When Truth Exceeds Fiction – Guest Post by Alison Stuart

Thank you so much for hosting me today, Andrea. I love having an opportunity to share my passion for the 17th century with a soul sister!

I thought I would take a moment to talk about the inspiration behind my recent release THE KING’S MAN which is set at the height of the Interregnum (1654).

TheKingsMan-Harlequin SMALL

So often truth is stranger than fiction and sometimes as a writer you come across real events and people that you couldn’t have dreamed up in your wildest imagination.

This was the case when I was writing THE KING’S MAN. What began as a single paragraph in Antonia Fraser’s excellent biography of Cromwell, became the basis for a whole story. In February 1654 Oliver Cromwell, on his way to dine with the Lord Mayor of London, in much state (and wearing a “musk” coloured suit) had his grand parade halted when a brick bat was thrown at his coach by a “Miss Granville”. I never discovered who the real Miss Granville was or why she hurled a brick bat at Oliver Cromwell’s coach but I had fun writing a story about her.

As I started to read more about the events of 1654, I uncovered a nest of plots against the life of Oliver Cromwell.


Oliver Cromwell, by Samuel Cooper

In February, the same month as Miss Granville was hurling brickbats at the Lord Protector, a small group of disaffected royalists were meeting in the Ship Tavern in the Old Bailey, hatching a plot to seize Whitehall, St. James and the Tower and the guards about the city. Captain Dutton was dispatched to garner support from known Royalists in the country and it was decided Colonel Whiteley should go to France to get the support of the King in exile. An argument about payment of his expenses ensued with none of his co-conspirators willing to pay a farthing. One of their number (I won’t say who) betrayed the plot to Thurloe and the conspirators were arrested at the Ship Inn. None of those concerned were ever brought to trial – no doubt considered too inept to be taken seriously by Thurloe!

However during the course of examining the conspirators the existence of a more serious organisation, apparently holding the King’s Commission, was revealed. Known as “The Sealed Knot”, it had been formed some time in 1653. This was the only group of plotters who were to be any real threat to the Protectorate and when they eventually rose in 1655, were swiftly subdued. Charles II himself appeared to be ambivalent to much of the plotting. He did not believe that the assassination of Cromwell would necessarily result in his return to the throne and in that he was probably correct. At that time, Cromwell was at the height of his power and he had able Lieutenants who would have stepped into his place.

In May of 1654, another plot headed by John Gerard was hatched. The plan was to seize Cromwell as he travelled between Whitehall and Hampton Court. Fortunately for Cromwell, his ever-efficient Secretary of State, John Thurloe (see my blog on John Thurloe on Hoydens and Firebrands) through his efficient penetration of such enterprises foiled the plot. The conspirators were tried, three were transported and two executed.

Implicated in “Gerard’s Plot” (as it came to be known) was an absurd character, a French emissary sent by Cardinal Mazarin to aid the French Ambassador, Bordeaux, in diplomatic negotiations with the English. De Baas was a Gascon whose brother Charles adopted his mother’s name D’Artagnan and was  the protoype of Dumas’ hero (yes really!). De Baas was brash and overconfident and with little understanding of the English decided that Cromwell’s regime was of no importance and could easily be overthrown.  His arrogance was manifest in his refusal to uncover his head in the presence of the Lord Protector and his assertion that the soldiers who supported the regime were “feeble and dissipated”. His grounds for this assertion? The sentinels on duty wore “nightcaps under their hats”. On the discovery of the plot the arrogant Frenchman was given three days to leave the country.

With such a bizarre cast of characters, THE KING’S MAN practically wrote itself.


John Thurloe, National Portrait Gallery

One of my favourite characters remains John Thurloe. I own a rather fine print of him that hangs on my staircase. Someone recently asked me if I felt I was being true to John Thurloe in my books. I think the key to the man is in the famous words of Richard Cromwell who once  famously remarked “Thurloe has the ability to find the key to unlock wicked mens’ hearts”.  While the tactics my fictional Thurloe may employ are entirely figments of my own imagination, I think they are consistent with his modus operandi. He had the ability to exploit a man’s weakness which he tries and fails with Jonathan Thornton in BY THE SWORD and succeeds with Kit Lovell in THE KING’S MAN.


The second in a tantalising trilogy from award-winning author Alison Stuart, about warriors, the wounds they carry, and the women that help them heal.

London 1654: Kit Lovell is one of the King’s men, a disillusioned Royalist who passes his time cheating at cards, living off his wealthy and attractive mistress, and plotting the death of Oliver Cromwell.

Penniless and friendless, Thamsine Granville has lost everything.  Terrified, in pain, and alone, she hurls a piece of brick at the coach of Oliver Cromwell, and earns herself an immediate death sentence. Only the quick thinking of a stranger saves her.

Far from the bored, benevolent rescuer that he seems, Kit plunges Thamsine into his world of espionage and betrayal – a world that has no room for falling in love.

Torn between Thamsine and loyalty to his master and King, Kit’s carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. He must make one last desperate gamble – the cost of which might be his life.


(Australian readers can still buy THE KING’S MAN for just 99c on AMAZON AUSTRALIA and the first book in the series, BY THE SWORD is currently free)


Alison Stuart hatAward winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion from history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. Alison has now published 6 full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories. Her disposition for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles.


(And if you would like a smile, THE KING’S MAN is featured in an ABC Art Nation program called ‘My Secret Art Life’… Australian readers can view it on my website… click HERE)

Hear ye! 3 thoughts — so far — on “When Truth Exceeds Fiction – Guest Post by Alison Stuart”:

  1. Leslie A. Baker

    Dear Alison, Truth is indeed often unexpected and can be quite mind blowing when it surfaces. Reincarnation is a very real aspect of our lives, and I remember tiny portions of my life in the days that interest you. I was Rev. John Williams (1582 to 1650), and I am possibly one of the few people who could throw light on the Shakespeare Folio story. My then life would make a brilliant movie as due to Royal Patronage I rose through the ecclesiastical ranks quite quickly. There was much plotting and intrigue. I founded the library at Westminster Abbey during my time as Dean, and designed what is now ‘The Old Library’ at St. John’s College in Cambridge. When I went into the museum at the abbey a couple of years ago I had to fight back the tears after looking at that 17th century lady’s dress in the center case – I just wanted to return to the court of James. I can see your fascination with the period.
    Blessings from Leslie Baker (London)

    1. Alison Stuart - Writer

      What a fascinating story, Leslie. I have often wondered if a passion for a particular period has a link to a past life, likewise an attraction for a particular place. To be honest I am not sure I would want to live in the 17th century but it is fun to visit it in my mind!


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