Guest Post: King Cenwulf by Annie Whitehead

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Annie Whitehead to the blog. Annie’s book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom was released by Amberley on 15th September and traces the fortunes of the Anglo-Saxon Midlands kingdom of Mercia, from its origins in the 6th century to its absorption into Norman England in the 11th century. The book is a fabulous, enjoyable read and I can highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Anglo-Saxon England.

A huge thank you to Annie for this fabulous article.

King Who?

King Cenwulf, that’s who. He may not be all that well known, but he was one of the most successful Anglo-Saxon kings and was king for twenty-five years (796-821) during a period when most kings were lucky if they survived a year in the job.

So why don’t we know more about him? Probably because his reign was sandwiched between a lot of kings with odd names, and he was overshadowed by his more famous predecessor, Offa.

Cenwulf was supposedly descended from a brother of the infamous pagan king, Penda, but no one is entirely sure of the precise link (although my new book provides an intriguing theory…).

Statue/carving of King Cenwulf in St Peter’s Winchcomb

One thing is for sure, and that is that he had no direct connection with his immediate predecessor, Ecgfrith, who was Offa’s son. Offa had gone to great lengths to secure the succession of his son, even going so far as to have him anointed as his heir. But all his plans were for naught, because Ecgfrith survived only five months after being crowned.

Foul play? Maybe. There was no suggestion of it in the chronicles and many believed that he died for the sins of his father. It looks as if Cenwulf wasn’t around at court much during Offa’s reign, and may have been in exile. Perhaps he was the victim of the purges of which Offa had been accused, and for which the punishment was supposedly the untimely death of his son. No accusations of murder were ever levelled against Cenwulf.

Cenwulf’s reign was an impressive one of overlordship and conquest. We don’t know much about his marital history but it is possible that he was married twice, firstly to a lady named Cynegyth, although it’s by no means certain, as a charter naming her as queen has been declared unreliable. His – possibly second – wife was Ælfthryth.

Offa had controlled East Anglia (famously doing away with their king, whom he’d had beheaded) but after his death East Anglia seems to have regained its independence. That was short-lived, however, for while they had been minting their own coins, very soon after he came to power, the East Anglian moneyers were striking coins for Cenwulf.

Coffin believed by some to be that of Kenelm, Cwoenthryth’s murdered brother, but it actually dates from a later period.

East Saxon independence also appears to have been short-lived, with its last ever recorded king, Sigered, being reduced to the status of first sub-king, and then dux.

In 801, Cenwulf was attacked by King Eardwulf of the Northumbrians, ‘because of his harbouring of his enemies.’ A letter from Pope Leo III to Charlemagne in 808 mentions the nobleman, Wada, and seems to confirm the accusation that Cenwulf had indeed been harbouring Eardwulf’s enemies, because Wada was involved in a battle of 798 where he had fought against King Eardwulf. Eventually the two kings agreed to a truce.

Things were a little more violent when it came to Cenwulf’s dealings with Kent, however, and it was perhaps not Cenwulf’s finest hour.

In 798, the same year as the battle involving Wada, Cenwulf was busy ravaging Kent, and he captured the Kentish king, known as Eadberht Præn.

When Offa, who had been overlord of Kent, died, Kent had risen up in revolt against Mercia. Eadberht Præn had been in exile at the court of Charlemagne, and he returned after Offa’s death, forcing the archbishop of Canterbury – who was known to have Mercian sympathies – to flee.

Kenelm’s Well, supposedly where his funeral procession rested on its journey

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cenwulf ‘seized Præn and brought him in fetters into Mercia’ where his eyes were put out and his hands cut off. But while one later chronicler, Henry of Huntingdon, refers to the capture, he makes no mention of the mutilations and another twelfth-century writer, William of Malmesbury, called Cenwulf a ‘truly great man’ who ‘surpassed his fame by his virtues, doing nothing that malice could justly find fault with.’ His praise seems motivated by the latter’s having restored Canterbury, and he goes on to say that Cenwulf released Eadberht Præn out of pity.

For a short while, Cenwulf put his brother into Kent to rule there as a puppet king, but after his brother died, he took direct control.

For all William of Malmesbury praised Cenwulf for restoring order at Canterbury (Offa had fought to have the archbishopric moved to London and when that failed, established one at Lichfield. Cenwulf reversed this decision), Cenwulf had a fractious relationship with the Church.

He became embroiled in an argument with the new archbishop of Canterbury, Wulfred. The dispute concerned the Kentish minsters and whether it was right that the state should have control over ecclesiastical lands. The argument raged from 816 and was not resolved when Cenwulf died in 821.

Drawing of Coenwulf Coin

The kings who followed him make up a list which looks a little like a cat has walked over the keyboard and show that the kingdom was troubled by a series of dynastic disputes between rival families. In amongst this, Cenwulf reigned successfully for a quarter of a century, and it seems as though he was on campaign against the Welsh when he died, but his reign is overshadowed by what (allegedly) happened to his children.

His daughter, Cwoenthryth, inherited not only her father’s lands but his dispute with the Church. Wulfred was accused of forging documents to support his case, but the Church Council found in his favour and whilst Cwoenthryth was allowed to keep the possession of Winchcombe she was forced to hand over the rights to the Kentish minsters. Winchcombe, where her father was buried and where she was abbess, became the centre of a scandal when she was accused of arranging for her little brother, Kenelm, to be murdered. Some of the stories say that her eyeballs dropped out as divine punishment, some that she was struck down dead. Reality was probably somewhat different, since it’s hard to prove that the young brother in question was even a small boy at the time of the alleged murder, and Cwoenthryth lived on as abbess of Winchcombe; some historians think she survived until the 840s.

Photo of the Cenwulf coin is a replica from my own collection

When the history of this period includes Offa the Great, a murder of a little boy, and dynastic struggle which also ended in murder, it’s hardly surprising that poor Cenwulf gets forgotten. But as one historian pointed out, his achievement was ‘scarcely less impressive’ than Offa’s.

He controlled the whole of the south east, and while his influence was not felt over Wessex, he at least kept the Northumbrians at bay, and he increased pressure on the Welsh, to the extent that his eventual successor, his brother, was able virtually to overrun Powys. Old-fashioned warlord he may have been, but he was the only English king before the tenth century to be styled ‘emperor’. If only he’d lived at another time, or gone up against more famous adversaries, perhaps he’d be better remembered today.

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Picture credits: ©Annie Whitehead except drawing of Cenwulf (public domain).

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About the Author:

Annie Whitehead graduated in history having specialised in the ‘Dark Ages’ and is a member of the Royal Historical Society. She’s written three books about early medieval Mercia, the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the Midlands. The first, To Be a Queen, tells the story of Alfred the Great’s daughter, and was long-listed for the Historical Novelist Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, and was an IAN (Independent Author Network) Finalist in 2017, while the second, Alvar the Kingmaker, is the story of Aelfhere, Earl of Mercia in the 10th century. The third, Cometh the Hour, is the first of two volumes set in seventh-century Mercia. She was a contributor to the anthology 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternative short stories. She writes magazine articles and has had pieces printed in diverse publications, including Cumbria Magazine and This England. She has twice been a prize winner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing Competition, and won First Prize in the 2012 New Writer Magazine’s Prose and Poetry Competition. She was a finalist in the 2015 Tom Howard Prize for nonfiction, and is also a contributor and editor for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, as well as blogging for her own site – Casting Light upon the Shadow. In 2017 she won the inaugural HWA/Dorothy Dunnett Society Short Story Prize.

Her first full-length nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, is published by Amberley and available from Amazon UK.

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My books

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmazon USAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Annie Whitehead

 

Guest Post: The Quest for The Holy Grail by Mary Anne Yarde.

Today it is a pleasure to welcome back Arthurian novelist Mary Anne Yarde to the blog. Mary Anne’s latest book, The Du Lac Prophecy, book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles, is released today. Mary Anne has joined us to share some of the research behind the book, with an article about that most elusive of historical relics, the Holy Grail.

 

The Quest for The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail, by Évrard d’Espinques c. 1475

By Mary Anne Yarde.

King Arthur’s Britain is a utopian world filled with chivalry, glory, and just a touch of glamour. Imagine Camelot as she rises out of the Fata Morgana — the mist. Picture the Knights as they mount their beautiful horses and ride through the portcullis as they embark on another noble quest. Is there anything more romantic?

The most famous quest of all was, of course, the quest for The Holy Grail. It is this quest that I am going to take a closer look at today. I am going to talk about where the idea came from, and how it became associated with King Arthur and his Knights.

To start with, we need to look at a passage from the Bible.

Chrétien de Troyes

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 26:17-30 New International Version (NIV)

This was to be the last supper before Jesus’ arrest and horrific crucifixion. It is said that the cup that Jesus used on that fateful night was also used to catch his blood as he hung on the cross. So, because of this, The Holy Grail was / is a very precious Christian artefact.

Joseph of Arimathea and The Holy Grail.

The Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury

But then a miracle happened, and Jesus rose from the dead. The tomb was again empty, but Joseph’s heart was full of wonder. Joseph spent the rest of his life wandering the world and passing on the teachings of Jesus.

It came to pass that Joseph and a group of friends sailed to a distant land called Albion. They followed the River Severn as they travelled inland and finally they found themselves in The Summer Lands. Joseph brought with him the sacred Chalice of Christ, for it was his to protect.

Joseph settled in a place known locally as The Island of Glass (Glastonbury), and it is said that it was here that Joseph hid the Holy Grail down a sacred well. The water of the well, so the story goes, instantly turned red and tasted of blood.

The Grail’s hiding place remained a secret for many years, and over time it became the stuff of legends. The stuff of folklore.

So how did Arthur and his Knights become associated with this story?

The Last Supper, ca. 1520, Andrea Solari, after Leonardo da Vinci

Well, to answer that question we need to look at one man — Chrétien de Troyes. At the end of the 12th Century, Chrétien de Troyes, a French poet, took up the story of the Grail. He wove the story of the Grail into the story of King Arthur and his Knights. It was an instant hit.

The importance of de Troyes influence on Arthurian Legend cannot be overlooked. It is de Troyes that introduced us to Lancelot and the love triangle. It is de Troyes that first introduced the idea of the Knights Quest for the Holy Grail. He also introduced us to the knight that would discover the Grail’s hiding place — Sir Percival.

If nothing else, de Troyes certainly sparked the imagination of the populace, for what could be more romantic than these chivalrous, heroic knights, searching for the sacred cup of their religion?

The Chalice Well

Robert de Boron (a late 12th Century French Poet) went into even more detail when he took up the story. But it was the Vulgate Cycle (Lancelot-Grail), which was written in the 13th Century by an unknown author that really cemented the Grail Quest with Arthur and his Knights.

The central character of the story is Lancelot. However, instead of Percival being the ultimate Grail hunting knight, it is Lancelot’s son, Galahad.

What did the Church think of this story? It is, after all, about a sacred relic.

The idea of a magic cup – cauldron – was a prevalent theme in Celtic myths, not so much the Bible. It was, in short, a pagan tale that was rewritten by a French poet with a socially acceptable Christian theme.

As with almost all things King Arthur, excavating the truth is near on impossible. Arthur resides in the shadowy world of folklore, and that is where the Grail can be found as well. However, the story of the Knights and the Holy Grail captured the imagination of the country and it has been associated with Arthurian Legends ever since.

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Picture courtesy of Wikipedia, except the Chalice Well and Gardens, which are courtesy of Mary Anne Yarde.

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The Du Lac Prophecy (Book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles) by Mary Anne Yarde

Two Prophesies. Two Noble Households. One Throne.

Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

About the Author

Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

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 a part of her childhood.

To buy the latest book in Mary Anne’s fabulous Du Lac Chronicles: Amazon US; Amazon UK; Amazon CA.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Mary Anne Yarde

Guest Post: A Gap in History by Gordon Doherty

Today it is with great pleasure that I welcome novelist Gordon Doherty to the blog. Gordon’s latest instalment in his Legionary series, Legionary: The Blood Road, has just been released and is a cracking read (look out for my review later this week). Gordon joins us to talk about the background behind this magnificent Legionary series, set in ancient Rome.

So, without further ado, it is over to Gordon….

A Gap in History

A gap in history – an impossible void?

Writing historical fiction is, for me, like climbing into a time machine and going there, being in the moment. In penning the Legionary series, I feel like I have marched with the legions of the Roman Empire, across the green hills of Thracia, through the sweltering Persian desert, and over the snowy Balkan Mountains. I have fought in countless battles, sliced across the turquoise waters of the Aegean in an imperial galley, climbed the Great Aqueduct in Constantinople with cutthroats in close pursuit. It’s the ultimate escapism. This time machine of mine needs just a little fuel – a solid account of the history to spark the imagination, factual bones to which I can add the fictional flesh. But what if there is no fuel? When a gap appears in the history? Well here’s my experience…

The Gothic War: so turbulent it blew a hole in history!

The 4th century AD Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus serves as, as Edward Gibbon said, “an accurate and faithful guide” thanks to his famous work Res Gestae (literally ‘things done’), in which he charts the events of the empire from the accession of Emperor Nerva in 96 AD all the way through to 378 AD. It was the tail end of this chronicle – the Gothic War – that really intrigued me, and Res Getae served as a perfect historical spine for the Legionary series and a constant supply of fuel for the time machine.

The Roman Empire during the Gothic War.

The late 4th Century AD was a tumultuous time for the Roman Empire. The ground shook and a distant thunder sounded as a new threat poured across the eastern horizon. The Huns swept towards Europe from the Eurasian steppe in an event we call the Great Migration. These skilled and fearsome horsemen trampled over every tribe they found – none of whom had an answer to the Hunnic mode of fighting – roving in packs, whirling lassos and loosing clouds of arrows on their stunned quarry. Tribe after tribe fell – butchered or subjugated. Next in the Huns’ line of sight were the Goths, a Germanic people who inhabited the land north of the River Danube (roughly modern Romania).

The war-torn Diocese of Thracia.

The Goths were hardy and fierce warriors, but even with the many warriors they could muster, they too simply could not resist the Huns. So they turned and fled south, and in 376 AD they begged to be allowed to cross the Danube and take sanctuary in the Eastern Roman Empire (the empire had existed in two halves for some time by this point). Eastern Emperor Valens permitted their entry, hoping the alliance could be mutually beneficial – the Goths gaining a safer new home and the empire acquiring many thousands of new recruits for the legions. The Romans settled the Goths in a temporary camp somewhere in northern Thracia (modern Bulgaria)… then proceeded to make an absolute mess of matters. The odious Count Lupicinus oversaw severe maltreatment of the refugee population. His soldiers offered the starving Goths only rotting dog meat in exchange for their children to sell as slaves. Inevitably, the refugees broke out in revolt, and the Gothic War began. All Thracia became a war zone, and even the mighty city of Constantinople – the Eastern capital – came under threat.

The last stand at the Battle of Adrianople – one of the Roman Empire’s darkest days.

Ammianus Marcellinus described the bitter struggle wonderfully (see my timeline here), right up to and including the day that would go down in history as one of the empire’s darkest: when the forces of Emperor Valens lined up to face the Gothic horde a short way north of the city of Adrianople on a sweltering August afternoon with the best regiments the empire had – the crack cavalry and palace legions. That day, in the baking heat, they were routed by the Goths. Two-thirds of the eastern legions were slaughtered. Valens was killed amongst his men, and the Eastern Empire was left staring into oblivion as the Goths roared in triumph, masters of Thracia.

“What happened next?” I hear you cry. Well, Ammianus signs off with the infuriatingly calm and valedictory line:

Zosimus’ Historia Nova – a muddled but still useful account.

Thus have I, a Greek by birth, and formerly a soldier, related all the events from the accession of Nerva to the death of Valens, to the best of my abilities; professing above all things to tell the truth, which, as I believe, I have never knowingly perverted, either by silence or by falsehood. Let better men in the flower of their age, and of eminent accomplishments, relate the subsequent events.

 

His parting call for a successor to take up the mantle was never adequately answered. The years after 378 AD are something of a historical void. Not surprising, given that the people of the Roman Empire had at that time more pressing matters to attend to than recording events.

 

Like the empire itself, I too found myself staring into oblivion. Legionary: Gods & Emperors ended after the Battle of Adrianople, but the story of Pavo and the XI Claudia legion was far from over. Yet how could I write about the aftermath of the Battle of Adrianople when my faithful guide had no more to say?

Another guide, perhaps? Well, there was Zosimus, the 6th century AD writer who composed the Historia Nova (the ‘New History’), a work charting affairs after 378 AD and all the way up to 410. Perfect! Well, not quite. Zosimus relied heavily on secondary research, basing his history directly on the earlier histories of Dexippus, Eunapius and Olympiodorus. This, presumably, is why the Historia Nova is riddled with contradictions and inaccuracies. In some places where he has leveraged Eunapius, he speaks negatively about the Roman-Vandal general Stilicho, and later when he has clearly used Olympiodorus, he speaks glowingly of the same man. Likewise, he describes the post-Adrianople movements of the Goths in a way that demonstrate that he clearly didn’t understand the lay of the land at the time – more than once telling how, after raiding imperial territory, they went back across the Danube  (the Goths were firmly planted in fallen Thracia by this point – they never again returned to their old, Hun-ridden home north of the river). Still, Zosimus’ account was by no means a dead loss. Even his muddled version of events served as a starting point, and I attempted to detangle the descriptions and put a plausible timeline to it all.

Legionary: The Blood Road

To add a little more structure to this still-nebulous picture, I charted the attestations of the whereabouts of the Eastern and Western Emperors. Accounts of Theodosius I (Valens’ eastern successor) indicate that he made the city of Thessalonica his base of operations as he set about rejuvenating the Eastern Army. From there he roved north to tackle the Gothic horde… only to suffer defeat somewhere near Scupi in modern Macedonia. After that, it seems he remained in Constantinople for many years. Likewise, it seems Gratian, Emperor of the West, travelled to the war-torn eastern lands at least once per year during the period 378-382 AD. This ties in with the efforts of his Western Army to strike back the Gothic horde, so I could confidently assume that he was directly involved in this initiative.

Then I came to the bombastic orations of Themistius, the rhetorician and philosopher who served as a spokesperson and something of a spin doctor for Emperor Valens’ successor, Theodosius I. Now even the most prosaic of histories are subjective to a degree, but Themistius’ speeches are anything but prosaic and certainly not objective, in they are almost burlesque in their predispositions. Crucially, however, the orations he delivered in the years between 378 AD and 382 AD serve as key indicators of how the Gothic War developed after the disaster at Adrianople, and make it clear that there was a drastic shift in imperial stance. In 379 AD, not long after Theodosius’ coronation, Themistius booms:

The Goths will quake. Our mighty soldier-emperor will draw every able man together, our miners will bring iron for them and we will slaughter the barbarian!

Fighting talk! So although the Eastern Empire was grievously wounded, it is clear they did not intend to lie down and die. Yet just a few years later, Themistius proclaimed, with respect to the Gothic War:

It is an emperor’s job to govern, not to fight. And he has such a love of mankind…

This was clearly a case of managing expectations and an indicator that the aggressive earlier announcement had not played out as predicted. Sure enough, peace was agreed with the Goths the very next year, in 382 AD. The Gothic War ended not with bloody victory and vengeance, but after a series of brutal and inconclusive battles, leaving two exhausted sides realising neither could win.

So it was from this jigsaw of patchy chronicles, minor mentions of the emperors’ movements and blustery monologues from the era’s most famous orator, that I managed to piece together a picture of the post-Adrianople Roman Empire. There are places where I had to speculate and employ the imagination at full thrust – and I can’t describe how much fun that was. Most importantly, the ‘time machine’ was up and running again, and Legionary: The Blood Road was born!

You can find out about the rest of the series here (linked pics below)

Read my review of Legionary: The Blood Road . To buy Legionary: The Blood Road just click on the link.

From the author: 

I’m a Scottish writer, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction.

Gordon Doherty

My love of history was first kindled by the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, and travelling around the ancient world has kept the fire burning brightly ever since. The later Roman Empire and Byzantium hold a particular fascination for me. There is something quite special about the metamorphosis from late antiquity into the ‘dark ages’ and the medieval period.

While historical fiction is my passion, I enjoy writing comedy and sci-fi too. Perhaps one day I’ll find a way to combine all three!

Gordon’s website: www.gordondoherty.co.uk

Gordon on Twitter: @GordonDoherty

Gordon on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GordonDohertyAuthor

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.


From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Interview with novelist Prue Batten

It is with great pleasure that I welcome Prue Batten to the blog today, on the very day of the release of her latest novel, Michael. Hi Prue, thanks so much for agreeing to an interview on History… the Interesting Bits. Welcome.

Thanks so much Sharon for inviting me.

What made you become a writer?

I don’t think I have ever really consciously thought about ‘being’ a writer. Writing has been an art-form I have loved from Grade Three, rather like painting or sketching. I used to write little prose pieces to describe scenes or events, be they imaginary or real. Even from such a young age, the use of words would make me contented and it was something at which I excelled at school. As I grew older, nothing changed. I learned other art-forms of course, but writing stayed with me. The chance to place novels before readers was mere serendipity but that’s a whole other story…

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

In the case of my fantasies, inanimate things like embroideries, paperweights, a Japanese cloth made of paper and silk called shifu. And most lately, as I begin another fantasy – maps and cabinets of curiosity.

Tell us a little about the book you have written so far.

The book I have just finished writing and which will be released this July, is the final in an historical fiction trilogy entitled The Triptych Chronicle. The book is called Michael. The trilogy is about the insidious rivalries of trade in the twelfth century and essentially, each novel is a standalone, but they fit together like fingers in gloves to make a series. Tobias, Book One, is about the theft of the infamous Tyrian purple dye from the Byzantine empire and is set in Constantinople. The second, Guillaume, involves the same trading house, but a different location, Lyon, and is about the discovery of the Waldensian Bible. Michael is set back in Constantinople where byssus, an enigmatic silk woven from mollusc tendrils, arouses jealousies. The underlying thread in the three books is revenge and each of the three men are good friends and employees of the trading house, Gisborne-ben Simon…

Please, tell me about your new book, Michael.

The blurb reads thus but like all blurbs, seems to change on a daily basis as one tries to tweak it!

Michael Sarapion, merchant and thief, returns to Byzantine Constantinople from which he fled the year before in fear of his life. In his company is Tobias, the dwarf brother of an icon thief and Ahmed, an Arab galleymaster with secrets.

Michael is filled with grief and fury, intending vengeance for a treasure lost to him twelve years before. He must trust in priests, defy the empire and guard those dearest to him as he searches, because he understands that to restore what is rightfully his, he must kill… or be killed.

In this final standalone to The Triptych Chronicle trilogy, Michael, Tobias and the stalwarts of the House of Gisborne-ben Simon will slice a swathe through the Byzantine city, with those who challenge them hard on their heels.

How do you organise you writing day – do you write every day?

I try with minimal success. Some days, I’m lucky if I write 150 words. Some days I’ve written up to 2000. But if I have a ‘writing day’, I begin with business. I clear my emails and social media and then I sit and read the previous chapter to the point where I must continue. I write with a pen and A4 paper, so the pages are filled with cross-hatching and bold black lines. When I have about 10-12 pages written, and having edited it (many times), I will then transcribe to the computer which is another edit in itself.

What is your favourite thing about being a writer?

Seclusion, placing myself elsewhere, concentration of the mind, being mindful. Also, I am one of the few writers that seems to love working with the editor. It’s akin to working with a swimming coach. Writing is so solitary and once the editor steps in, there’s a chance to lay out ideas and styles. I always visualise my editor striding up and down the pool beside me, shouting out instructions as I swim laps. I have a good relationship with my editor!

What is your least favourite thing about being a writer?

Finishing the first draft! And once the book is as polished as it can be, and is published, watching my dashboards to see if anybody buys it.

How do you see social media (such as Facebook and Twitter), is it a blessing, a hindrance, or a necessary evil?

A blessing. I love social media for two reasons. One is that solitude issue. Social media enables one to break out of the bubble and communicate with kindred spirits everywhere – be they writers or readers. The other is that living as far south of the globe as one can go without falling off the end of the world, I get to meet and make friends with people I might never meet otherwise. I think to take those friendships through the years, even if I cease being a writer, is the most wonderful gift.

What is your favourite period in history, and why?

It’s the late Medieval period. In my case, the late twelfth century. To me, it’s as close as one can get to the Renaissance without being surrounded by the flamboyance of that timeframe. There was so much beautiful religious art in the period, the strengthening of trade with the east, religious excitement (as with the Waldensians – almost a Reformation!) and exploration. As spices and other exotic goods moved into Europe from the east, food styles changed, clothing styles changed. And I still haven’t mentioned politics… 

What story would you really like to tell, but haven’t written yet?

A fictional version of my ancestor’s story. I am descended from a convict who was tried and sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land from England in the 1800’s. His sentence for stealing two sheep was fourteen years, essentially a death sentence, and yet he took his carpentry skills with him and managed to survive to become a free man. And here I am…

Who is your favourite historical character and why?

Prue Batten

Nicholas de Fleury from the House of Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett. He is a brilliantly Macchiavellian character who Dorothy set in the Renaissance, and it was his merchant intrigue that set me researching what trade may have been like three hundred years earlier. Effectively my medieval merchants laid the groundwork for Renaissance merchants like Niccolo. How I would love to converse with DD about that…

Who are your favourite authors who inspire you?

So many, through the years, beginning with Rosemary Sutcliffe as a teenager.

Others are Dorothy Dunnett, Mary Stewart, Simon Turney, Matthew Harffy, Michael Jecks, and Christian Cameron, Kathryn Gauci and Elisabeth Storrs in the hist.fict genre.  In fantasy? Tolkein, Juliet Marillier and Cecilia Dart Thornton. In contemporary fiction? Jan Ruth,  GS Johnston, Jilly Cooper. And they are all just a few of many exceptional names.

What is your favourite all-time book , the one that you cannot do without?

May I have two?

Niccolo Rising. Who cannot fail to be drawn in by three drunk men sailing downriver in the Duke of Burgundy’s bath tub!

Anne of Green Gables by LM. Montgomery because there’s always ‘scope for the imagination’.

What is the one piece of advice that you would give an aspiring writer?

Write because you love words. Read more words. And take your time. It’s worth the wait…

Thanks you so much, Sharon, for taking an interest in my work and my life. My books may be purchased by following this link: http://author.to/pruebatten

Thank you Prue, for taking the time to respond with such in-depth, thoughtful answers. I can’t wait to read Michael!

About Prue Batten:

Prue Batten has been an indie writer since 2008 when her first novel, a fantasy entitled The Stumpwork Robe, was published in a POD exercise funded by the UK Arts Council.

Since then, she has indie published three further books of the fantasy quartet which won awards, six historical fiction novels, some of which have also won awards, and an illustrated childrens’ book, through her own imprint, Darlington Press. She has also worked with writers of excellence to publish anthologies to raise money for cancer research and has a long-term collaboration with an American miniature press for whom she writes short stories.

For more information, go to:  http://www.pruebatten.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Prue.Batten.writer
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/pruebatten

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Warrior of Woden

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Matthew Harffy to History … the Interesting Bits as the latest stop on his Warrior of Woden Blog Tour.

Matthew has kindly given us an extract from this latest, fabulous book in his Bernicia Chronicles series, which follow the adventures and experiences of Beobrand HAlf-hand. Ocer to Matthew:

“The weather has been fine these past weeks, has it not?”

“Aye,” Acennan smiled, “better than riding through rain and mud, shivering without a fire at night.” They both recalled the misery of the year before when it had rained almost every day of their month of riding along this southern border of Northumbria. All of them had been ill by the end of it, and their clothes had rotted on their backs from being constantly sodden.

“You are not wrong there, my friend,” said Beobrand. “But do you remember last year, even when the sky was filled with rain and storms raged in the heavens day after day, even then, we caught some of the Mercian brigands raiding into the lands of our king? Remember, there was that fool we caught when he tried to ride Theomund’s stud stallion?”

Attor and Cynan, who were near to Beobrand and Acennan, laughed at the memory.

“We were hardly needed then,” said Acennan. “That Mercian boy was made to regret stealing a proud Northumbrian horse!”

