The Roses of Eyam by Don Taylor an accurate portrayal of how the villages of a small village situated in Derbyshire called Eyam coped with the arrival of the plague in 1665.
In the civil war Charles I had little understanding of Scotland. The Scottish church was Presbyterian (it was against having bishops.) Charles I tried to force the Scots to follow English forms of worship. In 1638 the Scots drew up a petition, the national covenant, rejecting his demands. Charles I went to war with the covenanters in 1639 and 1640, but was forced to make peace. Charles I now tried to come to an agreement with the English parliament, but failed. In 1647 he fled to the isle of white. He made a secret deal with his former enemies in Scotland, promising them the reforms they desired. The Scots marched on England and there were royalist risings in Wales, too. However all were defeated and by 1649 Charles was imprisoned. On 30 January 1649, Charles I was marched from saint James’s palace to Whitehall. At one o’clock the king stepped to the scaffold. When the axe had fallen, his head was shown to the ranks of soldiers and the crowd.
The nation was now republic. The parliament ruled the land instead of a king or queen. It governed through a council of state, made up of 40 members. However as far as the army was concerned, parliament was much too cautious in its reforms. In 1653 power was handed over to one man, Oliver Cromwell, who was appointed lord protector. His rule was harsh but effective. He attempted to bring in military rule, and in 1556 he was even offered the crown. Oliver Cromwell died on a stormy night in 1658. His son Richard (know as ‘tumbledown dick’) was made lord protector, but had little taste for power. The revolution was over.
After eleven years of Oliver Cromwell and his puritan government, Charles II is restored to the throne. In the village of eyam, the tensions created by the civil war continue, and an uneasy peace has settled over the village. Then a deadly disease arrives and the play tells us of how it took the lives of many innocent villagers. The plague was supposedly brought into Eyam by a man called George Vicars. He came to Eyam in August, 1665 and found lodging with a lead miner’s widow called Mary Cooper. Around the end of August a box of material was sent to him. Tradition says that it came from London. When he opened the box, he found that the clothes were damp and so he laid them out to dry. The disease struck quickly and within about 5 or 6 days of his first symptoms, Vicars died.15 days later, Edward Cooper, son of Mary Cooper, also died, quickly followed by several of their neighbours. Now the villagers knew that a deadly disease was spreading, and that they could not escape it.
William Mompesson, the new rector of Eyam, asked the villagers to stay in the village in fear of the infection spreading. Food parcels were delivered to the boundaries of the village, and the villagers would collect them from there. They were paid for by coins which were dipped in vinegar to disinfect them. The grim task of burying the dead fell to the village sexton and the victims were often buried hurriedly in graves which were scattered around the village. Usually there was no funeral service, for gatherings of people were discouraged for fear of spreading the infection. When the plague ended in 1666, eyam had a population of approximately 73, 277 people had died.
The recently appointed rector William Mompesson, who I have already mentioned, moved to the village with his family, his wife Catherine and two children of four and five and he is looking upon it as a positive step. He is a well educated man who has spent 10 years at Cambridge.
“My intelligence could have made me a civil servant or a diplomat…I chose Christ because of a vision…In eyam I shall lay the first foundation of God’s house…”
He is first shown around the village by his patron, George Saville who thinks the village itself is bleak. He gives Mompesson advice that 200 people n the village are still friends with the former rector so they are his enemies
“Thomas Stanley… he was the old rector here under Cromwell… there are about three hundred and fifty people in this village perhaps two hundred of them are still his friends; which means that they’re your enemies”
“It will be a real test, William, don’t undervalue it”
Shortly after his arrival he has his first meeting with the former rector. It takes place at a wake being held for Emmot and Rowland’s wedding. The stage directions used when Stanley enters gives us a description of him and what he used to do:
“Thomas Stanley enters. He is a rather down-at-heel looking puritan preacher in his fifties, an imposing man with a mane of white hair, seeming to bring on stage with him, in his very appearance, a memory of the puritan revolution at its most positive and idealistic stage.”
Stanley is very bitter towards mompesson, when he introduces himself. He immediately dismisses any thing the new rector says.
“Then you will have learned that there is Wright and wrong and that oil and vinegar in the same jar won’t mix without a beating. You build your palace and I will build mine, and let god decide which of us has constructed a tomb. My thanks for your kindness sir”
shortly after this meeting there is word that George vicars has become sick and the village seem scared and now do seem to look up to mompesson more because they are scared.
Mompesson is unsure about seeing the sick villager but eventually goes to see him. Once mompesson has realised it is the plague he talks to his wife about leaving but she reassures him and tells him to stick it out and do all he can to help.
This is where we are first introduced to Catharine properly and through out the play she supports he husband but she had a turning point in act three. She is having doubts and is worried about her children as they are only four and five and she doesn’t want them to die.
“…must I go in to our children and say to them, my darlings, you’re only four and five , but your father says you must be strong, so if you die neat week without having had any life you mustn’t mind, because that’s what god wants…”
Also at the time of this conversation we have an example of stage craft as there are two conversations at the same time. His one between mompesson and Catherine and Stanley having second thoughts about shutting up the village. However both of these are resolved as mompesson decides to send his children away and Stanley talks to mompesson about his doubts and they are resolved.
As we reach the end of the play all of these characters have changed in a way. Stanley decides to put aside his dislike for the new rector and helped to rid the village of the plague. Mompesson had doubts at the beginning and thought about leaving but he stuck it out and helps to get rid of the plague, and Catherine is very positive at the beginning supporting mompesson but even she shows she has doubts about the village.