Folville's Law (II): Conquest

Monday, 24 October 2016

Once again, I've been very slack recently with updates for this blog. Below is another piece on a little-known aspect of the reign of Edward I, taken from the Facebook page. In the near future I hope to post articles and commentary more directly related to my books. Stay tuned!


 Fancy a holiday? Somewhere nice in the sunny Dordogne, perhaps? Look no further than the Hotel-Restaurant Edward 1 in Monpazier, a delightful region of Aquitaine in south-west France. The hotel offers stunning views, ensuite bedrooms with flatscreen television, a fine restaurant offering a choice of local delicacies, as well as…

…here endeth the advert. The hotel in Monpazier, otherwise known as the Hotel Edward Premier, really exists and is named after King Edward I (reigned 1272-1307). Unlike Wales and Scotland, where the only building likely to be named after Edward is a public toilet, the king’s reputation in his former duchy of Gascony is still golden. Monpazier was part of the duchy, and one of the fifty bastide - meaning ‘to build’ - towns constructed in Gascony during his reign.

Of all the bastides, Monpazier is the one that still retains most of the original features. It was founded in 1285 and visited by Edward himself during his tour of the region the following year. The town is built to a quadrilateral plan, with a regular gridwork of streets that open onto a central square. At one end of the square is a market hall, where the original metal bins used for measuring grain can still be seen. The square is lined with vaulted archways known as ‘cornières’, another distinctive medieval feature.

All of the Edwardian bastides were built to this pattern. Edward himself was personally involved in the construction of Burgus Reginae - or Queensborough - built in 1288 at a confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne, the two major commercial arteries of Gascony. The new settlement was named in honour of his wife, Eleanor of Castile. Another new bastide, named Baa, was built on royal command in the winter of 1286-7. One Gerard de Turri was sent to plan the town, and Edward paid a visit to the site, during which he bought the workmen a round of drinks.

Edward also founded bastides in England, at New Winchelsea and Kingston upon Hull, and in Wales as part of his programme of colonisation. However the scale of bastide-building in Gascony was far greater than anywhere else. The project was driven, as usual, by Edward’s constant need for revenue: Gascony was a much smaller and poorer land than England, and generated far less cash. The new bastides acted as centres of commerce. To quote Marc Morris: ‘they were a source of profit, both direct (in the form of local tolls and taxes) and indirect (they increased trade that was taxed at other points, such as Bordeaux).’

Initially the bastides met with opposition from Gascon nobility. As landlords, they objected to these new towns being built on their territory, largely because it gave their tenants the opportunity to run off and become free towsnmen. A clever compromise was reached whereby the bastides were founded on the system of ‘paréage’, a form of public-private partnership. Local lords agreed to put up the land, Edward as duke gave the necessary permission, and subsequent profits were shared by all, including the townspeople. The promise of enrichment lured the rural poor to the bastides, which in turn helped to reduce lawlessness. New towns also meant new roads, which led to the clearing of forests and conversion of fallow ground into rich pasture. Thus the bastides were perceived as a way of generating commerce and profits for all - duke, lords and peasants - as well of pacifying unruly parts of the duchy. For once Edward behaved with a light touch, and his bastide scheme was both popular and successful.

Edward spent several years in Gascony and was evidently fond of the place, if not the inhabitants. In a letter of March 21st 1278 to the Bishop of Bath & Wells, he makes clear his opinions on Gascons and their unreliable ways:

‘As the Gascons are reputed to be very full of quibbles and changeable in their agreements, proposals, promises and deeds, the king believes it very necessary that the bishop… shall cause all and singular the things that shall be agreed upon, or ordained, and done by them with the Gascons…so that in times to come they shall not presume in their insolence boldly to contravene their own deeds, and so that their own deed and surety may be objected to their faces eye to eye to repress their malice forever.’ 

This last line is eerily similar to Edward’s later declaration regarding the Welsh, in which he promised to ‘put an end to their malice now and for all time.’

