Saturday, May 28, 2016

WILD FOODS - Historical Fiction Research

By Elaine Moxon

One of the things you swiftly learn, as a historical fiction author, is that you must become well read in a myriad of subjects. Many of these topics, to external eyes, may seem entirely disconnected with writing a novel. Little do they know, this knowledge is invaluable. Creating a historic and accurate landscape within which your characters can travel and interact is hard work.

I thought I’d share some research I’ve been doing for some travelling characters that may not always be able to pop into the local town for supplies. Living in the 5th Century AD as they do, and also wary of bumping into enemies, they have only what they brought with them for the journey, and what they find along the way.

From Saxon settlement, along ancient roadways, across rivers towards the coast, this is what they might discover.
DANDELION, publicdomainpictures.net

Woodland, Hedgerow, Roadside, Heath & Moorland

In scrubby woodland you’ll find young Elder buds for salads, and hazelnuts rich in protein, fats and minerals. The best dandelions are found on hedge banks and roadsides, and their young leaves are good in salads. Eat them in moderation, however. As suggested by their French name ‘pis-le-lit’ (or more politely, wet-the-bed) they are a diuretic and can have you running for the nearest facilities!

Blackberries ripen in August and are at their sweetest then. Also known as the ‘blessed bramble’ it was so called for the joy its fruit brought to areas where fruit was rare. Its leaves soothe burns and bruises, and a rich dye can be made from the berries, as can also be made from sloes. Sloe berries also make delicious wine, though I doubt my travelling companions have time for that.

Columbines love limestone woods and flower May-July. While most of the plant is poisonous, the 17th Century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper observed that ‘the seed taken in wine causeth a speedy delivery of women in childbirth’. Handy if any of your travelling party are in the later stages of child labour!

Pollen from the Common Mallow has been found in Roman remains in Britain, suggesting it was imported for medicinal purposes. Pliny the Elder declared a daily ‘spoonful of the mallows’ to be preventative of illnesses. A decoction of boiled leaves is said to calm fevers and a lotion of the same alleviates swellings. Mucilage of the roots of the variety known as ‘Marsh Mallow’ once provided a chewy filling to chocolate coated biscuits. Today it is somewhat rare and used only in toiletries and cosmetics.

Another ancient acquaintance is the Crocus, harvested since medieval times for the spice ‘saffron’. Although this doesn’t necessarily constitute a ready food source, I felt it worth a mention as an ingredient. Also within this realm is Lady’s Bedstraw or ‘Galium verum’, once used as a rennet in cheese-making. Thyme can flavour soups, stews, sauces and stuffing and is thought to prevent bad dreams. Ideal for travelling nobility with heavy weights on their minds.


Galium verum
Photo credit: bastus917 via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA 


Coastal

The obvious one here is seaweed, of which two types can be cooked as a spring vegetable - laver and caragon. You can also cook ‘Fat Hen’ and nettle leaves as you would spinach (but wear gloves when picking the latter!). Nettle leaves also make a refreshing drink. Molluscs such as cockles, mussels, and if in Cornwall, pilchards, all make tasty additions to a meal. At the end of summer, enjoy sweet chestnuts, eaten raw or even better roasted. Then in autumn, berries, nuts and fungi can be found, mostly in woodland, but field mushrooms are common in pastures and meadows (particularly where horses graze). Pick early in the morning and fry or add to soups.

By streams, fields and riverbanks you can find water-loving mint, watercress and wild garlic – all great for making soups. Wild garlic, also known as Ramsons, gives its name to several settlements in Britain known for the pervasive smell of this pretty flower, including Ramshope, Ramsbottom, Ramsey and Ramsholt. The name derives not from male sheep, but the Old English word ‘hrmsa’ meaning ‘wild garlic’!

Bogbean can be found in wet soil, mud and water – its bitter trifoliate leaves were used as infusions to alleviate scurvy and rheumatism. Laplanders used the powdered roots to bulk up the meal in their bread, though it leaves a bitter taste. Another lover of moist ground is Common Comfrey. All parts of the plant have a reputation for healing cuts and fractures and reducing swelling. Often going by the name ‘knitbone’, an infusion of the leaves in warm water gives relief to sprained wrists and ankles. My heroine in WULFSUNA uses a comfrey poultice beside a stream to alleviate swollen ankles.

Mentioned by the Greeks as early as the 1st Century AD, ‘seseli’ or as we know it Sweet Cicely, can be added to salads. Its fresh, sweet leaves counteract any bitterness or remove tartness when boiling fruit. With an aniseed flavour, it was used as an aphrodisiac in the 16th Century to ‘increaseth...lust and strength’ (John Gerard’s ‘Herball’).

