Elizabeth Murray, an actual historic person, was the eldest daughter of a fiercely Royalist Scottish family. Her father was a courtier, and her mother passed messages to Royalist spies. In this novel set between 1643 and 1651, we follow Elizabeth’s development from a 17-year-old beauty through marriage and motherhood during the trials and dangers of the Civil War. Her beloved home, Ham House, is occupied by Parliament’s soldiers, and the family lives under constant suspicion. However, Elizabeth’s charms win over Cromwell as well as her rich first husband and also Earl Lauderdale, her second and her great love.
This is a novel without much plot. Instead, it is a well-drawn picture of the Royalists’ struggle to exist and serve the king under Parliamentary rule. Because Elizabeth, confined to Ham House, is the narrator, the battles must take place off-stage so they are reported by gossip and rumour. The king’s execution is the only event she witnesses (which seems unlikely), but it makes dramatic sense. Seymour is excellent on the stress and the depredations as normal life disintegrates. No one can be trusted. Domestic and social details are convincingly in period; so are Elizabeth’s snobbery and arrogance. She is reputed to be a beauty with great charm, but in her first-person narrative she comes across as self-centred and snappish. In this long novel, Seymour has created a three-dimensional character although one who is hard to like. Highly recommended for Civil War buffs.