Red Horse by M.J. Logue [Period Fiction]

cover of Red Horse by M.J. Logue

Red Horse (An Uncivil War #1)Red Horse by M.J. Logue

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Red Horse is set at the beginning of the First English Civil War in 1642. The primary characters are Captain Hollie Babbitt and his young Cornet Luce Pettitt. Babbitt is a grizzled and damaged English mercenary back from the continent to fight for Parliament. Pettitt fights from conviction and conscience, he is a distant relation to the Earl of Essex. This sets us up nicely for a tale from a cavalry viewpoint with the odd glimpse of higher command.

There are a troop of supporting characters as well. For the most part they simply give enough context for the main characters not to be in isolation. Both main characters are flawed, and this makes their character development engaging. Luce starts off naive and relatively innocent. I could identify my long departed 20-year-old self with him (although I didn’t write poetry back then, nor did I have Luce’s prudishness).

battle of edgehill
battle of Edgehill as featured in Red Horse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Babbitt is suffering from mild PTSD, he has flashbacks and mood swings. After the battle of Edgehill he loses touch with reality and gets suicidal. Fortunately for him people are looking out for him.

As well as the characters being real and engaging there is a really good level of historical accuracy in here. The author clearly knows the period that she is writing about. I’ve spent a couple of decades reading about and re enacting the ECW. There were only a couple of minor points I noticed, and both made Red Horse more readable for people not steeped in the history.

The full richness of the period is shown in Red Horse. With Parliamentarians you get the different levels of motivation. There are religious dissenters, raving preachers and quiet Grindletonians. There are also well off types that fight for liberty, their liberty and not really that of the common man. On top of that there are the British mercenaries that have learnt their trade in Europe and come home for pay.

It’s not all military either. Befitting the nature of the civil wars there are interludes where we see the impact on civilians. In fact the military bits are only because of the wider context, Red Horse is more social in nature and how the protagonists deal with both the war and their lives.

Overall I loved Red Horse. I paid for it myself and as soon as I finished it I paid for the sequel, Command the Raven.

I think you should read it too.

Get Red Horse: 1642 (Uncivil wars #1) from Amazon UK

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Living History Symposium

I was fortunate enough to be one of the select few speaking at the English Civil War Living History Symposium at Pitchford Hall this weekend. There were several fascinating talks all aimed at deepening our understanding of 17th century life and also how we deliver Living History events. My thanks to Sue Sampson who organised the Symposium and to Ken Clayton who marshalled the speakers in the hall.

Carolyn Richardson talking about the lute at the Living History Symposium 2017

Living History Symposium

Campsite Activities

These were mostly hands-on practical activities.

  • Sewing bee (Carolyn Richardson & Sue Sampson)
  • Music & Dancing
  • Have a go blacksmithing (David Best)
  • Around the World with 17th Century Spices (Sue Ball)
  • Wool Production: spinning & spinning wheels – early to mid 17th century (Jos Richards * Sue Sampson)
  • Painting miniatures (Mike Richards)
  • Fire & Lighting, from spark to flame (Gary McCann)
  • Sword School (Chris Ball)
  • Etiquette of Fine Dining (Phil Staker)
  • Playing the lute – hands-on practice (Carolyn Richardson)
  • Money, income and wages in the mid-17th century (Paul Cramer)
  • Soldier’s show and tell with weapons – how to do it safely (Mary McDonald-Watson)

Talks in the Hall

Steve Southcoat talking about the importance of Living History at the Living History Symposium 2017
  • Cooking and Cooking Utensils in the mid 17th Century (Stuart Peachy & Gilly Morley)
  • Research: Why it is important and how to do it properly (Ken Clayton)
  • The Importance of Living History in Re-enactment: how to do it well (Steve Southcoat)
  • The Gentle Art of Playing the Lute: Theory (Carolyn Richardson)
  • Scripting First Person Living History Scenarios (James Kemp)
  • Clothes of the common sort in the mid 17th century (Stuart Peachy & Gilly Morley)
  • The Problem with Woodcuts: why the majority are unreliable (Stuart Peachy & Gilly Morley)

My impressions

I spent most of my time in Pitchford Hall itself as that was where I was presenting. So I heard the Stuart Peachy talk on food, Ken Clayton’s talk on research, Steve Southcoat on the importance of Living History and Carolyn Richardson on the Lute.

Over on the campsite I saw a little of David Best demonstrating blacksmithing, and talked more with some of the participants.

