Drogheda: steeped in history

Drogheda: steeped in history

Part 2, Ireland location series
Drogheda

Drogheda and the Boyne River, from Millmount Fort (author’s photo)

Divided by a gentle curve in the great River Boyne, the town of Drogheda in County Louth is one of the oldest and largest in Ireland. This important trade and commercial center began as two walled towns that literally grew together, officially so in 1412, but archaeological evidence shows the first civilization in this area began at least 3,000 years ago.

At a point on the Boyne where St. Mary’s bridge exists today, a natural ford made Drogheda (pronounced DRAW-hee-duh) an attractive settlement and defensive location. The name Drogheda comes from the Irish Droichead Átha meaning ‘bridge of the ford.’ On behalf of King Henry II in 1172, Hugh de Lacy began constructing a wooden fort on the high ground overlooking this ford. By around 1200, the first stone bridge across the river made the settlement part of a principal north-south travel route, and its location just four miles inland from the mouth of the river confirmed its role as a trade center.

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Map dated 1657 shows ships on the river, indicating Drogheda’s long importance as a port town.

De Lacy’s fort eventually was rebuilt as a motte and bailey fort now known as Millmount—the highest and most distinctive landmark in the city (it is sometimes called the ‘cup and saucer’). In addition to Millmount and St. Mary’s Bridge, Drogheda has several more historical sites of interest, including the 13th century St. Laurence Gate, which was part of the 113-acre stone enclosure built by the Anglo-Normans, and Magdalene Tower, the remains of a 13th century monastery.

Sharavogue2017cover FBcopyI first learned about Millmount Fort and Drogheda when researching my first novel, Sharavogue. The book begins near the end of Cromwell’s famous and brutal march of 1649, at what was then the village of Skebreen (as it was spelled by map-makers at the time, and now known as Skibbereen), in the southwest corner of County Cork. By the time Cromwell reached this part of Ireland, stories of his army’s killing and destruction had spread far and wide, causing some towns to surrender and inhabitants to flee even as he approached. And the most powerful of stories was the terrible siege of Drogheda.

Since 1641, Ireland had been in a state of rebellion. The native Irish, Old English settlers, and Catholic Irish had joined to form the Irish Catholic Confederation led by James Butler, the Marquess of Ormonde. When Cromwell’s new model army defeated King Charles’ royalist forces in England’s civil war, many royalist officers and troops fled to Ireland and joined the Confederation to continue their resistance. Among these royalists was Sir Arthur Aston, who led a garrison at Drogheda composed of about 2,550 men.

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Residential street in Drogheda with St. Mary’s Church behind. (author’s photo taken from Millmount Fort)

Cromwell arrived at Dublin with the intentions to wholly crush the rebellion, starting by seizing major port towns, thereby securing the ability to supply his forces via the sea. He marched his soldiers north to Drogheda with heavy artillery, established batteries on either side of St. Mary’s Church, and blasted two breaches in the town wall. Then he called for surrender.

In the belief that Ormonde would come to his relief with 4,000 royalist troops, Aston refused. By the rules of war at the time, refusal to surrender meant that if his garrison was taken, all in the garrison could be killed. Cromwell attacked the town and the fighting was fierce, but no reinforcements arrived and soon the royalist resistance collapsed. Some tried to flee across the river, while Aston and 200 others took refuge in Millmount Fort. Cromwell’s soldiers surged into the town and massacred about 2,000 men—and an unknown number of civilians.

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Example of Cromwellian soldier, from Millmount Museum, Drogheda

Rather than attacking Millmount Fort, Cromwell offered to spare the lives of the governor and the men within if they surrendered, but within an hour of their surrender, all were put to the sword. Soldiers reportedly beat Aston to death with his own wooden leg, believing Aston concealed gold coins within it. About 30 more who hid within a church steeple were killed when Parliamentary soldiers set fire to pews they’d stacked beneath the steeple. Soldiers who were not killed were deported to work as slaves on the plantations of Barbados.

Richard Talbot, mentioned in my previous post about Malahide, was one of the few who escaped, most likely through a thinly guarded gate on the north side of the river.

In Sharavogue, the protagonist convinces the villagers of Skebreen to dismantle a bridge across the River Ilen to deny Cromwell access. The story is based upon a legend I came across in my readings, about a town somewhere in County Cork where the people did dismantle a bridge and were then forced by Cromwell to rebuild it. In the novel, the scheme also fails, and the protagonist is swept away, not to Barbados but to the island of Montserrat in the West Indies, to work as an indentured servant on an Irish-owned sugar plantation.

Drogheda’s remarkable history is much greater than the stain left by Cromwell, however. In 1849, Oscar Wilde’s father William wrote that the very history of Ireland could be traced through the monuments along the River Boyne.

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Plan of Drogheda, Gardiner, Samuel Rawson and F.S. Weller (illustrator) – History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, 1649-1656 (1903) volume 1 page 113, Public Domain

A 15-minute drive from the city will get you to Newgrange, a 5000-year-old passage tomb that is famous for the precision of its structure, such that it lights up at sunrise on the summer solstice. Less than 10 minutes drive from the town center, you’ll find Oldbridge, where the famous Battle of the Boyne was fought. Even more indelible than Cromwell’s march, this battle between deposed king, James II, and William of Orange (and his wife Mary, James’s own daughter) changed the course of England’s monarchy.

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Trim Castle, County Meath, at sunrise. Andrew Parnell, Creative Commons

If you love castles as I do, the restored Norman stronghold, Trim Castle, is about 26 miles from the city. Slane Castle, owned by the Scottish Protestant Conyngham family since 1703, is less than 10 miles from the city. Now an events venue, there are guided tours of the castle and distillery. You can learn about the archaeological heritage of the Boyne Valley at Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, 6 miles south west of Drogheda near Donore.

There are also historic manor houses in the area, including Beaulieu House, three miles from town. In existence for more than 800 years, it is believed this house evolved from a stronghold to a fortified manor house, and is now a ‘grand mansion.’ It is considered a rare example of 17th century Irish domestic architecture.

Sources:

A Detailed History by Michael Holohan, http://www.droghedaport.ie/cms/publish/printer_21.shtml

Videos:

History of Drogheda
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUgNG3MFHa4

Ghosts of Drogheda (historical photos)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzHLyW1BIiI

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Royal Branding – King Charles II, Opportunities Tossed

1-charles_brightenedCertainly a sympathetic character early in his life, this week’s monarch of Royal Branding, England’s Charles II, does much through his actions to wreck the glowing personal brand with which he ascends to the throne, but by the same personal brand he later resurrects himself.

Charles was only a teenager when he learned that his father, King Charles I, was literally losing his battle against Parliament’s New Model Army for control of the government. In 1646, young Charles the heir was sent away for safety, and lived in exile with his mother in France. After his father was executed by Parliament in 1649, a devastated young Charles had to depend on the generosity of Royalist friends and relatives throughout the Interregnum, when Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector of England’s Commonwealth.

In spite of great expectations, Cromwell’s government and his strict Puritan policies were not popular. In the mid-1650s, even Christmas was banned. When Cromwell died in 1658, his son and heir Richard drew little confidence. The leaders of Parliament “had come to the painful realization that, by attacking what they saw as the excesses of the rule of the new King’s father, they had actually undermined their own power and then been obliged to look on as people they saw as fanatics experimented with the ever more distasteful rigours of godly rule. The Royalist gentry were now determined to reassert their traditional rights, and a traditional monarchy seemed the best means to guarantee these.”

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Young Charles, now 30, was at last invited to return to England for coronation—as long as he promised not to punish those who had fought against his father.

Here was an unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on England’s love for its monarchy, to demonstrate to all the world the grandeur and prestige of king and kingdom, to restore faith in royal government and be loved throughout the country for restoring the traditional merry English lifestyles that had long been prohibited. Charles could define himself clearly in the eyes of his people and distinguish himself as a light leading forward, away from the troubled past.

His coronation was designed for exactly that, with “dazzling pageantry” for which no expense was spared:

  • Fountains ran with wine, soldiers wore red, white and black plumes
  • The horse of state had a saddle worked with gold and pearls, the stirrups decorated with 12,000 jewels.
  • The king’s robes were cloth of gold, red velvet and crimson satin. He wore golden high-heeled shoes to stand above the others. Images, poems, architecture, and sermons celebrated Charles’ heroic return.
  • He was the new Solomon. The Golden Age had returned.

But a brand of such high aspirations required significant care and maintenance.

Royal Brand Values

Strong personal brands are based on values. Charles II valued many things, including art, architecture, ships and science, but above all he had “an absolute commitment to his own survival.”

He wanted to reestablish the monarchy as an effective political power, and assigned Edward Hyde, his trusted Lord Chancellor, to manage it for him.

Charles_II_(laurel)He wanted to be respected as a wise and sober man. While most of his courtiers dressed in brilliant pastels, Charles chose somber shades of brown and dark blue, and chose his signature fashion of long, fitted and embroidered coats “that emphasized his height and, in a strange way, his self-contained isolation.”

Charles wanted to restore what his father had died fighting for: the Divine Right of kings to summon and dismiss parliaments, to create peers, bishops and judges, to declare war and make peace, and to “embody in himself the majesty of state.” To this end he was wary and mindful, acted “with caution and charm,” but also tended toward duplicity, to pursue two different and conflicting policies.

Charles, whose exile years had involved much idleness, resentfulness, drinking and physical pleasures, perhaps lacked the drive to support these values. Observers considered Charles capable of hard work and concentration, but “would increasingly show himself as easily distracted and indolent.” The French King Louis XIV considered him lazy.

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Nell Gwyn

Inevitably, conflicts with Parliament arose over religious unity and tolerance, who could hold public office, who could decide about the sale of public property, who could declare a trade war with the Dutch, and more. While leaving most of the business of government to his councilors, Charles descended into debauchery and sexual excess. He is known for his many mistresses, such as Lady Castlemaine and the actress Nell Gwyn. In 1661 Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary, “at court things are in very ill condition, there being so much emulation, poverty and the vices of swearing, drinking and whoring, that I do not know what will be the end of it but confusion.”

Times were disastrous. There was war, famine, an outbreak of bubonic plaque that killed 30,000, and the great fire of 1666 that consumed more than 13,000 London houses. Rumors circulated that the sins of court had brought such retribution. Making matters worse, Charles’s wife was unable to produce an heir, and Charles’s brother James, the next in line to the throne, was Catholic. Catholicism had been widely feared and hated in England since the time of Henry VIII.

When a false threat of a Catholic assassination plot stirred both government and citizens to hysteria, a savvy Parliamentarian, the Earl of Shaftsbury, used all of these elements to his advantage to manipulate and take control of the government, and even to change the king’s own plan of succession. He pushed Charles to the brink his father had known, threatening to destroy forever the Divine Right in which Charles so strongly believed and had vowed to protect.

Brand Undermines Crisis

But, as so many good stories end, when things reached crisis point the protagonist remembered his core values and strengths, and successfully brought them to bear.

Charles II summoned the last Parliament of his reign. At the entrance to the hall his Sergeant of Arms called for silence, and members found their monarch seated on his throne, wearing the voluminous robes of state, the crown of England shining on his head.

Charles_II_of_England_in_Coronation_robes

“A wave of awe fell across the room. Charles was no longer the shifty, manipulative and fallible man the Whigs believed they had in their grasp. He was arrayed in the sumptuous pageantry of a quasi-divine power. He was the Lord’s anointed, vested with a holy authority and incorruptible. Where the dismayed Whigs drew their arguments from reason he drew his power from God, and it was with this assurance…that Charles now spoke…”
~ Stephen Coote, Royal Survivor

Charles gave a speech that recalled the king he had intended to be, his words “subtle and crafty,” his tone firm but reasonable. “He would uphold traditional constitutional decencies in the face of what appeared to many to be the Whig desire for absolute power.”

In a time of crisis, King Charles returned to the basics of his brand established at his coronation, and in the process he was giving his audience just what they wanted and needed: a powerful leader divinely guided. At the last, the elements of Charles’s personal brand and its symbols of power saved him.

Gems from the Crown

Charles II’s story is long, varied and complex, but there are important lessons to be learned for any personal brand:

  • Once you define your true brand values, treasure them, support them and exemplify them consistently. They engender respect.
  • In times of crisis, use those values and the symbols of them. Once imbued with the meaning of your brand, the symbols themselves project the values in your presence or in your absence. They carry and support the unseen power of your brand.
Thanks to: Stephen Coote, Royal Survivor; Christopher Hill, The Century of Revolution 1603-1714; Wikipedia Creative Commons, images in public domain.

Create your own royal brand:

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropBrand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps gives you lessons learned from some of the strongest royal brands, and walks you through the process to create your own unforgettable brand, including vision and mission statements, persona and positioning, colors and tagline, and much more, plus communications planning to put your new brand into action. Available in soft cover and ebook.

AMAZON          BARNES & NOBLE

KOBO

For all my books and events, visit my website, www.nancyblanton.com

 

 

Tracking the Prince: Kanturk Castle

Tracking the Prince: Kanturk Castle

Today I begin a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. This book takes place in mid-17th century Ireland, when castle towers are losing their significance and the order of the day for the rich and powerful is a grand, fortified manor house that demonstrates their wealth and importance.

I had mapped out 15 locations prior to my trip, so the series will cover each of these. Readers of The Prince can follow along using the map included in the book. I ended up using nearly all of the locations in some way, whether as an actual location for a scene in the story, or to inform something else.

img_1337Kanturk Castle was my first stop after arriving in Shannon. The structure inspired my vision for Castle Glencurragh, a fictitious castle near Skibbereen, County Cork, which is the dream and ambition of the protagonist.

Kanturk Castle is situated in north County Cork, just off the N72 about nine miles west of Mallow, along the Dalua river, a tributary of the Blackwater. It is named for the nearby market village Kanturk that existed centuries before the castle. While the name sounds exotic and mysterious, it actually means “the boar’s head” (from the Gaelic Ceann Tuirc).

img_1366To me, the remarkable thing about this enormous and beautiful fortified manor house, and why I felt compelled to see it, is that it was the envy of all who saw it during construction, and yet it was never completed.

Built by Dermot McDonagh MacCarthy starting around 1609, it is rectangular with corner towers standing five stories high. It is filled with magnificent fireplaces on each floor, large mullioned windows, arched doorways and a striking main entrance with Ionic columns on each side.

img_1338(For a very detailed account of the castle with far better photos than mine, please see The Irish Aesthete.)

One legend about the castle is that all the stonemasons happened to be named John, and so originally the castle was known as Carrig-na-Shane-Saor (the Rock of John the Mason). Another story I came across was that during construction, MacCarthy needed free labor, so he and his men snagged travelers passing by, put them to work as slaves, and would not release them until they had worked on the castle for a year.

Why the castle was never completed remains something of a mystery. Some accounts claim that English settlers were concerned that the size and fortification of the castle signaled more rebellion from the Irish, and the Privy Council of England halted construction. MacCarthy was so incensed, he had the blue tiles on the castle roof torn away and thrown into a stream. Other accounts hold that MacCarthy simply ran out of money to continue.

When MacCarthy’s son, Dermot Oge, succeeded him, Kanturk and the lands around it were heavily mortgaged. Dermot and his own son were killed during a Cromwellian battle in 1652, and at the end of the confederate war Kanturk Manor was awarded to Sir Phillip Perceval, an English Protestant. Sir Phillip’s descendant, Sir John Perceval, was a successful parliamentarian, named Baron of Burton, County Cork, in 1715, Viscount Perceval of Kanturk in 1722, and Earl of Egmont in 1733.

And this brings me to a very personal connection to the story.

In 1932, Kanturk was donated to the National Trust by Lucy, Countess of Egmont, the widow of the 7th Earl of Egmont who was killed in a car crash in England. Her conditions were that the castle be kept as a ruin, as it was at time of hand-over. It is designated as a national monument.

When I visited, I saw a lovely, well-kept place where the locals walk their dogs, just as I often walk my dogs along a beautiful street with a beautiful name: Countess of Egmont—on an island more than 4,000 miles away.

NPG D2382; Catherine Perceval (nÈe Compton), Countess of Egmont; Charles George Perceval, 2nd Baron Arden by James Macardell, after  Thomas Hudson

It turns out that Sir John Perceval, the 5th Baronet of Kanturk and the 2nd Earl of Egmont, obtained a king’s grant for properties in northeast Florida during a brief period around the 1770s, when Spain ceded the lands to Britain in an exchange for lands elsewhere. Amelia Island was then called Egmont Island, where the Earl and Lady Egmont owned a large indigo plantation. The island was later renamed Amelia in honor of the daughter of King George II of England.

The portrait:
Catherine Perceval (née Compton), Countess of Egmont; with Charles George Perceval, 2nd Baron Arden; by James Macardell, after Thomas Hudson, mezzotint, published 1765, NPG D2382 

Thanks to: History from Mr. Patrick O’Sullivan’s summary on Historic Kanturk website (Kanturk District And Community Council); Britain-Ireland-Castles.com; The Irish Aesthete; and the Amelia Island Museum of History.

jack6.140x9.210.inddAn heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?

The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.

https://books2read.com/u/4N1Rj6

http://www.amazon.com/Prince-Glencurragh-Novel-Ireland-ebook/dp/B01GQPYQDY/

Dreams and disasters in 17th century Ireland

Rife with conflict, disaster, invention and sweeping change, there is not a century in history more fascinating and remarkable than the 17th.

In the words of J.P. Sommerville, University of Wisconsin history professor, the 17th century is “probably the most important century in the making of the modern world. It was during the 1600s that Galileo and Newton founded modern science; that Descartes began modern philosophy; that Hugo Grotius initiated international law; and that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke started modern political theory.”

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Image of a walled town from the Cork City Library

At the same time, the century produced an unprecedented synergy of disaster, as described by Robert Burton in 1638: “War, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions…and such like, which these tempestuous times affoord…” And all of that during the first few decades.

Some historians believe the changes and difficulties of this century resulted in part from a global climate change. The “Little Ice Age,” extending from the 16th to 19th centuries, delivered a particularly cold interval in the mid-17th century.

England in the 1630s recorded great floods, widespread harvest failure, intense cold winters, wet and cold springs, and drought in summer so excessive that “the land and trees are despoiled of their verdure, as if it were a most severe winter.” Such conditions would have been seen in Ireland as well.

These natural forces so affected human activity as to upset the existing social, economic and political equilibrium. People facing cold, famine, and grave uncertainty are likely to behave in more desperate manner.

Ireland in particular faced considerable unrest as the lands, traditional clans and centuries-old way of life were forever altered.

Life in Ireland

In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died, leaving her throne and kingdom to James I. Her military forces in Ireland had delivered a crushing blow to end the Desmond rebellion in the southwest province of Munster.

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Inside a castle ruin, Kanturk, Co. Cork

The English saw Ireland as underutilized and ripe for exploitation. They sought to improve on Irish farming methods by settling their own more efficient farmers, and thereby increasing crown revenues.

The Earl of Desmond was among the Irish gentry who held castles, manor houses and vast tracts of land. They were mostly of Norman or Saxon roots, descending from distinguished families or clans who had obtained grants from Henry II in the 12th century. They resented the crown’s efforts to take control of their long-held dominions and displace their Irish tenants: typically subsistence farmers who paid rents either in food or in coin from the goods they sold. Often these tenants lived in one-room houses constructed of mud and grass, with no windows and a single door that served as both the entry and chimney.

Lord Deputy Arthur Grey seemed to defeat Queen Elizabeth’s purpose with his cruelty and scorched earth tactics. He left the province devastated, little more than a wasteland that would require years to recover, and was later removed from his position for excessive brutality—but, he had cleared the way once and for all for English settlement.

In a land already compromised by drought, the remaining Irish faced terrible famine, plague, disease, homelessness and oppression. Lands that had been owned and passed down through generations by traditional clans, especially Irish Catholic, were confiscated and granted to English military officers as reward for their service. Survival for the Irish was tenuous and choices were few. Some restoration took place in the coming years, but a fury simmered below the obedient surface.

In 1625, Charles I succeeded his father and extended his policies, filling his treasury through increased taxation and monopolies to his favorites, and expanding plantation in Ulster. When civil war erupted in England, Irish clans welcomed the distraction. They organized and rebelled again, retaking confiscated lands and ousting the English settlers, often violently.

When Parliament was victorious in the civil war, it took control of England and all of its business, and shocked the monarchies of the world by executing King Charles in 1649.

Parliamentary army leader Oliver Cromwell now turned his attention to Ireland, cutting an unrelenting swath of brutality, destruction and death across the island. Towns were leveled, people massacred, and terror wrought with full force. One estimate claims 618,000 Irish deaths from fighting or disease—an astounding 41 percent of the pre-war population.

