Sunday, March 7, 2010

Review: Jane Whorwood - The King's Smuggler

From the Press Release:
THE KING'S SMUGGLER: JANE WHORWOOD, SECRET AGENT OF CHARLES I by author John Fox (Pub: The History Press 8th February 2010).

It is the first biography of Jane Whorwood. She spied for the King and smuggled a huge amount of gold in order to raise funds for the army and the royalist cause in England's Civil War.

Most biographies about the Civil War relate to the men's stories and the women's escapades tend to get missed out!

Jane Whorwood was one of King Charles' closest confidantes - when he was imprisoned she set up correspondence networks, consulted the national astrologer, raised and moved money, and organised escape attempts, ending up in the hub of a naval mutiny.

So, who is this woman you are asking. I did too when first asked to review a copy of John's biography. Not only did I know nothing of her role in the English Civil War of the 1640s but I had not heard of her either. Upon a visit to my local library, I checked out various books on the English Civil War - and there was no mention of Jane at all.

John's book was an eye-opener on a woman who contributed much, lost it all, and was never recognised at all for her role. Flora MacDonald achieved world-wide fame for her support of Bonnie Prince Charles - but Jane was a "non-entity" or rather "non entry" on the pages of history.

Jane (or Joan, Jeanne, or Jean as she was variously known), was a member of a prominent Scottish family at the Courts of Kings James I & VI and Charles I of England. Her family (of which the branches of her family tree were numerous and fruitful) attained positions at both courts, and in particular that of Charles I.

And so the first third of the book deals with background information - vital to the story. It covers Jane's early years and her family rise through the ranks of the nobility culminating in the her step-father's appointment as "Black Rod". Next we deal with Jane's marriage and that of her sisters. We find Jane settling into the socially expected domesticity of her status.

The disputes between Charles I and his Parliament become the focus of the daily lives of the English peoples, especially the nobility. We find, like the American Civil War, families on opposing sides - in this instance - having "crossed the bridge".

The Parliament - which did not have the powers of Parliament as we know it today - were fearful of Charles' view of an "absolute monarchy" and in the "Divine Rights of Kings" - that is, the King is subject to God alone. The Courts of Kings James I and Charles I saw the introduction of Scottish magnates into the English dominated court. Conflict was inevitable of courtiers jostled for position and favouritism. With financial and religious difficulties, Parliament attempted to force the King to acceed to their demands. War was effectively declared.
One Mistress Whorwood in Oxfordshire, was wont to bring in intelligence to the late king, as well as to Oxford as to the Isle of Wight. She was sent several times of messages. Thomas Coke, interrogated in the Tower, May 1651

It was not only intelligence that Jane sent to the King, but money with which to sustain his army. Her activities were barely known - even after the event - as she used a system of codes to disguise both herself and the King. Her position and that of her family, gave her ready access to information - it was not as if she had to don a disguise to infiltrate royal circles. She was already there - on the spot.

Jane's service in the King's name ended with his execution and the abolition of the monarchy in England (30 January 1649). Jane herself was imprisoned for her loyalty to the late Charles I; her family lire crumbled around her with the return of her abusive husband; and she was in fact disinherited. Divorce and scandal ensued - and her family (more importantly her sisters) deserted her in her time of need.

But Jane survived - the monarchy was restored under King Charles II.
Consistent with the previous thirty years, Jane never cited her service to the Crown, as if governed by an unspoken etiquette.

She spent her final years petitioning for that which was due to her - fighting till the very end.
Few co-conspirators from Wartime were alive to notice Jane’s death. Poverty and isolation reduced her to childlike pleading with a king who either did not know, or preferred to forget that his father had once importuned her in a similar isolation. In the summer of her death the great and the good – the second Earl of Clarendon and Archbishop Sancroft – began to enquire about Jane’s and others’ role in Charles I’s final years. By then, Dugdale’s sources and memory were suspect or failing, most witnesses were dead, Jane was stilled and no one asked again for many years.

Jane was a woman of extraordinary courage and conviction - she stood by her monarch when others fell away - and she paid the price. I cannot but commend this book on a most remarkable woman. Hopefully one who will no longer be a footnote on the pages of history.

About the Author - John Fox:
John is an Oxford university trained historian and has spent 6 years working on the project. of Jane Whorwood John has also written "Forgotten Divisions" (1994) on WWI in Bonn and Manchester, (‘a publishing rarity’, Geoffrey Moorhouse), and "Macnamara’s Irish Colony" (USA, 2000) on British designs to annexe California in 1846 (‘fascinating evidence, superb cast’, Prof. Roy Foster). Besides the new "Jane Whorwood" entry in ODNB, he has written several local histories for his home community near Oxford.