Newsletter January 2017

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.

Kindest regards,

Paul Doherty OBE

THE NEW YEAR

February 2015
To All My Readers
The festive season has come and gone; I hope for all of you it was a time of rejoicing, merriment and happiness. I certainly looked forward to this wonderful time spent with our every increasing family, as I do to quiet hours at my desk plotting murder, mystery and mayhem! The next Athelstan book, THE HERALD OF HELL is now finished with its sequel, THE EARTHWORMS, well on its way. The Great Peasants Revolt of 1381 is about to break out and engulf London in a frenzy of arson, robbery and murder. Athelstan however, keeps to his task, his single-minded hunt for murderers and assassins, those sons and daughters of Cain who believe they can wipe out lives, loudly protest their innocence whilst they hide their hands stained with their victims’ blood. Murder, like charity, is common to all ages and cultures; it can set up tent anywhere, be it behind the grim walls of the Tower of London, the austere, sanctified precincts of Blackfriars or the opulent luxury of Southwark’s leading brothel, “The Golden Oliphant.” Sir John Cranston, Lord High Coroner of London and his faithful Dominican secretarius Athelstan, have to enter the meadows of murder but keep a very wary eye on equally sinister developments in and around the court of the young boy king, Richard II.
The Peasants Revolt of 1381 is shrouded in mystery. Every school boy knows about Wat Tyler, one of the rebel leaders. Generations of history books have presented him as a real historical figure. Undoubtedly he existed. However, when you do research, Tyler appears to have no substance, no background. Historians have scoured the varied records of Essex and Kent but they can find no reference to him anywhere in sheriff returns, court lists, tax rolls, army musters etc. Oh, the chroniclers of the time paint their picture but there is nothing objective or empirical about Tyler. Who was this man? Where did he come from? Who supported him? How did he, this complete stranger, rise so swiftly through the ranks to command the rebel armies and so dictate terms to both King and Council? The other great mystery is John of Gaunt, self-styled Regent, uncle of the king and keeper of the kingdom. Why did Gaunt, when the revolt was about to break out, decide to launch a military campaign against the Scots? Our brethren north of the border were posing no real threat and, if they did, the powerful Percy family of Northumberland would only be too willing to check them. Indeed, when Gaunt went north and the revolt erupted in London and the surrounding shires, Gaunt was not really involved in fighting the Scots but busy in a futile quarrel with the powerful Percy lord over who was actually in charge of England’s northern march. Moreover, behind all this lies the question I posed above. Why did Gaunt leave London and his 14-year- old nephew at such a critical time? Why take much needed troops north for a shadow war? Read THE HERALD OF HELL and EARTHWORMS for my solution to all these murderous mysteries, and others!

I have now moved on to writing a sequel to DARKNESS, a Gothic novel set in ancient Rome. This macabre tale begins with the destruction of Quintilius Varus and his three legions in the Black Forest of Germany (AD 9) and the story sweeps to its climax with the siege of Masada in the Judean Desert in AD 73. I recently gave a lecture on this which fired my interest even more. The novel is gothic but is based within a historical framework as it moves from the reign of Augustus through that of Tiberius and the mad man Caligula. A haunting, gripping, truly terrifying story played out against a vivid panorama of legions massacred in a forest, the decadent luxury of the Imperial Court, battles on the sea and elsewhere, the luxurious villas of the rich and the hideous mines and haunted tombs of the Egyptian desert. I will tell you more about this next time, when once again my mind will turn to devious plots. I do hope you are all well. I truly appreciate your support. I wish you and yours every happiness and all the best for the New Year.
Kindest regards,
Dr P.C. Doherty OBE

 

“The Chalice is cracked…”

To All My Readers,

Please accept my profuse apologies for the silence over the last few months.  As you know, by night I plot the most horrid murders, usually based in medieval London; by day I am a Headteacher of a large high school in Woodford Green. Recently, I was approached by the local education authority and asked to take over the running of a Jewish comprehensive, King Solomon in Barkingside. I admit managing two schools at the same time is quite a challenge!  The Jewish community has given me a very warm and supportive welcome, not to mention a few ideas for future projects. I plan to give a lecture soon on the siege of Masada, the ancient fortification in southern Israel.

