Leader of Battles (V): Medraut by David Pilling

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

King's Knight reissue

One of my older stories from 2013, King's Knight, has just been reissued with slightly tweaked text, book and author information. The Kindle version is now available on Amazon.

In the last days of King Arthur's reign, the elderly Sir Kay recites the tale of his life before darkness falls. Hated by his fellow knights for his arrogance and bullying, Kay reveals the harsh truths behind Arthur's glorious reign. 

Kay is the most loyal of Arthur's followers. From the moment Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, through savage wars against rebel lords and invading barbarians, Kay has remained loyal to his foster-brother, and struggled to keep order among the Knights of the Round Table.

In this, the first of his tales, Kay describes the beginning of the war against the Saxons, his passionate love for a Northumbrian princess, and his adventures in the distant northern land of Thule, home to bloodthirsty warriors, insane witches and a monstrous man-eating cat…

Based on Welsh traditions as well as English and French versions of Arthurian legend, the King’s Knight stories are a fantastical version of the age-old story, told from the perspective of a complex and neglected character.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Medraut review

A goody-good review for Leader of Battles (V): Medraut from Amazon:
'David Pilling`s books for me are sublime having read all his work, this series has a as much brilliance as Bernard Cornwall`s Arthur Trilogy and come highly recommended to fans of `Arthuriana` that respect legend, history and theorum, there is certainly much knowledge and respect of the period gone in here.
Having enjoyed the development of all the characters in the previous books, this is still able to be read as a stand alone if this is your first without backtracking too much.'

Thank you, HS Tibbs!

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Book review

As a change of tack from my usual fiction-related mutterings, here is my review of Dr Caroline Burt's 2013 study of the governance of Edward I:

Dr Caroline Burt’s monograph seeks to reposition Edward I as one of medieval England’s most capable, effective and forceful rulers. Her focus is domestic government rather than military or foreign policy and how Edwardian government operated at a local level. To this end Burt selects three counties, Shopshire, Warwickshire and Kent, and analyses how Edward’s legislation affected these localities. Burt’s particular expertise is 13th century law, and she has a happy knack for explaining complex legal processes via plain, economic language.

Burt begins by explaining the ideas and arguments that underpinned European kingship in this era, with emphasis on the development of ‘the common good’ as the particular responsibility of kings. The language of this concept was influenced by roman and Canon law initially claimed by popes and emperors to expand their authority. In England these ideas, transferred from the continent, meshed with the rise of common law and the Montfortian reforms introduced via the crises of the 1250s and 60s. Thus Edward’s political education was steeped in the language of reform, and many ideas endured despite his destruction of their promoter, Simon de Montfort. One of his first acts as king was to address a major grievance of 1258, that Henry III’s subjects found both the king and royal justice inaccessible. The Statute of Westminster I, enacted in 1275, made improvements to the provision of access to royal justice, increasing the number of options available to litigants. In addition freemen were encouraged to bring formal or unwritten complaints to the government, while the number of commissions of oyer and terminer increased fourfold from 1273-1275. In 1278 Edward directly addressed another of the grievances of 1258, that more local men should be appointed to the shrievalty, and this policy remained generally consistent thereafter.

Burt challenges Michael Prestwich’s long-established view that Edward’s legislative reforms were largely the work of lawyers, with minimal input from the king. She highlights the interventionist nature of Edwardian government, especially in the localities, where the king’s personal choice and promotion of officials had considerable influence on government and public order. Edward’s appointment of capable soldier-administrators to the shrievalty in Shropshire, for instance, both ensured adequate government and the defence of this volatile region. Royal commissions sent to individual counties, along with Edward’s intervention in local disputes, combined effectively to suppress crime and the threat of private war. In this context, Edward’s humiliation of the Earls of Gloucester and Hereford in 1290 was not simply an exercise in ‘masterfulness’, as Professor Rees-Davies put it, but part of a conscious ongoing policy to bring peace and order to the March. Edward’s policy was necessarily dictated by varying conditions: in Warwickshire, for instance, there were many tensions left over from the crises of the previous reign. Each area of the kingdom had its own weak spots and were remedied in different ways. In Kent, ad hoc commissions were set up to deal with local grievances, while the Warden of the Cinque Ports was given a specific brief to deal with crime. In Warwickshire Edward exercised a hands-off policy, relying instead on greater access to royal courts to reduce the level of disorder.

The overall affect of policy, coupled with vast swathes of new legislation, made the first twenty years of Edward’s reign remarkably successful. In 1286 he felt secure enough to leave England for three years to attend to affairs on the continent. His departure coincided with a general rise in domestic crime, a pattern that was repeated in future years as Edward became increasingly embroiled in foreign wars. The notion of ‘great men’ influencing events is unpopular these days, yet Burt provides compelling statistical evidence of the importance of the monarch’s personal presence and intervention in government. Put simply, whenever Edward was distracted from domestic affairs, the level of crime and disorder went up. When he devoted his energies to goverment, it went down again. Part of this may have been due to the fear and respect of his subjects for Edward’s tough attitude towards lawbreakers; or simply that in time of peace he was able to direct his full resources to tackling crime.

No ruler, however tough or capable, could shoulder the burdens of governance alone. Burt pays due tribute to Edward’s advisors, especially his Chancellor, Robert Burnell, and the chief justice Ralph Hengham. Burnell in particular forged a close working relationship with the king, and from 1274 to Burnell’s death in 1292 the two men seem to have barely spent a day apart. Burt speculates, as others have, how this relationship worked: the most likely interpretation is that Edward provided the drive and energy for political reform, while Burnell supplied the creative and technical detail. After Burnell’s death the pace of new legislation slowed, but this doesn’t mean Edward was suddenly bereft of ideas. His government after this date could prove surprisingly sophisticated. Burt notes that the proclamation Edward issued on August 12th 1297, justifying prises taken for the French war, drew on recent scholarship: the language deployed was almost a facsimile of De Regimine Principium by Thomas Aquinas. It seems scarcely credible that Edward spent his spare time reading Aquinas, but someone in his administration was clearly aware of the work and alerted the king to its usefulness.

From 1294 onwards, Edward’s rule ran into serious difficulties. The king’s military commitments rapidly increased until he found himself at war on three fronts: Scotland, Gascony, and Wales. This in turn had the inevitable effect on public order as nobles were called away to fight and increasingly oppressive taxes imposed. Edward declared the poor of his realm should not be prised, but the burdens of prise and purveyance were clearly felt by all classes of society. By 1297 the crisis was acute and Edward faced the prospect of civil war; at the same time his armies were defeated in Gascony and Scotland. His military fortunes improved when he signed a peace treaty with the French and defeated the Scots at Falkirk, but he remained obdurate against domestic opposition. His displays of bad faith at this time recalled the worst days of his youth, and suggest that in some respects the leopard had not changed his spots: at one point he sneaked out of London with the minimum of dignity, simply to avoid signing a charter of concessions. In the end Edward swallowed his pride and signed the Confirmatio Cartarum, which brought a swift end to the crisis. The protests against his rule were specific, rather than an expression of general dissatisfaction, and might have been dealt with much earlier if Edward himself was not so inflexible in the face of opposition.

A decade of war had an inevitable effect on the state of order in the localities. By the early 1300s Edward was obliged to react to the crime-wave sweeping across England, probably a consequence of bands of soldiery turning to robbery and homicide between campaigns.The king’s solution was the trailbaston commissions, so-called after the clubs or ‘bastons’ that many of the lawbreakers carried. These new commissions were authorised to investigate all crimes committed in England since 1297. In cases where no private accuser could be found, suspects would be tried at the king’s suit. As Burt states, this last measure was unprecedented and a prime example of Edward’s personal intervention in law and law enforcement. Trailbaston was accompanied by a typically forceful public statement from the king, in which he declared his intention to wreak vengeance on those who ‘flouted’ his lordship and whose ‘outrages were like the beginning of civil war.’ The commissions proved successful, at least in the short term: record numbers of criminals were rounded up, long-running disputes ended, violence and lawlessness reduced to manageable levels. As an added bonus, the crown benefited from revenues brought by forfeiture of land and property.

Edward’s finances also benefited from improved relations with the papacy, which permitted him to exploit the revenues of vacant bishoprics and money from crusading taxes. In his last years the king’s cash-flow was also supplemented by a loan from the Frescobaldi, who had replaced the Riccardi as his chief source of borrowing. Much of this debt was repaid, but other debts were not, and Edward’s finances were in a parlous state by the time of his death. These debts appear to have had little practical consequence, however, and Edward II experienced no difficulty obtaining a general grant to taxation in 1308. The recent popular notion that Edward went 'bankrupt' during his reign as a result of massive expenditure on castle-building in Wales is incorrect.

The book does have flaws. Burt’s grip on affairs in Wales, the war of 1282 in particular, is sometimes tenuous: in the index she refers to Dafydd ap Gruffudd as ‘Dafydd ap Llywelyn’, and elsewhere misdates the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and the Battle of Maes Moydog. The war of Madog ap Llywelyn is better represented, and provides an interesting example of what Edward could achieve when driven to compromise. Madog’s revolt, Burt argues, demonstrated to the king that he could not hope to keep his gains in Wales without a measure of conciliation. To that end Madog was permitted to live, albeit in prison, and his son Maredudd recruited into the King’s Welshmen (a supplementary unit of the royal bodyguard). Morgan ap Maredudd, leader of the Welsh resistance in Glamorgan, was not only pardoned but knighted and became one of Edward’s chief captains in Scotland. Elsewhere, the weakness of Burt’s statistical arguments is that greater access to royal courts led to an increase in litigation, which in turn generated more documentation. Thus the statistics, based as they are on the frequency of surviving memoranda, are potentially misleading. The author acknowledges this problem and seeks to contextualise whenever possible.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Medraut review

The first review of Medraut is in, and 'tis a goodie:

'As usual with a David Pilling novel, blood and ale flow freely and the reader lives through the terror of battles as they must have been with characters who feel real enough to call friends or enemies. With his Arthurian saga, Pilling has put his scholarship and research to good use in reconstructing a rousing, conflicted world of fifteen centuries ago where the most civilized legacies of Roman Britain are gradually eroded by new conquerors and the failures in men's hearts. In this final installment, as Arthur grows old, making provision for the future of his kingdom, he faces the last great challenge to his vision of a strong, unified British federation against the Saxon invaders. As we so often find today, the ruin of a great nation is bred not without but within and Pilling unfolds the tale of Arthur's final days with grace and finality, bringing the fairy tales of old back to Earth but hanging on to just enough magic to keep the story's timeless resonance. Recommended.'

Friday, 14 July 2017

Monday, 10 July 2017

Medraut on pre-order

The Kindle version of Leader of Battles (V): Medraut is now available on pre-order and will be released on Friday 14th July. Paperback version to follow...

"All the world's wonder, no grave for Arthur..."

Britannia has been at peace for six years. With his enemies defeated, Artorius reigns as High King over a golden era of peace and prosperity. Yet his doom is near. A new generation of young warriors has reached manhood, who care little for the victories won by their fathers. To them Artorius is a relic, an ageing symbol of a bygone era.

These restless young men find a leader in Medraut, the High King's youngest son. Since his return from the East, Medraut has bided his time at Caerleon. Now he steps out of the shadows to take advantage of the growing resentment and unrest against his father. When the Yellow Plague hits Britannia, a lethal sickness that sweeps across the land and spares neither young nor old, Medraut seizes the chance to make his bid for power. All the while, the ever-present threat of the Saxons under their formidable leader, Cerdic, looms in the background.

Leader of Battles (V): Medraut is the fifth and last installment in the Leader of Battle series. A lonely figure, surrounded by enemies, Artorius will ride out to battle one last time and leave the memory of a deathless legend...'

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Medraut cometh...

The last installment of my Leader of Battles series, Medraut, is striding ever closer to publication. This, the fifth book of the series, chronicles the rise of the arch-traitor, Medraut (better known as Sir Mordred in later versions of the story) and his efforts to tear down Arthur's kingdom. The following is an extract...

"Gwarae lay on his back in the wet mud between Cei and the intruders. The old servant’s crutch lay beside him. Dark red blood leaked sluggishly from the gaping knife-wound across his throat. His eyes were wide, as though in shock, staring glassily at the night sky.

