The Civil War encapsulated in a single siege


Mike Gibbs:  Jessie, what first brought you to the story of Loyalty House?

Jessie Childs:  I think I’ve always wanted to write about the Civil War, it’s always fascinated me, but I knew that I didn’t want to write a straight military history or a very broad political narrative.  I was sort of, I suppose, looking for a hook in a way, a story that I could hang all the main themes of the Civil War, or at least the ones that I thought were the most significant and interesting.  And also that would sort of convey a sense of what it was actually like to live through these times: the thrill as well as the horror of it all, and for me, Basing House sort of ticked the boxes.  I’d always known about it vaguely, because I’d been interested in Inigo Jones.  I live very near Chiswick House, I walk the dog there, and there’s a great statue of him there, and that image of him – I can’t remember when I read about it – but a final storm of Basing House, Inigo Jones, 72 years old at this stage, was stripped of his clothes, wrapped in a blanket and carried out of Basing House.  So that was an image in my head for a long time, and I always wanted to know more.


Then I guess, as is the way with history books, you know, you sort of do a bit more research and you get more excited, until you get to the point where you realise that you actually absolutely have to write the story.  And there were so many characters in it for me, as well as Indigo Jones, that sort of illustrated the wider war.  For example, a man called Robert Peake, who lived in London, and he was a print seller.  He sold what were termed Popish Bibles, basically illustrated Bibles, so through him I could talk about religion in a way that, hopefully, wasn’t too sort of overwhelming.  There was an actor, so I could talk about the theatre.  There was a vintner, a scrivener, merchants.  I focus a lot on a Regiment from London, and follow them on to Basing House, so hopefully -.  And what I wanted to do was give a sense of the buildup to war, what Bulstrode Whitelocke called ‘the insensible slide to war’, because I think really that’s a political thriller.


Mike Gibbs:  So having found the story, what sources did you use?

Jessie Childs:  Oh, there were so many wonderful sources that really open up this period.  And actually, I have to say, Mike, my first two books are about the Tudor period, and I love that period too, but the 17thCentury, they’re a lot easier to read, and there are a lot more of them, which was super helpful.  We have the Civil War Petitions, of course, there are several there related to Basing House, including one man called Jeremiah May, who was a Parliamentarian soldier who was badly injured during the first failed assault on Basing House in 1643, and he complains of having fallen into the ‘hungry jaws of want’.  That’s quite a phrase.  And then there were so many sources before the war that I got into, looking into these London networks.

A lot of these chaps knew each other beforehand.  A lot of them lived on actually the same street, Snow Hill, just beneath Smithfield, and I think that goes a long way to explaining why they were such an effective unit at Basing House, at the beginning at least.  So there are, for example, Poll Tax records, and so you can see who lived, actually even who lived next door to each other, how close they were to each other.  You can look at leases or wills or inventories and really build up a sense of their physical world, you know, the materialism of it all.  You can look at, I don’t know, even things like the Court of Chivalry records, and see where there was a fight in the local tavern and who was involved.  Or the Church Accounts are amazing as well, they can give a real sense of the people of the parish.  And then Parliamentary Archives, Peace Petitions, Livery Records, the Clothworkers’ Hall, Apothecaries’ Hall, just amazing places to work in.  So the whole thing is not finding resources, it’s sort of, I guess, figuring out which ones to keep, how to put them in a narrative, and which ones to cut out, which is always a bit tragic.


Mike Gibbs:  Where does the name Loyalty House originate?  Did you find that?

Jessie Childs:  No, it came from the motto of the owners of Basing House.  Basing House was the seat of the Marquises of Winchester, and their family motto, which predated the Civil War, was Aymez Loyaulte, Love Loyalty.  But it seemed particularly apt for that time and place, the Civil War, because it was a staunchly Royalist garrison, refused to surrender to Parliament, even right up to the end, and the Marquis of Winchester himself referred to it as Loyalty House.  So then you get other people picking it up, like Thomas Fuller, the historian, for example, who was there for a bit writing his Worthies, his Dictionary of National Biography.  And he wrote about the House having the motto ‘Love Loyalty’ etched into every window there, and being well practised within.  So it was just something that sort of got picked up and was talked about in the press as well.


Mike Gibbs:  So whilst most sieges were over quite quickly, I think, during the Civil Wars, the one as Basing House went on for quite some time.  Could you tell us how long, and why was it so difficult to capture, and why was it so defensible?

Jessie Childs:  Yes, it did, it went on for over two years, on and off.  It wasn’t a full blown siege all the way through.  The word ‘siege’ comes from the Latin sidera, to sit down, and it wasn’t entirely encircled for all that time.  There was effectively an assault by William Waller in November 1643, which it saw off, and then there was a Siege proper in the summer of 1644, which was almost a sort of five-month blockade, when the Parliamentarians tried to starve the garrison into submission.  And when that failed, the following year, in October 1645, you have Oliver Cromwell rocking up with the New Model Army and properly storming the House, and only then did it fall.  So yes, it’s a really long siege.

It was very defensible, it had lots of good defensible assets.  Structurally it was sound, it was effectively two houses, a new Tudor house and an older house which was effectively a 13th century castle built on the site of a Norman ringwork, and it was surrounded by a deep dry ditch that was about 36 feet top to bottom.  So that was handy.  It had a field afar in the south, with the Marquis’ deer park, now Basingstoke Common, so hard to mount a surprise attack from there.  It had the River Loddon from the north, so that made the ground very marshy, again hard for the besiegers to attack and encamp there.  And it had these amazing long, very, very thick ?Irvin walls, and that’s what you need in the 17th century against heavy artillery.  And the soil there was clay, the subsoil was clay, which, as one military engineer said, made it ‘a grave to cannon balls’, it could just absorb this heavy artillery.  And it was just massive.  Again, Thomas Fuller, the historian, he said it was the largest non-royal residence in England.  You have another Roundhead saying it was as big as the Tower of London.  You have Inigo Jones there, as we’ve mentioned, possibly designing fortifications, there were these huge bastions protruding from the corners.


And I think, as I was saying earlier, it sort of goes back to this London Regiment that ended up in Basing House.  They were very well disciplined, very well drilled, a lot of them had trained with the Artillery Company and served in the London Militia, so they were actually quite well disciplined for citizens, you know, quite good soldiers.

 And then, I think you have to say luck as well.  If, in that first assault, if William Waller had scaley ladders that had actually been the right size – they were too short; if his petard hadn’t failed, as it did, if his musketeers in the park hadn’t basically fallen to friendly fire.  What you had was, in the unit you had the third rank which shot before the second rank moved away, so they ended up firing each other.  All sorts of things like that happened.  I think if they hadn’t happened, and also rain, pouring with rain at 4pm, so Waller had to withdraw, then I think, you know, Basing House actually could have fallen in the first attack.  But because it didn’t, after that it began to acquire this almost a sort of aura, people began to wonder if God might not want it to fall, or if indeed the Devil was affording it some kind of protection.  We have to remember this is such a supernatural age.  So in the end Basing House became symbolically very important as well as strategically.


Mike Gibbs:  The Royalist defenders of Basing House are a very motley crew, very diverse.  Tell us about them.

Jessie Childs:  Yes, you’re right, Mike.  They’re not flouncy aristocrats, far from it.  Most of them are hard and hard-working men.  If you take, for example, the Military Governor of the garrison, Marmaduke Rawdon – such a good name – he was a wine merchant, he was a privateer, he was a big man in the Clothworkers’ Company, he ran a cartel, he was one of the first colonisers of Barbados.  In many ways you would expect him to be a Roundhead, he’s the kind of classic London new merchant type.  And in fact it was actually quite hard to tell from the sources when he became a Royalist.   It’s not really until six months into the war until the Spring of 1643 that he finally leaves London and shows his hand for the King, and I think that’s kind of the case with a lot of them. What they really wanted was peace, they didn’t want war, they petitioned for peace, and it’s only when that failed that they threw in their hand with the King.

