Sunday, 23 August 2015

Men with Great Hair, and Finding Nuggets in Footnotes - Cryssa Bazos shines light on the 17th Century

I'm delighted to welcome Cryssa Bazos as my guest today.

I began by asking her:

When did you first begin writing- and have you always written about history?

I started writing on the forehead of my doll because I was too young to ask for paper. I still have that doll. My first story was written in grade 4, and it was a mystery in the style of Nancy Drew meets Scooby Doo called The Mystery of King Arthur’s Court. Spoiler: Merlin did it.

I went on to co-write a historical romance that, thankfully, is locked tight in a floppy disk, which no modern computer can access. But that trial manuscript taught me more than how not to write a book; it illuminated my passion for historical fiction. I had as much fun researching it as writing.

Can you tell us what draws you to the 17th century in general and the Civil War in particular?

I’ve always been drawn to periods of upheaval and great social change, and the English Civil War is all that. At the time, it was unthinkable that a faction of Parliament could try and execute a king. Earlier periods of civil war in England (the Anarchy and War of the Roses) were great dynastic struggles with someone wanting to seize the throne, not eliminate the position entirely. Breaking this tie to the king led people to question their place in the world.

The darkest moments in human history spawns periods of huge advances. The 17th century saw the beginning of the early modern age and the system of government that we, in Commonwealth countries, still have today. Thanks to the explosion of literacy and diary writing, we begin to hear from women about the matters that concerned them. This was also a time of exploration into the New World, of pushing frontiers. When readers become more familiar with this incredible era, it will surely rival the earlier Tudor period.

According to 1066 And All That, the Cavaliers were ‘Wrong but Wromantic’ and the Roundheads were ‘Right and Repulsive’ – care to give us your verdict?

There’s a great deal of romanticism attached to the Royalist side, thanks to how earlier historians and authors depicted the cavaliers. My first introduction to the civil war came from Alexandre Dumas’s Twenty Years After, when two of the famous Musketeers rush to rescue Charles I before he is executed. It’s a thrilling adventure and the romance of it stayed with me. I blame Dumas for fuelling my Royalist inclinations.

Putting aside the romantic, the Royalists were mainly trying to preserve the status quo and many saw this as an opportunity to climb the social ladder through royal favour. Given that we are social creatures, hierarchy tends to be hardwired into us. Therefore, it’s not surprising that we have a great tendency to protect this structure. I wouldn’t classify this as wrong, only one aspect of human nature.

Those who supported Parliament were driven by more diverse motivations. There were moderates who wanted the King to be more accountable to Parliament, not create a new system. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the Levellers, who believed in the rights of all men, not only the landed gentry. If you could merge the beliefs of both these groups, you have modern democracy. I give them double checkmarks for being ‘right’.

Where the ‘repulsive’ kicks in, at least for me, is the military coup led by the Independents that resulted in Oliver Cromwell being named Lord Protector and de facto King. During this period, moderate MPs were prevented from holding their seat in Parliament and the Leveller movement was squashed. This was nothing more than a power grab. Add to this the extreme religious dogma prevalent within this faction, and I find it hard to find anything ‘right’ about this movement.

Two periods of history, which seem to be consistently overlooked, are the medieval period before 1066, and the 17th century. I was told that in the case of the Anglo-Saxons, it’s because they’re perceived to have worn sacks for clothes and lived in wooden huts—no match for Tudor fiction with the beautiful costumes. And yet a lot of dress in the 17th century was exquisite, so do you have any thoughts on why there isn’t more fiction/drama set in the period?

I’ve heard that before. So sad that a period is judged by the clothes that people wore. In the case of the Tudors, HBO gave them a huge promotional advantage. Suddenly Henry was elevated from a corpulent monarch with a serial wife problem to a sexy heartthrob. I’ve no doubt that the rich costumes sparked HBO’s interest in this era in the first place.

The BBC's By the Sword Divided

The early part of the 17th century was mired in war—first in Scotland and then in England and Ireland, so fashions were limited to pot helmets and buff coats, but the Restoration period (when Charles II reclaimed his throne) was brilliant for clothes. And the hair! Men of the Stuart age had great hair. HBO—are you listening? Charles II could do circles around Henry.

I’m puzzled as to why more people haven’t picked up on this period, at least the Restoration. Traditionally, most of the stories set during the 17th century tended to revolve around Charles’s mistresses, but I’d like to see more stories about Charles. There was so much more to this complex and intelligent man than who he was sleeping with.  Based on the flurry of books that have been released, the 17th century seems to be gaining momentum. There are good signs that we’re getting over this obscurity, and all for the right reasons.

