Tag Archives: medieval

Hidden Treasure in Estonia

Toward the end of my trip to Russia, Estonia and Finland this summer, I visited the more than thousand year-old walled city of Tallinn, Estonia, crowning the Toompea Hill and overlooking the Bay of Finland. It was conquered by the Danish King Waldemar II in 1219 and became a medieval merchant town and then a majestic Gothic city during the Middle Ages, known as the greatest burg in northern Europe. Subjected to Sweden and Russia in following centuries the beautiful medieval Old Town remained virtually untouched until the 19th century when a more modern Tallinn started to develop and expand below the citadel.

Tourists today are enamored by the charm of the narrow winding streets, medieval Town Hall, residential homes, churches, guild houses, and the ancient town wall preserved in more than half its length even today.

Walled Tallinn

Walled Tallinn

I spent several days wandering the lanes discovering shops with wonderful handicrafts for sale, taking pictures of ornate doorways and leaning buildings, and tasting elk soup with friends.

Doorway

Doorway

Doorway

Doorway

The last day before departing on the ferry to Helsinki, Finland, a small group of us visited a monastery at 22 Laboratooriumi Street and were greeted by the parish priest, a monk called Volodymyr Palijenko, who proudly showed us around. He presides over the Church of the Blessed Virgin With the Three Hands, which is a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. This Holy Mother is the protector of the innocent who have been wrongly convicted, deceived and sinned against, and there is a slot in the stone wall outside the church where people can leave a letter and the priest will pray for settlement of their problem.

Letter Slot

Letter Slot

Monastery Facade

Monastery Facade

Our group was led into the main room where worshipers gather and our guide translated for the monk who explained that this monastery also serves as a Ukrainian cultural center which showcases handmade crafts, but, little did I know, a huge and thrilling shock was awaiting me.

In my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, the setting is in a 17th century Scottish castle that had been a monastery in medieval times, so I was curious to see if this European monastery had any similarities.

Monk Volodymyr walked to the back of the room in which we were gathered and I heard what sounded like chains clanking and some mechanical mechanism moving. When I turned to look back, I saw the center floor moving forward and disappearing into a pocket of space in front of the altar. In place of the floor, a huge hole was revealed. Railings went up to protect the hole and a stone stairway leading downward was visible. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had written a similar concept in my book! I have an architect friend who assured me my floor could actually have worked the way I described, but my story was fiction. Here I was witnessing a true life floor in a monastery moving and revealing rooms below. This was like a déjà vu moment for me! And to think some of my readers thought I had a pretty vivid imagination!

Plain Floor

Plain Floor

Railing up

Railing up

Steps Downward

Steps Downward

Our group was then led through the monk’s workshops where wooden toys and paper and books were made and hand decorated Ukrainian eggs and icons were painted and displayed. We were led up and down narrow spiral stairs (like in my book) with tiny windows to light the way and eventually out into the courtyard. This place was so like my book, I had the shivers! I’ll never forget this experience as long as I live.

Spiral Stairway

Spiral Stairway

Ukrainian Eggs

Ukrainian Eggs

Did I say I’ll never forget this experience as long as I live? Have you ever had a déjà vu moment concerning a setting in your book? I’d love to know. (Note: click on photos to enlarge).

 

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Reconstructing Richard

richardIII-650x473stained

I’ve been thinking about Richard III for a long time. I was an only child who lived in a house well supplied with plenty of books, so  I read a lot.  When I read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, I learned an important lesson that everyone interested in studying the past learns sooner or later: History is written by the victors, and therefore, the thumbnail version, which we get in school, rarely resembles the truth. I became an ardent Ricardian. Henry Tudor, the man who defeated Richard and founded the famous dynasty, was a sharp politician. It may have been 1486, but he employed talented spin doctors, men like Bishop John Morton who would be right at home in a modern political smear campaign.  Tudor propaganda strategy came to fruition many years later in Shakespeare’s engaging, rip-roaring historical melodrama. For centuries this stage creation has been the “Richard III” most people know.

In the ‘90’s, I had a Ricardian flashback, familiar to OCD types & writers.  I joined a now defunct ‘net group called “Later Medieval Britain” and began talking about the king and the Yorkist era  with interested people who lived all over the world—from Australia, to Britain, to the US. Most knew a great deal more about the period and the newly available ancient sources than I did.  I began to research again. At the same time I began to reconsider the knight- in-shining-armor Richard I’d constructed. After all, as a child I was more of a fan than an historian.

I’d become involved, while writing Mozart’s Wife and My Mozart, in an attempt to enter the mindset of my subjects by immersing myself in contemporary writing. For the later Middle Ages, I discovered newly available sources, listed in Roan Rose’s bibliography. The members of LMB, many members of The Richard III Society, were always willing to share and give me a push in the right direction. For me, anyway, there was a lot of new information to consider.

It’s a long, long way from 1780 to 1480.  The medieval POV I tried to enter when I wrote Roan Rose is not much like ours. There was a rigidly hierarchical social structure and a world view which wouldn’t have been unfamiliar five centuries years earlier.  The class into which a person was born was destiny, although this was not as impermeable in England as it was in the rest of Europe. Medieval people were hard-nosed and their lives were short. As well as the strictures of class, gender was another unrelenting form of destiny. Most women were married and “breeding” by the time they reached their teens.

Even for those living at the top, those with good food and physical comforts, life could be tough. Adulthood began early. For instance, by the time Richard was fourteen, he was making life-altering decisions. He chose loyalty to his brother the King over loyalty to his mentor Warwick, in whose grand household he’d received his knightly training. The bait Warwick dangled was not inconsiderable, either, for this was his lovely cousin Anne, who was one of the richest heiresses in England. Richard’s brother George, contrastingly, took Warwick’s offer and married Anne’s older sister, Isabel. When Warwick – not nicknamed “Kingmaker” for nothing – unseated Richard’s brother, King Edward, and replaced him with the rival Lancastrian claimant, George supported his father-in-law. Richard fled with the King into the lowlands where their sister Margaret, who had married Duke Charles of Burgundy, could protect them. During this time of exile, he and his siblings got busy setting a conspiracy afoot to entice their wayward brother George to return to their side.

Before he was nineteen, Richard led troops in two decisive battles, Barnet and Tewkesbury, which would restore his brother Edward to the throne. He displayed bravery and coolness beyond his years. In the aftermath of Tewkesbury, he and the family’s staunch Yorkist ally, John, Duke of Norfolk, were the judges who delivered death sentences upon captured Lancastrian nobles, lured from sanctuary with false promises of safe passage.  Sixteen noblemen—many of them personally familiar and most of them cousins–were beheaded that day, with the two Dukes as witnesses. After this blood bath, I’ve read, they all went in to dinner. This was a world in which nobles, peasants and commons alike went to see whippings, hangings and disemboweling for entertainment, a world in which life expectancy was a mere 30 years.

I don’t know if I was able to fully enter the mindset necessary for axing my relatives, but I do want to make clear that historical romance characters who can pass for “civilized,” cannot be anything like a real 15th Century specimen.  I’m not saying that we today are so much better, it’s just that we have more constraints, a tad more democracy and a great deal more comfort provided by the twin wonders of science and technology. The characters in Roan Rose are probably still tame when compared to the medieval equivalent, but I did try to avoid the restraints under which today’s well-socialized citizens typically act.

The Richard I’ve written is a contradictory character, though full of emotion and sensitivity. His much-handled and personally annotated prayer book* demonstrates that he “had religion.”  He conscientiously undertook good works to balance the inevitable ledger of sin.  He founded chanteries to pray for the living and the dead, as was expected of a prince, and he gave generously to Queen’s College and to the building of King’s College at Cambridge. He was a thoughtful and competent administrator in a time which was famously short of them. We know he was a brave soldier, and that he was a warrior who’d delivered death with his own hand. Whether he took the English throne for good reasons or bad, whether or not he personally gave the order to put his young nephews to death, we will probably never know.   I made an attempt in this, my first medieval novel, to create men and women whose experiences, emotions and choices might give the reader a taste of what it meant to be alive in those times.

*SUTTON, Anne F. & VISSER-FUCHS, Livia,  The Hours of  Richard III, 1990

http://www.julietwaldron.com

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Old Dead “Friends”

I’ve spent a lot of my life fixating upon dead heroes, which means, as we turn into October, I’m entering my favorite other-worldly season.  (Maybe “hero” isn’t quite the word, but “famous historical personalities” is unwieldy.)  Richard III came into my life early, just pre-teen, via a discarded paperback, “The Daughter of Time” by Josephine Tey, fished from a wastebasket in the lounge of a 1950’s Barbados hotel.  For some reason, this mystery story about a man whose chosen motto was “Loyalty Binds Me” and whose reputation had been blackened, started an obsessive fire in my brain which is, even 50-some years later, burning hotter than ever.

Richard started life in 1452, which is a long time ago—560 years at Fotheringay Castle, now nothing more than a heap of earth by the River Nene where the original motte and bailey stood. As you can see from the picture, 500+ years doesn’t leave much behind! He was born on October 2, which makes him a Libra. If the Tudor spin doctors are to be believed, he was a seriously out of balance child of this supremely balanced heavenly sign. If the skeleton just recovered proves to be the King, it appears that he had a deformity at birth, a severe scoliosis, which would have caused his right shoulder to be carried high.  He only lived for thirty-two years, but he (or his distorted shadow) has left a large mark on World consciousness via Shakespeare’s blood-and-thunder melodrama.

I’ve been flailing around in the flesh more than twice as long as this particular dead hero, but have made not a jot of difference to the greater world.  Still, King Richard, his fair wife, Anne Neville, and others of the bloody Plantagenet cousinage have been talking, loving, cutting off heads and battling in my imagination since childhood. When the recent excavation in that Leicester car park came up with those bones–scoliosis, battle wounds, and all—it started the whole royal panoply, complete with banners and drums, parading through my mind.   More than that, some days it comes seeping out, a moving picture of antique glory superimposed over the ordinariness of daily life. I feel closer to these semi-imaginary long dead than I do to my neighbors. After all, these royal shadows have been with me from childhood. I’ve imagined them while standing on tropical beaches, Cornish cliffs, and all the way to this present slough of suburban senior citizenship.

Roan Rose, my new Second Wind novel, grew from a long time dedication to this old, old story, one which has been fictionalized a great many times already. Still, I “owed” Richard and Anne a book,  even despite the recent big name debut of something similar. In my novel, the fall of the House of York is seen through the unusual lens of “downstairs” eyes. The narrator, Rose, begins her association with Anne Neville while they are both children. Although Rose loves and is loved in return, she can never be more to Anne and her royal cousin (eventually, husband, Richard) than a “common woman,”  a servant. She alone of their triangle of affection will endure to tell of the end of an ancient dynasty and of the dusty survival of a peasant. The price she pays for her loyalty to master and mistress is high.

I can hardly bear to let her go. I’m sure a lot of other writers out there will understand this reluctance to end my “visits” to a much loved creation.

~~Juliet Waldron

http://www.julietwaldron.com

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My Handy Research Tools by Coco Ihle

I’ve found being a pack rat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of my trips to the U.K. were family vacations and because these were special occurrences, I didn’t want to forget anything. Taking photos, saving receipts, keeping a trip diary, buying brochures and even audio recording various tours and people became the norm for me.

This collection came in handy while compiling photo albums to share with the family later. I didn’t have to wonder where the heck a certain mystery photo was taken or try to remember an itinerary or timeline. I was so glad I had documented everything.

Since trip planning fell to me, I wanted to make the experience as rich as possible. One year, my (former) husband and I, his parents, and our son went to the U.K., rented a car, and set out touring England, Scotland and Wales on a six-weeks adventure. Since we had three generations in the car, my goal was to include sights that would interest everyone.

We saw battlefields, military monuments and museums, visited Brands Hatch British Grand Prix Race Track and had pints in local pubs to satisfy the guys. Madam Tussaud’s, the planetarium, taking a class in brass rubbing, listening to bagpipers in Scotland and seeing suits of armor up close were fun for our son. Visiting and staying in historic manor homes and castles, attending medieval banquets with the Ladies of the Court in period costumes and strolling in topiary gardens were treats for my mother-in-law and me. We all enjoyed driving through the lush countryside and stopping in quaint villages with their thatched roof cottages; and speaking with the locals gave us different perspectives on the things we had seen and experienced.  At every turn, we tried to make each day interesting and unforgettable.

One night, we stayed in the thirteenth-century House of Agnes Hotel in Canterbury, mentioned in Charles Dicken’s, David Copperfield. Another, in the The Feathers Hotel in Ludlow, a seventeenth-century coaching inn. Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland was once an eleventh-century monastery and is said to be haunted. Lord Dalhousie at Dalhousie Castle flirted with my mother-in-law during our postprandial cocktails, and she blushed for weeks afterwards. I could go on and on.

To help refresh my cherished memories, I have shelves full of brochures, audio tapes, photo albums, music, artwork, you name it. When I began writing my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, set primarily in Scotland, I needed details for descriptions of castles and the countryside, on people in the villages, their personalities and their speech patterns. Even though I had Scottish friends at this point, and the Internet, I relied heavily on my experiences and documentation of the many trips I had taken.

I’m so glad I am a pack rat! Any of you, pack rats, too? Has it been good, bad?

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