Edgehill, free stories, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, present, Rackhay, writing

The Unknown Soldier – a ghost story for Hallowe’en

“It’s cold,* I said to the fair-haired man sitting by the church door.

He hunched broad shoulders inside his heavy black wool coat and shivered, grimacing. “Bitter,” he agreed, getting to his feet. “And I swear, it gets darker earlier.”

“You always say that,” I said, and tucked my hand into the crook of his elbow.

There was no full moon, no wisps of mist rising from the autumn-chill ground on this Halloween night. It was cold and damp and it smelt of wet soil and bitter coal-smoke from the little cluster of houses nestled at the foot of the Vale of the Red Horse.

Possibly, the smell of rank, wet decay came from the coat of Captain Nathaniel Rackhay, casualty of the first battle of the English Civil War, on this very hillside, three hundred and sixty years ago –

“And a week,” he said wryly. “Three hundred and sixty three years. And a week. But – who shall count the hours, unless they be sunny ones?”

Handsome bugger, was Captain Rackhay, for a man who was dust for every other night of the year. Big, and broad-shouldered, with a lion’s mane of fashionably dishevelled fair hair, a swashbuckling grin, and one raffishly missing canine tooth that gave him the look of a cavalier Errol Flynn – which comparison, given that he’d been a cavalry captain in the Army of Parliament, would have appalled him. No, I didn’t fancy Nathaniel Rackhay, living or otherwise. For a dead man, he fancied himself sufficient for both of us.

“It’s freezing,” he grumbled again, and pulled his tawny silk scarf up further about his throat. “I’m sure it never used to be this cold.”

“Yes it did. They reckon that if there’d not been such a hard frost, the night after the battle, hundreds more would have died. The cold saved their lives, you see. Stopped the bleeding.”

“Bollocks,” he said cheerfully, and tugged the silk scarf away from his throat to show me the glistening grey-blue ropes of muscle and ragged artery where a Royalist sword had taken him, just above his breastplate. “Would have done me as little good were it as cold as Acheron out there. Those as God meant to die, died. Speaking of which, madam – ” he cocked an eyebrow at me, with a wolfish grin that I suspect he thought was irresistible – “we have an assignation with them, I believe?”

I’d known Rackhay for six years, now, and he still didn’t give up. He was one of the vainest of the Edgehill ghosts, though not above claiming the old war wounds pained him, if he thought the sympathy might get him somewhere. He wasn’t the only one who disguised the more disfiguring of his injuries, in the faux-candlelight of the pub. There were a number of ragged felt hats worn slantwise, and carefully-arranged lovelocks artfully concealing shattered skulls; pinned-up sleeves where the glint of bone showed through shot-tattered fabric. It amazed me that the locals never noticed – or at least, seemed not to, as a knot of young farm labourers in fleece jackets and jeans chatted perfectly amicably through a dozen ragged grey pikemen in buff leather, clustered at the bar.

“Miserable old turd,” Rackhay said without moving his lips, nodding to Sir Edmund Verney, hunched glowering on a bar stool with his pint held huddled against his chest by the bloody stump of his left arm. The King’s standard-bearer had left his severed hand on the battlefield, still clutching His Majesty’s precious banner, though there had been precious little else left to identify its bearer. I did not like to look at Sir Edmund. He’d been caught under a flying cavalry charge, and he looked like it; but more than that, he was furious. He had been cold-furious for three hundred and odd years, and his temper wasn’t getting any better. He gave me one simmering fiery glare, and then he returned to his contemplation of his pint.

“Why?” I said, when Nat rejoined me with our drinks.
“Why’s Verney a miserable old turd? Born so, I imagine, or wasn’t spanked sufficiently by his nurse -”
“You know what I mean.” I sipped at my cider, and glared at him.
It was a funny thing how easy it was to forget that flirtatious, raffish, amusing Nathaniel was a dead man. That the young man with the long, mousy curls, laughing with his mates on the other side of the bar, was a dead man, and so were his ribald mates. I’d known Nat these six years past, since I’d seen him on the battlefield site with a handful of his officer comrades, walking the slopes pointing out sites of significant interest as the late October light faded. Assumed he was a tour guide, listening to them muttering darkly about alternate battle-plans and how the day would have been won if this thing or that thing had not happened. Realised in very, very short order that he wasn’t. And I’d been coming back every Hallowe’en since, not because there was anything romantic or longing about it, but because –
He sighed, or cold air whistled through his throat; one or the other. “Because no other bugger will remember us, if we do not.”
And that was why I came back, year on year. He gave me a wry look. “Oh, I know, I know. They have a service to mark us, on the day of the battle, and another service to mark all soldiers, in a sennight’s time. Aye. Well. My thanks, but -” he lifted a somewhat grubby hand dismissively. “Where’s it say my name? Verney’s? That lad’s, yonder? They put us in a pit, all of us together, in Radway parish. I’m an Essex boy, by birth, mistress. All my family’s over Colchester way. I’ve not even a marker for them to mourn me by. D’you know how many men died on that field, that day?”
I shook my head, because I didn’t – we didn’t, still – and he gave me a wry smile. “Aye, and neither do I, for no one was keeping tally of what lads came from where, and who they might belong to. They slung us all in a hole together, in the cold clay, with none to mark us one from another. King’s men and Parliament’s, all piled on top of one another. But mistress – I had a wife. I had two daughters, and a son. That lad there – he had a girl, in Sevenoaks. We had people who cared what became of us, and they never knew. We were living, feeling, breathing men, till this war. And now – what are we? Not even names. We could not even take that to the grave.”
I didn’t want to finish my drink, suddenly. He shook his head at me. “No, no, girl, don’t weep for us, that’s no good. Spoil your pretty eyes.” He raised his eyebrows in what he evidently hoped was an irresistible fashion. “Gets cold, out there in Radway ground. Cold, and a long way from home. A man gets to missing a bit of a kiss and a cuddle, before -“
“You’re a married man,” I said tartly, and he shrugged.
“Can’t blame me for trying, now, can you?”
One day. One day, in every year, set aside for the remembrance of the spirits of the dead – but what of the unclaimed dead, the unwanted, the unknown? He put his cold lips gently to the back of my hand, and there was no lewdness in it, now. “God bless you, mistress,” he said softly. “For remembering.”
I nodded. “Always, Nathaniel.”
He finished his beer, sucking the last of the froth from his moustache with every sign of evident relish. “Best be off, then. Some puppy in the King’s Lifeguard getting ideas above his station again – and doubtless Verney’s going to get maudlin-drunk again and start a fight with some poor bugger – I’m off for a walk up the field, while there’s still a moon to see it by. Want to come?”
The first spatters of rain hit the black window-glass, and I shook my head. “Er, no. No, I’ll give that a miss. Thanks.” Because walking a battlefield in the dark with half a hundred muttering ghosts arguing about who died where, and whose fault it was, held little appeal. “Same time next year?”
“Aye, that’d be nice.” He bent over my hand again. “Same time next year, then. Pray for me?”
“I will.”
He tipped a hat that had been rotted to nothing for three hundred years, and stood up, tucking the tawny silk that had been his sash of office, around the gaping bloodless hole in his throat. The door closed behind him, and not a one of the young men around the bar – living, breathing young men, talking of girls and sport and music – none of them saw him go.
I looked around the pub.
In the shadows by the window, there was a man in the colours of Hampden’s Greencoat regiment – young-ish, too thin, freckled, with dark hair cut short that stood on end. He was quite by himself, and his knuckles stood out white as bone as he stared around the room with frightened eyes, tears rolling down his freckled cheeks.
Not a man I recognised, but then, they said over a thousand men had died at the battle of Edgehill. Nat Rackhay was a gregarious sort, but he didn’t make a point of introducing me to everyone. 
I picked up my drink, and sat down opposite him. “Hello,” I said. “I’m Kit. Captain Rackhay’s friend. I don’t think we’ve met before. What’s your name?”
heroes, history, Yorkshire

Set On Like A Terrier – John Lambert

Well, the Selby book is out, and fending for itself quite nicely, and so I’m going to blog about the real-life hero of Selby – a chap called Colonel John Lambert, sometimes known as “Cromwell’s understudy”.

