TITLE: Medieval Medley
When it comes to writing historical fiction, you can keep your Tudors and your Regencies. Yes, they might be wildly popular but I know of no other time period in history that is as fascinating as the medieval, which in my opinion is sadly neglected. If you’re not yet a fan, let me give you a flavour in my Medieval Medley. You may change your mind!
My hero is Sir Benedict Palmer, a chain mail-wearing knight. There may be some eye-rolling at this as appealing dress from male readers, who are possible envisaging a wimpy Sir Lancelot type. Gentlemen, a suit of chain mail and padded armour weighs in at four stone, or fifty-six pounds. You develop a lot of core strength simply be wearing it. Wimpy? I don’t think so.
There are jobs in medieval times that could never be described as pleasant but are a novelist’s gift. Many people will have heard of barber surgeons, the early doctors who consulted with astrological charts and administered leeches to their patients. The job of leech collector is rarely mentioned. These unlucky folk simply waded bare-legged into reed-filled ponds inhabited by the slimy creatures and let the little suckers latch onto their legs. After the initial nipping bite, the leeches would do their work, swelling to five times their size after about twenty minutes. Bearing in mid the barber surgeons required large quantities of leeches, the job of leech collector must have been utterly foul. It would have been day in, day out, with the multiple bites often turning infected.
There’s nothing like a medieval banquet for show-off food. When Catherine de Valois, wife of Henry V, was crowned in 1421, the feast was held during Lent and so could contain no meat. Yes, it had eels, salmon, trout, huge crabs and whelks. I can tell you’re unimpressed. But it also had ‘subtleties’: non-edible dishes that introduced each course. This feast included pelicans, panthers and a man riding on a tiger. Eat your heart out, Gordon Ramsey.
Christianity was of course the religion of Western Europe. It wasn’t just part of society: it was society. The fear of hell and of the Devil was very real. It’s the medieval period where we see the rise of sorcery, with many people genuinely believing in it as the Devil’s works and that people here on earth practised it. There are many accounts, each more colourful than the last.
To give an example. William of Malmesbury (d 1142) wrote of the Sorceress of Berkeley, who had died in 1065. He describes her as ‘a woman addicted to sorcery…skilled in ancient augury, she was excessively gluttonous, perfectly lascivious, setting no bounds to her debaucheries.’ She repented on her death bed and begged for her body to be saved from Satan, with her corpse sewed up in a stag’s skin, placed in a stone coffin and weighted with lead and iron and secured with chains. It was no good. A devil broke into the church and made off with her on the back of a barbed black horse. I did promise colour, did I not?
Every period in history has infamous murders. But the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 has got to be one of the most well-known of all. It is also the most gruesomely shocking. Four knights, acting supposedly on the orders of King Henry II, broke into the cathedral on a late December evening and butchered Becket on the altar. Monks witnessed the crime first hand and produced several blow-by-blow eye-witness accounts. The murder sent shock waves through though the whole of Europe. Becket was believed to be God’s representative on Earth. Miracles began to be attributed to the dead Archbishop immediately after the murder and he was canonized with great speed. Canterbury rapidly became one of the most popular destinations for pilgrims in the known world.
So those are some of the highlights. I think you’ll agree that they give a flavour of why the medieval period is one of the most interesting, exciting and downright bizarre historical periods of all. I’ve been inspired to include chain mail, sumptuous feasts, sorcery and the murder of Thomas Becket in my novels. The leech collectors have yet to put in an appearance but I’m sure they’ll find their role. Watch this space!
Publication Date: January 1, 2015
Thomas & Mercer
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Genre: Historical Thriller
A triumphant sequel to Powell’s acclaimed historical thriller The Fifth Knight. A desperate king trusts a lone knight to unravel a web of murder.
England, 1176. King Henry II has imprisoned his rebellious Queen for her failed attempt to overthrow him. But with her conspirators still at large and a failed assassination attempt on his beautiful mistress, Rosamund Clifford, the King must take action to preserve his reign.
Desperate, Henry turns to the only man he trusts: a man whose skills have saved him once before. Sir Benedict Palmer answers the call, mistakenly believing that his family will remain safe while he attends to his King.
As Palmer races to secure his King’s throne, neither man senses the hand of a brilliant schemer, a mystery figure loyal to Henry’s traitorous Queen who will stop at nothing to see the King defeated.
The Blood of the Fifth Knight is an intricate medieval murder mystery and worthy sequel to E.M. Powell’s acclaimed historical thriller The Fifth Knight.
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER HERE!
Canterbury, Kent, England, 12 July 1174
A king’s flesh tore like any man’s. Sir Benedict Palmer knew it would, but still it shocked him to see it.
He stood among the many hundreds of pilgrims and gawkers that crammed the winding streets of Canterbury, watching the penitent King Henry make his tortured way towards the cathedral. The shouting crowds stood ten deep, twenty in places, pushing for a better view.
‘Can you see him?’ came the close whisper from Palmer’s wife, Theodosia.
He met her fear-filled grey eyes. ‘He’s nearly here.’ Though Palmer could see with ease over the crowd, his small-boned Theodosia could not. Not yet, but very soon. And the sight would horrify her.
The broiling sun overhead lit the red that remained in Henry’s greying hair, and he wore the blackened ash mask of the sinner. The sweat on his face carried dark streaks of ash and a different red down his naked upper body. Blood stained the royal flesh, flesh white and soft as a turnip root. A line of sweating, black-robed monks followed him, scourges in hand, delivering this brutal public penance for the murder of the cathedral’s Archbishop, Thomas Becket.
Theodosia’s hand tightened on Palmer’s arm. He knew she had longed desperately for this day. Longed for it as much as she dreaded it.
Another crack echoed above the noisy mob, and the black coils of a scourge striped Henry’s bare chest and shoulders again. Folk gasped, women screamed. A group of white-robed monks raised their voices in a noisy hymn.
Theodosia gripped harder.
‘Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, istis Sanctis et omnibus Sanctis.’ Henry continued to recite his penance, his thin voice cutting through the horde’s buzz.
‘Beg for forgiveness!’ yelled an unseen man. ‘Saint Thomas Becket is all forgiving!’
A new din of yells, whistles, and cries broke out.
‘By the glorious Queen of Heaven and the angels, repent!’ A hatchet-faced man flung up his hands.
‘Beg for the mercy of the Almighty!’ wailed a pockmarked priest.
‘Repent!’ A woman held tight to the cloak of her witless, drooling son, a cross shorn into his hair. ‘Repent now!’
All in this mob blamed Henry—blamed him as surely as if he had held the sword that had smashed Archbishop Thomas Becket’s skull on that freezing December night three and a half years ago. The night that Palmer and Theodosia had both witnessed, that had near cost them their lives too. The night that the cathedral had become Becket’s tomb, where his lifeblood had been splashed across its stone floor.
But today, the huge grey cathedral towers stood against a searing sun in a blue sky, marking Becket’s triumph from Henry’s martyr to a holy saint. Today, Henry the sinner stumbled low on the hot, brutal streets of Canterbury, begging for forgiveness from the man he’d had cut down, his own flesh shredded and torn. Already he looked as if he might fall.
‘A godly dead man is worth more than a living knave!’
Another rage-filled scream.
Palmer licked the salt of sweat from his top lip and held his reactions in check. The King was no knave, yet the world had to think so.
Palmer glanced down at his silent wife, fearing her collapse more than the King’s. The high buildings trapped the stink from the near-solid run-offs from the privies, as well as the noise and heat. He hadn’t wanted to come to witness this ugly spectacle, but she’d insisted.
