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

Newsletter July 2018

Greetings to all my readers both at home and abroad. My deepest apologies for not being in touch sooner, but its been a very hectic year in education and there has been a gap in my novels published by both Severn House and Hodder Headline.

My last Athelstan novel “the Mansions of Murder,” was about the rifflers, the great gangs which could, and did, terrify the living daylights out of Medieval London. One chronicler called them, “The many headed beast.” What made the situation even more dangerous was that the great lords and the powerful men of the city, were not above using the London mob for their own nefarious ends.

I have submitted another Athelstan novel, “The Godless.” My publishers at Severn House are delighted with it. This time Athelstan has to confront and deal with serious sins and cruel crimes from the past. Edward III and his son the Black Prince led their armies into France and, for many English soldiers it was open season when it came to plunder, taking ransoms and ransacking castles, towns, churches or whatever was at hand. A flow of wealth from France to England made many a family’s fortune. However, such abominations do not go away. They lurk in the darkest recesses then spring like a trap as the past catches up with those responsible for unatoned sins. In “The Godless” Athelstan and Cranston become more than aware of these ancient blood-reeking crimes as well the existence of a most sinister serial killer, the Oriflamme who committed hideous acts along the banks of the river Seine in Normandy and has now appeared in London sowing a fresh harvest of murder along the Thames.

My most recent novel published at the end of June marks a change. “Dark Queen Rising” is about Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII and, in my view, the real founder of the Tudor dynasty. In 1471, as the opening of my novel describes, the fortunes of Tudor and the House of Lancaster were completely shattered by the great Yorkist victory at Tewksbury. This violent battle brought down most of the leading Lancastrians whilst Henry Tudor could only save himself by fleeing abroad. Margaret, however, does not give up her dream of making her son king. Despite the opposition of the charismatic Edward of York, his warlike brother Richard of Gloucester and the deep, twisted cunning of George Clarence, Margaret will plot until the Wheel of Fortune is given another spin. Clarence proves to be a most vicious enemy. He sees his struggle with Margaret as a fight to the death and Margaret responds in kind. Clarence can call on all the power of the crown and the support of his warlike brothers. Margaret has to depend on faithful clerks, men such as Reginald Bray and, above all Christopher Urswicke. Margaret’s greatest weapon however, are her own keen brain and very sharp wits. Margaret, in my novel as she was in real life, is depicted as a most redoubtable woman. A patron of the arts (she founded colleges at Cambridge), a very shrewd administrator and, in the last resort, the most skilful intriguer. Margaret with the help of Urswicke intends to bring the House of York to destruction and the true claims of her own son, recognised and accepted. In the main, the novel is presented from the viewpoint of Urswicke, a true henchman of his mistress and as cunning and ruthless as her. Urswicke in fact fully deserves his reputation of being the founder of the English Secret Service…….

I do hope you enjoy all these books. At the moment I am working on a new Corbett, “The Valley of Shadows,” where Corbett is imprisoned in a snow-bound abbey fortress…. But more of that next time! Until then, happy reading.

My kindest regards to you all,

Paul Doherty OBE

Newsletter September 2017

Dear Friend,

I hope this newsletter finds you well and that you and yours had a most enjoyable summer.  I am looking forward to the publication of a new Athelstan novel ‘The Mansions of Murder’ (Severn House) as well as the “Devil’s Wolf” (Hodder Headline).  Both books should be on the market by December. ‘The Mansions of Murder’ will lead you into the truly, hellish life of medieval London.  It has already received excellent reviews and I am pleased to copy one from Kirkus: it reads as follows:

“A Dominican friar well-versed in puzzles must solve a locked-room murder.John of Gaunt has managed to quell the rebellion of 1381, and his nephew Richard II sits upon a throne coveted by many noble lords. As London seethes with revolutionaries, thieves, whores, and murderers, Martha, the housekeeper of St. Benet’s, finds the doors of the ancient church locked from the inside. Breaking in, the curate and others find both the priest and a retainer of the powerful Lord of Arundel stabbed to death, a large amount of coin missing, and the corpse of Simon Makepeace’s mother. Makepeace, a vicious murderer known as the Flesher, who heads the worst gang in London, is furious about the double loss of his mother and his gold, which was kept hidden in the church. Back in his own parish, Brother Athelstan is informed by his housekeeper, Benedicta, of her own strange discovery: the embalmed bodies of the husband and son of Margo, a recently deceased widow, seated at a table in the hidden cellar of her cottage. Athelstan, who’s long helped powerful coroner Sir John Cranston solve crimes (The Herald of Hell, 2016, etc.), joins him now to solve the locked-church murder. They soon realize that the two mysterious discoveries are related by more than mystery. Margo’s family were archers who had served with Sir John on a special mission to claim the Rose Casket and its contents of precious stones known as the Twelve Apostles as reparations from France. Their vessel was attacked, probably by the Flesher, and sunk, and the great treasure vanished, though rumors of its reappearance abound. Both Sir John’s and Athelstan’s skills are stretched to the limit as they work to solve several crimes, recover the treasure, and somehow bring down the powerful Flesher. A clever mystery neatly woven into a historically accurate rendering of life in a truly hellish London.”

I described “Devil’s Wolf” in my last newsletter. Sir Hugh Corbett is busy along the Scottish March and is caught up in the horrifying war between the English Crown and the House of Bruce.  It’s a change of location for Corbett but life is still very dangerous. Murder and treachery certainly walk the lonely moors of Northumberland as they do the dingy streets of medieval London.  At present I am working on a completely new novel “Dark Queen Rising”.  I have always been fascinated by the way Nemesis stalked the House of York between 1471 and 1485.  In 1471 Edward of York and his family emerged totally victorious from the vicious struggle now known as the War of the Roses and yet 14 years later, everything collapsed.  I have always thought some dark genius plotted this downfall and I couldn’t think of a more suitable person than the highly intelligent and very subtle Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and mother of the future Henry VII.  In my view, Margaret Beaufort plotted against York with a sole aim of ensuring her son succeeded to the English Crown.  In this she was most ably assisted by two trusted clerks, Reginald Bray and Christopher Urswicke, some people regard the latter as the founder of the English Secret Service.  I thoroughly enjoyed researching this book and then writing it.  Margaret Beaufort is a truly fascinating woman and I do hope that this first novel in a series (“Dark Queen Rising”) proves to be successful.  Anyway, I will keep you posted. Until then happy reading!

Kindest regards to you and yours,

Paul Doherty OBE

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