Busy, busy, busy – into the home straight with writing my new non-fiction book for Seaforth Publishing, Kings of the Sea: Charles II, James II and the Royal Navy! So no time to write a new post this week…which gives me a perfect excuse to re-blog once again one of my most popular posts of all time, originally from June 2013. After all, you can never get enough of Battlefield Bonkers – which I think was their original problem…
In last week’s post (i.e. June 2013), I described my recent visit to Pepys House at Brampton, Cambridgeshire. Although I’d never been there before, this brought back some slightly surreal memories, principally because our hostess reminded me that the day of our meeting was the anniversary of the Battle of Naseby (14 June 1645). In history, of course, Naseby was the decisive battle of the first (British) civil war: King Charles I’s army was comprehensively defeated by the New Model Army commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. In fiction, I’ve made it absolutely integral to Matthew Quinton’s back story. Much of his staunch royalism and sense of honour can be attributed to the death of his father during the battle; I’ve placed James Quinton, ninth Earl of Ravensden, in the right-wing of the Royalist cavalry, commanded by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, which successfully drove its opponents off the field but then fatally rode off to seek plunder instead of turning to attack the Parliamentarian infantry and Cromwell’s cavalry on the other wing, which duly rolled up the King’s army. So Matthew, who’s meant to be five at the time of his father’s death, refers to Naseby frequently, and in The Blast That Tears The Skies, an important and (for him) cathartic plot development takes place on the twentieth anniversary of the battle.
The battlefield of Naseby isn’t too far from where I live, and one year when I was teaching the Civil War to A-level students, I decided to organise a field trip which would visit the site and a couple of other relevant places of interest. The trip started in a fairly low key way at the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon, which I also mentioned last week, with the students duly staring in awe at the Lord Protector’s hat. But then we drove on to Naseby. I’d been there before, several times, so knew the geography well; the site is a shallow valley, now planted with arable crops, and a lane crosses the battlefield roughly in the position where Cromwell’s cavalry charged. There’s a lay-by on the slope where the Parliamentarian army massed, and this was where I intended to park. I was driving the party in a fairly large hired minibus, which had substantial headrests on each of the seats, largely blocking the forward view. This proved fortunate, for as I drove into the lay-by, I noticed that the car already parked in it contained the unmistakeable sight of a nude male head and shoulders bobbing up and down vigorously on top of a nude female head and shoulders.
Fortunately, gentle reader, I was a very experienced teacher by this time, and I thought I could easily deal even with this, the sort of situation for which they certainly don’t prepare you on the training courses. These were the days, too, before rampant Health and Safety struck the classroom – albeit only just – and I’ve often wondered how I’d have filled in a risk assessment form for this particular trip (‘Risk of minibus crashing on A14 – medium; risk of alien invasion – low; risk of encountering rampant naked fornication on seventeenth century battlefield – very high’). Knowing that the students, who had done what all 17 year olds do and decamped towards the back of the bus as soon as they got aboard, couldn’t see what was going on up ahead (or, indeed, what was going up on ahead), I turned around and started to give them a solemn-faced briefing about the importance of respecting this battlefield where so many gallant men had fallen, etc etc, hoping that in the meantime, the couple in the car would realise that they were no longer alone and would make themselves respectable as quickly as possible. Indeed, the man’s face did briefly rise above the level of his partner’s head. He looked at me. I looked at him. He looked horrified. And then he carried on doing what he was already doing.
Well, I thought, I’ve given you every chance. Little do you realise what lurks in the seats behind me – for by chance, this particular A-level set contained an unusually high proportion of the school’s first rugby fifteen (which, for my American readers, would be the equivalent of an elite High School senior football squad, albeit without the padding). So I let them out of the bus and started to lead them onto the path towards the Naseby monument, still thinking that if I could only get them far enough from the car as quickly as possible, the situation might still be salvaged. And then the inevitable happened: one of the rugby players pointed and said ‘What are they doing in that car?’ Cue a massed charge toward the vehicle in question, with clods of earth being thrown at the windows. At long last, the amorous couple hastily pulled on some clothes and drove off at great speed. Needless to say, any attempt at serious historical analysis of the battle perished there and then, and by the following day, the story of the Naseby bonk had already entered into the annals of school mythology. And also needless to say, I never tempted fate by organising another field trip to Naseby.
But this sorry episode got me thinking. What if there’s a secret sub-culture out there – a sort of Mile High Club for frisky historians and warfare junkies, who get their kicks by having sex on battlefields? Are there couples who sneak into the undergrowth of Senlac Hill, using ‘shield wall’ as an euphemism for condoms? Do people roll around the lush grass of Bosworth, deploying some imaginative unclothed role play as they recite the ‘my kingdom for a horse’ speech? Are there people for whom the very name of Gettysburg’s Little Round Top is a turn-on? As the old saying goes, I think we should be told.