They’d travelled for weeks from their distant village of Cloughbrook in Staffordshire. Weeks without much food, as they walked in a praying, singing throng of every kind of pilgrim, which grew with each day they neared Canterbury. Now they stood here as the sun climbed, fiercer by the hour, without the relief of shade or water. Fiercer still, the mood of those watching Henry’s agony. The fierceness of the righteous. Palmer knew it well.
And Theodosia stood beside him, with her stomach big, the baby she carried expected by autumn. But he needn’t worry about her fainting. Despite her heat-cracked lips and freckled skin, he saw the clamp of her jaw, the firm set of her gaze. She wouldn’t yield: she waited for her King. Yet her gaze flicked to their small red-haired son, edging forward through the knot of legs and skirts, curious to gape too.
‘Tom.’ Her quick order brought him back to Palmer’s side.
Palmer laid a hand on the lad’s slender shoulder. ‘Stay with us, eh? Can’t have you getting lost.’ Not much chance of that. Becket himself could come down from the clouds, and Theodosia would still have an eye on the boy.
There was a crack as another scourge met the royal flesh. The crowd let out a fresh roar, drowning Henry’s cry of anguish.
Hands, fists and staves pressed at Palmer’s back, tried to force past him to gape closer. He swung his son off his feet and plunked him on his shoulders as he held Theodosia to him with his other arm.
He turned to those behind him. ‘Stop your shoving, you hear me?’
A fat pilgrim with an even fatter wife glared at him. ‘You ignorant farmer.’ With his breath a blast of tooth rot, the man’s face shone with rage and heat. ‘I can’t see past you and your—’ He caught the full force of Palmer’s look.
And shut his noise.
‘Benedict.’ Theodosia pulled at his arm. ‘Not here. We are on a holy pilgrimage.’
Palmer gave the silenced man a final glare and turned back to see the King’s approach along the street. ‘You ignorant farmer.’ Yes, he resembled one in his worn, patched clothes. He had to. If the pilgrim knew—knew who he really was, what he, Sir Benedict Palmer, had done: half those here would run screaming from him; the other half would tear him to pieces. No matter that King Henry knew the truth, that Henry would say Palmer’s actions had been justified. Henry himself was so close to losing his kingdom, losing his crown. Many said the King did this penance to make amends with God, before he lost power to Queen Eleanor and her ferocious sons, rising in rebellion against him. And all Palmer and Theodosia had been through would have been for nothing.
‘Make way for his Grace. Make way!’ Canterbury’s guards forced the watchers back with drawn swords.
Shoved aside too, Palmer took a half step to steady his stance.
Tom’s small hands clutched tightly at Palmer’s hair.
His son’s high voice hardened his resolve. Forget knighthood, kingdoms, battles. The murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, the murder that Henry now did penance for. The murder that he, Sir Benedict Palmer, had been present at. What mattered now was to keep his family safe.
But if a king could fall, if a king could be swept aside, then where did that leave him?
Review Praise for The Fifth Knight
“Powell does a masterful job. Highly recommended.” Historical Novels Review
E.M. Powell is the author of medieval thriller THE FIFTH KNIGHT which was a #1 Amazon Bestseller. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State) she now lives in the north west of England with her husband and daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. She is a reviewer of fiction and non-fiction for the HNS. Find out more by visiting www.empowell.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
The Blood of the Fifth Knight Blog Tour Schedule
Thursday, January 1
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, January 2
Spotlight at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Monday, January 5
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog
Thursday, January 8
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Monday, January 12
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Character Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
Tuesday, January 13
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Friday, January 16
Review at Historical Fiction Obsession
Monday, January 19
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, January 21
Review at Just One More Chapter
Monday, January 26
Spotlight at Susan Heim on Writing
Wednesday, January 28
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Friday, January 30
Review at Bookramblings
Saturday, January 31
Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes
Sunday, February 1
Review at Carole’s Ramblings
Monday, February 2
Guest Post at The Lit Bitch
Wednesday, February 4
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, February 6
Review at The Never-Ending Book