Monday, 31 October 2016
The ‘real world’ bit of Secret Commonwealth is peopled with an extensive caste of real people. I was reading John Buchan’s biography of the Marquess of Montrose, who I knew I wanted as a character, when I came across someone else I felt I really had to include; Frances Dalyell. I’ve had hard words to say from time to time about historical fiction which features intrepid heroines engaging in improbable amounts of physical activity, but Frances Dalyell is something of an exception which proves the rule. She was the daughter of the Earl of Carnwath, and she was also officer of a company in Newcastle’s Northern Horse. She makes me think of the more intrepid heroines of the border ballads. Her family was one of those split by the civil war; her brother Gavin had declared for the Covenant, though the Earl was staunchly royalist. Frances was also a royalist, her husband, John Pierson, fought under Marmaduke Langdale, and was killed. Frances, I can only think, must have hunted along with her menfolk, because she must have become a good rider and a good shot. After she was widowed, she got her father to procure her a commission in the name of Captain Francis Dalyell, and raised a troop of men and horses from the family estates. Perhaps the idea was to redeem the family honour from the stain cast on it by her brother; certainly, her standard was the family badge. It was black, with a naked man dangling from a gibbet, and the motto ‘I dare’. There were women, Brilliana Harley for example, who directed the defence of a besieged house, but to the best of my knowledge, Frances Dalyell is the only woman in the Civil War who actually fought as a soldier.