Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Digging for the Historical King Arthur

Historical fiction author Mary Anne Yarde is celebrating the release of book two of her Du Lac Chronicles. I asked her how she decided to write about the aftermath of the legendary, but a little bit difficult to pin down, King Arthur. Welcome, Mary!

~ Samantha

Digging for the Historical King Arthur 

I have been fascinated with the life and times of King Arthur and his Knights of The Round Table since I was a child — I guess growing up a stone's throw from Glastonbury (The Ancient Isle of Avalon) may have had something to do with that. My book series, The Du Lac Chronicles, tells the story of what happened after the death of Arthur, and continues the story of his Knights and their sons. But in order to write about the end of Arthur’s reign, I needed to know about the beginning. A not so easy task, it turned out.

The history of a historical Arthur is not written in stone but is, instead, engraved in folklore. Firstly, where did he come from? Well, that is an easy question to answer…
King Arthur was English. No, hang on, he was Welsh. I think you have made a mistake, Arthur was Scottish. He was from Brittany, didn’t you know?
And so it goes on. Arthur is so famous that everyone wants to claim him and, over the years, there have been many names thrown out there as to who he really was. But...and there is always a big fat but when we are dealing with Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We can make Arthur fit wherever we want him to, and that is where the problem lies. It is very easy to make mistakes, and I have read many books that claim to have found the real Arthur, only they haven’t, it is just a theory, sometimes a very shaky one.

What doesn't help when we come to this period in history, which is commonly referred to as The Dark Ages, is the lack of reliable primary sources. What was written down was written down for a purpose and that purpose was usually politically motivated, which in itself is fascinating, although not so helpful. Now, in these early texts when Arthur is mentioned, there is nothing about him being a king. Nennuis describes him a warrior on par with Ironman, but no mention of a crown. It isn't until the 12th Century when Geoffrey of Monmouth writes his great work that the Arthur we know is born. Monmouth's work, which was supposed to be an accurate account of British history, is in fact, one of the greatest works of fiction ever written. Monmouth is borrowing from folklore — although he did keep mentioning something about a lost manuscript that he found and then conveniently lost again when asked to share it! It is folklore that drives the legend of Arthur and his knights forward, and I think that is important and it tells a great deal about the time in which these stories are told.

My books are not just set in Britain but Brittany and France as well, so I needed to have a good understanding of what was happening in these countries in the 5th Century in order to keep the history real in the telling. Before we look at any of these countries we need to look at the powerhouse of the world at this time, and that was the Roman Empire. However, the golden age of the Roman Empire was almost over; she was politically unstable and was withdrawing her forces from far-flung provinces such as Briton, to defend her borders. But this dawning new era brings some of the most fascinating historical figures that ever lived. These were the days of men such as Clovis. Clovis won a decisive victory against Rome, at the Battle of Soissons in AD 486. But, Clovis’s ambition didn’t stop there. Roman Gaul and parts of Western Germany fell to him as well. He forged a new empire through blood, war, and marriage. He made Paris the capital of his new kingdom, and he was the first King of a united Frank (France).

The Saxons and the Angles crossed the South Sea to take advantage of vulnerable Britain who, since the Romans had left, had split back into various smaller kingdoms. There was much infighting and unrest, it was the perfect opportunity for the Saxon’s to come over and stake their claim.

Brittany, like Britain, wasn’t one united country, but many, and they were a race of warriors. While they were busy fighting each other, they missed the real threat to the kingdom, which eventually would be their undoing and they would find themselves at the mercy of Frank.

While all this is going on, the Church is creeping into the crevices, and spreading the word of God and, what could be consider of equal value, one language — Latin. It could be argued that it was the Church that united Britain in the end.

This was a time of great unrest and change, but one thing remained constant for the general populous and that was storytelling. Arthur may well have been a general but folklore made him a Christian King and gave him a castle full of noble knights. Arthur and his Knights (most of them anyway) cared about the people they represented. Arthur was a good king, the like of which has never been seen before or after. He was the perfect tool for spreading a type of patriotic propaganda. Arthur was someone you would want to fight by your side. But he also gave ordinary people a sense of belonging and hope. He is, after all, The Once and Future King.

I have tried to show what life was like in the 5th Century in my books, but I have been heavily influenced by folklore, because when you are dealing with this period in history you cannot dismiss it. Brittany, for example, is terribly difficult to research historically, but when it comes to folklore she is rich and if that is all she is going to give us, then so be it. Folklore is its own special brand of history, and it is often over looked by historians which I think is a shame. You can tell a lot about a people by the stories they tell, and people are still fascinated by this larger than life King, which I think says it all. Arthur may well have been a general, or a knight, he may have been English, he may not, but it doesn’t matter because his story is timeless, it will never grow old.

The Du Lac Devil: Book Two in the Du Lac Chronicles

“The Du Lac Chronicles has rivalry and treasure enough for any ‘Game of Thrones’ aficionado.” Tony Riches, author of The Tudor Trilogy

The best-selling Du Lac Chronicles continues:

War is coming to Saxon Briton.

As one kingdom after another falls to the savage might of the High King, Cerdic of Wessex, only one family dares to stand up to him — The Du Lacs.

Budic and Alden Du Lac are barely speaking to each other, and Merton is a mercenary, fighting for the highest bidder. If Wessex hears of the brothers’ discord, then all is lost.

Fate brings Merton du Lac back to the ancestral lands of his forefathers, and he finds his country on the brink of civil war. But there is worse to come, for his father’s old enemy has infiltrated the court of Benwick. Now, more than ever, the Du Lacs must come together to save the kingdom and themselves.

Can old rivalries and resentments be overcome in time to stop a war?

“Mary Yarde has woven a compelling story with a beautiful setting, a story that features an equally compelling conflict. The reader is introduced to the key characters in the very opening pages of the story and the conflict comes across as a great hook. The Du Lac Devil combines great writing with storytelling skills to keep the reader’s eyes riveted on the pages. The writing is clear and beautiful and the descriptions are vivid, painting a picture that readers can easily visualize as they read. The dialogues flow naturally and they help to deepen characterization and to enhance the plot. I also enjoyed the narrative voice which came through as strong, clear, and confident. Yarde creates characters that are real and memorable and a story that readers will love to share.” ~ Readers’ Favorite See full review here

“Mary Anne Yarde has once again given us a tale of Arthurian beauty and romance. Filled with danger, intrigue and love.” ~ M.T. Magge, author of The Treasure of Gwenlais — award winning, Amazon Best Seller.

The Du Lac Devil is available now on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

About Mary Anne Yarde

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury—the fabled Isle of Avalon—was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

At nineteen, Yarde married her childhood sweetheart and began a bachelor of arts in history at Cardiff University, only to have her studies interrupted by the arrival of her first child. She would later return to higher education, studying equine science at Warwickshire College. Horses and history remain two of her major passions.

Yarde keeps busy raising four children and helping run a successful family business. She has many skills but has never mastered cooking—so if you ever drop by, she (and her family) would appreciate some tasty treats or a meal out!

Connect with Mary Anne Yarde

Amazon Author’s page

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