Friday, October 29, 2021

Green Emeralds for the King: A Civil War Story by Constance Savery

Title: Emeralds for the King (American title)
Author: Constance Savery
Illustrator: Victor Dowling
Publication: Longmans, Green & Co., hardcover, 1945
Genre: Juvenile historical fiction
Setting: 17th century England
Description: Austin “Tosty” Farringdon, barely 13, is woken one night and told he can serve his king by finding lost treasure at his deceased father’s home, Yanburgh Manor. Such treasure, hidden since Elizabethan days, could fund Charles I’s defense against the Parliament armies that oppose him. However, Tosty and his mother are estranged from his older half-siblings, twins Miles and Giles, and sister Priscilla, who are in possession of the Manor and sympathize with Parliament; they are determined to find the treasure first. Tosty travels from Oxford to take on the mission but has to stand up to his adult brothers who want the instructions to the hiding place he has memorized. Sir Miles is warm and honorable, welcoming Tosty and insisting he will not be coerced, although the boy is virtually a prisoner, but Giles is self-centered and sees Tosty only as an obstacle to finding the treasure. While clinging valiantly to his Royalist allegiance, Tosty learns to value his siblings, particularly Miles who risks his life several times to protect the boy. The real question is – who will find the emeralds first?
My Impression: This is a stirring adventure story, set during the English Civil War, one of my favorite periods. Savery is at her best when depicting relationships and bringing a historical setting to life: 
Tosty kissed his mother, bade Aunt Sophia and Uncle Christopher a respectful farewell, and sprang into the saddle.

And all through the streets of Oxford the horses’ hoofs kept ringing out the refrain: Emeralds for the King – green emeralds for the King!

Just as in Enemy Brothers, the admiration of a younger brother for a kind and honorable older brother adds a dimension to the story. When Tosty realizes that Miles has risked his life for him, despite Tosty’s adherence to King Charles, he is ashamed to have put his brother in danger. However, Tosty is still determined to find the treasure before his brothers do. I can see why Eric Schonblom, Savery’s biographer, found the story so memorable, although the language is a little stilted with “wilts” and “canst” and “whence” – Enemy Brothers is more accessible to a modern reader. I’d like to own a copy of Emeralds for the King but I passed it along to my mother to read (she liked it too), not my teenage nephews.

Two things bothered me about this book – one is that the local wise woman, Mother Darwell, is taunted by Giles for being a witch, which is not funny in that day and age. It’s both ungrateful given she patches him up when he is injured and cruel because the powerful should protect those who are vulnerable (Miles would never behave this way!). I also disliked Tosty’s sister Priscilla, who is sometimes kind to him but often comes across as shrill and foolish. She loves a brutal Roundhead with no redeeming virtues, although Tosty thinks she is more beautiful than the ladies at court so you'd think she'd have better options than a surly neighbor. It’s as if Savery used all her energy in creating the three brothers, who have very distinctive characters, and didn’t care much for their sister. Miles is the more swoonworthy of the twins but I can see Savery has a sneaking fondness for Giles:
[Tosty] came into the hall to find Priscilla, Mr. Whernley, and Giles already seated at the table. Sister and tutor coldly ignored his entrance and made no reply to his murmured greeting; but Giles looked at him with a gleam of amusement in eyes narrowed like a cat’s. “You are none the worse for your hair-raising adventure, I see,” he said speaking less roughly than his wont.
Soon after I read this book, I saw Emma Bridgewater’s Charles I mug and I decided it would be a birthday present to myself. I am sure Constance Savery would approve!
This is my twenty-third book in the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader.  I did not include any of the drawings but they are black and white, sort of a woodcut motif with stylized lettering.

Source: InterLibrary Loan. Thank you again to the Bangor, Maine library, which has found me books in the past! This is one of her very hard-to-find titles. 
Unfortunately, the sequel, Haggiston Hall, was never published, according to Eric Schonblom.

1 comment:

Katrina said...

I haven't read anything by this author but I think I would enjoy this one. I was wondering where you had got that mug!