A 17th Century Game of Thrones

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

I know this quote is taken from an entirely different context, but it could easily be applied to England in the 17th Century. It was a century of civil war and treasonous plots, rule by a Protector (who ruled like a king), the Restoration, a mostly bloodless coup in the shape of the Glorious Revolution, the rise of numerous religious factions (including our American Pilgrims) and the attempt at one of the world’s first communes. It was violent, bloodthirsty, socially both forward-thinking and obscenely backward, fashionably extravagant and desperately impoverished.

I keep telling myself that one day, when I have read more, when I understand more, when I get my head around all the ins and outs, I would love to write a novel set during this period.

378px-James_I,_VI_by_John_de_Critz,_c.1606.James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne from Queen Elizabeth in 1603, to become James I of England, Scotland and Ireland. Two years later, Guy Fawkes and his cohorts launched the Gunpowder Plot, which would have killed James had it succeeded. I’d love to write a story around the Plot, but could never improve on Equivocation, a play by Bill Cain. Brilliant.

When James’s son Charles inherited the throne, he set in motion the events that became the English Civil Wars and the Protectorate, making a name of a till-then obscure gentleman named Oliver Cromwell (the great, great grandnephew of Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry VIII’s advisers). Cromwell was a tactician, military leader (some say dictator), and the instigator of near-genocidal measures in Ireland. He was one of several who signed Charles I’s death warrant, making poor Charles the first (and only) English king to be executed (though we all know a few queens who have met the same fate).

I would love—dearly love—to set a book during the insanity that was the English Civil Wars. Brother against brother, Parliament against the Royalists, women taking action for both sides. Beheadings, pitched battles, intrigue—it’s all here. Talk about a game of thrones.

473px-Nell_gwyn_peter_lely_c_1675Then there’s the Restoration, when the Stuarts returned triumphant to the throne in the shape of Charles II, who had no legitimate children, but acknowledged a dozen by his many mistresses. I’ve always thought Nell Gwyn (one of those mistresses) would be a fun character to write about, but then again, so have many others.

Charles was succeeded by his brother, James, who had two daughters before he converted to Catholicism, which set the entire country in an uproar. His eldest daughter, Mary, and her husband—a Dutch Protestant—took control of the throne and gave name to the College of William and Mary in Virginia (amongst other things).

447px-Queen_Anne

My interest of this latter half of the century has always been with James’s younger daughter, Anne. She didn’t inherit the throne until 1702, but her earlier life is what fascinates me the most. She had an intense friendship with Sarah Jennings, who later became Sarah Churchill (sound familiar? Winston Churchill is one of her descendants), the Duchess of Marlborough. I’d love to find a way to explore their teenage friendship, with the hope of casting light on the arguments and reconciliations that would follow for the next several decades.
I’ve never seen the HBO series Game of Thrones, nor have I read Martin’s books. (I think I would need several weeks with no interruptions or distractions!) I understand that the storylines are vastly different, but I like the idea that the 1600s in England were a game of thrones themselves. Fascinating characters, layers upon layers of subplots, tons of angst and more than a little bad behavior.

I just need to get my research on.

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About Katherine Longshore

Katherine Longshore is the author of GILT (Viking/Penguin May 2012), a story of friendship and betrayal set in the court of Henry VIII, and TARNISH (June 2013), the story of a young Anne Boleyn. You can learn more about her www.katherinelongshore.com

10 thoughts on “A 17th Century Game of Thrones

  1. Claire Saag says:

    I think this is a great idea – the 17th Century is a very underdone period, and there’s a lot of material to draw on. I hope you get a chance to write the book!

  2. Wonderful! I’d love to read your take on it… but then, I’d read whatever you wrote! 😉

    Game of Thrones draws most heavily from the Wars of the Roses — loosely — although you’d recognize some Tudor characters and events there as well. Mr. Martin is clearly very well versed in English medieval history. I hope you’ll get a chance to read them someday.

    • You know, I had wondered about that, Maryanne. The Wars of the Roses are, as you may have guessed, my first historical love! I’m now more eager than ever to read Martin’s books (just need to find that huge block of time to accomplish it…)

      (and thank you for your encouragement!)

  3. I truly hope you get the opportunity to write about this era, Katherine. I know it will be wonderful. I love when a time period resonates so strongly with someone.

  4. Willy Nilly says:

    I feel especially connected to this period as it is the reason for my existence. My 9th Great Grandfather, weary of the destruction and constant contest of the crown of England, sought absolution from the church by building 4 homes on his land for widows and their children. Those homes exist today. He sold his estate, joined other venture capitalists and sailed to Jamestown Virginia in 1608. Later, son’s and brothers would come too. My dear 9th Great Grandmother perished at the desolation and labor of it all. Later, Oliver Cromwell’s men would hang another family member in the town square of his hometown for the crime of being an officer in the King’s army. One document I read stated that the misery of the peasantry was now visited to the whole country at the hands of the usurper. Yes, it was a very dynamic period and set the stage for the rise of America.

  5. kamrynwhowanders says:

    Have you read I, Coriander, by Sally Gardner? It’s a historical fantasy set in this time period, a sort of Cinderella story, and it’s really good. Coriander and her father are Royalists, but after her mother (A witch, of sorts) dies, he marries a Protestant so that they don’t get executed.

    • I haven’t read I, Coriander yet! Thank you so much for the recommendation, I’ll put it on my list right away. I loved Amy Greenfield’s Chantress, which is an alternative historical fantasy set during the time period, too…

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