Historical Background to the Story
This Rough Ocean is a work of fiction, not of history, but it is based on the real experiences of John Swynfen (1613-1694) and Anne Swynfen (1613-90) during the period from December 1648 to February 1650. John was indeed imprisoned after Pride’s Purge, because, as a Moderate, he believed in constitutional monarchy and the rights and power of Parliament, especially the elected Commons (although the electorate was then much smaller than it is now). However he was opposed to the killing of the king by the extremist republicans, which led to his falling-out with Cromwell and Ireton. Eventually he would go on to become one of the founders of what became the Whig (or Liberal) Party. During John’s absence it fell to Anne, as to many women in the Civil War period, to run the family’s large estates in Staffordshire. From the tone of their letters, it seems to have been a love match, and the marriage lasted for fifty-eight years, from the time when they were both nineteen until her death, four years before her husband.
There are many gaps in the historical record, but where the facts are known, I have retained them. For example, John’s political allies are known, his parliamentary career is a matter of public record, the family lived at Thickbroome in their early married life and in St. Ann’s Lane, Westminster, in the 1640s. Parish records for the period are chaotic, so that the dates when some of the Swynfens’ children were born are conjectural. John’s younger brother Richard was in trouble after the Restoration for his dissenting views, so I have used this to shape his character. John’s eldest son Dick’s happy-go-lucky nature is revealed in the letters he wrote home while a student at Oxford (usually asking for money). The tone and spelling of the letters in the text are based on actual surviving family letters.
A quirk in the spelling of the family name: the place-name always seems to have been spelled ‘Swinfen’ and the family name usually has the ‘i’. John in fact appears in his baptismal record as ‘John Swinfen’. At some point in his adult life he took to spelling it ‘Swynfen’. His wife was baptised ‘Ann Brandreth’, so on marriage she became ‘Ann Swinfen’, my exact namesake. However, her name also changed later to ‘Anne’. Our shared name has always drawn me to her, together with her courage and her strong family feeling – she cared not only for her own large family but also for most of her grandchildren. One of the grandsons, Dr Samuel Swynfen, was godfather to Dr Samuel Johnson.
Another oddity: the strange practice of burning the moss off the orchard trees is actually recorded. Late in life, John was visited by a gentleman who was making a survey of the county of Staffordshire, and described this odd Swinfen custom to him. Was it a gentle leg-pull? His sense of humour was noted by Pepys amongst others.
Sadly, the original Swinfen Hall, where Anne and John lived, was pulled down when it was replaced by the present Georgian manor house in the mid-eighteenth century. This was designed and built by local builder Benjamin Wyatt of Blackbrook Farm by Weeford, founder of the distinguished dynasty of architects and artists. Swinfen Hall was their first major building.
The Envoi to this story is one of several mentions of John in Pepys’s Diary (together with one reference to his eldest son). Pepys had reason to be grateful to John, for when Pepys was accused in Parliament of being a crypto-Catholic, it was John who came to his defence and had the accusation thrown out.
It was only one of many kindnesses to friends and colleagues, who sought his help and advice throughout his life. Based on what I have learned about them both, I felt compelled to write Anne and John’s story.