Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Mary Anne Yarde strips the legend from Mordred

Sir Mordred by H. J. Ford (1902) ~ Wikipedia 

The Dark Ages is, I think, one of the most fascinating eras in history. However, it is a difficult period to research. This was an era where very little was recorded in Britain. There are only a handful of primary written sources. Unfortunately, these sources are not very reliable. They talk of great kings and terrible battles, but something is missing from them. Something important. And that something is authenticity. The Dark Ages is the time of the bards. It is the time of myths and legends. It is a period like no other. If the Dark Ages had a welcoming sign it would say this:

“Welcome to the land of folklore. Welcome to the land of King Arthur.”

But, I don’t want to talk about King Arthur today. I want to take a look at one of his famous Knights:

Sir Mordred.

Who was Sir Mordred and how does he fit into Arthurian Legend?

Mordred was the son of Morgause — Arthur's sister — but there is debate as to who his father was. Some say his father was Morgauses' husband, King Lot of Orkney, which would make Sir Gawain his brother. While others say he was Arthur's illegitimate son, begot with his sister. Either way, he had royal blood running in his veins. Of all the knights in Arthur's court, Mordred was beyond suspicion. So how did Arthur and Mordred find themselves leading opposing armies on that fateful day in Camlann?

The earliest known reference to the Battle of Camlann can be found in the Annales Cambriae. The Annales of Cambriae is a chronicle that dates back to the 10th Century. It was compelled sometime between 960 - 970AD in Dyfed, Wales. The Annales Cambriae dates the Battle of Camlann in the year 537 AD. And this is what it says...

"The strife of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell."

Although this cannot be counted as a primary source, it does, however, draw on older stories — probably verbal — of the telling of this great battle. If you have not already noticed, the quote above says nothing about Arthur fighting Mordred at Camlann. It states that both men fell (died) at Camlann. Mordred was one of Arthur's most loyal knights; therefore it would make sense that they died together because they fought together. Which begs the question, how did Mordred become the villain of the tale?

In 1136, Geoffrey of Monmouth penned The History of the Kings of Britain. It is Monmouth who suggests that it was Mordred, who was left in charge of Camelot while Arthur crossed the channel to rage war on Emperor Lucius of Rome. It is Monmouth who states that Mordred saw this as an opportunity to take Arthur's throne. It is Monmouth who states that Mordred not only took the kingdom but also forced Guinevere to marry him. It is Monmouth who states that Mordred and Arthur met at Camlann.

And we believed him.
Two knights fighting on horseback ~ Pixabay.
The ancient Welsh texts were the first to associate Mordred with Camlann.  But Monmouth's casting of Mordred as the villain was soon accepted as the truth and others expanded upon this story making Mordred something of an Anti-Christ  — or an Anti-Arthur.

Time passes, and the story changes. Lancelot enters the tale, and some of Mordred's villainous activities are passed on to Lancelot - such as the affair with Guinevere.

Thomas Malory who penned Le Morte d'Arthur sticks with tradition and casts Mordred as the villain, but this time there is a slight twist to the tale. In Malory's version, Mordred believes that Arthur is dead, slain by Lancelot. Mordred, with parliaments consent, is crowned King and when he hears that Arthur is alive, he does take his army to meet him. But this begs the question, why would the Knights follow Mordred instead of Arthur. Malory gives us a clue.

"...with Arthur was none other life but war and strife, and with Sir Mordred was great joy and bliss."

An interesting idea indeed. 

In the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, Mordred is succeeded by his sons. The sons, like their father, had treachery running through their veins. In the older text, it is Constantine who tracks the brothers down and kills them. In later versions, it is Lancelot and Bors.

But the extent of Mordred's treachery does not end there.

"...him who, at one blow, had chest and shadow / shattered by Arthur's hand..."
                                 (Canto XXXII)

This quote is from Dante's Inferno. If you seek Mordred you will find him in the lowest circle of Hell — a place set-aside for traitors.

“I can't ignore what I saw. Gaius, Mordred is destined to play a part in Arthur's death.”

