NEWSLETTER MAY 2024

My Dear gentle reader

I do apologise for not writing earlier.  I presume that you are still interested in receiving a newsletter from me.  If I have presumed wrongly, then I apologise and will remove your name from the mailing list, should you wish.

Life has certainly been very busy in my other incarnation as a Headmaster of a large comprehensive school on the borders of east London.  Sometimes I draw gentle amusement from the paradox.  Here am I who, during the day, works as a catholic headmaster, whilst at night I plot the most devious, blood splattered murders.  I enter the murky world of Whitefriars, a close spectator of all those colourful characters who swarmed through London in the fourteenth century.  I have just despatched the latest Athelstan to my publisher.  Thanks be to God, they have accepted it for publication.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.  I think it’s full of twists and turns as Brother Athelstan and Sir John Cranston deal with the legacy of ancient sin.  London in the late 1380’s had become the home ground of the great English Lords who had eventually been driven out of France.  During the English presence there, the most savage fighting took place.  Little mercy was shown.  One example will suffice.  Edward the Black Prince, son of the warlike Edward III, proved to be as great a killer as his father.  He lay siege to Limoges.  The defenders thought they could allow non combatants out of the city and that the Black Prince would let them pass safely through English lines.  He did not.  He penned these unfortunates between his camp and the city walls and basically let them starve.  A modern commentator maintained that the English presence, particularly in Normandy between 1337 and 1440 was even more hideous than that of the Nazis during the Second World War.  Heinous crimes were committed and these ancient, unforgotten sins, cried to heaven for vengeance and justice.   Cranston and Athelstan have to confront this challenge as well as murderous mischief in Athelstan’s home parish of St. Erconwald’s in Southwark.

Now, on to Corbett.  Sir Hugh has been very busy dealing with the aftermath of the judicial murder of Peter Gaveston, Edward II’s ‘beloved brother’: a royal favourite, whose life and death defined the life of his royal master Edward II.  Gaveston was executed at Blacklow Hill in 1312.  Edward never forgot or forgave the indignities heaped upon his favourite by the great barons led by the King’s cousin, Earl Thomas of Lancaster.  Edward was so infatuated with Gaveston that he had his favourite’s corpse mummified and refused to have it buried until ordered to do so by the church.

If Edward’s barons were troublesome, the city of London was even more so.  The great city merchants dreamed dreams of London evolving into a great independent city state like those of Northern Italy such as Milan and Genoa.  Corbett has to confront such ambitions with their  direct challenge to the power of the Crown.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing both novels.  I only hope that you enjoy their reading.  I am now writing a new Corbett which covers the sinister intrigue of the dissolution of the Templar Order and the vicious in-fighting at the court of Philip IV of France.  I am pleased with the way things are going and I just hope the story blossoms and takes you my readers back to those hurling times.

Now and again, I am tempted to take a break from writing medieval mysteries to explore a theme which has always fascinated me.  Life after Death.  The journey of souls and the possibility of reincarnation.  I have sketched out a possible plot for a book entitled ‘The man who spoke to Ghosts’.  It is about a nineteenth century catholic priest who can clearly see ghosts and enters their world.  Perhaps one day…..

Anyway, I hope you are all well.  If it’s any comfort, the summer of 2024 is very similar to that of 1316!  Rain, rain, rain!  There must be a break in it soon.  I do hope so.

Pax et Bonum to you all.

My kindest regards,

 

Paul Doherty

 

NEWSLETTER JANUARY 2022

To all my readers,

Every happiness and success for the New Year and beyond.  I do hope you and your families are well and not too blighted by the dreaded Covid.  I am on holiday at the moment from my day job as a headteacher but I have been fairly busy writing.  There is a new Athelstan coming out later in the Spring “The Hanging Tree”.  When I was devising the plot I kept thinking of Chaucer’s much quoted phrase, “the love of riches is the root of all evil”.  Chaucer then brilliantly develops this in his “The Pardoners Tale”.

During the Middle Ages, there was no cyber crime but where there was wealth, there was certainly mischief.  The royal household had their own guardians to protect costly items and every king wanted an arca, a fortified strongroom to hoard and protect their wealth.  Nevertheless, despite their best efforts, the lure of easy pickings attracted those who lived in the twilight world; the slums of Whitefriars, or those lurking in the kennels of Southward just across the Thames.  Edward I had a brilliant idea to store his wealth in the crypt at Westminster Abbey.  I have been there, basically an underground cavern.  You go down a spiral staircase with a massive gap which could only be spanned by a portable bridge.  Nevertheless in 1305, a group of enterprising ruffians broke in and stole the crown jewels!  ‘The Hanging Tree’ I hope, more than illustrates that where there’s wealth, there’s mischief, often murderous.  John of Gaunt, self-styled regent of the Kingdom during the minority of his nephew, has amassed silver coin to pay off the Crown’s debts (in truth really his).  He stores this in an arca which is guarded by two heavy doors, a steep spiral staircase, trip cords, entry and departure being governed by the sounding of a bell.  The treasure is still taken.

Other mischief is being perpetrated in London.  The Guild of Hangmen, who have just finished a frenetic spate of business after the Peasant’s Revolt, are finding themselves in great danger.  Members of the guild are found stripped naked with a knife thrust to the heart, their corpses thrown on some city dung heap.  Cranston and Athelstan are summoned to investigate this wrong doing and they enter a world of murderous mayhem, greed and violence.

I finished that some months ago and am now working on a new Corbett novel.  This time our Keeper of the Secret Seal is despatched to St. Michaels Abbey in Berkshire where a beautiful diamond, ‘The Glory of Heaven, venerated by all has been stolen.  The Novel is set in 1312, a truly hurling time in English history.  Edward II is deeply infatuated with his gascon favourite Peter Gaveston.  Across the Narrow Seas, Philip of France, who has destroyed the Templar Order, dreams his dreams of empire rejoicing in the fact that his daughter Isabella, married to Edward II, is expecting her first child.  Philip prays that it’s a boy, that he will have a grandson who will wear the English Crown and sit on the Confessor’s throne at Westminster.  All in all, these are murderous tales, set in the glorious yet grotesque world of the Middle Ages.

My third series featuring Margaret Beaufort has reached its third tale, ‘Dark Queen Watching’.  This received a star review from Publishers Weekly and I do recommend it to all my readers.

Anyway, I thought it best to send you a few lines.

Once again, my best regards to you and yours.

Happy reading!

Paul Doherty

NEWSLETTER JULY 2021

Dear Gentle Reader,

I hope this newsletter finds you well as we hopefully approach the general easing of the Covid restrictions.  I certainly won’t weep to see them go.  It’s been rather tough hasn’t it?  As you may know, I am headmaster of a large comprehensive school and it has been trying.  We virtually had to run the GCSE and A Levels ourselves and this created a vast amount of hard work.  Of course, the people I really feel for are the students.  Anyway, the sun is breaking through and perhaps we may have a good summer.

My next Hugh Corbett book ‘Mother Midnight’ has now been published.  I do recommend it, I thoroughly enjoyed writing it and the themes it develops be it slavery or the gangs of London.  These gangs, or rifflers as they were called, were a common feature and they are certainly not the creation of my imagination.  The gang system in London was a powerful, political force.  One example of this may well suffice.  In September 1326, Isabella the estranged wife of Edward II, invaded England along with her lover Roger Mortimer and other refugees from Edward’s oppression.  Mortimer had very powerful friends in London.  Merchants, aldermen, who could whistle up their gangs and, on this occasion, they certainly did.  The uprising was so swift and so dangerous, it caught the authorities on the hop.  Walter Stapleton, Bishop of Exeter and treasurer of the Kingdom (the equivalent of our Chancellor of the Exchequer) was glimpsed riding by St. Pauls with a military escort of two squires.  A gang trapped and killed him.  They also slaughtered his squires.  Not satisfied with murder, the rifflers degraded Stapleton even more.  They cut off his head and sent it as a gift to Isabella, who had the sense not to accept it.  Another feature of my novels is sometimes the summary nature of justice.  To quote the old saying ‘crime at eight, caught at nine, hanged at ten’.  Again this is not a figment of my imagination.  Indeed, it was enshrined in a legal principle of ‘infangenthef’ which is summary justice carried out on a felon caught red-handed.  For example, 2nd February 1337, John White of Cambridge was put on trial for breaking into a shop by night.  He was immediately tried before a jury, found guilty and hanged.  Justice was certainly swift.  The great lords were no exception to this.  During the Wars of the Roses, execution of leaders following their defeat was both immediate and commonplace as at Tewkesbury in 1471 when the market place there ran with blood.

At the moment I am busy with a new Athelstan novel, ‘The Hanging Tree’.  I do enjoy developing plot lines and doing my very best to create something unique and original in each novel.  The Hanging Tree, I hope, proves this and centres around a great robbery at Westminster where treasury is taken from a fortified chamber with reinforced doors and no sign of how the thieves could enter and leave carrying such a heavy load and how the five clerks who were appointed to manage and defend the treasure were found garrotted in their chairs.  I do look forward to resolving this and to sharing the mystery with you.

I hope this newsletter finds you and yours well.

Take care.  Happy reading.

My best regards,

Paul Doherty.

NEWSLETTER MAY 2021

Pax et Bonum to all my gentle readers.

I do hope this finds you and yours in the best of health despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  Covid-19 reminds me of the Great Mortality of 1348 though of course the bubonic plague was even nastier.  Plagues in history have always fascinated me.  Quirks like there was a great plague in 1720, another in 1820 and the more recent Spanish Flu in 1920.  Some historians argue that humanity’s last great war will be between us, or rather our descendants, and some truly hideous virus.  The pessimist claim we will lose.  However, I am a Christian and I believe in the Resurrection and I trust that in the end God will have his way.  My fascination for plagues was a theme of a novel that I wrote many years ago, called “The Plague Lord” based around the life and adventures of Marco Polo.  The novel is not just historical but a foray into the intervention of the devil in human history and its manifestation in some great plague brought from China to the West.  I am sorry if this sounds rather dark and sinister but we are all children of what we read!  I loved Milton’s depiction of hell in “Paradise Lost” whilst Dante also makes a most powerful contribution.  Of course if you really what to be frightened, study the writings of the great Celtic saints and the visions they claim to have had.  Medieval versions of the Hell-Fire sermons!

I have two novels in for publication, “Dark Queen Watching” is the third in the Margaret Beaufort series and is due out later this year.  Margaret still faces deadly challenges and sinister confrontations.  I bring into this novel ‘The Garduna’, a guild of specialist assassins who were in fact not wiped out until the 1820’s.  I enjoyed writing it.  I think it’s one of the most ‘Gothic’ in the series.

Hugh Corbett, of course, will also emerge to confront Mother Midnight, a truly dark soul.  We have many reports today of modern slavery, of young women particularly, being brutally sold like some commodity.  Of course wickedness is never new and the slave trade in the medieval period was as rife and as prosperous as it is today.

At the moment I am working on a new Athelstan “The Gallows Tree” and this centres around a great robbery and an almost impossible murder.  The low life of London emerges.  I love writing about them.  Such characters very rarely appear in the light.  They make their emergence in the record of trials, be it Westminster, the Guild Hall, the great commissions of Oyer et Terminer and gaol delivery.  Such creatures of the night have strange names like Thomas the Toad, or Norbert No Nose.  They have all seen the inside of Newgate or the Fleet, quite a few of them being hanged only to be cut down by their friends in the nick of time and revived to robust health for more mischief.  Apparently, such escapes from hanging became so common it led to the introduction of that sombre phrase “you will be hanged until you are dead”.  The medieval underworld was a truly gothic, highly colourful scene: the ‘utlegati’ had the cheek of the devil and, to quote scripture, “feared neither God nor man.”  I mean for sheer impudence how can you get a relic-seller claiming to have the severed head of John the Baptist when indeed he had six!  Of course there were other popular scams such as the disabled beggar who hid behind crude make-up, false limbs but in fact was as hale and hearty as any spring hare.  I have one small problem; I am not too sure where to send Hugh Corbett on his next venture.  I would certainly appreciate suggestions.  One thing I have noticed about my novels is that the sea is playing an increasingly important role, be it the Channel, the North Sea or the great surge of the western approaches.  I suppose this is a reflection of medieval life.  Every revolution in medieval England originated in some landing from the sea.  William the Conqueror in 1066, Isabella and Mortimer in 1326, Henry the IV in 1399, the different landings of Edward IV and his brothers and, of course, Henry Tudor’s dramatic invasion of 1485.

On a personal note, I do hope you have escaped Covid-19 and had your vaccine.  I did have the dreaded disease, but, thank God, I got off lightly whilst I have had my two jabs of Pfizer.

Many thanks to those readers who wrote to me.

Keep reading, keep safe and keep close to those you love.

My best regards to you and yours.

Paul Doherty OBE

Newsletter March 2021

Pax et Bonum to all my readers.
I do apologise for the long break in service but let me explain….
My darling wife Carla died in December 2016 and that really threw me. I intended to restore the newsletter but of course COVID-19 hit us. I am a Head Teacher of a large mixed comprehensive school in East London so you can imagine I had my work really cut out for me. It would seem that matters are beginning to improve slowly. My school opens on Monday 8th March and we will get back to some sort of normalcy. I did keep my hand in when it comes to writing, in fact I found it both a relief and a very powerful distraction from ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune’.
The Corbett series continues to flourish. Sir Hugh has been very busy, be it on the Welsh March or the edges of Dartmoor (‘Death’s Dark Valley’ and ‘Hymn to Murder’). I think my novels have become darker. Sir Hugh is emerging as a man who cannot be corrupted but has become increasingly ruthless in dealing with those who break the King’s peace in any way. I don’t think this is inaccurate. Royal justiciars were greatly feared and their powers were wide sweeping. Both of the above novels end in fairly violent circumstances. Sir Hugh hunts the murderer then shows no mercy to the sons and daughters of Cain whom he traps in their sin. I thoroughly enjoyed writing both novels and I have recently submitted another, ‘Mother Midnight’. Again I think this is darker, perhaps more sombre and certainly brutal in its climax. However, Corbett is dealing with real evil, the kidnap and the abuse of young women. He has every compassion for the victims but the novel has a fairly ruthless, searing conclusion for the dark-dwellers.
Brother Athelstan is also prospering. The Great Revolt is over. Athelstan’s parishioners may have escaped the repression which followed that revolt. However, although they are Athelstan’s flock, not all of them are the lambs they appear to be. Many of the men in Athelstan’s parish fought abroad in England’s national hobby of invading France and sacking its cities for plunder. The war in France was particularly brutal and those who fought there came back with all sorts of secrets. ‘The Godless’ explores this theme and develops the line that all-out war in France afforded the psychopath/serial-killer with every opportunity to satisfy his murderous inclinations. Of course no sin escapes justice and ‘The Godless’ emphasises how the mills of God may grind exceedingly slow but they do grind exceedingly small. Indeed, a number of my novels explore the possibility of the serial-killer. I do not believe this is just a phenomenon of our modern age. Computers are, and they have been, vital in establishing a pattern of murder across a specific region or nation. I do maintain these same killers prowled the mediaeval world. Can you imagine such a stealthy assassin moving from village to village under the guise of a journeyman, a pilgrim or even a priest? As we drive across the lonely fields and desolate copses of Essex, I do wonder how many secrets that haunted landscape houses! The most recent Athelstan novel ‘The Stone of Destiny’ also explores the world of the assassin but it revolves around a sacred icon of Scottish nationalism, the Stone of Scone, on which Scottish King’s would stand when they were crowned. In his wars against the scots Edward I seized it and sent it south to Westminster Abbey. The stone had a remarkable history and it also serves as a connection between ourselves and the parish of St. Erconwald in the last few months of 1381.
I have also started a new series based on the life of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and mother of King Henry VII of England. I have always been fascinated by her. A most remarkable woman, a scholar as well as a truly cunning and resolute politician. Margaret, daughter of John Beaufort first Duke of Somerset, was married to Edmund Tudor, (hence Henry) and then Sir Henry Stafford and lastly Lord Thomas Stanley. She was a patron of the arts and provided Oxford and Cambridge with the most generous endowments. She also proved to be the dark nemesis of the House of York. Let me explain. In the early summer of 1471, Edward of York, together with his brothers Richard of Gloucester and George of Clarence totally annihilated the armies of Lancaster at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. Edward’s victory was complete. The only real survivor of the House of Lancaster was Margaret Beaufort’s son Henry Tudor. In 1471, matters looked very dire for Henry, who had been forced to shelter in Brittany. However, within fourteen years the power of York was severely weakened and eventually destroyed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The years preceding this saw the House of York slowly disintegrate. I believe this was no accident or mere chance. Someone deep in the shadows lured York into one trap after another. I believe this was Margaret Beaufort. Ever so shy, ever so courteous, ever so mild, yet in truth a superb politician who weakened her opponents and provided her son with the opportunity to seize the crown. ‘Dark Queen Rising’, Dark Queen Waiting’ and ‘Dark Queen Watching’ chronicles Margaret Beaufort’s total commitment to the utter destruction of her enemies and the exaltation of her own beloved son. Margaret, of course, has the help of two redoubtable henchmen (real historical characters) Reginald Bray her steward and Christopher Urswicke her chancery clerk. Urswicke in particular is most skilled, in fact he is credited as one of the founders of the English Secret Service. I do urge you to read this new series, I am sure you will find it most enjoyable. For the rest, I have ideas about another Corbett and plans for a fresh venture by Brother Athelstan. However, I am also attracted to the possibility of writing a book about a man who speaks to ghosts, but perhaps that is a matter for the next newsletter.
I do hope you and your families are well. Stay happy, stay safe and, if you’re ever in London, give me a buzz. When this nonsense is over it would be lovely to sit in an English tavern and toast the ghosts who gather around us.
Happy reading.
My best regards to you and yours.
Paul

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