Cei sighed. “Poor Gwarae,” he muttered, “poor old fool. They would never have taken you so, in the days of your golden youth.”
One of the figures stepped forward. Cei glanced at him in contempt. A tall, willowy man in a shirt of ring-mail, his face partially hidden under an iron helm. Unlike his companions, he grasped a sword.
“Step outside, old man,” this one said. He was the owner of the shrill voice. Cei was amused to notice his sword tremble slightly. The swine was on the verge of fouling himself.
“I don’t know you, pig,” Cei answered coolly. “Why have you and your band of thieves come to my hall and murdered my only friend left in the world?”
The tall man reached up with his free hand and slowly removed his helm. Cei frowned as he studied the face beneath. Long, white and narrow, with a drooping black moustache and absurd tuft of beard on the end of the pointed chin. There was a weak cast to the face, the thin mouth and little eyes.
Many years had passed since Cei last beheld this unlovely visage. “Gwyddawg,” he breathed. “Gwyddawg fab Menestyr. What rat-hole have you crawled from?”

Friday, 19 May 2017

Medraut - the cover!

I've just received the new cover for Leader of Battles (V): Medraut and couldn't wait to show it off. Here she be! This will adorn the Kindle and paperback versions of the book, which is steadily galloping towards completion - a mid to late summer release date looks most likely.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Leader of Battles (V) - Medraut

Following my book on the wars of Edward I, I have now started work on the fifth (and last) installment of the Leader of Battles, my effort to retell the story of King Arthur set in the bloody, dirty and generally grim world of 5th century Britain. This last book is subtitled Medraut and tells the story of the famous traitor, better known as Sir Mordred, who brought about the final destruction of Arthur's kingdom. Medraut or Mordred has been depicted in many previous versions of this very old story. Mary Stewart recast him as a sort of misunderstood hero, driven by fate, and there is an element of this in my version of the character. On screen he was memorably played by the late Robert Addie in John Boorman's 1981 film Excalibur; here Mordred was the bastard son of Arthur's unwitting incest with his half-sister, Morgana, and played as a perverted angel in golden armour/fetish gear.

Mordred owes much of his villainous reputation to later French and Breton romancers. In the early Welsh chronicles he isn't necessarily Arthur's enemy, and his exact relationship to the king is unclear. In some versions he is Arthur's bastard son, in others his nephew. The earliest known reference to him, from a 9th or 10th century entry in the Annales Cambriae (Annals of Wales), doesn't mention any blood-connection between the two men at all:

'The strife of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut perished, and there was plague in Britain and Ireland.'

From this all we can gather is that Arthur and Medraut were thought to have died together at the final battle or 'strife' of Camlann, implying some internal war among the Britons. At the same time a plague was raging in Britain and Ireland. This brief line in the AC forms the basis for my version of the downfall of Arthur, played out amid the mud, carnage and disease of his decaying kingdom...

Monday, 3 April 2017

The Leopard strikes!

I've been very slack with updates for this blog recently - various writing projects and social media groups have kept me busy! Today I can announce that the Kindle version of my first effort at non-fiction  is released - THE WARS OF EDWARD I (I): THE LEOPARD 1255-74. As the title implies, the book focuses on the military campaigns of the young Edward I of England (reigned 1272-1307), and is the first of a three-part study. Later books will focus on his wars in Wales, Flanders and Scotland. 

The altogether fab and groovy cover was painted by Matthew Ryan, historical illustrator extraordinaire! I'll announce the paperback version when it is ready for publication.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

This is my review of 'Medieval Battles 1097 to 1295' by Paul Martin Remfry. Paul is a fine writer and historian and his books deserve to reach wider notice. Link to the product on Amazon at the end. 


A review by David Pilling This is a comprehensive study of mainly Anglo-Welsh military campaigns between 1047 and 1095 (though it actually ends with the campaign of Edmund of Cornwall against Rhys ap Maredudd in 1287). The author has done an extraordinary job of accessing and translating most of the available primary sources for each campaign; these include chronicle entries, muster rolls, payrolls, detailed records for army supply and logistics (etc). By relying on primary material instead of second or third-hand information - as every responsible historian should - Remfry provides as realistic and accurate a picture of events as the sources allow.

The first half of the book focuses on different aspects of warfare in this period: changing fashions in armour and weaponry, the importance of siege tactics and engineers, mercenaries, trade, tactics and pay, naval transport and fleets, casualties and battle cairns, treatment of wounds, the difficulties of raising armies and maintaining them in the field. There is also an interesting analysis of knightly effigies, royal and baronial seals and what they can tell us about styles of equipment and battle-gear. The sheer depth of Remfry's knowledge provides a well of useful information. For example his complete translation of the account of Edward I's war in Flanders in 1297, from the Chronicle of Bury St Edmunds, was invaluable for my own research.

In the second half Remfry switches to analysis of separate campaigns in Wales, starting with Henry II's march to Corwen in September 1165 and ending in the war of Rhys ap Maredudd in 1287. Again his research is pinpoint, and the use of primary evidence spot-on. Unlike many who write of this era of Anglo-Welsh history, Remfry has no axe to grind, grants zero concession to irrelevant modern sensibilities, displays zero favouritism towards English kings or Welsh princes. Those who lean towards fantasy and romance should give this book a wide berth. The author deals in reality, not prejudice.

Stripped of modern accretion, Henry II's campaign of 1165 is revealed as a partial success, though his strategy was dubious and he made little headway against appalling weather and determined Welsh resistance. However the campaign stabilised the crown’s interests in Powys for a generation, and reinforced a permanent English military presence in the North Shropshire plains. I was surprised to learn how many Welsh mercenaries the king recruited for his later campaigns in France, a practice continued by his successor, Richard I. One French chronicler provides a terrifying account of the savagery of Richard's Welsh troops, and the widespread damage and loss of life they caused. In the end, the threat posed by the Welsh was so acute the French army trapped three and half thousand of them in a valley at Les Andleys and massacred the lot.

Remfry skips over King John and moves on to the Welsh wars of Henry III. Much of this will make gruesome reading for Henry's admirers. No amount of hopeful revisionism or baronial discord can excuse the king's dismal failure to adequately supply his armies in Wales, a mistake he repeated time and again: Ceri in 1228, Painscastle in 1231, Deganwy in 1245 and his final Welsh campaign in 1257. That said, from a Welsh perspective Henry was a persistent opponent, with a habit of bouncing back from his defeats. Llywelyn ab Iorweth repelled most of Henry's badly planned and supported invasions, but after Llywelyn's demise the situation changed. In the mid-1240s, via sheer persistent hammering, Henry managed to reduce the princes of Gwynedd to some level of obedience. This enforced settlement only lasted a few years before the rise of Llywellyn ap Gruffudd saw the English hegemony in Wales virtually swept away by the early 1260s. By now, Henry and his hard-nosed son, the Lord Edward, were embroiled in domestic conflicts and could do little to remedy the situation.

The final section concentrates on the wars of Edward I against Llywellyn. These could reasonably be viewed as the climatic episodes of a conflict stretching back decades, perhaps even centuries. Scholars are moving away from interpreting Edward merely as a king who reversed his father's mistakes, but in one respect the old comparison holds true. Edward's preparations for war suggest he harboured nightmares of previous failures in Wales: hapless English armies dying on their feet through lack of food, their supply lines strangled, their soldiers harried and slaughtered by constant Welsh ambushes.

The statistics are almost beyond belief. In July 1257 Henry III collected the following supplies for his army: 600 quarters (38,400 gallons) of wheat, 400 (25,600 gallons) of oats, 600 fat oxen and cows, 800 salmon, 2000 congers, 6000 hake, 200 tuns (51,200 gallons) of wine. In 1282, by contrast, the English supply centre at Chester alone contained 1,472,000 gallons of grain and 1,689,000 gallons of wine, while for his 1297 campaign in Flanders Edward called for an enormous 6.4 million gallons of grain (for an army of barely 9000 men!). The conclusions to be drawn from these stats are unavoidable. Henry III barely supplied his men with enough food to keep them in the field for the requisite forty days of feudal service. Edward I supplied enough to keep them in chronic indigestion for months at a time.

In summary, anyone interested in the hard realities of 12th and 13th century warfare, with an emphasis on Wales, should get this book. The evidence presented is tilted towards the English side, but this is inevitable due to the nature of the surviving evidence. The records of the English military machine for the mid-to-late 13th century are fairly comprehensive, while little survives for the Welsh save chroni cle references and reasonable supposition. As an example, the most useful indicators for the size of the armies of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in the 1260s are taken from English correspondence.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The following is my review of 'The Killing of Prince Llywelyn of Wales' by Paul Martin Remfry. The book is a bit pricey, but the most exhaustive and valuable study yet of the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, in December 1282.

The first half of the book acts as build-up to the main event. The career of all the main players - Llywelyn, Edward I, John Pecham etc - is discussed, as well as every relevant Marcher and Welsh lord. The correspondence between Llywelyn, Edward and Pecham is given in full, and the religious nature of the final war of 1282 explained. This last is important, as it was one of the defining features of the war and something a modern, largely secular audience might neglect.

I'll cut the cackle and get to Cilmeri. Unless stated otherwise, the opinions expressed below are the author's rather than mine. Every single known medieval source for Llywelyn's death is listed and discussed in turn. Remfry sorts these into Early Primary/Secondary Primary/Secondary/Later. I've never read the sources in their proper date order and context before. The results are illuminating.

 The Early Primary consists of 12 sources, all written soon after Cilmeri, within months at most. Only 2 are Welsh: Aberconwy and the Annales Cambriae. Aberconwy is a likely 14th century copy of an original account dated before June 1283. It says that Llywelyn was 'captured and killed by Edmund Mortimer by a conceived deceit'. The Annales merely says Llywelyn was killed. 6 of the 10 English sources explicitly name Edmund as responsible.

Pecham's letters enforce Edmund's guilt. Edmund is described as in possession of the items found on Llywelyn's body after he was killed. Pecham's first letter to the king practically describes the method of death. Llywelyn had time to talk to his captors before he was killed. He asked for a priest and a white monk sang Mass to him. He was then beheaded in the presence of Edmund's valets, apparently out of their master's earshot; Pecham says they had to inform Edmund of Llywelyn's last requests. Thus Llywelyn was killed much as depicted in the famous drawing (attached). This picture appears in the margin of The Chronicle of Rochester Cathedral Priory, in a section dating 20-40 years after Cilmeri. It seems the manner of Llywelyn's death was no secret. Lured to a meeting, captured, shriven, beheaded. An almost formal execution/murder/assassination (delete according to taste).

Regarding the fate of his army. One of the English Primary sources (Dunstable) says that the prince was killed along with three of his magnates, up to 2000 of his infantry and not many of the cavalry. Dunstable Priory was under feudal obligation to send troops to fight in Wales, especially to the command at Montgomery. Hence the scribes took a great interest in Welsh affairs, military in particular, and this version may well be transcribed from the eyewitness account of a returning soldier.

Of the Secondary Primary, Remfry identifies the Peterborough account as the most valuable. Peterborough Abbey was also required to send money and men for the Welsh wars. This account was written c.1295 and is the first to provide a full list of the Marchers present at Cilmeri. It also provides casualty figures, though the 'Chinese Whispers' process means that by this time the number of Welsh dead had swollen to 3000 and all of the cavalry slain.

Peterborough is also the first to say that no English were killed. This is the basis for the recent theory that Llywelyn's men were all murdered under truce. The real problem here is the lack of a payroll for the English army; a comparison (my opinion) could fairly be made with the Hagnaby account for the Battle of Maes Moydog in 1295, which claims only 6 English were killed. The payroll for this battle does survive and shows that in fact 91 English lost their lives. In any case none of the earliest accounts claim that all of Llywelyn's men were slain.

Guisborough, the most oft-quoted source for Cilmeri, is bracketed among Secondary Primary. Remfry takes an axe to Guisborough, pointing out - quite correctly - the author's unreliability. His account of the history of England from 1066 onward is a tissue of errors, and hence his description of Cilmeri cannot be trusted. It's a fair point, though Remfry is perhaps a little too quick to sweep aside Helias Walwyn and Stephen de Frankton. At the time of writing he wasn't in possession of all the evidence for either, something I hope to discuss with him.

