Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Battles Long Ago

(August 1959)

From The Newsletter, 29 August 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Holidaying in north Dorset, I visited Hambledon Hill, between Shaftesbury and Blandford, the scene of a tragic episode of England’s great civil war.

Here two or three thousand peasants from this area and the neighbouring parts of Wiltshire and Somerset, banded together under the name of ‘clubmen’ to keep the war out of their vicinity, clashed with and were bloodily crushed by Cromwell’s victorious army.

This was in August 1645, after the decisive defeat of the royalists at Naseby; by their militant neutralism the ‘clubmen’ were objectively helping to cover the royalist retreat.

Also, the lists of those captured at Hambledon Hill leave no doubt that this peasant movement had been well penetrated by royalist agents.

Fire and sword

But the question remains, why did a substantial body of the peasantry in this region take up at that time an embittered ‘plague-on-both-your-houses’ attitude in so historic a conflict? A Soviet historian of that period, Arkhangelsky, has suggested that the key may be found in what had happened in this self-same corner of England, where Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset meet, only two years previously.

Many of the local peasants, encouraged by the first parliamentary victories, had risen in revolt in the spring of 1643, levelled the enclosures put up by the gentry, and attacked their manor-houses – only to be put down with fire and sword on behalf of the Parliament by Edmund Ludlow, who had taken over as captain of Wardour Castle, one of the local strongholds.

Ringleaders to the number of twenty-eight were sent to London for punishment, and the peasants were taught very thoroughly that the parliamentary cause was not what they had thought it to be.

That experience may well have contributed to creating the mood that led to the sad business at Hambledon Hill.

More broadly, the disappointment of the masses of the people in both town and country with the revolutionary regime of Cromwell, as it dealt with their elementary interests, certainly did much to make possible the restoration of the Stuarts; just as Robespierre and the Jacobins were later, in France, by antagonizing their plebeian supporters, to prepare their own path to the guillotine at Thermidor.

Recruiting ‘Friends of the Soviet Union’

A case has just been argued without success in a Moscow court on behalf of the heir of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who hoped to get at last a cut from the fat profits that Soviet publishers have for years been making from Russian editions of his father’s stories about Sherlock Holmes.

This and the recent to-do about a possible pirated version of My Fair Lady being produced in Moscow, have for their background the fact that Russia is not a party to the international copyright convention.

This means that the Soviet authorities are not obliged to pay royalties for foreign books they translate and publish in Russia: also, of course, that foreigners may freely translate and publish abroad any Russian book they choose, without royalties being payable to anyone in Russia.

This situation enables the Soviet authorities to single out certain foreign authors for payment of royalties on a ‘grace and favour’ basis, by way of exception.

Liam O’Flaherty, in his book I Went to Russia (1931), gives a glimpse of how this method is used to win friends and influence people in the literary world.

The cash nexus

hen he visited the ‘Bureau of Revolutionary Literature’ in Moscow he was asked to contribute to a questionnaire on writers’ attitudes in the event of war.

‘“Why pick on me?” I thought. “My teeth are bad and my liver is diseased. But still ... I have only eight roubles and I’m far from home.”

‘So I wrote, God forgive me, having no intention of ever again firing a shot at anybody but my creditors: “Should capitalist Europe declare war on the Soviet Union, I’ll make war on capitalist Europe with every means in my power.”

‘This warlike statement was received with deafening applause and I grew rather sorry I was not of the stuff with which they make heroes.

‘But in any case, my answer served its immediate purpose. The cashier at once paid me for a story which had been printed in the Bureau’s magazine five years previously. I was informed that on the following day the State Publishing House would pay me a thousand roubles on account of royalties due to me.’

Last updated on 12.10.2011