Tuesday, 22 November 2016

REIVER reviews

The first couple of reviews are in for REIVER, and they are goodies.

'Set in the 16th century in the March lands between England and Scotland, 'Reiver' is a very enjoyable blend of fact and fiction. It is a fast-paced, captivating novella, packed with action, intrigue, blood-feuds and exciting battles.

The characters, a colourful mixture of real and fictitious ones, are both realistic and engaging. I particularly liked the author's portrayal of Sir John Forster, but also his Richie Reade and his mate Ruth.
The story is well-told. I enjoyed the regional dialogue and reading about the weapons of the day. The occasional flashes of humour also brought a smile.

In short, a great read about a fascinating period in British history!'

'It's got it all going on, for a novella. Action, intrigue, love and politics - all in 190 fact, my main problem with Reivers is that it wasn't long enough - not only in that I wanted to know more, but that I was left with a strong sense of questions unanswered at the end, as if this was a prequel to a full novel.

There's a strong sense of the Robin Hood about Richie o'the Bow, the young hero - he very young hero, aged all of sixteen, we meet in the opening pages with his equally-young lover, Ruth. (As an aside, I liked Ruth a good deal. She's that rare thing in the world of historical adventure, a young woman with her head screwed on, whose femininity is not germane to the plot.) And the reader is lulled into a false sense of Wolfshead security: that when Richie and his Bairns hole up at Hope's End, we are venturing into the territory of Merrie Men, with Ruth in the sweet guise of Marian under the greenwood tree.

Nah. This is a much harder, much darker, story than that.
Richie is a “broken man” but he's not by any stretch broken by his outlawry.
These are not a band of tragic outcasts and misfits. They're rough fighting men who - for the most part - are the instruments of their own destruction, part of a society with all the moral rectitude of a weasel in rut. At one point, Richie suggests that they ought to stop fighting and try and work towards a society where they can all live in peace. His lads look at him blankly…He can't see it happening, either. It's the only world they know, every man for himself and Devil take the hindmost. And they quite enjoy wrestling with conscience here, thank you.

David Pilling writes with a zest and a very appealing black humour, and a firm grip of the chicanery of 16th century Scots and English politics. Wonderful, vicious action sequences vy with regional dialogue that thrums with colour and threat. Most of my knowledge of the Border reivers - to my shame, my mother being a McLellan, descended from this brawling knot of amoral cattle-rustlers! - comes from George Macdonald Fraser, and the author is kind enough to give his source material for those who want to go further.

I can see this as an early episode in the career of Richie’s Bairns, despite its completeness as a work in its own right. Is the Countess going to be Richie’s own Milady de Winter, in future books? Will the Bairns come to acquire a moral compass, under the shadow of the English?

I do hope we’re going to find out.'

Friday, 11 November 2016


Mane tossing, nostrils flaring, hooves flailing - my new novella, REIVER, has just plunged out of the stable. Set in the late 16th century, during the reign of Good Queen Bess (or Bad, depending on one's preference), REIVER follows the adventures of Richie Reade or Crowhame, otherwise known as Richie O'the Bow or Richie Crow-Bait.

Richie is one of the Border Reivers, those famous criminal gangs who made the Anglo-Scottish border a living hell and left a tremendous legacy in the form of the Border Ballads, first compiled by Sir Walter Scott in the 18th century. Bold, brutal, belligerent, the reivers lived by the sword and generally died by it, assuming the hangman didn't get them first. Richie is just such a man, and he and his followers, known as Richie's Bairns - Richie's Children - must survive treachery, blood-feud, raid and counter-raid, even as the clouds of war pile high over the Marches....

REIVER is currently available on Kindle only, but a paperback version should be available soon.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Wedding day

Today is the anniversary of the marriage of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, married at the monastery of Las Huelgos, Burgos, on 1st November 1254. Edward was 15, Eleanor just 12.

 Theirs was one of the more successful royal partnerships. Over the course of their 36-year marriage the couple produced 16 children, though only 6 lived to adulthood. The sheer number of stillborn and infant deaths may have induced a certain emotional detachment in the parents: for instance, they made no effort to visit their 6-year old son Henry as he lay dying at Guildford in 1274. Of their adult children, the longest-lived was Margaret, Duchess of Brabant, who achieved the grand old age of 58.

Eleanor was unpopular in England. She didn't bother to learn English and amassed a fortune by buying up cheap or encumbered manors and squeezing maximum profits out of them. This made Eleanor very rich and the English very annoyed. As a popular rhyme had it: "The king desires to get our gold, The queen our manors fair to hold..."

When Eleanor died in 1290, aged 49, the annalist of Dunstable recorded her passing with a terseness that spoke volumes: "A Spaniard by birth. She acquired many fine manors."

One person at least adored the Queen. Edward, extreme in all his passions, clearly loved Eleanor with deathless intensity. After her death in 1290, aged 49, he said thus of his late wife in a letter to the abbot of Cluny in France: "My harp is turned to mourning. In life I loved her dearly, in death I cannot cease to love." 

Edward seems to have been paraphrasing Job 30:31, a modern translation of which reads thus and may give an insight into his state of mind:

'When I hoped for good, evil came,
When I looked for light, then came darkness.
The churning inside me never stops,
Days of suffering confront me.
I go about blackened, but not by the sun,
I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.
I have become a brother of jackals,
A companion of owls,
My skin grows black and peels.
My body burns with fever,
My lyre is turned to mourning,
And my flute accompanies those who weep.'

Monday, 24 October 2016

Once again, I've been very slack recently with updates for this blog. Below is another piece on a little-known aspect of the reign of Edward I, taken from the Facebook page. In the near future I hope to post articles and commentary more directly related to my books. Stay tuned!


 Fancy a holiday? Somewhere nice in the sunny Dordogne, perhaps? Look no further than the Hotel-Restaurant Edward 1 in Monpazier, a delightful region of Aquitaine in south-west France. The hotel offers stunning views, ensuite bedrooms with flatscreen television, a fine restaurant offering a choice of local delicacies, as well as…

…here endeth the advert. The hotel in Monpazier, otherwise known as the Hotel Edward Premier, really exists and is named after King Edward I (reigned 1272-1307). Unlike Wales and Scotland, where the only building likely to be named after Edward is a public toilet, the king’s reputation in his former duchy of Gascony is still golden. Monpazier was part of the duchy, and one of the fifty bastide - meaning ‘to build’ - towns constructed in Gascony during his reign.

Of all the bastides, Monpazier is the one that still retains most of the original features. It was founded in 1285 and visited by Edward himself during his tour of the region the following year. The town is built to a quadrilateral plan, with a regular gridwork of streets that open onto a central square. At one end of the square is a market hall, where the original metal bins used for measuring grain can still be seen. The square is lined with vaulted archways known as ‘cornières’, another distinctive medieval feature.

All of the Edwardian bastides were built to this pattern. Edward himself was personally involved in the construction of Burgus Reginae - or Queensborough - built in 1288 at a confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne, the two major commercial arteries of Gascony. The new settlement was named in honour of his wife, Eleanor of Castile. Another new bastide, named Baa, was built on royal command in the winter of 1286-7. One Gerard de Turri was sent to plan the town, and Edward paid a visit to the site, during which he bought the workmen a round of drinks.

Edward also founded bastides in England, at New Winchelsea and Kingston upon Hull, and in Wales as part of his programme of colonisation. However the scale of bastide-building in Gascony was far greater than anywhere else. The project was driven, as usual, by Edward’s constant need for revenue: Gascony was a much smaller and poorer land than England, and generated far less cash. The new bastides acted as centres of commerce. To quote Marc Morris: ‘they were a source of profit, both direct (in the form of local tolls and taxes) and indirect (they increased trade that was taxed at other points, such as Bordeaux).’

Initially the bastides met with opposition from Gascon nobility. As landlords, they objected to these new towns being built on their territory, largely because it gave their tenants the opportunity to run off and become free towsnmen. A clever compromise was reached whereby the bastides were founded on the system of ‘paréage’, a form of public-private partnership. Local lords agreed to put up the land, Edward as duke gave the necessary permission, and subsequent profits were shared by all, including the townspeople. The promise of enrichment lured the rural poor to the bastides, which in turn helped to reduce lawlessness. New towns also meant new roads, which led to the clearing of forests and conversion of fallow ground into rich pasture. Thus the bastides were perceived as a way of generating commerce and profits for all - duke, lords and peasants - as well of pacifying unruly parts of the duchy. For once Edward behaved with a light touch, and his bastide scheme was both popular and successful.

Edward spent several years in Gascony and was evidently fond of the place, if not the inhabitants. In a letter of March 21st 1278 to the Bishop of Bath & Wells, he makes clear his opinions on Gascons and their unreliable ways:

‘As the Gascons are reputed to be very full of quibbles and changeable in their agreements, proposals, promises and deeds, the king believes it very necessary that the bishop… shall cause all and singular the things that shall be agreed upon, or ordained, and done by them with the Gascons…so that in times to come they shall not presume in their insolence boldly to contravene their own deeds, and so that their own deed and surety may be objected to their faces eye to eye to repress their malice forever.’ 

This last line is eerily similar to Edward’s later declaration regarding the Welsh, in which he promised to ‘put an end to their malice now and for all time.’

The king was not directly involved in the construction of all the bastides. Over two-thirds of them were partially founded by the crown, but only half were solely royal ventures. Nor were they intended to buttress the defence of Gascony against the French. Many never had any defences at all, and those with defences only had them added in the reigns of Edward II and III. They were founded during a period of relatively cordial relations between England and France, and Edward appreciated that the widespread construction of fortified towns would provoke French hostility. Besides which, they were mostly built on fertile, low-lying land near rivers, ideal for commerce but useless as military sites. One exception was Bonnegarde, where Edward revamped and enlarged an already existing castle, but the main purpose of the bastides was undoubtely to generate income.

Edward’s enthusiasm for bastides was also demonstrated in Wales and England. In Wales, after the war of 1277, he laid out new settlements on the familiar grid pattern at Flint, Rhuddlan and Aberystwyth. After the war of 1283 more were created at Conwy, Caernarfon, Criccieth, Bere and Harlech. Unlike Gascony, however, the new bastides in Wales were not built in a spirit of lucrative cooperation. Instead they were fortified colonial outposts, homes for imported English settlers, from which the native Welsh were largely excluded. Towns such as Nefyn and Llanfaes, which had been centres of commerce under Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, were allowed to become backwaters. Edward had no desire to develop native Welsh settlements, and at Llanfaes the population was forced to emigrate to a new town called, rather unimaginatively, Newborough. Llanfaes itself was replaced by another bastide, Beaumaris.

Today very little survives of Edward’s bastides in Gascony. Other than Monpazier, not one has survived into modern times as a settlement, though the outline of vineyards, banks and ditches can still be seen at the site of Burgus Reginae. Still, I have heard that the Hotel Edward Premier (see attached pic) does excellent cocktails…

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Rebels of Ely

I haven't been active on here recently - very slack of me. The new book is taking up a lot of time, as well as research for future projects. I've also been busy on my new Facebook page devoted to the reign of King Edward I. Below is a link to the page (again) and one of the recent articles. I'll post more on here in the future.

King Edward I on Facebook

The Rebels of Ely 

The Second Barons’ War in England ended with the fall of the Isle of Ely in July 1267, almost two years after the Battle of Evesham. Henry III’s vengeful decision to disinherit all of Simon de Montfort’s surviving followers prolonged the civil war, which ought to have ended with the earl’s death. The king also seized the lands of of men who had never supported de Montfort in the first place. Thus Henry succeeded in driving approximately half the landowning class of England into armed rebellion.

Ely in Cambridgeshire had been a natural home for rebels and outlaws since the days of the Conqueror. A vast, waterlogged stretch of misty bog and fenland in Cambridgeshire, it was virtually impenetrable save to those who knew the paths. The baronial rebels first occupied the isle in April 1266, and used it as a base from which to plunder and ravage the surrounding countryside. They sacked Lincoln, where they destroyed the chests or ‘archa’ containing bonds of debts taken out from Jewish moneylenders. A number of Jewish moneylenders were murdered or kidnapped for ransom, their synagogues razed, and a hundred and sixty women and children murdered in the street.

