Category Archives: Medieval History

Time’s Arrow – Free Excerpt

Following on from my posts about Time’s Arrow and the cover reveal, here’s a free excerpt from my new short story.

I hope you enjoy the read and if you do stay tuned for details about how you can buy a copy of the story.

Times’s Arrow by Mark Lord

William Chan punched the number 1415 into the time machine. And followed it with the month of October and the day was 25. St. Crispin’s Day, 1415. The Battle of Agincourt. He breathed deeply, feeling the blood pump through his veins. He looked down at what he wore. A leather jerkin with a white badge and a red cross sown above his heart, green legged-hose, leather boots, a buckler shield, arrows stuffed into his belt and held together by a piece of rope on his right hip and a sword in a scabbard on his left. He stepped forward onto the central plate in the chamber of the machine. He adjusted the helmet strap under his chin and pealed back the woolen sleeve covering his wrist. He kept his finger pressed on a small button on the small black device strapped there and waited until the L.E.D. showed the time he wanted. Nine o’clock. Just half an hour, he hoped, before the first French attack. That should give him enough time to get a good vantage of the battle from the cover of the woods.  

A green light flashed on the device, waiting for him. He pressed another button and held it down until the green light stopped flashing and was a solid green. 

# 

The G.P.S. should have placed him perfectly into the woods where he could watch undisturbed. But it didn’t. He was standing in a ploughed field behind a large mass of men. They were archers like him, like he was pretending to be. They were all facing away from him and most were busy with large stakes of wood, driving them with mallets or pushing them, getting their whole weight behind them so that they sank into the earth. They were building an impenetrable fence between themselves and the French mounted knights. A single line of stakes, William noted, not stakes in front of each man reaching in every ranks. That was one question answered. 

“Archer! Where’s your bow? Find it and get into the ranks.” 

William turned. Behind him was a grey-bearded man-at-arms riding a huge horse. He waved a rod at William and pointed towards the archers in front of them. 

“Deserters will be hung.” The man nudged the flanks of his horse with his plate armored heals and the beast moved threateningly towards William. Just then there was a blast of a trumpet and the man looked towards his right, towards the centre of the English army. 

William looked too. There he could see what he knew was a pitifully small number of dismounted men-at-arms. He couldn’t make them out properly across the flat field, but he knew that arrayed in the centre of the English army there would be three units, or battles, of men-at-arms; a mix of belted knights, squires and common soldiers, anyone with enough money to afford proper armor and the horses that were required. But the English men-at-arms hardly ever fought on horseback these days. Their usual strategy was to dismount and wait for their French enemies to attack. The English archers positioned on the flanks would pepper the approaching French hordes with arrows, breaking up their formations and then the English, hopefully fighting with the advantage of a hill or from behind some prepared defenses would break the enemy with their pole-axes, their cut-down lances and their swords. And here, near the small chateau of Agincourt, would occur the epitome of the English victory against the odds. Only a thousand English men-at-arms, with perhaps four thousand archers arrayed in support on the flanks, all hungry and tired from a desperate march across northern France and many suffering from the rigors of dysentery, their bowels opening without any self-control. This rag-tag of an army against the pride of French chivalry, over ten thousand men-at-arms on foot, drawn up in three great lines of attack with a thousand mounted men-at-arms on the flanks ready to disperse the English archers. But what should have been forlorn hope for the English was to be their greatest victory, with only 112 dead they would leave seven thousand French dead on the field and within five years Henry V, the English King, would have forced them into a peace that would hand him the crown of France upon the death of King Charles VI of France. 

William licked his lips. It was an amazing prospect, and no-one from the 22nd century had ever seen it before. 

The trumpet blared again and the man on horseback turned his horse to watch. William looked across at the banners. He could see one massive banner of cloth bearing Henry’s arms, the leopards of England quartered with the fleur-de-lis of France. He watched as the banner was raised up in the air and pointed forward. Battlefield signaling in action. Something else to add to his research paper. Another first for him. 

“For flip’s sake,” growled the horseman. “We’ve only just got the bloomin’ stakes in.” William’s universal translator earpiece not only parsed Middle English, Old French and Latin into modern English, but it also, annoyingly, took most of the fun out of the swearing. 

William was no longer important to the man on the horse. William watched him ride away, taking another mental note of the man’s arms that he could now more clearly on the back of his surcoat as he rode away from him towards the unit of archers. A green shield with a number of white blobs inside it –probably representing birds. Most likely, this was Sir Thomas Erpingham, charged with commanding both wings of archers. He would be a busy man that day. 

William had nearly been caught out. But now he could make his way towards the woods and a safe place to watch the action. It had never been his intention to stand with either of the armies (especially not the French)—much too dangerous! And besides, from in the middle of the melee, would he really see much of what was going on? But a soldier’s disguise would help him get near enough. Even if he was to pose as an archer in the ranks (perhaps the least dangerous role on the English side), he would soon be shown up—there were no yew trees left in the 22nd century and his upper body muscles were certainly not strong enough to use one of the great English war-bows. 

In front of him the archers were pulling their stakes out of the ground. They would march forward several hundred yards until they were in bow range of the French and plant their stakes again and then goad the French into attacking. And the rest would be history. William walked towards the woods on the western side of the field directly to the left of the formation of archers which faced the French army in the north. He didn’t run to get his position. There was too much to take in. It was not a simple task for the archers to pull-up the stakes they had just hammered into the ground and he noticed that many were giving up. He watched one man slip in the mud as the stake he was pulling came free. The archer landed on his backside. The men around him laughed and William couldn’t help but smile. 

But the man didn’t seem to notice his comrades laughing. As he regained his feet he was staring straight at William. 

“Oi! What are you looking at?” 

William looked away and started walking quickly towards the woods. 

“You, come here!” 

TO BE CONTINUED

For a Life Forgotten – Volume 3 of Stonehearted – Now Available for Pre-Order!

Volume 3 of Stonehearted, my action adventure series set in the Hundred Years War, is now available to pre-order in eBook format!

As a reminder the previous volumes are:

By the Sword’s Edge (Vol 1)

By Fire and Sword (Vol 2)

For a Life Forgotten by Mark Lord

When the cut from the blade runs deep – You need a heart of Stone

The English army commanded by Robert Knolles has reached Paris – the capital and the honour of the French kingdom is under threat. But against the backdrop of war another drama plays out – will Eolande find her father, who was captured by the French? Will Richard seek the redemption he seeks after the terrible killing of his brother, and what will be the fate of the amoral Minsterworth, a captain in the English army, but only interested in his own gain?

Meanwhile secrets about the fate of Eolande’s father will be revealed.

For a Life Forgotten is the third part of the Stonehearted series, a fast-paced medieval adventure story set during the epic Hundred Year War between England and France.

Available to Pre-Order from:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Smashwords | Kobo

Book Review of Late Medieval France (European History in Perspective) by Graeme Small

Graeme Small
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 15th 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan
ISBN
0333642430 (ISBN13: 9780333642436)

Let me say first that I am not a full-time academic – just someone who studied Medieval history a long time ago at University and who is now interested in an amateur way in the period. I give that caveat as this is the kind of book, I think, written for the academic reader in mind – i.e. an undergraduate or postgraduate student. Whereas my brief review here will be more from the point of view of a general reader. I read this book to give me some more background for my own writing – specifically my Stonehearted series.

The book covers the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – ending its timeline in 1461 with the death of Charles VII. That in itself I found interesting as a general reader – does the Middle Ages for France end in 1461? Whereas in England we think of it ending in 1485 with the Battle of Bosworth? That distinction wasn’t explained in the book, but I guess it might be obvious to students of French history.