How do you set about writing—does a piece of research give you an idea for a story, or does the story arrive first and compel you to research its background?

Research never fails to inspire my story ideas. There are many gaps in history, and this is where the gold can be found for fiction—it’s where the ‘what if’s’ flourish. I like to plot out the historical events, and as I’m trying to make sense of the history—the whys and wherefores, I start to see where my story lies. And footnotes! Incredible nuggets can be found in the footnotes.

Once, when scrolling through British History Online, I stumbled on an account in the House of Lords Journal about a former Parliamentary major, a man respected by his peers and once offered the mayorship of Coventry, who was arrested for conspiring with the Royalists. The man’s defection shook the officials at Whitehall. They sent someone to question him, but before they reached Coventry, he had already escaped from the gaol. This piqued my interest. What caused him to change sides? Who helped him escape, and where did he go? The incident ended up becoming an important subplot in my story.

Has there been anything on film or tv about the period that you admired or enjoyed? Or conversely, that you hated?

It isn’t without its flaws, but I did very much enjoy To Kill A King. Tim Roth’s portrayal of Oliver Cromwell was intense and showed the man’s progress from a brilliant and dedicated commander to someone corrupted by power.  

Years ago, there was an A&E mini-series called Charles II: The Power and the Passion that focused on the complexities of the Restoration court which was also well done.

To veer away from film and TV for a moment, The Dolmen, a local band in Weymouth, created a concept album called the Crabchurch Conspiracy about a foiled Royalist uprising. Spoken word tracts, written by historian Mark Vine, combine with lively music to tell a thrilling story.

For anyone wanting to learn more about this period, where would you recommend they start?

Please visit my blog as a start. Besides sharing stories about the civil war, I have historical links to sources that give a good overview of the time.

The period is so diverse that it’s hard to find a source that covers the entire era well. Pick up anything by Antonia Fraser. For an excellent history of how the civil war affected the people, check out The English Civil War: A People’s History, by Diane Purkiss. Another terrific book is Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in Seventeenth-Century England, by Lita-Rose Betcherman. One of the sisters, Lucy, the Countess of Carlisle, was deeply involved in court intrigue, and at one point, flirted with both sides. Diary writing became popular during this age, and you can’t underestimate the value of these first hand accounts. People immediately think of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, but there are incredible accounts written by Brilliana Harley, Ann Fanshawe and Lucy Hutchinson. On my TBR list is Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War, by John Stubbs.

In fiction, one of my favourites is The King’s General, by Daphne du Maurier. A classic (if you can find it) is Wintercombe, by Pamela Belle. Other (new) English Civil War novels that I’ve recently discovered are M.J Logue’s Uncivil War (Babbitt) series and D.W Bradbridge’s Cheswis mysteries. On my TBR list is Jemahl Evans, The Last Roundhead.

Finally, what’s next—anything in the pipeline?

My novel, Traitor’s Knot, is currently making its way through the query/submission process. It’s the first in a series that spans from the last part of the civil war to the Restoration. Traitor’s Knot is the story of James Hart, a Royalist officer turned highwayman, and Elizabeth Seton, a healer, who defy the religious austerity of Cromwellian society to support the exiled King Charles II. This is about sacrifice and conflicting loyalties. To read an excerpt, or to see my latest book trailers, drop by my website.

As for what’s next, I’ve started researching and planning Book 2. I’ve recently been introduced to Aeon Timeline (a must-have program for any historical fiction writer!), and together with Scapple and Scrivener, I’m happily mapping out the next three stories.

Thanks to Cryssa for such illuminating answers and for being my guest today


Book Trailers:

Traitor’s Knot: Part 1

Traitor’s Knot: Part 2

Cryssa Bazos is a historical fiction writer and 17th Century enthusiast, with a particular interest in the English Civil War (ECW). She has published articles in the Word Weaver and the Canadian Authors Association e-zine. Short Stories include Confessions of a Tooth FairyWarwick Market, and The Dragon. Cryssa has recently completed a historical fiction novel, Traitor’s Knot, a romantic tale of adventure set during the English Civil War. Traitor’s Knot is the first in a series of adventures spanning from the ECW to the Restoration.


  1. The Musketeer sequel was my introduction to that bit of English history as well, and since I had a crush on Athos, I hated Cromwell. The crush I have outgrown, of course, but I still don't like Cromwell. :-)

    1. Thanks for your comment Gabriele - and no, I don't like Cromwell either!