More men laughed at the memory. One of the few moments of that rain-drenched month that they were happy to remember. The huge stallion had not been pleased to be ridden out of its warm stable and it had thrown the Mercian youth from its back and then, when the boy sought to drag him away by pulling on the horse’s reins, the beast had attacked him. The horse had trotted back to its master’s stable. The stallion had reminded him of Sceadugenga. Beobrand and his warband had found the Mercian lad trampled and bleeding in the mud.

The boy had still been dazed when they had hanged him.

“There was not much need of us then, you are right,” said Beobrand. “That horse was well able to look after itself, it seems. But even then, with the constant rain, men raided from Mercia, seeking to steal what they could. How many men have we seen raiding this past fortnight?”

“We have seen none,” replied Acennan, “but I for one am happy of the peace and the good weather. Perhaps I am getting old.”

“Perhaps you are at that,” laughed Beobrand. “Eadgyth has tamed you when you are at your hall, of that there is no doubt.”

Acennan blushed.

“Well, she has her ways of keeping me quiet.”

Beobrand smiled.

“I am sure she does.”

Acennan was happier than ever. His land prospered, as did his family. Eadgyth had borne him two fine children and Acennan doted on them all. But there was little that could be described as old or tame about him when he rode with Beobrand’s warband.

Beobrand stared at the smear of smoke in the pale sky over the southern hills.

“But does it not strike you as strange that this year, when the weather has been fair, and there has been a full moon and clear skies, we have neither seen nor heard of any bands of Mercians striking into Deira?”

Acennan frowned.

“Perhaps you are right, lord,” he said. “But what do you think is the cause of the calm over the land?”

“I do not know, my friend,” Beobrand answered, smiling to himself at Acennan’s use of the term “lord”. He only called him thus when he was angry or nervous. “But something is not right and south of here I would wager a hall is burning.”

He straightened his back and stretched his shoulders and arms in preparation for a hard ride.

“Attor and Cynan, you are to ride ahead as scouts. Gallop back to warn us if you smell a trap. This could be bait for an ambush.” Beobrand raised his voice so that all could hear. “The rest of you, prepare to ride. We will seek out what is the cause of this smoke and mayhap we will find what has kept the Mercians so quiet these past weeks.”

Cynan and Attor nodded and kicked their steeds into a canter that took them down the slope of the hill and quickly into the shade of a stand of elm.

Acennan frowned at Beobrand, but touched his spurs to his horse’s flanks, trotting forward with the remainder of Beobrand’s gesithas.

Beobrand understood his friend’s concern and he acknowledged that he was probably right in his appraisal of the situation. Surely no good could come of this.

For Beobrand led his warband into Mercia.

To read my review of Warrior of Woden click here.

Author bio

Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

 Book description

AD 642. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fifth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Oswald has reigned over Northumbria for eight years and Beobrand has led the king to ever greater victories. Rewarded for his fealty and prowess in battle, Beobrand is now a wealthy warlord, with a sizable warband. Tales of Beobrand’s fearsome black-shielded warriors and the great treasure he has amassed are told throughout the halls of the land.

Many are the kings who bow to Oswald. And yet there are those who look upon his realm with a covetous eye. And there is one ruler who will never kneel before him.

When Penda of Mercia, the great killer of kings, invades Northumbria, Beobrand is once more called upon to stand in an epic battle where the blood of many will be shed in defence of the kingdom.

But in this climactic clash between the pagan Penda and the Christian Oswald there is much more at stake than sovereignty. This is a battle for the very souls of the people of Albion.

Links to buy

 Amazon: https://amzn.to/2I4PeTA

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2Gf2V1P

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2umk5ZO

iBooks: https://apple.co/2G7vhyW

Follow Matthew Harffy

 Website: http://www.matthewharffy.com/

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Facebook: @Matthew Harffy

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Website: www.ariafiction.com

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NetGalley: http://bit.ly/2lkKB0e

Sign up to the Aria newsletter: http://bit.ly/2jQxVtV

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.

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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: George, Duke of Clarence and the infamous ‘butt of Malmsey wine’ by Toni Mount

It is a pleasure to welcome Toni Mount to the blog, for Day 5 of her Blog Tour for the launch of The Colour of Murder this month.

The Colour of Murder is the latest whodunit in the popular ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval murder mysteries by author and historian Toni Mount.

George, Duke of Clarence and the infamous ‘butt of Malmsey wine’.

540 years ago, on the 18th February 1478 the Duke of Clarence was, famously, drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. Did he jump or was he pushed? The question has never been answered, so this was an opportunity for the intrepid investigator Seb Foxley – to finally solve the mystery.

On this day, 18th February 1478, news was leaked that the brother of King Edward IV, George, Duke of Clarence, had somehow managed to drown in a butt of malmsey wine. Did he fall or was he pushed? A contemporary chronicler, who otherwise seems very well informed, could only write: ‘… a few days after the execution, whatever its nature may have been, took place … in the Tower of London…’

From the Croyland Chronicle, c. 1486, pp.479-80:

George of Clarence had never been very reliable nor faithful to King Edward, his elder brother. When his beloved wife, Isabella Neville, died soon after giving birth, probably of childbed fever, George was convinced that a lady-in-waiting, Ankarette Twynyho, had poisoned her. He tried Ankarette in a rigged court and arranged her execution. King Edward decided George had gone too far this time, taking the law into his own hands. Then George became involved in a further plot to dethrone Edward. Matters deteriorated when he accused the Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, of witchcraft, saying she was behind the death of his wife. Finally, the king lost patience and George was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the summer of 1477.

Brought to trial before Parliament, only the king gave evidence against George, listing all his earlier mercies to him, how he had pardoned him for previous acts of treachery and showered titles and riches on him, only to receive ingratitude and further treachery in return. Meanwhile George had spread rumours that the king was a bastard with no right to wear the crown, practising necromancy and poisoning those who displeased him.

Parliament sat in embarrassed silence as the king and his brother accused each other, shouting and arguing in a most unseemly and vulgar display. But the eventual outcome was never going to be in doubt: Parliament found in the king’s favour, George was guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. He was returned to the Tower of London while the king wrestled with his conscience over signing his brother’s death warrant until the Speaker of the House intervened, demanding that sentence be carried out. George, Duke of Clarence, was executed privately in the Tower of London, spared the ignominy of a public beheading.

However, an execution behind closed doors soon caused rumours to spread that Clarence had been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. A butt is a large barrel and an imperial measure of one hundred gallons – more than enough to drown in, but the story is almost certainly a later invention. Perhaps George was partial to the sweet white wine, so the tale was an ironic joke. It has been suggested, perhaps not seriously, that George was allowed to choose his manner of death, or even that a ‘well-wisher’, wanting to spare the king the grief of committing fratricide, sent Clarence a gift of wine, laced with poison. We will probably never know the truth.

About  the author

Toni Mount is a popular writer and historian; she is the author of Everyday Life in Medieval London and A Year in the Life of Medieval England (pub Amberley Publishing) and several of the online courses for http://www.medievalCourses.com

Her successful ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval whodunits is published by MadeGlobal.com and the latest book in this series The Colour of Murder is now available as a paperback or on Kindle. http://getbook.at/colour_of_murder

If you would like to follow the rest of Toni’s blog tour, just click on the links below:

26/1/18 – Digitalis & Other Plant Poisons in Medieval Times – www.thewarsoftherosescatalogue.com/  c/o Debra Bayani

3/2/18 Author Interview – The Review – www.thereview2014.blogspot.com c/o Diana Milne

10/2/18 Royal Witchcraft – www.onthetudortrail.com c/o Natalie Grueninger –

17/2/18 George Duke of Clarence – www.historytheinterestingbits.com  c/o Sharon Bennett Connolly

24/2/18 Bedlam Hospital www.theanneboleynfiles.com c/o Claire Ridgeway

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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.

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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: The Siege of Rouen by Nathen Amin

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Nathen Amin to the blog. Nathen has stopped by on the last day of his blog tour with an extract from his wonderful new book, House of Beaufort, focusing on the Siege of Rouen which took place between July 1418 and January 1419 as part of Henry V’s attempt to conquer Normandy, and ultimately claim the French throne.

The Siege of Rouen (Extract from House of Beaufort by Nathen Amin)

By the summer of 1418, the king’s army was camped outside the gates of Rouen, the final obstacle in reconquering the duchy. Although the city was the second largest in France, it had suffered from the intermittent civil war between the Armagnac and Burgundian factions and had been brutally occupied by both forces. Now, it was to be harassed once more, this time by the English.

In mid-July, King Henry dispatched his uncle Thomas Beaufort to seek the city’s surrender, accompanied by ‘a fayre manye of men of arms and archers’. The duke of Exeter had spent the first few months of the year in England but on 3 March received a summons from his nephew requesting his services once again in France. By May, the duke was back on Norman soil, attended by a force of 500 men-at-arms and 1,500 archers, and on 1 July was appointed Count of Harcourt after capturing the town’s castle. He was also given custody of Lillebonne Castle, situated halfway between Harfleur and Rouen and timely motivation for the exhausting task that lay ahead.

According to the Brut Chronicle, upon arriving outside Rouen, Exeter set up camp and ‘displayed his banner’ before sending ‘herodes into the toun, and bade them to yeld it’. If they chose not to submit, then the duke promised they would ‘deie an harde and sharped deth, and withoute eny mercy or grace’. A small skirmish occurred when ‘a grete meny of men at arms, both on horsbak and eke on foot’ emerged from the town, although Exeter’s resilient force managed to ‘ovirthew an hep of them’, capturing thirty prisoners in the process . It was clear the Rouennais were not going to yield to the duke, who promptly departed south to Pont-de-l’Arche to inform his king. An unimpressed Henry V swiftly mobilised the remainder of his troops and returned to Rouen alongside his uncle.

