Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Right to Reply - The Twelfth Century

The latest in the Right to Reply series, where I ask a group of authors to talk about their particular time period, takes us to the twelfth century. Can our authors agree; or at least agree to disagree?
Here, EM Powell, Edward Ruadh Butler and Charlene Newcomb slug it out...

Welcome, Medevialists ~ Who is your 'champion' 12th century (non-fictional) character, and why?

EM: I’m going to go with one of King Henry II's most successful lords, the Anglo-Norman Hugh de Lacy. De Lacy liked to acquire land, whether in England Wales or Normandy. He also had a rather unfortunate tendency to just take it. The Norman conquest of Ireland was to see one of de Lacy’s biggest acquisitions in the kingdom of Mide (Meath). This was no paper land-grab: de Lacy personally relieved an Irish chieftain of his head to do so.  His success in Ireland grew to the point where Henry believed that de Lacy, now married to an Irish princess, was about to steal the whole island from him. Fate intervened in the form of de Lacy’s grisly murder. Chronicler William of Newburgh recorded that 'this news was gladly received by Henry’.

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Trim Castle, Co Meath, image by Andrew Parnell

Ruadh: Though I respect Hugh de Lacy for his castle-building and conquests, his political skills leave a lot to be desired in a champion. Had he survived his assassination in 1186 Hugh’s ambitions would probably have led to a civil war in the fledgling Irish colony. John Lackland had already placed some of his most trusted knights in possession of lands surrounding Meath and Hugh would’ve been hard pressed to win against invasions from Munster, Louth and Dublin. 

Unlike poor ‘ol Headless Hugh, my champion is a political master who could match the machinations and statesmanship of some of the greatest men of the age, maintaining his lofty position until his death as well as winning wars. 

His name is Hubert Walter. As a cleric Hubert rose to the highest offices in England as Archbishop of Canterbury and Papal Legate, but it was his career as a bureaucrat that proves him the greatest champion of the 12th century. It was Hubert who negotiated with Saladin on Richard Lionheart’s behalf during the Third Crusade, leading to the Treaty of Jaffa and the recognition of the Crusader States in the Levant, and it was Hubert who subsequently collected the ransom for King Richard after his capture in Austria. He became Regent of England during Richard’s long absences and radically changed the processes of taxation, justice, bureaucracy, banking, and feudal service to something that we would recognise today. His influence was too great for King John to have him side-lined and as John’s chancellor, Hubert maintained England as a strong kingdom despite serving one of the least-capable monarchs in all of English history. 

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The Tomb of Hubert Walter, d1205 - Image Adam Bishop

Char: My colleagues have chosen two fine examples of 12th century champions, but both have forgotten two remarkable individuals that I struggle to choose between: the Greatest Knight, William Marshal, who worked alongside Hubert Walter during the Lionheart's absence; and Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II. I will go with the latter: wife to two kings, mother of ten, Queen of England and Duchess of Aquitaine. 

She was a brilliant, well educated woman for her time. She was a patron of the arts; a soldier, participating in the Second Crusade with first husband Louis VII of France; a rebel, imprisoned by her husband Henry II of England for 15 years for supporting their sons' rebellion in 1173-74. She came out of these experiences stronger. In her mid-sixties, she escorted future daughter-in-law Berengaria of Navarre across the Alps in the middle of the winter to bring her to Richard in Sicily. 

She was politically savvy, a diplomat who was regent of England while King Richard went on Crusade and helped sort son John's plots to seize the throne. She was instrumental in securing support to raise the ransom monies to have Richard released from captivity and at the age of 70 traveled to Germany to deliver it. Though she had never been close to John, she supported his accession to the throne when Richard died. Her diplomatic skills were called upon once again, when at 77 she went to Castile and chose one of her granddaughters to be wed to the son of the king of France. Her journey there had been fraught with danger - she was captured, but negotiated for her freedom. Eleanor was a woman of the ages whom we can look back on with nothing but admiration.

Eleanor and her son John. (Public Domain image)

What was the most significant event of the century, and why?

EM: Canterbury Cathedral, 29 December 1170: Archbishop Thomas Becket was brutally slain on his own altar by four knights. As far as the medieval were concerned, Becket was God’s representative on earth. And Henry II got the blame. Not only was it a hugely important event at the time, it has continued to grab the popular imagination. Mention Becket and the response is instantly ‘who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ People remember.

Ruadh: Conquest changes everything. The most significant and long-lasting event was the invasion of Ireland in the years after 1169. The invaders’ initial successes led to a whole host of new blood and ideas introduced to the island; slavery was ended and Celtic Christianity was finally replaced by the Roman church for the first time and Latin replaced Irish as the language of the church. The Norse cities such as Dublin, Waterford and Limerick expanded as never before as did Ireland’s trade with the continent and England. Monasteries founded by the Norman lords led to the introduction of new ideas in agriculture. Norman knights from Leinster were the difference between victory and defeat at the Battle of Fornham in 1173 (which almost certainly allowed King Henry II to keep his throne) and when King Edward I invaded Scotland in 1296 his army was fed by ships out of Dublin and Drogheda. In a nutshell, the British Empire was founded from the lessons learned and wars fought bringing Ireland under control.

Char: The Angevin Empire was forever altered by the untimely death of King Richard I on April 6, 1199. I may not get many 'likes', for Richard is known as one who spent about 6 months of his adult life in England and who ruined England financially. But remember, his realm - his birthright - stretched from the Pyrenees north and across the Channel to the British Isles. What what you do to defend the lands of your kingdom? Richard's campaigns against Philip of France were generally successful, and his alliances and strength ultimately would have prevented the French from grabbing Angevin territory on the continent. Europe might look very different today had he lived. Would we have a Magna Carta?
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Angevin Empire circa 1172 Image Credit: Cartedaos 

Which was the most decisive battle/skirmish/siege of the century, and why?

EM: Still the altar on Canterbury! At a recent talk I gave, I got the usual Henry/Becket quote. From a young man who’d lived his whole life in Chicago.

Ruadh: King Henry I’s campaign leading up to the Battle of Tinchbray in 1106 is a thing of military beauty. Having claimed and then held on to England by the skin of his teeth in 1100 he set about establishing allies in Normandy which was then under the rule of his elder brother Robert Curthose. This proved enough to destabilise Robert’s rule in the duchy and Normandy soon disintegrated into chaos. In 1105 and having made sure that the King of France remained neutral, Henry crossed the Channel and claimed Bayeux, Caen and Falaise to further weaken his brother’s hold on the realm. The next year Henry returned and besieged the castle of Tinchbray which bordered the lands of Duke Robert’s key ally, the Count of Mortain. This forced Robert into the field along with his remaining allies. Always impetuous, Robert opened the Battle of Tinchbray with a huge cavalry charge, but this move was anticipated by Henry and he took a novel approach, awaiting the horsemen with his dismounted knights and infantry. Stopping Robert’s best weapon in its tracks, Henry committed his reserves at the most advantageous moment to totally destroy his enemy. 

Henry I of England - Illustration from Cassell's History of England - Century Edition - published circa 1902.jpg
Image: Public Domain

Char: We writers often speculate the 'what ifs' of history. Ruadh's suggestion of the importance of Tinchbray easily defines that - the history of Normandy, England, and France would have played out in a way we can only imagine had Henry I lost. But I would suggest the most significant battle of the 12th century, the consequences of which still resonate today, is the Battle of Hattin in July 1187 and the fall of Jerusalem that October, which led to the Third Crusade. Without that call from Pope Gregory to take the cross Richard I would not have gone on pilgrimage in 1190. He would have stayed home and concentrated on securing his realm. Philip of France would not have taken so much of the Lionheart's territory. No imprisonment, no ransom, no devastation of the English economy. Certainly coin was needed to fight the French and other enemies on the continent, but undoubtedly, it was nowhere near the 150,000 marks raised for the ransom. (If I recall, this was equivalent to approximately three times the annual income of England. We'll have to ask Ruadh how much Hubert Walter raised for the war against the French and other enemies 1194-99!) 

Richard the Lionheart's Tomb at Fontervraud - image public domain

You're going into battle - which would be our weapon of choice, and why?

EM: Hugh de Lacy. Granted, not strictly a weapon, but according to Gerald of Wales, ‘What Hugh’s complexion and features were like, he was dark, with dark, sunken eyes and flattened nostrils. His face was grossly disfigured down the right side as far as his chin by a burn, the result of an accident. His neck was short, his body hairy and sinewy. He was a short man. His build- misshapen.’ So, 1. Scary and 2. A dab hand with a sword. I’d just hide behind him.

Ruadh: I’d agree that Handsome Hugh would be a good man to have at your side in a fight, but I’d rather have one of his nice castles. I’ll definitely need to build ‘Castle Butler’ no more than a day’s horse ride from another of my fortresses because I need to keep my supply lines strong if I’m going to have an effective weapon. I’ll have timber for the outer walls of the bailey pre-cut for quick assembly on site. The earth-moving creation of the motte will take longer but I’m sure with a bit of planning (and I’m sure I can whip up some locals to help me with the labouring – come on, it is the medieval era!) this should not take more than a couple of weeks. Once the castle is finished, I’ll stock the buildings in the bailey with as much grub, wine and arrows as I can and then send out my cavalry to antagonise my neighbours. Then I’ll sit back and simply say, “Come at me bro”!

Public domain image of plan for typical motte and bailey castle construction

Char: Without a doubt, I would say Richard the Lionheart. At sixteen, the man was able to defeat more experienced enemies. He is a fine example of a weapon, a skilled warrior in the charge and a great swordsman. He was also an excellent military strategist. He may have been reckless with regards to his own safety, but he understood logistics and his battle strategies kept many of his troops alive.  


E.M. Powell’s medieval thriller Fifth Knight novels have been #1 Amazon and Bild bestsellers. Book #3, THE LORD OF IRELAND, was released in 2016. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. In addition to being the social media manager for the Historical Novel Society, she is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers’ The Big Thrill magazine and blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors. 
Website: www.empowell.com
Blog: www.empowell.blogspot.co.uk/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/empowellauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/empowellauthor
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/6583496.E_M_Powell

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Edward Ruadh Butler was born in Northern Ireland. He worked in newsrooms, bars and laboratories, and as a security guard, musician and lifeguard before his acclaimed debut novel, Swordland, was published by Accent Press in February 2016. Charting the years of the Norman invasion of Ireland Swordland and its follow-up, Lord of the Sea Castle, published in June, are a tribute to his Butler ancestors who carved lands for themselves as part of the conquest in the 12th century.

Website: www.ruadhbutler.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ruadhbutler
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ruadhbutler
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Charlene Newcomb, aka Char, is currently working on Book III of her Battle Scars series. Men of the Cross and For King and Country, Books I & II, are B.R.A.G Medallion honorees that vividly portray the impact of love and war on a young knight serving Richard the Lionheart. Book II is an Editor's Choice of the Historical Novel Society and a finalist in the Chaucer Awards for pre-1750 Historical Fiction.
Char is a contributor and blog editor for English Historical Fiction Authors. She lives, works, and writes in Kansas. She is an academic librarian by trade, a former U.S. Navy veteran, and has three grown children.

Website: http://charlenenewcomb.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/CharleneNewcombAuthor 
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/charnewcomb 
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  1. Absolutely brilliant and engaging. I did not anticipate using Hugh de Lacy as a shield but there is a certain logic to it. Barring that, of course, the castle is an excellent alternative.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Cryssa & thank you, Annie, for inviting us to participate!