Follow TV Tropes


Series / By The Sword Divided

Go To

“As a Fletcher and owing obedience and loyalty to my husband, according to my marriage vows, it seems I am now your enemy, rather than your child."
“How cruel and unnatural that sounds, put into words. The thought has caused me many sleepless nights, you may be sure. How many more devoted families throughout this land must find themselves divided by the sword?

An historical drama series broadcast by the BBC from 1983 to 1985. It was created by John Hawkesworth, who produced a certain other sweeping historical drama about a wealthy family and their servants.

Set during the seventeenth century, By The Sword Divided follows the fortunes of the noble Lacey family, their servants and their home, Arnescote Castle, through the English Civil War and the Interregnum. Sir Martin Lacey and his household are Royalists but his eldest daughter is married to John Fletcher, a leading figure in the Parliamentary cause. Family loyalty and political allegiances are put to the test through intrigue, battle, affairs and other adventures, occasionally involving historical figures from the period.


Tropes in By the Sword Divided include;

  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The Roundheads storm and capture Arnescote in the first series.
  • Anyone Can Die: As one might expect from a show set during one of the most violent periods in all British history, the body count is high and includes several major characters.
  • Arranged Marriage: Lucinda objects to her father making one for her. Later becomes a Perfectly Arranged Marriage when she gets to know him.
  • Badass Boast: Sir Martin delivers one when called upon to surrender Arnescote in 'Ring of Fire'.
    Surrender? That's a rebel word. I've never heard it.
  • Badass Bookworm: Averted with John Fletcher. He is given a lieutenant's commission in Parliament's army but he is soon relieved of command when it becomes clear that he is a hopeless soldier.
  • Break the Cutie: Lucinda is introduced as a Wide-Eyed Idealist who thinks that the war will be glorious. Over the course of the show she is hardened by her experiences and the Royalists' repeated defeats.
  • Advertisement:
  • Broken Bird: Anne and Lucinda, by the end of the show. Anne has lost her lover Horton, Lucinda has suffered a miscarriage and both have lost their husbands.
  • Burn the Witch!: The appropriately titled episode 'Witch Hunt', when a witch finder comes to Arnescote.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Sir Martin suffers one of these at the Battle of Edgehill.
  • Cavalry Officer: Tom and Hannibal Marsh. Also Sir Martin, before his aforementioned injury.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Hannibal Marsh in the second series. A major antagonist and the man responsible for the fall of Arnescote in the first series, he is not seen or referred to again.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Used by both sides. John Fletcher is tortured when captured by the Royalists, while Marsh's soldiers torture Mr. Cropper to try and learn where the castle's silver is.
  • Colonel Badass: Tom and Hannibal Marsh.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: In 'This War Without an Enemy', the gentlemen meeting at Arnescote are divided into the Royalists, dressed in bright colours, on Sir Martin's right and the Parliamentarians, dressed in sober black, on his left.
  • Conflicting Loyalty
  • Deadpan Snarker: Prince Rupert delivers a good one in 'A Silver Moon':
    And she forgot to curtsey [to the king]. It may yet cost us the war.
  • Defiant Captive: Anne protests strongly against Tom taking her to Arnescote, ostensibly to protect her from the deserters sacking her home. She is even less impressed when she realises that Sir Martin intends to use her as a hostage should the Parliamentarians try to attack Arnescote.
  • Dirty Coward: Reverend Butterworth
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Sir Martin canes Lucinda for running away and refusing to marry Lord Edward. Anne also threatens her son with this when he's caught brawling with the village boys.
  • Driven to Suicide: Hugh, at the revelation that he is Sir Martin's bastard.
  • Duel to the Death: Tom provokes Horton into challenging him to one.
  • During the War
  • Flynning: Partially averted. The extras do this a lot in the battle scenes but sword fights between named characters are usually choreographed in a more 'realistic' manner.
  • Four-Star Badass: Major General Horton. Oliver Cromwell and Prince Rupert are both real life examples.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Anne has an affair with Major General Horton after becoming estranged from John. John blames himself for the estrangement and does not confront her about it but Tom uses the affair as a pretext to challenge Horton to a duel.
    • Susan Protheroe sleeps with Hannibal Marsh in the hope of receiving his protection. She is not happy when she discovers that he has a wife back home and never had any intention of taking Susan with him.
  • Great Offscreen War: All the major battles of the wars, as well as Tom's campaigns in the Netherlands.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: While the Royalist Laceys and their servants make up the majority of the protagonists, the show is even-handed in its treatment of the war. There are heroes and villains on both sides and, in the end, everybody suffers.
  • Historical Domain Character: Charles I, Charles II, Oliver Cromwell, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Anthony Van Dyk and John Pym all appear.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Prince Rupert. In the show he is presented as a charming and gallant soldier, with no reference to his reckless aggression or habit of violently sacking enemy towns.note  Potentially Justified because we only see him away from the battlefield and through the eyes of the Laceys, his friends and allies.
  • Honor Before Reason: When Tom discovers Royalist deserter Captain Black molesting Anne in her bedchamber Tom challenges him to a duel, even going so far as to hand Black the sword he had left outside. Made even more illogical when Anne reveals that she had a pistol all along and had intended to shoot Black.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Sir Martin. He regards both King Charles and parliament as stubborn and arrogant. He laments that they have dragged England into a civil war but remains determined to do his duty to the king.
  • Last Stand: Sir Martin is killed leading the garrison of Arnescote in one after the Parliamentarians storm the walls.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: The cast includes two noble families and their household servants, as well as their allies and recurring enemies.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Susan Protheroe, who combines this with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Unlike her more principled relatives, she will do anything she can to survive.
  • Nice Hat: It's set in The Cavalier Years. What do you expect?
  • Noble Fugitive: Both Charles I and Charles II visit Arnescote as this. Tom and Edward Ferrar are also this for most of the second series.
  • Off with His Head!: The fate of King Charles I.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: During the siege of Arnescote, Captain Leckie fires a gun to salute Lucinda and Edward as they return from their wedding in the church. He then rather spoils the celebration by firing case shot over the walls, killing a defender and breaking the windows in the great hall.
  • The Patriarch: Sir Martin. His memory continues to influence his children even after his death.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: For the noble women, at least.
  • Put on a Bus: Goodwife Margaret after it is revealed that she slept with Sir Martin and Hugh is their bastard offspring. She leaves Arnescote in disgrace and is not heard from again.
  • Storming the Castle: In 'The Edge of the Sword' Tom and his cavalry troop must sneak into Arnescote to attack the Parliamentarians who are occupying it.
  • Suicide Mission: In 'Ring of Fire', Captain Leckie takes the opportunity to lead the forlorn hope and place a petard on the castle gate in order to redeem himself for losing a cannon earlier in the siege. Not only does he survive, he breaches the castle gate and helps force the surrender of Arnescote. Marsh recommends him for promotion.
  • Swashbuckler: Shares some tropes with this genre but leans too close to the Cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism to be considered part of it.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: In 'A Silver Moon' Lucinda dresses up as a boy to smuggle a shipment of silver to Oxford.
  • Sword Fight: Tom engages in several over the course of the show.
  • Turn Coat: Sam Saltmarsh, Susan Protheroe and Sir Ralph Winter all abandon the Royalist cause.
  • War Is Hell: The show does not shy away from the darker side of the wars, including torture, the execution of civilians and the general misery of living through a civil war.
  • World of Ham: Some of the performances would not be out of place in Blackadder but the show is no less enjoyable for it.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: