Tuesday 13 September 2016

Linda Porter discusses ROYAL RENEGADES with Elizabeth Fremantle

Acclaimed historical biographer, Linda Porter, has turned to the children of Charles I and the English Civil Wars for her latest book. 

An ambitious project with daunting scope Royal Renegades shines a light on a royal family swept away by political forces ultimately beyond their control. The combination of Porter's impeccable research, sharp sense of irony and fluent writing style transforms a period of history renowned for its dryness and impenetrability. The political and martial narrative is cast in a new light when set against the intimacy of the family story, which takes us out into parallel events in France and the Netherlands, allowing us to understand  the wider European impact of the conflict.

Both fascinating and, at times, deeply poignant, Royal Renegades will have you in its thrall until the final page.

Interview with the author:

EF: As with your previous book Crown of Thistles, the scope of Royal Renegades is vast, covering not only the period running up to the English Civil Wars, the wars themselves and the protectorate that followed, but also parallel events in both France and the Netherlands. Do you enjoy the challenge of depicting the ‘big picture’?

LP: Yes, I do. I think it is important to convey the wider backdrop of the story. Events in Europe had a significant impact on the lives of the Stuart royal children, especially after their father’s execution. It is also important to remember that their mother was French – their Bourbon inheritance is often overlooked. I also wanted to convey something of the complexity of the period, both within Charles I’s three kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland, and beyond. It is a wonderful period to write about, perhaps the richest in our history. I would have liked to write more about the eleven years of the English republic but it was beyond the scope of this book. However, I felt it necessary to include a chapter on the background to the restoration of Charles II because I had never really understood what happened in England after the death of Oliver Cromwell. I now feel that I do and hopefully readers of my book will as well.

EF: With your focus on the Royal children you manage to make the political highly personal and very poignant. What inspired you to approach this period of history in such a way?

LP: I think because it is very much an untold story. Most people I have spoken to about the book are unaware of the fact that Charles I had six children living at the time of his death, and know nothing about their fates, beyond the fact that Charles II was restored in 1660. It is also a story that mirrors that of many families during the Civil Wars – of dislocation and loss, of a world turned upside down. I don’t think even I had realized quite how sad it was before I began to work on it.

EF: I have the impression that you didn’t warm to Queen Henrietta. I wonder if you could explain why this is and whether you developed particular favourites from your cast of characters.

LP: You are right, I don’t care much for Henrietta Maria. This may be a little harsh. She has had a bad press – then and subsequently – but she is not an easy woman to like, though her husband came to adore her after a very rocky start to their marriage. In portraits of her in her twenties you can see something of the youthful charm that won him over. But she had no political sense at all, was always, at heart, contemptuous of the English and she was a very difficult mother. Her treatment of Prince Henry, her youngest son, was utterly deplorable. She was, however, a loyal wife and her many years in exile were stoically born.

EF: The Civil Wars are notorious for their complexity, yet you have managed to write about them in a way that is so clear. What were the particular challenges of achieving this?

LP: The main challenge was to digest a great mass of material without getting sucked into years of research. When I first had the idea for ‘Royal Renegades’ I thought it would be an easier topic than my previous book, ‘Crown of Thistles’, which was on the rivalry between the Tudors and the Stewarts in the previous century. After all, a book about six royal children should be relatively straightforward, or so I thought. This was naïve, to say the least. Nothing about the Civil Wars is straightforward. And I had not worked on the 17th century since I was an undergraduate, when I did my long essay (a seemingly quaint term these days for something that was actually not really the same as an undergraduate dissertation) on the Civil Wars. Scholarship on the period has changed beyond recognition in the years since then, and I like to reflect the latest scholarship in my books. I think it is something I owe to the reader.

EF: I have the sense that people are turning from the Tudors to the Stuarts. As someone who has written acclaimed works about Tudor figures would you agree with this and why do you think it is the case?

photo: Russell Harper
LP: Yes, I think there is a change. I certainly hope so. Charles Spencer has written about Prince Rupert and about the regicides to great effect. Anna Keay’s biography of the duke of Monmouth, Charles II’s illegitimate son, has led the way on reviving interest in the 17th century among women writers. It has previously been very much a male preserve. Leanda de Lisle, Anna Whitelock and Jessie Childs are also moving away from the Tudors. I think that we have just about reached saturation point with Tudormania though it may take a while before the media and even the general public catch on to this. The effect of Tudormania has been to give a very Anglocentric view of our history but the truth of the matter is that England was not a major player on the international stage in Tudor times and the compulsive fascination of Henry VIII and his six wives has skewed our understanding of our past. Having said that, I’ve just been working as historical consultant on Lucy Worsley’s upcoming BBC I series on Henry and his wives and it has quite a novel approach to the topic, which is what you would expect from Lucy, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the end product.

EF: What’s next for you as a writer?

LP: I’m starting work on a companion volume to ‘Royal Renegades’ with the working title of ‘Godly People: the family and friends of Oliver Cromwell.’ And you haven’t asked, but, yes, I am at heart, a supporter of the other side. This is my chance to give them their due.

Royal Renegades will be published on 6th October by Macmillan and is available for pre-order.
You can read an extract from the book here.

Elizabeth Fremantle's latest novel The Girl in the Glass Tower is out now.


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Leslie Wilson said...

Interesting, but I'm very glad to hear that Linda Porter is moving her attention to the Parliamentarians, who did a lot for the cause of modern-day democracy, whereas the Stuarts were a lot of reactionaries who created havoc, more or less. I admit, however, that I have been interested in Charles 1st children, partly due to the marvellous Van Dyck paintings, but also, of course, because their stories are so romantic, and often extremely sad. Charles certainly was a loving father, too. I shall look forward to Linda's book, if only to hear a different perspective on the Stuart children, and if her sympathies are really with the side of Right, so much the better.
Mind, I'm keener on the Putney debaters than on Cromwell, particularly since I'm married to an Irishman.

Unknown said...

Jane Porter - I've just seen you on 'The Final Days of Charles I' a SKY History documentary.

How dare you! You do Charles such an injustice on that so-called documentary. For a start you say that Charles was well away from the actual battles, but he fought in them and led his troops right up until his capture. He was no coward.

I found the documentary generally offensive. Cromwell was a much worse tyrant than Charles, for example his massacre of the Irish. I read that during Charles's rule, he helped the poor and England was relatively prosperous. He was certainly no tyrant and only dealt justice in a similar way to his father, to Elizabeth I and most other monarchs of the time. He alone did not unnecessarily prolong the war singlehandedly - to say so is unfair when you think of who he was dealing with. And I strongly disagree that he could've saved himself. If he had lived, he would've continued to be a figure to which the royalist cause could rally.

Over the years, I've come to like Charles I despite his many faults. To me he's a very human figure. He has been done such a disservice, probably by US influenced so-called academics. I think however that he and Henrietta Maria are about a million times more romantic and interesting than boring Henry the Eighth and Anne B.

Shame on you for participating in such a nonsensical load of drivel. I hope you're embarressed.