Books: Off the Shelf: Dear John, with love from Lucy: Kenneth Baxter on the ups and downs of a Civil War marriage

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The Independent Culture
THE ENGLISH Civil War produced its own extensive and peculiar literature, including at least one major classic, Clarendon's History of the Rebellion, memorable for its portraits of the chief personages engaged in that tragic conflict. One such was Colonel John Hutchinson, Puritan gentleman, Governor of Nottingham Castle where Charles I officially opened hostilities 350 years ago, and MP for the county. But it was not Clarendon, it was Hutchinson's wife, Lucy, who wrote an account of him and the events in which he played a prominent part. Her Memoirs, intended for her family and not published until 1806, are among our choicest biographies, valuable alike as an 'on the spot' impression of arguably the most dramatic episode in our history and as a remarkable human document.

Writing from the inside with ease, clarity and raciness Mrs Hutchinson left a vivid description of the issues involved and scenes she witnessed. But essentially her book is a tribute to her husband, an 'honette homme', it would seem, if ever there was one. She describes him as 'of medium stature, slender and well proportioned, his hair softer than the finest silk and curling in loose ringlets, his eyes lively grey, lips ruddy, teeth even and ivory white . . . a most amiable countenance bespeaking magnanimity and majesty mixed with sweetness.' There is much more of the same; and, as for his virtues, 'they were an epitome of his life which was a progress from one degree of virtue to another.'

As she itemises them one cannot help blinking, but on the evidence she - and history - provides, it appears impossible to question the man's absolute integrity, whether as soldier, politician or devoted husband and father. His principles led him to side with Parliament in the great debate. He even put his signature to the king's death warrant - but when he thought Cromwell was aiming at absolute power he resigned his seat at Westminster.

Theirs was a marriage of true minds, though Lucy was disfigured by smallpox just before her wedding day. Her husband, needless to say, paid her no less affectionate attention than before.

They had need of their enviable qualities. In the aftermath of the Civil War he was included in the Restoration amnesty, but later falsely accused of conspiracy and sent to the Tower, then to Sandown Castle in the Isle of Wight where he died, aged 45. He commanded her 'not to grieve at the common rate of desolate women.' Nor did she: her sorrow was noble in its dignity and worthy of him. And her book is his lasting monument.