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These are some books I have read and been impressed with. I'm particularly interested in books that add to our general understanding or make commonly known facts more accessible. These books are not in the bibliography section or elsewhere in reference sections because they are historical fiction or awaiting addition elsewhere.


John Saturnall's Feast

Lawrence Norfolk

Pub: Bloomsbury Publishing 2012
ISBN 978 1 4088 0596 1 £16.99 Hardback.

An enchanting story in which a cook engages his recipes with the complex thoughts and imaginings of a girl during the Seventeenth Century. We hear of grand Elizabethan banquets and later period dramas feature strongly on our TV sets but the seventeenth century masques have been greatly overlooked. The author redresses that balance well.

Graham Webb.

Lead Shot of the English Civil War: A Radical Study.

D.F. Harding

Pub: Foresight Books 2012
ISBN 978-0-9530853-6-1

More than 1,000 bullets have been cataloged from one small training site in the English Civil War period. The finds show training methods and types of bullets used, including conical, double ball, buckshot and bitten bullets too. This is a must read for all smooth ball firers or musketeer re-enactors.

Book Reviews for Youngsters.

Try reading these fiction books and immerse yourself in life in the 17th Century.

The Merrybegot

Julie Hearn

Pub: Oxford University Press 2005
ISBN 0-19-279157-5  £5.99 paperback

The book starts in 1692 with the confession of Patience Madden and this intersperses with the story of Nell, a girl who lives in a West Country village in 1645. Nell is the Merrybegot, a child conceived on a May morning and a person special to the fairies. She is the granddaughter of the 'cunning woman', a well respected wise woman who acts as village midwife and healer and from whom Nell is learning her craft. The new Puritan minister has two daughters – Patience (whose confession we read) and her sister Grace ('the pretty one').  The minister rants about the evil amongst them and when Grace falls pregnant, she and her sister fake possession by evil spirits, with much hysterics and spitting of pins. Blame falls on Nell and her grandmother as witches. The villagers are whipped into a frenzy of mob behaviour and a witch-hunt ensues.

This is a highly readable and enjoyable historical novel. There is a clever use of language which gives a great feel for 17th Century country life. There are vivid descriptions of the “piskies” and fairies with whom Nell has dealings, and the beliefs and emotions of all involved. Throughout the book, spells are printed in a different font to enhance the story. The author’s note at the end gives some factual information and points out the liberties she has taken.

I, Coriander

Sally Gardner

Pub: Orion Children’s Books 2006

ISBN 1-84255-504-9  £5.99  paperback

This is the story of Coriander, born 1643, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. The family live in a house on the River Thames in London, next to the bridge. There are no descriptions of the civil war, but the story starts with Coriander as a six year old at the time of the execution of King Charles. Her father was a Royalist supporter, and when her mother dies, he is advised to remarry a ‘good Puritan woman’ to avoid the fines given to those who supported the Royalist cause.  A very devout widow and her daughter are found for him, but with them comes Arise Fell, a fanatical Puritan preacher. He seeks to rule the house after Coriander’s father is forced to flee when there is a warrant out for his arrest for helping Charles II to escape.

This is the historical background for the story.  However, it is a work of fiction and there is a mystery surrounding Coriander’s mother. When Coriander is sent a pair of silver shoes her mother is distressed – they have come from her world of fairy-folk, which she chose to leave behind when she married. Coriander is drawn into a story of good and evil and her tale unfolds in both worlds.

This is a wonderful novel, beautifully written, atmospheric with the sounds and smells of London captured well.  The plot is gripping, effortlessly weaving history with a rich fantasy story.

Both the novels reviewed here are set in the mid 17th century. Neither are Civil War stories, and although they are fiction, they do give an excellent flavour of life in our period.  The story of the fairy folk in both books would seem to our modern eye to be just that – a fairy tale.  However, 17th century England, whilst being a God-fearing land, was also one that was highly superstitious with pagan folklore merging with Christianity.  To many, the gardens and fields near their homes were full of fairies and imps, which were as real to them as the mice and small creatures that lived there.

I truly believe that well written and researched fiction can inspire a love of history in children. This is the key that could open the door to a wealth of factual information available to them as they mature. Both books are most suitable for young people aged 12 years and above, and would probably appeal to girls most.

Roma Webb


Allen Clarke

Pub: Palatine Books Co., Blackpool. Fourth edition 1924. First edition 1887-1889

ISBN BT 110 2335 X Hardback

This is a story surrounding, and including the Town of Bolton in the seventeenth century. The facts are well researched and comfortably fit into a story of interlinking families at war. References to nineteenth century Bolton are a little clumsy, and certainly unnecessary, but add a bonus to the historical information provided. Typically we might be told the field our seventeenth century characters are in, is now buzzing with the hum of cotton mills, for instance. Reference to time in seconds indicates the Victorian's perfection in clocks when referring to a period in our history when clocks were scarce and had only one, it has to be said fairly inaccurate, hand.

The story of children maturing into the civil war period from broken, and concealed relationships, comes to a head when a betrayed, Witch like woman comes in to Bolton to predict the 1643 massacre. Both battle and love scenes are treated delicately with phrases such as 'too barbarous to the delicate mind of the reader of this book'. All the same the action does occur and babies are born to these relationships and the story unravels the events leading to the fall of Bolton.

Treat this book as light reading and you will enjoy yourself. It is indeed easy to read, tells a good story, and gives relevant historical detail.

Graham Webb.