Civil Insolencies tells the dramatic story of the battle of Guisborough in North Yorkshire on 16 January 1643, when Parliamentary soldiers defeated Royalists forces in order to secure the crossings over the River Tees. Bob Beagrie attempts to ‘repopulate the vast wastelands of the past’ with the leaders and the led, Roundheads and Royalists, soldiers and civilians, historical and imagined, exploring ideas of authority and dissent, free speech and faith, propaganda and social division, reaction and revolution. Civil Insolencies looks back on a World Turn’d Upside Down from our own divided and uncertain times.
Cover image: woodcut from The World Turned Upside Down, or No News and Strange News
‘This ae nighte, this ae nighte, Every nighte and alle, Fire and fleet and candle-lighte, And Christe receive thy saule.’ The Lyke Wake Dirge (traditional) From Malton across hail-lashed heatherlands: Kirkbymoorside, Blakey Ridge, Castleton, the cut of Ruthergate down through Kemplah Wood to the remainder of the cross; devouring mile-markers, bridestones, megaliths, the Lord’s wind in his face, Hugh Cholmley drives his pack of war dogs onward with the whip of his words, On, Rogues and Ruﬄers, it is the First Fruits of the Spirit that shall nourish us! with Whitby, his home, under threat these hounds with round heads and sheathed steel teeth (cony-catchers, apple-squires, nips, cross-biters) refuse to rest, each stride bringing them closer to salvation, their own and that of a divided nation through hallucinations of exhaustion, fear, trembling. The long ditch calls in a voice of earth, Roll in, curl up, lai doon yoe hedds spek what yoer nehst sore step is worth the’s little to gaaign at this road’s end drop yoer burdens, stay ‘ere insteed anly death awayts aheed me freonds.
‘...for I see the dirt of the Slough of Despond is upon thee; but that slough is the beginning of the sorrows that attend those that go on in that way.’ John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, 1678 Tinker John is tramping in the train of boots through porridge spills of freezing fog a lousy sun crawling from its make-shift cot sick-bed, scruﬀ-basket nest up on Ravenscar; is only aware of something groaning deep inside himself – it tells him he is still alive. They clomp across the underside of clouds their pikes and helmets scrape furrows in the fields beside The Lion’s beer garden – you can glimpse them passing in the bull’s eye bevel of the remote pub’s snug window. John remembers that one day he will beget a daughter, blind-born meadow flower, who shall inherit the Earth, like him, through suﬀering, in this topsy-turvy world he’s learning how to live on the invisible.
‘a despicable and contemptible generation of men, persons diﬀering little from beasts’ Oliver Cromwell By the Roda Cross Sir Hugh calls a brief halt to let the troop catch its breath, foot and horse find respite, while gunners check the cannon remains secure and stable on the back of a wagon, swig a sip from a hipflask to stoke the belly’s fire, nibble at yellow gorse flower, eye barren skylines: a tattered cloud – sun beams flood Cockayne Ridge to signal a land of plenty, a common treasury kept out of reach by the trappings of majesty. Then, a drab heath-hen bursts frantick to low flight wings awhir, beak klop-klop-kloping proclamations over sheep droppings, It is the will of the people! Are we not all, John thinks, grouse bred for the rifle, heirlooms of the Land Lords’ pressed austerities?
‘We had fed the heart on fantasies, The heart’s grown brutal from the fare, More substance in our enmities Than in our love...’ WB Yeats, The Stare’s Nest by my Window, from Meditations in Time of Civil War, 1922. three grand owls and whatever decision they’ll make the next chapter, though it’s yet to be drafted-written-revised factious conventicles those immersed a second time remember Münster the horror the terror the troubles the cache of weapons buried in the woods for the just-in-case expertise – its forecasts and explanations the lie on the campaign bus so much misdirection, away from an acceptance of history as gaps the dead albatross you wear on your back the girl with the Mata Hari stare tied to the stake refusing a blindfold all those like them remoaners big bad losers Covernanters in the Killing Time traitors malignants unpeople within the people Cnut’s wet socks and the incoming tide
‘...earth plastred with English goare and turned into a Golgotha of bones...’ Eye-witness account of Edgehill after the battle Conscience squats the nape of each conscript whispering babbles of doubt into their lugs, yet since Edgehill Lieutenant Colonel Launcelot has felt no trace of temerity for he knows He hath stood upon Hellsmouth’s bloody lip peering into the pytt and perceived a trewth, that turned his mortal meat to shafts of light his ribcage to pearly gateposts through which Thwe Saved shall come to gladly pour their souls, for he hast strode through carnage unscathed with a dreadful calmness of the spirit while all around him screamed and fell, and he was saturated by God’s Grace, who revealed how he be the Christ reborn – how this world of muck, steel, blood, smoke be naught but the flit of tallow-cast shadow; these grunts have yet to undergo such baptism.
‘If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin.’ Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, 1843 Will Coppe, sitting on a lichen slab, spits on the earth, grounds the spittle into the dirt with one boot sole, takes a bite of a biscuit hands John what’s left, neither of them speak. Since conscription they have both destroyed many straw men with blade and musket balls in the training grounds of Scarborough Castle but with Edgehill’s mowing an oft whispered Hellmouth of sinners shovelled into Doom’s Mill, the prospect of destroying folk made up of skin and bone sticks in the craw like biscuit crumbs. Yet convincement is signed in each fellow’s Book of Conscience for The Lamb’s War you must know before you witness his Kingdome.
‘The great Sage as high as Heaven visited here.’ Wu Cheng’en, Journey to the West, 1592 High staggered moorland crossroads too few trees, the big wide sky fresh roadkill and opportunist crows turning turning turning turning, The Roda Cross by the roadside scattered oﬀerings in the grass Hogtenberg’s summit beyond Westerdale Crouched friars, Rosedale Abbey, Cockayne Ridge Roundhead recruits resting sore shanks, tarmac’s scrape and sweep through crimples: Life line, Fate line, Heart line, Sun line. The cross’s shadow pointing arrow straight at Boulby Mine, turbines and the sea turning turning turning turning, sheep picking paths through cropped heather, fleeces marked with red or blue splodges, lichen forests spreading over dry stone walls. I stand, one hand on the cross, turning, aiming names at horizon markers knowing the words can’t reach them, how the crow-wind strips them bare, how history is deciphering our footprints.
‘A work of remarkable power, demonstrating how great poetry can reach beyond the poet to capture what really matters and should always be remembered.’
‘Beagrie remains one of the best writers at bringing history, with its touches of myth and mysticism to life before your eyes. It is an exciting, page-turning read that leaves us knowing that our world is full of ghosts. It is a dense and complex collection and the book aches with the sadness of war.’
‘If you thought there was nothing new to add to the overcrowded catalogue of war poetry, you need to read this. Bob Beagrie skews the lens on the battlefield to give us a close-up view of the foot-soldier’s experience that is as mesmerising as it is harrowing for the nerve-ends.’
Neil Young, The Poet’s Republic