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Monday 29 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

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
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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
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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.
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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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