12%, holiday book sales, and Hale

Nottingham Castle

Nottingham Castle

For King and Country
(Battle Scars II)

Revisions round 2 are underway. I’ve rewritten chapter 1 twice. Writers group thinks I’m on the right track. I’m sure I’ll revisit the opening scene, but I’ve moved ahead. 12% complete.

Even as I revise I continue to explore additional non-fiction for my research needs. Helena Schrader was kind enough to point out 2 social histories: The English Noble Household, 1250-1600, by Kate Mertes; and English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages, by Jennifer Ward. Though I complained about arranged marriages when I ‘spoke’ with E.M. Powell last week, I introduce several strong female characters in Book II – I bet I’ll find something new in those non-fiction works that I might apply.

Holiday Sale Continues

Don’t forget the $1.99/£1.31 e-book sale for Men of the Cross (Battle Scars I) now through December 25.  If you prefer 20th century drama, Keeping the Family Peace is also on sale for the same low price. Details on my Special Holiday Sale page.

Pictures of Hale

A number of people commented about the picture of my workplace on last week’s interview on E.M. Powell’s blog. (Some people even liked the interview!) ;)  I thought I’d post a few more pictures of Hale that I’ve taken over the years. It is a beautiful building.

2014.01 hale in the snow   
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10006444285_c117cfe8af_z10524306_259000460974208_467909135593058183_nHappy reading! I hope you’re having a great week.

 

 

 

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Talking All Things Medieval on E.M. Powell’s Blog

Please stop by E.M. Powell’s blog and check out Medieval Medley – my guest interview there. We talk of Men of the Cross, medieval times, and me. I hope you enjoy it.

And don’t forget:

Men of the Cross
Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
e-book now on sale now through December 25
for $1.99/£1.31 for Kindle & Nook and at Smashwords.

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Get swept away to the 12th century

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Tuesday Teaser: Men of the Cross

I hope you enjoy this snippet from Men of the Cross. I don’t think it needs any set-up.

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THE WINDSWEPT CLIFF STOOD like a lone sentinel guarding a gate. The horses pawed the ground nervously. Henry stared across the darkened valley. Lights glimmered on the horizon to the east like a thousand torches guiding them home. Jerusalem.

Henry tightened his grip on Sombre, wound his hands through the reins. For the second time in six months the army lay within reach of the Holy City. Twelve miles. A day’s march, mayhap two. His heartbeat quickened, and he thought he heard the war drums…but it was only the whispers of the knights around him.

King Richard was silent. He wore a white surcoat with the Templar cross over his mail. He’d pushed his hood back to the dismay of his companions. His crimson cloak billowed out in the wind, revealing a gilded scabbard and the jewel-encrusted hilt of his sword. Watching him, Henry could see that Jerusalem might well be a hundred miles away. A thousand. A sudden sadness, regret, tinged Richard’s eyes.

Robin dismounted and drew up beside the king. Richard heaved a heavy sigh. He slid from Fauvel, his Cypriot warhorse. Robin took the reins, handed both mounts to Henry’s care.

“Saladin mocks us.” Richard’s powerful voice carried on the wind. He swept his hand to the north. “He sees us. Knows we grow weak. He might swoop down and cross the plains at any moment. Cut our supplies from Jaffa.”

“But why risk his men?” Robin asked.

Richard stood motionless, a deep frown creasing his face. Henry knew the answer before the words spilled from the king’s tongue.

“He will not,” Richard said. “He needs only to wait us out. I would swear that he whispers into the ear of Burgundy and his French, blotting out all sense of reason. They will not heed the advice of the Templars and Hospitallers. Why should the French believe those who have lived here twenty or more years? What reason would those men have to suggest that laying siege to Jerusalem is foolish?” Richard grabbed the hilt of his sword. “Yet here we find ourselves within a few miles of the Holy City. If we advance, Saladin will poison every watering hole from here to there. Our animals will die. He can strike from the north, from the east and at our rearguard. Then what will we have gained?”

Nothing, Henry thought. Only more dead. Each stronghold the crusaders took, like the one at Darum a few weeks earlier, made little difference in Saladin’s daily raids. The king’s scouts estimated Saladin had fifteen thousand men in the hills and thousands inside Jerusalem’s walls. Keeping the lines of supplies and communications open between the port cities and the casals along the route to the Holy City was a deadly business.

Richard had not expected an answer from Robin. He’d settled it in his own mind. “In the morning, we shall convene the council and put an end to this.”

Henry sat rigid in his saddle. Was this journey truly over? He tipped his head eastward. “The lights of Jerusalem flicker like a candle in this wind.”

“A beautiful sight,” Stephan said. “It reminds me of nights on the galleys when we would see lights from villages along the coasts.”

“A candle?” Richard eyed the Holy City. “Saladin would squash that flame. He could destroy all that is holy to us and we would be left here in complete darkness.” He whipped back into his saddle and spurred Fauvel west towards the army’s campsite. Robin grabbed his reins from Henry, swung onto his horse’s back and galloped after the king.

Stephan scanned the star-studded sky. The waning moon washed the knights in pale golden light. “We can remember we stood here under the same stars that light Jerusalem.”

“And what of the men who died?” Henry asked. “Was all this for naught?”

Stephan shook his head. “They trusted their king. And their God. And, if I am to believe you, they have found heaven.”

“And you?”

“I trust my king. Heaven?” Stephen’s eyes reflected the soft light of the moon. “Is it not here, with friends like you?”

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Get swept away to the 12th century
Men of the Cross, a 2014 B.R.A.G Medallion honoree, is available in print and for Kindle & Nook, and via Smashwords in multiple formats.

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Men of the Cross & more – special holiday offer

Looking for a gift for the historical fiction fan?
Men of the Cross
Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
e-book now on sale for $1.99/£1.31 for Kindle & Nook and at Smashwords.

If contemporary family sagas are more to your liking,
Keeping the Family Peace
is also on sale.
A big family has secrets that may tear them apart.
Get the e-book at Amazon & Amazon UK,  Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

Get them now. The sale will end on December 25.

MEN-OF-THE-CROSS           book cover for Family Peace

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Giving thanks every day for the good people in my life

Some of them are gone, but every one leaves a memory…

Mom, her sisters and brother in 1979

Mom, her sisters and brother in 1979

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

P.S. I am thankful I got to THE END (of Book 2).

 

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An Interview of Me on Helena P. Schrader’s Blog!

Novelist and historian Helena Schrader, author of Knight of Jerusalem, interviews yours truly. I hope you’ll check it out.

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MEN-OF-THE-CROSS

My novel, Men of the Cross, was designated a B.R.A.G. medallion honoree in November 2014. It is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon sites worldwide, for Nook via Barnes  Noble, and via Smashwords in multiple formats.  

Posted in Battle Scars, historical fiction, interviews, life, marketing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Medieval man, sex, and mortal sin in Men of the Cross

A friend recently asked, “Why did you choose to write this story?” It’s a common question for writers. Many writers pen what they’d like to read. There is something inside our brains that drives an idea that we must bring to life.

Of course, I knew what my friend really meant: Why did I decide to write a novel about two men – Henry de Grey and Stephan l’Aigle – who find friendship, and ultimately love, when homosexuality in the 12th century was considered a mortal sin?

In an upcoming interview I tell novelist and historian Helena Schrader:

The story relates the human angle, recognizing homosexuality as part of the human condition. Certainly, “forbidden” love provides tremendous conflict… Men of the Cross lets me dive into Henry’s inner turmoil as he questions his beliefs. Stephan readily admits his preference for men, but has never known or expected love. It is self-discovery for both men as their friendship deepens.

Let me be clear – Men of the Cross is not erotica. As one reviewer wrote, “there isn’t much sex in this book. If that’s all you are looking for, find another book.” Men of the Cross is about the relationship, not the sex. Like many novels, there is sexual tension and attraction. Yes, there are a few sex scenes. I’d call them emotionally charged. A friend called one “steamy.” There are tender and passionate touches and kisses without being too graphic. There are naked bodies – barely (no pun intended). I’m a big believer in “fade-to-black.” The readers’ imagination can fill in the details.

I don’t want readers to lose sight of other aspects of Men of the Cross. It is more than a romance. It is about the horrors of war. It deals with war’s impact on a young knight – post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

Sex in the Middle Ages
It is important to remember that any sex outside of marriage was sinful: adultery, homosexuality, rape, incest, bestiality – all were mortal sins, whether of the male/female, male/male, or female/female varieties. Given the number of illegitimate children born to the nobility and to the clergy there was plenty of sinning going on! One step further: certain sexual acts inside marriage were mortal sins. According to the Church, sex was strictly for procreation and only sin-free if done in the missionary position. The Church had a running list of what days or times of year sex was permissible. One scholar noted that averaged about 4 days per month (Berkowitz, 2012). Any sex that violated these “rules” would damn your soul unless you were absolved.

Absolution for sodomy (as homosexuality was called in the Middle Ages) varied from place to place and was usually dictated by local attitudes. In many instances prior to 1300, the penance was no more severe than for any other sexual sins. It might be prayer or fasting for a specified time or a small fine when, under secular law, being convicted of killing a deer in the king’s Forest often meant certain death (Brown, 2012). It is true that capital punishment for homosexuality existed in some countries well before the 12th century.  Secular laws in England against homosexual behavior did not appear until the second half of the 13th century (Boswell, 1981).¹ By 1300, secular laws against this “crime” existed almost universally (Berkowitz, 2012).

As for Church laws, Boswell notes “the approach to sexuality adopted by twelfth century theologians effectively ‘decriminalized’ homosexual relations altogether.”² Penitentials – the guidelines priests used to assign penances for specific sins – are telling. In the 8th century, a penance of 1 year was designated for male homosexuals, but for a priest going hunting it was 3 years. At the turn of the 12th century, ecclesiastical legislation was introduced by the Council of London set to inform the general public of the “impropriety of such acts and insisted… ‘sodomy’ be confessed as a sin” (Boswell, 1981). However, the decree was not officially adopted, though priests continued to remind the Faithful to resist temptation and to confess so their mortal souls were not damned. One impetus of the proposed legislation of 1102 had been to admonish the clergy themselves after complaints were brought forth from within the Church about illicit behaviors. In ensuing centuries, the accusation of sodomy oftentimes was a political move to “blacken the name of an enemy” (Karras, 2005). One example of that: Philip IV of France, deeply indebted to the Knights Templar, used it against them in the 14th century.

Same-sex unions
Scholars Boswell, Berkowitz, and others write that same-sex relationships were tolerated or ignored. Same-sex unions – blessed in religious ceremonies – are recorded in many countries well into the 14th century. There is evidence in the historical record showing these unions were performed by the clergy (McGinnes, 2012).

There are numerous cited incidences of actual or rumored male/male relationships in the Middle Ages. Many involved people high in the Church or who attained sainthood (e.g., the abbot Aelred of Rievaulx’s erotic writings of deep friendships with fellow monks; St. Sergius and St. Bacchus) or men of noble blood (e.g., William Rufus; Edward II). A Welsh chronicler named Gerald noted sanctioned unions in 12th and 13th century Ireland. Other “marriages” were reported in a number of European countries (Karras, 2012; Boswell, 1981).