A rebel to the last, and a man who led the last resistance to the Restoration, his vision of the Rule of the Major-Generals – although it didn’t work, in the end – was a massively progressive piece of thinking away from the idea of one absolute monarch, towards dividing England into military districts ruled by Army Major Generals who answered only to Cromwell. The 15 major generals and deputy major generals—called “godly governors”—werecentral not only to national security, but Cromwell’s crusade to reform the nation’s morals. The generals not only supervised militia forces and security commissions, but collected taxes and ensured support for the government in the English and Welsh provinces. Commissioners for securing the peace of the commonwealth were appointed to work with them in every county. While a few of these commissioners were career politicians, most were zealous puritans who welcomed the major-generals with open arms and embraced their work with enthusiasm. However, the major-generals lasted less than a year. Many feared they threatened their reform efforts and authority. Their position was further harmed by a tax proposal  to provide financial backing for their work, which the second Protectorate parliament—instated in September 1656—voted down for fear of a permanent military state.I think when we look at that proposal, we have to see past the words “military state” and see just what he had in mind: an unprecedented move away from the arbitrary whims of one unrepresentative individual, unconnected to the districts he governed. Lambert was opposed to the idea of a civilian government, as well as to a monarchy, but there is no indication, ever, that he was interested in personal advancement for his own ends, or in the military dictatorship that Cromwell is often suspected of. My guess is that Lambert was a man who’d seen civilian government in action, seen royal rule, and seen Army discipline – and he preferred Army discipline. It worked. You knew where you were, and where to go if it went wrong. It was a fundamentally-flawed, unpopular vision, and in the end it failed. But when you consider that prior to the Civil Wars there’d never been any other system of goverment but rule by a monarchy, to even look at functional alternatives was a massively progressive move. Yay Lambert. John Lambert was born on 7th September 1619, at Calton Hall, in the parish of Kirkby-Malhamdale in Skipton. He was the younger son of Josias Lambert (d.1632) by his second wife, Anne Heber. The Lambert family was of ancient lineage and well established in Yorkshire, but Josias had fallen into debt, perhaps because of a slump in wool prices on which the family wealth depended.
Josias struggled to restore the family fortunes, but seems to have failed. John was probably educated at Cambridge and the Inns of Court, although he never practised law. In 1639, he married Frances, the daughter of Sir William Lister, who remained a close and influential helper throughout his career.
On the outbreak of the English Civil War, Lambert joined Parliament’s Northern Association army under Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax and quickly rose to the rank of colonel. He fought at the siege of Hull in 1643, and was with Sir Thomas Fairfax at the battle of Nantwich in January 1644. Sir Thomas sent Lambert with a column of troops back across the Pennines to seize Bradford in March 1644. After defeating a counter-attack by Colonel Belasyse, Lambert secured Bradford as a second base for the Yorkshire Parliamentarians, along with Hull.  In April 1644, Lambert joined forces with the Fairfaxes and Sir John Meldrum for an attack on Selby that forced the Yorkshire Royalists to withdraw to York. He was second-in-command of the Yorkshire horse at the battle of Marston Moor (July 1644). Lambert’s cavalry were on the Parliamentarian right wing, which was routed by Lieutenant-General Goring, but Lambert and a few steadfast troopers remained with Sir Thomas Fairfax when he forced his way through the Royalist lines to join Cromwell on the victorious Parliamentarian left flank.
When Fairfax was appointed captain-general of the New Model Army in 1645, Lambert took command of the Northern Association. However, his political involvement began when he worked with Henry Ireton in framing the treaty negotiations at Truro, Exeter and Oxford. He continued his association with Ireton during 1647, being active in organising the protests against Parliament’s plans to disband part of the Army and send the rest to Ireland and in July 1647 he was one of the officers appointed to draw up charges against the Eleven Members, who were driven from Parliament when the Army occupied London. Lambert was also involved in the Army’s negotiations with the King, collaborating with Ireton in framing the Army’s Heads of the Proposals.
In July 1647, soldiers of the Northern Association, in solidarity with the New Model, seized their commander, the Presbyterian Major-General Poyntz, and sent him to Fairfax as a prisoner. Lambert was ordered back to his old command to replace Poyntz. Already well-known and popular with the northern troops, he quickly restored order and discipline. On the outbreak of the Second Civil War, he continued to hold the North until the fall of Pontefract Castle in 1649, so that he did not hold any direct role in the trial and execution of Charles I.
With the ending of the civil wars on the mainland of Britain, Lambert became actively involved in civilian politics as well as maintaining his military commands. He was one of the eight commissioners appointed to supervise the settlement of Scotland in October 1651. After the death of Henry Ireton, Parliament nominated Lambert to succeed him as Lord-Deputy in Ireland—but while he was preparing to leave for Ireland in May 1652, Parliament reorganised the Irish administration and voted to abolish the office of Lord-Deputy. Lambert refused the offer of a lesser appointment and Charles Fleetwood went to Ireland in his place. After this, Lambert became an active opponent of the Rump Parliament. Apart from his disappointment over Ireland, he shared the impatience of fellow army officers over Parliament’s lethargy in formulating a permanent form of government.
Lambert fully supported Cromwell when he forcibly dissolved Parliament in April 1653. In the constitutional discussions that followed the dissolution, Lambert proposed a small executive council to govern the nation, with powers limited by a written constitution. Lambert’s proposal was passed over in favour of the Nominated Assembly or “Parliament of Saints” proposed by Major-General Harrison. Lambert declined a place in the Assembly and worked to undermine it. He collaborated with the moderates who organised the abdication of the Assembly’s powers to Cromwell in December 1653. Furthermore, Lambert sent troops to subdue the protests of the radicals and to drive them from the Parliament House. He had already drafted the Instrument of Government—the written constitution that defined Cromwell’s powers as Lord Protector—and he came to play a major role in the Protectorate through his energetic participation in key offices and committees. He was widely regarded as the probable successor as Lord Protector in the event of Cromwell’s death.
After the failure of the First Protectorate Parliament in 1655, Lambert proposed the imposition of direct military government under the Rule of the Major-Generals. He was appointed Major-General of a large area of northern England, with his seat of government at York, but he preferred to remain at the centre of power in London and delegated the administration of his districts to his deputies Robert Lilburne (the Leveller leader John’s elder brother) and Charles Howard. However, a rift was developing between Lambert and Cromwell. They disagreed over the advisability of a war with Spain in 1654; Lambert’s position was further undermined by the refusal of the Second Protectorate Parliament to grant taxes to finance the government of the Major-Generals, which led Cromwell to abandon the system early in 1657. The final split with Cromwell was over the terms of the Humble Petition and Advice. Lambert opposed moves towards a wholly civilian form of government and led the Army’s opposition to Cromwell’s acceptance of the offer of the Crown. He refused to take the oath of loyalty when Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector for life and was ordered to resign his commissions in July 1657. Lambert retired to his house in Wimbledon with his wife and ten children, where he devoted himself to gardening and artistic pursuits.
After the death of Oliver Cromwell, Lambert – now elected MP for Pontefract – supported Cromwell’s successor, his son Richard, but the Major-Generals Fleetwood and Disbrowe forced the dissolution of Parliament in April 1659. However, they were unable to prevent the recall of the old Rump Parliament which re-assembled a month later and forced Richard’s resignation. Lambert was re-appointed to his commands in the Army. As Parliament’s most capable commander, he was sent against the Royalist rebellion led by Sir George Booth in August 1659. Lambert’s veterans easily defeated Booth’s rebel army, and he avoided unnecessary bloodshed by allowing the Royalists to disperse and forbidding his cavalry from pursuing them.
Parliament voted Lambert a £1,000 jewel as a reward for his services, which he used to pay his troops. His officers took up Fleetwood’s submission to Parliament that Lambert should be re-appointed to the rank of major-general, along with calls for godly reform, a Senate to limit the House of Commons and for no officer to be cashiered without a court martial. However, the republicans remained suspicious of Lambert’s motives, and in September 1659, there were moves to have him dismissed. In an attempt to assert its authority over the Army, Parliament revoked the commissions of nine senior officers, including Lambert, in October 1659. The Council of Officers responded by resolving to expel Parliament and on 13 October, regiments loyal to Lambert encircled the approaches to Parliament and prevented MPs from sitting.
The Committee of Safety was reinstated to rule as an interim government and Lambert was restored to the rank of major-general. Meanwhile, Hesilrige appealed to other army generals to support Parliament against Lambert and his followers. General Monck, commander-in-chief in Scotland, declared that he was ready to uphold Parliament’s authority. Lambert marched north against Monck with around 12,000 troops, reaching Newcastle in mid-November 1659 where he was delayed for several weeks while the Committee of Safety negotiated with Monck’s representatives for a peaceful solution to the crisis.
In southern England, Arthur Hesilrige seized the Portsmouth garrison and demanded the return of Parliament. The republican vice-admiral John Lawson sailed the Channel fleet to Gravesend and threatened to blockade London, while riots broke out in the city against the military régime. In mid-December, the Committee of Safety dissolved itself and Fleetwood was obliged to recall the Rump Parliament. Lambert tried to march south in an attempt to regain control of the situation but his unpaid troops were reluctant to fight. When Lord Fairfax declared his support for Monck, Lambert’s forces disintegrated. Offered a general indemnity, Lambert submitted and was placed under house arrest. In March 1660, he was ordered to London to appear before the Council of State. Unable to meet the impossibly high security of £20,000 that was demanded of him, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Lambert made a desperate attempt to resist the approaching Restoration. He escaped from the Tower in April 1660 and issued a proclamation calling on all supporters of the “Good Old Cause” to rally on the battlefield of Edgehill on Easter Day 1660 from where he planned to advance on Oxford and to join forces with rebels from the south and west. The response to Lambert’s call-to-arms was sporadic. Edmund Ludlow plotted an uprising in Wiltshire, cavalry units from the Midlands and Yorkshire rode to join him, several garrisons declared for Lambert and uprisings of civilian republicans were reported in Somerset, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.  However, before Lambert could gather all his forces, however, he was confronted near Daventry on Easter Day, 22 April 1660, by troops sent by Monck under the command of Colonel Ingoldsby, a regicide who hoped to win a pardon by recapturing Lambert. When Ingoldsby prepared to attack, Lambert’s small army defected or fled. Lambert was ignominiously taken prisoner by Ingoldsby himself when his Arab charger became bogged down in a muddy field. The following day he was brought back to London. After being forced to stand beneath the Tyburn gallows, he was returned to the Tower.
Aged 40 at the Restoration, Lambert spent the rest of his life in prison. He was brought to trial alongside Sir Henry Vane in June 1662, accused of high treason. Although sentenced to death, Lambert appealed to the King’s mercy and the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was moved from the Tower to Castle Cornet on Guernsey, and finally to Drake’s Island in Plymouth Sound. Frances Lambert took a house in Plymouth and visited him when permitted, but after her death in 1676, Lambert lapsed into insanity. He died in February 1684 at the age of 64, having spent the last 24 years of his life in prison.A tragic, lonely end, for a man who deserves to be better known.
http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, interviews, present, swashbucklers, writing

The Fourth Musketeer – an interview with J M Aucoin

So tell me about your new book, and why I should immediately rush out and buy it.
Sure! Honor Among Thieves is the first book in the Hope & Steel series. It takes place during 17thCentury France, a few decades after the Wars of Religion decimated the countryside and a couple decades before the famed Musketeers were formed.
Under Henry IV’s reign, France was starting to bounce back from those wars. The country was a little more stable financially and life was returning to “normal.” But Henry also really hated the Hapsburgs and dreamed of taking their dynasty down.
The decades of religious warfare also meant there were a lot of soldiers without employment. Some lacked skills for traditional working life; others just preferred to make their way with lead shot and steel, so many turned to banditry to get by.
Hope & Steel series is what happens when the bubbling political climate of early-17th Century France meets the harsh reality of a soldier’s post-fighting life. And all with a heavy dash of swashbuckling adventure.
We follow Darion Delerue, a former soldier turned highwayman, who has only two things of value—the hope in his heart and the steel at his side. We also follow Jacquelyna Brocquart, a young lady-in-waiting for the queen, who gets a rude awakening about the less than glamorous life at court. After a heist on a royal ambassador goes wrong, both Darion and Jacquelyna are thrown into a political plot to undermine the crown which could send France straight back into civil war.
There’s plenty of political intrigue rooted in historical events, intertwined with a fictional plot and fictional characters. And there’s also plenty of swordplay for readers who, like me, enjoy a little steel to warm their blood.
You’ve been compared to Alexander Dumas. Who are your writing heroes?
I’m pretty sure I pulled a Tom Cruise and started jumping on the couch when I originally read that comparison. Dumas is definitely one of my favorites, so I was floored to be considered in his company.
I think anyone who gets into the historical adventure genre has read The Three Musketeers. It’s a classic that really helped define the swashbuckler genre. For me, that story was very influential growing up.

