Friday, December 31, 2010


First of all to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. May 2011 be happy, healthy and prosperous!

I thought I'd have a look at the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, which charts the history of England and sometimes its neighbours from the year 1 to the year 1154 and see what it had to say about the year eleven in each century - or the nearest if eleven isn't involved. Let's see.

11. Herod Antipas received the kingdom in Judea - good for him. Not sure if it was good for anyone else!

110 (nearest) Bishop Ignatius suffered martyrdom. Oh dear.

200 (nearest) The Holy Cross was found. - A good thing for some.

343. (nearest) St Nicholas passed away. No more Santa (have I got the right one?)

410 (nearest) The Goths broke into Rome, and never since has a Roman ruled in Britain. In all they ruled for four hundred and seventy years since Gaius Julius first sought out that island. - The end of civilisation then.

514 (2nd nearest) 'The West Saxons came into Britain with three ships to the place called Cerdicesora. Stuf and Wihtgar fought with the Britons and put them to flight.' Hmm, so his wife was always asking 'Where's my Stuf?'

611 Cynegils received the kingdom in Wessex, and held it for thirty one years. Settling down and being responsible now.

710 (nearest) Acca, Wilfrid's chaplain, received the bishopric which he had held. The same year, ealdorman Beorhtfrith fought with the Picts between the Avon and the Carron. Ine and Nun, his kinsman, fought with Geraint, the Welsh king. The same year Sygbald was killed. Beating up the neighbours as usual.

809 (nearest) The sun darkened at the beginning of the fifth hour of the day on Tuesday July 16th, the 29th day of the moon.

911, Aethelred, lord of the Mercians died; and King Edward received the boroughs of London and Oxford, with all the lands that belonged to them.

1011. Suddenly we've got a garrulous monk and Viking problems.
The king and his counsellors sent to the force and entreated peace, promised them tribute and provisions on the condition that they stop their ravaging. They had by then overrun i. East Anglia, ii Essex, iii Middlesex, iv Oxfordshire, v Cambridgeshire, vi Hertfordshire, vii Buckinghamshire, viii Bedfordshire, ix half Huntingdonshire, x much of Northamptonshire, all Kent, Sussex, Hastings, Surrey, Berkshire, Hampshire, and much of Wiltshire.
All this unhappiness befell us through bad counsel, that tribute was not promised them in time, nor were they withstood; but when they had done the most evil, men made truce and treaty with them. Nonetheless, for all this truce, treaty and tribute, they went everywhere in raiding bands, and plundered and killed our wretched folk. In this year between the Nativity of St. Mary and Michaelmas, they besieged Canterbury, and got in by deceit, because Aelmar, whose life Archbishop Aelfheah had saved, betrayed Canterbury to them. There they seized Archbishop Aelfheah, Aelfword the king's reeve, abbot Leofwine, bishop Godwine - and abbot Aelmaer they let go. Inside, they seized all the people in holy orders, men and women - it is impossible to say how many people that was - and stayed in that town as long as they wished. When they had explored the borough completely, they went to the ships and took the Archbishop with them. Then he was captive who had been England's head, and Christendom's, until the time they martyred him.

1111. King Henry did not bear his crown at Christmas, nor Easter, nor Pentecost, and in August he fared over the sea to Normandy because of hostility against him on some of the borders of France, and mostly because of the eorl of Anjou, who held Maine against him. After he came there, many fierce raids, burnings and ravagings they did between them.
This year passed away eorl Robert of Flanders, and his son Baldwin succeeded thereto.
This year, there was a very long winter, a heavy time and severe; through that the earth-crops were greatly spoiled, and there was the most death among livestock that anyone could remember.

The above series of extracts taken at approximately 100 year intervals kind of makes you glad to be living now and not then... But nothing really changes does it?

Once more
P.S. the illustrations is from a life of Thomas Becket, but it looks the part!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lady of the English the book trailer

Well, having handed in Lady of the English, I decided to muck about making a book trailer before I start full work on the next project and I've posted it below. I like doing this for fun and I can claim it's work even if I'm playing!
My I wish compliments of the season to everyone wherever you are.
After Christmas I'll return to some more detailed historical posts.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lady of the English - progress report

Well, I am delighted to say that I have FINALLY handed in LADY OF THE ENGLISH to my agent and editor. It's due for publication in UK hardcover in June 2011 and and by Sourcebooks USA in September 2011.

As many regular readers of the blog know, it's about the Empress Matilda and her young stepmother Adeliza of Louvain and their lives as they weave in and out of each other's spheres between the turbulent years 1125-1148. Both women held the title of 'Lady of the English' for parts of their lives, but neither of them ended their days in England. Their characters were very different, particularly in the way they dealt with trouble, yet there were similarites too. They shared a lot of common ground and knew each other well.
Matilda has something of a reputation for being a difficult, bad-tempered cow. The Gesta Stephani calls her headstrong in all that she did’ and says that she insulted and threatened men who came to submit to her. She did not rise to acknowledge men who bowed to her, and she refused to listen to their advice. ‘rebuffing them by an arrogant answer and refusing to hearken to their words…she no longer relied on their advice as she should have and had promised them, but arranged everything as she herself thought fit and according to her own arbitrary will.’ However, the monk Stephen of Rouen, praised her greatly, saying that she was much loved by the poor and the nobility alike. She was ‘wise and pious, merciful to the poor, generous to monks, the refuge of the wretched.' The Cistercian monks of le Valasse remembered her as ‘a woman of intelligence and sense.’ So while there may be no smoke without fire, perhaps history has served to exaggerate certain characteristics by concentrating on them rather than considering all facets, and perhaps has not looked closely enough at possible underlying reasons - something that an author of historical fiction can freely explore.

Lady of the English particularly looks at aspects of the important relationships that Adeliza and Matilda had with certain men in their lives.

King Henry I - Matilda's father and Adeliza's husband. His actions and behaviour had a massive and lasting impact on both women - much of it not to the good.

Geoffrey le Bel, count of Anjou - aged just 14 when he and Matilda, (more than 10 years older than him), were forced to marry in order to fulfil parental dynastic ambitions. What did she think of her adolescent husband? What did he think of his strong-willed much older wife? What actually happened behind closed doors?

Brian FitzCount - Matilda's right hand man and lord of Wallingford. But was he more to her than just a valued civil servant? He was interesting to research and not exactly as I expected to find. There's an article I wrote about him here in the blog archive.

William D'Albini - Lord of Buckenham in Norfolk and hereditary butler in the royal household. Adeliza's second husband. What was Adeliza's married life like with a much younger man who gave her her heart's desire, and yet opposed her support for Matilda? What kind of friction did it create?

Young Henry II, one day to become one of the greatest kings in Christendom. What was Matilda's relationship like with him as a child and a youth?

The above are the main relationships explored in the novel, but others are involved, including King Stephen, who as far as Matilda was concerned had usurped her throne, Robert of Gloucester, her loyal half-brother and commander of her forces, and Henry of Blois Bishop of Winchester, Papal Legate, Stephen's brother and a player of power games extraordinaire.

I love the cover, which I think really gives a feel for Matilda in one of her impatient moods.
It's as if she's been called from some important business and has swished aside a curtain to say 'Yes, what do you want then?' We tried the cover with two woman on it, but it didn't work half as well, and I am really pleased with this look. We also tried out different colours, but this was the one that evoked the best response. I hope to have it up at my website in the early New Year.

Prize draw closed and pending

A note to say that the draw for THE LEOPARD UNLEASHED is now closed. I have forwarded all the entries to my lovely Publicity lady at LittleBrown and she will choose 3 at random. I'll inform the winners as soon as LittleBrown get back to me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A few sundry bits of news and a UK prize draw

Hello all,

I am sorry not to have updated my blog in a while, but work has been getting in the way. I have a deadline of 30th December for LADY OF THE ENGLISH and I've been preparing the final draft. I want to get it handed in by mid-December so I can do the Christmas thing with my family so I've had my head down working. The good news is that I am on the final, final draft and it will be off to my publisher within a week to 10 days. I have also been shown a STUNNING cover rough for both this one and for the UK paperback of TO DEFY A KING which takes the hardback cover and give it a new crop suitable to commercial sales. I'll be posting pictures as soon as I get the go ahead from my publisher.
Once I hand in 'LADY', I hope to return to more regular posting.

