Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.
Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes personal.
At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives. On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.
Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task. Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing boredom to frenetic complexity.
With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.
The Roundheads & Cavaliers series is beginning to feel like my life’s work! As some readers will know, The Black Madonna was first published in 1992 with Garland of Straw following a year later. But then I took rather a long break so The King’s Falcon didn’t appear until 2014 – by which time it was a very different book to the one I’d originally planned. Fortunately, Lords of Misrule is making its début in two years, not twenty … but I have the disturbing feeling that it may not be the final book.
When I began the series, the mid-seventeenth century wasn’t fashionable and very few writers used it. I remember being told by my then-publisher that ‘It would be so much better if you’d chosen the Napoleonic Wars, dear.’ Nowadays, it’s becoming more popular but I’m not aware of another author treading the particular path I’ve chosen – which is to move chronologically through the period, telling a different story in each book whilst mixing real people with fictional ones and covering the historical background in detail.
But, for the sake of some readers who haven’t yet been tempted by the series, let me go back (very briefly!) to the beginning. With an enthusiasm born of naiveté, I set out to write four saga-length books covering the period between 1640 and 1660. If I’d had any idea of what I was taking on or the perils and pitfalls that lay ahead, I’d have run a mile. Since I didn’t, I embarked on The Black Madonna – in which Luciano del Santi, an Italian goldsmith-cum-moneylender, pursues intensely personal goals through the first Civil War, getting caught up in it at Powick, at Bristol and, most spectacularly, at the storming of Basing House.
Garland of Straw covers the second Civil War and the period leading up to the trial and execution of Charles 1. When I look at this now, I’ve no idea how I managed to deal with the horrendous political complexities of that time. It’s frankly scary. No surprise that a handful of readers rate it my best work while many others are left feeling shell-shocked! However, the story here revolves around a marriage made in hell; that of a well-born Royalist lady to an illegitimate Roundhead Colonel – both of whom appeared briefly in Madonna.
The King’s Falcon is Colonel Ashley Peverell – a Royalist soldier and spy. The book begins with Charles the Second’s Worcester campaign of 1651 and I’ll admit that, if I’m especially proud of anything I’ve written, it’s my account of the fateful battle of Worcester which is shown from both sides; Ashley fighting beside the King … and Eden Maxwell serving under Cromwell. The tale then shifts to Paris and the long, bitter and poverty-stricken exile endured by the Cavaliers. Since I’ve always enjoyed amateur dramatics, I also took the opportunity to indulge my love of theatre by making my heroine a French actress.
It was in The Black Madonna that I first introduced Eden Maxwell who, at the age of twenty, makes a disastrous marriage which severely affects his life for years to come. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked for ‘Eden’s story’. If I’m honest, I’ve occasionally regretted not killing him off in one of his many battles! But I didn’t and he’s survived all three Civil Wars to finally get his own book … Lords of Misrule. This opens roughly eight months after the end of Falcon on the day Oliver Cromwell becomes Lord Protector and the historical background is mainly concerned with failure; failure of the government to achieve a workable and stable system and failure of the Cavaliers to bring any of their many conspiracies to a useful conclusion.
Research for each of these books takes a minimum of three months and the book itself – some 620 pages – takes a year to write. I’ve a library of roughly eighty books on the mid-seventeenth century. Amongst my favourites are those by C.V. Wedgwood and Maurice Ashley but the most useful is S.R. Gardiner’s eight-volume set comprising History of the Great Civil War and History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate which I like because it contains primary source material, unadulterated by personal opinions.
With regard to Lords of Misrule, I’m also indebted to David Underdown’s Royalist Conspiracy in England. Since Colonel Maxwell is still – reluctantly and very unhappily! – working in the Intelligence Office, it was only natural to feature the Ship Tavern and Gerard’s Plots from his perspective as well as that of the conspirators. An additional pleasure was allowing my old friend Sir William Compton to make a guest appearance. I first met him at the siege of Banbury in A Splendid Defiance, followed him to Colchester in Garland of Straw and, in Lords of Misrule, he pops up again as one of the Sealed Knot’s six founder members. In fact, Eden meets two of Sir William’s co-founders as well … but since Secretary Thurloe didn’t know any of their names at that time, history dictates that Eden had to keep his suspicions to himself.
I love the seventeenth century. Aside from its huge influence on our modern-day monarchy and Parliament, I love the richness and diversity of it; the drama, the poignancy and the vast array of characters. What I don’t love is that it is rarely taught in schools – with the result that it is beset with myths, such as the mistaken belief that Oliver Cromwell set the whole Civil War ball rolling all on his own.
A little earlier I referred to A Splendid Defiance. Technically, this is not part of the Roundheads & Cavaliers series but it is closely related through character and location. Lovers of audio books may wish to note that, having finished narrating my Rockliffe series of Georgian romances, the lovely and outrageously-talented Alex Wyndham will be bringing Defiance to life later this year with his own particular magic.
During the last few weeks, since completing Lords of Misrule, I’ve taken on a different sort of challenge – that of turning the trial of Charles 1 into a short play to be performed in Sandwich’s medieval courtroom at the end of August. This, in turn, has inveigled me into assisting with the direction and also playing the role of Anne Fairfax. The latter was definitely not part of the plan!
And my next project? I’m currently in the very early stages of contemplating a fourth (and probably final) book in the Rockliffe series. Aside from finding out what happens to Nicholas, Madeleine and Aristide, I’d quite like to be a fly on the wall when Adrian meets Grandpa Maitland. I also suspect that Lords of Misrule may lead to requests for further instalments in the life of Toby Maxwell. But that, as they say, is for another day.iley
Ms. Riley is offering three (3) copies of Lords of Misrule to three lucky readers – leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway.