MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Bishop Odo - nice or nasty? By Helen Hollick

Odo. Bishop of Bayeux. The assumed patron behind that famous tapestry (which is actually an embroidery). 

Look him up on  any random article and you'll read that he wasn't a very nice person. (Well, of course, in MY opinion none of those Normans, from Duke William downward, were nice!) But I've been wondering lately whether all this anti-Odo stuff is nothing more than blaming him as a scapegoat for the actions of his big brother?

It was Duke William who was obsessed with invading England, not Odo. Duke William who was determined to conquer England, not Odo. Little Brother Odo, was merely carrying out orders. And it might have been that he was right cheesed off to have to do so.

(Let me, at this point, emphasise that these are purely my own "I wonder?" thoughts, I have no indisputable evidence whatsoever!)

Let me suggest a few questions:

  • What if Odo hadn't wanted to be Bishop of Bayeux in the first place - but William wanted to have control (over brother and Bayeux)?
  • What if Odo opposed William's determination to invade England, counselling that it 'was not a good idea'?
  • What if all Odo wanted to do was settle down as Lord of a Manor with the woman he loved, raise a family and live Happily Ever After?
  • What if the Tapestry was his way of putting HIS point of view about the Conquest? A way of thumbing his nose at Big Brother Bill?

Odo was the son of tanner's daughter Herleve and Count Herluin de Conteville, so a younger step-brother to William, not a full brother.  (William was born circa 1028). Odo's birth date is usually given as 1035 but did his mother marry before the death of her lover, Richard II of Normandy, William's father (died summer 1035)?  Had Richard arranged the marriage before he set off on pilgrimage to Jerusalem? It's possible. (Herleve could never have become his official wife - she had no use as an alliance or political gain for him.) He would have wanted her safely secured in a position of importance though - a countess. So maybe an earlier birth date of 1034 for Odo is possible?

William promoted Odo as Bishop of Bayeux in 1049, so he was quite young - obviously a political position, not a practical one, Odo was only about 15. Unless Herleve had been married off much earlier (possible). If born around 1031 he would have been 18 or so in 1049. Was Odo, perhaps one of those irritating teenagers forever chasing girls, getting into trouble being an embarrassment to Duke William - who was struggling to keep his Duchy intact?How to be rid of an annoying younger brother? Oh I know - make him a Bishop, that'll keep him under control.

Odo had a good reputation as a statesman, and as a warrior, despite being a Christian cleric. He took part in the Council of Lillebonne, for instance, nor, as stressed in the Tapestry, did he actually fight at Hastings - his role was to encourage the troops and keep up morale. 

William made Odo Earl of Kent in 1067 and when William returned to Normandy, he served as Regent, and therefore led the Norman army against English rebellion, although his precise remit of power is unknown. He acquired numerous estates in England, most being located in south-east England (Kent) and East Anglia). He had a reputation for ruthlessness and womanising.

However, in 1076 he turned against William and was tried at Penenden Heath in Kent for defrauding the Crown and the Diocese of Canterbury. The trial lasted three days and, found guilty, he was forced to return properties and assets, then in 1082/3 Odo found himself imprisoned for planning an expedition of military might to Rome. Why, is not known. Later rumour implies that he wished to make himself Pope during an ongoing controversy regarding the investiture of  Pope Gregory VII. Or I wonder, was he trying to usurp William by giving evidence that his brother had misled the Church over his invasion of England? After all, Bill had claimed that he had the right of a Papal blessing... Whatever his reason, Odo spent the next five years in prison, all his estates and the title of Earl of Kent were forfeit. So there was something big behind his demise. He did keep his title of Bishop of Bayeux, however. (Which makes me think this move was initiated by William, not the Church. If the Church, would he not have been excommunicated?) 

William reluctantly released him in 1087 soon before he died (alone and unmourned). After William's death, Odo went back to England and supported William's eldest son, Robert Curthose for the English throne, even though it had been left to a younger son, William Rufus. Robert's rebellion failed in 1088 and Odo returned to Normandy to serve Robert there.

Odo then went on the First Crusade but died on the journey to Palermo in January or February 1097 and was buried in Palermo Cathedral.

He is depicted again in the Bayeux tapestry with an unidentified woman: all we know is that her name was Aelfgyva ( a common eleventh century name). Is he striking her cheek or caressing her? I think it is a caress, and this is the woman he loved, but William did not approve and so forbade the relationship.

Image result for Images Bayeux tapestry
I also think that the two brothers detested each other. Which might explain a lot of things. And also explains why I have sympathy for Odo!

One day I might write a novel about Odo. A novel of pure conjecture, admitted, but one that portrays Odo in a completely different light to what has, so far, been written about him.

Got any of your own views? Comments welcome!

Monday 21 October 2019

Alditha, King Harold II’s Queen 1066 - The Right Way Up and Upside Down...

Before he was crowned as King in January 1066, Harold Godwineson had what we would now call a ‘common law’ wife, Edyth Swannhaels - Edith ‘Swanneck’ or Edith the Fair. As King he was obliged to make a Christian blessed marriage of alliance. There would, perhaps, have been two choices for him. A daughter of Duke William of Normandy could have been a possibility – I am convinced that a marriage agreement was made when Harold was in Normandy during a visit dated 1064 (or it may have been 1063 or 1065 – we do not know for certain). A betrothal would have been made to secure Harold’s loyalty and to pledge to aid William’s bid for the English throne. The engagement would have been broken off by a disgruntled father the day he heard news of Harold’s coronation. I wonder if the girl in question was relieved or disappointed?
   The other choice was the sister to the two Northern Earls, Edwin and Morkere of Mercia and Northumbria. She was Alditha, widow of the Welsh Prince Gruffydd, defeated, and some say slain, by Harold in 1063
There are two schools of thought regarding whether Alditha was pleased to be bargained off in a second marriage of convenience, depending on whether you are a Harold supporter or not. On one side, Harold is reported as being a brutal man, arrogant and conceited. It’s interesting that this view is more readily banded by the Welsh. The fact is, Gruffydd was murdered by his own people who then surrendered. In consequence, Wales was left to its own stewardship (similar to when Llewelyn ap Fawr ruled as Prince under King John). Nor are there Norman tales of Harold being ruthless – on top of the rest of the Norman propaganda, I would have expected a blackening of his character. (Think subsequent kings who, for various reasons, were discredited.)
   The widow Alditha and her young daughter, Nest, were courteously escorted back to her own family in Mercia after Gruffydd’s death. This does not strike me as the action of a vindictive man, Had Harold wanted to ensure loyalty, his own control and an insurance of submission, he could have sent mother and daughter into the confine of a nunnery, ordered her marriage to someone of his choosing or simply locked them up. Instead, he gave Alditha her freedom and the prospect of a life of her own. (Albeit one dictated by her brothers.)
   Nest later married the Marcher Lord Osbern fitz Richard of Richard’s castle on the Hereford/Shropshire border, which gives rise to my personal belief that after 1066 Alditha fled to Wales. But I am ahead of myself.

Long Hair, Medieval, Queen, Princess
   Our first problem with ‘Alditha’ is her name, there are several variants: Ealdgyth, Algytha, Edyth, Edith… take your pick. I favour Alditha to avoid confusion with Edith Harold’s sister, wife to King Edward (the Confessor) and Edith Swanneck his first wife (whom I tend to name as Edyth). Alditha was the granddaughter of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, daughter of Ælfgar his son and successor. Ælfgar was unpredictable and hostile to the Godwine family and King Edward. Prior to his rebellion of 1062 he had already been banished once from the kingdom.
   Unhappy with Harold’s brother Tostig being made Earl of Northumbria, Ælfgar allied with Gruffydd of Wales, and began raiding the Welsh Marches and Herefordshire. This Welsh alliance – sealed by Alditha’s marriage circa 1057 – backfired however, as it gave Harold as King Edward’s chief advisor, the excuse he needed to enter Wales and put an end to the many years of aggressive border warfare. Defeated, Ælfgar was exiled and died later in 1062. Mercia passed to his son Edwin, and Northumbria went to Morkere when Tostig subsequently fell out with Edward and was exiled in 1065.
   Harold took Alditha as wife soon after King Edward’s death to ensure the support of the North, and to provide assurance that he would not endorse the return of the unpopular Tostig to favour. It is not known whether Alditha was crowned as Queen - again it is logical that she was, in order to secure her own and her brothers’ position. How sincere was Harold though? Did he truly mean to honour these two northern brothers as respected earls in their own right, or was it all sham?
The north was to find out when Norway’s King, Harald Hardrada, allied with Tostig who still harboured a grudge against his brother Harold, invaded England in the late summer of 1066.

  Viking, War, Warrior, Knight, Battle

 Morkere and Edwin were defeated at Gate Fulford. Did they believe that the new English King had abandoned them? Did they doubt Harold’s pledge of sincerity when he took their sister as his wife – to ally with and support the north? Did they wonder whether, when push came to crunch, that he would, after all, take the side of his own brother? If that is so, they were to be proven wrong.
   Neither the north, nor the invaders expected Harold and his full-time regular army, the Housecarls, to move with such haste. They marched swiftly, with no hesitation or doubt, to aid the north, calling out the ordinary part-time soldiers, the Fyrd as they went northward – the men of Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire… (note: NOT the men from the south! The southern fyrd remained in the south!)
   Harold honoured his pledge. The north was his kingdom and he would defend it from foreign invasion. Hardrada and Tostig died at Stamford Bridge, not far from York. Harold had proven his worth, but Duke William of Normandy had taken advantage of the unexpected decent weather and had landed on England’s south coast. He believed, as had Hardrada, that he had a right to the English throne, and was determined to take what was his.
   William’s (erroneous) belief was that way back in 1051/2 Edward had promised him the throne. Edward’s mother, Queen Emma of Normandy was William’s great aunt, and Edward himself was more Norman than English in his ways due to being raised as an exile in Normandy for many years. It is likely that he and William, being close kindred by blood, were also friends and allies. It is also likely that Edward knew that he would not produce children, (else why would he promise the succession? In 1051/2 he had been married only a short while, was still a youngish man and, normally, would be expecting to have sons to follow him. The Church later claimed that he had vowed celibacy, but this is highly unlikely for a childless king. More believably, he was either impotent or homosexual. (I believe the latter to be the more likely.)

Medieval, Soldiers, Spears, Armour
   We all know what happened a few weeks later seven miles from the coast at Hastings at a site now called, simply, ‘Battle’.
Speculation by some has claimed that the men of the north did not return, in haste, with Harold to the south because they were uncertain of supporting him. That’s nonsense. Edwin and Morkere’s armies had just fought TWO major battles in as many weeks. They were exhausted, probably wounded. They did come south as soon as they could – but of course, by then it was too late. And the biggest reason of why these two earls would have marched to support Harold, was their sister, Alditha.
She was heavily pregnant by the late summer. A legitimate son would very likely become the next King of England after Harold (OK so Harold had sons by Edyth Swanneck which could have put the cat amongst the pigeons, but that’s another article to be considered here on my blog…) A nephew as King would place Edwin and Morkere in a very strong position, a position that would have been absolutely nothing under William. So of course, they backed Harold! (In other words, do not believe the post-1066 Norman propaganda.)
   Alditha was kept well away from the South of England, it is believed that she was sent to Chester, and that after the outcome of Hastings that she fled into Wales for her and her unborn child’s safety. She gave birth to a son, also to be named Harold, in late 1066 or earl 1067. Her two brothers attempted rebellion against William in 1068 and again in 1069, probably citing the young child as the legitimate heir. The Norman response was a winter march across the Pennines in 1069-70 to occupy Chester and to crush the two Earls in battle near Stafford.
   William of Malmesbury suggests that the young Harold later journeyed to Norway where he was well received by Olaf Haraldson, and a Harold is found among the followers of Magnus Olafson in 1098 when a battle was fought against the Norman earls of Shrewsbury and Chester. Thereafter, this Harold disappears from the records, apart from the claim that as an old man a Harold was to claim that he was the king. Yeah right…
I personally don’t believe this was Harold Haroldson. I am convinced that he died as a young child. No proof, just gut feeling or an author’s fancy. IF he was even rumoured to be alive as a child, or young man Duke William would have ensured that he did not survive. His hold on England until he died, was tenuous back then, even rumour of a legitimate English heir would have been difficult for him to endure – or indeed survive.
   What happened to Alditha? Nobody knows.

Fantasy, Dark, Gothic, Female
 A delight for fiction writers, we can make her story up and no one can contradict our ideas.

© Helen Hollick

 Next week: Bishop Odo... Nasty or Nice?

Monday 7 October 2019

Tuesday Talk: 1066 - Turned Upside Down

What If… nine authors were to get together to let their imaginations fly?

It was not a ‘what if’ but a ‘we did’, and 1066 Turned Upside Down – eleven short stories – is the result.

To commemorate the events of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings, historical fiction author, Joanna Courtney, came up with the idea to get a few historical fiction authors together. “What if,” she said, “we wrote some ‘what if’ alternative stories of the year 1066? Would you be interested?”

Would I? !!!
I jumped at the chance to be included, as did authors Annie Whitehead and Anna Belfrage, with G.K. Holloway, Eliza Redgold and Carol McGrath following suit. Joanna and I were in the driving seat, and between us paid the initial bill for publication as an e-book and a fee to professional designer Cathy Helms of to produce an eye-catching cover. (And what an eye-catching cover she came up with!)

30969349. sy475
         On sale now for less than £2/$2 !
Joanna and I also decided to invite two non-historical indie authors, Richard Dee who writes science fiction (we wanted a time-travel story) and Alison Morton, who writes the Roma Nova series of alternative history thrillers. Each author was to be responsible for arranging professional editing for their own story, but would also accept Joanna or my ‘last word’ if we felt anything needed changing or polishing. We discussed whether to keep the spelling of characters’ names consistent, or leave each author to their own preference. In the end we decided on the latter as each story is distinct to the author’s individual style and interpretation.

As one of those different perspectives Alison Morton wondered if her genre would fit in with what we had planned. She writes contemporary thrillers with a twist: what if Rome had survived into the modern day and was administered by women? I suggested that if Rome had continued as ‘Roma Nova’ surely they would have had an interest in the escalating tension between England and Normandy? She agreed, and produced a fantastic story. “I was delighted to be asked to join this venture,” she says, “especially as it wasn’t the period I usually write in. But my work is almost entirely alternative history so I could supply the ‘theoretical’ framework. I knew Helen, so I was confident this would be managed with tact, efficiency and fairness, three essential qualities for collaboration. The most appealing aspect is the mix of writers: traditional and indie, hardcore medievalists and speculative writers, action-oriented and literary. The result is a collection that is a long way out of any box you could imagine. I very much enjoyed projecting an eleventh century Roman’s view of the Norman court which was a stretching exercise for me. Other writers have, I know, enjoyed writing ‘alternatively’ for the first time. This can do nothing but good for our development as writers.”

For Anna Belfrage the situation was different as this was not the first time shehad collaborated with other authors. She felt it was important to have a clear leadership to hold the reins. She says, “We were all inspired by the theme – rewriting history is always a perk – and I personally felt the combination of authors to be intriguing. Our valiant leaders took a leap of faith in inviting writers (such as I) who do not normally write about the period,  but in doing so they broadened the perspective, which contributes to the ‘what if’ aspect.” 
(the pic is of Anna and myself at a Denver conference back in 2014)

Annie Whitehead writes Anglo-Saxon period novels, so she was familiar with the history but she admits: “I had to overcome being star-struck – having been a fan of Helen’s historical novels for such a long time, it was almost surreal being asked to join the project. It was liberating being given the freedom to ‘mess’ with history. This should have gone against the grain for me as I try to stick closely to the facts, but with Helen’s encouragement I embraced the concept of ‘what if’ and really enjoyed where that line of questioning took me. To have a group of fellow authors, encouraging and supporting me, was comforting and as a group activity it was joyous to feel part of a team. Constructive feedback was incredibly useful, and it was interesting to get an idea of how other authors approach their work.”