Surviving Irish were relocated to rocky hills that served better for grazing sheep than growing crops. Some joined armies and fought in foreign wars; some became pirates. Some were sent to workhouses where they likely died; some escaped to colonies in America. Cromwell deported many to the West Indies where they perished from slave labor and tropical disease.

Irish Catholics were forced out of the Irish Parliament, while Catholic Mass and the Irish language were outlawed. Catholics were banned from holding office, Catholic clergy were expelled from the country, and Catholic landowners were stripped of their properties. An estimated one-third of the Irish-Catholic population was killed or deported.

Cromwell

Bust of Cromwell from the Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon.

 

On the heels of this work, Cromwell was elevated to “Lord Protector,” England’s uncrowned king, and he established his famed Commonwealth. Oppression of Ireland was severe and would be seen by historians as genocide. But by the time of Cromwell’s death in 1658, England had tired of his Puritan influences, and his son proved a weak successor. Charles II was brought back from his exile in France and monarchy was restored.

While somewhat kinder and more tolerant toward the Irish who had supported his return, including the Earl of Ormonde who had led the royalists in the Irish Confederacy, the plantation of Ireland continued. Known as the Merry Monarch, Charles II restored some of the gaiety that had been lost to England, and smoothed the way for new thought, invention and discovery in the latter part of the century as the Age of Enlightenment was dawning.

(Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis was a valuable source for this post)

jack6.140x9.210.inddThe Prince of Glencurragh is set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion of 1641. It is a stand-alone prequel to my first novel, Sharavogue, which won first place for historical fiction in Florida’s Royal Palm Literary Awards. Both books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Visit my website for more info, at nancyblanton.com.

Sex Appeal and the Earl of Ormonde

Today’s post is reblogged from a guest post on Mary Anne Yarde’s blog, “Myths, Legends, Books and Coffee Pots,” (maryanneyarde.blogspot.com). In honor of the official publication of my new novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, this story is about one of my inspirations.

While researching 17th century Ireland for my historical novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, I was stopped in my tracks by an arresting portrait of James Butler, the 12th Earl of Ormonde and the 1st Duke of Ormonde.

Ascending to earldom in 1634 at just 24 years of age, this earl became the Royalist leader of the Irish confederate forces in 1649, uniting the old English nobility, Catholics, and Irish rebel soldiers in a passionate stand against English dominance that was doomed to failure under the boot of Oliver Cromwell and his army.

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1st Duke of Ormonde by Sir Peter Lely (circa 1665) Public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

The portrait captures an older Ormonde, looking magnificent in ceremonial robes as he is created the first Duke of Ormonde. He wears white satin trimmed in red and blue. Delicate hands grasp lance and sword; his jaw is proud, his eyes soulful and knowing. The long golden locks affirm his noble stature and remind me of a young, proud-faced Roger Daltrey, out to change the world in his own particular way – perhaps with similar sexual energy but without Daltrey’s penchant for fisticuffs.

No less appealing would have been James’s enormous wealth and power. He was born into a family tracing back to the Norman Invasion in the 12th century. His ancestor, Theobold Walter, was named Chief Butler of Ireland, and thus the name stuck as a surname and reminder to everyone of the family’s prominence and favor under King Henry II. The family seat became the great Kilkenny Castle from which they controlled the vast kingdom of Ormonde (basically including counties Waterford, Tipperary and Limerick).

Ormonde landholdings in southwest Ireland were second only to the Desmond earldom by the 14th century. Rivalry and skirmishes between the two earldoms escalated into a private war in the 1560s, one that infuriated Queen Elizabeth I, and in part led to the first Desmond Rebellion in 1569.

When James’s father Thomas died in a shipwreck in 1619, James became the nine-year-old heir to his grandfather Walter Butler, the 11th Earl of Ormonde, and was given the courtesy title of Viscount Thurles. Walter was a devout Catholic, much to the dismay of King James I who schemed for Protestant control of Ormonde estates, imprisoned Walter for eight years, and sent James to be schooled as a Protestant by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

When the earl was released in 1625, most of his estates were restored to him. James went to live with him at his house in Drury Lane, London.

While in London, James learned the Irish language, which was to serve him well later in life; and also met his cousin Elizabeth Butler, daughter of Sir Richard Preston, Earl of Desmond. Their marriage in 1629 ended the long-standing feud between the two families.

When his grandfather died five years later, James became the earl. In 1642, he was named the Marquess of Ormonde; and, after living with the king in exile during the Commonwealth years, in 1661 Charles II created him the first Duke of Ormonde.

But wait, there is even more to Ormonde’s appeal. Most of my research has focused on James’s early life, and my favorite story thus far is about his first attendance of the Irish Parliament in 1635. The new Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Wentworth, called the Parliament under King Charles I’s authorization, and was proud to have Ormonde on the roster.

In his biography of Wentworth, C.V. Wedgwood describes James Butler as a “high-hearted” nobleman: “Handsome, intelligent and valiant, he was also to the very core of his being a man of honor: loyal, chivalrous and just.”

And let’s not leave out dauntless (aka cheeky). When Wentworth ordered that the wearing of swords in Parliament would not be permitted, Ormonde told the official who tried to take his that the only way he’d get the sword was if it was “in his guts.” Wentworth summoned Ormonde before his council to answer for this behavior, and Ormonde arrived with his earl’s patent from the king. He threw it on the table. The king had made him earl, he said, and for anyone less than the king he would not ungird his sword.

“Wentworth [who was not yet an earl] conceded the force of the argument,” Wedgwood wrote.

Appealing as he was, Ormonde was not always everyone’s hero in life. As the Protestant in the family, he avoided the land confiscations that Catholic family members still suffered, and he was not above evicting Irish tenants if he believed he could earn higher rents from English ones. Still, when Ormonde died in 1688, he was lauded by poets of his time and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

In my novel, Ormonde is featured as a contemporary of the main characters who brings his significant power and influence, his chivalrous mindset, and his own agenda to the story, along with a fierce belief in fairness, justice, and love.

jack6.140x9.210.inddThe Prince of Glencurragh, published in July 2016, is the story of an Irish warrior who abducts a young heiress to help restore his stolen heritage and build the Castle Glencurragh. He is caught in the crossfire between the most powerful nobles in Ireland, each with his own agenda. It is the stand-alone prequel to my first historical novel, Sharavogue, which begins with the arrival of Cromwell in Ireland, and follows the protagonist to her indenture on an Irish sugar plantation on the island of Montserrat, West Indies.

My books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. You can find more information and links on my website, nancyblanton.com

 

 

Stories of Death by Construction

Have you ever heard a story of construction workers who died on the job being buried as part of the structure they were building? One of the first stories I heard was of men entombed within the Brooklyn Bridge. Apparently this is a myth, because a decaying body embedded in a concrete structure would then make that structure unstable. However, author David McCullough estimates 27 people were killed in various accidents or safety issues during the bridge construction.

Image of a walled town from the Cork City Library

Image of a walled town from the Cork City Library

I became curious about these myths after I happened across one story recently while researching the upcoming prequel to my historical novel Sharavogue. Call it serendipity, it was one of those magical, unexpected discoveries that make researching history fun, while providing genuine detail to spice up a novel. Centuries ago during construction of the enclosing walls for the town of Bandon, County Cork, Ireland, a young man was killed when a fellow mason working on a scaffold above him accidentally dropped his pickaxe. In the 1800s, the site was being excavated to build a summerhouse. When the workers found a large flagstone that gave a hollow sound when struck, they thought (hoped) they might have discovered an ancient stash of gold coins. Instead they found the skeleton of the poor mason, the pickaxe still under his skull, and his hammer and trowel by his side. In his pocket was a silver coin from the reign of Edward VI.

Little remains of this wall today, but stories live on, right?

Such as the Hoover Dam, where somewhere between 96 and 112 workers were killed between 1931-36. The myth has it that it was too costly to halt construction when a man was killed and so the concrete pour continued. But if this was true, the structure would not have been able to withstand the pressure of all that water over the years.

With the body of water that would become Lake Mead already beginning to swell behind the dam, the final block of concrete was poured and topped off at 726 feet above the canyon floor in 1935. On September 30, a crowd of 20,000 people watched President Franklin Roosevelt commemorate the magnificent structure’s completion. Approximately 5 million barrels of cement and 45 million pounds of reinforcement steel had gone into what was then the tallest dam in the world, its 6.6 million tons of concrete enough to pave a road from San Francisco to New York City. Altogether, some 21,000 workers contributed to its construction.

One story where site burials are not a myth is that of the Fort Peck dam site in Montana. Eight workers were caught in a slide there in 1938, but only two bodies were recovered.

My curiosity produced many stories of human sacrifice during constructions projects, as well as immurement. One from Germany concerned a mother who sold her son to be interred in the foundations of a castle, and then–feeling rather guilty–she threw herself off a cliff.

And a fascinating yet horrifying story is that of the Mole in Algiers, a massive breakwater started in the 16th century by the pirate-king Barbarossa. This structure was intended to provide defense against the Spanish, but the work was constant and relentless, requiring more than 30,000 Christian slaves for labor, and costing the lives of 4,000 slaves, or about five lives per foot of structure.

These days, thanks to safety requirements, construction deaths are fewer, workers are paid, and as far as I know are well cared for in case of accidents or deaths. In the US, private industry construction deaths per year are in the hundreds, not thousands. The leading causes of construction deaths are falls, being struck by an object, electrocution, or being caught between things.

I’ll be visiting Bandon later this year for a little on-the-ground research, and will say a prayer for that poor mason who died there. Until then, keep it safe out there, and follow this blog for stories about my travels in Ireland starting in June, and for notices of when the new book will be out.

SharavogueCoverAnd in the meantime, embark on an adventure in Irish history! Sharavogue is the award-winning story of a peasant girl who vows to destroy Oliver Cromwell during his march of destruction across Ireland in the 17th century, and her struggle for survival on a West Indies sugar plantation.

 

Roads into the past

KillarneyART162687Roads have always been important to civilizations, from narrow dirt pathways leading to water and food supply, to major super highways that support international trade and industry. In researching the past, knowing the roadways is key to understanding the way communities lived and operated. That’s why I was thrilled recently to discover the Down Survey Project online.

This is an amazing effort called the The Down Survey of Ireland Project, funded by the Irish Research Council under its Research Fellowship Scheme. The 17-month project was completed in March 2013. In short, the project combines digitized versions of surviving maps of Ireland from the 17th century (barony, parish and county level) with historical GIS (including various census and deposition sources) and georeferencing them with 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps, Google Maps and satellite imagery. Got that? Simple, right?