Photo credit: col&tasha via Visualhunt.com / CC BY

Wild Animals

Some wild animals are predators to be cautious of, others may be sacred and some will be food sources. Wolves, foxes and badgers are main predators. Boar, while a ferocious beast particularly when breeding, makes a large meal, as do deer. Hares were considered sacred by some pagans and eating them was forbidden if not all of the time, then at least during certain symbolic festivals especially around springtime. Others believed them to be witches in animal form and were so avoided. Their later cousins, rabbits, are low in fat and good in a stew, though not widely available. Introduced by the Romans, they died out post-Empire and were not reintroduced until later centuries. Snakes and certain birds were also pagan symbols and so may have had a bearing on whether they were eaten. Poisonous snakes would be avoided for obvious reasons.

With an abundant array of salad leaves and stewing vegetables, my characters’ wild food table will be replete with tasty dishes to serve alongside freshly caught fish, berries and nuts, and maybe even a boar if they’re lucky. However, I must stress it is not suggested nor advised that you go munching on anything you find growing along the roadside. Some plants are highly poisonous. As Ben Law says, if you can’t identify them, ‘don’t eat them!’.

~ ~ ~ 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Farmhouse Cookery, Readers’ Digest

Wild flowers, Graham Murphy

The Woodland Way, Ben Law


Blood, betrayal and brotherhood.
An ancient saga is weaving their destiny.
A treacherous rival threatens their fate.
A Seer's magic may be all that can save them.
WULFSUNA


Elaine Moxon writes historical fiction as ‘E S Moxon’. Her debut Wulfsuna was published January 21st, 2015 and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series of Saxon adventures, where a Seer and one named ‘Wolf Spear’ are destined to meet. 

She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain. You can find out more about Book 2 from Elaine’s website where she has a viedeo diary charting her writing progress. She also runs a blog. Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.





Friday, May 27, 2016

Margaret Pole’s Wild Ride on Fortune’s Wheel

by Samantha Wilcoxson

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, is possibly best known for her botched execution. One of the last victims of Henry VIII’s temper and insecurities, Margaret was sent to her death without trial at the age of sixty-seven. However, if that is all you know of this dynamic woman, you are missing out on an adventurous story.

Painting of unknown woman
believed to be Margaret Pole
In the late medieval world, faith was an important element of daily life but it was sprinkled with superstition. One of these philosophies related to Rota Fortunae or the Wheel of Fortune that was blindly spun and could drastically affect the life of any person, great or small. We might call it twists of fate or destiny, but the idea is the same. While the poor might pray for an unexpected rise in fortune, the great could be quickly brought low. Few endured greater shifts in fortune than Margaret Pole.

Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium showing Lady Fortune spinning her wheel.

She was born August 14, 1473, to George of Clarence and Isabel Neville. He was the brother of King Edward IV, and she was the oldest daughter of the Earl of Warwick, the man most credited with placing Edward upon the throne. George was no longer heir presumptive, since Elizabeth Woodville had recently presented Edward with one son and another would join him within days of Margaret’s birth. Still, George’s position was a favorable one, and Margaret had every reason to anticipate a bright future.

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence

Before Margaret was old enough to know what was happening, the Wheel of Fortune made the first of many turns in her life. The Duke of Clarence had betrayed his brother even before Margaret’s birth, but he had always been forgiven. In 1477, the king was pushed too far. Wild with grief over his wife’s death after childbirth that he convinced himself was a poisoning, George once again rebelled. By the spring of 1478, Margaret and her younger brother Edward were orphans. Many theories revolve around George of Clarence’s execution, but to these small children the only thing that mattered was that their father was gone, executed by his own brother.

Despite their status as the orphaned children of an attainted traitor, Margaret and Edward enjoyed the remainder of the Plantagenet dynasty within households of royal cousins and may have believed that Fortune’s Wheel was creeping its way back upward. Then came the year 1485.

After Henry Tudor was victorious at Bosworth, the royal children who had been tucked away at Sheriff Hutton were brought south to London. Margaret and Edward were among them. We have no way of knowing whether their cousin, Elizabeth of York, was eager to meet the new king to whom she was betrothed, but all of the York children must have been anxious to learn what the future would hold and which way Fortune’s Wheel would turn for them.

At this point Margaret’s path veered away from her brother’s. Edward was imprisoned in the Tower for his excess of royal blood, while Margaret was married to a distant relative of Margaret Beaufort. Richard Pole was a faithful supporter of Henry Tudor, and, as such, he and Margaret were soon sent to serve Prince Arthur at Ludlow. During this time, Margaret formed a close relationship with Arthur’s bride, Catherine of Aragon.

Edward, never more than a pawn in older men’s games, had been executed in 1499 in order to clear the way for Catherine’s arrival, but Margaret does not seem to have held it against her. The two remained lifelong friends well beyond the brief time at Ludlow. After the deaths of their husbands, Margaret and Catherine shared a low point on the Wheel of Fortune. Both women, accustomed to rich lifestyles, were left in relative poverty by King Henry VII. Gifts from his wife, Elizabeth of York, would help ease their burden that was only to be lifted with the ascension of Henry VIII.

King Henry VIII
by unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist, 
NPG 4690

By marrying Catherine and bestowing an old family title upon Margaret, Henry VIII appeared to be the women’s savior. For a time. The Countess of Salisbury thrived during this high point on Fortune’s Wheel. Building projects, advantageous marriages for her children, and a coveted place at the queen’s side occupied her time. She mourned with Catherine over the loss of the queen’s babies, one after another, until the birth of a healthy auburn haired girl. In a few years, Margaret became Princess Mary’s governess.

Queen Mary I
by Master John, NPG 428 
Her place must have seemed entirely secure when the whispering began in the mid-1520s. Henry had a new love. He did not believe that Catherine could give him the son he wanted. Needed. Margaret had a decision to make. Stand by her queen and the princess she had grown to love as much as her own children, or look to her own future and rally to the side of her cousin the king?

She attempted a balancing act, which worked for some time. Margaret would not give up her friend or her religion, but neither did she antagonize the king. That job was left to her son.

Reginald Pole had enjoyed the patronage of both Henry Tudors, and the education that they had provided him with placed him close to the Pope. Henry hoped that Reginald would support his case and convince the pope to approve his divorce. Instead, Reginald took advantage of the safety provided to him by his distance from England to speak vociferously against Henry’s Great Matter, eventual multiple marriages, and self-proclaimed status as Head of the Church of England.

Henry’s rage could not bring Reginald within his reach, so he lashed out at his family instead in a devastating turn of the Wheel of Fortune for Margaret Pole. The final blow began with the arrest of her youngest son, Geoffrey, and grew into the legalized mass murder known as the Exeter Conspiracy in 1538. In this vicious blow against the York remnant, Henry executed Margaret’s oldest son, Lord Montague, along with several others. Montague’s son, a young boy named Henry, was also taken to the Tower, never to be seen again. Geoffrey attempted to commit suicide.

Margaret was first placed under house arrest, then taken to the Tower herself, though no charges were ever brought against her. There she would endure this low point, knowing that her family was being torn apart, until she was informed that Henry was done with her. On May 27, 1541, Margaret was informed that her execution would take place that morning. She had committed no crime and been given no trial, yet she prepared herself with the royal dignity she was born to.

Tower of London

After her brutal beheading by an unprepared and inexperienced executioner, these words were found on the wall of Margaret’s Tower cell:
For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me! 


Margaret Pole Memorial


Additional Reading:
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce

Image credits:

Painting of unknown woman believed to be Margaret Pole. Public Domain(?),  by Unknown

Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium showing Lady Fortune spinning her wheel. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=466545, FortuneWheel.

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, by Lucas Cornelisz - [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7500733

King Henry VIII, by unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist, NPG 4690CC BY-NC-ND

Queen Mary I, by Master John, NPG 428, CC BY-NC-ND

Tower of London. Author's personal photo

Margaret Pole Memorial. Author's personal photo

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Author Bio:
Samantha Wilcoxson is a first generation American with British roots. She is passionate about reading, writing, and history. Her novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York has been recognized as an Editors’ Choice by the Historical Novel Society. Her next book, Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole, is currently available for pre-order and will be released June 14, 2016.

Samantha has also published two middle grade novels, No Such Thing as Perfect and Over the Deep: A Titanic Adventure.

When not involved in reading or writing, Samantha enjoys traveling and spending time at the lake with her husband and three children. You can connect with Samantha on her Blog, Twitter,  Goodreads, Booklikes, and Amazon.
Pre-Order Faithful Traitor
Buy Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen


Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Favourite from Hell

by Anna Belfrage

There are few men in English history as vilified as Hugh Despenser the younger. This man, it would seem, was Satan come to earth, and it was his evil influence that indirectly caused the situation which led to Edward II being deposed and locked away in Berkeley Castle. Except, of course, that it was Edward II who was the king, not Despenser, and if Edward allowed Hugh to lead him about by a figurative ring through his nose, then how can that be Hugh’s fault?

Edward I and his son, Edward
Hugh Despenser was born in 1286, making him a couple of years younger than Edward of Caernarvon, Edward I’s fifth and only surviving son. Hugh’s father was another Hugh, and accordingly today’s protagonist usually goes by the name of Hugh Despenser the younger so as to differentiate from his father, Hugh Despenser the elder. These two gentlemen had more in common than their name, namely a rapacious greed that quickly made them extremely unpopular with everyone but their king, Edward II.

The Despensers came with something of a stain, seeing as our Hugh’s grandfather had died at Evesham, fighting for Simon de Montfort against the royal forces. Somewhat ironically, this Despenser (also a Hugh) was killed by a Mortimer (also a Roger) thereby laying the grounds to the implacable enmity between the Despensers and the Mortimers. In brief, all of this history resulted in two of Edward IIs most capable barons detesting each other.

Thanks to Hugh the younger’s paternal great-grandmother, all had not been lost to the Despensers after the debacle of Evesham. Hugh the elder worked hard to re-establish himself in Edward I’s favour, and his son was an intelligent and personable young man who found favour with the king – so much favour, in fact, that in 1307 Edward I did Hugh the younger the honour of giving him Eleanor de Clare as his wife. Eleanor was not only beautiful she was also Edward I’s granddaughter. Hugh Despenser the younger had thereby through his marriage become a member of the royal family.

