Longsword by David Pilling

Friday, 26 April 2013

Heroes & Villains Blog Hop!

Join me and twenty-eight fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction authors for the Heroes & Villains blog hop on Friday 3 – Monday 6 May and give yourself a chance of winning glorious prizes. I will be giving away two copies of my fantasy novel (co-written with Martin Bolton) The Best Weapon and every single author below will be giving away prizes too.
Epic Fantasy The Best Weapon
Epic Fantasy The Best Weapon
So why not check in here and make sure you flick through all these talented writers’ blogs. Details on how to enter for prizes on each blog will be posted on Friday 3 May.
“See” you next week!
Heroes & Villains taking part are:

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Inspirational Friends

On a completely different tack to my usual historical blatherings, I wanted to talk a little about something that actually matters in 2013.

An old schoolfriend of mine (less of the old perhaps, we're only in our mid-thirties...) Jessie Vanbeck, and her friend Hannah Lawton are planning to row across the Atlantic in an open boat.

Hannah Lawton and Jessie Vanbeck

...you heard me right, they plan to ROW across the Atlantic in an open boat. Neither, so far as I'm aware, has any Viking ancestry, but it is the sort of feat the Vikings would have been proud of.

However, Hannah and Jessie don't have any looting and pillaging in mind. They are doing it in honour of the memory of a friend of theirs, Eleanor Rose Ellis, who died of cervical cancer in May last year at the tragically early age of 23. They are also raising money for Myton Hospice, who cared for Eleanor, and Jo's Cervical Cancer trust, dedicated to supporting women with cervical cancer. This fearsome voyage will be part of a race, the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

In case anyone is in any doubt about the scale of the task facing the rowers, the following should act as a fairly terrifying corrective:

1) It is an unassisted row, which means Jessie and Hannah will have to pack all provisions and equipment on board before they go.

2) They aim to complete the voyage in sixty days. That’s sixty days or more in a boat 7 metres long and 1.9 metres wide.

3) They will be facing 40 foot seas, sleep deprivation, salt sores and up to 80% muscle wastage. Lack of room in the boat means that they will be unable to do anything other than sit or row, which means they will have to learn to walk again when they reach Antigua.

You can hear a recent radio interview with Hannah and Jessie on Ujima Radio below, on the 'Womens Outlook' sections:

They are being interviewed again on Ujima on Saturday morning (27th April), so tune in!

Below is a link to their website, 'Inspirational Friends', including further details of the planned voyage, sponsorship, relevant events and supporters etc:

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Guest post by Maria Grace

Today I have a guest post by the lovely and talented author Maria Grace. Maria writes fiction set in the Regency era, and the following is her account of the complex manners and mores of polite Regency society...

Morning Calls and Formal Visits: Socializing in the Regency Era

In the 1800s, the moneyed minority in any local was expected mix socially with one another, whether or not they were personally agreeable to one another. In general, people only mixed socially within their own social class, so the company could become confined and unvarying quickly.  Hence, new families of the right social standing would quickly be paid an obligatory visit by their neighbors in order to initiate an acquaintance and effectively broaden the social circle.

Until a formal acquaintance was recognized, members of the families could not socialize with one another. Established members of the neighborhood would take it upon themselves to call upon the new comers. Only men called upon men, women did not initiate the relationship themselves. Once the man of the house performed introductions for the women in his household, they could interact socially and even introduce the newcomers to others.

Commonly the social inferior was introduced to the superior, and men to women, rather than the reverse. Unlike in town, where one had to wait for the call of a superior, in the country it was acceptable for a man to make a call or leave a card with someone of higher social standing if that person was new to the neighborhood.  Acceptance by those above one’s social status was a key to social mobility in Regency society, so such acquaintances were highly sought after.   

Social connections were usually formed through a series of meetings, usually beginning with morning calls to the homes of those in fashionable society.  

