Leader of Battles IV

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Soldier of Fortune cometh (again)

I interrupt my recent series of posts on Edward I and his wars in Wales to bring you news of my latest book. Titled Soldier of Fortune (II): The Heretic, this is the second of a planned trilogy following the adventures of Sir John Page, a semi-fictional English mercenary or 'soldier of fortune' in the early to mid-15th century. 

Fall of Constantinople
Captured at the final siege of Constantinople in 1453, Page is literally forced to sing for his supper (or rather, his life) by the victorious Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed the Conqueror: to save his neck from the executioner's blade, Page must tell a series of Arabian Nights-style stories for the sultan's entertainment. As an old soldier with a long military career behind him, Page chooses to tell stories from his own life - possibly a little exaggerated, but only he knows that. 

Having already recited his first tale, based on his early career as a soldier in Normandy in the army of King Henry V, Page now recounts his time among the Hussites in war-torn Bohemia (part of the modern-day Czech Republic). The Hussites were followers of the martyred Bohemian preacher, Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake as a heretic in Constance in 1415. Hus was a radical who believed in cleansing the Catholic church of sin and corruption, and unsurprisingly hated by the Pope. After being thrown out of Prague University he wandered the country, preaching his ideals to the poor. He gained immense popular support, and when the news of his death reached Bohemia the people flew to arms to avenge him. 

The Hussite armies were essentially made up of peasants, supported by a handful of nobles. Outnumbered and (supposedly) outclassed by the vast armies commanded by the Pope and his allies in Germany and Hungary, they should have been wiped out in a matter of weeks. Instead, thanks to innovative battle tactics and superb use of artillery, they won a series of unlikely victories against the odds. Thus the cream of the elite warrior nobility of Christendom was humiliated, time and again, by a few thousand commoners and some farm carts converted into gun-toting 'war wagons'.

The Hussite Wars, as they were called, raged for seventeen years. Page's story covers the years 1421-24, when the wars were at their height. For his sins, Page fights in the major battles and sieges, and witnesses some of the worst atrocities committed in a land riven by bitter civil conflicts, external invasions and extreme religious zealotry. During the course of the tale Page meets Jan Zizka, the famous Hussite general, meets a new love and loses old friends. 

My good friend Martin Bolton has drawn a splendid map of Bohemia c.1420, which will be inside the paperback version of the book:

Soldier of Fortune (II) The Heretic is currently in the last stages of editing and will be available very soon. More details to follow soon... 

A previous update on the book, including a brief account of Jan Zizka, can be read under the link below:

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Edward and Llewellyn, Part One

In August 1267 the ageing Henry III of England travelled with his court to the Welsh border at Montgomery. There he met with Llewellyn ap Gruffydd and granted the Welsh prince all he had long desired, including the Four Cantrefs of Perfeddwlad, the castle and lordship of Builth, and the greatest prize of all, formal recognition by the English crown of Llewellyn's title and supremacy over Wales.

Llewellyn's arms as prince of Gwynedd
Among the signatories to the deal, known as the Treaty of Montgomery, was Henry's eldest son, Edward. This was the first time Edward and Llewellyn had met in person, though they had stood on opposite sides in the recent baronial wars and fought over territory in the Welsh March. An army of mercenaries, sent into Wales on the young Edward's behalf, had been destroyed by Welsh forces at Coed Llathen in 1256. Edward's former lordship of Builth, taken by Llewellyn in 1260, was now officially given over to the prince. Yet despite this long history of antagonism the two men seemed to have got on rather well: two years later, Llewellyn wrote of his 'delight' at a second meeting with Edward. After Edward had departed for the Holy Land, Henry wrote back to Llewellyn, describing in warm terms the prince's friendship with his eldest son.

Thirteen years later, Llewellyn was fated to die in a ditch, slain by Edward's troops. His head was cut off and paraded on a spear through the streets of London, crowned with a wreath of ivy, in mockery of his princely status. Wales itself was conquered and occupied and turned into an English colony, while Llewellyn's regalia was broken up and sent to London, and his living descendants (children of his brother, Dafydd) locked up in convents or English prisons. How, from a promising start, did his relations with Edward collapse so dramatically?

The decline was slow, and far from inevitable. Relations were still amicable in 1269, when Edward intervened on Llewellyn's behalf in a violent territorial dispute with Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. Edward risked much in doing so, for de Clare was one of the most powerful and volatile nobles in England. He had fought on both sides in the civil wars, and Edward needed his support (and cash) for the planned Crusade. De Clare was furious at Edward's judgement, and chose to stay and fight it out with Llewellyn rather than go east with his royal master.

Llewellyn's failure to prevent de Clare building his impressive castle at Caerphilly in Glamorgan might be seen as the turning point in the prince's fortunes. Up until now his career had been one long success story. Now the Marcher barons detected signs of weakness. In 1273 Humphrey de Bohun, heir to the earldom of Hereford, started to push his ancestral claims to the lordship of Brecon. He moved troops into the region, secure in the knowledge that the regent Edward left behind to govern England, Roger de Mortimer, was himself an aggressive Marcher baron and no friend of Llewellyn.

From Edward's point of view it made sense to leave Mortimer as gatekeeper: he was a strong hand and England was unlikely to fall back into civil conflict with him in charge. For Llewellyn the appointment of Mortimer was a disaster. When he complained to the English court over de Bohun's illegal invasion of Brecon, Mortimer and his advisors responded with shameless duplicity. Having checked the Treaty of Montgomery, they found that 'the land of Brecon' had indeed been ceded to the prince. However, the terms said nothing of who should hold the castles in the region. De Bohun, therefore, was perfectly within his rights to occupy and fortify those castles as he pleased, and hold them against all comers. They finished with an expression of shock and dismay that Llewellyn 'had presumed to besiege and occupy those castles' and warned him to keep the peace in future.

Dolforwyn Castle
Fully aware that he could not afford to let the Marchers get on top, Llewellyn ignored the warning and started work on his new castle at Dolforwyn. When the regents ordered him to cease construction, his bitingly sarcastic response was addressed to the absent king instead of them: "We received letters in your majesty's name," he wrote, "but we are sure they did not have your consent...if you were present in your kingdom. as we hope, we are sure they would not have been sent." Ironically, considering later events, Llewellyn appears to have regarded Edward as his saviour at this point. Only the King of England had the power to stop his over-mighty Marchers from building castles on Llewellyn's lands and doing all they could to expand their power and influence at his expense.

When Edward finally returned in 1274, having survived an assassin's knife in the Holy Land, one subject loomed large in his mind: money. The crusade might have done his reputation a power of good, but it achieved little in material terms and incurred massive debts. He needed cash, fast, and expected large sums from Wales. As the price for his acknowledgement in 1267, Llewellyn had promised to pay the English crown the enormous sum of 25,000 marks (£16,667). For the prince of a proud but poor country, with an estimated annual customs revenue of about £17 (the comparative revenue of England was £10,000 per annum) this was optimistic to say the least. After some bartering, it was agreed he could pay off the amount at a rate of 3000 marks (£2000) a year. At the height of his power, in the mid-1260s, Llewellyn's total income was no more than £6000, so he had effectively waved goodbye to over a third of his annual revenue.

By the early 1270s, Llewellyn's slender finances were creaking under the strain. He was three years in arrears on the annual payments, and had resorted to crippling taxation in order to pay for the arms race with the Marchers. The prince of Wales, as Gwyn A. Williams noted, taxed the subjects of a small country with no major towns and a severely restricted currency to the hilt, built castles on their backs, used every method he could think of to raise money. In this he was no different to any other 13th century princeling, but in Llewellyn's case the available resources did not match his ambition.

In the end he tried to use the fraught political situation as a way of putting off his debts: "The money is ready to be paid to your attorneys," he wrote to the regents in February 1274, "provided you compel the Earl of Gloucester, Humphrey de Bohun and the other Marchers to restore to us the lands they have unjustly occupied." The result was an unsustainable Catch-22. Llewellyn knew that Mortimer would not order the Marchers to desist, which in turn meant Llewellyn was justified in not stumping up the £6000 he owed. Whether he really did have the funds available, as he claimed, is open to doubt.

Edward I 
Edward - perhaps surprisingly, for those who regard him as incapable of compromise - did his best to patch up the situation. His own debts were pressing, and he couldn't afford to let his avaricious Marchers ruin any chance of payment from Llewellyn. He ordered the Sheriff of Shropshire to bring an end to hostilities, stressing that he 'did not want Llewellyn to have any cause for complaining about the settlement made'. If the prince had no cause for complaint, he reasoned, there was no further excuse for defaulting on the arrears.

By now (1274) Llewellyn was in his early fifties, and there was little sign of the final disaster to come, just eight years later. Some compromise over the money and territorial squabbles in the March might yet have been reached. Certain English baronial rebels, such as John de Eyvill, had negotiated favourable terms with Edward under similar circumstances. Edward and Llewellyn were scheduled to meet at Shrewsbury in the autumn to hammer out terms, but Edward fell sick and couldn't attend. If that meeting had gone ahead, Llewellyn - and his country - might yet have been saved.

The fly in the ointment came in the shape of Llewellyn's younger brother, Dafydd. More of him, and the wars of 1277 and 1282, in part two.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Ed One, Part One

King Edward I (reigned 1272-1307) isn't everyone's cup of mead these days. His reputation has taken a battering in recent times, thanks in part to his villainous turn in Braveheart and popular novels by Edith Pargeter and Sharon Penman. My intention here isn't to try and give his character a polish, or tip another bucket of slime over it, but to take a look at him as a fighter. His career was a long one, so I'll divide it into two parts.

Ned Longshanks
Sandwiched between two kings (Henry III and Edward II) with little military capacity, Edward has traditionally been held up as a great soldier and battlefield commander. Some doubt has been cast on that recently - were all those huge castles in Wales really necessary? Wasn't the invasion of Scotland nothing but a massive waste of time and resources? Etc. Personally I'm not convinced by the revisionism, and want to steady General Longshanks on his wobbling pedestal.

As a youth, Edward didn't show much promise as a soldier or anything else. Encouraged by his ambitious kinsmen, the Lusignans, he rode about with a band of cronies behaving like a vicious thug and making a fool of himself at tournaments. The chronicler Matthew Paris, no fan of the prince, reported with glee that Edward and the Lusignans were badly beaten at certain tournaments in France, and lost all their horses and armour. Paris also recounted a nasty story of Edward ordering his cronies to mutilate a peasant they met on the road, lopping off the luckless youth's ears and gouging out an eye. Whether the story was true or not, the teenage Edward doesn't come across as a pleasant individual. "If he does these things when the wood is green," wrote Paris, "what will he do once it is ripe?"

Matthew Paris
There were hints of something more to Edward. Men were drawn to him, and he showed a definite talent for leadership. When the tension between his father Henry III and Simon de Montfort exploded into civil war, Edward was keen to prove his worth. In April 1264 he stormed Northampton via a clever ruse, sending troops through a side-entrance to catch the rebel barons in flank while they were busy fending off an attack on the gatehouse. Edward also showed his devious side: at Gloucester he was almost caught by his hated rival, Robert de Ferrers, but persuaded the gullible Henry de Montfort, one of Simon's sons, to strike a truce - long enough for Edward to slip out of the town and get away.

Edward's inconstancy, his willingness to break his word for the sake of advantage, was remarked on by contemporaries. The Song of Lewes, composed to praise the rebel barons, described him as "a lion in pride and fierceness, but a pard (a semi-mythical creature) by his inconstancy and changeableness...changing his word and promise, cloaking himself in pleasant speech." In fairness his enemies were no different. When a party of rebel barons surrendered to Edward at Bycarr's Dyke in Lincolnshire, promising never to rise in arms against the crown again, they promptly broke their oath and went on the rampage, burning and looting and ravaging the northern counties.

'Use up the Irish'...etc etc
At the Battle of Lewes in May 1264 Edward famously lost the battle for the royalists, charging off after the beaten Londoners and only returning after the rest of his father's army had been routed. The prince had no choice but to surrender to the victorious de Montfort. He spent the next year as a hostage, and the sheer humiliation and danger of his position seems to have forged a new resolve in him. With the Earl of Gloucester's connivance, he engineered a clever escape, riding away from his baffled guards to raise a new army in the Welsh Marches.

The following campaign saw Edward out-fox and out-fight the de Montfort clan. At Kenilworth he fell upon the rebels quartered in the town, slaughtering and killing many, taking others captive. Simon de Montfort's son, another Simon, only escaped by swimming the moat in his nightshirt to the safety of the castle. Deprived of his son's troops, Simon senior was trapped inside the Vale of Evesham. The old man took a certain grim pleasure in the cleverness of Edward's tactics: "Our enemies come on well," he remarked as the royalists advanced on Evesham under false banners, "but they learned it from me." In the following battle de Montfort's outnumbered army was smashed and their commander's corpse hacked to pieces. Here Edward showed his savage and vengeful side, hanging the dead man's testicles either side of his nose and sending his severed foot in a box (gift-wrapped, perhaps?) as a present to the wife of a royalist baron. Edward's cruel streak, inherited from his Angevin forebears - the 'Devil's Brood' - never left him, though it was arguably softened for a while due to the influence of his wife, Eleanor of Castile.

