by W.S. Symonds
In 1883, two years after the publication of his first novel, Symonds produced a second historical romance, Hanley Castle, set during the English civil war. Through the eyes of the narrator, Richard Forester, we are present at all the principal battles, sieges and events of the war, and the action ranges from Upton-on-Severn to Shrewsbury, Gloucester, Worcester, Oxford, Falmouth, France, and Scotland. As before, Symonds displays his love of his native countryside, and his enthusiasm for its history and folklore.
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Richard's love for Mary Bromley, and his sister Isabel's for Giles Nanfan take second place in the story to the tragedies of the civil war: of families divided by their beliefs, of treachery, courage and compromise. There can be, it seems, no wrong or right in this war. Cromwell has admirable qualities, and Charles I is sometimes weak and vacillating. Even the staunch Royalist Forester, who has fought for the principle of monarchy, has no illusions about the personality of the man he has helped to restore to the throne.
All that was good and noble in the young King, Charles II., as I knew him, withered away under the influence of the foreign courts he frequented during the years of the Commonwealth. Thus when he became King of England, he set an example of lawless passion to his subjects which will be a byeword and a reproach through all time. As regards religion, he carried out the doctrine of "expediency" to such an extent, that, although he had long been a Catholic in heart and faith, he never avowed it until he lay gasping in death.
Richard Forester and his friends do not see the conflict in clear-cut terms of "good" or "bad". They acknowledge the presence of compassion and nobility within both camps, as well as their opposite qualities. And they experience the tragedy of the war, as well as the excitement, the bravado and the pageantry.
Alas! with saddened heart did I behold this sepulchre of Englishmen slaughtered by Englishmen. I had heard men begging for quarter in the tones of my native country. I had seen the father lead his men against a regiment commanded by his son. I had heard my own companions cry, "O God, I am shot!" and seen those I had talked with but a few moments before, grasping the bloody grass as they rolled in agony; and now I was looking on while hundreds of dead bodies were being thrown into a great quarry hole which served as a pit for the slain.
Page created 3 February 2003 and last
updated 3 February 2003
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