In July of 1307, Edward I died. Rejoicing broke out in both Scotland and (I assume) in Wales, but the English knew they had lost a great king, and looked with some concern at his heir, the newly crowned Edward II. This second Edward was a handsome man, gifted with a vivid intelligence and physically agile and strong. He was brave, he had presence, and appeared to be everything a king should be – had it not been for his odd pastimes. The new English king enjoyed manual work and would happily spend his time in smithies or thatching. And then there was his faiblesse for handsome young men – and especially for Piers Gaveston, the Gascon knight who so easily twirled Edward II round his little finger.

As Piers is not the subject of the post, suffice it to say that this charismatic man effectively became the power behind the throne. This did not please the barons, and soon enough loud voices were calling for the favourite’s exile.

Piers and Edward, Marcus Stone (1876) 

Piers was not only the king’s favourite, he was also Hugh’s brother-in-law, having married Eleanor’s younger sister, Margaret, late in 1307. I’m not sure this endeared Piers to Hugh, and by 1310 or thereabouts Hugh was firmly in bed with the baronial opposition. Hugh the elder, meanwhile, stood by his king. Now and then I wonder if this was a tactic, the two Hughs sitting down and deciding it made sense to have one foot in each camp, so to say.

By 1312, Piers was dead, executed (murdered, some said, among them the distraught king) by the barons led by Thomas of Lancaster, first cousin to the king. Edward was never to forgive him for this. Hugh the younger was not in a position to comfort his distraught king – at least not initially, given his support for the barons – so the king consoled himself elsewhere. But bit by bit, Hugh wormed his way into the king’s confidence, no doubt helped by the fact that Edward was very fond of his niece, Eleanor de Clare.

Bannockburn (Scotichronicon, c:a 1440)
The Scots had been quick to capitalise on the unrest in England, and in 1314 the king decided it was time to show the Scots once and for all that the son of The Hammer of the Scots could do some hammering of his own. Well, we all know how well that worked out for Edward, don’t we? At the Battle of Bannockburn, the English hit the dust, and among the many, many men killed was Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester – and Hugh the younger’s brother-in-law.

Gilbert left no children, and so his huge estates were to be distributed between his three sisters. In the ensuing free-for-all, Hugh the younger showed his very rapacious side, having no qualms about hogging the lion’s share on behalf of his beloved wife. What Eleanor may have thought about all this is uncertain, but I I suppose she was as dynastic in her approach as her husband – after all, she had the future of her children to consider. Whatever the case, Hugh’s behaviour alienated his sisters-in-law and their husbands. But by now, Hugh was rising rapidly in Edward’s favour, so I dare say he wasn’t all that worried.

Soon enough, Hugh was a constant presence at the king’s side, hungry for more land, more power. The king was more than happy to give it to him, no matter that the barons grumbled. Edward shrugged and made Hugh his royal chancellor. Suddenly, Hugh controlled access to the king, making him the most powerful man around – well, with the exception of his easy-going royal master.

This is where we can return to my initial paragraph: Hugh did not take his power by force. It was freely given to him by the king, who chose to ignore the rumbling protests this caused. Edward had no desire to submerge himself in the details of running his kingdom and was more than happy to let Hugh handle the day-to-day. Besides, I suspect Edward enjoyed twisting the noses of his recalcitrant barons out of joint – and in particular that of Thomas of Lancaster who was predictably enraged at having someone like Hugh wielding power he felt should be his.

So instead of stopping Hugh when he appropriated land that did not belong to him – Edward even looked the other way when Hugh claimed land belonging to the king’s half-brothers, the earls of Norfolk and Kent – instead of curbing his favourites excesses, Edward sat back and enjoyed the ride. He didn’t even intercede when Despenser violated the law, as he did in the case of the Welshman Llewellyn Bren, whom Hugh had hanged, drawn and quartered, without a trial.

By 1321, the barons had had enough. Their attempts to reach an amicable solution with the king had failed, and consensus among them was that Hugh Despenser – both of them – had to go. The rebellious barons devastated Despenser land and marched in force against the king, throwing a cordon of armed men round the royal court. Led by Thomas of Lancaster, Humphrey de Bohun and Roger Mortimer, they demanded that the king exile his favourite – and Papa Hugh – that he allow himself to be counselled by his barons, and that order and the rule of law be restored within the realm. This last was a not-so-oblique reference to the unjust killing of Bren. The king was trapped and had no choice but to comply.

Hugh the younger and elder left – but they did not go far. For the coming months, they took up a career as Channel pirates, while in England the king plotted his revenge. For once, Edward II showed an impressive capacity for swift action, and come late autumn he had the tables turned on the victorious barons.

Had Lancaster ridden to Mortimer’s aid, the king might not have had such an easy win, but Lancaster preferred to stay in the north, thereby giving Edward the opportunity to pick his enemies off one by one. Mortimer ended up in the Tower, Lancaster was executed, and Hugh Despenser returned to his beloved king. And this time, Despenser and the king thought they had won for good.

Turns out they hadn’t. In 1323, Mortimer escaped from the Tower and fled to France, where he was warmly welcomed by Queen Isabella’s brother, King Charles.  Edward II and Despenser went into a frenzy. It became paramount to cleanse the realm of England of any potential traitors, a.k.a. Mortimer supporters, and so a large number of men were hauled before the assizes, in many cases subjected to crippling fines, but just as often found guilty of treason and executed. Family members of these traitors – wives, children – were confined or thrown out to starve. Dark, dark years for the English – and most blamed Hugh Despenser.

By now, Hugh had also earned the enmity of the queen, firstly by marginalising her at court, secondly by suggesting to the king that he take back her dower lands and exile her French household. Seeing as England was at war with France over Gascony, exiling potential French spies made some sense, but Isabella had been Edward’s loyal wife for sixteen years, and she took it badly. Very badly.

The war in France did not go well, and Edward saw no option but to send Isabella to negotiate with her brother. Which she did, brokering a peace treaty which called for Edward to do homage for his French lands – in France. Not a good idea, as per Hugh, because with the king gone, God knew what might happen to him, poor unprotected favourite left behind in England? Hmm, the king said, but he loved Hugh, and these last few years of tyranny had not endeared Hugh to the barons – rather the reverse.  So instead, Edward sent his son, the future Edward III to France.

In retrospect, Edward could just as well have tightened a noose around his own neck. Waiting for Prince Edward in France was not only the disgruntled queen, but also Roger Mortimer – and Mortimer had scores to settle, especially with his personal enemy, Hugh Despenser.

An artistic interpretation of Edward II's arrest
In 1326, Mortimer and Isabella returned to England, bringing with them a small invasion force – and the young prince. The people of England flocked to their banners, tired of living under the heavy Despenser yoke. The king could easily have raised an army to meet them, but Despenser panicked and suggested they flee west, make for Ireland before it was too late. Edward did as his favourite asked, but they never made it to Ireland. Instead, the king and his favourite were captured in Wales. Edward was hauled off to Kenilworth as a prisoner. Hugh Despenser was hauled off to Hereford, there to die.

On November 24, 1326, Hugh Despenser the younger stood some sort of trial in Hereford. The verdict was never in doubt, and the naked man was attached to four horses that dragged him towards the waiting gallows, built very high so that everyone could see how the king’s favourite, the rapacious and greedy Despenser, died. He was hanged, taken down while alive, castrated and disembowelled. Purportedly, Mortimer and Isabella sat watching the spectacle while partaking of food and wine. Hugh, they say, died well – whatever that means when you’re being tortured to death.


Following Despenser’s death, Queen Isabella had Despenser’s wife incarcerated in the Tower. Three of Hugh’s daughters were forcibly veiled as nuns (the oldest of them was about ten), and his sons were locked up. And as to Hugh, his bodily remains were quartered and hung from the city walls in York, Bristol, Dover and Carlisle, while his parboiled head adorned London Bridge. By then, of course, Hugh was no longer in a position to care.

Hugh Despenser was not a nice man. Once in power, he stopped at little to further his own interests, whether that meant disinheriting orphans and widows, or killing men without trial. But ultimately, he was a product of his king, a sovereign too weak to keep his favourite in check.

All images from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

~~~~~~~~~~~

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. 

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Hugh Despenser plays a central role.

The first book In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, will be published in July 2016.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. 

More about Anna on her website or on her blog



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Duke and Duchess Must Give Up Their Miracle Child

By Kim Rendfeld


Waldelen and Flavia were desperate, even though he ruled a duchy most would envy. Based in Besançon, his territory ranged from the Jura to the Alps, but the couple had a major problem: no child to inherit the land.

In sixth century Burgundy, Waldelen could have set Flavia aside and freed himself to marry a fertile woman. Their union was a political arrangement between two noble families, not a sacrament. But a divorce carried risks, mainly angering Flavia’s noble family. The duke could have taken a concubine, but his extended family might not recognize a son born outside wedlock.

Waldelen did neither of these things. Maybe, he was bound by his Christian faith. Perhaps, he was truly fond of Flavia and thought her a good wife and duchess. Saint Columbanus's hagiographer, a monk named Jonas, described her as "noble both by her family and by her disposition."

The couple needed divine intervention and decided to travel to Luxeuil to speak to Columbanus, who had founded an abbey on the ruins of a castle called Luxovium. The Irish missionary already had a reputation for miracles. (Readers might remember Columbanus* from an earlier post as the guy who decided on forsaking all women included his mother. See link below)

Saint Columbanus window in the crypt
at the Abbey of Bobbio,
photo by Trebbia at English Wikipedia,
  CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Waldelen and Flavia’s trip would not be easy. It was about 55 miles, and there was no good road to get there. In a time when armies traveled 12 to 15 miles a day, the journey would have taken at least five days, assuming no cart wheel broke or horse got injured or person got sick. Waldelen and Flavia could afford plenty of guards to deter brigands, but in the early medieval mind, travelers might face otherworldly creatures like demons, ghosts, and kobolds.

When they arrived in Luxeuil, the couple begged Columbanus to pray for them. He said he would but under one condition: they must dedicate their first child to God, and if they kept that promise, they would have as many children as they wanted. Jonas said the couple agreed to this “joyfully.”

To decide that an unborn baby will go into the clergy might seem strange to a modern audience. But in medieval times, parents decided their children’s fates, everything from whom to marry to whether they took the cowl or the veil. Waldelen and Flavia’s marriage was arranged, and no one would frown on a betrothal of a little girl to a little boy to form an alliance for two aristocratic families. That the children might grow up hating each other was not a consideration. Having a child as an abbot, abbess, or bishop assured that control of the land that went with the abbey or bishopric stayed in the family.

How Christians dressed in the fourth through sixth centuries,
according to The History of Costume
by Braun & Schneider (c.1861-1880), public domain image

Before the couple arrived home, Flavia believed she had conceived. When their son was born, the couple took him to Columbanus, who baptized him and named him Donatus. The boy was given back to Flavia to be nursed. When he was older—7 was a typical age to send a noble child to a church school—he was taken back to Luxeuil.

Waldelen and Flavia must have believed they needed to keep their oath to God, out of gratitude, fear, a sense of honor, or mix of all three. They must have accepted that Donatus belonged to the Church. Still, I cannot help but think giving their little boy to the abbey was difficult, no matter how much they trusted Columbanus, no matter that they would have other children—a second son, Ramelen, to inherit the duchy, and two daughters. Donatus was a gift in the truest sense of the word.

How did Donatus take it? Was he sad or angry to be separated from his parents and his home, or having been told all along this was his destiny, did he welcome it?

Considering what happened later, he apparently embraced his calling and Columbanus's teaching. After Waldelen died, Flavia founded a convent for herself and her daughters in Besançon, where Donatus was bishop. This was an act of piety but also a strategic political move. Flavia had limited claimants to the duchy and ensured that it went in its entirety to Ramelen, who also revered Columbanus and founded a monastery in the Jura Mountains.

With Flavia's help, Donatus founded two abbeys. One of them was a double monastery over which his sister Sirude presided as abbess. (Donatus and Sirude would later be canonized.)

Donatus, who was still alive when Jonas wrote Columbanus’s hagiography, saw the Irish missionary as a spiritual father, but his relationship with his mother endured. The act of faith that separated them physically when he was a boy bound them to a cause in years later.

*Columbanus Forsakes All Women

Sources

Medieval Sourcebook: The Life of St. Columban by the Monk Jonas

The Monks of the West: From St. Benedict to St. Bernard by Charles Forbes, comte de Montalembert

A Dictionary of Saintly Women, Volume 2 by Agnes Baillie Cunninghame Dunbar

"Abbey of Luxeuil" by Richard Urban Butler, The Catholic Encyclopedia

Kim Rendfeld is the author of two novels set in early medieval Francia, The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, and she is working on a third, Queen of the Darkest Hour. The Cross and the Dragon, in which a young noblewoman must contend with a vengeful jilted suitor and the anxiety her husband might die in battle, will be republished in August. You can preorder on Kobo and iTunes now; the novel will soon be available elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Markhams: A study in betrayal, treachery and infidelity. Part One: The Knight.

By Linda Root



Plots against the Scotsman who had become the King of England did not begin with Guido Fawkes and William Catesby in November of 1605, nor were they all the result of his religion.  For that matter, there was no consensus as to what exactly his religion was. In her article published in 1985 in the Journal of British Studies and entitled Gunpowder, Treason, and Scots, historian Jenny Wormald hypothesizes that there was just as much resistance to James VI stemming from his Scottishness as attributed to his Protestantism.