I was very interested this week to see a piece about a tunnel that has just been discovered at Lincoln Castle. Alison King, my Akashic consultant 'saw' this about 6 months ago when we were conducting some research into the siege of Lincoln Castle in 1141. I said to her at the time that there weren't any tunnels at Lincoln Castle as far as I knew. And now this has turned up. Irrespective, it is a very interesting piece of archaeological discovery. I wonder what else will turn up as they continue.

Okay, to celebrate the UK re-issue of The Leopard Unleashed, I am running a giveaway on the blog. Unfortunately this time it is limited to UK readers only, but I will certainly run the next draw internationally.
For those of you in the UK, my publisher Sphere is giving away a first prize of copies of THE WILD HUNT, THE RUNNING VIXEN and THE LEOPARD UNLEASHED and two runner up prizes of just THE LEOPARD UNLEASHED on its own. All you need to do is send an e-mail to me at and I will forward all the names to Hannah at LittleBrown who will select the winners. I will ask the winners for a postal address, no need to send one at this stage - unless you want to. The draw is open as from now and I'll close it on Monday 13th December. You can find an excerpt from 'Leopard' here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sourcebooks cover for TO DEFY A KING

This is a very quick drop in to say that I have the Sourcebooks cover for TO DEFY A KING - due out in early March in the USA. They have added a little something to the back, which fits in with an image from the book trailer. I don't think it's too risque and it really hints at the personality of Mahelt Marshal without entering 'bodice ripper' territory. Click to enlarge.

In other news, I am on the final edit of LADY OF THE ENGLISH - hence hiatus in my blog while I get my head down. However, I want to upgrade my extracts blog and I hope to have something new on there fairly soon, including an extract from THE LEOPARD UNLEASHED, due out early next month.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I was talking to author friend Helen Hollick about medieval names and cultural survival when we met for lunch recently and I said I had been meaning to list some of them as a Medieval Monday post. I have in my possession the Feet of Fines for Norfolk 1201-1215 and for Suffolk 1199-1214. It's a list of cases brought before judges on the travelling circuit at this time and much of it is concerned with property law and small business that gives us the names of the local populace. East Anglia was once part of the Danelaw and there are strong Scandinavian influences at work in this region, as well as Anglo Saxon and Norman. So let's see. Here is a list of names by origin dating to 150 years AFTER the Battle of Hastings. Names of Anglo Saxon and Scandinavian origins seem to be surviving in families at this point although from studying the data it becomes clear that many of the parents with Anglo Saxon and Scandinavian names are now giving their children Norman ones. So for example, Elfstan calls his son Richard, Gunnild calls her son Robert. Brictmar calls his son William. As the Middle Ages progresses, so does the increase in the popularity of certain names. By the early post medieval period, the names William and John accounted for 40% of all boys' names in Parish registers.
Since I don't have an Old English alphabet to hand on my keyboard, excuse the approximate spellings. The 'F' beside a name indicates a woman. Fewer women are involved in the lawsuits, and so there are corrrespondingly less names. Also some of the names go across the board - particularly biblical ones, and these are freqently given to men in holy orders. Whether these were their baptismal names, or taken on when they became clerics, I do not know at this stage.

English names

Aelfled/Elflet F
Aileva F
Ailletha F
Aillilda F
Alviva/ Elviva F
Botild F
Ediva F
Edith/Edift F
Edwen F
Estrilda F
Goda F
Gode F
Leviva F
Seleve F
Theda F
Wengeva F
Wilfwan F
Wulviva F

Scandinavian names
Gunnildr F
Gunnora F

Norman names
(Including biblical ones)
Ada F
Adelina F
Agatha F
Albreda F
Aleisia F
Amabel F
Amicia F
Ascelina F
Avelina F
Basilia F
Beatrice F
Blanche F
Cecelia F
Celestria F
Christina F
Clarice F
Costance F
Eda F
Edelina F
Emelina F
Emma F
Ermegard F
Felicity F
Hawisa F
Helena F
Helewise F
Isabel F
Isolda F
Joanna F
Juetta F
Juliana F
Lecenta F
Lecia F
Lettice F
Lucy F
Mabel F
Margery F
Marie F
Matilda F
Mazelina F
Muriel F
Petronilla F
Philippa F
Sara F

Monday, October 04, 2010

MEDIEVAL MONDAY: William Marshal and a spot of Highway Robbery!

I gave a talk at Uppermill library in Saddleworth last week and one of my audience - Laura- said she particularly enjoyed my Medieval Monday posts. I admit to being a bit lax with these sometimes as I don't always have the time, but spurred on by her comment - thanks Laura :-) ! I have set out to post one today.
It's from volume 1 of the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal - the story of the great William Marshal's life - and it's a particular incident that happened to him while he was travelling and on his way back to Montmirail, to the Household of his liege lord The Young King. The dateline is circa 1182/3. It's not an incident I have put in The Greatest Knight, but you might find it in some of his biographies.
It tells us so much about the life and attitudes of the time. My comments are in bold.

'On the Wednesday, as the Marshal was on his way there, it so happened that he felt a desire to sleep; he could not resist and gave way to it. Eustace de Bertrimont stayed with him, nobody else. So the Marshal, well on his way to being asleep, dismounted by the side of the road and lay down on the spot to sleep, (so kipping by the roadside if one had the need was an acceptable norm for knights one assumes) and his squire Eustace took off the
horses' bridles and let them graze over the open countryside. As the Marshal was sleeping, there suddenly appeared a tall, handsome man and a beautiful woman, whether married or not I do not know. They were riding big, fine palfreys, sleek, well-fed and ambling nicely along; the steps they took were big ones and they had bulky baggage, for they each had on a cape of heavy material made in Flanders, and very fine they were. (so this tells us their outdoor cloaks were from cloth woven in Flanders and that it was excellent stuff. I am stating the obvious here, but for someone researching the period this is a useful little nugget of detail. Also some interesting descriptions of the riding horses). When they arrived on the spot where the Marshal was lying asleep, the woman said in a very low voice: 'Good God, how tired I am!' Eustace overheard this, and the Marshal heard it too, and he woke up and asked: 'Eustace, what is that I heard?'
He replied: 'My Lord, the long and the short of it is that I saw a man and a woman passing here right in front of us. The woman said that she was very tired, but they still went on at a smart pace. Also they had a lot of baggage.'
The Marshal said: 'Put the bridle on my horse because I want to find out in full where they've come from and where they're going, who they are and what their business is.'
Immediately he mounted as fast as he could, but in his haste, he forgot about his sword. He spurred on until he caught them up. He took the man by the sleeve of his cape and said:
'My dear sir, now tell me the truth, who are you? I wish to know.' And the man, annoyed by this replied: 'Sir, I am a man.'
'Upon my soul, I can see very well that you are not an animal!'
The man nudged his cape with his elbow, making it slip from the Marshal's grip, and once it was gone from his hand, the man put his hand to his sword.
At this the Marshal said, 'Are you looking for a fight? If you are, you'll get one, and you'll very soon know about it.' He said to Eustace, without any doubt: 'Here, hand me my sword, here, hand it to me!' The man took fright and drew back, and as he did, his cape slipped down and covered the sword which he had uncovered so as to draw it.
The Marshal dug in his spurs and seized the man by his hood; he tugged so violently that he got one of his fingers stuck in his coif and ripped it.
At this point there is nothing more to be said, except that he was the most handsome monk to be found between there and Cologne; once his head was uncovered, there was no hiding the fact. So the Marshal then said: 'Haha! just the chap I was looking for! Who are you, tell me, and who is this woman here?'
The man was frightened and ashamed, upset and troubled, and he said: 'My lord have pity on me in the name of God! Here we are at your mercy. As you can see for yourself I am a monk.'
'Now tell me what you're about; tell me, don't hide it from me.'
'My lord, this woman is my lady friend; I have taken her away from her own land, and we are going to a foreign one.'
Then in turn the Marshal said to the young woman, 'Tell me, fair lady, who are you and what is your family?'
She was very ashamed and, crying on account of the great trouble she was in, she replied: 'My lord, I am from Flanders and the sister of Sir Ralph de Lens.'
'My fair lady, you are not behaving sensibly, I can see that,' said the Marshal. 'I advise you in good faith to desist from this folly and I shall reconcile you with your brother, without a doubt, for I know him very well.'
The lady, not keen to be an object of shame, replied: 'My lord, if it please God, never more shall I be seen in a land where I am known.'
The Marshal said to the monk: 'Tell me, so God Save you; since such is the course you intend to take, have you got coins or other money to provide for and support yourselves?
The man lifted up the hem of his cape and unclipped a very fat purse. 'Of course,' he said 'my dear lord, just see all the money we have here. We've got 48 pounds.' (wow, that must have been some purse when you think of the coinage back then!).
And the Marshal asked him: 'What will you do with them my friend? How have you planned to live on this money of yours?'
'I'll be very happy to tell you that. I would not exchange them, but in some town where we are not known we shall advance them to others to make a profit and live on the interest.'
The Marshal replied 'What! usury! God's Lance, I don't much care for this. So it please God, this will never be! Eustace, take that money! Since you are unwilling to go back where you came from, since you have no mind to lead an honourable life and have been led astray by your wicked hearts, go now and may devils give you speed!'

