MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Sunday 18 January 2015

Our Anniversary and the Highbullen Hotel...Tuesday Talk - early (written on Sunday)

Two years ago today (18th January 2013) 
I spent my first full day living in a lovely old farmhouse 
in beautiful Devon.

Our Home
Mind you it wasn’t exactly restful – and outside was thick snow. It was moving-in day and somehow our fantastic removal men from Pickfords got us in.

I had been up since 2.30 am looking out the window every fifteen minutes – at first to see if it was snowing, and then to see how much it was snowing.

We (my husband and I, and our elderly dog, Rum, (sadly no longer with us) had spent the night at the Highbullen Hotel which is just outside the Village boundary. It is a nice old hotel – friendly staff, comfortable beds etc. There are thirty-six rooms, some as annexe building but with eleven luxury rooms in The Manor House. There’s a croquet lawn and professional level eighteen-hole golf course. Gym, swimming pool, sauna… and wonderful views across the Mole Valley.

One big drawback. The village is on a high ridge, accessed via five very steep, very narrow, lanes, most of which have very few passing places – if you can’t reverse, or have a wide, posh car - don’t come to Chittlehamholt! The village is rural (less than ninety houses, most of which are or have been farms). No street lighting or bus service; no school – although there is a village hall and a community shop.

Because of the snow that January day, most of the hotel staff, including the restaurant chef, the majority of whom live a car journey away, couldn’t get to work. 
Problem. Breakfast.

To the rescue came Martin and Jane, (former owners: Highbullen was sold in 2012 to businessman, Frank Chapman, the man who introduced the concept of timeshares to the UK.) They invited us into their private house at the edge of the Highbullen Estate for breakfast. And, since we had re-booked our room for that night (in case our furniture could not be moved in – I didn’t want to be stranded with no bed or food!) they made us promise to join them for dinner that night.

Fortunately most of the furniture was delivered but all I can remember of that busy and exciting day, was men carrying stuff walking in and out. No time to explore, or get to know our new house.

When the men left we had a chance to draw breath. My lovely, lovely house – all mine. What a difference from our previous ground-floor flat in the London suburb of Walthamstow.
Winning that six zeros Lottery prize has its compensations!

Getting dark, it was time to go. We had made the right decision to return to the hotel - the bed had arrived, but it had not been put together, and we only had tea, coffee and biscuits in the new larder. We locked up, stood outside our porch door – and it suddenly hit us that we were now living in the middle of the countryside not London. It was pitch black dark. 
Gingerly, one foot in front of the other, we groped our way to the car.

Lesson One. Always know where a torch is!

We were treated as most welcome guests by Martin and Jane (thank you both of you) a fabulous meal with our hosts and a small shooting party – despite our very scruffy appearance. Ron and I were dressed for moving house, not for a dinner party. Apart from nightclothes and a change of underwear we had nothing else to put on!

The removal men brought the last of our furniture on Saturday morning – bit of a panic when we realised the house was cold and the central heating was off. Soon sorted. When installing the fridge in the scullery I remembered turning off a socket (“Hmm, I wonder what this is for?”) Turns out it was the master switch for the Range’s boiler.

Kathy (my daughter) and the horses and cats were supposed to have come down on the Saturday, but I had phoned to say don’t come – the motorway would be treacherous, and they would never get the horsebox safely along the village roads, let alone down our narrow lane. So she booked into an hotel near the livery yard and stayed there a whole week with boyfriend (now husband) Adam looking after her. (Thanks Adam – I would have been so worried otherwise!)

Old Rum
I remember starting to make our house our home straight away. And for the first time in many years actually enjoyed the snow. Before, I had always worried about travelling to and from the stableyard to do the horses – when they eventually arrived they would only be at the other end of the garden. Ron went for a walk on the Wednesday – the lane was beautiful, the orchard – our very own orchard – enchanting. Old Rum enjoyed himself.

Ron and Rum
And when the snow melted? There were hundreds of snowdrops instead!
Paradise Found.

Two years on and I am as much in love with my gorgeous old house as ever. Kathy and Adam have their own part, a newly completed extension called Owl Lodge (yes we have several owls here). Baz is our dog now and the two cats have well and truly settled in. Lexie is the only original horse, we have some other new ones – including two Exmoor ponies – both born on Exmoor a few miles away. Plus eight chickens, five ducks and the Goose.

The only thread of disquiet is the hotel which made us so welcome. Highbullen is being re-developed. The luxury hotel is to remain – back in the 60’s it was a place where celebs came to relax in privacy and to play golf. Legend has it that Sir Laurence Olivier used to pretend to be a member of staff and serve drinks behind the bar. Now, time-share holiday lodges are to encroach on the grounds – trees will be thinned out, the golf course will be reduced to accommodate two-bedroom holiday apartments. Ninety-four timeshare lodges are to be installed. 
That will be a larger complex than our little village.
The hotel's manager, according to a local newspaper, hopes that Highbullen will become ‘one of Devon's premier leisure destinations’. I hope not! 
There is already a four-hundred seat conference / wedding venue centre added along with several restaurants, new tennis courts, and a refurbished gym. There will be a spa and more rooms added to the hotel itself.

Good luck to them for the old hotel – providing they remain in keeping with its old style charm and character – but ninety-four lodges? The overall guest accommodation capacity is set to increase by 700% !

Why do I care? The hotel is on the opposite side of the village to where we live. Our home is one mile down a very quiet and secluded lane… But, in the two years I’ve lived here I have come to love Chittlehamholt Village. I have made many new, very lovely friends. I have grown to appreciate the star-studded un-light-polluted night sky; the fresh, clean air – the slower pace of life and the peace and quiet. The only noise at night is the wind and the owls.

What sort of impact will this 700% accommodation increase have on the only, narrow, unlit, road which serves the village?

What sort of impact will hundreds of people coming to use this new enormous enterprise have on our tiny quiet rural village?

What will they do with themselves once they have tried the gym, played tennis, gone for a swim and dined in the restaurants? Play golf on the now not-so-good golf course? Will Highbullen become a Devon Centreparcs? Or will visitors drive out to the lovely beaches along the coast at Ilfracombe, Westward Ho! and Clovelly? Take their cars to explore Exmoor with its lonely splendour – the Doone Valley, Valley of the Rocks; Porlock, Lynton, Lynmouth…? Drive to the shops and old Pannier markets at Barnstaple and South Molton? Note drive. There is no public transport in our village. There is the infrequent Tarka Line train, but the nearest stations are a good couple of miles away. Not really within a comfortable walking distance (despite what Highbullen in their planning application say).

All this will mean a lot more daily traffic in our lanes. It is difficult enough using the lanes in and out of Chittlehamholt as it is – most trips you have to reverse many yards because of oncoming traffic… and that is meeting just the occasional solitary car. Increased traffic in narrow lanes? Not good..

I’m not against the hotel expanding. I would like to see it restored to its old former glory of a luxury, rural, hotel where local village people can have the opportunity to work if they wish. Gentle, in-keeping, tasteful expansion could be very good for the village. A subtle increased number of tourists - maybe a return of the celebs who crave tranquillity and escapism, and the peace of being left alone to enjoy it. Will anyone get this on a lodge-infested timeshare style holiday-park estate?

What I am passionately against is what Frank Chapmen has in mind. Dozens of tourists mooching about with nothing to do on a rainy day (and it rains a lot here in Devon). A stream of traffic in the lanes causing regular jams because there is nowhere to reverse into, although no one will be able to reverse anyway if two tractors and an oil-delivery lorry completely gum everything up.

That snowy day in January when we moved in…?
We came here because the village doesn’t have many people,  has minimal traffic, quiet and tranquillity. 

Why do these rich millionaire businessmen, who have absolutely no care or concern for anything or anyone outside their own profit balance, have to trample all over the rest of us who DO care?

These plans for Highbullen are the wrong thing in the wrong place.

Article also published on Leaning On The Gate my Devon Diary Blog )

Tuesday 13 January 2015

So Did King Arthur Really Exist?

(Tuesday Talk - recycled post - first published some while ago)

The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy

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

Buy the Book:

The Kingmaking
Pendragon’s Banner
Shadow of the King
The Kingmaking
Pendragon’s Banner
Shadow of the King

also available on Nook, etc

Tuesday 6 January 2015

January 6th 1066

Buy the Book
On this day, 1066 Harold Godwinsson was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey. His crowning (despite what the Normans later declared) was legitimate and lawful.  The previous day, Edward (later known as The Confessor) had died, and the Witan, the Council of England had elected Harold as the next King in his place. Electing the next King was the way it was done, back then in England. Usually, of course, the Aethling - 'the Kingworthy', often the eldest son, was elected as he had been trained for the job, but Edward had no sons, and the Witan knew there would be other men who would attempt to claim the title, it was always so, when a King died others would fight to fill the vacancy - whether they had a right to or no. The strongest won.
Among the contenders, Harald Hardrada of Norway and Duke William of Normandy, both very powerful men who would need someone equally as powerful to stand up to them - which is why Harold was chosen. He alone had a chance of beating them aside. He did, of course, win the battle against Hardrada at Stamford Bridge in September 1066, but lost the fight against William at Hastings in the October. Two men, equal in strength, the victor, William, to win by sheer luck. Had it rained, had dusk been another half hour, had Harold been able to defend his realm for just that little bit longer... but such is the way of things...

The following is an extract (abbreviated and pre-editing) from my novel Harold the King (UK title) / I Am The Chosen King (US Title)

We skip forward a few days, to Rouen in Normandy:

Buy the Book
Rouen 1066
The messenger refused to hand the letter sent from England to the Duke personally. Instead, he sought fitz Osbern.
“But this is for Duke William. Why have you brought it to me, man?” Fitz Osbern was irritated. Naught had gone right this day - before leaving his bed he had quarrelled with his wife, then he had discovered his favourite hound had been in a fight during the night, sustaining a torn ear and tooth-gouged neck. Added to that, indigestion was burning in his chest and now this fool was standing there hopping from foot to foot, proffering a parchment that was meant for the Duke. As if he did not have enough of his own correspondence to see to this day!
At least the messenger was honest in his reply. “Sir, I bring it to you because it contains bad news. I have no intention of being on the receiving end of his temper.”
William fitz Osbern sat at his table, maps and letters spread before him, a quill pen leaning from the inkwell, shavings from other trimmed quills brushed into a neat pile. He had stared at the scrolled parchment in his hand. It was from the Bishop of London. He sighed. There was so much to do and so little time in which to accomplish it. Norman administration would be easier were the Duke able to attend to the reading of charters and letters himself, and if the whole system were not so complicated. The recording of taxable land in England, for example, was much more organised, with everything meticulously written down and recorded in one set book within each shire.
“If it is about King Edward’s health, then we are already aware that he is failing. The Duke is expecting to hear he is dead.” Will handed the scroll back to the messenger. “You have my assurance that he will not bark at you for that.” Mint leaves would be good for his bubbling stomach. Perhaps he ought to send a servant to fetch some?
The messenger took a step backwards, emphatically refusing to take the document. “’Tis not the bark that concerns me, my Lord, ’tis the sharp-toothed bite!”
Fitz Osbern suppressed a belch. “For the sake of God, man, you have been paid to deliver a message to Duke William. Do so.” Fitz Osbern tossed the scroll at the man, who made no attempt to catch it.
“Nay, ’tis not my place to disagree with you, but I were commissioned to fetch this to Normandy as soon as might be possible. That, I have done. No one said anything about taking it direct to the Duke himself.”
Exasperated, Will heaved himself from his stool and fumbled for the scroll which lay among the floor rushes. “I assume this great reluctance of yours is connected with the knowing of what is contained in this scroll?”
“Which is…?” Fitz Osbern’s fingers clasped the letter.
The messenger, a bearded, middle-aged man who, Fitz Osbern discerned, was in desperate need of a bath, scratched his nose. Ought he tell? “Which is that, aye, the King of England is dead, and that Earl Harold of Wessex is crowned and anointed in his place.”
Fitz Osbern’s grip tightened rigid around the parchment. Slowly, very slowly, he straightened. “Repeat that.”
The messenger did so.
Fitz Osbern, mouth open, breath stopped, walked back to his stool, feeling as if he were ploughing through knee-deep mud. He could imagine the words written on the scroll burning through. Someone would have to read them aloud to William. His indigestion paled into insignificance as a different kind of sickness rose into his throat. He nodded, once, very slowly at the messenger. “You may go. See my steward for payment.”
Relieved, the man fled.


