Longsword by David Pilling

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Peace of Elias

M'good friend and co-writer - as well as talented illustrator - Martin Bolton has written a rather wonderful short story, 'The Peace of Elias', now available from Amazon. I recommend everyone checks it out!



Elias is a poverty-stricken farmer living on a ridge over-looking the town of Arc-Stone in far Western Temeria with his only surviving relative, his giant mute son, Zia. Living on the fringes of society, their dilapidated farmstead sits high on the ridge next a dark, tangled forest, reputed to be haunted and shunned by the people of Arc-Stone. Elias and Zia are regarded by the townsfolk with a mixture of fear and pity.

When they stumble across the unconscious form of Cyrus, an arrogant young noble, he accuses them of robbery and plots their deaths. But Cyrus underestimates the power of the bond between Elias and his son, and Elias finds out what Zia has been doing in the forest...

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Pretender

After a short break to catch its breath, the John Swale Chronicles are set to ride again - and walk, and stagger, and probably collapse, riddled with arrows, a couple of times - in the next instalment, 'The Pretender', to be released by the lovely folks at Musa Publishing on the 6th of July.

Here the scene switches to Scotland, where Robert de Bruce has recently died, leaving the throne to his son, David, and the regents Donal of Mar and the Earl of Moray. The future looks bleak for the Scots - their new King is just a boy of seven, Moray is dying, and the ever-covetous English are casting their covetous eyes north, where the pickings have just got easier now Bruce is gone.

However, the young Edward III is wary of sticking his toes in the boiling pan of Scottish politics, and needs a convenient stooge to do the fighting for him while he settles affairs in England: enter Edward Balliol, the 'pretender' of the title. He is the son of old John Balliol, otherwise known as 'Toom Tabard' or the Empty Coat, once King of Scotland and now very definitely dead. Having spent much of his life in exile in France, Balliol junior is desperately keen to get his hands on the Scottish crown, and eagerly snatches at King Edward's covert offer of military support.

While these high and mighty events roll and tumble, John Swale's sister, Margaret, faces the prospect of losing her husband and her son to the looming war with England. Her son, a belligerent and fiercely patriotic youth, ignores her pleas to remain at home, and rides away with his father to the coronation of King David, leaving Margaret bereft and alone...

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Take a look at this guy. It's a climactic scene in *That Movie*, and old beardy here in the unflattering metal hat is about to order his archers to shoot at his own men in order to win a battle. Check out those true-blue eyes. Brrr. And the prosthetic nose.

Pretty nasty, huh? That's the least of his crimes. Elsewhere in *That Movie* he institutes the mass rape of newlywed women in Scotland, hangs unarmed Scottish noblemen, beats the tar out of his own son and – in a scene that appears to be played for laughs - throws a homosexual out of a window.

That's Edward Longshanks for you, the 'most ruthless man to ever sit on the English throne' according to the strange leper/hobbit-type creature that is Robert de Bruce's father in *That Movie*. He's a mean, nasty, cruel, inhuman piece of work, played to perfection by the late Patrick McGoohan. And what's more, he's got one of those posh BBC English accents, which is always a clear sign of evil.
Turning to a 1960s textbook my father gave me - 'The Living World of History', no less - we have a rather different description of the same man: 'King Edward I, who reigned from 1272 to 1307, was a rare character. Tall and erect and sinewy, his length of leg gained him the nickname of "Longshanks." He was a proud and truly royal prince, a fearless and peerless knight, and altogether a man's man."

So there - separated by just a few decades, we have one portrayal of Edward as a peerlessly erect - *blush* - prince, and then the sneering slimeball of Mel's opus. Divergence of opinion on Edward is nothing new. Victorian historians tended to lionise him, such as Bishop William Stubbs, who called him The English Justinian. We don't hark much to the Victorians these days, what with them being horrid imperialists who got sexually aroused by table legs and all - yah, no, it's totally true, I saw it on a documentary somewhere - but the generally positive view of Edward's reign and achievements is still maintained by modern academics such as Michael Prestwich.

Elsewhere opinions on Edward are pretty negative, and undoubtedly influenced by *That Movie*. I've noticed in recent weeks some extreme comments made about him on internet and Facebook forums (surely the founts of all knowledge), including wild claims that he was in the habit of torturing and murdering his prisoners, and a sort of medieval Hitler who committed mass genocide on a more or less daily basis. The poor guy can’t catch a break anywhere, and one recent author of self-proclaimed ‘historical integrity’ claims that Edward wasn’t even his father’s son, but the bastard offspring of an affair between Simon de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence. Portraying English medieval queens as wanton adulteresses who had affairs and then foisted their backstairs spawn on the throne is a nasty tendency in recent historical fiction, and really needs to stop.

Edward could certainly be cruel. Matthew Paris records an unpleasant story, possibly untrue, of the youthful Edward and his Lusignan buddies setting upon and mutilating a defenceless peasant for a laugh. He at times behaved with great savagery in Scotland and Wales, including the infamous massacre at Berwick, the incarceration of Bruce's female relatives in hanging cages, and his refusal to allow the garrison at Stirling to surrender until he had tried out his new toy, the gigantic siege engine 'War-Wolf', on the defences. More horrors could be added to that list. Medieval warfare was unimaginably brutal, and Edward's enemies were equally ruthless. 
Contemporaries accorded Edward a great deal more respect than they did his predecessor and successor. Hard he may have been, but the 'first knight of Christendom' united England after the catastrophes of his father's reign, earned a heroic reputation on Crusade, made monumental legal reforms, and strengthened the power of the English crown. More than that, he was lucky (he once narrowly avoided being crushed by a collapsing ceiling while playing chess), had the gift of inspiring loyalty in his barons (most of the time) and was supremely successful in war. 'England rejoice, thy prince is peerless,' was the verdict of the Lanercost chronicler after the Battle of Falkirk, which was the kind of press Henry III and Edward II could only dream about. Bar a serious crisis in the late 1290s, Edward was extremely popular with his English subjects. One of the most popular acts of his reign – obscene to modern eyes – was his expulsion of the Jews in 1290. As Sharon Penman said on her blog recently, Anti-Semitism was a virus that all medieval Christians inhaled at birth, and the English were no exception.  
In person, Edward must have been mesmerizing. At six feet two inches, he was taller than most of his contemporaries, with arms too long for his body, a drooping eyelid inherited from his father (not Simon de Montfort) and a lisp. His rages were terrifying, and one prelate was said to have dropped dead from sheer fright after Edward erupted at him. He did indeed assault his son, the future Edward II, on at least one occasion, tearing clumps of hair from the prince’s head and kicking him out of the room after Young Ned had unwisely asked for lands to be bestowed on his best friend, Piers Gaveston.
There was a softer side to this towering bully, and some evidence of a sense of humour. He broke down and wept when informed that his (real) father had died, and fell to pieces when he lost his beloved first wife, Eleanor of Castile. “My harp is turned to mourning”, he wrote as her funeral cort├ęge travelled south to London, and the final staging-post of her journey, Charing Cross, is testament to his love for her: ‘Charing’ is a corruption of ‘Cher Reine’ or ‘Dear Queen’. A record of a bet Edward had with the royal laundress Matilda of Waltham, in which he challenged her to a horse-race (and lost), suggests he was capable of cracking a smile, as does the letter he wrote in the 1300s concerning Nicholas de Segrave: that knight, Edward recommended, was to be given plenty of parkland to roam in, for ‘we well know his talent for running away’. The joke creaks, but it’s something.
And then there are the slaughtered innocents of Berwick. Ultimately, Edward was a hard man in a hard time, and in many ways an alien and repellent figure to our eyes. But very few medieval kings could possibly be described as pleasant people by modern standards, and it wasn’t their job to be nice. As cruel and as able as his despised grandfather, King John, but a great deal luckier and more successful, Edward I could perhaps be judged as W.L Warren judged John: a man with ‘the abilities of a great ruler, but the inclinations of a petty tyrant’.


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Defaming the dead...

...don't do it, is the message of this blog post. A number of fellow writers and bloggers have recently - and quite rightly - taken up cudgels against the defamation of long-dead people for the sake of 'exciting' alternative takes on history, usually in novels. Recent blog posts on Kathryn Warner's rather wonderful site about Edward II are well worth reading:


And the equally wonderful Sarah Butterfield...


This sort of thing has been going on a long time, and is an easy habit to fall into - readers of my novel might notice that I don't hestitate to stick the boot into certain historical personages, but I like to think there is at least some justification for it. But some things are beyond the pale, particularly the very nasty trend towards depicting medieval queens and noblewomen as whores: these kind of slurs are essential, otherwise most 'alternative' theories concerning the parentage of certain kings are dead in the water.

So - any of you aspiring historical authors out there, have a sense of empathy and responsibility, and pause for thought before depicting William Marshal in print as a cackling paedophile (or whatever). Failing that, simply change all the names and locations and tout your package of wanton lies and half-truths as a fantasy novel. Sorted!