When talking with people here in the states, I generally have to clarify when I mention “Jersey” that I’m talking about old Jersey–the UK Channel Island situated just off the coast of France. Its a very unique place of beautiful vistas, truly dramatic tides and a fascinating history as a strategic outpost between Britain and the European mainland. I visited this Spring and although my body has been home for months, part of me seems to have remained in St. Helier for the summer…
There is a fascinating book my son turned me onto years ago, called “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell. Its premise is that our brains have an amazing capability for subliminal perception that can be tapped if only if we are able to put our willful rationality on a leash, and tune into the subtle thoughts and impressions that come (and go) “in a blink”. The trick is being open to be steered by something you can’t really explain. I bring this up to try to explain how I keep stumbling into the surprising level of “discoveries” I’ve experienced in this project. I bring it up now because it has happened again.
After the talks I gave during my visit to St. Helier this Spring, I was asked if I would be interested in contributing an article about Richard Lane to the “Annual Bulletin” of the Société Jersiaise (a soft-bound book published annually which contains various articles related to that organization’s larger mission as the historical, scientific and cultural society of Jersey). This was a genuine honor, and will be my first significant traditional publication. A key tenant was that the article had to be of primary relevance to Jersey. This was an interesting challenge that led me down paths I hadn’t considered before. It has also required new research–which is why I’ve been “offline” for a couple of months!
Part of what is so compelling about Richard Lane’s story is how the trajectory of his life carried him right through the middle of one of the most interesting periods of English history. And he wasn’t just a spectator to the defining events of his era–he was an actor of consequence in those dramas. But tantalizingly so…just on the periphery of the primary spotlight of historical awareness.
For me, history is about people. That’s what makes it so interesting–understanding the circumstances our forebears lived through, the choices they make and why they made them. Its easy for historians to focus on the kings, generals and great statesmen of other times. But these great leaders never operate on their own. So when I began considering Richard Lane’s relevance to Jersey, I realized that quite often the stories of the visits of Charles II to Jersey stop at describing how he was accompanied by an entourage of 300, without much consideration of who they were, and how they came to be there. Once I got my hands around the approach of telling the story of the entourage as a backdrop for Richard Lane’s story, the article snapped to life!
Although there were several interesting developments during the writing of the article, probably the most striking regarded the Great Seal in Richard Lane’s charge. I was able to pin down that this seal was probably commissioned in Holland in the first few months of 1649, and came into service in May of that year. Something that hadn’t sunk in for me was how very rare impressions of the first Great Seal of King Charles II are. This makes sense when you consider why this seal was known as the “exile” seal. Since it was only ever used in exile, there simply wasn’t much public business to be conducted with it. Also, it had a rather short lifetime. Barely two years after it was created (if the historical record is correct) this first Great Seal of King Charles II was flung into the Severn river to prevent its capture as the young king fled the disastrous battle of Worchester on horseback. During this time, Richard Lane was the only Lord Keeper to carry it.
Perhaps the most extraordinary new thread that has appeared is evidence about exactly what happened to this seal…including [spoiler alert!] the possibility that it might not lie at the bottom of the Severn river (stay tuned on this development–I have more research to do before I am ready to write about it)!
In the end, the article turned out to be significantly longer than the original guidelines, even after my best attempts to shorten it. But it told a unique story, and was supported by some truly interesting graphics and photographs. With the help of some friends in Jersey, I was able to round out some of the content from sources in Jersey. With the help of a few fabulous reviewer / critics here in the States, I was finally able to polish the article into somthing I am happy with. Since it was the first time I had to put together full bibliographical notes and references, it was a great preview of what writing the book will be like. So, in the next few weeks, the 2018 Annual Bulletin will be off to the printers. I can’t wait to see it when it comes back!
What’s next? First, I need to finish and publish the Part II and Part II articles on the Trial of Strafford analysis presentation I gave at Westminster in April. Then, there are another handful of articles waiting from the research trip earlier this year. This will include one great article regarding the great seals of Charles I and Charles II. When I finish the research into the possible alternative fate of the Exile Seal, I will definitely be writing an article about that as well.
Longer term, I may be ready to start drafting my first book in the summer of next year, with the possibility of going to print sometime in 2020. Now, that would be a reason to celebrate!
Your comments and corrections are gladly welcomed. I admire great writing, but have little choice but to approach this task as evolutionary–grinding a workable edge onto a rough blade. My warmest thanks for your generosity of spirit and firm critique in the meantime!