Longsword by David Pilling

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Soldier of Fortune cometh (again)

I interrupt my recent series of posts on Edward I and his wars in Wales to bring you news of my latest book. Titled Soldier of Fortune (II): The Heretic, this is the second of a planned trilogy following the adventures of Sir John Page, a semi-fictional English mercenary or 'soldier of fortune' in the early to mid-15th century. 

Fall of Constantinople
Captured at the final siege of Constantinople in 1453, Page is literally forced to sing for his supper (or rather, his life) by the victorious Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed the Conqueror: to save his neck from the executioner's blade, Page must tell a series of Arabian Nights-style stories for the sultan's entertainment. As an old soldier with a long military career behind him, Page chooses to tell stories from his own life - possibly a little exaggerated, but only he knows that. 

Having already recited his first tale, based on his early career as a soldier in Normandy in the army of King Henry V, Page now recounts his time among the Hussites in war-torn Bohemia (part of the modern-day Czech Republic). The Hussites were followers of the martyred Bohemian preacher, Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake as a heretic in Constance in 1415. Hus was a radical who believed in cleansing the Catholic church of sin and corruption, and unsurprisingly hated by the Pope. After being thrown out of Prague University he wandered the country, preaching his ideals to the poor. He gained immense popular support, and when the news of his death reached Bohemia the people flew to arms to avenge him. 

The Hussite armies were essentially made up of peasants, supported by a handful of nobles. Outnumbered and (supposedly) outclassed by the vast armies commanded by the Pope and his allies in Germany and Hungary, they should have been wiped out in a matter of weeks. Instead, thanks to innovative battle tactics and superb use of artillery, they won a series of unlikely victories against the odds. Thus the cream of the elite warrior nobility of Christendom was humiliated, time and again, by a few thousand commoners and some farm carts converted into gun-toting 'war wagons'.

The Hussite Wars, as they were called, raged for seventeen years. Page's story covers the years 1421-24, when the wars were at their height. For his sins, Page fights in the major battles and sieges, and witnesses some of the worst atrocities committed in a land riven by bitter civil conflicts, external invasions and extreme religious zealotry. During the course of the tale Page meets Jan Zizka, the famous Hussite general, meets a new love and loses old friends. 

My good friend Martin Bolton has drawn a splendid map of Bohemia c.1420, which will be inside the paperback version of the book:

Soldier of Fortune (II) The Heretic is currently in the last stages of editing and will be available very soon. More details to follow soon... 

A previous update on the book, including a brief account of Jan Zizka, can be read under the link below: