Blog

Welcome Home

I lay awake feeling the cold air swirl around my bed. The sweat, though my skin was ice cold, prickled my entire body. Something – or someone – was calling me; a soft, gentle child-like voice full of pleading and wretchedness. I sat up and looked around me. There was no one there. The moon illuminated my room, casting its light through the large balcony windows. It was just as it always was as my eyes swept cautiously around the walls. The wall paper still wore the same complicated patterns of flowers swirling around the walls and the dark mahogany furniture stood like sentinels in the dark. The heavy velvet curtains blew with the wind that forced its way in the cracks in the worn window frames. Nothing had changed, and yet – there was this ice coldness that filled my room and I was overcome with an intense feeling of fear.
“Clara,” whispered the sweet gentle voice again and I groaned. “Clara, come, come to me.”
I put my head in my hands. No, this cannot be. My mind was racing and I felt myself shudder. The voice… it was familiar.
“Clara…”
“Who is it?” I cried out. “Where are you? Are you in the wardrobe?”
With a sudden feeling of panic, I remembered how she used to hide in there sometimes. When I came to my bed at night, she would wait until I was asleep and would frighten me half to death by calling my name out in the night, making me think there was something ghostly in my room.
“Claraaaah,” the voice called again.
“Stop it! Stop it!” I jumped out of my bed, ready to run if I had to. “You’re dead! You’re dead!”
Sarah, my older sister had been gone for months now, and I had been so traumatised by her death that I had had to be sent away to recover. They had found me by her body at the bottom of the long staircase. So I was told; the one that wound its way down from the first floor landing to the great reception hall at the bottom of the stairs. Her neck had been broken and her face was contorted as if she had seen something that had badly frightened her. I don’t remember any of it, just that I woke up one morning to be told that she was dead and I had been lying there in my bed, mutely, for days. Then I screamed and I couldn’t stop. No one knew why I was screaming, least of all me. And so it was that I was sent away to stay with my Aunt Florence in Hanley. Now I was back, my first day home since that terrible tragedy had happened in Fallowthrop Hall. I was home amongst the servants who treated me with kindness, my father whom I adored and my step mother who I tolerated for my father’s sake and all the things that made life bearable, such as my books, my paints and easel, my inkpens and writing paper. Or so I had thought.
Sarah was gone, the sister that had made my life a misery. The days of torment were dead, just as she was. Life would be peaceful now, wouldn’t it? They said she had tripped on an old wooden toy that had been left at the top of the stairs. It had been mine and I was told not to blame myself. I must have left it there accidentally. I wanted to hug that old wooden horse that I had left there on the stairs. I wouldn’t blame myself. It was an accident. But oh, how joyful I was that such an accident should have happened. Well you would understand if you had known what Sarah had done to me most of my life. Sarah had been the beloved one in the family. She was the daughter who was beautiful, kind and endearing. The daughter who made everyone feel alive. I was the plain one whom everyone overlooked for Sarah. I hated her for the things she did to me, but I loved her too. Yet, she was not gone, was she? I could hear her, smell her and feel her presence. No, she was not gone.
As I breathed deeply, I took a step toward the wardrobe. I had to see if she was still there, tormenting me like she used to. They had said that I would probably never remember what had happened that day and although I tried hard to remember, I could recall nothing.
My hand reached for the wardrobe handle. I could hear her laughing in her familiar, sweet girlish way. She had touched everyone’s hearts. I could feel her vibrancy; even in death it haunted me. I should never have come back here, I thought. Because she would never let me live here in the peace that I had so longed for. Why Sarah? Why could you have not just let me be?”
My hand was shaking as I opened the door of the wardrobe. I looked into the darkness and walked in. I couldn’t see. It was very dark. Suddenly the door closed behind me and I heard her giggling. I struggled to open the door and when I couldn’t open it I cried out to her, begging her to stop tormenting me.
Eventually the door opened and I almost fell right back into the wardrobe with the impact of it. Relieved I stepped out of it and there before me she stood, pale and wraithlike, her neck twisted horribly to one side. My breath was gone and I couldn’t scream.
“Welcome home Clara,” she said.