The king was not directly involved in the construction of all the bastides. Over two-thirds of them were partially founded by the crown, but only half were solely royal ventures. Nor were they intended to buttress the defence of Gascony against the French. Many never had any defences at all, and those with defences only had them added in the reigns of Edward II and III. They were founded during a period of relatively cordial relations between England and France, and Edward appreciated that the widespread construction of fortified towns would provoke French hostility. Besides which, they were mostly built on fertile, low-lying land near rivers, ideal for commerce but useless as military sites. One exception was Bonnegarde, where Edward revamped and enlarged an already existing castle, but the main purpose of the bastides was undoubtely to generate income.

Edward’s enthusiasm for bastides was also demonstrated in Wales and England. In Wales, after the war of 1277, he laid out new settlements on the familiar grid pattern at Flint, Rhuddlan and Aberystwyth. After the war of 1283 more were created at Conwy, Caernarfon, Criccieth, Bere and Harlech. Unlike Gascony, however, the new bastides in Wales were not built in a spirit of lucrative cooperation. Instead they were fortified colonial outposts, homes for imported English settlers, from which the native Welsh were largely excluded. Towns such as Nefyn and Llanfaes, which had been centres of commerce under Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, were allowed to become backwaters. Edward had no desire to develop native Welsh settlements, and at Llanfaes the population was forced to emigrate to a new town called, rather unimaginatively, Newborough. Llanfaes itself was replaced by another bastide, Beaumaris.

Today very little survives of Edward’s bastides in Gascony. Other than Monpazier, not one has survived into modern times as a settlement, though the outline of vineyards, banks and ditches can still be seen at the site of Burgus Reginae. Still, I have heard that the Hotel Edward Premier (see attached pic) does excellent cocktails…

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Rebels of Ely

I haven't been active on here recently - very slack of me. The new book is taking up a lot of time, as well as research for future projects. I've also been busy on my new Facebook page devoted to the reign of King Edward I. Below is a link to the page (again) and one of the recent articles. I'll post more on here in the future.

King Edward I on Facebook

The Rebels of Ely 

The Second Barons’ War in England ended with the fall of the Isle of Ely in July 1267, almost two years after the Battle of Evesham. Henry III’s vengeful decision to disinherit all of Simon de Montfort’s surviving followers prolonged the civil war, which ought to have ended with the earl’s death. The king also seized the lands of of men who had never supported de Montfort in the first place. Thus Henry succeeded in driving approximately half the landowning class of England into armed rebellion.

Ely in Cambridgeshire had been a natural home for rebels and outlaws since the days of the Conqueror. A vast, waterlogged stretch of misty bog and fenland in Cambridgeshire, it was virtually impenetrable save to those who knew the paths. The baronial rebels first occupied the isle in April 1266, and used it as a base from which to plunder and ravage the surrounding countryside. They sacked Lincoln, where they destroyed the chests or ‘archa’ containing bonds of debts taken out from Jewish moneylenders. A number of Jewish moneylenders were murdered or kidnapped for ransom, their synagogues razed, and a hundred and sixty women and children murdered in the street.

Efforts by local militia to drive out the rebels met with disaster. Henry ordered the commons of the counties to blockade the isle and prevent the barons from making sorties. In response the barons rode out in force and drove the ‘vulgar herd’ - as Matthew Paris termed them - to flight, driving them as far as Norwich. There some of the rebel party split off to carry away loot and provisions from the town. A short while later, the people of Lynn offered to attack Ely if Henry would guarantee their liberties. This he promised to do, and the citizens manned vessels with crossbowmen, archers and men-at-arms to sail upriver and storm the isle. The wily barons saw the fleet coming and planted their standards on dry land. When the people of Lynn saw the standards, they leaped off their boats and charged. The barons pretended to retreat, then turned and closed on the citizens from all sides. Some were captured, many slaughtered or drowned, and only a few limped back to Lynn - where they were ‘received with derision.’

In the spring of 1267 the captain of the Ely rebels, John de Eyvill, left the isle to join Gilbert de Clare in the march on London. They succeeded in capturing the city, and for three months the capital of England was a rebel camp. Peace was brokered when King Henry and his son, the Lord Edward, threatened to lay siege. After some complex bartering de Eyvill and de Clare were pardoned in return for payments of money and land. The severest punishment fell on de Eyvill, who was mortgaged to the crown for the rest of his life and had to do military service in Wales as part of his redemption.

After the surrender of the barons in London, Ely was left as the only rebel fortress of any note. The captain of the isle was now Henry de Hastings, an interesting brute with a sense of humour. Hastings had led the epic defence of Kenilworth Castle, at 172 days the longest siege in English medieval history. During the siege, the papal legate had called upon the garrison to surrender. Hastings’ response was to dress up as a cardinal and stand on the battlements waving his arms in mockery of the legate’s piety. Less amusingly, when the king sent an envoy to treat for peace, Hastings cut off one of the envoy’s hands and sent him back with the severed hand in a box.

Other knights in the isle included the likes of Sir Robert Peche and Sir Ralph Perot. Neither were ideal house guests. Peche had won a reputation as one of the chief ravagers, burning farms and villages near Ely and robbing barns of their grain. He had also extorted protection money from the burgesses of Cambridge, promising to leave them alone in exchange for cash. Perot rode as far afield as the Priory of St Peter in Dunstable, where the chronicler gloomily notes he stole a horse from the mill, more horses from the town, and took ten marks as protection money.

Edward, in his role as firefighter, was sent to destroy this nest of robbers. Easier said than done. The Conqueror himself had experienced difficulty in reducing the isle, and suffered several embarrassing defeats before finally overcoming Hereward the Wake and his Saxons. Tales of Hereward’s last stand were still popular in the late 1200s. Paris describes how medieval sightseers were in the habit of visiting an old earthwork known as Hereward’s Castle at Aldreth: probably the remains of the fortress built by the Normans when they laid siege to Ely.

The prince marched on Ely and ordered his men to build a bridge of hurdles and planks. This sounds similar to the pontoon or floating bridge William the Conqueror had built to cross into the isle. Edward, who had some knowledge of military history, may have taken a leaf from the Bastard’s book. As king, he made use of pontoon bridges in his campaigns in North Wales, though the strategy didn’t always meet with success: in 1282, at Moel-y-Don near Anglesey, the bridge collapsed under weight of bodies and hundreds of his men were drowned.

At Ely the bridge was merely a distraction. While his men laboured on the construction, Edward rode to the monastery of Ramsey and gave the monks a pep-talk, encouraging them to stand firm against the rebels. Shortly afterwards he had a private meeting with an aged noblewoman, Lady Amabilia de Chaucumb.

An observer might have wondered what Edward was up to, with his bridge and his monks and his mysterious old lady. All soon became clear. Amabilia was the mother of Nicholas de Segrave, one of the baronial rebels who had submitted at London. Segrave had been a member of the Ely garrison, and after his surrender escaped from London and went back into the isle. It seems his escape was pre-arranged. While in the capital he struck a secret deal with Edward to betray his comrades, and the prince later met with his mother to make final arrangements.

There was one main path into the heart of the isle, defended by a stockade of earth and timber. Segrave persuaded Hastings to let him garrison it. When the pontoon bridge was complete, Edward crossed the water with a strong force of archers and crossbowmen. He was now faced with the stockade, guarded by Segrave. As agreed, Segrave and his men promptly abandoned their post and let the royalists pass. Edward moved on through the marshes until he arrived within sight of the rebel camp, divided from his men by a narrow rivulet.

The barons, astonished by the sudden appearance of enemy soldiers, rushed to arms. While they dragged on their armour, some bowmen and slingers were hurled forward to block the royalist advance. Meanwhile Edward placed his missile troops on high ground overlooking the camp, so they could shoot down on the heads of the rebel archers.

Seeing this, the rebels hesitated. Edward now rode forward and read out the riot act: “Any man who attacks my soldiers, or tries to stop me entering the isle, will die. Either now or after my victory. The guilty shall be hanged or beheaded.”

In the face of these threats, the barons wilted. “Consumed by sudden dismay,” according to the chronicler, they “immediately lost their indolent savageness, and walking with their heads lowered, assumed the meekness of a lamb.”

Perhaps the grim memory of Evesham was still fresh in their minds. The Leopard - as the baronial poets called Edward - had presided over one massacre. He could do it again. In the event there was no bloodshed. Edward accepted their surrender, and Hastings and the other knights were allowed to redeem their lands. Segrave was well rewarded for his treachery, and later became 1st Baron Segrave. He died in 1295, rich and respected. No doubt his mother would have approved.

The lesser members of the Ely garrison scattered to the four winds. Many continued to live as robbers, and the Dunstaple chronicle records the miserable fate of some of them. Giles of Dunstaple, Ambrose, Michael and some others left the country, to be ‘starved or hanged’ in other places. Henry Albemarle, who had robbed a mill, was hanged in France. John the clerk was excommunicated and killed in unknown circumstances at Oxford. His companions Jeffrey, Hugh and Robert were arrested and sent to Newgate prison for trial. Jeffrey died in custody and the others bribed the jury to let them off. Both were shortly arrested again in London. Hugh was hanged, and Robert died in prison.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Longshanks hits Facebook

I've rejuvenated my old Facebook page focused on King Edward I, better known as 'Longshanks' of Braveheart fame. Given time, I hope to post regularly on there with various articles relating to any and all features of this controversial monarch's reign. If you fancy commenting, or even contributing, please feel free to drop me an email or visit the group:

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Folville's Law (II) Conquest

Some long-term followers of this blog may recall my first novel, titled Folville's Law and released way back in the mists of time (or 2011, to be more precise) by Musa Publishing. Musa have since folded, sadly, and I republished the book under my own steam under the new title Folville's Law: Invasion.

The sequel, originally published as a series of mini-adventures by Musa, has now been repackaged as a single volume and released today under the title FOLVILLE'S LAW (II): CONQUEST. The suitably dramatic, eye-catching cover is designed (as usual) by the good people at More Visual.

"England, 1330. The young King, Edward III, is a virtual prisoner, locked out of power by his mother Queen Isabella and her lover, the power-hungry Roger de Mortimer. Determined to rule, Edward gathers a band of loyal supporters and plots to reclaim his kingdom. 

Meanwhile war rages across the Channel in Gascony. Sir John Swale, forced into exile to escape his enemies in England, is caught up in a war for control of the province. Captured and ransomed by the French, he is sent back to England to restore his fortunes as one of King Edward's household knights. 

Yet Swale's former enemies have not been quiet. The outlaw Eustace Folville is still at large, and joined by the equally ruthless James Coterel. Together the Coterel and Folville gangs roam at will, robbing and slaying innocents. While they sow chaos, fresh war erupts between England and Scotland. 

As a loyal King's knight, Swale must face these dangers head-on. From pitched battles with outlaws in the heart of England to the hell of the Scottish March, he fights to a cruel finish for land and king and family..."

The book is available on Kindle now in all Amazon markets. A paperback version should be available soon!

Monday, 1 August 2016

Usher's Pass preview

Today I thought I'd provide a glimpse of the epic fantasy novel my friend and co-author, Martin Bolton, is currently working on. Together we wrote two fantasy tales - The Best Weapon (The World Apparent Tales Book 1) and The Path of Sorrow (Book 2) - and now Martin is writing a solo venture set in an entirely different fantasy universe to The World Apparent. Hopefully we'll work together on more projects in the future.

Below is the map of the immediate universe he has created, the world of Usher's Pass (also the provisional title of his novel). Martin has asked me to point out that this is only a rough sketch, and will considerably expand as the story develops. Click on the image to enlarge:

Here's a link to our joint blog, Darkness and Deep Night, where we post articles and reviews and general discussion - whatever dribbles out of our respective brains, basically - relating to fantasy fiction:

Darkness and Deep Night

Please feel free to visit the blog and post comments/start a discussion.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Hooded Man cometh (again)

After claiming I rarely write reviews, I now find myself writing two in a row. This one is for Robin Hood and the Knights of the Apocalypse, a brand-new audio episode of Robin of Sherwood. For those who don't know, RoS (to use a convenient acronym) was a British TV series back in the 80s that offered a very different take on the legend of Robin Hood. More realistic in some ways - the outlaws were a convincing bunch of roughnecks living inside a damp English forest, a world away from the sun-drenched Californian redwoods of the 1938 Errol Flynn flick -  it was also the first screen version of the tale to introduce pagan elements. Unlike the devout Catholic outlaw of the medieval ballads, this Robin served Herne the Hunter, an ancient spirit of the forest, and took on the guise of The Hooded Man in the fight against Norman oppression.

For many Robin of Sherwood is *the* definitive screen version of the tale, and certain elements have influenced almost every version since: for instance, it was the first to introduce the idea of a deadly Saracen warrior among Robin's band of freedom fighters. This notion was picked up - or ripped off, to be unkind - and recycled in Kevin Costner's Prince of Thieves (1991) and the more recent BBC Robin Hood (2006-09). Alan Rickman's notoriously over-the-top turn as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham also owed much to Nickolas Grace's villainous Sheriff in RoS, though for my money Grace's performance was far more subtle and interesting.

So to Robin Hood and the KOTA. Before I go any further, I should acknowledge the huge degree of love and care and effort that went into this project. It was no mean feat on the part of Barnaby Eaton-Jones and his friends at Spiteful Puppet to gather all the surviving cast, raise the money needed to fund the recording (via crowdfunding), as well as hack through the legal jungle simply to persuade ITV (who own the rights to the series) to allow the project to go ahead. Also worth mentioning is that all the money raised from sales of the recording will go to charity.

Now for the difficult bit. I'm a fan of the original show - though nowhere near as devoted or knowledgeable as many fans - and my expectations for the actual quality of the new episode were modest. Granted, Spiteful Puppet were using a leftover script by the show's creator and original screenwriter, the late Richard Carpenter, but after thirty years could they really hope to recapture the magic? Early reviews were extremely positive, bordering on the ecstatic, so my hopes were raised a little.

After listening to KOTA twice, I have to say my reaction is mixed. It's not the car crash I was dreading, far from it, but nor does it come anywhere close to the heights of the first two seasons of RoS. Part of the problem is the awkwardness of fitting a script intended for a feature-length screen film into audio format. The action scenes in particular suffer, though the producers did their best by adding swishing arrows, clanging swords, galloping hoofs etc. None of these studio tricks, impressive as they are - and KOTA is very well produced - can suppress the unintentional comedy of actors describing the action as it happens: "my sword is at your neck," Nasir grimly informs a defeated opponent at one point. Unless he's fighting a blind man, his opponent would presumably know that already.

Such criticism is perhaps unfair, since the only remedy would be to cut out the action scenes altogether. Sadly there are other issues. The script itself is derivative of earlier TV episodes, and at times comes across like an edited highlights package: Robin is once again captured by insane cultists, as he was in The Time of the Wolf, and once again has to fight a manifested demon, as he did in The Swords of Wayland (though to be fair that was Robin of Loxley, rather than his successor Robert of Huntingdon). Some of the dialogue is very clunky by Carpenter's standards, and the banter between the Merries largely falls flat. Little John and Will Scarlet, played by Clive Mantle and Ray Winstone, are given some deeply unfunny jokes to work with, while the clumsy dialogue is not helped by a hefty slice of ham acting. Colin Baker is far too shrill as the villain Gerard de Ridefort, which makes his character come across as a dull, pompous buffoon. Fortunately Anthony Head rescues the situation with a nicely understated performance as the chief villain, Guichard de Montbalm, though even he occasionally breaks into some startling Dr Evil-style peals of maniacal laughter.

Elsewhere the cast suffers from one unavoidable omission. The late Robert Addie, so memorable as the Sheriff's blustering right-hand man Guy of Gisburne, was replaced by Freddie Fox. Fox is by no means bad as Guy, and has a certain sneering menace all of his own, but he sounds nothing at all like Addie. The difference jars, at least to my ears, and it might have been a better idea to omit Guy altogether and invent a new character for Fox. Nickolas Grace as the Sheriff initially sounds uncertain, as though he struggled to re-inhabit a character left behind thirty years ago (he isn't alone in this) but by the end of the episode he's back to his best, coldly informing the wounded Guy that he 'was never any good' and leaving him to bleed.

In case all this negativity sounds depressing or infuriating, I should point out some good bits. Jason Connery is very good as Robert of Huntingdon, and perhaps gives his best performance in the role. Connery's performance in the old series still divides opinion among fans, some of whom maintain he was too young and callow for the part and not a patch on his predecessor, Michael Praed. Now, three decades on, his voice has a deeper timbre and he carries it with more authority. At times he comes across like an exasperated staff officer, curtly snapping orders at the Merries, which makes him less charming but more realistic: Robert is supposed to be a young nobleman turned outlaw in charge of a bunch of unruly wolfsheads, not all of whom welcomed his leadership at first.

Robert's relationship with Marion is kept firmly in the background, perhaps wisely since the slightly unconvincing nature of it was one of the problems of the show. However this undercuts the big dramatic moment at the end of the third season when a heartbroken Marion, thinking Robert was dead, chose to go into a convent. Her decision to come out again and rejoin him in Sherwood is dealt with in just a couple of passing lines, which is a bit of a letdown - at least for those of who enjoy wallowing in melodrama (as I do).

A mention should also go to Mark Ryan as Nasir. The brooding Nasir was given hardly any lines in the original show, but here he is almost chatty and surprisingly engaging. His brief monologue with a bird in a tree, turning to rage when the birds are all frightened away by de Ridefort, is one of the best moments. Phil Rose as Friar Tuck gets a nice scene where he baptises infants in defiance of the Interdict, but otherwise has little to do except a few fat jokes.

Another nice feature is an enlarged role for Michael Craig as Robert's father, the Earl of Huntingdon. At one point the earl is called David, pretty much confirming that he is supposed to be the historical David of Huntingdon (1144-1219), brother to a King of Scotland. This in turn makes Robert an immensely powerful man if he wants to be, not only the heir to an earldom but with a decent claim to the Scottish throne. Disappointingly - at least for a history nerd like me - little is ever made of these connections, or the potentially fascinating narrative arc. As earl, with money and power and soldiers and a king for an ally, Robert would stand a far better chance of defeating injustice and curbing the excesses of King John. Instead he chooses to wander back to Sherwood and spend his days mooning over Marion and listening to some laddish banter. Oh well.

Despite my many criticisms of KOTA, it did leave me wanting more. There is life in this old dog (or wolfshead) yet, and plenty more scope for further adventures. Further audio episodes, provided the demand exists for them, would actually be written for audio and thus remove the problems of retro-fitting a screenplay. I see no reason why a team of able writers, steeped in RoS lore, couldn't produce quality scripts that would do the story justice and bring it to an intelligent conclusion. Now we just need to find an eccentric millionaire or two to fund it...

Friday, 8 July 2016

Henry IV

Book reviews generally aren't my forte, but I've just finished reading a new biography of Henry IV by Chris Given-Wilson, professor of Medieval History at the University of Saint Andrews. The book is excellent, if very detailed and extensive and perhaps not for a casual reader, so I thought I would try my hand at a review.

Henry IV is one of those kings that failed to capture the popular imagination. Sandwiched between his flamboyant cousin Richard II and famous son Henry V, he tends to get treated as a mediocre stopgap. His relatively short reign of 14 years was enlivened by the Glyn Dwr revolt and dynamic personalities such as Harry 'Hotspur' and the dashing Prince Hal, but Henry himself remains firmly in the background, a stolid, uninteresting figure of limited ability whose main achievement in life was to father a hero.

Chris Given-Wilson's exhaustive biography of Henry should go a long way to changing this perception. Academic but accessible, Given-Wilson gives a roughly chronological account of the reign and provides detailed analysis of major aspects: the king's household, the duchy of Lancaster, Henry's struggle for solvency, the war at sea, his wars in Wales and Scotland, the problem of heresy (etc). The book is particularly strong on Henry's youth and his military adventures in Lithuania, where he won a great reputation as a crusader. As a young man Henry was a star of European chivalry, a friend and comrade-in-arms to French and Italian princes, showered with praise by the chroniclers of all nations and lusted after by an Italian noblewoman, Lucia Galeazzo: Lucia declared that she 'would have waited all the days of her life' to marry Henry, even if it meant she would 'die but three days after the marriage.' Henry was flattered, but the starstruck Lucia had to make do with marrying the Earl of Kent instead.

Having deposed Richard II and upset the balance of power in England, within a very short time Henry found himself up to his neck in troubles. Wales exploded in revolt under the charismatic Owain Glyn Dwr, the Scots and the French declared war, the duchy of Guyenne was overrun, Ireland was in turmoil, and England itself threatened to dissolve into civil war. Henry's early blunders, such as the oppressive Penal Laws he threw at the Welsh and his execution of Archbishop Scrope, only served to inflame the situation. His efforts to reduce Wales by leading a series of hopeless chevauchées, all driven back by appalling weather, further damaged his reputation. Henry's foolish refusal to discuss terms with Glyn Dwr, when the rebel leader offered them in 1402-3, prolonged the revolt for another ten years and almost led to an independent Welsh state.

The great crisis of Henry's reign came in 1403 when his former ally Hotspur suddenly raised the banner of revolt against him. Had the rebels been joined at this crucial juncture by Glyn Dwr's army, the reign might well have ended in disaster and Henry himself consigned to the list of failed usurpers. In the event Hotspur rose too soon and Henry reacted with a speed his enemies clearly didn't think him capable of. The close-run Battle of Shrewsbury, where Hotspur was killed and Henry triumphed, marked the turning point. From then on, Henry's fortunes improved and he learned from his mistakes. The English strategy in Wales changed from one of chevauchée to economic blockade, while the French alliance with Glyn Dwr was carefully unpicked by skilled diplomacy. At sea the French were repeatedly humiliated by a fleet of merchant-privateers, tacitly encouraged by Henry, until the Privateer War (as it was known) ended with English ships in command of the Channel. When the Percies rose again, Henry again acted swiftly, racing north to smash the northern conspiracy and reduce the Percy castles with artillery: the first King of England to use cannon against rebels on English soil. By the end of his reign, an English army under Henry's son Clarence was marching virtually unopposed across French soil - the first successful invasion of France since the high days of Edward III - and the rival French factions were begging for Henry's friendship. Most importantly, from his point of view, the English overseas possessions of Calais and the duchy of Guyenne were secured for another generation.

Often criticised by his parliaments, at times embarrassed by the invective hurled at him, Henry was careful never to play the role of a wilful tyrant in the Richard II mould: he listened to criticism without suppressing it, engaged with his critics and several times handed over control of his finances. In an age of supremely personal kingship, when the king was still very much the god-figure at the heart of government, Henry took pains to rule with a degree of consent. At the same time he behaved with implacable savagery towards those he deemed traitors. The fate of William Serle, repeatedly hanged and then cut down while still alive in every major town from Pontefract to London until finally cut to pieces at Tyburn, is one hideous example. Serle's excruciating progress from Yorkshire to London followed the same route as the corpse of Richard II, and was meant as a calculated act of political theatre. Yet Henry was also noted for his generosity to paupers, several examples of which are recorded. The man who ordered 'traitors' to be slowly hacked to death in public was the same who granted a starving beggar two rabbits a day from one of his parks instead of one, demonstrating the almost schizophrenic nature of medieval kings: terrible to their foes, gentle to the faithful..

In his conclusion Given-Wilson suggests that Henry's real misfortune was to fall sick just at the moment when he had achieved a measure of security. Only forty-six when he died, Henry might have reasonably expected to live for at least another decade. With all his enemies laid low and his finances - a problem throughout the rein - finally on the mend, he could have turned his considerable natural ability to governing his kingdom instead of merely hanging onto it. Instead his fate was to die of a gruesome lingering sickness which left him horribly disfigured and unable to walk or ride. The security he had achieved after years of struggle was instead exploited to the full by his son, Henry V, known to any history buff as the victor of Agincourt.

I'll leave the last line to the author: 'Unlike his son, Henry IV is not remembered as a great king, but it is not impossible to imagine that, given different circumstances, he could have been.'