Magic in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

Folio 20v from Thomas Norton The Ordinall of A...
Folio 20v from Thomas Norton The Ordinall of Alchemy England: c.1550-1600 MS Ferguson 191 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am working on a project at the moment to improve my understanding of the beliefs towards magic in the Middle Ages – specifically fourteenth century England, where I set much of my historical fantasy. I would like to know more about what people of this time thought about magic.

One of my first stops is to look at some of the references to magic in the literature of the time – so where better to start than the best known writer of the time, Geoffrey Chaucer.

I am going to look in more depth in this series of blog posts at each

example, but I am starting here with a quick summary of the instances I have found so far in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

How am I defining references to magic? I am not including stories set in antiquity where pagan gods intervene on behalf of the characters, such as the Knight’s Tale where Saturn causes the death of Arcite. Neither am I including purely supernatural interventions of the devil – such as the Pardoner’s Tale. If someone summons a demon that’s fine, but I don’t think there’s actual magic in the Pardoner’s Tale.

Here are the tales that I have found so far with major examples of magic in their narratives:

Canon Yeoman’s Tale

The Canon Yeoman actually assists his own master in the practice of alchemy and the whole of his tale focuses on that magical art in quite a lot of detail. I’m looking forward to digging into this one in more depth as it should reveal quite a bit about the practice of alchemy in fourteenth century England.

 Wife of Bath’s Tale

A man is fooled into thinking he is about to meet 24 maidens, but they magically disappear to be replaced by an old hag – a witch effectively.

Friar’s Tale

On the way to extort money from a widow, the Summoner encounters a yeoman who is apparently down on his luck. The two men swear brotherhood to each other and exchange the secrets of their respective trades, the Summoner recounting his various sins in a boastful manner. The yeoman reveals that he is actually a demon, to which the Summoner expresses minimal surprise—he enquires as to various aspects of hell and the forms that demons take.

This could be a bit like the Pardoner’s Tale, but I’m including as the medieval practice of necromancy involved the summoning of demons.

Squire’s Tale

This tale includes a number of magical items such as a brass steed that can teleport, a mirror that can detect enemies and friends, a ring that allows the wearer to talk to birds and a sword that deals and heals deadly wounds. Also the tale includes a digression on astrology.

Franklin’s Tale

Aurelius needs to remove all the rocks on the coast of Brittany in order to win the hand of a lady. He does this by employing a magician.

***

I am planning to do a blog post for each of the examples above to look into the portrayal of magic in more depth.

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Field of Glory – Choosing a Medieval Army – Castile

If you don’t play this rather niche PC conversion of a tabletop wargame, then please look away now! I do and I love it. Always have liked wargaming since I was a kid and Field of Glory Digital hits all the right buttons for me. I was a bit doubtful at first because of the hex layout, but I have fallen in love with it now.

I took part in one of the Field of Glory leagues recently, and have just been invited to take part in another one. Last time I had a late Roman army – lots of cataphracts and horse archers alongside doughty legions. I got whipped pretty much – only winning 1 or 2 games out of 10!

Undeterred, this time round I’m thinking of trying my hand at the High Medieval league. I’m thinking of going for a Spanish army – such as the Castilians or Aragonese. What attracts me is the mix of unusual troop types – such as light cavalry jinetes, alongside more traditional knights, spearmen and crossbows. I have been doing some test battles recently – trying to fend off Swiss and Low Country pike armies to see how the proposed Castilian army matches up. With these Field of Glory leagues it seems that you really have to know how to use your army effectively – the AI is quite good, but can usually be beaten, so I’m doing some test runs at the moment to see how well I can do with my medieval horde plus jinetes before committing my choice of armies to the league.

I am also tempted though to play the masochist and try out a French army – you know the ones who kept on getting beaten up by the English. More on this soon!

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Capture_Jean_II

Free Historical Fiction: Stonehearted 2: Chapter 7

First look at chapter 7 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.

Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.

Chapter 7

 

Wulf sniffed. He knelt from where they lay amongst the bracken on the edge of the wood and peered back into the trees. “I can smell piss,” he hissed. “Louis, go and tell them to stop pissing. If there’s someone standing next to a tree and tinkling then the English might see him. Or worse smell the bastard.”

