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....