Against all the odds …a guest blog by Stella Riley


The Royalists hold the Castle, the Parliament would like it back and the town is full of overly-zealous Puritans.

Where is this? Banbury, Oxfordshire in the summer of 1644.

As a backdrop for a novel set in the English Civil War, Banbury was the obvious choice for me because it was my home. A small amount of research showed that it was also the best choice because it offered exactly what I was looking for. The perfect scenario for a love story with a complex and fully-fleshed background that included, not only real events, but the men involved in them. Fortunately, these men left detailed records – for without their letters, military reports and news-sheets, A Splendid Defiance could never have been written.

My story starts with a disgruntled cavalry officer. Justin Ambrose has been posted to the garrison of Banbury Castle as a punishment and is bored, irritable and resentful. Close by in the town, Abigail Radford has learned to expect little from life; her dour and fanatically religious brother, Jonas, rules the family with a rod of iron and insists on submissive obedience in all things. Consequently, when Captain Ambrose crosses her path Abigail finds him as alarming as he is intriguing.

This man she barely knew … this impatient, often irascible man who cursed and blasphemed, who said things he shouldn’t, saw more than he should and laughed when she least expected it … this man who embodied everything she had been raised to abhor – was completely trustworthy. More than that. He made her feel safe.

The Castle garrison is 320 strong and its Governor is nineteen-year-old Sir William Compton. In August 1644, Roundhead Colonel John Fiennes arrives with 3,500 men and a massive artillery train to drive the Cavaliers out. The result is a fourteen week siege during which Colonel Fiennes bombards the Castle with cannon and mortar fire, attempts to take it by storm in a massive assault and sets colliers mining beneath the walls to plant explosive devices. By the time the King finally sends help, the exhausted garrison has neither powder, shot nor food and has eaten all but two of the horses. As an exercise in sustained defiance, this was a remarkable achievement.

With the siege behind them and against all the odds, Justin and Abigail develop a covert friendship. Out of a deep-rooted dislike of Jonas Radford coupled with a spirit of devilment, Justin uses this to nurture seeds of insurrection in Abigail. But what begins as a few innocent acts of defiance gradually becomes something very different, bringing danger in its wake. Both of them know that any future relationship is doomed. The gulf between them is so wide as to be unbridgeable – and not only due to the war. For Abigail, the obstacle is her appalling brother; for Justin, it is both an uncertain future and a shadow from his past that he can no longer escape when it unexpectedly threatens both Abigail’s life and the security of the Castle.

When the Parliament embarks on a second siege and with the war all but over, Abigail knows that Justin will soon be gone and wants to make every remaining moment count … while the feelings that Justin knows he has no choice but to deny become stronger and more painful than any blade or bullet. As the time for defiance dwindles to a close and surrender looms ever nearer, the fate of Abigail, Justin and the Castle are inevitably and inextricably linked.

A Splendid Defiance is a dramatic tale of forbidden love set against the turmoil and anguish of the Civil War. It is also the true account of one English castle and the men who defended it. Justin Ambrose, the Radford family and a handful of other characters are my invention; virtually everyone else in the novel lived and breathed and was there when it happened.

About the Author

Stella Riley trained as a teacher in London and worked there for several years before moving to Oxfordshire and starting to write. She now lives in Shropshire and her interests include amateur dramatics, dance and travel. After a break in her writing career, she is now launching her back-list as e-books. Already available from Amazon and are The Marigold Chain, The Parfit Knight and The Mésalliance. Still to come in 2013, The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw.


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  1. Stella, thanks for this. I ADORE this book. It’s been a keeper on my shelf for many years. It’s always hard to find good historical/romantic fiction set in the ECW, and as a writer, harder still to find a publisher willing to take it on. “Love the story but can’t sell the period” has been a response I’ve heard many times.

  2. Many thanks to Francine and Alison for their kind words!
    Due for release by the end of May on Amazon and Smashwords – The Black Madonna. An epic saga of covering, not just the Civil War itself, but the three years leading up to it – as seen through the eyes of the Maxwell family in Oxfordshire and an Italian goldsmith/money-lender, Luciano del Santi.
    Stella Riley

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