There is no doubt that the author of this book really knows her period. Set in the English Civil War, Royalist Rebel offers an interesting insight into the events leading up to the death of Charles I, containing, among other things, a rather graphic description of the king’s execution.
In general, this period is a confusing period – it was for the people who lived it; it is for those of us who have developed an interest in it and want to know more. It was never as simple as a Parliamentarian rebellion against a despot king, and it is to Ms Seymour’s credit that she never simplifies the issues, attempting to paint as full a picture as possible of the events that transpired.
The book has as its central character Elizabeth Murray. When we first meet her, she is a precocious snob, who has a tendency to look down her well-shaped nose at anyone not being born titled and rich. Given that young Elizabeth’s own bloodlines are anything but noble – her father is William Murray, the king’s companion since youth, is but the son of a minister, now one of the king’s more favoured gentlemen and also quite the skilful spy – her disdain seems a bit misplaced. On the other hand, Elizabeth has been raised close to court, and has since an early age been quite aware of the fact that she is the daughter her parents hope to make a really good marriage for, Elizabeth’s sisters being sickly. Finally, it is important to keep in mind that Elizabeth Murray acts and thinks based on a 17th century perception of the world, a world in which every person had their place.
It is testament to Ms Seymour’s skill that this rather unlikeable protagonist sort of grows on you. Elizabeth is resourceful and courageous – at times she reminds me quite a lot of Scarlett O’Hara, what with her excessive love of her home, Ham House, which must be kept safe at all times. Like Scarlett, Elizabeth is willing to go to great lengths to keep family and home safe. Unlike Scarlett, she is neither as charming nor as conniving – which is to Elizabeth’s credit.
Due to Elizabeth’s status, the reader is taken along to participate in the rather dismal Christmas festivities of 1643, when Charles I held court in Oxford, and we are invited to come along when Elizabeth, several years later, visits the captive king at Hampton Court. Not only does Elizabeth rub shoulders with the king, she also has a number of meetings with Oliver Cromwell, who enjoys sparring with this intelligent young woman. Plus, Elizabeth has something Oliver really, really needs, a fact she uses to further the royalist cause on a number of occasions.
Ms Seymour paints engaging and interesting portraits of both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell – especially the latter, a man driven by passion and a sense of righteousness who becomes permanently sullied – even in his own mind, we are led to assume – by the execution of the deposed king. The upheaval and uncertainties of the times are presented with sufficient detail to allow the reader to grasp the context, and throughout Ms Seymour gives interesting insights into the more mundane aspects of life in the 17th century, be it the preparation of medicines, description of clothes and furnishings, or of food.
Writing about a real person is a challenge for any author, and Ms Seymour does an excellent job of balancing known facts with fiction. Elizabeth Murray grows into a determined woman, loyal unto death to the exiled king, Charles II. Further complication is offered through the depiction of Elizabeth’s relationship with her husband – whom she truly loves, if somewhat dispassionately – and Lord Lauderdale, the man who incenses her with his voice and his hands, with his eyes and his presence.
Ms Seymour has chosen to write in present tense throughout. This creates a sense of immediacy and adds pace, and while my personal preferences are for using the past tense so as to create a less abrupt style, Ms Seymour’s choice of tense works well in this narrative.
My main reservation is the rather unsatisfying ending. It’s as if Ms Seymour suddenly ran out of space, and just when things promise to become truly interesting as to Elizabeth’s feelings for lord Lauderdale and her commitment to work for the royal cause, Ms Seymour puts in the final full stop. Instead, a lengthy epilogue has been added to give the reader some closure, but for me this didn’t work at all. I’m not sure whether Ms Seymour is planning a second book – in which case the epilogue is something of a spoiler – or if she felt that she had reached a point when she was done with Elizabeth, but whatever the case, this novel deserved a more well-rounded ending.
To people fascinated by the 17th century, by the complex political situation of the time, by the advent of some attempts at true democracy, I warmly recommend Royalist Rebel. It will enhance your understanding of this turbulent period, seen through the eyes of a young woman who was there, who was opinionated and brave, who was willing to risk much to help her king and overlord. Such people are always fascinating, and Ms Seymour has managed to breathe quite some life into Elizabeth Murray and her times.
About the author:
Further to Royalist Rebel, Anita Seymour is the author of four previously published novels, all of them set in historical times. Born and bred in London, Ms Seymour early on developed a strong connection with the past, testament to which are her books.
Royalist Rebel is published by Claymore Press and is available on Amazon.
Anna Belfrage is the author of four published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. Anna can be found on twitter, Facebook and on her website.
More about Anna Belfrage at her website, Twitter and Facebook.
For Anita’s book, click here.