Above is an artist’s impression of the Welsh fort at Carew that preceded the Norman stone castle occupying the site today. The sketch is based on findings from archaeology digs in the 1990s. The stone cross at the entrance to the site, inscribed with the name of the 11th century king Maredudd ap Edwin, is testament that Carew was an important centre for the royal family of the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth. My novel series, Conquest, is concerned with the surviving members of that royal family, after the Normans invaded and killed the last king, Rhys ap Tewdwr, in 1093, along with two of his sons. Initially, three of the king’s five sons survived but one of those soon died in a Norman prison. The youngest son was born in captivity in Carmarthen castle and was maimed to prevent any claim from him. Another son, Gruffudd ap Rhys, was hidden by his kin in Dublin and returned when he reached manhood to challenge the Normans for his lost kingdom. My novels centre on the king’s daughter, Nest ferch Rhys, whose colourful life led her to be dubbed Helen of Wales.
‘The only plagues of London are the immoderate drinking of fools and the frequency of fires’ wrote William Fitz Stephen in his account of the city in the 12th century.
On a recent trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts I came across a little book called Norman London in a second-hand bookshop. The book contained Fitz Stephen’s account of London written sometime before 1183, together with an essay by Frank Stenton and map research on 12th century London by Marjorie B. Honeybourne. The book was a silvermine for my research as a historical novelist and it is ironic that I travelled to a second-hand bookshop in Massachusetts (the wonderful Raven Books) to find it.
Last year my novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, was published by Impress Books. It is the first in the trilogy charting the life of Nest ferch Rhys who was a potent symbol in the struggles between the Normans and the Welsh. The second book in the trilogy, Conquest: The Drowned Court, will be published this autumn. Nest was one of the many mistresses of the Norman king Henry I and parts of the novels are set in London.
The complicated business of the great 12th century city was conducted by the aldermen of London in the Husting which met in the Guildhall every Monday. Husting is a Scandinavian word and it is likely that this city institution had its origin during the Scandinavian occupation of London in the time of King Alfred. The Husting was the court of civil business hearing pleas on debts, land disputes, land gifts, regulating foreign merchants, controlling weights and measures.
Stepping into Medieval Worlds is an illustrated talk on Norman London that I will be presenting at The Guildhall Library on 8 June. It will address the literary sources for my fiction, including Fitz Stephen’s account. It is exciting to be speaking on this topic at the site of the 12th century Husting in the Guildhall which is on a street, Aldermanbury, named after those aldermen in Norman London. I will talk about the range of medieval literary sources I employ to construct the fictional worlds of my novels including Orderic Vitalis’ chronicle of the ‘extremely unrestrained’ Normans, viking poems, recipe books, maps, and medical manuals from the Middle Ages, the songs of the female troubadours, and the lascivious writings of medieval archbishops and dukes.
Some readers of my posts may feel confused by the polarised nature of my activities: on the one hand writing early medieval fiction and the other hand writing future fiction about exoplanets and other life poetics. I get quite confused by this paradox myself!
However, the medieval historian Henry of Huntingdon, writing in the 12th century, was happy to address readers in the third, fourth and fifth millennia. ‘If mortal generations are prolonged so long as that’, he said. He addressed readers 3,000 years ahead of his own time – ‘I who will be dust in your time have made mention of you in this work, such a long time before your birth’ – because he believed in history’s redemptive potential for both the present and the future. So I guess I shouldn’t worry about my own polarities too much.
For more contemplation on the topic of history and the future see Amanda Jane Hingst’s excellent book on Orderic Vitalis, The Written World, which I was delighted to just buy in the wonderful Raven Secondhand Bookshop in Cambridge, Massachusetts.