The structure of the book is a bit unusual – I thought as it was an academic work it would probably be more thematic – i.e. perhaps looking at different sections of society or different themes affecting the period – the rise of the bourgeoisie maybe? It did contain some of that – for instance looking at urban France and rural France, but also quite a bit of the book did also contain narrative history of the reigns of the French king. This was probably the part of the book that I found most interesting. There were some interesting insights for me in why John II was a bad king for instance – down to him not building up his noble allies in Normandy for instance. So that section was definitely very valuable. Other parts of the book were good – interesting to hear about trade networks or the lack of for instance, and also how Paris at this time wasn’t terribly significant – regional cities were quite important instead. So I would say if you are interested in the period and the Hundred Years War then this is worth a read – you get a good perspective from the French side of things.

However, what let it down for me was that academic dryness of the text – I struggled to get through it at times. I think part of this was the insistence on a specific thesis being put across – the idea of a split between East and West parts of France. The West (i.e. Normandy, Brittany, Aquitaine) being the rebellious part of the kingdom, whereas the East was the more loyal settled area. The tension of Burgundy looking to go its own way though making a big impact on the stability of the East. I though this theory was plausible and had its merits as a way of looking at the period, but sometimes I felt it got in the way too!

Late Medieval France by Graeme Small is available from most good bookshops I expect, as well as Amazon. If you want to support this blog go ahead and buy a copy from the Amazon links below.

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

 

 

 

Medieval Remains found under Abbey Toilets

Remains of at least 50 people, all believed to date from 11th and early 12th century, discovered during demolition work to make space for new tower.

They probably pre-date the construction of Westminster Abbey and were probably moved by the workmen in the 13th century building the new building.

Many of the bones, including skulls and leg bones stacked up into dense piles like firewood, were found under Victorian drainage pipes.

Very macabre!

Source: Westminster Abbey lavatory block gives way to medieval burial find | Science | Th5760e Guardian

Mystery of the Medieval Sword Inscription

This 13th-century sword with a gold inscription was likely made in Germany, but was found at the bottom of the River Witham in 1825. Credit: The British Museum
This 13th-century sword with a gold inscription was likely made in Germany, but was found at the bottom of the River Witham in 1825.
Credit: The British Museum

To be honest I thought that the inscription of swords was just something that happened in fantasy books and role-playing games – but it seems not! Most inscriptions were invocations to God to help out the person bearing the sword.

But a certain sword that is currently part of a 1215 Magna Carta exhibit at the British Library has got all the experts stumped, as no-one knows what the following means:

+NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI+

I must say that I certainly don’t – the signs of the cross that top and tail the inscription are standard for medieval spells as well, so maybe its a magical inscription – and perhaps that’s why it is so hard to decipher?

You can read the full story at livescience.

 

Medieval Hospitals had funding crises as well!

imgID33026727Just when you might think that the funding crisis in the NHS was a thoroughly modern problem, it seems that hospitals in the Middle Ages struggled too! A dig at a medieval lepers hospital near Winchester shows that funding could run dry and mean the withdrawal of services too, just like services in the NHS are being cut back at the moment due to budgets not keeping step with demand.

In the case of the hospital of St Mary Magdalen near Winchester though it seems that the problem of leprosy was going away so the money dried up:

But by 1334 bailouts were being paid to keep the hospital going, perhaps because leprosy was declining as a problem. By the 16th century it was operating more as an almshouse and looks to have avoided closure in the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by Henry VIII that saw the end of establishments such as Hyde Abbey in Winchester and Netley Abbey near Southampton.

If you didn’t have leprosy then the options were limited – and of course most lepers hospitals were really intended to keep those afflicted away from the rest of the population rather than treat them.

You can read the full story at the Daily Echo’s website.

John of Gaunt – Probably the Best Image Available

John of Gaunt

Description
English: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster
Date c.1593.
Source Originally commissioned by Sir Edward Hoby for Queenborough Castle, Kent. Often erroneously ascribed to Luca Cornelli. In the possession of Duke of Beaufort at Badminton House, Gloucestershire.

 

 

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Top Blog Posts of 2013

It’s traditional at this time of the year to take a look back – a review of the best bits if you like of 2013!

Highlights for me were getting 2 1/2 novels published – although Hell has its Demons still needs some work doing to it, plus getting a number of short stories sent off to professional magazines.

With regards to blogging, some of the most popular posts have been old ones – the one on Dante below has had over 1,000 hits and I wrote it a few years ago now. An oldie but a goodie!

So here are my top 5 blog posts of 2013:

“Midway along the journey of our life” – Great Medieval Verses (this is from Dante’s Inferno)

What did people believe in the Middle Ages, Part 1

Why George RR Martin is NOT an American Tolkien

So You Want to Draw a Dragon?

Favourite Fantasy Fiction Characters: Logen Ninefingers (aka the Bloody Nine)

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TV Review: White Queen episode 1

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White Queen started last night on the BBC and it was Much better than I expected it to be. I have always been put off by the covers of the Philippa Gregory books into thinking the content is basically period romance. There is that in the TV series, but there is a bit more too. Political wheeler-dealing going on in the background. A nice bit of venom between some of the main characters and some good intrigue – did Edward really intend to marry her or was he leading her along. I guess that is all part and parcel of a good romance, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but there was enough interest for a male viewer apart from the good looks of Elizabeth Woodville.

You can tell though that the main demographic for White Queen is female romance-reader – the lingering shots as Edward takes off his helmet. The love scene which is so tender and gentle and again lingering shots of Ed’s torso. But that doesn’t take away from the rest of it too much.

The historical realism I thought was a major strength – this did look like late 15th century England – the country house, the hunting lodge and the court all looked how they should. The gowns and the hair might have been a bit too flowing perhaps, but otherwise the appearance of the actors looked right as well. The only thing I did notice was that there were quite a few drainpipes, drain-covers and what looked like iron railings when Elizabeth is brought to court – difficult to cover some of these items up I guess – but surely they could have been draped with something – bit of a shame, because otherwise it all looked spot on.

Looking forward to episode 2.

Book Review of Divided Houses by Jonathan Sumption

Divided Houses Jonathan SumptionThe Hundred Years War, Volume 3: Divided Houses (The Middle Ages Series) by Jonathan Sumption

  • Paperback ISBN:9780571240128
  • Published:01.03.2012
  • No of pages:700

Order from: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

Divided Houses is the third volume in Jonathan Sumption’s epic history of the Hundred Years War – the war that everyone knows didn’t really last a hundred years – more like 117. However, one could argue that with the various truces and peace efforts that’s not quite the case. Divided Houses at first glance looks like it might cover one of the less glamorous periods of the war – there’s no headline English victory to write about – no Crecy, Poitiers, or Agincourt. Despite this, or perhaps because of this lack of a landmark battle distracting from the rest of the narrative, what is recounted is completely compelling. The period from 1369 to 1399 was a period of conflict and strife not just between the main two participants – France and England, but also internally in both countries as well. This was the period of the decline of Edward III, the Peasant’s revolt, and the deposition of Richard II in England. While in France power politics amongst the King’s relatives and generals and a bout of madness that lasted most of Charles VI’s reign add to the intrigue.

The narrative is also compelling because it really shows how unrealistic the war with France was for England – they just couldn’t afford it. But even France, who at last got their taxation together and built up some massive armies and fleets to invade England, saw those plans crumble to dust in the face of political uncertainty and bad weather.

There are also the sideshows of the war in Spain and Portugal, where the feudal ambitions of John of Gaunt failed and the Portuguese won their landmark battle of nationhood – Aljubarrota. But for me one of the most interesting sections is on the situation in Gascony, where because of the war a state of chaos reigned. Knights and nobles indulged in what can only be described as gangster-like activities – forcing towns to pay them protection money – or patis – or suffer the consequences. Local counts and dukes used the very same robber barons to form armies to fight various causes – whether in the national wars between France and England, or to supposedly put an end to the problem of outlawry.

Sumption tells his story of these years with an admirable combination of narrative skill while never skimping on interesting detail and exhaustive research. Divided Houses is an essential history of one of the more overlooked periods of the Hundred Years War.

Some of my fiction related to the Hundred Years War

This is one of my favourite periods of history. In fact I have several stories written during the the 1370s. These are:

Stand and Fight

By the Sword’s Edge

Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure

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