Fifty shades of…12th century England

research books
one pile of my 12th century research materials

Forgive the “fifty shades” reference. I almost called this “fifty shades of de Grey” – de Grey being the surname of main character Sir Henry in Men of the Cross, but I thought better of it. 🙂  I’ve intended this to spark interest/amazement/horror for those who aren’t so familiar with the 12th century, and I’ve included a number of facts related to the Third Crusade. Enjoy these bits of trivia:

  1. Henry I (reigned 1100-1135) named his daughter Matilda (aka Empress Maud) as his successor, but his nobles chose to name Matilda’s cousin Stephen as king on Henry’s death.
  2. The Anarchy, aka “when Christ and his saints slept” (which is a translated quote from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), lasted from 1135 – 1154 when Matilda (mother of Henry II) and her cousin Stephen fought to reign over England (see #1).
  3. The crown did not automatically pass to the oldest child: Stephan (reigned 1135-1154) passed over his eldest surviving son and named Henry (son of his rival Matilda) as his successor.
  4. Women could inherit property.
  5. The nobility were generally of Norman descent. (Remember William the Conqueror, 1066?)
  6. “Corn” was any cereal grain (not maize, which wasn’t introduced to Europe until the 15th or 16th century). Corn = wheat, barley, rye, etc.
  7. Many manor houses were built of timber. Stone was for the wealthiest landowners and saw increased use after the Norman Conquest as the new Norman rulers built their castles as symbols of their power.
  8. Below the nobility, church officials, and knights, there were some freeman, but a large percentage of the population were villeins, including serfs (slaves), who owed service to the lord of the manor. Service, which varied from place to place, usually included 3 days of work per week (more during harvest) for the right to live & work their own plots of land.
  9. A warhorse (aka destrier) might cost in excess of 50 shillings. Mail for the knight: 100 shillings.
  10. William, Henry, Roger, John and Geoffrey were very popular boys’ names.
  11. William, Henry, Geoffrey, and John were Richard the Lionheart’s brothers; Henry (the II) was his father.
  12. Henry II’s illegitimate sons were also named Geoffrey and William.
  13. Richard I was born in Oxford, England. Neither of his parents were English: Henry II was French from Anjou; Eleanor was from Aquitaine.
  14. Maud, Alice, Margaret, Joan and Isabel were popular women’s names.
  15. Taxes were too high (even back then!)
  16. A baron (like Henry de Grey’s father in Men of the Cross) might owe the crown £100 a year for scuttage, which might be paid in cash, in service and/or in crops/goods.
  17. Ermine Street ran from London to York (via Lincoln); it had been constructed during the Roman occupation hundreds of years earlier. (It was one of 4 major royal roads, which novelist Patricia Bracewell just wrote about on EHFA.)
  18. Traveling 40 miles a day was quite a feat on horseback. Whilst running from Duke Leopold in Austria, Richard I traveled 50 miles a day for 3 days in an attempt to reach the safety of the Moravian border. Imagine an army with hundreds of supply wagons, men on foot, and knights: in the Holy Land, Richard’s army of approximately 15,000 traveled anywhere from 2 – 13 miles per day.
  19. The language of the upper classes was Anglo-Norman, a French dialect.
  20. Peasants spoke what we’d call Old English though the influences of the Norman language led to the transformation to Middle English.
  21. Latin was the language used for official written records.
  22. It was a mortal sin to have sex that was not specifically meant for procreation; however, a trip to the confessional would get you a penance of a few Pater Nosters or a small fine.
  23. It was a mortal sin to have sex in any position except man-on-top/woman-on-bottom (see above for penance).
  24. There were no civil laws on the books against homosexuality in England until the second half of the 13th century. [Note: I’ve lost my reference for this: if you can point me to it I would appreciate it!].
  25. Bathing was more common in the Middle Ages than in the 19th century: many towns  had public bath houses. It was reported that when King John (reigned 1199-1216) traveled around his kingdom, he took a bathtub with him.
  26. The most dysfunctional family of the 12th century surely must have been Henry II, Eleanor, and their brood.
  27. Henry II imprisoned his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, from 1173-1189 for her role in his sons’ rebellion.
  28. Eleanor was 9 years older than Henry; they married after her marriage to the king of France was annulled.
  29. John, young Henry, and Geoffrey speaking to their brother Richard: “Mom always liked you best!”
  30. Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) could not read.
  31. Henry II crowned his successor Henry while he still lived. Henry was known as “the young king.” He died in 1183, a victim of dysentery.
  32. Eleanor accompanied her first husband Louis VII of France on the Second Crusade in the 1140s.
  33. Eleanor outlived  8 of her 10 children (2 by 1st marriage to Louis VII; 8 by Henry II; only son John and daughter Eleanor (by Henry) survived her.
  34. Thomas Becket, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry II, was murdered in December 1170 by four of Henry II’s overzealous knights after Henry reputedly said “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (or something along that line dependent on which biography you read).
  35. King Richard I (Richard the Lionheart, ruled 1189-1199) spent only 6 months in England during his reign.
  36. Richard set out for the Holy Land in 1190, marching his army to Marseille to rendezvous with the fleet to sail to the Holy Land in the summer of 1190.
  37. Most of Richard’s fleet failed to meet him in Marseille: they’d been arrested whilst in Portugal for too much wine, women and gambling.
  38. Some legends of Robin Hood place him with Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade.
  39. Whilst the armies of Richard of England and Philip of France wintered in Messina, Sicily in 1190/1191, gambling by ordinary soldiers and sailors was banned except in the presence of their officers.
  40. The price of bread in Messina during the fall & winter of 1190/1191 was fixed by the kings (Richard, Philip, and Tancred) at 1 penny per loaf.
  41. Richard was betrothed to Alais (Alys or Alice), sister of King Philip of France, in 1169; they never tied the knot, Richard claiming his father slept with Alys. She was raised as Henry II’s ward in England from the age of 8 for about 22 years, until Richard married Berengaria of Navarre in May 1191 in Cyprus.
  42. Richard’s fleet finally arrived in the Holy Land in June, laid siege to, and captured Acre by mid-July. Richard insulted Duke Leopold of Austria whilst in Acre by ordering the Duke’s banner removed from the city ramparts. Richard’s men trampled the Duke’s banner. Leopold would not forget this insult.
  43. The Muslim chronicler Baha’ al-Din wrote that Richard was “a man of great courage and spirit.”
  44. The deadliest battle of the Third Crusade was the Battle of Arsuf on 7 Sept 1191 – casualties were estimated at 700 Christians and 7,000 Muslims.
  45. Washer-women were the only women allowed to accompany the army on the march to Jerusalem (August 1191-July 1192). However, Richard did bring his queen Berengaria and his sister Joanna to Jaffa in mid-fall 1191 when that town was secured.
  46. The crusader army came within 12 miles of Jerusalem – twice – but never laid siege to, or re-took, it from Muslim hands.
  47. A 3 year truce was signed between Richard I and Salah al-Din in September 1192. The Christians did maintain control of many coastal cities lost to the Muslims in the 1180s and Christian pilgrims were allowed into the Holy City.
  48. Duke Leopold’s soldiers captured Richard near Vienna, Austria, on 20 December 1192. According to a German chronicler, Richard was caught in the kitchen roasting meat and wearing a magnificent ring, though this tale is disputed by English chroniclers.
  49. Bows of composite wood, horn, and sinew replaced all wood bows; this increased the weapon’s power and range.
  50. John, younger brother of Richard I, plotted with King Philip of France to usurp Richard’s throne whilst he was on Crusade. John and Philip offered the Holy Roman Emperor money to keep Richard imprisoned rather than release him when the ransom of 150,000 marks was paid.


Get swept away to the 12th century

Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite

Available from Amazon
in print and electronic editions.


random moments in a life…

I have a new roof! Here’s hoping the water leak from the chimney is a thing of the past. Next up: replacing warped flooring and checking for further damage inside the house. Oh the joys of homeownership.

My iPhone 4S died. RIP. Because I decided to get the blue 5C rather than the 5S, I had to wait 5 whole days(!!) to get the replacement phone.

I’ve watched Becket and re-watched The Lion in Winter in the last 10 days. I prefer Peter O’Toole’s Lion Henry II to his characterization in Becket. Katharine Hepburn’s Eleanor in Lion is magnificent. Both movies have some questionable interpretations of actual events and downright inaccurate history so as the saying goes: ‘don’t believe everything you see/hear.’

This should be a lesson for all of us watching television news, reading newspapers, or reading posts on social media sites. 🙂

I am working my way through the rough draft of Battle Scars II: For King and Country  and at the 54,000 word mark. The draft is currently 133,000 words. I’m wondering how much of it will hit the cutting room floor on the next round of edits. And to think I believed book 2 would be shorter than the 99K of book 1!

Several real life figures make brief appearances in book 2: Count John, Queen Eleanor. Richard will have a slightly larger role than his brother and his mother, but only makes his appearance at the end of the book. I name-drop other famous people (Marshal, Huntingdon, Murdac), most of whom are involved in one siege or another during the time period of the story (1193-1194). My research on English baronies in Lincolnshire led me to Bolingbroke, which was part of the estate of Ranulf, 6th Earl of Chester. Ranulf was born in the same year as my main character Henry de Grey. Was there any chance they might have met at boys? That appears highly unlikely, but Ranulf was at the siege of Windsor (spring 1193) and heavily involved in the siege at Nottingham in 1194. I do believe I will have several opportunities to place Ranulf with Henry and his friends.

Not mine, but rather a former boss who has written his memoirs. I was invited to the surprise party to celebrate “the end.” I saw 2 other former co-workers there – it was good to catch up – and met some of the boss’ close friends, including a retired medieval history professor! What fun.

