Book Corner: Sharon talks to Matthew Harffy

AD 636. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fourth instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Beobrand has land, men and riches. He should be content. And yet he cannot find peace until his enemies are food for the ravens. But before Beobrand can embark on his bloodfeud, King Oswald orders him southward, to escort holy men bearing sacred relics.

When Penda of Mercia marches a warhost into the southern kingdoms, Beobrand and his men are thrown into the midst of the conflict. Beobrand soon finds himself fighting for his life and his honour.

In the chaos that grips the south, dark secrets are exposed, bringing into question much that Beobrand had believed true. Can he unearth the answers and exact the vengeance he craves? Or will the blood-price prove too high, even for a warrior of his battle-fame and skill?

It is my pleasure, today, to welcome Matthew Harffy back to the blog, opening his Blog Tour for the release of the latest instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles series, Killer of Kings.

Hi Matthew, thank you so much for agreeing to another interview. The last time we chatted you had just released your second novel in the Bernicia Chronicles, The Cross and the Curse, and now you’re about to release the fourth in the series, Killer of Kings.  What an amazing achievement. Congratulations!

Thank you! And thank you for having me on your blog again, it’s great to be back!

It’s great  to have you back, Matthew. I love the Bernicia Chronicles, such wonderful stories. And so, I was wondering;

Are you still enjoying the writing process? Do you still get that buzz when you type ‘The End’?

I get a real buzz out of typing “the end”, but I think that’s more due to relief than enjoyment! I do still enjoy writing, but the more readers I have, the more I question whether what I’m writing is any good! That’s not a bad problem to have, but it does mean that the writing process is slightly more stressful than it was before anybody was reading my stuff.

How have you changed your writing routine since publishing your first novel?

When I wrote my first novel, THE SERPENT SWORD, I did most of it in small windows of opportunity whilst my daughters were in clubs, such as dancing or Tae Kwon Do. I still write in small windows of opportunity that come along, but I also have set aside one whole day for writing each week. That makes it easier to make progress more quickly than before.

How many more stories of Beobrand can we expect to enjoy?

Well, I am writing book 5 at the moment, entitled Warrior of Woden. After that, I have at least one more novel contracted with Aria. After book 6, who knows what I’ll write?

Do you have a story outline for the whole series of books, or do you just go where the story leads you?

I do have a general outline for the whole series, but it isn’t broken down to the level of each book. That means I have an idea of where Beobrand will end up at the end of his life, and I know some of the events that he will be involved in, but I don’t have all the details until I get to the next book in the series. It also means I don’t know exactly how many books there will be in the series, but there are definitely more than six, if people keep buying them.

How meticulously is each book planned before you start writing?

I think it would be stretching things to say that I plan each book meticulously! I read around the subjects and events that are going to be touched upon, and come up with a basic timeline and then break that down into a very rough chapter outline. At that point, I usually just start writing and things begin to fall into place. As the book goes on, I add more and more detail to the synopsis and the plan until, by the time I reached the last quarter, I actually know what it is I’m writing about!

As a Bernard Cornwell fan writing about Northumbria, are you not tempted to introduce a character named Uhtred?

I have thought about it! However, as my books are set hundreds of years before Bernard Cornwell’s, I think it is more likely that Beobrand is one of Uhtred’s ancestors!

I loved the short story, ‘Kin of Cain’, about Beobrand’s brother, Octa; how did you come up with the idea of using the Beowulf story?

Thank you, I really enjoyed writing it too. The seed of the idea actually came from a reader who asked me whether Hrunting in the Bernicia Chronicles was the famous sword from the Beowulf story. The question made me think, and in the end the story told itself.

Will we see more stories about Octa, maybe a prequel to the Bernicia Chronicles?

I haven’t got anything else planned with Octa, but you never know. If I can think of any other good ideas, I’m tempted to write some more novellas, as I really enjoyed being able to write a whole story in such a short space of time.

Who is the best character you have created, which are you most proud of?

I really don’t know. That’s like asking a parent who is your favourite child! I think the most memorable of the characters I have created is probably Hengist. He is truly evil and does horrible things, but I imagined him as someone who had suffered terribly and witnessed so many atrocities of war that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. There is some debate as to whether soldiers suffered from PTSD in the time when warfare was waged with swords and shields, but I think it is likely that certain warriors would have been affected by particularly traumatic events.

How do you come up with the ideas for characters? Are they ever someone you know, or pure imagination?

They’re mostly purely imagination. But where does inspiration and imagination come from, if not from everything we have seen and done in our lives? Therefore I am sure that there are many traits exhibited by my characters which actually come from me or from people I know. I am also sure that some of my characters were inspired by fictional characters in other authors’ books.

What is the most significant thing you have learned that made you a better writer?

To trust myself and to write stories that I would enjoy reading. It is impossible to write novels that everybody will enjoy, but if you as the writer enjoy reading the finished product, you can be sure there will be a lot of people who will agree with you.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to write their first novel?

Don’t overthink it. The only way to write a novel is to actually write it. Behind every published author is an amateur writer who didn’t give up and who finished their novel. Nobody is going to publish an unwritten book.

After Beobrand, do you have other projects in the pipeline?

I have got a couple of ideas that I’ve been mulling over, but nothing that I can talk about yet. If I actually write them, it probably won’t be for a couple of years yet anyway.

Is there any historic era or topic that you would dearly love to write about?

I would love to write a western.

Have you ever thought of writing non-fiction, if so what would you write about?

I have written scientific papers and manuals for computer software, so I have written non-fiction. However, I haven’t considered writing any non-fiction for publication beyond that. Perhaps one day, but I’m not sure it would be about history, as I would be too scared of getting things wrong! It’s bad enough when you do it in a novel!

Thank you so much for answering my questions Matthew – it’s always great to welcome you to the blog. Good luck with Killer of Kings – I wish you every success.

Thank you very much, Sharon, and best of luck with your own book that I know is coming out at the end of the year. Thank you.

About the author: Matthew Harffy 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.

Killer of Kings, Book 4 in the Bernicia Chronicles, is now available from Amazon, Kobo, ibooks and Google Play.

Follow Matthew: Website: www.matthewharffy.com; Twitter: @MatthewHarffy; Facebook: MatthewHarffyAuthor

Follow Aria: Website: www.ariafiction.com; Facebook: @ariafiction; Twitter: @aria_fiction; Instagram: @ariafiction; NetGalley: http://bit.ly/2lkKB0e. Sign up to the Aria newsletter: http://bit.ly/2jQxVtV

Follow the rest of the Blog Tour: 6th June; 7th June; 8th June; 9th June; 10th June; 11th June; 12th June.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from 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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©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, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from 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.

Book Corner: The Book of the Grail Edited by E.C. Coleman

51veexrtwel‘This is the history of that most sacred vessel that is named by men the Holy Grail, wherein the precious blood of Our Saviour was received on the day that He was crucified that He might redeem His followers from the pains of Hell.’

It is not known when The Book of the Grail was first written, or by whom. In this version of Percival’s quest for the Holy Grail, the world of Arthurian legend is brought alive. Predating the popular tales of Mallory and Tennyson, this forgotten account – revived by E. C. Coleman from its Middle English translation – presents us with a vivid story full of the moral import and sacred wisdom of its time of telling.

Following Chrétien de Troyes’ earlier poem, Perceval, le Conte du Graal, many surprises and deviations lie in store for those familiar with Arthurian lore. The test of the Sword in the Stone has now become a sword and an arrow, drawn from stone columns; Sir Kay is not the good knight of the other versions; Merlin makes only a brief appearance; and Queen Guinevere suffers a tragedy rather than experiencing a love affair with Lancelot. In this complete and uncorrupted version, the darkness and fears of the thirteenth century are illuminated by moments of chivalry, adventure and religious piety.

Reading E.C. Coleman’s new adaptation of the The Book of the Holy Grail by Josephus is just not enough. This book has to be devoured in its entirety. The author has taken great care in translating the story from Middle English, keeping the original atmosphere of the book while making it accessible to the modern reader. The book is pure pleasure for any lover of the Arthurian legends. All the heroes are present, battling lions, evil knights and trying always to prove their worth and follow the codes of chivalry.

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King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

The story differs in places from the more-familiar versions of the legend. Merlin only plays a minor role and the story focuses mainly on the adventures of Gawain, Lancelot and Percival. Although the main tenet of the story is the knights’ quest to find the Holy Grail, they are faced with many challenges and smaller quests throughout their journeys.

In The Book of the Holy Grail by Josephus our heroes face some fantastical beasts, such as lions, griffons and dragons. The bad guys are knights of pure evil, who have turned from God and war upon the innocent and women and children, throwing them from their homes and castles. The evil knights live in creepy castles, ruled by cruel men and protected by strange beasts; while the good, virtuous knights are sent out into the world by King Arthur, to bring his lands back to God and to recover the Holy Grail.

The story moves at an incredible pace, with a new adventure on nearly every page. The heroes are strong, brave and wonderful fighters, always looking to prove their worth in a valiant joust. Strange damsels hold the story together, explaining events and appearing whenever the heroes need a new direction, or a new quest. The story is full of kings and lords with strange names; such as the King of Castle Mortal, the King Hermit, Clamados of the Forest of Shadows. The ladies are often given designations, rather than names, such as the Widow Lady. There are damsels who have no hair or are forced to walk everywhere, who will only be restored once the Holy Grail has been recovered.

On the morrow, when he had heard Mass, Gawain departed and rode to the fairest land he had ever beheld. The meadows were many coloured with flowers, the rivers flowed clear and full with wholesome fishes, and the forest aboundeth with wild deer and hermitages. One night he came upon a hermitage wherein the good man had not gone forth for forty years. When he seeth Gawain the hermit looked forth from the window and sayeth, ‘A good welcome to you, Sire.’

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

‘And may God give you joy.’ sayeth Gawain. ‘Will you give me lodging this night?’

‘I cannot, Sire, for none hath entered herein for forty years but myself and I have sworn to allow none other in but God. But, Sire, if you continue but a little further you will see a castle wherein all good knights are lodged.’

‘What is the name of this castle?’

‘It is the castle of the goof Fisher King and is surrounded by plentiful waters and is of the fairest setting under God. But they will only lodge good knights.’

‘May God grant that I may be amongst that company. Before I go thither good hermit, will you hear my confession for I must be cleansed of all sin?’

‘Gladly,’ sayeth the hermit and heard him of Gawain’s true repenting.

The hermit the continued to say, ‘Sire, if God is willing, do not forget to ask that which the other knight forgot. Be not afraid at what you see at the entrance to the chapel and ride on without fear. Worship at the holy chapel within the castle for there is where the flame of the Holy Spirit comes down each day for the most Holy Grail and the point of the lance that is presented there.’

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Percival

The flowery language adds to the atmosphere of the book and helps to recreate the Arthurian world. Gawain, Lancelot and Percival are the knights of legend we all know from Mallory; honourable, noble and great warriors. I love the way the book has them fighting their own quests, narrowly missing each other, or one not recognising the other because he has changed his shield; but once in a while, they join together to complete a greater quest, or give aid where one is wounded. The camaraderie and mutual respect of the Grail Knights and the Knights of the Round Table help to make this an amazing book.

This is the ultimate adventure story, from where all other adventure stories, stories of war and valour and of good versus evil find their origins; and this fact shines through on every page. Its a fabulous book to read – and devour – for any fan of the Arthurian Legends.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Blood of the Wolf by Steven A. MacKay

14527440_1508064235887286_1454685879_nMy latest book review, of Steven A. McKay’s latest novel, Blood of the Wolf, the final novel of his stunning Forest Lord series, a wonderful new reworking the legend of Robin Hood has gone live over at The Review today!

With Blood of the Wolf, Steven A McKay has definitely saved the best to last! The fourth and concluding part of his fabulous Forest Lord series sees Robin and his band of Merry Men reunited and embarking on one final adventure together, facing a most formidable foe; a new and particularly vicious band of outlaws. This book has everything: suspense, action and enduring friendships that are tested to their limits. Old and new enemies make the reader eager to see Robin win through, and a few surprises along the way make this a thoroughly entertaining and gripping novel.
It leads you on a desperate chase through  the forests, in the halls of the Sheriff’s castles and into the villages of England …

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning a paperback copy in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: The Dead Gods

51cTI5WlWsL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Over on The Review blog!

Read my review of Robert Bayliss‘s The Dead Gods: Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow 2.

“After encountering the dark god of Acaross, the Taleeli Commander Kaziviere finds himself transported into the heart of that shadowy realm. Perplexed by the Commander’s disappearance the Sun Shard wielder Tuan, his comrade Bronic, Klesh the Flinter and Kaziviere’s lover Tamzine, embark on a quest to find him.


As war between Acaross and Taleel draws ever nearer Kaziviere discovers the horrific nature of the Messiah of Shadows and his monstrous children, The Dead Gods.”

The Dead Gods: Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow 2 is a beautiful tale of the fantasy genre, with an atmosphere straight out of the medieval world. I am very much a fan of historical fiction, or modern-day archaeological thrillers. Fantasy is a whole new genre for me, so I had no idea what to expect when I opened the cover of The Dead Gods. It was a complete surprise to me – and a very pleasant one. It took me way out of my reading comfort zone and yet had me enthralled from the first page.

The Dead Gods is the second book in the Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow book series,but you wouldn’t know it. From the beginning the book works well as a standalone, with the events of the first book revealed as memories in the thoughts of the main protagonists in a way that is subtle and not overwhelming. Ingeniously, the author makes the past all a part of the present. The back story is introduced as I go along, when it is needed to explain a person or event, rather than in huge lumps that take you away from the actual story.

Robert Bayliss cleverly draws on aspects of various eras to create a fantasy world of magic, myth and adventure. Every detail is intricately woven in an amalgamation of the medieval, early modern, and the supernatural. Packed full of action, suspense and mystery – and some suitably demonic bad guys; the story moves rapidly, leaving you few moments to take a breath – or even let out the breath you weren’t aware you’d been holding for at least the last two pages!

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Fortress of Tiers

The narrative is wonderfully descriptive, the language evocative:

There was a hammering at the door and a voice demanded from the other side, “Dogel! We heard a noise, is anything ill?”
“Wait,” Kaziviere said. “We will need supplies and clothes.”
The girl grinned. “you don’t like what you see?” she said, facing the gladiator in her nakedness. “there is no time, savage!” she hissed. “If you want to live, jump!” She launched herself from the window and was gone.
Behind him he heard the door being tentatively opened. On the floor the dogel gasped, his eyes looking wildly around from his battered face.
“Tamzine!” Kaziviere said, casting his spell of hope into the world. 

The lead character are wonderful creations, with their own powers to enthrall the reader. Braebec, Kaziviere, Tuan and Tamzine are heroes of the highest caliber. Each has his, or her, own strengths and weaknesses; confronting enemies head-on, while maintaining their humanity at some considerable cost. They fight to the bitter end and prove themselves worthy of the time you’ve invested in getting to know them.

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Princess Karla

The villains are superbly nasty and supernatural, to the point of making you subconsciously cringe as you read about them (although only occasionally). They attract the worst of humanity to their cause.

The contrast between the human heroes and the other-worldly villains provides a brilliant contrast for the reader, making it easy to root for the heroes. We are also introduced to characters our heroes meet along the way, who act as foils and distraction to the bad guys – and the heroes. People such as the alluring Princess Karla and her father, the Khan, have their own agendas that could divert our heroes from their purpose.

To be honest, my review can’t ever do this book justice. It fascinates and enthralls as it entertains. In short, you will have to read it to believe it. But beware, once it has you in its grip, you will be absorbed into this strange world until the very last page. And it will leave you desperate to read the next installment ….

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Pictures © Robert Bayliss

In Search of Sir Lancelot

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The Great Hall and Round Table in Winchester

I have always had a soft spot for the Arthurian Romances. I love the legend of King Arthur and really hope that there was a historical Arthur who inspired the original tales. His Knights of the Round Table are held up as models of chivalry throughout Europe.

And the recent discovery of some wonderful wall paintings of Lancelot du Lac in a Ducal Tower in Siedlęcin in Poland is simply incredible.

Rodengo, Schmalkalden and Siedlęcin: Where Did the Knights of the Round Table Go?

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Castel Rodengo

King Arthur is mortally wounded and taken to the isle of Avalon, the cream of the crop – his best knights dead. With their passing the age of chivalric deeds and marvelous exploits is over.

Is it really? After all, what the king and his knights have left behind is an extensive body of literature and next to Arthur himself, each of the knights has his own story to be told and retold. And their stories have been retold many times in several versions in different languages.

Some of Arthur’s knights were so celebrated that their fame spread from the literary world to the world of art, music and architecture.

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Rodengo murals (detail)

Today I am going to focus on the two of these knights, both very popular and with an enormous impact on the literary world. Yvain and Lancelot, for they are the ones, became the main characters of Chretien de Troyes’ romances and many other poets and writers that followed and based their versions on Chretien’s.

A few groups of the wall paintings, for example, presenting their deeds and exploits survive scattered across Europe. The most famous murals are certainly those painted by Sir Lancelot himself in the Prose Lancelot, but let me take a closer look at those painted on the walls of medieval castles, towers and houses.

Yvain was beside himself. everything he heard upset him, and everything he saw tormented him. He wished he were far away in a land so wild that no one would know where to look for him…
(from Yvain ou le Chevalier au lion)

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Hessenhof in Schmalkalden in the Middle Ages

One look at Castel Rodengo mounted on a hilltop covered with thick verdure is enough to give the impression that Yvain’s wish has come true, fortunately the surrounding land is not as wild as it may seem and everyone has a chance to visit and admire the wall paintings preserved inside the former castle chapel, dedicated to St Nicholas. Dating back to the 1220s, the cycle depicts the story of Ivain as told by Chretien de Troyes and Hartmann von Aue and is an “extraordinary document without known precedent: the oldest surviving representation in the monumental arts of the High Middle Ages of a profane narrative subject in the context of profane architecture”. Little wonder that the discovery of the murals in 1973 caused a great sensation.

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Schmalkalden wall paintings (detail)

The castle itself was built c.1140 near Bressanone, in the South Tirol, and is known variously as Schloss Rodenegg or Rodeneck after its first owner’s surname: Federico I di Rodank. From the late 16th century to the 1970s, the paintings remained hidden under cover of vaulting and flooring. Eleven Yvain scenes represent the episodes from the first half of the epic, with the end of the story not depicted which led to speculations that the paintings were created before Hartmann completed his poem.

In further search for Ivain we move from the north-east of Italy to the central Germany, where in the small town of Schmalkalden, Thuringia, one more fine example of the remarkable wall paintings survive in the basement of the 13th-century Hessenhof house. This cycle is more extensive than the one at Rodengo, the surviving 26 scenes having been probably created between 1220 and 1230. The knightly adventure presented in them is shown as a game and courtly leisure. The Schmalkalden murals are the oldest surviving secular wall paintings in Germany.

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Schmalkalden in Thuringia today

My lady, it’s not fitting to speak of this, but take pity on him, for he loves you more than himself; God help me, when he came I knew nothing of his thoughts except that he was afraid of being recognized, and he never revealed anything else to me. (from The Prose Lancelot)

Henry I of Jawor was the 3rd son of Bolko I The Strict and Beatrice of Brandenburg, he was born in the early 1290s. His father died while Henry was still a child and it was not until 1312 that Henry assumed control of his Duchy of Jawor. Situated in Lower Silesia, it was only Henry’s political acumen that kept Jawor independent from its larger neighbour, Bohemia, despite other Silesian Dukes were swearing fealty to Bohemia’s king, John the Blind.

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Ducal tower of Siedlęcin (sekulada.com)

After joining a coalition against King John Henry married Agnes of Bohemia, only daughter of the late king Wenceslaus II of Bohemia by his 2nd wife, Elizabeth of Poland. Although the marriage proved childless it did make Henry a rival claimant to Agnes’s half-brother, King John, for the Bohemian throne.

The Ducal Tower at Siedlecin was built by Henry shortly after he assumed control of Jawor. One of the most important medieval residences in Central Europe, the Medieval mural paintings are in the great hall, on the 2nd floor of the keep. Commissioned in 1345 by Duke Henry, they remained unfinished following the Duke’s death in 1346.

Arthurian legends were very popular in the courts of Medieval Poland and Silesia,, but these paintings are the earliest surviving examples. Sir Lancelot managed to hide unidentified in the ducal tower of Siedlęcin for almost 700 years.

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Siedlęcin wall paintings

Fortunately his true identity was revealed, for today the Siedlęcin is the only place in the world where Lancelot wall paintings have been preserved in situ. The true subject matter of these remarkable 14th-century murals was not recognised until 1990s.

Their major conservation was carried out in 2006, actually saving them, for they were in a very poor condition – they had been almost lost due to perfunctory conservation process carried out in the 1930s. The Siedlęcin group includes representations of the scenes from the Vulgate Lancelot, which were to be the main source of Sir Thomas Malory’s romances in the 15th century…….

There are 4 scenes depicting the court of Camelot. The 1st shows Arthur’s queen Guinevere with her ladies, followed by Guinevere’s kidnapping by Meleagant and her rescue by Arthur’s champion, Lancelot. Below these are representations of Lancelot and his cousin, Lionel;  Lancelot asleep under an apple tree and Lionel sleeping on guard. Then we see 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…..

wojtek
Siedlęcin murals

Today Siedlęcin really is the only place in the world where you can still admire the Lancelot paintings preserved in situ.

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For more details on the Ducal Tower at Siedlecin, just click here.

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Photos courtesy of: Winchester – Wikipedia, Castel Rodengo – Valle Isarco, Rodengo murals – sentres.com, Schmalkalden – romoe.com, Hessenhof and the wall paintings – schmalkalden.com, Ducal tower od Siedlęcin – sekulada.com, Siedlęcin murals – L.Bartosik (Go Lower Silesia), Siedlęcin murals – Wojciech Pudło
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Sources: Le Gof, Jacques. The Medieval Imagination. The University of Chicago, 1992; Allaire, Gloria. The Arthur of the Italians: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Literature and Culture. University of Wales Press, 2014; Lacy, Norris. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia; Lacy, Norris. A Companion to Chrétien de Troyes, D.S. Brewer, 2005; Witkowski, Jacek Szlachetna a wielce zalosna opowiecs o Panu Lancelocie z Jeziora; Wierssing, Johannes. Schmalkalden. Eine kleine stadt mit grosser Geschichte. 2013; Lupack, Alan. Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend. Oxford University Press, 2007; The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Norton Topics Online); Ducal tower of Siedlęcin

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly