CELIA BOYD

Tom Fletcher

A Reason from the Stars

 

A series of historical novels, the memoirs of Tom Fletcher, a young physician of Worcester who in 1642 is precipitated into the English Civil Wars. He frequently asks God or Fate or the stars what was the reason for the violence and bloodshed of the Civil Wars. But there was no reason from the stars.

The English Civil War began over 370 years ago in 1642

Was it King versus Parliament?

Cavaliers versus Roundheads?

Rich versus Poor?

Far too simplistic!! The King, Charles 1, needed Parliament, as his servant, his cash cow, for an income. Some of the richest aristocrats in England, all related, networking together, supported Parliament, and some of the poorest of the King’s subjects supported him with blind and touching loyalty. The Middle Class was prospering, gaining both wealth and power. Add the King’s insistence that Archbishop Laud’s high Anglicanism was the only approved religion, an explosive situation emerges.

So, was the King a bloodthirsty tyrant, and Cromwell, a compassionate liberator?

Ask the Irish !

Under Cromwell, appalling atrocities were committed in Ireland at Drogheda and Wexford and the Lord Protector, as Cromwell became known, set aside egalitarian ethics as his rule continued, until at last he dissolved Parliament. Charles 1, who did virtually the same in 1641 was a flawed king, devious rather than intelligent, but he was compassionate to his enemies, deeming all men his subjects.

The series A Reason from the Stars begins in 1642 with Tom Fletcher a young physician from Worcester, riding innocently and mistakenly into the first action of the Civil War at Powick Bridge. Tom tries to retain a fierce neutrality. Like so many others, he was puzzled and bewildered by the terrible cost in human life.

 

First Dry Rattle 1640- 1642

“Once whilst committing suicide, I changed my mind.”

Amyas Fletcher wishes his son to follow in the lucrative family trade of butchery, but when Tom attempts self-slaughter, rather than follow in his father’s foorsteps, he relents. Tom is apprenticed to his cousin Ben Knowles, already a respected medical practitioner in Worcester, and Tom joyfully embraces his vocation as a doctor.

Two years later in 1642, 18 year old Tom is thrust into the horror of Civil War. Returning in September from a visit to friends in Ledbury, he falls foul of a Parliamentarian quartermaster, Brigstock, who is using the out break of the war to indulge psychopathic tendencies. In the chaos which follows the Earl of Essex’ occupation of Worcester, Amyas Fletcher, Tom’s father is condemned and hung as a traitor. Tom assaults a Parliamentarian trooper, and flees from Worcester to offer his services to the King. However he is captured by Brigstock at the Rollright Stones. The fortunes of war enable him to escape and he serves as a surgeon on the battlefield at Edgehill, where in the shocked aftermath of the battle, he doctors both sides.

The underlying theme of this first novel is a comparison of differing styles of fatherhood. The King as father of the nation fails to appreciate the increasing  demands of his over-mighty subjects. Tom Fletcher’s humorous loving father, Amyas Fletcher, is hung as a spy in error by Essex in Worcester’s market place and yet his father’s influence permeates the humanitarian actions of his son to the extent that aristocratic friends envy Tom the pleasant easy relationship he enjoyed with his father. Tom begins to realise that the love of a heavenly father, towards a nation at war with itself, is problematic.

“The first dry rattle of new drawn steel/ Changes the world today.”

So wrote Kipling 300 years later in his poem, Edgehill Fight. Civil war divided England and altered it for ever.

A Daring Resolution January -April 1643

Even his enemies reluctantly admired Prince Rupert’s “Daring Resolution.” He was not merely a royal roisterer, but also a concerned commander and an innovative tactician.

The Age of Chivalry was long forgotten by 1643, the second year of the English Civil War. Yet Tom Fletcher, a latter day knight errant, responds to the appeal of family friends from Ledbury, and goes in search of Eleanour, their daughter, his childhood sweetheart, last heard of married to a news sheet writer and seller, living in Lichfield. She is swiftly found but Tom is trapped in Lichfield Cathedral Close, when Lord Brooke besieges it. The action moves to Staffordshire where Tom against his will is involved in the Battle of Hopton Heath.

