Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Where Did You Get That Hat?

I mentioned in my Christmas post that I was going to put up a post during the holiday season about Roger Bigod's hats.
While writing The Time of Singing and conducting the Akashic Record research, http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/akashic_record.html
I came across the detail that Roger Bigod, my hero, was rather fond of his hats. I think they served several purposes for him. They were functional and kept his ears warm and the weather out in winter, and protected him from the sun in summer. They conveyed status and propriety. They were disguises to conceal expressions and to hide behind, they were confidence boosters, and sometimes they were fun, flamboyant objects that said 'Look at me. I'm really a unique fun guy under this quiet facade.'
I asked Alison if she would draw the hats that she had seen Roger wearing in the course of our session and she very kindly sketched and coloured a selection. When I first saw them, I was a bit surprised because some of them looked slightly later in period than what I had envisaged. I sent them to a medievalist friend for evaluation. She said that what we actually know about hats in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century is very little. There are a few examples around, but to put it in context, it's like looking around the streets of Nottingham - where I live - choosing someone at random who's wearing a particular style of hat and then saying that this hat is the only sort people wore in Europe in the 21st century. There just aren't enough existing examples. We don't know enough about the variety and styles, so Roger's hats are perfectly feasible. Certainly I have found examples of similar by trawling paintings from the next two centuries and the Maciejowski Bible, dating to the mid 13th has some close relatives.
Anyway, without further ado, here's a wander through Roger Bigod's hat gallery, complete with the Akashic session context of how and where the particular hat was mentioned: I've also added some pictures from my gallery of later, conventional illustrations. Not all the hats or the circumstances appear in the novel, but they inform the background. Enjoy!
With grateful thanks to Alison King for her artwork efforts! Click on the images to enlarge.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Halellujah, it's Christmas!

I'm going to get back to proper blogging after the Christmas break. Domestic matters have expanded to fill a lot of my time for the next fortnight, but I thought I'd post a couple of Youtube vids to a couple of procrastination pieces I have enjoyed recently, and that both have a slightly Christmassy theme. Over Christmas and New Year, I also hope to post a fun blog about Roger Bigod's hats, so watch out for that in late December or early January.

So, with Seasons Greetings to Everyone:

For some years I have been following versions of Leonard Cohen's song Hallelujah. It's a tricky one to get right and there are as many excruciating versions as there are magnificent ones. Connoisseurs tend to cite Jeff Buckley's version as THE one of choice. Personally I prefer Rufus Wainwright's. Recently though, I have come across one that blows my socks off - and no, it's not Alexandra's X Factor version. It's by Welsh band Brigyn. THIS is the one that deserves to be the UK's Christmas number 1 by a long chalk. Enjoy!

Another of my Youtube followings are the hilarious Simon's Cat videos. Just recently, Simon's Cat has been joined by Simon's sisters Dog. This a wonderful video with a warning not to overfeed your pooch this Christmas!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Wild Hunting....

I have several blog posts to write of a historical nature but with Christmas suddenly appearing on the horizon (erk, where did that spring from?) and a bereavement in my husband's family, I thought I'd post a couple of less labour intensive posts to keep things ticking over. Early December saw the re-issue of my first ever published novel The Wild Hunt. It was published in 1990, having been picked off the slush pile by Carole Blake of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency in London http://www.blakefriedmann.co.uk/ It went on to win a Betty Trask Award, which is an award in the UK for first novels of a romantic or traditional nature for young novelists under the age of 35 - which I was then. The award was presented by HRH the Prince of Wales at Westminster. Wow, what a start to a career, especially as previous to this I'd been stacking shelves in supermarkets to make ends meet.
The Wild Hunt is I guess what you'd call a romantic historical adventure novel. The relationship between the hero and heroine fairly to the fore and the protagonists are imaginary, although set against a solid enough historical background - the Welsh Marches of the eleventh Century. It has been sold to 16 countries and even now is still earning the royalties in far flung parts of the globe. For that reason, although I now write biographical fiction and am very into my Marshals and Bigods, I have tremendous fondness for Guyon and Judith, the hero and heroine of The Wild Hunt.
It's strange to think that when I began writing this novel, my strapping 22 year old was an infant of eighteen months! I can remember sitting in the foyer of a Bridlington guesthouse, notebook in hand, writing the opening chapter. Who knew it would lead to this. To celebrate the publication, I've made one of my youtube trailers - just a short one. See below. The 2008 edition of The Wild Hunt is an all-singing, all-dancing spiffy new version in that I've re-edited it, and in so doing deleted 15,000 words without losing any of the story. I guess I've learned to cut some of the verbiage .
I've also found a moment to post 2 small excerpts from the work in progress - the story of Mahelt Marshal and Hugh Bigod. It's rough draft at the moment, but here's a quick preview. http://elizabethchadwicks.blogspot.com/

The Wild Hunt Trailer

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Toilet Training or setting the bog standard.

I'm busy preparing a piece about the many duties and tasks of the royal Marshal. What did the position mean for John Marshal and his sons and their sons? What did it entail? I have all the information in my head and dotted around various books, but I want to bring it together.
Anyway, that's what will be going on in the future, either the next blog or a couple of blogs down the line depending on my work schedule.

For the moment though, I thought I'd have a quick drop in to talk medieval latrines.... more specifically what a couple of castles have had made of theirs by the powers that be. I have to say that my mind (and eyes!) have boggled (pun intended!) at both of these portrayals of the medieval privy.
Joanne Mcauley, a reader from Northern Ireland visited Carrickfergus Castle and sent me this photograph she took of 'King John' ensconced on the privy. For some obscure reason his braies and hose are down around his ankles and almost off his legs. Ummm...how about no?
King Saul demonstrates quite neatly how it's properly done here in a piece from the Maciejowski Bible. Although at the time he is in a cave and David is sneaking up behind him to steal a piece of his cloak!

I understand that a scene like this might serve to entertain children and giving them an interest, since all things scatalogical appear to fascinate them - and many adults too. 'Oh look this is where King John did a poo!' But is it necessary? Is it respectful? Is it accurate? To me the answer to all three would initially be absolutely not. The further back in the past we go, the easier it is to belittle it. But then on second thoughts, the thirteenth Century Maciejowski Bible has no qualms about portraying a king involved in his necessary business, so one could argue that the portrayal is part of a long tradition. You pay your money and you take your pick - although of course one has to take mindset into consideration. That's not something I have time to discuss here and now, but I'm saving it up for a future blog.
Meanwhile, at Old Sarum, English Heritage has tarted out their thirteenth century placard reconstruction of the privy with paintings from the Bayeux Embroidery. Eh?
Just take a look at the naked couple above the toilet door. (click on the image to enlarge it). You will find the exact same couple in the border of the Bayeux Tapestry - see below. Speculation about them is rife, but it appears to allude to a sexual scandal of the day. So what are they doing decorating the walls of a thirteenth century garderobe. In fact what are any of the panels doing there? Did they put pictures of sexual scandals on their privy walls? Especially copied from a three hundred year old embroidery? Since Old Sarum is administered by English Heritage, you would think they'd strive to get it right.

It's interesting that an attendant is holding out the necessary wipes to the chap sat on the privy. There is evidence that nobles used to take their servants into the privy with them and have them on standby to hand out the medieval equivalent of toilet paper. I have heard people say that hay was used and moss but have never seen any primary source provenance for this myself - although doubtless it existed. I would think hay would be a bit awkward myself, but I haven't actually tried any experimental archaeology in this area it has to be said! However, I have read in primary source that rags were used as bum fodder. The King of France, when talking to William Marshal about traitors, says that in the manner of rags, they are to be used, and then thrown away down the latrine. I wonder if that's how scraps of material come to be found in cess pits when archaeologists are digging around. Was the privy the final destination of garments that had been used until they were threadbare? I suspect so.

P.S. and not connected with any of the above, but has anyone realised the pun in Harry Potter concerning Moaning Myrtle who hangs out in the toilet? There's a well known little plant called the 'Bog Myrtle'. - Get it?
The medievals used it for flavouring their beer. :-)

Monday, November 03, 2008


Longtime readers of my work and visitors to my website and my blog will know that as one of my threads of research I re-enact with living history society Regia Anglorum. I recently worked out that I've been a member for about 15 years now, ever since catching a performance by them at Nottingham Castle. There was a guard on the gate in Norman costume and I was so taken by his outfit that I went up to talk to him and find out where he had obtained it. He told me that he belonged to early medieval re-enactment society Regia Anglorum and that their ethos was to present the equipment and crafts of the period around the Norman conquest as accurately as possible. They portrayed Anglo Saxons, Vikings and Normans. I was immediately aware that this was something very useful for a novelist to investigate because it was bringing history off the page and into the living, fully realised 3D.
Now, you might say that we are products of our own century and we can't truly know what it was like back then just by putting on the trappings of the era and swanning about in them... and you'd be right. But there's more to this re-enactment lark than that. There are many in the re-enactment fraternity who strive to understand the past and rediscover what we've lost and forgotten by recreating artefacts and techniques and by experimental archaeology and thus understand how things worked and fitted into the environment. I won't deny that there's also great fun to be had hanging out with re-enactors, but it's also a wonderful opportunity to listen and learn too.
During a recent weekend event at Nottingham Castle, I talked coins, moneyers and mints with one of the most knowledgeable numismatists in Britain, who tells me that the people about whom we have the most information in 12th century society are the moneyers. Here's his brief history of coins and coin production on his website:
http://livinghistory.co.uk/homepages/grunalmoneta/history.html I talked to an expert potter and observed him using a medieval potter's wheel to craft a wonderful little bowl. http://www.trinitycourtpotteries.co.uk/I talked medieval embroidery with another expert, and mail shirts with someone else who is chummy with the chaps at Leeds armoury. I also discussed shoes with a guy who is a leather expert with an archaeology degree. Purchase-wise, I came away from the event with a replica drinking glass from the mid 12thC - something that my John Marshal might just have used while entertaining mercenary captain Hubert FitzWalter at Marlborough - see the scene in A Place Beyond Courage!
There's an entire community out there bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm. Re-enactors and the craftsmen, often re-enactors themselves, who serve the industry. It is so fantastic to be a part of it. As with anything one researches, one has to have a nose for the authentic versus the bull manure, but I have a reasonable working knowledge and a good sense of who to trust and who to take with a pinch of salt.
I've mentioned before that it's one thing to look at a cooking pot in a museum or in the pages of a text book and quite another to use one to cook a barley broth over an open fire. One thing to see a mail shirt displayed in a glass case, another to wear it. To walk up (and down!) a twisting medieval staircase wearing a pair of turn shoes and a long dress. And for the things I don't do, such as fighting, riding and sailing, to find out from those who do, what it feels like.
I was fascinated this week to see that Regia Anglorum members Ian and Hazel Uzzell had been making some 12th century kit. One of the garments is a cloak made of vair which is Russian grey squirrel fur. Cloaks of such are often mentioned in medieval inventories and miniver-lined cloaks are frequently depicted in medieval manuscripts - see below. So to see one recreated in the fur so to speak was extremely interesting.
I leave you with a gallery of photographs of recent re-enactment moments, all of which have their place in my novels - or will have. Look out for miniver cloaks in Hugh and Mahelt's story!

Miniver as portrayed
by Eleanor of Aquitaine:
Fresco at Chinon
I knew I'd seen this somewhere
when I was looking to post to
my blog and then I remembered
that it's on the front of Sharon
Kay Penman's new novel
Devil's Brood!

As modelled in the
21st C by Snorri!
Note too the gorgeous
embroidery on his
tunic neck.

A toast to John Marshal using
a replica mid 12thC drinking glass

Jim the Pot at work
at Nottingham Castle

Yours truly, about to
salt the stew!

Hose and braies
For anyone who has wondered
about these sexy garments

Row, row row
your boat...

Wanna fight?

A mark of silver

Photographs courtesy of Regia Anglorum, Ian and Hazel Uzzell and Ian Hicks.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

CASTLES IN THE ETHER: Finding Newbury Castle

A PLACE BEYOND COURAGE, published in paperback on October 16th, is based on the story of John FitzGilbert Marshal, father of the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and Regent of England. Without John there would have been no William. Aside from John’s contribution of fifty per cent of William’s DNA, those all important formative years were of John’s moulding in the paternal role. The imprinting of behaviour patterns, of morals and social mores came from the family household.

Having said that, one has to add that John was also responsible for his son’s almost death in 1152 when he carried brinkmanship to extremes at the siege of Newbury Castle. The royalist forces attacked the stronghold during the struggle for the rule of England between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda. Finding himself beleaguered, John requested permission to seek the Empress’s consent to yield the castle. Stephen agreed to give him time, but demanded hostages as security, including John’s son William, then a child of about five years old.

John handed over the boy and used the time, not to seek consent, but to stuff the threatened keep to the rafters with men and supplies. When the appointed day came to relinquish the castle, John refused, and told the king where he could go. Stephen retorted by threatening to hang little William. John apparently replied that Stephen must do as he saw fit because he (John) had the anvils and hammers to get better sons. Mais il dist ke ne li chaleit de l’enfant, quer encore aveit les enclumes e les marteals dunt forgereit de plus beals’. William was threatened with all sorts of dire ends, including aforementioned hanging on the gallows, being hurled from a trebuchet and squashed against the castle walls. His father remained impervious to intimidation and it was Stephen who yielded and backed down, taking young William into his household where he stayed for the next 2 years as both continuing hostage and royal page.

When Stephen died in 1154, the Empress’s son, Henry II, came to the throne and the wounds of the devastating civil war began to grow scars. The adulterine castles hastily thrown up during the conflict were torn down by Henry’s order. There is no mention of Newbury, but historians speculate that it was one of these temporary fortifications. Suffice to say, no remains have ever been found. Newbury itself has yielded no evidence of any kind of fortification. There’s a traditional site called ‘the Castle’ but it is thought to refer to the ruins of a cloth factory and can’t be dated back beyond the Tudor period.

There are some mounds in the grounds of North Lodge at Hamstead Marshal, which stand upon the site where once John Marshal had a substantial manor - probably fortified. Again, historians have suggested that these mounds were the remnants of protective mottes built during the twelfth century civil war to protect the manor. Having personally visited these mounds and walked the grounds, my own feeling is that that this suggestion is a non starter. Stephen could easily have defeated John had he made a stand at Hamstead, and one of the things John wasn’t, was a fool when it came to building castles. He was known as a cunning builder. The Gesti Stephani says of him: castella miri artificii in locis sibi competentioribus construere.’ (he built castles, designed with wondrous skill in the places that best suited him). He was a thinker, a planner. A cool and calculating soldier. His nearest secure base of operations that we know about was at Marlborough. He also had a castle at Ludgershall. But the writer of the Histoire says that his castle was at Newbury. So where might it have been? I think I know….

At an Akashic Record session on the third of July 2007, I asked my friend, Akashic consultant, Alison King, if she could tune into John Marshal and ask him where the castle at Newbury had stood. I had come to this session armed with Ordnance Survey map 158 and as I struggled to open it out (the thing was as big as I was!), Alison urgently asked me to move because John had come through to her and was keen to guide her index finger to the place where the castle was on the map. Alison had her eyes closed. I managed to get the map laid out on the floor and she leaned over and put her finger decisively on a particular spot. ‘Here,’ she said. We did this more than once and each time Alison’s finger came down on the same precisely the same mark. I took a biro and marked a cross under her fingertip as best I could. Alison said that her finger was guided with the firm decision she has always been aware of in John’s character. A few days ago, I got my husband to stand in the garden with this same map opened out so you can get an idea of the size of it. I’ve used the paint programme to draw a ring around the original cross made by Alison in July of 2007. I’ve also cropped it down to a close up – see picture 2. The cross is towards the top right.

When I studied the map and checked it out on Google Map coordinates, I thought that it looked interesting.


It was on the outskirts of Newbury and close to Hamstead Marshall, but my eye was untrained. I had corresponded briefly with a reader who lives in the area and who has an archaeology qualification. She had once e-mailed me wondering where the missing castle might be. I sent her a scan of the map with the ‘X’ marks the spot that John Marshal had shown us. The reader - S. was very interested to see it because she said that it was strategically a very important site, being the highest point on a ridge overlooking two rivers, the Lambourn to the north and the Kennet to the south. The Roman road - Ermine street coming from Cirencester to Speen, must have been very close by. Today the land forms part of the grounds of a private home called Speen House. Alison and I were excited and delighted at this news. Initially we didn’t take it further than that and just noted that it was circumstantial corroboration.

Then, in August of 2008, S. invited us to Berkshire as she lives more or less on top of where John Marshal, William Marshal and many of their kin and descendants used to call home. We were thrilled at the invitation and arranged to travel down there and spend a couple of days in ‘Marshal’ country. On day one, we went to Old Sarum. Our road took us down the Newbury Bypass and past part of the land John Marshal had told us was the site of his castle. As we were driving, Alison said she had John coming through saying, ‘You are coming to visit me.’ We thought at the time that it was a reference to our forthcoming meeting with S, however, that wasn’t the entire story.

When we did meet S. the next day, she showed us a close up of a different picture of the same area on the map I had sent her, showing clearly that there were ramparts on the spot at Speen. (I've drawn them in using the Paint programme again on the smaller closeup of the OS map). The county archaeologist had confirmed this. No one knows their dateline, but there have been Roman finds nearby. So why not medieval? Fortifications and ramparts are regularly adapted and reused down the centuries. John Marshal was renowned as a cunning builder of castles and Speen would have been tailor made for his skills, especially if he was throwing up defences in a hurry and this place was ‘a strategically important site.’

Another circumstantial point that backs up the Speen site theory is the detail that William Marshal granted himself a market at Speen in 1218, thus confirming strong Marshal interests in the place. We didn’t know any of this until our visit to see S.

S. was wonderful and managed to secure us permission to go and look at the ramparts at Speen House. This was a personal invitation and I didn’t feel it was appropriate to take photographs. However, while we were there, Alison’s psychic antennae went haywire - I have never seen her this way before and she had never experienced anything like it herself. She had John Marshal coming through powerfully and strongly, greeting us and saying that this was the place where he had made his stand. Although I sometimes share snippets of Akashic material with readers, what came through and what was said, was, I feel, very personal to John and not appropriate to the public domain. However, as far as confirmation that this was the place is concerned, we were left in absolutely no doubt, and also that the events were traumatic.

Whether evidence of 12th century occupation will ever show up on a dig I don’t know, because the fortifications would not have stood for very long and the site is now private property and thick with rhododendron bushes and trees. Even so, I am convinced that Speen is the site of John’s castle at Newbury. It fits better than anything else that has yet come to light, and when the builder himself has crossed the divide of 800 years to show me in person as he best he can, then yes, I believe.

Elizabeth Chadwick on the publication date of A Place Beyond Courage.

October 16th 2008

As a post script I have to add that when I was writing A Place Beyond Courage, I had no idea where the castle was myself, so I left it vague and open to conjecture. Owing to the publishing process, I can't go back and rewrite that part of the novel just now, but perhaps at some future point I will.

'Your instinct can't be wrong,

Separate the fiction from the fact'

Neil Finn

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Reviews and interviews

Just a brief note to say that there's a review of the Marshal novels at the Vulpes Libris site and that Friday 10th October there'll be an interview. I've put the info on my News blog too.

October 16th, publication day for A Place Beyond Courage, I'll post my article on the whereabouts of Newbury Castle.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Published Today!

I'm in the middle of writing a longer post about the whereabouts of Newbury Castle, which I'll post the middle of next week just prior to the publication of A PLACE BEYOND COURAGE in paperback. But in the interim I am delighted to say that it's official publication day for THE TIME OF SINGING and it's featured as Historical book of the month at the Books Monthly website here.
My publishers have very kindly sent me a bottle of Moet & Chandon, so I will be toasting Roger Bigod and Ida de Tosney this evening.

In other news, a reader wrote to me to tell me he'd been studying a particular genealogy and it turns out that my beloved Marshal men, John and William are the several times great grandfathers of two fascinating and famous Tudor women - Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I. How interesting. Blood will out I guess!

Sunday, September 07, 2008


I thought I'd blog about Mahelt Marshal today - such as is known. She does not have the fame or resonance in history that falls to her illustrious father but that does not make her any less fascinating.
Like most women of the medieval period, even aristocratic ones, she is little mentioned in the narrative historical record. However there are a few charters and documents that give pointers to her personality and her life - scattered bones that when collected together and assembled, offer a glimpse of her personality and illuminate the path even 800 years after she stood on the wall walk at Framlingham, or played on the banks of the Wye at Chepstow.
We don't have a birth date for her, but it is highly likely that she was the third child and first daughter of William Marshal and Isabelle de Clare. Their first two children were boys; we know that. William Junior was born about 9 months after his parents' marriage in the late spring of 1190. His brother Richard followed some time in 1191. Given recovery dates and gestation periods I postulate that the earliest Mahelt could have been born is summer 1192, although I think it probably later than this. In THE GREATEST KNIGHT I've given a date of 1194, but I've revised this now and think she was most likely born some time in 1193.
Two more brothers followed - Gilbert and Walter, and it wasn't until around 1200 that the next girl, Isabelle came along. Mahelt had around 7 years, if not more of being the only girl in her family and in that sense having her dad to herself. Was there a special relationship between William Marshal and his firstborn daughter? I think there was. The Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal says of Mahelt that she had the gifts of 'wisdom, generosity, beauty, nobility of heart, graciousness, and I can tell you in truth, all the good qualities which a noble lady should possess.' These are fairly formal and usual for such descriptions and I take them with a pinch of salt. However, the section also adds 'Her worthy father, who loved her dearly, married her off, during his lifetime to the best and most handsome party he knew, to sir Hugh Bigot.' This is interesting because following on from this, the other daughters and their qualities are mentioned, but there is no more of the 'loved dearly' business. Mahelt is the only daughter who receives this accolade. the Histoire says of Mahelt when her father was dying: 'My lady Mahelt la Bigote was so full of grief she almost went out of her mind, so great was her love for him. Often she appealed to God, asking HIM why HE was taking away from her what her heart loved most.' And then later, his daughters are called for to sing to him and the Marshal says: 'Matilda, you be the first to sing.' She had no wish to do so for her life at the time was a bitter cup, but she had no wish to disobey her father's command. She started to sing since she wished to please her father, and she sang exceedingly well, giving a verse of a song in a sweet, clear voice.' The other daughters are not mentioned save for the youngest, Joane. Indeed, re-reading the text with a closer eye, it appears that only Mahelt and Joane (a little girl at this stage) were sent for to sing for him. I suspect these would be the daughters he knew best of the five, both having belonged to times in his life when he had the opportunity to be more at home and watch their formative years.
For me, the novelist, it is probably safe to assume that Mahelt and her father shared a special father-daughter bond.
Of course one couldn't let such bonds get in the way of politics and when William went to Ireland in 1207, he had to decide what to do for the best with Mahelt who was now of marriagable age. See above paragraph. Also in the Histoire it is mentioned in another place that William approached Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and 'asked him graciously, being the wise man he was, to arrange a handsome marriage between his own daughter and his son Hugh. The boy was worthy, mild-mannered, and noble hearted and the young lady was a very young thing and both noble and beautiful. The marriage was a most suitable one and pleased both families involved. Again note the bog-standard accolades, but that doesn't matter. It leaves this novelist with a bit of leeway! It's an interesting snippet too that William approached Roger Bigod, not the the other way around.
At this stage Hugh would have been about 25 years old. Reading between the lines, it was indeed a shrewd and good match. The Bigods were in favour with the King and had a royal kinship tie in that Ida, Countess of Norfolk was the mother of William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury - King John's bastard half brother. So Hugh Bigod was half-brother to the King's half-brother. Longespee was also kin to the Marshal family through marriage as his wife, Ela, was William Marshal's cousin once removed. The Earl of Norfolk was rich and powerful and East Anglia where he dominated, was almost a kingdom on its own, rather like the Marshal's grip on Pembrokeshire or Leinster.
Framlingham Castle
Nothing is known of Mahelt's life at Framlingham after her marriage and this is where the Akashic Records come in for fleshing out the details. But from conventional history we know she bore a son, Roger, in 1209, two years after her marriage, and then another son, Hugh, in 1212 and a daughter Isabelle in 1215. There was a third son, Ralph and possibly a fourth one, William. We can glean from this that her first child was born when she was about 16 and obviously conceived at a younger age. Her second when she was 19, her third when she 22. The three year gaps are interesting. Did she breastfeed? Did they practice abstinence? Was Hugh away a lot? More food for the novelist's thought.
During the Magna Carta crisis of 1215 and the Civil war beyond, leading up to the death of King John and then the minority of Henry III where the regent was actually Mahelt's father, I wonder how Mahelt managed to balance her life. Her new family, the Bigods, were opposed to King John, as was her brother, William. What must she have felt about having family members on both side of the divide? In 1216, Framlingham was besieged by King John and the castle swiftly capitulated. It is known that one of Mahelt and Hugh's sons was taken hostage - presumably Roger the eldest. Where was Mahelt when this happened? We don't know. Her father in law was in London - or headed that way, but certainly not at home. We don't know where Hugh was either. Having seen her brothers taken hostage by King John, knowing what happened to Maude de Braose (starved to death in a dungeon with her son while John's hostage), I wonder what her response was. Perhaps the awareness that her father was one of the backbones of King John's regime might have been a comfort in that King John was hardly going to do away with the grandson of a man he needed.
In some ways working through the research is like putting lots of small tiles side by side, which will eventually make a bigger picture on history's wall - luck permitting!
Outside the scope of my novel about Mahelt TO DEFY A KING, but affecting Mahelt's life in maturity, was the death of her husband Hugh Bigod at only 43 years of age. It was sudden. One minute he was very much alive and attending a council at Westminster. A week later he was dead, leaving Mahelt a widow at the age of 32 with four or possibly five children, the eldest of whom was an adolescent of 16 years old. Mahelt moved swiftly - or those around her did and within three months of her widowhood, she married William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. He was the Bigod's neighbour with lands in Norfolk and Yorkshire and castles at Castle Acre and Conisburgh. He was considerably older than her - by my reckoning he was at least 60 years old. Mahelt bore him a son and a daughter - John and Isabelle. I find it very interesting that in all of her charters at this time, she calls herself 'Matildis la Bigot' never 'Matildis de Warenne.' or only as an afterthought. For example: A charter dated between 1241 and 1245, following the death of her second husband has the salutation '....ego Matilda Bigot comitissa Norf' et Warenn.' The 'Warenn'' is an official title like the 'Norf' The Bigot is her personal name.
The latter does actually change in 1246 when she was granted the Marshal's rod by King Henry III. All of her brothers and sisters were dead and thus the hereditory Marshalship of England came into her hands. And NOW she does change her name. She becomes in her charters 'Matill marescalla Angliae, comitissa Norfolciae et Warennae.' I sense a militant gleam in her eyes somehow, and a taking up of tradition that encompassed her ancestors, including her beloved father. She would be a Bigod, she would be a Marshal, but she would not be a de Warenne. The latter statement is my reading. Someone else might see it differently of course, and there is the detail that her heart was buried at Lewes Priory, not Thetford where Hugh lies. Her body went to Tintern to be with her mother Isabelle and her brother Walter. Was it her wish to have her heart buried at Lewes? Did the children of her second marriage want to keep a part of her close?
I do believe that Mahelt Marshal was a strong woman who survived and learned wisdom through much adversity. I don't think she always had it easy. I think she was greatly loved but not necessarily lucky in love. She died in 1148 and was buried at Tintern where here bier was borne by four of her sons.
Although the name of Marshal died out of the history books with the childless demise of William's five sons, his eldest daughter Mahelt was a matriarch whose children went on to forge weighty links across the history of the thirteenth century and beyond. It is down Mahelt's line that the Stuart Kings of Scotland claimed part of their descent.

My task, my responsibility and my pleasure is to assemble the bones of this great woman and show her as she just might have been.

TO DEFY A KING: Winner of the RNA Award for historical fiction 2011.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A hotchpotch moment

I confess to feeling something of a fraud, but fellow blogger Carla Nayland has nominated me for a blog award and when did you ever know any author turn down publicity - grin! Actually it's an excellent cop out situation re blogging for me because it gives me an excuse to nominate ten of my own favourite blogs - not all of them medieval and gives me a breathing space while I work on having my website revamped. Being as this involves writing new material, it means I'm not as free to work on my blog for a short while. However, if you go over to my News blog http://elizabethchadwicknews.blogspot.com/ I have some rather good breaking news for USA readers. If you're sharp-eyed, you'll also see on the sidebar that the cover for A PLACE BEYOND COURAGE has had a subtle makeover. My heroine now has some bling on her dress and a ring on her finger! (What the hero lacks in bling he ummmm....makes up for elsewhere I promise!).
Once the website is all spiffy and up to date, It'll be business as usual because I'll be able to claw back a bit of writing time.
p.s. When do you reckon ice cream was invented?!

Okay, to the blog nominations.
First I have to reciprocate with Carla's blog. I try and drop in about once a week over a coffee because she always has something interesting to say re history and/or tradition, together some cracking book reviews. http://carlanayland.blogspot.com/

Steph's Curlew Country is always guaranteed to cheer me up. You can't read it and not come away happy and invigorated and realising what the small and beautiful things in life really mean.

