Library of Dreams
When I wrote about Queen Henrietta Maria I found surprises such as the attempt by parliament to kill her, then to impeach her. Yes the killing came first, as it were. Happily it failed.
I should not mislead anyone by implying parliament sent an executive order to do away with the turbulent lady. What happened was the captain of a parliamentary vessel bombarded her seaside lodging at Bridlington in February 1643. Nonetheless, presumably, he acted within instructions. Canon balls flying above her, Henrietta Maria escaped into the countryside, taking her beloved dog Mitte to safety. After a truly extraordinary life, she died in bed twenty-six years later.
My new book is about James Graham, the first Marquess of Montrose. Covid delayed me and everyone else. And I had family priorities. Here it is at last.
Montrose’s enemies were murderous too. In the end they had their way. I see him as the single most successful military leader in the civil wars. He had charisma and the gifts to challenge Oliver Cromwell but died on the scaffold.
What I want to write about now is his reading matter. In the court masques of the 1630s, we see Henrietta Maria at play. Similarly, we see Montrose in a new light, in his own books.
Not far from Crieff in Perth and Kinross is a jewel of the north called Innerpeffray Library. If you are in the area please visit, if you can (you need a car), this enchanted spot.
Opening in the late seventeenth century, Innerpeffray Library was the first public lending library in Scotland. Originally the books were kept in the west end of the Chapel of St Mary. The third Lord Maderty set up the library, in his will. His descendants expanded the buildings which are now part eighteenth-century, part Victorian.
Maderty’s wife was Lady Beatrix Graham, the very much youngest sister of Montrose. She inherited what remained of her brother’s personal collection and put his books in her husband’s library. Two especially are eloquent.
We know that Montrose had affection for Walter Raleigh’s History of the World. When the teenager went to St Andrews university in 1627, the five-volume work—nearly a million words—was in his luggage. The Innerpeffray copy has to be the same set.
On the back of one of the illustrations we see a doodle. Written meticulously within a coin is as much of the Lord’s Prayer as will fit. The handwriting is Montrose’s. A scatty student with religion on his mind.
Raleigh’s History was mainly about the ancient world. For Montrose classical history was an obsession. He refers to it in his poetry. His personal motto was in Latin: nil medium (no middle way). We have the young man’s reading lists which feature Latin authors such as Julius Caesar, Seneca, Lucan. Looking back to a golden age. Melancholy idealism!
Equally telling is the small Bible, which clearly went everywhere with its owner. It is pocket-sized, about three by five inches. The pages are covered with comments written by Montrose. So we know he read the Bible and thought about it. It is in French. So he was a French speaker. He probably picked it up when he studied in the Angers military academy in 1633.
Translation was Protestant. Translation of scripture into everyday language took God’s Word out of the hands of priests, so anyone could read it. And the Bible is Reformed Protestant (Calvinism and variations, the thinkers who followed Luther) because that was the Protestantism that spread through France in the Huguenot movement.
Montrose held these books, turned the pages, wrote on them. When we pick them up (if permitted) we are a step away from his touch. And they take us to his thoughts.
It was in Scotland that the British civil wars began. In order to explain, my book starts well before the 1637 prayer-book rebellion. Scottish events led to English ones. It was another five years before the war started in England. We have to see the Scottish perspective.
At first Montrose vigorously joined the rebels. But he became convinced that Charles I was betrayed, that the rebels were flawed. He changed sides to become the visionary royalist. Throughout he was a Scottish patriot. And from start to finish he was a Reformed Protestant. You can hold the proof in your hands: the Innerpeffray Bible.
So… in a ‘war of religion,’ the leaders on either side had the same religion.
His powerful opponent, the Marquess of Argyll, was famous for his austere Presbyterianism. What, then was the quarrel really about?
I have redrawn the great general’s story, drawing on scholars’ work of the past fifty years – the last full biographies of Montrose were out in the 1970s – and casting the net wider than others before me. I find a drama of nobles and kings which makes a legend.
As we think of the coronation of King Charles III we can remember King Charles I. In my book I have done everything I could to see into his mind, so important. That is another dimension.
Dominic Pearce, 2023.
Dominic Pearce studied Classics at New College, Oxford, before pursuing a career in financial analysis, which took him to Japan, Spain and Austria – countries where the modern world succeeds a rich historic tradition. Since then he has undertaken historical and cultural research on the seventeenth century in particular, and also on the practice of art. He has published a study of drawing in collaboration with Francis Hoyland called ‘Greek Light’. He is the author of a biography of Henrietta Maria. He lives in London. He writes, ‘My work on the seventeenth century has unearthed people who are not history headliners, but are interesting. I write about people neglected by mainstream historians. They often made huge contributions.’