Richard Dee says: “Self-publishing can be a lonely existence, especially when you are just starting out. You need all the friends you can get, people who will guide you through the rookie traps and pitfalls. Things that you don't like to ask for fear of sounding like you haven't got a clue. People who encourage you and help you to get the best results. The 1066 authors showed me nothing but kindness and patience, and I am grateful for the opportunity to include my work with theirs, even though I was initially sceptical as my usual work misses this period by several thousand years! Collaboration is a good thing, I've learnt about aspects of self-publishing by seeing how Helen and Joanna organised everything into a logical sequence. Their example helped me set up a better system for the my next novels.”

It was a delight to take the known facts, throw them into a pot and come out with a mixture of speculative scenarios: what if Harold had not become King? What if the ‘Viking’ Harald Hardrada had won his battle in Yorkshire? What if William’s fleet had been destroyed at sea – what if Harold had won at Hastings?Collaboration requires everyone to be open to new ideas, generous with input and to focus on the objective. Joanna and I managed to give encouragement and support while being firm, yet tactful. And we were delighted that writer and actor, C.C. Humphreys, gave us such an inspiring foreword!

I think the feelings of us all sum 1066 Turned Upside Down up nicely:
We are ready for another project!

1066 Turned Upside Down
ASIN: B01I1V7G42
Matador (1 Aug. 2016)
Joanna Courtney : Helen Hollick
Alison Morton : Anna Belfrage
Annie Whitehead : Carol McGrath
Eliza Redgold : G.K. Holloway
Richard Dee
Foreword by C.C. Humphreys

On sale now for less than £2/$2 !
i-Books :

Thursday 3 October 2019

Novel Conversations with the Crown Prince, Valerian

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG

To be a little different from the usual 'meet the author' 
let's meet a character:



Q: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. I believe you are a character in Katy Huth Jones’s novel Mercy’s Prince. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?
A: Good morning, Lady Helen. I’m perfectly fine with a goblet of water, thank you. This fruit is quite unfamiliar, and I have never heard of chocolates, though they smell intriguing. Oh, pardon me, I am Valerian, youngest son of His Majesty, King Orland d’Alden of Levathia. Lately, I have been made Crown Prince, though I’d always hoped to become a scholarly monk, instead. I am one of the lead characters and the titular prince.

Q: What genre is the novel and what is it about?
A: The genre is young adult medieval fantasy and is my coming-of-age story instead of my posthumous chronicle, thanks to a remarkable young woman named Mercy. She was raised in a pacifist village, and I grew up with a heart of peace, though pacifism is not a characteristic prized by our warrior society. Through an unusual bond we share, Mercy helps me grow into my role as Crown Prince and find the courage I need to save our land from annihilation by monsters which even the great dragons despise. Unfortunately, the great dragons despise humans, too, but I have no choice but to ask them to help us.

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goodie’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
A: I suppose you would call me a “goodie” since I only have Levathia’s best interests at heart and strive to do my duty, even if it costs me my life. The same cannot be said for my brother’s best friend, Sir Caelis. He is willing to kill or betray anyone who stands in the way of his ambition. And since my brother’s death, Caelis’ ambition is to rule Levathia in my place.

Q:  Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: I’ve already mentioned Mercy, without whom I wouldn’t be sitting here speaking with you, but I must tell you about my royal squire, Kieran MacLachlan, who has also saved my life on more than one occasion. He is smart, funny, loyal, and the best friend a floundering prince could ever ask for. The only difficulty I’ve encountered in dealing with him is that his Highland accent grows a bit thick when he is under duress, and then I find I can scarcely understand him!

Q: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: Though Mercy’s Prince can stand alone, there are four more novels in the He Who Finds Mercy series, spanning several years of my life, as well as Mercy’s. As much as I’d love to live in a peaceful world, things never stay that way in my kingdom, unfortunately.

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A: There are several unpleasant scenes, but my least favourite is in the first chapter. I was my brother’s royal squire, you see, and in my first battle I froze from the horror of it and . . . did not react quickly enough to save his life, thus thrusting me into a role for which I was utterly unprepared. The entire course of my life changed in one moment of inaction.

Q: And your favourite scene?
A: This is more difficult, as nearly any scene with Mercy or Kieran is a favourite, but I believe the aftermath of the river dragon attack ranks near the top. My relief that Mercy survived, albeit with a permanent scar, and the startling revelation of our resulting new and unheard-of bond also changed my life, but for the better in every way.

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books?
A: Oh, yes, my author has written many books, including historical fiction, fantasy, anthologies, children’s, poetry, devotionals, and nonfiction. She’s been published for close to thirty years, but the only time she made steady money was while writing for magazines. That’s probably because she has too many interests and has worn multiple hats in her life, including symphony musician, band director, fife & drum corps director, Shakespeare teacher, Little League baseball coach, Martha Washington re-enactor, and seamstress.

Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
A: She is writing another series of five books set in Levathia entitled Mercy’s Children. The first, Dolan’s Bride, she hopes to release by the end of this year.

Q: How do you think indie authors, such as your author, can be helped or supported by readers or groups? What does your author think is the most useful for her personally?
A: My author did not start out to be indie published, but she has discovered that the best help from readers is leaving reviews so others might discover worthwhile books. She does her part to help other indie authors by reading and reviewing their books on Amazon, Goodreads, and through a series on her blog of “Book Dragon” reviews. Upon sewing a large dragon (without a pattern, I might note) she noticed a paperback or Kindle reader fit perfectly in the crook of the dragon’s forearm, so he was christened the Book Dragon.

Q: Finally, before we must bid adieu, the novel you appear in has been awarded a prestigious IndieBRAG Medallion, does your author find this helpful, and is there anything else she would like IndieBRAG to do to help indie authors receive the recognition they deserve?
A: It was a great encouragement to my author for Mercy’s Prince to be awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion. A reputable award such as this helps readers find indie books that have been vetted as quality reads, which is so important in the currently crowded market.

Thank you, Prince Valerian, it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt?

I thank you, Lady Helen. I have enjoyed meeting you. My author appreciates the opportunity to add an excerpt, though I wish she had chosen a more flattering one of me.

Chatting is thirsty work, would you like a refill of that drink…?
Why, thank you, I would like a bit more water. And, I must admit, those chocolates are quite tasty. I shall have to find some for Mercy. I rather think she’d like them!

Salute! Here’s to being a successful Brag Medallion Honouree!


Even the late summer sky mourned Prince Waryn’s death; the low clouds leaked drops like tears. Valerian’s horse plodded past the castle gates. Waryn’s junior squire, Drew, and what remained of the men-at-arms followed behind. Because Sir Caelis had gone ahead with Waryn’s body, everyone in the Keep wore black armbands. The guards and servants bowed as Valerian passed by on his way to the stables.
Valerian dismounted and handed Theo’s reins to Drew. The squire wiped away tears and silently led both of their horses away. A messenger raced toward Valerian and fell to his knees.
“Your Highness.” The boy removed his cap. “The king wishes to speak with you in the chapel.”
“Thank you.” Valerian made the mistake of looking directly into the boy’s eyes. First that same sensation of a veil parting, then palpable waves of grief from the lad before Valerian tore his gaze away. Trembling, he ascended the stone steps leading into the Keep. This meeting could not be postponed even for an hour.
When Valerian neared the chapel, the words of the lament that monks were singing for his brother became clear. For the first time in his seventeen years Valerian wished he had not studied Latin so well, for he understood every word:

“In life he was valiant, a prince among princes
Most courageous and stalwart,
A warrior without equal on the earth,
Beloved of the people as long as time shall stand.”

Valerian stepped into the candlelit chapel and saw his brother’s bloody corpse laid out on a bier before the altar. The king knelt at the rail, alone. Valerian glanced around to make sure Caelis was not present and then approached the bier.
You could have saved him, a voice whispered inside his head.
Framed by short damp hair, Waryn’s face was as cold and white as Valerian had last seen it. Someone had arranged his hands across the terrible wound in his chest. Why had they not removed the blood-stained mail and leathers?
Of course, Valerian thought with smouldering anger, it was his brother’s honourable death in battle being celebrated here. Those who died peacefully, even more than those who lived in peace, were scorned in Levathia.
Connect with Katy Huth Jones
Twitter @KatyHuthJones
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