In The Rebel Daughter, Miranda Malins returns to the family at the heart of her previous novel, The Puritan Princess: the Cromwells. However, where The Puritan Princess told the story of Frances, Oliver Cromwell’s youngest daughter, in this second novel we get to know Bridget – or Biddy – the eldest of his four daughters.
In 1643, nineteen-year-old Bridget is living at home in Ely, Cambridgeshire with her mother and younger brothers and sisters while her father and eldest brother are away fighting in the civil war that is currently tearing England apart. Bridget longs to join the men in shaping the future of their country, and although she watches with envy as her younger sister Betty falls in love, she knows she wants more from life than just to be a wife and mother. When she receives a marriage proposal from General Henry Ireton, a fellow commander of her father’s in the Parliamentarian army, she decides to accept in the hope that this marriage will provide the opportunities she’s been hoping for.
The relationship between Bridget and Henry is not a passionate or romantic one, but they get on well together and Bridget is able to involve herself in politics, offering opinions and advice as the war begins to come to an end and her husband and father must decide what happens next. The majority of the novel is set during this period, when with the Royalists defeated, the question of what to do about the King arises and Parliament and the army split into opposing factions, each with their own views on this very important question.
Bridget’s position as a member of the Cromwell and Ireton families leads her to cross paths with other important historical figures of the period such as Thomas Fairfax, commander of the New Model Army, and his wife Anne, and political activist Elizabeth Lilburne and her husband John Lilburne, one of the leaders of the movement known as the Levellers. Bridget herself doesn’t have a large role to play in politics, but Oliver and Henry value her input and she feels she is able to have a small amount of influence on their decision-making.
As well as the political situation, the novel also explores the human cost of war. Bridget experiences this for herself with the deaths of her brother and cousin and later, on a wider scale, when she sees the devastation of besieged Colchester, filled with crumbling buildings, smoke-filled streets and starving children – and this is nothing compared to the horrors she witnesses when she crosses the Irish Sea to join Henry after his appointment as Lord Deputy of Ireland. I wished we had seen more of life away from Parliament and the constant wrangling over the fate of the King, which did get a bit tedious at times.
Of the two books, I think I preferred The Puritan Princess, but I did find this one interesting and am pleased to have had the chance to learn more about Bridget Cromwell. I wonder whether Miranda Malins will write about the other two Cromwell sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, or whether she’ll be moving onto a new subject for her next novel.
Thanks to Orion for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
This is book 6/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.