A Woman in Peril | Lucy Hutchinson Defends Nottingham Castle

Women faced immense perils during the English Civil War with remarkable resilience and courage. The war brought not only political and social upheaval but also personal tragedies, devastating families and communities. My family found themselves on the front lines, especially in defending strongholds like Nottingham Castle, a critical strategic location.
Lucy Hutchinson and her mother, Lady Apsley, moved into Nottingham Castle when the situation at their home in nearby Owthorpe became too dangerous. Lucy’s husband, Colonel Hutchinson, was governor of the castle during the Civil War and held the stronghold for Cromwell and Parliament. Outside the walls, Lucy’s Cavalier brother Allen fought for the king. The siblings were literally “By Love Divided”, the title of my second novel in The Lydiard Chronicles.
The emotional toll of the war was profound, often pitting brother against brother and splitting families along political lines. Women endured the most of this internal strife, witnessing firsthand the devastating effects of such divisions. The war tore apart households, with fathers and sons, siblings, and husbands fighting on opposing sides. These divided loyalties created an atmosphere of constant fear and grief, as women worried about the fate of their loved ones, no matter which side they fought for.

Lucy Hutchinson

Within Nottingham Castle’s walls, Lucy Hutchinson and her mother played vital roles, acting as nurses and caregivers under siege conditions. They nursed prisoners and their own soldiers, navigating the grim realities of war. The castle, both a fortress and a prison, was a microcosm of the larger conflict, where women’s medicinal knowledge was indispensable. Lucy and her mother treated wounds, managed illnesses, and provided comfort, showcasing the essential nature of their skills in an era when medical care was rudimentary at best. No doubt Lady Apsley’s life as a medical practitioner within the Tower of London brought invaluable experience.
In more than one instance, Lucy Hutchinson writes in her memoirs of their work looking after the wounded, and in a poignant paragraph states:
“There was a large room, which was the chapel, in the castle: this they had filled full of prisoners, besides a very bad prison, which was no better than a dungeon, called the Lion’s Den. In the encounter, one of the Derby captains was slain, and five of our men hurt, who for want of another surgeon, were brought to the governor’s wife, and she having some excellent balsams and plasters in her closet, with the assistance of a gentleman that had some skill, dressed all their wounds, whereof some were dangerous, being all shots, with such good success, that they were all cured in convenient time. After our wounded men were dressed, as she stood at her chamber-door, seeing three of the prisoners sorely cut, and carried down bleeding into the Lion’s Den, she desired the marshal to bring them in to her, and bound up and dressed their wounds also: which while she was doing, Captain Palmer came in and told her his soul abhorred to see this favour to the enemies of God; she replied, she had done nothing but what she thought was her duty, in humanity to them, as fellow-creatures, not as enemies.”
Lucy Hutchinson
Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson

Living within the confines of a castle under siege added another layer of hardship. Scarcity of resources, the constant threat of attack, and the psychological strain of confinement tested the limits of endurance. Despite these challenges, Lucy and her mother’s efforts in caring for their families, prisoners, and even enemies underscored a shared concern for health and the hope for recovery. Their dedication to protecting their charges from the dangers of war and disease was a testament to their strength and compassion.
By Love Divided
“It is evident that Elizabeth St.John has done extensive research in writing this book based on her own family’s experiences during this time in history. The language she uses is so authentic. Her writing engages the senses with the sights, sounds, and smells of 17th-century life. Her world and characters are so real I wanted to remain there. I loved this book, and the Lydiard Chronicles are now on my list of all-time favorite historical novels. A fantastic read.”
Editor’s Choice, Historical Novel Society

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