Simon Parke concludes with the final character of the title and story for his new historical novel, The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and her Lover.
In my new historical fiction, ‘The soldier, the gaoler, the spy and her lover,’ the lover in the story is King Charles, who conducted an affair with Jane Whorwood, his spy-mistress, while imprisoned in Carisbrooke castle on the Isle of Wight.
Charles stands apart. He is the only English monarch to be executed, a very particular achievement – and killed because no one could trust him.
He was also as stubborn as an oil stain on satin concerning the rights of a king. But he overplayed his hand in all his dealings, imagining himself more indispensible than he was.
When rejecting the army’s generous offer of a constitutional kingship, he said to them:
‘You cannot do without me. You will fall to ruin if I do not sustain you.’
Sir John Berkely, one of his advisors, was surprised and whispered in his ear:
‘Sir, your majesty speaks as if you have some secret strength and power that I do not know of.’
By the time of his trial, King Charles had been eighteen months in captivity, during which time he ate well, lied well, schemed well, and escaped badly...he was not good at escape.
And while he thought fondly of his exiled wife in France, it was his ‘little flittermouse’ Jane Whorwood who provided for his physical, as well as practical, needs.
He wrote many letters to her, but burned them the night before his execution. By now, he saw himself as a holy martyr, a Christ-figure for the common people, and the love letters would not have played well with this narrative.
Though all agree Charles died well...his last days were his best.
Blair Worden says Charles achieved a kind of greatness during his trial. His refusal to acknowledge the court, or enter a plea, made a mockery of the proceedings.
There were constant interjections from the gallery; strong women speaking up on his behalf. And when a soldier stepped onto the stage and spat in his face, a new low was reached.
The trial was a legal and organisational car-crash... though very good drama.
Even the Republican Andrew Marvell famously wrote ‘He nothing common did or mean, Upon that memorable scene.’ He referred to the scaffold, to the king’s calm demeanour in the freezing cold, to his speech given in support of the liberty of the people.
How would they react to this killing?
These were remarkable times. The trial of a king had been unimaginable at the start of the civil war and was barely imaginable at its end.
Yet it happened.
We follow the path of the royal lover towards a final meeting with his own executioner.