Extraordinary, thrilling, immersive… at times almost Tolstoyan in its emotional intelligence and literary power’
Kathryn Hughes, Guardian
John Adamson, Catholic Herald
The Siege of Loyalty House
A Civil War Story
Published: Bodley Head (19 May 2022)
Published 18th May (2023)
A TIMES, GUARDIAN, TELEGRAPH, ECONOMIST, SPECTATOR, PROSPECT, CRITIC, NEW EUROPEAN, DAILY EXPRESS AND MAIL ON SUNDAY BOOK OF THE YEAR
SHORTLISTED FOR THE HWA NON-FICTION CROWN 2023
It was a time of climate change and colonialism, puritans and populism, witch hunts and war.
A greater proportion of the British population died in the civil wars of the seventeenth century than in the world wars of the twentieth. Jessie Childs recovers the shock of this conflict by plunging us into one of its most extraordinary episodes: the siege of Basing House. To the parliamentarians, the royalist stronghold was the devil’s seat. Its defenders called it Loyalty House.
We follow artists, apothecaries, merchants and their families from the revolutionary streets of London to the Marquess of Winchester’s mist-shrouded mansion. Over two years, they are battered, bombarded, starved and gassed. From within they face smallpox, spies and mutiny. Their resistance becomes legendary, but in October 1645, Oliver Cromwell rolls in the heavy guns and they prepare for a last stand.
Drawing on unpublished manuscripts and the voices of dozens of men, women and children caught in the crossfire, Childs weaves a thrilling tale of war and peace, terror and faith, savagery and civilisation.
The Siege of Loyalty House is an immersive and electrifying account of a defining episode in a war that would turn Britain – and the world – upside down.
Perhaps just because the history is so painful, and to some almost incomprehensible, the Civil War has never really registered in British history as powerfully as it should. That will change with Jessie Childs’s extraordinary Siege of Loyalty House: a thrilling, immersive read, especially searing in our own tormented and besieged times. Her beautiful writing drops the reader deep in the war, sees it through a cast of extraordinary characters from both sides of the terrible conflict, but most of all, shines with a compassionate understanding of human courage, folly, obstinacy and frailty, at times almost Tolstoyan in its emotional intelligence and literary power.
In The Siege of Loyalty House the historian Jessie Childs, whose great strength is her ability to deliver first-rate scholarship in really luscious prose, uses Basing as a microcosm through which to view the civil war in all its fog and mess….Childs is outstanding at describing the particular horror of dying slowly among people you don’t much care for. In its grim intensity, her descriptions recall JG Farrell’s masterly The Siege of Krishnapur.
Kathryn Hughes, Guardian read full review
New York Times
A gripping account of the agony at Basing … Characters step off the page… The prose sparkles … Childs is close to her sources – and shows them when she needs to – but most of the hard work is hidden, like complex wiring behind a well plastered wall … Childs’s book conveys the raw emotion of events, especially the trauma of the siege itself… In her aim ‘to recover the shock of that experience and to look upon the face of the war’ Childs could be describing the trenches of Ypres or Bakhmut or the sieges of Leningrad or Mariupol.
Malcolm Gaskill, London Review of Books read full review
Utterly beautiful…One of the best history books I’ve ever read. Suzannah Lipscomb Not Just the Tudors podcast BOOKS OF THE YEAR
Exhaustively researched and beautifully written, it tells the story of the epic two-year siege of Basing House, a royalist mansion finally captured by Oliver Cromwell in 1645. A stunning achievement. Saul David, DAILY EXPRESS BOOKS OF THE YEAR
When you are as good a writer as Jessie Childs, and as assuredly immersed in the archives, the pages zing with the technicolour of celluloid. Not least in Childs’s latest masterpiece (this less-than-prolific author only deals in such things) The Siege of Loyalty House.