There are clues, though, and one of them is religion.  Rawdon and most of the others supported Archbishop Laud, William Laud the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his vision of a sort of beautified cleansed church, what he called ‘the beauty of holiness’.  They supported that, and they were united by just hating the Puritans really.  But it is hard sometimes to know why people exactly became Royalists.  A lot of them didn’t say explicitly, they would use quite vague words like loyalty or religion or liberty.  There is one guy, though, an apprentice called William Faithorne.  He was very young, he was an ensign at the Siege, and he was a wonderful engraver who survived, I’m happy to say. But he wrote later in a dedication letter to his commander Robert Peake, he wrote ‘You changed the steel of my tools into weapons and the exercise of my arts into arms.  When the service of the King challenged the duty of his subjects, you then prompted me unto loyalty.’  And I love that.  He basically says he became a Royalist because his master told him to be one.  And in a way that also challenges the stereotype, because everyone thinks of apprentices with their cropped haircuts, they’re Roundheads, that they would all be Parliamentarians, but that wasn’t entirely the case at all.


Mike Gibbs:  And during the siege they suffered bombardment, hunger, disease.  How did this very diverse group respond?  There must have been strains and friction.

Jessie Childs:  Yes, I think there was a lot of friction, and it sort of comes out at the end of the blockade mainly.  You sort of, it’s almost like this pressure cooker, they’re just about containing it, and the moment that Siege is lifted and they finally get provisions into the House, then all of the sort of petty tensions bubble out.  And in the end the Marquis of Winchester asked the King for Marmaduke Rawdon, the Military Governor, to be expelled with his whole Protestant Garrison.  So what you have really, you have Marmaduke Rawdon and the Londoners, the Protestants, and you have the Marquis of Winchester who’s Catholic, and there’s definite friction there.  But there’s also, I think, a major clash of character between the two, regardless of religion.

You only have to look at the two portraits put together, just next to each other, and you can sort of see.  You’ve got the Marquis of Winchester who’s sort of almost smiling, he’s got laughter lines, he’s got jowls, and he’s got a frilly collar and a splendid moustache.  And then you have Marmaduke Rawdon who’s much harder, and he’s got piercing grey eyes, very firm cheekbones, he’s got a stiff lawn collar and, you know, a very clipped goatee.  And you can just tell that they’re chalk and cheese and they’re not going to get along.  And I think the Siege, all the horrendous conditions that they had to go through, exacerbated the character clash, exacerbated the religious tensions.  And also things like rations and the issue of what they called ‘useless mouths’.  Useless mouths were women and children and the old people attached to the soldiers, family members usually.  And the Marquis of Winchester complained that Rawdon had too many in his Regiment, and Rawdon retorted that the Marquis of Winchester had at least three for one in his.  So all those kind of things don’t help at all.  And finally, as I say, Rawdon was booted out with his Regiment, and that really did signal the end of the fortunes of Basing House, I think.


Mike Gibbs:  And of all these diverse cast of characters, was there one or two that particularly became your favourites as you did the research?

Jessie Childs:  Oh yes.  I’m not sure we should have favourites though we’re allowed, but I did.  Thomas Johnson, who was an apothecary.  He was part of Rawdon’s London Regiment, he lived on Snow Hill.  He was actually the first man to sell bananas in London, outside his shop in Snow Hill there in 1633 – a lovely little detail.  And he was a plant hunter as well as an apothecary, and he loved plants, and any time he had a spare moment he would get on a boat and he would go off somewhere and look at plants and log them.  He wanted to write a botany, a comprehensive catalogue of all the plants in England and Wales.  And you just look at his notebooks, they’re in Latin but the verb he always used is festinare, to hurry, and you get a sense with him of the sort of fizzing enthusiasm, this love of life.  So I really enjoyed researching him, and he ended up being one of the most courageous members of the Garrison at Basing House.


The other person I loved was Honora, the Marchioness of Winchester, because she is really the heroine.  Her husband, the Marquis, did his best, he stayed loyal, but he wasn’t really cut out for combat.  He was into farming and French devotional literature, and he sort of battened down the hatches and sort of hid in his room as much as possible.  But Honora was amazing.  During the first attack she and her ladies stripped the roof of lead in order to make more musket balls, and then during that really grim blockade she is the one who rode out of the House – God knows how, probably fording the River Loddon – and she rode up to Oxford and persuaded a relief force of Catholic gentlemen to come and save the House, to ride through enemy lines, to cross the rivers, to break through the Siege lines and reprovision the House.  And they made it, which was really quite spectacular.  And then, even after the House had fallen and the Marquis of Winchester was taken prisoner and he was sent to the Tower of London, Honora stayed with him there in the Tower, and just constantly petitioned for his release, and finally achieved it.  And the really sad thing about her is she died just after the Restoration in 1660, and she was so thrilled.  She wrote that ‘Finally, finally we can breathe fresh air.’