The siege began in earnest on 29 July 1418, with the city well defended by large numbers of crossbowmen and artillery weaponry. English siege equipment, which had proved effective throughout the campaign, was rendered useless as Henry’s soldiers could not get within range of the city walls to create any discernible damage. Since brute force was not an option, the king resolved to starve the citizens into surrender. Henry spread his commanders around the city to block any attempts by French relief forces bringing supplies, with himself based in the east and his brother Clarence in the west. Exeter was positioned ‘on the north syde, before the Port Denys’, and the three chief commanders were capably supported by John Mowbray, earl of Norfolk, James Butler, earl of Ormond, the lords Harrington, Talbot, Roos, Willoughby and Fitzhugh, and Sir John Cornwallis.

King Henry V

The English expected the Rouennais to surrender after a token resistance, whilst those within the walls stubbornly awaited the arrival of a French army to come to their rescue. Neither occurred. Although outbreaks of dysentery and disease afflicted both Rouen and the English camp, commanders of both sides refused to back down. At one stage, an Englishman known as Sir John le Blanc, Governor of Harfleur and a member of Exeter’s retinue, challenged a French captain named Langnon, the bastard of D’Arly, to a jousting duel. Langnon agreed to the contest and emerged from the beyond the walls with around thirty companions. Although the intention of both men was to run the joust three times, Langnon ferociously unhorsed his adversary at the first attempt, who was then dragged into the city where he succumbed to his injuries. The Frenchman was urged by the English to return le Blanc’s lifeless body, for which he was begrudgingly paid four hundred nobles, possibly from the purse of a presumably demoralised Exeter himself.

By December, the citizens of Rouen were feeling the effect of the siege, having consumed most of their provisions. By Christmas they had ‘nothir bred, ale, nor wyne’ and were forced to survive on horsemeat and the flesh of dogs, mice, rats and cats. The city’s despairing commanders ordered all women and children, along with any old or sick men, to be evicted from Rouen at once as they were deemed to be of no military value. Considering many of those expelled were related to soldiers left behind, it seems likely the commanders intended for them to be honourably received into English hands as prisoners of war, to be fed and watered until the siege was over. They had not counted on the ruthless disposition of the English king.

Although several of King Henry’s soldiers initially endeavoured to feed the evictees from their own rations, he dispatched orders that no assistance was to be provided to the pleading masses. His command was adhered to, and the beleaguered citizens were left to starve in ditches halfway between the English and the city walls, slowly perishing in full view of both camps. It was an utterly brutal decision and intended to demotivate the watching garrison of Rouen, who could only look on shamefacedly as those they had expelled screamed for help that was not forthcoming.

A chilling insight into the horrors of the siege is found in a lengthy poem written by John Page, an English soldier present during the sustained attack. Page’s compassionate poem barely conceals the anguish he experienced during the winter of 1418, or the significant pity he felt for the innocent women and children of Rouen. In one resonating couplet, Page records how he witnessed a starving, orphaned ‘chylde of two yere or three, go a boute to begge hyt brede, fadyr and modyr bothe were dede’, whilst he also came across ‘women holdyn in hyr armys, dede chyldryn in hyr barmys (bosoms)’. After the citizens were expelled, a despondent Page noted how ‘women with their children in their arms’ were begging the soldiers to ‘have marcy uppon us, ye Englysche men’.

Arms of Thomas Beaufort, 1st Duke of Exeter

There could be no mercy until the English king was placated, and as Rouen could not withstand the tenacious monarch indefinitely, dialogue was finally opened between the two parties after Christmas. The city accepted terms of surrender on 19 January 1419 when, after six months of ‘toilsome siege and many assaults’, Thomas Beaufort was handed the keys to Rouen. The duke galloped into the city, ‘a valiant captain mounted on a goodly courser’, to formally seek the submission of the council. Trumpets, clarions and pipes heralded the duke’s arrival, with his English soldiers, perhaps charged with adrenaline, provocatively shouting ‘St George! St George!’ as they passed through the gates. Page reported the inhabitants were but ‘bonys and skyn’ and beheld their conquerors with great fear, prompting some of the residents to nervously ransom their lives ‘for fifty thousand pounds in gold’. Money was not enough to save a commander named Alain Blanchard; he was promptly executed for having hanged English prisoners from the walls in preceding months.

One can only wonder at the horror which greeted the duke as he rode through the disease-plagued, death-infested streets. Rotting corpses littered the roads, with Page confirming ‘in everyche strete lay dede’ whilst those who had only just survived the ordeal, ‘dyde faster than cartys myght cary away’. The stench alone must have overwhelmed Exeter and his men, forced to navigate their way through grim pandemonium. Even so, Thomas had a duty to perform, and so the duke ‘to the castelle fyrste he roode’ and ‘ryche baners up he set’, including those of St George and the arms of France and England. As the flags fluttered in the wind, their presence above the city represented not only a hard-fought English victory over Rouen, but also the duchy of Normandy.

With Exeter having secured the city, the king followed his uncle into Rouen the following afternoon, and whilst ‘the bells of all the churches were rung’, the surviving ecclesiastical figures emerged to greet the intimidating figure that had reduced their places of worship to rubble. Alongside his commanders, Henry offered thanksgiving in the cathedral before settling into his new lodgings within the castle. His nobles dispersed into the city to find accommodation in any buildings English cannons had failed to destroy.

Exeter finally had the opportunity to rest his weary body, and to reflect on events of previous months, particularly the waste of life that had occurred on both sides of Rouen’s walls. Tragic losses had not been limited to the Normans, for death had also struck at the heart of the Beaufort family. Accompanying his stepfather Clarence on the campaign had been the seventeen-year-old Henry Beaufort, 2nd Earl of Somerset, heir of John Beaufort, and Exeter’s nephew. Information about the youngster’s life is scarce, although his upbringing was overseen by Clarence and partly funded by his namesake uncle, the bishop of Winchester.

Likewise, young Henry’s death is also poorly documented, although later inquisitions in the summer of 1425 place the date of his demise to 25 November 1418, just as the siege of Rouen reached its climax. It’s unclear whether the cause was warfare or disease, or if his uncle Exeter was present at the time having been posted near to the Clarence forces in which the teenage earl served. There is no record of what happened to Henry’s body, whilst his earldom passed to his brother John who became the third Beaufort to hold the Somerset title within a decade. At what point Bishop Beaufort, or the boy’s mother Margaret Holland, became aware of his demise is also uncertain, as is his final resting place. This Henry Beaufort remains an enigma, something of a lost Beaufort, and his death was a sad consequence of the fall of Rouen.

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Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire and has long had an interest in history. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and runs the Henry Tudor Society. He has an active social media presence promoting historical sites in Wales. He now lives in York.

The House of Beaufort is available now from both Amazon and Amberley Publishing.

And here’s the links to catch up with the rest of Nathen’s blog tour.

Day 1: The Medievalist.net; Day2: On the Tudor Trail; Day 3: Lila’s Vintage World; Day 4: kristiedean.com

 

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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.

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: Sir Lancelot of Siedlęcin

“Painted tower in Siedlęcin: the unique residence of an ambitious Silesian duke”¹

Ducal tower of Siedlęcin. Photo courtesy of sekulada.com

The 15th International Castellological Conference „Castrum Bene” took place at Książ Castle, in Lower Silesia, Poland, on 16th – 19th May, 2017. This year’s conference brought together, as it always does,  prominent architectural historians and castellologists from across ten European countries. There were scholars from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, to name but a few.

The annual International Castellological Conference is a great opportunity for the experts to come together, learn from each other and exchange ideas. The participants are always treated to a series of diverse and intellectually challenging papers, some giving interesting fresh perspectives on castle exploration and preservation. The papers show considered approach to the key castellological issues and bring together a wealth of knowledge, talent and experience.

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„Castrum Bene” comes to Siedlęcin. Photo courtesy of Monika Filipińska

This year’s conference focused on castles as symbols of status. In their lectures the Polish experts discussed Henrys, the dukes of Silesia and their residences, castles and elites of the Cracow Land in the Middle Ages, motte-and-bailey castles of Lower Silesia.

18 May saw the participants taking a full-day study tour to the castles on the Piast Castles Trail. They visited, among others, Bolków, Świny and Wleń. In the Great Hall of the ducal tower of Siedlęcin they had an opportunity to listen to the lecture delivered by Dr Przemysław Nocuń, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, on the subject of the tower, its founder and unique wall paintings preserved in it.

Lancelot fighting a duel with Tarquin, the Siedlęcin set, detail. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Ducal tower of Siedlęcin displays one of the most complete and important sets of 14th century domestic wall paintings in Central Europe. The paintings are a rarity both for their mixture of secular, religious and didactic themes, and for their leading subject being the legend of Sir Lancelot of the Lake. Both the tower and paintings reflect its builder’s high ambitions. Preserved monuments and names of the Arthurian characters given to the sons of the Silesian nobility indicate that the Arthurian legends were known at the courts of medieval Poland and Silesia. However, most of the preserved monuments with Arthurian motifs date from the second half of the 14th or from the 15th century, which makes the Siedlęcin set  (created in 1320s -1340s) the earliest surviving example. Among the Piasts (Poland’s first ruling dynasty) Henryk I of Jawor (c. 1292 – 1346) is believed to be the first to commission the Arthurian paintings in one of his residences. Today Duke Henryk’s tower is the only place in the world where the medieval wall paintings depicting Sir Lancelot of the Lake have been preserved in situ. Their true subject matter was not recognised until the 1990s. Major conservation was carried out in 2006, actually saving them, for they were in very poor condition.

