The Crimson Ribbon
This story concerns Elizabeth Poole, who really did appear before the Army Council in the days before the trial of Charles I, where she spoke of visions and argued for the life of the King. Her pamphlets can still be read in the British Library. In the book, Ruth Flowers, a servant girl in Cromwell’s household in Ely, has been accused of witchcraft by Samuel Ward, a local man, and flees to London, where she is taken in by Elizabeth Poole. They become close. When Samuel turns up in London and recognises Ruth, the two women escape to Abingdon.
The main thrust of the book is the frenzy over witches which took place at this time and the fervent wish to seek them out and destroy them, all set against the background of the Civil War. I found it interesting but heavy going in places. Although half the characters are based on real people, they don’t come across any more clearly than the fictitious characters, such as Ruth Flowers and Joseph Oakes, who were put in to flesh out the story. The author also takes several liberties with the facts. Her Author’s Note says it all: ‘We don’t know much about Elizabeth Poole, who she was or why she was given a voice during one of history’s most controversial prosecutions. This novel is my attempt to answer those questions… to that end I have invented certain things and altered others.’