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30 April 2013

My Tuesday Talk Guest - Cynthia Haggard

As I am no longer running my Guest Blog (I don't have the time to keep it updated) I thought I would invite interesting people to contribute to my Tuesday Talk slot.

The approaching date, May 3rd, is the birth-date of Cecylee Neville, mother of Edward IV and Richard III, Cynthia Haggard, author of Thwarted Queen offered to write a bit about this fascinating woman...

the fascination of Cecylee Neville
by Cynthia Haggard

I live in Washington D.C., a mile from the White House, but my passion for the past was triggered by the fact that I grew up in England, which is filled with history.  I remember trips to St. Albans and Bath to see Roman ruins, and I remember struggling up various spiral stairs in castles. Ruined abbeys are also a part of the landscape. So it was all around me. I used to stand and look at the beautiful English countryside and imagine people from the past. It was easy to do.

I was attracted to the Middle Ages because it is presented as a very romantic period, full of knights and fair ladies. It seems glamorous and very civilized. It is also interesting that illustrations for Fairy Tales often use the costumes from the 15th century, the period of Cecylee Neville’s life. So it has a lot to it that initially, I found very attractive.

I was inspired to write about Cecylee by watching a BBC program about the princes in the Tower. The presenter, Tony Robinson, casually mentioned that historian Michael K. Jones had discovered some evidence that Edward IV of England was illegitimate. The evidence was that Cecylee’s husband, Richard Duke of York was not around in July-August 1441 when Edward would have been conceived. (He was born April 28, 1442). My immediate question was, what on earth did Cecylee say to her husband, when he returned from his summer campaign of fighting the French?

I have four favorite scenes in THWARTED QUEEN. There is the scene where Richard discovers that Cecylee has been unfaithful. The scene where Cecylee tells her son Edward IV that she does not support his marriage to Elisabeth Woodville. Then there are two crowd scenes, the one where Duke Humphrey dishes about the new queen of England, and how she brought no dowry to her marriage, and the one where Warwick the Kingmaker tells everyone that the Queen’s son is illegitimate. I loved these scenes because there was a lot of scope for conflict.

Warwick held up his hand and waited for silence.
“The king has not acknowledged the child as his son,” he said slowly. “And furthermore, he never will.”
There was a sudden intake of breath.
“It’s true!” exclaimed a young woman, holding a twig basket that held a dried up turnip, a withered carrot, and some wilted sprigs of rosemary. Her high voice sailed over the noises from the crowd. As people turned to stare, she went bright pink.
“Holy Mary, Mother of Christ!” she exclaimed, blushing again as she crossed herself.
“Indeed, madam,” said Warwick, stepping down from the cross, bowing, and offering her one of his cups of ale. “You put it well.” He turned to the crowd as he remounted the steps of the cross.
“It is very shocking, is it not, that a crowned Queen of England, a queen anointed by holy oil, would stop at nothing to gain power? That such a queen, invested in spiritual power by the Archbishop of Canterbury, would lie to us? That she would stoop so low as to foist her bastard on us? What does she think we are, good people? Stupid?”
The crowd roared with laughter.

In addition to Cecylee (who was, of course, my favorite character) I loved writing about the maids, Audrey and Jenet, because they were lower-class people whom the aristocrats of the day would typically ignore. Yet they were the eyes of ears of the Neville family. By that I mean that Audrey would have known all of Countess Joan's secrets, and Jenet would know all of Cecylee's, because they saw their ladies several times a day to bathe them, dress their hair and array them in their finery.

I became very fond of Richard of York (Cecylee’s husband) and his son Richard of Gloucester (who later became Richard III). Elisabeth Woodville was always enjoyable to write about, because she had such an effect on everyone. And I enjoyed writing about Richard’s sister Isabel.
As an historical novelist, I have to be both a writer and a researcher. I find that one feeds the other. If I’m in the middle of writing something and I need to do a piece of research, I either mark the place in the text with Xs, or I look it up right away. I often find that research sparks my imagination, so it’s not a problem for me.

When I was writing THWARTED QUEEN, I was most influenced by Michael K. Jones THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BATTLE, which gives a completely different take on the family dynamics of the Yorks. And Alison Weir’s books, THE WARS OF THE ROSES and THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER.

I was brought up in a musical environment, so I’m very particular about what I listen to when I’m writing. When I was writing Cecylee, I was either listening to Hildegard of Bingen, or all those Anonymous 4 recordings of medieval music, sung a cappella by female voices.

When I work on my novels, I don’t adhere to one set timetable of work. For me, it really depends on what’s going on. Generally, I work in starts and spurts. Initially, I write down whatever’s occupying my mind. By the time I get to the last draft, I’m usually working to a deadline, so in that case I work every day, sometimes for 6-9 hours.

I really have to have my place to write. It’s too disorienting otherwise. I don’t really like working outside my home, I find cafes too distracting. I’m happiest when I’m in my spot that I’ve designated as my writing place.

When working on a novel, I do a certain amount of planning, but I’m not one of those writers who plans everything out, because I just find it too boring if I know everything that’s going to happen in advance. The magic of writing for me comes in the process of discovering what’s going to happen to my characters.

When I start a new novel, I usually have an idea, which I scribble down. Then I may wait a long time before I actually start writing. During that time, I’ll do a lot of reading and develop it. At some point, I feel that I have enough head of steam to start. In that first draft, I just write down whatever’s on my mind. I find that first draft really hard work. I’m a writer who really enjoys re-writing.

As someone who’s had a career in neuro- and cognitive science, I find myself applying my knowledge to my novels. Cecylee is about how timing is really the controlling variable in finding one’s suitor. (Richard of York is on a much slower clock than Blaybourne, who is as fast as the quicksilver Cecylee). In another novel I’ve just finished, titled AN UNSUITABLE SUITOR, I talk about how shopping lists of attributes, such as income, or interests don’t work. That what really works are the ineffable qualities, all that information that comes in to you literally under your nose, that most people don’t notice. This is what people mean, I think, when they talk about following the dictates of your heart.

Helen: Thank you Cynthia - interesting and enjoyable.
For a little extra, Cynthia appeared as a guest on my Guest Blog

Follow Cynthia on Facebook

all Cynthia's books are available online

29 April 2013

River Torridge - Research Notes (2)

Research Notes for Ripples In the Sand
The River Torridge - Devon

I've written the scene where Jesamiah has to get across from one side of the river Torridge estuary, in Devon, to the other (will await my editor's red pen with fingers crossed). 
( addendum 2018 - all written and published! )

The River Torridge at Northam (below Knapp House)
 looking across to the Instow side

Jesamiah is at Northam (next door to Appledore) he is trying to speak to Squire John Benson about selling his cargo of tobacco, but Sir John isn't at home, he is at his daughter's - across the river at Instow.
What I've been trying to find out is how wide is the river channel at low tide - 5 yards, 10 yards, 50 yards? 
Could Jesamiah just walk across, or would he need to use a boat? 
I've seen the river at low tide, but I can't bloomin' remember how wide it was (and anyway I'm hopeless with distances) 
I also have to take into account that the river Torridge was very different back in 1719. Bideford (upriver by about 3 miles) was a busy port (the third largest tobacco port in England) There was also a thriving lime and pottery industry as well as fishing. The river was nowhere near as silted up as it is now, with, presumably quite a deep channel, even at low tide, back then. At low tide boats would not hgave been able to sail upriver - but could smaller vessels be warped (towed) up I wonder?

You can see the river channel clearer here
(behind the larger boats)
I tweeted asking if anyone from the Bideford, Appledore, Instow or Nth Devon Area could help. 
Thank you to those who responded.
One lady (Amanda) said she had walked across, but I've now managed to get hold of my Editor (who lives at Instow) she says:

"I’ve never tried to get across, my guess would be 2m wide at the narrowest point – but in the 18th Cent. the rivers were not as silted up as they are now. There is also the hazard of soft, sinking sand/mud and some who have tried to get across from time to time have got stuck and had to be rescued. Even the amphibious vehicle they used to ferry tourists across a couple of years ago (one of those things like the army has, with wheels but it floats) sank in the mud and was stranded until high tide when it had to be winched out! It stopped running thereafter – went out of business!
However, having said all that, I am fairly sure Jesamiah would be able to wade across the channel at very low tide, maybe up to his knees, and that it might be easier than lugging a boat across the mud to the channel, but he would certainly  get wet and sink in the soft mud on the Instow side!
 It is deceptive; at low tide: it looks as if you could get across in one leap, but I don’t think you can or far more people would. You might find the following link useful. "

The Taw-Torridge Estuaries: 
Geomorphology and Management  Report
(anyone interested in Geomorpholgy or the way rivers/esturies etc change will find the above interesting. I've had a quick read - totally bewildered by all the technical jargon, but interesting!

I agree with my editor that it wouldn't be worth lugging a boat out across the mud to get across (especially this particular boat!)

but I'm certain they would have had a ferry on permanent use by a waterman (as did most rivers) Otherwise its about 3 miles upstream to get to the first bridge (at Bideford) then three miles back again on the Instow side. I can't see a fishing/sailing community not using a ferry!

I'm also fairly certain they laid boards across the mud from the shore to the water channel where the ferry waited, moving the boards and the boat as the tide rose and fell.

Looking across to Instow
 The large white building (top left) would not
have been there in Jesamiah's day.
Appledore is literally just round the corner.

So now I'll get back to work. Jesamiah has still got that tobacco to sell....

There are some more photos of the real places used in the Sea Witch Voyages here...

Jacobite Rebellion - Research Notes (1)

From My Notes used in Research for Ripples In The Sand

The Jacobite Rebellion  of 1719 

The term ‘Jacobite’ is the name given to English and Scottish supporters of the exiled Roman Catholic Stuart dynasty. The name is derived from ‘Jacobus’, the Latin name for King James VII, the last Stuart to sit on the British throne.

   Although the rebellion of 1745 gains most attention, the Revolution actually started in April 1689 when Scotland’s Parliament declared that James VII had forfeited the Scottish throne.
   When Charles II died in February 1685 England was once again plunged into chaos, with numerous political and religious groups vying for power. They consisted of the Catholic, Protestant, and Presbyterian religions that were further refined by the political alignments of Whig, Tory, Roundhead, Royalist, and numerous other factions. Charles II had understood the need for tolerance and had managed to prosper with his restoration to the Crown after Cromwell. But his brother, James, did not balance tolerance against his desire for the security of his government.
Charles II
   The matter was further fuelled by the fact that France and Spain were both Roman Catholic countries and were England's enemies. Jacobite sympathizers were therefore also considered enemies of England.
   James (II of England, VII of Scotland) was opposed as king because of his Catholicism – he was to be the last Catholic King of England.
   Members of various political and religious elite opposed him as being too pro-French, too pro-Catholic, and of having too many designs on being an absolute monarch. When the King forced Anglican clergymen to read his proclamation granting religious liberty to Catholics and dissenters from their churches, his popularity plummeted, and when his wife produced a Catholic heir, James Francis Edward, the tension exploded.
   Had James II refrained from openly supporting Louis XIV of France, repealing various anti-Catholic Acts and increasing his standing army from 5,000 to 15,000 he would have escaped the accusation of Popery. What England needed was a monarch who had Charles II’s political expertise but none of his autocratic tendencies.
   What the kingdom got was the total opposite.
James II
   Disgruntled Protestant politicians and noblemen contacted William of Orange, husband to James’s protestant daughter, Mary and requested them to come to England with an army to depose James.
   William agreed and issued a declaration which referred to James' newborn son as the "pretended Prince of Wales". He also gave a list of grievances of the English people and stated that his proposed expedition was for the sole purpose of having "a free and lawful Parliament assembled".
   William and his Dutch army defeated King James who was allowed to escape to France.
    Numerous plots were hatched to return James to power, but these fell largely on the whims of Spain and France, which were the only countries with both the power and desire to unseat the Protestant rule of England.
   After a brief peace, the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1701 renewed French support for the Jacobites. When James II died in exile in 1701, with William III passing away a year later, Louis, believing in the divine right of Kings, recognised James Francis Edward Stuart as James III but the English took this as an insult. War broke out in 1702 and James II’s protestant daughter, Anne, succeeded to the throne.
Queen Anne
   In 1708 the Old Pretender, James (III) sailed from Dunkirk with 6000 French troops in nearly 30 ships of the French navy. He had been delayed in France by an attack of measles. His intended landing in the Firth of Forth was thwarted by the Royal Navy driven back by the fleet of Admiral Sir George Byng. The British pursued the French fleet and made them retreat round the north of Scotland, losing ships and most of their men in shipwrecks on the way back to Dunkirk.
   Louis XIV was forced into diplomacy and negotiation, culminating in the treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
   Queen Anne died in 1714 and it was offered that James could succeed – but he refused to renounce the Catholic faith. Louis began to conclude that the Jacobite cause was lost and distanced himself from any further conflict. James removed his exiled Court into the protection of the Pope and the Whig government invited George of Hanover - a descendant of the Stuarts through his maternal grandmother - as King. He proved to be unpopular and a spate of riots swept through England, James however, had no idea how to turn events to his advantage.
   Following the arrival of George I Tory Jacobites in England conspired to organise armed rebellions against the new Hanoverian government. They were indecisive, unco-ordinated and frightened by widespread government arrests of their leaders.
   The political structure of England had changed because of the English Civil War, many families losing their fortune, land, and position. Bankruptcy as a motive for Jacobitism ran deep and wide. It became a treasonable offence in England for anyone to write to, or send James III money, but there was enough support for three major uprisings in favour of James: 1715, 1719 and 1745.
   In the summer of 1715 James called on the Earl of Mar to raise the Clans. James set foot on Scottish soil, but was disappointed by the strength of support he found. Mar's Jacobites had captured Perth without opposition, but the rebellion was defeated by the English at Preston. Instead of going through with plans for a coronation at Scone, James returned to France, sailing from Montrose. He was not welcomed back, because Louis XIV was dead and the French government found him a political embarrassment.
   In the aftermath of the 'Fifteen', the Disarming Act and the Clan Act made some attempts to subdue the Highlands. On the whole, the government adopted a gentle approach and attempted to 'win hearts and minds' by allowing the bulk of the defeated rebels to slip away back to their homes.
   Planned risings in Wales, Devon and Cornwall were forestalled by the English government arresting local Jacobites.
James (III)  "The Old Pretender"

   James often complained of loneliness and isolation and found fault with many things. He had a dislike of making decisions and became ill at the point of most momentous events: pneumonia in 1704, measles in 1708, smallpox in 1712 – but he lived to a ripe age and “reigned” for 64 years
   He had bitter rifts with his wife and elder son, Charles (Bonny Prince Charlie
   James was a man of thought, not of action, but he was generous and solved difficult problems with tact.
   While researching the historical facts for the fourth Sea Witch Voyage, Ripples In the Sand, I came across the planned 1719 Jacobite invasion of England – perfect! It became even more perfect when I read on.
   With France at peace with Britain and enjoying a rapprochement due to the Anglo-French Alliance, the Jacobites found a new ally in Spain.
   A fleet was assembled at Cadiz in March 1719 with orders to set sail to Coruña, where James was to join it and take command. There were to be two landings, one in England, another in Scotland. Both failed.
   Two frigates were to land in Scotland to raise the clans. When the Spanish frigates landed, they met only lukewarm support from a few clans. At the ensuing Battle of Glen Shiel the Spanish were forced to surrender to government forces.
   From Cadiz, twenty-seven ships were to carry 5,000 soldiers to England. The fleet duly put to sea but was shattered off Cape Finistere by storms of unusual ferocity. Many were sunk or damaged, some were scattered into the Bay of Biscay, and only a few limped into Coruña.
   The weather gave James, still in the Mediterranean, such a buffeting it took him a month to get from Italy to Catalonia, then another month to get to Coruña via Madrid, where he arrived in time to hear the maritime débâcle.
   James returned to exile, and had to wait for his son to try again in 1745.
   My immediate idea on reading the history – what if Jesamiah somehow, inadvertently, became involved with the Armada?
   He has a cargo of tobacco to sell, and he is directed to a buyer in Cadiz….

So Who Was King Arthur?

The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy
 is the right one."
King Arthur - the story as it might have really happened!

The boy 
Who became the man 
Who became the king 
Who became the legend

The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy 

What is the truth behind the familiar stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table? There is no evidence for "King" Arthur ever existing - but the stories must have come from somewhere - or someone. Surely?
My Pendragon's Banner Trilogy strips away all the made-up Medieval myth and mayhem and delves deeper into history, uncovering the early, more real version of the man we know as 'Arthur'.

Here you will find no Merlin, no Lancelot. No holy grail, round table or knights in armour. Instead, a believable warts and all Arthur, set in the Dark Ages of the 5th & 6th centuries between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Anglo Saxons.

This is the story as it might have really happened.
Arthur is no chivalric Christian King in this tale, but a man who has to fight hard to win his kingdom - and even harder to keep it!

So Who Was The Real King Arthur?

Anything connected with King Arthur must only be conjecture; there is no factual proof of evidence for his existence, which is why so many historians/ authors/ enthusiasts argue like mad about the various theories, everyone insisting their idea is the truth. I usually take a middle ground and agree to disagree.
The matter of Arthur, however, must be regarded with caution.
If Arthur existed there is nothing factually concrete to place him in an exact period. Was he pre-Roman? Romano-British, post Roman or early British-Saxon? Or, as some believe, much later, 11th- 12th century?
 Existence in the later period is highly unlikely as he would have been well documented, so Arthur most definitely did not clank around in armour,  live in a stone-built, turreted castle or undertake chivalric deeds as a courtly  knight.  Post Roman seems the more likely placing, in that chaotic ‘Dark Age’ time between the going of Rome and the coming of the English (roughly 450 – 550 AD)

I personally think the scanty references we do have that mention Arthur (Gildas, Nennius etc) are fairly accurate records, but unfortunately the Medieval monks – and the Victorians - altered so many ‘facts’ that the truth has become distorted, i.e. the Victorians invented horns for Viking helmets, scythes for Boudica’s chariot – and everyone in early history (except Vikings) was vertically challenged height-wise!
The good thing about Arthur, for us authors, is that we have a free rein to write what we want, within (and even outside of) reason.

When writing the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy I chose to have no myth, magic, fantasy or  Norman make-believe. I did not want Lancelot, the Holy Grail or Arthur as a chivalric King. There was to be no Merlin, no magic sword in the stone. Nor was there to be the love triangle. I plain and simply do not see Arthur as a cuckolded king.

I went back to the early Welsh legends which portray him in a very different light. We have Arthur kicking a woman, stealing cattle – there is even the possibility of him killing his own son – these story-lines conjured a far more intriguing, and in my mind, believable man than the Medieval King Arthur. Would a king of that period really allow his queen to swan off with his best knight? I very much doubt it!
Plus, I could not see Gwenhwyfar as I call her (Guinevere) falling for a goody-two-shoes like Lancelot anyway. (Boy am I going to get some stick for writing this article! J)
Those earlier legends intrigued me: why did Arthur kick a woman, what were the circumstances that made him steal cattle from a monastery. How/why did his son die? Add to that there were references to three sons in all (not including Mordred) One was killed by a boar, one by his own father, one was the son of “Arthur the Soldier”. I couldn’t resist the drama of using those three tragic tales, and of course I do not doubt that Gwenhwyfar was their mother.

 I am of the firm conviction that no king worth his salt would have gone off in search of a Holy Grail leaving his kingdom open to unrest. Mind you, Richard I did just that, I suppose , abandoning his kingdom in favour of the Crusades – but then, I consider he was useless as a ruling king for England, so I rest my case. The Holy Grail story-line was nothing more than Medieval spindoctoring to promote the glory of the Crusades. ‘Your Kingdom needs you! Join Arthur in the Quest for the Holy Grail – come on Crusade!’
But there is, I discovered, a logical pointer to Arthur leaving his kingdom and going off on a ‘quest’. A man called Riothamus fought against the migrating tribes threatening Gaul and his own Brittany.

Brittany  in the Dark Ages was a part of Britain, an extension of Cornwall, and Riothamus – who definitely did exist – was probably only a title meaning something like ‘King Most’ or ‘Supreme Lord’. So here was a good, believable explanation as to why Arthur left Britain; he was defending his own territory, not going off after a mythical holy goblet.

I decided to use this theme in the third part of the Trilogy, Shadow of the King, as I wanted to write something different to what was usually expected. What if Arthur was Riothamus and he took his Artoriani Cavalry to Brittany? And what if he did not come back, because he was presumed dead?
Of course, I am not going to answer those questions, you will have to read the book, but I will leave you with this thought to chew on:
Mordred is named as Medraut in the early legends, and there is not one mention of him being the evil toad he becomes in the later Medieval tales. He may well have been Arthur’s fourth son, possibly illegitimate, but the reference states:
“The battle of Camlann, in which Medraut and Arthur fell.”
It is a distinct possibility that he fought – and died -  on Arthur’s side.
The nice things about combining legend with fiction is that as long as it is plausible, anything will make a good story. And while there is enough imagination to go round, and people are willing to keep writing, there will always be good, entertaining stories about King Arthur, be his story set as what might have rally happened, as a knight in armour, a sleeping Time Lord or as a space man in a space ship.

Who cares? Hurrah for imagination and the darn good story teller.
Long may Arthur reign as King of Fiction.

From my Author's Notes 
The Kingmaking
US edition Cover

There is very little evidence for what really happened in the hundred years or so between the going of the Romans and the dominance of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, the English. There is a period of myth and romance, a Dark Age where knowledge has been forgotten and replaced by stories. As time has passed, these tales have become more and more distorted; events and characters exaggerated or invented. We have a few, challengeable facts and even fewer names, the best-known being Arthur and his wife Guinevere or, as I call her, Gwenhwyfar.  
UK edition Cover

Whether Arthur was real or a character of fiction is not certain. We do know fifth century Britain was in turmoil, and that someone had the strength to apply organisation to the chaos. If it was not ‘Arthur’, there is no other legendary character to fit the gap.
My Pendragon’s Banner trilogy is my personal view of those Dark Ages. I am not an historian; I speak no Welsh or Latin. I am not expressing fact, merely what might have been. The dates are my own interpretation, gleaned from a hotch-potch of muddled theories and chronologies. They may not tally with those proposed by the professional historian, but as virtually no date of this period can be established as absolute fact, I feel I can justify my theories.
Some few situations and people in my story are indeed fact. Vortigern lived, although this now commonly used name may then have been a title meaning something like ‘overlord’. Hengest probably existed, as did Cerdic. Emrys, who fleetingly appears in Book One, is better known by his Roman name, Ambrosius Aurelianus. He did exist. Exactly when and where, is open to question, but possibly in the south. Usually he is placed before Arthur, but to my mind this is not logical, and so in this trilogy he comes after. You will discover how and why in Book Two, Pendragon’s Banner, and in particular in Book Three, Shadow of the King. Cunedda and his sons are acclaimed as the founders of the Gwynedd dynasty, leading down to Llewelyn, Prince of Wales, who died fighting against Edward I of England, who then plundered Wales for his own. It is told Cunedda migrated into Gwynedd from the territory of the Votadini, which ran from modern Edinburgh down into Northumbria. Why and how and when we do not know, except, if it is true, it must have been after Rome had abandoned Britain to look to her own defence and before the firm hold of settled Anglo-Saxons. Some time, therefore, in the early fifth century.
I invented Gwenhwyfar as Cunedda’s daughter because I wanted to include him in my story. Imagine my delight when, on searching through some early genealogies (which admittedly are extremely unreliable), I discovered he did have a daughter called Gwen! In all probability she was not Gwenhwyfar, wife to Arthur - but the wonderful thing about this period of history for a writer of fiction is that ‘probably’ cannot be proven as ‘unlikely’! Any writer on these unknown Dark Ages has a free rein of imagination - although I have tried my best to keep that rein curbed within the margin of at least the plausible. For any errors, I apologise, or claim poetic licence!
As for Arthur, no one knows if he was real. A few scattered poems and early Welsh bardic tales were adopted by the twelfth century Normans who were responsible for the stories we know so well today. The knights, chivalrous deeds and the Round Table belong to this later period, as did the fictitious invention of Lancelot, his adultery with Gwenhwyfar, and Merlin the wizard. You will not find them in my tale.
Early references to Arthur do not portray him as a chivalric, benevolent king - the opposite in fact. A down-to-earth, ruthless war leader. This, then, is my Arthur. There are no court niceties in The Kingmaking. Legend tells of Gwenhwyfar’s abduction and rape by Melwas, and of the pagan women at Glastonbury. I am not the first person to suggest Arthur may have married a daughter of Vortigern and that Cerdic may have been his son.
The tale of Gwynllyw and Gwladys’s flight from her father is also an old one, complete with Arthur playing dice and lusting after her, and Cei’s outraged reprimand.
For places and personal names I have often had to invent my own, or used a mixture of Latin, Welsh and English. The language my characters use would also have been one of the three tongues. On the whole, I assume Arthur and Gwenhwyfar would be talking in British (Welsh). I have, through necessity, taken one or two liberties with my use of Welsh, for which I apologise. When Arthur first gives Gwenhwyfar her ‘nickname’ he would probably have said something like ‘fy nghymraes fach i’ - my little Welsh woman - which is unfortunately too ponderous for those of us who struggle with Welsh pronunciation. I have therefore settled for the more familiar ‘Cymraes’.
Some terms are blatantly out of context with the period but I have used them because they are more familiar in meaning to our modern times.
For instance, ‘moustache’ is not a contemporary word –  but to say ‘trail of hair on the upper lip’ is clumsy and slightly absurd. Another is ‘witch’. Correctly, perhaps, I should have used ‘hag’, but this conjures up a picture of a bent old crone, which is not the description I wanted. It is uncertain how soon after the going of Rome the term ‘king’ became used. Emerging leaders at this time were perhaps warlords, overlords or supreme commanders, but I have used ‘king’ because it conveys a consistent meaning in our modern tongue. The terms and traditions surrounding dowries and a man’s heir may also, technically, be slightly out of place, but again I stress this is primarily a novel, not a factual record.
The skirmish along the Devil’s Dyke in Cambridgeshire is embroidered by my own fancy, for it is not certain when this, and similar earthworks cutting at right angles across the ancient Icknield Way, were first constructed. Some archaeologists and historians place them any time from the Roman period to as late as the seventh century. I feel the Devil’s Dyke is neither Saxon nor Roman but an earlier, Celtic boundary. It seems logical that it formed a man-built ‘gateway’ between the natural defences of the Ouse and the Stour, dense woodland and impassable marsh. The only unprotected area into the ancient kingdom of the Iceni was the 7.5 miles intersected by the ridge along which ran the Way. Iceni artefacts have been found to the north of the Dyke, but few to the south. Therefore I believe the Devil’s Dyke would already have been around 400 years old at the time when, in my tale, Arthur was grumbling about Vortigern’s incompetence.
Original cover of 1st edition
painted by
Chris Collingwood
The story of Arthur taking his sword from the stone and thus becoming king is a familiar one. It has been suggested however, that during Medieval times there was a translation error of ‘from a stone’ (ex saxo) with ‘from a Saxon’ (ex saxone). Clerks were occasionally in the habit of dropping the ‘n’ and putting a stroke above the next letter (ex saxoe) which could account for the discrepancy. Alternatively, the stone could be a reference to the sacred stones of the tribal British. Excalibur, the well known sword of legend given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake is often confused with the one from the stone. In my story, or perhaps in this instance, Arthur’s, the two have been combined.
There were indeed battles at Agealesthrep (Aylesford, Kent) and Crecganford (Crayford, Kent), though the dates are not precise. The Cantii territory does seem to have been settled at an early date. Cantii had become Kent; the name Canterbury still echoes its British inheritance.

I have used the Arabian type horse for Arthur’s mounts for no reason except I like the breed. There have been many horse bones found on Roman sites that are very similar to this distinctive horse, so my whim is not entirely fanciful - and no one is certain just how or when the Arabian features were first bred into the sturdy Welsh breed of today’s ponies. I like to think this was Cunedda’s doing!
There possibly really was a massacre of Vortigern’s Council; Gloucester (Caer Gloui) is renowned for flooding; and archaeologists found a Saxon brooch among the broken Roman roof tiles in Londinium…

Pendragon’s Banner
US edition Cover
Arthur Pendragon, to those people who study him, is a very personal and passionately viewed character. We all have our own ideas, insist ours is the correct one, and argue like mad with anyone who disagrees! I have tried, to the best of my ability, to be as accurate as possible over background details but the why, when, how and where of Arthur himself is individual. I am not expecting anyone necessarily to agree with my telling, but then, this is only an imaginative story. A new retelling of an old, familiar tale.
Arthur, the chivalric king of the Medieval story, is not the same Arthur who appears in some of the early tales that we have of him. In these, we hear of his anger at a woman who was trying to seduce one of his men, and the consequent attack on her. He is often portrayed as someone who steals from the Church. Almost, it seems, this Arthur was condemned by the Christian priests, not revered as the man who, in the stories of five hundred or so years later, initiates the finding of the Holy Grail and who carried the portrait of the Virgin on his shoulder or shield. For that particular episode, I am satisfied that my explanation is reasonable. There are many instances of the old pagan beliefs becoming intertwined with the new embryonic Christianity. The Mother Goddess most certainly metamorphosised into the Virgin Mary.
UK edition Cover
The people of the Middle Ages created Arthur in their own image, dressed him in Medieval armour, set him in a turreted castle and made him fight for the holy cause. This was the age of the crusades and knights in armour, when women were regarded as little more than chattels and the bearers of sons. I do not see my Arthur or Gwenhwyfar in this setting. Arthur is a soldier, a strong dedicated leader. Gwenhwyfar is no subservient, blushing maiden. There is no Lancelot for her in my stories; she remains loyal to her Lord.
Hueil is fact - stories tell of a feud with Arthur. Those stories of Ider relate how the young man sets out to prove himself by slaying the three giants of Brent Knoll; in some stories he kills the giants but dies himself, in others, he survives. My version is a deviation, but is based on these early tales. Arthur’s jealousy against Ider is also part of that old telling, as are the episodes of the bear in Gwenhwyfar’s tent and Arthur questioning her about whom she would marry after his death.
Amlawdd was probably a factual character, but through the passing of time we have lost his real identity. I have used his name and existence to fit with my story but admit my usage may not be accurate. So very little of this long-past, dark age of our history is known to us as fact. A novelist’s dream, for we have a free rein of imaginative invention!
Legend has it that the King’s and Queen’s Crags near Hadrian’s Wall are so called because Arthur and Gwenhwyfar quarrelled there - even the throwing of the comb is part of that story. Apparently, you can see the mark on a rock where it fell! There are so many hills and stones named after Arthur, and I have used those few that seemed appropriate, those that tied in with my ideas.
Vercovicium is only a suggested name for Houseteads, we do not know its definite Roman name, and I confess that Winifred Castre for Winchester is total fabrication on my part - my only defence is that there is no agreed explanation for this city’s name! Caer Cadan is also my own. I needed something to reflect the Camelot of legend with the actual hill fort of Cadbury Castle, Somerset. Strictly speaking the “c” of Cadan should, in today’s Welsh, mutate to a “g” (Gadan). However, I have been advised that mutations did not influence the language until well after Arthur’s time, and I therefore ask Welsh-speaking readers to forgive my liberty. The building of the Valle Crucis Abbey come a long time after my story - but who knows what early buildings stood there first?
The Wandsdyke was built after the Romans but before the Saxons as a defence against the north. The English did not know of it before they conquered this area, hence its name, ‘Woden’s dyke’. It seems strange that if Wandsdyke was built to keep the Saxons out, why did they not know of it? The answer can only be because it was built long before they were in that area, and must therefore have been erected by British against British. It has often been attributed to Ambrosius, but as there is no proof of this, I have given its building to Arthur.
The Medieval Norman stories - created when only the first-born, legitimate male inherited - make much of Arthur having no son. Earlier references contradict this. Nennius writing his Historia Brittonum in the ninth century, mentions Amr who was ‘slain by his father, Arthur the soldier” and who was buried beneath the ancient stones in what is now Hereford. Llacheu, Arthur’s son, was killed in battle and in the Mabinogion, we find the story of Gwydre, son of Arthur, killed by the boar Twrch Trwyth.
Nennius is also a source of Arthur’s battles. He describes twelve, the locations of which are heatedly debated. My conclusions are a general hotchpotch of theory and guesswork. For those who know about Arthur, and are asking, “But what about the battle of Badon?” you will have to wait for book three, Shadow of the King.
The distances and speed of Arthur’s horses are not far fetched. It is quite possible to average thirty or forty (modern) miles a day without overtaxing horses if they have adequate feeding, a moderated pace and the occasional day’s rest. In 207 BC the Consul Nero covered three hundred miles in a seven-day forced march with no ill effect, save the horses lost weight.
The story of Gwenhwyfar’s offer to be shared between Arthur and Amlawdd is borrowed from a most ancient tale. Correctly, the other man involved should have been Melwas, who appeared briefly in The Kingmaking, but Gwenhwyfar’s trickery did not fit neatly into that particular story and so I have used it against Amlawdd in this. The same story is also credited to Tristan and Isolde. Perhaps those early Tellers of Tales felt justified in re-using a good plot to fit their heroine’s needs? I feel equally justified in blatantly borrowing it for myself!