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Participants of the The 15th International Castellological Conference „Castrum Bene” at Książ Castle. Photo courtesy of P. Nocuń

The tower house of Siedlęcin is one of the best preserved castles of this type in Central Europe.  It was built as a ducal seat for both residential and defensive purposes (probably as a hunting „lodge”) near the River Bóbr [Bobber] crossing in the hunting territories north-east of Jelenia Góra [Hirschberg]. Initially crenelated, the tower stands 22 meters high (72 feet) with the remains of the moat still visible from the northern and eastern sides. The only siginificant alteration since the 14th  century is the addition of a roof (in the 16th century). Preserved massive tie beams are the oldest surviving wooden ceilings in Poland. Dendrochronolocial research has revealed the trees used for their construction were cut down in 1313 , 1314  and 1315 respectively. Adjacent to the tower is a manor house which dates from 18th century.

Książ Castle, the Lower Silesia, Poland. Photo courtesy of Przemysław Nocuń

The paintings have been preserved on the south wall of the tower’s finest interior space, being that of the former Great Hall on the second floor. The group includes representations of the scenes from the Vulgate Lancelot and depict Sir Lancelot of the Lake and his marvelous exploits with the focus on the beginning and ending of his brilliant career as a knight of the Round Table. There are scenes depicting the court of King Arthur, his queen Guinevere with her ladies, Guinevere’s kidnapping by Meleagant and her rescue by Lancelot. There are also representations of Lancelot and his cousin Lionel setting off for their first knightly adventure. Lancelot asleep under an apple tree and Lionel sleeping on guard, a duel between Lancelot and Tarquin and Lancelot with Arthur’s brother, Sir Kay. The unfinished portion depicts a duel between Lancelot and Sagramour and the healing of Urry de Hongre.

You can learn more about the tower and its marvellous paintings on Ducal Tower of Siedlęcin Official Website

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Footnote: ¹From an article by by Dr P. Nocuń.

Article by Kasia Ogrodnik of Henry The Young King.

Photos courtesy of The Ducal Tower of Siedlęcin Association and sekulada.com.

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©2017 Kasia Ogrodnik-Fujcik & Sharon Bennett Connolly

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Sharon’s 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.

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

Guest Post: Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of Being a King by Trisha Hughes

thToday it is a pleasure to welcome Trisha Hughes to the blog, with a guest post about her latest book, Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of Being a King, which will be released on 28th February, 2017.

When we think of Britain’s monarchs, most of us would agree that early periods of time are clearly muddled. Many are hidden in the mists of time while some have almost completely disappeared. What we do know is that there were kings who ruled for only a few months and there are some who ruled for over fifty years. There are also some who should never have ruled at all. They include, among their number, the vain, the greedy and the downright corrupt as well as adulterers, swindlers and cowards.

Yet this group also shares one thing in common. In their lifetimes, they were the most powerful individuals in the land.

My story, ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ spans 1500 years and is full of lust, betrayal, heroism, murder, cruelty and mysteries. It’s a journey through time when the Romans began their march through Britain and travels through Saxon times, the Vikings, the Normans, the Plantagents and finally the Tudors.

History is full of savagery and cruelty but there are none more brutal than the Wars of the Roses during the Plantagenet dynasty.

This period of time was basically a terrible family squabble that ended up a bloodbath between royal cousins where each house was eager to snatch the crown and the throne of England for themselves away from other family members. But as with most rebellions, it left both sides vulnerable since it usually meant that battles were fought ‘to the bitter end’, leaving fewer contenders alive after every battle.

It was a dangerous period full of unfathomable brutality, shifting alliances, murders, betrayals, plots and savage elimination. It ended when Henry Tudor usurped the throne from Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets, and a different sort of battle began as he continued on the bloodbath with gusto.

Richard III’s story is not too different from many others in history. It’s a story of ambition gone awry and the damage it leaves in its wake. He was the twelfth of thirteen children of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York (a strong claimant to the throne himself) and Cecily Neville (who was also a direct descendant of John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III).

What makes Richard different from most of his ancestors is the crime that’s been associated him. His interest in the throne was plain and his character has proven to be ruthless. We are led to believe that his young nephews were held captive in the Tower, never to be seen again, while he simply stepped in and took the throne from under everyone’s noses. Presumably he had them murdered.

But was it actually Richard who ordered their murder as it’s been assumed throughout history?

th1That the princes were murdered is certain. But the question is, by whom and I have an opinion or two of my own that I’d like to share with you from my book.

“Suspect Number 1. There have been a few names pulled out of the hat and the first one is definitely Richard III. He had the most to gain from their death and he had the personality to do it. He had been implicated in the death of Warwick as well as the suspicious death of his brother Edward IV, which is something we should not forget as Richard gained dramatically because of that.

Suspect Number 2. No man had done more to place Richard on the throne than Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Yet strangely and suddenly, during the first three months of Richard’s reign, Buckingham suddenly changed his allegiance completely and became Richard’s mortal enemy. Why did he do that? Was it perhaps his dislike at being an accomplice in what was seen as the usurpation of the throne and the murder of two young children? Perhaps he feared for his own safety? Ah, and then we ask … wasn’t he of royal blood as well, being a descendant firstly through John Beaufort, son of John of Gaunt, and secondly, through the bloodline of Thomas of Woodstock, Edward III’s fifth son? If anything happened to Richard’s son, Buckingham’s bloodline could be strong enough to claim the throne. Knowing the Yorkists’ relish for using the chopping block, it wouldn’t have made him feel very safe. Not at all.

So very soon after the coronation, Buckingham changed sides dramatically and no one knows why. What we do know is that his job was one of responsibility and he was in charge of the safekeeping of the boys between June and July. Suffocation was probably the method of killing them, especially when you consider their youth and frailty, and it was a tried and true means of getting rid of someone you didn’t want around.

Suspect Number 3. In the background was Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor. No other mother in history seems to have been as dedicated as she was to have her son sit on the throne. But she would not have done it herself. There would have been a third party involved.

In 1472 after the death of her second husband, Margaret did the unthinkable and arranged for her own marriage to a prominent widower, Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby who was in good standing with Edward IV. By all accounts, the marriage was one of pure convenience. This marriage enabled her to return to the court of Edward and Elizabeth Woodville and she was chosen by Elizabeth to be her daughter’s godmother. After Edward’s death and Elizabeth’s rush to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, Margaret became Anne Neville’s lady-in-waiting carrying the train at Anne’s husband’s coronation. Richard had already stripped Margaret of her titles and estates and had given them all to her husband, Lord Stanley, which was a meaningless gesture as he would already have had the rights to her property as her new husband anyway. During all of this, she was actively plotting with Elizabeth Woodville and had betrothed her beloved son Henry to Elizabeth’s daughter, young Elizabeth of York. She has been called a formidable opponent of Richard III, a habitual conspirator and a dedicated promoter of her son’s cause.

Within a couple of months of Richard’s coronation, Margaret’s nephew Buckingham from her previous marriage, (yes it is complicated), raised a rebellion against Richard in favour of Henry Tudor and you can bet she used every bit of her influence on him to encourage the rebellion. She would have promised him anything for his support.

I guess my question right now is: why did Buckingham raise the rebellion in favour of Henry and not for the princes since nobody apparently knew they were already dead? Did he actually know they were dead and was he the one who gave the orders to kill them? In view of that and the fact that Buckingham had no immediate motive to move against Richard except that he had a very distant claim to the throne himself, what could he hope to gain by attacking the king in such a wild and reckless rebellion after having sworn his loyalty one month previously? My guess is Margaret Beaufort had a hand in it. As a consequence of the failed rebellion and Buckingham’s death, Margaret’s current husband, Lord Stanley, was promoted to the position of High Constable in charge of all prisoners in the Tower. Food for thought.

All Margaret wanted was for her son Henry Tudor to sit on the throne at any cost. At the beginning of Buckingham’s rebellion, she sent word to Henry who was living in abject poverty in France with his uncle Jasper Tudor and told him to gather forces and hurry home. To me, it seems she was pulling the strings and had everything planned and under control.

And here is something else to think about – if Henry Tudor defeated Richard III in battle, Henry would not necessarily become king, as the throne would theoretically be restored to young Edward V who might have been in the tower. However, the princes’ ‘removal’ would leave her son Henry as the prime candidate for the throne. Are bells ringing in your head yet?

Suspect Number 4. Henry Tudor had a great need to be king and he was the plausible alternative … but only if the two princes weren’t around. Henry was a Welshman, whose grandfather, Owen Tudor had been a page in the court of Henry V and as we know, Owen is reported to have secretly married Henry V’s widow, Catherine of Valois. One of their sons was Edmund Tudor, who in turn married Margaret Beaufort at the age of twelve.

Perhaps at this stage, I should remind you that Henry Tudor’s grandmother Catherine of Valois was the sister of Charles VI of France who had sadly inherited a ‘crazy’ gene and we saw this gene pop its nasty head up during Henry VI’s reign. Although Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was through his mother and the House of Beaufort as far back as John of Gaunt and Edward III, this gene from his paternal French grandmother should not, perhaps, be forgotten regarding future generations and their actions.

It has been suggested by some historians that Richard had stashed the princes in the Tower of London for safe keeping while he ruled in peace after having declared them illegitimate. It has also been suggested that it was in fact Henry Tudor, when he was King Henry VII, who had the princes executed between June and July of 1486 when his stepfather, Lord Stanley, was High Constable of the Tower two years later. Richard was long gone by then. It was only after this date that orders went out to circulate the story that Richard had killed the princes. This could easily have been to cover up Henry’s own involvement in their murder. It has also been suggested that Elizabeth Woodville knew that this story was false, and so Henry had to have her ‘silenced’ by confining her to a nunnery where she died six years later. All very plausible.

When you think about it, it seems impossible that no one knew what happened to the Princes after they entered the tower. Richard III, Henry VII and Elizabeth Woodville would have had their spies out and all of them would have known the boys’ whereabouts and welfare. If both boys had died, the matter could have been discussed and the culprit would have been blamed openly. But neither Richard III nor Henry VII did so with the reason being that if the princes were alive, the boys’ claim to the throne was better than either of theirs. The princes would simply have had to go in either case. It’s something we will never know and it is history’s best-kept secret.”

Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ is a rambling narrative beginning when the Britons first glimpsed a square sail and a dragon-headed prow on the horizon, churned by oars through the waves as blue water foamed around the hull of a mighty ship one cold, miserable January morning. No one heard the muffled sounds over the water. They were still rubbing sleep out of their eyes after a savage night of arctic air had cut its way through cracks in the walls.

 It’s a story of kings who struggled to hold on to their throne, of horrendous bloody battles, of tiny boys becoming rulers, of ruthless usurpers and of queens who proved to be more powerful than anyone could have ever imagined. It’s a story of invading armies, of rival family members, of spies and conspiracies.

 And I’ve loved every minute of it.

About the author: th2Trisha Hughes started her writing career with her autobiography ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ eighteen years ago. The debut novel was first published by Pan Macmillan Australia and became a bestseller in 1997 beating the current Stephen King book to the top 10 bestsellers at the time.  Since then she has discovered a thirst for writing.  She’s written crime novels but her latest book, the first in her ‘V 2 V’ trilogy, ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ is her passion and due for release on 28th February 2017. She is currently working on the second in the series ‘Virgin to Victoria – The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.’

 You can connect with Trisha through:

 Trisha’s Website: www.trishahughesauthor.com

Or: www.vikingstovirgin.com

you can find Trisha on Facebook at Trisha Hughes Author and Twitter at @trishahughes_

©2017 Trisha Hughes

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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.

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

 

Guest Post: Bewitched by a Castle by Mary Ann Van Sickle

photo-1Today I welcome Mary Ann Van Sickle to History…the Interesting Bits to talk about her journey of discovery of her family history and her relationship with the Ducal Tower of Siedlecin:

Tell me a tale of majestic castles with beautiful princesses and gleaming knights of the round table, and I will always be enchanted. It’s not any wonder. I’m a California girl who grew up with regular visits to Disneyland and an overdose of every animated fairytale produced by Walt Disney from Cinderella to Frozen. I have yet to outgrow my affinity for all things magically medieval. Happily, I’ve watched that legacy pass from my daughter to her own daughter, Sarah. It was never more evident than just this week when our entire family spent a delightful day at the “Happiest Place on Earth.” My heart still skipped a beat as we walked through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and heard Jiminy Cricket softly singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” over the delighted squeals of children and the calliope of King Arthur’s Carousel.  It was on the drawbridge that my daughter snapped a photo of four-year-old Sarah who had just been transformed into a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Despite the drizzling rain, she was clearly spellbound under the shadow of the beautiful castle.  I smiled recalling that I had experienced the very same enchantment some 5,000 miles away in a tiny village in Poland last summer. You see, I have a love affair with my own fairytale “castle.”

First a little history… Once upon a time there lived a Duke named Henryk I of Jawor. Early in the 14th century, he inherited his a “dukedom” (the country, territory, fief, or domain ruled by a duke or duchess) from his father Duke Bolko I Surwowy the Strict (Why he was “strict” is not quite clear to me…) The land he inherited is in Siedlęcin near Jelenia Góra in Lower Silesia, Poland which was one of the richest regions in Central Europe.  In 1313, the Duke commissioned the construction of his Ducal Tower which more than likely was built as a hunting lodge. Overlooking a primeval forest on the Bober River, the Duke and his Duchess, Agnes of Bohemia, created one of the largest and best-preserved medieval tower-houses in Central Europe which remains virtually unchanged since the 14th century.  It is one of more than fifty castles built by Bolko I and his descendants.

From the very beginning the tower was surrounded by a moat and a perimeter stone wall with the approach from a wooden drawbridge. Research has determined that in its initial design, the tower had slit windows and window seats with Gothic trefoil framings. These early medieval windows were filled with round crown glasses while the spaces between them were filled with tiny triangular pieces of glass.  The original tower contained a Great Hall, a full cellar, a “warm chamber” (a room with a fireplace), a large oven and even a primitive privy.

The most impressive level of the Keep is the second floor called The Great Hall.  Designed for ceremonial purposes, it had rich interior decoration including a beautiful wall of mural paintings of Lancelot du Lac from Arthurian legend. Commissioned in 1345 by the Duke and his Duchess, the mural on the south wall of the Great Hall occupied more than thirty-two square meters. According Dr. Przemyslaw Nocun, an archaeologist of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, Duke Henryk was not only the first to commission Arthurian paintings in one of his castles, but he might well have founded an order of chivalry based on the legend of the Knights of the Round Table. The main subject of the murals is the romantic story of Sir Lancelot of the Lake, one of the most famous legendary knights of the Middle Ages. And it’s incredibly beautiful and mysterious and romantic. When climbing to the Great Hall on the creaky wooden stairs, you are suddenly overcome by the beautiful pastel shades of the mural. The colors seem ephemeral and dreamlike. Frozen in time, the knights on their horses and Sir Lancelot kneeling over his Guinevere appear as a momentary memory.

photo-2How could one not fall in love with this magical castle? I know I did, but it was quite by accident. In the summer of 2015 I traveled 5,000 miles in search of my grandfather, Heinrich Wilhelm Ludwig of Emmett, Idaho. But along the way, it was my chance meeting of the quaint Ducal Tower that opened up an entirely new world of discovery.

 I’ve been on the trail of my family history since 1981. The pursuit of genealogy might seem cumbersome to some, but to me it is a patchwork of people, places and stories that form the fabric of myself. Madeleine L’Engle, author of the children’s classic “A Wrinkle in Time” summed it up the best. “If you don’t recount your family history, it will be lost. Honor your own stories. The tales may not seem important, but they are what binds families together and makes each of us who we are.”

My family is not all that remarkable but I am fortunate to have come from a family of record keepers and storytellers. Ancestry was important on both sides of my family. Since Kodak introduced it’s first Brownie camera, my family has been recording traditions and celebrations, births and marriages. Letters, journals, certificates and diplomas have also found their way into boxes marked “Keepsakes.” I cherish these magical boxes which have given me countless hours of pleasure as I’ve assembled the pieces of my family history like an intricate puzzle. When my father passed away in 2009, I was made the “Keeper of Keepsakes.” I soon realized that he kept every piece of paper and photograph that would connect me to the secrets of my tree. It was my job to put them all together.

My interest has been piqued for years with my father’s humble beginnings. Born in Emmett, Idaho in 1923, he was the youngest of three sons born to Henry William (née Wilhelm Heinrich) Ludwig and Lottie Nida Belle. My grandmother was born in the Appalachian community of Salt Rock, West Virginia. My grandfather, however, was born in Germany   and immigrated to America   as a toddler. Despite having Ludwig as my maiden name, I never knew too much more about my German heritage. But I knew the name of the village he was from – Boberröhrsdorf of Lower Silesia.

photo-3Everything I knew about the Ludwig family in Germany is from the actual words of Wilhelm Heinrich Ludwig, my grandfather’s father. (My grandfather, Heinrich Wilhelm, was his father’s namesake with the names reversed.) Remarkably, Wilhelm, a Master Blacksmith kept a journal in which he wrote down his daily activities, financial transactions, gifts received from family on the birth of my grandfather Heinrich, recipes and even his favorite hymns and poetry about his love for the Prussian empire.

From 1845 to 1883, Wilhelm kept a record and the key to his life. Had he not done so, I doubt I would ever have discovered his beautiful homeland or it’s magnificent Ducal Tower. Written entirely in German, the English translation had been done long before I was born. There is no reference to who provided the translation, but it had to have been a tedious job. My Aunt Helen (the wife of the middle Ludwig son and my Dad’s older brother, Ernest) was also a determined family genealogist. She kept meticulous notes and eventually expanded the translation to include a chronological list of financial transactions, names of cities and towns mentioned with maps, detailed summaries of what was happening in Germany at that time and an alphabetized list of names mentioned in the Journal.

 Since there is not an existing photograph of Wilhelm, the contents of the Journal has become all the more precious. I was finally able to hold Wilhelm’s Journal in my very own hands for the first time last year in October. For such a priceless record of his life, I was surprised at how significantly insignificant it was. The Journal is no more than a two-by-five inch notebook with a thin cardboard cover. I thought of how easily it could have been lost or thrown away as it changed hands over the course of 170 years. The keeper of the journal is my cousin Forrest Ludwig, the son of my Uncle Marion who was the oldest of the three sons of Heinrich (later Henry and Lottie). He and his wife live beautifully secluded in the mountains near Boise, Idaho. As my cousins and I sat in his living room passing the journal from hand to hand, we all commented on the exquisite handwritten script. I attempted to photograph the pages, but because of its size and the brittle pages, it was difficult to do so adequately. Still it is a wonder to behold. I’ve had dozens of similar little notebooks I have scribbled in during my lifetime. How could Wilhelm have ever had known that 168 years later his great-granddaughter would have followed his notes and fallen so completely in love with the village he had called home. Unfortunately no photo exists of Wilhelm, so this tiny journal becomes all the more precious. And it was the translation that pointed me in the direction Germany.

photo-4As I said, the little village of my Grandfather’s birth was Boberröhrsdorf. Indeed a mouthful, I eventually even learned to spell it! But knowing the German name won’t necessarily lead you directly to it. In fact, it took me years of searching to find it. The border between Germany and Poland changed dramatically at the end of the World War II. In 1945, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, Poland’s borders were redrawn and areas which had been for many centuries been populated by ethnic Germans became part of a newly enlarged Poland. In short, tiny Boberröhrsdorf was wiped off the map and became the Polish city of Siedlęcin. In July of 2015, I took an extensive tour through Central Europe as part of a Holocaust Memorial Tour. Almost as an afterthought, I decided to extend my trip for an extra four days to try to find my Grandfather’s village.

