Royalist Rebel, written by Anita Seymour and published in 2013 by Claymore Press (a former fiction imprint of Pen & Sword), is a biographical novel of Elizabeth Murray, the fascinating Countess Dysart and later Duchess of Lauderdale. The eldest of four daughters of William Murray – a loyal courtier of King Charles I – the real Elizabeth lived from 1626 to 1698. She is now best-known for intrigues as a Royalist spy, her involvement in the Sealed Knot, and for the rumours surrounding the nature of her relationship with Oliver Cromwell – and, of course, for her connection to the amazing Ham House.
Spanning the tumultuous period between 1643-1651, Seymour’s 465-page novel mainly focuses on the politics and events of the English Civil Wars and the struggles Elizabeth and her family face when they remain loyal to the Royalist cause – and thus, backing the losing side – throws them into a circumstance which threatens to rob them of their beloved home, Ham House.
Naturally, given her social position, Elizabeth’s goal – especially as the eldest daughter- is to marry well in order to keep ownership of precious Ham. Rumours swirl about a potential match with the Tollemache family – but will it come about?
I felt that the book took a bit of time to really get going, yet about halfway through, I found myself emotionally invested in the story and I couldn’t wait to get to the end of the day when I could snuggle into my bed and read some more. I think this corresponded to the romantic element in the latter half of the book (which I loved) – and it must be emphasised that this book is no romance.
As for the characters, I found Lionel endearing, Lauderdale stirring, Nero sweet, Elizabeth’s parents faithful, and Elizabeth herself a determined and intelligent woman who artfully uses her beauty to her advantage. The interactions between Elizabeth and her sisters brought a smile to my face, as they reminded me somewhat of my interactions with my own sisters.
There is a hard balance to achieve when writing about a historical person and events – for historical information does need to be given but with realism and literary flourish (and Seymour, by and large, does this). I am not overly enamoured of first-person present narratives but Seymour’s talent is such that I was able to put aside my personal preferences and simply enjoy the story.
I must confess that I was left a little saddened by the time I reached the end of the book – simply because I wanted to read more – ha! As mentioned above, Elizabeth died in 1698 – and so readers are left wanting to read about her life from 1651 onwards, which the two pages of epilogue simply don’t satiate. Maybe Seymour might grace us with a sequel someday? I sure would read it!
TSCL rating: 4/5