Monday, December 24, 2007

Post Script. Roger Bigod's Christmas

I mentioned in the post below (Merrie Christmas) that I'd post an Akashic moment re a Christmas spent with my current hero Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and his wife Ida de Tosny, former mistress of King Henry II.
I asked Akashic consultant Alison King to go back to the early years of their marriage, before Roger was granted the Earldom.
Here's a snapshot moment.

Alison: Oh, this is Roger feeling ohhhhh, this is lovely. This is not at all like his usual calm self. Shivers down the back, a spark in the left side near his solar plexus. Smiles, happiness, ohhhh, spiciness! A myriad of tastes and colours. This is the slim, slight, light younger man. I comment that Alison had once compared him to a ballet dancer. Yes, not tall, but with that kind of muscular formation. I am getting the shivering feelings again. They are playing hobby horses and the horses are all incredibly decorated. He’s watching this (Alison laughs). They’re having an indoor tournament, but instead of spears they’ve got kind of dumbbell rattles with a ball on either end of the stick and they’re assaulting each other. It’s hilarious. There are bells on the hobby horses as well. It’s not ever so serious because the hobby horse jousters are doing it theatrically for the audience, so it’s a bit of a performance. I think they may be re-enacting recent conflicts and taking the mickey out of people. One person theatrically fell off his horse and the other person was over him with his dumbbell and got his small sword out (Alison waves to demonstrate). Everyone’s cheering. ‘Yay!’ Obviously the one who fell got his just deserts. Alison whoops with laughter. Now there’s a man dressed as a woman. Flicking the wimple and the hair and adjusting the jewels on the headdress. It’s a little bit like Les Dawson in drag – the over-accentuated female movements. He’s telling jokes about who loves who in the castle. It’s telling tales and generally really just embarrassing people – ‘I could tell you a tale or two, but I wouldn’t of course because that would be telling.’ And then he goes on to reveal all. Is Roger the butt of any of these? Not so far. I don’t know if the man who is dressed up is pretending to be the gatekeeper or pretending to be the gatekeeper’s wife and getting all the gen from that. So it’s like party pieces from the castle staff? Yes! I’ll see if Roger has a performance to do. Yes, but his isn’t funny. It’s sword play. He does the twirly swords. (Alison demonstrates – a bit like a cowboy twirling a colt 45). Roger is very clever at this. He’s thrown a sword, somersaulted and caught it. That’s the grand finale. Then he puts the sword in the floorboards and gets a round of applause. A bit of a naughty thing to do, but it’s only once a year. Ida sings a song. Someone’s playing a stringed instrument. It’s got a big round body with a little neck and only a few strings. It’s played with a bow and it stands upright on the table. That’s the end of the party. Everyone can have some more mulled wine and then get back to their private conversation.

Monday, December 17, 2007


I thought that since the festive season is well upon us, I would include a 12 days of Christmas hotch potch of extremely random but less well known Medieval facts surrounding the celebration. At the end I've also enclosed a 'Marshal' Christmas moment from my Akashic Record notes. Watch out for a 'Bigod' Christmas gathering in the next few days too!

Above to start is a cartoon illustrating the detail that it was the shepherd's right to twelve nights of dung at the time of the winter feast. Makes a change to a sack of coal I suppose.

2. Every Christmas, Roland le Petteur (12th century) had to perform a 'leap, whistle and fart' before the court as a stipulation of holding his lands.

3. William The Conqueror was crowned in Westminster Cathedral on Christmas Day 1066.

4. In the Middle Ages, three masses were celebrated on Christmas Day. The first was at midnight (the Angel's Mass). The second was at dawn (The Shepherd's Mass) and the third was during the day. (The Mass of the Divine Word.)

5. In 1209, King John was at Windsor for Christmas.

6. When portraying the Three Kings in the Medieval period, Baltasar was frequently portrayed as a black man and gave the gift of Myrhh to the infant Jesus.

7. St Nicholas was a popular medieval saint, but his feast was on the 6th December and it wasn't until after the Reformation that he began to morph into Santa Claus.

8. There was a belief in the early middle ages that if it was windy on the eleventh of the twelve days of Christmas, it meant that 'all cattle shall perish.' Oh dear.

9. The ceremony of passing the wassail cup at this time of year was first recorded by Peter de Langtoft in the 1320's. The apparent custom was for the leader of a gathering to raise a cup and cry 'Wassail!' (old English for 'Your health). The company would answer 'Drinkhail!' and the leader would drink and pass it on to the next person of the company with a kiss and so on.

10. In 1171, Henry II spent the Christmas feast in Dublin and remained there until March of the following year.

11. It was the custom at Christmas for the lord and lady to give their retainers and dependents new clothes. Seven ells was the amount of cloth adjudged to provide enough for a tunic in the thirteeth century. How much was an ell? How long is a piece of string! This website has a little bit more of an explanation.

12.Here are the Medieval Baebes singing a version of the Medieval English Carole 'Adam lay y-bounden.'

A Marshal Family Christmas Gathering in Normandy, Christmas 1198

Alison (Akashic consultant):

William’s mindset.

Very peaceful. It’s a time to relax and spread out with nothing pressing, no duties. He is sitting with Isabelle before a big fire and is all floppy and relaxed. They are sitting on what looks like a sofa covered with skins or furs. It’s low to the floor and I can’t tell what’s under the furs. It’s cushioned though. It’s as if the back rest is made of sacks filled with fleece – very comfortable and warm. The feeling is mellow.

I can feel the children at the sides and that feeling of contentment encompasses them too, although they’re not actually sitting with their parents. It’s just a quiet family time. I can see they (parents) have got some sort of fork with two prongs, curved at the ends. They are toasting something in the fire – just bread. Now they’re dunking it into spiced wine, or some sort of drink with spices in. Not sure if it’s wine or mead. Whatever it is it’s rich and nice and warm. The children want some ‘Me, me, me!’ I can see a little girl with a cap on (Medieval bonnet style). She looks darling, like a little doll or angel, lovely. She’s got dark colouring, pale skin, very sweet. I can see two older boys dancing around and one trying to get something off the other. It’s to do with food. Ah, something in the mead – fruit? It’s like we have cocktail cherries in our drinks today – something like that.

William’s reaction to his children

He has got a lot of experience of people. He can size the children up very well and understand them. He’s very fond of them but also has a professional detachment as well as love. He has made a conscious effort not to categorise them too early on in life. He wants to give them time to grown before they are channeled into a particular thing. He’s a good father, always looking for things that need to be pinned down before they get out of hand. He knows where to set the boundaries, what needs to be pruned. He’s not a touchy feely sort of father except where it feels proper i.e. arm round a son’s shoulder in a back slapping man to man fashion. He’s not cuddly. He’s very tender with his small daughter; he’s aware of his own great strength and doesn’t want to hurt her. Smaller infants and babies are best left to his wife’s women because they are trained to look after them.

Isabelle’s impressions

She is very happy and contented and is currently pregnant.

Above the fireplace is an arrangement on the wall – Big evergreen arrangement with berries with more leaves spreading out – rather like lime leaves but pointed at the tip and glossy and dark. I don’t know what they are. Isabelle’s wearing a light coloured dress in a cosy, flexible fabric – looks a bit like what we’d call fleece these days (probably thickly napped wool?) It’s pink in colour with a bluey tinge with a neutral coloured under tunic. She’s got a pale coloured head covering on. She would only expose her hair to go to bed or in the bedroom.

She has had William’s tunic made for him for Christmas, for his homecoming. It’s of wool, a rusty dark-red in colour with embroidery round the top of the sleeves and braiding at neck. Quite plain otherwise, or most of what I can see is plain. He has taken his belt off to be more comfortable.

They want to hold this feeling of peace and don’t want any pressure so they’re not holding a big celebration. I’m getting conflicting feelings. There is a celebration in the hall but all they are going to do is go through the motions i.e. raise a glass and then retire to the private chamber. They shower coins on the occupants of the hall and then go. They’re happier now. There are people in the private chamber who want to talk to them. Looks as if they’re not having a sit down meal, more of a buffet. Pies, roast chestnuts, food prepared at the fire. There are people warming themselves at the fire too. The whole aim and ambience is low key. The lighting comes from brackets in the walls. I can’t see clearly what’s in the brackets, it keeps changing. It looks a bit like a bundle of sticks. The flame is bigger than the circumference of the sticks.

They’re going for a look outside…doesn’t look that dark, but could be moonlight. It’s just a relief to them both to be peaceful and calm.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Greatest Knight - Timewatch Documentary

While I'm preparing a slightly longer blog, I thought it worth noting that the BBC programme Timewatch is returning in January with 6 documentaries and one of them is going to be about William Marshal. It sounds as if it's going to be fascinating indeed. Stuart Mitchell, the academic consultant for the series says:
My personal highlights are the programmes on coastal wreckers of early 19th century popular myth and the biographical journey through the life of William Marshal - tournament champion and the greatest knight of the thirteenth century. He can accurately be referred to as the medieval David Beckham, not only because of his fame and stature but also because he was the subject of a big-money transfer deal!"
That's very interesting and leads me to wonder if the researchers have read The Greatest Knight? Back in 2005 in my author's note to the novel I compared William Marshal to David Beckham and mentioned transfer deals.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Shields of Pride

Thursday marks publication day for Shields of Pride. It's a novel that was first published in the UK in 1993. In those days (she says, feeling ancient), I was still writing historical adventure fiction with imaginary protagonists rather than biographical fiction. I took actual historical events and wove my characters into the goings on.
In the case of Shields of Pride, my starting point was the rebellion of Henry II's heir The Young King in 1173. My hero was a mercenary captain who was the bastard son of a high ranking baron, and my heroine the young wife of one of the rebellious lords. Both had been damaged by the past and had to find a way to heal themselves and each other as they strove to stay alive and keep a balance as the conflict intensified around them and became personal.
'Shields' was my fifth novel and almost my last! Around that time Robert Maxwell's empire collapsed and authors were hived off to various publishing companies. I went to Signet, a publishing venture of Penguins which was short-lived. Historical fiction had hit the doldrums and the market was dead. Paperback sales of my earlier novels were dire. Basically they were published to fulfil the contractual obligation and then pulped. Other authors of historical fiction bit the dust around this time too and some never made it back. Fortunately for me, I was picked up by LittleBrown who bought The Conquest and The Champion, and had the bottle to stay with me through some very lean times indeed. Historical fiction has since picked up and everything is ticking over nicely at the moment, although I never rest on my laurels or anything else. It's still very precarious out there.
To return to Shields of Pride: Due to all the above misery, it was never published in paperback in this country, although there is a small print run hardcover edition. This is the cover. If you
own a copy, it's probably worth good money as they were only published for the library and collector's market.
Little Brown has now re-issued the novel in paperback form and I've overhauled it in the light of experience and increased historical knowledge.
Scroll down for more of its incarnations in other languages. I've also included the 'teaser trailer' which I've put up at Youtube.
Next year I begin reworking my first ever published novel The Wild Hunt for re-issue. That is indeed going to be strange and interesting to do after so long a time. I seldom revisit my material once it's published, so I don't remember much about it!

The Swedish version

HowBallantine in the USA saw it. Plate mail - yikes!

The Germans were more sensible!

The large print version - hmmm...

The audio version - looks a bit like a scene from
the Maciejowski Bible