Was King Richard I gay?
I was familiar with 20th century historians’ arguments that Richard the Lionheart was a homosexual. And as much as I love the incredible film The Lion in Winter, its writers may have cemented that idea in many individuals’ minds. More recent scholarship has refuted the interpretation of the evidence:

  1. On Richard lying with Philip Capet (the king of France): “at night their beds did not separate them.”
    – Men often shared beds in medieval times, but if these kings were intimate, would there not be more reports of their activities?
  2. Richard and his wife Berengaria of Navarre had no children
    – Richard had an illegitimate son
  3. A hermit visits Richard and tells him to “be mindful of the destruction of Sodom and abstain from what is unlawful.”
    – What is unlawful, also referred to as unnatural acts by the Church, could have referred to adulterous behavior. There is ample proof in the historical record of Richard’s sex life with women, but none about encounters with men. (And the lives of the famous were reported on, then, as now.)
    – When Richard was afflicted by illness, he confessed “the guiltiness of his life.” He received absolution, took back his wife, “and putting away all illicit intercourse, he remained constant to his wife.” Again, this may refer to his adulterous behavior.
    – The Biblical Sodom was a place of excess, gluttony, and sloth, not just sexual sins, so interpreting the hermit’s words must be done in the context of the times and with an understanding of events in Sodom.

(Items in quotes above are from de Hoveden.)

Medieval attitudes
Karras does agree a variety and complexity of medieval attitudes about sexuality existed. For every citation regarding toleration or overlooking of homosexual behavior in the Middle Ages, there are dozens more pointing to inhumane punishment dating back centuries earlier. However, she notes:

“The most striking feature of male same-sex relationships during the Middle Ages seems to have been that medieval society celebrated a type of deep, passionate friendship between men that modern society does not have. Men today who expressed their feelings for each other in the same way medieval men did would be universally believed to be sexually involved with each other. Medieval people either did not believe they were, or did not think it noteworthy if they were, because there is no comment about it.”

Back to Men of the Cross

Spoilers ahead…
Beyond the battles of the Third Crusade, conflict in Men of the Cross is centered on the characters’ inner turmoil rather than conflict directly with the Church. I did not need a priest to remind Henry what was considered “right” vs. “wrong.” He beat himself up with that dogma throughout a good part of the novel. That did not mean he (or other knights) looked down on men like Stephan, which appears to fit with Boswell’s and Karras’ description of society’s views. Henry and the knights with whom he served judged fellow soldiers on their loyalty and skills, not on their sexual preferences. And while Stephan is straightforward with Henry about his feelings on the Church and about who he is, he realizes very early on that Henry will not be amongst his “conquests.” (I use “conquests” in quotes – it is obvious in the novel that Stephan has been involved in consensual relationships.) Stephan begins to see how alone he has been, how he has covered those feelings behind lustful adventures and the blood-boiling effects of combat. He sees Henry’s naivete of battle and becomes concerned as a friend. And if friendship is all he can have with the younger knight, then so be it. Of course, life doesn’t always follow the road one expects.

“Forbidden” love
Did I ever consider other “forbidden” love for Henry? Why not a story where Henry fell in love with a Muslim, a princess, a laundress, or a whore?

These ideas seemed more like “fiction” than “reality” based on what I knew of Richard I’s army and the crusade. There may have been camp whores during the siege of Acre, but the army headed south within weeks of the siege’s end. Henry wouldn’t have had much opportunity to fall in love with one of them. The crusade chroniclers report that laundresses were the only women allowed by King Richard to accompany the army on the march towards Jerusalem. A laundress, like a prostitute, would have been below Henry’s class. Certainly that might happen in real life. A Muslim love? Again, this could have happened while Henry was in Acre and would have been frowned upon, though Richard did offer his sister’s hand to Saladin’s brother – an offer that was rejected by the way. And though Henry and Richard’s sister, Queen Joanna, develop a sweet, lovely friendship, I knew what history had in store for Joanna and chose not to invent a tryst. Sorry. Those ideas didn’t speak to me. Henry falling in love with a woman just wasn’t in the cards.