Shadow of the King
US edition Cover
Few historians are prepared to accept the dates and events listed in sources such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bede and Gildas as entirely accurate. Rather, these records represent a broad - and biased - sweep of events. It is so frustrating there are so few undeniable facts for this muddled era of British history. We know what happened, occasionally where, but not precisely when. Even these early written records rarely agree with each other in the matter of dates. The timing of Easter, which was in disagreement for many years, stirred the whole confusion of dating into a further, fogged mess. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, for instance, lists some events - notably the “history” of Wessex - twice, with a difference of nineteen years for the same event. So, if even in the tenth century, when it was written, they were not certain of the dates, what chance do we have one thousand years later? In the end, I gave up trying to make sense of it all and decided to leave the nit-picking to the professionals. I therefore freely admit my dates are manipulated - within the realms of plausibility - to fit my tale; for after all, the three books of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy are novels, loosely woven around the few definite things that happened. In this, the third book, I have on the whole, used the earlier version of the nineteen-year discrepancy. For instance, Cerdic landed at Cerdicesora with his five ships in 476 or 495, and could have fought his battle at Cerdicesford in 500 or 519.
UK edition Cover
But of course, whether that battle was Arthur’s Camlann, only Arthur, Cerdic, and those who lived and died at that time know for certain. We probably never will.
If dates cannot be agreed upon, the matter of Arthur himself is even more debatable! There is much passion and heated disagreement concerning the various theories of Arthur’s how, when, and where. Indeed, it has not even been established whether he ever truly existed outside the realm of the imagination.
Cerdic is also an anomaly. He is named as a leader of Saxons - those men who were the founders of Wessex - but his name is British. It has been widely assumed that his father was British-born. I am not the only person to suggest his father could have been Arthur.
Ambrosius Aurelianus existed. Gildas writes fondly of him as ‘the last of the Romans’. The fortresses I have named after him in my story may, in fact, have nothing to do with him, but again, I am not the only one to have suggested it. I decided to use them because those in modem Epping Forest (Ambersbury Banks and Loughton Camp) are near to where I live - anyway, why not?
Gildas lived. Although again, my dates may not be accurate. We know he wrote some time during the early sixth century. His book complains about the moral decline of religion; it is not a history. He does mention the siege at Badon, although his dating is frustratingly ambiguous - and who was his ‘filthy lioness’? He rebukes her son for murder in a holy place, but that is all we know of her. I have made her Archfedd, Arthur’s daughter, but obviously I have no evidence whatsoever to back this. He probably knew Ambrosius, most certainly knew Maelgwyn of Gwynedd, Aurelius Caninus and Vortipor, for he soundly rebukes their crimes and sins. Why did he not mention Arthur? I believe because by the time he was writing, Arthur was already dead and was irrelevant to his narrative. It might also have been because Gildas’s loyalty could not lie with the Pendragon because of his eldest brother’s death ... the Stone exists at Rhuthun (Ruthin), the legend of Hueil’s execution by Arthur along with it.
Geraint’s death at the battle of Llongborth is fact. An early Welsh poem describing the event is highly dramatic and so sad. After the war-cry, bitter the grave. It was a battle that heavily featured cavalry, and is one of the first poems to mention Arthur’s men. For the Saxons involved, Port is probably a fabricated name, but I have used it anyway. From the Saxon Wihtgar, the Isle of Wight apparently gets its name. Ambrosius did fight Vitolinus and gain a rather doubtful victory at Guoloph, and Aelle was the first Saxon Bretwalda, and did attack Anderida (Pevensey).
My version of the story of ‘the Loathly Lady’ - Ragnall - does not quite follow the known tale, for mine is more of an interpretation on a theme; and of course I have substituted Cadwy, Ambrosius Aurelianus’s son, for the Sir Gawain of the more familiar medieval legend.
As for Medraut, the Mordred of later tales, he is usually portrayed as the traitor, the one who fought against his father, but an early poem does not support this. The battle of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell ... There is nothing here to suggest they fought on opposing sides. For once, and to be different, I have made Medraut more of a ‘good guy’ - if a somewhat misguided one.
The contagious disease we now call strangles is as much a worry to horse-owners of today as it was in the past. The illness is mentioned in Chapter V of Pelagonius’s veterinary notes under the heading Cures and medicines for head ailments’. The majority of cures appear only once in this section, but strangles is mentioned on seven occasions, indicating how prevalent this illness must have been during Roman times. Perhaps my one questionable fact would be that this disease mainly affects young horses and only occasionally the old. However, given the lack of knowledge about contagion in the fifth century, I do not think it unreasonable to suppose that a horse like Onager could contract it.
As with many totally unconnected legends, the Wookey Hole Witch came to be associated with the stories of Arthur. She was a reality, an old woman living in the caves whose skeleton was found with an alabaster ball. She actually dates from the early eleventh century and so could not possibly be Morgaine. Poetic licence can be allowed to stretch the imagination occasionally; and besides, people are known to have lived in the caves from about 2500 BC. It is not unreasonable to suggest a lone woman could have been there in the fifth century.
And a note here on the difference between British and English. The British were the Britons – the Romano Celts. The English were the Angles, Saxons and Jutes – basically foreign invaders and settlers. Sixth Century immigrants. The British Celts are the true inhabitants of what we now call ‘England’, not the English! The modern ‘Welsh’ are also Britons. Wealas is a Saxon word for ‘foreigner’.
Many of the British place and river names have been lost to us. On the whole, I have used what I have felt comfortable with, although these may not always be totally accurate. To the historian or professional, I apologise for any liberties; but again, I emphasise this is a story, a novel. It is not meant as a scholarly, historical work.
Geoffrey Ashe’s book The Discovery of King Arthur put the idea of a campaign in Gaul into my mind. Not everyone agrees with his theories, but I am grateful for the inspiration behind what - I hope - proves to be a good story! Shadow of the King follows his theory, in which he suggested Arthur could have been Riothamus, a war leader who did exist. We have several references to prove that fact, in particular, a letter to him from Sidonius Apollinaris - a letter which I have used in my story. Riothamus was King of the Britons - but does this mean the British or the Bretons? Riothamus, like so many names of this period was a title meaning something like King Most or Supreme Leader. Today, the title Prince of Wales refers to Prince Charles, but could equally mean the notorious Prince Regent or the Welsh Llewelyn ap Gryffydd, the only true Welsh Prince of Wales!
The battle at Deols (Vicus Dolensis) was fought between “the British” and the Goths. Syagrius’s army did fail to arrive, and the British were slaughtered. Riothamus fled into Burgundy and was never heard of again.
Was he Arthur? Mr Ashe’s theory has been hotly disputed, but I think it is as plausible as many alternative suggestions regarding Arthur. And there is no faultless evidence to prove Riothamus was not Arthur! The one, major factor again is the dating. Sidonius was already Bishop of Clermont Ferrand when he wrote his letter to Riothamus. Was he inaugurated as Bishop before 469 or after the battle of Deols? Or perhaps Riothamus was just a nuisance, a minor warlord who plagued that area for several years. Perhaps he was Arthur. It is up to the individual to decide.
As for the man, Ecdicius, and the siege of Clermont Ferrand (Augustonemtum), eighteen men against several thousand Goths? Surely not! Well, we have another letter from Sidonius Apollinaris praising his brother-in-law for just such a wondrous victory! The letter was written before 475 and there is no reason to disbelieve its contents. Well-armed cavalry can wreak havoc among poorly equipped, startled infantry.
But was Ecdicius trained by Arthur?
If Arthur truly lived, and if he was Riothamus? Who knows?

What are your views on Arthur? Please feel free to leave a comment

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Pendragon’s Banner
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Let's Hear It For Harold

Let's Hear It For Harold 
Helen Hollick

The following is my counter blast to the Norman propaganda machine, based upon the research for my novel Harold The King, re-published by CallioPress UK & by Sourcebooks Inc USA as I Am The Chosen King (March 2011)

