ANNA BELFRAGE

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Archive for the category “Writing”

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.

Genrescen_kallad_Gustav_II_Adolf,_1594-1632,_kung_och_Ebba_Brahe,_1596-1674_-_Nationalmuseum_-_16043.tif

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…

Quae Mutatio Rerum – or how things have changed (or not)

vår 20180425_182442Very many years ago, on this exact date, I was sitting in our large dining room with my mother. It was only us. My father was out in the Amazon somewhere for business purposes and our house in Lima felt very large without him. My sister was still a baby, asleep upstairs. The maid had been given the evening off, so here we were, my mother and I, having a party all on our own.

The table was covered in one of my mother’s precious linen tablecloths—always a major issue in Lima as the cold and damp winters tended to leave everything in the linen cupboard covered in a green fuzz. The china was our best, the crystal glasses sparkled in the light of the candles. My mother was wearing one of her long dresses. I remember thinking she looked very beautiful, her hair in a chignon, her shoulders bare. I was wearing my best dress and white knee socks with black patent leather shoes. We took this partying at home seriously in my family.

We’d had crab omelette for dinner. My mother loved Kamchatka crab and she made this absolutely lovely sauce with crab and dill which she then filled a fluffy omelette with. I still think this particular omelette is the best ever, even if I’ve never been able to replicate my mother’s crab sauce.
“We’re celebrating the advent of spring,” my mother explained. “And such things require the best food.”
After the omelette, we had ice cream. Well, I had ice cream—coconut ice cream. To this day, I cannot eat a scoop of coconut ice cream without being transported back to that evening in Lima.

April 30th in Lima has little to do with spring. But for my mother, who always suffered from homesickness while away from Sweden, April 30th was as important as Christmas. Almost. She told me of bonfires and songs, of how she and every other university student in Sweden would spend the entire day welcoming spring. Swedish university students still do that, starting the day with champagne breakfast and ending it with more champagne. Pretty Swedish young women will wear thin spring dresses “because it’s finally spring”. Young Swedish men will skip the jacket “because winter is over”.

The Swedish weather rarely cooperates with all this outspoken yearning for spring. More often than not, April 30th is cold. Icy cold. Those bonfires we light to usher in the six months of long days and (hopefully) balmy days are necessary to keep our fingers from freezing. Most of us shiver in our spring coats and wish we’d worn our winter stuff instead, but nope, not on April 30th, not on the day we welcome spring.

vår nordisk-sekelskifte-eugene-jansson-nocturne-1900-800x800pxThe tradition to celebrate spring on this date is old. Very old, even. It harkens back to ancient celebrations of Beltane, when the grass was long enough for the cattle to be let out to pasture. Our forebears had more to be grateful for than we do – watching the Beltane bonfires meant they’d survived yet another winter. I bet they did their share of carousing as well on this evening which, this far north, has dusk lingering until well after eight, the skies acquiring a violet hue that one rarely sees other than in April and early May. A night of magic, of hope and returning life.

All of this, my mother shared with me that long-gone April 30th. And then we sang. We sang about May, about walking through meadows. We sang about larks and blossoming green valleys. We sang about winter winds that died and were replaced by summer breezes. We sang of youth and brave heroic men, of Swedish steel and Karl XII (and no, let us not go there, but hey, we go a bit bombastic on occasions such as this). My favourite song, however, was the one with the catchy refrain in Latin: Oh jerum, jerum, jerum, quae mutatio rerum.

I loved this song because during the last verse we had to stand on our chairs and sing. I had no idea what I was singing, but I knew the words by heart and sang until we were done when my mother sort of oozed back down to sit and began to cry instead. Homesickness is a bummer…

The song as such is still one of my favourites. It’s originally a German song but us Swedes appropriated it back in the early 19th century and since then it is a must song at most formal events in the world of academia. And yes, we still stand on our chairs while singing the last verse, after which we toast each other, empty our glasses, clamber off our chairs and leave the dining room for the dance hall.

vår 20180428_112959Some things are inherited from one generation to the other. Just like my mother, I always serve cured salmon on Good Friday. Just like my mother, I consider April 30th to be a very important date. Just like her, I want bonfires and songs. Just like her, I’ve made sure my children can join in as we sing, watching their delight at being allowed to stand on their chairs with a little smile. In difference to her, since I’ve become an adult I’ve always been home for April 30th.

Tonight we will light the bonfire hubby has prepared so carefully. We will pop open champagne and toast the returning light. And at some point we will lift our glasses and sing:

Oh, jerum, jerum, jerum
Quae mutatio rerum

I will think of my mother. And of sun and spring. And maybe of coconut ice cream.

Historical Fiction – a genre or an umbrella?

Sometimes, people ask me why I write historical fiction. “Why such a difficult genre?” they ask, which in itself makes me a tad irritated, as historical fiction, IMO, is not a genre – it’s an umbrella under which all other genres coexist. In essence, the “historical” in historical fiction merely indicates that the story is set in a non-contemporary time. It says nothing about the content as such, albeit that many people seem to think historical fiction is defined by blood and gore and thousands upon thousands dying in one battle or other.

John Opie MurderOfRizzio

John Opie, Murder of Rizzo – is he painting history or a gruesome death? 

Yes, that stuff happens in historical novels. It also happens in contemporary novels – it happens in real life around us on a daily basis. There are historical novels that are essentially love stories, there are others that are coming-of-age stories, yet another author delivers a well-crafted thriller set in distant times, and quite a few produce so called cosy mysteries a la Miss Marple. As long as all these very different books are set in the past, they end up labelled as historical fiction – and considered comparable. Obviously, they are not.

I write books set in the past because I am something of a history geek. Since I was old enough to read for myself, I have submerged myself in stories set in the past – no matter genre – because I wanted to pretend I was there, in an era very distant from my own. Escapism in its purest form, one could say.

And yes, I spend very many happy hours researching my chosen setting – at times resulting in tangential excursions that bring no value whatsoever to my WIP, but expand my soul and enrich my life in general. After all, who doesn’t want to know that Peter the Great married a low-born, illiterate commoner? Or that Eleanor of Castile had a half-brother, Felipe, already a bishop when he threw his ecclesiastic career out of the window to marry a Norwegian princess?

Neither here nor there for the purpose of this post – except to highlight that I am as happy as a calf in a field of juicy clover writing historical fiction.

You can research your setting and the era you’ve chosen until you’re blue in the face. That in itself will not result in a page-turning novel. In fact, sometimes too much research produces a major info-dump instead – you know, books in which the author expends pages and pages on showcasing their own knowledge of the period, thereby effectively killing pace.

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Millais – a Historical Painter or a Painter who loved to paint the past? 

A skilled writer of historical fiction inserts DETAILS, not paragraphs. A skilled writer – no matter genre – also knows that if you want the story you write to resonate with the reader, your novel must deliver some sort of insight into the commonalities of being human. Therefore, for a novel to come alive, it requires characters that are vibrant and complex, real enough to step out of the pages, no matter if they ever existed or not.

People have not changed all that much through the centuries. We are still needy creatures, both on a physical and emotional level. Think Maslow, and I guess we all agree humans have physiological needs, a desire to feel safe, to belong. We do in this day and age, they did back in historic (and pre-historic) times as well.

It is therefore a safe bet to assume human emotions and reactions are relatively constant throughout the ages. Someone betrays you, the visceral rage you feel is probably identical to the one your 12th century ancestor felt when he realised he’d been set up. Loving someone probably feels the same – maybe with the caveat that these days, we consider it a borderline human right to be loved and love. Back in the darker and grimmer eras that precede ours, love was something of a luxury: if you had food and a roof over your head, if you were safe and your children set up for surviving, you could live with not falling into throes of passion at the sight of your husband/wife. Truth is, you didn’t EXPECT to love your spouse – you married for reasons on the lower lever of the Maslow pyramid. But this doesn’t preclude that IF you fell in love, it would feel exactly the same way as it feels today.

All of us have personal experience of feelings and emotions. As these are the most important aspects to convey in a novel, we could all, potentially, carry a budding writer within. There is, however, a major difference between experiencing an emotion and describing it – plus, once again, it is a fine balancing act between describing too much and too little. Readers enjoy filling in the blanks. Writers don’t want them to fill in the blanks with the wrong stuff, so writers have to leave enough hints to steer the reader in the right direction. This is the major difference between “show” and “tell” writing – as in “She was so devastated and confused she had no idea what to do next” (the writer informs – tells – the reader of what the protagonist is experiencing) or “She couldn’t quite focus: her hands shook, her mouth was the texture of paper, her brain a total blank” (the writers presents the protagonist’s reactions which the reader analyses before concluding she is in a bad way, probably in some sort of shock).

Whatever the case, it is my opinion that to write a novel one must be fascinated by humanity, in all its diverse forms. It is only by presenting the reader with a mirror in which they can recognise their own emotions that a writer succeeds in hooking them. And once the reader has swallowed the bait, it doesn’t really matter if the book is set in the future, the past or the present. What matters is that the reader is willing to take a ride through the imagined landscapes produced by the writer, hand in hand with the protagonist.

Write what you love, they say. And I do, combining my endless curiosity as to what makes people tick with my love for the past. Do I write historical fiction? I guess I do – but more importantly, I write novels that explore the human condition. An exercise in self-exploration? Maybe. An attempt to exorcise personal experiences? Rarely. A fulfilling experience? Always.

A baby, a baby, a kingdom for a baby – or when the bishop did his duty

Urraca Alfonso_I_de_Aragón_por_Pradilla_(1879)

Alfonso I el Batallador

In 1134, Alfonso I of Aragón died, without heirs to his body. Regular readers of this blog may remember Alfonso from a previous post about Queen Urraca—or you may not, seeing as Iberian history is infested with kings named Alfonso and it is quite difficult to keep track of all of them. Anyway: Alfonso’s marriage to Urraca was a major disaster, and even worse, there were no children from this union. As Alfonso was a very martial king (and, by all accounts, also very devout, even if this did not stop him from brutalizing his wife), he found a solution to the no-heir issue by writing a will in which he bequeathed his kingdom to the Knights Templars, the Hospitallers and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.

Let’s just say that not one single Aragonese baron was about to accept this will. They wanted a king, not a conglomerate of military orders ruling their country. However, there really was no heir. Unless… Like one, the barons fixed their eyes on Ramiro, the Bishop of Roda.

I have previously written a number of blogs about medieval women who have been abducted and carried off from their chosen life. Ramiro is their male equivalent, albeit that no one swept him up by force and galloped off into the night. He was the much younger brother of Alfonso. He had never aspired to a secular life and had spent his life serving God, either as a monk, abbot or, lately, as a bishop. Now, the expectations were that he would set all that aside and instead wrap himself in ermine and royal purple.

“One can serve God in various ways,” the barons told him. “And your holy duty does not lie within your bishopric. You have a much more important duty to fulfil.”
“I do?” Ramiro asked (mostly to irritate them. He knew exactly what they were hinting at, but the thought was repugnant to him)
“You do.” The Aragonese magnates then went on to explain just what they expected Ramiro to do: first of all, he was to cast off his vows and his bishop’s robes and instead become their king. Then he had to father a legitimate child.
“But…” Ramiro likely began, intending to continue by reminding them that the vows he’d made to God were binding unto death. To do as they asked would be to commit a grievous sin. Well, the barons had already considered this: so important was Ramiro’s duty to Aragón that God would allow him a hiatus from his vows. I imagine Ramiro spent a number of sleepless nights on his knees praying for guidance before he reluctantly accepted his new responsibilities.  He owed it to his country.

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Ramiro looking most un 12th century

Once crowned Ramiro proved himself a rather forceful king—to the surprise of his barons who had hoped for an easily managed king. Those barons who did not pledge him their allegiance were in for quite a surprise, as this mild religious man had quite the devious side to him – or so one must presume if one believes the story about the Bell of Huesca. The story first appeared in the 13th century, a good century or so after the events depicted, and according to it, Ramiro was having problems controlling his barons, specifically twelve of them who constantly treated him with disrespect. Ramiro was unaccustomed to dealing with worldly, ambitious men so in desperation he sent to his former abbot for help. The messenger found the abbot in his garden. He listened to the king’s message, nodded, and then proceeded to cut off the heads of the twelve roses that grew the tallest in his garden as his response. Not the most subtle of hints, I’d say.

Ramiro obviously cottoned on fast. He invited all his barons to attend him in Huesca and there to join him in the making of a church bell, so huge it would be heard all over Aragón. Curious about this new contraption, the barons came, no doubt snickering under their breath at their king’s idiotic project. As they travelled from all over the place, they did not come en masse, but arrived one by one. Those twelve stubborn and disloyal barons had their very own welcoming committee waiting for them, and before they could even say “Qué?” their heads were chopped off and arranged in a neat circle round the new bell. Well, one of their heads did not join the circle: it was used as the clapper.

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Once the whole grisly tableau was ready for viewing, Ramiro assembled all the other barons. The bell tolled (sort of). The king announced that behold, as he’d promised, the bell could be heard by all Aragón as represented by the various barons.

Let us leap ahead and leave this spurious legend behind. Now, Ramiro had one other duty to fulfil: he had to father an heir. His barons had already found him a bride, Agnes, the daughter of William IX, Duke of Aquitaine. (She was also the paternal aunt of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but as that has no bearing whatsoever on this post, we shall move on)

Agnes was about Ramiro’s age, around thirty. A bit long in the tooth, one would have thought, but Agnes had one major thing in her favour: she’d given her first husband sons. It was therefore expected she would present Ramiro with a squalling male babe as well. But prior to making babies, the former monk had to marry, and while canonical law might not have had a huge problem with a bishop becoming king, it definitely had major issues with accepting the marriage of a monk-turned-king as legitimate.

Petronila Ramiro

Ramiro

Ramiro himself issued a document a month or so before the wedding, stating that he was entering into matrimony not out of carnal lust but for the restoration of blood and lineage. Well, that can’t have endeared him much to poor Agnes… Later documents state that the couple sought a papal dispensation, but there doesn’t seem to be any such dispensation and so the Ramiro/Agnes union carried quite the whiff of illegitimacy

We have no idea what Agnes may have thought when she married Ramiro in November of 1135. But whatever their feelings, the newlyweds got their acts together (Close your eyes and think of Aragón, echoed in Ramiro’s head. Nah…)  and nine months later, little Petronila was born. A child born for a purpose, not out of any warmer feelings.
“Thank God! A healthy child!” Ramiro exclaimed, eager to return to his religious life now that he’d done what was expected of him.
“It’s a girl!” bleated his counsellors.
“Tough,” Ramiro said. “That’s it, that’s what you’re getting.” He shuddered and crossed himself. “I have sinned to give you what you wanted. Now I must make penance to salvage my immortal soul.”
Agnes was about as keen on this marriage as Ramiro, and very soon after the birth of Petronila the royal couple separated. Some years later, Agnes retired to the Abbey of Fontevraud where she lived for a further twenty years or so before dying in 1159.

Ramiro couldn’t just drop everything and take himself off to a monastery. His little daughter had to be betrothed to someone his barons would accept and who would be capable of acting as regent for Aragón during Petronila’s minority. Alfonso VII of Castile and León wanted nothing so much as to get his hands on the little girl, so he suggested his eldest son as a possible groom. Anathema to the Aragonese who had no desire to be gobbled up by the expanding Castilian kingdom.

Petronila Raymond

Ramón

Fortunately, there was an alternative. To the south-east of Aragón lay the domains of Ramon Berenguer IV, count of Barcelona and one of the more powerful movers and shakers in a region that encompassed not only present-day Catalunya but also a substantial chunk of Provence. A capable and energetic man, Ramón was already a respected warrior and known to be both erudite and devout. He was also all of twenty-three and, one supposes, eager to start a family and father heirs to his lands. However, Ramón was also ambitious. So when Ramiro approached him and suggested a union between their two countries, solidified by the betrothal of Ramón to baby Petronila, Ramón said yes.

Admittedly, Ramiro was dangling quite the sweet offer before the young man: not only was he to marry the heiress to Aragón, thereby ensuring his son became the next king of Aragón, but Ramiro was putting Ramón in charge ASAP. After all, Ramiro had other places to see, notably the monastery of San Pedro el Viejo de Huesca.

In 1137, the contracts were signed whereby Ramón became regent on behalf of his future little wife. With a huge sigh of relief, Ramiro hastened off to begin doing penance for his carnal sins, leaving Ramón to carry the baby in more senses than one.

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Petronila & Ramón

By all accounts, Ramón did an excellent job of caring for the baby. This product of a loveless marriage was fortunate in her father’s choice for her husband. Petronila grew up cosseted and protected at Ramón’s court, fully aware of the fact that as soon as she came of age, she was to wed the man who more or less raised her. Aragón thrived under his leadership, and by the time wedding bells rang for Ramón and Petronila, no one disputed Ramón’s right to rule on behalf of his fourteen-year-old wife. He did, however, respect the niceties: Petronila was Queen of Aragón while Ramón held the title of Prince of Aragón.

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Petronila looking less than happy

Petronila gave her husband five children of which four survived to adulthood. Upon Ramón’s death in 1162, the twenty-six-year old widow abdicated in favour of her oldest surviving son, refused to consider a second marriage and went on to live a quiet life of contemplation. I guess she had it in her DNA, given her parents.

From the perspective of doing his duty for blood and lineage, most medieval peeps would have felt Ramiro failed. His spiritual sacrifice produced a girl and everyone knew it was the male line that was important, that truly counted. When Petronila’s son ascended to the Aragonese throne, he brought with him a new dynasty, the house of Barcelona.

As to Ramiro, he died in 1157. I hope twenty years of begging God to forgive him for the sin of having married a woman and fathered a child was enough to see him on to greener pastures. Well, assuming God didn’t hear about that thing with the bell at Huesca…

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