I was born in the year 1667, the seventh year of the reign of King Charles the second, in the manor of Loxsbeare built on the Wear Cliffs just outside the city walls of Exeter, in Devon. I live there with my Father, Sir Jonathan and my mother, Lady Elizabeth. My father’s brother, Edmund Woulfe also resides with us, as do my elder brother Aaron and younger brother Henry.
Exeter is an ancient walled city made from distinctive red local stone, where the cannon damage from the Civil Wars twenty years before is still visible. It has many old churches, some dating back a thousand years, though there were more than double that number more before the wars. My family’s estate has flourished for over half a century on the manufacture of West Country cloth. When I turned eighteen in 1685, I had no reason to believe it would not always be this way.
Was everyone’s life good under King Charles?
So my father says, if you ignore the war with Holland, the Great Plague and the Fire of London. There was also the King’s spendthrift ways where he would rather buy jewels for his mistresses than equip the navy. Although he was more loved than his brother, James Duke of York.
In What Way Did Everything Change and When?
It all began with the death of King Charles. My Father was once a member of the Green Ribbon Club, which was in truth little more than a drinking club for the Duke of Monmouth’s Protestant followers who aimed to have the Duke of York removed from the line of succession and Monmouth put in his place.
Who is The Duke of Monmouth?
Have you not heard of him? I find that hard to believe. I met him you know, when he came to Loxsbeare in eighty three and stayed an entire week. He is the handsomest man I have ever seen. Tall, with the sultry dark Stuart eyes, perfect features and long, curly black hair. He dresses entirely in black too and when he looks at you. . . but I digress. The situation is complicated, but I shall attempt to explain. Bayle, our manservant, said he was involved in a plot to kill his father and the reason he came to stay was because he was banished from England and was in hiding. James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth, is King Charles’ eldest son. Illegitimate, unfortunately, for the Portuguese Queen Catherine cannot have children. Monmouth’s mother was some Welsh woman who died years ago. But now the king is dead and King James is king now, though he is a Papist.
Is it so terrible he is a Roman Catholic?
Father says so, though I know little about it; other than Queen Mary Tudor burned those who would not convert. King Louis does much the same in France, so Father says we don’t want it brought back to England again. Uncle Edmund always rants about papist ways and how King James hears mass in his own chapel at White Hall – he says it’s scandalous.
Oh yes, I forgot what I was saying. Anyway, when that evil Lord Grey of Warke suggested Monmouth should be king because he was a Protestant, he involved Father in his wicked scheme. Monmouth landed at Lyme from Holland one May morning, and without a backward look, Father, my Uncle Edmund and Aaron went riding off one morning to join him.
Why Was Monmouth in Holland?
Have I not said? He was banished for being part of a plot. The King did not want it, but the Duke of York insisted.
You sound as if you disapprove of this plot against King James?
Well of course I did! Though I kept my counsel in front of Father. He would seek Henry’s over mine, and he is but fifteen. No, it is the fate of daughters, I am afraid; to smile and be acquiescent, no matter what our hearts tell us. Mother hates the thought of fighting too, I can tell, and yet she never utters a word in criticism.
I gather things didn’t work out at they hoped?
Indeed not. Father said there would be no bloodshed, that the people would welcome the Duke’s attempt to protect the Protestant religion. However that Lord Grey, a sly, ambitious man with dubious morals, convinced Monmouth to declare himself king in Taunton Market Place. That was the worst thing he could have done. King James immediately attainted him as a traitor and sent his own army the west.
Then What Happened?
They chased each other round the countryside for a while, then clashed at Sedgemoor near Bridgwater, where the royal army slaughtered over a thousand men. The same number were hanged or deported to the South Seas. King James is an unforgiving man and would not even grant his nephew a trial. Monmouth begged his uncle for mercy, on his knees they said, but King James merely toyed with him and had Monmouth’s head cut off on Tower Hill. The fool of an executioner made a poor job of it too.
The King must have hated his nephew
He did. King James suffered that most corrosive of emotions - Jealousy. James Scott was raised as a prince by his father, who loved him dearly. He had everything; looks, wealth, position, a rich wife and two healthy sons. Everything James Duke of York envied, for no one loved or trusted Catholic James. The moment he became king he started promoting his Papist friends into high positions in the army, which is illegal under the Test Act.
When you heard the battle was lost, what did you do, Helena?
You mean, when Bayle and I took a horse and cart to go and look for my family? [Shrugs] I couldn’t simply sit and wait for news could I? When I heard of the Rebel defeat, I knew I had to go to Somerset, and there was no one to gainsay me with only Henry and Mother left behind. I didn’t abandon them, not really. Master Ffoyle, Father’s friend, looked after them and removed them from Loxsbeare when the soldiers came.
I prefer not to talk about Somerset. What happened there was horrific, tragic for so many and best forgotten. I promised Bayle, I . . . Anyway, it is over now. I must not look back.
You went to London afterwards to live with the Devereux family. What was that like?
A great adventure, if somewhat frightening. It was so kind of Robert and Adella Devereux to take Henry and me in. Robert Devereux is a wealthy goldsmith and owns the best chophouse in Holborn. I love London and was honoured to have him as my patron. Not many would have given shelter to a traitor’s son and daughter.
They have two daughters, of whom I have grown fond, Celia, who is a little older than me and Phebe, who is younger. Charming, loving girls both, if somewhat spoilt. And so different. Celia is dutiful and sweet and she would never do anything to discompose her parents, whereas Phebe has a willful streak as it quite determined to live life her own way.
They have just the two daughters?
Ah, no. There is a son. William. [Blushes] A brash, self-opinionated young man, but then he has the looks and his father’s wealth to go with it. He carouses around town but shows no enthusiasm to find his own way. He is charming I daresay, but I have no interest in him.
No interest at all?
Certainly not. I like him well enough. He was kind to me when we found out that . . . well that is another matter. I cannot afford to allow him to engage my affections. For me, marriage is the only path I have left to regain some of my former life. I need a solid, dependable young man with ambition and the ability to forge his own way in the world which would obliterate my past.
But suppose you do not find love with this dependable young man?
It does not matter. I have other, loftier aims. Lasting ones. Love is a fleeting, ethereal thing one cannot depend on. Money and status are different.
Do you have someone in mind?
Actually, yes. Although I am unwilling to discuss him at this stage. He does not yet see me as a future wife and I have to convince him to turn his thoughts that way. Subtly of course.
Will I have to read The Rebel’s Daughter to find out more?
Indeed you shall, and my story continues in The Goldsmith’s Wife. I hope you won’t be disappointed.