A beautiful cover is the perfect portal into Miranda Malins’ debut novel, The Puritan Princess, which has successfully given readers a fresh interpretation of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate and the political twists and turns at its heart. It is a period in our history that is very much overlooked and Malins’ research is impressive.
The opening of the book immediately captivates the reader with a well-described scene in London, 1661, when Oliver and two other regicides are symbolically exhumed and then hung, drawn and quartered. The restored King Charles II takes revenge upon those men – both dead and alive – who were key players in the killing of his father. The story then turns back to 1657 and focusses on Frances, Oliver’s youngest daughter, and her difficulties with the family’s ascendancy to the pinnacle of power and prestige. She is almost a guide, taking the reader through the historical events and politics that shaped the latter stages of the Protectorate, and this somewhat overawes her character at times. Frances realises that her future is a state affair, and that her husband will be picked by her father and his councillors, which causes her grave apprehension. Even more so when she forms her own bond with another; a secret love that threatens to disrupt her father’s plans and spurn the national interest.
We glimpse a family in turmoil, threatened by bomb plots, doing their best to weather both political unrest and the major-generals, as well as the many bereavements that accompany these twilight years. Malins has written with much sympathy and offers a fascinating insight into the brief reign of Richard Cromwell – a much forgotten man. Termed ‘Tumbledown Dick’ he is mostly remembered for his lack of leadership and having lost his position as quickly as he gained it. Yet his willingness to quietly withdraw from politics at the right moment prevented another civil war and allowed the three kingdoms to drift towards a form of government that most offered the stability they craved; that of King, Lords and Commons. Malins captures Richard’s anguish during his eight months as Lord Protector, while he navigates the political storm with enough intuition to prevent bloodshed; a worthy legacy indeed. As Frances says of her brother, ‘He is going down with dignity and I admire him for it’.