Sharon Kay Penman's Blog

August 28, 2014

On August 28, 1189 began one of medieval history’s more interesting “unintended consequences” events. When the highly unpopular King of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan, led the army of Outremer to a devastating defeat at Hattin, he was understandably blamed for a military blunder of monumental proportions. So when Saladin released him and he retreated to the kingdom’s sole remaining bastion, the port city of Tyre, he was denied entry into the city by Conrad of Montferrat, a swaggering adventurer who was as ambitious as Guy but far more capable. Guy had many flaws but he did not lack for courage, and he and his queen, Sybilla, then gathered their few followers and set off to lay siege to Acre, which had fallen to Saladin soon after Hattin. It was a quixotic gesture and neither Conrad nor Saladin took it seriously at first. But to the surprise of many, men began to join Guy, and the Acre siege would become the focal point of the Third Crusade.

My friend Kasia has come across a website dedicated to Geoffrey, the Duke of Brittany, which gives credit to my other friend, Malcolm Craig, for his academic article about Geoffrey and Constance’s second daughter, who died young. It also mentions Devil’s Brood, which pleases me, of course. I think Geoffrey has been unfairly ignored by history and so it is nice to see him finally getting a little bit of internet attention.
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Published on August 28, 2014 06:07 • 78 views

August 27, 2014

I am a day late, but August 26, 1346 was the date of one of the most decisive battles of the MA, when Edward III and his son, the Black Prince, utterly routed a French army. The Black Prince was only sixteen, but he soon proved that he was one of the most capable battle commanders of their age. The blind King of Bohemia rode into battle against the English, his horse roped to those of his knights to guide him; not surprisingly, neither he nor they survived. Legend has it that after the battle, the Black Prince adopted the slain Bohemian king’s emblem—three white feathers—as his own, as a way of honoring the blind king’s gallantry. Bernard Cornwell has done his usual masterly dramatization of the battle in the first of his Grail series, The Archer’s Tale, which I highly recommend; Crecy also demonstrated the fearful power of the English longbow for the first time. For those interested in learning more about Crecy, here is a link to follow.
I’d forgotten that the 27th was the anniversary of the Young King’s second coronation in 1172, but Hal’s champion, my Polish friend, Kasia, did not, so I am stealing her post for today:
I just want to mention that today marks the anniversary of Henry the Young King's second coronation. Together with Marguerite they were crowned at Winchester on 27 August 1172 by Rotrou, Archbishop of Rouen. The bishops who crowned the young king in 1170 were forbidden to take part in this second ceremony following Louis VII's wish (the latter was enraged that Marguerite had not been crowned with her husband in 1170).
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Published on August 27, 2014 07:29 • 51 views

August 25, 2014

August 25th was –like the 24th—a date upon which a great tragedy occurred and several important medieval people died.
The catastrophe occurred in 79 AD when Mt Vesuvius erupted, destroying the beautiful port cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The eruption began on the 24th, and in the early hours of the 25th, Pompeii’s fate was sealed by a pyroclastic surge of hot poisoned gases and pulverized rocks and volcanic ash. The French have a poetic term for this horror—nuee ardente—burning cloud. It buried the town and its people, as if frozen in time. Here is a video that recreates the last day of Pompeii almost too convincingly. This site also offers an eye-witness account by Pliny the younger, whose uncle perished in the eruption. In his letter, he said it occurred on August 24-25th, but archaeological evidence indicates that it actually happened three months later. Most of you know I am a great fan of Game of Thrones, and so I like Kit Harrington, whose character Jon Snow is one I find quite sympathetic. This year the actor appeared in a film titled Pompeii; it was not well received by the critics and after I watched it, I could understand why.
Now on to the Middle Ages. Readers of Lionheart know how that nasty piece of work, the Bishop of Beauvais, and his accomplice, Hugh, the Duke of Burgundy, did their best to sabotage Richard’s crusade. Beauvais survived to slander Richard the length and breadth of Christendom on his way back to France, but on August 25, 1192, Hugh died at Acre. At the time, Richard was lying very ill at Jaffa, suffering from malaria, but a chronicler reported that when he got the news of Hugh’s death, it cheered him up quite a bit and he began to improve.
On August 25, 1227, the Mongol ruler Ghengis Khan died; he had the bad luck to be portrayed by John Wayne in what was surely one of the more ludicrous historical films ever made. And on this date in 1270, Louis IX of France died in Tunis of dysentery on his second crusade. He was later canonized by the Catholic Church; what we’d find most interesting is that he was our Eleanor’s great-grandson. Eleanor traveled to Castile in 1200 to bring her granddaughter Blanche back to France to wed Philippe’s young son, Louis. So that would definitely give Eleanor bragging rights in any celestial arguments with Henry, for having a saint in the family probably trumped the Demon Countess of Anjou.
And on August 25, 1482, Marguerite d’Anjou died at the age of 52, eleven long years after the death of her only son at the battle of Tewkesbury. Here is a brief scene from Sunne, in which Edward confronts the woman he holds responsible for the death of his younger brother Edmund.
Page 507-508
* * *
“Self murder is a mortal sin, Madame,” Edward said evenly. “And the sin is no less if you do not do the deed yourself but contrive another to do it for you.”
One hand moved to her throat, pressing against the beating hollow. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you cannot provoke me into sending you to the block. However much you do deserve it…or desire it.”
“You did not spare my son,” she said stonily
Edward didn’t even bother to deny the accusation, to remind her that her son had died on the field. Instead, he said with insulting forbearance, “I’ll not stain my hands with a woman’s blood.”
Marguerite drew so deep a breath that all could see her breasts heave. The hatred on her face was unmistakable, yet curiously muted. Like one forced to call upon remembered emotions, Anne thought; the light was there, but no heat, as if the sun had given way to a perpetual shadowed moon.
“Even if it were a mercy?” Marguerite asked, in dulled, queerly flattened tones, and Anne at last felt a faint, unwanted flicker of pity.
For the first time, emotion showed in Edward’s eyes. For an unguarded instant, they mirrored an unhealed hatred, gave an unnerving glimpse of a searing blue-white flame, all the more intense for being under such relentless restraint.
“Especially if it were a mercy, Madame,” he said bitterly and turned away
* * *
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Published on August 25, 2014 07:00 • 114 views

August 24, 2014

With apologies to any of you who were born or got married on August 24th, this was a very bloody day in medieval history. Let me start with the happiest event. On August 24th, 1113, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, reluctant husband to the Empress Maude and devoted father to the first Plantagenet King, Henry II, was born. I had fun writing about Geoffrey in Saints, for he was a complex man. He seems to have passed on his temper, his sardonic humor, his intelligence, and his good looks to his eldest son, although Henry certainly inherited some of those traits from his regal mother, too---aside from the humor, of course!

August 24th was a dreadful day for Jews in medieval Germany, for on this date in 1349, there were at least two awful pogroms, one in Mainz in which at least six thousand of the city’s Jews were killed and one in Cologne where a large number of Jews died, too. These unhappy souls were scapegoated because of the Black Death, the deadly Bubonic plague then sweeping Europe. It has been estimated that at least 25 million people died of this disease throughout Europe, a casualty count that would be 40-60% of the population, as staggering as that sounds. In their terror, the people blamed this fearful plague upon the Jews, as so often has happened down throughout history.

And then we have the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre which began in Paris in 1572, resulting in the slaughter of the city’s Huguenots, the most infamous occurrence in the French Wars of Religion.. C.W. Gortner’s fascinating novel The Confessions of Catherine de Medici dramatizes this unhappy event. And here is a first person account of the massacre.

Lastly, I hope all my friends and readers who live in northern California came through the earthquake okay; definitely not a good way to start the day.
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Published on August 24, 2014 06:45 • 116 views

August 22, 2014

August 22nd is a sad day for all Ricardians, of course, for on this date in 1485, Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, was slain at the battle of Redmore Plain, now known as Bosworth Field. Rania gave eloquent expression in her post yesterday to the most despicable thing that Tudor did—dating his reign from the day before Bosworth so he could then charge the men who’d fought for Richard, their lawful king, with treason. This was an act worthy to have come from the warped, brilliant brain of Tywin Lannister. The anniversary of Bosworth resonates even more with Ricardians because of the discover of Richard’s lost grave and what we now know about his brutal last moments, testified to by the grievous wounds he suffered. I think I’m glad I did not know all that when I was writing this chapter. It was challenging enough as it was to write; it took me three weeks to get Richard out of his tent and onto the battlefield.
Below is a scene from Sunne, page 1197-1198 (paging from the new anniversary edition of Sunne published last year by Macmillan) The fighting has been going on for some time; Richard’s friend and ally, Jack Howard, is dead, and he has just learned that the Earl of Northumberland intends to remain on the ridge in defiance of his summons. Francis Lovell has been deputized by the others to convince Richard to withdraw, to remind him how many men will fight for him north of the Trent.
* * *
He found Richard and Brecher on the crest of the hill. Richard turned as he came up, gestured off to the northwest.
“There, Francis, you see the standard? The Dragon of Cadwallader. Henry Tudor, the would-be king.” He looked at Francis and smiled. “God has not forsaken me, after all.”
Francis stepped closer, brown eyes looking into Richard’s blue ones. “Dickon. Dickon, you realize the risk?”
Richard’s smile didn’t waver; the sudden animation in his face was startling but somehow Francis did not find it reassuring.
“Yes,” Richard said readily, “but it is a risk worth the taking. He’s blundered, Francis. He’s stayed put while the battle line shifted away from him.”
Others had joined them. Rob and Dick Ratcliffe and Will Catesby. Catesby was staring at Richard in utter disbelief Too appalled for tact, he blurted out, “You cannot mean to go after Tudor, Your Grace! To get to him, you’d have to cut clean across Will Stanley’s army. If he chose to move against you, you’d not have a prayer in Hell.”
Richard’s eyes shifted briefly to Catesby, without interest, as if listening to a language he couldn’t quite comprehend. When he spoke, it was to Francis.
“If Tudor’s dead, the battle’s done. You do see that Francis? There is no other way to make an end to this.”
He didn’t wait for Francis to reply, signaled for White Surrey to be led forward. The stallion was lathered, blowing froth, chest and haunches encased in armor no longer burnished, streaked with blood and dust. But he quivered expectantly as Richard reached for the pommel and, as soon as he felt Richard’s weight securely in the saddle, he danced sideways on the trampled grass, eager to run.
Richard stroked his neck. Never had he felt so at one with the animal; as if the stallion’s pulsing, mettlesome spirit had infused life into his own depleted reserves, he felt his fatigue fall away, aches and bruises and pain forgotten. The men around him came into sudden sharp focus, sun and sky forming a dazzling backdrop of blue over their heads, in which birds wheeled and circled, as if bearing witness to the battle taking place below. Richard raised up in his stirrups; his voice was husky, hoarse from shouting, and the knights of his household crowded in closer, straining to hear
“The battle’s all but lost. One chance remains for victory. Tudor’s within range, protected only by his guard and the knights of his body. But it means passing in plain view of Stanley’s army. I’d not order any man to this; I do ask, instead. Who’ll ride with me to seek Tudor?”
The only sound Richard could hear came from White Surrey. The stallion snorted, sucked air into his lungs in loud, wheezing gulps. Richard’s own breathing sounded scarcely less labored to his ears. And then someone shouted, “Loyaulte me lie!” It was Richard’s own motto, adopted by him at age sixteen in defiance of the conflicting claims upon his heart. Loyalty Binds Me. Others now took it up, chanted his name and the battle cry of his House, “Richard and York!” And then the hill exploded into action. Men were yelling for their horses, snapping shut vizors, grabbing for lance and sword. Men who accepted without question that his quarrel was good, his right to the crown just. A pledge of faith to be redeemed in blood if need be.
* * *
And Richard’s gamble almost worked. He came very close to reaching Tudor, who was saved only by Stanley’s treachery. It is such a lovely twist of irony that Stanley would later be executed by Tudor for treason. Northumberland also learned that Richard was loved in the North and Yorkshiremen had not forgotten Redmore Plain. As for me, I hope very much that memories of Richard’s charge gave Tudor nightmares for the rest of his life On this day it seems very appropriate to thank those who found Richard’s lost grave and made it possible for him to buried with honor and respect—the archeologists involved in the dig, the University of Leicester and the city council, Ricardians everywhere, and of course Richard’s very distant kinsman who donated his DNA to make the identification beyond dispute. As for myself, I did not really expect them to find their royal needle in that concrete haystack, but once they reported their discovery, I never doubted that they’d found Richard. Thanks are due above all to Philippa Langley. Richard could have used a guardian angel at Bosworth, but at least he found one five centuries later in Philippa.
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Published on August 22, 2014 18:11 • 149 views

August 21, 2014

August 21st was the birthdate in 1165 of the French king who’d prove to be the nemesis of the Angevins, Philippe Capet, whose birth so delighted his father, Louis, that he was called Dieu-Donne, the God-given. History would judge him as one of the great medieval kings, in large measure because he was fortunate enough to outlive the disgrace he’d incurred by abandoning the Third Crusade and the subsequent humiliating defeats he suffered at Richard’s hands; he found John to be a far less formidable opponent that Richard and he was able to add greatly to the French domains at John’s expense.
Despite his intelligence and ambition, he lacked the charisma of the Angevins; even John had a scapegrace charm that Philippe did not. Henry had been surprisingly kind to Philippe when he came to the throne at the young age of fifteen, but gratitude was not in Philippe’s nature and he did all he could to turn Henry’s sons against him—which admittedly did not take much effort on his part. He was more anti-Semitic than the Angevins, much more so than his father, and the Jews suffered under his reign. He treated his queen, the Danish princess Ingeborg, so cruelly that it is easy to believe Henry VIII took Philippe as his role model when he sought to rid himself of his own unwanted queen. His treacherous behavior toward Richard, a crusader king, was hard for even his own lords to justify. But when he died, Normandy and Maine and Anjou were part of the French empire and success has always proven to be a very effective deodorant.
August 21st was also the date upon which Geoffrey, the most intriguing of the Devil’s Brood, died in 1186 of injuries sustained when he was thrown from his horse during a French tournament. He was a month shy of his twenty-eighth birthday, and I think there is no question that the history of England and France would have been changed had he not chosen to ride that day. It is conceivable that Richard would not have gone on crusade had Geoffrey lived, for Richard always took Geoffrey far more seriously than he took John. He would never have said of Geoffrey what he scornfully said of John when he was told of John’s treachery while he was being held prisoner in Germany—“My brother is not the man to conquer a kingdom if there is anyone to offer the slightest resistance.” It is also possibly that England might have had a King Arthur had Geoffrey survived that tournament. Assuming that Richard still died at 41 without a son, Geoffrey would then have been next in line for the English throne. So many What ifs and If onlys are threaded through the fabric of history.
Instead of quoting from Geoffrey’s death scene in Devil’s Brood, I decided to go instead with a brief scene between Geoffrey’s sister, Marie, Countess of Champagne, and her eldest son, Henri, one of my favorite characters in Lionheart, soon to appear again in Outremer. The scene takes place at the tournament after Geoffrey’s accident, as Marie humors her youngest son by staying so he can watch the rest of the melee, and they are then joined by Henri, who has also taken part in the tournament.
Devil’s Brood, page 629.
* * *
The young Count of Champagne rode over, delighting his little brother by swinging him up into the saddle and taking him for a slow gallop around the lists. After turning Thibault over to one of his knights, Henri reined in beside the stands and Marie hastened down the steps to meet him. His flaxen hair was tousled, his face smeared with sweat and dirt and there was a reddish stain on his hauberk that was worrying until she could be sure the blood was not his.
“Maman, I heard what happened to my uncle Geoffrey and so I stopped by his tent. He insisted that he was unhurt and said he means to attend the dinner tonight.”
“What? Why must you men be so loath to use the brains God gave you?”
Henri grinned, for his was a conversation they’d had before; his mother was convinced that males were born without any common sense whatsoever. “I’d want to go, too, if I were in his place,” he admitted. “It is a matter of pride. But….” Lowering his voice, he said, “The thing is that I do not think he is as well as he claims. He is very pale and hollow-eyed, like a man trying to pretend he’s not suffering from a morning-after malaise. I think it would be best if he keeps away from the revelries tonight; they can last till dawn, after all. I thought mayhap if you talked to him….” Finding a smile, he joked that she was a force to be reckoned with and Geoffrey would not dare to defy her. But Marie was not misled by his attempt at humor; Geoffrey must look like Walking Death if her daredevil son Henri had taken notice.
* * *
Geoffrey was given a state funeral by his new ally, the French king, and was buried with honors before the high altar in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Philippe and Marie each founded two chantries to pray for Geoffrey’s soul.
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Published on August 21, 2014 06:29 • 100 views

August 20, 2014

Fasten your seat belts, Game of Thrones fans.
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Published on August 20, 2014 13:54 • 90 views

August 19, 2014

I am sure Rania will post about the historical scope of August 19th if she has not done so already, so I'll just mention two events. On this date in 14 AD, the first Roman emperor, Augustus, died. I will always think of him as he was portrayed in the excellent mini-series, I, Claudius,where his wife, Livia, wanted to poison him so her son could succeed him. But he was very careful about what he ate or drank. She outsmarted him, though, poisoning the figs in their garden as they remained on the tree. I understand that Robert Graves made her a far more sinister and murderous character than she actually was, but Sian Philipps's portrayal was so riveting that her Livia has eclipsed the real Livia for any of us who watched I, Claudius--rather the way the real Richard III has been overshadowed by Shakespeare's Richard. Also on this date in 1284, England was denied the opportunity to have a King Alphonso by the death of Edward I and Eleanora of Castille's eldest son by that name, at the age of only 11.
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Published on August 19, 2014 09:06 • 109 views

August 17, 2014

Another slow medieval news day, but here is a brief video sure to delight cat and dog lovers and anyone with a sense of humor.
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Published on August 17, 2014 12:11 • 64 views

August 15, 2014

You know the old “if a tree falls in the forest” philosophical puzzler. Well, I came up with one of my own. “If a historical figure is not mentioned in any of my books, should I still mention him or her in one of my Today in History posts?” I’ve decided that the answer is yes, assuming said historical figure is someone I find at least remotely interesting, of course.
On August 15, 778 AD, Roland, hero of the Chanson de Roland, was slain at Roncevaux Pass, trying to defend Charlemagne’s rear guard from the Basques.
August 15, 1040, the man known to us as Macbeth became King of the Scots when he defeated King Duncan in battle. Macbeth died on August 15, 1057, said to have been slain by Duncan’s son. He is, of course, the subject of one of Shakespeare’s most powerful and darkest plays, although the real Macbeth’s reign and personality differ markedly from the Bard’s Macbeth. Remind you of any other king who stars in one of Shakespeare’s plays?
On this date in 1196, Heinrich von Hohenstaufen’s even more odious younger brother, Konrad, Duke of Swabia was murdered. There are two accounts of his murder, both of which put him in the worst possible light One alleges that he was killed by the husband of a woman he’d raped, and the other version is that while he was raping a virgin, she bit him in the eye and he died of the resulting infection.
On August 15, 1369, Philippa of Hainault, queen of Edward III, died, thus freeing her lady in waiting, Alice Perrers, to come out of the shadows as Edward’s mistress, which she’d been for the past six years, since the age of fifteen.
August 15th was also the birthdate of two of the 18th century’s most interesting figures: Napoleon Bonaparte in 1769 and Sir Walter Scott in 1771. Napoleon was a military genius, of course, with ambitions to match his intellect. He also had a concise, if cynical, way with words, famously remarking that God was on the side of the largest battalions, although he was probably not the originator of that sardonic quip. He also said “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake” and “Revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets” and “In politics, stupidity is not a handicap” and “If you are going to take Vienna, take Vienna.” Sir Walter Scott is sometimes called the first historical novelist, although I have doubts about that myself. He probably did as much as anyone to nurture the legend of evil Prince John in his Ivanhoe saga.
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Published on August 15, 2014 07:05 • 133 views