Monday, December 28, 2009

MEDIEVAL MONDAY: Dealing with the money men Medieval Style!

For today's Medieval Monday, I have
gone to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle for the year 1125. Here is a cheery little Christmas story for everyone, and with last year's financial difficulties and disgraces in mind, this is how Henry the First dealt with his money men when they weren't quite honest.

1125: "King Henry sent before Christmas from Normandy to England, and bade that all the moneyers in England should be deprived of their limbs, each one of the right hand and the testicles below; that was because the man who had a pound could not buy with it a pennyworth at a market. Bishop Roger of Salisbury sent all over England, and bade them all that they should come to Winchester at Christmas. When they came hither, they were seized one by one, and each one deprived of the right hand and the testicles below. All this was done within the Twelvenight, and it was all with great justice, because they had ruined all the land with great fraud; they bought all that dearly...."
Bring back the good old days eh? :-) Merrie Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

And the Winners Are....!

I've just taken time out from the big Christmas cook-in to do the draw forThe Running Vixen give away. This is my other half standing in the kitchen between chores. I am sorry not to have more copies, but the lucky five winners are numbers 8 and 11 who win The Running Vixen and The Wild Hunt, and then numbers 23, 18 and 40, who win The Running Vixen on its own. When I count the number of the poster in the blog, I find the winners are:

For the two books

Lady D

For The Running Vixen


Congratulations! :-)

If you would like to PM me a forwarding address, I'll get the books sent off first thing in the New Year. My e-mail adddress is

Sorry to those who didn't win - blame my husband who picked the numbers! I'll be running other draws though. Next one will be in March when The Scarlet Lion comes out in the USA, and then in May when To Defy a King is published in the UK.

In the meantime, merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Right, back to the baking frenzy....

Monday, December 21, 2009

MEDIEVAL MONDAY: 2 letters of King John

Today's samples of Medieval work in translation are a couple of letters from the patent rolls in the Tower of London pertaining to King John. In my novels where John makes his appearance, I have often described him as the kind of man who found it more interesting to dig tunnels than walk in a straight line on the surface.

The below are letters of John's concerning countersigns in secret embassies.
The King &c. to Robert de Vipont, greeting.
If Guido de Castellon will find you such security as we elsewhere signified to you by letter, then cause him to be liberated by this countersign: namely we commend you not to liberate him unless we should send Thomas de Burgh to you; we send you, however, in the stead of the same Thomas, our beloved and faithful Peter de Rupibus, our Treasurer of Poitou, and ye may undoubtingly credit him in this business. Witness ourself at Verneuil on the 26th day of September. By Peter de Rupibus (AD 1201).

Here's another one. Except John got in a muddle because he'd forgotten to whom he had given instructions!
The King &C. to Hubert de Burgh, his Chamberlain and Peter de Stokes &c. We command you to allow William Baudud clerk to speak with Geoffrey de Lusignan, through Thomas the clerk of our chamber, by this countersign; namely that we enjoined you, to believe nothing whatsoever, unless we should signify it to you by one of those three persons of our household whom we named to you; and we believe the same Thomas to be one of those three; and should he not be one of them, yet, nevertheless we desire that through him the aforesaid William Baudud the clerk may for the present speak to the said Geoffrey. And because we do not well recollect who those three were, inform us thereupon, that another time we may with more certainty give you our commands; for we truly wish that he may see him, and converse with him.
And if the aforesaid Geoffrey
be willing to follow, in all things, the agreement made between us and the Viscount of Thouars, a transcript of which we send to you, then we will that he be released from fetters and partially put in ring-chains. Witness ourself at Chinon on the 26th August.

I'll be publishing more from the patent rolls on other Medieval Mondays since they are a mine of information about the life of King John, the political, the social and the domestic. Here's just another small glimpse. Different this time. It's a list of what was being recieved into his treasury and it's dated December 9th, so not far off our own season.
Teste 9th December at Clarendon. Know that on the Saturday next after the feast of Saint Nicholas (8thDec) in the 9th year of our reign, we received at Clarendon our great crown which came from Germany &c.

Of course we no longer know what that crown looked like or what happened to it. Bottom of the Wash? Now there's a thought!

Don't forget, my blog contest below is still open until mid-day Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

THE RUNNING VIXEN - Christmas Draw

I am coming to this later than a lot of readers, but FINALLY I have received my author copies of THE RUNNING VIXEN! The course of publishing does not always run smoothly and there was a slight delay in me receiving my set of books. Anyway, they are here now, and just in time for Christmas, I have 5 copies to give away, and the first two come with a copy of THE WILD HUNT included. I will leave the draw open until mid-day Christmas Eve London time. Just leave a note on the blog if you want to be included in the draw. I will assign each request a number, put them in my Norman helmet on folded up scraps of paper and get my husband to make the draw on Xmas Eve. Obviously the winners won't receive their book until the New Year, but I'll get them sent out as soon after the festivities as I can get to an open Post Office.

THE RUNNING VIXEN is a re-issue of my second novel and belongs to the time when I was writing at the more romantic end of the historical fiction market. It's a stand alone follow up to THE WILD HUNT and is about the natural daughter of my hero from that novel the half-Welsh Heulwen (which means sunshine. I found out after I'd written the novel that my sister in law lives next door to a Welsh lady called Heulwen). It has been interesting rewriting this one as there are moments including Geoffrey of Anjou and the Empress Matilda. I am writing about the latter at the moment and both she and Geoffrey are not entirely the same now as the characters I created all those years ago. Back then I just used to start writing, never knowing where the book would take me. It was a flying by the seat of the pants approach, but it seemed to work!
THE RUNNING VIXEN was published in paperback in the UK and the USA in the early 90's but sadly had a very short shelf life. This was partly due to the natural vagaries of the industry at the time and partly due to the death of publishing mogul Robert Maxwell. After his death his publishing empire was split up and there were some tough times ahead for his authors, me included. THE RUNNING VIXEN arrived and vanished faster than the time it takes for milk to become yogurt. But anyway, that's all water under the bridge and here it is now. For the chance to win a copy, just leave a note on the blog and I'll take it from there.
The third book in the series THE LEOPARD UNLEASHED is due for publication next December once I've re-edited it.

First UK cover

USA version

German book club - recognise
the cover of Lords of The
White Castle here?

From Russia with love!

Monday, December 14, 2009


Today's excerpt comes from Jocelin of Brakelond's Chronicles of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds.
Jocelin was a monk there and wrote a narrative of events there between 1173 and 1202.
On the night of St. Etheldreda - 22nd June 1198, he tells us that a fire broke out in the shrine itself when part of a candle set fire to a wooden dais under which there was a storage space containing wax, linen thread and sundry items - the general impression being that it had become a kind of dump-all for the wardens of the shrine. The fire spread and calamity threatened....

'....the clock struck for Matins and the vestry master, on getting up, saw the fire, and ran as fast as he could, and beat upon the board s if someone were dead, and shouted in a loud voice that the shrine was on fire. We all rushed up, and met the incredibly fierce flames that were engulfing the whole shrine and almost reaching up to the beams of the church. Our young monks ran for water, some to the rain water tank, some to the clock, and some, with great difficulty, when they had snatched up the reliquaries, put out the flames with their hoods. When cold water was thrown on the front of the shrine, the precious stones fell down and were almost pulverised. Moreover, the nails by which the sheets of silver were held to the shrine came loose from the wood underneath, which was burnt to the thickness of my finger, and without the nails the sheets were hanging one from another. Yet the golden Majesty on the front of the shrine, with some of the stones, remained stable and intact, and was more beautiful after the fire than before, because it was solid gold.'

I was very interested the first time I read this because I hadn't realised until then, that clocks were around as early as the end of the 12thC. Somehow I'd thought it was slightly later. I was also fascinated by the detail that the monks were aroused from slumber by someone beating on a board. I'd have expected them to ring a bell, but no. The details concerning the shrine itself were interesting too.
The translation is readily available in the Oxford World Classis series.
The shrine at Bury St. Edmunds was one of the most important places of Pilgrimage in the 12th and 13th century and St.Edmund was the closest thing England had to a patron saint at the time.
My hero in The Time of Singing, Hugh Bigod, carried the banner of St. Edmund into the battle of Fornham St. Genevieve in 1173 when King Henry II's supporters defeated the Young King's rebel army.

Monday, December 07, 2009


I had started to run a small feature titled Medieval Monday at Facebook, but found that I didn't have enough room for the post on my profile. I've therefored moved it over to my blog. Basically, in between my usual blogs and every Monday, I will quote a small piece in translation from a Medieval primary source. It will be as it takes my fancy, but I hope to show the rich texture of Medieval life and how similar and different it was to our own.

My first post for this new series at my blog venue comes from the Historia Novella of William of Malmsbury, who wrote this prior to 1142. I'd written a shortened version at Facebook a couple of weeks back, but here it is with fuller flavour. It concerns men with long hair.

'In the twenty eighth year of his reign the king returned from Normandy to England. In the twenty ninth year a thing befell in England that may cause wonder to our wearers of long hair who, forgetting what they were born, enjoy transforming themselves to look like women. One of the knights in my part of the country, proud of his very luxuriant hair but alarmed by the stings of conscience, imagined in his sleep that he saw someone strangling him with his own tresses, and so, on waking up, he promptly cut off all the excess of hair. This precedent quickly made its way through England and, as a penalty just suffered is wont to influence the mind, almost all the knights had no objection to their hair being cut to a reasonable length. But this strictness did not last for long, since a year had hardly passed before all who regarded themselvs as courtiers relapsed into their old fault; they vied with women in the length of their locks and when the hair was inadequate, they fastened on a kind of wig, forgetting, or rather not knowing, the Apostle's judgement. 'If a man have long hair it is a shame unto him.'

Nothing new under the sun is there?

As I have the time, I am also adding to my sidebar the first and last sentences of my work in progress each day. It'll keep changing. First lot's tonight, but will be different tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Cover For To Defy a King!

I went to London yesterday and asked my editor if it was okay to show the cover of TO DEFY A KING to the world. She said yes, so here it is. It's a PDF that I've had to open in paint and a better resolution one will be available in the not too distant future, but here's one to be going on with - and isn't it fabulous! It still says historical fiction, but it's not run of the mill headless woman/body part/ etc. It has a filmic looks and I love it to bits. The background cloth is slightly more prominent and is a kind of rich damask fabric.
Click on the image to enlarge

Monday, November 16, 2009

Empress Matilda - Some Akashic notes

I mentioned last time that I'd be posting some snippets from my Akashic Records research on the Empress Matilda. What are the Akashic Records? Here's an explanatory piece on my website about them. Sometimes this method of accessing the past is known as Remote viewing.
Alison and I have been investigating the life of the Empress Matilda for about 6 months now. There is still a wealth of research to come, but here, for the curious and the interested, are a few select paragraps from the 100,000 words we've assembled so far on the subject of her life, her times, and the people surrounding her. My work in progress has a working title of LADY OF THE ENGLISH (which may change) and is going to be about Empress Matilda between 1125 and 1148. She will be sharing the stage with Henry I's queen, Adeliza of Louvain, who was also 'Lady of the English' during her time as a royal wife.

