Writers have obsessions. Themes, objects, or characters that appear in their work repeatedly, without conscious crafting. While working at Auntie’s Bookstore I once asked the writer Craig Leslie to name his obsessions. He thought for a moment, then said…
“Pie and flashlights.”
Daphne du Maurier was obsessed with a stately Cornish home called Menabilly. In Cornish: Men Ebeli, meaning “stone of colts”. You may know it as the “Manderley” of Rebecca. This wonderful old house near Fowey has been in the Rashleigh family since Elizabethan times…
And serves as the setting for The King’s General. The novel begins in September 1653, a few years into the rule of Oliver Cromwell – King Charles I having lost his head.
(Note for Americans: We had one Civil War and got over it, but the Brits had several just to confuse us. This Civil War was, if I have untangled the knotted ball of history correctly, the last. Another Civil War took place in the 1100s between an Empress Maud and a King Stephen. Ken Follett’s cathedral book The Pillars of the Earth dealt with that brilliantly.)
Anyway, for this war the teams were as follows:
See on the map how all the very country bits of Britain (Cornwall and Wales) are red for the King, and the very city bits like London are not? I have a theory that people in the country are more conservative than those in the large cities…Yorkshire started out Royalist but as time went on it fell to Cromwell’s New Model Army. (That green spot at the bottom of Cornwall is Plymouth, one of England’s largest ports.)
Who Will Stop Cromwell From Crossing the Tamar?
In fact, the only Royalist who can go toe-to-toe with the New Model Army is local son Richard Grenvile. Richard is the King’s General in the West and the romantic hero of our story. He insists on follies like paying his soldiers, and stopping them from licentious behavior in the villages. And going about with their uniforms all sloppy. Unfortunately his character has a number of flaws like pride, arrogance, chauvinism, a thirst for revenge and a Prom Queen sister with the soul of a toad. (Sorry, toads.)
Richard doesn’t suffer fools, period. But even as they admire his military brilliance, the other Cornish don’t care for his abrasive personality; and the non-Cornish like it even less. And Richard Grenvile is only one man. Can he single-handedly turn back the tide sweeping King Charles out to sea? Due to Richard’s rash actions against captive soldiers and captured property, he and his son and his nephew are all in grave danger should they be caught.
Honor Harris, the heroine in the tale, is clever, brave and strong. She’s also paralyzed from the waist down due to an accident while horse riding. An accident she blames Richard’s sister Gartred for, not unjustly. As Honor and Richard resume their life-long affair, she endeavors to make him see how dangerous the increasing hostility towards him is; whether from his military superiors or even his own son.
Just like the nameless heroine of Rebecca, Honor’s curiosity gets her in trouble. But as bad as it will be for Honor to discover the Rashleigh family secrets, it may be necessary if they’re all to survive…
Sieges, Spies and Priest Holes
This novel is part romance, part history lesson, and all thriller. I don’t know why Daphne du Maurier’s fancy was captured by Menabilly, why she rented it from the Rashleighs for a good number of years. I only know I’m glad it happened.
And if you haven’t read the PNBA-award winning novelist Craig Leslie’s autobiography Burning Fence, look inside to find some answers as to the whys and wherefores of pie. And flashlights. For that is not my story to tell. 🙂