ANNA BELFRAGE

Step inside and steal some moments in another place, another time

A series of Hapsburg Doñas

By now, the regular followers of my blog know I
a) have a thing about strong women
b) am very interested in the Hapsburgs. (I am also somewhat crazy about the medieval period and the seventeenth century, but as today’s post has NOTHING to do with these periods, I am glossing over these addictions of mine)

Now, I have written a lot of posts about the Spanish Hapsburgs and today I aim to share another little story with you. Or maybe it is more of a reflection, along the lines that men who have a healthy self-confidence appreciate and encourage strong women. It takes balls to share the stage with a colourful and intrepid lady—as valid today as it has been in the past.

The early Spanish Hapsburgs were obviously well-endowed gents. Carlos I & V had been raised by his aunt Archduchess Margaret of Austria, an impressive lady, and clearly this made him positively disposed towards other strong women, as he selected his sister, Mary of Austria, Queen of Hungary,  to succeed Margaret as the governor of the Low Countries when Margaret died.

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Mary, Carlos’ sister

Mary was temperamentally not as comfortable with ruling as Auntie Margaret had been. She wasn’t quite as social, quite as much the life and soul of a party – not that Margaret was much into capering about and singing loudly, but she knew how to mingle, how to cajole and convince. Mary was of a much more serious disposition and had to learn these skills, recognising that the independently minded Flemish and Dutch subjects were not exactly dazzled into obedience, no matter how grand their governor or how much blue blood ran in the governor’s veins. Interestingly enough, the fact that Mary was a woman does not seem to have been an issue. Besides, should someone displease Mary, the chances were high brother Carlos would ride in to punish the perpetrator.

Mary and Carlos did not see eye to eye on everything. Specifically, they did not agree on how to handle the Lutheran movement. Carlos was all for bashing every Protestant over the head and burning them as the heretics they were, thereby hoping to prod those among the Dutch who’d converted into returning to the fold of the Holy Roman Church. Mary had a much more tolerant approach, advocating that as long as her Protestant subjects respected the laws and did their duty by her, she saw no reason to persecute them on account of their faith. Nice lady.

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Maria of Spain

Other than his sister, Carlos V also had competent daughters whom he also promoted to positions of influence. His legitimate daughter, Maria of Spain, was on several occasions left in charge of Spain, both to cover for her dear Papa and, after Carlos had abdicated, for her brother, Felipe II.

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Juana’s baby son, Sebastian

The same goes for Maria’s sister Juana, who was ordered to return home to Valladolid in Castile from Portugal and assume the regency. Juana did as she was told, leaving behind her baby son. As heir to the Portuguese throne, baby Sebastian was not allowed to leave the country. Juana never saw her son again, this despite him surviving childhood and growing into a fine young man before he died fighting in Morocco. (Well, it is assumed he died fighting as he was last seen charging the enemies) No, instead Juana turned to God and is the only known woman to have become a member of the Jesuits. Clearly, something I need to explore further…

Carlos V was a man who seems to have believed in the sanctity of marriage. Yes, he sired some illegitimate children, but they were either born before or after his marriage. As a youth he developed a passion for a Flemish lady named Judith and fathered a girl, Margaret, born in 1522. The child was raised at the court of the Archduchess Margaret and Mary of Austria, her father setting out a detailed schedule for her education. At the age of seven, Margaret was formally recognised by her father and some years later she was sent off to Italy, destined to marry Alessandro d’Medici. Her first hubby was assassinated and Margaret was wed to Ottavio Farnese, no matter that the fifteen-year-old bride clearly expressed she did not want to marry the future Duke of Parma. Poor Margaret had a hard time of things as her father the Emperor had every intention of controlling most of Italy while the pope and  her husband, understandably, were less than thrilled with the idea. Several years later, an agreement was struck whereby Parma remained independent on the condition that the Emperor was granted custody of the young heir to Parma, Margaret’s son Alessandro Farnese.

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Margaret (or Margarita) of Parma

As a consequence of this agreement, Margaret took her ten-year-old son and in 1555 returned to the Netherlands. Her boy she transferred into the care of her brother, Felipe II, who sent little Alessandro to Spain to be raised with his own (rather insane) son and the other known illegitimate child of Carlos V, Juan de Austria. Margaret was made governor of the Low Countries. However: Felipe had no intention of letting Margaret rule according to her own head or heart, which put Margaret in an untenable position.

In protest to Felipe’s meddling, Margaret resigned and returned to Italy but was recalled some years later by Felipe to co-rule the Low Countries with her son (Alessandro Farnese was the bees’ knees according to his uncle and various of his contemporaries. From Felipe’s perspective, Alessandro came with the benefit of being 100% loyal to him, having been more or less raised by Felipe) Mother and son did not really hit it off, and Margaret was allowed to retire to Italy where she died some years later.

I suppose one could argue that in the case of Margaret, she was more of a figurehead than a person with real power, and Felipe seems to have been more hesitant about endowing women with power than his father was. In difference to Carlos, Felipe had been raised without any strong females in his proximity.

In 1566, Felipe’s French wife Elizabeth of Valois gave birth to a daughter, Isabel Clara Eugenia. Felipe was delighted, falling in love with his baby girl from the first moment he saw her. Isabel would grow up to be the only child Felipe allowed to help him with his work, in charge of sorting his correspondence and of translating from Italian to Spanish. As was the custom among the Hapsburgs. Isabel was betrothed at a very early age to her first cousin Rudolf of Austria, next in line to become the Holy Roman Emperor. Rudolf, however, was to grow up into a man with no interest whatsoever in marrying. So there was poor Isabel, left standing atop Spinster Mountain. Not for long, though, as her dear Papa soon came up with the suggestion that she marry another of her first cousins, Albert of Austria.

This Albert had been raised in Spain, destined for the Church. In 1577 he’d been made a cardinal, despite being very young (eighteen) and not having taken full orders. Hmm. What money and influence can buy, right? Still valid in our day and age, except that these days no one wants to buy a cardinal’s hat… When Felipe proposed that he marry Isabel, Albert was the Archbishop of Toledo which, one assumes, would have led to a number of raised brows: archbishops did not marry. Albert, however, was more eager to wed than pursue an ecclesiastic career and so he resigned the archbishopric, married Isabel and was, together with his wife, made governor of the Low Countries.

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Albert and Isabel

Isabel and Albert were a great double act. Together, they brought stability and peace to the Spanish Netherlands. Together, they promoted measures that strengthened the cultural identity of the Flemish Catholics, such as supporting Rubens magnificent paintings. They developed trade, they helped the region to flourish. Under their rule, Brussels became a centre of culture, of trade and learning. And when Albert died in 1621, Isabel continued to rule on her own, appointed governor by her half-brother Felipe III. When she died in 1633, she left behind a well-ruled region and subjects who genuinely grieved for her. I believe the old Archduchess Margaret, aunt to Isabel’s grandfather Carlos V, would have approved. A lot.

In pursuit of the Early American Dream

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Crossing the seas to new shores…

I have something of a fascination with those intrepid ancestors of ours who decided to uproot themselves from everything they knew and start over, in lands they had never seen. Okay, so I must admit to these not being my ancestors – my ancestors remained very rooted to their few acres of land, complementing that income with long shifts in the nearby mines.

People left for various reasons: some needed to re-invent themselves, some had to escape from baying creditors, others had no choice, many went because of religious persecution, and quite a few set off to become rich. These were often young men, with their heads filled with dreams of finding gold, or silver, or at least some copper. They hoped for rivers filled with sturgeon, for welcoming lands in which crops grew more or less by themselves. Boy, were they disappointed.

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“And bring us back gold. Lot’s of gold!” Isabel & Fernando w Columbus

One of the reasons behind this belief in a land of riches was due to propaganda. People were needed to populate the colonies, and selling a permanent trip to the other side of the Atlantic as being “harsh and difficult, with years of toil before you, and possibly you’ll die” would not exactly have volunteers lining up. The Spanish explorers, needing to justify the costs of sending repeated expeditions over the seas, promised their financial backers (ergo Their Most Catholic Majesties, Fernando and Isabel) gold and silver. Ultimately, as we know, the Spanish Conquistadores found gold aplenty in Peru, silver in Potosí, and a very much impenetrable jungle elsewhere.

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Welcome to the New World, a veritable cornucopia. Not!

Anyway; young men (it’s always the young men who bounce about on their toes, eager for adventure and pots of gold) who wanted to rise above their original standing in life listened to these rather imprecise descriptions and salivated. Go out, make a fortune, return home and marry well – seemed like an excellent plan, like an early version of the American Dream, although at the time it would have been labelled the Colonial Dream.

Most of them failed dismally. But some made good – good enough to be toted as examples of just how true the dream of riches was. One such man was William Claiborne, a man born in Kent to Thomas and Sarah Clayborne, who would carve himself quite the excellent life in Virginia. Along the way he would also instigate the first naval battle in North America and cause quite some tension between the colonies of Virginia and Maryland. One of the movers and shakers of this world was William Claiborne – and definitely not afraid of taking on new challenges and unknown coasts.

William C 001Claiborne was born in Kent, England, in 1600. As his family did not have the means to offer him a promising career back home, William set off for Virginia in 1621, where he was appointed land surveyor. He was granted 200 acres, and through a combination of astute business sense and perfect timing, his original grant quickly expanded to well over 1 000 acres. Already here, William had more than realised his dreams of future wealth, but this was an ambitious young man, with his eyes set not only on gold but also on achieving a standing in society.

Life in Virginia was not exactly a walk in the park. In William’s second year there, the Powhatan rose in anger against the white settlers, and over one very bloody night more than a third of the settlers were killed. William was (obviously) not among the dead – and I suppose all those deaths increased the opportunities for an intrepid young man to further his own position. Our young hero capitalised on the situation, and at the age of 26 was appointed Secretary of State for the Colony of Virginia.

Being a landowner was not sufficient for our restless protagonist, and after some pondering, William decided to try his hand at trade. Off he went to develop the fur trade, sailing up and down the coasts of the Chesapeake to trade with the local Indians. I guess it was very much glass beads for furs, although now and then William probably offered a musket or two as well.

William C 202_w_fullDuring his travels round the bay, William came upon the perfect place for a trading post, a small island just off the eastern shore of the bay. In a burst of nostalgia, he named it Kent Island and appropriated it in his own name. His Virginian financial backers cheered William on. Others did not, foremost among them Lord Calvert, who was looking for land in which to establish his very own colony, one of his options being future Maryland, to which territory Kent Island belonged. Calvert’s first attempt at founding a colony, in Newfoundland, had failed dismally. (And let us not here spend time wondering why on earth Calvert chose Newfoundland in the first place)

Lord Calvert came to Virginia in 1629. At the time, he was more interested in colonising south of Virginia (the Carolinas) than north of it (Maryland). As far as the Virginians were concerned, Lord Calvert had no business being in their neck of the woods at all. Not only did Lord Calvert’s desire for his own colony pose a threat to Virginia’s territorial expansion, but to add insult to injury, Lord Calvert was a Catholic, and to make matters worse, the demented man actually argued for religious toleration, making the staunch Virginia Protestants squirm in their boots.

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Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore

Lord Calvert was not a man to give up. He returned to England to urge the king to give him a charter for his own colony. The Virginians had no intention of giving Lord Calvert as much as a square inch on their precious shore, so they sent their Secretary of State to London to argue against any grant to Calvert. William was more than willing to go.

The Privy Council listened to Calvert. It listened to William. In between, the Privy Council yawned and thought of other things – after all, what happened in Virginia stayed in Virginia, and few Englishmen other than the merchants cared all that much about the colonies. The merchants, however, saw huge opportunities – this was the age when sugar and tobacco were becoming popular crops – and one such rich merchant took a liking to William Claiborne and his plans for Kent Island. Suddenly, William had the means to recruit indentured servants for his future trading post, and in May of 1631 William left London and sailed back home, quite convinced Calvert would never get the grant of land he so wanted.

It must have been somewhat of a shock to William – and his fellow Virginians – when the Privy Council awarded Lord Calvert a charter for the colony of Maryland. The charter included Kent Island, but William made it very clear to Calvert that he answered only to Virginia and the king, not to some upstart Catholic. The upstart Catholic in question had received Maryland as a personal grant, so the colony was in effect Lord Calvert’s property, and Lord Calvert intended to enjoy all his lands – including Kent Island.

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William looking elegant

Kent Island became a symbol. William refused to hand it over to Calvert, calling for Virginia to come to his aid. The Virginia Governor, one John Harvey, was loath to do so: Lord Calvert came with an impressive Royal Charter, and Harvey was not about to pick a fight with the king. William was livid and probably expressed this. The Governor retaliated by having him dismissed as Secretary of State. The Virginia Assembly did not like that one bit, most of them being firm friends of Claiborne, and so Harvey was ousted from office.

Not that it helped William all that much. A Maryland commissioner captured one of William’s ships, and in 1635 the first two naval battles on North American waters took place, both of them in Chesapeake, both of them involving William and his (unfairly according to William) impounded ship. Three Virginian died, things simmered down a bit, and still William hung on to Kent Island, but all this turmoil was not good for business. William’s intended profitable trading post was doing less than well, and in 1637 a London attorney popped up on Kent Island, representing William’s disgruntled London financiers. William was sent back to London to attend court proceedings against him, and while he was gone the attorney invited Maryland to take over Kent Island. Rather back-stabbing, and we must suppose William fumed and protested, but to no avail.

For some years, William was occupied elsewhere – in Honduras, to be precise – but with the advent of the English Civil War, William saw an opportunity to reclaim Kent Island once and for all. One wonders just what it was about this little island that had William so determined to control it. Was it simply a matter of pique? Was there a place on the island that reminded him of home? Hmm. William doesn’t strike me as the nostalgic type.

Whatever his reasons, William joined forced with Richard Ingle, a Parliamentarian Puritan merchant whose ships had been seized by the Maryland authorities in response to a royal order to do so. With England being torn asunder by civil war and religious tensions riding sky high, William and Ingle used Calvert’s Catholic faith as a pretext and attacked in 1644. William reclaimed Kent Island, Ingle took over St Mary’s City. I imagine William did a little happy dance, complete with hand-clapping and stamping, but already by 1646 Kent Island was back under Calvert control.

One cannot fault William with lack of perseverance. In 1648, as the newly appointed Parliamentary Commissioner and Secretary of Virginia – William declared for Parliament and the Puritan faith – he was also made responsible for bringing Maryland to heel. Yet again, up popped the question of Calvert’s Catholicism and how far a papist could be trusted. (I know; this becomes very repetitive, but blame it on the times, not on me). Calvert’s Governor was outnumbered by the vocal anti-papists and submitted to Claiborne’s authority – for a while.

In 1653, to William’s outraged surprise, Cromwell confirmed Lord Calvert as owner of Maryland. In 1654, Calvert’s man in Maryland, Governor Stone, declared that William Claiborne’s property – and life – could be taken at the Governor’s pleasure. The purpose was to scare William into leaving Maryland alone, but instead William and his co-commissioner, Bennet, overthrew the hapless Stone and ousted all Catholics from Maryland’s Assembly. This did not please Lord Calvert. Stone was told to get his act together and regain authority ASAP. Stone tried and failed. By 1655, the colony of Maryland was in the hands of Puritan colonists who went on quite the burning spree, destroying any Catholic institution they could find.

At last it seemed to William he was in a position to permanently claim Kent Island back. Together with Bennet, he sailed for England with the intention of convincing Cromwell to once and for all tear up that irritating Royal Charter which granted Maryland to Lord Calvert. Didn’t work. Instead, Lord Calvert was granted total control over Maryland for the rest of the Protectorate, and William Claiborne had to kiss Kent Island away for ever.

William C The-Great-Southern-PlantationOnce Charles II was restored, William Claiborne’s political career was dead. A former Parliamentarian and Puritan had no future in the royalist and Anglican Virginia, and so William retired from public life, living out the rest of his years on his huge estate, Romancoke. He may not have acquired everything he desired, but when William Claiborne was laid to rest in 1677 he left behind a substantial fortune. The young penniless man who set sail from England in 1621 had indeed realised the American dream. He wasn’t the first to do so, nor was he the last – but he was definitely one of the few.

How expansive ambitions led to revolution

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday, I have the honour of being visited by Paul Bennett, who not only maintains an excellent review site, Hoover Book Reviews, but also writes books about set in the Americas during the decades leading up to the War of Independence. An interesting and not so often depicted period, IMO, which is why I felt it important to highlight Paul’s writing. It is also a complicated period to depict, with global alliances affecting the events on North American soil which is why I am so grateful to Paul for writing this guest post and shedding some light on this whole mess.

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The mid-18th century was a time of turmoil and change in colonial America. The British colonies, being hemmed in between the Atlantic Ocean and the Appalachian Mountains sought to expand their territories west of the mountains that run from Maine in the north to Georgia in the south, despite the fact that there were already many native tribes living or hunting in these lands. Many of the tribes were being pushed further and further west; a movement that exacerbated the already volatile situation existing between traditional enemies. The Iroquois Confederacy, a powerful collection of tribes were in almost constant conflict with the Huron, Shawnee and Delaware tribes being displaced by British settlers. Despite this, the lure of fertile farmland and the lucrative fur trade were too promising to pass up and soon there were settlements dotting the landscape in what is now central and western Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

The French, meanwhile, were also laying claim to the western frontier, but not with an aim to colonize. Rather it was the major waterways, and consequently the fur trade that they sought to control with a string of forts and trading posts that stretched from Montreal to St. Louis following the St. Lawrence River through to the great lakes surrounding Michigan. They also constructed Fort Duquesne (modern day Pittsburgh) thereby controlling the Ohio River and the wealth derived from the abundance of fur bearing critters. In June of 1749 a French patrol was sent into the disputed area around the Ohio bearing to bury lead plates emblazoned with the royal French crest, thereby claiming the land for France. The patrol’s other missions were to round up and remove any English hunters and trappers they encountered, and to further ally themselves with the Indians in the area.

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Young George

In 1754, Virginia colony dispatched a party of Virginia Militia to investigate French activity around the Fort Duquesne area led by Lieutenant Colonel George Washington. He had learned from a Seneca Chief, Tanaghrisson, that thirty-five French troops were camped in a nearby ravine. Washington decided to investigate; while his troops surrounded the unguarded camp, a shot was fired. The plan to talk to the French quickly became an inadvertent but deadly ambush. This ‘shot heard round the world’ resulted in a massacre that saw French commander Jumonville dead, along with 10 of his troops.

Many of the French were captured; however, at least one French soldier escaped, and made his way back to Fort Duquesne to report the incident. Washington, knowing that a reprisal was coming, returned to his base camp to strengthen the recently constructed Fort Necessity.

On the third of July, six hundred French – accompanied by one hundred Indian allies – began their assault against Washington and his 293 men. Faced with these odds, a truce was called which led to Washington surrendering Fort Necessity to the French. While war between England and France was not officially declared for another two years, these events initiated what could be called the real first world war, which engaged the governments and people of most of Europe, eastern Canada, and the British colonies in America. The French and Indian War raged from 1756-1763 and was known as The Seven Years’ War in Europe.

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Braddock, mortally wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness

The strategy for the British was to seize control of the French forts, the first to be attempted was Fort Duquesne. The Battle of the Wilderness was a thoroughly humiliating defeat at the hands of an outnumbered and outgunned French and Indian force. The expedition was led by General John Braddock and included such illustrious personages as Colonel Thomas Gage, who later became one of the British commanders in the early goings of the Revolutionary War; George Washington, who had resigned his commission after the Fort Necessity debacle and was with Braddock only as an advisor; and a young Daniel Boone, a teamster and hunter for the army.

After Braddock’s defeat, the British government went all in on defeating the French, calling upon King George’s Hessian cousins to take care of Europe thereby freeing up men, material, and money for the North American effort. The French could not match the British and gradually, fort by fort, they were defeated; losing not only the Ohio River area but all holdings in North America except for the southern Mississippi posts.

This change in governance was a drastic change in fortune for the various tribes. Those who were French allies had grown accustomed to the largesse of the French in terms of gifts and trade. However, the British governor, Jeffrey Amherst, was not as generous. Even the tribes who sided with the British would soon feel colonials breathing down their necks as more and more settled across the mountains. A tribal confederation under the leadership of the Odawa chief, Pontiac laid siege to Fort Detroit, beginning a short lived rebellion that wreaked havoc on new settlements and small outposts.