I’m also a huge fan of Rafael Sabatini. Captain Bloodand Scaramouche are some fantastic swashbuckling reads. Sabatini really knows how to turn a phrase. I swear he’s left none of the good lines for the rest of us poor authors.
I also love the Captain Alatriste series by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Arturo has taken the classic swashbuckling genre and has given it a little more of a real world feel. A lot of time the swashbuckling/adventure tales tend to have happy endings, but actions have consequences in the Alatriste series. It’s fun and refreshing.
I really try to merge the high adventure and political intrigue of Dumas with the witticism of Sabatini and the realism of Pérez-Reverte. That’s what I’m aiming for in the Hope & Steel series.
Are you a swordsman who writes, or a writer who fences? And does it help?
Tough question! I think I’m equal swordsman and writer. I’ve been a huge fan of the historical adventure genre ever since I was a little lad. I used to watch reruns of Guy William’s Zorro on the Disney Channel every week. I must’ve dressed up as Zorro for Halloween for five straight years as a kid. It was around this time that I also saw Disney’s Three Musketeers adaption with Tim Curry as Cardinal Richelieu. I guess we can blame Disney for my swashbuckling obsession.

So swordplay is what turned me on to reading and writing. But it wasn’t until college that I started learning about swordplay. I started taking foil fencing classes as well as stage combat classes, so I learned both the practical and the entertainment aspects of swordplay. A little later I discovered the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). I enjoyed foil fencing, but being able to actually duel with folks in full period garb while using full-length rapiers and daggers really sung to the side of me that wanted to be d’Artagnan growing up.
Knowing swordsmanship definitely helps when writing swashbucklers. Readers expect a little sword play, and knowing what you’re talking about is a good thing. I’ve read some pretty atrocious swordfights written by people who don’t really understand how the sword works on even a bare basic level. Not that I really want to read (or write) a super technical fight scene either. It still needs to be entertaining and help further the story. There needs to be a balance between the realism of two people trying to skewer themselves with sharpened steel with the good ol’ fashion fun nature of what’s expected from the genre.
– my weapon of choice is a 36” munitions quality cavalry backsword, Birmingham steel. What’s yours?
I’m a big fan of my 37” Spanish Bilbao rapier. I had it custom made by Darkwood Armories, based after the sword Viggo Mortensen uses in the Alatristemovie adaption. I use it when fencing. As soon as I picked it up, I knew I had found my true blade. I do love me some backswords; I need one for my collection.
I also have a strong adoration for wheellock pistols. Those things are just works of art – from the aesthetics to the mechanics.
What are you writing at the moment?
I’m in between stories, you could say. I’m plotting out the next Hope & Steel novel and also world building for a possible fantasy series. Some fans have been bugging me about when the next Jake Hawking Adventure is coming out, so maybe I’ll add that to the queue.
Like a lot of writers, I have more ideas than time to do them all. Bah!
What are your plans for the future?
Keep writing. Keep fencing. Keep costuming.
Creating historical costumes (especially 17thCentury) and cosplays is a fun hobby of mine. It sort of ties into the writing and fencing. While writing is fun because I’m creating something out of nothing, costuming is fun because I’m making something tangible and with my hands. And I get to look dashing as hell afterwards.
I’m also going through Capoferro’s fencing manual and writing up my interpretations of that, which can be read on my historical research/SCA blog for folks who are interested in the technical aspects of swordplay. My regular swashbuckling blogging can be found on my author blog.

… and finally, the importantest question….
Roundhead or Cavalier?
O0o0o0…. Tough question!
When it comes to fiction I usually like to root for the rebels. My protagonists tend to be people who like to live outside the conventional norms of society. So you’d think I’d side with the Roundheads. But I’m going to go against my own grain and say Cavalier. And I’ll say it’s because I like The Tavern Knight by Sabatini. Sir Crispin Galliard (aka the Tavern Knight) was a Cavalier.
I hope that’s the right answer and that we don’t have to fight over it. Although, if we do, I’ll go fetch my rapier! 😀
Connect with J.M. Aucoin!

new books, present, Yorkshire

Meet the Staith – Abbots Staith exposed

 The Abbot’s Staith in Selby is, in the new book, the site of Sir John Belasyse’s powder store in the city, and the scene of one or two of the climactic moments of the book. 
I don’t think it was ever used as a powder magazine, but even so, I’ve taken some artistic licence with this fascinating building. In recompense, the first month’s royalties of the book will be going to the Staith for the restoration fund of the building – so buy The Smoke of Her Burning and support the Staith!

The warehouse building currently known as the Abbots Staith, near the river Ouse in Selby, has been interpreted as being from the 14thcentury in a survey done in 1995, based on the style of the stonework. The building is shaped as a shallow capital ‘H’ with narrow slot windows to the ground floor frontage and leaded lights to the second floor which would have had internal shutters. At 132 feet 3 inches long by 60 feet 7 inches wide it is slightly shorter but wider than the nave of Selby Abbey (140 feet by 58 feet). All the doors face the river, except for one in the front central bay which has a flat or ‘French’ arch and would have been the main access route from the river to the monastic complex.
The name Staith or Staithe refers to a jetty or wharf and there are two ancient monuments on the site, the warehouse building and the wharf area. Most of the latter is now covered by a 20th century jetty, but the piles and timbers can be seen underneath this at low tide. The building itself is listed Grade II* and the English Heritage Buildings At Risk registers calls it a former monastic wool warehouse, reflecting the main trade of the medieval abbey in the town.
Formed in 2014 the Abbots Staith Heritage Trust are a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving, restoring and bringing the building back into use for the community of Selby. Some of the volunteers have spent many hours researching the Staith and have found references to in old texts dating back to the 15th and 16th century, including one that calls it the ‘Great Staithe’.
In more modern times a two storey Georgian building was added to the front west wing of the Staith warehouse. This was known as the Counting House, as it was where taxes and tithes were paid. The land and building were owned for a time in the 18th and 19thcenturies by both Lord Petre, lord of the manor of Selby and by the renowned surgeon and naturalist Jonathan Hutchinson, who was born in a cottage immediately behind the warehouse in July 1828, which is now the office for Westmill Foods. There is a blue plaque on the wall celebrating this fact.
For much of the 19th century and into the early 20th the warehouse was part of the Abbot’s Staith Flour Mills, that business passing through various owners, before the building was sold in 1911 to George Woodhead and Sons, Seed Merchants.
During the years from 1911 to 1995 the Counting House became the shop front and small offices for Woodhead Seeds (later larger office space was created on the top floor of the west wing of the warehouse itself). Woodhead Seeds moved out in Spring 1995 and since then (aside from a brief use as a car radio outlet in the shop front) the main building has remained empty, though it is still owned by a member of the Woodhead family.
On April 20th 2015 Abbots Staith Heritage Trust took a one year licence on the Counting House as a base to promote their vision for the restoration of the building. More information can be found on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, with a full website coming soon.
politics, ponderations, present, society, women, writing

Fifty Shades Of….. Gender Bias and Sexuality in Historical Fiction

Isn’t it reassuring to know that all those heroines of historical fiction, who found that they just weren’t maternal, or meek, or submissive enough – that they identified themselves more strongly as masculine, that they cut their hair, or wore breeches, or climbed trees – they were all sweet, frilly girlies, really: because with the right man, you can get better!

Five hundred years ago – three hundred, two hundred years ago – women weren’t allowed to identify with masculine gender stereotypes. We conformed, to the Gospel according to St Paul; we learned in all subjection, we were respectful, we covered our hair and our bodies as we were taught, or we paid the price of social ostracism.

You know the old chestnut of the girl who dresses as a boy to follow her soldier lover to war and bring him home safe? Don’t get many of them in the 17th century. In fact, I don’t think I know of a single example of a woman who enlists as a soldier during the English Civil Wars – maybe that’s because women were following the drum anyway, in the guise of camp followers, or maybe it’s because until the creation of the New Model Army in 1645 no one was looking, or maybe it’s because 17th century women were more than capable of fighting the good fight in skirts, viz. Lady Derby, Brilliana Harley, Elizabeth Lilburne, I’ll stop now but I could keep going all night. The 17th century highwaywoman Moll Frith lived and dressed as a woman – as attested by her nickname, Cutpurse Moll – and anecdote reports that at one point she robbed Thomas Fairfax, shot him in the arm and killed two of his horses. Which must have pleased him no end…
But it’s not really till the 18th century that we start to see the “mannish” woman appear – Kit Ross, who followed her man into Marlborough’s Army and then decided that she quite liked the Army life and lived as a soldier for the better part of ten years, serving in two different units undiscovered; Anne Bonney and Mary Read, that pair of unglamorous pirate captains, who were as fierce and merciless as any of their masculine counterparts – what’s interesting is that most of the 18th century women who disguised themselves as men disguised themselves successfully, and lived within close male communities undiscovered for long periods, but that they also were considered as equals of their male counterparts. Kit Ross was officially pensioned off, despite the discovery of her gender; Anne Bonney and Mary Read were sentenced to an equal punishment to their male counterpart, Calico Jack Rackham.
So, you know, there are hundreds of years of history of women living successfully as men, competing with men, existing forcefully in a male-dominated society. Succeeding, on their own terms, against men. (If piracy is your thing, obviously.) Being acknowledged as comrades and peers, by men. Women in Restoration England were running their own businesses, their own coffee-shops, although they weren’t permitting female customers in those hotbeds of political discourse and dissent. Women in 1649 were presenting petitions to Parliament saying…”Have we not an equal interest with the men of this Nation, in those liberties and securities contained in the Petition of Right, and the other good laws of the land? Are any of our lives, limbs, liberties or goods to be taken from us more than from men, but by due process of law and conviction of twelve sworn men of the neighbourhood?”
And now, four hundred years later, we’re denying this again in mainstream historical fiction.
The tomboyish heroine, that old favourite of romantic fiction, who’s not satisfied by a life of conventionally girlish pleasures, and who finds freedom and self-expression as an equal in masculine company – she changes, of course, when she meets the right man. (He “makes” her a woman, as often as not. *shudders*)
All those strong women, who lived and worked and loved as women in their own right, who ran businesses and ships and companies of soldiers in their own right – they just needed a man, to make them want to give up their independence and be hobbled by skirts again?
I was talking to Kim Wright from the arts programme Art2Art on Swindon 105.5 FM earlier on (just thought I’d drop that one right there, me on the radio, not swearing, not once. Hardly. Much. At all) – he had the idea that this sudden gender conventionality in fiction was a reaction against women’s freedoms in World War 2, where women were suddenly doing men’s work, men’s equals, threatening established masculine domains, and the womenfolk had to be groomed a little into getting back into their boxes after the war. And, you know, perhaps the reason for the popularity of that aggressively masculine, Chandleresque stuff was that a lot of women were comfortable within those boxes, too. 
And that’s fine, if that’s what works for you, but it’s not right for everyone. We’re still promoting the idea of binary genders – of girlie girls and butch men – and pushing the myth that if you are not a pink princess, or a brave hero, you can’t have romance, you can’t have adventure, you can’t be successful. That to be atypical, in fiction, makes a character a curio, a freakshow. There was a Paul Verhoeven film called “Flesh + Blood” in which Rutger Hauer’s mercenary band contained, amongst others, two sniggering and not always very kind best mates, who were rough and tough, who always had each other’s backs, who were a pair of loutish young gentlemen always spoiling for a fight.
At the end of the film one of them is killed and you realise, by the response of the other, that these two testosterone-fuelled hooligans were a deeply loving and long-established couple.

And it’s not relevant to the plot, it’s just a throwaway scene where actually, these two brawling roughs are seen to have a capacity for deep emotion – but it’s two men who are in love with each other. 

Does that matter? Yes. They’re a pair of aggressive street bravos who’ve systematically gone through life as their own two-person gang, and now all of a sudden one of them is alone, and we see a vulnerable, frightened side to him. 
Does it matter that it’s two men? No. Or it shouldn’t. As Het Babbitt points out to Hapless Russell in “A Wilderness of Sin”, “There is, in my opinion, an insufficiency of people loving each other in this world, dear. As if it were something to be ashamed of.”

Takes all sorts to make a world, as they say in Lancashire, but if youre going to write, the world is at your fingertips. Women, and men, in history fought hard to live outside convention, knowing they faced exposure, ridicule, social ostracism, even death, for disclosing themselves. And they still do, we have not yet come so far. We owe it to readers to write those men and women back into historical fiction, not as plaster saints or  wayward sinners, but as real, rounded human beings. Just lke us.