Sunday, 23 June 2013

When you watch The White Queen tonight...

Yesterday I had a wonderful 'research' day at Haddon Hall. As you know this is the fictional home of my character Sir John de Laverton or as we know him better...Jack, so I never need much of an excuse to visit.
And yesterday The Tudor Group were there presenting a Tudor wedding, complete with wedding breakfast, Tudor games and dancing. I was so impressed by the Tudor Group; their kit is amazing, their research thorough and their knowledge extensive and it was great to chat about the similarities and differences between 'our' periods.
We talked about the etiquette and ceremony of a Tudor (or medieval) feast - the luxury of choice, the reverence with which the servants treated their betters, even when encountered in the garden (reminded me of Kim Phillips' excellent paper on the Earl of Warwick at Middleham) and the pride with which the household liveried retainers wore their badges.

Servants bring the first dishes.
Double linen and the best majolica for the top table!
The 'Bride Cake'.
Children weren't allowed to sit until they showed enough maturity to do so!

And of course The White Queen was mentioned - why? Because you won't see any of this in the BBC dramatisation (we talked about actors' reluctance in wearing hats or in Max Irons' case not adopt the hairstyle either!). Such a shame that the actors and producers missed a wonderful opportunity to educate as well as entertain the public as the Tudor Group did so brilliantly.
Dancing in the garden.

Reference:
Kim M. Philips Journal of Medieval History 31 (2005) 143 'The Invisible Man: Body and Ritual in a fifteenth-century noble household.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

'Sons of the Wolf' Blog Tour

It's my great pleasure to start the first indieBRAGTM blog tour by hosting an interview with fellow indieBRAG HonoreeTM and re-enactor, Paula Lofting, author of ‘Sons of the Wolf’.




 
Hi Paula, I believe this is your first novel; why did you decide to write ‘Sons of the Wolf’? Hi Su, let me start by thanking you for agreeing to host me on the opening day of my blog tour. It’s great to be here, especially on your fantastic blog. I’ve been an admirer of your work for some time! Well, to answer question number one, it had always been my dream to write a novel of some sort ever since I was a kid, daydreaming in my composition class at school. I never could write short stories, I was only able to write ones that went on forever and I struggled to get them finished. My mind was like  woven cloth, with so many threads running through it. Sons of the Wolf was a late inspiration, mainly because throughout my life, the dream became a distant memory as other paths took me away from what I had always wanted to do. Life does that sometimes. Later, I found myself re-evaluating life after a marriage breakdown and some really dark times. I started reading again and the urge to write gnawed and nibbled at me until I just had to write that epic novel I was always meant to. That it would be historical fiction was a given. After perusing with ideas and eras, I was finally inspired when I watched a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings, and when I stumbled on a book by David Howarth’s 1066, The Year of The Conquest, I knew I had my story.
Although ‘Sons of the Wolf’ is a work of fiction it is based on historical fact. How did you go about researching it? After I had decided on my subject, I started researching articles about the 11thc on the net and stumbled across www.regia.org website and found that apart from some really interesting, useful articles, they also did living history and battle re-enactment and thought that it would be a wonderful way of learning firsthand what it was like to live a thousand years ago in England. I contacted them and found that they had a group in Sussex where I live. Having joined them, I now realise that the enjoyment of re-enacting far outweighs the enjoyment of the research aspect. It’s a great life and I wish I had joined earlier. For the events and politics of the time I read widely and look for primary sources to ensure as much accuracy as possible.
Do you feel any responsibilities as a writer of historical fiction? Definitely. Everyone has something to say about this don’t they,J. I know that there are lots of authors and readers who are not too fussed about historical accuracy and that’s fine, but for me, it wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t at least try to stick to the facts as far as I possibly can interpret them. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with changing or making up facts to suit my story and I wouldn’t want to attribute good or bad deeds to a historical figure if it were not true.
What can a modern readership learn from the hardships of Wulfhere and his family and the Anglo Saxons in general? Probably the first lesson would be not to take for granted our nice cosy lives and to appreciate and respect our ancestors for paving the way for us. If not for their hardships, we would not be the people we are today. It was a hard cruel world, for both the peasants and the nobility. Families like the Wulfheresons from my story, enjoyed the comforts of plenty of food, servants to help them, decent clothing and a great hearth to warm their home, but they still endured hardships such as having their crops ruined by weather; damp, cold drafty rooms; illness and untimely deaths caused by something as minor as a witlow on their fingernail; death in child birth; invading marauders; it often made no difference what your status was, it was a hard life for everyone, though much harder for some others. No soft toilet roll to use in a nice flushing loo; no antibiotics to cure your infections; shivering in long cold winter nights. Wulfhere might have been a thegn (a low-ranking noble) but he still would have had to chop wood for fuel, work hard mending bridges and fencing around the King’s demesne as well as maintaining his own buildings. His wife Ealdgytha would have spent her day spinning wool, weaving cloth or sewing clothing for her family. She would have had to see that everyone was fed and watered and oversee the work around the home and make sure the farm ran smoothly. I think we also take for granted today that we have the potential to live long healthy lives, in medieval times, if you survived past 5 years old, you might be lucky to live till you were 25, perhaps less if you were female, with the chance of dying in child birth. I could probably go on forever!
What are you currently working on? I’m currently working on the sequel to Sons of the Wolf, The Wolf Banner. It follows Wulfhere’s fortunes further and leads us closer to the Battle of Hastings. It also continues with the fortunes of the historical characters of that time too.

And finally, where can readers learn more about your work?
My website is:    http://www.paulalofting.com/

And 'Sons of the Wolf' is also available from Amazon in both the UK and US.

Thanks Paula, it's been great to chat with you!

IndieBRAG: Your source for quality self-publishing.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

'The Colour of Treason' wins an award

The Colour of Treason
 
I am pleased to announce that 'The Colour of Treason' has been awarded an indieBRAG medallion and now has it's own page on the indieBRAG website!
B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree



Monday, 1 April 2013

'The Violent Death of the King in the Car Park'. Talk by Bob Woosnam -Savage Royal Armouries, Leeds, Wednesday 27th March 2013.

According to Robert Woosnam-Savage, Curator of European Edged Weapons at the Royal Armouries, Leeds satisticians have calculated that the chances of finding the skeleton of Richard III were 0.834%. I'm not sure I agree with that, not if the archaeologists had done their homework, but it does show just how close they came to not finding the bones of the last English king to die in battle, King Richard III.
Robert talked for over two hours about the prelude to Bosworth, the setting of the battle and the drawing of battle lines and their subsequent redrawing recently when the largest concentration of shot from any medieval battlefield in Europe were found by Dr Glenn Foard of the Battlefield's Trust and his team. So far 30 - mainly 25-65mm; but the largest 93mm weighing 7.2 Kg - which put the site beyond doubt. And the subsequent treatment of Richard's body with it's eventual burial at Grayfriars in Leicester and these are a summary of some of the notes I took.
At the site: Skeleton found on the first day less than 1 car’s width from the ‘R’ painted on the car park! The main focus of his talk was on the wounds and how they might have been inflicted and what these could tell us about Richard's last moments.
Analysis:
The skeleton was from a Caucasian male ~35 years of age.
There were 12 wounds on the body - 9 Cranial and 3 post-cranial. This is higher than the average number of wounds from those recovered at Towton which was 4.2, though the highest at Towton was 14.
This is likely to be an underestimate as there would probably also been flesh wounds - wounds that left no trace on the skeleton. Small teeth - especially back ones and had lost 1st left upper molar.
Suggestion that the hands were still tied at the time of burial by their position. There was no evidence of coffin or shroud and the hole was not large enough for the body therefore the skeleton is rather crumpled. The feet were missing.
Richard’s standard bearer at Bosworth Sir Percival Thirwell died after having his feet sliced away during the battle, possibly with a two-handed sword but more likely with a bill or Halberd - however Richard’s feet were likely lost to previous building on the site (Victorian toilet).
On examination the spine showed significant scoliosis, this developed at puberty and increased in severity with age.
There is still much work to be done on how this affected Richard but likely that his head would be off centre - over to the right.
If his spine had been normal he would have stood about 5’ 8’’ in height but with his spinal deformity he could have been up to 1’ shorter - however if this extreme was the case it is likely that this would have been mentioned by contemporaries.
Wounds were classified using experience of forensics team and using as a guide the cranial trauma identification chart developed by Caroline Needham in 1999.
Evidence of ante-mortem wounds? Was there any evidence for the injuries that Richard was known to have suffered at Barnet? Nothing so must have been a flesh wound only.
Contemporaries state that Richard died leading a charge against Henry Tudor.
It is known from contemporary accounts that the Earl of Oxford told his men to ‘stay within 10’ of your standard’. (Vatican record has 4’ but this has then been crossed out).
Richard kills Tudor’s standard bearer Brandon - so must be very close to Tudor - may have even crossed swords with him if he was that close to his standard.
Why did he charge?
Desperate move as the battle was turning against him?
Deliberate brave move - almost made it!
Charge stalled by - men + marsh?
Accounts say Richard fights on foot and kills several men -
Horse either stuck in the marsh or slain?
? chose to dismount as English tended to fight on foot.
Richard is well protected but his armour fails under a ferocious attack.
Evidence:

Wounds

1.      Right sided cuts to the jaw:

a)     Lower jaw
 The lower jaw shows a cut mark caused by a knife or dagger.

b)     Near hinge point.
These were delivered by a knife possibly cutting away the strap to forcibly remove his helmet. Bone chipped away ~ 5mm in length.
 

2.  Penetrating wound to right maxilla
Small rectangular hole. Relatively fragile bone. ? delivered post mortem or from behind. This could not have been delivered with helmet in situ. This was not an attempt to kill but would have been painful. Has a square profile - likely a dagger strike.

A wound to the cheek, possibly caused by a square-bladed dagger. The front part of the skull has separated naturally along the line of a suture (a joint between the skull bones), which is why it is not present in this picture. This would have fused as Richard became older had he lived.

 

3. Wounds to the top of the head

(a)  Left posterior cranium. Outer surface of the skull removed (death star appearance). This was from a bladed weapon - striations/curve or ‘scoop’ up from the base.

(b)  Second scoop can be seen and the striations can be compared to see if this is from the same weapon. Neither of these blows were fatal nor were they attempts to scalp, though they would have lifted flaps of skin resulting in a lot of bleeding. Similar to Towton 11.

(c)   Non-fatal penetrating would to the top of the skull; has a rectangular profile so likely a dagger (Rondel). No fractures near this wound so not percussive force. A ‘key-hole’ wound ~2-3mm wide. This did not go all the way through but dislodged 2 small bits of bone so was delivered with some force. Richard would be on the ground so there is likely a 2-handed delivery.

The penetrating injury to the top of the head. "The skull was in good condition, although fragile, and was able to give us detailed information," said Jo Appleby, a lecturer in human bioarchaeology at the university who led the exhumation of the remains last year.

 
4.    Occipital wounds (posterior base of the skull)


(a) There is a large wound to the right occipital which although possibly not fatal would have exposed the brain and there would have been a lot of blood. Seen in top of picture below.


The base of the skull shows the larger of two potentially fatal injuries. This shows clearly how a section of the skull had been sliced off.
(b)  Penetrating wound to the left occipital which goes all the way through (~100mm in length) and has marked the inside of the top of the skull. This would have been fatal.

Looking through the hole left by the largest skull injury, two flaps of bone can clearly be seen on the interior of the skull. These are associated with the penetrating injury to the top of the head.
 Blows likely dealt with Richard on the ground - either kneeling or in a probe position. Interestingly these may fit with some contemporary writings about Richard’s death:
Jean Molinet was historiographer to the Burgundian court and sympathetic to the Yorkist cause. His account of Bosworth in Chroniques was written c.1490. He interviewed veterans after the battle. In it he states: ‘One of the Welshmen then came after him, and struck him dead with a halberd’.
Other contemporary evidence comes from a poem by a Welsh poet called Guto'r Glyn. He composed a poem in praise of Rhys ap Tomos, one of the main supporters of Henry Tudor in his campaign. Rhys led an army of Welshmen to support Henry on the battlefield at Bosworth, and was then knighted for his services to the king. Not long after, Guto'r Glyn sang a poem in praise of his exploits, and he talks about the killing of Richard. He actually says Richard’s head was 'shaved'. This had previously been understood in a figurative sense; perhaps that his head had been chopped off. But it seems from looking at the wounds to the skull, that this was meant quite literally: that someone had chopped across the top of his head, cutting off a chunk of his hair and a bit of skull with it.
5.      Other wounds
These could only have been delivered to an un-armoured man therefore are post-mortem and are humiliation or insult injuries.
(a)  Nick in the right 10th rib just above the kidney ~5mm in length - possibly from a sword or dagger.Archaeologists say it appears Richard's corpse may also have been mistreated. The image shows a cut mark on the right rib.
 (b)  Pelvis trauma. This is a fine wound ~30mm in length and is a cut delivered by a knife. It is seen just right of the midline and goes through the right buttock. Possible that this was delivered with Richard slung over the back of a horse.
The image shows a blade wound to the pelvis, which has penetrated all the way through the bone.
Unlike the victims of Towton there was no facial mutilation nor any attempt to remove ears as trophies such as seen on Towton 32.

This is because it is likely that Richard fell forward i.e. was killed from behind and also that there were orders to save his face for later recognition, possibly a direct order from Henry Tudor who was close by.

No defensive wounds have been found on Richard’s arms/forearms. These are the most common wounds and at Towton often seen on the forearms. (Not feinting blows as has been suggested - these are defensive - fending off attack and are instinctive).Therefore likely that Richard’s armour stayed intact until his death.
 
Robert emphasized that there is still much work to be done and the final conclusions will not be delivered until late this year. 


All photos Leicester University.
 

