Book Corner: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

Showcasing his renowned storyteller’s skill, Bernard Cornwell has created an Elizabethan world incredibly rich in its portrayal: you walk the London streets, stand in the palaces and are on stage in the playhouses, as he weaves a remarkable story in which performances, rivalries and ambition combine to form a tangled web of intrigue.

I have been a fan of Bernard Cornwell since reading my first Sharpe book as a teenager. I have read everything, eagerly awaiting each new book and devouring it within days of its release. So when I was offered the chance of an advance copy of Fools and Mortals – well – I jumped at it.

Fools and Mortals is a major departure for Bernard Cornwell. There are no world-changing battles as in the Sharpe and Last Kingdom books, no ancient legends such as in the King Arthur and Thomas of Hookton series; in fact, this book is all about pretend, following the antics of William Shakespeare’s younger brother as he tries to make his way as a player in Elizabethan England. And it is fascinating.

‘Show me the nightgown!’ the twin whose sword was still scabbarded demanded, and the Percy tossed down the rochet. ‘Oh pretty,’ the twin said. ‘Is this what papists wear to vomit their filth?’

‘Give it back,’ Alan Rust demanded, slightly raising his borrowed sword.

‘Are you threatening me?’ the twin with the drawn blade asked.

‘Yes,’ Rust said.

‘Maybe we should arrest him,’ the twin said, and lunged his blade at Alan.

And that was a mistake.

It was a mistake because one of the first skills any actor learns is how to use a sword. The audience love combats. They see enough fights, God knows, but those fights are almost always between enraged oafs who hack and slash until, usually within seconds, one of them has a broken pate or a pierced belly and is flat on his back. What the groundlings admire is a man who can fight skillfully, and some of our loudest applause happens when Richard Burbage and Henry Condell are clashing blades. The audience gasp at their grace, at the speed of their blades, and even though they know the fight is not real, they know the skill is very real. My brother had insisted I take fencing lessons, which I did, because if I had any hope of assuming a man’s part in a play I needed to be able to fight. Alan Rust had learned long before, he had been an attraction with Lord Pembroke’s men, and though what he had learned was how to pretend a fight, he could only do that because he really could fight, and the twins were about to receive a lesson.

I know that not every Bernard Cornwell fan will be impressed by this new story; if they  are only reading Cornwell for the blood-curdling action, they will be disappointed in this book. But if they read Cornwell because he is THE greatest storyteller, because he can transport you through time and space to a world that is recreated from history and his imagination, they will love this book.

William Shakespeare

I admit I was a little dubious at first, but once you start reading, it is – as usual with a Bernard Cornwell book – impossible to put down. It may be because this is not a war story, is not a crime thriller, and is a totally new departure for the author, that this story works so well. It proves just what an excellent wordsmith he is.

As has come to be expected with one of our greatest authors, the research is impeccable and interwoven in the story are many of the political concerns of the time, the opposition to theatres, the hunt for Catholics and their sympathisers, and even the constant need to impress the aging queen, Elizabeth I. However, Fools and Mortals is not a simple melodrama. There are many threads to the story, the development of professional theatre, love, intrigue, betrayal and sibling rivalry being just a few.

Everything about this book proves why Bernard Cornwell is one of the greatest storytellers of our generation. The writing is of his usual high standard, and keeps you engaged to the very end. The hero, if a complete contrast to Sharpe and Uhtred, is an engaging and entertaining protagonist, with whom the reader can readily invest their hopes and expectations of a great story. Richard Shakespeare is a young man, trying to find his role in life, whilst trying to survive medieval London and negotiate that age-old problem – a superstar older brother!

Any fan of Bernard Cornwell knows that he loves the theatre and the bestselling writer has put all his knowledge and passion into creating this amazing novel. It more than lives up to the high standards we have come to expect in all his work.

Fools and Mortals is released on 19th October in the UK.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Sharons book cover

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Digging up Folklore – King Arthur by Mary Anne Yarde

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Mary Anne Yarde, author of The Du Lac Chronicles, to History…the Interesting Bits with an article about her fascination with King Arthur.

Digging up Folklore ~ King Arthur

I have been fascinated with the life and times of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table since I was a child — I guess growing up a stone’s throw from Glastonbury (The Ancient Isle of Avalon) may have had something to do with that.

My book series, The Du Lac Chronicles, tells the story of what happened after the death of Arthur, and continues the story of his Knights and their sons. But to write about the end of Arthur’s reign, I needed to know about the beginning. A not so easy task, it turned out.

The history of a historical Arthur is not written in stone but is, instead, engraved in folklore and that brings its own set of challenges.

Firstly, where did Arthur come from? Well, that is an easy question to answer…

King Arthur was English. No, he was Welsh. Arthur was Scottish. He was from Brittany. Oh, for goodness’ sake, he was a Roman General!

Which is right? Arthur is so famous that everyone wants to claim him and, over the years, there have been many names thrown out there as to who he really was. But we mustn’t forget that when we are dealing with Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We can make Arthur fit wherever we want him to, and that is where the problem lies. It is very easy to make mistakes, and I have read many books that claim to have found the real Arthur, only they haven’t, it is just a theory, sometimes a very shaky one.

The same can be said for Arthur’s famous castle, Camelot. There have been many possible locations for one of the most famous castles in history. Tintagel, Cadbury Hill, Caerlaverock Castle, have all been put forward, and recently it has been suggested that a small Roman fort at Slack is where the real Camelot once stood. However, during all this excitement and discoveries we have overlooked a fundamental issue — there was no Camelot. It was an invention of a French poet in 1180! How can you look for something that was never there to begin with?

The Dark Ages, in which my books are set, are equally challenging to research because there is a lack of reliable primary resources. What was written down was written down for a purpose and that purpose was usually politically motivated, which in itself is fascinating, although not so helpful. Now, in these early texts when Arthur is mentioned, there is nothing about him being a king. Nennuis describes him as a warrior on par with Ironman, but no mention of a crown.

It isn’t until the 12th Century when Geoffrey of Monmouth writes his great work that the Arthur we know is born. The History of The Kings of Briton was meant to be a historically accurate account of British History and for many, many, years what Monmouth wrote was considered factually correct. Of course, we now know it was anything but. However, that does not mean that Monmouth’s work is of no particular value. Monmouth borrowed heavily from folklore and it is his story that drives the legend of Arthur and his Knights forward. I think Monmouth’s book is incredibly important as it tells us a great deal about, not only the era, but also about the people who were listening to his stories. And if we dig a little further, we can discover that it wasn’t only the populous who loved listening to Arthurian tales. Those pragmatic monks at Glastonbury Abbey did as well.

Let’s take a journey back to 12th Century England…

A terrible fire had spread through Glastonbury Abbey, and unfortunately for the monks, they did not have the coffers to pay for the repairs. If only they could encourage more pilgrims to come to the Abbey. What could they do? Pray to God and hope all would be well…?

Thanks to Monmouth’s book Arthur was the hot topic of the day and people would pay to go on a pilgrimage to Arthur’s final resting place so they could pay their respects to this once great King. All that was needed was a good story and a grave. The monks of Glastonbury announced to the world that they had discovered Arthur’s final resting place. That brought in the crowds — much like Tintagel does for English Heritage today! Glastonbury Abbey soon had the coffers to make the repairs and then some. There was as much truth in the story of Glastonbury Abbey and King Arthur’s grave as there was in The History of the Kings of Briton. But for hundreds of years, both the Abbey and Monmouth were believed.

My books are not just set in Britain, but France as well, so I needed to have a good understanding of what was happening in both of these countries in the 5th / 6th Century in order to keep the history real in the telling. Before we look at any of these countries we need to look at the powerhouse of the world at this time, and that was the Roman Empire. However, the golden age of the Roman Empire was almost over; she was politically unstable and was withdrawing her forces from far-flung provinces such as Briton, to defend her borders.

But this dawning new era brings some of the most fascinating historical figures that ever lived. These were the days of men such as Clovis. Clovis won a decisive victory against Rome, at the Battle of Soissons in AD 486. But, Clovis’ ambition didn’t stop there. Roman Gaul and parts of Western Germany fell to him as well. He forged a new empire through blood, war, and marriage. He made Paris the capital of his new kingdom, and he was the first King of a united Frank (France).

The Saxons and the Angles crossed the South Sea (The English Channel) to take advantage of vulnerable Britain who, since the Romans had left, had split back into various smaller kingdoms. There was much infighting and unrest, it was the perfect opportunity for the Saxon’s to come over and stake their claim.

Brittany, like Britain, wasn’t one united country, but many, and they were a race of warriors. While they were busy fighting each other, they missed the real threat to the kingdom, which eventually would be their undoing and they would find themselves at the mercy of Frank.

While all this is going on, the Church is creeping into the crevices, and spreading the word of God and, what could be considered of equal value, one language — Latin. It could be argued that it was the Church that united Britain in the end.

This was a time of great unrest and change, but one thing remained constant for the general populous and that was storytelling. Arthur may well have been a general but folklore made him a Christian King and gave him a castle full of noble knights. Arthur and his Knights (most of them anyway) cared about the people they represented. Arthur was a good king, the like of which has never been seen before or after. He was the perfect tool for spreading a type of patriotic propaganda. Arthur was someone you would want to fight by your side. But he also gave ordinary people a sense of belonging and hope. He is, after all, The Once and Future King.

I have tried to show what life was like in the 5th /6th Century in my books, but I have been heavily influenced by folklore, because when you are dealing with this period in history you cannot dismiss it. Brittany, for example, is terribly difficult to research historically during this era, but when it comes to folklore, she is rich and if that is all she is going to give us, then so be it. Folklore is its own special brand of history, and it is often overlooked by historians, which I think is a shame. You can tell a lot about a people by the stories they tell, and people are still fascinated by this larger-than-life King, which I think says it all. Arthur may well have been a general, or a knight, he may have been English, he may not, but it doesn’t matter because his story is timeless, it will never grow old.

Blurb:

The multi award-winning series, The Du Lac Chronicles, continues…

War is coming…

The ink has dried on Amandine’s death warrant. Her crime? She is a du Lac.

All that stands in the way of a grisly death on a pyre is the King of Brittany. However, King Philippe is a fickle friend, and if her death is profitable to him, then she has no doubt that he would light the pyre himself.

Alan, the only man Amandine trusts, has a secret and must make an impossible choice, which could have far-reaching consequences — not only for Amandine, but for the whole of Briton.

Links for Purchase:

Amazon US Amazon UK  Amazon CA

Bio: Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Best Selling Series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Set a generation after the fall of King Arthur, The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Briton and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical fact, the Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed.

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury–the fabled Isle of Avalon–was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

Useful Links

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I would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Mary Anne for such a fascinating post and wish her every success with her latest novel.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Sharons book cover

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Interview with Michael Jones

Myself and Michael Jones at the Harrogate History Festival, October 2015

Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian and broadcaster Michael Jones to the blog.

Hi Mike, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview for my blog History…the Interesting Bits. The last time we chatted was at the Harrogate History Festival a couple of years ago. I seem to remember asking you to convince me that Henry IV and Henry V were worth reading up on. I must say, your own arguments and your book 24 Hours at Agincourt certainly piqued my interest; all 3 of Henry IV’s sisters will appear in my book. And your latest book is a biography of Edward III’s eldest son, The Black Prince. I don’t need any convincing with him, he’s a fascinating character and I am really enjoyed reading your book.

And so, without further ado, to the interview. I hope the questions are not too onerous for you.

What do you love most about history?

 Well, firstly, hello Sharon and thank you for your blog and website, and your enthusiasm for all things medieval. And good luck with your own book!

As a child, I loved history for its portrayal of men and women in challenging circumstances. I was fascinated by how they were – sometimes at least – able to triumph against all the odds. Now, as a historian, it is still those personal stories I am most drawn to. I wanted to write a biography of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII (The King’s Mother) because she showed such courage and resourcefulness in adversity – and it was through this that I got to know Philippa Gregory, first advising her on her book The Red Queen, and then writing with her and David Baldwin The Women of the Cousins’ War. And in my most recent work, The Black Prince – a biography of Edward of Woodstock (the oldest son of Edward III and foremost military commander of his age) – I have enjoyed depicting the Prince’s charisma as a leader, the way he forged a remarkable esprit de corps amongst his fellow fighters.

What is your favourite period of history – and why?

I write on a number of subjects – ranging from the late middle ages to World War Two – and, as a tour guide, lead military and cultural tours covering many historical eras. But the reason I focus on the late middle ages is because of the quality of teaching I received at Bristol University (as an undergraduate and postgraduate), particularly from Charles Ross and James Sherborne. They shaped my abilities as a historian and I remain grateful to them to this day. And the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are tumultuous yet vivid times, marred by plague and warfare yet possessing an acute sensibility to beauty and the uplifting power of ritual and display.

Which historical personality fascinates you the most – and why?

Tomb of the Black Prince, Canterbury Cathedral

People are so interesting – and history is full of fascinating characters. In the middle ages we have so many choices. I immediately think of the Black Prince and Joan of Kent and Richard III and Anne Neville. In these instances, to learn about these remarkable men I believe we also need to get to know the women who helped shape their views and guided their counsel.

You have written books on the battles of Agincourt and Bosworth, what is it about medieval warfare that fascinates you? 

Well, I have also written books on World War Two’s battle of Stalingrad and siege of Leningrad – and these events remain, for me, incredibly moving.

However, Agincourt and Bosworth are indeed fascinating: clashes that shaped our history and where the key turnaround happened very quickly, within hours, even minutes – and I will always be interested in them. When I wrote 24 Hours at Agincourt I was particularly struck by the headlong dash of Anthony, duke of Brabant (the younger brother of the duke of Burgundy). In his rush towards the battlefield – desperate to join the French army – he rode day and night, leaving behind most of his retinue and all of his armour. When he finally arrived at Agincourt he was accompanied by only a dozen men – and he was killed within minutes. Some applauded his chivalric idealism; others marvelled at his crass stupidity. And writing The Black Prince gave me the chance to bring to life three more extraordinary battles – Crécy, Poitiers and Nájera – so I am grateful for that as well.

How did you get involved in the ‘Looking for Richard’ project with Philippa Langley?

I got to know Philippa through the publication of my book Bosworth 1485 – Psychology of a Battle, which offered a different way of seeing Richard III – a mirror opposite of the picture presented by Shakespeare. Instead of removing Richard from the story of his family, the house of York, I placed him at the heart of it. Philippa had been writing a screenplay about the king, but had become stuck and was on the point of giving up. After we met, she rewrote the screenplay with my interpretation underpinning it, and then set out to visit the places that were significant in his life. We had said to each other that the only counter to the power of Shakespeare’s play would be to actually find the king’s physical remains. And that journey took Philippa to a social services car park in Leicester in the summer of 2004. Later, when Richard’s remains had indeed been uncovered, under the very spot where she had had her intuitive feeling, we wrote a book about it, The King’s Grave: the Search for Richard III.

Michael Jones

The Black Prince is a controversial figure these days – what made you want to write his biography?

I admire the Black Prince and feel that modern scholarship has sometimes become overly critical of him, losing sight of the ideals that governed his life and won the respect of his contemporaries. While there is a place for such criticism, I wanted to write a sympathetic biography – putting the man back into the context of his times.

If you could talk to any person from history, who would it be and what would you ask them?

That has to be Richard III on the fate of the Princes in the Tower.

If you had a time machine, what specific event would you like to go back and witness – and why?

It would be the final stages of the battle of Poitiers, where the Black Prince turned the tables on a numerically superior foe and captured the French king, Jean II, by mounting up and charging straight at his opponent. It cannot be equalled for sheer drama.

What is your next project?

I am working on a book about the beginning of World War Two – and will then return to the late middle ages and write an account of the last stages of the Hundred Years War.

I owe huge ‘thank you’ to Michael Jones for taking the time to do this fabulous interview.

I can highly recommend Michael Jones latest book, The Black Prince, which is out now and is available from Amazon.

Michael Jones is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and member of the British Commission for Military History. He works as a writer, battlefield tour guide and media presenter. He is the author of Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle, 24 Hours at Agincourt and co-author, with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, of The Women of the Cousins’ War; and, with Philippa Langley, of The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III. He lives in South London.

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Photos from Harrogate and the Black Prince’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral ©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly. Photo of Michael Jones with thanks to Michael Jones.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Sharons book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly