Friday 28 June 2019

Join #HistoricalFiction author, Elizabeth St.John, as she explores the English Civil War diary that inspired her fabulous series — The Lydiard Chronicles #History #ToweOfLondon @ElizStJohn

Like Mother Like Daughter
Extracts from a Civil War Diary
By Elizabeth St.John

When I first came across Lucy Hutchinson’s memoirs and notebooks, they were deep within the archives of Nottingham Castle, dusty and filed away. Although in print since the early 1800s as “Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchison”, my ancestress’s work had been overlooked by all but the most committed of scholars. Lucy Hutchinson was an exceptionally educated brilliant young woman, and as I read her clear handwriting, I began to marvel at the intriguing story she wrote of living through England’s terrible civil war and the rebuilding of a nation. Here was a story that resonated across four hundred years, telling of beliefs, loss and courage, and the abiding love of family.

Lucy Hutchinson’s Journal, which formed the basis of her work, Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson. Credit: Nottingham Castle

Comprised of several sections and letters, Lucy Hutchinson wrote the Memoirs for her children, to tell them of the life of their father, Parliamentarian Colonel John Hutchinson. Along the way, she also wrote of her brother, Allen Apsley, and of the life of her parents, Lucy St.John and Sir Allen Apsley. The following extracts are some compelling entries that inspired my trilogy, The Lydiard Chronicles, and the first two books in the series, The Lady of the Tower and By Love Divided.

In 1617 Lucy St.John entered the Tower of London, not knowing if she would ever leave. She committed no crime--she was the Keeper's wife--and for the next thirteen years she would live among the aristocratic prisoners held captive in the most infamous prison in Britain. A religious woman, she embraced the new Calvinist doctrine, and as an accomplished herbalist, she cared for the prisoners as if they were her own.

The Queen’s House at the Tower of London, residence of Lucy St.John and birthplace of Lucy Hutchinson. 

Here is an extract from Lucy Hutchinson’s diary, telling of her mother's life in the Tower:

“…Sir Walter Raleigh and Mr. Ruthven being prisoners in the Tower, and addicting themselves to chemistry, she (Lucy St.John) suffered them to make their rare experiments at her cost, partly to comfort and divert the poor prisoners, and partly to gain the knowledge of their experiments, and the medicines to help such poor people as were not able to seek physicians. By these means she acquired a great deal of skill, which was very profitable to many all her life. She was not only to these, but to all the other prisoners that came into the Tower, as a mother. All the time she dwelt in the Tower, if any were sick she made them broths and restoratives with her own hands, visited and took care of them, and provided them all necessaries; if any were afflicted she comforted them, so that they felt not the inconvenience of a prison who were in that place.”

As she adjusted to her life in the Tower, Lucy St.John found herself pregnant with her second child, and in January 1620, she gave birth to a girl, the future Lucy Hutchinson. In the diaries, Lucy H. chooses a combination of mysticism and intellectualism to describe herself in the following words:

“…My mother, while she was with child of me, dreamed that she was walking in the garden with my father, and that a star came down into her hand, with other circumstances, which, though I have often heard, I minded not enough to remember perfectly; only my father told her, her dream signified she should have a daughter of some extraordinary eminency; for my father and mother fancying me then beautiful, and more than ordinarily apprehensive, applied all their cares, and spared no cost to improve me in my education, which procured me the admiration of those that flattered my parents. By the time I was four years old I read English perfectly, and having a great memory, I was carried to sermons; and while I was very young could remember and repeat them exactly.

When I was about seven years of age, I remember I had at one time eight tutors in several qualities, languages, music, dancing, writing, and needlework; but my genius was quite averse from all but my book, and that I was so eager of, that my mother thinking it prejudiced my health, would moderate me in it; yet this rather animated me than kept me back, and every moment I could steal from my play I would employ in any book I could find, when my own were locked up from me. After dinner and supper I still had an hour allowed me to play, and then I would steal into some hole or other to read. My father would have me learn Latin, and I was so apt that I outstripped my brothers who were at school, although my father’s chaplain, that was my tutor, was a pitiful dull fellow.

My brothers, who had a great deal of wit, had some emulation at the progress I made in my learning, which very well pleased my father; though my mother would have been contented I had not so wholly addicted myself to that as to neglect my other qualities. As for music and dancing, I profited very little in them, and would never practise my lute or harpsichord but when my masters were with me; and for my needle I absolutely hated it. Play among other children I despised, and when I was forced to entertain such as came to visit me, I tired them with more grave instructions than their mothers, and plucked all their (dolls) to pieces.

Lucy Hutchinson grew up to be a brilliant young woman, a writer and philosopher, and married John Hutchinson, one of the leading moderate voices in Parliament’s battle against Charles I. During the war, Colonel Hutchinson was appointed Governor of Nottingham, and as such moved his own family into Nottingham Castle for safety when the war came to his door. When they took refuge in the castle (and Lucy St.John was living with her daughter at that point in their lives), Lucy Hutchinson followed her mother’s footsteps in caring for the prisoners, regardless of their crime or beliefs.

“There was a large room, which was the chapel, in the castle: this they had filled full of prisoners, besides a very bad prison, which was no better than a dungeon, called the Lion’s Den. In the encounter, one of the Derby captains was slain, and five of our men hurt, who for want of another surgeon, were brought to the governor’s wife, and she having some excellent balsams and plasters in her closet, with the assistance of a gentleman that had some skill, dressed all their wounds, whereof some were dangerous, being all shots, with such good success, that they were all cured in convenient time. After our wounded men were dressed, as she stood at her chamber-door, seeing three of the prisoners sorely cut, and carried down bleeding into the Lion’s Den, she desired the marshal to bring them in to her, and bound up and dressed their wounds also: which while she was doing, Captain Palmer came in and told her his soul abhorred to see this favour to the enemies of God; she replied, she had done nothing but what she thought was her duty, in humanity to them, as fellow-creatures, not as enemies.”

Nottingham Castle as it would have appeared in Lucy Hutchinson’s time.

Written almost four hundred years ago, Lucy Hutchinson’s Memoirs and autobiography give us a fascinating account of life in seventeenth century England. With clear language and a compelling conviction in her beliefs, she brings us into her world and treats us to an eye witness account of England’s great divide.

For further reading, Lucy’s work is online:

The Lydiard Chronicles are on sale on Amazon as Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and paperbacks. The Lady of the Tower is also on sale at the Tower of London and both paperbacks are available through bookshops.

The Lady of the Tower

By Love Divided

Elizabeth St.John

Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. A best-selling author, historian and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost. But that's a different story…

Elizabeth loves to hear from readers, you can find her: WebsiteAmazon Author PageTwitterFacebook.


  1. Thanks for having me, Mary Anne!

  2. We need more Lucy St.John Apsley's and Lucy Apsley Hutchinson's in the world today. Yeah for smart and humane women.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx