A fine day for killing

It would be a fine day tomorrow, a fine day for killing or being killed.” My hero, wandering through the camp the night before the 1644 battle of Cropredy Bridge (a bit like Henry V), muses philosophically on the weather.

Living in Melbourne, it is sometimes hard to remember how cold and wet British summers can be. During the English Civil War, the weather was particularly bad. The battle of Edgehill in 1642 was renowned for the cold night after the battle. As darkness fell on that October day, the armies remained on the field along with the dead and wounded and (in all likelihood) some of the prisoners taken in the battle.

The cold and damp of the muddy ground is soaking into his breeches and chilling him to the bone. He is beginning to believe he will freeze to death before being moved.

Visiting the UK to research the civil war while writing The Welsh Linnet, my tour of the Naseby battlefield coincided with a particularly wet day, one of many in June 2016. My hire car sloshed manfully through muddy lanes. I peered through the misted windscreen for signposts among hedgerows bursting with green and dripping vegetation. On my return to Melbourne I wrote bad weather into the book. A lot of bad weather. I was not making it up.

And bad weather would have had many adverse effects. Baggage and artillery carts would have become bogged down, horses likewise. On a cold March day, as at Cheriton in 1644, a lengthy delay posed a risk to the armies before the fighting even started.

Miller, Williams! Stand straight in your files.” An exasperated corporal shepherded the two men back towards the infantry lines. “Baaaa,” mocked one of Will’s men. Will could not repress a chuckle. The corporals of the Foot were hard pressed, keeping their hungry, half-frozen men from wandering off to forage for food or find shelter from the cold.

On a rare sunny day I visited Roundway Down outside Devizes. The presence of a blue sky helped enormously in imagining the fleeing roundhead cavalry, blinded by the setting sun, galloping full tilt over an escarpment to their deaths.

I discovered that the marshy area by the River Loddon near Basing House in Hampshire is prone to fog. This helped Sir William Waller’s army in 1643 as they launched a surprise attack on the royalist fortress.

Gabriel, standing on the roof of the Great Gate House, was peering out. A thick fog had descended, making it difficult to see very far beyond the precincts of the house.

Foggy day tick! How far could you see from the roof of a (now demolished) gatehouse which was four storeys high? Descend from upper floor of my city office down to fourth floor and peer out of window towards distant cyclists, (who are unaware they are standing in for galloping horses). Tick!

At this point my research came unstuck. Despite visiting the ruins of Basing House (another day wet enough for Noah), I had failed to ask my historian guide about the movements of the local fog. The thick fog should have risen, not descended. It rises, apparently, from the river on a regular basis.

This is why historical novelists invariably have a disclaimer in their books “All mistakes are my own”. I am no exception.

(Photo of Basing House N.Turton )

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