On July 23, I made the following entry on Facebook:

As this tour ends, a new journey begins early tomorrow. I am flying to Wrocław, Poland, renting a car (!!!!), then driving (carefully) 90 minutes to my Grandpa Ludwig’s village in Boberröhrsdorf – now Siedlecin. I will be romping through cemeteries, meeting with a museum curator, knocking on church doors – and maybe knocking on some Ludwig/Schiller cousin doors as I look for a house owned by Grandpa’s half-brother, Hermann. Asked if I was nervous to travel alone, I replied, “No. I have a lot of angels traveling with me and many hearts I carry as I make my way there. Especially my Dad. He will be my co-pilot!”

With the warmth of my Dad’s spiritual encouragement, I turned off the Autostrada (Poland’s sleek version of our freeways) and drove through the breathtaking back roads of Lower Silesia. Riding shotgun in my tiny red car were my paternal grandfather Henry William Ludwig, and his parents Ernestine Schiller and Wilhelm Heinrich Ludwig. And we were all heading toward a tiny fairy tale village they had left behind more than 130 years ago….

photo-5Somehow I knew it would be beautiful. My grandfather was an artist with a God-given gift. There seems is no other explanation why a poor sawmill worker of Emmett, Idaho with no formal art training could create such majestic American Southwest landscapes in oils. His work is extraordinary with incredible detail and technique.

Beautiful desert scenes of his beloved American Southwest were his signature. But as the rolling hills of the lush Polish countryside blinded me with greens I had never seen before,I was reminded of some of his other oil paintings. One was of an inviting woodland cottage which proudly hangs in our living room.

These woodland paintings had always been my favorite. They were somehow more inviting and familiar to me than his other works. I was forever grateful when this was the painting my father gave to me. I wondered what Grandpa’s inspiration had been. It certainly did not look like Idaho where he had lived since immigrating to America as a toddler. Was it from a postcard or a book? Or was there some distant lingering memory of his distant homeland?

Within ten short miles of my destination, there seemed to be clues as the church steeples began to change form. And as I rounded the corner, I pulled over to the side of the road. My heart stopped when I saw a picturesque church spire I knew I had seen before.

photo-6I had seen it in one of Grandpa’s paintings predominantly displayed with love in the living room of my cousin Karen Ludwig Scott of Boise, Idaho. Could this familiar little Polish church more than 5,000 miles from Emmett, Idaho be the same as the one in this painting? I stood at the gates of this little church for a long time just gazing up at the steeple. I took photo after photo trying in vain to hold on to this extraordinary moment.

After thirty years of collecting and logging photos, letters, taped interviews, home movies and countless ancestral charts, my journey had actually led me to this moment of complete connection. My family history was not about the countless notebooks I had filled with facts, but rather about the very real people who lived and laughed and loved. And I was only a few miles from another door of discovery about them and myself. I took one last photo from my little red car within a tunnel trees.  Then along with my undeniable angels of family past surrounding me, we headed towards Boberöhrsdorf….

Then I saw it! I knew I had arrived home before I was even there. It was the sloping roof of the Ducal Tower through the trees.

I was absolutely in awe of the stately medieval castle keep and while looking up, I drove through the old gate that looked like the entrance but was actually the ancient remains of the moat. Unaware, my little red car got stuck when I tried to make a U-turn. I had to flag down two British visitors (one with a baby in a Snugli) and the shopkeeper of the gift shop, Monika Filipiñska. Together, we were able to free my car as I became a legendary moment in the life of the Siedleçin Ducal Tower. I became forever more “that American lady who drove on the moat.”

photo-7Relieved that I had not lost life and limb, Monika Filipińska became the gracious angel who guided me toward the discovery of the Ludwig family from Boberröhrsdorf.  She first directed me to the two cemeteries just up the hill from the Tower so I could look for any headstones with familiar names. As serene as their final resting places were, the absence of German names was overwhelming. There were only long Polish names with elaborately decorated gravestones. And oddly, none were prior to 1945. Around the periphery of the Roman Catholic cemetery, there appeared a scattering of very old headstones with German surnames, but these seemed to be either broken or illegible. I returned to the Tower and said to Monika, “There are no German names….” She asked me to sit down while she printed out several pages from her computer.

As I was about to learn, arriving in Poland and announcing your German lineage might not endear you to the locals. Following the atrocities to the Polish people during World War II, Boberröhrsdorf became a province of the Polish state. The village was “ethnically cleansed” of all Germans meaning all people of Germanic heritage were forcefully removed from their homes. Houses, property and land were immediately occupied by Polish speakers from the east of Poland and the Soviet Union, who had in many cases been displaced themselves from places their families had lived in for many generations.The language was changed from German to Polish.

What Monika had printed out for me were several pages with the names of German men and a rendering of a World War I monument which once stood in front of the Roman Catholic Church I had just visited. In halting English, Monika was able to explain that the monument had commemorated the fallen men of the village who had died during The Great War. It had originally stood in front of the very churchyard I had had just been to but in 1945, it was an Evangelical Protestant church. Sometime that year, the monument and the adjoining cemeteries had been desecrated by the new Polish villagers. Headstones and pieces of the monument were smashed and thrown into the waters of the Ducal Tower’s moat. In the summer of 2015, only two of the tablets from the base of the monument had been recovered. They were retrieved from the bottom of the moat, meticulously cleaned and placed under the Linden tree in front of the entrance to the Tower’s entrance. The rest of the names Monika had given me were the names from the tablets still yet to be found.

photo-8Monika’s story of the lost WWI Memorial, was sobering. But she looked at me with her beautiful blue eyes and said, “Do you blame them?” Only days before had I completed an emotionally draining Holocaust Memorial Tour. Beginning in Munich where the Nazi Party was born in the 1930’s, I had been immersed in the rise of the National Socialist Party from the rally grounds in Nuremberg and observed the devastation as Hitler demolished and demoralized the Jewish people through the streets of Prague and Warsaw. I saw the tragic horror of the fiery genocide of the men, women and children of Lidice. I toured the atrocities of Dachau, Thereisenstadt, Gross Rosen and Auschwitz. Germany still remains an emotionally scarred country from the tragic vision of one mad man.

“No,” I said quietly to Monika. “I do not blame them…”

But I was saddened that this tiny village I had dreamed of visiting my entire life had erased its once proud German heritage. Though my family had left long before World War II, there lives had too been erased.

Almost forgotten was the slip of paper I had prepared earlier that morning. I had pasted some photos of my grandfather and translated a “Polish script” so I could somehow communicate my questions about the Ludwig family. I handed it to Monika as I noticed two names listed with the names of the forgotten heroes of World War I. OSWALT LUDWIG and HERMANN LUDWIG. Though I would not discover the thread to my own clan for another year, my eyes filled with tears. I had found my family, my family name, my grandfather’s home. Monika blessed me by directly linking me to this beautiful Polish village. I went there in search of the Ludwig family and discovered a portal into my own identity. There were no words…

The following day I needed to return my rental car and catch a plane for home. But there was one more thing I needed to do before I left this beautiful land.  I drove back to the Tower one last time but not before I found a tiny florist shop in Jelenia Góra which was once old Hirschberg where my great-grandmother, Ernestine Schiller Ludwig had been born. Of course, her ties to this magical land are another story….

I purchased a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers which made me think of my sunny California home. This is what I wrote that last day I spent in Poland in the summer of 2015:

photo-9As I begin my journey home, the skies remain glorious over this lovely land. There is a beauty here I cannot describe. So I found my family – Our family – after all. Before I left I wanted to stand in the shadow of the beautiful medieval tower one last time. I left a bouquet of flowers on the newly discovered tablets. I said a quiet prayer for the Ludwig boys and the other lost boys from Boberröhrsdorf. And finally, I said a prayer for all victims of wars. I realized that no one has done that for more than 72 years. I feel quite blessed to have such a solid connection to the ‘ties that bind.’ This Tower cast a spell on me like no other place in the world. I’m hoping 2016 brings another visit or more ways to stay connected. I only scratched the surface. Thank you Monika, the first person I met who gifted me with more history and tales to share with my family and Przemysław who dug into the Polish archives to place me and my family in the heart of this beautiful land. The connection is strong with this one.”

Mary Ann Van Sickle has been on the trail of her family history for more than 30 years.  In the dark ages, that meant long hours in dusty libraries whirling through microfilm and sending for records from the National Archives in Washington D.C. She has made two tours to Poland to discover her family roots in Siedlecin and to visit her beloved fairytale Ducal Tower. She is the mother of four extraordinary children and five awesome grandchildren who have patiently listened to her stories their entire lives. She lives with her husband John, her greatest supporter, in North County San Diego, California. You can find more stories about her genealogical travels and family tree on her website at www.Timestepping.net.

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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.

 

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