I will post more notes on another occasion. These are taken at intervals from the chronological document where I collate the weekdly episodes. We haven't got fully going on the civil war yet. The below are pieces from the earlier years and only the point on the tip of the iceberg.

Matilda as a child before she goes to marry the Emperor of Germany.

She’s like a miniature grown up. I would say she is very forceful, very aware. Not afraid, not timid, interested in everything, interested in experiences. She has a lot of life about her. She has love for her father. Her eyes go up at the right hand side when she thinks of her father. Her eyes make a little crescent and they’re just adoring. They come alight. How does she feel about her mother? Alison’s voice lowers and grows dull. ‘Bleuggh, Mummy. Mummy’s as dull as ditchhwater she thinks, and mummy smacks her with a stick, so mummy’s not favourite. She doesn’t want to be like mummy, she wants to be like daddy.

Matilda's relationship with Emperor Henry

He talks politics with her. He knows that she is interested in politics and that she is motivated by politics. So he thinks that it will make him more attractive to her. If she wants a man to be proud of, he will be that man. Mainly he thinks of her as slightly in the background in her correct position and following him around. He thinks of her as smaller than him, doing the right thing. He does appreciate her quite a lot actually. He appreciates her good sense and being able to see the right thing to do in the right circumstances and that she is sensible in her household duties. He likes that. He thinks that he’s got a genuinely good egg. He’d just like to get her a bit more aroused. Alison laughs. He’s always cogitating how to do this! I say – like the guy buying his wife the basque and the suspenders for Christmas! Yes!

So what does Matilda think about being given these sexy clothes? Alison replies that they’re not sexy, they are genuinely beautiful. I say, ‘So what does she think about being given all these gifts and clothes? She likes it. Who wouldn’t? In a shy way she appreciates him for doing it, and also because they are often things that she would never have thought of, so it enhances her life, and he has a way of thinking of these things and she would never have bothered. If she had to do those sort of things, they would have been very practically carried out, but she can see the advantage as well and feel how it holds sway in the court to look very good – so she uses it in a practical way and she is starting to have quite a soft spot for him. I wouldn’t say it’s a meeting of souls or anything, but there is a side of her that’s quite fond of him

Now go to any time before 1126 when Matilda was pregnant – if there was a time.

Alison: I feel sick. Yes, she’s puking. Yuk. She’s got all these gorgeous silk gowns on. She feels absolutely dreadful. She’s rolling on the bed. She feels horrible. Sick. She’s rolling on the bed and holding her stomach. She’s crying – not sobbing, but it’s bringing tears to her eyes it’s so bad. She’s feeling really horrible. Fast Forward. More sickness. She feels as if she’s going to retch her whole insides out. It’s made her feel so ill; she’s all pale and can’t do anything. All sunken in and weak. FFW. She’s pretty bad. She’s not being sick now, but she’s weak and ill and her tummy hurts. Every time she moves she feels as if she’s at sea and she’s going to be sea-sick, so she tends to stay very still, sitting in a chair. FFW This feels better now. She’s walking now, waddling. Quite heavy. She’s resigned to things. She often has to be helped. I can see her being helped to have a bath. I can see her putting her foot in the water. The bath tub is one of these wooden things. She’s being given a good wash and her hair piled up on her head. She’s thinking that if all pregnancy is like this, it’s a wonder she didn’t know it was as bad as this and people must have had a real conspiracy of silence about all this. FFW. More sickness again and ripples of movement, although it doesn’t feel painful this time. She’s just about unconscious; that’s why it doesn’t feel painful. She keeps going in and out of consciousness. She’s absolutely exhausted and it’s still all in there; it hasn’t come out. She’s in labour? I think so, unless she’s asleep. Yes, she’s in labour. She’s not in her body though; she’s going way, way off. It’s taking ages, FFW. There’s a lot of blood. Her back passage is really in trouble as well. Nothing’s happening. I can see the baby’s head and it’s all blue and still between her legs.

Matilda's reaction to the Emperor's death?

Alison: Grief, sadness in her abdomen, solar plexus, eyes. Crying. She’s also quite controlled in the sense that she’s static in one place. She’s sitting quite neatly and crying gently. FFW. She’s coming out from the crying. In the aftermath she’s still feeling quite gutted and delicate but she’s making the motions of carrying on in a normal way. Those around her are very sympathetic and allowing for her grief and allowing for her trying as well. Her trying? Her trying to restore normality. They feel sadness as well. This is a genuine sadness and grief that is passing. There’s not much thought going on beyond that sadness, apart from a small thought low down ‘What shall I do now?’

Description of Stephen of Blois, future King of England

Stephen has very bulbous features. He has wide, round eyes with heavy lids and heavy underneath sometimes. Mid-brown eyes that are quite dense.

Robert of Gloucester, Matilda's half brother

He’s a big, intelligent complex man. Tall, strong, flexible. Aaah, he picks Matilda up in his arms, kisses her on both cheeks. He treats her like one of the boys in lots of ways. He doesn’t alter the conversation at all for her. He says it’s good to have her back.

He seems to be tired. He’s dozing and it’s late at night. She comes into the room. She’s got her arm round a basket of stuff. She’s clearing the room, putting things in the basket. He says ‘Don’t do that right now. Sit by me.’ He makes her put the basket down. They sit together and make plans about what she wants to do with her life. He is being very attentive in a military way. Very practical. He doesn’t miss out on the emotion either. He often asks ‘How do you do that in Germany? (doesn’t say Germany but that’s what he means). He brings her out and makes her rise to the occasion and use her intelligence. He gives her his perspective on what she says as well. He doesn’t seem to be talking about himself. It’s not necessary. He’s interested in knowing about her and he’s thoughtful. His emotions and his mind work closely together. Does he think Matilda could be the next ruler of England? Maybe, with the right man at her side. It’s too early to tell yet. He certainly takes her very seriously. He’s assessing her character all the time and likes what he sees. She is straight. He trusts her. She is someone with logic and a brain. She has everything you need for any situation.

Description of Geoffrey of Anjou, Matilda's 2nd husband - on being told he is to marry Matilda.

There’s a dusty, ashy feeling in the mouth and a downturn of the lips. He’s thinking he’s getting something second-hand, used. He’s got all his youth to offer and he’s to get something second hand. He’s thinking maybe if he uses her very well she may die in childbirth because he’s heard that older women do. And then he can have someone nice. I can feel that he’s in quite a large room with his father. They’re at quite a distance. His father is nearer towards the fire and Geoffrey is looking across the room and towards the window. He’s thinking of all the luscious ladies in the village outside who would be very acceptable but he’s to have this older lump of a woman. He knows where he’s at politically. They’ve had a lot of discussion around the political side of it. But never mind, If he goes at it hard that will be the best plan of action and he’s got youth on his side, he’ll outlive her. And then, political thing satisfied, he’ll be able to have his pick. Meanwhile he’s just got to put a brave face on and be political. He is quite pleased with that because he is rather handsome and he likes posing and inspecting. He has wavy hair, quite thick lips nicely shaped. Plumpish soft cheeks. Very attractive in a cherubic sort of way. The eyes are not cherubic at all. They’re a greenish colour but they flash! And when they flash, they flash blue in the depths of the green. Very glassy, but sea-type colours.

How Brian FitzCount, supporter of Matilda, felt about her.

Alison makes a small sound. He has to look the other way actually. Because he likes her? Yes. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he doesn’t trust himself – but oh gosh, it’s terrible actually. If he got attached to her, it would be like falling down a huge mountain in darkness and he couldn’t do it to himself. So he has to keep it very light and very official. It is the loyal servant very much in love with the mistress. But this loyal servant is also extremely intelligent and also self aware and aware of his position and feelings and situation. He has real dignity.

What Queen Adeliza thinks about Matilda getting married to Geoffrey of Anjou.

Alison: She couldn’t be more pleased. She thinks it’s delightful. He’s handsome. She thinks Matilda will be very lucky. Her husband is such a clever man for thinking of the match and guiding his daughter in this way. She likes the feeling that everything’s settled. She thinks Matilda will soon get used to it. It’s hard for her to get over the grief of her first bereavement. She understands that; that is the main thing that gets in the way. So the age difference doesn’t bother her? He is very mature for his years and when he is in his twenties they will both be adults, so she can’t see a problem. She says that his seed will be young and potent, so they will be guaranteed good, healthy children. She knows it has been a problem for Matilda (as well as herself) and it makes her sad, but she wishes well to Matilda. Has she discussed the situation with Matilda re the betrothal and marriage? She can see Matilda moping. Matilda is very reluctant to talk to Adeliza. Adeliza is sad because she wants to comfort Matilda and reassure her that everything is going to be all right and she’ll have a good life. She thinks Matilda is sad because of the death of her first husband and wants to comfort her. It’s all falling on deaf ears. Adeliza wishes she could do something to change Matilda’s attitude before she goes. She dearly wishes that. She talks about it to Henry but he’s not very sympathetic. Adeliza becomes thoughtful. She doesn’t know what she can do, but she hopes that on the journey to Anjou, Matilda will have a change of heart and look forward, not back, and be looking forward to being a wife and a mother in a great household. She prays for her and wishes sincerely for her wellbeing.

She provides clothes and goods for her to take with her and help her on her journey – particularly clothing. Quality things.

David, future King of Scotland

He’s got very lively, sparkly brown eyes. He’s a very nice person, a loving person, but quite balanced and he knows the score. He knows everybody’s not nice. He’s a very able person. He knows himself well. He can turn on the charm. He’s basically a nice guy, but not a fool and not naieve.

Henry II as a toddler with his mother

I am seeing bottle shapes. They look like skittles and they are falling down. The child is crawling. It’s outdoors. They are on grass. The child is crawling towards the skittles. Matilda has told everyone to hold back a bit, not roll any more balls. She wants to see what he’ll do. He’s put one of the skittles back up on its base. He’s put a loop round it. It’s not skittles that you knock over but the sort you put a hoop over. It’s a flat hoop about an inch and a half wide. Alison laughs. Then he puts both arms in the air as if to say ‘Hooray, I’ve won!’ Aaah, Matilda is clapping him and saying ‘Well done, well done. Bravo! Bravo!’ He’s still holding a hoop while he’s in her arms and he’s waving it about and she’s praising him for being so clever. She is saying, ‘Here is the winner of the game, here is the winner! She’s holding him up higher as well. She is saying more quietly to him ‘That’s right, that’s how you win.’ Meaning? It doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you get the hoop over. She’s praising him because she wants a winner in the household. She’s making sure that everyone in the court applauds him and acknowledges his win – so she is also training them. She is saying ‘Daddy will come and explain some more things to you. Your daddy is a ferocious winner.'

The Empress arriving in England in 1139

She is breathing deeply, taking a good lungful of English grassy air. Feels good. Feels damp as well. She is sussing out the landscape for herself. There are a lot of people telling her which way she ought to go, but she’s paying no attention, she’s oblivious because she wants to make up her own mind about it. She’s spending quite a while just looking at the horizon and making sure she knows where she is and where she’s going. She wants to instil calm into her followers because they are all agitated talking at once and she doesn’t want that. She wants a bit more finesse. Now she’s taking command. They were trying to control her, but now she is gripping people and telling them what to do and which way to go and when.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Grand days out and pottles - or what I did in September and October

In between sitting in my study working on my writing, I've been out and about over the past few weeks researching and learning a lot about all sorts of things.

As many of my blog readers know, I use the Akashic Records to get at the people I write about. Alison, (who accesses these records for me) and I, were invited to give a talk and demonstration at the conference of the British Society of Dowsers in Cirencester. We were invited for the entire weekend to Cirencester Royal Agricultural College and so as well as our own talk, were able to attend several lectures by other speakers, including one on using dowsing rods in an archaeological context and a very fascinating and disturbing one on Electro Magnetic stress - what all those wireless microwaves bouncing round your house are actually doing to your health, and how to minimise the effect. The worst offenders in the home are cordless phones and wireless internet. The information on digital baby alarm monitors was horrific. Roy Riggs, the lecturer, has a website here:
Alison and I gave our talk - how we came to use Alison's ability to tune into the past, what it means to us, how I work with it. We gave a short demonstration and took questions. In the audience, specifically to see us was Peter Stewart, a professor of physics who is working on the same thing as us from a scientific perspective. He uses the terminology 'Remote viewing' for what Alison is able to do and has conducted several successful experiments himself whilst engaged in obtaining the scientific data to bring to the mainstream.

Cirencester Royal Agricultural College

Home from Cirencester, it was off to Rufford Park with my re-enactment group the Conroi de Vey for a day's cooking in Sherwood Forest - beef and veg stew.

Addressing the dinner whilst a colleague spins wool.

And then the last full weekend in October it was Nottingham's famous Robin Hood Pageant, where the good, the bad and the seriously scary all unite to celebrate a broad spectrum of medieval themes under the umbrella of that most famous of outlaws. I had cooking pot duty again (which is my preference. I'm a reasonable cook and in the colder months, having charge of the cauldron means a fire and shelter from the rain). Saturday's dishes consisted of a meatball stew with mushrooms and onions for the meat eaters and a leek, onion and parsnip soup for those who had foresworn meat. As nibbles there were cheese and turnip pies, leche lumbard (a kind of fruit spread made with dates) cheeses, apples, pancakes and a smoked ham. Sunday was more of the same re the nibbles, but the hot food consisted of a vegetable and barley pottage and a lamb and apricot stew for the meat eaters (high status, but delicious!).

While there, I bought 2 tavern pottles for holding wine, dateline 13th-15thC. The mostly unglazed aspect of the pottles mean that they could be steeped in boiling water and which acts act like a thermos, so they were ideal for holding mulled wine.
The little bit of glaze on these ( replicas of Kingston on Thames ware) is purely for decoration and snob factor. Height is about the size of an upright postcard. I also bought a hunting lodge mazer - a ghastly item dating from circa 1250 onwards. It has a representation of a deer and forest trees inside the body of the cup, so that as you drink down the wine, the tableau is revealed. It's a fascinating but horrible (to modern eyes) piece of work, rather like a tacky gift from the seaside. I just had to have it for show and tell!

Another item to add to my show and tell collection was an arrow. This is typical for circa 1200. It's poplar wood with goose feather fletching, bound with linen thread and secured with rabbit skin glue. Overall length is 2 feet 10ins. I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of one of these!
That's me done with re-enactment for a few months now. I am thinking of taking up spoon carving over the winter though...Here's Robin Wood's take on the matter with a video to click on at the left hand side Robin's site also shows what a porringer is, and you can even buy one. Philippa Gregory once said that she would never write the word porringer in one of her novels, so this is what one is (5th on the right) in case you were wondering!

Next time up - some Akashic excerpts from my Empress Matilda research.

Stirring the cauldron, courtesy of Alan Woolhouse
Credits go to Janet Walters for the photograph at the top of the blog.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Biography of John Marshal

I am gradually adding biographies of the people I write about to my website. This is my latest one covering John Marshal. It won't be up at the website itself for a short while yet as I've to send it on to my designer and she's to arrange it all nicely! For the moment though, here it is as a blog post. Click on the photos to enlarge if you want. As usual, please excuse the mad formatting!

John Marshal: The biography

Qui de si mais voldreit oir

Del bon Mareschel, de Johan’

‘To you who would hear more

of the worthy John Marshal.’

(Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, lines 120-121)

The great William Marshal had an equally great father, but his reputation does not have the burnish of his son’s. Indeed, John’s reputation has somewhat suffered at the hands of modern mindset in my opinion and from misunderstood motives. John Marshal had his flaws, he was no ‘perfect, gentle, knight,’ but neither was he a callous, treacherous robber baron, indifferent to his small son’s life. Professor David Crouch, senior authority on the Marshals in the academic community says of him.John Marshal was a formidable model for his son: astute, physically powerful, an easy companion in the royal chambers, and a cool warrior in the field…he was no coarse bandit and played the great game of politics with talent and perception…John Marshal was ‘a definitive man of standing in his son’s eyes.’

John Marshal was probably born in the South West of England (most likely Wiltshire or Berkshire) around the year 1105. His father was a marshal at the court of King Henry I and we know his name was Gilbert Giffard. The appellation is a fairly common Norman one, meaning ‘chubby cheeks.’ John had a brother too, named William, who entered holy orders and had the living of the church of Cheddar in Somerset. He went on to become chancellor to the Empress Matilda. If there were any other siblings, they have not come down to us in history. We also don’t know who his mother was although one of the dubious genealogy sites online suggests that his mother was a de Venoix and for once it actually makes sense. Venoix is very close to Caen in the Calvados region of Normandy where many of William the Conqueror’s followers haled from, and there was a royal marshal called Robert de Venoix, so perhaps the families by association of work, formed a closer bond.

Gilbert the Marshal had estates provided for him to live off whilst he performed his duties at court. These included Tidworth in Wiltshire and Nettlecome in Somerset. They had estates in Devon and possessed seven and a half knights’ fees for scattered estates held of various landlords. Hamstead (now Hampstead Marshall) in Berkshire was probably a holding. There is a 13thC mention of the Marshal’s right to Hamstead and the Grange at Speen for service of the Marshal’s rod. Speen lies just outside Newbury on an area of strategically valuable high land overlooking the modern town.

The Marshal family were of the minor nobility but ambitious. They were middle ranking royal civil servants on the make. A Marshal’s duties were numerous, and since John followed his father into the position, he must have grown up learning the ropes. The word ‘Marshal’ comes from ‘Marescallus’ meaning ‘Horse slave’ and at one time they had been stable hands under the control of the Constable’s department. Although the office rose from these humble beginnings, the marshal’s work was much concerned with horses and transport and keeping order. The Marshals had their own department at court and there were several of them, although with a ‘Master Marshal’ in charge of all. This was a somewhat fluid position when John was growing up and there was a certain amount of jockeying for position within the ranks.

The Marshal’s duties included seeing that the stables were properly run and supplied and providing harness and mounts for those in need of them. The job also involved dealing with the kennels and the mews. It was the marshal’s task to provide carts for transport when the court was on the move. He had to find lodging for the household and keep order at the court. As a symbol of the latter office, he carried the Marshal’s Rod. He had to ensure that the ‘verge’ was observed. A verge was a personal space between the king and any supplicant. Take a step too far and the Marshal’s rod would make sure you knew you had transgressed! The Marshal was in charge of the ushers who saw to it that only desireables got in to see the king. They were the club bouncers of their day so to speak – and I am sure sometimes not above taking bribes. Another aspect of the job was dealing with the 'ladies of the night' who serviced the court. The Marshal had to keep the working girls in line and regulate their activities. There were fines for unruly behaviour, and one suspects that this is another area where backhanders and insider dealing went on.

The Marshal also had to sit at the exchequer. It was his task to take responsibility for anyone who couldn’t pay their debts there, and his department maintained the debtor’s prison. Being in there would cost a sheriff or a bailiff half a mark for every night they were in custody. On top of this he kept the tallies of all the wages owed to the King’s troops when in the field and saw that they were paid, for which he was entitled to a portion of that wage bill. Perks of the job included being entitled to every black and white horse taken on a battle campaign.

Each time a noble’s son was knighted at court, the marshal was entitled to a payment of a palfrey or a saddle. His daily wage was two shillings a day and he was entitled to bread, wine and candles whilst working at court. There were also ‘backhander’ perks from barons higher up the food chain who thought that a bit of glad-handing in the form of grants of land was useful in order to keep the king’s marshal sweet.

When John was in his mid twenties, he and his father had to fight for their right to be the Master Marshals of the court. Two of the other Marshals, Robert de Venoix and William de Hastings were claiming the post but John and his father were successful in their petition, which probably the form of a trial by combat. (Sidney Painter. William Marshal. Knight errant, Regent and Baron of England).John’s father died around 1129 or 1130 and John inherited his position at court, although he had to pay forty marks for the privilege. This included the office of ‘avener’ or provider of provender. To inherit his lands, he had to pay the death duty of £22 13s and 4d. Some time over the next few years, he married an heiress of modest worth with lands adjoining his own Wiltshire and Berkshire interests. She was called Aline Pipard and her main estate was at Clyffe Pypard in Wiltshire.

She bore John two sons – Walter and Gilbert. In 1135 King Henry died and the country was thrown into turmoil as two claimants jostled for the crown – Henry’s daughter Matilda, and her cousin, Stephen. Initially, John swore fealty to Stephen and was granted the castles of Ludgershall and town and castle of Marlborough in Wiltshire. Stephen’s generosity gave John a strong power base and made him formidable in the Kennet Valley and North East Wiltshire.

Ruins of Ludgershall Castle

Sheep on the Marlborough Downs near

Rockley, a manor that John Marshal

gave to the Templars.

In 1139, the Empress came to England and made her bid to take the crown that she claimed Stephen had usurped. For whatever reason, Stephen suspected John Marshal of duplicity and besieged him at Marlborough. My personal opinion is that John had fallen foul of the factions at court who thought he had been receiving too many favours, and felt that he should be put in his place. He had no strong affinities at Stephen’s court and a man isolated was a man who could be picked off and brought down. I think John jumped before he was pushed (off the mortal coil). Speculation aside, what is known is that John swore for the Empress and adhered to her cause for the rest of the Civil War. His brother William joined her entourage as her chancellor.

Unfortunately for John, the Empress’s attempt to regain the throne was not plain sailing and to cut a long story short, she lost her advantage and while besieging the Bishop of Winchester at his palace of Wolvesely, she was almost captured. John was a few miles out of Winchester, dealing with a supply problem, when he heard that the troops of William D’Ypres, a Flemish mercenary in the pay of Stephen’s queen, were coming down the Andover road straight for him. If D’Ypres managed to break through, John knew that Winchester would be encircled and the Empress captured. John made his stand at Wherwell where there was a ford over the river Teste.

The River Teste at Wherwell Today

He fought for as long as he could, but with D’Ypres’ numbers too great to withstand, he retreated into the nunnery and barricaded himself in. D’Ypres knew he couldn’t leave a man like John Marshal to create mayhem in his rear, so he ordered the nunnery to be burned along with the men inside it. There was chaos. Some of the troops fled the burning church only to meet their end on the edges of the mercenary’s swords. John barricaded himself in the tower with another knight and refused to come out. When his companion feared for their lives and wanted to surrender, John told him that he would kill him with his own hands if he mentioned that word again. They stayed put, but John paid the price when molten lead from the church roof landed on his face and burned out his eye. Once D’Ypres’ force had moved on, John staggered from the church with his companion, and the two of them made their way to safety. This must have been something of a feat because that safety was twenty five miles away at Marlborough; they were on foot, and John had suffered a terrible facial injury. Nevertheless, they made it and once recovered, John set out to recoup and regroup.

Houses in Wherwell village today

John’s most powerful neighbour in the region was Walter of Salisbury, hereditary sheriff of Salisbury (nowadays called Old Sarum). When Walter died, his son William replaced him, but died not long after the battle of Wilton in 1143. The second son, Patrick became lord of Salisbury and he supported Stephen. Looking to curtail his forceful neighbour in the Kennet valley, Patrick took up arms against John. John ably defended himself, although he had fewer resources than Patrick, and even if often on the back foot, it was never defeat. Eventually Robert Earl of Gloucester stepped between the men. He offered Patrick an earldom if he would come over to the Empress and he suggested that John divorce his wife and marry Patrick’s sister to make peace between them. The men agreed and sometime between 1144 and 1145, John Marshal annulled his marriage to Aline and took Sybilla FitzWalter to wife. Aline was remarried to Gloucester’s uncle, a widower called Philip de Gay or de Gai. On the surface, John’s action may seem harsh, but that’s to judge him by the standards of our day, not his. He changed a ‘you will lose’ situation into a ‘you might win’ one by this strategy, and certainly stabilised life for himself and his dependents. Had he not agreed to the deal, Patrick of Salisbury would have eventually taken him down. The only road for John would have been disinheritance or death. Neither scenario would have secured the future for his wife and his boys. By cutting the deal, he ensured that he held onto his life and retained his lands. His wife was not disparaged but honourably given elsewhere and his sons retained their right to inherit his lands.

John and Sybilla swiftly began a second family. It’s perhaps telling that he only had two sons by his first wife in the course of fifteen years and six (and perhaps seven) offspring with Sybilla over the same period. The first was born within a year of the marriage and christened John for his father. The second, destined for fame and legend was William, born in either 1146 or 1147. We know for certain there were two daughters, Sybilla and Marguerite, and two more sons, Ancel and Henry. Henry went on to become bishop of Exeter and was probably born after Henry II had gained the throne. Ancel became a household knight in the service of his cousin, Rotrou, Count of Perche. During this time when his children were being born and growing up, John was very much around as a role model.

The fighting continued and the Empress’s position grew more desperate as her adherents either gave up or died. She lost her stalwart supporter Miles of Gloucester when he was accidentally shot by one of his own men whilst out hunting. Her half-brother Robert of Gloucester died, and her stalwart supporter Brian FitzCount retired to a monastery. The Empress herself departed England in 1148 and did not return, but her son Henry was waiting in the wings and growing up fast.

For John Marshal the period covered by the late 1140’s up to 1153 was a continuing dark time when he was involved in a war of slow grinding attrition. His lands were burned and ravaged by Eustace, the son of King Stephen and the best that John could manage was to grit his teeth and endure – which he did. He was known as a man of great cunning, a builder of castles ‘designed with wondrous skill’ and a man well able to attract men to his banner. Although a generous benefactor to the Church, he was still vilified by certain bishops and clergy. He was excommunicated for raiding church lands and forcing the church to answer in his secular court. He also made the church’s tenants build his castles for him, which did not go down well. ‘He built castles designed with wondrous skill, in the places that best suited him; the lands and possessions of the churches he brought under his own lordship, driving out the owners whatever order they might belong to.’ (Gesta Stephani). John seems to have taken the excommunication stoically and to have treated it as a hazard of the job so to speak.

John’s relationship with the Church was not all bad-feeling and acrimony. He was in fact a generous patron. He donated his house and lands in Winchester on Jewry Street to Troarn Abbey in 1148 He gave lands at his manor of Rockley to the Templars and he was a benefactor of Bradenstoke Priory where he was eventually to be buried.

3D map of Winchester. The tiny black arrow

on the left indicates the site of John

Marshal's house that he gave to Troarn

Abbey. Click to enlarge

At some point in the early 1150’s John built a castle at Newbury. The whereabouts of this place is now unknown and there has been much speculation as to where it was. As far as I’m concerned, the answer is staring everyone in the face. It’s at Speen.

Since that article was written, some archaeological dowsing work has taken place at the site and bears out the above details so far. Also it turns out that the Bishop of Salisbury had a residence on this site in the 12thC. This ties in with the Gesta Stephani’s comment above He built castles designed with wondrous skill, in the places that best suited him; the lands and possessions of the churches he brought under his own lordship, driving out the owners whatever order they might belong to.’

There's also this article on my blog.

Be that as it may, John fortified a position in the Newbury area and held it for the Empress. In the summer of 1152 King Stephen besieged it on his way to try and take Wallingford. The first assault battered John’s troops badly but they didn’t give in. Stephen didn’t want to sit down to besiege it. I suspect he knew how hard John Marshal could stand and that he would sell the castle very dearly. John in his turn, knew he was in a dire situation and couldn’t hold out for much longer. He didn’t have the men and supplies necessary. He asked Stephen for time to gain honourable permission from the Empress to surrender the castle. Stephen agreed, but told John that he must provide hostages and pledges for his good word. John agreed to do so and handed over as one of them, his small son William, who would have been around five or six years old.

With the time he had been given, John set about stuffing his keep to the rafters with men and supplies. Why did he do this when he could have yielded? I suspect it was because he was buying time for Wallingford and for Henry FitzEmpress. Each day that he stood, was a day gained for the Angevin cause. John Marshal hadn’t backed down at Wherwell, where his stand had allowed the Empress to escape. He hadn’t backed down before the superior strength of Patrick of Salisbury, and he wasn’t going to back down now, even if it meant gambling with his son’s life.

Stephen duly came on the appointed day to demand the surrender of the castle and John refused him and told him he would fight. When threatened with the execution of little William by hanging, John uttered those by now infamous words. Il dist ken e li chaleit de l’enfant, quer encore aveit les enclumes e les marteals dunt forgereit de plus beals. ‘He said that he did not care about the child, since he still had the anvils and hammers to produce even finer ones.’

Callous father? Cool brinkman gambling with his son’s life? A man caught between a rock and a hard place and doing what he must to safeguard others? I leave that for readers of A Place Beyond Courage to decide. I will say that there is far more going on under the surface than a cursory glance informs and that it is vital for anyone studying this incident to read it through the lens of medieval mindset. It’s not what’s on top that matters here, but what’s underneath. Stephen could not bring himself to hang the boy, although for a time William was the plaything victim of the royal camp as he was also threatened with being flung from a catapult and squashed whilst strapped to a hurdle intended to attack the castle gate. This is often not mentioned in the various secondary source narratives concerning the incident. From what I have garnered elsewhere, young squires and captive sons were frequently subjected to such torments – rather like the traditional ‘punishment details’ for youths at public school.

Stephen took William into his household and John Marshal’s son seems to have settled well in his new life. He was happy and confident enough despite his ordeal to want to play a game with King Stephen, involving jousting with plaintain leaves. One wonders how such a chirpy, confident, secure little boy could have been born of such supposed parental indifference. A servant was sent to keep an eye on William, ‘because his family had great fears that he would come to harm’ (Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal) but was caught in the act and chased away.

John’s castle at Newbury eventually fell to Stephen, but John had managed to buy that extra time for Wallingford. Stephen moved up to invest the latter and Henry came from Normandy to oppose him. Eventually a treaty was agreed whereby Stephen would keep the throne in his lifetime and Henry would inherit it on his death. Althought there were a few more skirmishes, the long civil war was in essence over.

Stephen died in 1154 and Henry FitzEmpress, at the age of twenty one, became King of England. Life slowly settled down. It is likely that John’s final son Henry was born at this time and named for the new power in the country. Henry set about restoring order. All adulterine castles were to be destroyed, and I suspect this is what happened to Newbury. Henry also took several castles back into his own power, including Marlborough. John was allowed to keep the manors of Wexcombe and Cherhill that Stephen had granted him, but only for his lifetime; it was not to be a hereditary right. John continued to serve Henry as his master marshal, but the King had his own new men to promote and John was of the ‘old regime’. Many of the gains made in the period of the war were lost, but John had still played his hand well and while his fortunes diminished, he nevertheless had created a fine platform from which his offspring could leap to make their own achievements. William did so in spectacular fashion, going on to become Earl of Pembroke and regent of England. Henry, as aforementioned, was to become bishop of Exeter. More distant descendants of John Marshal include Robert the Bruce, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, George Washington and Winston Churchill.

John died in 1165, around the age of 60, which is as much as we know about his demise, although it may be telling that he made a grant to Bradenstoke Priory of half of the township of Easton, in the presence of his wife, two of earl Patrick’s chaplains, his chamberlain Osbert and Ralph the Physician. Was the physician there because he just happened to be handy and a man of learning, or was he there because of medical difficulties?

John was buried at Bradenstoke Priory, the foundation of his marital relatives the Earls of Salisbury. His tomb and Sybilla’s have now been lost, but their bones still rest somewhere beneath the grass and tumbled stones of the ruins.

I can say without a doubt and from personal experience, that their spirits live on and John’s is a particularly vibrant one!