persevered, because now that I have seen it I truly love the story. The character Sugar harbors so much hate, having been turned to prostitution by her own mother when she was very young, but then she demonstrates a more loving heart than any other character. Her nurturing and protection of her lover’s daughter are endearing, but by the time she steals the daughter away I am cheering for her and want to smack Mr. Rackham upside the head with a shovel. I can’t wait to see the next episode and my husband is equally engaged. I had forgotten what cruel times these were for women, the tortures they experienced at the hands of doctors and fashion designers, and the few options they had for survival if they had no family or money. All very well done.