Sunday 12 April 2020

Join #HistoricalFiction author, Mark Turnbull, as he explores what inspired him to write Allegiance of Blood #CivilWar @1642Author

Me, My Family, & The British Civil War.
By Mark Turnbull

I’ve been fascinated by the British Civil War ever since I read the first snippet of information about the period nearly thirty years ago. It was as if it had always been a part of my DNA. I also thought that the civil war had generated my desire to write. After completing my first book I discovered that writing stemmed from further back in my childhood, and regarding genetics, I certainly had a genealogical connection to the era.

When I was preparing notes for a talk that I was due to give, I opened a memory box and found some old stories that I had written. Aged six or seven, Thomas the Tank Engine – a children’s television series – was my character and inspiration! Three years after this my parents took me to Helmsley Castle in North Yorkshire and I made a chance purchase, and a chance discovery. From amongst a pack of cards, each one displaying an image of the Kings and Queens of England on one side and biographical notes on the other, I picked out my favourites and began to sketch them. After some rather bland tomb effigies, a magnificent painting of King Charles the First caught my attention. The lifelike brilliance of Van Dyck’s work and the costume sparked my interest, together with the fact that the King had been executed following a war with his own people.

The next brush with history wasn’t long in coming. I had got up quite early, excited to have been finally allowed to explore the attic with my dad. I was positive that there would be hidden treasure up there, and as I waited for him to come downstairs that morning, I turned on the television. The film showing was ‘Cromwell’ starring Sir Alec Guinness and Richard Harris and I recognised the period immediately. Although it isn’t historically accurate, it is visually impressive and this was the treasure that I found that day. I then joined the Sealed Knot in 1996 as a re-enacting pikeman, which offered some amazing first-hand experiences of civil war battles. (The Sealed Knot and The English Civil War Society do a fantastic job of bringing this pivotal – and overlooked – period to life.)

In 1999 I first had the idea to write about the British Civil War. I landed upon historical fiction without any doubts, because of my wish to bring the period, its events and characters alive. I also relished further experiencing the 17th century world by crafting a story out of its history and delving into research. Living in County Durham, fifteen miles from Newcastle, I imagined that we were quite a distance from the locations of any civil war battles, but when I was bitten by the genealogical bug, one of my goals was to see if I could find out my ancestor’s allegiance; King Charles or Parliament.

On 6th May 1646, King Charles I arrived at the headquarters of the Scottish army, near Newark upon Trent. He had come to surrender himself after just under four years of civil war. Although Scotland and England shared the same monarch, their governments were entirely separate, and the Scots had entered the conflict in support of Parliament. The King had decided that handing himself over to the Scots was the better option. Barely one week later, the Scottish army took the King north and he was imprisoned in Newe House, in Newcastle, the most prominent of the city. His servants and chaplain were sent away and he was entirely alone, surrounded by Scottish ministers who expected him to embrace their Presbyterian church and establish it in England. The King, however, was not to be moved. They had wheeled out every argument possible, cajoled and argued with him, all the while showing none of the respect or deference that he was used to.  He must have considered his own family history and thought of his grandmother, Mary, Queen of Scots, who had been poorly treated by her people.

In 2005 I began researching my own family tree. At the outset, I knew nothing beyond my great-grandfather on the Turnbull side, though had been told of our Scottish origins. As I worked back generation by generation, I didn’t seem to get any nearer to Scotland; by 1604, the Turnbulls were still in Gateshead and Newcastle. There were regular entries in the parish registers of Turnbull births, marriages and deaths. Michael Turnbull, born 1604, my 9 x great-grandfather and his wife Phyllis, were the ancestors who had lived through the British Civil War. But records didn’t seem to offer any prospect of identifying Michael’s allegiance. Plus, the baptisms for Michael’s children ended in 1641. In fact, I noticed that most of the Scots had vanished from Newcastle by that point, the eve of civil war.

When King Charles was in Newcastle in 1646, besieged on all sides by Scottish clergymen, he was permitted two saving graces. He was allowed to leave the city walls and visit the shield field to play golf, and he also played chess – ironically while trying to avoid being checkmated for real. During this time the only outlet for his worries was his wife, who was safely in France. To her, he confided that, “I have need of some comfort, for I never knew what it was to be barbarously baited before … there was never man so alone as I … all the comfort I have is in thy love and a clear conscience.”
Things evidently got worse fast. “I hope God has sent me hither for the last punishment that he will inflict upon me, for assuredly no honest man can prosper in these people’s company.”
Despite his innermost frustration, the King had remained outwardly polite and courteous to the Scottish. While in Newcastle, he was given terms from Parliament which included abolishing episcopacy, handing control of the armed forces to them for twenty years, and also passing over fifty-six of his supporters for justice. The King declared that these terms were repugnant to his, “conscience, crown and honour.” He also began to get frustrated with the Scottish divines who on one occasion were regaling him with a long prayer of grace before mealtime. The King began eating, resolving that he would not let his food go cold while the minister, “stood whistling for the spirit.”

Meanwhile, my genealogical trail was heating up. A record proved that Michael had married for a second time, in All Saints, Newcastle, on 23rd June 1646. His wife, Violet Douglas, was the daughter of a Scottish solicitor and was sixteen years old. Michael was aged forty-one. What struck me more than the gap in age was the date and the setting. He was present in Newcastle during the King’s imprisonment, at liberty in a town tightly controlled by Scotsmen who were allied to Parliament. This was the biggest indication yet that Michael Turnbull had fought against the royalists. When writing up this article and looking into the house where King Charles was kept prisoner, it transpired that Newe House’s, “eastern entrance was on Pilgrim Street.” All Saints Church, where Michael and Violet exchanged vows, stood on the same street. I wonder, perchance, whether Michael ever saw the King heading off for golf, or if he even had any role in guarding the monarch. Despite being separated by 374 years, and also, it seems, allegiance – me being a staunch royalist – I do feel I have come to know and respect Michael. I also greatly value our family link to the momentous events of the British Civil War.

