The Beast, You Say? No, Sorry, Wrong Number
Happy New Year, everybody! And what an anniversary-rich year it promises to be, even in comparison with 2015 and 2014. The World War I commemorations will include the poignant centenaries of the Somme and Jutland; I hope to be involved in, or at least a witness to, some of the latter, and will report back as and when the time comes. Tudor and Stuart historians, lovers of literature – well, pretty much everybody, really – will overdose merrily on the shenanigans surrounding the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. And for those of us who dabble in the late seventeenth century, there’s the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London to look forward to.
Actually, of course, the latter is just one of the 350th anniversaries of the extraordinary events of the year 1666, which attracted considerable attention from contemporaries because it included the Biblical ‘number of the beast’. Thus many expected disasters and extraordinary events, and they certainly got them during what John Dryden described as the annus mirabilis: not just the Great Fire, but two colossal naval battles, the ‘Four Days’ Fight’ from 1-4 June (Old Style / Julian Calendar) and the ‘St James Day’ Fight’ (25-26 July), as well as the attack on the Dutch Frisian islands that became known to the British as ‘Holmes’ bonfire’ and to the Dutch as the ‘English Fury’. Plans are afoot to commemorate the latter on Vlieland and Terschelling, but there seems to be nothing planned on the British side to mark the battles – apart from by the small, beleagured, widely scattered band of Restoration navy nuts, who’ll be raising lonely glasses to toast the immortal memories of, umm, Sir William Berkeley, and the others who fought and died in those titanic, but now almost forgotten, conflicts.
All of the above impacts hugely on my own plans for this year. The most recent Quinton novel to be published, The Battle of All the Ages, focuses on the Four Days’ Battle and the St James’ Day Fight, while the next one in the chronological series, Death’s Bright Angel, due to be published this summer, begins with ‘Holmes’ bonfire’ and culminates in the Great Fire (and as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, if you think there’s no naval dimension to the Great Fire of London, you ain’t seen nothing yet…). More on that anon, as Death’s Bright Angel is going to be a very unusual book in some respects – effectively two books in one, with the fictional story followed by an extensive historical essay that will reveal some explosive new evidence about aspects of the Great Fire. If all goes according to plan, too, this will be a bumper year for Quinton fans, following last year’s fallow period (for which apologies once again): The Rage of Fortune, the prequel set in the period 1598-1602 and featuring Matthew’s eponymous grandfather, the swashbuckling eighth Earl of Ravensden, is currently scheduled for publication as an e-book on 10 May.
Otherwise, I plan to spend much of the year researching and writing my new non-fiction book for Seaforth Publishing, Kings of the Sea: Charles II, James II and the Royal Navy, due for publication in the summer of 2017 to coincide with next year’s massive 350th anniversary, that of the Dutch attack on the Medway in 1667. I’ll also be reviving the hashtag #2ADW350 on Twitter, to ‘live tweet’ the naval events of 1666 on their anniversaries. And, yes, if the need arises for further blogs about the Carmarthenshire archives situation, The Ladybird Book of Online Campaigning and General S*** Stirring remains at hand.
Finally, a plug for one more 2016 anniversary that might otherwise go unnoticed. 13 April marks the 300th anniversary of the death of Arthur Herbert, Earl of Torrington, one of the most controversial naval officers of the seventeenth century. Denounced by Pepys for gross immorality (which, let’s face it, is a bit liked being denounced by Donald Trump for having a dodgy mullet), Herbert commanded the British fleet in the Battle of Beachy Head, 1690, which the French claim as one of their few naval victories over the rosbifs, and is credited with originating the term ‘fleet in being’. So if you need an excuse to raise a glass on 13 April, you now have one!