Thursday, April 12, 2018

By Love Divided by Elizabeth St. John, an epic of the English Civil War years

The novels in Elizabeth St. John’s Lydiard Chronicles are standouts in the recent resurgence of historical fiction set in 17th-century England. The first book, The Lady of the Tower, was seen from the first-person perspective of Lucy St. John of Lydiard Tregoze, a young noblewoman who came to marry Sir Allen Apsley, Keeper and Lieutenant of the Tower of London in Jacobean times.

Moving seamlessly into third person, this sequel follows Lucy, now widowed and trying to stave off her husband’s creditors in court, and her two eldest children, Allen and Luce, as their declined fortunes and political loyalties force them into irrevocable decisions that shift their paths.

Having absorbed different views from their parents, Allen and Luce find themselves on opposite sides of the coming English Civil War. Believing strongly that “the king is as a father to the people of this nation,” Allen becomes a prominent courtier and Cavalier, later accompanying his Villiers cousins into war. Luce, however, takes Parliament’s side, having seen firsthand how Charles I’s French wars drove her family into near-penury.

While acknowledging her “Calvinist soul” and sympathizing with Luce, Lucy hates seeing how her children are divided and hopes that war won’t tear her family apart. At the same time, she doesn’t hold her viewpoints back. In one revealing scene back at her birthplace, she makes her thoughts clear about her younger brother John’s monarchist views and pretentiousness.

With so many moving parts, the issues that brought England into civil war are complex and can be challenging to grasp. However, this epic novel exemplifies the fact that history is created from people’s individual stories, which makes the concepts easy to absorb. The author draws readers into the prevailing sentiments of the era from multiple angles, and from domestic life to battles and military campaigns – including incidents rarely shown in fiction, like Charles I’s attempt to impose the Anglican prayer book on Scotland.

Generational lessons are learned, as Lucy shares her reasons for her avoidance of court life with her daughter, and Allen grows up and fights to restore the Apsleys’ fortunes. The story delves deeply into two opinionated women’s lives and unavoidable choices, and depicts two love stories – which are equally romantic, for different reasons.

By Love Divided is a lengthy book (over 9000 lines on my Kindle), and readers already enamored of the 17th century years should delight in the plentiful details. Newcomers should also welcome this introduction to the English Civil War and a prominent family active at that time. For me this series is also a natural recommendation for anyone who grew up reading Pamela Belle’s Herons of Goldhayes series, a longtime favorite.

The novel was published last October by Falcon Historical in pb and ebook.  Thanks to the author for sending me an ebook copy.


  1. Anonymous3:22 PM

    Who else offers the e-book for sale besides Amazon and B&N? I don't see a link on the author's website. Must have 17th century fix.

    Sarah OL

  2. I looked around but am not seeing other sources - are you looking for a different format?

    1. Anonymous1:43 PM

      Yes, something not a specific Kindle/Nook device format, like epub. It's not available at Kobo or Smashwords.

  3. You say this is an introduction to the Civil Wars, which is always a tall order. Is it good for all age groups?

    1. It's written for adult readers, but some YAs may find it of interest also.