From The Writers' Room Featuring Whitehall

Liz Duffy Adams and Delia Sherman on writing Whitehall Episode 10: “Our Hope Alone”

Liz: Hello, Delia. Shall we chat about some of our inspiration for the episode? The title is from a poem by John Dryden—it’s about Charles’s coronation, and includes the lines:

Nor is it duty, or our hope alone

Creates that joy, but full fruition

I must admit that I have not read the entire poem! But I thought those lines resonate, not only with Charles’s triumphant return from exile, but with the fraught process of birth. At the moment of our episode, both Catherine and Barbara are pregnant, and Jenny is presented with such a possible future—a momentous turning point for anyone but far more dangerous then, than in our present day. Here’s another quote (which we echo in our episode); it’s from “Birth, Marriage, and Death” by David Cressy:

“The late Stuart surgeon Robert Barret compared the womb to a ‘rough sea, in which the child floats for the space of nine months. The labour of delivery is the only port, but full of dangerous rocks.’”

Rough seas and dangerous rocks—alarming imagery!


Delia: Well, childbirth in that period was an alarming thing. Luckily for Barbara (and us, because too much gynecology—despite the popularity of Call the Midwife—can slow down a plot), she seems to have had an easy time of her births.

What I love about this episode is that it gave us a chance to show Charles being a king as well as a lover and a husband. Some years later, Rochester famously posted this on Charles’s bedroom door:

Here lies our mutton-eating king

Whose word no man relies on.

He never said a foolish thing,

Nor ever did a wise one.

By all accounts, Rochester exaggerated for effect, for history shows that Charles was not only witty, but perfectly capable of wisdom in his dealings with the ambitious and frequently unscrupulous men who populated his court. More rough seas and dangerous rocks there, only political.


Liz: Indeed, and to illustrate your point about Charles’s wit, his response to Rochester’s mockery was reported to have been, “Quite true, for my words are my own, but my actions are my ministers’.” Rather neat, I think.

And yes, the rough seas of politics. When we see Charles interrogating a spy in this episode, the Indemnity and Oblivion Act is raised, his general pardon for the crimes of the Civil War and the Interregnum—with some exceptions, in particular the dozen men directly responsible for his father’s execution. (We took the liberty of adding Lady Eleanor’s fictional father to that list.)

I love that we got to explore Charles’s thoughts on questions of justice and forgiveness. The echoes of 20th century Truth and Reconciliation ring out for me; the ever-arising need to make our peace with the past to create a better future. Our Lady Eleanor has been poisoned in a way by the opposite impulse, by a traumatic past that stays in the present. It has been almost literally starving her of life.


Delia:  As long as we’re talking about our purely fictional characters, I want to bring up Our Jenny.

I remember, way back when all of us were sitting around in my living room, talking about whose stories we wanted to be telling, that nobody was interested in just presenting the lives of the Great and Mighty. We wanted to represent the huge pyramid-base of men and women who did the things necessary to allow the court to exist: the cooks, the pages, the tailors, the people who fetched and carried and cleaned up after the king’s (numerous and generally un-housebroken) dogs. All of them have stories of their own, of course, but only one could occupy the foreground of our series. It made sense for her (we really wanted it to be a woman) to be English and close to the queen. In order to make this happen, we made her Spanish-speaking, the child of an English father and a Spanish mother and ambitious.

From those sketchy beginnings, Jenny bloomed into a real person. And again, historical fact was our friend. Servants married late—if at all, since very few nobles, at that period, would employ a married servant. An ambitious servant, especially a woman, could amass a comfortable nest-egg by picking a specialty and working her way up through the ranks. Jenny knows she’s been insanely lucky to be taken into the household of a queen, let alone a queen who speaks Portuguese and Spanish, with English a distant and hard-won third. She’s going to be conflicted about marrying, even the perfectly lovely Thom Hammet.


Liz: And maybe that’s where, in a way, Jenny is our most modern character. We can enter into the fantasy of what Catherine or Barbara or Charles’s lives were like, and maybe we enjoy that because of how fantastically different they were from our experience. But those of us who are not queens, kings, or countesses might find Jenny’s hard work and potentially hard choices a bit more familiar. I’m so glad we found her together, in your living room; I feel as though she’s a young friend we all know and root for.

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