Author: John and Patricia Beatty
Publication: Macmillan, hardcover, 1965 (now available as an ebook for $2.99)
Genre: YA historical
Plot: When 15-year-old Penitence Hervey travels from Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to England, she arrives in 1651 as the country is still embroiled in Civil War. As a Puritan, Penitence is wary of her new family, the Killingtrees of Campion Towers who are unabashed Cavaliers, and she agrees to spy on them for Cromwell. Her relatives are unfriendly: her grandmother is dying and mistakes her for her deceased mother, her grandfather is furious to see her, her aunt is critical, her cousin Douglas is a spiteful girl her own age, and they lock her into her room at night. Pen is delightfully flawed – quick to anger and jump to conclusions and less respectful than most girls her age (although, surprisingly, this helps to win over her grandfather). She is also appealingly intrepid and as she explores her home and the Worcester area she learns some of the family secrets, including that her handsome cousin Julian, outlawed by Parliament, is a boon companion of Charles Stuart, the rightful king of England. Soon Pen finds herself caught by the claims of old and new loyalties, inspiring the kind of courage that delights readers and which makes a compelling story with unexpected twists.
Audience: This is a young adult historical fiction written by a noted husband/wife team. John Beatty was a professor at the University of California specializing in 17th and 18th English history and his wife Patricia also authored several books of her own. The California Library Association's John and Patricia Beatty Award annually honors the author of a distinguished book for children or young adults that best promotes an awareness of California and its people.
My Impressions: This is a charming book, which seemed to be written just for me with settings in Massachusetts (US) and the Worcester (UK) countryside, which I recently visited (an English friend recently asked in puzzlement why I had wanted to visit Worcester and was quite surprised when I brought up its importance in the English Civil War). It is more common for fictional heroes or heroines to start in the Old World and seek their fortunes in the new one than to travel back, as Pen does. This makes Pen’s view of her family and the state of English politics quite intriguing and the authors do a good job of showing how Pen’s upbringing and the unscrupulous people who try to use her preconceptions about her mother’s family nearly result in disaster for the good guys. Well, in fact, Oliver Cromwell does win the Battle of Worcester (boo!) but Charles II is not captured by the Parliamentary forces. As Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith said:
For he who fights and runs awayPen’s new home is named for my family’s favorite saint, Edmund Campion (1540-81). Campion was a Jesuit who braved Elizabeth II’s priest hunters to bring the sacraments to Catholics in England. Some manor houses, such as the one in this story, then known as The Old Abbey, built secret passages to hide visiting priests. Neighbors trusted to keep the secret would be invited to Mass. Over time, the Killingtrees’ secret resulted in a new name for their home. Campion was not so lucky – in 1581, he was captured, tortured, tried, and eventually hanged, drawn, and quartered on December 1, which is now his Feast Day.
May live to fight another day;
But he who is in battle slain
Can never rise and fight again.
“You dare to do this!” I cried out. “What would the people who believe in what you stand for think if they knew?”English Civil War: For those interested in learning more about the English Civil War or just interested in good historical fiction, Campion Towers is back in print from Beebliome Books and I also recommend Stella Riley’s historical novels for adults; start with A Splendid Defiance.
I had caught him there. He looked puzzled. “I do not believe I understand you, mistress . . . .”
“May I go now?” I asked angrily.
“Perhaps you had better,” he agreed. “I prefer maids who do not speak in parables of what is to come and who would rather kiss than ask questions.”