Friday, July 27, 2012

Setting the Stage with Irish history — And what's with all the stripping?

As I research and write my novel, I just don't get some of my villains, who are based on real people in Irish history. I sort of get the resentment between Catholics and Protestants, which at that time was inseparable from "natives" (some of the Irish Catholics were actually earlier English settlers who had assimilated) versus an invading foreign government. I understand, a little, the greed and lawlessness that drove Rapparees to steal from my characters (Rapparees was a loose term applied equally to Irish army irregulars and any highway bandits).

But I don't understand the downright cruelty of some of my villains. The tithemonger, for example, who flew into a rage and beat up John Clibborn's son Joshua, nearly killing him. In the story recorded in the Book of Sufferings, written by the pacifist Irish Quakers in the 17th century, the man's rage seems to come out of nowhere. For me, as a writer, he needs backstory.

Athlone Castle
Another thing that puzzles me, is what's with all the stripping that went on during the Jacobite-Williamite war of the 1680s-90s? The governor of Athlone got in a tizzy one day, had all the Protestants stripped and drove them out of town.

I wondered if it was in retaliation for some similar act the English had done. The English army certainly abused the Irish inhabitants, and people still remembered high Irish fatalities in the Cromwellian invasion and war of 1641. I found these balanced summaries about those conflicts, but nothing about mass stripping.

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About 1690, Rapparees or bandits stole leather goods and stripped William Edmundson's "ancient" wife naked. She caught a fatal case of pneumonia on the long walk home.

Ironically, the only example I've found of the English army stripping any Irish involved Edmundson himself (a Quaker minister) trying to stop the practice. Earlier in the conflict, he saved two Irish men from hanging and fussed at the English soldiers for stripping them. He forced the soldiers who had taken their clothes to return them, saying "Besides it might be a precedent to the Irish to strip the English." (WE's journal)

The conflicts in Ireland go way back, each side retaliating for something the other side did like an Appalachian family feud. But does anybody know of earlier precedents for taking the population's clothes?

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Mary said...

It's been some time since the last historical novel I read, so I find it strange and fascinating again. It seems to me very hard to be writing in that "area" because you have to be very careful all the time and do extensive research. I am too sloppy to get things neatly to the end, that's why I've never even dreamed of writing historical fiction.
As for the villains, it is amazing how reality can be far more cruel and vulgar than anything invented. Maybe you and I, among many others, can't fathom the cruelty of those people, just because we have different disposition. And there are plenty of unimaginable examples of barbarity, cruelty and lack of humaneness in history, ancient and not so ancient. It is amazing how human beings could be so inhuman.
What you do is fascinating and I see you enjoy it very much. I will be very curious to read what you write.
best, Mariya Koleva

PS this symbol-word verification with Blogger is getting more and more complex, I can hardly make it out :-)

Elizabeth Saunders said...

That's just what I was thinking, Mariya, how do nice people write believable bad guys? We try to get into our characters' heads, but we don't want to go that deep into the really evil ones.
Thanks for your comments!

Gerry said...

What an interesting place and time period to write about! The research can be tough, though. My WIP is set during WWI, which is the same time period as the flu epidemic. Plus, there are all the details of everyday life. Today, I was trying to figure out how much having a photograph taken (by an itinerant photographer--the setting is rural) would cost. I still have to track that down! At least I'm dealing with U.S. history. I admire you for taking this project on! It sounds fascinating. Really.

Elizabeth Saunders said...

I didn't know your WIP was historical, Gerry. The confluence of the war, the epidemic, and whatever your characters are doing sounds like it'll be a great story! Yes, there are always more details to research, and sometimes I have to make myself keep going when I can't find that one detail.