Duke William sat very still. Only the slow, systematic rubbing of his thumb passing backwards and forwards across the back of his hand and the tight clench of his jaw indicated his fury.
“Read it again,” he snapped.
Fitz Osbern reluctantly complied. Duke William’s lips parted slightly, his nostrils flared. The thumb stopped moving.
The chamber was not crowded, but all within exchanged furtive glances of apprehension. Both servant and knight alike knew to beware of their duke when a rage threatened.
Duchess Mathilda, seated beside her husband, flicked a glance from the pale-faced Will fitz Osbern to her husband and moved to rest her hand on William’s arm. With irritation, he jerked away. The abrupt movement broke the stillness. He lurched to his feet. The Duke was a tall man - in anger, his stature seemingly heightened.
His words however, were low: “I knighted him. Harold Godwinsson swore homage as my vassal.”
Oui, my Lord.” Fitz Osbern allowed the scroll to roll up on itself.
“He swore to speak for me to convince the English of my claim.”
Again, fitz Osbern answered simply, “Oui.”
William clenched his fists, the nails digging into the palms. “He swore. He took an oath before me.” The words were becoming slurred, spoken through that rigid jaw. He turned his head with a jerk, gazed at fitz Osbern. “He made no effort on my behalf? No attempt to speak for me?”
“It seems not, my Lord. Bishop William of London has always proved to be reliable and accurate in his information.”
Mathilda rose and put her hand over her husband’s fist, persuading the fingers to relax. Was surprised to find his hand was shaking.
She too could not believe that what was written in that letter was the truth. Harold, when he had been here in Normandy, had seemed such a pleasant man, so benign - so honourable. She felt a blush tingle her face as she remembered him close to her, his laugh, those startling, vivacious blue eyes…. Ashamed at that flurried erotic memory, Mathilda stifled the lurch that had knotted her stomach and peered up at her husband. “My Lord, you are a greater man than ever Harold will be - and is it not as well that we have discovered his true nature before committing our daughter in marriage and further into his care?”
Had William heard? He made no sign that he had. His anger was swamping him, penetrating his senses, thundering in his brain. He had been betrayed before. Other men had sworn allegiance and reneged upon their oath. And other men had paid the price of their duplicity.
“So. This is how England repays my kindness?” Resentment spewed from William’s mouth. “I could have left him to rot in Ponthieu when he was captured, could have taken him for ransom for myself, but no! I welcomed him as a guest, I treated him as if he were one of my allies, offered him my confidence and my friendship - God’s breath…” William marched ten paces, turned and glared at the silent group of men and women. “I offered him the honour of becoming my son by marriage!” He lunged forward, scattering goblets, jugs and food bowls from a table, tipped the table itself. Struck out at a servant, clawed at a tapestry and ripped it from the wall. A few of the women screamed, men drew back, several dogs in the Hall began to bark.
Knowing no one else would attempt to calm him, Mathilda intervened, her hands grasping his flailing arms. She was so small against him, her head barely reached his chest. She gripped tighter, shaking him. There were more than a few in that Hall who secretly admired the woman’s bravery. “It is done. The thing is finished. Forget him, forget England.”
William stared down at his wife, his expression a vice of hatred.
“Forget him? Forget England?” he said ominously. “On the day I wed you, I promised you would not think of me as an illiterate barbarian, I promised I would prove to you my worth and my strength, that I would give you a crown.”
Interrupting him, Mathilda declared, “There is no need to prove anything to me, I have all I could wish for. A husband who is loyal to me, who has given me handsome sons and beautiful daughters.”
Her words did not penetrate his mind.

“I vowed that I would make you my queen. And queen, Madam, you will be.”
William pulled away from her, swung towards fitz Osbern. “So, this English whoreson wishes to challenge my claim to England, does he? Then let it be so. We shall see who is more determined, I will not be made to look the fool. I want England and I shall have it.” 

Spring at Battle Abbey, Sussex
photo: Alison King

Want to read more right now?
Get The Book on KINDLE



Further reading and excerpts:
5th January 1066

1066 the Movie on Facebook