ROSEBLOOD, my novel about the gangs of medieval London on the eve of the Wars of the Roses, is now out in paperback.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing this and I am now working on its sequel, ROSEWOLF.  I love the period. I remember when I was at Oxford and disagreed with certain professors because, in my view, the great nobles of the 15th Century, the men of war, were not so much political or constitutional figures, but had much more in common with Cosa Nostra, the Mafia.  In both cultures, the leaders openly practised religion, patronised the church, looked after each other yet waged bloody and gruesome war against their opponents and anyone else who betrayed them.  Above all the blood feud dominated.  Take de Vere, Earl of Oxford and Henry VII’s general at the battle of Bosworth in 1485.  Edward the IV and his Yorkist captains always viewed de Vere as a real danger to their house and clan.  Edward IV tried to buy his loyalty but de Vere’s reply was worthy of any Mafioso: “You killed my father and I am going to kill you.” He fulfilled his vow. My series explores this gang culture, both amongst the great lords as well as the ordinary citizens of London.  In ROSEBLOOD, I describe the first battle of St Albans where the Yorkists were absolutely determined to break into the town and wipe out virtually every Lancastrian leader.  They almost did.  Marvellous stirring times!

Also coming out this autumn is the next in the Athelstan series, THE BOOK OF FIRES, where I make use of Mark the Greek’s Book of Fires (a genuine document) to plot murder and mayhem in the fragrant gardens, as well as the stinking alleyways of 14th Century London.  The Peasant’s Revolt, the Great Rebellion of 1381, is now imminent.   To quote a medieval phrase, “The chalice is cracked and the wine of life is fast draining into the dirt.”  My next Athelstan novel, THE HERALD OF HELL, actually ends with the news that the great black and scarlet banners have been raised and the Upright Men of Kent and Essex are flooding south….

The Great Revolt of May-June 1381 now dominates Athelstan’s life because it truly was one of the most momentous summers in English history.  For a few days London and the kingdom teetered on the brink.  The Crown itself fell under grave threat.  Of course, there had been violent battles in the past, and there would be more in the future, which would lead to a change in both dynasty and king.    What is remarkable about the revolt of 1381 is that the rebels, or at least some of them, were not just intent on toppling a government, they dreamed of a radical change of society.  If the likes of John Ball had his way, there would be no king, lord or prelate.  In my view, the Peasant’s Revolt was one of the great ‘people’ movements in human history.  In the end, it is highly ironic that it was defeated by a mere child.

I explore this revolutionary theme in THE BOOK OF FIRES and, I hope, create the real threat the peasants posed with both new weapons and old.  Gunpowder and cannon were beginning to make a serious impact on warfare but, even here, the long bow still ruled the roost.  The English archer, whether he was loosing a fire arrow or not, remained a most formidable soldier. A master bowman could loose 6 shafts in a minute.  Can you imagine what a thousand archers could achieve, an effect almost similar to that of a machine gun?  Now the real danger for the likes of John of Gaunt were that these bowmen were not skilled mercenaries like the Genoese crossbowmen hired by the princes of Europe, no, the longbow men were simple English peasants, farmers, ploughmen, carters, ditch-diggers who, in the twinkling of an eye and under the right command, could emerge as one the most effective fighting forces in the history of warfare.  THE BOOK OF FIRES portrays all this but it’s also a journey which will take you down pitch-black alleyways, treacherous runnels and dangerous coffin tracks. Along these haunted, forbidding paths lurks a killer with a penchant for murder second to none. I do hope all my readers enjoy it as much as I did, writing the book.

I have also turned my hand to writing some ghost stories set in different backgrounds: Ancient Egypt, Classical Rome and Medieval England.  I do plan to bring these out very shortly.  Sometimes, when in London I catch faint glimpses of the medieval city I have come to know so well.  Cheapside has gone, Smithfield may not be the hurly burly meadow it once was but the shadows and the ghosts still lurk there as they do along the ancient lanes and pilgrim paths of the countryside.  I am eager to tread these again!

Anyway, I hope you all had a lovely restful summer and let’s raise a glass to the fascinating times ahead – at least in fiction!

Kindest regards to you all,

Paul Doherty OBE

 

 

Chronicles of the Crypt

At the end of October is Halloween, the Feast of All Hallows, when mediaeval man believed ghosts thronged the lanes and trackways of merry England.

“The Dead do speak to the Living,” this mediaeval saying expresses what men such as Chaucer, the Black Prince or Richard II considered to be that very thin line between this life and the world to come. In the medieval era, devotion to the dead was powerful. All the great churches, and indeed many small ones, had chantry chapels so priests could pray for the dead. Mediaeval man believed, I would say correctly, that once the soul left the body it began a long journey. Prayers, Masses, candlelight, alms giving and other good works assisted the soul in its journey which theologians described as the great pilgrimage to God. Of course this journey, like any pilgrimage on earth, had its dangers; demons and the souls of the wicked prowled like starving wolves eager to seize a victim. Defence against the Power of Hell was something to consider even with the practical arrangements of burial. The Lords of the Soil like to be buried within the church, close to the high altar where Mass celebrated every day would afford the protection whilst internment, garbed in the robes of a Franciscan or Dominican, proved to be spiritual armour against demonic onslaught. Patron Saints would also be cultivated so that the Great and Good of the heavenly court could afford you protection. Cemeteries were not just “bone yards,” a graveyard was God’s Acre, hallowed and sacred ground where both your body and soul could rest in peace. God help you if you died excommunicated from the church or committed suicide. If the latter, burial would have to take place at a cross roads with a stake driven Chronicles of the Cryptthrough your heart. Cross roads were haunted places and places to avoid. Excommunication carried equally dire sanctions. Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex and the devastator of abbeys and monasteries in the eastern shires, died un-reconciled to the church. The bishops of England decreed that he could not be buried in consecrated ground. Nobody would help the de Mandeville family except for the newly established Order of the Templars. They accepted de Mandeville’s coffined corpse into their churchyard near the Strand in London. They obeyed Holy Mother Church and did not give de Mandeville burial in holy ground; instead they hung his coffin in chains from the branches of an ancient yew tree in God’s Acre.
Naturally, with such a vivid interest in the afterlife, the mediaeval mind truly believed in ghosts, those souls who did not want to begin their journey but stayed to interfere in the affairs of men. This was particularly true of the ghosts of those who had either done great evil or had been the victim of murder. Evidence of this is seen in many of Shakespeare’s plays such as ‘Julius Caesar,’ ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Hamlet’ where the appearance of a ghost lies at the heart of the action.
At the end of October is Halloween, the Feast of All Hallows, when mediaeval man believed ghosts thronged the lanes and trackways of merry England. After the sun had set and dusk was settling and the vespers bell had rung, the hour of the bat arrived when the spirits walked. To commemorate this I shall, this October, be publishing in e-book format, a number of original mediaeval ghost stories. I do hope you enjoy them. Let me hasten to add that I am still continuing with my novels. THE LAST OF DAYS was a great success (thanks to you). I have now submitted ROSEBLOOD to Headline, a novel set in London describing the gang politics of the city in 1455 as England drifted rapidly towards civil war and all the bloody strife of the Wars of the Roses, that hideous fight to the death between the Houses of York and Lancaster. I have also submitted a new Athelstan to Severn House, CANDLEFLAME, I do hope you enjoy it. Another in the series, THE BOOK OF FIRES is in preparation. Once I have finished that, I may turn to more short stories on the theme of reincarnation. Believe me there are times when I am certain that I once lived in the Middle Ages…….
In the meantime, I do hope you all had a pleasant summer. May your reading continue to be mysterious, murderous and mediaeval!
Kindest regards,

Dr. Paul Doherty OBE