Allegiance of Blood
By Mark Turnbull

Sir Francis Berkeley strives to protect his wife and family from the brutal effects of the British Civil War. But aside from the struggle between king and parliament, the allegiances of family, friendship and honour entangle him at every turn and prove to be just as bloody.

As a witness to treason on the field of Edgehill, Francis is drawn into a fast-moving world of espionage and politics. Against a backdrop of some of the major battles and sieges, Francis’s fight to reunite his family opens up very different conflicts with which to contend.

Everything is at stake when the war comes to a little church one December morning. Can the family survive the parliamentarian onslaught as well as their own feud?


With large controlling hands sprawled across one of Bristol Castle’s sandstone crenellations, and his plump fingers gripping the masonry like a minister in the pulpit, Nathaniel Fiennes looked down upon his flock. His face was as square as Bristol Castle and his eyes as if they’d slid towards each ear to allow room for his broad nose. One pupil might be slightly higher than the other, but he was still Parliament’s governor, and his eyes still perceptive. He watched the cannons being removed from the ships in the harbour; the vessels’ brass hearts going on to be transplanted into church towers, behind gates and in main streets for defence.

The four turrets of Bristol Castle were regular haunts of Nathaniel’s, for up here he was closest to God. Forget the pomp of churches and the vast cathedral. It was right under the Almighty’s gaze that he felt most calm, his head at its clearest and, with Rupert’s fifteen thousand Royalists outside his gates, what better place to conduct the defence?

“Saint Mary Radcliffe’s has artillery atop the tower, sir.” Captain Bagnal praised the building’s ability to hamper any attack on the southern walls.

“It’ll do more of the Lord’s work now than it ever has.” Fiennes’ puritanism was as ingrained as the weather-beaten patterns in the stone. “In fact, I’d prefer to load the Bishop of Bristol into the muzzle for the first salvo.”

“We don’t have the Bishop, but our forts have one hundred and fifty barrels of gunpowder to feed their bellies,” Major Wood said and looked towards the two great northern hills, upon which those forts were nested.

“If only I was stocked up on soldiers too,” Fiennes replied. He lamented having half his garrison absorbed into Sir William Waller’s Parliamentarian army, which had lost them all in defeat two weeks ago. “Soldiers, to hold back the Cavalier hoards and their devilish Prince.”

“You still have two thousand brave troops under your command.” Wood barely paused. “And remarkably strong forts and earthworks. The populace is loyal, and let’s not forget, Rupert has a distinct absence of siege weaponry.”

“Do not underestimate him.” Fiennes’ own troop of horse were the ones who had experienced the first of Rupert’s famous cavalry charges.

“As long as we don’t underestimate ourselves,” Wood replied; his words as plain as his black, Puritan’s garb and short hair.

“I am a realist.” Fiennes crossed his arms. “Our walls are medieval, and the city is crossed by two rivers which will hamper the movement of our own men.” After giving his opinion that this was the hardest city in England to defend, he sent the officers back to their command points.

“The enemy are already doing battle with disease.” Wood’s manner had been prickly ever since the governor replied to Rupert’s summons to surrender. Fiennes had told the Royalists that the town could not be relinquished until he was brought to more extremes.

One of Fiennes’ forts to the north, whose palisades crowned Brandon Hill, offered a view of the ant-like enemies who had worked busily all day setting up gun posts and making probing attacks. Rupert’s men had never stopped throwing up fresh defensive positions and, from his outdated ones, Fiennes was left most apprehensive. Barely thirteen weeks of governing the city had brought him to such a state. Not that he wasn’t prepared to lay down his life for God’s cause − he wasn’t afraid − it was concern at the task before him. Nor was Bristol quite as secure from within as it should have been. He’d taken over after arresting the last governor for complicity with the King.

“You are but human, my Prince, and I have God on my side.” The only one to hear Fiennes was a crow landing on the corner of the tower with head darting one way and then the next. Its black feathers were as dark as the night that came on fast and seemed darker than most nights, as if God had averted his gaze from what was imminent. Flying over Bristol’s southern wall, the bird glided over Saint Mary Radcliffe’s, whose tolling bells pealed out a warning that the Royalist troops were on the move.

Landing just in front of the steep ditch beneath the city wall, the bird hopped around, unperturbed by the King’s Cornish soldiers, whose advance stopped as fast as it had begun, and who soon returned to their original positions. Governor Fiennes’ garrison, however, was duly kept on constant alert throughout the night, so much so that the dull, clanging bell had them wishing they could also take flight.

Pick up your copy of
Allegiance of Blood

Mark Turnbull

After a visit to Helmsley Castle at the age of ten, Mark Turnbull bought a pack of 'top trump' cards featuring the monarchs of England. The card portraying King Charles I fascinated him.
Van Dyck's regal portrait of the King and the fact that he was executed by his own people were the beginnings of Mark's passionate interest in the English Civil War that has lasted ever since.
In the absence of time travel, he thoroughly enjoys bringing this period to life through writing. He has written articles for magazines, local newspapers and online educational sites. He has also re-enacted battles with The Sealed Knot and for several years edited the Historical Novel Society's online newsletter.

Connect with Mark: Website • FacebookTwitter.

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