The women of Naseby - the forgotten Welsh massacre

A new novel published this week has brought to light a forgotten atrocity perpetrated against the Welsh by English Roundhead soldiers, where over a hundredWelsh women were brutally murdered.

Dark Territory by American-born and Wales-based author Jerry Hunter is set in the seventeenth century around the period of the English Civil War, and highlights the fact that the violence associated with religious extremism is not a new issue.

‘It is relatively well known that during his bloody military campaign in Ireland Oliver Cromwell approved the wholesale slaughter of civilians in Wexford and Drogheda because they were Catholics,’ said Jerry Hunter, ‘but less attention has been given to another massacre suffered at his forces’ hands.’                                                                  

‘This is the story of the Women of Naseby, a dark episode of Welsh history which has been surprisingly absent from popular histories,’ he said.

After the Battle of Naseby in June 1645 the Parliamentarian cavalry, in pursuit of fleeing Royalists, came upon the Royalist camp and a large group of women. Hearing them screaming in an unknown tongue, the English soldiers assumed they were Irish Catholics, and cut them down in cold blood.

But in fact these women were crying out in Welsh – most of Wales had declared for the King, and these were the wives of soldiers in Welsh Royalist regiments who had followed their husbands to war to cook and wash for them, as was the custom at that time. Despite over a hundred of them being killed on the spot, and the faces of others mutilated, their fate has largely been forgotten.

Dark Territory’s protagonist is a zealous Welsh Puritan whose beliefs initially lead him to embrace Parliament’s cause and the violence of Cromwell’s New Model Army, but whose conviction is tested by these atrocities.

Described as ‘an epic historical adventure set during one of the most turbulent periods in history’, the novel also poses questions about violence, power, religious extremism and rejection of difference which are chillingly relevant to our world today.

Jerry Hunter was born in Cincinnati, USA and is now is a Professor of Welsh and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bangor, and lives with his family in North Wales.

‘With this novel I also wanted to cross-examine the ideological foundations of “American Exceptionalism”,’ he explained. ‘For centuries politicians in the USA have referred to the nation as a “shining light” for the rest of the world to follow. Through the prism of fiction, this work examines the dark realities at the foundations of those beliefs.’

‘Particularly now in the age of Trump, when the old myths of exceptionalism are being invoked once again in an attempt to “make America great again”,’ he added.

The novel has already received acclaim, with literary critic and author Jon Gower praising it as ‘the work of a master... nothing less than a classic’.

Jerry Hunter is best known as a Welsh-language author and has won prestigious literary awards including Welsh Book of the Year for his academic work Llwch Cenhedloedd, and the National Eisteddfod Prose Medal for his first novel, Gwenddydd.