What a beautiful week I had in England. I was there for the launch of the UK paperback version of The Traitor’s Wife, published by Pan Macmillan. The wonderful folks at PanMac were gracious hosts and made my time in England truly memorable. I travelled one afternoon by train to Croydon on a gorgeous sunny day, and in my spare time walked the streets of London through Soho and Bloomsbury, enjoying the blue skies and warm temperatures.
One of the highlights of the trip was spending five hours in the British Museum. I had forgotten the wealth of treasures housed there, including the Rosetta Stone, the controversial Elgin Marbles, and more Egyptian artifacts than could be viewed in a paltry afternoon. In the English History Hall, I saw a noble bust of Charles I of England (pictured here) in the same room as a death mask of Oliver Cromwell, made within a few hours of his death.
The detail of the mask is remarkable, and more than a little spooky. A marble bust, or painted portrait may bear a true likeness to the subject, and the bust of Charles certainly looks detailed and accurate, but a plaster or wax cast of an individual’s face recreates the anomalies and irregularities of features that an artist could never reproduce.
I thought of Thomas Carrier, and the legends of his being a soldier for Cromwell, as well as the executioner of Charles I, and wondered if there was somewhere, hidden in some as yet undisclosed place, a portrait of him. In every painting and etching of the execution of the King, I look for a tall man standing on the killing platform, visored and poised at the edge of history.
“And so I pulled the ax swiftly from the straw and within five steps was beside the block. For pity’s sake, and for pity’s sake alone, did I, in one rapid movement, draw back, bringing down the ax with a clean and heavy stroke.” Thomas Carrier from The Traitor’s Wife.