Well, no matter. If you have any interest at all in the history of Ireland, you will be amazed as I was to see the incredible public resource that this project has established.

Just as an example, for my book which begins in 1649, I can look up what landholders were in the area of my research, see exactly where their properties were located and what roads were in existence at the time. The old roads are represented as straight lines in the version I was able to bring up, and I doubt there were too many straight lines back then, but it does give me a general idea of locations and directions for ingress and egress. I’d say, for historical fiction it is a far better information source than my imagination.

Many thanks to the project team Micheál Ó Siochrú, David Brown and Eoin Bailey for creating this remarkable website. And thanks to Micheál Ó Siochrú also for his book God’s Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland — another valuable resource to me.

For England’s roadways, historical novelist and blogger Patricia Bracewell has produced a four-part series on early English roads, featuring Watling Street, Ermine Street, the Fosse Way, and the Icknield Way. The series includes old maps and photos of present-day trails, and is featured on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog site.

Do you know of similar resources that might be helpful to authors? I’d love to know about them. Please comment.

SharavogueCover2Meantime: There are just three days left for my great giveaway of copies of Sharavogue on Goodreads. Sign up here!

The Eyes of Anthony van Dyck

Can the eyes in a portrait reveal the secrets in a person’s character, or foretell their fate? Can a portraitist see through a person’s eyes to the fears hidden behind them?

In researching Thomas Wentworth, the first Earl of Strafford, for my book The Prince of Glencurragh, I am struck by my subject’s eyes as captured by the eminent artist and portraitist of the period (1640s) Anthony van Dyck. The eyes are both striking and haunting with emotion as if the artist clearly saw through to Wentworth’s inner feelings. And this was the artist’s magic.

Anthonyvandyckselfportrait

Self portrait, Van Dyck after 1633. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Born in Antwerp, van Dyck studied and painted throughout Europe before he moved to London in 1632, at age 33, to work for King Charles I.

“Van Dyck was now an artist with an international reputation and was widely traveled…He knew the art of pleasing distinguished and demanding patrons; he was equipped with a brilliant technique, and had at his command the whole repertoire of baroque painting. Above all, he possessed extraordinary imaginative powers, and, as a portraitist, an almost unequalled feeling for character and nobility of spirit,” wrote Malcolm Rogers, in Anthony van Dyck 1599-1641, a catalog of work published for the artist’s 400th birthday.

Wentworth

Thomas Wentworth, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

More than nobility, when I look into the eyes of Wentworth, I see anger, distrust, and a heightened fear. Wentworth began life in April 1593, the second son of a wealthy Yorkshire landowner, and ended as the closest advisor to the king. He is best known for his brief tenure as Lord Deputy of Ireland. He could not have known at the time the portrait was painted that he would be found guilty of treason by Parliament, for supporting the king’s prerogative over the people’s elected representatives, or that the king himself would sign Wentworth’s death warrant. Wentworth was beheaded in 1641, and those eyes suggest he could see it all coming.

From that portrait, Macaulay’s History of England described Wentworth this way: “That fixed look, so full of severity, of mournful anxiety, of deep thought, of dauntless resolution, which seems at once to forbode and to defy a terribly fate, as it lowers on us from the living canvass of van Dyke.”

As Judy Egerton writes in the same book, “No portraits painted by van Dyck in England more brilliantly demonstrate his penetrating powers of perception than those of Charles I and Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, two sharply contrasting personalities.”

Sir_Anthony_Van_Dyck_-_Charles_I_(1600-49)_-_Google_Art_Project

Van Dyck’s study of Charles I from three perspectives. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Van Dyck completed many portraits of King Charles I, but no matter the pose, the king’s eyes suggest sad resignation. Here is the king who fought Parliament to preserve the king’s prerogative–basically his right to rule his kingdom through royal blood and divine right, without approval of Parliament–even though it led to a bloody civil war. But his eyes do not show the light of an impassioned leader, and sag as if he would rather close those lids  than see what was coming. He and his Royalist army lost the civil war, and Charles was beheaded in 1649 by order of Parliament under the leadership of John Pym. Then the Parliamentary army, led by Oliver Cromwell, proceeded to Ireland to crush a bloody rebellion.

In addition to many portraits, van Dyck’s paintings of courtly life and other settings do much to chronicle 17th century England. Van Dyck died in London in 1641 after a long illness. He was 42.

Setting yourself apart for readers

Part 9 in the “How I found my snow path to Dingle” series

Picking up where I left off on my series about my writing process for Sharavogue, today I am focusing on “What makes your book different from other books like it?” This is a question that might come during a media interview or from an anyone who is considering reading your book. To answer, I had to do my homework. When I selected the time period for my story, I searched for books in the Cromwellian years, the Interregnum, and on the bookends of that period during the reigns of Charles I and Charles II, the Restoration.

SharavogueCover2Specifically during Cromwell’s time there were very few historical novels – I found only two, in fact — that take place in this turbulent period. I have since found several more but I think I am safe to say I have written of a time often overlooked by other authors. So, for readers like me who also like to learn about history as they read, it might be a good choice.  Sharavogue (the title of my novel but also the name of the plantation where the protagonist was indentured) also illuminates what life was like for slaves and indentured servants on the sugar plantations of the 17th century. These plantations were a boon to England’s economy but could not have been profitable without slave labor.

An intriguing  and distinguishing fact is that a colony of Irish planters developed on the island of Montserrat, and they too had to own slaves. The focus is on an Irish colony and perspective rather than an English one.

My style of writing is also quite different. I have used devices and structure to keep the book light, exciting and fast paced, but still packed with story, action and historical information — just enough, and interwoven as best I could so the story did not become a history lesson. My page count is under 300, not the tome of some historical novels. This required quite a bit of brutal editing, but I knew the costs of printing would make a larger book a difficult sell for an unknown author. Some people like this style — the book keeps them engaged so that they read it all the way through in a day or two. (One reader laughingly complained that it was my fault she did not get her Easter cooking done). But others have told me they would have liked more time for contemplation by the characters.

My hope was always that after finishing the book my readers would come away satisfied, entertained and informed. I also hoped to tell a good story about the Irish, who have held my imagination since childhood. A recent reviewer captured the gist of the story just as I had hoped:

“The Irish were no different, after all, than the English. Cruelty reigned. We were without justice, without recourse. We were without hope.” Fifteen-year-old Elvy Burke only wants to live up to her destiny. As the daughter of a great warrior, she dreams of being a leader of her people and a defender of her country. But Oliver Cromwell and his brutal army change her destiny. After cursing Cromwell to his face, she flees her village determined to find a way to kill Cromwell and free her land. She thinks that only Cromwell is brutal, but she discovers the hard way as she becomes an indentured servant in the West Indies, that the English do not have a monopoly on brutality. Elvy learns to survive and she finds kindness in unexpected places. She uncovers her own strengths as she fights her way back to her home in Ireland.

via Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Sharavogue : A Novel.

This will be my last post in this series, unless any readers have additional questions that I will be most happy to answer. I look forward to any comments or suggestions for future posts. Best wishes and happy writing!

Is history relevant in a 140-character world?

Part 8 of my “How I found my snow path to Dingle” series

In this edition I’m focusing on another question asked about historical novels: “How is this relevant in today’s society?” Sharavogue takes place in the 1650s, far removed in both time and location to what most of us experience today. But it is based in fact, so an obvious answer is to refer to the quote attributed to philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Or the same with similar wording attributed to Winston Churchill and several others — all the way to Jesse Ventura. Then there is the ever-positive Kurt Vonnegut, who says “I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: we’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.”

As one who loves history and historical fiction, I sometimes wonder why writers need bother with trying to prove history relevant. It is, because it is. History is fascinating and woven from the lives and experiences of everyone who lived before us. Most humans love a good story, no matter what century it comes from. When I read historical fiction I also love learning about what life was like at a different time, and what circumstances caused things to be that way, and why people made the choices they did. It always in some way informs my own life without the author having to draw direct connections.

HouseGirl I recently read House Girl by Tara Conklin, which flips back and forth between pre-Civil War slavery and a present-day lawyer trying to attribute works of art to the slave girl. The whole story is about connecting past to present, and parts of it were quite good, but I found the historical portions by far the most interesting and well written, and the present-day portions sometimes feeling forced and distracting.

I also recently stumbled across The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews, a book someone had given my husband when he retired. It is basically a trip back in time to get seven philosophies for success, with the underlying message that each of us has a gift and the things we do have value and importance, whether we know it or not at the time. At one point we visit the Battle of Little Round Top where Col. Joshua Chamberlain’s desperate last-minute charge is key to the Union victory there, which ultimately leads to the end of war, the end of slavery in America, and the growth of a superpower that is able to do good in the world. An oversimplification to be sure, but a strong message about relevance.TravelersGift

In my book, I chose to stay in the 1650s. While the relevancy is not mapped for readers as in the books I’ve just described, I think it derives from the characters themselves and the struggles and obstacles they work to overcome. One of my readers talked to me at length about the character Tempest Wingfield, who becomes a plantation master only because he inherited when his father died. She related strongly to his internal ragings against a life he never chose, and the sorrows he felt nonetheless for not being a better son, honoring and loving his father while he had the chance. Other readers related strongly to the pain of the poor choices Elvy Burke makes that lead her down more difficult pathways. As noted in an earlier post, Sharavogue itself (the plantation on Montserrat) is a character, passively supporting the plantation lifestyle  in its own harsh existence.

Who has lost a loving parent and not felt deep regret? Who has not made poor choices in life and learned from them? And who has not witnessed injustices large or small and felt powerless to change them?

True relevance comes from the heart. But on a political level I must add that Oliver Cromwell (the bad guy in my book) remains today a relevant and controversial figure. I talked once with a British citizen who believed the commonwealth Cromwell established was the right and appropriate idea for his government, and the monarchy was irrelevant. Yet the Cromwell name is mostly associated with the 16th century Thomas who destroyed the Catholic monasteries, and the 17th century Oliver who slaughtered the Irish.

These stories and the jigsaw puzzle of factors that created them are impossible to deliver in a tweet or a Facebook post, and I worry about the lack of reading that could surely lead to the “forgetting” of history. (For example, I shudder when I hear women say they want to be stay-at-home moms, having lived through the time when women fought tooth-and-nail for the right to work and vote, and still struggle for equal pay.) But I take hope from something another writer once said to me: “People don’t care about history until they realize they have one.” And then it becomes all-important.