Sunday, August 25, 2013


People have a lot of different reasons for what they choose to see when they’re on a trip to England. What I visit depends on if I’m there with my husband or my daughter or my sister. This July was a new adventure for me: my husband and I took our two oldest grandsons, Josh who is 13, and Marcus who is 11.

My husband is a steam engine nut, and so we saw (and traveled on) a lot of trains.
More about that in another blog. England is so rich in history, much of it before anyone was thinking in terms of North America, so we went to a lot of historical sites. We saw the Tower of London; Bodiam Castle—built in 1385, the perimeter walls are intact and the moat is still there; Middleham Castle, which belonged to Richard III (he’s the one whose body was so recently discovered under a parking lot) and which still has enough left so that you can get a sense of what living in a castle might have been like, and Sissinghurst Castle. Sissinghurst is more notable for its wonderful rose gardens and literary connections (Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf), although its history goes back to before the time of the first Queen Elizabeth. We got to introduce the boys to our oldest friends as a married couple—we’re all grandparents now—and to my husband’s cousin and his wife. My husband and his cousin have been obsessed with trains since they were about five years old. Both still are. And the boys were intrigued

Me? I wanted to see Chatsworth House.
I’d read about it and its magnificence, and when I followed the fascinating story of the Mitford family (six amazingly talented—and different—daughters who were authors and celebrities in the 40s and 50s) I discovered that the youngest of them, Deborah, who is the only survivor, had been the Duchess of Devonshire (now the Dowager Duchess) and she and her duke had managed to make a business of the estate and kept it surviving when other great houses were torn down because their families could no longer pay for them. The Devonshire estate was hit with death duties of 90% of the estate’s value in the early postwar years when the government was desperate for money to rebuild after the war damage. It took them until 1980 to pay it all off, but they are the 15 th generation to live there and the present duke (Deborah’s son) has a son, who has a son, so as a member of the staff pointed out to me, they are safe now to reach the 17th.

I’m pleased to say the boys were fascinated. There was the overwhelming grandeur to start with, and the collections of various Dukes—magnificent works of art and insects and stuffed animals and minerals (great chunks of valuable minerals) and statuary. There I must say we parted company: their favorite gave me the creeps. It is a modern statue of St. Bartholomew, who was flayed alive, holding his skin in his hands.

But obviously other people came to Chatsworth for different reasons, as I discovered. There’s a long pool extending down from the house with a great high fountain up at the house end. Because of the length, it looks narrow, but you’d have to shout to be heard all the way across.

I was standing well down the pool from the house, watching some ducks on the far side, when a movement caught my eye. There was a couple across the pool from me, and the young man had dropped to one knee in front of the girl with him. Of course my eyes widened and I couldn’t look away. And was very grateful the pool was wide enough so that they weren’t aware of an onlooker.

He talked to her very earnestly. She placed one hand on his shoulder, and then he fished around in his pocket and pulled something out.  They were too far away for me to see what it was, but I was sure I knew: he took her hand and (I assume—couldn’t see) put a ring on it. She threw her arms around him in a rapturous hug.

My husband came up about them and I hissed at him, “Take a picture!” So he did. It’s a pity there was no way of letting them know we had a picture of the moment, because by the time we got to either end of the pool, around to the other wise, and then back up to where they were, they would have been long gone. I suppose I could have jumped into the pool, thrashed across, and . . . but that would have rather spoiled the moment, would it not?

May they have a long and happy life together!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Màiri's Musings From the Sunroom: Brabanter Mercenaries

 Subject: Màiri’s Musings From the Sunroom – Mercenary Brabanters

One of the things I love most about writing historical romance is that integral component of the subject, research. History is endlessly intriguing as one delves into cultures, customs, languages and habits of peoples who lived in times and places far different from one’s own.
As I study the refined societies of the ancient Brythons or those of the High Medieval period, I occasionally feel as if I’ve wandered, not into another time, but onto an alien planet. Amazingly sophisticated levels of knowledge and technology often coexisted hand in hand with bizarre—and sometimes deadly—beliefs.
One of the most gripping areas of inquiry is the art of war. Brutality and conflict have characterized humanity’s struggle for life from the very earliest of oral tradition and written record. There is an undeniable fascination in the study of the ancient methods of conquest.
An enduring aspect of the making of war throughout the centuries was the mercenary—that hardy soul, peculiarly of ‘foreign’ birth trained in the art of combat-for-pay. Also known in those early days by the various terms ‘mercennarios’, ‘solidarii’ and ‘stipendiarii’, the reputation of these warriors was such that they might be hated and feared or glorified and blessed, both at once.
However, more often than not their chosen profession was vilified by the general populace, but not, as is the modern viewpoint, because they owed loyalty only to the one who paid them. It was common practice of those days for knights and warriors to fight for coin [even Crusaders], once they had fulfilled their forty-day ‘duty’ to their lord. But the monarchs and noblemen who hired them understood their positions—and frequently their very lives—depended on these skilled fighters. They used them as extensively as their coin would allow.
Historians agree mercenary armies in general were no more rapacious than regular troops. ‘Ravaging’ and ‘siege-craft’ were methods of warfare practiced by all armies. Kings routinely pursued the ‘scorched earth’ policy as a first step in launching war.
As specific units, there were among the mercenaries those with reputations as ‘honorable’ fighters, and those who became famous for their brutality, cruelty and excessive use of force. One particular band generally classed with the latter was the Brabanters [aka Brabácons, Cotereaux or Routiers (‘ravagers’)], so called because they originated from the area of Brabant located in what is now the Netherlands and Belgium. [Brabant was made a duchy of the Holy Roman Empire, c. 1190.] Later men of this affiliation were drawn from all areas of northern Europe.
The expense of hiring Brabanters was significantly greater than other early medieval troops, but they were among the elite warriors of their day. Unlike the regular armies composed of knights performing their required forty-day service, Brabanters willingly fought year round. Warfare was their way of life.
History records that more than one king owed his continued reign to the service of the Brabanters. One example was King Henri II’s successful use of Brabanter warriors in the Battle of Dol, Brittany, during the rebellion of 1173.
Among the most famous of the Brabanters was Mercadier, “prince of the Brabanters” and commander of the Brabanter forces in southern France. He fought in the Third Crusade. Later, his loyalty was given to Richard I, Coeur de Lion, whom he faithfully served until the king’s death (and after, when he captured the archer who shot and killed the king and had the man flayed.)
Brabanter archers—crossbowmen—may be the originators of the word “gaffle”. This was a steel piece on a crossbow that provided the leverage to bend the bow.
The Brabanters were among the most ruthless and brutal of the mercenary forces. Bloodthirsty and savage, they terrorized entire populations. As a result, the Third Lateran Council of 1179 condemned them en masse, directing that all who hired them be excommunicated.
Finally, the Magna Carta of 1215 banished all foreign mercenaries from England (which King John promptly ignored by hiring large numbers of Brabanter forces under the leadership of Walter Buc.)
Mercenaries of Brabant were first seen in England with William the Conqueror, though it was not until the time of King Stephen they appeared in significant numbers. King Henri II used them extensively, but for the most part kept them out of England (they served mostly in France). A little over a century later Brabanter mercenaries served in the Hundred Years War, fighting with the English armies in Cambrai and Tournay, France.

Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases. Christopher Coredon with Ann Williams.
Henry II: A Medieval Soldier At War, 1147-1189, 1189, John D. Hosler
Mercenaries in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, Hunt Janin with Ursula Carlson
Chivalry in Medieval England, Nigel Saul
English Historical Documents. 4. [Late Medieval]. 1327-1485, edited by A.R. Myers
Mercenaries of the Angevin Empire: Reputations and Royal Power, Andrew Rice, Florida Gulf Coast University
A Glossary; or Collection of Words, Phrases, Names and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs, Etc., Robert Nares
The Influence of Low Dutch on the English Vocabulary, E.C. Llewellyn