Review: By Love Divided (The Lydiard Chronicles) by Elizabeth St. John

London, 1630. 

Widowed and destitute, Lucy St.John is fighting for survival and makes a terrible choice to secure a future for her children. Worse still, her daughter Luce rejects the royal court and a wealthy arranged marriage, and falls in love with a charismatic soldier. As England tumbles toward bloody civil war, Luce’s beloved brother Allen chooses to fight for the king as a cavalier. Allen and Luce are swept up in the chaos of war as they defend their opposing causes and protect those they love.

Will war unite or divide them? And will they find love and a home to return to—if they survive the horror of civil war. In the dawn of England’s great rebellion, love is the final battleground.

A true story based on surviving memoirs, court papers, and letters of Elizabeth St.John’s family, By Love Divided tells of the war-time experiences of Lucy St.John, the Lady of the Tower. This powerfully emotional novel tells of England’s great divide and the heart-wrenching choices one family faces.

My Review

This book has done more to illustrate the heartbreak of civil war than anything else I’ve ever read. Here we have a family already ruined by the careless neglect of King Charles, and yet the two sons commit themselves wholeheartedly to the royal cause. Throughout, Lucy Apsley, the protagonist from book one, doggedly pursues her claim to be reimbursed the money her dead husband lent the king for the Duke of Buckingham’s failed campaign to La Rochelle. She has no success; her petitions are ignored and she is forced to fall on the generosity of relatives to even survive. At least her two daughters are more fortunate, and both fall in love with two brothers who emerge as patriotic Parliamentarians. Already there are storm clouds surrounding the family:

Allen stood too, his soldier’s physique suddenly charging the atmosphere. His color rose. “The king is as a father to the people of this nation. He knows what is best for them.”

“Is that why he commandeers our ammunition, leaves our towns defenseless, our woman and children vulnerable to any band of armed men?”

“Keep to your writing and notebooks, Sister, and leave the business of government to men.”

Lucy prayed for the storm to subside. Thus always ranged their arguments, until one caught the other’s eye, and a shared smile would appear, contagious and healing.

Please, God, let this night be no different.

All they want to do is live their lives, but there is absolutely no choice; whether they want it or not, war threatens their home, their livelihoods, their very identity. It’s impossible to remain neutral. We see the oldest son Allen become increasingly bitter, and even he nearly breaks under the strain. War is a pitiless, filthy, humiliating disaster for both sides. Ideology fades in the face of cruelty. Family ties start to shred. We get to see both sides of the story, and neither one is wholly evil, nor are they wholly virtuous. The English civil war must have been a terrible ordeal to live through, and this novel shines a spotlight on the human toll.

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Meet Elizabeth St. John

Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. An acclaimed author, historian, and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Lydiard Park and Nottingham Castle to Richmond Palace and the Tower of London to inspire her novels. Although the family sold a few country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them– in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost. But that’s a different story.

Having spent a significant part of her life with her seventeenth-century family while writing The Lydiard Chronicles trilogy and Counterpoint series, Elizabeth St.John is now discovering new family stories with her fifteenth-century namesake Elysabeth St.John Scrope, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort. A new medieval short story featuring these women, Road to the Tower, is within the recently-published Historical Fiction anthology Betrayal.

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