While the Armada threat had created more than a few Hispanophobes among the English, and the English and the Hapsburgs were hardly friends, a dislike of all things Spanish did not overshadow the English response to highly charged buzz words such as Bannockburn and Ancrum Moor. An enemy sitting tight in Madrid and Flanders was far more remote than the one entrenched on the far side of the Rivers Tweed and Clyde or along the Borders of the Middle Marches at places like Ferniehirst, where Scots a short step above barbarians had been known to play with severed English heads.

A young King James I


Sir Anthony Weldon put the sentiment to words, saying "Scotland was too guid for those that inhabit it, and too bad for others to be at the charge of conquering it. The ayre might be wholesome, but for the stinking people that inhabit it...Thair beastis be generallie small (women excepted) of which sort there are no greater in the world."  James banished him.for his anti-Scottish statements.

Those who favored the Spanish Infanta as an alternative candidate to James Charles Stuart, King of Scots had not all flocked to support Isabella Clara Eugenie because she was a Catholic. In spite of their denials, Elizabeth's First Minister William Cecil (Lord Burghley) and his son Robert, Earl of Salsbury, were among her sponsors. Nevertheless, Archduchess Isabella, who ruled the Spanish Netherlands alongside her husband, did not like the terms proposed by the Cecils, which included a pledge to work in harmony with England's protestant-dominated regime.

Archdukes Albert and Isabella (yes, she used the masculine!)

There was more to Isabella's lack of enthusiasm than her Catholicism. She and Archduke Albert had brought a Golden Age to the Netherlands and enjoyed a pleasant life, but even their luxurious salons did not explain it all.  Although her father Phillip II had willed the Southern Netherlands to her and Albert, it was a conditional grant. In effect, they served as Regents for the benefit of her brother Phillip III in the event Isabella died without issue. By the time Elizabeth Tudor was in extremis, the Infanta was thirty-six years old and probably barren. Nevertheless, she and Albert did not wish to do anything to cause a reversion prematurely. Adopting a position tolerant of Protestantism would be a dangerous move likely to alienate her brother.

Thus, in the Spring of 1603, Elizabeth lay dying and England was without a designated heir apparent. In that uncertain climate, the Queen's failing health and the fluctuating fortunes of Sir Walter Raleigh spawned two precursors to the Gunpowder Treason--the Bye Plot and the Main plot.  The target was King James, and the scapegoat was Sir Walter Raleigh.

SirWalter Raleigh


The Bye Plot and the Main Plot.


Enter stage right, Sir Griffin Markham.


In early 1603, many Catholics in England held out hopes of leniency towards Catholics on the part of James IV of Scotland. Thomas Percy, later one of the Gunpowder Conspirators, had stoked them. He was a second cousin and agent of Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland. Northumberland had sent him to Scotland to meet privately with James on the issue of his ascension.  Whether it was to gain status with his friends or because of a language barrier as some historians suggest (i.e., Antonia Fraser, The Gunpowder Plot), Tom  Percy had overstated the Scottish king's intentions on the issue of religion.

A widespread belief that Scottish James had grown tolerant of Catholicism did not seem so outlandish in light of evidence suggesting his consort Anne of Denmark had embraced Catholicism and both of his parents had been Catholic.  Rumors abounded in Europe that James himself intended to convert as soon as the English crown was sitting firmly on his head. In early 1603, Elizabeth died, James was tapped to succeed her, and he and a parade of ambitious Scots crossed into England in the Spring, just what many of the Protestant English feared.

Coronation of James I

But when his first Parliament was convened, the royal agenda was aimed at a union of the nations as well as the crowns.In June 1604 the national parliaments of both Scotland and England passed acts appointing commissioners to explore the possibility of "a more perfect union". James closed the final session of his first parliament with a rebuke to his opponents in the House of Commons — "Here all things suspected...He merits to be buried in the bottom of the sea that shall but think of separation, where God had made such a Union". Nothing was said about a reconciliation of religions, and during his first months in office, he took a harsh stand against the open practice of Catholicism.

The Bye Plot.


The first plot to threaten the monarchy has been referred to as the harebrained scheme of two disgruntled priests--William Watson and  William Clark. The pair planned to kidnap "the King and all his cubbes" from their lodging in Greenwich and carry them to the Tower. Next,  they would force the King 1) to pardon them; 2) to adopt a policy of  'tolleration of relligion;' and,  3) to place Catholics in 'places of credit' in the government. Since the two priests lacked the muscle to carry it off, they recruited some men who knew how to wield a sword and promised them a place in the pro-Catholic government they had conjured.

According to their plan,  Watson would be Lord Keeper (of the Privy Seal); their co-conspirator Lord Grey would be Earl Marshall;  Brooke would be Lord Treasurer (referring either to Henry Brooke, Lord Cobham, or his brother George),  and Sir Griffin Markham would be Secretary.  The plot was uncovered separately by two different Jesuit priests, one of whom promptly blew the whistle. The subtler of the two was the aristocrat-turned-Jesuit  Father John Gerard who engaged his brethren to put a stop to the foolishness. In investigating the affair, the interrogators got Cobham talking, and he exposed the Main Plot and implicated Raleigh.

The Main Plot.


The Main Plot was more ambitious and deadlier and was believed to have the financial backing of the Spanish government. Its objective was to eliminate the king and replace him with his hapless paternal cousin Arabella Stuart.

When those named by Cobham, including Raleigh, who was almost certainly innocent, were brought before the King, James was faced with a cause celebre. Raleigh was a well established English hero with no reason to fall in with the likes of the others charged.  He certainly would not have looked to Spain for money, since he had already deprived the Spanish treasuries of most of its New World gold. The likes of Raleigh and Drake had greatly relieved the English people of their tax burdens through their privateering, and not even James wished to see him hanged and gutted.  What followed is one of the most bizarre execution stories in the history of what James was referring to as Great Britain.

Raleigh's heroics  at Trinidad


The Execution Comedy.


After a series of joint and separate trials of those arrested in each of the plots, and in spite of the lack of any evidence against Sir Walter Raleigh, all of the prisoners were condemned. The two priests who designed the ridiculous Bye Plot were the first to die. They climbed the scaffold the 29th of November, 1603. Next in line were the remaining Bye conspirators, Cobham, Grey, and Sir Griffin Markham, who was a Midland Catholic from a family of known recusants. His wife Anne was a friend and neighbor to Eliza Roper, the redoubtable Dowager Lady Vaux (See my post The Undaunted Eliza Roper, Dowager Lady Vaux, supra.).

 In planning the event, King James revealed a talent for stagecraft that even the Bard could not have surpassed. Surprisingly, he kept the script very close to the chest. Not even the families of the victims or the Queen knew what James had planned. Each of the condemned men had been housed separately. They were to die one at a time. Markham was the first to mount the scaffold, to be followed at intervals by Grey and Cobham.  At the last minute, Markham, who was visibly disconcerted with good reason,  was told he did not appear ready to die, and would be given time to make his peace. He was escorted from the scaffold, unbeknownst to the remaining two, who thought him dead.

When Grey ascended the scaffold and made his peace with God,  he was told the order of executions had been changed,  and he, too, was escorted to his cell. The routine repeated itself with all three, each thinking the worst as to the fate of the others, and fearing the worst for himself, until the Sheriff offered them the Kings pardon and announced the king would do the same for Raleigh, who had been scheduled to die the following Monday. According to eyewitness accounts, the outcries of God Save the King were deafening.

In spite of overtures to the contrary to the crowd at the aborted execution, Raleigh, though spared, was not released.  He spent the rest of his life in a Tower Suite. He was executed many years later after he finally fell into the trap and committed treason. One could hardly blame him.

Sir Griffin Markham and the others were allowed to leave the scaffold with their lives, but little else. Markham was stripped of his lands and his knighthood and banished from the kingdom. From that time forward, the fortunes of the Markhams' feel into the hands of his wife, Lady Anne. While there is scarce information as to how she accomplished it, she quickly made friends with people in high places. Her name was already familiar to Cecil, who heard her mentioned by a turncoat Jesuit as someone who knew Gerard from his enthusiasm for hunting in the Midlands. In any event, the lady's circumstances did not remain dire for long.  By November 1604, her husband's attained property was ordered delivered to her care. A portion of  Markham's debts had been assumed by a cousin, John Harington, who was imprisoned when he could not pay them, but James forgave the debt and made Harington a Knight of the Bath.

Meanwhile, Markham, who was living in the Spanish Netherlands, found lucrative employment in the households of wealthy exiles there, probably as a spy.  By November 1605, his wife Anne was still living well, mixing with Midland society. Free of her husband's debts, she maintained an adequate household staff and resumed her formal lifestyle. She had been a long-time friend of the recusant Vaux of Harrowden and was a welcome visitor at Great Harrowden Hall.  By the time of the Gunpowder Conspiracy, she had made a new friend of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, the King's right-hand man.  Her absentee husband was not the only spy in the family.

Part 2 of this post, The Lady Spy, will be published on this blog on Friday, June 03 2016.

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Additional Reading and References

Childs, Jessie, God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England, Oxford Press, N.Y. 2004.
deLisle, Leandra, After Elizabeth, The Rise of James o fScotland and the Struggle for the Throne of England, Ballantyne Books, NewYork, 2005.
Fraser, Antonia, The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995. Also, see http://books.google.co.uk/books.
Gerard, John, S.J. The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, Translated and edited by P.Carman, S.J., 195
Hogge, Alice, God’s Secret Agents, Queen Elizabeth’s Forbidden Priests and the Hatching of the Gunpowder Plot, Harper Perrenial, New York *London *Tronto*Sydney, 2005
Lovell, Mary, Bess of Hardwick, Empire Builder, W.W.Norton & Company,2007
Morris, John, S.J., Editor. The condition of Catholics Under James I, Father John Gerard’sNarrative of the Gunpowder Plot and Biography, 1871, London, a public domain book.
Morrisey, Mary, Politics and the Paul’s Cross Sermons,1558-1642
Patterson, W.B., King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom, Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History, Cambridge University Press 1997.
Wormald, Jenny, Gunpowder, Treason and Scots, Journal of British Studies, Vol.24, issue 2 April 1985,pp141-168.
___________1603: The men of the Bye Plot,but not those of the Main Plot, December 9th, 2010, The Headsmen,from Executed Today, http://www.executedtoday.com/2010/12/09/1603-william-watson-bye-plot-main-plot/
Additional materials from Wikipedia.

About the Author:

Linda Root is a historical fiction author writing in the 16th and 17th Century, whose books include The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, Unknown Princess, The Knight's Daughter, 1603: The Queen's Revenge; In the Shadow of the Gallow, with Deliverance of the Lamb to follow. She is a former major crimes prosecutor who lives in the California hi-desert Town of Yucca Valley. She has written a Scottish fantasy, the Green Woman, under the name J.D.Root and is currently writing a comedic mystery tentatively called The Hurricane and the Morongo Blonds.