Moral considerations constrain him to assist Abram whom he encounters in Birmingham at the time of Prince Rupert’s assault on the town. Tom returns with Abram to Lichfield to collect Eleanour, who had entreated him to protect her on her homeward journey to Ledbury. However she is reconciled with her husband and it is Prince Rupert who needs Tom’s help with an embarrassing medical problem. Ultimately Tom behaves heroically at the second siege of Lichfield where Rupert, with daring resolution, explodes the first landmine ever detonated on English soil.

News sheets began to be much sought after during the English Civil War and printing and publishing flourished, with journalists eagerly feeding in the latest news, accurate or otherwise. Ralph and Eleanour Truscott embody a new professionalism. The 1640s was perhaps the decade where “spin” came of age!

Act of Rebellion April-November 1643

In this, the third memoir of Tom Fletcher’s exploits, he suffers a terrible and unavoidable personal tragedy. His young wife Phoebe dies from an ectopic pregnancy. Tom cannot help her and his confidence in his medical ability is undermined, particularly when his housekeeper, Joan Bailey, violently accuses him of causing Phoebe’s death by marrying her.

Tom escapes from her accusations. He travels to Gloucester by boat with Abram and stays at the New Inn. He tries to journey to London to see Ben, going first to Bath, but at the Battle of Lansdowne Hill, he is reunited with his friend Robert Burghill who has been mutilated by a mad surgeon. Tom returns again with Robert to the New Inn in Gloucester to help his friend recuperate. The failure of the established medical profession to deal efficiently with the wounded is described and Tom becomes the scapegoat of the local physicians. They confidently adhere to the teaching of Galen, whilst men are dying around them for lack of basic rational treatment

And in Gloucester a great act of rebellion against the Crown takes place. The Parliamentarian citizens refuse to yield their city to the besieging army of the King, who encircles it with his forces for an entire month. And yet the walls could not have with stood a serious bombardment.

After further laborious journeys, Tom again finds himself tending the wounded at the Battle of Newbury. At last he finally returns to Worcester having witnessed many acts of rebellion against the King, one of which was the planned suicide in battle of Lucius Carey, Viscount Falkland, a man who had the intelligence and charisma to act as an effective mediator.

An Ungodly Reckoning – November 1643- March 1644

 

The fourth Tom Fletcher memoir in the series A Reason from the Stars deals with the inevitable descent of the two factions into barbarity. During the 163os, many Scots and English mercenaries travelled to Europe to serve during the Thirty Years War. It was in fact English soldiers of fortune who assassinated Wallenstein, a great Bohemian general in 1634. The Thirty Years War was a vast battleground in which the victims were the non-combatants,  the poor peasant populations of Central Europe , who starved and died as great armies despoiled their lands.
Many mercenaries returned at the outbreak of civil war in England in 1642, intent on rich pickings. They had learned their craft of soldiering in conditions that were inhumane and vile in the extreme, where human life had little value. In late 1643 and 1644 atrocities took place on English soil, admittedly on a much smaller scale than those of the Thirty Years War, but which reflected the horrors accepted on the Continent. Soldiers who had surrendered and cried “Quarter” were slaughtered unmercifully, communities were exploited and impoverished, and massacres were committed in the name of religion.
Tom leaves his home in Worcester to support his friend Samuel Price,  who has inherited two manors in the north of the county. But Tom is treacherously abandoned by his friend, and is captured by soldiers of the Parliamentarian Garrison in Warwick Castle. He is foully imprisoned but swiftly released when a flattering letter to him from William Waller is found by his captors in his box of medicaments. As he returns to Worcester, he witnesses the savage massacre of the Catholic servants of the Sheldon great house in Beoley by the same Parliamentarian Garrison.
But the Royalists are equally culpable, On a mission to Cheshire to rescue an apothecary for his practice in Worcester, he doctors the survivors of the Barthomley Massacre, slaughtered by a Royalist troop. After the Battle of Nantwich, Tom rescues a baby, whose mother has met with a fatal accident. As he is returning home through Shropshire he witnesses the outcome of the treacherous murder of the Hopton Castle Garrison by Sir Michael Woodhouse’ Royalist troop from Ludlow. In the space of three months, Tom encounters three atrocities committed by Englishmen in the name of King or Parliament. The Civil War without an Enemy has degenerated into a brutal War which is far from Civil.
During the previous conduct of this uncivil conflict, Tom has pondered on God’s acceptance of these horrors. Now, at the conclusion of An Ungodly Reckoning, he begins to doubt God’s very existence.