Tag Archives: England

Brexit Fifteenth Century Style

The last time England withdrew in a big way from the continent of Europe – there was a Civil War!

English: Illustration of the Battle of Barnet ...
English: Illustration of the Battle of Barnet (14 April 1471) on the Ghent manuscript, a late 15th-century document Haigh, Phillip (1995). The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses, Hardcover, Cover sleeve, Sutton Publishing, United Kingdom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What am I talking about? Well England’s defeat in the Hundred Year’s War lead pretty much directly to the Wars of Roses. With the UK now split almost evenly on the issue is there a danger of strong divisions appearing again in our society? There are strong emotions on both sides–anger at the result of the referendum and fear of uncertainty over what will happen next? These are dangerous times I feel – we’ve had for the first time popular leaders in the UK stirring up tensions. What’s next? It feels like we’ve taken a massive step back in terms of tolerance and a rational approach to politics and society.

EU Ref MapLooking at a map of the referendum results – you can see how further resentment and division will bubble along in the future – the richest city in the UK, London, voted overwhelmingly to leave – but will now suffer because of the economic downturn. Whereas Scotland and even Northern Ireland may leave the union together over this. This is a new civil war – fought through the media, ballot box and via words, rather than with swords and arrows – but it feels like a war nevertheless.

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.

 

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.

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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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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Free Historical Fiction: Stonehearted 2: Chapter 4

First look at chapter 4 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 4

Eolande clutched the wooden rail of the ship that was named the Dame of Good Chance by its crew, and steadied herself against the deepening swell. A gust of wind tugged at her wimple and threatened to pull of the woollen cap that sat on top of her head. She pulled the cap down hurriedly. What lay beneath was worth hiding.

The winds had been erratic, and after two days at sea out of Lynn, it had only been that morning that the poor scamp of a boy they kept at the top of the mast in a small wooden open box had cried out “Land ho!” The boy had shouted down repeatedly after that telling the captain of the Dame and her crew everything he could see. The land was green, but there were snow capped mountains in the distance. Eolande had listened in amazement as the boy told of the dark purple peaks of hills that he could see. Until that was the captain sent two men up in the rigging to pry the boy from his perch.

“First time out and already touched in the head,” muttered the captain’s mate, and old shipman with a thick but close cut silver beard by the name of John Scot, “Jock” to the others, who spoke with a deep burr and seemed to have made it his main job to follow Eolande around the ship to make sure she kept out of trouble and that she didn’t get knocked overboard.

Despite their rough manners the crew of the Dame had treated her well. The captain had respected the purse of money enough to ask no questions of a lone young woman dressed like a woodsman, but with the manners of a gentlewoman.

Now, coming into view, was the harbour of Calais, England’s toe-hold on the north coast of France, a friendly port for any English ships. Eolande could make out the bay of the harbour and the smudge of buildings bumping up to break up the flat coast-line. Other wooden cogs, like the Dame, bobbed in the bay like a clutch of corks in a bucket.

“You’ll be a’right when you step ashore, will ye?” asked Jock. “Got somewhere to go, like. I expect, you got a fine young man waitin’ for ye?”

“Yes, of course,” she replied. “I’d better be getting my things together.” With that she turned and staggering, almost expertly now, to the rhythm of the sea’s swell, she made for the single passenger’s cabin under the Dame’s stern-castle.

When she was inside with the stiff wooden door shut behind her, she kicked out at the low wooden cot that had been her bed. Her boot made a satisfying thud against it. She should curse herself for a fool and a wretch. Jock had been nothing but courteous and kind to her for the whole voyage, and now one question that touched a nerve triggered her to rudeness. That was no way to win friends. And perhaps onshore she would need one.

She pulled of the cap and the wimple and rubbed her short chopped hair. She liked to do that when she was thinking. It could become a habit.

The truth was she had no idea what she would do in Calais. Where would she start looking for her father? She would have to leave Calais and venture into French territory, through hostile lands. Her French was passable; she was a noblewoman after all. But travelling on her own, on uncertain roads with little knowledge of where she should be searching would be difficult.

No, surely the quest she had set herself was impossible.

She picked up her travelling bag from the peg on which it hung and started stuffing the small amount of clothes she had brought into it. She wore a simple woollen dress now, but she had brought more boyish clothes with her. Clothes that she didn’t want the shipmen to see her in. To pass as a boy? How stupid she was. It would never work.

There was a knock on the door, and before she could react the door was opening, and in leant the Dame’s captain.

The captain was a normally quiet man. Eolande had been nervous of him during the voyage, always feeling that there was a brooding anger beneath the surface ready to boil over. But he had never given her any trouble. But that looked set to change.

He looked at her with puzzlement. “Your hair?”

Eolande resisted the temptation to cover her hair with the cap and wimple. He had seen her short boyish crop now, so what would it help if she denied it.

“What of it?”

The captain weighed his words before speaking. There was an uncomfortable knowingness in his expression. “Your hair is shorter than I expected from a lady. I have never seen hair so short on any woman, and did not expect it of the wife of a knight in the King’s pay, en route to visit her husband.”

The captain stepped into the small cabin, unconsciously ducking his head as he did so to avoid the low beams, he was a tall man to be skulking below the decks of a cramped vessel like the Dame, and Eolande wondered if that discomfort of posture did not impinge on any fellow feeling he might have for others.

“What did you say his name was again?” asked the captain. “Did you say he was a knight of the Calais garrison? I don’t remember his name being familiar to me.”

Eolande had made up a name to make her journey at least appear more possible. A young, unmarried, noblewoman, travelling on her own was just not believable. A married woman, whose treacherous servants had stolen her travelling belongings (but not her purse) and deserted her, at a stretch she had thought, might.

“Did, did, I give you a name?” she said. She backed away, until her legs met the side of the narrow cot, and as the ship swayed on the swell, she found herself sitting. “Do I need to justify myself to you, captain. You have received an honest payment for my passage to Calais, have you not?”

The captain, despite his height, had steady sea legs, and remained standing looking down from her from his crooked height. As she looked up, she could see black hairs jutting like a brush from his large nostrils. She gripped the sheet of the bed tightly in her left hand, and felt for her bag with the other where it lay near the pillow, not taking her eyes from the cruel face of the captain.

“Sir Richard Malfoy you said his name was. I’ve never heard of him. Who’s his lord?”

Eolande hesitated. She knew the game was up. She had no idea which lords or commanders were part of the garrison of Calais, a simple collection of facts, which surely the captain of the Dame would know.

“He has no lord. He is one of the King’s knights on a secret commission for the King only.” Her voice grew in power and certainty as she boldy worked her way into the lie. So outrageous that the captain might think twice. “Do you want to jeopardise the work of one of the King’s own knights by questioning more? Would you like me to tell my husband that the captain of the Dame of Good Chance asks too many questions?”

The captain grimaced. “This is nonsense. I smell a lie here.”

“And I smell a spy.” Eolande stood up and pushed the captain back in defiance, and this time he did lose his footing as the Dame jarred in the water, and he landed with a clatter in doorway of the cabin, bashing his elbow against the door. He winced in pain and scrambled to his feet.

Clutching his elbow he looked with what seemed close to hatred at Eolande. “We’re not finished yet. I have many friends in Calais, and be assured that I will be watching you, but don’t call me a spy. I am no traitor. I am not running away from anything.”

He left the door that had done such hurt to his eblow swinging, and Eolande rushed to shut it firmly and standing with her back against it unless anyone else tried to barge in on her, she stood there and breathed deeply, filling her lungs. She felt that she had been holding her breath ever since the captain had appeared in his cabin. He knew there was something wrong, and now she was even more caught in a lie that the captain could only disprove. But he was wrong about one thing. She wasn’t running away from anything, she was running to someone. Running to her father wherever he was.

 

***

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

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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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By The Sword’s Edge published – first part of serialized novel Stonehearted

By The Sword's Edge CoverI am currently writing a new novel set in the Hundred Years War called Stonehearted. As the novel is progressing quite well I thought it would be fun to release it in serial format every month or two. There should be four or five parts in total, each ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 words. I will then release the full novel once the last part has been finished.

By The Sword’s Edge is the first part and I have made it free for the moment to introduce new readers to the series. You can currently download it for free from Smashwords.

Here’s a bit more about the book:

By The Sword’s Edge is the first volume of Stonehearted, a serialized novel.

After a decade of peace England is again at war with France. But England’s warrior king, Edward III, is not the man he was. Ageing and turned to a life of pleasure, he will not lead an army into France again. And his eldest son, the famous Black Prince, suffers from a chronic illness while he tries to hold onto his principality of Aquitaine.

Many men in England have grown rich from war and some, like Sir Robert Knolles, have risen from the lowest ranks to lead great armies, and he will now lead a force into northern France to challenge the French to battle. But first he has a visit to make to a Norfolk manor to visit an old friend.

In By The Sword’s Edge two young people are thrust into the harsh realities of war. Richard Stone is a knight in training and son of a rich Norfolk merchant. Their neighbours are the d’Aubrays, who hold Sarbrook castle, but have sold or rent much of their land since falling into poverty. The lord of Sarbrook is missing in France, captured many years ago and not returned despite the payment of ransom. His daughter, Eolande d’Aubray is desperate for her father to return. Only he, it seems, can save her from the prospect of an unwanted marriage.

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Bernard Cornwell Guilty of Historical Inaccuracy in Azincourt?

Azincourt (novel)
Azincourt (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am currently reading Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell and absolutely loving it. Azincourt is a nice easy and pleasurable page-turner told in the usual style of Bernard Cornwell – the historical content is fairly light and the characters are very immediate, not to complex but with enough empathy to keep the reader interested in the story.

And of course its about the great battle of Agincourt (or Azincourt) during the Hundred Years War, a battle that I have read a fair bit about and one that I have some quite strong opinions on – i.e. that the contribution of our archers wasn’t as key as some people like to make out – the men-at-arms and the mud were the key players in my opinion. So I wanted to see how Bernard Cornwell treated the portrayal of the battle. At the moment I am reading his depiction of the siege of Harfleur, which he does very well – effectively a medieval siege was like trench warfare and that is well depicted in Azincourt.

There was one jarring moment of disappointment and surprise for me though earlier in the book. A priest is describing his time at Oxford University and how he used to visit a brothel there – all fine and accurate so far. In fact this priest visited the brothel so often that he became a regular acquaintance of the Bishop of Oxford, who was also a regular customer of the same brothel.

But … there was no Bishop of Oxford. No bishop existed in Oxford until the reign of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century. Oxford was part of the huge diocese of Lincoln at the time. When I read this passage in Azincourt it was one of those moments where I simply had to put down the book and do a fact check. Having done a fair bit of research on the University of Oxford for my novel Hell has its Demons, I thought it odd that I hadn’t come across a Bishop of Oxford – such a figure would have held great sway over the interaction of the town and the University I thought – instead the Chancellor of the University was probably the most important clerk around time at this point.

Lessons to be learnt? Even the best novelists make mistakes, and always check your facts even if they seem self-evident – i.e. that a place as prominent as Oxford would be assured to have a Bishop.

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New Medieval History Book: Elizabeth of York (Queenship and Power) by Arlene Naylor Okerlund

Elizabeth of York (Queenship and Power) by Arlene Naylor Okerlund

In my recent posts about the best and worst Medieval people I have been remiss in not mentioning any women. So to balance that out only slightly, here’s some information about an upcoming biography of a powerful Medieval lady: Elizabeth of York, mother of Henry VIII and grandmother of Elizabeth I.

Available from Amazon.com

Available from Amazon.co.uk

Information from Amazon:

Review

‘Arlene Okerlund’s lucid biography of Elizabeth of York draws on detailed research to provide a long overdue account of the tumultuous life of one of England’s best loved queens. It is a compelling tale of Renaissance culture and ritual, intrigue and tragedy.’ – J. L.Laynesmith, Author of The Last Medieval Queens

‘This work aims to rescue the queen from the perception that she was a merely marginal player in the establishment of the Tudor dynasty. Forced to negotiate complex family relationships while maintaining a loving relationship with her husband and king, Okerlund’s Elizabeth emerges as a figure central to the accomplishments of the first Tudor court, so much so that her early death produced a catastrophe from which Henry never recovered. Okerlund’s biography produces a lively narrative and a credible portrait of the queen’s character together with a meticulous reassessment of the available evidence.’ – Gordon Kipling, Professor of English, University of California, Los Angeles

‘This book is a welcome addition to the sparse literature about one of England’s more dynastically important queens. Illuminating and fascinating.’ –Renaissance Quarterly

Product Description

This book tells the story of the queen whose marriage to King Henry VII ended England’s Wars of the Roses and inaugurated the 118-year Tudor dynasty. Best known as the mother of Henry VIII and grandmother of Elizabeth I, this Queen Elizabeth contributed far beyond the act of giving birth to future monarchs. Her marriage to Henry VII unified the feuding houses of Lancaster and York, and her popularity with the people helped her husband survive rebellions that plagued his first decade of rule. Queen Elizabeth’s gracious manners and large family created a warm, convivial Court marked by a rather exceptional fondness between the royal couple. Her love for music, literature, and architecture also helped inspire England’s Renaissance.

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