1066, the most famous date in English history. The Battle of Hastings. To be precise, the 14th of October, 1066, the day when William, Duke of Normandy, led his conquering army against King Harold II of England.
Today, more than 940 years later, one could be forgiven for thinking that politicians had invented spin doctoring, but media manipulation is nothing new. By 1077 Duke William's half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, had commissioned an embroidery - now called the Bayeux Tapestry - to depict the victorious events; William of Poitiers and William of Jumièges had both written a detailed version of the Conquest. William himself had ordered the building of a splendid abbey on the battle site, the altar being placed at the spot where Harold fell. Supposedly killed by an arrow in the eye.
However, the Norman versions are heavily biased, their explicit purpose: to prove to a Papal inquiry, concerned at the level of brutality and aggression meted on the English, that William's conquest had been justified.
I smell a rat.
Previous Cover
Present Cover
Within twenty years of the Conquest, after the North of England had been savagely razed and the Domesday Book compiled, King Harold II's reign of nine months and nine days was completely undermined. Despite legitimate crowning and anointing, therefore taken unto God, in the newly built Westminster Abbey, he was systematically downgraded to his pre-1066 title of Earl and discredited. William's media managers had to justify political murder. 
Strip away the Norman gilding, and what do you get? Twisted truths and blatant lies. Start with the fact that William had no right whatsoever to claim the English throne.
He was the result of Duke Robert's liaison with Herleve, the daughter of a tanner. No one in Normandy expected Robert to die before he took a wife and had a legitimate heir. In fairness to the boy, who grew up to be little more than a sadistic, psychopathic tyrant (well I am a Harold supporter) he did suffer a traumatic childhood. The Norman nobles were not happy bunnies, they did not want an eight year old by-blow as their next Duke. As a child, William had to flee for his life more than once; saw his trusted servant murdered before his eyes. What a pity there was not a Norman equivalent of child counselling. Had there been, perhaps England would have been left in peace and William would have kept his land and wealth-grubbing hands off.
William's claim, in 1066, was that his great-aunt, Emma, had been Queen of England - the only woman to have been queen to two different kings. Æthelred, better known as the Unready, and Cnut - that's the correct spelling of Canute - the King famous for attempting to holding back the tide. Her firstborn son was Edward, later canonised and called the Confessor. Blame the Conquest on him. He was sent into exile when, with Æthelred dead and England falling to the conquest of the Dane, Cnut, Emma decided to remain queen by marrying him. For more than thirty years Edward languished in Normandy. He was in his early teens when he left, a man approaching middle years when he came back, recalled to be crowned King of England. He was a man indoctrinated with the Norman way of life, and probably, would have preferred to take Holy Orders. He may have declared a vow of chastity, or he may have been gay. There are indications to infer he was. Prime among them, his wife, Edith, bore him no children. In this period of history barrenness was always the woman's fault. Edith was never blamed. Edward even took her back as wife after a nasty incident when her father was accused of turning traitor and forced into exile. Edith was sent to a nunnery, always a woman's fate, but after a year, with Godwine forgiven and re-instated as Earl, she too was recalled.
Oh, and by the way, the Normans were not French, although William's great-grandfather had embraced Christianity and the French, civilised, way of life. The Normans were re-located North Men. They were Vikings.
According to William's "biographers", King Edward had appointed him his heir, and despite swearing an oath to support his claim, Harold had seized the throne and in indecent haste and had himself crowned on the same day as the old king's funeral, January 6th 1066. Outraged, William immediately ordered an invasion of England and while Halley's Comet blazed in the sky a fleet was assembled. In September, he crossed the English Channel without mishap. In the meantime, Harold's brother, Tostig had invaded Yorkshire. Moving swiftly, Harold marched to Stamford Bridge near York and won a victory, but when he heard of William's landing he had to return, hot foot, south.

Medieval spin doctors would have us believe that Harold was a poor commander who fought with a tired and depleted army against the elite supremacy of Norman cavalry. Victorious, William marched on London and on Christmas Day was the first king to be crowned in all splendour in Westminster Abbey. Personally, I think his title of bastard is for the other use of the word, and has nothing to do with his lack of legitimacy.
So how had Harold become King? His father, Godwine, was the most powerful man beneath Edward. He had risen to power under Emma and Cnut. Five of his six sons became earls and his daughter, Edith was Edward's childless queen. When Godwine died Harold stepped into his shoes as Earl of Wessex. Harold proved, several times, that he was an able and capable soldier. He conquered Wales, not Edward I in the thirteenth century. Harold became King of England because he was chosen as King; he was the most suitable man for the job. Edward could not have appointed William as heir, things did not work like that in Anglo-Saxon England. When a successor had to be found the most suitable man was chosen by the Council, the Witan. William might have been considered, but against Harold? No contest.
The coronation took place on the day of the funeral because, knowing the king was dying, everyone of importance had been summoned to the Christmas Court. By early January they needed to return home and England could not be left vulnerable until the next calling of Council at Easter. There was nothing untoward about accomplishing such important issues on the same day.
But what of the claim that Harold had pledged an oath to aid William? In 1064 Harold went to Normandy, his voyage duly recorded on the Bayeux Tapestry. Norman sources declare he went to offer William the crown; more likely he was hoping to achieve the release of his brother Wulfnoth and nephew Hakon, held hostage by William since that temporary disgrace of Earl Godwine back in 1052. (I'll not go into detail, suffice to say the exile was caused by some Normans stirring trouble in Dover. Godwine refused to take their side, hence his falling out with the King. For some reason, when the Normans went home they took the two boys with them.) Harold did return to England with Hakon, but Wulfnoth never saw his freedom again.
While William's guest, Harold went on campaign with the Duke earning himself honours by rescuing two men from drowning near Mont St. Michel (again depicted in the tapestry). Riding with William, Harold would have discovered what sort of man he was. Dedicated to his cause. Single-minded. Ruthless. At the siege of Alencon, William had men skinned alive for daring to taunt him about the nature of his mother's background. William was the one who invented death by incarceration in a dungeon. He was quite capable of slaughtering innocent women and children.
At William's Court, Harold was forced to swear, on holy relics, an oath to agree to support the Duke's claim to the English throne. Did he have any choice? What would have been the consequences for Harold and his men if he had refused? William, as his own vassals knew and Harold had discovered, was not a man you said non to. If you knew you would be locked away for the rest of your life and your men butchered, wouldn't you have risked perjury?
For a Saxon nobleman it was a matter of honour to protect those you command. To place his men in danger by refusing Harold would have brought a greater dishonour on himself. Only those Norman spin doctors claimed an oath made under circumstances of coercion was binding.
As for Harold's command at Hastings - he showed aptitude and courage, dignity and ability. Norman propaganda states that he fought with tired men, with only half the fyrd - the army - and without the support of the North.
In mid-September, Harold had marched from London to York in five days to confront his jealous, traitorous brother, Tostig, who had allied with Harald Hardrada of Norway. The southern fyrd, on alert all summer, had been stood down. He took only his housecarls - his permanent army - north, gathering the men of the midlands to him as he marched. Undoubtedly, the housecarls were mounted for no infantry could cover that distance so quickly. Already the fyrds of the north had fought and lost a great battle at Gate Fulford, outside York. Under Harold, they fought again - this time to win - at Stamford Bridge.
It was not that the nobility and the men of the fyrd did not want to support Harold at Hastings; they could not, for their numbers were savagely depleted, many of the survivors wounded and exhausted after fighting two battles. It would have been impossible for them to have marched south when news came that William had landed. The northern earls did in fact follow Harold as soon as they could but, of course, by then it was too late.
The battle that took place seven miles inland from Hastings is almost unique for this period. Fighting was usually over within the hour, two at most. This battle lasted all day. The English, for the most part, stood firm along the ridge that straddled the road out into the Weald, stood shield locked against shield, William's men toiling again and again up that hill. This was deliberate strategy on Harold's part. He and his men had marched to York and back, fought a battle in between. Doesn't it make good sense to make the opponent do all the hard work? Yes, perhaps Harold would rather have waited before committing his men to fight, but he had no choice in the decision: once out into the Weald it would have been difficult to stop William. Within the Hastings peninsula, he and the extensive, deliberate, damage he was doing to people and property were firmly contained. Harold had to keep him there, therefore Harold had to fight.
He stood his men, firm, along the ridge, forming the shield wall. Side by side (to coin an over-used phrase, "shoulder to shoulder") Shouting their contempt, clashing spear and axe against their shields, hurling abuse down that steep, grass hill that so rapidly became a morass of mud and blood:
"Ut! Ut! Ut! - Out! Out! Out!"
Three times William was unhorsed. Three times the Normans retreated; only the fear of William's wrath held them together, although the Norman writers naturally portrayed their blind panic as strategic withdrawal. Only once did Harold's men let him down. The right flank broke - assuming William's men were beaten they tore down the hill after them, Being cavalry, the Normans were able to re-group. The result was outright slaughter, every Saxon was killed.
Nor was William's crossing of the Channel as straightforward as his spin-doctors suggested. He had sailed earlier in the summer, but was turned back. Bodies and wreckage on the Normandy beaches were buried in secret. Why? If bad weather was the cause, why the need for a media black-out? A mass cover-up? It is more likely that he met and was repelled by the superiority of the English Navy, a disaster that subsequent propaganda would most definitely suppress. And yes, England did have a navy!
And so to Harold's death. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts a man wounded by an arrow in his eye, and another being felled by a sword, the words 'Here Harold is killed' above both. Which one is Harold? Well, it is not the one with the arrow. Arrows travel in a trajectory. They go up, form an arc, come down. Can you honestly believe that there stood Harold, an experienced soldier, looking upward as arrows came over?
King Harold II of England died at the hands of four of William's ignoble noblemen. They dismembered and decapitated him.
The truth of Hastings? Our last English king died slowly and bloodily. He was savagely hacked to pieces on the battlefield that later became known as Hastings. Ðœt wœs göd cyning. Harold was a good king. He gave his life defending England from foreign invasion, and has paid the penalty of deliberately twisted truth ever since.