Paul Lay, The Critic BOOKS OF THE YEAR
The broad subject of this poignant book is what happens to people during civil war: how quickly and imperceptibly order becomes chaos and decency yields to cruelty. In other words, how close to inhumanity humanity always is. The focus is on an episode in the English civil war, but the story is timeless. Economist BOOKS OF THE YEAR
This is war as it should be, passionate, brutal, bloody and chaotic, all described in luscious, evocative prose. Gerard DeGroot, Times BOOKS OF THE YEAR
The kind of history book that reads like a novel and is all the better for it…Childs skilfully weaves the wider themes and narratives of the conflict into her thrilling account of the besieged royalist stronghold…through history writing of the highest quality, with a fabulous cast of characters. Charlie Connelly, The New European BOOKS OF THE YEAR
Describing how individuals get drawn, often haphazardly, into a bloody conflict such as the English Civil War is not an easy task. but Jessie Childs manages it superbly in The Siege of Loyalty House, which tingles with a discerning historical imagination. Andrew Lycett, Spectator BOOKS OF THE YEAR II
Childs draws on unpublished manuscripts and the voices of dozens of men, women and children to tell this thrilling tale of war. Mail on Sunday BOOKS OF THE YEAR
Compelling…makes a single house, raided several times across a few years, stand for the whole of England’s civil war. Prospect BOOKS OF THE YEAR
Enthralling…the sort of coup de théâtre that only the most brilliant archival research can pull off…Few books on the Civil War convey so powerfully the human cost … Childs is just as adroit in providing the wider political background against which this drama was played out … All this is done with such clarity and economy that her book doubles as a fine introduction to 1640s England as a whole, quite apart from the engrossing story of Basing House … A magnificent achievement. Rarely has such fine-grained focus on a single event been used so effectively to open up wider perspectives on that fractious age. And as an account of what it was like to live through the bloodiest and most traumatic decade in England’s history, it has few rivals.
John Adamson, Catholic Herald read full review
Compellingly readable… beautifully written and lucid.
Diane Purkiss, Mail on Sunday read full review
The Siege of Loyalty House is exciting and scholarly, vivid and accessible. It is a perfectly crafted triumph of narrative history: a book that should attract readers daunted by the complexity of the times or put off by the usual scrum and powder of Civil War military history. In fact, it is one of the most pulsating books on seventeenth-century England I have read for many years. The research that underpins it is impressive. But, above all else, it is the kind of book that immerses the reader in an alien world, making the raw experience of life in troubling and violent times feel completely real.
Jonathan Healey, The Critic read full review
Beautifully written and gripping from first page to last. A sparkling book by one of the UK’s finest historians Peter Frankopan
Underpinned by meticulous research, this finely crafted narrative unfolds in evocative and often poetic language, transporting readers back to a ‘terrifying, electrifying time’ and breathing fresh life into the men and women who endured it.
Wall Street Journal
Childs reveals brilliantly the world of the Civil War in the grain of sand that is Basing House. She captures the horror, the courage, the sheer humanity of those, both besiegers and besieged, who endured the long, desperate lulls punctuated by intense episodes of visceral violence. Childs is too subtle a writer – though she has a nice line in pungent ribaldry – to over stress the obvious parallels with our own distracted times. Yet the mid-17th century was, too, an age of ‘decayed trade, harvest failure, epidemics and wild weather’, though only recently would one have added siege warfare to the parallels with Europe’s present.
Paul Lay, Telegraph read full review
Brilliant. Original. Gripping.
The Siege of Loyalty House is not only deeply researched. Childs has composed a wonderfully poetic narrative and adds a touch of the gothic.
Leanda de Lisle, The Times read full review
A masterpiece. Monty Don
Jessie Childs tackles this rolling tragedy with confidence and a clear eye…There are wonderful character portraits throughout… successfully brings the ghastliness of the period to life, dramatically, vividly and with pathos.
Charles Spencer, Spectator read full review
The Siege of Loyalty House echoes to the sound of bonds that once tied kinsfolk and comrades snapping… this elegantly written, close-focus history of a place whose ordeals epitomised the pain of a struggle that tore homes, clans, trades, and souls apart… Childs’ storytelling, densely etched and character-driven, gives voice and presence to defenders and besiegers alike… Micro-history with this degree of insight leaves few clichés – old-style Whig or new-model Marxist – about Roundheads and Cavaliers intact.
Boyd Tonkin, Financial Times read full review
Gripping … The accumulation and deployment of facts is impressive. The understanding of what they signify is profound. The elegance, wit and brio of the writing is sheer delight. Allan Mallinson, Country Life
Riveting …Childs reconstructs their suffering – near-starvation, filthy water, a smallpox outbreak – with startling immediacy … The waves of hope and despair are well caught and moving …The breaking of such lives and communities makes poignant reading … Childs’s wider subject, then, is what happens to people during civil war: how quickly and imperceptibly order becomes chaos, and decency cruelty, even among friends and neighbours. In other words, how close to inhumanity humanity always is. Her focus is local and English, but the story is human and timeless. Mathew Lyons, The Economist read full review
This heroic story has not been told before in such detail and with such an eye for the tragedies of civil war. Childs handles a remarkable amount of source material with masterly skill…Thrilling.
Linda Porter, Literary Review read full review
Childs is a prize-winning author who writes with fluency and has a good eye for evocative detail… The book is rooted in the source materials and is the product of extensive reading and research … consummate storytelling… It brings to life the passions and suffering of people who, together, made one of the most painful episodes of a bloody and destructive war… It evokes not just the siege, but the social and mental world in which it occurred… Excellent.
Michael Braddick, Times Literary Supplement read full review
An engrossing, spellbinding narrative
Robert S. Davis, New York Journal of Books read full review
Extraordinary: meticulously researched, beautifully written, and heartbreakingly relevant. I urge you to read it.
She is a gifted narrative historian, eloquent, graceful and witty; the stories she tells are the ones we all should know.
In The Siege of Loyalty House, Jessie Childs has done something extraordinary: she has trawled the sources to breathe life into the quite astonishing cast of 17th Century characters – merchants, apothecaries, aristocrats, farmers and fanatical preachers – who fought for two years for possession of the largest private mansion in England. Exhaustively researched and beautifully (and wittily) written, it’s a thrilling and immersive tale that offers the reader a rare window into the terrifying events of the English Civil War when religion and ambition divided families, friends and neighbours. One of the finest books I’ve read for years, it’s a stunning achievement.
Jessie Childs is one of the finest historians working today; her illuminating, deeply researched, and beautifully written books are never anything short of superlative, and here she does it again. This is a vivid, thrilling story, rendered in delicious prose and brilliant with gems dug from the archives.
Enthralling…This is history as rip-roaring narrative.
Maev Kennedy, The Art Newspaper read full review
In this stunning feat of historical reconstruction, Jessie Childs brings England’s brutal civil conflict to life, illuminating the human experience, and human cost, of this devastating war. A work of deep scholarship, The Siege of Loyalty House is gripping, moving, unputdownable.
A spectacular work of scholarship, this is epic, vital history, sweeping from the great trends and ideas of the time to the individual details of vividly lived lives. This brilliant book takes you into the heart of the Civil War, the brutal struggle for the sympathies of a country, the men who fought, women who tried to survive; this is blood, desire and struggle on the page, taking you deep into the seventeenth century world; you can feel its beating heart
Jessie Childs has the skills of a great story-teller and brilliantly weaves the words of the witnesses of the events into a book as pacey and readable as any novel. There’s no need to make things up when they are this exciting.
Nicola Turton, Battlefield Magazine
Of [the Civil War’s] local epics, none surpasses in fame and drama that of Basing House, and in Jessie Childs it finds at last a writer able to bring out in full its excitement, pathos, glory and tragedy, with a deep political, military and social context. As so many of the defenders of the house were transplanted Londoners, it is a tale that links the heart of Hampshire to the heart of the capital. Local Civil War history does not get better than this.
Superbly researched…Though nonfiction, the book does more than any text I’ve ever read (or film I’ve watched) to capture what it is to be trapped, under fire, and in constant danger. Superb.
Steven Veerapen, Aspects of History BOOKS OF THE YEAR
The chills which settle on the reader come with the realisation that this is a tale, too, of our times, and of the many times when societies polarise along rigid lines of belief…A reading of this beautiful and human tragedy of The Siege of Loyalty House may well stay us all against rigidness which can descend to civil war. Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy