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Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. In this extraordinary saga, Adrian Tinniswood draws on tens of thousands of letters, which survived by chance in an attic, to reveal the remarkable world of the Verneys, a family of Buckinghamshire gentry in the seventeenth century. Here is Edmund Verney, Charles I's standard bearer at Edgehill, who died still clutching the King's standard, and his children: Ralph, whose support of the Parliamentarian cause during the Civil War forced him into exile; Mun, a professional soldier who survived Cromwell's attack on Drogheda in 1649, only to be stabbed to death two days later; Mall, who fell pregnant out of wedlock, and Bess, who ran off with a clergyman. There was also Henry, who was obsessed with horse-racing; Cary, who gambled away a fortune, and Tom, a devout Christian and a petty crook. The next generation led equally exciting lives. Ralph's son Jack went to Syria and made a fortune. Cousin Pen stayed at home and slept with her sister's fiance. Cousin Dick was hanged at Tyburn. Jack's brother Edmund married a girl who was rich, beautiful and deeply in love with him and within months of the marriage, she lost her mind. The Verneys is narrative history at its very best - fascinating, surprising, enthralling.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781844134144
ISBN-10: 1844134148
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 37mm)
Pages: 592
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 3-Apr-2008
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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Book Review: Verneys by Adrian Tinniswood - Reviewed by (13 Jan 2010)

TITLE: The Verneys AUTHOR: Adrian Tinniswood PUBLISHER: Jonathan Cape (March 2007) ISBN: 9780224071557 570pages

Reviewed by Ann Skea (ann@skea.com). ********* "Sir Francis Verney lay on his bed in the great hall of the sick at Messina. He was thirty-one years old. He was a long way from home. And he was dying". He had been a Barbary Coast pirate, a "sometimes great English gallant", a convert to Islam and, for two years at the end of his life when his fortunes lapsed, a galley slave. All of which makes for a dramatic opening scene in this family saga which has all the ingredients for a gripping television series. And it is all true.

The story of the survival of the Verney family papers, on which Adrian Tinniswood has based this history of the family and the times in which they lived, is an interesting story in itself. Briefly, it hinges on the mass of documents - letters, bills, parliamentary notes, playbills, rent-rolls and much more - which were found "in a dusty old gallery" by a distant relative who, in 1827, inherited what remained of the Verney family's estate. Through these papers, as Tinniswood notes, the family comes to life and the remarkable events (including the English Civil War, the beheading of one king and the replacement of another) which shaped their world and their daily lives become so vivid that "we know the Verneys almost too well, and it is impossible not to care". And he is right.

The book is divided into three parts. The first deals with the life of Sir Edmund Verney who, in 1615, inherited the estate from his piratical half-brother Francis. Death, arranged marriages, re-marriage and the Seventeenth Century laws of inheritance, plus the great importance of extensive and extended family connections, shaped the lives of every gentry family at that time. The Verneys were no exception. Edmund's mother had married three times. So, too, had his father, and Edmund was his second son. At the time of the eldest son, Francis's, death, Edmund was twenty-five years old, a Knight serving at the court of King Charles I, a staunch Protestant, and a happily married man, with two children. Tinniswood lays out the many and various family relationships in an easy, confident way so that the reader is only occasionally lost amongst them all. He is equally good at filling in the historical and social context of their lives without getting overly academic. So, we get to know Edmund and his wife Mary, and we are drawn into their close, loving relationship as they live through good and bad times, deal with the births and deaths of children and relatives, and face disasters, debt, war and also the constant more (and less) trivial demands of their relatives and friends.

Of Edmund and Mary's twelve children, we get to know three of the boys very well. Ralph, the steady, serious, eldest son, who became a Member of Parliament and supported the Parliamentarians against the King (to the great distress of his Royalist father and brother) was the one who saved and stored all the family papers. Tom, the ne'er-do-well scrounger of the family, was the second son. When he seemed inclined to run wild, his parents packed him off to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1634, to make his fortune. He returned after only one winter in this new colony in the Americas, "to the exasperation of his father". Mun (short for Edmund), the third son, was a professional soldier in the King's army. He fought Cromwell's troops in Ireland and survived one of the bloodiest sieges only to be stabbed to death in the street two days later. The girls and the youngest son, we come to know less well, but it is clear that all the Verney women were independent-minded and determined, and that they were not inclined to be dictated to by their menfolk in spite of the conventions of the time.


Author Biography - Adrian Tinniswood

Adrian Tinniswood is the author of fourteen books of social and architectural history. A Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham and a Visiting Fellow in Heritage and History at Bath Spa University, he has worked for and with the National Trust at local, regional and national level for more than thirty years. In 2013 he was awarded an OBE for services to heritage.

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