After Evesham, Edward truly came to the fore. With his aged father gently fading into the background, the prince assumed full control of the royal armies. He was in the field for almost two years fighting to suppress the Disinherited, a second wave of rebel barons who sprang to arms shortly after Evesham. In the winter of 1265 and spring of 1266 he was constantly on the move, crushing a rebellion in Northumberland and besieging the Isle of Axholme in Lincolnshire, where northern barons led by John de Eyvill had holed up. He also found time to rush south and flush out a gang of outlaws haunting the region of Alton Pass, which controlled the highway to Southampton. While his men stormed the barriers guarding the outlaw hideout, Edward engaged their leader, a gigantic knight named Adam de Gurdon, in single combat. Edward beat de Gurdon to his knees and had him carried away in chains to Windsor. There was no such mercy for the outlaw knight's followers, who were hanged on trees near their camp. After this exploit Edward was present at the epic siege of Kenilworth, the strongest castle in England. The bloody-minded rebel garrison held out until December 1266, when cold and starvation forced them to surrender.

As a general, Edward had showed he could move swiftly when the need arose, taking even skilled veterans like Simon de Montfort by surprise. He also seemed to be trying to improve the quality of English infantry. In 1266 he and his chief lieutenant, Roger de Leyburn, were engaged in clearing Essex of rebels and retaking the Cinque Ports, which controlled the Channel and English trade with France. The surviving pay rolls for this brief campaign show that Edward was employing hundreds of Welsh archers, expert longbowmen from Gwent and the Marches. More archers and crossbowmen were recruited to serve in the Nottingham garrison and fight outlaws in Sherwood. Edward, it seemed, had come to appreciate the value of missile troops and the longbow in particular.

The long civil war finally came to an end in the summer of 1267, when the last major baronial rebels laid down their arms and received a pardon at St Pauls in London. After receiving their submission, Edward reduced the last rebel outpost at the Isle of Ely, building a pontoon bridge and setting fire to the dry reeds (William the Conqueror's old strategy) to force the outlaws inside to surrender.

There's little doubt that without Edward's energy and leadership, the revolt of the Disinherited might have dragged on for much longer. Two years later, with England at peace, he felt confident enough to head off on Crusade, taking a few chums with him. Of his adventures in the Holy Land, and the wars in Wales, France and Scotland, more to come in Part Deux...

Friday, 26 February 2016

Civil war, gout, and rebel earls...

Robert de Ferrers, 6th Earl of Derby (1239-79), was one of the strongest - and strangest - characters in a period of English history stuffed full of dynamic, larger-than-life personalities. He tends to get a bit overlooked or dismissed in the histories, so I thought I’d shine a flashlight on him for this post. 

Ferrers' ancestors were among the original mob of land-hungry Normans who came over with the Conqueror in 1066. The centre of their power was in Derbyshire, though it wasn’t until the early 13th century that they really started to piece together a mighty chunk of territory in the north and midlands. Despite their wealth, they were an unlucky family in some ways: the males suffered from hereditary gout, a debilitating and embarrassing disease for noblemen required to take active roles in war and politics. Robert’s father William, the 5th Earl, suffered so badly from the malady he had to be carried everywhere in a litter. In an age when only condemned men travelled in litters, this was a severe humiliation. The final insult came in 1254 when his litter overturned on a bridge and tipped him into the river. He did shortly afterwards of injuries sustained in the fall.

Ferrers, only fifteen when his father died, was left in a difficult position. Too young to inherit, the wardship of his estates was handed over to his cousin Lord Edward, Henry III’s eldest son and future Edward I. Edward promptly sold the wardship to his mother, Eleanor of Provence, and Peter of Savoy for the handsome sum of 6000 marks. The sale effectively mortgaged his kinsman, body and soul, until he was old enough to do homage and take possession of his lands. When Ferrers finally came of age in 1260, he encountered further difficulties. His mother’s dowry ate up most of his income, while he also had to provide for his younger brother William, his wife Mary, and his kinsman Edward, who retained some of the Ferrers estate after the earl came of age. There were also debts to pay, inherited from the previous earl. Ferrers was left with a stipend of just £100 a year to run one of the largest estates in England and sustain thousands of dependants.

Peveril Castle in Derbyshire
His money woes, allied to his wild and ungovernable nature, drove Ferrers to violence. Shortly after coming of age he attacked Tutbury Priory, a religious house his family had been patrons of for generations, and partially destroyed it. He also encouraged his tenants to illegally hunt beasts inside the Derbyshire forests, as well as commit assaults and robberies against his neighbours.

In 1263 Ferrers fell in with the baronial reform movement, keeping company with Simon de Montfort and Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. After de Montfort’s return to England in April 1263, as the leader of an armed rising against Henry III, Robert swung into action. In May and June of that year his forces were active on the southern marches of Wales, seizing the ‘Three Castles’, as they were called, that belonged to the Lord Edward. His long-running rivalry with the prince was the defining feature of Ferrers’ life: “of no-one was Edward more afraid”, wrote the chronicler Robert of Gloucester.

In February 1264, after some skirmishing and renewed war on the marches, Ferrers’ army descended on Worcester. The town was stormed, and the Jewish quarter sacked, with many Jews murdered or kidnapped by his troops. The earl deliberately stole bonds recording Jewish loans he had taken out and carried them off to his castle at Tutbury - a neat way of wiping out one’s debts. He then advanced down the Severn to Gloucester, where he hoped to snare Edward. To his fury, a truce made by Henry de Montfort allowed Edward to slip away to his father at Oxford, ravaging Ferrers’ lands en route. The gloves were now off between the two noble kinsmen, who embarked upon a series of brutal tit-for-tat raids. In March Edward harried his enemy’s lands in Staffordshire, stormed Chartley Castle, and in the following month razed Tutbury and extorted protection money at swordpoint from the earl’s tenants.

After Edward’s capture at the Battle of Lewes, Ferrers was able to respond in kind. His forces overran Edward’s castles in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, captured the castle of Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire, and in late June seized the prince’s chief stronghold, Peveril Castle in Derbyshire. Flushed with his successes, Ferrers then swept west at the head of twenty thousand horse and foot, seized Edward’s base at Chester and routed an army of Welsh troops under the command of Dafydd ap Gruffydd. By now his fearsome reputation preceded him: “they did not dare to come against the earl in battle,” a chronicler wrote of Dafydd’s men, “and so fled....when it came to the pursuit, he killed up to a hundred of them, and captured others; and only one of his men was wounded.”

Ferrers’ days of glory were numbered. Simon de Montfort himself was nervous of his violent and unpredictable ally, and wanted the power base of Chester for himself. He soon cooked up a scheme to nullify the earl. Displaying a typical lack of political cunning, Ferrers accepted de Montfort’s summons to London, where he was promptly arrested on various trumped-up charges and thrown into the Tower. With few friends among the English nobility, Ferrers was powerless to prevent de Montfort stripping away the assets he had only recently made his own. Thus the vicious circle was complete: Edward had robbed Ferrers, Ferrers had robbed Edward, and now Ferrers was robbed by de Montfort.

The victor didn’t have long to enjoy his spoils. In August 1265 Edward pulled off a spectacular reversal of fortune and smashed the de Montfort clan in two bloody engagements at Kenilworth and Evesham. Simon himself was hunted down by a specially chosen death-squad and his body mutilated on the field at Evesham. Perhaps surprisingly, the vengeful prince took no action against Ferrers, still cooling his heels in the Tower. In December the prisoner was released and allowed to buy a pardon for 1500 marks and a gold cup studded with gems. Despite his hatred of Edward, Ferrers was too important to be done away with: he was popular among his tenants in the north midlands, and the ageing King Henry needed his money and support in the region.

Edward I
Dame Fortune had chosen to smile on Ferrers. His response was to spit in her eye. In the spring of 1266 he joined a new band of rebels in the north, headed by Baldwin Wake and John de Eyvill, a rough northern baron described as ‘the bold d’Eyvil, a canny and hardy warrior.” This new baronial coalition ravaged the northern and eastern counties of England in an orgy of fire and sword and rampant bloodletting. They made their base, like so many Robin Hoods, in the greenwood at Duffieldfrith in Derbyshire, close to Ferrers’s chief stronghold at Tutbury. 

Ferrers’ decision to go back into rebellion has baffled historians. He is generally assumed to have acted out of sheer greed and stupidity, but that seems a little unfair. Efficient roughnecks like John de Eyvill wouldn’t have accepted a fool for a leader, and Ferrers and his allies may have had valid causes for complaint. King Henry was still hanging on to their lands, even though they were supposed to have been returned the previous year. For the barons, raised and trained to settle every dispute with the sword, there could only be one response.

Henry’s response was to send an army racing north to quash the rebellion. The rebels were ambushed at Chesterfield and their forces scattered. John de Eyvill escaped to carry on the fight, but Ferrers was quite literally caught with his pants down: he was being bled for his gout when the royalists attacked, and had to stagger away and hide under a pile of woolsacks in a nearby church while his enemies looked for him. In the end he was betrayed, locked up in a cage and carted south to Windsor. No matter what they did, his family just couldn’t stay out of carts.

This time the King and his sons meant to de-fang the troublesome earl once and for all. He remained in prison for three years while a scheme was hatched to strip him of all his lands and goods. Finally, in October 1269, the prisoner was offered a hopeless deal: unless he paid the sum of £50,000 inside ten days, the whole of his estate would be taken away and given to King Henry’s second son. Edmund. Ferrers could not possibly hope to find the money in such a short time. Even so his enemies took out a bit of extra insurance, just in case. On 9th July he was taken from Windsor to Chippenham, where in the presence of the Chancellor he was ordered to formally sign away his inheritance. The demand was almost certainly made with the threat of physical torture if he refused: in later years Ferrers certainly claimed as much. He had no choice but to obey, and at the end of May was released, a free man, but now landless, penniless and utterly dishonoured.

Whatever else he might have been, Ferrers was no quitter. Even a broken man may still have teeth, and he still had the loyalty of his old tenants. Shortly after his release the Midlands was hit by a staggering wave of violent crime, as bad as anything experienced in the civil war. Hundreds of armed robbers, mounted and on foot, plagued the forests and highways, attacking secular and religious persons alike, thieving and murdering with impunity. At the same time a band of ‘night robbers’ emerged from the Derbyshire woods and attacked Nottingham, smashing the timber defences and killing a number of the citizens.

Battle of Lewes

The leader of this army of footpads was one Roger Godberd, a yeoman farmer who held the manor of Swannington in Leicestershire of Ferrers. Evidently a useful bit of muscle, Ferrers had employed him in the garrison of Nottingham Castle in 1264, from where Godberd and other men rode out to commit large-scale poaching offences inside Sherwood Forest. Given the close relationship between lord and tenant, and the timing of Godberd’s revolt, it seems most likely that this new uprising was inspired by anger at Ferrers’ disinheritance. Alternatively, Godberd may simply have been acting on his master’s orders.

Ferrers himself was not idle. While the Midlands descended into anarchy, he led a band of armed men to seize and occupy the manor of Stanford in Berkhire. Stanford was one of his confiscated manors, recently given to Roger de Leyburn, the Lord Edward’s favourite crony. Leyburn had gone to the Holy Land on Crusade with his master, and his absence may have encouraged Ferrers to make the attempt. However, King Henry’s troops soon arrived on the scene and turfed him out again. Soon afterwards he suffered another blow when his ally, Roger Godberd, was finally captured inside Sherwood by royalist forces and imprisoned. Godberd was shunted about between various prisons until his trial at Newgate in 1276. Incredibly, he was acquitted of all charges and released.

Even now, Ferrers was not done. By this point he was little more than an outlaw, leading a gang of brigands in the woods and wild places of the land he had once owned. In 1273 he popped up in Staffordshire at the head of another band of armed loyalists and drove out the royalist garrison at Chartley Castle. His old rival Edward, now King Edward I, was informed that the rebels had not only seized the castle but started working the land nearby, felling timber for sale and using the mills to grind corn. Alarmed and no doubt deeply irritated by Ferrers’ stubborn refusal to go away, Edward despatched an army to retake Chartley and smoke out the men occupying it. His troops were succesful, though not without suffering casualties. Ferrers escaped, thus avoiding a probable third term of imprisonment.

After this latest setback, Ferrers switched tactics. He finally found a friend in the person of Gilbert ‘the red’ de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, and with his support tried to seek redress at law. Technically he had a good case - his disinheritance in 1269 was a monstrous injustice - but the crown had no intention of allowing the fallen earl to rise again. Almost all of his claims were thrown out of court, though in 1275 King Edward relented a little and allowed Ferrers to recover the manor (though not the castle) of Chartley and the manor of Holbrook in Derbyshire.

If this was a sop to keep the old pest quiet, it had the required effect. Ferrers spent his last years living quietly at Chartley with his second wife, Eleanor de Bohun, and their young family. Having lost the majority of his vast inheritance, he did at least suceeed in fathering a son, John, to inherit what remained. He died in 1279 at the relatively young age of forty, probably from an illness related to gout, and was buried at the Augustinian priory of St Thomas in Staffordshire. His descendents, reduced to the lower levels of the English baronage, proved remarkably enduring, and the title of Earl Ferrers has survived to this day. Hopefully the present incumbent doesn’t suffer from gout.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Tony Riches

Today I am hosting a guest post by a fellow writer of historical fiction, Tony Riches. Tony is also based in Wales and is currently writing a series of novels based on the lives of Owen and Jasper Tudor, essentially the founders of the Tudor dynasty. Take it away, Tony...

"Inspiration for writing The Tudor Trilogy:

 I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle and often visit the small room where the thirteen-year-old Lady Margaret Beaufort gave birth to the future king, Henry Tudor. I also recently stood on the remote beach at Mill Bay near Milford Haven, imagining how Jasper Tudor would have felt as he approached with Henry and his mercenary army to ride to Bosworth - and change the history of Britain.

 All I knew about Owen Tudor was that he was a Welsh servant who somehow married the beautiful young widow of King Henry V, Queen Catherine of Valois, and began this fascinating dynasty. Inspired to write a historical fiction trilogy about them, I was amazed to discover that, although there are plenty of references to Owen, Jasper and Henry in novels, there were none that fully explored their lives. I wanted to research their stories in as much detail as possible and to sort out the many myths from the facts.

There are, of course, huge gaps in the historical records, which only historical fiction can help to fill. For example, there is no record of the marriage between Owen and the Dowager Queen Catherine, although I have also not been able to find evidence of the legitimacy of his descendants, particularly Henry VII, ever being challenged.

Another advantage I have is that my previous two historical fiction novels, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham, and WARWICK ~ The Man Behind The Wars of The Roses are also set in the fifteenth century, so my considerable library of books and papers on the period are invaluable in cross checking dates and events.

Tony Riches next to a statue of Henry Tudor
I’m pleased to say that the first book of The Tudor Trilogy, OWEN, has already become an Amazon best-seller in the UK and US, and is my best-selling book in Australia, where I have a rapidly growing readership. I would like readers to remember Owen as an adventurer, a risk-taker, a man who lived his life to the full and made his mark on the world through his descendants. Jasper Tudor made it possible for his nephew Henry to become King of England and bring a lasting peace to the country.

I am now helping to campaign for a statue of Henry Tudor to be erected outside Pembroke Castle so that their legacy is not forgotten. Tony Riches is a UK historical fiction author living in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Here he discusses his latest novel about Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who married the Queen of England and founded the Tudor dynasty..."

Tony outside Pembroke Castle
You can find out more on Tony’s blog ‘The Writing Desk’ at www.tonyriches.co.uk and find him on Twitter @tonyriches. Owen – Book One of the Tudor Trilogy is now available in eBook and paperback on Amazon

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Sweet Clemence

Medieval women, especially noblewomen, are often depicted as pliant and oppressed, very much in the shadow of their menfolk. There were some notable exceptions, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc, but in general women in this era tend to be viewed as pawns - useful chattels, brood mares and bargaining counters, to be wedded, bedded and replaced once the inevitable pregnancies killed them off.

Shy and retiring? Moi?
One startling exception to the rule was Clemence de Lungvilers, a minor noblewoman whose family held lands at Egmanton in Nottinghamshire and Barnburgh in South Yorkshire. Unusually for a woman of her class and time, Clemence doesn't seem to have married, or perhaps her husband died young. She was scarcely in need of a husband to act as protector, for Clemence was as capable of violence as any man, especially when it came to defending her rights. The York Assize of 1273 records one particularly vicious assault she and her followers committed against a certain Richard de Boulton:

"Richard de Boulton appeared against Clemence de Lungvilers, William le Noble, John de Pengiston, William le Keu, Roger Cony, Hugh le Messager and William son of Maud de Egmanton, accusing them of having assaulted him lately at Egmanton, and beat, wounded and mistreated him, in such a way that he was completely in despair of his life, and took and carried away his money and other goods and chattels, and inflicted other serious damages on him against the peace of the lord king..."

The reason for this attack is not given, but we know from a later entry in the Patent Rolls that Richard was a forest official in the service of Richard de Clifford, a royal justice. Possibly Richard had overstepped the mark and tried to impose his authority on Clemence, If so, he soon had cause to regret it.

Clemence avoided prosecution thanks to two of her kinsmen, Robert Deyvill and William Deyvill, who stood surety for her behaviour in court. These local knights were her relatives by marriage, since her father, Sir John de Longvilers, had married into the Deyvill clan. The Deyvills were themselves a dangerous family, one of the lawless Mafia-style gangs of rural gentry that plagued England, and involved in a staggering level of crime. Between 1263 and 1281, they were indicted in over three hundred separate cases of robbery, homicide, arson and other crimes, as well as being active in the civil wars between Henry III and Simon de Montfort. One of the clan, Sir John Deyvill, described as a 'canny and hardy warrior', plundered almost every major town between York and London. Another, Jocelin, led a band of two hundred armed robbers who rode about the country disguised as monks, and was eventually drawn and hanged for his crimes.

A family wedding, medieval-style
With such people for in-laws, Clemence needed to tread carefully.  However, shortly after the assault on Richard de Boulton, family relations broke down:

"Clemence de Lungvilers claims that John de Eyvill, Adam his brother, Thomas de Eyvill, John de Eyvill the nephew of John, William, John de Eyvill's clerk, John de Husthayt, William de Eyvill of Egmanton and Robert de Eyvill of Egmanton came with force of arms to her manors of Egmanton and Barnburgh, seized and carried away her goods and belongings, and inflicted other outrages upon her. She demands justice."

The dispute between Clemence and the Deyvills rumbled on in the courts for almost a decade, until a final judgement was reached in 1278 whereby both parties were ordered to keep the peace. By now Edward I was on the throne, and he wasn't going to tolerate the sort of low-level crime and disorder that marred his father's reign. The violent energy of the Deyvills was channelled against the enemies of the realm: John and his kinsmen were summoned to do military service in Wales, where their taste for guerilla warfare could be put to good use. One of them, Adam, was killed during the final war of 1282 against Llewellyn ap Gruffydd.

Clemence, meanwhile, appears to have been left to enjoy her lands in peace. No shrinking violet, she wasn't afraid to use the tools of the men around her - casual violence, family connections, shameless recourse to law - to survive and prosper in an unimaginably bleak and bloody world.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Soldier of Fortune 2, complete with Hussites

It's been a while since my last post, for which the festive season and my own unpardonable lethargy can be blamed. Now, though, with the New Year kicking in amid endless downpours and rainwater rising through the carpet in my house (yes, January in West Wales is every bit as grim as it sounds) I'm all fired up and ready to shed the Christmas waistline.

The first bit of news is that I've started work on the sequel to Soldier of Fortune (I): The Wolf Cub, which was a something of a hit on the Amazon Bestsellers list and floated around the Top Five in the Historical Fantasy section for a few months. The adventures of Sir John Page, an English mercenary captain knocking around Europe in the early 1400s, seem to have struck a chord, and there are plenty more to come.

The death of Jan Hus
Still holed up in the Sultan's prison in Constantinople, obliged to tell (possibly slightly exaggerated) stories of his own life in order to stay alive, Page's second enforced memoir concentrates on his exploits during the Hussite Wars. These were religious wars fought in Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic) between the followers of Jan Hus and the various hostile kingdoms that surrounded their country. When they weren't fighting external enemies, the 'Hussites' often split into factions and fought each other, making poor Bohemia quite the battleground.

Jan Hus was a Bohemian priest who spoke out against the corruption of the Catholic church. One of his main bugbears was the sale of indulgences, whereby the church effectively sold pardons, guaranteeing an individual redemption for his or her sins, in exchange for cash. Anyone from the lower classes who spoke out against this practice was beheaded, and these victims were later considered the first Hussite martyrs. Hus himself, after many years preaching against the abuses of the church, was lured to an assembly at Constance in Germany in 1415 with the promise of a safe conduct. There he was betrayed and burned at the stake, his ashes thrown into the Rhine. His last reported words were 'Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on us!"

Hussites at war
The death of Hus sparked outrage in Bohemia. Four years after his death open war broke out between the followers of his teachings, the Hussites, and the supporters of Sigismund, King of Hungary, brother of the late King of Bohemia. Sigismund wanted the crown of Bohemia for himself, but there was one rather large snag: it was Sigismund who had lured Hus to Constance, and Sigismund who tore up the hapless preacher's safe conduct and had him consigned to the flames. The chances of Hus's followers, of which there were thousands in Bohemia, especially among the peasantry, accepting Sigismund as their monarch were therefore less than zero.

With the support of the Pope, and the military backing of his own kingdom as well as allies in Germany and a huge number of mercenaries, Sigismund might have expected to roll over Bohemia's apparently feeble defences. Against his enormous and well-equipped army, bursting at the seams with armoured knights and men-at-arms equipped with all the latest gear, the Hussites could only muster a few thousand peasants and a tiny number of loyal Bohemian nobles, nowhere near enough to face the might of their enemies in the open field. It should have been a wipe-out, a massacre, all over inside a few weeks if not days, similar to the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.

Statue of Jan Zizka in Prague
One man, however, rescued this apparently hopeless situation. His name, as any Czechs who might be reading this will know, was Jan Zizka. My next post will focus on Zizka, one of the genuinely great commanders of history, and to this day considered a national hero in the Czech Republic.