Louis nodded and, leaving his heavy cross bow where he had been crouching next to Wulf, he made his way along the lines of French soldiers, keeping his body low trying not to raise it above the level of the abundant bracken on the edge of the woodland.

He could smell the piss as well, but he didn’t see any men standing. All of the men were crouched down as they had been ordered to, their weapons hidden. Piss wasn’t the only thing he could smell. There was fear there as well. These weren’t fighting men who were ready for what might happen in a battle.

The company of men that Wulf had been given to command were a motley collection. Mostly poorer men of the militia drawn from the town of Domont, and the rest were peasant’s levied from the Sire de Bognac’s manors that stood in the direct path of the English march on Paris. Perhaps eighty men at all, armed with sharp farm tools, scythes, pitchforks for the peasants, and poor spears and knives for the militia. The townsmen’s richer neighbours, those who could afford armour, swords and polearms had joined the Sire de Bognac and his retainers on the field before them.

As he caught his breath behind a tree, he noticed one of the militia glance at him. A young lad, probably an apprentice of only fourteen, not much more. Louis sniffed again. “You?” he whispered.

The lad blushed and looked away.

Louis crawled over to him and grabbed him by the arm. “Heh, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. All men feel scared before a fight.”

“But we don’t stand a chance,” said the lad. “Won’t we all die?”

“Where did you get that foolishness from?”

“Some of the lads that what they said. They said stay at the back, so you can stand a chance of running off as soon as you can. That’s the only way to live, they said.”

“Don’t listen to them. We have a plan.”

“But the English … There’s so many of them.”

“Don’t the English bleed as well? And don’t forget its them who will be attacking. Many will be killed by arrows, and then when they’re busy with the Sire de Bognac’s men, we’ll take them by surprise. It will be easy. Like killing dumb animals. It’s cruel almost.”

The lad looked up towards the field. “See how many there are, though. There’s hundreds of them.

Louis looked as well. It was time for him to get back to Wulf’s side, to load a bolt on his crossbow. A party of English were mounting up and forming into some sort of line to attack. Not all them, thank Christ, but perhaps a hundred or so at least. If only they had more archers. They could play havoc with the horses by shooting them from under the English. The same kind of trick that the English bowmen were fond of playing on French knights in the past.

It took him perhaps a minute to crawl to where Wulf was positioned at the centre of the hidden company. Wulf glared at him as he moved his crossbow aside to crouch down next to the big mercenary.

“You were gone a long time.”

“Raising the spirits of the lads,” Louis replied.

“As long as they at least raise their weapons to the enemy that will be good enough,” Wulf replied.

He’s getting talkative as this goes on, Louis thought. They hadn’t spoken much on their ride out of Montdidier, but Louis felt like he was getting to know, and even like, the gruff soldier.

The English were starting to move. The mounted men were urging their horses forward across the field, and Louis could also see some others on foot coming up behind them. Archers perhaps. Louis remembered his own crossbow and grabbed a bolt from his quiver and placed it in the groove for it. He’d have to stand or perhaps lie on his back with his leg and the crossbow in the air to pull the rope back.

Wulf glanced at him and shook his head. “Sword or axe better. If you shoot into the melee you could kill one of ours.

With reluctance, Louis put the crossbow to one side. He covered it with some bracken. He didn’t want anyone stealing it. Instead he took the axe from his belt and drew his sword. Two weapons were better that one, surely.

Wulf looked at him again and shook his head again, but he was smiling this time. “Quite the hero now,” he murmured, but didn’t offer any more advice. Wulf gripped his own weapon, a short spear with a wicked long curved blade and spike at its point, and a tough iron butt at the base. Louis had watched Wulf practicing with it the day before and had been impressed with the skill with which the mercenary handled it, using both ends to attack the stuffed dummy on which he trained.

The English horsemen were trotting now, and were couching their lances and pointing them at the French before them. They weren’t waiting for the men on foot behind them. There would be no deadly volley of arrows from the English war bows to soften up the French lines. Louis could see the French soldiers bracing themselves for the charge, their own spears and pole-arms being held to form a pin cushion of points to deflect the English attack. A few men with crossbows fired off their bolts as the English horsemen came in. They might get another round off, perhaps, if they loaded far enough. The English were still coming slowly at a trot, but when they came within perhaps fifty yards they spurred their horses into a gallop. The sight was impressive and terrifying.

“Old-style,” muttered Wulf. “Let’s see if it still works.”

“There’s more of the English,” said Louis. “They’ll come round the sides of the Sire de Bognac’s company.”

Wulf nodded. “And that’s when we’ll have at them. We’ll need to be quick though. It could be over quickly.”

But it didn’t work out like that. As the English charged, over the space of what seemed like ages, but was perhaps only a minute, one, then two and then three of the Sire de Bognac’s company dropped their spears and ran from the back of the formation. They were militia, not experienced in fighting. The Sire’s retainers in the front ranks held their ground, but realised what was happening behind them. Their rear ranks were melting away.

“God-damn!” grunted Wulf. “The charge is working. These were our best men, but still green as spring grass.”

“We’ve got to help them,” hissed Louis.

“Do you think this lot have any chance at all against that?”

The English cavalry was now upon the French line and most of the militia and some of the Sire’s retinue had already broken. The rest were simply swallowed up by a sea of armoured English men-at-arms. The horses didn’t ride over the Frenchmen left—no horse however well trained would plunge itself straight onto a spear or spiked pole-arm—but instead went to the side of the small pockets and individuals left. The English jabbed lances at them and then drew swords, maces and axes to chop down at the French on the ground. It was not long before the Sire and his men yielded in surrender.

Those that had fled were ridden down by some of the more enthusiastic English, skewered in the back or knocked over by a warhorse. But for many the English didn’t bother to pursue. Those who fled were not nobility and they would fetch only a pitiful ransom. Instead the militia plunged through the woods where Wulf’s company hid. Wading through the bracken. “Save yourselves! Flee!” shouted one man as he came past.

Wulf stood. “I hate to agree, but he’s right. There’s nothing to do be done here. Let’s go.”

***

If you want to read the first volume of StoneheartedBy the Sword’s Edge, then click here.

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By The Sword's Edge Cover

Read some Free Fiction – samples of Hell has its Demons and By the Sword’s Edge

If you would like to read some free fiction from me then the Prologue and first two chapters from Hell has its Demons are now available – see the links on the Free Fiction page, or go to the page for Hell has its Demons.

You can also read the first two chapters of By the Sword’s Edge for free as well – again check out the Free Fiction page or the page for By the Sword’s Edge.

Regular readers of this blog will also remember that I am posting early draft chapters of the second volume of Stonehearted online – the sequel to By the Sword’s Edge. You can find a link to those chapters on the Free Fiction page and also by clicking here.

 

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Hell has its Demons

Review of Hell has its Demons at SFcrowsnest

Hell has its DemonsThe wonderful SFcrowsnest has published a review of my historical fantasy novel Hell has its Demons!

Here’s an excerpt from from the review:

What I enjoy most about Mark Lord’s writing is that he manages to convey a sense of period without knocking the reader over the head with detail. His settings feel authentic without being manufactured. The dialogue of his characters is perfectly readable and feels natural, as do their actions.

Click here to read the whole review. And to check out Hell has its Demons go here!

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Medieval Scotish castle, near Isle of Skye, called Eilean Donan

In Search of Historical Fantasy

 

Medieval
Medieval (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

I think that I may have a problem as a writer. Hopefully not in the quality of what I do, but in the choice of one of the genres that I like to write in. I do write mostly historical or fantasy fiction, and quite often what I enjoy most is to write historical fantasy. However, I think there’s a problem with that.

The problem is that Historical Fantasy (note switch to capital letters – to provide some more gravitas) is a slippery genre to define. If you check out the listings at online retailers or on places like Goodreads – or reader discussions online – then you realise that Historical Fantasy means different things to different people – and don’t get me started on Wikipedia.

The issue is that my definition, I believe, doesn’t match with that of some others. For me Historical Fantasy should be a piece of fiction actually taking place in an historical setting. So for instance, for my Hell has its Demons story, the setting is Fourteenth Century England. I then add in fantastical elements – basically demons and magic in my story are real.

Yet it seems for other people – and for those genre listings on online retailers particularly – the genre is in fact anything that has a vague historical tinge to it. So you get books by Tad Williams, G R R Martin, Brent Weeks, Michael J Sullivan and Joe Abercrombrie all appearing. If you then look at the sub-genre of Medieval Fantasy – which I think I’m writing in, then you get pretty much the whole Epic Fantasy genre. I just can’t understand how those books muscle into my ghetto and claim historical/medieval definitions!

