Devil Water: A Novel

Devil Water: A Novel

by Anya Seton


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“A true story fictionalized by a writer who has a special feeling for the dramatic . . . Mixed by Miss Seton’s skillful hands, the dust of the past becomes the clay of the artist and is molded into memorable, lifelike form.” —Chicago Tribune

This fiercely beautiful novel tells the true story of Charles Radcliffe, a Catholic nobleman who joined the short-lived Jacobite rebellion of 1715, and of Jenny, his daughter by a secret marriage. Set in the Northumbrian wilds, teeming London, and colonial Virginia—where Jenny eventually settled on the estate of the famous William Byrd of Westover—Jenny’s story reveals one young woman’s loyalty, passion, and courage as she struggles in a life divided between the Old World and the New.

Miss Seton's narrative is richly buttressed with the results of scrupulous research on the personages and the period. Her sole purpose is to tell a rousing good tale plainly and simply and this she does admirably." —New York Herald Tribune

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544240407
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/02/2014
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 475,729
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

ANYA SETON (1904–1990) was the author of many best-selling historical novels, including Katherine, The Winthrop Woman, Avalon, Dragonwyck, Green Darkness, and Foxfire. She lived in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Read an Excerpt


THERE WAS THE sound of bitter weeping in the heavy air. Young Charles Radcliffe heard it as he rode down the hill from Dilston Castle towards the Devil Water. Those wild despairing sobs came only from a kitchen wench whose lover — a scurvy Hexham beggar — had four days since stolen a cow from the Dilston byre. The rogue had soon been caught with the cow, hidden in a copse. The castle steward said the thief had protested that his mother was starving — some such tale. But the thief was very properly hanged forthwith. The kitchen wench might think herself lucky that no more had happened to her than a good tongue-lashing from Mrs. Busby, the castle housekeeper. And yet the stupid girl, half crazed, they said, wept on and on. "Greeting," they idiotically called weeping up here in their barbarous tongue, which was partly Scottish and partly the English of five hundred years ago, or so said Mr. Brown, the chaplain.

The unseen girl gave a louder wail and the noise aggravated all Charles's pent-up boredom. The dripping mists lifted at last, and he rode aimlessly off in search of amusement.

The stream called Devil Water roared over cascades at the foot of the castle hill. It was in spate this September morning. There had been heavy rain on the moors to swell the burns with rushing brown water. Charles yanked at his mare's bridle when they ambled across the stone bridge. He dismounted and peered down into the torrent wondering if there might be any salmon running — fighting from the Tyne up the rushing stream. If not salmon there would certainly be trout in the black pool beneath the Linnel Rocks.

Charles thought of shouting for a servant to bring his fishing gear, but then decided that the feckless knaves would not hear him up at the castle. Or if they did, would not bother to come. Undisciplined and sullen they were — these Northumbrians — silent when commanded, or muttering among themselves in their gobble-mouthed dialect.

It would be different when James came home from France. He'd beat manners into his servants and tenants. They'd have to obey their feudal lord, albeit they'd never yet seen him. Aye, thought Charles, sighing, nor have I seen him since I was nine. He turned abruptly and mounted his mare, having lost interest in fishing. The mare trotted across the bridge, and downstream towards the mill where the miller's children often fed her apples. Charles let her pick her own way while wondering, not for the first time, nor without uneasiness, about the brother who was soon coming home.

Brother James. The Heir. The most noble Earl of Derwentwater, Viscount Radcliffe and Langley, Baron Tyndale. All that and yet but twenty. Owner too of estates in Northumberland, Cumberland, and other counties, a landed heritage so vast that Sir Marmaduke said there was no other nobleman in England's North could surpass it. James'll be proud as Lucifer, Charles thought, and play the master over me — the frenchified popinjay!