Stuart Peachy on Food

Stuart Peachy is well known amongst the living history community as an experimental archaeologist. That’s to say he takes what he reads and gives it a go to understand it better. So his talk was a mix of what the period sources tell us and the results of his experience with preserving food.

I missed the start, but came in to the discussion on pig husbandry. Pigs being a mechanism for turning food waste back into food. Think of it as an early form of recycling and waste reduction. The practical point of this is that pig husbandry practice was different in the 17th century than the early 21st. Today we produce food for pigs so we can make lots of pork products. Back then they only kept enough pigs to consume the waste they produced. Out of each litter the weakest few would be killed immediately, of the five allowed to suckle two would become suckling pig to be consumed as a delicacy for the gentry. The remaining would be kept while there was food and then slaughtered and preserved over a month or two. The offal would be used fresh and the rest salted or smoked.

There was loads more on traditional meat products and who are them and when they tended to be available. Enough to keep dozens of blog posts full to the brim.

Key point is that there’s a more deliberate approach to food. Things are preserved with practically inedible levels of salt, so they need soaked for a day or so before being used. Food prep takes longer and there is advance planning needed. Mostly we should be making tomorrow’s meals…

Other talks

I’m hoping to be able to host at least some of the talks/handouts and have asked the participants if they will let me share them. I’ll post them up as and when they become available over on

The Last Roundhead by Jemahl Evans [Book Review]

Roundhead in the English Civil War
Roundhead in the English Civil War (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Last RoundheadThe Last Roundhead by Jemahl Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Last Roundhead is the best historical fiction I have read in years!

This is the tale of Blandford Candy, the last roundhead alive in 1719 when he wrote his memoirs. In the long hot summer of 1642 he is forced to leave home because his sister has discovered that he is having an affair with his eldest brother’s wife to be. He rides up to London in search of fame and fortune, just in time to be enlisted in his uncle’s Regiment. It is by far the best historical fiction that I have read since I finished reading the Flashman papers.

The Last Roundhead

Laid out in the style of the Flashman papers, Candy’s story is very well researched and thoroughly end noted. The history is part of the story and doesn’t get in the way, it all makes sense without reading the end notes (although if you do you will learn about mid seventeenth century England). Blandford Candy is not Flashman, his character is wholly different. For a start he lacks the bully boy swagger and cowardice of Flashman, although like Flashman he often gets involved in things that he would not have done otherwise, and he’s lead by lust more than brains. He does have brains though, and they get him out of some of the scrapes along with a measure of luck.

Candy is an unreliable narrator from a period where truth and accuracy were seen as perspectives rather than necessities in journalism. The chapters in the book are interspersed with correspondence and news pamphlets from the time, giving us other perspectives than just Candy’s. Like many of his time he is sophisticated in his cynicism of the printed material.

Sir Samuel Luke, Parliament's Scoutmaster General (c) Moot Hall Museum, Elstow; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Sir Samuel Luke, Parliament’s Scoutmaster General (c) Moot Hall Museum, Elstow; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

He is the third son of a middling family. Candy has been brought up as a gentleman, but also has an understanding that there will be no inheritance for him. The social position leads him falling naturally into being a young officer in his uncle Samuel Luke’s cavalry troop. This takes him to Edgehill, where his flamboyant red hat marks him out for special attention in the melee with Prince Rupert’s cavalry. Barely surviving the initial clash he recovers his composure and is able to participate later in the breaking of the King’s infantry, where he kills a red-headed ensign and takes the colour.

Back in London he becomes one of the 24 scouts when Parliament appoints Samuel Luke as Scoutmaster General. This leads to a whole load of skulduggery and plotting as well as a raid to uncover the printing press producing pamphlets for the royalists in London. He also goes to Oxford over the winter with the peace commissioners where he meets his middle brother, recently knighted by the King for loyal service. There’s a whole load of hidden plot here that develops through the rest of the story.

We see Blandford Candy being transformed from an innocent young man driven more by libido than anything else into a hardened warrior, confirmed roundhead and cynical agent for Parliament. He also develops close friendships with the other scouts, and there are moments of tragedy when some of them die, whether from disease or enemy action. There’s a lot of promise for more in the book too, references to other events and interesting characters, including Rochester. I certainly hope that there are as least as many of these as there were of the Flashman papers.

The book is available for pre-order, and is on general release from 1 August. Jemahl Evans kindly sent me an advanced reading copy knowing that I was a book reviewer and a member of the English Civil War Society. The Last Roundhead has exceeded my expectations and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone that enjoys history, thrillers, spy stories or mysteries, because it has all of these wrapped in together.

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