13 November 2011

Guest Blog: Gillian Bagwell

This week , we're welcoming historical author Gillian Bagwell, as she celebrates the release of THE SEPTEMBER QUEEN. It is available now. Gillian is here to talk about her novel and give away a signed copy! Here's the blurb:

The author of The Darling Strumpet returns to seventeenth-century England. Oliver Cromwell has crushed the hopes for the return of the monarchy at the Battle of Worcester, sending Charles II running for his life—and into the arms of a woman who will risk everything for king and country, including her heart…

Jane Lane is of marrying age, but she longs for adventure. She has pushed every potential suitor away—even those who could provide everything for her. Then one day, adventure makes its way to her doorstep, and with it, mortal danger…

Royalists fighting to restore the crown to King Charles II implore Jane and her family for help. They have been hiding the king, but Cromwell’s army is on his scent. Jane must transport him to safety, disguised as her manservant. As she places herself in harm’s way, with peril awaiting at every turn, she finds herself falling in love with the gallant young Charles. And despite his reputation as a breaker of hearts, Jane surrenders to a passion that will change her life forever.

Charles II has been presented in fiction so many times, as have the women in his life, including Nell Gywnn, the subject of your first novel, The Darling Strumpet.  But you’ve found an untold story about an unlikely heroine.
Yes, it’s not often a writer gets to tell such an exciting story for the first time.  During the course of my research for The Darling Strumpet, I read Derek Wilson’s book All the King’s Women, and I was intrigued by his brief discussion of Jane Lane, an ordinary Staffordshire girl who risked her life to help the 21-year-old Charles escape after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

Through a complex series of events, Charles ended up in Jane’s neighborhood, desperately trying to find a way to get to safety in France.  Jane had a pass allowing her and a manservant to travel the hundred miles to visit a friend near Bristol – a major port where the king might board a ship.  In a story that sounds like something out of fiction, the king disguised himself as Jane’s servant, and Jane rode pillion (sitting sidesaddle behind him while he rode astride). 

It was an improbable scheme.  Charles was six feet two inches tall and very dark complexioned, not at all common looking for an Englishman of that time.  And yet time after time he rode right under the noses of Roundhead soldiers without being recognized.  He narrowly eluded discovery and capture so many times that the whole event eventually became known as the Royal Miracle.

How long was Jane with the king?
Their travels together lasted just nine days, from September 9 to September 18, 1651.  But it was an intense nine days.  They were in grave danger throughout, with many episodes when they could easily have been discovered, and if they had been captured they would both have certainly been executed.  Charles depended on Jane’s help for his survival, and clearly they bonded.  They spent time together and exchanged letters during the years after that before Charles was restored to the throne, and from his letters and other evidence she obviously remained important to him.

Was the real Jane Lane another of the many mistresses of Charles II?
Derek Wilson’s book presented several pieces of evidence for his argument that Jane and the king became lovers during their adventure.  The circumstances of their travels certainly would have created an emotionally and physically charged situation.  They were in each other’s company, in close physical contact, and in extreme danger.  Charles was only twenty-one, and had spent the last year and a half in Scotland, virtually a prisoner and certainly without sexual or romantic activity. Jane knew she was helping to save not only the life of the king, but the future of the monarchy.  She spent long hours for days at a time clinging to the handsome young Charles as they rode.  All the barriers that would normally have existed between a king and a subject were gone, and it would have been very easy for one thing to lead to another. 

Then there is the evidence from later years.  After the Restoration, Parliament gave Jane a gift of £1000.  But Charles personally awarded her a pension of £1000 a year and other financial gifts, as well as many personal mementoes, which Wilson argues was “the way Charles habitually behaved towards lovers and ex-lovers from whom he felt a particular kind of obligation.”  He gave her brother John a pension and other monetary rewards.  He also offered him a title, which John refused, which Wilson sees as a possible indication that he thought accepting the title might be seen an acknowledgment of his sister having been the king’s mistress. 

Wilson’s final piece of evidence is the portrait of Jane Lane in the possession of the National Portrait Gallery in London.  She is depicted holding a shrouded crown– symbolic of her having hidden the king.  At the top of the portrait is a quote from Virgil’s Aeneid, “Sic, sic, iuvat sub umbra,” which Wilson translated as “Thus, thus, it pleases me to go into the shadows.” And Jane did recede into the shadows following her initial fame after the Restoration.  But Wilson argues that it is inconceivable that Jane, who was quite well educated, didn’t know the rest of the line, in which Dido curses Aeneas, a wandering prince, for forsaking her. He believes the portrait and its quote are a veiled cry of pain and rage at having been abandoned by her royal lover. I was convinced Wilson was right, and it certainly would have been a less interesting story for my purposes if Jane and the king didn’t become lovers on their travels.

We know that Charles married Catherine of Braganza and not Jane Lane.  So what happened to Jane after the Restoration?
Jane returned to England in September 1660 with Charles’s sister, Mary of Orange, to whom she was a lady in waiting.  Mary died of smallpox on Christmas Eve, and Jane soon dropped from public view.  She probably went home to Staffordshire soon after that.  In December 1663, she married Sir Clement Fisher, a gentleman who had served under her brother John in the Royalist army in the civil war.  It seems likely she knew him and may have been involved with him before she rode off with Charles.  With her marriage, Jane became Lady Fisher, and she lived with Clement at his home, Packington, in Warwickshire.  They did not have any children, and were married until his death in 1683.  She died on September 9, 1689, thirty-eight years to the day after she met Charles.

Gillian Bagwell’s novel The September Queen will be released on November 1.  Please visit her website, www.gillianbagwell.com, to read more about her books and read her blog Jane Lane and the Royal Miracle www.theroyalmiracle.blogspot.com, which recounts her research adventures and the daily episodes in Charles’s escape after Worcester.