But another issue with the genre, even if you take a stricter view of it, is that it is a bit of a mash-up. There’s no Historical Fantasy section in traditional bookshops or libraries. There’s actually not that many well known authors/books in the genre. I would say a handful really still writing – Gabaldon, Novik. Susanna Clarke – who wrote what I would say is the defining book of recent Historical Fiction – doesn’t seem to be producing anything new at all, which is a great shame.

So in a sense I am writing in a genre without much of a real fan base. But hey, maybe that’s a good thing! I think there is a desire for this kind of fiction, and it would be great to see it better defined and promoted by the big retailers – kick out the second-world fantasy that includes armour and swords please!

 

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1537_Braunschweiger_Monogrammist_Bordellszene_anagoria

Free Historical Fiction: Stonehearted 2: Chapter 6

1537_Braunschweiger_Monogrammist_Bordellszene_anagoriaFirst look at chapter 6 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.

Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.

Chapter 6

She knew that she probably only had a few days before someone would come looking for her. Word would spread that the daughter of Sir Henry d’Aubray had run away, and that word would be carried around England and taken overseas on ships from the Eastern ports, and end up in Calais soon enough. Calais being just an extension of the English kingdom.

But that suited her. If she could spend as little time as possible in the garrison port that would not disappoint her.

“How much?” she had said, startled, when she enquired the price of a room at one of the many inns in the town. The rates were double the amount one would pay in Lynn, and seemed higher than London even.

The tight-lipped Madam of the inn with whom she spoke merely crossed her arms and shrugged. “C’est le prix, à prendre ou à laisser.” That’s the price, take it or leave it.

Eolande had left it, hoping that other inns would be cheaper. Down the long street through Calais she walked. Carts of wool trundled past her, kicking up clouds of dust as they went, on their way to the Staple warehouses to be weighed and taxed by English customs officials, having been off-loaded from ships that morning. It was afternoon now, and she wanted to find somewhere soon so she could start asking around after her father. There were plenty of soldiers here who might have served with him on campaign or garrison duty.

But she didn’t like the way that she was leered at as she walked. There were too many men here. Many more men than women. The soldiers of the garrison accounted it seemed for half the male population, every other man she saw wore mail, carried some sort of weapon and had the badge of St. George on their clothing somewhere. And many of the others were sailors or traders from England linked to the wool trade who’s only legal export was through the port of Calais.

Each man who walked or rode past her looked at her. She tried to keep her eyes on the path in front of her, and sometimes looked up at the signs to see if there was another inn. But she could still hear their shouts and whistles. “Just a kiss, love. Heh, Beauty, I’m in love!” And worse than that, words that she didn’t even know.

None of the inns were any cheaper. Some of the prices were going up even. She was near the castle and the town hall and the larger houses of the town merchants. This was no good, she wouldn’t find a cheap room here.

Two women passed her. That was unusual. She had seen some women walking the streets. Servants, wives of shop-keepers on errands, women selling food and pies from stalls in the streets. Most of them middle-aged, older craggy  or saggy faced women. Not young. Not enough to draw the attention of the soldiers and sailors.

But these two who had walked past her were young, probably about her own age. They walked fast, their heads were covered like hers and they wore plain woollen clothes, but as they went on Eolande’s nostrils caught the smell of roses. These young women were wearing perfume. She turned and watched where they went. They turned down an alley. Eolande followed.

They walked perhaps half way along and then knocked at a door. After a few seconds the door was opened and they entered. Before the door swung shut again, Eolande could hear music and laughter spill out from within. And then all was quiet again. She walked on and approached the door. There were windows on either side of the door, both shuttered, but slivers of orange light seeped out between the cracks in the wood. Eolande gazed at the door. She tried to make out what kind of house this was. Who lived here? The women had looked modest enough. Were they craft-workers? Perhaps this was an artisan’s workshop? But the music?

Then she spotted it. It was right before her, carved all over the wood of the door, and now she realised on the wooden shutters as well. A goose in elaborate and finely worked carving deep in the wood. It had covered such a large area that she hadn’t spotted it at first. Without thinking she took a step back and fingered the ring on her finger that acted as pretend wedding band. She’d never seen such a place, but she knew they existed. There were some in Lynn, she thought, and in London the whole of Southwark was full of stews owned by the Bishop of Winchester. The Bishop’s Geese they called the whores there. Such a place was not illegal, but the good burghers of any town would not want a brothel on their doorstep, so in London they were away from the city across the great river, and in Lynn and here, the establishment was hidden away, disguised, but less than a bowshot away from the respectability of the richest in the town.

She looked up and down the alley. There was no one else about at this time. No doubt in the evening when men had more drink in them they would be coming in groups to take their pleasure here. There would probably be some of the same type of men who’d been leering at her on the street inside now, unable to control their lusts and with spare coin to pay for their relief. The thought made her heart pound. These men would be soldiers. Perhaps some of them were back from campaign or raiding and might have heard word of her father. Where else would they be more at ease and perhaps willing to talk than when their trousers were round their legs and their pathetic member would lead them to do anything.

Eolande slipped the ring off her finger and put it in her bag. She pulled her shoulders back and pushed up her bosom, held in her stomach, practiced a smile and knocked on the door.

***

If you want to read the first volume of StoneheartedBy the Sword’s Edge, then click here.

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Writer

What to do when your writing gets stuck

Writing
Writing (Photo credit: pedrosimoes7)

It happens to all writers, I am sure, but for a beginning writer like me it’s probably the main problem I face. I get into a project, start off with enthusiasm, but then at some stage I hit a wall. It tends not to be a “Writer’s Block”, whatever that means, but more a waning of enthusiasm, or a feeling that I would rather be writing about something else. Perhaps I should ditch what I am currently writing and start on another project that might be more interesting?

I think the problem here is just being able to stick at something for the long haul and not give up. Even if you feel like what you are writing is not the best thing ever, it is probably going to help you more as a writer to actually finish the damn thing rather than to stop a third or half of the way through. After all you can always go back and revise your first draft.

So how can you keep motivated and kick start your writing project again. Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Remember Heinlein’s Rules – #2 of which is to Finish What You Start. A professional writer finishes stuff and then makes it better afterwards.
  2. Revise your outline for the rest of the book – if you’re an outliner. Perhaps the reason that you are losing enthusiasm is that what you have to write doesn’t excite you any more. Freshen up the plot and get back your enthusiasm.
  3. If you’re a pantser then consider getting an outline to see you through to the end. This is my problem when writing without an outline – the initial part of the book goes well but then I have no idea where it is going and I despair. A brief outline can provide motivation by giving you a possible ending. You can always change it as you write and come up with better ideas – in true pantsing style!
  4. Read what you have already written. You might find that its not half bad and it will also give you a reminder of why you started writing it in the first place.
  5. Keep putting words down and don’t switch your focus to something else. Your new baby will suddenly take all your attention and you’ll end up where you started from.

I am going to try all of the above right now!

 

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5 Ways to Make Sure You Write Every Day

every day is a struggle and i want to give in,

I think that writing every day is one of the best ways to stay motivated if you are a writer. But that’s a hard thing to do and the demand to write every day could weigh you down.

Here’s five tips that I find useful for making sure you do write every day:

  1. Have a regular writing time. In the morning is great because then you know you have definitely done some writing during the day. You can always do a bit more writing later if you have time. If you just can’t write in the morning then choose another time when you won’t have too many distractions.
  2. Remember that you write because you enjoy it. Dean Wesley Smith has an excellent post about this – we write because we enjoy don’t we? So try not to forget that and have fun with it. Don’t think of it as a chore – although some days it may feel like it!
  3. Don’t worry about what you actually write. Neil Gaiman says that he thinks of everything he writes as a really rough draft so he just gets on and puts the words down without worrying too much about them. If you’re not stressed about quality the words will

    come easier and you’ll end up being able to start writing and write more.

  4. Don’t take time off for the holidays! Just because its the weekend, you’re travelling etc doesn’t mean you can’t spend twenty minutes or more doing a little writing. Learn to write in a notebook, tablet or even a smartphone. Don’t break the habit. Once you do you may lose track of the story you’re telling or forget how much you enjoy writing.
  5. Don’t despair you miss a day! It happens. You get ill or there’s a crisis. Just try to write again as soon as you can, even if it’s just a few words so that you get back into the habit.

Hope these tips help someone – I’m always trying to remember them myself!

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