At once Charles felt familiar stabs of envy and guilt. James had not been in France these seven years for trivial reasons. He had been sent there in 1702 to companion his cousin, James Stuart, in exile. "James the Third of England," this cousin should have been now, had not that fat old frump of a Queen Anne proved an unnatural daughter, and allowed the scurvy Protestants to hoist her on the throne. May she rot! Charles thought, but without much heat. During his childhood in London he had never seen Queen Anne. Nor were the long-ago wrongs suffered by the deposed James the Second very real to Charles, despite the occasional harpings of Sir Marmaduke and Cousin Maud. Charles clicked his tongue impatiently as he thought of these two good people who had taken him into their Yorkshire home when his father died four years since. Sir Marmaduke Constable was a wispy, earnest man, cousin to the Radcliffes through his mother. When the second Earl died Sir Marmaduke had been appointed Charles's guardian. Cousin Maud was his faded spinsterish wife, who often lamented the loss of the vocation she had felt as a girl, when many of her friends had professed as nuns in Belgium. But she was a conscientious woman, and anxiously performed all her duties — except the production of an heir to Sir Marmaduke. They were both up at the castle now, fussing over the shabby dusty rooms, empty so many years, worrying over the dilapidations James would find when he came home to claim his patrimony. And doubtless they were irritably asking the housekeeper and the new priest they'd just taken as chaplain, where Master Charles could have gone off to in such damp unhealthy weather?

Charles's young face tightened. He rubbed his dirty forefinger tenderly over his chin, feeling the golden prickles which had lately begun to sprout. He straightened his shoulders. They were broad enough for a man's. He felt manhood surging in him, manhood and the need for mastery. But Cousin Maud clucked over him as though he were a child, never letting him forget that he was scarce sixteen and a younger brother. The youngest brother — for there was Francis, too, coming back with James from the exiled Court at St. Germain.

Charles slapped his horse's rump and turning the startled mare spurred her to a gallop. Back over the bridge they clattered, up the castle hill and past Dilston village, along the muddy road which led northward to the Tyne. As they entered a gloomy wood the mare snorted and shied.

"Saint Mary! You jade, what ails you!" Charles cried angrily, for he almost lost his seat. Then he saw. From the stout limb of a beech tree there hung a gibbet — an iron cage slowly turning in the wind. In the cage was the chained and bloated corpse of a naked man. The tongue lolled from a black mouth hole, the cut rope still dangled from the livid neck down the matted black curls on the chest. The stench, which the trembling mare had first caught, made Charles retch.

It was the corpse of the thief for whom the kitchen wench was wailing. As the custom was, he had been hanged here where he had been caught.

Charles swallowed and made the sign of the cross. He had seen no dead man before. The chained thing that hung there in the iron gibbet frightened and shamed him. It had been only a lad by the look of the twisted body. And to end like this — inhuman, evil, hanging with no shred of decent covering while the ravens tore off gobbets of flesh and the bones rotted and crumbled throughout the years.

A peculiar feeling came over Charles as he tried to look away and could not, and he thought of the kitchen wench. He did not recognize the sensation as pity, but he muttered, "I'll make them cut it down. She can bury it properly."

In voicing this resolve he lost it, knowing what Sir Marmaduke and the steward would say. These were wild lawless parts up near the Border. Thievery must be punished at once. The thing in the gibbet hung there as a deterrent. And the lad — not a Catholic of course — had been damned anyway. To brood over the disgusting sight had in it something of the mollycoddle, the chickenhearted.

Charles shook himself, and backing the mare up the road guided her through the woods far around the gibbet.

When he reached the bridge over the Tyne he paused. He had meant to cross to Corbridge, an ancient market town first settled by the Romans. It offered modest entertainment, which Charles had managed to sample during his month at Dilston. The "Angel" served good arrack punch, and the barmaid was not averse to a bit of cuddling behind the taproom door.

Today the Angel did not appeal. Charles decided to ride into Newcastle by the south bank of the Tyne, which he had never explored. As he cantered along the riverbank his mood lightened. Action and new sights were ever a cure for megrims. He did not slacken pace for the village of Riding Mill, where two giggling girls jumped off the road to safety as he galloped by. Charles heard one of them cry out, "I' fakins, 'tis young Radcliffe o' Dilston! Oh, but he seems a canny-looking lad!"

Charles tossed his head and gave the girls a grin over his shoulder. Up here "canny" was a compliment, already he had learned that.

Charles had no interest in his appearance. His straight fair hair was clubbed back with a greasy black ribbon, his blue plush coat had once been fashionable, but he had outgrown it; his broad shoulders strained the seams, his young bony wrists protruded. The reddened hands were slender, long-fingered, and according to Cousin Maud proclaimed his Stuart blood, as did the thin nose set between large heavy-lidded gray eyes. His grandfather, Charles the Second, had been a swarthy Stuart; Charles was a fair Stuart, but the resemblance was unmistakable, they said. Always, however, managing to ignore the other side, about which Charles had once dared to twit Sir Marmaduke. "Yes, sir, to be sure I'm proud of royal blood — but what of my grandmother? Tell me of her, a play actress was she not, like Nell Gwynn?"

This had irritated his cousin, who assured him sharply that there was no resemblance between Nell Gwynn and Moll Davis, that the latter came of noble stock. "Albeit from the wrong side of the blanket, too!" Charles had brashly murmured, and incurred a beating from Sir Marmaduke, and the command to hold his tongue about matters of which he knew nothing.

But Charles did know about his ancestry. A gossipy London nurse had seen to that long ago. The Radcliffes were of ancient North Country lineage and they had always kept to the old faith, despite the tribulations they sometimes suffered for it. The Radcliffes had also been shrewd and acquisitive. Fortunate too, since each generation had found a Roman Catholic heiress to marry, one who brought yet more manors and castles into the family. The Radcliffes had been knighted and made baronets, but they were neither noble nor of the great London world until Charles's other grandfather, Sir Francis Radcliffe, turned out to be the shrewdest, most acquisitive, and by far the luckiest of them all. He had profited by the brief return of Catholicism to England under James the Second, and angled successfully both for marriage to a Stuart and a peerage. The Stuart marriage was that of his son Edward to Lady Mary Tudor, youngest of the many children by many mistresses Charles the Second recognized. Lady Mary was the daughter of Moll Davis, whose sweet singing and graceful dancing at the Duke's Playhouse had one evening caught the King's ever-roving and desirous eye. Moll's mother had been a milkmaid, but her father was Lord Berkshire, and both Nell Gwynn and Lady Castlemaine had been furious at this unexpected rival. Nell had even managed to lace little Moll's chocolate with jalap one night when the new favorite was to receive the King in the smart London house he had given her. Whether it was the resulting embarrassment for Moll — caused by this powerful purgative — which cooled the King's ardor, or whether it was the lovely Louise de Kéroualle's charms, nobody knew. At any rate, Moll Davis soon fell from favor, though the King ennobled their daughter, little Mary Tudor, casually bestowing on her the most exalted royal surname of them all. Thus by his son's marriage to this child — who was thirteen in 1687 — Sir Francis Radcliffe achieved connection with royalty and the peerage for which he yearned. King James created Sir Francis the Earl of Derwentwater in March of the following year, just before the revolution which deposed the Catholic king and enthroned William and Mary.

Charles Radcliffe had always found the Moll Davis tale entertaining but remote. He had known none of his grandparents. His mother, the second Countess of Derwentwater, who had been that little Mary Tudor — she was another matter. For her Charles felt the baffled bitterness of the deserted child. He had not seen his mother since he was six, on the day she abandoned them all — James, Francis, Charles himself, and the baby Mary. Charles remembered the pungent scent of his mother's curls as she kissed him coldly on the forehead, saying "Farewell, child. Render obedience to your father, though I no longer intend to."

Charles had not then understood these words. He did not quite now. They might have referred to her Protestantism and the Radcliffes' Papacy, or far more likely to her infatuation with another man. She had married twice since her husband's death and gone to live abroad. I wonder if she's dead, Charles thought. The Constables never spoke of her, but then there were many uncomfortable topics which they never mentioned.

