A Novel by Sir Walter Scott 1771 - 1832
Peveril of the Peak
After reading Wolf Hall I learned a lot more of the detail surrounding
British history at the time of Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas More,
Cranmer and others, detail which had been omitted from history lessons at
school. Although I was aware of the religious tensions and power struggles
going on at Henry's court I had very little knowledge of the extent of the
intrigue and treachery and the high price paid by some of those not complying
with Henry and Ann Boleyn's wishes. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and was
appreciative of the research which had gone into it, hardly surprising since this
type of book is exactly my cup of tea, so I am keen to try the others
in the trilogy. However, my latest venture into this genre has a similar theme,
dealing with the political and religious tensions during the turbulent
times after the English civil war, the Long Parliament and the restoration of
the monarchy of King Charles II. Peveril of the Peak by Walter Scott, is a
classic read, very much on a par with the likes of Ivanhoe, slightly more obscure
but no less gripping. Although I am one of Scott's biggest fans, this book came
as a complete surprise, in that it is located entirely outside Scott's homeland
Scotland, and having some significance in the history of my local area, I was
indeed completely bowled over by it.
It features a major landowning dynasty here in Lancashire, the Earls of Derby (the Stanley family) whose descendants still live not very far from here at Knowsley Hall, they also had another property close by, Lathom Hall. At the time of the English Civil War (1641 - 1652) between the army of King Charles I (Royalists) and the Parliamentary Army (the Roundheads) commanded by Oliver Cromwell, the Earl of Derby's ancestor fought with Prince Rupert of the Rhine with the Royalists. Wigan was a Royalist stronghold at the time, but many of the surrounding landowners were sympathetic to the Parliamentary cause and there was a significant battle here "The Battle of Wigan Lane" when the Roundhead forces led by Colonel Robert Lilburne arriving in the town from Bolton met Royalist forces led by Sir Thomas Tyldesley and the Earl of Derby. The Royalist forces were routed, Sir Thomas was killed and the Earl had to take refuge in the tower of Wigan Parish Church which came under fire from the Roundhead's cannon balls. The Earl escaped to fight another day but Lathom House was later besieged by enemy forces and the Earl had to send his family to the Isle of Man, which he owned at the time, for safety. Lord Derby was later captured, tried for treason and executed, as was Charles I when his forces finally capitulated and Oliver Cromwell came to power at the beginning of rule by Parliament.
The novel Peveril of the Peak is written about the period after the bitter civil war, the eventual death of Oliver Cromwell and the restoration of the Monarchy against a background of continuing tensions between the generally Anglican and Catholic royalists and the Presbyterian and puritanical Roundheads and featuring a largely imaginary Popish plot to re-establish the Catholic church in the English constitution. The Stanley family and the Battle of Wigan Lane feature quite prominently in the early parts of the book as it documents the friendship between the Earl of Derby his family and Sir Geoffrey Peveril formed when both served in the King's army during the civil war and how they are caught up in the political intrigues at the court of restored King Charles II. At the centre of the story is the relationship between the Royalist Peverils and their Puritan Parliamentarian neighbour Major Ralph Bridgenorth in the period after the restoration, their uneasy friendship, the respect they had for each other and how their fortunes are intertwined including a love affair between Bridgenorth's daughter Alice and Peveril's son Julian.
A fascinating book, a storyline with many twists and turns and surprises, it is set in the Peak District of Derbyshire, the Isle of Man and in London mainly at the court of King Charles II. Heroes and good guys include the widowed Charlotte Countess of Derby, Sir Geoffrey Peveril of Martindale Castle, his wife Margaret and son Julian, and Lance Outram their gamekeeper, sinister characters are, Edward Christian alias Richard Ganlesse a Dempster of the Isle of Man, George Villiers Duke of Buckingham and Titus Oates (orator and rabble rouser, and inventor of the imaginary Popish plot), other main characters are, Major Ralph Bridgenorth of Moultrassie Hall a Puritan, Alice his daughter, Philip Earl of Derby the Countess's son, Fenella alias Zara Christian's daughter, and Sir Geoffrey Hudson the King's dwarf. Some people may think the book is long winded and over-wordy but the old fashioned language and whimsical turns of phrase are part of its charm and the way Scott distinguishes his characters with their speech is masterful. If I have any criticism it is that I felt a little let down by the ending. The outcome of the story was highly satisfactory in that justice prevails, romantic ambitions are fulfilled and the heroes and heroines live happily ever after, but I was a little disappointed that the easy going King, although no push over was a little too lenient with the villains who seemed to get away with their intrigues, plots and dirty deeds lightly. This book is a rather difficult read but highly recommended.
