I inherited the kingdom and leadership of my clan when I was eight years old. My father had died unexpectedly (ill health or poisoning? – no one knows) leaving me to fend for myself. At Eleven I was betrothed to a ten year old in northern France. She didn’t like me very much, nor I her but she had some skills that would balance my skills to enhance the rule of my kingdom – the kingdom of Munster in the south of Ireland. As we grew and she approached the age at which we would be married her skills changed and no longer meshed well with mine. I took a decision to offer her a divorce which she gladly accepted, leaving me to find another potential wife.

I found an unusually beautiful lady, Elisabeu, daughter of the Duke of Toulouse. Unusual? – She was an albino with skin like porcelain and silver hair. She too had some skills that would complement mine and she at least liked me a bit. I proposed, she accepted – cementing an alliance with Toulouse. We married when she came of age. It was a cool marriage and after a couple of years I was starting to worry. Would my wife produce an heir for me? That concern made me look around my court and also further afield. I really needed a male heir to carry on the clan line should anything happen to me. I started romancing a lady in my court – an older but comely lady of 30 years. Our romance turned to an affair starting with a lustful moment behind the communal lavatories – very romantic. We agreed that we should continue our sordid relationship, though hopefully in more congenial surroundings.

My wife announced her pregnancy just a couple of weeks before my concubine informed me that she too was carrying. Two babies on the way and I waited with baited breath. Elisabeu presented me with a lovely daughter. Sadly, my courtier died in childbirth a few weeks later ending our illicit affair – I’ll never know whether she was carrying my son. A couple of months later my wife started romancing me! I can only think that she had got wind of my affair and felt the need to cement her position? She fell pregnant again and presented me with a Son and heir. We became true lovers over the next year or so, eventually realizing that we were truly soulmates. I never strayed again. We had 3 more wonderful daughters. Time for a family picture of me with my Wife and Son…

I oversaw a largely peaceful period for our kingdom, successfully expanding it via a few minor wars to control adjacent earldoms and make them vassels… My stature rose and I was widely liked or respected even by those who would naturally be enemies of my kingdom. Sadly I had to remove a couple of people along the way using nefarious means – my spymasters facilitated that and my hands remained clean. There was also the tragic execution of one of my Stewards – a vassel and leader of the rival Desmond clan. Tragic because news of her acceptance of my terms came too late.

I died at the age of 62 – a victim of bubonic plague. I leave my wonderful Wife and Son behind to carry on the work to unite all Ireland…

…And that is a synopsis of some gameplay in the recently released Crusader Kings III from Paradox. I wasn’t sure whether to buy this or not. I have experienced some other strategy titles from this developer and their games can be very complex. Most famous is Europa Universalis IV which is a very complicated game to get into for a newcomer. I think this is because of all the improvements (complicated mechanics) added to the game since it released. Presently Crusader Kings III is very playable for me and very addictive! On the basis of the fun I’ve had I’d recommend this title – with the caveat that it’s currently an expensive game. If you think it’s of interest to you, I’d suggest watching some of the gameplay tutorials on Youtube. I will post a bit more about the gameplay, and what I think happens in the background, in the near future…

…Unfortunately, my passing left my Son with a slightly fragmented kingdom as Countess Ligeach of Connacht – the last Steward on my Council – ceased to be my vassel……But he’s a more skillful and thoughtful diplomat than I so I’m sure he will find a peaceful solution to the problem. And, he has my Grandson to help…

…and the Yanks and the Limeys and those Gott in Himmel Germans too!

When I first grew into adult books (as in proper novels rather than any other connotation you may be thinking of), many of the best stories were in the Spy genre. The works of Deighton and Le Carre stood out like beacons though there were others from less well known authors that also cut the mustard. How many times did I lie in that wet trench (in my warm bed) looking at the wire while I waited for a defector to come through? Then the politicians made peace! Peace from a war that never was…well was never consummated anyway!!! It killed cold war spy stories overnight 😦 Oh, I should also have blamed the demonstrators who brought down the Berlin Wall.

It seems like I know 50’s / 60’s Berlin very well. The descriptions from the tales of Deighton are so vivid that I feel I have met some of the characters personally and taken great care to not damage the china in their homes that were a crumbling expression of pre-war decadence and disappearing around them. There are times when I really miss a world that ironically I never knew. Such is the power of good writing! The death of the cold war spy story left a vacuum – what should authors seeking to examine intrigue and patronage in their novels write about?

It took a while but writers did discover new areas of intrigue to allow for new spy stories. The period of Elizabeth I’s reign and that of Henry VIII have recently proved to be fertile ground for authors seeking to create a spy mystery – suddenly the threat from Communists would be superceded by that of Catholics! Leading exponents, from my point of view, are Rory Clements, S.J.Parris and C.J.Sansom.

The ‘Elizabethan’ spy story differs from its cold war relative in a number of areas though the tension of uncertainty for the reader is much the same. Most Cold war scenarios start with an indication of a possible defection or the detection of treacherous activity requiring investigation by the hero. Deaths are generally avoided as these are bad for business, attracting public attention, and though the spies are usually armed they generally keep the Berretta inside their Trench Coat – they want to remain anonymous. Think back to the period and you know that much of what went on was shielded from the public despite the abilities of the press and tv available to tell stories at that time. Then you know how much information was available to those in intelligence! It was thus a time that authors could write about by creating much background atmosphere without making their grey foreground characters too black and white!

Medieval spy stories are very different – for starters they usually begin with a murder. If you think about it, that’s not so odd. Communications don’t travel at the speed of light in Elizabethan England and so the first intimation of enemy spies on your territory might well be a murder. Encrypted messages are the norm – well that’s not so different to the 50’s spies! But one of the biggest differences is how the scenes are set. The 50’s stories deal in shadowy figures unknown to everyone except those inside – perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to knowing who was in a spy story of the fifties was when I read Boris Starling’s Visibility and immediately recognised one of the peripheral characters as Rosalind Franklin – a young scientist at the centre of DNA research who would sadly die before her time – not as a part of the story but in the reality of ovarian cancer at the age of 37.

The medieval story is somewhat different in setting the scene – 50’s Europe is still in peoples memories and available to see in film and photographs. Most readers of Elizabethan fiction will have an image of timbered houses and possibly bad sewage but outside of that they are reliant on paintings of well to do people to get an image of the characters in a story. Maybe it is for this reason that writers setting stories in this period rely more heavily on well known people in history – the likes of Drake and Walsingham – to build the tale of their characters around. Walsingham is popular because he reputedly had lots of spies working for him – plenty of room for the inventive author! Both Cromwells are popular too 😉

So over the last few of weeks I have met two different servants of Walsingham investigating a threat against Drake and his fleet in Plymouth and in the same year! It’s also amazing that the same historical figure of John Doughty seeking to revenge his brother’s death at Drakes hand should feature in both tales. And I guess that this is the way that authenticity is built when you start writing about a period so far beyond living memory. The best way to capture the audience is to invoke those well known people of the day and well known plots against them – then you can create your spies around them to tell a tale. The difference will always fascinate me and I haven’t touched on future spy fiction at all!

This is just an observation from one who has enjoyed both versions of the genre and many others that sit somewhere between. May I commend the works of the authors mentioned above to you as classic writers 🙂

From My Archive I Choose…

K is for Knights

In days of old when Knights were bold…

Richard Neville

Richard Neville puts on his Armour.   Neville, the Earl of Warwick, was known as the Kingmaker and played a pivotal part in the Wars of the Roses during the 15th century.    Falling out with Lancastrian King Henry VI, he supported the Yorkist Edward IV and saw him crowned king.   Later, having fallen out with Edward, he restored Henry to the throne.   He died at the Battle of Barnet in 1471, around 4 miles north of my home.   This is a photo from a waxworks display in Warwick Castle – home of Richard Neville.   In the summer months the castle also hosts Medieval jousting displays – some photos from which follow: –

Ready for Battle
Ready for Battle
The Joust
The Joust
A Fresh Lance
A Fresh Lance My Man!
Fighting on Foot
Fighting on Foot

All photos taken back in 2007 on a Canon Powershot A206, so apologies for some motion blur – I don’t think it was designed with ‘Sports’ photography in mind 😉

Why not have a go at the A-Z Archive Challenge yourself!