Arranged marriages
A further complication in the novel is the tradition of arranged marriages. Henry is the son of a minor baron – he needs a legitimate heir, hence marriage is a given. Henry accepts this (early on), but he is not enthused about arranged marriages. He is betrothed, but the girl back home does not stir him. He is no stranger to sex, and he doesn’t deny he enjoyed a tumble with one of the servant girls back home, but the feelings he begins to develop for Stephan confuse him.

Male bonding
Men at war engage in male bonding. For most that means a strong friendship:  they must rely on each other and share the common experiences of battle. “The bonds of friendship and brotherhood with those who you serve are greater than almost any known in the human experience. Shared danger, suffering and trauma bind soldiers together” (Padre Steve, 2009). What I depict in Men of the Cross is a growing deep, abiding trust and friendship between Henry and Stephan. Both men try to deny their feelings, but over time, they realize love is possible. Theirs is not a lustful or casual encounter (as Stephan’s earlier sex life was), but a loving, caring relationship. The “celebration” described by Karras was my intent in writing the knights’ story (though I didn’t discover Karras’ work until late last year). Henry and Stephan’s feelings and actions are not overt. In an army of 15,000-20,000 men, only their closest friends know.

Love
It is not unrealistic to imagine that amongst 15,000-20,000 soldiers some may have preferred male companionship of a sexual nature. That men did love each other. They are human after all.

“How can loving another person be a sin?”
–Stephan l’Aigle to Henry de Grey,
Men of the Cross

quote from Men of the Cross

¹ Update: After seeing a post (and listening to the reading & translation) about AEthelberht’s Code, a law code written about 600 in Anglo-Saxon England, I was curious about whether my statement about secular laws in England was correct. I contacted scholar and academic research consultant Dr. Christopher Monk and he confirmed that neither the “Code nor any other Anglo-Saxon secular law contain a direct reference to same-sex acts. The Anglo-Saxon penitentials on the other hand have numerous references to various same-sex acts, both male and female. Boswell, quite frankly, is very misleading in his evaluation of homosexuality in the early medieval period. The Church in England did not tolerate it.” (You can read our back and forth comments on the linked post.)

² Boswell’s interpretation may relate to priests being told not to tread very lightly when discussing this “unnatural behavior.” They shouldn’t be putting ideas in young men’s minds, so the subject was often avoided in the confessional.

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Sources

Berkowitz, E. Sex and punishment: four thousand years of judging desire. Berkeley, CA : Counterpoint, 2012.

Berkowitz, E. “When a medieval knight could marry another medieval knight.” The Awl. 2012. http://www.theawl.com/2012/05/sex-and-punishment

Boswell, J. Christianity, social tolerance, and homosexuality: gay people in Western Europe from the beginning of the Christian era to the fourteenth century. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Brown, D. “Monarchy – The Normans, William Rufus and Henry I.” on English Historical Fiction Authors. 2012.  http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2012/03/monarchy-normans-william-rufus-and.html 

De Hoveden, R.  The annals of Roger de Hoveden, comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. (Henry T. Riley, Trans.). London: H. G. Bohn, 1853. Original work published 1201?

Karras, R.M. Sexuality in Medieval Europe. New York: Routledge, 2005.

McGinnes, J. “Civil partnership, medieval style: in the days when same-sex marriage was a Christian rite.” Mailonline.com. 2012. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2142905/Civil-partnership-medieval-style-In-days-sex-marriage-Christian-rite.html

Monk, C. “A heavy price for light fingers.” The Anglo-Saxon Monk. 2014. http://anglo-saxon-monk.weebly.com/blog/a-heavy-price-for-light-fingers

“Same-Sex Relations in the Middle Ages.” Medievalist.net.  2011. (This is a bibiliography of works on the topic.) http://www.medievalists.net/2011/07/03/same-sex-relations-in-the-middle-ages/

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MEN-OF-THE-CROSS

My novel, Men of the Cross, was designated a B.R.A.G. medallion honoree in November 2014. It is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon sites worldwide, for Nook via Barnes  Noble, and via Smashwords in multiple formats.  

Posted in research, writing | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments