It's a constant joy for me when new bits about the Middle Ages pops up in today's news. Oh, there are the skeltons, of course (and I'm a sucker or a medieval skeleton!) but there are also the little things that come up that simply delight.
Take this, for instance. Little notes and memos that we take for granted today. Because literacy was iffy, and because the printing press hadn't yet reached wide popularity, the written word was reserved for the rich and in monasteries: bibles, psalters, breviaries, and the occasional book of stories, either of the saints as in the Golden Legend or handbooks of chivalry, like Geoffrie de Charny's Book of Chivalry. There were also household accounting books that give light to the everyday expenses in a medieval manor house. But how about those little notes like we leave around? "Be sure to pick up a quart of milk before you get home" or "Don't forget to let the dog out." They had them, too. It's just that it is so rare to find them as they literally fall through the cracks of history, or at least the places that such slips of parchment might be subject to, stuffing into a drafty window crack or simply getting dropped down the loo.
One hundred and thirty-two such notes--the equivalent of medieval Post-its--were discovered by history professor Eric Kwakkel and his co-teacher Paul Hoftijzer while teaching their class at Leiden University in the Netherlands. The letters and receipts were hidden inside the bindings of a book printed in 1577 and were from an unidentified court in the Rhine region. The book is part of the Bibliotheca Thysiana, a seventeenth-century library in Leiden, established by Johannes Thysius (d. 1653).
As the blog post states: "One note written by (or on behalf of) Count Philip (d. 1508), who held court near the river Rhine...on 31 May 1486 he sent his servant to Heidelberg with a most charming request. 'Could you please get me some wild roses?', he writes, adding 'But make sure to also include some that are not yet flowering.'”
You can see the blog post here.
Crispin pointed toward a door. “Mind that no one sees you.” He directed the others to wait alongside a column. If the monks should come through after Vespers, it might serve as a good hiding place while at the same time offering a position to keep an eye on the bell tower’s stairs. And just as he thought it, he spotted the little light slowly climbing within the tower, making its careful way upward. He knew Jack would be checking the walls all along the stairwell, but if Crispin knew this abductor, the message would be situated as close to the bell as possible, for that would be the most out of the way, the most troublesome to get to, and wasn’t that what this abductor was hoping for?
But what was this leading to? This hunt was all well and good, but what was its ultimate purpose? Crispin kept his eyes on Jack, or at least on the little light. He feared that Perenelle might be in graver danger than he had originally thought. Murder was not foremost on the mind of most abductors. Their goal was the ransom. In this case, it was the Stone. But what if he wanted something else? For this was more than a simple ransom for a hostage. If that had been the case, he would have instructed Flamel to leave the Stone someplace else. No, instead he sent them on this insane chase all over London. And Crispin feared that they would find Madam Perenelle’s lifeless body at the end of it. Maybe he should tell the sheriffs of this crime…but he rejected the notion almost the moment he thought it. They would do nothing. Nothing would be accomplished by bringing them into it, and wisely, Flamel had seen that from the start. Not only would they be useless, but they would most likely get in the way. And if Perenelle was not in danger now—though Crispin was fairly certain that she was—the sheriffs, through their bumbling course, would make certain that she did fall into danger’s path.
No, there was no help from the king’s anointed. It was up to him and Jack. As usual.
He looked up again and found the little light had climbed higher, almost as high as it could go…and stopped. It seemed to sway for a moment, seemed unsteady, when all at once, it fell. The light streaked downward through the widest part of the tower, never touching the stair. It lit the walls as it went, until it crashed to the floor.
Crispin stifled his cry and ran. His heart beat a triple measure as he arrived at the crossing of the transepts. He raced up the quire steps and slammed into the locked gate. But instead of the lifeless form he expected to see lying on the floor, a crumpled bit of metal lay there instead. The extinguished candle from the ruined lantern sent up a wisp of smoke.
Crispin looked up.
“Master!” hissed the distant voice of his apprentice from above, and never had he been so relieved to hear it. “I found it. But I dropped the lantern.”
“Forget the lantern. Just get down here, you knave.”
He heard Jack’s hurried steps along the stairwell and waited, his breath and heartbeat returning to normal. The fool and his slippery fingers. The boy could cut a purse as nimble as you please, but he could not keep hold of a simple lantern?
Jack jumped through the stairwell door and landed on the tiled floor. He ran up to Crispin and looked up at his face. “What’s the matter with you? You’re white as a winding sheet.” he said.
Crispin straightened. “Never mind me. Where’s the parchment?”
“I was reaching up and I slipped. It was almost me going over the side, and no mistaking.” Jack looked back at the ruined lantern. “Blind me.”
“Where is the parchment?” Crispin asked again. He took Jack by the arm and steered him over to the column where Flamel and Avelyn awaited them.
“What is it, Maître Guest? What is the riddle this time?”
“Jack,” Crispin said impatiently, “for the last time, where is the damned parchment?”
You can pre-order below:
When the Romans invaded Britain in AD 43, they found the place being run by various tribal chieftans and kings. For the most part, they allowed them to remain to control their own people, under Roman rule, of course.
Boudicca was the wife of Prasutagus, a king of the East Anglia region. He died, and in his will, he left the kingdom to his daughters as well as the Roman emperor as he was bound to do. But Rome pulled a fast one and tried to take the whole darned thing. To show their might, they publically flogged Boudicca and raped her daughters. She didn't take kindly to this and took up arms and started a rebellion. You do not mess with babes with swords! She led an army some 100,000 men strong, marched on Colchester, London, and St. Albans, slaughtering the 9th Roman Legion. She was eventually routed and was killed around AD 61. But I bet that scared the togas right off those Romans.
Next time: The Saxons
I like to welcome historical novelists to my blog every now and then. Suzanne Adair is an old pal from my early days trying to get my medieval mysteries published and she writes Colonial mysteries and thrillers. She’s an award-winning novelist and a Florida native, who lives in a two hundred-year-old city at the edge of the North Carolina Piedmont, named for an English explorer who was beheaded. Her suspense and thrillers transport readers to the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, hiking, and spending time with her family. A Hostage to Heritage, her second Michael Stoddard American Revolution thriller, was released April 2013.
Please join me in welcoming Suzanne Adair!
Sure. A Hostage to Heritage is the second of my historical thrillers set in Wilmington, North Carolina during the American Revolution, with redcoat Michael Stoddard as the criminal investigator. The story picks up just a few weeks after Michael’s first chronicled adventure ends (Regulated for Murder).
Here’s the description from the back cover:
A boy kidnapped for ransom. And a madman who didn't bargain on Michael Stoddard's tenacity
Spring 1781. The American Revolution enters its seventh grueling year. In Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat investigator Lieutenant Michael Stoddard expects to round up two miscreants before Lord Cornwallis's army arrives for supplies. But his quarries' trail crosses with that of a criminal who has abducted a high-profile English heir. Michael's efforts to track down the boy plunge him into a twilight of terror from radical insurrectionists, whiskey smugglers, and snarled secrets out of his own past in Yorkshire.
The atmosphere of the late eighteenth century brought a revolution in the way many people thought about the world. Development of the sciences was accelerating, so there was a thrust to evaluate natural phenomena with logical analyses instead of emotion. The benefits to keeping religion and politics apart were pretty obvious and discussed in the open. Georgian culture was relatively earthy and permissive, especially compared with what followed. Those magnificent tall ships were sailing all over the world, enabling exploration and cultural exchanges. Except for the lack of antibiotics and certain technological conveniences, it was probably an exciting time to be alive. And men could sure rock lace and heels.
A big sub-plot in this book deals with child soldiers, an issue that’s plagued humans throughout history. As I’ll discuss in my essay on Crime Fiction Collective on Friday 3 May, this topic hits home with me.
I also wanted to explore how a detective who didn’t have access to modern technology and forensics would deal effectively with a hostage situation. The clock was ticking on the victim’s life. How would the detective and abductors communicate and negotiate without a telephone? What techniques would the detective use to track down the criminals?
And, of course, A Hostage to Heritage, along with Regulated for Murder, represents my efforts thus far at showing the strategic importance of North Carolina during the American Revolution. The Eighty-Second Regiment (redcoats) occupied the town of Wilmington for almost all of 1781 and kept the Continental Army from moving troops between South Carolina and Virginia most of that time. Now why do you suppose those sorts of victories on the part of Crown forces don’t make it into American history texts?
Here are some historical tidbits I folded into this book:
Readers will also find nods to Robin Hood and Jacobites. And swashbuckling. Where would an adventure set during the eighteenth century be without swashbuckling?
What didn’t make it? Some information about William Hooper, one of North Carolina’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, because I’m still researching it. My research trail has led me to a thesis by a professor in Louisiana. I hope to include that information in the next Michael Stoddard thriller.
Ahh, women and weapons. I noticed how well you handled both sword and dagger when you visited the library in my neck of the woods November 2011. So you carved up a roast with those blades? Just one roast? I won’t ask why a nice lady like you is amusing herself with deadly weapons. I amuse myself with eighteenth-century muskets, bayonets, and pistols a good bit, especially when I’m dressed in period clothing for a reenacting event. These covers on my earlier trilogy (Paper Woman, The Blacksmith’s Daughter, and Camp Follower) showcase some of the weapons from my collection. And the model should look familiar.
All of the above, I think. Michael Stoddard was born in 1754, in Yorkshire, England, son of a poor stonemason. When he was eleven, his prosperous uncle Solomon arranged for him to work for a local nobleman, tend Lord Crump's falcons. Three years later, Michael discovered that Lord Crump’s gamekeeper and steward were embezzling from him and brought his observations to his lordship. Lord Crump and the butler devised a way to track the thefts and entrap the two men, resulting in their dismissal.
When Michael was almost seventeen, Uncle Solomon approached Lord Crump about assisting in the purchase of Michael’s ensign's commission. Grateful for Michael’s keen observation skills in that embezzlement incident, Lord Crump helped purchase the commission and later sponsored Michael’s lieutenant’s commission. (Ah, but did Lord Crump have an additional reason for being so generous? Read A Hostage to Heritage to find out.)
After Michael shipped to America, several commanding officers assigned him to investigate criminal activity. Upon his regiment’s arrival in Wilmington, North Carolina, Major James Henry Craig assigned him the position of lead investigator. Michael promptly selected Private Nick Spry as his assistant.
Since Michael’s series deals primarily with North Carolina in 1781, I’ve made things easier on myself. I rely on Gregory De Van Massey’s Master’s thesis from 1987, “The British Expedition to Wilmington, North Carolina, January–November 1781,” as a baseline for mapping out the external conflict and overarching direction for the series. The beauty in this approach is that I get to showcase some important events from 1781 North Carolina that didn’t make it into history textbooks. Since I don’t plan to change history—Lord Cornwallis will surrender at Yorktown in October 1781 and thus bring an end to the Eighty-Second Regiment’s occupation of Wilmington—I’m developing an internal conflict and Hero’s Journey for Michael that makes sense in the context of the external conflicts.
I do a combination of outlining and writing by the seat of my pants. Before I begin a first draft, I know how and where the book should end as well as several plot milestones in the middle that I must hit. After I turn my characters loose to develop, I depend upon them to help me hit those milestones, but the manner in which the milestones are hit is often unpredictable at the beginning of the first draft. That’s why I’m glad I can trust my characters.
More Michael Stoddard, of course. I estimate that it will take him around three more books to get to the Eighty-Second’s evacuation of Wilmington in November 1781. But by next spring, I’m also hoping to release the first book of a science fiction series set in the 24th century. Yes, I do experience some time travel whiplash.
Thanks for the interview, Jeri!
Quarterly electronic newsletter: http://tinyletter.com/Suzanne-Adair-News
Web site: http://www.SuzanneAdair.com
If you've been reading my blog at all you know that I can't resist a medieval skeleton. Someone is always being dug up, from Anglo-Saxon warriors to Richard III. Today, however, we go farther back. Much farther. 4500 years ago. Apparently, the genetic lineage of Europe mysteriously transformed about 4,500 years ago, at least according to a story on Huffington Post quoting from the Journal Nature.
According to the article:
"What is intriguing is that the genetic markers of this first pan-European culture, which was clearly very successful, were then suddenly replaced around 4,500 years ago, and we don't know why," said study co-author Alan Cooper, of the University of Adelaide Australian Center for Ancient DNA, in a statement. "Something major happened, and the hunt is now on to find out what that was."
The new study also confirms that people sweeping out from Turkey colonized Europe, likely as a part of the agricultural revolution, reaching Germany about 7,500 years ago.
Or just Saint George since today is his feast day. By the way, the name itself is from the Greek name Γεωργιος (Georgios) which was derived from the Greek word γεωργος (georgos) meaning "farmer, earthworker," note the prefix "geo" as in geography, etc.
A fourth century martyr, George became the patron of many countries, including England. How does a Greek or Palestinian soldier become the patron of England? The story seems to have him traveling to England in his most heroic tale gleaned from the Golden Legend, practically a field guide to the middle ages, compiled by Jacobus de Voragine in the 13th century, who gathered the lives of many saints. The familiar legend begins with a dragon terrorizing an English town and maidens must draw lots to see who becomes dinner. George, a wandering medieval knight at this point just looking for the next daring thing to do, swoops in to save the town and slays the dragon to save the fair maiden from a gruesome death. Most likely the story is a metaphor for his accomplishments fighting the evil of paganism because he probably never made it to England. Though it does make for great imagery in church windows. He became the patron of soldiers and armies because of this fighting prowess. He was born in Lydda, Palestine and became a soldier in the Roman army as well as a secret Christian. But Roman Emporer Diocletian decreed that the Christians must be persecuted. George refused and even spoke out against it. Well, he was arrested, put to various tortures which he survived, never denouncing his faith, and was eventually beheaded.
His cult was so popular that by the 15th century his feast day was almost more important than Christmas. Because of his immense popularity, his feast day (death day) is celebrated on many different dates: 23 April (Roman Catholic); 3 November (Russian Orthodox); fourth Sunday in June (Malta); third Sunday in July (Gozo).
He is the patron of a dizzying array of countries, afflictions, and occupations: Amersfoort, Netherlands; Aragon; agricultural workers; archers; armourers; Beirut, Lebanon; Boy Scouts; butchers; Canada; Cappadocia; Catalonia; cavalry; chivalry; Constantinople; Crusaders; England; equestrians; Ethiopia; farmers; Ferrara, Italy; field hands; field workers; Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany; Genoa, Italy; Georgia; Germany; Gozo; Greece; Haldern, Germany; Heide, Germany; herpes; horsemen; horses; husbandmen; Istanbul; knights; lepers; leprosy; diocese of Limburg, Germany; Lithuania; Malta; Modica, Sicily; Moscow, Russia; Order of the Garter; Palestine; Palestinian Christians; plague; Portugal; Ptuj, Slovenia; riders; saddle makers; saddlers; Senj, Croatia; sheep; shepherds; skin diseases; skin rashes; soldiers; syphilis; Teutonic Knights; Venice.
So if you are a saddle-making farmer Boy Scout with herpes in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, take heart. Someone’s looking out for you.
Back home now after an exhausting weekend of sitting in the sun, walking in the sun, and chatting to authors and readers. Well, really, what better way to spend the day!
We began the day with a seranade by the USC Trojan Marching Band. I decided that I should always be accompanied by a fanfare when I arrive. Just a small one. It's loads better than the March of the Gladiators.
Then my first official signing of the day with Mystery Ink Bookstore with some interested readers, listening to my spiel. Actually, they were lulled into buying because they knew they would receive free sword pens from me.
Then after that I was able to wander around and find some strangely dressed attendees. Like this fellow.
It could be a llama. Not sure.
And then a bunch of characters of another kind. That's me with authors Kim Fay and Laurie Stevens at our signing at the Sisters in Crime LA booth. Books were sold, new readers were gathered in, and good times were had by all, I would say. I've just added more to my towering TBR pile, coming away with more books, some from new-to-me authors. I can't wait to dive into them.
Glad it's over and we'll see you again next year.