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1744, and the whole country is threatened once again by civil war as the exiled Stuarts attempt to recover their lost throne. Their Manchester supporters will use any means to raise support and finance for the Jacobite cause. But those loyal to the current monarchy are equally determined to stop them. As the opposing forces gather, and the threat of civil war becomes a reality, the fates of both sides will lie in the hands of one man – Aran Owen – who must choose between loyalty to the family who have raised him and his burning ambition to become a renowned artist. The finale will be played out on the ramparts of Carlisle Castle in the winter of 1745. Hopes of a Stuart restoration are dashed – and Aran finally discovers who are the Rogues and who the Righteous within the complex web of his relationships.
|Bonnie Prince Charlie|
Called The Jacobites' Apprentice, this book centres around the lives of those who would support the Young Pretender to the throne, shall we say Prince Charles Edward Stuart for short and those Hanoverians loyal to King George of England, Scotland and Ireland. Charlie, or Bonnie Prince Charlie as he was romantically called, claimed the crown to be his through his father, known as the Old Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart, being the son of King James II of England and VII of Scotland. King James had been ousted by a group of parliamentarians who were worried about the king's Catholicism and replaced instead by his daughter Mary, who was a Protestant, and invited her and her Protestant husband, William of Orange, to rule England. James Stuart was to be the last Catholic king of the United Kingdom. But by the time we reach the year 1744, it is the King George the second of that name, from the German House of Hanover who sits on the throne.
But this is merely the background to this story. The real theme is about greed, corruption, adultery and immorality on many levels, including tax evading and fraud:
'Damn your eyes sir! You think me a simpleton? If you was to set the Excise men loose on Redmonds's affairs, there's no telling that they might not stumble upon your own. Is that not the case? This whole town is riddled with corruption. Why, they tell me that sometimes you have timbers imported here on the very same vessels that land Redmond's tea, so that you might avoid the duty together.'
This book is a massive work of art and the extensive research done by the author is one of the reasons why I have chosen it to be my choice for Book of the Month. David Ebsworth is to be highly commended for undertaking a project on a subject that is as convoluted as a snakes and ladders board, and although it was nothing like I had been expecting when I first picked it up (I was looking forward to what I believed to be a tale based around a romanticised adventure of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' and his fight to win back the British throne), I was disappointed. But as I continued to read I found that at first it intrigued me, then after awhile I felt drawn into the story, wanting not to put it down until I had found out more about the goings on of the Redmond family or James Bradley's illicit affair with Titus' wife, the lovely Maria Louise, and the more I read, the more I enjoyed it and the more I wanted to know.
|18th century coffee house|
It begins with a prologue in which the reader is left with a moral. The main character, a young Aran Owen, is sent by his mother on a fly wagon from his home in Wales to his new home in Manchester; on the way there he travels with a gentleman who teaches him that he will need to know how to discern the Righteous from the Rogues to which, at this point, young Aran is unsure of the significance. Then years later we meet the family that a grown-up Aran has been fostered to in Manchester. They are staunch Jacobites, supporters of the Stuart cause. At the head of the family is Titus Redmond, a wealthy, middle aged merchant and brothel owner and his beautiful wife, Irish colleen Maria Louise, who uses her charms to gain information for the cause in her liaison with royalist James Bradley. There are also their four daughters; the eldest, Rosina, is equally as attractive as her mother, but 'afflicted' by tribady (lesbianism). Another main player is the creepy but interesting double spy Dudley Striker whose sinister presence throughout the book makes him one of the most strangely enjoyable characters.
Other characters include the coffee house owner Elizabeth Cooper, who seduces the young influential Rosina Redmond, much to the distaste of Aran, who hankers after the beautiful Rosina. The relationship between the two women causes a terrible scandal in Manchester social circles and astounds not least, Rosina's parents. The aforementioned are just some of the colourful characters in this book; there are also many others who contribute to the many threads of this tale as they lead to the explosive conclusion. We see the two different sides: the Jacobites, steadfastly Catholic, and the Protestant Royalists as, curiously, they strive to behave with decorum toward their rivals in social circles whilst behind the scenes each are plotting their downfall. Titus Redmond's wife Maria Louise was one of the most likeable characters. She is loyal to her husband despite her sexual liasons, but it it is the liaison with James Bradley that Titus encouraged in order for the Jacobites to gain oneupmanship on the Hanoverians.
The cast is one of many and there are several main characters with their own story lines and agendas contributing to the overall intrigue of the book. The plot evolves as Aran is drawn into the opposition's camp and, having come under threat from the deadly assassin Striker, does his best to remain loyal to the Redmonds, who have brought him good fortune. The weird relationship between Rosina and her lesbian lover, Royalist Eilzabeth Cooper, makes you wonder why on earth the author has used the story line but all will be revealed in the conclusion as Aran works out who were the Rogues and who were the Righteous.
The language of The Jacobites' Apprentice was authentic and very amusing. David Ebsworth uses well researched 18th century vernacular and the overuse of a certain swear word sometimes made me cringe; however I accept that this was the personality of the character being portrayed. In his author's note, David lets us know his references and he produces an extensive library to back up his use of events, places and people. He also lets us know what his inventions to the story were and which parts of the novel were accurately portrayed. Dudley Striker it seems, was based on a real person; I particularly liked reading his back story. The characters are quite complex and there are no perfect heroes; they all have their foibles. I could see this book being made into a big televsion production or even a musical! Well they did Sweeny Todd didn't they?
|Jacobite army marching into Manchester|
The Jacobites' Apprentice is a great sweeping giant of a book and the language is authentic and reads like a classic. If you like an easy read, this isn't for you. But if you are the type who enjoys the literary genius of Henry Fielding, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens this is definitely for you. And if you want a challenge, then this is also for you! Brilliant stuff. Go on, challenge yourself! Its worth it - you won't be disappointed.
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David Ebsworth's The Jacobites' Apprentice can be found on Amazon.com and Amazon UK.