Saturday, 3 November 2007

James By the Grace of God...

I popped over to Westminster Cathedral this morning to attend the Towards Advent Festival of Catholic Culture. It's a great place to bump into people (including the Cardinal and 'Auntie Joanna') and I listened to an excellent talk from Fr Richard Whinder on his namesake, Bishop Richard Challoner. I also bought a few surplus books from the Catholic Central Library.

A new book was also launched, for which I wrote a short Introduction: James by the Grace of God..., a historical novel about King James II written by Hugh Ross Williamson (1901-78) and originally published in 1955.

Ross Williamson is someone that everybody should be reading at this time of year, since one of his great works was a study of the Gunpowder Plot, in which he convincingly argued that the Government had known about the conspiracy well in advance and had used this information to damage the English Catholic community. However, he also wrote a whole series of novels and plays, based on extensive historical research. It was his belief that a carefully written novel could do as much as a textbook (if not more) in giving an accurate picture of the past.

James By the Grace of God...
deals with one of the most misunderstood figures in British history: King James II, our last Catholic King. He’s normally seen as a popish tyrant, removed from the throne by the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. The novel gives a more sympathetic- and historical - picture of the last six months of the reign. James had been warmly welcomed by the country when he succeeded his brother, Charles II, despite his Catholic faith. The dramatic events of 1688 were caused not by what King James did but by what he was perceived to do, combined with the opportunism of his Dutch son-in-law, William of Orange.

The novel is fast-moving and contains all the great ingredients of a historical epic: hidden staircases and secret letters, attempted kidnappings and nocturnal escapes, and, at the heart of it all, a family argument between a Catholic father and his two Protestant daughters - all-in-all, a fast-moving narrative, based on undeniable fact.

To buy a copy (£11.99 + £1.52 postage & packing in the UK) you need to write to Fisher Press, P.O.Box 41, Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 6YN (01732 761830). Cheques can be made out to 'Fisher Press'.



Anonymous The Holy Office said...

I was delighted to see this post. I've been reading Hugh Ross Williamson's 'Who Was the Man in the Iron Mask? And Other Historical Enigmas' and much enjoying it. I must get this book. I'll link to this on my blog.

4:19 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Thank you!

5:17 pm  
Anonymous The Holy Office said...

Right, I've blogged on Ross Williamson. Do pay my new blog a visit. I don't think anyone reads it. Not even my wife.

8:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's good to see Hugh Ross Williamson mentioned. He wrote many excellent historical works, including novels, and his book on the Roman Canon, The Great Prayer, is still worth reading as a popular introduction. He was taken seriously in his lifetime but, like other convert intellectuals of that period, faded into obscurity after Vatican II. He did not like the changes. His radio plays also deserve revival.

8:24 am  
Blogger Christine said...

Thank you, Fr. Nicholas, for posting on this. Historical fiction is perhaps my favorite genre to read, so I shall look into Williamson.

"It was his belief that a carefully written novel could do as much as a textbook (if not more) in giving an accurate picture of the past."

Indeed, I found I learned a great deal from Fr. Robert Hugh Benson's treatment of pre- and post-Reformation England in each of his novels. Fr. Benson stopped at Charles II, so I look forward to reading Williamson's portrait of James II.

12:50 pm  
Anonymous Old Dominion Tory said...

Thanks for the post about the republished novel about James II. I hope they ship to the U.S.!

2:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oddly in a Yahoo group, I posted on the current BBC series "The Tudors" (riddled as it is with inaccuracies)wondering why the 16th Century is so written about and dramatised (from TWO Kate Blanchetts to Carry on Henry) when the 17th Century is in comparative terms neglected. My conclusion is collective English guilt ata century which began with the Gunpowder Plot and ended with anti-Catholic Treason. The zenith so to speak the Cromwellian years.
Thus someone who raises their head above the Jacobite parapet to write History or Fiction (and there is no difference in my view)is to be congratulated. ...albeit 50 years late.
On the other hand it might be less to do with guilt and more to do with laziness (well in my case it is)

6:27 pm  
Blogger The Holy Office said...

I see more on HRW now at

10:53 pm  

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