Efforts by local militia to drive out the rebels met with disaster. Henry ordered the commons of the counties to blockade the isle and prevent the barons from making sorties. In response the barons rode out in force and drove the ‘vulgar herd’ - as Matthew Paris termed them - to flight, driving them as far as Norwich. There some of the rebel party split off to carry away loot and provisions from the town. A short while later, the people of Lynn offered to attack Ely if Henry would guarantee their liberties. This he promised to do, and the citizens manned vessels with crossbowmen, archers and men-at-arms to sail upriver and storm the isle. The wily barons saw the fleet coming and planted their standards on dry land. When the people of Lynn saw the standards, they leaped off their boats and charged. The barons pretended to retreat, then turned and closed on the citizens from all sides. Some were captured, many slaughtered or drowned, and only a few limped back to Lynn - where they were ‘received with derision.’

In the spring of 1267 the captain of the Ely rebels, John de Eyvill, left the isle to join Gilbert de Clare in the march on London. They succeeded in capturing the city, and for three months the capital of England was a rebel camp. Peace was brokered when King Henry and his son, the Lord Edward, threatened to lay siege. After some complex bartering de Eyvill and de Clare were pardoned in return for payments of money and land. The severest punishment fell on de Eyvill, who was mortgaged to the crown for the rest of his life and had to do military service in Wales as part of his redemption.

After the surrender of the barons in London, Ely was left as the only rebel fortress of any note. The captain of the isle was now Henry de Hastings, an interesting brute with a sense of humour. Hastings had led the epic defence of Kenilworth Castle, at 172 days the longest siege in English medieval history. During the siege, the papal legate had called upon the garrison to surrender. Hastings’ response was to dress up as a cardinal and stand on the battlements waving his arms in mockery of the legate’s piety. Less amusingly, when the king sent an envoy to treat for peace, Hastings cut off one of the envoy’s hands and sent him back with the severed hand in a box.

Other knights in the isle included the likes of Sir Robert Peche and Sir Ralph Perot. Neither were ideal house guests. Peche had won a reputation as one of the chief ravagers, burning farms and villages near Ely and robbing barns of their grain. He had also extorted protection money from the burgesses of Cambridge, promising to leave them alone in exchange for cash. Perot rode as far afield as the Priory of St Peter in Dunstable, where the chronicler gloomily notes he stole a horse from the mill, more horses from the town, and took ten marks as protection money.

Edward, in his role as firefighter, was sent to destroy this nest of robbers. Easier said than done. The Conqueror himself had experienced difficulty in reducing the isle, and suffered several embarrassing defeats before finally overcoming Hereward the Wake and his Saxons. Tales of Hereward’s last stand were still popular in the late 1200s. Paris describes how medieval sightseers were in the habit of visiting an old earthwork known as Hereward’s Castle at Aldreth: probably the remains of the fortress built by the Normans when they laid siege to Ely.

The prince marched on Ely and ordered his men to build a bridge of hurdles and planks. This sounds similar to the pontoon or floating bridge William the Conqueror had built to cross into the isle. Edward, who had some knowledge of military history, may have taken a leaf from the Bastard’s book. As king, he made use of pontoon bridges in his campaigns in North Wales, though the strategy didn’t always meet with success: in 1282, at Moel-y-Don near Anglesey, the bridge collapsed under weight of bodies and hundreds of his men were drowned.

At Ely the bridge was merely a distraction. While his men laboured on the construction, Edward rode to the monastery of Ramsey and gave the monks a pep-talk, encouraging them to stand firm against the rebels. Shortly afterwards he had a private meeting with an aged noblewoman, Lady Amabilia de Chaucumb.

An observer might have wondered what Edward was up to, with his bridge and his monks and his mysterious old lady. All soon became clear. Amabilia was the mother of Nicholas de Segrave, one of the baronial rebels who had submitted at London. Segrave had been a member of the Ely garrison, and after his surrender escaped from London and went back into the isle. It seems his escape was pre-arranged. While in the capital he struck a secret deal with Edward to betray his comrades, and the prince later met with his mother to make final arrangements.

There was one main path into the heart of the isle, defended by a stockade of earth and timber. Segrave persuaded Hastings to let him garrison it. When the pontoon bridge was complete, Edward crossed the water with a strong force of archers and crossbowmen. He was now faced with the stockade, guarded by Segrave. As agreed, Segrave and his men promptly abandoned their post and let the royalists pass. Edward moved on through the marshes until he arrived within sight of the rebel camp, divided from his men by a narrow rivulet.

The barons, astonished by the sudden appearance of enemy soldiers, rushed to arms. While they dragged on their armour, some bowmen and slingers were hurled forward to block the royalist advance. Meanwhile Edward placed his missile troops on high ground overlooking the camp, so they could shoot down on the heads of the rebel archers.

Seeing this, the rebels hesitated. Edward now rode forward and read out the riot act: “Any man who attacks my soldiers, or tries to stop me entering the isle, will die. Either now or after my victory. The guilty shall be hanged or beheaded.”

In the face of these threats, the barons wilted. “Consumed by sudden dismay,” according to the chronicler, they “immediately lost their indolent savageness, and walking with their heads lowered, assumed the meekness of a lamb.”

Perhaps the grim memory of Evesham was still fresh in their minds. The Leopard - as the baronial poets called Edward - had presided over one massacre. He could do it again. In the event there was no bloodshed. Edward accepted their surrender, and Hastings and the other knights were allowed to redeem their lands. Segrave was well rewarded for his treachery, and later became 1st Baron Segrave. He died in 1295, rich and respected. No doubt his mother would have approved.

The lesser members of the Ely garrison scattered to the four winds. Many continued to live as robbers, and the Dunstaple chronicle records the miserable fate of some of them. Giles of Dunstaple, Ambrose, Michael and some others left the country, to be ‘starved or hanged’ in other places. Henry Albemarle, who had robbed a mill, was hanged in France. John the clerk was excommunicated and killed in unknown circumstances at Oxford. His companions Jeffrey, Hugh and Robert were arrested and sent to Newgate prison for trial. Jeffrey died in custody and the others bribed the jury to let them off. Both were shortly arrested again in London. Hugh was hanged, and Robert died in prison.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Longshanks hits Facebook

I've rejuvenated my old Facebook page focused on King Edward I, better known as 'Longshanks' of Braveheart fame. Given time, I hope to post regularly on there with various articles relating to any and all features of this controversial monarch's reign. If you fancy commenting, or even contributing, please feel free to drop me an email or visit the group:

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Folville's Law (II) Conquest

Some long-term followers of this blog may recall my first novel, titled Folville's Law and released way back in the mists of time (or 2011, to be more precise) by Musa Publishing. Musa have since folded, sadly, and I republished the book under my own steam under the new title Folville's Law: Invasion.

The sequel, originally published as a series of mini-adventures by Musa, has now been repackaged as a single volume and released today under the title FOLVILLE'S LAW (II): CONQUEST. The suitably dramatic, eye-catching cover is designed (as usual) by the good people at More Visual.

"England, 1330. The young King, Edward III, is a virtual prisoner, locked out of power by his mother Queen Isabella and her lover, the power-hungry Roger de Mortimer. Determined to rule, Edward gathers a band of loyal supporters and plots to reclaim his kingdom. 

Meanwhile war rages across the Channel in Gascony. Sir John Swale, forced into exile to escape his enemies in England, is caught up in a war for control of the province. Captured and ransomed by the French, he is sent back to England to restore his fortunes as one of King Edward's household knights. 

Yet Swale's former enemies have not been quiet. The outlaw Eustace Folville is still at large, and joined by the equally ruthless James Coterel. Together the Coterel and Folville gangs roam at will, robbing and slaying innocents. While they sow chaos, fresh war erupts between England and Scotland. 

As a loyal King's knight, Swale must face these dangers head-on. From pitched battles with outlaws in the heart of England to the hell of the Scottish March, he fights to a cruel finish for land and king and family..."

The book is available on Kindle now in all Amazon markets. A paperback version should be available soon!