• One of my favourite medieval…

    …cities is York.  I’ve just made a flying visit there to talk to some intrepid Americans from the Smithsonian at the stunning Treasurer’s House near the Minster.  They asked some terrific questions and it was a real delight to find they’d started reading the Hildegard series.  Yes, I expect her to go on for some time yet.  I hope the sixth book, The Butcher of Avignon, will not disappoint.

    The seventh is already taking shape, its possible title:   The Scandal of the Skulls.

    Hildegard returns to England but while she’s been in Avignon Woodstock and Arundel have butchered most of King Richard’s closest advisors.  An encounter with someone from the past sets Hildgard on a collision course with the king’s enemies…

    It was a trip to Salisbury to climb the famous steeple there that showed me what happens next.

  • If medieval matters are too…

    …modern for you then why not look up the Anglo Saxons?  Try first the brilliant and informative website of  Penelope Walton Rogers, Visiting Fellow in archaeology at York University.   Find her at www.aslab.co.uk

    There were some satisfyingly strong women around, to name but one, Hild of Whitby.  King Alfred’s daughter was also tough enough to run Mercia for seven years without a husband wielding his sword.  Whose your favourite Anglo-Saxon woman?  Come to that, whose your favourite Anglo-Saxon man?


  • Books are my bag

    Have you ever read a book?

    If you have then come along to Waterstones Book Shop in Lymington High Street this Saturday 11th October at 2 p.m. to tell us about it.  I shall be there to sign a few Hildegard books too so do come and say hello.  Even more, Tracey Emin has designed a special book bag to celebrate the joy of books and you’ll have a chance to win one of this special edition.  Good luck and see you there!

  • Talking about…

    Talking about medieval times the other day, as you do, I was struck by how young everybody in power was then.  Richard II himself, only ten when he became king, was only fourteen when he averted a massacre at Smithfield in 1381. At the beginning of the Hildegard series he’s already fifteen and married – to another fifteen year old, Anne.  His arch rival and eventual nemesis, his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, is the same age.  Medford, Richard’s spy master, is only in his twenties.  Even Richard’s barbaric and ambitious uncle, Thomas Woodstock, regarded as the old guard, is not much more than twenty five.

    As Hildegard says, we are ruled by children.

    It’s not surprsing that the Plantagents blew themselves apart, metaphorically.  They were  more like playground lads having a fisticuffs than elder statesmen – albeit with fatal results.

    When Hildegard gets in on the act even she’s not much above thirty.  Married at fifteen, two children by the time she’s eighteen, and, still a teenage mum, widowed when her husband gets inovolved in the 100 Years War, she’s younger than Cadfael but with the same authority.  She’s also younger than Shardlake but then the Tudors always seem to be a bit long in the tooth.

    I suppose we can account for this by the Plague which did for whole swathes of the populace.  As unstoppable as Ebola seems today in those young African communities, it made a space for impetuous and essentially youthful ambition.

  • Sussex Falcons fly!

    ravenAnother spectacular event at Herstmonceux Castle medieval weekend were the falcons.  Not only are they beautiful in flight and endearingly cuddly-looking when sitting quietly on the falconer’s (strong leather) gauntlet they make real the medieval search for food.  And these aerial killers are the goods.  An eagle hawk can bring down a small deer, enough to feed quite a few hungry knights in a feast or two.  We didn’t see that but we did see an unfortunate mouse fulfilling its destiny.  Two gulps, a sad, last look at a disappearing tail resulted in one very satisfied peregrine.  Vegetarian they are not. Despite that, I decided I’d really like one but when I found out how much they cost I reluctantly changed my mind.

    Hildegard herself was quite shocked when the falconer in The Parliament of Spies sobbed at the death of his newest falcon brought over from Norway.  It had cost his abbot today’s equivalent of an extremely smart Italian sports car.

    A day out with the falconer learning how to fly them is definitely on the books.

    This is the sort of research I love.  Just as much as sitting in the mead tent…

    Somebody asked how I write (nothing to do with mead tents) so tomorrow I’ll let you into the way I go about it.


  • Knights in shining armour

    DSCN0373If you’ve never seen a real live joust make sure you catch up with Destrier  at the next medieval festival.  More exciting than you can imagine.  Great horsemanship.  Shiny armour.  Handsome as you could wish – the knights, that is.  And when they make a hit it’s spectacular.  It should be our national sport and dare I say it, a million times more exciting than f***b***

    Go and see for yourselves.

    Pix to follow once I’ve sussed out how to get them on here.  Any advice?


    Hours later with much help from Phil, done it!…so what do you  think?

    See Destrier’s website for information about future events.

  • Medieval Weekend

    Two days of sunshine and a typical Bank Holiday deluge didn’t spoil a great weekend for all medievalists.  If you missed it this year make a date in your diary to come along next August to the spectacular Herstmonceux Castle.  It’s near Pevensey, Lewes, Brighton and only an hour or so from London, deep in the East Sussex countryside.  Terrific location, terrific people, great atmosphere.  See you there?

  • Herstmonceux Castle

    Just to remind anybody who doesn’t know, this weekend over the Bank Holiday Herstmonceux is hosting a fantastic, fabulous funfilled medieval festival.  Jousting, falconry, archery, minstrels, armoured knights and all the glorious rabble of medieval entertainment  will be here on offer.  As well as that some of us will be reading from our books too so come and meet us in the big marquee. Ge be!

  • Back on line

    They say patience is a virtue but if so it’s one, among many others,  I happen to  lack.  The last few weeks when my domain name has been bandied around in attempts to restore it have led to much exploration of the alleged language of the Anglo-Saxons.

    In the meantime I went back up to have another look at  Handale Priory.  This time it was with the admirable charity Sustrans.  We walked the 6 km from the cliff top village of Loftus, scrambling our way uphill alongside the beck that flows out of the dale.  We were privileged to be guided by Marshal along the ancient monks’ trod that links one side of the North Yorkshire moors to the other.  You might know similar ancient paved pathways as pannnier ways.  Said to be pre-Roman they are so skilfully made that they have lasted until today and criss-cross all counties in England.  Their presence brings a strong sense of the people who used them through the centuries when they would lead up to sixty or so pack horses in single file across immense distances in order to fetch provisions from one place to another.  We were told that because there is only room for single file when a leader reached the top of a steep  incline he’d have to give a piercing call down the path to warn anyone below that he was bringing his horses down.  I imagine the route we walked on that good day was the path Hildegard would have walked in the story The Dragon of Handale when she has to smuggle the abducted girl, Alys, from the priory where she was imprisoned to a place of safety at Ulf’s Langbarugh manor on the coast road.

    Again, sad to say, there was no sighting of the dragon.

  • the joy of a pre-Luddite universe

    If this was 1386 instead of 2014 the chances are I would not have had to spend the last hour of this fine Sunday morning staring at a screen trying to get various bits of the internet to work.  The chances are I would have been out in the fresh air  talking to friends and fellow villagers, the chances are we might have been singing our hearts out in some glorious gothic cathedral with the sunlight splintering through the new stained glass with the new invention, the pipe organ, thundering its notes out into the soundbox of the soaring roof.  The walls of this building would have been brilliantly coloured in reds and blues and greens and gold.  We women would have been wearing trailing gowns with long graceful  sleeves, the men in coloured hosen, with cloaks and their swords left in a heap at the church door.  Chances are we would not have wasted our eyesight, energy and attention on squiggling little shapes on a nasty mass-produced screen and getting absolutely nowhere.  Chances are.