Enjoy an excerpt from my historical fiction novel Written in Their Stars, as Nan Wilmot and Lucy Hutchinson watch Charles II enter London after his eleven-year exile in Paris.
May 1660: Westminster
The church bells woke Nan, crashing and clashing and shattering the early morning stillness in their jubilant pealing. She threw aside the blanket and jumped from the one bed she and Luce had discovered in an upstairs chamber. Luce was already sitting by the window, gazing out across King Street and the handsome houses across the way. Her profile was sombre, and as Nan walked to her side, she put her arm around her cousin’s slight shoulders.
“Be strong.” Nan held her tightly to steady the trembling in Luce’s body.
“It is over,” whispered Luce. “Until just now, until the bells rang, I could imagine this a dream and that our republic still stood. But the king has returned. Today, he enters London. It is over.”
“Yes, he returns,” Nan replied softly. She knew the same sorrow dwelled in her brother Walter’s heart and preoccupied John’s thoughts far away in Norfolk. “But he does not evict Parliament, Luce. He works alongside England’s representatives. Your fight was not in vain. We will never return to the old king’s way of divine rule with no thought for the people of this land.”
Another peal of bells, this time from St. Martin’s across the fields by Charing Cross. Below in the streets, people were gathering, setting up stools and opening hampers of food, determined to be at the front of the crowd as the king rode by. And as the hours passed, and Luce remained a silent sentry to the demise of her rebellion, Nan brought water and bread, which stayed untouched at her side.
Finally, by midafternoon the sporadic cheering swelled into a sustained roar and the bells clashed even more wildly, now all at once, a cacophony sweeping over the buildings and bouncing from the walls. Luce opened the catch and leaned from the window, and Nan squashed herself next to her so they could both look towards Charing Cross.
And here came the tramp of foot soldiers, the king’s guards, pikemen marching to peace, not war. Next the Cavaliers, their horses caparisoned in richly decorated fabrics, replacing their usual worn, battle-scarred leather. The nobles rode next, then the king’s brother and the Duke of Buckingham. All paraded in this victory procession, and suddenly, without warning, tears choked Nan’s throat and sprang from her eyes. The king, on a white stallion draped in cloth of gold, a young god riding at the head of his army. And next to him, a horse with no rider, led with stirrups turned. Was this for Henry? Was this the horse that Henry should have ridden at the king’s restoration? She did not know for sure, but she could think it in her heart, that the king would remember his faithful friend, the man who saved his life, who helped him escape from England. Who did not return with him.
Now the procession passed below their window, making the last turn before the Banqueting House and Westminster Hall. Luce sat motionless, and as the king rode beneath them, she silently leaned forward. They both watched him disappear from sight as he approached the place of his father’s execution, each lost in their own memories of that day.
“There’s Allen . . . and Ned.” Nan nudged Luce, who returned her gaze to the street. The men did not look up, for they were not to know of Nan’s hiding place.
“So you go to the palace today?” Luce’s voice was a monotone, crushed. Never had Nan heard such defeat in her cousin.
“I will. The king speaks first at Westminster. And then, when the ceremonies are over, I will return to Whitehall, to Barbary’s lodgings, and put forth our case for John.”
Nan’s solemn words seemed to break through Luce’s mood. She pulled herself back from the window and closed the catch, shutting out the rejoicing. Nan recognised the resolve of Lucy in her expression, the steel in her words.
“Thank you, Nan,” Luce replied. “And God bless you. Go with Allen. Meet with Barbary Villiers. Plead for John’s freedom. I will wait here for instructions from you. And pray for my husband’s life.”
London, 1649. Horrified eyewitnesses to King Charles’s bloody execution, Royalists Nan Wilmot and Frances Apsley plot to return the king’s exiled son to England’s throne, while their radical cousin Luce, the wife of king-killer John Hutchinson, rejoices in the new republic’s triumph. Nan exploits her high-ranking position as Countess of Rochester to manipulate England’s great divide, flouting Cromwell and establishing a Royalist spy network; while Frances and her husband Allen join the destitute prince in Paris’s Louvre Palace to support his restoration.
As the women work from the shadows to topple Cromwell’s regime, their husbands fight openly for the throne on England’s bloody battlefields. But will the return of the king be a victory, or destroy them all? Separated by loyalty and bound by love, Luce, Nan and Frances hold the fate of England—and their family—in their hands. Written in Their Stars is the third novel in The Lydiard Chronicles.