The Coronation, Guest Post by Justin Newland

It is 1761. Prussia is at war with  Russia and Austria. As the Russian army occupies East Prussia, King Frederick the Great and his men fight hard to win back their homeland.

In Ludwigshain, a Junker estate in East Prussia, Countess Marion von Adler celebrates an exceptional harvest. But it is requisitioned by Russian troops. When Marion tries to stop them, a Russian captain strikes her. His lieutenant, Ian Fermor, defends Marion’s honour and is stabbed for his insubordination. Abandoned by the Russians, Fermor becomes a divisive figure on the estate.

Close to death, Fermor dreams of the Adler, a numinous eagle entity, whose territory extends across the lands of Northern Europe and which is mysteriously connected to the Enlightenment. What happens next will change of the course of human history…

In the 1760’s, Prussia was at war…

The Coronation is set in East Prussia in the 1760’s. The capital of East Prussia was Konigsberg, home to the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Prussia was ruled by King Frederick the Great.

Bordering the Baltic Sea, the land of East Prussia is special because of the presence of amber – a semi-precious yellow fossilized tree resin – along its Samland Peninsula.

Nearly all of the world’s amber is mined there. There was a famous Amber Road between Konigsberg, down through the Moravian Gate to Venice and beyond.

In the early 1700’s, King Frederick’s father made a peace offering to Tsar Peter the Great of Russia – a room made completely from amber. The Tsar housed the famous Amber Room in The Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia. To introduce this into the plot, I imagined that King Frederick the Great sought to emulate his father by commissioning an own amber room of his own. Then, to create conflict in the novel, I imagined that the amber mines were flooded and that the pumps used to extract the water needed repairing.

In those days, the way water was pumped out of underground shafts and mines was by means of a rudimentary and largely inefficient steam engine, such as the one invented by the Devon preacher Thomas Newcomen. His engines were used to pump the water out of the tin mines in Cornwall. 

But in the 1760’s, Prussia was at war. This was partly a religious conflict between Lutheran Prussia against Catholic Austria and Russia, an overspill of the wars caused by the Reformation, and partly a dispute over the territory of Silesia. This was the European theatre of what we know today as the Seven Years’ War, which is generally regarded as the first truly global conflict, pitting the might of England against France and Spain. The English and French fought out their own battles during this period, mostly in North America and India. Prussia even relied on Protestant England to finance the war.

As an avowed existentialist, I do find it fruitful to have a backdrop of conflict in my novels, and the Seven Years’ War provided a perfect one.

I also wanted to explore the origins of the Industrial Revolution in this novel. In the 1760’s there were no factories, no overpopulation, no mass migration, no giant cities, and no mass industry such as we know today. There was still an alliance amongst the people, a belief in a greater power, and in an Arcadian pact with the land, as exampled by things such as fertility rites and so on.

Newcomen Steam Engine: Wikipedia

But James Watt changed all that. He didn’t invent the steam engine. He merely improved the efficiency of Thomas Newcomen’s engine, but it made all the difference, and led to the industrial society we have all inherited. This interest in mechanization, in engines, and in machines in general, has led humanity down a strange path.

It seems to me that at no time in history before now has a society or a civilization had such a fascination with and dependence on machines and technology. But is that fascination healthy? Is it normal? Is technology a substitute for something else? Why has it arisen in the human psyche? These are some of the questions I wanted to explore in The Coronation.

The 18th Century was the birth place for many sciences including biology and chemistry, as well as overseeing huge advances in medical science and a concomitant understanding of the human anatomy and physiology. We look back on those times and called them the Great Enlightenment, not only because of enlightened despots such as King Frederick the Great, but also because of how advances in the sciences purged some of the European psyche of inveterate superstition.

So, what happened to the Great Enlightenment? Are we now fully enlightened, as we live and breathe 21st Century air? If we are, then shouldn’t we be living in a state of peaceful and harmonious co-existence with our neighbours, whether they be local, or national or international? Shouldn’t we be living in a time of no crime, no disease, and no famine?

With this in mind, consider this quote that I used at the beginning of the novel. It’s from Immanuel Kant from a book he wrote in 1784.

“Sapere Aude! Dare to be wise!
Have the courage to use your own understanding
– that is the motto of the Enlightenment.”

So, who dares to be wise today? Who has the courage to forego other people’s opinions, and forge an understanding of the truth? Who today dares to be enlightened? Do you? Or perhaps someone will invent an I-phone that’ll obviate the need.  

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Meet Justin Newland

Justin Newland is an author of historical fantasy and secret history thrillers – that’s history with a supernatural twist. His stories feature known events and real people from history which are re-told and examined through the lens of the supernatural. He gives author talks and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Bristol’s Thought for the Day. He lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England.

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