But then the following month her elder son John died, and then on Christmas Day that year her daughter Honor died, and then Honora herself died soon afterwards, on 14 March 1661.  Probably, they probably all had the plague or the same disease, I imagine.  And her tombstone is in Englefield Church, which is where they ended up, in Berkshire, and it hails her as a heroine.  And what I also love about that church is, if you go there and you look at the flatstones of her children as well, their ages are recorded with touching precision.  It says that John was ‘22 years 4 months and 1 day’, Honor ‘21 years 5 months 6 days’.  I find it kind of amazing that just such a stone-cold source can actually move you so much, and you sort of get a sense of her own emotion and love for her children there.  I mean, I might be reading far too much into it, but I find that very affecting.  So they were my favourites.


Mike Gibbs:  But she was only one of the women who was involved in the Siege, I think.  What about the others?

Jessie Childs:  Yes.  There were lots of women.  As I say, they were known as ‘useless mouths’, but it’s a complete misnomer because they were brilliant.  I mean, some performed quite traditional roles, they would be cooking or cleaning or nursing, or just providing companionship and morale, but then you have others who really get stuck in.  As I say, Honora and her ladies were on the roof taking off lead, making musket balls, you have others during the first attack, in November 1643, who were throwing down rocks from the roof and they were shouting ‘Come up Roundheads, if ye dare’.  And then who else?  You have spies as well, very useful women flying under the radar being spies and messengers.  So you have a lady called Katherine Haswell, she  carried letters for the officers and between the colonels and the armies, and she was badly injured during the Siege and later petitioned for relief.  You have another woman during the final storm, Crowell’s Storm, who saw the soldiers beating up her father, and she tried to pull them off, so she was killed herself.  So they ran the whole gamut really, but they are really vulnerable.


If you look at the Women of Naseby at Farndon Field, Mark Stoyle’s written brilliantly about this, about how some were massacred but others were marked with what was known as the whore’s mark, they were sort of slashed in the face.  It must have been absolutely terrifying for the women, and you have that at Basing House as well, which wasn’t that long after Naseby.  You have eight or nine of them, one account says, running at the Roundheads from a room, and Hugh Peter, the Puritan preacher, who’s reporting on it, says that ‘the soldiers treated them somewhat coarsely, yet not uncivilly.  They left them with some clothes on them.’  So, not nice.


Mike Gibbs:  You said that it was reported, I presume in newsbooks and pamphlets, and Basing House was very much an icon in the Civil War, and it was reported by both sides, was it not, in propaganda.  So how did the two sides report the Siege?

Jessie Childs:  Oh, very differently, yes.  I mean, both sides would downplay their losses, big up their victories.  They tried to undermine the morale of the enemy, they tried to ridicule them.  The press, as you say, yes, extremely polarised.  This is the first age of the newspapers really, and it does mean that it’s very hard for all of us to get good statistics for this war.  There are no such things as independent fact-checkers at this stage.  But yes, as you say, Basing House is a cause celebre, it’s an icon, and so the press is very heightened around it.  Both sides wrote as if God was on their side, you know.  You have one Parliamentarian who said ‘Here at Basing House religion and laws and liberties and the very being of our English nation lie at stake.’  I mean, really hammed up.  But you have also the Royalists.  You know, when it did eventually fall, there were accounts that they cried out in Oxford as if they had lost their gods.  So you’re right, it was an icon, not unlike Bakhmut today in the Russian/Ukranian war.  I think in the end, actually that was its main value and its chief importance, outstripping its strategic importance in the end, I would argue.


Mike Gibbs:  The Civil Wars were often thought of as in terms of ‘civility’ by the two sides, but that certainly wasn’t true at Basing House, particularly as the Parliamentary forces became more frustrated by the stubborn defence.  What actually happened?

