The Peninsular War Saga

General Robert Craufurd fought the battle of the Coa on this bridge

I began writing the Peninsular War Saga some years ago. At the time, I was attempting to find an agent or a publisher for one of my standalone historical romances, without much success. I had a lot of very positive feedback about my writing, my plots and my characterisation but everybody was saying the same thing; we’re sorry, but there is no market for traditional historical romance any more.

More than one agent urged me to try to write a contemporary romance. I made several attempts and hated all of them. Many people told me that with just a little adjustment, I could write for Mills and Boon historical. Once again, I made the attempt, and the people at Mills and Boon were lovely, gave great feedback, but were just not sure that my characterisation was quite right for them. I was getting nowhere.

To cheer myself up, I decided to scrap all my dreams of writing a marketable historical romance and just write something that I really wanted to do. There was definitely no market for a new series about the Peninsular War, since it had been done to death in the years following the runaway success of the Sharpe books and TV series. Still, it’s what I wanted to write, and since it was clear that nobody was going to read it anyway, I felt very liberated. I decided I could write it just for me, about a collection of people who didn’t always feel heroic or brave or even that patriotic. A lot of them joined because they had no option, or because they needed a job. They fought and they died and a lot of them became heroes. They also got wet, got grumpy when they were hungry, got sore feet and developed a bad head cold from time to time.

I wanted to explore areas of the war that I’d not really seen a lot about. What about the medical services? How did the commissariat work and who was responsible for ordnance and transport and prisoners of war? And what about the women and children who followed the army? What was it like in camp and on the long marches and all the boring hours between battles and skirmishes? What were relationships like between officers and men, away from the parade ground and the tidy regulations which governed army life?

Out of all these questions was born the Peninsular War Saga. Finally tired of trying to persuade an agent or a publisher to read one of the books, I decided to publish independently, without really thinking I’d sell more than a dozen copies, let alone develop an enthusiastic following. With book five doing well and book six in the early planning stages, I consider I’ve been incredibly lucky.

The Peninsular War Saga tells the story of the men and women of the fictional 110th Infantry during the wars against Napoleon; in particular, a young officer called  Paul van Daan who joins the regiment in 1802 as it is about to go to India to fight under General Arthur Wellesley.

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army
Book 1 in the Peninsular War Saga

An Unconventional Officer: the Peninsular War Saga Book 1 (1802 – 1810) 

From the battle of Assaye, through Italy, Copenhagen and Portugal, we follow the early career of Lieutenant Paul van Daan, the most unusual officer ever to join the 110th as he attempts to find his place in the regiment.  Along the way he makes both friends and enemies, discovers a talent for leadership and shares his life with two very different women.

An Unconventional Officer is slightly different to the other books, as it covers a longer time period, almost eight years. I wanted it to be a full introduction to Paul’s story and to get him to the point where he was well-established in Wellington’s army. While it introduces many of the main characters, the heart of this novel is the love story between Paul and Anne and its theme is Paul’s gradual development from a young officer willing to break all the rules, to a slightly more mature officer who is beginning to learn to fit in a little better.

An Unwilling Alliance: The Manxman, Book 1 and the Peninsular War Saga Book 1.5 (1806-07)

This book is really a spin-off from the Peninsular War Saga, but it fits very securely within the series as well. It takes place halfway through the action of An Unconventional Officer, during the Copenhagen campaign, which is mentioned, but not explored in book one. I adore this book, partly because the navy theme enabled me to set part of it on the island which is my home and which I love, and partly because it is a real coming-of-age book for Major van Daan as well as a key point in his developing friendship with Sir Arthur Wellesley.

It is 1806 and Captain Hugh Kelly RN returns to the Isle of Mann after fifteen years with a few months leave and a small fortune in prize money to find himself a sensible Manx wife. He pays court to Roseen Crellin, who is determined to resist her father’s efforts to find her a husband. Still dreaming of the young English soldier who sailed away and broke her heart, she has no intention of encouraging Captain Kelly’s courtship and certainly no intention of developing feelings for the man.

Major Paul van Daan is newly promoted and just back from Ireland, sailing with his battalion to Copenhagen under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley.  Paul’s courage and talent are unquestioned but his diplomatic skills need some work and in a joint operation with the navy there are many ways for a man of Paul’s temperament to get things wrong.

As Britain hovers on the brink of war with neutral Denmark and the diplomats and politicians negotiate to keep the Danish fleet out of Bonaparte’s hands, a more personal drama plays out on the decks of the Royal Navy and in the lines of Lord Cathcart’s army which could change the lives of Hugh, Roseen and Paul forever.

An Irregular Regiment

An Irregular Regiment: the Peninsular War Saga Book 2 (September 1810 – April 1811 )

This book covers an area of the war that I knew very little about. The building and manning of the lines of Torres Vedras are absolutely fascinating and worth a lot more time than I was able to give them. It is also the story of a young couple learning to be married, and sets the tone for Paul and Anne’s relationship throughout the series. If you don’t leave your hero and heroine at the church door, you have to work out what their marriage is going to be like, and I loved the challenge of that.

On the heights of Bussaco Ridge, Paul van Daan leads his battalion into action under Lord Wellington in his defeat of the French under Marshal Massena.  The book explores Paul’s developing career, and the happiness of his marriage to the lovely young widow of a fellow officer.  As Wellington prepares to chase Massena out of Portugal, Paul is serving under the worst general in the army and must find a way to keep his regiment safe and protect his reputation.

An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes d'OnoroAn Uncommon Campaign: the Peninsular War Saga Book 3 (April – June 1811)  

In addition to the battles and the personal stories of my characters, I wanted to introduce something about army politics during this book. I particularly love finding an interesting, funny or even a very sad story from history and trying to work it into the lives of my characters.

Lord Wellington has led his army to the Spanish border where the French occupy their last stronghold in Portugal at Almeida.  As the two armies face each other in the village of Fuentes de Onoro, Colonel Paul van Daan is becoming accustomed to his new responsibilities in command of a brigade and managing the resentment of other officers at his promotion over older and longer serving men.  His young wife is carrying their first child and showing no signs of allowing her delicate situation to get in the way of her normal activities.  And if that was not enough, Paul encounters a French colonel during the days of the battle who seems to have taken their rivalry personally, with potentially lethal consequences for the 110th and the rest of the third brigade of the light division.

A Redoubtable Citadel: the Peninsular War Saga Book 4 (January – June 1812) 

This was definitely the most emotional book for me to write. I wanted to highlight the plight of women in wartime, and I’m proud of this book, but it was extremely painful for me.

In the freezing January of 1812, Lord Wellington pushes his army on to the fortress town of Ciudad Rodrigo and a bloody siege with tragic consequences.  Colonel Paul van Daan and his wife Anne have a baby son and in the aftermath of the storming, take a brief trip to Lisbon to allow Paul’s family to take little William back to England.  With his career flourishing and his marriage happy, Paul has never felt so secure.  But his world is shattered when his young wife is taken prisoner by a French colonel with a personal grudge against Paul.  As Wellington’s army begins the siege of Badajoz, the other great Spanish border fortress, his scouts and agents conduct a frantic search for the colonel’s wife.  Meanwhile Anne van Daan is in the worst danger of her life and needs to call on all her considerable resources to survive, with no idea if help is on the way. 

An Untrustworthy Army: the Peninsular War Saga book 5 (June – December 1812)

This book covers both triumph and miserable retreat and was a wonderful opportunity both to introduce some new characters and to revisit one of the major storylines from the first book. It turned out to be more emotional than I expected and I loved being able to highlight one of my favourite characters whom I felt I’d neglected a little. The story of the retreat from Burgos was impossible to glamorise and highlighted both the best and the worst of Wellington’s army.

It is June 1812 and back with her husband and his brigade, Anne van Daan is beginning to recover from her ordeal at the hands of Colonel Dupres as Lord Wellington marches his army into Spain and up to Salamanca. In a spectacularly successful action, Wellington drives the French back although not without some damage to the Third Brigade of the Light Division.

Still recovering from their losses at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz earlier in the year, the Light Division remains in Madrid while Wellington lays siege to Burgos but some of Paul’s brigade have troubles of their own.

Lieutenant Simon Carlyon is determined not to allow his dead brother’s shameful reputation to blight his career in the army but finds it harder than expected to serve under the man who killed him. Colonel Johnny Wheeler is finding the lie he told to protect others difficult to live with, faced with the unrelenting hostility of a young officer. And Captain Michael O’Reilly’s life becomes complicated through a casual act of kindness.

The end of the campaigning season is not going as well for the Allied army and triumph turns to an undignified and dangerous retreat.  At a time when the discipline of Wellington’s army seems to have broken down, Van Daan’s brigade need to set personal matters aside and concentrate on staying alive long enough to reach safety.

Future Books

That’s as far as I’ve got with the novels. My next book is intended to be the sequel to An Unwilling Alliance, covering the disastrous Walcheren campaign of 1809. I’ve not been able to find a novel covering this campaign before so it feels like uncharted territory. I intend to pick up Hugh Kelly’s story, but as the campaign once again involved both army and navy, I will be joining the men of the 110th second battalion, who, while Major van Daan was leading the first battalion to glory in the Peninsula, were unlucky enough to be sent to Walcheren. The working title is An Inauspicious Expedition.

The other books in the Peninsular War Saga, as planned so far are as follows:

An Unrelenting Enmity: set during winter quarters from December 1812 to April 1813

An Auspicious Action: the story of the battle of Vitoria

An Uncivilised Storming: the Pyrenees and San Sebastian

An Inexorable Invasion: the invasion of France

An Improbable Abdication: Toulouse and the return to England

An Unmerciful Engagement: Waterloo

An Amicable Occupation: the Army of Occupation

Looking at that list, I feel a combination of excitement and sheer terror. At present I seem to be able to manage two books a year, but some of these will take more research than others, so I don’t promise that. There will also be more in the Manxman series, since I hope at some point to be able to reunite Hugh Kelly and Paul van Daan.

Currently, I’m beginning the research for the book about Walcheren, which will be published some time next year; I can’t give a date yet until I have a better idea of how long the research will take. I’m also making notes about book 6 in the main saga, which may be quicker to write, given that it is set outside of the main battles and campaigns, although obviously, given that this is the 110th, there will be some action.

So far, most of the books have been published only as e-books, but I am working at changing that. Early next year I am hoping to have all the books in paperback on Amazon, and then to get them into some bookshops or for sale on my website later in the year.

I’ve come a very long way from believing that nobody wants to read another series about the Peninsular War, and I’m so grateful to all my readers, especially those who follow me on facebook and twitter and visit my website regularly. Some of you have left fabulous reviews as well, and every good review is like a gift, even if it’s only a couple of lines.

It has been a good year in many ways at Writing with Labradors, despite losing our beloved Toby. We’re so grateful we have Oscar to step into his paw prints, and we’re looking forward to an even better 2019. In the meantime, remember to look out for book giveaways on Amazon on Christmas Eve, in honour of the Jolabokaflod or Christmas Book Flood. And for future giveaways and updates, please click on the link to subscribe to the newsletter.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us at Writing with Labradors.

 

Sir Robert Carey novels by PF Chisholm

The Sir Robert Carey novels by PF Chisholm came into my life many years ago, before I ever published a book. Without a doubt, they are among the books I’ve read that I genuinely wish I had written myself. They are a witty, intelligent, historically accurate and superbly crafted series of historical detective stories based around Sir Robert Carey, cousin to Queen Elizabeth, who was a real person and who wrote a charming autobiography, which brings his character to life extraordinarily well.

PF Chisholm has taken the real Carey and enlarged on what we know of him, creating a dashing and entertaining hero. Carey is courageous, witty and shrewd; a courtier who is very at home on the wilds of the Anglo-Scottish borders. He is also vain, hopeless with money and often self-centred, faults which do not detract one whit from his charm.

The novels enact a series of historical crimes in need of solving, while taking the reader step by step through the genuine events of the time. Chisholm weaves fact and fiction together seamlessly so that when I go away to check what is real and what is fiction, I am often surprised.

Carey’s exuberant personality is set against a marvellous collection of secondary characters. Foremost among these is Henry Dodd, his dour sergeant, who after a few books has moved into the limelight as a central character himself. We follow Carey’s agonising love affair with Elizabeth Widdrington, who is married to a brutal husband and trying hard to remain faithful as well as his affectionate relationship with his sister and the ups and downs of his friendship with Dodd.

PF Chisholm is the pen name of Patricia Finney who has written a number of other books, all of them excellent. But the Carey books remain my favourites. The latest one, A Suspicion of Silver, is out this month, but for those who need to catch up, the earlier books have now been issued in several omnibus editions, Guns in the North, Knives in the South and Swords in the East. For anyone looking for a Christmas gift for a book lover, these are a real treat.

I recently re-read the early books in this series, and I feel bound to confess that without intending it, there is something of Sir Robert Carey in the hero of the Peninsular War Saga, Paul van Daan. There is something about Carey’s flamboyant personality which appealed to me, and although the characters are also very different, I suspect there are places where I am channelling Carey when I write, which is probably a tribute to Chisholm’s brilliant characterisation.

The Carey mysteries are one of the few series of which I have never grown tired. I love the characters, but it’s more than that; each novel is a genuine story in its own right, intricately plotted and well written. All lovers of historical fiction, detective stories or just a very good read, should give them a try.

The Jolabokaflod or Christmas Book Flood

In the run up to Christmas, and with the latest book up and running, I’ve decided to devote this blog to sharing some of my favourite books with you. Last year, on Christmas Eve, I did a post about the Christmas Book Flood, or Jolabokaflod. The concept was new to me, but I loved it.

In Iceland there is a tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading which is known as  the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” as the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.At this time of year, most households in Iceland receive an annual free book catalog of new publications called the Bokatidindi.  Icelanders pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy.

The small Nordic island, with a population of only 329,000 people, is extraordinarily literary and people love to read and write. According to a BBC article, “The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.  One in ten Icelanders will publish a book.”

There is more value placed on hardback and paperback books than in other parts of the world where e-books have grown in popularity.  In Iceland most people read, and the book industry is based on many people buying several books each year rather than a few people buying a lot of books.  The vast majority of books are bought at Christmas time, and that is when most books are published.

The idea of families and friends gathering together to read before the fire on Christmas Eve is a winter tradition which appeals to me.  Like the Icelanders, I love physical books although I both read and publish e-books – sometimes they are just more convenient.  Still, the Jolabokaflod would work with any kind of book.

Last year, to celebrate this fabulous tradition, I offered some of my e-books free on Christmas Eve, and the take-up was phenomenal. I like to think I found a lot of new readers on that day and I intend to do the same thing again this year. But I also wanted to do a Christmas countdown of books that I’ve read and loved; a sort of literary advent calendar which has started late. Some of them are fiction, some are non-fiction, but all of them have a particular place on my shelves, both actual and electronic. I hope that reading about some of them will cause some of you to buy them, either for yourselves or for family and friends, as part of our own Christmas Book Flood.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Blogging with Labradors.

The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh

Fa’side Castle, Pinkie Cleugh by Kim Traynor (Wikimedia)

On September 10th 1547 the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh was fought on the banks of the River Esk near Musselburgh in Scotland. It was the last pitched battle between Scottish and English armies and took place during the wars of the Rough Wooing. The Scottish defeat was so severe that it became known as Black Saturday in Scotland.

At the end of his reign, Henry VIII was keen to marry his young son, Edward to the baby Mary, Queen of Scots. Diplomatic efforts failed as the Scots preferred a French alliance, so Henry invaded Scotland to secure the young queen, sparking the conflict which became known as the Rough Wooing. When Henry died soon afterwards the war was continued by the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.

Somerset was keen to pursue the policy of pushing Scotland into an alliance by marrying Mary to Edward and hoped to force an Anglican Reformation onto the Scottish church. In September 1547 Somerset led his army into Scotland, supported by a large fleet. He marched along the east coast of Scotland to keep contact with the fleet in order to secure his supplies. His troops were constantly harassed by local horsemen but their advance could not be stopped.

Meanwhile, to the west, Thomas Wharton and the Scottish Earl of Lennox, who chose to support the English invasion, invaded with 5000 men in an intended diversion, burning Annan and taking Castlemilk. The Earl of Arran had raised an army which consisted mostly of local pikemen and some Highland archers. He had some guns although these were not mobile enough to be particularly useful, and 2000 cavalry under the Earl of Home, consisting mainly of Borderers, whose loyalty tended to be somewhat fluid.

Arran decided to make his stand on the west bank of the River Esk to stop Somerset’s march. His left flank protected his left flank and a boggy area was on his right. The Scots constructed basic fortifications to mount cannon and arquebuses, some of which were pointed into the Forth to keep English ships at bay.

Part of Somerset’s army took possession of Fawside Hill to the east of Arran’s position on September 9th and later in the day, occupied the Inveresk Slopes with guns, overlooking the Scottish position. Lord Home, in a dramatic and pointless gesture, led 1500 cavalry towards the English and challenged them. Lord Grey accepted the challenge and led a force of men-at-arms and demi-lancers against the Scots. The Scots were routed and pursued for three miles westwards, depriving Arran of the bulk of his cavalry. During the night further challenges were issued, one from Arran asking that the dispute be settled by single combat between Arran and Somerset and a second for a battle between 20 champions from each side. Somerset rejected both of these anachronistic proposals; he was probably astonished that they had been made at all.

On the morning of Saturday, 10 September, Somerset moved his army to join up with his guns at Inveresk. He realised that Arran had moved his army across the Esk by the Roman bridge and was marching rapidly to meet him. Arran knew that he was badly outgunned in terms of artillery and hoped to force close combat before the English guns had time to deploy. Unfortunately, this advance moved him out of the protection of his guns on the Forth and the Scottish left flank was badly mauled by fire from the English warships.

The Roman Bridge over the Esk where some of the fleeing Scots came under heavy fire (Kim Traynor, Wikimedia)

Thrown into confusion, Arran’s left wing crashed into his centre while on the other flank, Somerset send in his cavalry. The Scottish pikemen drove them back, inflicting heavy casualties onto the cavalry and Lord Grey was wounded by a pike through his throat. Despite this success, the Scottish advance had faltered and their army was now under heavy fire from the warships as well as English artillery and archers. Unable to stand any longer they broke and ran, just as the English cavalry, which had regrouped, joined the battle, preceded by the English vanguard of 300 men under Sir John Luttrell. The fleeing Scots were chased towards the Esk and into the bogs. Many were drowned or slaughtered while trying to escape and the retreat turned into a bloody rout.

The Scottish army was shattered but their government stubbornly refused to come to terms with the English. The young Queen was sent into hiding as Somerset occupied Scottish castles and towns along the border and held large swathes of territory in the Borders and Lowlands. Still the war dragged on, costing men and money, and Somerset was distracted by political problems at home. On 7th August, Mary sailed to France from Dumbarton and French troops were beginning to arrive in Scotland to support their allies. The war formally ended with the Treaty of Norham on 10 June 1551 and the last English troops were withdrawn from Scotland.

Despite the disaster at Pinkie Cleugh, the English failed to achieve their aims and probably felt that the war had resulted in a waste of men and money. The Franco-Scottish alliance went ahead, and Mary was married to the young Dauphin of France. She remained in France until her young husband unexpectedly died in 1560 and suddenly, the marriage of the Scottish queen became, once again, a matter of interest to England, now under the very different rule of her cousin Elizabeth. While the battle’s political consequences were slight, military historians have given it a greater significance as what may be seen as the first ‘modern’ battle on British soil, an idea explored in more detail in this article by Gervase Phillips originally published in Military History magazine in 1997.

A Marcher Lord - a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders
A Marcher Lord – a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders

My own introduction to Pinkie Cleugh, which I had never heard of before, was in the first of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond chronicles A Game of Kings, where the battle is a key point of the story. The battle is significant in A Marcher Lord, set on the Borders during the War of the Rough Wooing where defeat at Pinkie Cleugh sends Will Scott back to his border fortress along with many other loyal Scots to try to hold it against the invading English. I love the Scottish borders and have spent many hours walking the hills and driving through the valleys, my feet in the present and my head very much in the past. There is an excellent battlefield walk which I would recommend to anybody visiting the area, and especially on a misty day as it was when I visited, it is very easy to imagine the sound of guns, the clashing of pikes and swords and the screams of dying men and horses on that Saturday in 1547…

A Valentine’s Day Giveaway to Romance Readers everywhere

A Valentine’s Day giveaway for 2018, for one day only there is a free promotion on Amazon kindle of four books.

A Regrettable Reputation is the first book in the Light Division romances.

A Regrettable Reputation (Book Two of the Light Division Romances)
A novel of Regency Yorkshire

Nicholas Whitham has left the army for the unexciting life of a land agent in Regency Yorkshire, but his peace is disrupted by the arrival of Miss Camilla Dorne a young lady of doubtful reputation.

The Reluctant Debutante, the second book in the series, tells the story of Giles Fenwick, Earl of Rockcliffe, formerly one of Wellington’s exploring officers and Cordelia Summers, a wealthy merchant’s daughter with an independent attitude.

A Marcher Lord is a tale of love and war among the Border Reivers on the sixteenth century Anglo-Scottish borders, where a Scottish lord encounters a young Englishwoman who may or may not be a spy.

A Respectable Woman, set mostly in Victorian London, tells the unlikely love

A Respectable Woman - the history
A novel of Victorian London: book 1 in the Alverstone Saga

story of the unconventional daughter of a missionary and the British officer whose life she saved.  

All four books are free on kindle for the whole of Wednesday February 14th, why not give them a try.

And for a free sample, why not try An Impossible Attachment, a free short story of the Peninsular War written especially for Valentine’s Day…

 

Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors

Fireworks in London
Fireworks in London

Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors.  It’s New Year’s Day on the Isle of Man, and it’s raining, windy and freezing cold.  In some ways this is a relief because if it had been a nice day I would have felt obliged to go out for a walk and I don’t feel like it.

It’s been a very different and very busy Christmas this year, with Richard’s family with us for the whole of the holidays, and then entertaining friends to dinner last night.  I’ve had no time to write, research or do anything else and in some ways that’s been quite hard.

I think it has probably done me good, however.  Time away from the current book has given me the chance to think through what I’d like to do with it and I feel a lot clearer about where it is going.  I’m very happy with the few chapters I’ve written and research is going well so I’m looking forward to getting on with it.  I think my head may have needed the break.

It’s made me think a bit more about how I schedule my writing time going forward.  I’m very privileged that I don’t have to hold down a full time job at the same time as writing, but I do have a very busy life with a family, my dogs, a big house to maintain and accounts and admin to be done for Richard’s business.  I’m aware that it’s very easy to let things slide when I’m in the middle of a book, but I realise that I need to be better organised both with the various tasks through the day and with time off to relax.

This year I’ve edited and published seven existing novels, with all the associated marketing and publicity, I’ve written an eighth book from scratch and published it and I’ve started a ninth.  I’ve handed my Irish dance school over to my two lovely teachers to run, I’ve supported son and daughter through GCSEs and AS levels, my old fella Toby through an operation at the age of 13 and I’ve had a major foot operation myself.  I’ve toured the battlefields of Spain and Portugal where some of my books are set and I went to Berlin, Killarney, London, Hertfordshire, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool.  I lost a very dear old family friend and went to his funeral.  And I’ve gained some amazing new friends, some of whom I’ve not even met yet, although I’m hoping to this year.  I’ve set up a website and an author page, joined Twitter and Instagram and I genuinely feel I can now call myself an author, something I had doubts about in one of my first posts on this website.

It has been an amazing year and I’m so grateful for all the help and support I’ve received.  I’ve not won any awards, although I’ve had one or two reviews which have felt like getting an Oscar.  Still, I’d like to do the thank you speech, because it’s the end of my first year as a published author and I owe so many people thanks for that.

Lynn and Richard
Love and Marriage

I’m starting with the man I married, who has been absolutely incredible throughout this.  He set up my website and taught me how to use it, and has always been there to answer any questions about technology.  He spent hours designing the new covers for the Peninsular War Saga and he also took the photographs which are gorgeous.  He drove me through Spain and Portugal, scrambled over battlefields and listened to me endlessly lecturing with more patience than I could have imagined.  He has celebrated my good reviews and sympathised over the bad ones.  He’s been completely amazing this year – thank you, Richard.  You are the best.

My son is studying for A levels at home and shares the study with me.  That’s not always easy, as during research I tend to spread out from my desk into the surrounding area, onto his table and onto the floor.  He has become expert at negotiating his way through piles of history books.  He is also a brilliant cook and will unfailingly provide dinner at the point when it becomes obvious I am too far gone in the nineteenth century to have remembered that we need to eat.  Thanks, Jon.

Castletown 2017
Castletown 2017

My daughter is my fellow historian and brings me joy every day.  She mocks my devotion to Lord Wellington ruthlessly, puts up with my stories, lets me whinge to her and makes me laugh all the time.  She drags me away from my desk to go for hot chocolate and to watch the sun go down, watches cheesy TV with me, helps me put up the Christmas decorations and corrects my fashion sense.  Thank you, bambino.

There are so many other people I should thank.  Heather, for always being there and for offering to proof-read; Sheri McGathy for my great book covers; Suzy and Sarah for their support and encouragement.

Then there are the many, many people online who have helped me with research queries, answered beginners questions about publishing and shared my sense of the ridiculous more than I could have believed possible.  There are a few of you out there but I’m singling out Jacqueline Reiter, Kristine Hughes Patrone and Catherine Curzon in particular.  I’m hoping to meet you all in person in 2018 and to share many more hours of Wellington and Chatham on Twitter, Archduke Charles dressed as a penguin and the mysterious purpose of Lady Greville’s dodgy hat.  A special mention also goes to M. J. Logue who writes the brilliant Uncivil War series, and who is my online partner-in-crime in considering new ways for the mavericks of the army to annoy those in charge and laughing out loud at how funny we find ourselves.

The new book is called An Unwilling Alliance and is the first book to be set partly on the Isle of Man, where I live.  The hero, a Royal Navy captain by the name of Hugh Kelly is a Manxman who joined the navy at sixteen and has returned to the island after Trafalgar with enough prize money to buy an estate, invest in local business and find himself a wife while his new ship is being refitted.  It’s a tight timescale, but Hugh is used to getting things his own way and is expecting no trouble with Roseen Crellin, the daughter of his new business partner.  Her father approves, she is from the right background and the fact that she’s very pretty is something of a bonus.  It hasn’t occurred to Hugh that the lady might not see things the same way…

The title obviously refers to the somewhat rocky start to Hugh and Roseen’s relationship, but it has other meanings as well.  The book moves on to the 1807 British campaign in Denmark and the bombardment of Copenhagen, in which Captain Kelly is involved.  The Danes were unwilling to accept British terms for the surrender of their fleet to avoid it falling into the hands of the French and as an alliance proved impossible, the British resorted to force.

In addition, there was something of an unwilling alliance between the two branches of the British armed forces taking part in the Copenhagen campaign.  There is a history of difficulties between the Army and the Navy during this period, and given that the Danish campaign required the two to work together, there is an interesting conflict over the best way to conduct the campaign.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

The naval commander during this campaign was Admiral James Gambier while the army was commanded by Lord Cathcart.  While Captain Hugh Kelly served under Gambier in the British fleet, a division of the army under Cathcart was commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley and Brigadier General Stewart and consisted of battalions from the 43rd, 52nd, 95th and 92nd – the nucleus of the future Light Division, the elite troops of Wellington’s Peninsular army.  In An Unconventional Officer,  we learn that the expedition is to be joined by the first battalion of the 110th infantry under the command of the newly promoted Major Paul van Daan and An Unwilling Alliance looks at the campaign from both the army and naval perspective, filling in part of Paul’s story which is not covered in the series.

I am hoping that the book will be published at the beginning of April 2018 and it will be followed by book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga, An Untrustworthy Army, covering the Salamanca campaign and the retreat from Burgos some time in the summer.  After that I will either get on with the sequel to A Respectable Woman which follows the lives of the children of Kit and Philippa Clevedon or the third book in the Light Division series, set after Waterloo.

We’re hoping to go back to Portugal and Spain this year for further photography and battlefield mayhem.  I’ve got some new ideas for the website and will be publishing several more short stories through the year.  My first research trip is in a couple of weeks time when I’ll be visiting Portsmouth and the Victory, the National Maritime Museum and possibly the Imperial War Museum if I don’t run out of time.  And the Tower of London for no reason at all apart from the fact that Wellington used to enjoy bossing people around there.

Writing with Labradors
Toby and Joey – Writing with Labradors

My final thanks go to the real stars of Writing with Labradors.  Toby, my old fella, is thirteen now and survived a major operation this year far better than I did.  Joey is eleven and needs to lose some weight.  They are my friends, my babies and my constant companions and I can’t imagine life without either of them although I know that day is going to come.  Thank you to my dogs who are with me all the time I’m working and who make every day happier.

Happy New Year to all my family, friends, readers and supporters.  Looking forward to 2018.

 

 

The Jolbokaflod – an Icelandic Christmas Tradition

Andreas Tille, from Wikimedia

In Iceland there is a tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading which is known as  the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” as the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.

Free Books on Amazon Kindle on Christmas Eve

At this time of year, most households in Iceland receive an annual free book catalog of new publications called the Bokatidindi.  Icelanders pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy.

The small Nordic island, with a population of only 329,000 people, is extraordinarily literary. They love to read and write. According to a BBC article, “The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.  One in ten Icelanders will publish a book.

There is more value placed on hardback and paperback books than in other parts of the world where e-books have grown in popularity.  In Iceland most people read, and the book industry is based on many people buying several books each year rather than a few people buying a lot of books.  The vast majority of books are bought at Christmas time, and that is when most books are published.

The idea of families and friends gathering together to read before the fire on Christmas Eve is a winter tradition which appeals to me.  Like the Icelanders, I love physical books although I both read and publish e-books – sometimes they are just more convenient.  Still, the Jolabokaflod would work with any kind of book.

They are also easier to give away, and this year I want to celebrate my own version of the Jolabokaflod with my readers, by giving away the e-book versions of all eight of my books on kindle for one day, on Christmas Eve.  It is a year since I first made the decision to independently publish my historical novels, and it has gone better than I ever expected.  This is my way of saying thank you to all my readers and hello to any new readers out there.

I now have eight books for sale on Amazon kindle.  Four of them are the first four books in a series which is intended to run for around ten books, following a fictional regiment through the bloody years of Wellington’s Peninsular War.  The Peninsular War Saga is proving very popular, with a combination of war, history and romance.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Unconventional Officer, Book 1, introduces the young Lieutenant Paul van Daan as he joins the 110th infantry which is about to sail to India and ends after the Battle of the Coa in Portugal, with Major Paul van Daan in command of a battalion and wed to the love of his life.

An Irregular Regiment, Book 2, begins with the Battle of Bussaco and then follows the newly married Paul and Anne van Daan through Massena’s retreat to the Battle of Sabugal.

An Uncommon Campaign finds Colonel Paul van Daan in command of a brigade at the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro and Anne about to become a mother for the first time.

A Redoubtable Citadel begins with the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo and ends with the taking of Badajoz; three months which turn Colonel van Daan’s well-ordered world on its head as his young wife is taken prisoner by a French colonel with a grudge.

An Untrustworthy Army, book 5 will be published in 2018.

A Regrettable Reputation (Book Two of the Light Division Romances)
A novel of Regency Yorkshire

As a spin off from this series, there are two books in the Light Division Romances, which follow the fortunes of some of the characters from the Peninsular War Saga into peacetime.  Both these books are available in paperback.  A Regrettable Reputation is a Regency romance set in Yorkshire in 1816.  Amidst the unrest of the Industrial Revolution, Mr Nicholas Witham, formerly of the 110th, has found work as estate manager to Lord Ashberry’s Yorkshire lands, a peaceful existence which is disrupted by the arrival of an heiress with a disreputable past.

The Reluctant Debutante is the story of Giles Fenwick, Earl of Rockcliffe, former captain in the 110th and one of Wellington’s exploring officers.  Struggling with wartime memories of the horror of Waterloo, Giles meets Cordelia Summers, daughter of a wealthy merchant, a girl of decided opinions and a lively sense of humour.

A Respectable Woman - the history
A novel of Victorian London: book 1 in the Alverstone Saga

In addition to these books, there are two other novels, both intended as the first in a series also available on kindle and in paperback.   A Respectable Woman tells the story of Philippa Maclay, raised on a mission station in Africa, who finds herself obliged to support herself in the harsh setting of an East London charity school.  Only a respectable woman can hope to hold such a post and her relationship with Major Kit Clevedon, son of an Earl and a man in search of a diversion, can only lead to ruin.

A Marcher Lord tells the story of Jane Marchant and Will Scott, two people on opposite sides of a savage war on the Anglo-Scottish borders in the sixteenth century.  In a land torn apart by war and treachery, the Scottish baron and the daughter of an English mercenary find a surprising peace.

All eight of these books are free on Amazon kindle for one day on Christmas Eve.  Please download and enjoy.  Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Writing with Labradors…

Merry Christmas from Joey

 

 

A Border Christmas, 1547 – An Excerpt from A Marcher Lord

Smailholm Tower in winter
A Marcher Lord - a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders
A Marcher Lord – a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders

This excerpt from A Marcher Lord is set at Christmas in 1547.  It is the time of the Border Reivers and the wars between England and Scotland, and the Scots are still recovering from the slaughter at Pinkie Cleugh a few months earlier.  William Scott, Lord Crawleigh, a Scottish baron loyal to the crown has returned to his border stronghold to hold for the Queen, and is acting as gaoler to a young Englishwoman he found riding over the border in suspicious circumstances, and who has refused to tell him her full name or where she came from…

Christmas came in a flurry of excitement and a steady fall of snow which began two days before the festivities began and by Christmas morning lay in a thick, heavy blanket of white across the hills and moors around Crawleigh, enchanting Jane with it’s sparkling beauty. The children were set to clear pathways and courtyard so that those neighbours brave enough to fight their way through the snow might at least find a clear path for their mount on Crawleigh ground.
They came, to Jane’s surprise, a succession of local lairds and landowners, from the surrounding country, to bring greetings to Crawleigh and to join in the feasting and merrymaking of the ‘daft days’ as her host scathingly called the twelve days of the Christmas season. None brought wives or daughters with them this year, although Kat informed Jane that in years gone by whole families would travel to visit their neighbours at this time. The weather and the war led men to leave their women safe in tower and keep. Jane was relieved at this. Women were curious, and she dreaded the wearisome task of fending off their questions.
The men did not question, although it became clear to Jane, long accustomed to read men’s faces, that all were speculating. She imagined that their conclusions would reflect poorly on her reputation. Her relationship with her captor was too easy and informal and she realised that they assumed that she was his mistress. Jane did not care. A lifetime in the army’s tail had prevented any possibility of her being easily offended. Her parents had never seen the need to formally wed, although she had never told her uncle that, and their relationship had always seemed good to her – better than many whose union was sanctioned by the church.
There was little religion at Crawleigh, as Jane had long discovered, but a priest had been invited and mass was said, although on the whole the people of Crawleigh seemed more enthused by their chosen ‘Abbot of Unreason” which was the local term for the Lord of Misrule. Adam Johnstone had been elected for this role, capering through the season like some manic demon conjuring up wilder and wilder dances and pranks for his delighted minions.
The full celebration of Christmas was new to Jane, who had, in her time, spent Christmases in many different places. Last Christmas had been her first at Etterdale, and she had still been deep in her grief for her father, still shocked by the violent temper of her uncle and the sad condition of her aunt and cousin. How would Christmas be this year, she wondered? Was Sir Thomas even home from the wars? And if he was, would he spend the twelve days, as he had last year, dangerously drunk so that his family and servants tiptoed around him.
At Crawleigh Castle, Christmas was a shared pleasure. Preparations had been going on for weeks, and on Christmas Eve every child in castle and village was set to cutting boughs and branches to decorate the hall. Jane enjoyed the greenery draped around the hall, the air of holiday, which even in the midst of wartime pervaded the castle. For the twelve days none was turned away from the gates, and there was a steady stream of desperate villagers from the surrounding countryside to whom food and drink were given, and when possible, shelter. Jane remained on hand with her supply of herbal preparations, ready to dose a cough or bind a wound. They asked no questions, these people. Shocked, often near starvation with frostbitten hands and wasted faces, they camped outside the gates, sheltered from the worst of the weather by the crag itself, and Crawleigh ordered firewood to be given to them so that they could be warm at night.
“What will happen to them?” Jane asked.
“Those who can will rebuild. I’ve given them leave to build huts around the castle when the weather breaks. All will dine with us on Christmas and Hogmanay. Some will move on to family when they can. Others will make their way to Hawick and Jedburgh to try to find work. And some will take to outlawry, perhaps join one of the reiver bands – and become part of the problem. I hate the English, Jenny – with one notable exception, of course!”
“I hate what they’ve done here,” Jane said soberly. “There are children out there, my lord.”
“I know. But they’ll be fed and kept warm for the season, and it’ll make them stronger to start again. When the snow starts to thaw, which won’t be long, they’ll start to move on. Some won’t make it – but many will. We’re a strong breed in these parts.”
“I hate this part of war,” Jane said.
“I know. But you’ve done your part, Jenny. There are people out there who’ll sleep easier because of your knowledge. Take heart from that. We do what we can.”
There was another side to the celebrations too. The guests who arrived would often spend time closeted with Scott of Crawleigh, who remained determinedly sober throughout the merrymaking, and managed to ensure that at least some of his retainers remained fit to ward off the English should they make surprise attack.
“They’ve been raiding Liddesdale,” Johnnie Croser informed Crawleigh during one such meeting in his chamber. “Probably to remind the Armstrongs and Elliotts whose money they’re taking just now. But on the whole I think they’ve stayed quiet over the season. God knows what will happen in the New Year. But I think we’ll celebrate Hogmanay in peace at least.”
“Not with Johnstone in charge,” Crawleigh said with a resigned grin. “No peace here. And while Liddesdale is under attack it’ll keep the occupants from attacking us. D’you think Somerset knows that when it suits them the Liddesdale men will switch sides again? Halfway through a battle if necessary.”
“If he doesn’t know it, Wharton does. Not much that old buzzard doesn’t know about these parts. Which may explain his timely reminders.”
“The more dead and burned out Armstrongs the better, whatever his motive. What news from Maxwell?”
“None yet.” Croser cocked a bloodshot eye at his neighbour. “Talking of news, what’s this I hear of a pretty hostage gracing your festive board this year?”
Crawleigh laughed. “News travels fast, Johnnie. Alan Robson, I imagine?”
“He could hardly keep a tale like that to himself, lad,” Croser said reasonably. “D’you know who she is?”
“No, other than she’s English and new to the borders. To tell you the truth, Johnnie, I was hoping that one of my guests might recognise her and put a name to her, but none have.”
“Is she from these parts?”
“God knows. I’m guessing she’s from the borders somewhere, but I’ve no way of knowing how far she’d travelled when I picked her up. If she’d been from just across, surely we’d have heard talk by now!”
“And you suspect her of being a spy? Have ye told the Queen Dowager?”
“Aye, I’ve written to her and to Arran. But to tell you the truth I doubt there’s any harm in Jenny. What I’d dearly like to know is whom she’s protecting with her silence.”
“A father? A brother? Or a lover?”
“There’s no father, that I know. A brother? Who knows? But what brother would let his kin take that kind of risk? A lover? Perhaps. But if it was, Johnnie, then he’s left her to take the consequences alone.”
Croser eyed his neighbour thoughtfully. “I’m finding a great desire to see the lassie myself, Will. Jenny, you say?”
“It was a childhood name, apparently and the only one she’ll give me. And while this war is on there’s no hope of sending word across the border to find her kin. So she’s here with me, at least until I get word from the Queen Dowager.”
“And an honoured guest so I’m told? No dungeon cell?”
Crawleigh got up. “Come and meet her, Johnnie and then tell me if you could find it in you to lock her in a dungeon cell.”
They made their way down to the hall which was packed with Crawleigh’s people. Those who were not needed to guard the stock and to keep a lookout were all within and the dinner hour was not far off. There was laughter coming from a group before the fire, and the sound of a woman singing. Crawleigh led Croser towards the group and paused at the sight of his prisoner, standing demurely before the group, singing.
He had not heard her sing before. There were musicians for the celebrations, and there had been dancing. Laughingly she had allowed them to teach her some of the old dances. She had joined in too, with the carols, although many of them were new to her.
She had a clear sweet voice, not powerful but true. The ballad she was singing was an old French one, a troubadour’s lament, and she sang it well. The noisy group fell silent. Most of them would not know the language, but the sadness in the song told its own tale. Crawleigh had heard it many times at court, sung by professional musicians, but it had never held such poignancy.
Spellbound they listened to the end, and paid her the compliment of a brief silence before breaking into spontaneous applause. Jane laughed, blushing and curtseying. Beside her, seated on a low stool, Crawleigh saw Bangtail Stewart, her inevitable shadow. Jane smiled down at him, and Stewart grinned back.
“Is this a celebration or a wake, lass?” he teased, and she laughed, and shot him a glance of pure mischief, before breaking into another song.
There was a howl of glee as her audience picked up the tune – a bawdy jig which was popular at soldiers’ campfires on both sides of the border. The girl could not have learned it in a respectable hall. The fiddlers lifted their instruments and took up the tune, and Jane’s audience clapped along, and joined in with the chorus enthusiastically. As she finished the last verse they erupted into cheers, but Jane had seen Crawleigh, and she laughed and warded off their pleas for more and went forward to meet him.
“I’m sorry, my lord – that was not a proper song for a respectable hearth!”
“I’ve seldom heard it sung so sweet, mistress!” Johnnie Croser said, taking Jane’s hand and lifting it to his lips. “John Croser of Martindale at your service.”
“Ah, you’ll be Jock’s cousin?” Jane said composedly. She caught his sharp look and laughed. “I’m learning more about my Scottish neighbours from Bangtail.”
“Stewart? Och, don’t believe half of what that sumph tells you. Mistress Jenny – whoever you may be – your voice is as lovely as your face.”
Jane curtseyed slightly. “Thank you, sir.” She glanced at Crawleigh, and amused, he said:
“Master Croser will be staying to dine, Jenny, and will spend the night.”
“I’ll speak to Janet.” Jane smiled at Croser. “They’ll be setting the boards for dinner shortly, sir. Will you have some mead?”
Crawleigh watched in amusement as she led his guest closer to the fire, finding him a stool and asking him about the journey from Martindale. Beside him, Bangtail Stewart said:
“Aye, it’s a rare entertainment to see her managing your household, master. Does it like she’s born to it. But have you thought about how this will be reported back to court?”
Crawleigh glanced sharply at him. “Should I care?” he asked, shortly.
Stewart sighed. “Nay, lad – not a whit. Only it’s making my life a lot harder with two of you to worry about, and neither of you with the least grain of sense in the world!”
Crawleigh grinned. “A little extra exercise for your wits, Bangtail. Get me a drink will you – and not the mead, for God’s sake! Tonight I’m in the mood for a decent French wine!”
Bangtail brought the goblet, and handed it to him. They were both watching Jane. Suddenly Crawleigh said:
“She sang that song remarkably well, Bangtail.”
“Which one.”
“The French one.”
His childhood friend grinned and lifted his tankard of mead in a silent toast. “You noticed, eh? And the second song is something you might hear in France too – around the campfire.”
“Harry of England was campaigning in France for years before he died and went to hell. But one of his officers would not have taken a daughter with him.”
“True. But she speaks French like a native. And there are mercenary bands all over France, not necessarily with the English.”
“All over Europe. A mercenary’s daughter. It makes some sense, although she’s well bred.”
“There’s more than one runaway gentleman sold his sword, my lord. Doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want his daughter well educated.”
There was silence between them. Then Crawleigh said: “None of this helps at all. Because she didn’t come from France with that letter. She came from England.”
“Aye. So what we need to know is where she went after her parents died.”
“And who she met there,” Crawleigh said. “Christ, Bangtail, if I could get my hands on the man who let her ride out alone that day…..”
“If we’re lucky,” Bangtail said cheerfully, “we’ll run into him one day.”
Crawleigh stood drinking the wine and watching and listening to Jane talking to Croser. Wherever she had come from, she had learned the rare gift of being able to talk to anybody. Croser was charmed, telling her stories, becoming expansive under the influence of the mead. For a while he had forgotten that his pretty hostess was a hostage, a prisoner suspected of spying for England.
At times Crawleigh knew that he forgot it too.

(Excerpt from A Marcher Lord by Lynn Bryant)

The Battle of Solway Moss, 1542

James V of Scotland
James V of Scotland

The Battle of Solway Moss took place on this day, 24 November, in 1542 on the banks of the River Esk between the English and the Scots and resulted in a humiliating defeat for Scotland.

James V of Scotland was the nephew of Henry VIII of England through the marriage of Margaret Tudor, Henry’s sister, to James IV of Scotland.  Despite this kinship, James did not enjoy a good relationship with his uncle, especially after Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church.  James V was intolerant of heresy and several prominent Protestants were executed during his reign, including Patrick Hamilton, who was burned at the stake as a heretic at St Andrews in 1528.  Despite encouragement from England to follow Henry’s example and close the monasteries, James chose to pursue his own course and appeared to have allied himself firmly with the Pope and the French King.  This impression was strengthened when in 1541 James failed to arrive for a pre-arranged meeting with Henry at York.

Henry chose to regard this as an insult and sent troops to raid into Scotland.  James retaliated by giving Robert, Lord Maxwell who was the Scottish Warden of the West March the job of raising an army. 

On 24 November 1542, an army of 15,000–18,000 Scots advanced into England. Lord Maxwell declared he would lead the attack in person but reports suggest that the leadership was contested by Oliver Sinclair, the King’s favourite.  Whatever happened, the command structure seems to have failed and the Scots were disorganised and unprepared for the English attack.  Led by Lord Wharton with 3,000 men, the English met the Scots near Solway Moss.

After an initial cavalry charge, the Scots moved down towards Arthuret Howes and found themselves penned in south of the Esk, between the river and the Moss, which was a peat bog.  After intense fighting, the Scots surrendered along with 10 field guns to the English cavalry.  It seems that some of them may have drowned in the river or the marshes.

James, who was not present at the battle, withdrew to Falkland Palace humiliated and ill with fever. The news that his wife had given birth to a daughter instead of a son further crushed his will to live, and he is reported to have stated that the House of Stewart “came with a lass and will go with a lass”. He died at Falkland two weeks later at the age of thirty. 

Some historians have estimated that only about 7 Englishmen and 20 Scots were killed, but some 1200 Scottish prisoners were taken including Oliver Sinclair, the Earls of Cassilis, Glencairn and Maxwell.  Some of the higher ranking Scottish lords were released, sending hostages into England in their place.  Most of them were well treated and efforts were made to bring them over to the English cause.

The battle was not Henry VIII’s last foray into Scotland.  With James dead and a baby girl now Queen, Henry sent the Earl of Hertford with an army to try to force a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Queen.  The resulting wars, known to history as the wars of the Rough Wooing, were interrupted by the death of Henry in 1547 but continued by the protectorate.

The last pitched battle between Scottish and English armies, the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, took place on 10 September 1547 on the banks of the River Esk near Musselburgh, Scotland.  It is considered to be the first modern battle in the British Isles and was a catastrophic defeat for Scotland, where it became known as Black Saturday.  Despite this, the Scots refused to surrender their infant Queen and managed to smuggle her away to France where she spent her childhood, eventually marrying the Dauphin.

A Marcher Lord - a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders
A Marcher Lord – a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders

At the beginning of A Marcher Lord, Will Scott and Sir Thomas Rutherford are preparing to march out to the battle of Pinkie Cleugh.  The stakes are high for both sides.  The battle of Solway Moss is recent history.  Rutherford and Scott both fought at the battle and Scott lost his father.  In addition, rumours that some of the families held in England had turned traitor against the Scottish crown have reached Scotland, and nobles loyal to the crown are on their guard.

Into this atmosphere of suspicion and fear comes Jane Marchant, a girl raised in the mercenary bands of Europe with loyalty to neither side.  For her story, read A Marcher Lord, the first book in the Borderers Saga, available on Amazon kindle or in paperback.

The second book in the Borderers Saga, The Queen’s Lady, will be published in 2018.

 

 

 

 

The Border Reivers

A Marcher Lord - a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders

LiddesdaleFor 300 years the people of the Anglo-Scottish Border region lived in a war zone. Invading armies caused terror, destruction and death and the ongoing conflict forged men who were expert raiders and cattle thieves, owing loyalty to none but their own clan, their own surname.  We have come to know them as the Border Reivers.

Since the Middle Ages, England and Scotland were often at war, and the people who suffered most were the ordinary folk of the Anglo-Scottish borders.  Their livelihood was torn apart by the wars and even in times of peace, ongoing tension was high and royal authority on either side could not be relied upon to keep their people safe.

The Borderers found their own solution.  Families, kindred and surnames sought security through their own means, using strength, cunning and a degree of ruthlessness which was nothing less than piracy on land to improve their lot at the expense of whoever appeared to be their enemy at the time.  Over the years feuds and enmities grew to enormous proportions and loyalty to kin and surnames overrode any sense of national loyalty.  With any man and his family a potential target for depredations, it became important to know where it was safe to bestow trust.

It was a predatory way to live, not helped by the local inheritance system of gavelkind, by which estates were divided equally between all sons on a man’s death, so that many people owned insufficient land to maintain themselves.  Much of the border region is mountainous or open moorland, unsuitable for arable farming but good for grazing. Livestock was easily stolen and driven back to raiders’ territory by mounted reivers who knew the country. The raiders also often stole portable household goods or valuables, and took prisoners for ransom.

The attitudes of the English and Scottish governments towards the border families moved between indulgence and encouragement, as these martial families acted as the first line of defence against invasion across the border, to furious and brutal punishment when their lawlessness became impossible for the authorities to tolerate.

“Reive” is an early English word for “to rob” and is related to the  old English verb reave, meaning to plunder or to rob and to the modern English word “ruffian”.  The reivers were both English and Scottish and raided both sides of the border impartially, so long as the people they raided had no protection and no connection to their own kin. Their activities, although usually within a day’s ride of the border, might extend both north and south of their main riding areas. English raiders had been known to raid the outskirts of Edinburgh, and Scottish raids had been seen as far south as Yorkshire. The largest of these was The Great Raid of 1322, during the Scottish Wars of Independence, which reached as far south as Chorley. The main riding season ran through the early winter months, when the nights were longest and the cattle and horses fat from summer grazing. The numbers involved in a raid might range from a few dozen to three thousand riders.

When riding, the reivers rode light on hardy nags known as hobbies, renowned for their ability to pick their way over the boggy country.  They wore light armour such as jacks of plated steel, a type of sleeveless doublet into which small plates of steel were stitched and metal helmets such as burgonets or morions; hence their nickname of the “steel bonnets”. They were armed with lances and small shields, and sometimes also with longbows, or light crossbows and later on in their history with one or more pistols. They also carried swords and dirks.

During the sixteenth century, areas of the borders were a virtual “no man’s land”.  The Wardens of the Marches, both Scottish and English, made periodic attempts to bring some of the major riding families under control although corruption was rife and some of the Wardens were reivers themselves while many of them turned a blind eye to raiding, theft and the system of Black Rent – the origin of the work Blackmail.

The ordinary people of the borders adjusted to the system, suffered, paid, were burned out and sometimes died.  It was a time of great brutality and intermittent wars between England and Scotland only added to the confusion and the problem.  Feuds between families could last for decades and the original reason for the blood feud was often forgotten in the blood and death which followed.  Scott killed Kerr and Maxwells hunted Johnstones, and surnames across the border united against a common enemy with kinship held far higher than national loyalty.

In 1525, the Archbishop of Glasgow took it upon himself to excommunicate the Border thieves.  It is doubtful if the riding surnames were very impressed having long since given up on both church and state but the curse was ordered to be read from every pulpit in the diocese and be circulated throughout the length and breadth of the Borders.

I DENOUNCE, PROCLAIMS, AND DECLARES all and sundry the committers of the said of innocents murders, slaughters, burning, inheritances, robbery, thefts, and spoilings, openly upon day light and under silence of night, as well as within temporal lands as church lands; together with their part takers, assisters, suppliers, knowingly and of their persons, the goods snatched and stolen by them, art or part thereof, and their counsellors and defenders, of their evil deeds generally cursed, waking, aggravated, and re-aggravated, with the great cursing.

“I CURSE their head and all the hairs of their head; I CURSE their face, their eyes, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their skull, their shoulder’s, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the sole of their feet, before and behind, within and without. I CURSE them going, and I CURSE them riding; I CURSE them standing, and I CURSE them sitting; I CURSE them eating, I CURSE them drinking; I CURSE them walking, I CURSE them sleeping; I CURSE them rising, I CURSE them lying; I CURSE them at home, I CURSE them from home; I CURSE them within the house, I CURSE them without the house; I CURSE their wives, their children and their servants (who) participate with them in their deeds.

I Worry their corn, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horse, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their live goods (animals).
I Worry their houses, their rooms, their kitchens, their stables, their barns, their byres, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their ploughs, their harrows, and the possessions and houses that are necessary for their sustentation and welfare. All the bad wishes and curses that ever got worldly creature since the beginning of the world to this hour might light upon them. The malediction of God, that lighted upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that struck them from the high heaven to the deep hell, might light upon them. The re and the sword that stopped Adam from the gates of Paradise might stop them from the glory of Heaven, until they forbear and make amends. The bad wishes that lighted on cursed Cain, when he slew his brother just Abel guiltless, might light on them for the innocent slaughter that they commit daily. The malediction that lighted upon all the world, man and beast, and all that ever took life, when all were drowned by the flood of Noah, except Noah and his ark, might light upon them and drown them, man and beast, and make this realm free of them for their wicked sins. The thunder and lightning that set down as rain upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, with all the lands about, and burnt them for their vile sins, might rain upon them, and burn them for open sins. The bad wishes and confusion that lighted on the Gigantis for their oppression and pride, building the tour of Babylon, might confound them and all their works, for their open disregard and oppression. All the plagues that fell upon Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, their lands, corn and cattle, might fall upon them, their leases (of land), rooms and buildings, corn and animals. The river of Tweed and other rivers where they ride might drown them, as the Red Sea drowned King Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, pursuing Gods people of Israel. The earth might open, split and cleave and swallow them alive to hell, as it swallowed cursed Dathan and Abiron, that disobeyed Moses and command of God. The wild re that burnt Thore and his fellows to the number of two hundredth and fty, and others 14,000 and 700 at anys, usurping against Moses and Aaron, servants of God, might suddenly burn and consume them daily disobeyed and commands of God and holy church.

The malediction that lights suddenly upon fair Absolom, riding contrary to his father, King David, servant of God, through the wood, when the branches of a tree knocked him off his horse and hanged him by the hair, might light upon them, untrue Scots men, and hang them suchlike that all the world may see.

The malediction that lighted upon Olifernus, lieutenant to Nebuchadnezzar’s, making war and hardships upon true Christian men; the malediction that lighted upon Judas, Pilot, Herod and the Jews that cruci ed Our Lord, and all the plagues and troubles that lighted on the city of Jerusalem therefore, and upon Simon Magus for his treachery, bloody Nero, cursed Ditius Magcensius, Olibrius, Julianus, Apostita and the rest of the cruel tyrants that slew and murdered Christ’s holy servants, might light upon them for their cruel tyranny and martyrdom of Christian people. And all the vengeance that ever was taken since the world began for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, might fall on them for their open evil, slaughter of guiltless and shedding of innocent blood. I SEVER and PARTS them from the kirk of God, and deliver them alive to the devil of hell, as the Apostil Saint Paul delivered Corinth. I exclude the places they come in for divine service, ministration of the sacraments of holy church, except the sacrament of baptising only; and forbid all churchmen to take confession or absolve them of their sins, which they be rst absolved of this cursing.

I FORBID all Christian man or woman to have any company with them, eating, drinking, speaking, praying, lying, standing, or in any other deed doing, under the pain of deadly sin.

I DISCHARGE all bonds, acts, contracts, oaths and obligations made to them by any persons, other of law, kindness or duty, so long as they sustain this cursing; so that no man be bound to them, and that they be bound to all men. I Take from them and cry down all the good deeds that ever they did or shall do, which they rise from this cursing. I DECLARE them excluded of all matins, masses, evensongs, mourning or other prayers, on book or bead; of all pilgrimages and poorhouse deeds done or to be done in holy church or by Christian people, enduring this cursing.

“And, nally, I CONDEMN them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of the Burrow Muir, rst to be hanged, then torn apart with dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their life gone from your sight, as might their souls go from the sight of God, and their good fame from the world, which they forbear their open sins aforesaid and rise from this terrible cursing, and make satisfaction and penance”.

The Archbishop seems to have lost patience with the Reivers and one imagines he was not the only one to do so.

In modern times the story of the Border Reivers has been brilliantly told in histories by George MacDonald Fraser in The Steel Bonnets and by Alistair Moffat in The Reivers.  In fiction, Dorothy Dunnett covered the difficulties of establishing law and order on the borders in the literary brilliance of the Lymond Chronicles and more recently P F Chisholm, alias Patricia Finney has told the fictional story of the real life Warden Sir Robert Carey in an excellent series of novels which have recently been reissued in omnibus editions, the first of which is Guns in the North.

My own contribution to the story of the Border Reivers is A Marcher Lord, set during the Wars of the Rough Wooing when Edward VI’s government under the Lord Protector Somerset tried to capture the baby Mary Queen of Scots in order to marry her to their young King.  The novel tells the story of a Scottish border lord, loyal to the Crown and a young Englishwoman new to the borders with no fixed loyalties but a wealth of experience of the mercenary bands of Europe.

The Anglo-Scottish borders are one of my favourite parts of the world.  I love the countryside, the history and the people.  Many of my books are set in the Peninsular War of the early nineteenth century but I enjoyed my research into sixteenth century Scotland and I intend to return soon to find out what Will and Jenny did next…