Mastodon The Writing Desk: A Different Cromwell ~ Special Guest Reviewer Linda Porter on The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins

15 July 2020

A Different Cromwell ~ Special Guest Reviewer Linda Porter on The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins

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London, 1657: Following her father Oliver Cromwell's unprecedented ascent to become Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, Frances Cromwell has moved from her humble childhood home to the sumptuous surroundings of the palaces of Hampton Court and Whitehall. Dreaming of romance, fulfilment and a love match that must surely be found at court, 18-year-old Frances is the youngest of Cromwell's daughters.

Linda Porter on The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins

Hilary Mantel has succeeded in making Thomas Cromwell, chief minister and fixer to Henry VIII, a household name, at least among readers of historical fiction. But what of the earlier Cromwell’s distant relative, Oliver, the Lord Protector of Great Britain between 1653 and 1658, a man even more powerful than the predecessor brought to life in Mantel’s trilogy of novels and certainly more controversial?

Few historical figures in our past continue to attract such extremes of admiration and criticism. It is an entrenched dispute which shows no sign of weakening. To his devotees, Oliver is a flawed but deeply committed man and outstanding soldier, who made an astonishing leap from respectable rural obscurity to national leadership and international respect in the space of just over a decade. To his detractors – and they continue to be many, and often strident – he is a murderous, hypocritical country thug and tyrant who abolished Christmas, cancelled culture, brought a martyr king to trial and execution, slaughtered the Irish and instituted a repressive regime which could not survive his own death in 1658. Could such a man even have any humanity at all?

The truth, as with almost anything that attracts strong views among historians, is, predictably, more complex than the most extreme schools of thought would readily acknowledge. One way of approaching a more balanced consideration is through historical fiction, which, when done well, can at least give pause for reflection. On the face of it, Oliver and his family (about whom most people, I suspect will know very little) are unlikely subjects for a page-turning historical novel. Yet this is precisely what debut historical novelist, Miranda Malins, has achieved in her new book.

The Puritan Princess tells the story of what it was like to be the Protector’s daughter through the experience of Frances Cromwell, his youngest child. From a modest but happy upbringing as a small child, surrounded by many siblings, the teenage Frances is whirled into the life of the Cromwellian court at Whitehall. The father she loves and reveres has become the most powerful man in the land and one of the most influential in Europe, feted by ambassadors from France and Venice while falling out with Spain, which opposes his aims in the Caribbean and supports the exiled Charles Stuart.

In this febrile atmosphere, Frances’s marriageability acquires an important political dimension. And the lively and headstrong girl soon discovers, as many young women in her position have done before, that her own wishes may not be paramount. This is all the more troubling because she has fallen in love with Robert Rich, descendant of another family prominent in Tudor times. Although he is not in the best of health, Frances is besotted – and determined to have her way. Her passion even lets her indulge in pre-marital sex. How very unpuritanical!

Malins’ easy and graceful style makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read as the story of Frances, her husband, and their brief life together unfolds. Readers who have always assumed that the Cromwellian court was a dour, colourless place will have their prejudices thoroughly challenged as we learn more about the celebrations for Frances’s wedding. Yet neither are we spared the gruesome details of Charles II’s revenge on Cromwell’s corpse and the anguish of the Cromwell family, consigned so suddenly again to obscurity.

A great service has been done to the neglected and often misunderstood years of the English republic by Miranda Malins in this book. She can now take her place alongside the wonderful historical crime novels of SG MacLean in her Seeker series, and, on the non-fiction side, Paul Lay in Providence Lost. It is high time we reclaimed this hidden piece of our history.

Linda Porter 

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About the Author

Miranda Malins is an historian specialising in the history of Oliver Cromwell and the Interregnum. She studied at Cambridge University, leaving with a PhD in 2010, and her first novel THE PURITAN PRINCESS - about Cromwell's youngest daughter - was published by Orion Fiction on 2 April 2020. Find out more at Miranda's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @MirandaMalins

Guest Reviewer Linda Porter

Linda Porter is an historian and author.  She was born in Exeter, brought up in Kent and has a D.Phil in History from the University of York.  Linda has lived in Paris and New York, where she was a History lecturer at various universities, including Fordham and the City University of New York.  On returning to the UK she changed careers and spent over twenty years working for British Telecom, many of them involved with developing the company’s corporate image in expanding international markets.  Disillusionment with the corporate world and a yearning to get back to historical research prompted her to leave BT in the early 2000s.  Since then she has written three critically acclaimed books, Mary Tudor: The First Queen, (2007), Katherine the Queen: the remarkable life of Katherine Parr, (2010) and Crown of Thistles: the fatal inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots (2013).  Her latest book, Royal Renegades: the children of Charles I and the English Civil Wars, will be published in October, 2016.  She is a regular speaker at stately homes and literary festivals throughout the country and has appeared on television and radio.  Linda is currently acting as historical consultant for a major new BBC series on the Six Wives of Henry VIII and is doing research for her next book, on the marriage of John and Sarah Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, which will finally take her back to her favourite period, the 18th century.  She is married with one daughter and lives in Kent. Find out more at Linda's website

Linda Porter’s latest book is Mistresses: sex and scandal at the court of Charles II (Picador, 2020)

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