Roasted edamame. Can you say yummy?

Every trip to my refrigerator makes me smile. Look at all the memories there. (There’s a second refrigerator in the garage covered with magnets, too.)

fridge magnet2

Have a great week my friends.

work in progress Wednesday – weddings and signs of The End

nottingham castle - main gate
Gatehouse at Nottingham Castle

Title: Battle Scars: For King and Country
(book 2 of a series)
Current word count: @88,900 words

I am drawing ever closer to the climax of this story. My unexpected character death? With 11,000 words added since my last update, the man is still dead, and there is no hope for resurrection.

But there were weddings this week! Queen Eleanor decided to make an appearance. This was one of those serendipitous thoughts that ignited a mad search through 6 biographies of the lady and several other volumes of related materials. It is December 1, 1193. Eleanor is busy making final arrangements for the transfer of ransom money to the Holy Roman Emperor for King Richard’s release and preparing to cross the sea to deliver that money. But she holds a special place in her heart for one of the grooms. She’d met him in one of the final chapters of book 1, Men of the Cross. The young squire has served main characters Henry and Stephan, her son Richard, his wife Berengaria, and Queen Joanna, her daughter. Eleanor also brings welcome news to Henry about Stephan, whom he has not seen nor heard from since September – remember, Stephan has been on a secret mission.

I’ve spent the last few days reviewing my sources on the siege of Nottingham and setting the stage to tie all the pieces together. I have 2 minor skirmishes to write up, the king’s return, and the siege at Nottingham. For the last few months, I have also been mulling over the ending – not of the siege, of course, because you can read about that in the history books. 🙂  But how far past the dates of the siege – March 25-28 – would I take the characters? Originally, I was certain I’d need to end the book with King Richard’s departure for Normandy in May. But, to have my “happily for now” ending¹ and leave the way open for conflict in book 3 of this trilogy, I’m almost positive that the story will end as Richard heads off for a day of hunting in Sherwood Forest before he returns for business at the Council of Nottingham. Or, it may end with the Council – only time, and a few more weeks of writing, will tell.

By the way, did I ever tell you that this story was only supposed to be a novella?


On this date
I didn’t manage to write up entries, but here are a few important October dates:

4 October 1190 –  Richard captures Messina, Sicily
10 October 1191 – Richard leaves Jaffa (where his troops are rebuilding the fortress) to return to Acre to settle a dispute between some of his ‘allies’
9 October 1192 – King Richard bids the Holy Land good-bye and sails for home

My Pinterest Board for Battle Scars Locations – New Pins Added

Vézelay, France – in book 1, after the rendezvous with King Richard’s army in Tours, Henry, Stephan and the crusaders meet King Philip of France’s troops in Vézelay in late June of 1190. (Some sources say the meeting took place on July 2.)

Mt. Vesuvius, Italy – a couple of months later, Henry sees Mt. Vesuvius as some of Richard’s fleet drops anchor in Naples.

Mortimer’s Cave, Nottingham Castle – caves, tunnels, secret entrances. Handy for a bit of spying in book 2 beginning in the summer of 1193 through the king’s return in March 1194.

And on those notes, I am back to the writing!


¹Happily-for-now endings are similar to the familiar “And they lived happily ever after.”

work in progress Wednesday – and we’re off to Nottingham!

Well, Nottingham and a few other locales…

If I’d been on top of things a few days back, I would have mentioned that 7 September was the anniversary of the Battle of Arsuf in 1191. This was a huge victory for Richard the Lionheart. Arsuf is about 14 miles from the port of Jaffa, a strategic objective for the Crusader army. Jaffa must be held. Goods brought by Richard’s fleet there would replenish the army’s supplies as they marched east toward Jerusalem.

On to the writing update…

Title: Battle Scars: For King and Country (book 2 of a series)
Current word count: @57,000 words

Nottingham Castle
Nottingham Castle

I’ve visited Nottingham with Robin this week, and castles and manor houses near York and Lincoln with knights Stephan and Henry. Allan has a bit of a run-in in a small market town called Grantham. The knights are reuniting at Henry’s manor as I write this post. It’s time they report back to Queen Eleanor. What orders will she have for the men who remain loyal to her son, King Richard? Conspiracies, intrigue, action, adventure…and romance! What more could a reader want?

I mentioned last week that I participated in a Labor Day weekend writing marathon. My friend Marie described the #laboringaway objectives on her blog. Though I didn’t take part all 4 days, I made significant progress, jumping to a record high word count for a week: over 10K added.

You must be scratching your head about the word count thing, right? Generally, writers estimate 250 words a page. 10K is 40 pages. For me, it’s just a way of marking progress. I have no idea how long this book will be. I have broad plot points mapped out. (Mapped out meaning I have a 2-3 sentence description that needs to blossom into a scene or chapter.) Nine more to go, though I’m certain I’ll have double before it’s all over. New scene ideas pop into my head as I write. When I type “The End” we will all know how long the book will be.