Absorbing chronicle of a prominent 17th-century English family.
With characteristic aplomb, British architectural historian
Tinniswood (By Permission of Heaven, 2004, etc.) adjusts his gaze
to focus on the aristocratic Verneys, who had a particularly
fascinating - and occasionally sordid - history. Drawing upon a
treasure trove of more than 30,000 letters, the "largest and most
continuous private collection of seventeenth-century correspondence
in Britain," the author chronicles the lives of "apparently
ordinary" members of the Buckinghamshire gentry who were, in fact,
anything but ordinary. In unfalteringly lively prose, Tinniswood
sorts out the complicated family history, weaving into a rich
tapestry everyone from miscreant Sir Francis, a pirate and
mercenary who met an untimely end far from home after renouncing
his wealth and country, to staid patriarch Sir Ralph and his
extended clan. Given subjects who enacted more real-life melodramas
than a Restoration tragedy, the author is even afforded an
opportunity to muse upon the complicated 17th-century history of
mental illness. Tinniswood chronicles with great feeling young Mary
Verney's descent into psychotic fits, as well as many other sad
episodes documented in detail by frank family letters. These enable
him to present an invaluable case study of aristocratic Stuart
England's manners, customs and affairs - financial, legal and
amorous. The author's admiration for the Verneys is evident on
every page, as is his thorough research. Tinniswood's previous
histories were occasionally didactic; this tome proves that, given
the right material, he possesses a novelist's talent for
storytelling. (Kirkus Reviews)
'To know the Verneys is to know the seventeenth century,' writes
Adrian Tinniswood in his brilliant new book - and thanks to the
chance survival in an attic of tens of thousands of their letters,
we know the Verneys very well indeed. By drawing on their letters,
he reveals the world of this family of Buckinghamshire gentry in
extraordinary detail and intimacy. Here are Edmund Verney, Charles
I's standard bearer at Edgehill. He died there; all they found of
him was his hand, still clutching the King's standard. Edmund left
ten children, the oldest of whom, Ralph, struggled to hold the
family together during the Civil War. He lost the respect of his
brothers and sisters because he alone of the Verneys supported the
Parliamentarian cause. Then Parliament, suspicious of royalist
connections, hounded him into exile. Ralph's brother Mun was a
professional soldier who survived Cromwell's attack on Drogheda in
1649, only to be stabbed to death two days later. Their sister,
Mall fell pregnant out of wedlock. Bess ran off with a clergyman.
Henry was obsessed with horse-racing. Cary gambled away a fortune.
Tom was a devout Christian and a petty crook: packed off abroad, he
kept returning to sponge off his family. The next generation led
equally exciting lives. Ralph's son Jack went to Syria and made a
fortune. Cousin Pen stayed at home and slept with her sister's
fiance. Cousin, Dick was hanged at Tyburn. Jack's brother Edmund
married a girl who was rich, beautiful and deeply in love with him.
Within months of the marriage, she lost her mind. The "Verneys" is
narrative history at its very best - fascinating, surprising,
enthralling. It is nothing short of a triumph.
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