Jessie Childs:  Yes, the stability thing is interesting.  I’ve never quite bought it, I have to say.  You have that famous letter from William Waller to Ralph Hopton, and they were the main generals in the south, and they’d known each other, they were great friends.  They fought together in the 30 Years War, and you have Waller, earlier in the war, saying that he hated this war without an enemy, and how he and Hopton would always remain friends despite being on opposite sides.  And I just, I wonder.  I don’t think he would have written such a letter at the end of the war, and I think as the war went on, especially after the Scottish and the Irish troops were brought into play, it was much harder to be civil in any way, and there were certainly atrocities from both sides, as with all wars.  And at Basing House, even before the storm, one of the worst atrocities was, basically it was the rudimentary form of chemical warfare.  They saturated hay bales with arsenic and sulphur and tried to smoke the garrison out.  And I also found records in the Hartlib Papers, chats about filling granado shells with other poisons to make it deadly to the brains, quote ‘deadly to the brains’, very, very nasty.


Yes, the storming of Basing House was very savage too.  There was one Parliamentarian who said you have to remember what they were, what they were:  ‘They were most of them Papists, therefore our muskets and our swords did show but little compassion.’  But it’s quite hard to tell if the laws of war were broken at this time, because no laws were actually written down at the time, it’s all about conventions.  The most obvious one being that if you refuse a summons to surrender, as the Marquis of Winchester did countless times at Basing House, then in theory you can expect no quarter, no mercy, because you forced the procedures to take risk to storm the House, and that’s an incredibly costly thing to do. So, in practice actually at Basing House, it wasn’t quite the massacre that it’s sometimes portrayed as.   A lot of people were killed in cold blood and very savagely, but some prisoners were taken.  Some hostages were honoured, and it does help, I mean, if you have money, if you had any kind of exchange value, then they were the ones who tended to be prisoners.  Just the ordinary soldiers tended to be killed outright.


Mike Gibbs:  And that was so at Basing House?

Jessie Childs:  Yes.  I mean, again statistics are tricky and don’t always agree, but I would say around about 100 were killed outright.  There was an archaeology done in 1991, a decapitated skull with a huge sword slash mark on the crown of the head, which sort of gives you an idea of the savagery of the fighting.  About 100 or so, maybe a few less, were taken prisoner, and then the rest, again another 100 or so, hid in the vaults and the priest holes of this House and the cellars.  And what happened after the storming – the storming was over in the better part of an hour, they were just overwhelmed.  We’re talking about maybe 7000 soldiers of the New Model Army, who, by the way, had not lost the battle yet, the New Model Army, they’re high on victory and they’re high on God, they’ve taken Naseby, they’ve taken Bristol.  So 7000 of these really keenly motivated soldiers against about 300 Royalist defenders in the garrison, so, as I say, it was over pretty quickly.  And then, while the Parliamentarians are looting the House, are stripping it bare and taking their booty and their plunder, there was a fireball that had been slowly smouldering in one of the rooms and it suddenly caught fire, so very quickly the whole House was ablaze.  And what people have always thought – and this is back to Hugh Peter reporting on it to Parliament – he said that the people who’d hidden underground were all burnt to death, and he could hear them crying out for succour but he couldn’t get to them and save them, and they couldn’t get out.

Well, that suited the narrative that these Papists, as they called them, would burn in the flames of hell for eternity, but actually I found in three separate London newsbooks, so Parliamentarian newsbooks, all say that two days later about 100-odd Royalists actually crawled out of those holes and made it out.  I mean, no doubt coughing and spluttering and not in a good way, but alive at least, so it wasn’t quite of the full-blown massacre, that people sometimes say it’s a precursor to Drogheda and Wexford. Not quite.


Mike Gibbs:  What happened to the survivors amongst the defenders?  What lives did they live afterwards?

Jessie Childs:  It’s really interesting.  Again, as I said, some were taken prisoner, including Inigo Jones in his blanket, so he lived for another seven years.  The Marquis of Winchester also, he was taken to the Tower of London, and there was a lot of debate at the time as to whether or not he should be executed like the King, but in the end he wasn’t, thanks largely to the pleas of Honora, his wife.  Quite a lot of other prisoners, after a brief spell in prison, they were eventually allowed to compound for their escapes.  By that I mean they can basically just pay a percentage fine and then they’d be free, and they could carry on with their lives and rebuild them as much as possible.  So they were the lucky ones, as I say.  You get some that were killed outright.  But I think it sort of goes back to the sense that Basing House can sometimes illuminate the wider age.  You know, you can look through the lives of the survivors and see how they got on with their lives, almost sort of like a truth and reconciliation thing, the sense of almost Republican lenience rather than Republican revenge.


And I think maybe – and then you see it again at the Restoration with the Act of Oblivion.  I think that’s maybe possibly one reason why the Civil Wars don’t have this terrible legacy and terrible scar in the way that some other revolutions and civil wars do, because in the end, after sort of blood-shedding and blood-letting and a reckoning, as with the execution of the Regicides, for example, in the end both sides sort of forgave quite quickly, even if they couldn’t quite forget.


Mike Gibbs:  Because Basing House was known to be Catholic, how did that affect the way it was remembered after the Restoration?  Were the people who died held up as martyrs?

Jessie Childs:  That’s a really interesting question.  I don’t think it’s quite the same as Shelford House.  I know David Appleby has done some really good work on this, the idea of the righteous dead and Catholics not perhaps getting their due because they were Catholic.  I think that Basing House, to be fair, it was acknowledged, it was listed in catalogues of heroic defenders or strongholds, or mentioned in songs and so on.  So it wasn’t ignored entirely, but I don’t think it was quite as loudly championed as it was at the time, and you’ve just got to look at anti-Popery, you know, it’s such a strong force culturally as well as politically, to the extent that the Great Fire of London will be blamed on the Catholics, the Popish Plot.  You have the Glorious Revolution too, of course.  So publicly celebrating a very Catholic stronghold was perhaps something that should be more muted, but on the ground and more privately, it definitely was something that was celebrated.  I think there was a bit of kudos really, sort of attached to anyone who’d defended Basing House.


You catch glimpses of it in, for example, John Dryden’s Elegy to the Marquis of Winchester, or William Faithorne, the engraver, that ensign I was telling you about, in his later letter to his commander Robert Peake, he wrote that serving in the garrison at Basing House gave him some reputation in the world.  So I think there is a sense that, if you’d survived the Sieges of Basing House, you did, there was a bit of kudos there.


Mike Gibbs:  You are clearly a great enthusiast for talking about the British Civil Wars, and also for its relevance to people living in Britain today.  Why is the history of the Civil War relevant to us now?

Jessie Childs:  I mean, I think, honestly it’s hard to find a way that it isn’t relevant.  I mean, that would be easier to answer.  I mean, if you look at Puritanism, for example, you might think oh, Puritanism, that’s religious, what’s that got to do with me, but actually, you know, it’s about one side being so righteousness and sure of its moral purity, I suppose.  I think, in a way, that’s really relevant.  And also, I remember Paul Lay describing Puritanism as the surveillance society of the soul, I think, and it is.  I think it’s a bit like social media, the way Puritans are so sort of looking inwardly, they’re sort of, it’s so solipsistic, they’re looking for likes almost, you know, they’re looking for signs of God’s approval.  I think it’s not at all unlike social media actually.  I think you have, you have the first newspapers that I mentioned, so you’ve got this polarising new media.  Again, that feels very relevant.  You’ve got these sort of tribes and culture wars, you’ve got statues coming down – again, that’s not irrelevant, Edward Colston, you know.  I think of the images of the Colston statue coming down, almost perfectly matched the images of the London Puritans pulling down the statute of Cheapside Cross in London in 1643.  Very, very similar pictures.

You’ve got what else?  You’ve got climate change.  The mid-17th Century saw the most intense phase of the Little Ice Age.  I think that affected all sorts of things politically, just as it does today.  You’ve got witch hunts.  I mean, there’s just so much.  So I think, I think it’s very easy actually to look at this, and populist politicians, all of it.  You can certainly find parallels that make it relevant to Britain today.


Mike Gibbs:  So, as a young person growing up in a city such as Birmingham or Leeds, why should I be interested in learning about the Civil Wars?