Examples of calling cards

Calling cards

Morning calls or visiting upon a household had an established protocol. Those who failed to follow it risked being shunned. First a calling card was presented to the household’s servant.
Calling cards became popular at the end of the 18th century and bore the visitor's name, title and residence. Their purpose was to prevent errors by forgetful servants. After all, one could not trust one’s social future to a mere servant’s memory. 

One would generally leave not a single card, but three: one from the lady for the house’s mistress; one from the gentleman for the house’s mistress and another for the house’s master. Calling cards were displayed on special trays often set up on the front hallways, visible to all who came into the house. Cards from high ranking individuals and  titled folks gave additional status to the household displaying their cards.  

If one came without a card, he or she might be snubbed. When a servant received the cards, they would be conveyed to the mistress who would then decide whether to admit or reject the caller. If the servant informed the caller that the mistress was 'not at home', this was code for not wishing to make the acquaintance. On the other hand, if a reciprocal card was formally presented to the visitor, this indicated there was a chance for the relationship to develop.

If one was uncertain as to the reception one might receive, the safest course would be to leave his or her card without asking if the mistress was at home. This would oblige her to reciprocate the call the next day, if only by leaving her own card. Failure to do so was a rebuff, but certainly a less painful one that being rejected at the door. 

Formal calls

There were several other types of 'visits in form', calls considered a duty rather than a pleasure. Duty visits were hard to evade as a decent level of social exchange was expected and individuals  could be rebuked for their inattentiveness. These duty visits included calls to acknowledge hospitality, the newly-married, childbirth, bereavement and those in straitened circumstances.

Calls for condolence and congratulations were typically made about a week after the event. Ceremonial visits to acknowledge parties, balls and other invitations were paid sooner, a day after a ball, within two days of a dinner party and within a week of a small party. These calls would be paid later in the day than ‘morning calls,’ typically between three and four in the afternoon.

Wedding visits were rigorously observed, extending a month or two after the marriage. The neighbors of gentry status would call on the couple in their own home. Then the visits would be returned and possibly one or more parties held in the couple’s honor.   

Calls to the bereaved and suffering were part of the duties of an estate’s mistress.  It was up to her to look after her less fortunate neighbors a personal visit every week or two. On such visits she might deliver food and medicinal preparations made in her own kitchen and still room, give advice, and lend an ear to their complaints. These visits were often the only support system for the indigent in the neighborhood.   

Morning visits

Less formal visits, morning calls were actually paid between the time of rising and that of eating dinner, effectively between  eleven in the morning and three in the afternoon. Earlier calls might interfere with breakfast or a lady’s morning household duties. Later visits might suggest indecorous attempts at securing an invitation for dinner.  The earlier in the day, the less close the acquaintance, the later the greater degree of intimacy between the parties.

Morning visit were expected to last for at least fifteen minutes, but certainly not more than half an hour. Callers were received by men in their business room or library. Women took calls the morning room or in their drawing-room. Pets and children, both regarded as potentially destructive and annoying, were not welcome on morning calls.

What to do during a visit? 

The heart of polite sociability was conversation. The whole purpose of conversation was to please other people and to be deemed pleasing. In general, conversation was tightly controlled by rules of etiquette as well. The list of unacceptable topics far outnumbered the acceptable ones.

Politeness demanded a visitor inquire after the health of absent members of the household.
Similarly, polite individuals did not ask direct personal questions of recent acquaintances.  To question or even compliment anyone else on the details of their dress might also be regarded as impertinent. Personal remarks, however flattering, were not considered good manners. Etiquette manuals counseled such comments should be exchanged only with close family and intimate friends.

Unsurprisingly, scandal and gossip should be omitted from public conversation. Any references to pregnancy, childbirth, or other natural bodily functions were considered coarse and carefully sidestepped. A man could sometimes discuss his hunters or driving horses in the presence of ladies though it was generally discouraged.  Greater latitudes of conversation were allowed when the genders were segregated, particularly for the men.

In order to take advantage of afternoon light, women would continue their needlework during a call.  Sometimes visitors brought their own work or the hostess would offer her visitors pieces to work on. It was considered more genteel to continue with one's 'fancywork' rather than 'plain' shirt-making or mending.


A Lady of Distinction   -   Regency Etiquette, the Mirror of Graces (1811). R.L. Shep Publications (1997)
Banfield ,Edwin -Visiting Cards and Cases, Baros Books, Wiltshire, (1989).   
Black, Maggie & Le Faye, Deirdre   -   The Jane Austen Cookbook. Chicago Review Press (1995)
Byrne, Paula   -   Contrib. to Jane Austen in Context. Cambridge University Press (2005)
Day, Malcom   -   Voices from the World of Jane Austen. David & Charles (2006)
Downing, Sarah Jane   -   Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen. Shire Publications (2010)
Hughes, Kristine- The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England From 1811-1901,   Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, (1998). 
Jones, Hazel   -   Jane Austen & Marriage . Continuum Books (2009)
Lane, Maggie   -   Jane Austen's World. Carlton Books (2005)
Lane, Maggie   -   Jane Austen and Food. Hambledon (1995)
Laudermilk, Sharon & Hamlin, Teresa L.   -   The Regency Companion. Garland Publishing (1989)
Le Faye, Deirdre   -   Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. Harry N. Abrams (2002)
Pool,  Daniel- What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by, Simon & Schuster, New York, (1993).  
Randall, Rona- The Model Wife Nineteenth-Century Style, The Herbert Press, London, (1989).  
Ray, Joan Klingel   -   Jane Austen for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc. (2006)
Ross, Josephine   -   Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners. Bloomsbury USA (2006)
Selwyn, David   -   Jane Austen & Leisure. The Hambledon Press (1999)
Trusler, John   -   The Honours of the Table or Rules for Behavior During Meals. Literary-Press (1791)
Vickery, Amanda   -   The Gentleman's Daughter. Yale University Press (1998)

Author bio

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.

She can be contacted at:
 Facebook: facebook.com/AuthorMariaGrace
On Amazon.com: amazon.com/author/mariagrace
Visit her website Random Bits of Fascination (AuthorMariaGrace.com)
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace
English Historical Fiction Authors (EnglshHistoryAuthors.blogspot.com)
Austen Authors (AustenAuthors.net)

Book Buy links

Sunday, 21 April 2013

A sensitive writer writes...

...on the subject of critics and reviewers, in particular online reviewers. This is a difficult subject, particularly in light of recent events, so I have to pick my words carefully...

In the 'old days' i.e. pre-internet, book reviews were generally undertaken by freelancers and professionals. The opinion of the general public went largely unheard, except in terms of book sales: if a book was a smash hit bestseller, then people must have liked it.

At least I assume that's how it worked. I'm still relatively young - 34 - and have no clue how the world worked prior to about 1997. I'm just hoping that I can type this stuff and get away with it.

We live in a different era now. Anyone with access to the internet can post a book review on Amazon and other online vendors. By and large, I think this is a good thing. However, we writers are a delicate bunch, and nothing is guaranteed to cause us exquisite emotional pain than being on the wrong end of a bad review.

Until recently I had been lucky. The reviews of my stuff on Amazon and Goodreads had been generally positive, with a few hiccups - one critic pointed out the inclusion of a field of potatoes in my novel set in the fourteenth century, which caused much private alarm and hasty last-minute editing by my publishers.

Occasional historical mistakes aside, I felt safe and smug in the warm glow of positive critical opinion, and assumed that the conveyer belt of four and five-star reviews would keep on rolling forever.

I think you can guess what happened next. One and two-star reviews started to appear, often coupled with remarks that an over-sensitive chick like me was bound to find hurtful. They weren't designed to be, of course. Several comments referred to the sloppy editing of one of my self-published books. This was perfectly true, entirely unacceptable and entirely my fault. I am now in the process of re-editing and revising the book in question.

One reviewer claimed that I had portrayed a historical character as a 'prancing buffoon'. It was not my intention to do so, and I so I responded - politely - and offered a free book to the reviewer as compensation for her disappointment. This was probably the wrong thing to do. Some wise person said recently that book reviews are not for authors, and it is bad form for authors to respond to them.

But here's the thing - justified or not, the negative reviews hurt. They really hurt, and when someone is hurt their instinctive reaction is to lash out. This is precisely what has happened recently, with certain authors setting up sinister self-help groups, the primary aim of which is to hunt down and harass those who dare to leave negative reviews of their books on Amazon.

I can understand the impulse that has led to the creation of such groups, but what they are doing is wrong. It encourages the idea that reviewers are 'out to get' authors, and leads to an atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust. In short, making cyberspace an even more awful place than it is already.

Groups like these make authors look like a malicious bunch who are incapable of responding to criticism in an adult manner. The only decent way to respond to a bad review is to suck it up, take a deep breath, get up from the computer and walk in circles for a bit, perhaps kick the walls and down a stiff brandy or six...but in no circumstances start a hate war on the internet.

Readers might notice I name no names. Cowardly, I daresay, but I don't want to be dragged into the morass. At some point everybody concerned will have to start talking to each other in a reasonable, civilised fashion again.


Friday, 19 April 2013

Medieval soldier database

A fantastic online research source has recently become available, thanks to the Arts & Humanities Research Council working in conjunction with the Universities of Reading and Southampton. It's called the Medieval Soldier Database and is an online listing of medieval soldiers that served in the English army between the late 14th to 15th century. 

The original muster rolls have been transcribed, and it is possible to search under the following categories: first name; surname; status; military rank; captain name; commander; year; activity and reference. 

The database is designed to act as part of a study into soldiers in late medieval England. It  is also great fun and very user-friendly. I entered my family surname into the 'Search' section, hoping to find evidence of ancient Pillings tearing up the battlefields of Agincourt etc, but sadly nothing came up. It seems that my innate cowardice and complete lack of martial skill are hereditary!

Others may have more luck. Check out the link below and go play!

Friday, 12 April 2013

The prince and the outlaw

Following on from my recent posts on Sir John Deyville, this is about Sir Adam de Gurdon, another unjustly forgotten figure of the Baron's Wars, and his dealings with the future Edward I.

GurdonCoat of arms of Sir Adam de Gurdon

Sir Adam was a minor country knight, the Lord of Selbourne in Hampshire and Bailiff of Alton. He sided with Simon de Montfort during the wars of the 1260s and probably fought at the Battle of Lewes, where the royalists were defeated and Henry III taken prisoner along with his son, the Lord Edward. He seems to have avoided being present at the slaughter of Evesham in 1265, and like many of the surviving rebels his lands were stripped from him by the vengeful King Henry. This left the 'Disinherited' with little option but to carry on fighting.

It was now that Adam made his brief cameo in history. He became the leader of one of the outlaw bands that plagued England in the aftermath of Evesham, and set up camp near Alton Pass in Hampshire. The pass was the main route from London to Southampton, so the outlaws could prey on travellers making their way between the capital and the south coast.

It seems that Adam made a serious nuisance of himself, so much so that the Lord Edward decided to deal with him in person.

Edward led a division of royal troops in a head-on attack against the rebel camp near Alton Pass, which was guarded by timber barricades. The barricades were quickly stormed, and a vicious hand-to-hand struggle broke out in the woods. The prince and the outlaw knight met in the thick of the fighting and engaged in single combat.

Medieval knights getting stuck into each other. Quite literally.

Unlike his rather cowardly portrayal in Braveheart, Edward was an accomplished knight, whose height and length of limb gave him an advantage over most other men in a fight. After a hard scrap he beat Adam to his knees and accepted the outlaw's surrender. Adam's men were not so lucky, and most of them were hanged on trees. 

There is a pretty story that Edward raised Adam up, greeted him as his friend and comrade, and sent him as a present to his wife Eleanor at Windsor. This doesn't sound much like old Longshanks, and sure enough the truth is slightly different. Adam was loaded down with chains and sent as a prisoner to Farnham Castle and then Guildford. He was finally sent to the dungeons at Windsor, where, Edward quipped, he could keep the captured Earl of Derby company.  

Despite his hard words, Edward had no intention of punishing Adam further. There were only a finite number of armed knights in England, and the future king needed bellicose men like Adam and Sir John Deyville on his side.

Thus Adam was soon released and restored to his estates. For the rest of his long life (he died in 1305) he remained loyal to the crown, and served as a justice of the forest and commissioner of array, as well as doing military service in Wales and Scotland.

His fate is testament to Edward's gift for inspiring loyalty in former enemies, and a corrective to the modern image of Edward I as an utterly merciless tyrant: mercy, as the king well appreciated, can be useful as well as admirable.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Sir John Deyville - Part Two

Sir John was an unpopular house guest

The baronial defeat at Evesham seems to have brought out John's inner arsonist. First he had to contend with the victorious Lord Edward, who had wooden bridges built so he could approach John's camp at Axholme. In December 1265 the two sides made peace at Bycarr's Dyke in Nottinghamshire, but treaties meant little in those days. Within a few months John and his followers were on the loose again.

Their first target was Sheffield, where they made a great slaughter of the inhabitants and burned the town and castle to the ground. John then rushed to join Robert Ferrers, the Earl of Derby, who was mustering a new army at Chesterfield in Derbyshire. True to form, he sacked and burned more towns and villages on the way.

As the highest-ranking of the surviving rebels, Ferrers was the natural replacement for De Montfort. Unfortunately, he was little more than a selfish freebooter, and lacked the mental and physical capacity to fill the dead man's boots: he suffered from hereditary gout, and had to hobble everywhere on crutches.

Despite his uninspiring presence, the army Ferrers gathered at Chesterfield was a formidable one, especially when joined by John's Yorkshiremen and a band of Lincolnshire men led by Baldwin Wake. A royalist army led by Henry III's nephew, Henry of Almain, raced north to crush them, and fell on the rebels as they lay encamped outside the town. What followed was a sort of medieval Battle of the Somme, as both sides slugged it out for hours amid mud and torrential rain and steadily darkening skies.

By nightfall the rebel lines were shattered. John escaped into the forest - "The bold Deyville to the woods and fields", as one chronicler had it - while Ferrers fled into the town and hid under a pile of woolsacks in a church. He was betrayed by a woman whose lover he had hanged, clapped in chains, and carted off south to imprisonment at Windsor.

The Disinherited were now reduced to the garrison at Kenilworth Castle and a few scattered bands of outlaws. Never dismayed, John galloped back to Axholme, rallied his surviving followers and immediately led them out again. They stormed Lincoln and Norwich, burning and looting in the old style. At Lincoln they deliberately targeted the Jewish quarter, murdering and abducting Jewish moneylenders and burning deeds containing lists of Christian debtors. John owed a great deal of money to the Jews, and this was one way of rubbing out his debts.

A medieval illustration of Jews being attacked by Christians

He then threw himself into the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire, Hereward the Wakes's old stronghold, and established a fortified camp among the reeds and fens. The chronicler Robert of Gloucester noted that:

"Sir John Deville and others, that disinherited were,
Took the castle of Ely, and held them fast there..."

From there his men raided the surrounding area. Cambridge was only spared because the burghers paid John danger money, and he wrote a letter exhorting the people of the town to join the rebellion. Many flocked to his banner, including a townsman named Robert Hood and another local man named Jean de Petit (John the Little).

In despair at the ruinous state of England, the papal legate Ottobuono attempted to mediate with the rebels in Ely and Kenilworth. They rejected his peace terms and replied that they regarded their cause as just: they proclaimed their loyalty to the King, to the Provisions of Oxford, their religious faith, and invoked the memory of Simon de Montfort. It seems that despite his talent for mass destruction, John had certain principles at heart.

Principles or no, his nest of rebels had to be dealt with. A royal force advanced on Ely, only to find that John's men had dodged past them and were bearing down on London. The rebels torched several Hertfordshire towns on their way to the capital, and arrived at Southwark on 11th April 1267. Here they were met by the forces of the young Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, who had thrown in his lot with the cause of the Disinherited.

Earl Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, known as Gilbert 'the Red' for his shock of red hair

For two months the capital was a rebel camp, and from his base at Southwark John took the opportunity to rob and pillage to his heart's content. He even smashed his way into Westminster Palace and carried away the goodies within, including the doors and window frames. The King declared John to be his chief enemy, and his excommunication was publicly renewed at St Paul's on Good Friday.

The occupation of London ended when, against John's wishes, Gloucester secured a royal pardon on the 15th June and agreed to quit the city. John and his followers could not hold out on their own, and on the following day they were granted a truce. On the 18th June the King re-entered his capital in triumph.

Incredibly, considering the widespread damage and loss of life he had caused, John was granted a royal pardon at St Paul's, "for the sake of peace", and allowed to go free. The remainder of his men at Ely were soon forced to surrender by the Lord Edward, who smoked them out by ordering the reeds in the fens to be set alight. Kenilworth had already surrendered after an epic siege, and so the revolt of the Disinherited was all but over.

Though his rebel past was not held against him, John remained encumbered by debts for the rest of his life, and the King and his successor, Edward I, seem to have been careful to keep him in a state of near-penury. Edward was not one to ignore a man of such destructive talents, and several times employed John as a knight banneret in Wales. As well as obligatory military service Edward employed a clever series of financial alleviations and demands - carrot and stick - to keep the aging war-dog at heel.

Sir John Deyville died in the early 1290s, no doubt worn out by a life of riding about at great speed and setting fire to things. A hard man in a hard time, medieval chroniclers were surprisingly fond of him: to Henry Knighton he was 'a canny fellow and a doughty warrior', Pierre Langtoft described him as 'bold and valiant', and the unknown author of the contemporary Song of the Barons referred to "Sir John Deyville who never liked treason or guile." Even more recent writers such as E.F. Jacob and Maurice Powicke have praised the old brute's influence and character.

Hopefully these two articles have shed some light on a virtually-forgotten figure of the Baron's Wars. Simon de Montfort is still popular today, and the general trend is to praise him to the rooftops as the founder of modern parliamentary democracy. It's worth remembering that De Montfort's brief power and success were propped up on the armoured shoulders of men like Sir John Deyville, whose only use for a ballot paper would be to set fire to it...


I must chiefly credit Oscar de Vill for his fine series of essays and articles on the medieval Deyville family. These include:

1) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004): 'Sir John de Deyville'

2) Medievalists' Seminar (1998): 'John Deyville'

3) Medieval Prosopography, 19 (USA, 1997): 'Deyville (or de Daiville): Origins of an English Regional family'

4) Northern History, XXXIV (1998): 'John Deyville, A Neglected Rebel'

6) Nottingham Medieval Studies, XLII (1999): 'The Deyvilles and the Genesis of the Robin Hood legend'

Monday, 8 April 2013

The bold Sir John - Part One

The extremely dangerous Sir John Deyville, doing what he did best

Sir John Deyville - or de Eyvill, D'eyville etc, the name was spelled in many different ways - is a largely forgotten Yorkshire knight who played a vital role in the rebellion of Simon de Montfort and its aftermath. He also plays an important role in my upcoming novel, Nowhere Was There Peace, so I thought it worth posting about him. John was the living prototype of the 'robber knight', a fierce and stubborn man who spent much of his life on horseback, galloping from one blood-soaked encounter to the next.

Born c.1230, John was a troublemaker from his youth. In 1248, while still a minor, he was charged with violent entry into William de Vescy's Yorkshire manor of North Anston. A few years later, in 1253, he had fallen foul of the church and was reported to be 'fleeing from county to county and afterwards beyond sea' following excommunication. Even by the rough standards of medieval barons, this was an unpromising start.

By the late 1250s, John was back in England and back in favour, and rose rapidly to power and status thanks to his alliance with the powerful Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester: he was named as one of the Earl's 'friends and allies' in the letter of March 1259 in which de Clare swore loyalty to the Lord Edward, Henry III's son and heir. Even so, within a few years John  was firmly in the rebel camp of Simon de Montfort, and was to pursue a spectacularly bloody and violent course in the civil wars that wracked England in the 1260s.

While Simon de Montfort was waging war against the King in the south, John stirred up trouble in the north and made life as difficult as possible for the royalists. He refused a royal command to give up his fortified manor at Hode in North Yorkshire, and in December 1263 he and a party of barons forced their way into the city of York. They 'took up their abode where they would, and spent Christmas there'. The citizens coughed up £100 to get rid of them, though not before the barons had laid waste to the abbot of York's lands in Boutham and St Mary's Street.

Following De Montfort's victory at Lewes, John was unrestrained in the north, and took advantage of the chaos to bargain for personal power and exercise his talent for destruction: in 1264 a royal officer named Peter de Percy was compensated for food and wages paid to his soldiers while chasing John and his accomplices as they rampaged through Yorkshire, burning and pillaging at will.

The Battle of Evesham in 1265, where Simon de Montfort was defeated and killed, saw a spate of noble bloodletting unknown since the Norman Conquest.

This was a taste of things to come. John was more at home with guerilla warfare than pitched battles, and for some reason was not present at Evesham in 1265, where Simon de Montfort and his army were exterminated by the vengeful Lord Edward. After the slaughter of Evesham, many of the surviving baronial rebels were intimidated enough to lay down their arms, but not John and his equally ferocious relatives. While he established a rebel camp among the watery fastness of the Isle of Axholme in Lincolnshire, his cousin Nicholas led another band of rebels in the woods of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. His younger brother Robert joined the rebels at Axholme, along with a host of lesser knights and retainers.

Without Simon de Monftort's guiding influence, these men and others like them were poised to embark on an orgy of destruction in revenge for the death of their leader and their own disgrace and disinheritance. Fire and blood will follow in Part Two...


I must chiefly credit Oscar de Vill for his fine series of essays and articles on the medieval Deyville family. These include:

1) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004): 'Sir John de Deyville'

2) Medievalists' Seminar (1998): 'John Deyville'

3) Medieval Prosopography, 19 (USA, 1997): 'Deyville (or de Daiville): Origins of an English Regional family'

4) Northern History, XXXIV (1998): 'John Deyville, A Neglected Rebel'

6) Nottingham Medieval Studies, XLII (1999): 'The Deyvilles and the Genesis of the Robin Hood legend'

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Hooded Man cometh...

Fairbanks...but he won't be much like this. Sadly, real medieval outlaws weren't half so merry as Douglas Fairbanks and his pot of ale. 

He will be cometh-ing in my next novel, "Nowhere Was There Peace", due to be released by Fireship Press in the next few weeks. As part of the build-up to the release, I wanted to talk a little about some of the themes and characters. 

The title comes from the 15th century Scottish chronicler, Walter Bower, a canon of Inchcolm Abbey. He devoted much of his life to working on the Scotichronicon, a history of Scotland and the British Isles.

On page 355 of his work Bower writes of the pitiful state of England in the year 1266:

"Moreover all those who supported Simon in that battle were outlawed and disinherited, so that in the in following year within one week the king of England bestowed lands worth 17,560 nobles on others. The greater part of the disinherited infested the roads and streets and became robbers. Then a deadly struggle broke out between the king and the disinherited, in the course of which villages were burned, towns wrecked, whole stretches of land depopulated, churches pillaged, religious driven from their monasteries, clerics had money extorted from them and the common people were ruined. Nowhere was there peace, nowhere security..."

Bower is writing of the continuing unrest in England following the defeat and death of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. De Montfort's death was not the end of the civil wars, as the remainder of his supporters continued to hold out in the woods and wild places.

King Henry III, never the wisest of rulers, had provoked them into further rebellion by declaring that all those who had supported the Earl were to be stripped of their lands and goods. The "Disinherited", as they were termed, had little option but to snatch up their swords and carry on fighting.
EveshamThe death of Simon de Montfort at Evesham. After the battle the Lord Edward, Henry III's son, had De Montfort dismembered, his head stuck on a pole and his testicles hung either side of his nose. It didn't pay to mess with Ned...

So who is the Hooded Man? I refer of course to Robin Hood, England's most famous and enduring outlaw hero. I'm not the first to suggest that the legend might have originated from the bloody and dramatic years of the Baron's Wars, in which the common people of England were given a voice in government for the first time in history (albeit a small one). 

Returning to Bower, on page 353 under the year 1266 he makes the following reference to Robin Hood:

At this time there arose from among the disinherited and outlaws and raised his head that most famous murderer Robert Hood, along with Little John and their accomplices. The foolish common folk eagerly celebrate the deeds of these men with gawping enthusiasms in comedies and tragedies, and take pleasure in hearing jesters and bards singing [of them] more than in other romances. Yet some of his exploits thus recited are commendable, as is clear from what follows..."

Bower goes on to describe 'Robert Hood' hearing Mass and then beating his enemies in battle: the inference being that the penitent man shall always be saved.

On page 357:


In that year also the disinherited English barons and those loyal to the king clashed fiercely; amongst them Roger de Mortimer occupied the Welsh Marches and John d’Eyville occupied the Isle of Ely; Robert Hood was an outlaw amongst the woodland briars and thorns.  Between them they inflicted a vast amount of slaughter on the common and ordinary folk, cities and merchants..."

Bower describes a very different Robin to the jolly outlaw hero we are all used to seeing in films and novels. This one is a 'famous murderer' who helps to inflict a great deal of damage and slaughter on the country. As such, he is rather closer to the grim reality of medieval crime than Errol Flynn. 

The chaotic state of England at this time makes a perfect setting for fiction, and the rebellion of the Disinherited provided a number of ideal characters: bellicose, fiery men like John D'Eyville, the Lord Edward, Roger Mortimer etc all appear in my novel, burning and hacking their way through the pages as they did through life. The central character, Hugh Franklin, is fictional, a stonemason's son turned government agent who has to cope with the many dangers that this era can throw at him.

And what of not-so-merry Robin? Was Bower correct, did the real-life outlaw hero really exist at this time and fight alongside the Disinherited? The historian Maurice Keen thought that the times and the context would have suited a historical Robin Hood, but lamented the fact that there is no record of anyone called 'Robert Hood' among De Montfort's followers or the Disinherited.

As it happens, Keen was wrong:

The above is an extract from a 1269 Court of Inquisitions, in which local men of Cambridgeshire accused of having supported the Disinherited were summoned to explain their actions. This 'Robertus Hod' or Robert Hood was a townsman of Cambridge, probably one of those who joined the revolt after receiving a letter exhorting them to do so from John D'Eyville, leader of the rebels encamped in the Isle of Ely.

So is this man 'the' Robin Hood? It isn't easy to say. There are many theories as to the origins of the outlaw, and it may be that he is an amalgamation of history, myth and folklore. I put forward my own ideas in Nowhere Was There Peace, but you will have to wait for the book to find out what they are...