In conclusion, Britain defeated the French, gaining Canada and the promising Ohio frontier, but victory would not come cheap. The British government soon determined to levy the American colonies, to help pay the costs of the war. The cries of ‘no taxation without representation’ and ‘give me liberty or give me death’ were responses to this decision, which fed the flames of rebellion, leading to the birth of the country twenty years later on July 4, 1776.

paul clash_coverIt is in this historical setting that I chose to place my fictional family and thus began Clash of Empires the first book of The Mallory Saga. With the hope and promise of a new life, the Mallory clan move to the frontier establishing a trading post at the junction of the Kiskiminetas and Allegheny Rivers, a mere 40 miles from Fort Duquesne. When war is finally declared, the Mallory’s are caught up in the ensuing struggle, serving as militia scouts for the British. Book 2 of The Mallory Saga, Paths to Freedom, follows the exploits of the family as events unfold leading to the Battle of Lexington and Concord; thus starting The American Revolution.

Available on Kindle, paperback.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MXR186R

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MXR186R

Goodreads link:

https://www.goodreads.com/work/editions/53828699-clash-of-empires-a-novel-of-the-french-indian-war-the-mallory-saga-1

Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/Clash-of-Empires-1115407281808508/

Killing my darlings

Archer, James, 1823-1904; La mort d'Arthur

James Archer, Mort d’Arthur

The drawback about writing books set in the past is that any ”real” character one decides to include is dead. There is no ambiguity there, no leeway for twisting things slightly so that the person in question gets to enjoy some years of sunset and peace before passing on—not if the facts unequivocally state that on this date so-and-so died in this way.

Invented characters also die. Not necessarily because I planned it that way, but rather because all of a sudden their character arch took a turn I wasn’t expecting.

Accordingly, I have had to write a lot of death scenes, and I must admit I find these very difficult to write—especially when I’ve bonded with the person about to expire. Not even when I dislike the character I’m about to off do I find it easy – a case in point is the scene in my series The King’s Greatest Enemy where Hugh Despenser is executed. It is difficult to feel anything but compassion for a naked man about to die a slow and painful death in front of a howling mob.

Death is not always violent. Death is also a part of life—even if us modern people have little exposure to it. Not that long ago, generations lived closer together and chances were most children would have seen dead people before they entered their teens. Back then, people died at home. These days, we mostly die in hospital, monitored by beeping machinery that suddenly stops beeping.

One thing I always spend a lot of time considering is in what POV to write the death scene. In some cases, the choice is self-evident: if the character hasn’t been a POV character previously I’m not about to drag my reader into his/her head to live through the final moments of life. It would feel contrived, somehow. But there are deaths where I have a choice: should I depict it from the perspective of the person dying or from the person watching?

Seeing as I have no experience of dying (and I really prefer to keep it that way for quite some more years, thank you very much), writing in the POV of the person about to pass comes with challenges. How cognisant is a dying person of the fact that they’re about to die? How much does it hurt? Is there fear, anger? Or is there a point at which one simply gives up and goes with the flow?

A Newfound Land-Facebook Shared Image“What day is it today?” Magnus asked Alex a few days later. He craned his head back to look out at the pale blue summer sky.
“Midsummer’s Eve.”
How apt, Magnus thought, to die on the longest day of the year. He lay in silence, listening to the sounds around him. Sounds of life, of continuity: Samuel’s soft snuffling from where he slept in his basket only feet from his ear, David’s piercing screams from outside, and Agnes’ low soothing voice, shushing him. In the distance he could hear a horse – probably Moses – and there were birds, and hens cackling, and the ubiquitous sound of young, vibrant beings, his grandchildren, tumbling around in the summer afternoon.
He recognised the tread of Matthew’s feet on the kitchen floor – there was that damned plank that always creaked – and from beside him came the clicking sound of Mrs Parson’s knitting. He listened some more and heard that one sound was missing. Alex was holding her breath, and that meant she was trying very hard not to cry. He moved one hand in her direction and immediately her fingers closed over his.
“It’s not too bad,” Magnus lied. It was fucking terrible! Whenever he opened his eyes, it was like having a red-hot needle poked through his tender cornea, so he preferred to keep them closed. Behind his eyelids swirled blacks and blues and the occasional dash of bright vermillion and orange and sometimes – thank heavens – a soothing green, and then it all began again and he was in so much pain that sometimes he could feel each individual strand of hair as a hurting, aching extremity. 
He heard Matthew enter the room, hesitating for a few seconds before pulling up a stool to sit beside Alex. It almost made Magnus laugh; like a lit de parade, the adults of his family converging to watch him die. He twisted his face towards the twilight that hovered outside the small window.
“I always knew,” he said.
“Knew what?” Alex asked.
“That I’d die at dusk.” Soon he’d be dead, and never again would he see the trees or the clouds, never would he walk over fields, brush his legs through knee-high grasses. Not that it mattered. Nothing mattered except for the pain that inhabited his head, the humongous effort it was to keep on breathing. Air. He needed air, and he sucked and sucked, but nothing seemed to reach his lungs. No click, click, click from his right-hand side; instead, Mrs Parson’s hand closed over his, her breath warm on his cheek as she leaned over him.
“Go with God, Magnus Lind,” she said, and he heard it in her voice that any moment now he’d be dead, and he didn’t want to be.
In Magnus’ head, things happened that were frightening and awe-inspiring – like being high on something far more potent than marijuana, his brain dissolving into extraordinary fireworks. Everything was spinning; he saw bands of shifting colours and he shot forward through time and there was Isaac – in Stockholm, Magnus noted with pleased surprise. He was dragged backwards in time, he whizzed past Alex, and there was his Mercedes. He squinted because he’d never seen her so old, but there she was, her dark hair a beautiful silvered grey covered by a lace mantilla, and he realised she was back in her time, living out her life, and all of him shrivelled in panic. I don’t want to die if she’s not there waiting for me! Idiot, his brain jeered, no one’s waiting for you – you don’t believe in the afterlife, do you? No, Magnus Lind, this is the final curtain call, and soon… No! Magnus shrieked in protest at God, at the bursts of light that were falling like confetti in his head.
Hands on his arm, someone kissed his cheek, dragging him back to a glimmer of real life. With an effort, he opened his eyes.
“Alex? Lilla hjärtat?”
Pappa.” She clasped his groping hand and held Magnus as he began the final fall from life. It no longer hurt. It was all a soothing cold that was like rustling silk over his poor, aching brain. It grew dark. The spinning slowed to a gentle twirling and he could no longer hear, but he could still feel Alex’s hand in his.
It grew even darker and it was very cold but it didn’t matter because now there was a growing point of light and in it he saw Mercedes. She was young, her hair fell free down her back, and she held out her hand to him and smiled.
“Mercedes?” he whispered.
Estoy aquí,” she murmured. “I’m always here, amor mío.” (A Newfound Land)

HDQ02ef126bf225e1545b51ecb2094efd20When it comes to violent and painful deaths such as that of Hugh Despenser, I prefer to describe them from the POV of someone watching. This is partly because this gives me room to properly depict just how the person dies—a man being castrated probably registers little beyond a wave of pain—but also because the images that fill my head when I try to sink into the POV of the condemned person are too black, too full of fear, making it difficult to write coherently about it.

Sometimes, the obvious turmoil lies with the bereaved. This is definitely the case when a child dies. As a mother of four, writing the death of beloved children is among the most difficult things I’ve done. It is far too easy to envision the pain and grief that would follow in the wake of such a loss. And yet, if you write historical fiction children have to die. It is unrealistic otherwise, as child mortality was high and few were the households spared such losses.

Adam found Kit by the stream, in the little hollow that was their miniature Garden of Eden. He smiled at the memories of his Kit naked in the summer grass, of the way she laughed when she splashed through the shallow waters of the pool. She wasn’t laughing now, sitting huddled just by the water, her thick winter cloak draped like protective armour around her.
“Tell me about her,” Adam said, sinking down to sit beside her.
She didn’t reply at first. Instead she sat staring at the water, now and then sending a pebble flying to land with a soft plop.
“There is nothing to tell. She is dead.”
“But she lived before she died, did she not?” Adam had seen dead infants before, but never one of his own, and grief rushed through him. He’d had a daughter, but she was dead and he had never seen her nor held her. Something of his pain must have coloured his voice, because Kit turned her head to look at him, her heavy hair lying like a mantle down her back.
“She was bald, but I could see she’d be fair – like you.” She gnawed at her lip. “She never opened her eyes. She lived for one pitiful day, and not once did she open them. So I don’t know if they were blue or green or brown or grey. All I know is that she had long, fair lashes, and that when I held her, her eyelids fluttered, as if she was trying to open them but couldn’t quite find the strength to do so.” Her voice broke. “I knew the moment I saw her that she wouldn’t live.”
Days of Sun and Glory-BookBub“Oh, Kit,” he said, taking her hand. “I am so sorry I wasn’t here – for you and for her. And I swear that had I known, I would have come, no matter what the prince might have said.” He tightened his hold on her fingers. “In my heart, you always come first. You know that, don’t you?”
“Not always.” She kept her gaze on her lap, her posture stiff and unyielding.
“I…” He cleared his throat. “I do not have the luxury to order my life. If I had, I’d never be parted from you, never spend a night without you in my arms.” He caught a flash of blue from under her lashes, the only sign she was listening to him. “This is home,” he said softly, “this place, this house, but most of all it is you. You are my home and my life, and every day I spend away from you is a wasted day, a day I pray will pass as quickly as possible, that I might return to you all the sooner.”
She glanced at him. “Quite the troubadour.”
“No.” He tugged at her hand, and she shifted closer. “It is the truth.” He reached out to smooth at her hair. “As the queen once said, you are the sun in my existence. What man prefers stumbling about in the dark to standing in the brightness of a sunbeam?”
There was a muffled sound he first assumed to be sobs.
“The brightness of a sunbeam?” Kit lifted her face, her mouth quivering – with laughter. It bubbled from her, and then she was no longer laughing, she was weeping, and Adam gathered her close, pressing his cheek to her head. (Days of Sun and Glory)

The_Triumph_of_Death,_or_The_Three_Fates

The Three Fates

When writing deaths, I also spend a lot of time wondering about the role of faith. While we live in an agnostic age, where most of us go to our death without the comfort of believing in a hereafter, my characters belong to earlier times, where God’s existence was a given (Back then, those who questioned God were given the task of proving he didn’t exist. Today, we’ve turned it around and demand those who believe prove that he does…) But even if you did believe in God, I imagine losing someone you loved was difficult. It always is, the grief and loss standing in proportion to just how much you loved them. And however strange it may sound, it doesn’t help if the person dying is an invented person. Rather the reverse, in fact, because added to the grief is a huge portion of guilt. After all, in the microcosmos of my imaginary world it is I who spin the threads of fate – and cut them.

The loyal sister – the life of a renaissance princess

In 1568, a little Swedish princess saw the light of the day. I am proud to report she is a namesake of mine and was therefore baptised Anna. There, dear readers, all similarities between me and this princess end, but hey, one must work with what one has, right?

Anna JohanIII

Johan III

Anna was the daughter of Prince Johan of Sweden, Duke of Finland, and his wife, Katarina Jagellonica, Polish princess. As the younger brother of a reigning king, Johan should have acquired Erik XIV’s permission to marry Katarina, but Johan chose to negotiate his own marriage which further strained the relationship between the two brothers. Even worse, from Erik’s point of view, with Katarina came some very powerful connections, and he was already suspicious of his brother, whom he perceived as worryingly ambitious.

The Johan-Katarina marriage came with one major challenge: Katarina was a Catholic, while Johan was the son of the man who’d pushed through the Reformation in Sweden and had accordingly been educated as a Lutheran. Johan seems to have been pretty relaxed about all this religious stuff, investing a lot of effort on trying to bridge the divide between Lutherans and Catholics. “It’s not as if there’s any major difference between us,” he may have argued. More fool he, as it would turn out – but not until Johan himself was safely dead and buried.

Anna Simmler_Catherine_Jagiellon

Johan and Katarina in captivity, with baby Sigismund

Right: let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Anna saw the light of the world in May of 1568 and she was likely the result of an intense celebration between her father (at the time 31 years or so) and her mother (all of 42 years old). Why a celebration? Well, the Erik and Johan relationship tanked after Johan’s unauthorised marriage and in 1563 Johan and Katarina were locked up at the castle of Gripsholm. Erik gave Katarina the opportunity to go home to Poland. She refused, saying it was her duty to remain by her husband’s side. It was probably a good thing for Johan that she did refuse, as her presence made it difficult for Johan’s jailers to be as harsh as Erik’s most trusted servant, Jöran Persson, wanted them to be. Jöran Persson is the closest Sweden gets to Thomas Cromwell, a man of low birth who rose to be chief whisperer in the royal ear. In the fullness of time Jöran was to die a horrible death on the orders of Johan. I guess this just proves one should never, ever kick the one who’s down…

By 1567, Erik’s mental health was in severe decline and the nobility managed to set him aside and free Johan. Hence my comment about celebrations – maybe Katarina and Johan went a bit wild and crazy in their marital bed, drunk on freedom and a return to the lap of luxury. Mind you, they already had a son, Sigismund, born while they were imprisoned, but I imagine that begetting was more about comforting each other than joy.

Anna Žygimont_Vaza._Жыгімонт_Ваза

A young Sigismund

A year or so after Anna’s birth, Johan became king of Sweden. Little Anna was therefore raised as a royal princess, which in this case meant being the recipient of an excellent education. As her mother was a Catholic, Anna was raised as one too, and this caused some muttering among the recently reformed Swedish nobility, many of whom had embraced the Lutheran faith with ardour. It wasn’t so much Anna being a Catholic that worried them—it was the fact her brother was being raised as one that did. A future Catholic king in the Protestant kingdom of Sweden? A collective shudder ran through the high and mighty.

The years passed. We know very little of Anna’s early years. We know negotiations for a marriage started early, but nothing came to fruition. In 1583, Katarina died. It is said that Anna was present at her mother’s bedside and heard the Jesuit priest assure the dying woman that she didn’t need to worry about Purgatory as it didn’t really exist, it was just something the Church had made up. Anna supposedly suffered so severe a disillusion that no sooner had her mother died but she began drifting towards the Lutheran faith.  I think the explanation is much simpler: with Anna’s mother gone, there was no formative Catholic influence in her proximity. In 1584, Anna formally converted to Lutheranism.

This was not good according to Anna’s aunt and namesake, Queen Anna of Poland. She tried to convince Johan to send Anna to Poland to be raised there, but Johan refused, just as he refused to countenance a marriage between Anna and one of the Hapsburgs. Johan was doing a religious tightrope act so as to keep his nobles relatively happy and wedding his daughter to an arch-Catholic archduke would not have gone down well.

Throughout all this, big brother Sigismund remained a staunch Catholic. In his case, he didn’t really have a choice. As designated heir to Poland (and Poland was a much, much bigger and grander kingdom that Sweden) he had to be Catholic. In 1587, Sigismund became king of Poland. When he travelled to his coronation, he was accompanied by his sister.

In Sweden, it had been Sigismund who was viewed askance. In Poland, the prelates and nobles took one look at the vivacious and bright Anna Vasa and decided they hated her for her influence over their young king but primarily for her heretic ways. (As Anna had been baptised a Catholic and then converted, she was considered a heretic, a bit like the Cathars. And we all know what happened to the poor Cathars, right?)

Anna Vasa Elbfas_Portrait_of_a_lady_with_a_fan_(detail)

Anna Vasa

After two years in Poland, Anna returned home to Sweden. Along the way she was involved in a conflict between her father and his councillors who begged her to intercede for them. She did so, and as a consequence a lifelong friendship between her and a certain Erik Sparre took root. Her father was not exactly delighted at her meddling, but the Vasa family was accustomed to having their fair share of bright and temperamental women so he probably wasn’t surprised by his daughter’s excursion into the world of politics.

The princess’ uncle, Duke Karl, was less enthusiastic. While he too was a man who respected strong women (he married one, for starters) he seems to have developed an intense dislike of his niece, going so far as to call her a meddling evil witch in his correspondence to her brother. But this was as yet in the future.

Johan died in 1592. Sigismund was the new king of Sweden. The cheering was decidedly muted, most of the nobility having long since decided a Lutheran nation like Sweden needed a Lutheran king. How fortunate that the man closest to the throne bar Sigismund was the very staunch Protestant Duke Karl who did what he could to fan the flames of religious fanaticism ever higher.

Anna Charles_IX_of_Sweden

Uncle Karl, future Karl IX

Anna was at the time living in Sweden having been granted the castle of Stegeborg. There she held court and surrounded herself with friends and courtiers. One of her ladies in waiting was a Margareta Brahe, sister-in-law twice over to Erik Sparre mentioned above. She and Anna were very close, as was Anna and Margareta’s brother Gustav Brahe. This young gentleman had a major crush on Anna – reciprocated, it would seem. Rumours abounded about their love life and Duke Karl, this man of high morals, openly accused his niece of having taken Gustav as her lover. Well, he did it somewhat more subtly, pointing finger at Margareta and accusing her of smuggling her brother into Anna’s bedchamber. What happened next, he did not detail. I guess Duke Karl was an early fan of the “dot,dot, dot” type of writing.

There was a third Brahe sibling in Anna’s household, namely the younger sister Sigrid. Now Sigrid was very much in love with a certain Johan Gyllenstierna, but her parents had decreed that she should marry Erik Bielke instead. There were rumours Bielke had syphilis, which for obvious reasons didn’t exactly have Sigrid jumping about with joy. Besides, it was Johan she loved and adored.

Anna decided to act. On an ordinary Wednesday, she arranged a wedding between Sigrid and Johan. This was unheard of—Anna had no right to do so. The Bielke family went ballistic and demanded restitution. The Brahe parents were as upset, but one did not yell at a princess, so they yelled at their silly, inconsiderate daughter instead. However, a wedding was a wedding and could not be reversed and soon enough every man and his dog in Sweden was taking sides. Well, okay: not every man and his dog, obviously. Only those that counted, i.e. those with lands and power. Plus their wives who did not hesitate to voice their opinions.

The Bielke family demanded that the officiating priest be castrated (!) and that Johan be condemned to death for stealing a bride already betrothed.  Things were looking rather nasty and when Anna begged Duke Karl to help her sort the mess he just snorted  and told her she had better clean up her own mess or witness Johan Gyllenstierna’s beautiful head be permanently severed from his body. It helped that Anna was the king’s sister. After days of hard negotiation she managed to convince the Bielke family to accept monetary restitution instead of Johan’s head. The happy couple was also placed under house arrest for a year. Not necessarily a hardship if you were young and very much in love…

This incident soured the relationship between Anna and Duke Karl. Things took a turn for the worse as the opposition to Sigismund grew, captained by Duke Karl. Anna was infallibly loyal to her brother, reminding the Swedes he was their anointed king. But Anna’s voice was one voice and a female voice at that. Ranged against her were not only Duke Karl and many of the more powerful noble families but also the Swedish Lutheran Church.

Sweden was quickly slipping through Sigismund’s fingers. Influenced by his Polish advisors, the papal nuntio Germanico Malaspina and his Jesuit confessors, he was determined to revoke the prohibition against worship outside the Swedish Lutheran Church, this to protect his Catholic subjects. Did not go down well. Many were the grumbling Swedes who reminded their new king that there were no papists in their fair country—they’d made sure of that, thank you very much. (There were, of course, but most of them kept a very low profile) Even worse, Sigismund—or rather his Polish advisors—were clearly of the opinion that Sweden was nothing more than a puppet state, subservient to Poland.

In all this, Anna did her best to negotiate. Her brother listened to what she said but the papal nuntio detested her and made it very clear that following an apostate’s advice was like walking down the paved road to hell. Duke Karl didn’t do much listening. He was beyond that, his eyes lighting up whenever he thought of just how close to his fingers the Swedish crown dangled.

In 1598, Sigismund was defeated at the battle of Stångebro and in 1599 he was deposed by parliament and replaced by…ta-daa…Duke Karl, now become Karl IX. To cement his hold on his new throne, Karl did some cleansing. Among those who ended up with their heads chopped off was Erik Sparre, Anna’s friend. In the proceedings leading up to his execution, Karl had Anna’s home ransacked, looking for proof that she had helped Sparre. A couple of letters in code were found, but by then Anna was no longer in Sweden – she had accompanied her brother back to Poland.

Anna Sigismund_of_Poland

Sigismund in his heyday

Anna was to live out the rest of her life in Poland, usually far from court where she was viewed with suspicion by Sigismund’s Catholic courtiers—even more so as she never hesitated to speak up in defence of the Lutheran minority in Poland. Sigismund and Anna remained very close and he always valued her advice. She never married, even if negotiations for a marriage continued until 1609.

She died in 1625 and her griefstruck brother wanted to give her a grand burial in Krakow. The Polish Church refused. So did the pope. A heretic was a heretic and no way was Anna Vasa to defile the resting place of her Catholic forebears. It took nine years before Anna was finally laid to rest, but not in Krakow as her brother had wished but in the far more modest church of St Mary in Torun. As she was buried according to Lutheran rites, none of her Polish relatives attended. Instead, Anna’s nephew sent one of his few Protestant magnates to represent him. Not that Anna cared. She hadn’t done so for nine long years.

Elizabeth who? A reflection on the life of a medieval woman

Most of us are destined to pass through this life and be quickly forgotten, buried in the huge drifts of human life that border history. Only those that truly stick out—whether for good or bad—get a moment or two of air-time, and for obvious reasons most of these highlighted people tend to be rulers. And men.

Obviously, there are just as many women as men lurking along the margins of recorded history. Quite a few of those women did play a central part—however indirectly—but they are often consigned to the “irrelevant” section, which seems sort of harsh.

One of those long-gone women about whom we know almost nothing is Elizabeth Ferrers. And yet, to judge from what little we do know, this woman had more than her fair share of loss and grief in her life.

Elizabeth was the youngest child of William de Ferrers, the powerful and respected Earl of Derby. This was a man with a surfeit of daughters. Two marriages left him with ten girls and only two sons. Not that Elizabeth ever had the opportunity of developing a close relationship with her father—he died when she was still very young.

Elizabeth was married while still relatively young to William Marshal. (Not the William Marshal but a rather more obscure relative) That marriage ended when her husband died at The Battle of Evesham. Some while later, Elizabeth Ferrers was wed to Dafydd ap Gruffudd.

Was this her choice? Likely not. At the time, Dafydd was estranged from his brother, Llewellyn ap Gruffudd. Well, if we’re going to be quite correct, he’d been his usual pain in the arse, trying to capitalise on the general unrest that followed upon the collapse of Montfort’s control over England. Llewellyn had been a close ally of Montfort. Dafydd chose to present himself as a loyal supporter of the English king, Henry III, and his son, the future Edward I.

Edward Gal_nations_edward_i

Edward I

So there was Dafydd, kicking his heels at the English court while longing for the green valleys of home. Maybe the English king hoped to tie the younger of the Welsh princes to him by offering him an English bride. Or maybe his decision to marry Elizabeth to Dafydd was a reflection on just how pissed off he was with Elizabeth’s brother, Robert de Ferrers. The young Earl of Derby had sided firmly with Montfort, apparently due to a personal dislike of Prince Edward. In the aftermath of Evesham, Ferrers stubbornly refused to come to terms with his king—at least initially. (In general, Robert’s life reads like a text book case of “how to totally destroy your inheritance”. Due to his own behaviour, Robert de Ferrers lost his title, most of his lands and any political clout he could have had. I may have to give him his very own post—but I can’t say I like him much)

Dafydd was probably ten years or so older than Elizabeth. Yes, he was Welsh, but he’d have been taught to speak Anglo-Norman French and had, after many years at the English court, probably acquired a veneer of civilisation (from the perspective of an Englishman. From the perspective of a Welshman no such veneer was required, thank you very much).

medieval lustWhether Elizabeth liked her husband yes or no was neither here nor there. She was his wife and would have no choice but to accompany him through the ups and downs of his life. Seeing as Dafydd comes across as a somewhat volatile character, prone to stirring up the hornets’ nest whenever he felt unjustly treated, Elizabeth was in for quite the ride.

Dafydd made his peace with his brother in 1267—briefly. When Edward, now king of England, and Llewellyn faced off yet again in 1274, Dafydd happily joined Edward’s side, resenting the fact that his brother wouldn’t grant him as much land as Dafydd felt entitled to. What Elizabeth may have thought of all this is unknown, but when Dafydd was in one of his “I love you, my brother” phase, Elizabeth was likely in Wales, when he was in a “I love you better, my liege” phase, she’d be tagging along to England. After all, where he went, there went she, responsible for ensuring his household worked as it should.

Llewellyn’s attempts to retain his hold on all of Wales failed. Well, to be honest his hold had never been all that strong: to the south and east the English Marcher lords held sway and the other Welsh princelings weren’t always that thrilled at recognising the House of Gwynedd as the first among the Welsh royal dynasties. When Edward assembled a huge host and managed to deprive Llewellyn of the harvests on Anglesey, Llewellyn had no choice but to parley and the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1277 was an excruciatingly humiliating document whereby Llewellyn’s power base was substantially reduced to comprise the lands west of River Conwy.

medieval-dragon-e1492962219524-570x299Dafydd, however, was a happy camper as the treaty called for Llewellyn to hand over the land he’d held east of the river to his younger brother. Edward was an even happier camper as he had a) made his point b) effectively collared the Welsh dragon. So pleased was Edward that he could even be magnanimous and preside over Llewellyn’s much delayed wedding to Eleanor de Montfort. (Delayed because Edward had kidnapped the bride, one should add)

medieval midwife-history-medievalBy the year 1277, Elizabeth and Dafydd had been married for over a decade. There were two surviving sons that we know of, yet another Llewellyn and an Owain. The eldest would have been around ten, the youngest a toddler. Likely there had been other childbirths, but if so no records survive. Other than the boys, the Dafydd/Elizabeth household also included a number of girls, but these seem to have been Dafydd’s daughters by women other than his wife. Difficult to handle, I imagine. Unless Elizabeth disliked sharing her bed with her husband beyond the dutiful embraces required to conceive an heir and a spare. Alternatively, one or two of those girls were, in fact, Elizabeth’s daughters as well. Given future events, it seems a bit unlikely as Elizabeth’s youngest child, a daughter named Gwladys, is named in documents while the rest remain anonymous.

Anyway: 1277 and Dafydd had at last come into his own. It didn’t take him long to realise just how hard Llewellyn’s life had been, always threatened by the encroaching presence of the English who, by now, had settled themselves all around Gwynedd. Edward was busy building castles along the approaches to Gwynedd—magnificent things that sent a very loud message as to who was the real power in Wales. Llewellyn might retain his title of Prince of Wales, but it was Edward Plantagenet whose writ ran strongest.

Inevitably, Dafydd ended up in yet another conflict. This time, however, he directed his anger at Edward and the king’s determination to implement English law in those areas of Wales he controlled. Plus Dafydd probably felt he’d deserved more than the two measly cantrefs he’d received at the Treaty of Aberconwy. He managed to rope in several other dissatisfied Welsh princes, men who had a long last come to realise that in making their peace with Edward of England they’d betrayed their own nation, culture and heritage. While Llewellyn probably cursed his brother to hell and back privately, he had no option but to join. Besides, for a couple of months a Welsh victory did not seem entirely impossible. Until Edward got his war machine moving, of course.

On the one hand, Edward was incensed by Dafydd’s betrayal. One must remember that Edward had seen first hand just how dangerous a powerful and rebellious subject could be—witness Simon de Montfort vs Henry III, Edward’s father. On the other, Edward probably high-fived his closest friends and said “YES!”. Dafydd had handed him the excuse Edward needed to once and for all crush all Welsh resistance.

What did Elizabeth do in all this? Me, I think she was afraid. All the time. She knew Edward and realised he made an implacable foe. She must have understood that if this went wrong, Dafydd would not remain alive for that much longer. And if Dafydd wasn’t around, what would happen to her sons? To her?

We all know this ended badly for the Welsh. A devastated Llewellyn lost his wife in childbirth in the summer of 1282 and was then likely tricked into a trap masterminded by certain Marcher lords, among them Edmund Mortimer, father of the Roger Mortimer who’d go on to rebel against a king, force through the king’s abdication, live joined at the hips with said king’s wife and then die for all that hubris. Neither here nor there. Llewellyn died in December of 1282, his head presented to Edward by Roger Mortimer (Edmund’s brother).

For some months, Dafydd was Prince of Wales—months spent mostly on the run with his family. Elizabeth and the children travelled with him from one castle to the other, and all the while Edward was tightening the noose around his most hated traitor.

EHFA BNMsFr2643FroissartFol97vExecHughDespenser

This is Hugh Despenser being hanged, drawn & quartered. Dafydd underwent a similar ordeal

It all came to an end in the summer of 1283. Dafydd was captured together with his wife, his youngest son and all those girls. Neither Dafydd nor Elizabeth would have held any illusions about what awaited Dafydd: death. But I guess none of them expected he would be put to death in such a cruel manner. Dafydd ap Gruffydd has the doubtful distinction of being the first person of noble birth to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

What neither of them could have known is how ruthless Edward would be towards their children. Once Edward’s men captured their eldest son, Llewellyn, he then arranged for both boys—at the time fourteen and eight or so—to be taken to Bristol Castle, there to be locked up for the rest of their lives.

And as to Gwladus, she was taken from her mother and sent to a Gilbertine convent in Lancashire. She would live and die as a nun, far from her mother, her homeland. Her cousin, Llewelyn’s daughter, was likewise dispatched to a convent—but a different one.

So there was Elizabeth. Not only had she just been widowed (or would be, very shortly) but she’d just had all of her children torn from her. No matter that Gwladus was probably a babe, that little Owain was still a child with downy cheeks and knobbly knees, they were taken from her. Did she beg, did she plead? Well, what mother wouldn’t? So yes, I think she did. But it did not avail her. Edward Plantagenet intended to erase this Welsh dynasty from the face of the earth.

In the aftermath of her husband’s rebellion, Elizabeth lost it all. Husband, sons, daughter(s). She would never see any of her children again and as to her own fate, well, she’d had her moment in the limelight, hadn’t she? With Dafydd dead and her sons locked away, Elizabeth became irrelevant. We don’t know what happened to her. It’s as if her life stopped in 1283. I suppose that she would have agreed. To lose it all like that must leave a person permanently maimed.

medieval marriage frontpage2Some have put forward the theory that Elizabeth was hastily wed to another man. If so, we don’t know to whom or if she became the mother of other children. Some say she retired to Wales and was buried there several years later. Me, I think she grieved for the rest of her life. I sort of hope she died before her eldest son in 1287, but God does not seem to have been kind to Elizabeth, so likely she didn’t. I hope she never found out about the king’s order that her sons be kept in fortified cages at night. But life being as it is, I suspect someone made sure to tell her.

Well over eight hundred years ago, Elizabeth Ferrers was born. We know so little about her. What did she look like, how did her laughter sound? Did she laugh or was she mostly of a serious disposition? Was she passionate or cold, did she have someone to comfort her when she wept for the life she had lost, the future her children were robbed of? We don’t know. But it takes a person seriously lacking in empathy not to be affected by the tragedies that befell her—and her children.

Adult content, anyone?

Lucas Cranach P-1947-LF-77-tif-10575In a post I wrote several years ago, I expressed my frustration over the use of “clean” when designating sex-free romance—mostly because the antonym to “clean” is “dirty”, and IMO there is nothing dirty about sex, definitely not when the participants are consenting adults.

I notice that quite a few books on Amazon come with the warning label ADULT CONTENT. As far as I can make out, adult content in this context is almost always equal to explicit sex, all the way from the passionate embrace between a husband & wife to the substantially more edgy sexual activities involving restraints and other implements.

Now, labelling a book ADULT CONTENT may not necessarily dissuade a curious reader, but fine, I can understand why those readers who want to steer clear of anything beyond the “Yes,” she sighed happily, “yes, please make me yours.” He smiled down at her and lowered his mouth to claim hers. THE END may feel they need such a label. What I don’t understand is why it is considered necessary to label books with sex in them, but not books with blood, gore and vicious death.

Assuming the label has as its purpose to shield the more innocent among us from the seedier sides of life, I find it sad that sex, apparently, is very seedy, while violence is not. What does it say about modern man that we take depictions of torture and pain in our stride, no matter if in written form or on the screen, but still have people screeching in protest when confronted with a scene in which a lover kisses a breast, slides down to kiss a navel, a mons, a vagina?

Personally, I’d like it if books that contain gratuitous violence, where I risk reading scenes involving torture, debasement, mutilation, death, blood, gore also came with a warning label. I may be wrongly wired, but I get far more upset reading about a character I’ve bonded with being subjected to inhuman pain than I do when the same character has hot and wild sex—well, any kind of sex (as long as it is consensual). I must be in minority as otherwise I suppose there would have been a warning sticker on such books as well. I guess the major problem would be that so many books would require such a warning: after all, there is far more blood spatter among the pages of various books I read than there is sex.

In general, we have become gradually desensitised to violence. I remember the first time I saw Die Hard and poor Bruce Willis staggered about covered in blood and bruises. I alternated between feeling shocked and wondering how on earth he could survive all that. These days, the beatings Bruce survives in that movie don’t elicit much of a reaction (As to how he survives, there is rarely a “get real” demand on crime & thrillers. Come to think of it, there probably isn’t one on steamy books either. How else to explain the plethora of well-hung men with testosterone levels through the roof that abound in such books? Neither here nor there—I think)

I have on occasion walked out of movies (one of the recent James Bond movies comes to mind) because I just couldn’t stand the violence and had no desire to subject myself to seeing things that I believe will, somehow, affect my boundaries. There are very many books where I have either just stopped reading or skimmed through some chapters, finding little purpose to the detailed descriptions of brutality. Yes, I get it that if you’re writing about a bloody battle, things have to be bloody, but from there to wallow in details of entrails and brain matter, to submerge the reader (or viewer) in a red sea of pain—no.

Frederic_William_Burton_-_Hellelil_and_Hildebrand_or_The_Meeting_on_the_Turret_StairsObviously, some of the people reading this post will retort that if I have problems with violence, they have problems with sex. “I just can’t read a book with explicit sex in them,” someone once told me, going on to say that they could therefore not read my books. Not that my books are 400 pages of constant sex, I hasten to add. I have sex scenes because I write about love and in general adults who fall in love like to have sex. I also have some scenes with violence—albeit not too graphic. Why? Because I’m writing about times steeped in unrest and in general such times are defined by surges of violent behaviour as the various contenders jockey for power. Never has one of my would-be readers come back to me to say “I just couldn’t read this book because the violence in chapter 18 turned my stomach.” I find it interesting that the person obliged to set my book aside due to sex happily reads some pretty gruesome violent stuff—but to each their own, hey?

love 17th century rubensMy books don’t come with an ADULT CONTENT label as I’ve always felt that sex between married people or people in love is pretty much par for the course. Plus, I don’t write pages and pages of it. (I want to sometimes. Dear BFF and Beta-reader extraordinaire is pretty harsh on me when I do…) So yes, for those of a sensitive nature my books may cause some squirming. Sadly, not because vulnerable people are hurt or abused, but because leading man & 17th century hunk Matthew (ditto my medieval knight Adam de Guirande) loves his time-travelling wife Alex to bits (As Adam loves his lady wife Kit, who is more than delighted at not being a time-traveller) and makes sure he shows her just how much he worships her in bed—and out of it.

People who write (and read) about love and romance and add sex into the mixture are often dismissed as being writers (or readers) of smut—usually by peeps who have never read the books in question. Smut, dear peeps, is not something we should want to read (or write) Smut is a derogatory term, usually used by smirking individuals who believe things like love and sex are mundane. I guess they are. But they are also a major component in the lives of most of us, whether it be because we are fortunate enough to have both love and heat in our lives or because we’re hoping to find it.

I don’t write smut. I don’t write “dirty” books. I don’t even think I write books with ADULT CONTENT. I write books about love, about people willing to do what it takes to save their loved ones from whatever predicament they may find themselves in. Some call that romance. If so, I am a proud writer (and reader) of romance. And yes, some romance books definitely qualify for that ADULT CONTENT label. But so do many, many crime novels and thrillers – oh, right, I forgot: ADULT CONTENT has nothing to do with depictions of human cruelty (unless it is sexual in nature). What can I say? It’s a strange and sad world when sex scenes have people tying themselves up in knots while they won’t bat an eye at a vivid description of violence. Very, very strange, IMO!

Into the Lion’s Den

Today, Suzanne Adair is visiting me with a fascinating story about William Hooper, famous for being one of the men who signed the American Declaration of Independence. Suzanne is the author of a series set in Revolutionary America and Mr Hooper pops by in her latest instalment. Well: enough intro, already – allow me to turn you over to Suzanne herself!

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Sometimes a history nugget I find while researching for my Michael Stoddard American Revolution mysteries is so good that I include it in one of the novels of the series. Like the story of what happened when William Hooper, an attorney and one of North Carolina’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, ventured into Wilmington during the summer of 1781, while Crown forces occupied the town. Surely Hooper was on King George III’s “most wanted” list at the time. Why did he do it?

At the beginning of 1781, action in the American Revolution in the South was largely in Virginia and South Carolina. Patriots governed North Carolina. They’d been in charge for five years and grown complacent. The governor’s office had little power. The government was disorganized. Patriot militia training was lax, and the units weren’t provisioned well with firearms or ammunition.

When spies reported that a regiment of redcoats was sailing from Charleston, SC to occupy the port town of Wilmington, NC, the patriot government blew it off. Why would redcoats come to North Carolina when the war was clearly elsewhere?

Those redcoats of the 82nd Regiment of Foot planned to occupy Wilmington to support Lord Cornwallis’s campaign into North Carolina’s interior. When their ships appeared at the mouth of the Cape Fear River on 25 January 1781, it was pandemonium for patriots. Despite inclement weather preventing the 82nd from immediately landing and marching to Wilmington, the patriots were unable to mount a suitable defense. The militia evacuated town, leaving civilians to surrender Wilmington to the British. Many prominent patriot leaders bolted with just the shirts on their backs.

Adair WilliamHooper

William Hooper

William Hooper and his family were probably at their estate on the Sound when they heard that British ships had been sighted. Clearly Hooper had to flee—but North Carolina’s loyalists would rally swiftly to the 82nd, and since discipline in militia units wasn’t what it was in regular Continental or British units, the loyalists would plunder Hooper’s home and kill his family and household. Thus he couldn’t leave his people at the estate. So they set off westward.

Upon reaching Wilmington, Hooper realized that his family and household was traveling too slowly for them all to escape. He then made the heart wrenching decision to leave them behind, probably in his law office on Third Street, so he could gallop away to safety. He was gambling that Major James Henry Craig, commander of the 82nd, would show mercy to his family and servants, whereas a loyalist commander might not do so.

Hooper’s decision proved to be judicious. The 82nd quickly captured several slower-moving patriot leaders, who later died in captivity. Hooper, however, reached safety. In mid-February, he penned his anguish in a letter to his friend James Iredell: “In the Agony of my Soul, I inform you that I am severed from my family—perhaps for ever!”

Imagine what William Hooper was feeling when he wrote those words—how he missed his loved ones and worried for them, enduring enemy occupation with no guarantee that they’d ever be reunited as a family.

The stress was enough to make even a level-headed attorney consider an act of desperation.

By mid-summer 1781, the two hundred soldiers of the 82nd Regiment and their loyalist allies had created a military wedge across North Carolina that prevented the Continental Army from transporting troops and supplies across the state. The occupation had been a huge success for the British. As both sides had taken many prisoners, a prisoner exchange was needed. Who had the guts to go into Wilmington, into that lion’s den, and negotiate the prisoner exchange?

Hooper dearly wanted to remove his family from Wilmington. He also wanted to retrieve some of his possessions there. Patriot governor Thomas Burke proposed Hooper as an intermediary to arrange the prisoner exchange and asked Major Craig to be responsible for his safety during negotiations.

Adair JamesHenryCraig

James Henry Craig

Craig, knowing full well the effect that the six-month separation was having on the Hoopers, invited William Hooper to town to visit his family in July. In his letter, the major added, “…you will be pleased to rely upon my Honour as the pledge for your personal safety till your return.”

Would you trust the enemy for such a deal?

Hooper did, in late July. Imagine his fears and hopes as he rode into Wilmington. He found his family safe, if unhappy with being hostages.

Ironically Craig never received a copy of Burke’s suggested cartel for the prisoner exchange. Thus Craig refused to negotiate with Hooper because he had nothing to work from. However during the five or six days that Hooper was in Wilmington, Craig wined and dined him and treated him with great respect, even if he refused to release Hooper’s family or property. At the end of that time, the major let Hooper go under a flag of truce. And after the British evacuated Wilmington in November 1781, Hooper and his family were reunited.

Why did Craig treat Hooper so deferentially during his visit to Wilmington? Craig didn’t leave a clue to his motives in a journal or letter. But Hooper was a persuasive orator, one of the best speakers among the fifty-six signers of the Declaration. Plus he had two merchant brothers who were sympathetic to the Crown. Some historians speculate that Craig may have hoped to reconcile North Carolina’s signer of the Declaration with King George III. What a promotion he’d have gotten from that, eh?

Our initial reaction to the account of Hooper and Craig is disbelief, cynicism. Flags of truce aren’t always respected. Why would redcoats—an enemy—behave honorably in such a situation?

In July 1781, Major Craig upheld an ancient wartime code of honor and treated a representative of his enemy well. This code may have originated with the concept of chivalry. Historically one of the final examples we have of it was the famous Christmas Day truce between British and German soldiers during WWI.

I’ve fictionalized William Hooper’s mission to Wilmington in a subplot of Michael Stoddard book #4, Killer Debt. William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That an enemy can be principled, just as we can be dishonorable, is a recurring truth I’ve encountered while researching history.

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AdairSuzanneHiResAward-winning novelist Suzanne Adair is a Florida native who lives in North Carolina. Her mysteries transport readers to the Southern theater of the American Revolution, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, and hiking. Recently she was appointed by North Carolina’s Daughters of the American Revolution to a state-wide committee formed by the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to help share information about and coordinate events of the Semiquincentennial. Killer Debt, book #4 of her Michael Stoddard American Revolution Mystery series, was released 9 May 2018 after a successful crowdfunding campaign during March 2018. Check her  web site for the latest information.  Connect with Suzanne on FB or Twitter or stop by her blog .

Blurb

Adair 180214KillerDebtEbookCover700x1050A slain loyalist financier, a patriot synagogue, a desperate debtor. And Michael Stoddard, who was determined to see justice done.

July 1781. The American Revolution rages in North Carolina. Redcoat investigator Captain Michael Stoddard is given the high-profile, demanding job of guarding a signer of the Declaration of Independence on a diplomatic mission to Crown-occupied Wilmington. When a psychopathic fellow officer with his own agenda is assigned to investigate a financier’s murder, Michael is furious. The officer’s threats to impose fines on the owner of a tavern and link her brother to the financier’s murder draw Michael into the case—to his own peril and that of innocent civilians. For neither killer nor victim are what they first seem.
Buy the book here!

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From royal sweetheart to Iron Lady

Kalle-nioIn October of 1611, Karl IX, king of Sweden, died. And no, one should not judge this gentleman by his umm…creative hair-do. Karl was a competent (if rather ruthless) man who used religion as an excuse to wrest the Kingdom of Sweden from his nephew, Sigismund, leaving behind a realm in order, a half-grown son and a rather impressive wife.

The recently bereaved Kristina of Holstein-Gottorp headed the regency council set up to rule Sweden until her son, Gustav II Adolf, came of age. This happened sooner rather than later, the just seventeen-year-old young king deciding in December of 1611 that he was ready to rule on his own, thank you very much. Proud mama acquiesced and so the personal rule of Gustav Adolf began.

Now, one of the things a young king needed was a wife—and heirs. Gustav Adolf probably felt he’d  solved that issue some time later. You see, our young and dashing king was in love. Head over heels in love to judge from his surviving letters to Ebba Brahe, who was two years younger than him and one of his mother’s ladies in waiting.

Ebba Brahe was by no means a bad choice. Her family belonged to the upper echelons of Swedish nobility and she was closely related to Gustav Vasa’s third queen (This Gustav was the grandfather of “our” Gustav Adolf). When Ebba’s mother died, the Dowager Queen invited Ebba to court—Kristina had been a close friend of Ebba’s mother and had promised to oversee Ebba’s education. The girl was pleasing to the eye, well-mannered and obviously intelligent, which initially had her finding favour with her new mistress. Until Kristina realised her son had fallen utterly and irrevocably in love with Ebba, pretty and manipulative little minx that she was. This was not good. Oh, no: Kristina had far loftier plans for her son.

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Gustav Adolf wooing Ebba

The young king, who lived under the delusion that he could decide who to marry without his forceful mama’s consent, went as far as to offer Ebba marriage. In one of the surviving letters he asks her to raise the issue of impending nuptials with her father. After all, king or not, his bride needed her father’s consent. The reply from Magnus Brahe was a resounding no. He was not about to anger the Dowager Queen by approving a marriage she was so set against—it would make his daughter’s (and his) life hell on earth. Clearly, Kristina of Holstein-Gottorp was a respected woman, fully capable of holding her own among her male contemporaries.

Crestfallen, Gustav Adolf retired to lick his wounds. His mother was unrelenting: Ebba Brahe would not be the queen of Sweden unless it was over Kristina’s dead body. So when Gustav Adolf was next out and about in the world, bringing havoc and fear in his wake as he led the Swedish Army to more victories, he fell under the charm of a married lady and took her to bed. I imagine several people made it their objective in life to inform Ebba of her sweetheart’s betrayal. Maybe that’s why she supposedly engraved “Jag är förnöjd med lotten min och tackar Gud för nåden sin” (I am content with my place in life and thank God for his mercy) on a window. Or maybe this is a case of everyone over-interpreting a young woman’s spontaneous graffiti.

It is more likely that Ebba had long since reconciled herself to the fact that she would never be allowed to marry the man of her dreams. Her future life indicates a substantial pragmatic streak, ironically very much in line with Kristina of Holstein Gottorp’s temperament. Ebba even tried to dissuade her ardent suitor, repeating over and over again that she was not worthy to be Gustav’s wife. It drove him crazy when she said stuff like that, hence him drowning his sorrows in the welcoming arms of another woman. Erm…

Ebba Mary_Eleanor_of_Sweden_c_1630

Maria Eleonora

With mama cruelly nipping the Ebba-Gustav love story in the bud, Gustav Adolf went on to marry a princess, Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. His mother was delighted—at first. Over the years, I suspect she came to regret her insistence on having her son wed for dynastic reasons only. The marriage was unhappy, Maria Eleonora was not the most mentally stable of people, and even worse, there were no surviving sons, only a puny little daughter, the future Kristina of Sweden. (One of Gustav Adolf’s big, big plus points is that he seems to have delighted in his daughter, confident she could become as capable a ruler as any man).

Life did not end for Ebba Brahe just because she gave up on Gustav II Adolf. In fact, well before she engraved her famous little quote her father had been approached by the dashing Jacob de la Gardie who had his heart set on Ebba. After some consideration, Ebba accepted his proposal and in 1618 the twenty-two-year-old former royal sweetheart married Jacob.

Jacob was the son of a French wannabe-monk turned condottiere turned royal counsellor and loyal servant of King Johan III of Sweden. Pontus de la Gardie was generously rewarded for his loyal service. King Johan was so fond of Pontus (born Ponce d’Escouperie , but Swedish peeps had a problem with pronouncing such a fancy name) that in 1580 he gave Pontus his own daughter, Sofia Johansdotter, as his wife. The groom was thirty-six years older than the bride but this was no impediment to getting things going, hence baby Jacob was born in 1583 as the third of three children. Sofia expired at childbirth and the sixty-three-year-old Pontus was left alone to raise his children. Seeing as he died some years later, Jacob was orphaned at a very young age and grew up to become an accomplished military commander.

Ebba Jacob_De_la_Gardie_1606 (1)

Jacob

By the time he wed Ebba, Jacob de la Gardie had built quite a reputation. After all, he’s one of the few non-Russians who has led a successful campaign through Russia, all the way to Moscow. At the time, Russia was a mess, one faction after the other putting forth their candidate for the new tsar. De la Gardie took advantage of the chaos to strengthen the Swedish position and so admired were his military methods that the young Gustav Adolf spent 1615 campaigning with him to learn the art of war from an expert. At the time, Gustav Adolf was still hopelessly in love with Ebba. At the time, Jacob had already proposed to Ebba. I bet they never discussed that subject over dinner…

Anyway: once wed, Jacob swept his young wife into his arms and carried her off to Reval (present day Tallinn). Jacob was the governor of the Baltic states and constantly busy with his military career. Ebba, therefore, handled their private affairs and estates.

The Jacob and Ebba union is described as being very happy. They complemented each other, with Jacob trusting his wife to capably manage their various investments. She was openly devoted to him and over nineteen years she was brought to bed of fourteen full-term children. Of these, seven would live to adulthood, the most famous being her gallant of a son, Magnus de la Gardie.

Jacob and Ebba settled in Sweden in 1628. Together, they built an impressive empire, featuring everything from palaces such as Makalös (which means Incomparable. It apparently was, which did not always please the king) to successful business ventures.

Ebba excelled at the business side of things. She was especially interested in developing the iron works she owned. Early on, she caught on to the correlation between consistent (and high) quality and premium pricing. The iron produced at the de la Gardie works was of the highest quality. In fact, the iron Ebba sold was so good she was known as Countess Iron – a true iron lady, one could say. This had Ebba laughing all the way to the bank—well, it would have, if our Ebba had not been something of a high spender, with an obvious taste for life’s luxuries. Her clothes, her jewels, her furnishings, the art that decorated her walls – all of it was sumptuous. The de la Gardies also had a huge household. Approximately one hundred people were employed by them to keep their domestic life turning smoothly, plus they had all those palaces to maintain, children to raise in adequate style, horses and dogs and carriages and landscaped gardens, preferably a la francaise. Let me tell you, it was fortunate Ebba had such a well-developed nose for business!

In her business ventures Ebba was supported mostly by one of her daughters, Maria Sofia de la Gardie. Just like her dear Mama, Maria Sofia was possessed of an innate head for business and was one of Sweden’s first industrial entrepreneurs, amassing a huge fortune. That, however, was all in the future when Ebba taught her daughter about USPs and the like.

However, not everything was roses in Ebba’s life. The seventeenth century was not always generous to powerful—and wealthy—women, and in 1651 rumours started making the rounds in Stockholm. The young queen, Kristina, had been spelled by none other than Ebba Brahe, how else to explain the queen’s firm opposition to marriage? Yes, the gossipers whispered, this was Ebba working behind the scenes and using magic to keep Queen Kristina enthralled to Ebba’s much-loved son, Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie, royal favourite par excellence.

We find such accusations mildly amusing. Ebba, however, was probably quite terrified. The accusation of witchery had a tendency to stick like tar. It was therefore fortunate that the accusers in this case were a certain Arnold Messenius and his father, Arnold Johan Messenius. As the elder Messenius had already been convicted of treason on a previous occasion and also came with the stigma of having been educated by Jesuits and potentially being a closet papist, the end result of all these whispers was that Messenius father and son were executed for treason. Ebba could breathe easy again. Well, she would have, had she not had her hands full caring for her ailing husband.

Ebba_Brahe_Old

Ebba as a widow

It is somewhat ironic that Jacob de la Gardie, always a man on the move, always involved in one military campaign or the other, should spend his last few years afflicted by a disease that robbed him of his eyesight, thereby making it difficult for him to leave his home. Ebba invested her considerable energies in making his life as comfortable as possible but in 1652 her husband of thirty-four years died, leaving her a very wealthy widow. I dare say she was devastated.

Ebba was to expend the rest of her life on furthering the interests of her children—and more specifically those of Magnus Gabriel—and on expanding her business empire. When she died in 1674 she left behind a considerable fortune and the persisting legend of a young heartbroken girl, who wanted nothing but to marry her king but ended up with de la Gardie instead. I think Ebba would have been most displeased by this: after all, she spent far more years as Jacob de la Gardie’s trusted and respected wife than she did as Gustav Adolf’s heart-throb. But hey, we all have a thing about tragic love stories, don’t we? Even when they’re not one hundred percent true.

From underage groom to powerful magnate

Today I thought we’d spend some time with a man named Richard. Okay, so very many men in medieval England were named Richard, including three Plantagenet kings, but nope, we won’t be talking about them today. Instead, we’re going to spend time with a baron so powerful, so wealthy, he probably could (and now and then likely did) outshine his king. As his king was Henry III, this was not all that hard to do: Henry may have been possessed of an extremely well-developed aesthetic sense, but his political and military acumen were somewhat weaker. Our man of the day was substantially more successful in the area of worldly power-mongering.

Richard de ClareMind you, it had not always been like that. Born in 1222, Richard de Clare was the heir to the huge de Clare estates. His father was Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hereford. His mother was Isabel Marshal, daughter to the William Marshal. None of this, I suspect, really helped when Richard’s father died in 1230. In one fell swoop, the boy was converted into one of the richest magnates in England—well, he would be, once he was invested with his inheritance. At the time, Richard was a child, a minor, and many were the barons eager to put themselves forward as a suitable guardian for this very, very rich ward.

HENRYIIIEngland in 1230 was ruled by a young king. Henry III had ascended the throne in 1216, all of nine years old. Since reaching his majority, Henry ruled in his own name—with Hubert de Burgh as his principal counsellor. Hubert had been unfailingly loyal to John and been rewarded accordingly. He was equally loyal to Henry, but like all barons of the time, Hubert always had an eye out for his own interests and when little Richard de Clare’s wardship came up for grabs, Hubert was in a position to award himself this very juicy plum.

Richard had to leave his mother, his siblings, and was instead transferred to Hubert’s care. It was de Burgh who was responsible for Richard’s future education—his widowed mother had no say. Not that this was uncommon: usually, a boy of noble birth would be raised in another noble household, spending his formative years as a page and squire far from home. And mothers rarely had a say in how their sons were educated beyond the first years—at least not officially.

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Hubert, stripped of power

Now, like all powerful men Hubert de Burgh had collected plenty of enemies during his long political life. In 1232, these enemies managed to discredit the earl of Kent who ended up imprisoned. This impacted Richard in two ways: one, his wardship was transferred to two others of Henry III’s favourites, Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester, and Peter de Rivaux, nephew to de Roches. Secondly, this is when Richard was probably married for the first time.

What? You might say, having made some quick calculations prior to concluding Richard was a child of ten. Youth was not a hindrance when it came to marriages as such—many a young child was married in medieval times. The church, however, required two things for such a marriage to stand: that consent was given and that it was consummated, neither of which a boy of ten was considered capable of doing. (Phew!)

Richard’s first bride was Margaret de Burgh, daughter to the disgraced Hubert and his third wife, Princess Margaret of Scotland. Some say this clandestine wedding was arranged by Hubert’s wife as a desperate measure to safeguard some sort of future protection for her daughter. It has also been said that, no matter their tender age, Margaret and Richard were genuinely in love.  Makes me spontaneously break out in “They try to tell us we’re too young, too young to really fall in love. They say that love’s a word, a word we’ve only heard, and can’t begin to get the meaning of…” (Nat King Cole, in case you’re wondering)

medieval wedding Harley-326-f.-9-Marriage-of-king-Alfour-and-princess-Sybil

Seriously, I have my doubts about two children experiencing emotions so strong they asked Margaret Mater to help them wed. But whether true or not, it does seem they were married. Without royal consent. Oh, dear…You see, a magnate as powerful as Richard would one day become needed royal approval before he wed. At least in theory – Henry’s own brother, also called Richard, seems to have ignored this when he married our Richard’s mother. (So yes, Richard had an in on the royal family. Henry III was his step-uncle)

Henry III threw a fit. It was him, only him, who would decide who Richard was to marry. (By then, Henry III had taken custody of Richard himself, the Peter double-act having fallen out of favour in 1234) Pressure was brought to bear on the young couple. As the marriage was unconsummated, it was easy to annul—assuming Richard and little Margaret agreed to do so.

From the distance of eight centuries it is difficult to know what really happened. Edith Pargeter has written a heart-wrenching version of events in The Marriage of Megotta according to which our star-crossed lovers were kept forcibly apart to ensure they did not seal their love with more than a kiss. (Read it! Wow book) A somewhat more pragmatic take on things would suggest the marriage was just annulled. In the event, whether it was annulled or not became a moot point as Margaret de Burgh died in 1237 at the age of fifteen. It no longer mattered if the marriage had been valid, had been consummated: Richard was free to wed as it pleased his king.

A marital prize such as Richard could be used for all sorts of alliances. At first, Henry toyed with the idea of marrying Richard to a member of the powerful French family, de Lusignan. As an aside, this is the family Henry III’s mother, Isabella of Angouleme married into after the death of John, effectively stealing her daughter’s intended. Not so sure little Princess Joan was all that depressed by this turn of events—her intended was old enough to be her father and then some—but Isabella’s behaviour was frowned upon. It just went to prove how lecherous women in general and beautiful women in particular were. Right: back to our Richard and the hunt for a suitable bride. Turns out the de Lusignans weren’t that interested.

Someone else, however, was very interested. John de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln was eager to see his eldest daughter as Richard’s wife—and he was willing to pay the king handsomely for the honour. Which was how Richard ended up marrying Maud de Lacy in early 1238.

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Richard himself?

Richard remained under royal wardship for several years more. In 1243 he came of age and was knighted by the king plus received official seisin of his vast inheritance. At last, Richard was in control of his own life. At last, he need answer to no man but himself—and his king. Thing is, a baron as powerful as Richard was destined to be, could use that to his advantage: there would be numerous occasions when Richard’s support would be the difference between success or failure for whatever plans Henry III might have.

In 1243, Richard already had an heir, named Gilbert after Richard’s father. All in all, Maud and Richard would have seven children and while Richard concentrated on expanding his territories—he added substantially to them via his mother’s Marshal inheritance—Maud dedicated a lot of time to arranging advantageous marriages for her children. I get the impression theirs was a successful marriage, which does not mean it was a happily ever after marriage. Few medieval ladies and lords had such expectations—to them, a marriage was an alliance with the purpose of forwarding the family interests.

Richard was good at managing his huge estates. He developed an impressive administrative system that allowed him to keep tabs on what was happening but left the running of his estates in the south-east and in Ireland to his efficient stewards. He himself focused on his Marcher lordships and on expanding into Wales. This he did through a combination of ruthless campaigning, castle building and implementation of English law. He stomped any Welsh rebellions on his lands into the ground and made sure everyone knew that in this part of the world only one man’s word was law: his word.

As many of you know, Henry III’s reign was plagued by upheaval, all of it coming to a head in the late 1250s when a certain Simon de Montfort set himself up as the leader of the baronial opposition. Initially, Richard sided with de Montfort and when he threw his weight behind the Provisions of Oxford the king had little choice but to accept them. But Richard had spent most of his youth at the royal court, had a close relationship with his step-father who was also Henry’s brother. And he had little liking for de Montfort, who was not only an eager reformer but also very acquisitive, both when it came to land and power.

In 1261, Richard abandoned the baronial cause and returned to the royal fold. What role he could have played and how things would have developed had Richard been in a position to influence events we will never know.  In 1262 he died, not yet forty years old. Some say he was poisoned—there had been a previous attempt some years earlier—but as the main chronicles don’t mention anything about a suspicious death I dare say we can rule it out.

richard de clare Douce_Apocalypse_-_Bodleian_Ms180_-_p.087_Satan_released

Richard died in a time of turmoil. Civil war was to rage for many years more and his own son the fiery Gilbert de Clare was to play a central role. First as de Montfort’s loyal second-in-command, then as Prince Edward’s equally loyal second-in-command. Seems those de Clare men had an ambivalent relationship with the crown…

By the time he died, Richard’s memories of his first little bride would have been very hazy. Since those childhood days when he’d wed Margaret de Burgh, so much time had passed. It was with Maud he’d built a life, fathered children so any last thoughts would reasonably have been of her. Whether he did think of her or not, he died knowing that his capable and tenacious wife would keep on protecting the family interests.

Maud de Lacy never remarried. Her dower contracts left her an immensely wealthy widow, to the chagrin of her eldest son who would go as far as to sue her to push through a reduction in her dower income. I guess this was a case of like mother, like son: Maud de Lucy has the dubious reputation of being the most litigious lady in 13th century England!

In the fullness of time, Richard’s and Maud’s grandchildren were to play important roles on opposing sides in the conflicts that afflicted England in the 1320s. One of their granddaughters would be the first ever woman to be imprisoned in the Tower, two would be left widows after the executions of their husbands. All of them would be smack in the middle of the unfolding events. Not exactly unusual if you were a de Clare…

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