The Marshal came to the lodgings and he ordered Eustace to make sure he did not disclose any of this business to any man. There is not much else to tell: the Marshal came to the lodgings and found Sir Baldwin who was more to him than a neighbour, and Hugh de Hamelincourt. They both hurried up to meet him, gave him a joyful welcome and cried out together: 'Marshal, your delay en route today has kept us fasting a very long time.'
'My lords,' he replied, 'never mind about that! I have won something of greater use to us, in which gladly I grant you a share. Eustace, over here with that money!'
Eustace was more than happy to oblige and threw it down on the ground in front of them. Being the wise man he was, the Marshal said: 'Take it to pay what we owe.'
They then asked: 'Marshal, where does this money come from?'
He answered: 'Be patient for a while, I shall not let you know just yet.'
Joyfully they ate and drank and, once they had left the table, all the coins were counted, for they thought that the man who had lent them him had miscounted. When the tally had been made, they found 48 pounds in good money; it was all there. The Marshal then said: 'Now I know that the lender was telling me the truth.' So he then began to tell the tale from beginning to end, the whole truth of it, as you have already heard me tell it.
When Sir Hugh heard it, I can tell you he was not best pleased. 'God's teeth, you were more than kind to them for even letting go their palfreys and baggage. Here, bring me my horse. By my faith, I want a word with them.'
The Marshal said: 'My dear lord, in God's name curb this anger of yours. You will hear no more of them from me, and you shall have no more of theirs.'

The moral of this story being that a monk who seeks to run off with someone's sister and live off usury is fair game to have his wherewithal to make a living taken. We might think the Marshal's actions harsh and opportunistic (accosting a stranger on the road, taking his money and dividing the dosh between his cronies!) but his colleagues thought he had not gone far enough and were ready to head out, find the couple and seize their horses and belongings too, although the Marshal prevented them. It's an interesting tale and shows that within the realms of chivalry, there were areas of tarnish on the armour to our modern way of thinking. To theirs, not so.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


Okay, I got around to doing the giveaway draw this morning. I separated the entries into 3 piles - USA, Rest of the World and UK and allocated each one a number. So if you e-mailed first you were number 1, 2nd number 2 etc. Wrote all the numbers down on squares of paper and folded them into a basket. My eldest son dropped in with some shopping and stopped for a coffee, so I asked him to do the selecting.

The winners are:
USA drawing: Cathy Helms

Rest of the World Drawing - Laura Rodrigues from Brazil

UK Drawing - Lisa Conway

I have Lisa's address, soI will post straight out, but if Cathy and Laura would like to e-mail me a forwarding address to, I will get those sent out as soon as I can.

I will be running another giveaway for The Leopard Unleashed early in December. Congratulations to the winners and I wish I could have given everyone a book.


Friday, October 01, 2010


Hello all.
Just to say that the FOR THE KING'S FAVOR giveaway is now closed. I've been away on book tour and am only just home, so bear with me while I sort the entries into the 3 categories (USA, UK, Rest of the globe) and do a drawing. I'm having a writing catch up day tomorrow as I really need to get back on track with the new work, but I'll do the announcing on Sunday. I've got visitors coming, so I'll get one of them to do the choosing.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


Click to enlarge.

Hello all,
I'm a bit late with this one, but I am fighting for time at the moment as I head towards my deadline on LADY OF THE ENGLISH.

My UK novel THE TIME OF SINGING was bought by my USA publishers Sourcebooks. We decided to rename it FOR THE KING'S FAVOR. I know this hasn't met with universal approval from all readers and I do understand that it can be a problem with duplications but it's one of the prices paid when global markets collide and the Internet bring everything closer together. We changed the title because readers kept getting TTOS wrong. It has been A TIME OF SINGING, THE/A TIME FOR SINGING. Sourcebooks and I decided to go for something a bit more mainstream. FOR THE KING'S FAVOR, is one of the strongest themes in the novel. What do you have to do to earn and keep it? Is it a good thing to have? What are the consequences of being out of favour? What is the price you pay when all is said and done? The original TTOS title grew out of the song of Solomon and the fact that when Roger Bigod first sets eyes on Ida de Tosney, she is singing. There is a lot of garden imagery in the novel and I felt the Song of Solomon fitted, but it's not immediately obvious.
So, agree or disagree, that's the thinking behind why the title changed and why both are appropriate. Goodness knows what titles are going to translate to when my other foreign editions are published!
The cover has changed too - to suit the market and Sourcebooks branding style. I love it. I love the colours and the movement of the sleeve and the fact that there are a couple of corridor scenes in the novel that the cover picture could even be from. The model was actually expecting her first child when the pictures were done, so this makes it even more poignant (as you'll know when you read the novel).

Anyway, I have 3 copies to give away in a prize draw and I am making it international even though it is an American publication. And to re-iterate, it is available in the UK as The Time of Singing. They are virtually the same book. (I've done a bit of minor editing).
There will be one copy for a UK reader, one for a USA/Canada reader, and one for the rest of the world. Just drop me an e-mail to, saying which draw you want entering into - UK, USA & Canada, or Rest of World, and I will do the rest! Closing date Mid-day London time on October 1st.

If anyone wants to know more about the characters in The Time of Singing/For The King's Favor, just go to my website and click on book cover icon on the home page. There is a biography about Roger Bigod the hero, and links to blog posts I have written about the novel in the past, including one on Roger's hat collection!

And now back to the grindstone!

Editing today (14th September) to add a few excellent blog reviews that have come in since publication.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


As mentioned earlier this week, here are two out-takes from A PLACE BEYOND COURAGE. These scenes were included when I handed in the manuscript to my editor and publisher, but as we went through the editing process, we decided that they were not moving the novel forward in any way, but were just reporting incidents that happened and were a trifle repetitious in terms of the hero's story arc. It also had to do with word count, which we were trying to keep within bounds.

The first scene involves John Marshal taking Devizes from King Stephen's son in law Hervey de Leon. We know from history that de Leon was forced out of Devizes by the Empress's forces. It doesn't say who did the forcing, but I strongly suspect John had a hand in it since he had earlier been involved in a similar situation with the mercenary Robert FitzHubert. John had been instrumental in finishing his career. The scene in Savernake forest is taken mostly from the Akashic Records, as is much of the Devizes scene. There is a small piece before the main components of the scene where John's reasons for wanting rid of de Leon are set out.
The second scene is a straight out ambush and fight scene to show what John was doing in the latter part of the Stephen/Matilda war and looked at in hindsight, really was extraneous as other scenes in the novel were doing the work perfectly well, and this vignette was just overkill.
I will be putting them on the website in due course, but here they are as a blog post.

1. John FitzGilbert Marshal and the problem of unwelcome neighbour Hervey de Leon at Devizes

The prologue bit

‘I want to talk to you about Devizes,’ John said to Gloucester.

They were standing in the great hall waiting for the Empress to arrive from her chamber. Messengers had been coming and going all morning, bringing news, taking it out. Scribes frantically scratched at their lecterns, toiling over writs and letters.

Earl Robert nodded, looking preoccupied. ‘What of it?’

‘It’s about Hervey de Leon.’ John was infuriated that Stephen had appointed the husband of his illegitimate daughter to the position of ‘Earl of Wiltshire.’ and installed him at Devizes. De Leon was another who strutted about in silk braies, but he didn’t possess any of the low cunning and grounded soldiering abilities of the recently deceased FitzHubert. Gloucester had hanged the latter on a gibbet before the walls of Devizes when FitzHubert’s mercenaries had refused to open the gates. The men had watched him die, then promptly sold their loyalty to Stephen, who had installed Hervey de Leon as castellan, and given him the jumped up title of earl.

‘I trust you to keep him penned in.’ Gloucester made a visible effort to concentrate. ‘He’s no competition for you.’

John compressed his lips at the platitude. It might be true, but did not alter the fact that the new lord of Devizes was a nuisance. While the town was in enemy hands, it remained a threat to his north-eastern borders. ‘He is no competition for anyone,’ he said curtly. ‘Sooner or later he will lose Devizes and then the race will be to the quick.’

Robert’s gaze sharpened. ‘You would be lord of Devizes as well as my sister’s marshal?’

John gave a sour laugh. ‘What I desire and what happens are two different matters. I am saying it is ripe for the taking but you will need a better man than Hervey de Leon to hold it. The people want stability and the rule of a great lord. Much as it pains me to say so, I am not great enough – yet,’ he added with mordant humour.

Gloucester nodded dismissively. ‘I’ll give the matter some thought.’

‘Thank you sire,’ John said, knowing that with the crowded agenda in Gloucester’s mind, it might be weeks before the earl focused his attention, and even then he would need hints and reminders. One man’s big fish was another’s bucket of small bait.

Now to John's own plans to deal with the situation
Savernake Forest, Marlborough March 1141

Layers of smoke rose from the hearth in the centre of the hunting lodge floor and made a haphazard exit through the louvers in the roof. The fire cast a red glow upon the surrounding benches and the light was further augmented by lanterns suspended from beams, and flares placed in iron wall sockets.
Joints of boar glistened on a spit over the embers. Now and again, a knight would lean forward and carve himself a slice of meat, or else pick at the raisin and breadcrumb stuffing John’s cook had made to accompany the roast. John had provided a hogshead of good wine and his men were appreciative. DublĂ©, John’s young bitch, lay at his side, contentedly gnawing a raw bone between her forepaws.
Home from the overwhelming victory at Lincoln, John was not resting on his laurels. With Stephen imprisoned, Hervey de Leon at Devizes was vulnerable and John intended to be rid of him. This was part of what the hunting expedition was about. Beyond a chance for the men to relax and socialise after hard battle, it was an opportunity to mull over plans and ideas away from the eyes and ears of the world.
‘So, to business,’ John said as he cleaned his knife and replaced it in the sheath at his belt. ‘What shall we do about the ‘Earl of Wiltshire?’
‘Hang him from the walls of the keep,’ suggested his standard bearer, Jaston de Camville. ‘That’s what he deserves.’
Benet said with round eyes, ‘Invite him to dinner like you did the last one?’
Loud guffaws ensued.
‘I doubt he’d come,’ John said dryly.
‘Does he go to church to pray?’ asked Walchelin. ‘Could you catch him off his guard?’
John stroked DublĂ©’s head and she growled softly and increased worrying at her bone. ‘I gather he worships in the castle chapel and if he does go out he’s always well attended. Besides, he’d quickly become suspicious if a stranger approached him. There are some good fighters among the garrison. We haven’t got the resources to conduct a siege and the ruse with scaling ladders at night won’t work a second time so close to the first. The men will be wary. We need to get close to de Leon by using someone who knows him - someone who can be bribed.’
The flagon went round again. ‘Helias the farrier,’ said Walchelin. ‘He’s my nephew’s brother in law. You know him my lord. He’s shod our horses before.’
John narrowed his eyes. A cheerful dark-haired man came to mind, his muscles like smooth boulders under his skin. ‘Trustworthy?’
‘A rogue, but with his own code of honour my lord. He’s not bound in service to de Leon and he can be bought.’
John gave a grunt of cautious approval.
‘We’ll need more than one man, though,’ Benet said. ‘There’s the garrison to consider too.’
‘The garrison is only strong while it acts in unison,’ John replied. ‘Could Helias arrange more of the local men to help him out?’
Walchelin nodded. ‘I would say so – if the price was right.’
Jaston shook his head. ‘Such men are not warriors. A few might have had schooling in spear and shield, but none of them are trained to fight.’
John reached for the flagon. ‘They will only be the decoys - the ones to make the opening and gain the approach. Once that’s done, we’ll be waiting to take over – dressed like common farriers.’
His remark raised knowing laughter from his men, for John’s title in the Latin tongue of the Exchequer was Marescallus, the same as the word for a farrier. Once the amusement died down, they set about working out the plan in more detail and John calculated how much he could afford to pay Helias and the townsfolk he would recruit. The Empress would have to be told, but not until the last moment, because the less people who knew of the plan, the better the chances of it succeeding and it was certainly not without its risks. But if he could take Devizes for the Empress then all else would fall into place.

Getting into Devizes castle was simple enough, although it took a while, given that John and his men had had to enter through the gate a few at a time, dressed in coarse mantles, hoods and cloaks, all weaponry concealed. They had assembled in the stables, where the grooms and their lads had been recruited by Helias and were ready to do their part.
John drew a deep breath. Although not the biggest gamble of his life in terms of strategy, it came close. If he was captured, he knew he would probably be hanged like FitzHubert. At the very least, he would be cast into the undercroft cells and left to rot.
Helias the farrier arrived – a powerfully built man in early middle age with a thatch of dark hair and blunt features. Tension corded his thick neck and sweat shone on his brow. His farrier’s hammer was tucked through his belt beside his knife sheath. ‘Are you ready sire?’ he asked.
John gave a brusque nod. ‘If you are. We shouldn’t delay.’
Helias turned round and leaving the stables, headed for the hall with John and two grooms following in his wake. Around the castle buildings, others moved quietly into position.
The guards on duty at the hall door challenged Helias in desultory fashion and let him through when he insisted he had to see lord Hervey on an urgent matter pertaining to his destrier. John and the grooms, they gestured through as part of the deputation.
Hervey de Leon was sitting in the lord’s chair on the dais, drinking wine and picking at a dish of dried fruit. His receding blond hair was compensated by a fine set of bushy yellow whiskers. ‘What’s this?’ he asked, when Helias bowed before him. John and the grooms had not come all the way forward but were waiting respectfully at the back of the hall.
‘Sire, you must come and see. A knight has brought a fine Spanish destrier to me for shoeing. He says he desires to sell it – it looks to me like a horse worthy to carry a king.’
De Leon’s eyes gleamed with interest. ‘Well then I had better take a look.’ He left his seat and wallowed down the hall – a portly man, his belly drooping over his belt like half a sack of cabbabes. Helias bowed to him, straightened and as he came up, seized de Leon around the neck with his powerful blacksmith’s right arm, and laid the bare blade of a knife to his throat. ‘Make one false move, and I will give you a new mouth! Tell your men to leave their weapons and kneel.’
The few soldiers in the hall, present in a casual capacity were slow to move and react – disbelieving what they saw. John threw off his mantle, his sword already in his hand, his body protected by a short mail byrnie. One of the grooms brandished a club he had concealed under his cloak. The other dashed outside to give the signal.
‘Tell them!’ Helias repeated, pressing with the knife blade, raising a thin edge of blood.
De Leon swallowed against the grim edge of steel and squawked the order.
One of the guards chose to take his chance anyway and lunged, but John sprang across his path and brought him down, using the hilt of his sword as a club. ‘The next one I will kill!’ he snarled. ‘On your knees, all of you!’ He fixed them with his stare, holding them with the weight of his personality, bearing down on them until they yielded and sank to their knees.
The rest of John’s men, led by Jaston, ran into the hall, coarse mantles disposed of, and weapons drawn. Helias manhandled de Leon back to the lord’s chair and with help from another knight set about tying him to it.
Leaving Jaston to finish the operation in the hall, John strode outside. The castle gate and the guardroom had both been secured, but the clash of swords on the wall walk told of resistance. Sprawled on the ground at the base of the battlements, his head twisted at an impossible angle, was the corpse of one of de Leon’s men. John ran into the gatehouse, up the stairs and onto the wall where Benet was being hard-pressed by three determined soldiers.
‘Drop your weapons, the castle is taken!’ John bellowed. ‘Your lord is a prisoner and all other men have yielded.’
‘I would rather die than surrender to traitors!’ snarled one of them, his eyes ablaze. ‘Some of us still have our honour.’
John’s lips parted in a mirthless grin. ‘Indeed, some of us do, and the price we pay for keeping it when others do not, makes us destitute. If you’d rather die, then jump.’ He gestured over the wall. ‘Join your friend.’
The knight’s glance flew towards the crenel space and he hesitated.
John took a step forward. ‘I am no more a traitor than you are. We each do what we must. Jump, fight or yield. The choice is yours.’
The knight’s breath tore through his chest. He looked again at the wall, then at John, and threw down his sword. ‘I yield,’ he said as the blade clanged on the oak boards. ‘May God and my lord forgive me.’
The others followed suit, expressions of shame and relief on their faces. John accepted their surrender with professional courtesy. The trick was knowing each man’s breaking point and applying the correct pressure.
By the time John returned to the hall, Jaston was sitting with one haunch on the trestle, eating dried figs from the silver bowl set there, and studying Hervey de Leon like a cat with a bird. The latter’s knights were all trussed up like carcases after a hunt.
‘I was wondering what we should do with him, sire,’ he said as John came to the dais. ‘Hanging him from the walls still seems like a fine notion.’
John looked at de Leon who was shivering and sweating at the same time. ‘Jaston, you have no imagination,’ he said as if disappointed with his knight. ‘We did that to the last upstart lord of Devizes.’
‘You have something else in mind then sire? Perhaps the moat or the mill pond?’
John gave his standard bearer an amused glance. ‘Let us hope we have no need for either of those,’ he said. ‘Untie my lord Hervey’s bonds. I am sure he will be more than amenable to negotiation – hmmm?’
Hervey de Leon swallowed and gave a vigorous nod of approbation.

2. A deleted straight out fight scene
Oxfordshire August 1153

John drew rein and patted Aranais’s damp silver neck. The August day was sultry with thunderstorms threatening on a horizon darkening with fists of purple cloud. Twists of charcoal-dark smoke smudged the horizon and the direction of the wind sent the stench of burning towards John and his men. The horses flickered their ears and sidled. Unconsciously, John lifted his right hand off the bridle to rub his thumb over the thickened ridge of scar tissue around his left eye socket. He thought of the fields around Marlborough three summers since and the pall of smoke lying over the wasted harvest fields.
While Stephen continued to lay siege to Wallingford, Henry in his turn was harrying Stephen’s siege castles across the Thames at Crowmarsh. Stephen had increased the garrison at Oxford by three hundred knights and had been sending patrols out to devastate Henry’s resources and raid the villages on which he was depending for supplies.
‘That’ll be Martel and de Chesney, the bastards,’ said Benet. He spat over the side of his saddle.
‘Indeed,’ John said quietly, ‘and we’re going to do something about them.’ He was frustrated and angry that they had been chasing phantoms hither and yon for a week now – arriving too late to smoking, bloody devastation after the raiders had gone. At last though, he had found his quarry and blocked off the road to their Oxford bolt hole. De Chesney was constable of Oxford Castle and Martel, as one of Stephen’s senior commanders had joined him in the field. John was eager to make a reckoning - not just because of recent events or what Martel had done to William, but because of all the years of struggle that had begun with a single lamprey. John was ready to embrace peace, but first the scales had to be balanced.
He directed Benet to take half the men and the archers and conceal themselves among the trees lining the road. Then, he took the rest of the troop and set out to lure de Chesney and Martel into the ambush.
The smell of smoke grew stronger as John advanced towards the burning village. He rode at a moderate pace, knowing he would need speed from Aranais soon and he required energy in reserve for the fight to come. His hands were steady on the reins, his heart calm. He knew what he had to do. So did his men. At his nod, two of the more lightly armed split off and hid at the roadside.
Five furlongs…six. Thunder rumbled in the distance and as the sound died away, he heard the sound of horses on the hard-baked summer road. A large troop, but one whose members had already exerted themselves in battle and who would be burdened with loot. John drew his sword and signalled his troop to keep close order and be prepared to turn at a moment’s notice.
Round the next bend in the road, the two groups came face to face. John pricked Aranais lightly with the spur and the stallion reared and pawed the air. William Martel, who was heading the troop with de Chesney, reined back and the two companies stared at each other, dust swirling in misty puffs from under the horses’ hooves, thunder growling, and the wind of the imminent storm hissing through the trees.
De Chesney was already gesturing to his knights, bringing them forward, lances quivering, shields presented, weapons drawn.
‘John FitzGilbert!’ bellowed Martel across the lightning space between them, ‘You are outnumbered. Throw down your arms and yield, or come to death!’
John laughed. ‘The devil didn’t take me at Wherwell, and I afford him more respect than you! I won’t yield to a mere minion!’ He gave the signal, whirled Aranais and spurred him to a gallop.
De Chesney bellowed the command to charge and Martel drew his sword and pricked his stallion. John kept his head low and prayed he had judged the distance correctly. He had marked the wayside trees as they rode and counted them down now. A twisted oak, a tall young lime, and then two hoar apple trees. As the last man in his troop galloped reached the latter, the knights either side of the road, whipped up the rope they had laid across the road and brought down the horse of the knight leading the chase. Hard behind him, Martel almost tangled in the rope himself, but managed to wrench his mount aside and hang on by clinging to the chest strap.
‘Loose!’ John bellowed and his archers sent arrows whickering into the pursuing troop. Sword drawn, John turned Aranais and charged, turning route into attack.
De Chesney roared the order to retreat, but it was easier said than done with battle joined, and those who did manage to flee down the road found the trap sprung behind them. A second rope was lashed across the road at chest height and the road itself was strewn with dozens of caltrops – wicked three-pronged spikes to maim a horse in an instant. The only recourse was to scatter into the woods with each man for himself.
John fought with cold fire, his goal to reach Martel and either take him prisoner or render him hors de combat. If he killed him, he would not let it trouble his soul. However, Martel was protected by his knights and being an accomplished warriors himself, no helpless prey. When John finally did succeed in finding a gap and winning through to engage him, Martel fought back hard, teeth bared in a silent snarl, his determination the equal of John’s. Neither man wasted breath on words. Blood poured from Martel’s mouth where a tooth had cut his gum. John’s lungs were burning with effort and sweat was blurring his limited vision. One more blow. One more strike in the right place…. A knight attacked John on his blind left side, winning past his shield and splaying his hauberk rings with the force of the blow. John gasped. Jaston should have blocked the assault, but Jaston’s horse was down and the knight was staggering to his feet, blood pouring from a sword cut to his cheek. Benet spurred into the gap and laid about with his mace, forcing the knight to withdraw.
Martel disengaged, leaped his horse across the roadside ditch and disappeared into the trees. De Chesney had already fled the battleground.
‘Shall we chase?’ Benet wheezed.
John’s shoulder was numb where Martel’s knight had struck him and he suspected his collar bone was cracked if not broken. He glanced swiftly round, assessing who was still in a fit condition. ‘No,’ he gasped, ‘let them run. ‘We have their pack horses of booty and the arms and armour of their dead and wounded. Strip them to their braies and leave them. Benet, see the caltrops gathered up. We can use them again and I wouldn’t have innocent folk or our own men damaged by them.’
‘Sire.’ The knight swiftly relayed orders.
John turned to look at Jaston who was pressing a linen bandage hard against his wounded cheek. ‘Get that stitched as soon as we return to camp. Patrick’s physician is good and neat.’
‘I am sorry my lord. Bastard ran a lance straight into Ferrand’s chest. Nothing I could do. If I had…’
‘You did your best,’ John interrupted. ‘Skill in battle is one thing, but a man needs luck too.’ He switched the reins to his right hand. ‘Martel and de Chesney will return to Oxford minus two parties of men except for the few and without the supplies they set out to raid. It’ll stop them for a while.’ He pointed to a riderless stallion being held by one of their serjeants. ‘Take the chestnut for yourself. He looks lively enough.’
Jaston nodded. ‘You are all right sire?’
John gave him a mordant smile. ‘I’ll live,’ he said, which wasn’t quite the same thing.
Moving on, he assessed the damage. His own men had escaped lightly. No-one had been killed although there were a few nasty sword cuts, cracked bones and heavy bruising.
He studied the handful of prisoners. Those who could afford ransoms would be sold back to their families. Those who couldn’t…well it was up to Henry what he did with them. Hang a few to make an example. Cut off their right hands so they could no longer wield a weapon. As the lethargy of aftermath settled over him, and his shoulder began to throb with pain, he found that he did not much care at the moment whether the scales were balanced or not. He turned Aranais for Henry’s camp and it began to rain in hard, needle drops, while over his head lightning veined a sky that was as dark as Purbeck marble.

Monday, August 16, 2010

MEDIEVAL MONDAY: King John's Accounts

For today's Medieval Monday snippet, I'm posting a few excerpts from the Pipe Rolls of King John.
There's a decent explanation of what these were at Wikipedia. but basically it was to do with keeping a record of England's finances from year to year. They're a sort of glorified accounts book, but among the figures, you find various aspects of social comment.

On November 12th 1201, John wrote to his justiciar Geoffrey Fitzpeter, 'We lost our precious stones and jewels which we were wont to wear about our neck, which Bartholomew the bearer of these presents found and freely and faithfully brought us. For his service we have given him at Berkhamstead where he was born a rent of 20 shillings, and therefore we command you that you assign the rent of 20 shillings to him without delay.
On the pipe roll for Michaelmas 1202, this appears on the Berkhamstead account.
'Et Bartholomew qui invenit et rediddit Regi lapides pretiosos et jocalia que ipse amiserat xx s. quos ei R. in redditu assignauit. Which translates to: 'To Bartholomew who found and restored to the king the precious stones and jewels which he had lost, 20 shillings which the king has assigned him in rent.'

Concerning jewels again, there is in an enigmatic entry on this same pipe roll, the meaning of which has now been lost, but hints at John's usual secretive dealings.
'Episcopus Norwic' debet c m. quia tradidit R. unum anulum cum smaragdo quem R. ei tradiderat coram aliis. Which translates to: 'The Bishop of Norwich owes 100 markes "because he handed the king a ring with an emerald which the king had handed him before others." Make of that what you will. A hundred marks is a large sum of money. It would take an ordinary hearth knight on the pay of a shilling a day almost two weeks to earn a single mark.

In the pipe roll of 1209 there is another enigmatic entry. 'Episcopus Winton' tonellum vini boni. quia no reduxit ad memoriam R. de zona danda comitisse de Albemar'. The bishop of Winchester owes a tun of good wine 'because he did not remind the king to give a belt to the countess of Aumale.' This is interesting, since historian Sidney Painter believed that Hawise of Aumale was one of John's mistresses and that her son, ostensibly called William de Forz, should in actual fact be William FitzRoy. But why the Bishop of Winchester should be in trouble for not reminding him is a matter lost in time.

We get a glimpse of the prisoners taken at Mirebeau where Prince Arthur was captured - eventually leading to him never being seen again. On the Hampshire account £8 7s 4d were charged for the maintenance and carriage of prisoners taken at Mirebeau.
'Et in corredio et carriagio prisonum captorum apud Mirebel viij li. et vij s. et iiij d.

John's interest in books is shown by an entry on the 1203 pipe roll.
'Et Johanni de Kemesie xl11j s. et x d. ad cistas et carretas ad ducendos libros R. ultra mare.
John of Kempsey was paid for chests and carts to take the king's books across the sea.

He may also have liked his garden. There's an entry for enclosing his garden at Marlborough. Et pro claudendo gardino R. apud Merleberg x li et v s. et vj d.

The pipe roll of 1208 has an entry concerning the men of Cornwall who owed 500 marks 'for having a sheriff who will treat them justly and 200 that the king will remit his ill will towards them."

Marcher lord Walter de Clifford, sheriff of Hereford, paid John 1,000 marks to look the other way - for having his good will and that no enquiry should be made upon him touching his exactions on the county of Hereford.
'Walterus de Clifford M m. pro habenda benevolentia R. et ne inquisitio fiat super eum de prisis suis in comitatu Hereford.'

I could go on forever, but I have a novel to write! However, these snippets from above go to show how fascinating, fun and informative mining the primary sources can be! I'll post some more on another occasion.

Later this week, I'll be posting a couple of out-take chapters from A Place Beyond Courage.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Regia Anglorum. Panoramic view of Wychurst

I have just been sent this url and it is wonderful! My re-enactment society at Wychurst, the hall we have built ourselves - well I haven't been there yet, but I made a donation to provide seed for flowers etc outside the manor.

Monday, August 02, 2010

MEDIEVAL MONDAY: Gerald of Wales on Barnacles.

Today's Medieval Monday (Well Tuesday now by a few minutes!) comes from Gerald of Wales' History and Topography of Ireland, written circa 1185.

Barnacles that are born of the fir-tree and their nature.

"There are many birds here that are called barnacles, which nature, acting against her own laws, produces in a wonderful way. They are like marsh geese, but smaller. At first they appear like excresences on fir-logs carried down upon the waters. Then they hang by their beaks from what seems like seaweed clinging to the log, while their bodies, to allow for their more unimpeded development, are enclosed in shells. And so in the course of time, having put on a stout covering of feathers, they either slip into the water, or take themselves in flight to the freedom of the air. They take their food and nourishment from the juice of wood and water during their mysterious and remarkable generation. I myself have seen many times and with my own eyes more than a thousand of these small bird-like creatures hanging from a single log upon the the sea-shore. They were in their shells and already formed. No eggs are laid as is usual as a result of mating. No bird ever sits upon eggs to hatch them and in no corner of the land will you see them breeding or building nests. Accordingly in some parts of Ireland bishops and religeous men eat them without sin during a fasting time, regarding them as not being flesh, since they were not born of flesh.

Hmmm... a crafty way to get around the meat eating regulations methinks! But that is why barnacle geese are so called....

Saturday, July 31, 2010

TO DEFY A KING: Review from a blogger

I have known Sally Zigmond for many years via the Historical Novel Society for which she used to be one of the UK editors, so I was thrilled to bits to receive this review from her blog The Elephant in the Writing Room. It means a lot. Thank you Sally, and I hope you are soon fully recovered.

Monday, July 26, 2010

MEDIEVAL MONDAY a recipe from The Trotula

I've started up my Medieval Monday posts on my blog to keep things ticking over while I work extra hard on the novel.

Today, I'm including a recipe from The Trotula, an 11thC medical compendium aimed at women most. This one is supposed to help with fevers and documents the use of sugar in medicines. This is almost one you could try at home today folks, but I'm not sure that it would do wonders for a high temperature. Might be good as a cough mixture or tonic though...

Oxizaccara - is so called from oxi, which is vinegar, and zucharo, 'sugar'. It is good for accute tertian fevers and pseudo-quartan fevers. It purges bile from the stomach. Take one pound of sugar, eight ounces of pomegranate juice, and four ounces of vinegar, and place in a tin vessel on the fire. And let it boil for a while, stirring constantly with a spatula, until it is reduced back to the quantity of the sugar; it should become so thick that it can be carried. Let one and a half ounces be given in the morning with warm water.

Friday, July 16, 2010


‘There was a certain Brien fitz Count, a man of distinguished birth and splendid position’ Gesta Stephani

‘He seems to have been without personal ambition’ Marjorie Chibnall: The Empress Matilda.

‘But she (the Empress Matilda) and Brian gained…a title to boundless fame, since as their affection for each other had before been unbroken, so even in adversity, great though the obstacle that danger might be, they were in no wise divided.’ Gesta Stephani

‘She (the Empress) gave the monks (of Reading) the royal abbey of Blewbury for the souls of her ancestors and the love and loyal service of Brien FitzCount.’ Marjorie Chibnall: The Empress Matilda

‘I wish to have a great love of truth, and to obey in all things when I can. And I know to the best of my power and knowledge I do not deserve henceforth to be ranked among the unfaithful. I am sorry for the poor and their plight, when the church provides scarcely any refuge for them, for they will die if peace be longer delayed.’ Brian FitzCount in a letter to Henry Bishop of Winchester. Haskins Society Journal.

“He’s dark haired and his hair is slightly wavy. He’s got very dark eyes with a twinkle. More than the twinkle is the passion. He’s got very passionate eyes. When he speaks, when he’s fired up by an idea, he’s passionate. It’s not just ideas that fire him up either. It’s a good song, a good story. He loves the artistic side of life, the culture. And is somewhat of a performer himself. He has a rich voice when he sings.” The Akashic Records, accessed by consultant Alison King

Brien FitzCount, lord of Wallingford and Abergavenny was one of the Empress Matilda’s staunchest supporters during her bid for the English crown, The third quote at the beginning of this article comes from the Gesta Stephani and concerns the Empress’s flight from Winchester in 1141. It has sometimes been hinted at by modern writers, that her relationship with Brian went deeper than just the bonds between vassal and overlord; however her chief biographer, historian Marjorie Chibnall dismisses this as a false modern interpretation and misunderstanding of medieval attitude and meaning. She argues that if Matilda had taken Brian as a lover, the opposition would have milked the sin of their adultery for all it was worth, but there was not a single hint of disapproval, or of scandal concerning the relationship between them, even from hostile chroniclers.

Brian’s father was Alain IV, Duke of Brittany, who had married in succession Constance the daughter of William the Conqueror, and then Ermengarde, daughter of Fulke, Count of Anjou. Brian himself was illegitimate, both his mother and his birth date are unknown,although he was born before 1112 when his father entered a monastery. He witnessed his first charter in 1114, so it seems likely that he was born some time in the 1090’s but this has to be guesswork as youths and children were often witnesses to charters and it’s not purely an adult preserve.

We do know that Henry I took him under his wing and raised him at the English and Norman royal court, seeing to his education and advancement. Brian says in a letter to Gilbert Foliot, bishop of Hereford. "I, Brian FitzCount, whom good King Henry brought up and to whom he gave arms and honour,"

Henry would have seen in Brian a suitable companion for his own son, William the Atheling, and someone he could mould. Brian was being groomed for a life in royal service. Other companions at that time would have included Stephen of Blois, future king of England, David, who was Henry’s young brother in law and future King of Scotland, Robert and Richard, Henry’s favourite bastard sons, the Beaumont twins, Robert and Waleran and Richard Earl of Chester. Professor Crouch in his biography of King Stephen calls them ‘A brat pack of able youths of lineage and ambition.’ Brian was highly intelligent and received the best education that 12th century society could provide. Later in his career, Brian displayed the thoroughness of this education. Gilbert Foliot, Abbot of Gloucester and bishop of Hereford was a personal friend and correspondent. Brian was also not afraid to argue points of law with Henry Bishop of Winchester, the papal legate.

As a youth at court, Brian would also for a time have known the king’s daughter, Matilda. She would have been a child while he was an adolescent growing to manhood. At the age of 8, Matilda left England to go to Germany to be betrothed and married to the Emperor Henry, so Brian’s awareness of her would have been of a little girl, not long out of the nursery, and as a princess going to fulfil her role in making a marriage to suit her father’s political needs.

To elevate Brian to a status suitable for the companion of a prince, King Henry sought a rich marriage for him, but in his usual parsimonious fashion, one that was likely to revert to the crown after Brian’s lifetime. Historical sources are contradictory and scanty, but we do know that Brian married heiress Matilda of Wallingford, widow of the baron Miles Crispin. We don’t know when, other than it was between 1107 and 1119. Brian would have been a young man or adolescent at the time. His wife’s age is just as unknown, but she would have been considerably older than him. The main question concerning the age gap, is whether she was old enough to be his mother, or his grandmother?

Various theories have been coined about Matilda of Wallingford. One school believes that her father was Robert D’oilley, one of the Conqueror’s companions, who married the daughter of Wigod of Wallingford, a survivor of the Norman Conquest. Robert and his wife produced Matilda, who married Norman lord Miles Crispin in 1184. Since 12 was the age of consent for marriage, a birth date for Matilda can be postulated from 1172 backwards to 1066. When Miles died in 1107, Matilda married Brian FitzCount. That would make her at the youngest, 35 when her husband died, and Brien would have been 17 at the oldest when this happened, but probably considerably younger. Another theory is that Miles Crispin and Matilda D’oilley had a daughter themselves, also named Matilda. If she was born in 1185, she would have been older than Brian, but only by about 10 -15 years. The evidence at the moment still comes down more on the side of the original, older Matilda being the right one. At their marriage she might just have had a twilight window of fertility remaining. In the event she did not conceive and Wallingford eventually reverted to the crown. There is a legend that they had two children who both suffered from leprosy, but again, there is no evidence for the statement, and it is highly unlikely to be true. The bottom line is that as a young man about town, Brian FitzCount married Matilda of Wallingford, a widow much older than himself. What they thought of such an arrangement is not recorded, but one assumes they rubbed along in some sort of amity as business partners because the chronicles make no mention of ructions between them. Brian seems to have spent very little time at Wallingford though, and the defence was left in the hands of one of his relatives, William Boterel. Even though she was older than her husband, Matilda of Wallingford outlived him, although probably by only a couple of years. She entered Oakburn Priory (which she founded) at the end of her life, circa 1151.

In 1126, the Empress Matilda returned to her father’s court as a young widow and her father’s sole heir, her brother having drowned at sea in the notorious sinking of the White Ship when it hit a rock on Barfleur harbour while returning from Normandy to England on a cold November evening. Henry wanted his barons and clergy to recognise the Empress as his successor and made them swear an oath of allegiance to her at the Christmas court of 1126. Early in 1127, Henry began marriage negotiations for Matilda, with Fulke Count of Anjou regarding his adolescent son Geoffrey. At this stage, only three of Henry’s advisors were involved – his eldest illegitimate son Robert of Gloucester, the Bishop of Lisieux, and Brian FitzCount. There is no hint that any of these men objected to the proposed marriage. Brian, who was later known to be very close to the Empress, made no protest. His first loyalty was to Henry, and his own marriage was that of a young man to an older woman. To him, such matches were the norm of political necessity.

Once the marriage alliance was agreed, the Empress was escorted to Rouen for formal betrothal by Robert and Brian. This was Brian in the role of courtier, emissary, escort and messenger. He seems to have been thoroughly at home in court circles - an urbane intellectual with strong political skills. Perhaps today he would have worked behind the scenes in government as a policy maker and think tank. Brian, together with Robert of Gloucester, was appointed an auditor at the exchequeur for the fiscal year 1128/29 and it is thought they uncovered some underhand dealings by Roger Bishop of Salisbury, Henry’s chielf minister and justiciar. Certainly Henry reined in Salisbury’s powers following that audit. The audit shows too the trust Henry had in Brian and his ability to deal with complex fiscal matters.

When Henry I died, Stephen Count of Blois stole a march on his cousin the Empress and grabbed England and Normandy for himself. Most of the barons who had sworn to uphold Matilda, abandoned their oaths and accepted Stephen instead. He was there on the spot and he was a man. The Empress on the other hand, was in Anjou and pregnant with her third child. Men probably felt much more comfortable accepting Stephen as their king and perhaps hoped that Matilda would just take it as a fait accompli. At this point, Brian FitzCount abandoned his own oath to the Empress and swore for Stephen, preferring to go with the tide rather than swim against it. Of all the English barons, only Baldwin de Redvers, lord of Exeter, refused to give his oath to Stephen. Everyone else at that point bent the knee.

However, when Matilda made it plain that she intended fighting for her inheritance and that of her son, the future Henry II, letters began to fly between Anjou and England. We know that the former queen Adeliza was writing to the Empress, telling her that she could have safe landing at Arundel, and when Matilda did so, we know that Brian FitzCount renounced his allegiance to Stephen and became Matilda’s man, thus giving her the support and strength of the great castle of Wallingford, and all of Brian’s considerable acumen, experience and ability. Due to Wallingford’s exposed position on the margins of the territory held for the Empress, Brian came to be known as The Marquis by his allies, the meaning being that he was on a March or border area.

Brian has often been portrayed as a warrior par excellence, but I have a suspicion that he was actually rather conservative in battle and that his strengths were more in the area of political negotiations and aspects of law and policy. Wallingford castle held on throughout the long years of civil war in England, often besieged, but never taken, but Brian was usually not in residence and much of the credit for the spirited defence has to go to its constable, William Boterel. When Stephen besieged Brian in 1139 at Wallingford, it was the daring of Miles, lord of Hereford that broke the siege when he burned down the watchtowers that had been erected by Stephen to harass Wallingford. Brian is known to have taken part in the Battle of Lincoln. At the rout of Winchester, he was entrusted with seeing the Empress safely out of the city and getting her away from the fighting. Brian was utterly trustworthy and would have given his life for the Empress,but it was down to others to fight the rearguard, including Robert of Gloucester, who was captured, Miles of Hereford and David of Scotland – and also John FitzGilbert at Wherwell. Perhaps all of these men were more readily frontline warriors than Brian himself.

Brian is known to have written a tract putting forward the argument for the Empress’s right to inherit the throne. The work has since been lost, but was highly thought of by Gilbert Foliot, abbot of Gloucester. Brian is also known to have had disputes with Henry, bishop of Winchester. Some time after the flight from Winchester, Brian raided a merchant train on its way to Bishop Henry’s fair at Winchester. When the bishop complained in no uncertain terms, Brian was ready for him and replied that he only conducted the raids in order to sustain himself and his men, and in actual fact, he was doing as the bishop ordered. He pointed out that at one stage in his turncoat career, Bishop Henry had ordered everyone to stand by their oaths to the Empress. If everyone had held to the oath as they should, the Bishop included, then he (Brian) would not have to go out raiding merchant trains in order to survive. He was not intimidated by Henry of Winchester and prepared to give as good as he got in their exchanges by letter.

Wallingford, being a great fortress, was often used as a secure prison, and Brian was an adept gaoler. During the reign of Henry I, he had had custody of Waleran de Meulan, a dangerous and powerful rebel baron. Later, during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, he imprisoned King Stephen’s steward and spymaster general, William Martel in a dungeon he had especially made at Wallingford. It was known jestingly as ‘Brian’s Cloere’. A cloere was a bag to contain a hammer, and was a pun on the fact that Martel meant hammer. Stephen was so concerned for Martel that he paid his ransom by agreeing to hand over Sherborne castle in exchange for his release.

In 1147, the Empress finally left England. She had held on for as long as she could, and her son Henry was now fourteen and ready to begin making his bid to become King. It is also in 1147 that Brian FitzCount vanishes from the historical record. The Abergavenny Chronicle says that he went in crusade and died in Jerusalem, but it is not a reliable source. Professor Crouch speaks of Brian’s retirement and death ‘probably in 1150’ but does not give a source. It is widely believed that he entered a monastery – most likely Reading Abbey around 1147, and that he died before 1151. His wife entered holy orders too, founding Oakburn Priory, and dying in 1151. Wallingford continued to be held by Brian’s constable William Boterel, and reverted eventually to the Crown when Henry II became king.

Why did Brian give up the fight in 1147? Was he ill? Did he believe that now the Empress had gone the situation was hopeless? (although other men such as his vassal John Fitzgilbert the Marshal fought on and ultimately won through). Was his loyalty solely to the Empress and not her line? No one can say. In A Place Beyond Courage, I had Brian retire to a monastery with a terminal illness, but further research means that I may tweak this in Lady of the English. My alternative studies via the Akashic Records certainly point towards him taking monastic vows, and I definitely think that 1147 was a crisis point, if not a breaking point for him and something I hope to address in fiction.

It has been a frustrating but ultimately rewarding experience, piecing together Brian FitzCount the man from the tiny mosaic fragments presented by the historical record where evidence is scanty and often contradictory and even made up. From what I have gleaned, Brian FitzCount served Henry I and the Empress as part of their policy making machine- a role that might translate today to that of high ranking civil service mandarin. He was highly educated and intelligent, easily able to hold his own in intellectual circles and at home with the fiscal dealings of the exchequeur. He was a courtier and a soldier when he had to be, although not a natural fighter like some of his contemporaries. He was devoted to Henry I, and also to the Empress. Was there ever a romance between them? I suspect (but this is only my opinion), that there was strong mutual affection, perhaps even desire, but honour, duty, position and moral fibre prevented the relationship from crossing the boundaries. Awareness was known but unspoken, and never acted upon.

As a novelist, my vision of Brian begins in my mind's eye as a handsome, vibrant young courtier, preparing to ride out in the dawn mist with one of England’s greatest kings, and a host of laughing companions. It ends with a monk looking out to sea on a distant shoreline, the sunset reflected in the glossy sand of a receding tide. And in between those images, is a shattering war and the deep ache of an unrequited, love for a woman he could never have.

Select Bibliography - a few of the books consulted.

King Stephen – David Crouch published by Longman

Empress Matilda – Marjorie Chibnall published by Blackwell

The government of England under Henry I – Judith Green published by Cambridge University Press

History of William Marshal vol 1 published by the Anglo Norman Text Societh

Stephen and Matilda, the Civil War of 1139-53 – Jim Bradbury published by Sutton

The Memory of Brian FitzCount – Edmund King: Haskins Society Journal published by Boydell.

Who’s Who in Early Medieval England – Christopher Tyerman published by Shepheard Walwyn.