Longsword by David Pilling

Monday, 9 January 2017

Medieval IV: Ring of Steel

So I swapped my writer's hat for the one marked 'critic' and posted a short review of Medieval IV: Ring of Steel by Kevin Ashman. This was an interesting effort to write a series of novels based on the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1295-5. It wasn't quite my thing, but the author can certainly write and others may like to give it a whirl:

'An easy read, and the author has a flowing prose style and good grasp of how to write battles and adventure fiction. Ashman is clearly a Welsh patriot and at times his patriotism shines through a little too brightly: his hero, Madog ap Llywelyn, is forever giving chest-thumping speeches that might have come straight from the mouth of Gwynfor Evans, John Davies or one of the angrier members of Plaid Cymru. The word 'nationalism' is often touted in the text, a term alien to the late 13th century.
Otherwise the story is reasonably accurate, though overtaken by more recent research. Ashman sticks with the traditional account of the Battle of Maes Moydog, supposedly won by the Earl of Warwick's clever mingling of archers with cavalry. In fact the muster rolls show that his army only contained 13 crossbowmen and archers, and the army itself was not large: no more than 2500 men, mainly from Shropshire. Madog's army was defeated, however, and suffered the loss of 700 men. Most of these were probably killed in the rout.
As someone with a deep interest in Edward I - Longshanks - and his reign, I was slightly disappointed with Ashman's depiction of the king. His Longshanks makes for a fairly bland villain, not much more than a one-dimensional bogeyman for proud (and loud) patriots to hurl insults at. Little is made of Edward's reckless dash from Conwy to Nefyn, an unnecessary and apparently suicidal foray that still baffles historians. The depiction of the Welsh attack on Conwy Castle is overcooked and places Edward in far more danger than was the case. Madog's army had no artillery or siege equipment and the castle was well-supplied by sea. The inclusion of the English raid on the Welsh camp, a little-known incident described in the Hagnaby chronicle, is a nice touch.
Madog himself, leader of the Welsh revolt, is painted in equally broad strokes. The author's desire to bring Welsh historical figures to wider notice is commendable, but Madog is basically Mel Gibson's William Wallace come again, albeit in chainmail instead of a kilt. He makes speeches (in fairness, the real man was said to be an effective speaker), slaughters hapless English soldiers by the score, and is generally wonderful and charismatic and heroic. Perhaps Madog was all these things, but a little nuance wouldn't go amiss. No mention is made (unless I missed it) of the awkward fact that his son, Maredudd, entered the service of Edward's personal Welsh bodyguard - the Wallenses Regis or King's Welshmen - and later rose to be a king's esquire under Edward II.
All in all, a good adventure read and nice introduction to a little-known (outside Wales) period of Welsh history, but a somewhat loose and biased interpretation of events.'

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