Longsword by David Pilling

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Wrath of God

The second in my series of novellas about Robin Hood, titled "The Wrath of God", is now available on Amazon. Those who have read Part One will know that this version of the legend is rather different. It is set in the mid-1220s, as opposed to the usual Richard I/King John timeframe, and incorporates real events and people from the time, such as Fulk Fitzwarin (a ballad hero in his own right), Henry III and Hubert de Burgh. 

If Part One was only slightly merry, then Part Two has no merry at all. That's not because I wanted to take the fun out of Robin Hood, but because any honest depiction of the times demanded it. The thirteenth century was a grim epoch, in England and elsewhere, and the early years of Henry III's reign were no exception.

Pope Gregory IX. Not as cuddly as he looks

Two fascinating events during this period were the foundation of the papal inquisition (the direct forerunner of the Holy Inquisition that later gained such notoriety in Spain and her colonies in the Americas) by Pope Gregory IX, and the anti-papal riots in the north of England. I wanted to include both in my story. Robin Hood takes it upon himself to lead raids on church property in Nottinghamshire, and in response the Pope sends a ruthless inquisitor to hunt down The Hooded Man, as Robin has become known, and consign his body to the flames.

The arms of Thweng of Kilton

Robin's activities are inspired by a real-life Yorkshire knight named Sir Robert Thweng, of Kilton Castle in Holderness. In 1232, a few years after my story is set, Thweng assumed the nickname 'William Wither' and led gangs of men in raids upon grain-stores owned by the church, giving the stolen grain away free to the poor or selling it off cheap. The raids were a protest against the wholesale farming out of English church benefices and land to Italian clergymen, part of Henry III's attempt to curry favour with the Pope, and proved wildly popular. Instead of being arrested or executed, Thweng eventually gained a pardon and was restored to favour. There were rumours that the Justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, was in secret correspondence with the rioters, which might explain the leniency shown to Thweng. One of his descendants, the splendidly-named Sir Marmaduke Thweng, was to earn distinction as just about the only English knight to perform with credit at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Papal justice

The story of the founding of the inquisition is a darker one. As opposed to the earlier episcopal inquisition, whereby local church authorities dealt with heresy, Pope Gregory wanted to create a more efficient centralised organisation that could send out 'trouble-shooters' to stamp out opposition to papal authority wherever it arose. One of his most ruthless servants was Konrad Von Marburg, a German priest and nobleman who was despatched to suppress heresies in Germany and Southern France during the Albigensian Crusade.

Von Marburg's methods were pitiless and savage, and he was an expert at whipping up popular outrage against so-called heretics. His fictional protégé, Odo de Sablé, is sent by Pope Gregory to destroy the Hooded Man and restore some respect for the papacy in England...

Robin Hood (II): The Wrath of God

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