Jessie Childs:  Well, because they happened in places that you know.  You know, they’re not about old men dressing up and marching round town on a Sunday in periodic costumes with old weapons.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love them, I think they’re wonderful and more of them would be great.  But the Civil Wars are really about how a disaffected part of society, quite often the young in that society, fought against the system and ultimately engaged with the system and changed the system.  You know, they came up against loads of the same issues, as I say, that we have today.

Birmingham you mentioned.  Well, the Hippodrome there, I think earlier this month, the beginning of September, put on Thabo Stuck’s musical 50 Days.  It’s tagline, I think, was ‘It’s the State of the Nation Grime Musical’.  Amazing, he’s brilliant.  You know, they need to be looking at stuff like that.  If people who don’t have a voice, then they can look back and they can see people exactly like themselves who finally get a voice, you know, find a way of making themselves heard, I think it’s awesome, and it’s galvanising it, and we need more of that.  Obviously it would be nice, you know, if there was a Netflix series or, you know, stuff like that.  I mean, I think it needs to be out there in society and in culture a bit more.  I think we could do with more television documentaries, more movies, more series.  But yes,  think, get them to look at Thabo Stuck’s 50 Days for starters.


Mike Gibbs:  So I guess the question is why isn’t it so prominent in history taught in schools?  Why isn’t it so prominent, do you think, in the curriculum?

Jessie Childs:  It’s funny, that’s the one question I’ve always been asked with this book, obviously never asked it with the Tudor books.  I mean, I don’t know.  I think it’s the most incredible century and subject and, as I say, the most relevant.  I mean, I can see why people would pick the Tudors, it’s almost like those familiar pop songs that we all know and love.  You know, you can’t not love the Tudors, and they’re quite easy to teach kids, especially young kids.  You know, you’ve got sort of these cartoon characters, you’ve got a king who’s fat, you can recognise his shape, he marries six times.  You know, it’s all quite easy to teach that, whereas the Civil War is complicated, it is multifaceted, it is about religion, largely, so those are hard things to teach young kids.  And especially – I don’t know that much about how many hours teachers have and at what point history is not compulsory, quite early on these days.  It’s not compulsory for GCSE, is it?  So I think teachers are in a really tough position because, even if they want to learn more and read more and construct a new course, you know, I don’t think they’re given the time and the resources, quite frankly.


Mike Gibbs:  How would you address it?  How would you motivate teachers to be more involved, more willing to learn about the Civil Wars?

Jessie Childs:  Well, I think it depends where you are, where your school is.  Maybe if you could latch on to a particular place, either where a battle happened or a siege, or one of your local churches has a memorial to someone, you could look into their lives.  Something like that, something that makes it a bit more relevant to you. Maybe look at children of the Civil War – there are harrowing stories about Royalist children in the Civil War – and not try to do everything, I think.  I think, going back to when I was at school, I wasn’t taught it but I was always put off by anything that was sort of you take down notes that are sort of bullet-pointed and, you know, what were the causes of this or that.  And, you know, for the Civil War it gets quite complex and you’ve got to look at structural social issues, economic issues, political issues, religious issues, and everyone’s going to start falling asleep.  So I think, you know, dive into an event, whether it’s, you know, a gruesome battle or siege, or the trial of Charles I, or something like that, a discreet event in itself, study that, or a person from your village or whatever.  And hopefully, as I hope I did with The Siege, you know, you can hook so many things onto it, almost without people realising that you’re teaching them about those bits.  I think maybe that’s what I would try and do.  But, as I say, you know, teachers, history teachers are worth their weight in gold and they need more resources and they need more time to do all this kind of stuff.  So they have my full support.


Mike Gibbs:  Jessie, I can only say that I found The Siege of Loyalty House was a fascinating thriller, which I didn’t want it to end.  Now we can read it in paperback.

Jessie Childs:  Oh, thanks Mike, that’s so kind of you.  Yes.  It’s got a smart new blue jacket with a sword on it, so that’s quite fun, a bit cheaper.  And yes, we need to make a movie out of it, don’t we, that’s what we need to do.


Mike Gibbs:  Thank you so much.  It’s always so exciting to listen to you, and so engaging.  There’s nobody better.  Thank you very much indeed.

Jessie Childs:  Oh Mike, that’s incredibly kind of you.  I’ve really enjoyed it, thanks for having me.