Remfry also has little time for the Hagnaby source favoured by J Beverly-Smith. The date given in the source is wrong (1283) and the idea that the Prince of Wales would be unidentifiable until he called out his name ludicrous. In addition, Hagnaby describes Llywelyn being killed after his army was defeated, while all the other sources put it the other way round.

The author's conclusion agrees with mine. Llywelyn was lured to his death and executed/murdered by the Mortimer brothers at dusk on 10th December 1282. Early on the morning of the 11th his army was ambushed by the forces of Roger Lestrange and worsted - or 'discomfited', to quote Lestrange - though half to two-thirds of Llywelyn's men got away.

Away from Cilmeri, Remfry makes the interesting suggestion that Roger Mortimer the elder (died October 1282) was in cahoots with Llywelyn and secretly passing supplies to Welsh forces. On closer inspection, this idea falls down a bit: the Welsh Rolls show that the problem of English merchants trading with the Welsh was a wide-ranging one, and Edward was frequently obliged to forbid the practice. Mortimer's excellent record of past service to the king would also argue against it.

It may well be that Mortimer had some pretension to the title of Prince of Wales. He had a decent blood claim, though far from the only one. Edward's failure to reward his son Edmund for killing Llywelyn also seems inexplicable. Remfry suggests the king was unhappy over the dishonourable nature of Llywelyn's killing, though this seems unlikely for the man who organised a death-squad at the Battle of Evesham. Remfry's other suggestion, that Edward was alarmed at Mortimer methods and could see himself going the same way as Llywelyn, is more convincing.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Medieval IV: Ring of Steel

So I swapped my writer's hat for the one marked 'critic' and posted a short review of Medieval IV: Ring of Steel by Kevin Ashman. This was an interesting effort to write a series of novels based on the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1295-5. It wasn't quite my thing, but the author can certainly write and others may like to give it a whirl:

'An easy read, and the author has a flowing prose style and good grasp of how to write battles and adventure fiction. Ashman is clearly a Welsh patriot and at times his patriotism shines through a little too brightly: his hero, Madog ap Llywelyn, is forever giving chest-thumping speeches that might have come straight from the mouth of Gwynfor Evans, John Davies or one of the angrier members of Plaid Cymru. The word 'nationalism' is often touted in the text, a term alien to the late 13th century.
Otherwise the story is reasonably accurate, though overtaken by more recent research. Ashman sticks with the traditional account of the Battle of Maes Moydog, supposedly won by the Earl of Warwick's clever mingling of archers with cavalry. In fact the muster rolls show that his army only contained 13 crossbowmen and archers, and the army itself was not large: no more than 2500 men, mainly from Shropshire. Madog's army was defeated, however, and suffered the loss of 700 men. Most of these were probably killed in the rout.
As someone with a deep interest in Edward I - Longshanks - and his reign, I was slightly disappointed with Ashman's depiction of the king. His Longshanks makes for a fairly bland villain, not much more than a one-dimensional bogeyman for proud (and loud) patriots to hurl insults at. Little is made of Edward's reckless dash from Conwy to Nefyn, an unnecessary and apparently suicidal foray that still baffles historians. The depiction of the Welsh attack on Conwy Castle is overcooked and places Edward in far more danger than was the case. Madog's army had no artillery or siege equipment and the castle was well-supplied by sea. The inclusion of the English raid on the Welsh camp, a little-known incident described in the Hagnaby chronicle, is a nice touch.
Madog himself, leader of the Welsh revolt, is painted in equally broad strokes. The author's desire to bring Welsh historical figures to wider notice is commendable, but Madog is basically Mel Gibson's William Wallace come again, albeit in chainmail instead of a kilt. He makes speeches (in fairness, the real man was said to be an effective speaker), slaughters hapless English soldiers by the score, and is generally wonderful and charismatic and heroic. Perhaps Madog was all these things, but a little nuance wouldn't go amiss. No mention is made (unless I missed it) of the awkward fact that his son, Maredudd, entered the service of Edward's personal Welsh bodyguard - the Wallenses Regis or King's Welshmen - and later rose to be a king's esquire under Edward II.
All in all, a good adventure read and nice introduction to a little-known (outside Wales) period of Welsh history, but a somewhat loose and biased interpretation of events.'