12 May 2016

The Medieval Man and the Post-Truth Elections

As the election cycle gets crazier, I’ve been thinking a lot about Simon de Montford.

Simon de Montford memorial at Haymarket
Clock Tower, Leicester
Hasn’t everyone?

Simon, Earl of Leicester (yes, the English city that recently won the UK Premier League championship), was a charismatic malcontent who almost became king—and who inspired Alain, my romantic hero/spy from Art of Love

Born in 1208, Simon was the third of four sons and couldn’t expect an inheritance. The medieval world could be as harsh to younger sons as it was to women, and he knew he would have to make his own success.

And he did.

The death of two brothers and an agreement with the third brought him to England on the thin hope he could win back the Leicester lands, which had been given to Ranulf of Chester (a fascinating character in his own right).

He made friends with the king, always a good move, but was not what anyone would call a suck-up. He married the king’s widowed sister in secret (probably with the king’s grudging permission after he had already seduced her), identified early with reform movements (the Provisions of Oxford) that increased baronial power at the king’s expense, and eventually led an armed rebellion against Henry III.

Although he is called the father of the House of Commons, Simon may or may not have been the populist history proclaimed him. He believed royal power needed to be checked—and sometimes opposed—by he and his peers but that’s not the same as giving political voice to serfs and merchants (and isn’t that the heart of this coming election? The need for us “peasants” to have more of a voice in national decisions.)

The hero of ART OF LOVE precedes Simon by almost a century, but carries many of his ideals. Also a younger son (fourth of four), Alain is determined to chart his own path to power and security through service to the king. At the same time, he says gender and birth order—not God—makes a king, a treasonous and heretical notion in the 12th century.

But the first step to limiting a king’s power is to challenge the notion of divine right. And again, isn’t the first step to limiting the power of our government the challenge to the idea that they know best?


28 April 2016

Paris at any time

Paris doesn’t sell.

I’ve heard that statement quoted with the fervor of the newly converted and the weariness of the ancient cynic since I first decided I wanted to write. So me being me, I set my one of my favorite books, ART OF LOVE, in Paris.

But from my perspective from a small coffee shop on the rue Voltaire, there was no reason Paris shouldn’t sell. It’s a fabulous city charmed by and history to be a historical romance writer’s nirvana.

And for better or worse, the hero that came to me while I meandered the winding, medieval streets was a Scotsman. I was so excited about Alain of Huntly Wood that I couldn’t not write his story even if it did take place in Paris and even if Paris is the kiss of death for a romance.

But Alain’s story is intricately bound to Paris of the 12th century and the exciting, overcrowded and malodorous Latin Quarter. If set in London or Edinburgh or even the absolute gorgeous landscape between Inverness and Thurso, Alain’s story would be a different tale entirely—and a much less satisfying one—because in ART OF LOVE, Paris is not “wallpaper” but a thriving character in its own right.

So my questions to you, the readers:
·      Do you notice setting at all?  If so, how much? If not, why not?
·      Do you want “place” to be as active and interesting a character in the story as the hero and heroine or are you happy with “wallpaper” settings?
·      Do you read stories set in your favorite places or those on your wish list?

15 December 2015

I’m often asked what medieval Christmases were like, which is a hard question to answer. Just as Christmas celebrations in 1815 were very different than our present-day festivities, the holidays in 953 vs. 1153 vs. 1353 were just different from each other. Early Christmas celebrations were marked by piety, prayer, and religious services. By the 10th century, Dec. 25th had become known as Christes Maesse. Feasting and gift giving were established customs, but our medieval counterparts still attended three masses on Christmas day.

And though the birth of a child was at the center of celebrations, children were not focus of holiday festivities as they are now.

In fact, aside from the rare “boy bishop,” children were seldom the center of anything medieval, leading many some historians to speculate that “childhood” didn’t exist in the Middle Ages and medieval parents didn’t bond with their children until they were fairly certain the child would reach adulthood.

The conclusion is not without merit. Estimates for child mortality rates in the Middle Ages are between 30 percent and 50 percent (compared to 4.38 percent in 2015 in the UK).  Additionally, some historians postulate the high rate of infant mortality was indicative of a lack of interest in a child’s welfare, the parents’ inability to provide proper care, or out-and-out infanticide.

One example often cited to support this theory about lack of interest is the statement made by William Marshal’s father made when he broke his treaty with King Stephen. William Marshal was a hostage in the king's court to guarantee the elder Marshal’s good behavior. “Do with him what you will,” the father allegedly said when reminded that his actions endangered his son. That Stephan didn’t hang the boy was considered a failing by his nobles.

But this example tells us more about the Marshal than it does about medieval childrearing. If parents didn’t care for their children, using a child as hostage to make parents behave is pointless. In fact, when Henry I (King Stephen’s predecessor) allowed his two granddaughters to be mutilated in a hostage situation, his daughter Juliane drew a crossbow and attempted to assassinate her father in revenge. (Does that sound like a mother who doesn’t care about her daughters?)

But I digress (a common habit). Getting back to Christmas celebrations... Children and adults received presents on 12th Night—the Feast of the Three Kings—in honor of the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to Jesus. By the end of the Middle Ages, Protestants removed the saints' days from the calendar and our gift-giving tradition moved to Christmas.

Not to ignore 2000 years of tradition, I will give away a copy of ANAM CARA to one commentator on this post between now and Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas.

Keena Kincaid writes historical romances in which passion, magic and treachery collide to create unforgettable stories. You can find out more about her books at: http://prairierosepublications.com