Pictured: The memorial in Wigan Lane commemorating the civil war battle
and the death of Sir Thomas Tyldesley the commander of the Royalist
forces which took place there. There is a street in the Whelley area of Wigan
named "Longshoot". This stands high upon the opposite river bank to the monument
close to where the Battle of Wigan Lane took place, on the side nearest to Bolton.
However legend has it that the street takes its name from the site of the
Roundhead's cannonball firing position, set up there as they invaded the town,
from this vantage point they could no doubt reach the whole town as far as the
Parish Church and beyond.
To see larger maps of the battle site in relation to Wigan Lane itself and Lonshoot please follow the link behind the thumbnail depiction. There is high ground on both sides of the Douglas Valley just here, and judging by the location of the battle site, the Roundhead army arriving from Bolton would have commanded the higher ground.
Synopsis (Picture: Knowsley Hall, the estate of the current Earl of Derby.
Despite their political differences the Peverils and the Bridgenorths spent many years after the restoration of the monarchy, living in a relative mutual respect for each other, in a sort of semi-suspicious arms length peace and harmony. Major Ralph Bridgenorth in a position of some authority as a local magistrate and prospering and Sir Geoffrey Peveril seemingly suffering a downturn in fortune and struggling to make ends meet. However when his wife dies leaving him and his young daughter Alice alone in the world, the grief stricken Bridgenorth can't cope and Margaret Peveril offers to raise Alice at Martindale Castle with her own young son Julian, an offer which is gratefully accepted. Alice and Julian enjoy some good few years companionship growing up together in the Peveril household when a rift between the two families brings the arrangement to a sudden end.
After a secretive visit to Martindale Castle by Charlotte the widowed Countess of Derby, who is suspected of being involved in the Popish Plot, Bridgenorth discovers the friendship between the Peverils and the Stanleys and by association begins to suspect Sir Geoffrey's family is also involved. Bridgenorth also holds a grudge against Charlotte for the execution of his brother in law, William Christian in the Isle of Man during the civil war. As a result of this new situation Alice is restored to her father under the care of governess Deborah Debbitch and arrangements are made for Julian to be educated alongside Philip, Earl of Derby, Charlotte's son at their family home in the Isle of Man. There whilst out on a fishing trip, Julian discovers Alice and her governess living in an isolated cottage and is able to persuade Miss Debbitch to allow them to meet. Of course over their time together in Derbyshire and now in the island, they develop a romantic attachment which of course will not go down very well with their respective feuding fathers.
Edward Christian has hatched a secret plan to introduce Alice to the court of King Charles II with a view to her becoming his mistress and for him to gain influence and her father is persuaded to deliver his daughter into his protection. Meanwhile Philip the Earl of Derby is also making plans to introduce himself to parliament and the court of the King, and because of her concerns for his welfare in the big city, Charlotte asks Julian to go to London too to keep a watchful eye on his safety. Calling at Martindale Castle on his way to London, Julian finds trouble, his family has been detained by Bridgenorth's men, as is Julian himself when he unwittingly stumbles into their net. Subsequently freed by their gamekeeper and a group of other employees, who intervene at gunpoint, the family escapes and Julian continues his journey to London but his family is later recaptured and Sir Geoffrey is confined to the Tower of London with his wife in rooms near by.
At court the Duke of Buckingham is ruling the roost with a cohort of henchmen which includes Edward Christian, seemingly intent on furthering their own ambitions for power. Fenella, a maid, pretending to be a deaf mute, who had been planted in the Countess of Derby's household in the Isle of Man as a spy to obtain evidence of the Countess's involvement in the Popish Plot, but later identified as Christian's daughter, over a period of time having developed strong feelings for Julian, has followed him to London despite his protestations. Together they discover Alice by accident in the protection of Mistress Chiffinch a courtier, and abduct her with the intention of taking her to a place of safety with Julian's mother. Anyway, this is where things heat up, the situation becomes complicated and threatening as they are ambushed by the Duke of Buckinham's henchmen Alice and Fenella disappear to who knows where, and Julian lands himself alongside his dad in the Tower awaiting trial for involvement in the Popish Plot. After a series of mysterious and exciting twists and turns and some seemingly supernatural interventions, just when you think another civil war is going to break out, the Popish Plot fizzles out like a damp squib, and justice is served in a most satisfactory manner.
Palfreyman May 2021
Farthingale Publications:... Is a hobby web site containing articles of local interest to Lancastrians, some favourite walking and cycling routes, selected words and poetry, and some writings of more general nature as well as the authors own picture gallery. Access is available via the homepage and menu at the head of the page.
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The Langdales from Moss Eccles Tarn