By George Kearton
Restoring A Dynasty
Author George Kearton on the creation of “The House of Stuart Sequence”
Let me make it clear from the outset; I had no intention of writing nine volumes of imagined history!
But, in real life as well as in alternate history, actions have consequences - throw a stone into a pond and you can never estimate in advance how far the ripples might go. So it was that “The Year of The Prince” (volume one of The Sequence) was followed by a succession of other volumes. The final decision in terms of these was that I would end the story in 1945; two hundred years after the Prince landed in Scotland. There was, however, no prior calculation as to how many volumes this might entail.
But why the Stuarts?
Initially, my interest was in the events surrounding the failed 1745 Uprising but this was not for any purposes connected with alternative history: I was looking for a suitable subject for a childrens’ musical.
A word of explanation might be useful here.
As Founder and Director of the Vivace Charitable Trust from 1998 onwards, my objective was to bring together large numbers of Primary School children, aged from 8 to 11 and with up to 300 children at a time, to perform large-scale choral works with relevant content. My definition of ‘relevant content’ was that the work performed had to tell a story connected in some way with the social history of the areas in which the work was to be performed.
Apart from Richard Rodney Bennett’s excellent operetta “All The King’s Men” (set in the English Civil War and which “Vivace” had already toured), pretty well all the existing childrens’ operas available for performance related to fairies or talking animals (or were too overtly religious) - not at all what I was looking for.
A pub lunch in Westhoughton, just outside Wigan, set me on the path in September of 2001. In the pub was a splendid stained-glass window, depicting an 18th century Highlander in full battle rig. Things rapidly fell into place; I was reminded that “Bonnie Prince Charlie” had led an invading army into Lancashire in 1745 and that his troops, reinforced by over 250 men from Lancashire recruited as The Manchester Regiment, had made it as far south as Derby before retreating and subsequently facing their nemesis; for the Mancunians at Carlisle and for the rest of the Jacobite army at Culloden in 1746.
With local council funding available (those were the days!) a writing team was assembled and “Charlie - the Jacobite Invasion of Lancashire” had its world premiere performance in Wigan in April of 2003. Other performances followed across Lancashire and were all successful. Our talented pair of music writers had devised a work for three childrens’ choruses; the Hanoverians, the Highlanders and the poor bloody Lancastrians, stuck in the middle as usual!
The plot of the musical followed the historical events of the ’45, starting with the landing at Arisag and ending with the return of the Prince to exile in 1746. A series of performances took place across Lancashire involving over 2,000 children. The performance at Preston (in support of St. Catherine’s Hospice) was a little spooky; it took place in the Preston Guildhall, built on the site of the house where The Prince had stayed in 1745!
Following the success of “Charlie”, we then went on to create other musicals; “The Price of Coal” (performed in South West Scotland as well as across Lancashire), “A Famine for Freedom” (concerning the Lancashire Cotton Famine and the American Civil War), “This Greene and Plesente Towne” ( a history of Wigan) and “The Vote” (a history of the progress towards a universal franchise).
But apart from their usefulness as a plot line for “Charlie” there was, in my mind, a definite and continuing sense of glamour to the Stuarts.
Over the years that followed, I read more and more about this romantic but unfortunate ruling house. King Charles I was beheaded by order of Parliament and King James II fled London, throwing the Great Seal of Parliament into the Thames as he went into exile. Loyalty to the Stuarts lasted well into the middle years of the eighteenth century with thousands of Englishmen and Scots refusing to drink to the health of their imposed regnant Hanoverian monarchs. These loyal Jacobites (after “Jacobus”, the Latin form of James) passed their hands over their drinking vessels and drank instead to “The King Over The Water”. From French and Italian exile, two generations of “Pretenders” attempted to retake the throne of Great Britain. With varying degrees of support from both France and Spain (depending on which way the winds of international diplomacy blew), there were at least three attempts in arms to restore the Stuarts to the throne.
The last attempt, led in the field by Prince Charles Edward Stuart, a grandson of King James II, came closest to success; his troops were only a hundred miles from London when they retreated in December of 1745.
As part of my research for “Charlie” I read many books of Jacobite history and my attention was particularly drawn to a short essay “If: a Jacobite Fantasy” which was written by Liverpool-born historian Sir Charles Petrie in 1926. In this far too short work, Petrie imagines success for Prince Charles Edward in 1745 and a full Stuart restoration in 1746; the work is easily available on the Internet and very worth reading. The seeds had been sown and, after reading Christopher Duffy’s splendid “The ’45” (which also considers, albeit briefly, the possibilities of success for the Jacobites) I started to jot down notes of “what if” possibilities.
Some specific stylistic considerations were determined early on:
There would be no supernatural “McGuffins”; ghosts, fairies, zombies, werewolves, vampires, aliens and time travellers would not apppear!
Equally there would be only a few fictional characters; one, for family reasons, appeared in “The Year of The Prince” and naturally all the Stuarts by blood after Prince Charles Edward’s generation would be fictional but I strove throught the Sequence to only use actual historical personages, even down to those who married my fictional Stuarts. This did, however create a need to change the timelines, fates and careers of some. Tom Black, Jack Tindale and Ed Feery of Sea Lion Press also made suitably heroic cameo appearances in “The General European Wars”.
There would be no Richard Sharpe type heroes either; much as I enjoy Cornwell’s books, his eponymous character achieves no material changes to known historical outcomes in our time line. Thus, I am at a loss as to why Amazon consider the “Sharpe” novels to be alternative history in their Kindle bestsellers lists.
There would be little or no dialogue. I had enjoyed reading Robert Sobel’s “For Want of a Nail”, not least because of his narrative style and thus sought to emulate it.
Political changes often bring about topographical changes; thus the capital of British North America in the Sequence is ‘Franklin’ rather than ‘Washington’ and both George Square in Glasgow and Trafalgar Square have been renamed. And before anyone shouts ‘Fort William’ at me, there is detail about how and why this name did not change in the appropriate volume of the Sequence.
Following these “rules” I started to seriously write “The Year of The Prince” on my sixty-fifth birthday; September 19th 2015. By Christmas, the book was broadly complete and volume two “The King Shall Have His Own Again” had been started. In very simplistic terms, volume one described how the Jacobites were successful in 1745 and volume two described the steps they took to ensure that they did not lose the throne again in the years that followed.
Volume two took the story to the dawn of the nineteenth century; already much changed from what we know in our histories.
Successive volumes take the story through that century and into the early years of the twentieth century. The culmination of the Sequence will be “The Longest Road”, due from Sea Lion Press in October or November of 2019.
Throughout the Sequence I have tried to remain both sequential and consequential with odd lapses into sidelines of history and folklore which might not be as generally known as perhaps they should be. The political and military significance of Karelia in the eighteenth century and of Verdun in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have both been queried by eagle-eyed readers but to these I can only offer the justification once used by Harold Macmillan in an entirely different context; “Events my dear boy, events”.
I am delighted that the Sequence has been so well received and eternally grateful to Sea Lion Press for showing such faith in it.
I have also enjoyed writing the short story “WN2” as part of SLP’s European Union anthology “Remain Means Remain” and am currently working on “The Celtic Trilogy” set in the early years of the twentieth century.
The full Sequence, in order, is as follows:
The Longest Road
The first eight volumes are available as ebooks in a variety of formats; volume nine will be published by Sea Lion Press later in 2019.
This article is Copyright George Kearton, September 2019