A very happy New Year to all of you. I hope you had a wonderful festive season. I am afraid mine was dominated by the death of my beloved wife Carla. She was diagnosed with Myeloma, a very aggressive blood cancer in the spring of 2015. She died on 6th December, her requiem being celebrated on the 21st. I must mention this as I feel that I cannot ignore something which has had such a lasting impact.
I do find a refuge in writing. I have just submitted a new Corbett novel, “Devil’s Wolf”. This is set in 1311 and I have moved Corbett to the Scottish March where a savage war raged between Edward II of England and Robert the Bruce of Scotland. At the same time the powerful Percy family had moved from Yorkshire, they had purchased the great castle of Alnwick intending to found a dynasty which would be based on the kingdom’s most formidable fortresses. The Percys had their own ideas about who should rule the north. Accordingly, I began to research material I first studied decades ago. What struck me was the sheer ferocity of that border war. No quarter or mercy was shown to prisoners or to women and children. We have Wallace hanged, drawn and quartered at Smithfield. Scottish ladies imprisoned in cages on castle walls. English prisoners like Cressingham skinned and the skin being used to fashion a belt. Against this terrible backdrop, Corbett has to hunt a killer across a landscape ravaged by war. The climax of the novel culminates in the great priory at Tynemouth which was the scene of so many dramatic events during Edward II’s reign.
I am also finishing a new Athelstan “The Mansion of Murder.” Of course, the Great Revolt has now finished but a new danger has emerged in London, the criminal gangs or “Rifflers.” I assure you these are not a figment of my imagination. The great lords of both court and council could whistle up these gangs very swiftly with devastating effect. One example will suffice: in 1326 Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, landed in Essex determined to depose Edward II and execute his favourite the Despensers. Mortimer had tremendous influence over the rifflers in London, (after all Mortimer was one of the few people to successfully escape from the Tower, a dramatic story in itself). Mortimer’s agents slipped into London. The mob was roused, law and order collapsed so swiftly that Walter Stapleton, Chancellor or the Exchequer (and the founder of my college at Oxford) was caught unawares near St. Paul’s. He and two of his squires were seized by the mob and executed. The riffler chieftains sent Stapleton’s head to Isabella who had the good grace and sense not to accept it. However, the ferocity of the mob and the speed with which it acted, always fascinated me. “The Mansion of Murder” explores this theme and I am sure you will enjoy it. For the rest, life goes on. I am back at school and I am plotting a new line based around that remarkable woman Margaret Beaufort, but that’s for the future. Anyway, I thank you for reading this gentle reader! I do wish you “Pax et bonum” for 2017.
Paul Doherty OBE