Thursday, September 22, 2016

Historic Places: Jedburgh Abbey

If there's one thing that I loved about traveling in the UK . . . alright, there was millions of things I loved about traveling in the UK, but one thing that really stood out is the beauty and history found everywhere. Jedburgh Abbey is a great example of this. On our bus tour of England and Scotland, stopping here was a rest stop. I'm not kidding. This is the kind of place we saw when we stopped to hit the restroom, grab a coffee, and stock up on delicious British chocolate.

Jedburgh Abbey is a beautiful remnant of another age and one of those sights that makes me really angry at Henry VIII. Dissolution of the Monasteries?! What a horrible idea! So much history lost, records destroyed, buildings torn down....oh my, don't get me started.

A religious site predating the Norman invasion, Jedburgh Abbey has changed hands between Scotland and England so many times, I originally gave it to the wrong one in this article. Another one of our stops was the giant rock with 'England' inscribed on one side and 'Scotland' on the other. I'm lame and do not have a picture of it because this was one of our only cold, rainy days and I didn't venture off the bus. Anyway . . .

Unrelated to the Abbey, but also picked up during bus stops.
King David I of Scotland established the site as a priory in 1138 and an abbey in 1154. The Augustinian monks in service here were quite consistently coping with battles raging around them throughout the middle ages due to their border location. Not only would they have cared for those displaced or injured, but the Abbey itself was plundered by troops.

Jedburgh Abbey has stood for centuries, and it is a breathtaking sight. One cannot help but wonder what it looked like in all its former glory because the ruins are more impressive than most modern structures. As with many abbeys and cathedrals, it was built over the course of decades, and evidence of evolving architectural styles can be seen in the Roman columns and arches and intricate Gothic carvings.

Edward I used Jedburgh as lodgings during at least one of his many trips north to subdue the Scots. He was kind enough to have lead stripped from the roof for use in siege engines during another venture in return for the monks's hospitality.

Through the years, Jedburgh was used as a base for armies of Scotland, England, and even France, leaving destruction in their wake each time. And each time rebuilding was more limited due to the large amount of funds required and the precarious position of the Abbey. All this before Henry VIII changed the future of monastic life in England forever.

What remains of Jedburgh Abbey is a beautiful monument to the past. We don't have 'comfort stops' like this in the US.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Another Stillborn Birth for Catherine

On September 17, 1513, Catherine of Aragon again suffered the trials of childbirth, this time while she was regent of England as Henry VIII went to war in France. This child was either stillborn or died shortly after birth but is believed to have been a boy. This excerpt from Faithful Traitor is my version of the events of that month.

September 1513

(An excerpt from Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole)

Margaret kept her back straight and stiff as she knelt before the altar that was set up in her room for private worship. Months at court left her buzzing with anxiety and unable to let down her guard even long enough for prayer. The ease that she should have felt with Henry’s leaving was replaced by concern for her sons and other people she cherished who had gone to war. She fervently prayed for each of them by name, and was disturbed by the ache in her knees when she finally rose.

As a girl, she had been able to leap from the altar unaffected by the cold stones that left her elders rising more slowly. With chagrin she realized that her younger self would put her in that category of elders with her grown children marrying and following their king to glory in France.

“I suppose I am old,” she whispered to the sculpted Jesus who had already listened to her silent prayers. The statue had been a gift from her cousin Elizabeth upon Margaret’s marriage. Many times had her eyes taken in the fine details of craftsmanship that made her savior seem so lifelike that at times she expected him to give vocal response to her heavenly requests. His sky colored eyes gazed solemnly into hers but revealed nothing of his divine wisdom.

Returning to the demands of her day, Margaret turned from the unchanging stare with a swish of skirts and strode toward Catherine’s rooms. She had not far to go and was thankful, for the narrow corridor was much cooler than her private room with its cheerful fire chasing away the autumn chill that invaded through each crevice of the palace. She pulled her mantle closed to trap the cozy warmth of her rooms close to her body, not releasing her grasp until she had gained entry to Catherine’s comfortable quarters.

Margaret Pole
Countess of Salisbury
The queen did not have her fire roaring as Margaret had. Younger and burdened by the weight of her coming child, Catherine did not feel the cold as her friend did. In fact, she had discarded her mantle and was wearing a dress more suited to summer while her ladies took places closer to the small fire. Her face lit up when she noticed Margaret’s arrival.

“I have wonderful news,” Catherine said in a low voice meant only for Margaret. “Henry will be pleased with tidings from Scotland as our Lord Howard of Surrey is leading his troops toward an encampment near Flodden Edge. The Scots believe that we cannot bring the battle to them with our troops in France, but they are confidently marching toward their own defeat.”

Margaret did her best to appear impressed by the news that Thomas Howard felt himself ready for battle. Well advanced in age, Surrey looked to recapture a bit of his family’s former glory, but Margaret was sure the Scots had good reason for their optimism.

Catherine did not notice Margaret’s doubt and continued, “He is hopeful that King James himself will be there.”

“Will that not inspire his troops to fight that much more fervently?” Margaret asked and then winced that she had allowed the question to escape.

Catherine, however, merely shrugged. “It will not matter. James is ineffective and will fail.”

“Henry’s faith in you was well placed, your grace. I would not have foreseen your aptitude for war.”

With a confident smile that made Margaret wonder where the queen’s shy blushes had gone, Catherine stated, “Henry will have every reason to be pleased with me upon his return.”

Margaret nodded. A prince in the cradle and the Scots put back in their place. This would please the king a great deal if events went according to his queen’s plan. Margaret prayed that they would. Surely, God would bless Catherine this time.

As if her thoughts had prompted the action, Margaret watched Catherine’s eyes widen in fear and her hand reach under the bulge of her belly. Without giving her a chance to speak, Margaret ordered the most senior of Catherine’s ladies to clear the room and send for the midwife.
The hours of agony had once again paid Catherine poor reward. The child, who was born an almost cruelly perfect baby boy, had struggled to take breath only briefly. One could almost convince themselves that he was sleeping, so finely formed were his outward features that his death was a mystery.

Rather than collapsing into tears, Catherine’s face appeared to be carved from stone when she was given the news that strident efforts had not saved her son’s life. She was no longer a girl and had grown used to pain and disappointment, but she was also now the regent ruler of England and would not show weakness, regardless of how fractured her soul felt.

After a brief rest taken as women silently tidied the rooms that should have been filled with a newborn’s cries and happy celebrating, Catherine requested writing tools to inform Henry of the birth and death of his son.

Catherine of Aragon
First wife of Henry VIII
Queen of England
Catherine was still abed several days later when a messenger wearing the evidence of long travel arrived and requested an audience with the queen. He was ushered into Margaret’s presence instead with Bishop John Fisher, Catherine’s most trusted advisor, at her side.

“Your grace,” the young man said hesitantly, as if uncertain who he addressed or how to properly address her. “I’ve come with a message for the queen.”

“You will have heard then that she has recently born a child and cannot receive visitors at this time.” Margaret knew that she sounded harsh but also knew that a woman must in order to obtain authority and respect from men. “Queen Catherine sends me as her proxy, and anything you have to say to her you may tell me.”

With a glance at Fisher, the man assented. “I bear her majesty victorious news from Northumberland, my lady. Surrey has taken the day and the King of Scotland lies dead upon the field near Flodden.”

Margaret controlled her features to hide her emotions upon hearing that James IV, the husband of Margaret Tudor, was dead. His son, now James V, had not yet reached two years of age. What would Henry think of the ascendancy of his nephew?

The messenger was continuing with details of the battle, men captured, and others lost, while Margaret considered what this battle would mean to her family and the game of royal dynasties with Henry’s sister in control of the infant King of Scots. Excusing herself as soon as she was able, Margaret rushed to share the news with Catherine.

An unpleasant smile formed on Catherine’s face as Margaret relayed the news. “I will have the head of the Scots’ king as a gift for my husband to uplift him as he also prepares for battle.”

Margaret was caught with her mouth agape. Of all of the things she had thought her friend might say, this was an order she had not anticipated. “Catherine?”

A cruel gleam that Margaret had seen in others but never in Catherine lit the younger woman’s eyes. “See it done, Lady Salisbury. The king will be pleased to have the head of that arrogant Scot presented to him before he destroys the French.”

Seeing other faces in the chamber no less shocked than her own, Margaret mumbled assent and bowed from the room.

She was thankful when Fisher pointed out the logistic difficulties of transporting King James’ head to Henry in a desirable condition and suggested a gift of his bloody doublet in its stead. As gruesome as the business was, Margaret thanked God that Catherine did not have to report a double failure to her mercurial husband.

“Do you believe that Henry will order his sister to return to London?” Margaret asked Catherine as they shared a simple meal in Catherine’s rooms a few days later.

“It is the course that I plan to recommend to him,” Catherine said as she shoved a healthy portion of fluffy white bread into her mouth. Margaret was saddened that a thicker waistline was all Catherine had to show for her many pregnancies. “He will wish to groom her son for kingship, I have no doubt.”

“It will serve him well to have an ally in Scotland, rather than a rival,” Margaret agreed. Best to befriend the boy while he was young and develop a sustainable relationship with the Scots.

“Of course, he will be more than an ally, since he will also be Henry’s heir.”

Catherine seemed to be frequently taking Margaret by surprise. She considered those who Henry might name as his heir besides the young King of Scots. There was Edward Stafford, but of course he would prefer a son of his own sister. “Only until he has a son of his own,” she said as her mind flitted through the Tudor family tree for acceptable substitutes.

“That is in God’s hands,” Catherine stated harshly, closing the subject of her own childbearing.

“As are we all,” Margaret agreed, submissively bowing her head before this hardened version of her faithful friend.

Continue Reading Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Why Historical Fantasy?

We're doing something a little bit different on my blog today. For those of you who love medieval style fantasy, I have a wonderful author to introduce you to. Stephanie Churchill is a reader of historical fiction who did not want to write it, a writer of fantasy with no love of dragons or magic. So, how did she find herself writing The Scribe's Daughter?

Welcome, Stephanie!

~ Samantha

Guest Post by Stephanie Churchill

When I decided to take a stab at writing, my mentor gave me this one first, and best, piece of advice: “Write for yourself, not for the market, not for publishers or editors, and not for readers.”  The idea was that if you don’t love your writing first, why would anyone else want to read it?  If what you write doesn’t make you happy, fulfilled, energized and excited, what on earth are you doing it for?  And how will you sustain it as a career (or even as a hobby, for that matter)?  With these words ringing in my ears, I took up my pen and started drafting.  Eventually The Scribe’s Daughter was born.  It’s a book that mucks about, in and out of genres while not remaining true to any single genre.  In fact, pegging it as a specific genre nearly topped the list of Things That Were Really Difficult To Do when trying to decide how to market the book.  It feels like historical fiction, but there is no history in it.  So that makes it fantasy, right?  Except there are no fantastical creatures and no magic.  I had created something hard to define, neither one nor the other, defying the genre gods by its refusal to commit.

In light of this, I have been asked by many readers, why not just write historical fiction?  Because. Don’t tell me what to do.  Okay, okay… if you want a non-snarky answer (what fun is that?)…  My first love is historical fiction.  I have read a lot of it, including novels by novices and novels by long-timers.  Several of them are personal friends of mine.  I respect their craft, and the integrity they bring to the genre.  I also know how hard they work to create their masterpieces, the hours of dedication to historical accuracy, and the amount of research that goes into accomplishing all these things.  This is the bar they have set, but I know there is no room in my life right now for that level of perfection.

Why does research take so much time, you might ask?  Good question.  If a fabric is mentioned… say, cotton… I want to be sure that cotton was really used in the time and place of my story.  That takes research.  Multiply one fact by pages and chapters, then multiply it again for all the little details in a book, and you get the idea of how much research it takes to write truly historically accurate historical fiction.

Here’s an example: “William surveyed the field, searching for the remnants of the vanguard amongst the carnage of battle.  As he walked the edge of the meadow, the boundary between an unspoiled world and the territory trampled by horses and men struggling at the height of their blood lust, his hand brushed the tops of a profusion of bright yellow black-eyed Susans.  It struck him just then, the juxtaposition between perfection and chaos on either side of him.” Nice detail – the black-eyed Susans --  right?  You could almost see where William walked.  But let’s say my book is set in 13th Century Devon.  I’d be in trouble.  Black-eyed Susans weren’t introduced into Britain from North America until the early 16th Century.  While they are common enough around my house, William wouldn’t see them for another three centuries!  Readers might not notice or care, but I would know, and I would care.  So why not just leave out mention of black-eyed Susans and refer rather generically to flowers instead?  While a reader might not consciously recognize the detail, our brains still processes the information to paint a picture in our mind’s eye as the story unfolds.  So… yes, it might be just me, but until I am able to commit to research and be true to what I think historical fiction should be, I will stay away from it in its purest form.

The next obvious question I get asked is this: since you labeled your book fantasy, why didn’t you include magic or fantastical creatures?  Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?  This one is easy.  See paragraph 2, subpoint 1.  For quicker reference, I quote: “Because.  Don’t tell me what to do.”  No, seriously.  I didn’t want to.  If I am writing first for me, myself, and I – which I was -- and I didn’t want to include dragons and wizards, why should I?  The genre gods hold no power over me, and magic or magical creatures served no purpose in my story.  “Write for yourself first,” remember?  Kassia’s story was the one on my heart, and that’s the one that came out.

Enough about what my book is not.  The inspiration for my writing is definitely history, and there is enough historical feel to my book for historical fiction lovers to feel right at home.  So much of our fiction culture is bathed in historical feeling, particularly the Middle Ages, that it’s almost commonplace.  Think Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga, Martin’s Game of Thrones, and even your local Renaissance festival.  Here are some of the ways that I borrowed from my love of history and historical cultures to write The Scribe’s Daughter.

Corium, Kassia’s home, feels Mediterranean and medieval, in look and climate -- like Viterbo, Italy for instance, but on the coast like Naples.  She moves on to the country of Elbra, a place reminiscent of Turkey.  While in Islay Bay, Kassia meets Serdar Janko Barbaros, a man with a name and title echoing Eastern European culture (a serdar is an Ottoman noble rank).  Throughout the book, Kassia dresses at various times in homespun (wool), cotton, and silk, all of which were known in medieval Europe, and were worn regularly, depending on one’s social class.  While I stay away from detailing the various wefts and weaves of each, I did some brief research on brocades, samites, and taffetas, just to make sure I didn’t misspeak when mentioning a particular outfit (remember my black-eyed Susans example?).  Kassia encounters herbs and the medicinal use for each: elderflower, feverfew, belladonna, yarrow… all of which were commonly used in the medieval period for infusions or poultices, to treat fever or other illnesses.

Outside the tangible details of food and clothing, the reader also encounters historical social norms throughout the book.  Kassia experiences life in several noble households, and much of it isn’t to her liking.

Once she reached a marriageable age, a noble woman could expect to be used as a bargaining chip to advance her family’s wealth, land holdings, and social status.  Marriage and love did not automatically coexist.  After she married, the noble lady wasn’t free to do as she pleased.  Rather than pass her days idly reading poetry and daydreaming, duties awaited: from overseeing all things domestic – food, clothing, and household management – to serving as her husband’s representative and hostess when he was away.  A noble lady lent her hand to stitching and needlework, engaged in charitable work, and oversaw aspects of her children’s domestic education.  To what degree she did these things of course depended on her social rank, but even a queen had work to do.

However, since I did not commit wholly to historical fiction, everything was optional.  If I had written historical fiction, Kassia, and everyone else in the book, would have had to live fully immersed in every historical detail.  Women would wear veils and wimples (coverings for hair, neck and chin).  A powerful church and its prelates would have dictated the hours of the day, mass would be attended, feasts and festivals scheduled.  Again, because I could indulge, I skipped these medieval conventions.  There is no way Kassia could have pulled off being as independent and snarky otherwise.  At least not in the way I wanted to write her.

And finally, I come to plot.  Oh, history definitely played a role in the storyline, but I’m afraid this little gem will have to wait until everything is revealed in the next book.  Suffice it to say that the stories of several prominent medieval families heavily influenced aspects of Kassia’s family’s story.  Hopefully I can tell all at some point in the future, once the story of Kassia and her sister Irisa is all told.  Until then…

Intrigued about The Scribe's Daughter? Purchase it on Amazon.
Connect with Stephanie on her website or Twitter.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Who was Richard Pole?

Sir Richard Pole
Coat of Arms

If Margaret Pole is unfortunately remembered more for the circumstances of her death than the events of her life, her husband is left out of historical accounts to an even greater extent. Sir Richard Pole was a Knight of the Garter, while Margaret was the daughter of a York prince. However, under the Tudor regime, this marriage became a possibility due to Richard's family ties to Margaret Beaufort and his loyalty to Henry Tudor.

Richard was the son of Geoffrey Pole, a Welshman who married an Englishwoman and settled in Buckinghamshire. Edith St John was a half-sister of Margaret Beaufort, mother of the man who would become the unexpected first Tudor king. Their common parent, Margaret Beauchamp, is responsible for creating several ties between the displaced Yorkists and newly risen Tudors. Richard Pole was a son of her daughter, Edith, by Margaret's first husband, Sir Oliver St John. When he died, Margaret went on to marry John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. The two of them had one child, Margaret Beaufort, who became the mother of Henry Tudor. Margaret Beauchamp's third husband was Lionel de Welles, and together they had John Welles, who later married Cecily of York.

These family ties were important to establish in the new dynasty to create peace and connections of loyalty. Richard's marriage to Margaret appears to have been a successful one. However, before he was awarded the hand of a noble wife, Richard had served Henry Tudor with enough enthusiasm to earn his trust with a wife of such royal bloodlines.

For a man known to be suspicious, Henry Tudor placed great trust in Richard Pole. Not only was he given a wife, whose royal bloodline was enough to keep her brother imprisoned for life before the king decided to execute him, but Richard was given the position of Chamberlain for Prince Arthur Tudor at Ludlow. This was a role of great importance, but also one that kept Margaret from the center of power in London.

Richard served Arthur along with Jasper Tudor, Henry's uncle and most trusted adviser. Since Arthur was viewed as the future king of great promise and proof of God's blessing on his parents' union, being given authority over him was a sign of great value. Richard held this position until Arthur's untimely death in April 1502.

For the brief remainder of his life, Richard continued to serve the king through positions in Wales that included Chamberlain of Chester and member of the Council of Wales. At various times he had served as constables of multiple castles in the Welsh Marches. He also commanded troops when necessary to defend Henry VII's realm.

Unfortunately, Richard left his family of five young children behind when he died sometime in late 1504. The exact date and cause of his death is unknown, indicating a swift but fatal illness. He likely never held his youngest son, Geoffrey, who was born around this same time. Margaret never remarried.

Read more about the Pole family in Faithful Traitor.