Gillian Polack's Even in a Little Thing. http://gillpolack.livejournal.com/
You never know what you're going to get on my friend Gillian's blog - sometimes it's Daleks, sometimes it's extremely quirky medieval facts, sometimes it's serious discussion about the state we're in. Gillian has a doctorate in medieval history, she teaches matters medieval to writers and when she speaks to me of research I listen! She's also an expert on Medieval food.

Carl Pyrdum's Got Medieval http://gotmedieval.blogspot.com/ I go here because this is one very clever, very funny blog. If I'm not laughing aloud, then I am grinning inside. Binge drinking monkeys and all that... great fun!

Marg's Reading Adventures http://readingadventures.blogspot.com/ Because I'm always nosey to know what others are reading, and Marg as one of the chief moderators at historical fiction online, http://www.historicalfictiononline.com/forums/index.php
I quite often drop in for a quick looksee.

On the same tack and with historical fiction in mind, Sarah Johnson's Reading The Past is great for up to date news on matters pertaining to historical fiction. http://readingthepast.blogspot.com/

Gabriel's Lost Fort is a wonderful journal of cl
ear photographs of historical sites she encounters on her travels, as well as being of interest to fellow writers of historical fiction. http://lostfort.blogspot.com/

I read Racaire's blog occasionally and get very jealous because I can't sew for toffee. A great blog involving construction of medieval clothes and embroidery and containing some fabulous links.

I always enjoy dropping in on Doubtful Muse. We met on a reading group many years ago and have kept in touch. DM visited me earlier this summer and we went to find the tomb of Nicoloa de la Haye in Swaton, Lincolnshire. DM's posts are always either fun or thought provoking and sometimes deeply moving. She knows her history, although she doesn't often talk it, and she knows people very well indeed. http://doubtfulmuse.blogspot.com/

Sarah's Bookarama http://sarahsbookarama.blogspot.com/ is also a nice one to drop into at coffee break. Some lovely photographs of interesting and quirky locations and always some food for thought.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Just under a fortnight ago, I embarked on a research trip to Wiltshire and Berkshire with my friend and colleague, Akashic Consultant Alison King. We had been invited by a reader, Sue, to visit her at Hamstead Marshall and see for ourselves where John Marshal and his son the great William Marshal had once made their home. (they both lived at many other places too, but Hamstead was one of the original manors belonging to the family and held as part of the living of the royal marshal). Minus driving time, we had 2 days to cover as much ground as we could, bearing in mind limitations of physical stamina. Arriving in Wiltshire on the Tuesday afternoon, we headed first for Old Sarum and then Salisbury. Old Sarum is the original Salisbury. Standing on top of a hill, it was originally an Iron Age hill fort and was later occupied by the Romans and the Saxons. The Normans built a timber castle here circa 1070. Bishop Roger of Salisbury, 1107 to 1139, mentioned in A PLACE BEYOND COURAGE built a palace here circa 1130 onwards. A man of great fiscal acumen and influence, he was not above creating a show of power and luxury for himself. He was accused of fiddling funds from the treasury (he was the chancellor at the time) and quite likely did so. Salisbury Cathedral at this stage was right alongside the castle/palace to the right and on top of the hill as you face the earthworks from the car park. So the good bishop didn't have far to go from domicile to place of work. All that remains of the cathedral now is a ground plan. You can see it in the right background on the photo below which was taken looking over the ruined walls of the palace. The photo below that is a picture of how the cathedral might have looked in its heyday when a contemporary writer commented that it looked as if it had been carved from a single block of stone.

Following Bishop Roger's downfall, Old Sarum became a
royal residence and home to the
Earls of Salisbury, including Patrick, brother of John Marshal's second wife Sybilla. Patrick in later life was governor of Poitou and gave William Marshal his first serious employment as a household knight. Old Sarum Palace was also the place where Eleanor of Aquitaine was held prisoner for sixteen years following her failed rebellion against her husband Henry II in 1173.
From Old Sarum we headed to the newer cathedral and town of of Salisbury. Plans for the latter began in the reign of Richard I. There were increasing tensions between the clergy and the men of the garrison. The Church also felt that their cathedral wasn't grand enough and there wasn't enough space to rebuilt on the scale of such as Winchester and Canterbury. It's also likely that there wasn't enough water to go round. Finally in 1217, after another argument between the clergy and the soldiers of the garrison, the plans came to fruition and building began on a new site by the river Avon, and New Sarum - modern day Salisbury was born. The new cathedral was founded in 1220. William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury- an important secondary character in THE TIME OF SINGING, and his wife Ela, laid the foundation stone. Longespee was the first person to be buried in Salisbury Cathedral and his tomb lies there to this day. The base of the tomb is timber, not stone and one of the finest examples in Europe. When Longespee's tomb was opened in the 18th century, a mummified rat was found inside his skull. The creature tested positive for arsenic poisoning. It's very interesting to speculate whether Longespee was poisoned. There were various rumours that Hubert de Burgh had had a hand in Longespee's death. Personally I don't know. The historical detail is vague and Alison has picked up no strong sense of foul play. She did say that Longespee is at peace and his spirit long moved on, which I am pleased about. Salisbury Cathedral itself is a beautiful, dignified, gracious and tranquil place, whatever your beliefs.

By the time we had paid our respects at Longespee's tomb, it was evening and time to head back to the Bed and Breakfast accommodation which was set right on the edge of Savernake forest. We were in a lovely, compact self-catering lodge with the option of a full English breakfast available at the farmhouse just 30 seconds walk away. When I say compact, I mean that no room was wasted, but there was ample space for our needs and we didn't feel at all cramped. I can wholeheartedly recommend Browns Farm at Marlborough. It's clean, very well equipped, excellent accommodation at a very reasonable price, and the breakfasts are delicious! You can bring a pet if you want, too! Url here: http://www.marlboroughholidaycottages.co.uk/

Wednesday I didn't take any photographs as we weren't on public territory but visiting someone's private home at personal invitation and it wouldn't have been right. I will say that the day at Hamstead Marshall exceeded all expectations from all perspectives and it was something I will remember forever. Later, nearer the paperback publication of A PLACE BEYOND COURAGE, I will write a post about the discovery of the probable location of John Marshal's adulterine castle at Newbury. It's not a site I knew about at the time of writing the novel, but personally I am absolutely certain of its whereabouts now. It is most definitely a story for another day, but not too far in the future. By the time we returned from our foray onto Marshal territory, having experienced some profoundly moving moments and emotions, we were exhausted. I must thank Sue for her hospitality and generosity which made the day all the more special and without her it wouldn't have been possible.
On our last day which was also the day we headed home, we visited the village of Rockley which used to belong to John Marshal and which he gave to the Knights Templar. On the way to the village we had to stop for a group of sleek, elegant race horses just coming off the gallops on the Marlborough Downs. There were some fabulous views of rippling, undulating wheat fields, arable land and grazing pasture. This was the land over which John Marshal had mastery, and to have ridden out and drawn rein on the high land to look across this rolling countryside must have been glorious. There's a very pretty church at Rockely and a manor house, although the latter is private. It's a very horsey place, which the Marshals would have approved of I'm sure, one of their jobs being royal horse masters. Indeed, Rockley at one time had a white horse on one of its hillsides - sadly now ploughed up and lost. Here's an url to information about it and other white horses in Wiltshire. http://www.wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk/rockley.html
In the Marshal's day, Rockley was a centre for sheep farming and dairying.

After a wander around the village, we headed back to Marlborough for morning coffee, and then set off back home to Nottingham via a visit to the stone circles at Avebury. John Marshal once had custody of the castle at Marlborough, but lost it early in the reign of King Henry II. It was regained by his son, also called John, who was William Marshal's older brother. John defended it for Prince John in the rebellion of 1194 and in all likelihood died while resisting the forces of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Today what remains of the castle stands in the grounds of a private college.
http://www.ecastles.co.uk/marlborough.html Avebury is a fascinating place. Less well known and iconic than Stonehenge, it has its own sense of power. Alison said it was like 'being washed from the inside.' Here's an url to a website about Avebury (otherwise this blog post is going to turn into a novel in itself if I try to explain it all!) http://www.avebury-web.co.uk/ We ate our lunch sitting on the grass among the stones, surrounded by sheep and other people, and even a plump tortoiseshell cat from the houses beyond the boundary, but even so there was a lovely feeling of wholeness about it all, rather than distraction. Being as Avebury would have been in John Marshal's back yard so to speak when he was lord of Marlborough, I had asked Alison some time ago to tune into him and find out what he thought about the stones. The piece below was recorded about 3 years ago, long before we came here:
'He thinks they are fine, strong stones. I can see him standing beside a tall, wide one and it makes him feel strong to be near it. He looks out on the view that the stone has and it's as if he understands why the stone stands there to see that view. He looks at the horizon and sees echoes there of the pattern of the stone and the interconnection of things like the lacings of lines. He says to himself that the stone is a very ancient , very honorable thing and it strengthens our land. The connection is so strong that he can almost taste the stone. It's almost as if he has licked the stone he has such a strong taste of it. Indeed, you can take moisture from the stone if it's misty or raining. And Avebury itself? He pronounces it 'Aavbury' like 'aardvark'. He likes to stand in the middle of that. He has the same feeling he got from the single stone. He can feel the inerlacing quality. Consciously he and society see the stones as venerable and otherwise don't take it much further than that. They just are what they are from time immemorial.

I like that. 'They just are what they are from time immemorial.'

do love this part of England. I always feel at home here, and I'm sure I'll keep returning...or perhaps being drawn back. Who knows?

Monday, August 04, 2008

A moment in and out of Time

The title is by way of saying that although I have a few blog posts lined up, I'm going to be away for a few days this week conducting new research and re-connecting with John and William Marshal.
Myself and Akashic consultant Alison King have been invited to Hamstead Marshall by a reader who lives where William and John once did. Rewind the film 800 years to a summer morning here and you will see John going about his daily business with dogs and perhaps sons at his heels. His warhorse, a grey, raises its head from grazing to watch him pass, while his wife Sybilla gazes on the scene from their chamber window and shows their small daughter how to twirl thread from fleece on her first spindle. Fast forward a few scenes to see the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke setting out for London in the misty sun-rays soon after dawn, with a vast entourage of knights and squires, clerics and chaplains, stewards, chamberlains, baggage carts, sumpter horses, banners and gilding.
In our own summer morning, we are going to seek the echoes of theirs and add our presence to the film reel.
Visits are also planned to Old Sarum, Salisbury, Ludgershall, Marlborough, Avebury, Easton, Clyffe Pypard, and also a place on the Marlborough Downs called Rockley, that might or might not have its own poignant tale to tell about the Marshals...
I'll be back to blogging the week after next - unless I step through the standing stones at Avebury a la Diana Gabaldon and find myself back in the 12th Century!
The photograph at the top of the page is a purple shaft of sunlight over the Kennet at Hamstead Marshall - taken on an earlier research foray.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Novel Experience

Whenever I give talks, I am often asked about how I go about producing a novel, so I thought I'd break down the production of the forthcoming hardcover into its component parts and tell you about how a novel comes to be.

I have to decide what I am going to write about. This usually happens as I am finishing up the previous novel and preparing it for production. I thought with THE TIME OF SINGING that I was going to be writing about William Marshal's grandson, Roger Bigod III and the whole Henry III/Simon de Montfort debacle. However, in the course of the research, Roger III's grandfather claimed the stage instead, together with his wife, former royal mistress Ida de Tosney, and informed me that it was their story I had to tell next.
At this stage the work didn't have a title. It was just called ROGER AND IDA.

The subject matter decided, I have to read up on my research so that I can write a character study, synopsis, blurb, and first three chapters. These form the initial document that I present to my agent and editor for their approval and to show them what's in store. At this stage in the game the synopsis, although fairly detailed is still 'more like guidelines really.' Not all synopses have to be this detailed, but since I am under contract, my editor and agent need to see as much detail as possible - even if some is going to change during the writing. Reading matter consulted for The Time of Singing included a university thesis on the Bigod family, an English Heritage online report about Framlingham Castle, various other online documents, a genealogy report on William Earl of Salisbury and a biography of Henry II. There were many others, but this is just to cite a few examples. I have included a full biography at the back of the novel. I also employed akashic consultant Alison King so that I could 'interview' and observe the people involved in the story and get a handle on their appearance, their personalities and discover the story they had to tell.

Here's page 1 of the synopsis. If you click on it, it will enlarge.

Once the synopsis and first three chapters are approved, I get on with the nitty gritty of writing the story. My contracts are 15 months long. Some of that time is spent actually writing and researching, but I also have to build in time to write pieces like this for my blogs and for putting the show on the road and giving talks to the readers - because without readers I wouldn't have a job!
At first draft stage I write 100 lines a day on the PC which usually equates to around 1,200 words or perhaps a bit more. At this point I am researching as I write; the two go side by side. I am always very aware that this first draft is not clean. It will be full of over-writing, repetitions, unecessary paragraphs, and a few scenes that go nowhere. That doesn't matter. It's getting it written down in concrete wordage that is the most important thing and viewing the basic structure. It will probably take me about 7 of my 15 months. Once I have written that first draft (which I haven't revised at all except for the first three chapters which were part of the selling document), I read it through on the PC and tighten it up, taking out the over-writing and the repetitions where noticed, dealing with loose plot threads, and generally pulling it into shape. Giving the shapeless blob a six-pack is how I sometimes describe the process! At this stage I am still researching too. This will take me up to 11 months. During this time I will work on the 'soundtrack' to the stories. The explanation can be found at my music blog here, along with the soundtrack to The Time of Singing. http://elizabethchadwicksoundtracks.blogspot.com/

Here is page 1 of the 2nd Draft of The Time of Singing. Note that it still says 'IDA AND ROGER' at the top. At this stage I write on both sides of the page to save paper.
Font is Times New Roman 13 point and spacing is 'exactly' 22 points. It's what suits me.

Once the second draft is written, I leave the PC and read the typescript as if it were a book. This way, I am looking down at the words rather than across to a PC screen and it does make a difference when it comes to spotting errors and flaws. I make biro notes about what alterations needs making and then I return to the PC and key the alterations into the novel while once more reading it. Below is an example of such a page from The Wild Hunt. (I've thrown away my notes for The Time of Singing unfortunately). This stage takes about 2 months

Once I've finished this next lot of alterations, I print the work out again and read it aloud to my long suffering husband over a period of several consecutive nights and again I make biro notes. Reading aloud is yet another different discipline and helps out pick up dodgy word flow, repetition and manky dialogue. I revise again on the PC and then, finally, I send the manuscript by e-mail to my agent and editor. They will read it simultaneously which brings about stage 5.
The above paragraph will occupy a month at most, thus I am usually around a month ahead of schedule.


My agent and editor will report back with their opinions on the manuscript and I will ponder on their suggestions and alter the manuscript accordingly. Usually there aren't that many and it's more a case of general tweaks and tidying. At this stage my editor will begin asking me if I have any ideas for the jacket and the title. I have a consultation say in my UK covers and although we don't always agree and it's often a matter of compromise, we usually get something we can all live with!
When I was asked about The Time of Singing I had a clear notion of what I wanted. Ida was a skilled needlewoman and one of Roger's main concerns was his castle at Framlingham. I thought that a cover based on Edward Blair Leighton's Stitching the Standard would be great.
Click here to see the picture.
Now compare it with the book cover at the top of the blog. You can also see the rough drafts of this by going to my illustrator's blog here:
As far as the title was concerned we played with a lot of different ideas and suggestions. As always when I need inspiration, I turn to the bible (!) which is filled with excellent quotations and poetic phrases. A line from The Song of Solomon came straight to mind. The Song of Solomon is a love poem filled with a rich imagery of gardens and lovers, springtime and renewal. The novel contains several key scenes involving gardens and orchards, so the imagery fitted perfectly. Also, when Roger first notices Ida at court, she is singing and it is something she loves to do, and that he enjoys as well. The quote, taken from the New English Version of the Bible (rather than the King James) says: 'Arise my love, my fair one, and come away; for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come.' Perfect I thought, and different from the 'Queen' or 'Virgin' or 'Mistress' titles with which historical fiction is awash at the moment. You might also note in the illustration that the heroine gets to keep her head this time around!

The manuscript is passed on to a freelance editor who checks the punctuation and grammar and makes comments re the script where he/she feels appropriate. With The Time of Singing, I was very fortunate to have Richenda Todd, who was copy editor toDorothy Dunnett and is one of the best in the business.

Next the proofs arrive. These need to be read though and any teeny last minute alterations made. Now is not the time to suddenly realise you do not need chapter 4 after all - although I do confess to nearly having done that once! Not with The Time of Singing though.

Example of page proofs

While stage 8 is in production, the 'blurbs' will be prepared. These are the mini-synopses/teaser pieces of text that readers see on the inside flap of the hardback and the back of the paperback. These are difficult to write because the word count is restricted and you are trying to condense the flavour of a 150,000 word novel into a few sentences.
The PR department at the publishers will send out advance copies of the novel to interested parties in the hopes of good reviews - any reviews really! The author has to gear up and be prepared to suddenly become a party animal and court the spotlight for the first few weeks following publication. Of course, being prepared doesn't always mean it will actually happen. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn't, but one has to have a nice frock in the wardrobe just in case.
And of course there's the magical day when Ta Da! the postman arrives with his signature form and that wonderful box of first edition books....by which time I will usually be at stage 3 on the next novel i.e. nose to the grindstone - see below!


Click on the text at the left to enlarge for a sneak preview of the first page of the new work in progress - which may, of course be totally different by the time it's part of a published novel!