BBC adaptation of Merlin  2008 - 2012

Mordred is cast as a magically Druid boy in the BBC show Merlin (2008 - 2012). He becomes a Knight of Camelot and has no notion of treachery until his beloved is sentenced to death. Ironically, if Merlin had accepted Mordred as a source of good, then Arthur would never have died — but hey, what kind of story would that have made?

Mordred became the villain, but maybe he was not so evil as we have been led to believe.

The Du Lac Prophecy
(Book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles)
By Mary Anne Yarde


Two Prophesies. Two Noble Households. One Throne.

Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

Buy Links:

Author Bio:

Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were a part of her childhood.

Media Links:

Saturday, 4 August 2018

A hidden gem in the Usk Valley

I have lived in Wales for more than twenty years now and, although I am still stumbling upon new treasures, there are some places that I find myself returning to time and time again. One of my favourites is Tretower Court.  It sits in the green Usk Valley between Abergavenny and Brecon, seemingly untouched, timeless.

When compared with the tourist hot spots like Pembroke and Conwy castles the site is small but this simply adds to the atmosphere. The noise of the traffic dwindles and all you can hear is birdsong and the sporadic bleating of sheep. A few years ago Tretower was little known and I’d find myself the only person there, with the ghosts of the past whispering in my ear.

Tretower marks the period when castles were abandoned in favour of more comfortable, less fortified homes. There are two distinct sites at Tretower, each as valuable in their own way as the other: the later medieval house and, two hundred yards to the north-west, the remains of the 12th century castle stronghold, the round tower being added later in the period.

Although the more domestic Court building was erected early in the fourteenth century, later additions to the Tower suggest that the stronghold was not entirely abandoned at this time. Should the house have come under attack the inhabitants would simply gather up their possessions, round up the livestock, and take cover behind the impregnable walls of the tower.

The earliest part of medieval house is the north range, which dates from the early fourteenth century. The masonry and latrine turret on the west end may even have been built as early as 1300. The four major phases of building can clearly be seen from the central courtyard as can the later modifications added as late as the seventeenth century. As you move from room to room, duck through low doorways, climb twisting stairways and creep into the dark recesses of the latrine turrets you are not alone. So much has happened here, so many people have passed through, so much laughter has rung out and so many tears have fallen. It is a jewel for any writer, I can smell the stories still waiting to be told.

A motte and bailey was raised by a Norman follower by the name of Picard. The property passed through the family’s male line until the fourteenth century when it moved, via the female line, to Ralph Bluet and then, again through the marriage of another daughter, to James de Berkeley.
His son, also James, became Lord Berkeley on the death of his uncle. Tretower was later purchased from James by his mother’s husband, Sir William ap Thomas. Sir William’s second wife, Gwladys, gave him a son, William Herbert, later the earl of Pembroke, who inherited both Tretower and Raglan Castle on his father’s death. Tretower was later gifted to William’s half-brother, Roger Vaughan the younger, around 1450.

Herbert and Vaughan both played important roles during the Wars of the Roses. William Herbert was both friend and advisor to Edward IV and his career prospered until 1469 when he was executed following the Yorkist defeat at Edgecote.

Roger Vaughan, who was responsible for most of the major reconstruction of Tretower Court, was knighted in 1464, and present as a veteran at Tewkesbury and finally captured at Chepstow. There, he was executed by Jasper Tudor in an act of vengeance for beheading his father, Owen Tudor, ten years previously. Tretower remained in the possession of the Vaughans until the eighteenth century when it was sold and became a farm.

Years of neglect and disrepair followed and it was not until the twentieth century that preservation and repair work began. The reconstructions at Tretower are beautifully done, the living history displays that take place there providing deeper knowledge of how the dwelling was utilised.

The garden with its relaxed medieval planting is as beautiful as any I have seen is this country. Laid out and designed by Francesca Kay, it has a covered walk way, tumbling with red and white roses, fragrant lavender, aquilega, foxgloves and marigold sprawl beside a bubbling fountain in the midst of a chequered lawn. 

I spent a long time here on a warm Sunday morning in July, wandering through the rose arbour, lingering in the orchard before returning to the house. As I progressed along the dim corridors I could almost hear the skirts of my gown trailing after me on the stone floors. I paused, and time was suspended as I looked through thick, green glass to the courtyard and garden below.

If you ever have the good fortune to visit Wales, make the time to call in at Tretower and don't forget to bring a picnic and a blanket for I guarantee you will want to linger.

More information about Judith Arnopp and her books can be found on her website:
or her author page author.to/juditharnoppbooks

Thursday, 2 August 2018

A Queen in Shadow - a look back through time to Anne Boleyn and her daughter, Elizabeth

The Hever Portrait

The subject to Anne Boleyn’s true physical appearance has been discussed time and time again in books, blogs and journals, yet it is a subject that remains endlessly fascinating, the varied opinions and theories almost as intriguing as the woman herself.

Almost instantly recognisable, Anne Boleyn’s portrait graces thousands of book covers, mugs, tea towels, key rings…her face is everywhere. But is it really her face that we are seeing? Do the portraits show us what was Anne really like?

I don’t intend to hold a full debate on the portraits here but none we have are contemporary and the closest  are copies made of likenesses painted in her life time.

National Portrait Gallery

After her execution it wasn’t wise to have representations of a fallen queen gracing one’s walls so during the remainder of Henry’s reign and the years of Edward and Mary’s rule, her face and many artefacts belonging to her, slipped away. It wasn’t until her daughter, Elizabeth, ascended the throne that Anne became acceptable again and the demand for her image increased. As a consequence most extant images were worked long after her death – some as late as the 17th century.

The likenesses attributed to be her range from softly pretty to plum ugly as do the textual descriptions. Opinions of Anne Boleyn depended enormously upon the political stance and agenda of the author and as a consequence the documentary evidence is as varied and unreliable as the pictorial.

Due to her efforts for religious reform and the displacement of Catherine of Aragon, Anne was never a favourite of Spain or the Catholic faction and this is clear from some of the descriptions of her. Roman Catholic Nicholas Sander saw her as: ‘…rather tall of stature, with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat. In this she was followed by the ladies of the court, who also wore high dresses, having before been in the habit of leaving their necks and the upper portion of their persons uncovered. She was handsome to look at, with a pretty mouth.’

Very nice of him to go to the trouble of saying so. And the Venetian ambassador was scarcely more flattering in his account.

‘Madame Anne is not one of the handsomest women in the world. She is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact has nothing but the King's great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful - and take great effect on those who served the Queen when she was on the throne. She lives like a queen, and the King accompanies her to Mass - and everywhere.’

The Nidd Hall Portrait
It is quite clear that she was not a ravishing beauty although of course, what is considered beautiful today is vastly different to that favoured in the 16th century. If you look at the line-up of Henry’s wives, the ‘Flanders Mare’ of Henry’s stable, Anne of Cleves, was by today’s standards, rather pretty.  

In a society that favoured delicately complexioned blondes, Anne’s dark hair and olive skin were far from fashionable and neither did her slim, small breasted (‘not much raised’) figure fit the current vogue for voluptuous women.

But most descriptions, even the most unfavourable, agree that Anne possessed expressive eyes and a vivacious wit and it must have been those attributes that captivated the king. Which, for once I think, speaks  rather well of Henry in that he was able to see past contemporary ideals to what lay beneath. Shame it didn’t last.

The only truly contemporary image we have of Anne is a badly damaged portrait medal that nevertheless bears some resemblance to the Anne we see depicted in later portraits.  From this we can deduce that we can come quite close to discovering a likeness to the real woman.
Princess Elizabeth (later Queen)
The medal was struck in 1534 with Anne’s motto, ‘The Most Happi’ and the initials ‘A.R’ – Anna Regina, so we can be quite sure that it is her. These medals were usually struck to commemorate a great event, often a coronation but since the date does not tie in with this, Eric Ives believes that it was more likely to have been intended to mark birth of Anne’s second child in the autumn of 1534 that she miscarried. This theory also explains why few copies survive.
The Anne Boleyn Medal
Other portraits include the familiar Hever portrait and the one at the National Portrait Gallery as well as some sketches by Holbein which receive varying degrees of certainty from the experts. The Nidd Hall portrait shows an aging Anne which is closer to some of the less favourable documented descriptions discussed previously. Another rather touching artefact is the Chequers Ring, a jewel removed from the finger of Elizabeth I on her death bed and found to contain the image of herself and her mother, Anne.
The Drew Portrait of Elizabeth I

Of course, we can never know the extent of Elizabeth’s attachment to her mother but some documented incidents point to a curiosity about her. Although Elizabeth was just two years old when Anne was executed and is not likely to have had strong memories of her, there were those around her who had known Anne and would have been able to keep her memory alive. If Elizabeth was satisfied that the image bore a likeness to her mother then I think we can be fairly confident too.

The recent (and not so recent) discussions of Anne’s appearance have led to the assumption that she and her daughter bore a close resemblance. Apart from Elizabeth’s colouring which was auburn and Tudor in origin, there are likenesses to Anne, especially in the earlier portraits before Royal iconography began to overshadow Elizabeth’s personality. The dark eyes are particularly similar.
NPG Margaret Beaufort - Grandmother to Elizabeth I

I spend a lot of time looking at paintings of historical figures and it has always struck me that in later life Elizabeth closely resembled her great grandmother. I suppose it should come as no surprise that there is also a look of Henry VII, Elizabeth’s grandfather.  Perhaps there is more Tudor in Elizabeth than we thought.

The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn is now available in paperback, kindle and also as an audiobook. To celebrate the new audio format I have a few FREE codes for audible members. You can also use it to make your first purchase when you take out a FREE three month trial of audible.

Contact me via messenger or email for FREE Codes.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Raglan Castle's Tudor V weekend - 28th and 29th July 2018 - mark it in your diary.

It isn't long now until the annual Tudor event at Raglan Castle, the childhood home of Henry Tudor. (Read more about that here)  Rain or shine it is always a great weekend with a warm welcome for everyone. Raglan is a big castle with plenty to explore and refreshments and activities to suit all.

Every year the Tudor event offers something new, something fun, and surprisingly educational with living crafts, historical talks, refreshments, battles, executions!! mock jousts and archery. This year there will be a fun Tudor joust and a talk on Anne Boleyn by fellow historian Lesley Smith. Even without all that, you will not want to miss the wonders of Raglan Castle itself. 

Above is a photograph taken by a visitor to last year's event. It shows me and my trusty servant primed and ready to begin the day. My biggest fear this year is not fitting into my Tudor gown, the combined effects of middle-age spread and too much ice cream to combat the heat this summer has made it ... erm ... a little tight but I am pretty confident my French Hood will fit 😂

Bring your princes and princesses along to meet me and take a photograph outside the magnificent gatehouse. I will selling signed copies of my books at a considerable discount, including the third in The Beaufort Chronicle series that some of you have been waiting for. 

The King's Mother relates the final years in the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. There will be plenty of freebies and giveaways on hand and I am always happy to answer questions about Tudor history, writing or publishing.

Can't wait to see you there!

Raglan Castle is easy to find. Just over the Welsh/English border, on the A40 in Monmouthshire, the postcode is NP15 2BT.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

A visit to the moated manor house of Lower Brockhampton.

Judith Arnopp 
Lower Brockhampton Manor

A few weeks ago I escaped for a few days on a writing retreat/ research weekend in Herefordshire. We stayed in a beautiful barn conversion near Lyonshall, very central to some wonderful places of historic interest. Among other places we visited The Brockhampton Estate, spending a few tranquil hours at Lower Brockhampton Manor.

Lower Brockhamptom is timeless. The timber framed house and gatehouse nestles in a valley, ringed by a damson orchard and historic woodland. The house emerges as you walk up the drive and the sight halts you in your tracks and mesmerised, you reach for your camera.

The manor was home to the same family for 900 years. The land occupied since Anglo Saxon times, the house first mentioned in the 12th century, with the current dwelling dating back to the late medieval, extended further in the Tudor period.

As an author writing in the medieval/Tudor period, places like Lower Brockhampton are invaluable. I prefer to visit out of season, when there are fewer tourists, less intrusive signage and visitor attractions to distract from the past I am trying to locate.

I entered the gatehouse first. It was clearly built for status, not defence and according to the guidebook, may have been a ‘visual pun’ in its mirroring of the manor behind. From the outside the gatehouse is a wonky, half-timbered delight, the diamond casements twinkling a welcome. I passed into the shadow of the gate. There have been many repairs and alterations over the years, the staircase is 17th century, the bargeboards on the south gable are modern copies from restoration in 1999.  I run my fingers over the magnificent studded door and instinct tells me it is original. The guidebook confirms this and directs me to examine the bargeboards to the north, also original, the carving still remarkably vivid for its age.

The upper floor is uneven, the beamed ceiling aged to a glorious golden brown. On the walls you can trace the vague shadow of religious marks symbolising the Virgin Mary which, again according to the guide book, support the rumours of illegal Catholic masses held there during the Protestant years. I look around at the evidence of summer swallows and house martins, the ancient floors now trodden only by modern tourists, and wish those praying Catholics would show themselves and tell me how things really were.

Inside the main house, the National Trust directs visitors along a trail that follows the history of the manor’s inhabitants. The great hall for instance is laid out in 17th century style but it is possible to see how it once worked as a medieval hall. As you move through the building, through the centuries the artefacts and the manner in which the rooms were used become more familiar. Close to the end of the trail, I came upon a lounge just like my grandmother’s house in the 1960's with a fireplace, a writing desk, a radio and a three piece suite. Being contrary by nature, I walked round in the opposite direction so I could emerge with the earlier historical period fresh in my mind.

As much as I appreciate the work undertaken by the trust, and know the survival of properties like Brockhampton depend on them, I do find the stage set interiors sometimes impede rather than assist my imagination. 

It was outside that my creative juices began to flow. I strolled around the moat, examined the much plainer architecture at the back of the building, craned my neck to see the vast Tudor chimneys and was lured toward the silent peace of the ruined chapel. 

In the undergrowth I heard small scurrying creatures whose way of life at Lower Brockhamptom hasn’t altered at all. Thr crows in the wood, the ducks on the moat, the moles who've dug up the meadow and the garden.

It was particularly cold, even for late March, with huge cumulonimbus clouds decorating the blue sky. Every so often, the sun burst from cover, stimulating reflections on the moat that mirrored the manor, the gatehouse, the sky – revealing another world beneath; a world very much like this one but enticing – the place I’d been seeking, the house where my characters dwell.

I highly recommend a visit if you are in the area, and if you are not then the journey will be worthwhile, regardless of how far you have to travel.

Judith Arnopp's novels include:
The Beaufort Chronicles: Books One to Three
A Song of Sixpence
Intractable Heart
The Kiss of the Concubine
The Winchester Goose
The Song of Heledd
  The Forest Dwellers  

Photographs copyright: Judith Arnopp

For more information please visit: www.judithmarnopp.com or author.to/juditharnoppbooks
For further information about The Brockhampton Estate visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brockhampton

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Giveaway! Sexuality and its Impact on British History

I am delighted to offer TWO  copies of Sexuality and its Impact on British History - the British Stripped Bare. 

Eight authors: Annie Whitehead, Gayle Hulme, Hunter S Jones, Dr Beth Lynne, Emma Haddon-wright, Jessica Cale, Mary Ann Coleman and myself examine the impact of actual or implied sexual relationships on British history.

In my contribution to the anthology I delve deeply into the poetry of Thomas Wyatt, examine the events surrounding the arrest of Anne Boleyn and those accused alongside her, and consider Wyatt’s part in it.

Sexuality and its Impact on History chronicles the impact of romance and sex from the time of the Anglo-Saxons, through medieval and Tudor courtly love tradition to the Victorian era. It is due for publication in March 2018 by Pen and Sword Books.

For the chance of winning a copy please leave a comment below about why you'd like to be among the lucky winners. Your copy will be sent out on publication day -  30th March 2018. 

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