~ ~ ~
see also:
Earl Godwin - the man behind the name
( Article on separate page)

Comments taken from original blog post :

from JAMES
Helen is dead on with this book, with the exception of William the Bastard meeting King Edward in the early 1050's; they probably never met but "probably" indicates that there is a chance... and a little artistic liberty in making them meet adds to the story line. As an avid student of this period in time - I have read dozens of books on this period of time and the significant people involved (Godwin, Harold Hardrada, William the Bastard, the various Earls of England and their blood feuds etc... the politics of this ear rivals that of 1st century Rome) - I can say with certainty that while this is "Historical Fiction", Helen does an outstanding job in representing history as we best know it beyond the Norman "Propaganda Machine" - her words that I agree with . On that note, what is historical fiction? It is taking what we know, or what we think we know, and filling in the blanks... that is all. 1,000 years after the fact, centuries of lies and distortions (history is written by the winners and political slants to justify our actions after the fact are as alive today as they were back then) and ignoring the popular view - Helen uses hard and fast history as the backbone for her story. With that as the skeleton she does a first rate job filling in the blanks to make a story. Again, this is a novel - based on real historical facts - but still a novel. You are not reading a history book, but a story. And here too Helen succeeds in telling her story in an engaging manner that never misses a beat. You will be engaged from page one the the end... and the final pages will leave a tear in your eye and a picture in your mind that will not soon leave. I highly recommend "Harold the King" to anyone interested in history for it's own sake, those who want an alternative view (and very accurate) to what we have been "fed" about how 1066 happened or those who just want a good read. You will NOT be disappointed. -JNH Long Island, New York
Helen said...
It is possible that William met with Edward in 1052 - that would have been the only opportunity for Edward to have "promised" him the English throne (as William claimed)- but I had a no choice situation. In the interest of writing a readable book, the meeting had to take place. Thank you for the support James!
Anonymous said...
COMMENT MOVED FROM ORIGINAL POST made by - ANNE GILBERT William may have met Edward "the Confessor" in 1052. Or some have suggested he sent Odo over. I don't know. I do know, however, that Edward more or less promised the throne to anybody suitable who more or less stood around and listened long enough. William wasn't the only "candidate". So was Magnus of Norway. But that's another story. Ninety percent of the eventual tragedy of Hastings was Edward's fault. And it's just too bad the Good Dr. Freud wasn't around in the 11th century, because if he had been, Edward should have been "on the couch". Because, IMO, the guy was a definite "case". So was William, in his own way, as you have indicated, but that's another story. Anne G
Helen said...
The very fact that Edward did (suposedly) promise the throne to William seems to me that he DID come to England. Like a child Edward was so easily swayed. The person who had the savvy to visit him in person, talk prettily and flatter him got the job. Godwine's mistake... he wasn't a backside licker! As for Bill & Eddie - Freud would have had a field day with the pair of them! :) 
Anonymous said...
COMMENT MOVED FROM ORIGINAL POST made by EDWARD I think you write well, Helen, on a fascinating era. I also think that the 'Anglo-Saxon' propaganda machine is currently going into overdrive today- part-driven by the extremist elements who enjoy hijacking 1066-era history for their own 'political' ends and street thuggery, despite not knowing much about history, which gets forgotten. But that's current flag-waving and 'nationalism' for you. Duke William probably didn't even meet Edward in England in either 1051 or 1052 (when Godwin returned to power), the Normans (William of Poitiers and even duke/king William himself) never stated this was the case, and were strangely silent on the matter. Only one strand of the ASC says he did visit in 1051, but which was oddly quiet for another, related, vital year- 1064?
Bookworm said...
I just finished reading Chosen King and I absolutely loved it! It was so well written that it pulled me in and I couldn't put it down. I love how the story was told from the English perscpective and gave the reader the other side of the story. I don't know much about this period in history but after reading this book I am looking for more to read on the subject. I have also read Forever Queen and loved it as well. I look forward to any new books that will be written during this time period.

Helen said...
comment from Facebook post .... Hi Helen was just reading your blog about Godwin and was wondering about his genealogy. I have read a book by Frank Barlow on the house of Godwin and he seems to be of the impression that Godwin's grandfather was an 'ealdr man of the western province's called Aethelmaer Cild and furthermore, their lineage could be traced bac k to Aethelred 1, Alfred the greats elder brother.He also lists Godwin as having a brother , Aelfiwg, the abbot of New minster and a sister Aethelflaed. Is this somethign you turned up in your research or did you discount this after further research? regards Paula
Helen said...
I actually agree with you Paula - the evidence for Godwin's family being English in origin is stronger than a Danish connection. Sorry James!
Helen said...
P.S from Paula.... if Barlow is right, Harold had a greater claim than ever to the throne, than William. Do you think the family would have known about this? It is never mentioned in the chronicles anywhere
Helen said...
Is this a case of later chroniclers removing the evidence I wonder? After all - all evidence of Harold being legitimately crowned was removed (he as only mentioned as Earl, not King) It has often struck me as odd that there isn't any cntemporary cries of "but he wasn't of royal blood" Noticable by its absence?
Helen said...
From Paula .... well there were some pages missing from Edith's encommium wasnt there, from the pat where she was talking about her family. Perhaps that is one of the basis the witan used for chosing Harold in the first place. Goodness we have stumbled onto something havent we!
Orphelin said...
I'm just curious to know why you thought of Mr. Collins for this role. I think he's a brilliant choice (but I am very biassed).
Helen said...
Hi Orphelin - I will ask the producer to answer you, but he's unavailable at the moment. I think the main reason is because the producer is looking for known actors who can make the part their own. From what I gather, Mr Collins is very interested in Saxon history, and I agree - he's perfect for the part! (And as an aside, it was me who originally suggested him to the producer *grin* - I'm biased too!)
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