Monday, 25 March 2013

Keeping Up Appearances

There are many books, blogs and websites that offer writers advice when it comes to writing character descriptions: 'show don't tell'; 'less is more'; 'make the description tell us more about the character than just their physical appearance' etc. etc. Of course, by definition if you are writing fiction then the character exists clearly in your head and it is your job to communicate that to the reader, so that if they were asked to describe the character at the end of the novel they would come up with your character just as you imagined them. Writers of historical fiction often have a different problem they have to figure out for themselves in that the person they are writing about actually existed but there are either no contemporary likenesses of them or worse still there are sketchy ones available or vague descriptions (both on appearance and character) by contemporary writers which we may wish to believe or disbelieve depending on their relationship to the said character! The former does allow the writer more of a free rein to develop the character as their own, whereas the latter offers up a number of difficult choices.

One of my main protagonists in both 'The Colour of Treason' and 'A Rose of England' is Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (you may know him as The Kingmaker) and unfortunately for me there are a few contemporary likenesses to pick and choose from:
 
1. Probably the closest to life as he was involved in commissioning it in the 1450s: his depiction as a weeper on Richard Beauchamp's tomb in St Mary's Warwick. (Beauchamp was Warwick's father-in-law). This shows Warwick, perhaps symbolically, as an older man however, as he was only 42 when he died at the Battle of Barnet in 1471.

There is a general family likeness in the mourners which is also apparent in the earlier 'Neville family at prayer' depicting Warwick's father and his siblings from the Neville Book of Hours c1430:

 
2. Salisbury Roll of Arms - completed around 1463 to mark the re-internment of his father at Bisham Abbey. Highly stylised and probably not a true likeness.
 
 3. So-called Rous Roll compiled 1483-85 during the reign of Richard III and probably by Warwick's widow, the Countess of Warwick - again highly stylised and probably no attempt at a likeness.
 
4. The last page in the so-called Beauchamp Pageant almost certainly commissioned by the Countess of Warwick - some attempt at a likeness here as all the figures have different faces. (He is top left as we look at it, pointing towards his countess).
preview
 
This is painted on the wall at Warwick Castle and Richard Neville has dark brown wavy shoulder length hair and dark eyes:
 
 
 
 
And I have gone along with that colouring.

5.His death at the Battle of Barnet in the Besancon version of the Short Arrivall - painted some 10 years after the battle. He is fully armoured but appears quite tall. (Warwick is riding to the right on the white horse with a shield on his back).
 
By the manner of dress and hairstyle this image from the Founder's and Benefactor's book of Tewkesbury Abbey is likely to be mid-sixteenth century and therefore not a true likeness:

 
In addition the Neville family were generally regarded by contemporaries as being both handsome and tall and as a novelist that was one piece of information I certainly couldn't ignore!




 

Saturday, 23 March 2013

A Rose of England - Palm Sunday 2013

As you all may know by now, the annual pilgrimage that is the Palm Sunday Battle of Towton Memorial event has had to be cancelled this year due to the poor weather. This was going to be a book launch day for a number of authors, myself included, so instead I'm posting the trailer for the new novel. Hope you like it!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Tomorrow's the BIG day


I can't think of a precedent for what's going to happen tomorrow. Tomorrow we shall learn whether the male remains found at the former Greyfriar's Priory site in Leicester are those of the late King Richard III. For all those interested in the Wars of the Roses and for those with an interest in King Richard in particular it is an understatement to say it's going to be an interesting day! Regardless of whether the remains are those of this controversial king, it's a great day for archaeology, highlighting the use of modern methods and techniques not only for identification purposes, but also for the reconstruction of the facial features of the deceased. Although the techniques are now much improved I can remember being excited about a BBC television series which began in 1998 presented by Julian Richards, which sought to 'Meet the Ancestors' using facial reconstruction and I notice the Leicester team are employing the services of Dr Caroline Wilkinson a CRFP registered facial anthropologist/forensic artist who worked on the series in their reconstruction of 'Richard'. I was always fascinated by her work of 'bringing the dead to life' and as a writer of Historical Fiction set in the Wars of the Roses this time I am doubly so!
 
My current WIP is set in 1470, and Richard features only slightly, in a supporting role to his brother Edward IV as he is exiled and then tries to reclaim his crown from the Earl of Warwick acting for Henry VI, but Richard will feature much more strongly in the follow-up to that and to have one of Caroline's reconstructions would be awesome! Not only will we know what his face was like we should also learn more about any illnesses he may have had as well as his build and stature and more insight into how he died at Bosworth and whether any injuries were inflicted post mortem as was reported in the chronicles of the time. All wonderful stuff for an author about to start a novel covering those events and featuring the 'much-maligned king'!