Longsword by David Pilling

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Tony Riches

Today I am hosting a guest post by a fellow writer of historical fiction, Tony Riches. Tony is also based in Wales and is currently writing a series of novels based on the lives of Owen and Jasper Tudor, essentially the founders of the Tudor dynasty. Take it away, Tony...

"Inspiration for writing The Tudor Trilogy:

 I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle and often visit the small room where the thirteen-year-old Lady Margaret Beaufort gave birth to the future king, Henry Tudor. I also recently stood on the remote beach at Mill Bay near Milford Haven, imagining how Jasper Tudor would have felt as he approached with Henry and his mercenary army to ride to Bosworth - and change the history of Britain.

 All I knew about Owen Tudor was that he was a Welsh servant who somehow married the beautiful young widow of King Henry V, Queen Catherine of Valois, and began this fascinating dynasty. Inspired to write a historical fiction trilogy about them, I was amazed to discover that, although there are plenty of references to Owen, Jasper and Henry in novels, there were none that fully explored their lives. I wanted to research their stories in as much detail as possible and to sort out the many myths from the facts.

There are, of course, huge gaps in the historical records, which only historical fiction can help to fill. For example, there is no record of the marriage between Owen and the Dowager Queen Catherine, although I have also not been able to find evidence of the legitimacy of his descendants, particularly Henry VII, ever being challenged.

Another advantage I have is that my previous two historical fiction novels, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham, and WARWICK ~ The Man Behind The Wars of The Roses are also set in the fifteenth century, so my considerable library of books and papers on the period are invaluable in cross checking dates and events.

Tony Riches next to a statue of Henry Tudor
I’m pleased to say that the first book of The Tudor Trilogy, OWEN, has already become an Amazon best-seller in the UK and US, and is my best-selling book in Australia, where I have a rapidly growing readership. I would like readers to remember Owen as an adventurer, a risk-taker, a man who lived his life to the full and made his mark on the world through his descendants. Jasper Tudor made it possible for his nephew Henry to become King of England and bring a lasting peace to the country.

I am now helping to campaign for a statue of Henry Tudor to be erected outside Pembroke Castle so that their legacy is not forgotten. Tony Riches is a UK historical fiction author living in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Here he discusses his latest novel about Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who married the Queen of England and founded the Tudor dynasty..."

Tony outside Pembroke Castle
You can find out more on Tony’s blog ‘The Writing Desk’ at www.tonyriches.co.uk and find him on Twitter @tonyriches. Owen – Book One of the Tudor Trilogy is now available in eBook and paperback on Amazon

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Sweet Clemence

Medieval women, especially noblewomen, are often depicted as pliant and oppressed, very much in the shadow of their menfolk. There were some notable exceptions, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc, but in general women in this era tend to be viewed as pawns - useful chattels, brood mares and bargaining counters, to be wedded, bedded and replaced once the inevitable pregnancies killed them off.

Shy and retiring? Moi?
One startling exception to the rule was Clemence de Lungvilers, a minor noblewoman whose family held lands at Egmanton in Nottinghamshire and Barnburgh in South Yorkshire. Unusually for a woman of her class and time, Clemence doesn't seem to have married, or perhaps her husband died young. She was scarcely in need of a husband to act as protector, for Clemence was as capable of violence as any man, especially when it came to defending her rights. The York Assize of 1273 records one particularly vicious assault she and her followers committed against a certain Richard de Boulton:

"Richard de Boulton appeared against Clemence de Lungvilers, William le Noble, John de Pengiston, William le Keu, Roger Cony, Hugh le Messager and William son of Maud de Egmanton, accusing them of having assaulted him lately at Egmanton, and beat, wounded and mistreated him, in such a way that he was completely in despair of his life, and took and carried away his money and other goods and chattels, and inflicted other serious damages on him against the peace of the lord king..."

The reason for this attack is not given, but we know from a later entry in the Patent Rolls that Richard was a forest official in the service of Richard de Clifford, a royal justice. Possibly Richard had overstepped the mark and tried to impose his authority on Clemence, If so, he soon had cause to regret it.

Clemence avoided prosecution thanks to two of her kinsmen, Robert Deyvill and William Deyvill, who stood surety for her behaviour in court. These local knights were her relatives by marriage, since her father, Sir John de Longvilers, had married into the Deyvill clan. The Deyvills were themselves a dangerous family, one of the lawless Mafia-style gangs of rural gentry that plagued England, and involved in a staggering level of crime. Between 1263 and 1281, they were indicted in over three hundred separate cases of robbery, homicide, arson and other crimes, as well as being active in the civil wars between Henry III and Simon de Montfort. One of the clan, Sir John Deyvill, described as a 'canny and hardy warrior', plundered almost every major town between York and London. Another, Jocelin, led a band of two hundred armed robbers who rode about the country disguised as monks, and was eventually drawn and hanged for his crimes.

A family wedding, medieval-style
With such people for in-laws, Clemence needed to tread carefully.  However, shortly after the assault on Richard de Boulton, family relations broke down:

"Clemence de Lungvilers claims that John de Eyvill, Adam his brother, Thomas de Eyvill, John de Eyvill the nephew of John, William, John de Eyvill's clerk, John de Husthayt, William de Eyvill of Egmanton and Robert de Eyvill of Egmanton came with force of arms to her manors of Egmanton and Barnburgh, seized and carried away her goods and belongings, and inflicted other outrages upon her. She demands justice."

The dispute between Clemence and the Deyvills rumbled on in the courts for almost a decade, until a final judgement was reached in 1278 whereby both parties were ordered to keep the peace. By now Edward I was on the throne, and he wasn't going to tolerate the sort of low-level crime and disorder that marred his father's reign. The violent energy of the Deyvills was channelled against the enemies of the realm: John and his kinsmen were summoned to do military service in Wales, where their taste for guerilla warfare could be put to good use. One of them, Adam, was killed during the final war of 1282 against Llewellyn ap Gruffydd.

Clemence, meanwhile, appears to have been left to enjoy her lands in peace. No shrinking violet, she wasn't afraid to use the tools of the men around her - casual violence, family connections, shameless recourse to law - to survive and prosper in an unimaginably bleak and bloody world.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Soldier of Fortune 2, complete with Hussites

It's been a while since my last post, for which the festive season and my own unpardonable lethargy can be blamed. Now, though, with the New Year kicking in amid endless downpours and rainwater rising through the carpet in my house (yes, January in West Wales is every bit as grim as it sounds) I'm all fired up and ready to shed the Christmas waistline.

The first bit of news is that I've started work on the sequel to Soldier of Fortune (I): The Wolf Cub, which was a something of a hit on the Amazon Bestsellers list and floated around the Top Five in the Historical Fantasy section for a few months. The adventures of Sir John Page, an English mercenary captain knocking around Europe in the early 1400s, seem to have struck a chord, and there are plenty more to come.

The death of Jan Hus
Still holed up in the Sultan's prison in Constantinople, obliged to tell (possibly slightly exaggerated) stories of his own life in order to stay alive, Page's second enforced memoir concentrates on his exploits during the Hussite Wars. These were religious wars fought in Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic) between the followers of Jan Hus and the various hostile kingdoms that surrounded their country. When they weren't fighting external enemies, the 'Hussites' often split into factions and fought each other, making poor Bohemia quite the battleground.

Jan Hus was a Bohemian priest who spoke out against the corruption of the Catholic church. One of his main bugbears was the sale of indulgences, whereby the church effectively sold pardons, guaranteeing an individual redemption for his or her sins, in exchange for cash. Anyone from the lower classes who spoke out against this practice was beheaded, and these victims were later considered the first Hussite martyrs. Hus himself, after many years preaching against the abuses of the church, was lured to an assembly at Constance in Germany in 1415 with the promise of a safe conduct. There he was betrayed and burned at the stake, his ashes thrown into the Rhine. His last reported words were 'Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on us!"

Hussites at war
The death of Hus sparked outrage in Bohemia. Four years after his death open war broke out between the followers of his teachings, the Hussites, and the supporters of Sigismund, King of Hungary, brother of the late King of Bohemia. Sigismund wanted the crown of Bohemia for himself, but there was one rather large snag: it was Sigismund who had lured Hus to Constance, and Sigismund who tore up the hapless preacher's safe conduct and had him consigned to the flames. The chances of Hus's followers, of which there were thousands in Bohemia, especially among the peasantry, accepting Sigismund as their monarch were therefore less than zero.

With the support of the Pope, and the military backing of his own kingdom as well as allies in Germany and a huge number of mercenaries, Sigismund might have expected to roll over Bohemia's apparently feeble defences. Against his enormous and well-equipped army, bursting at the seams with armoured knights and men-at-arms equipped with all the latest gear, the Hussites could only muster a few thousand peasants and a tiny number of loyal Bohemian nobles, nowhere near enough to face the might of their enemies in the open field. It should have been a wipe-out, a massacre, all over inside a few weeks if not days, similar to the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.

Statue of Jan Zizka in Prague
One man, however, rescued this apparently hopeless situation. His name, as any Czechs who might be reading this will know, was Jan Zizka. My next post will focus on Zizka, one of the genuinely great commanders of history, and to this day considered a national hero in the Czech Republic.