Published 2012, White Owl Publications Ltd., Kindle Edition ASIN B0068G990C, 398 pages

1685.  Six long weeks of hell on earth.  The Duke of Monmouth, Charles II’s illegitimate son, lands in England from his voluntary exile in Holland in an attempt to claim the throne of England from James II, his uncle.

His father, Charles II, adamantly refused to name his son as heir, declaring only legitimate heir could inherit, of which he had none with Queen Catherine of Braganza.  A lusty man, to put it mildly, Charles was the father of several children which he acknowledged, but never legitimized.

The Duke of Monmouth felt he had irrefutable proof he was legitimate.  Rumors circulated Charles II married a Lucy Walters prior to his marriage to Catherine.  The Duke of Monmouth was the offspring of that relationship.  Monmouth claimed he possessed written evidence of the marriage between his mother and father.

James II, younger brother of Charles II, is an avowed Catholic, a denomination that does not sit well with the common people.  Puritanism is alive and well, albeit in secret.   The people attend an Anglican church as decreed by James II on Sundays but, in their minds, there is little difference between the Anglican and Catholic churches.  The Puritans hold secret meetings (conventicles), always with a lookout for betrayal.

Adam Carter, a cloth merchant in the village of Colyton, is Puritan.  He has a great fear he is not one of the chosen Elect predestined to enter Heaven.  He is positive he is bound for Hell.  No amount of good works on his behalf will ever redeem him.  His fate is sealed.  A disastrous event occurred much earlier in his life.  He suffers mental anguish over the consequences to this day.

Ann Carter, the eldest daughter of Adam, has been brought up a Puritan but is being wooed by Robert Pole, a second son of local nobility, with the temptation of life in London as his mistress.  Marriage, of course, is out of the question.

Ann yearns for all the delights Robert describes, but her conscience nags her about the impropiety of such a life.  Not to mention, she is betrothed to Tom Goodchild, the village shoemaker.  Her family, especially her father, is concerned about Ann’s state of mind.  Her meeting with Robert was witnessed and her father is determined nothing shall come of it.  Adam, as her father, is responsible for the state of her soul.

Ann’s family is very strict and now they do not entirely trust her.  Robert Pole is not Puritan and, therefore, to be absolutely avoided.  Ann, on the other hand, is having feelings of affection, leaving her in a quandary.

She has managed to delay her marriage to Tom for many years, but now time is running out and she is close to being forced into the marriage.  A cottage is chosen for their home.  It is everyone’s expectation.  The marriage is long overdue.  Ann is unsure; Tom is a large, rough man.  She is uncertain he will be gentle with her.  After an agonizing night of bargaining with God, she tells her parents she will marry Tom.

The marriage is postponed by a coded letter telling citizens to be ready and armed.   Monmouth, it is said, will land in England to overthrow James II with the common people as his army.  Rumors become reality.

After the meeting where this news is revealed, the Carter party is accosted by riders, including Robert Pole, searching for dissenters.  Ann sees Robert in a different light, which confuses her all the more.  She also discovers Tom is a Puritan fanatic, which frightens her tremendously.

Poorly armed and untrained, men flock to Monmouth’s cause.  They have no conception of the horrors that await them.  The deprivation, the blood and gore, incompetent leadership, death of comrades, the daily struggle to march on in abysmal conditions and kill or die.  For Adam Carter, each day is a test of his courage, of which he feels he has none.  He is convinced he is a lowly coward and can never be otherwise.  He will ultimately face the greatest challenge to his courage.

The militia invade Colyton and take over the Carter home.  Ann becomes involved in the rebellion by bringing much needed horses to the men.  On her return home she is captured by the militia, but is determined to return to her father’s side and lend her aid to the cause.  Ann will find no ease of mind concerning Robert Pole or Tom Goodchild during the horrors of war.  Her decision awaits, as does her conscience.

Tim Vicary’s The Monmouth Summer is written from the perspective of the common people.  A refreshing change in these days of “marquee” novels.  He masterfully details the daily, even hourly, challenges facing these courageous people who firmly believe they are doing what God desires of them. 

Vicary delves into the mind of a Puritan, an extremely ascetic and self-disciplined denomination, often lead by a zealous preacher who demands his flock follow doctrine without deviation.  Some Puritans suffered horribly over their every thought and deed and whether they are damned to hell for the slightest infraction.  Vicary convincingly incorporates these moral dilemmas into The Monmouth Summer.

All in all, I very much enjoyed reading The Monmouth Summer.  I unhesitatingly recommend it to historical fiction fans who want to read about everyday life and the challenges common people faced, not by their choice but by that of the monarchy.

Tim Vicary very kindly answered a few questions about the writing of The Monmouth Summer.  Thank you Tim!

 How did you choose Monmouth’s final attempt to gain England’s crown as the premise for writing The Monmouth Summer?

I was living in the West Country at the time, very close to where these things happened. Then one day I was invited to a school play in Colyton, not far from where I lived. I didn’t expect much, but it turned out to be one of the best theatrical experiences I’d had in a long time.

Instead of being done on a stage, removed from the audience, it was performed in what I think is called the promenade style, with the actors moving through and around the audience all the time, so that sometimes you were really up close, a few feet away from the action. And it really worked very well.

The play was all about the Monmouth rebellion, and I found it very moving. So that very evening I went home and thought, ‘That’s really interesting. I’m going to write a book about this.’

And I did.

Why did you decide to use both Adam and Ann to tell the story?

The reason I chose to focus on Ann and her father Adam was also to do with this play. The most important thing about the play was that it made me realize the dramatic life-changing effects this rebellion had on the ordinary people who were involved in it. I wanted to focus on the common people, not the aristocrats like Monmouth himself.

So I read a lot about the history of the rebellion, and found out about some of the real people who were involved, like Roger Satchell and John Spragg, for example. They really existed. Ann and Adam are imaginary, but I think people like them could have existed, so I was trying to make it as real as possible.    

Do you have an opinion on whether Monmouth was actually Charles’ legitimate son through a marriage with Lucy Walters?

I think it’s pretty certain that Monmouth was illegitimate, because it must have been very tempting for Charles II to acknowledge him as a son, since Charles didn’t have any other legitimate children and Monmouth was popular, handsome and a fairly good soldier – he had fought on the continent and successfully – and fairly mercifully – defeated a rebellion in Scotland.

So he was a fairly reasonable candidate for Prince of Wales and Charles had plenty of occasions to acknowledge him but he always refused to do so, even though he also knew that his brother James was an inflexible Catholic who was likely to be unpopluar and cause a lot of trouble if he became king, which was exactly what happened.

So why didn’t Charles claim Monmouth as his legitimate son? For the simple reason that he wasn’t, there was no written evidence to prove it (despite what Monmouth claimed) and Charles believed strongly in the principle of hereditary kingship.  After all, look what had happened to his father! Charles II may not have had many principles, but this was one that he did strongly believe in.

We also have to remember that Charles was a secret Catholic, so the fact that Monmouth was a Protestant probably also counted against him in his father’s eyes.    

****

My Rating:  4/5 Stars (Excellent)

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