Paula’s People: John Fletcher, author of Cornish History

Please welcome my guest poster for today here on Paula’s People. John is a member of our facebook group Historical Writers Forum and I’ve invited him along to talk about his book on the birth of that beautiful British Province Kernow!

Hello!
My name is John, like Paula I am a writer and reenactor although we currently sit in ‘opposing’ societies dedicated to Early Medieval Reenactment. Paula has kindly let me take up some screen space to introduce myself and to also showcase a short extract from my first book, The Western Kingdom – The Birth of Cornwall. The Western Kingdom is an examination of Cornwall and the far SW of Britain during the Early Medieval period. That is, roughly between 400 and 1100 CE. For all of Britain this was a time of immense change and upheaval, but also the solidifying of national identities that we would recognise today – The English, The Scottish, The Welsh and, though often forgotten, the Cornish.

Not only does Cornwall emerge as both a political and personal identity in this period, the actions of the Cornish allow this identity to survive despite coming under the political control of Wessex. How they managed that, when so many Brythonic entities were utterly eclipsed, is a fascinating story. Below is a short extract from The Western Kingdom, discussing the exploits of King Egbert and how Cornwall came to be defined both by its people and, potentially, by the modern borders for the first time.

“In 813 the Chronicle records that he is on the offensive in one of the most infamous, for Cornwall certainly, passages in the entire recording:
‘King Egbert spread devastation in Cornwall from east to west.’
This is frequently interpreted as a campaign that took the entirety of Cornwall into his dominion, or at least it suffered from his campaign [Kirby, 1992]; however, this is difficult to square with the longer-running conflicts we’ve seen over the preceding century. Additionally, if Wessex is able to so easily dominate the entirety of Cornwall, then we would expect the conflict to end here and potentially Cornwall’s unique identity to more or less vanish, in the way that Devon’s Brythonic origins are now only vaguely remembered. Obviously neither of these things occur.
Of course, even the Chronicle doesn’t actually state he conquered the region, only that he went raiding or harrying: ‘spreading devastation’. As such, it seems necessary to seek out alternative explanations.
The most obvious interpretation, and in this case the most likely to be correct, if we start from a position of conflict in mid-to-west Devon (as highlighted earlier), is that Ecgberht finalised the conquest of Devon around this time, pushing from the region around Exeter and Crediton towards the Tamar or north towards Launceston.
This may, in this case, be the first time that Cornwall corresponds to its historic boundaries, tying its longer-standing identity into the region that modern audiences will be most familiar with. Between this and the early eighth-century identification of the Cornish as a separate people, it is not entirely without merit to suggest that Cornwall is actually the oldest of the nations that make up the United Kingdom.
While questions around Cornish nationalism are fraught with both emotional and political stakes, it is certainly true that the Cornish as a people originate from outside the English state, and in this regard have as much claim to a national identity as the Welsh or Scots. The counter-argument to this, that Cornwall was absorbed by the English state, could also be made about those two nations, albeit on very different timelines.
Certainly in the early ninth century Cornwall is being referred to, by its own people, by a name we would recognise (Cerniu) while the concept of a singular English state is still not fully formed. Even at the height of his power, Ecgberht is not ‘King of the English’ – he is instead still King of Wessex, extracting tribute and acquiescence from those beneath him.
The same is true of Wales, where the many small kingdoms will not start formulating a singular shared identity – that of the ‘folk’ or Cymru – until the tenth century at the earliest.
Returning to Ecgberht and his exploits in Cornwall, the idea of a whole sale conquest is undercut in 825 when, in the same entry describing his victory at Ellandun, a fight is recorded between the men of Devon and the Cornish at Gafulford.
Gafulford was at one time thought to be Camelford in Cornwall; however, this is too far west to be taken seriously and for the most part seems to have been arrived at without considerable supporting evidence. More recent works, such as Higham [2008], have instead looked towards Galford on the northern section of the border between Devon and Cornwall, which seems to have the much stronger claim based on its location along the traditional border and the obvious place-name evolution.

Subsequent to the publication of The Western Kingdom I happened across another near-contemporary source (as is always the way!) which may have an interesting insight to offer regarding this clash at Gafulford. Inside the Codex Oxoniensis Posterior, a collection of Early Medieval manuscripts; many of which are Cornish in origin, is a Latin teaching text known as ‘De Raris Fabulis’ or ‘On Uncommon Tales’. In and amongst various short lines of text to help new monks learn Latin is the following:
“…there had been a great battle between the king of the Britons and the king of the English, and God gave victory to the Britons because they are humble as well as poor, and they trusted in God and confessed and received the body of Christ before they entered the skirmish or conflict. The English, however, are proud, and because of their pride God humbled them, for God did as it was said, ‘God opposes the proud but he gives mercy or victory to the humble’. A great combat (that is, hair) was ventured, and many of the English were struck down, but few of the Britons” – De Raris Fabulis
The dating of the text in the 9th or perhaps early 10th Century puts the tantalising possibility forward that this lengthy, and somewhat gloating, description of a victory recalls the conflict between Cornwall and Wessex in the 9th Century and provides, perhaps, support for the Cornish victory.
Gafulford wouldn’t be the last time that Wessex and Cornwall clashed, that would come later in 838 at Hingston Down. This is another battle that is usually sited much too far West, although discussing the many reasons why would require another blog post! Suffice to say the more likely location, in the Western fringes of Dartmoor, would see the fighting end in Devon and thus prove crucial in the ongoing preservation of the Cornish identity and, at least into the late 9th century, a Cornish monarch.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this window into Early Medieval Cornwall, if you’d like to learn more I of course encourage you to seek out The Western Kingdom at a bookshop near you!


John Fletcher is a local historian, based in the far SouthWest of Britain. He has also been an Early Medieval reenactor for sixteen years, with much of that being focused on recreating life in 8th-11th century Cornwall and Devon. He researches and gives talks on this period and the emergence of the Cornish state.

He has a Bsc in Environmental Sciences and focussed his dissertation on how climate change impacted Early Medieval settlement on Dartmoor.

Blog Tour, The Admiral’s Wife by M.K. Tod

Today I’m very happy to introduce an excerpt from The Admiral’s Wife which is currently on tour (see schedule banner at the end of the post) with the Coffee Pot Book Club.

“Family secrets and personal ambitions, east and west, collide in this compelling, deeply moving novel.” — Weina Dai Randel, award-winning author of THE LAST ROSE OF SHANGHAI

“Irresistible and absorbing.” Janie Chang, bestselling author of THE LIBRARY OF LEGENDS

Blurb

The lives of two women living in Hong Kong more than a century apart are unexpectedly linked by forbidden love and financial scandal.

In 2016, Patricia Findlay leaves a high-powered career to move to Hong Kong, where she hopes to rekindle the bonds of family and embrace the city of her ancestors. Instead, she is overwhelmed by feelings of displacement and depression. To make matters worse, her father, CEO of the family bank, insists that Patricia’s duty is to produce an heir, even though she has suffered three miscarriages.

In 1912, when Isabel Taylor moves to Hong Kong with her husband, Henry, and their young daughter, she struggles to find her place in such a different world and to meet the demands of being the admiral’s wife. At a reception hosted by the governor of Hong Kong, she meets Li Tao-Kai, an influential member of the Chinese community and a man she met a decade earlier when he was a student at Cambridge.

As the story unfolds, each woman must consider where her loyalties lie and what she is prepared to risk for love.

Excerpt

At 6:00 p.m., Kennedy Road was still crowded along the winding section that cut across Victoria Peak. Hong Kong’s ubiquitous red taxis dodged from lane to lane as they ferried commuters from offices in Sheung Wan, Central, and Wan Chai to apartment buildings that crammed the hillside like an invading army. Patricia stared out the tinted windows of their limousine, idly reading the names mounted on each grand entrance gate: Camelot Heights, Wing Wai Court, Amber Garden, Bamboo Grove.

“You seem moody,” Andrew said.

“Do I?” She turned to look at him. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m still annoyed with my father.”

“Come on, sweetheart. That was more than a week ago. Just ignore him and find a job on your own.” He squeezed her hand. “What’s happened to my strong, capable wife? The woman who could handle tough negotiations with people who had twice as much experience.”

Patricia flashed him a little smile. “You’re right,” she said. “But the whole thing still pisses me off.”

Her husband rubbed the red stubble on his face, a sign that he was weighing his next words. “Should we return to New York?” he asked.

She pushed a strand of long black hair behind one ear. “No, no, no. We can’t go back to the U.S. My father would have a fit. So would my mother. But I’m going nuts with nothing to do.”

During the first three or four months in Hong Kong, Patricia had spent her days organizing their spacious apartment, exploring the city, spending time with her family, and indulging in what she thought of as frivolous pursuits like shopping and weekly pedicures. She had also played tennis, learned mahjong, taken up qigong, and made a few friends. After almost twenty years of working in a demanding career, she’d considered this interlude a well-deserved rest.

Depression had come on unexpectedly. The first sign was difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. General fatigue and irritability had followed, and there were days when she just couldn’t focus. Andrew had encouraged her to go to the doctor. Doctor Leung, her mother’s GP, had prescribed pills but after less than a month Patricia had stopped taking the medication. At the same time, she’d resolved to get back to work.

“I know it’s been difficult,” Andrew said. He took her hand again and ran his thumb across her fingers. “You’ll find something. But please don’t antagonize your father tonight. I’m finally making headway at the bank. I think he’s even beginning to appreciate my skills, which is an improvement over resenting me. If he believes he can trust me, there could be more opportunity here than back home. And more money. I have to think of the kids.”

“I wish we could see them,” she said. Sadness surged across her chest.

“So do I. Very much. But they’ll be here for Christmas.”

Andrew’s ex-wife had primary custody of his two children. When Patricia and Andrew lived in New York, Steven and Emma had spent every other weekend with them, but now that they were in Hong Kong, visits could only be scheduled during summer holidays, spring break, and Christmas, unless business took Andrew to the U.S. After agonizing over the decision, she and Andrew had agreed to restrict their relocation to three years. They both missed his children terribly, a sacrifice made more acute by her inability to carry a baby to term.

Patricia looked at her husband, whose pale blue eyes were bloodshot from a string of late nights. She was being unreasonable but couldn’t help herself. Situations that she would have dismissed as trivial when they lived in New York had become major sources of discontent and angst.

“If I had a job . . .” Her voice trailed off. They’d been round and round the topic all week. Andrew was becoming exasperated.

“Well, given your father’s reaction, you should probably wait a while before raising that topic again.” Andrew withdrew his hand and fingered the crease of his dark gray pants. “What about looking outside banking? You’re a great project manager.”

“Maybe,” Patricia said. “But so far, every possibility I’ve found requires Asian experience and fluency in Cantonese or Mandarin.” She sighed. “Dammit. Why does he always make things so difficult?”

“To tell you the truth, I have no idea. Probably because he can. I admire many of your father’s tactics. But I don’t like the way he treats people, especially you.” Andrew’s voice was gentler than before. “Aren’t you seeing someone about that board position?”

“Mm-hmm. Arthur Chung said it’s mine if I want it.” She linked her fingers with Andrew’s. “We’re meeting Friday afternoon for a briefing on the role he wants me to play. I’m sure he only asked me to get a donation from Ah Ba, but it could be interesting.”

Their driver merged the Mercedes onto Queen’s Road East, past hotels and schools along with a Sikh temple and remnants of air-raid tunnels built during the Second World War. Traffic was at a standstill.

“Well, make the best of it for now,” he said. “I’m sure things will get better.”

Patricia knew her husband was trying to be helpful, but his remark felt patronizing. She hated being patronized. Unlike many of her male colleagues who had underestimated her abilities, Andrew had treated her as an equal from the day they’d met. Had their new circumstances changed his perspective? Was she only his equal when they were both working?

After she’d told him about the conversation with her father, Andrew had asked why she’d allowed her parents to persuade her to live in a place that had never been her home. Patricia hadn’t replied. And ever since, the question had hovered, unsettling in its stark clarity.

She loved her parents, despite their idiosyncrasies and traditional ways. And they loved her. Of that she was certain. Eighteen months earlier, when she and Andrew still lived in New York, her mother had ended a lengthy argument about Patricia’s duty to her family by saying, “We’ll be dead soon and then you’ll be sorry you never came back.”

That conversation had been the tipping point. After much debate, Andrew had agreed to try living in Hong Kong. They’d also agreed that if it didn’t work out, they would return to New York. Ever since, she’d felt displaced, torn between Andrew’s world and the Chinese world of her parents. Her husband expected a modern businesswoman with Western values; her parents expected a dutiful Chinese daughter. The two were irreconcilable.

“I wonder when this place is going to feel like home,” Patricia said.

“You’re the one—”

“Yes, I know,” she said. “I’m the one who wanted to move here. I’m just a little out of sorts. But don’t worry. I’ll make nice with my father. You should know, though, that I’m not going to put up with him telling me what to do any longer.”

Author Bio

M. K. Tod

M.K. (Mary) Tod’s interest in historical fiction began as a teenager immersed in the stories of Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy, and Georgette Heyer. In 2004, her husband’s career took them to Hong Kong where, with no job and few prospects, Mary began what became Unravelled, her first novel. The Admiral’s Wife is her fifth novel.

Mary’s award-winning blog, http://www.awriterofhistory.com, focuses on reading and writing his-torical fiction. She’s an active member of the historical fiction community and has conduct-ed five unique reader surveys on topics from readers’ habits and preferences to favorite his-torical fiction authors. Mary is happily married to her high-school sweetheart. They have two adult children and two delightful grandsons.

Social Media Links:

Website: https://www.mktod.com
Blog: https://www.awriterofhistory.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MKTodAuthor
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mary.tod.3/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mary-tod-14b3597/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mktodauthor/?hl=en
BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/m-k-tod
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/M-K-Tod/e/B00ELV1H7E/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7181549.M_K_Tod

Buy Links

Amazon (Universal Link): https://books2read.com/u/mg70YX

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09XRCKX7F/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09XRCKX7F/

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B09XRCKX7F/

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B09XRCKX7F/

Barnes and Noble:

From the Bottle to the Battlefield: A Writers Story

Writing has always been a great hunger for me but for many years, I never wrote a word because I thought I was not capable. And in some ways I wasn’t. Having excelled as a child in school at composition, everyone had high expectations of me becoming a writer or a journalist, and at the tender age of fifteen, I had begun handwriting what I hoped would be an epic historical novel. Unfortunately for me, I became involved with a very controlling man for almost ten years and just like many controlling relationships it stripped me of all my confidence and whilst he paid lip service to encouraging me to write, every spare moment I have had to be spent with him. By the time the relationship had ended, I had lost all my ambitions, aspirations and desires.

A family day out

Recovering from this, I met another man and found some self-worth, but the damage was done, and I was a broken person. I tried to pick up my writing again, and my lovely man encouraged me, buying me a word processor so I could write the book I’d always wanted to write. I slipped into needless insecurity and I found solace in the bottle which eventually led me to lose everything I had gained from escaping that first marriage. Eventually after nine years of enduring my drinking, my wonderful husband had enough, and I was left to pull myself together in a hostel with the three children I had from both marriages. And I did it the only way I knew how. I drank.

After enduring my drinking for almost a year, I finally decided to do something about it and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. But i carried on drinking whilst in between bouts of drinking. It took me awhile to understand that I was never going to be able to process alcohol like normal people.

And so I got a sponsor, determined to change the person that drank. As recovery took its beautiful toll on me, I got well. Banished resentments and got on with my life, became the best mum I could be, put my kids first for a change and decided I would do something that would better their lives as well as mine. It was my amends to them. My two youngest ones don’t remember me ever being drunk, but my oldest son does, and the sad part is, he thought that was normal, being the son of an alcoholic parents. Of course he knows today that is not so, and I know he is proud of me today, because he’s told me so.

Friends

That was almost twenty years ago, and it was in those early days of recovering from the illness of alcoholism and the trauma of my past, I found my brain and intellect was restoring itself back to some semblance of health. I wanted to do something that would make me feel better about myself as well as help others so I made my poor suffering parents proud by training to be a nurse, though they were a little confused as to why I chose to go into mental health nursing! They imagined me as some Florence Nightingale I think, floating around a ward at night comforting the dying. But still, I know that I can be proud that I was sober when my parents died and was able to be there for them.

And then came the writing. Whilst I was at university, in early my forties, learning about computers as well as nursing, I decided I was in that space where I could write a novel. And so that’s when it all started. And I did that as well as studying for my nursing qualification.

The book, though, wasn’t quite ready when I had got my first nursing job. It took another four years for me to put it out there, but not quite in the same format as it is today. I first published Sons of the Wolf with an assisted publisher and a few years later I wanted to change the cover and revise the editing. That first edition cost me a lot of money and I never recouped it in sales, so I took back the files from them, and unpublished it, so to speak so I could republish it in my own imprint for a fraction of the price it cost me the first time around. I would never have been able to publish the second one at that cost so it was a better way to go for me, and I wished I’d done so with the first one.

But what an amazing feeling that eleven years into my recovery I was able to realise my dream of publishing the book I’d always wanted to. It wasn’t the same book I’d started out writing, all those years ago when I was a teenager. But it was the book I was meant to write, and I know that there is an awful lot of me in that book, in my characters, one in particular, but I won’t mention who it is. I’ll let you guess.

And so by 2016 I have two self-published books, both having won IndieBRAG medallions and a few other awards. I’m also a senior nurse practitioner now, as well as an author of historical fiction. Not a bad achievement considering I come from a background of Anorexia, self-harm, and Alcoholism.

But writing historical novels hasn’t been easy – I still suffer with something I’ve always suffered with, imposter syndrome. I even thought that I wasn’t a real alcoholic if my story wasn’t as bad as others. It’s the same with my writing. Because I self-publish and am not with a publishing house, I often think I can’t be a real author. And I struggle with telling people that I have books out there because I still wrestle with the idea that I’m not good enough, that I am less-than – or that they might read them and think they’re rubbish.

Re-enactment – Happiness is a Spear

Today, a few more years on, I know that as I constantly work to improve my craft by learning what I can from some of my fellow writers and those who’ve been in the industry a long time, I increase my confidence. And I know that if I can’t believe in myself, I can’t expect others too. And part of what gives me that feeling of comfortability now is my involvement in re-enactment. Since I began writing, I have been a member of Regia Anglorum Reenactment Society. It was a difficult decision for me as someone who has always been painfully self-obsessed and worried about what others think of me, to join something like this, but I did, because I wanted to be able to make my books as accurate and authentic as they could be. But joining the society was probably the best thing I could have ever done for my writing and I have met some really lovely people through it. The society has a huge following, and so many of the reenactors are so skilled at what they do, I am often in awe of them. Whenever I get a comment from readers in reviews that reflects the fact that I have this connection to the society, it makes me so happy to think that this is all down to the fact that Regia has been so useful for me.

Moving on and I am still working on the third book in the series after The Wolf Banner, Wolf’s Bane. Its been a hard slog, because I don’t write quickly and there is always something to research on whenever I write. I have been writing this one for about four-five years on and off. Three years ago, I lost 20,000 words of it when my computer crashed and it took me about a year to get back into it. Last year it was put on hold, more so because I was involved in Historical Writers Forum first anthology called Hauntings. And because I still nurse in a busy A&E in the heart of Sussex, I don’t get as much time to devote to this writing lark as I would like.

However, things are getting better. I am making more time. I’m doing Zoom talks with my fellow writers in the HWF, and I have this year got off to a fantastic start having just been signed up to Pen and Sword Books to write two historical biographies on Harold Godwinson and Edmund Ironside. At last a publishing deal! What a feeling! I’m so grateful that I have been given this opportunity.

But it hasn’t always been a straight road, the path has definitely gone off track along the way a few times, and I’m not always as serene and as spiritual as I would like to be. I often tell myself that we are all a work in progress, and that emotional and spiritual growth does not often come without pain. So it is that I am trudging the road to happy destiny and am one fully signed up member of the human race.

Today I am grateful for my experiences, for the recovery and for the achievements and the knowledge that it can only get better from here on. Grateful today I have a purpose, a sense of belonging and that I care less about what people think of me and more of what I can do to make a difference to people’s lives, whether it be to help them as a nurse or a fellow addict, or to bring a bit sunshine into their lives with my writing. And if anyone out there thinking their life is hopeless, reads this and is inspired in anyway, then I have made a difference, however small and that keeps me on track knowing I can do more in life if I just don’t pick up a drink one day at a time.

For me, if I didn’t have my recovery programme, my books and writing, I wouldn’t have what I have today. My friends and family are proud of me – so what more could I ever ask for?

Ælfgyva: The Mystery Woman of the Bayeux Tapestry – Part VII

Wecome to the concluding part of Ælfgyva: The Mystery Lady of the Bayeux Tapestry.

Imagine someone wants to tell you some gossip about your neighbour Joe Bloggs, something quite scandalous and outrageous. Imagine that person has already heard it from someone else and perhaps that person has heard it from some other person. Imagine that somewhere along the line, facts have become distorted or left out. Perhaps someone has mistaken Joe for a different Joe – or for a John, who looked a lot like a Joe? Imagine that by the time the rumour reaches you, the whole episode has been scrambled into something  slightly different, but with a similar concept? Perhaps the story is entirely the same, but the it is the identities of those involved that are morphed. Well, this is what I believe has happened in the Bayeux Tapestry with the Aelfgyva tale.

After studying the tapestry, the possible candidates and the possible links to the story quite thoroughly, I can come up with no other explanation other than it is a case of mistaken identity where a certain lady’s story has been wrongly attributed to another. One can imagine it would not have been that difficult to mistake one person for another when there were so many women with the same name around at the same time. Especially if you were a Norman, hearing scandalous tales passed from one person to another like a Chinese whisper.

So what are the implications of such a suggestion? This is what I believe, could be… what the Bayeux Tapestry is trying to convey. It is not a hypothesis that can be proven, but merely a suggestion and an interpretation of what this scene might signify. I am not in any way stating that I have cracked the mystery, or that I have finally found the answer. I am however presenting you with a possibility, having been unable to discover any other indisputable explanation for the woman’s role embroidered into the legend with the hints of scandal that have been attributed to a particular woman of that name.

So, here is the story, as I imagine it:

Harold embarks for Normandy from Bosham

The woman in the scene with the cleric, is Ælfgifu of Northampton, and the priest touching her face is doing so to signify some sort of collaboration with her.  In the scene before, Harold and William are discussing the earl’s reasons for coming to Normandy.  The scene in which Ælfgyva and the priest are portrayed is part of their conversation also. Harold is explaining to William that he has come to negotiate the release of his brother and nephew, hence the man that Harold appears to be almost touching with his finger, is presented with a beard in the English style of facial fashion, and not the Norman clean-shaven manner, as all the others in the scene are – apart from Harold, of course. It seems quite reasonable to me that this bearded fellow is Wulfnoth, Harold’s brother who was one of the hostages he has come to negotiate the release of. 
But William, overwhelmed by the earl’s presence and its implication for him, understands some other reason for Harold’s visit. He is convinced that Harold has come to declare his fealty to him and assure him that when Edward dies, he will support him as his successor. Why else would he come with such gifts of wonder to offer him? Could William’s mindset have been so focused on the crown of England that he cannot not hear the words Harold is trying to say to him? 
Harold mentions, carefully – very carefully – because Edward, the king, has told him to be so,  that King Edward has declared his great nephew, Edgar, grandson of the courageous Edmund Ironside, as the atheling, which means that the boy is someone who is throne-worthy, therefore a future candidate to the throne. Harold knows that William has never been named atheling, but he is very careful how he presents his case. William listens, shows interest in what the Englishman has to say, after all he is going to need him when Edward dies. Nonetheless, he is undaunted by what Harold is telling him.  He has already dismissed Edgar, having heard the scandal of Edmund Ironsides’ mother Aelfgyva, who it was said, had tricked her husband into believing her sons were his when they were really the sons of a priest and a workman. He laughs at Harold’s suggestion that the Witan should prefer a boy over a man such as him, a boy descended from dubious lineage. Is he not (the duke) a man who has cheated death many times and earned the respect of his enemies?
Harold tries to put him straight about Ælfgyva, desperately trying to make him understand that he is mistaken and that the woman in the scandal he was referring to was not Edmund Ironside’s mother, but Harold Harefoot’s mother, wife of Cnut. Yes, Aethelred’s wife was also called Ælfgifu, but there was no such scandal about her and Edgar’s lineage is indisputably of the true line of Wessex. 
Still William does not listen. He interrupts, rebuffs and insists – all in the best nature and good spirits, of course. Harold is having problems pressing home his point because William has made his mind up. It is a game that only William can win. Harold, William declares, will support him in his quest for the English throne, and consider allying himself closely to him by marrying a daughter of his. William suggests this proposition in such a way that if Harold should refuse, he may inflict great insult upon his most congenial host, who has saved him from the humiliation and torment of being held as the Count of Ponthieu’s prisoner… and in Harold’s mind, he is thinking that if he wants to leave there alive, he will have to play the game that William has already won. Perhaps it is then that Harold realises what a terrible mistake he has made. Why, oh why, did he not listen to his king when he warned him that “no good will come of it”?

William knights Harold

So any attempt that Harold might make to put right the error that William has made in identifying the correct scandal with the incorrect Ælfgifu, is from then on thwarted. Wiliam will change the subject or offer a distraction. He does anything not to talk about the subject again. And by the time he gets home, with only one of the hostages being released, Harold is ridden with anxiety, having been made to swear an oath on holy relics, that he has basically handed the English crown on a plate, to the Norman duke. The first thing he does is seek out his relative, Ælfric, who was once a monk at Canterbury, and in earnest, divulge to him what he has done. It is then that Harold learns that according to canon law, a man who gives oath under severe duress, can later recant without detriment to his soul. With this knowledge, Harold can later go on to forgo the oath he made to William, to take the crown for himself. Which he does, indeed, later in 1066.
Did the artist who designed the tapestry know the secret of the conversation that happened between Harold and William? Were they trying to convey the story that led to the mis identity of Ælfgifu and coerced oathtaking that meant the end of Anglo-Saxon rule? We shall never know, but this is the possibility that I have come to believe. How I wish I had a time machine, so that I could take you back with me to that year, 956 years ago when it all happened. 


*

I believe that this is the basis for the artist’s insertion of the scene with Aelfgyva and the priest. Whether or not my theory is right, the creator wanted to convey to the viewer that this particular scandal had some link to the conversation that William and Harold are having. The small, crude images in the border further enforces the story of Aelfgifu of Northampton’s scandal leaving me with no doubt that they represent the labourer and priest who were supposed to have fathered the children said to be Cnut’s sons. I cannot, although I have tried to, locate any other evidence that would identify a believable rationale for this scandal to have been placed in the tapestry.  
If I were a contemporary of it, I may have been privy to the tittle-tattle and also that perhaps William had wrongly identified the woman and would not have had to use my imagination to work out the innuendo of the illustration. But this is my interpretation. Unfortunately I have no way of knowing I am right, however I do not think this has been a pointless study, for it has identified the woman and shed some light on some other mysteries of the tapestry also. I hope that you all have not been disappointed.                                                 I would love to know what you think.

References

Bridgeford A. (2004) 1066 The Hidden History of The Bayeux Tapestry, Harper Perennial, London.

Eadmer Eadmer’s History of Recent Events in England

Eadmer  Historia Novorium in Anglia 

Harvey Wood H, (2008) The Battle of Hastings: The Fall of Anglo Saxon England, Atlantic Books, Chatham. 

McNulty J.B. (1980) The Lady Aelfgyva in the Bayeux Tapestry, Medieval Academy of America, vol 55 (4) pp 659-688.