And much good my Stuart blood does me, thought Charles, stuck as I am either on a Yorkshire moor or in this dingy hole. The mare had now carried him along the Tyne into the coal country. The green riverbank was stippled with black piles, scaffoldings, and great yawning pits. The acrid smell of coal dust and smoke thickened the air. Soon, at the edge of Gateshead, the road was lined with mean little miners' hovels, roofed with turf. Suddenly Charles was blocked by a Galloway pony and cart full of coals which cut straight across his path. The cart came from the Bensham colliery a mile away and was bound for the Tyne. The wagon wheels ran on an oaken track the like of which Charles had never seen. A ragged ten-year-old urchin at the pony's head was softly whistling a plaintive tune while he tugged at the reluctant pony. Charles knew nothing of coal mining but these signs of activity caught his interest. He turned the mare and followed the cart as it trundled along the track until they reached the river where there was a wharf, called a staith. The sultry sun burnished the leaden waters of the Tyne. On the opposite bank in Newcastle, chimneys, roofs, Guild Hall, and the great quay all floated in a smoky haze.

Charles rode onto the staith and watched while the cart was dumped into a waiting keelboat. "Oof," he said, backing hastily from the choking cloud of coal dust.

The small boy at the pony's head chuckled rudely at the stranger's discomfiture. Charles was annoyed and, frowning, examined the boy attentively. He was a skinny child with coarse dark hair and alert hazel eyes in a sooty, square Northumbrian face. There was a cockiness about him and total lack of the deference Charles was accustomed to from the lower classes. The boy's nose was bleeding slightly.

"Been fighting, I see," Charles said, shrugging.

"Wuns!" said the boy wiping the blood off with the back of his hand. "Dost call it a fight wen the pit-overman bangs out wi' a clout?"

"What for?" said Charles. He didn't quite like the boy, and yet he felt strong curiosity about him.

"Fur that I slipped wile dumping a chaldron i' the cart, that's wot."

"Oh," said Charles. "Aren't you very young for dumping coals?"

"Leuk man!" said the boy with an impudent grin. "Ye ask a lot o' questions, an' I'll fend off the rest. M'name's Rob Wilson, I'm ten I guess. I been warking the pits one way or t'other five year, me big brother's doon there i' the keelboat, the overman's waiting at Bensham pithead, an' if I divven't gan back there soon I'll get another punch, d'ye twig?"

Charles nodded reluctantly, amused by what was essentially an expert snubbing. He watched the sturdy independent set of Rob's shoulders as the boy backed the pony up the staith and trudged away towards the pithead for another load. As he trudged Rob began to whistle again — the plaintive minor tune, which even Charles recognized as being both musical and unchildlike.

An odd little knave, Charles thought, and the air being now clear of coal dust he rode down the staith and peered into the keelboat, which was squat and broad. It had oars, one small furled sail, and a tiny cabin. The rest of the boat contained two keelmen busily spreading the dumped coals.

The keelmen each had red rags around their foreheads to keep sweat from their eyes, their grimy hair was plastered down save for a lovelock at each temple. The locks were twisted up in paper like horns. The men wore short, tight breeches and were naked to the waist. And they were black, a glistening black compounded of sweat and coal dust. Near as black as a Negro slave Charles had seen long ago in London. Charles stared and began to laugh.

The larger of the keelmen, a great brawny young man, jerked up his head. His eyes flashed blue between the sooty lids. "Gan awa'!" he cried to Charles. "Wha's thou think to be, a-nickering an' gawking at us!"

Charles's life had provided few comical sights, and he continued to chuckle at this one, nor did he quite understand the keelman's speech. The young keelman jumped from his boat to the staith, and advanced with his chin out. "Hast niver seen a keelman afore? Art wanting a brawl? Get off that nag, ye toad, and I'll show thee how much there's to laugh at in a keelman's fists!"

Charles controlled his mirth. "No offense," he said pleasantly. "But you do look like a couple of horned beetles heaving away in that coal."


Excerpted from "Devil Water"
by .
Copyright © 1962 Anya Seton Chase.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author’s Note xi
Part One 1
Part Two 101
Part Four 343
Part Five 417
Afterword 522

Early Eighteenth-Century Virginia

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Devil Water 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book leaves you wanting more. It is on the same level as Katherine in my opinion. This story has little to do with it's title. It is mainly about the real-life Charles Ratcliffe and his obsession/fight to put his royal cousin on the throne of England during the early 1700s. Because of Radcliffe's religion, he had to endure much. Along the way, he tries to enlist the support of his former fiance Betty Lee and his devoted daughter Jenny, who resides in colonial America at the time. This might be tragic. I won't give the ending away, but it is definitely well worth the read. It is also interesting to know that Ratcliffe was the last person to die for the Stuart cause in England. Trust me, this is one of the best books you will ever read by an outstanding author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
the Jacobite Rebellions have seldom been more poinient. James Derwentwater, doomed, proud and unrepetant goes to his death with honor. The book centers on his youngest brother, Charles, and his continued fight to avenge his brother's death and his struggles to assist as he can the lovely child born of his tyrst with a border lass. there is a good dollop of history, mixed with faciniating what if's and it is a fun read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
a heartbreaking story all the more because it's based on fact
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great early view of life in Virginia. And the great strugle to put King James Stuart back on the Thown of England
susanpenter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anya Seton once again delivers a fantastic novel, her level of historic research is not often matched. It is very rare that you find contemporary novels of this quality although there are contemporary novelists writing about historical era with the same passion and accuracy.
amandacb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Devil Water is a saga about a family living in Jacobean England. Charles Radcliffe and his older brother, James, the Earl, join a revolution to foist the German king from the throne of England and replace him with ¿the Pretender,¿ the ¿true king of England,¿ James. However, the rebellion is quashed and both brothers end up in prison. The rest of the novel covers Charles¿s prison escape, subsequent run on the lam, remarriage, and relationship with his child, Jenny.What I particularly liked about this novel is the ever-changing locale¿from the northern moors of England to the soot-swept streets of London to the brisk winds of Calais to the green-gilded lands of Virginia. The love story between Jenny and Rob is predictable and trite, and truly detracted from an otherwise epic saga. The relationship between the brothers is too swift and given far too little attention, as the dichotomy between "good" brother and "bad" brother is an interesting tension.Furthermore, another (rather minor) annoyance is the abundance of comma splices throughout the novel. For instance: ¿It might be that Betty had helped him, at least he was still alive, though that might also be chance, since a few other condemned Jacobites had not been summoned¿ (199) and ¿The Captain shouted his orders, the ship proceeded the mile and a half upriver to Harrison¿s Landing, which was as bustling as Westover¿s had been deserted¿ (352). Those are just a couple of examples in a book rife with them; however, if you¿re not a grammarian, these mistakes probably won¿t bother you.
Misfit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am so pleased that this author's novels are being reprinted, I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them, especially Katherine. This is a fascinating tale, based upon the Radcliffs of Derentwater (Devil Water), staunch catholics and loyal to the Stuart cause, and descended from Charles II via the wrong side of the blanket. Charles Radcliff, the younger brother has a secret marriage to a lower born woman who gives birth to the love of his life, his daughter Jenny. The story takes you from the moors of Northumberland to the Jacobite rebellion of '15 to the tobacco farms of Virginia, and back again to London for a nail biting finish after the final Jacobite rebellion and the battle at Culloden. Seton has a wonderful way of setting her scenes so that you can almost feel you are right there with it. I also enjoyed her way of writing different dialects (the Northumbrians, and the Virginia "twangs"), which definitely enhance the reading experience. All in all a higly entertaining read, and one I will pick up again and again over the years. It's not quite up to the same par as Katherine (that's a 10 star book in my rating) or the Winthrop Woman but definitely worth the time, especially for any lover of historical fiction.
bollix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A little tedious in the Jacobite sections, but the personal story makes up for it. Also, Anya Seton is very very thorough in her research.
jayne_charles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This began and ended quite well but I felt it sagged a bit in the middle like a bad souffle, and I found myself counting pages to the end. Some fascinating sections in the jail - it seemed if you were a member of the gentry and had enough money you could pretty much come and go as you pleased. Funny what you pick up in these historical novels.
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