Introducing Elizabeth Chadwick, author of A Place Beyond Courage
Keira: Quick history lesson: Tell us a bit about England’s civil war between King Henry’s daughter Matilda and her cousin Stephen.
Elizabeth Chadwick: King Henry I had two legitimate children (we won’t talk about the more than 20 children he had by women other than his wife!). The first born was a girl, Matilda, and the second a boy, William. When Matilda was eight, Henry betrothed her to the Emperor of Germany and she was sent there to grow to maturity, marry, and was expected to spend her life at the German court as its empress. Henry’s son, meanwhile, was on track to become King of England and Duke of Normandy as his father’s successor.
However, all Henry’s plans were shattered when his son was drowned while returning from Normandy to England. Suddenly Henry’s only legitimate heir was Matilda in Germany. Henry looked round for others who might inherit his crown, and his attention lit on his nephew, Stephen and he began grooming the young man to succeed him.
But then the Emperor of Germany died and Matilda returned to her father. Suddenly Henry had a choice. He could put his nephew on the throne, or his own flesh and blood daughter. Henry seems to have backed two horses at once. He had his barons swear to uphold Matilda as his successor, but at the same time he kept Stephen in the picture. He married Matilda to a neighbouring Lord, Geoffrey of Anjou. It was a stormy marriage, but Matilda bore three sons from it, the first two born in King Henry’s lifetime, and the eldest eventually destined to become King Henry II.
King Henry I died suddenly when Matilda was absent on her husband’s estates, and when her eldest son was only two years old. There were claims that on his deathbed Henry had named Stephen as his heir, but under suspicious circumstances. Matilda set out to fight for her rightful inheritance and a civil war began in the late 1130s, and continued until 1153.
Keira: Why is naming a successor important? Isn’t there a natural order of succession in place?
Elizabeth: Naming a successor in early Medieval England carried a certain amount of weight and would suggest a path for the powerbrokers and councillors to follow. In the mid-12th century, although hereditary succession was becoming the norm, there was still an element of long held custom open to the idea that the nobles and bishops of the kingdom would assemble to elect a new sovereign. In practice this successor was usually the King’s eldest son, but there was still some room for leeway – which is how Stephen came to be elected, and Matilda passed over. Although several years before his death, her father had made his barons swear to uphold her claim, they were not honour bound to do so, especially when they were given the get out clause that Henry may have named someone else on his deathbed.
Keira: What is a Royal Marshal?
Elizabeth: The title covers many roles and responsibilities. The original duty of the Marshal was to look after the royal horses and their equipment, but that duty soon extended to the kennels and the falcon mews. The Marshal became responsible for supplying all the fodder for the animals, and that then moved into the logistics of supplying the court when on the road. The Marshal had to provide the carts and the cart drivers. He had to see that everything ran smoothly – rather like people who Marshal at public events today.
He had responsibility for several military duties, including paying the King’s mercenaries when in the field,
On top of that the Marshal was responsible for keeping order court. His employees were the gatekeepers of the Royal doors, and it was a Marshal’s job to make sure that no one came closer to the kingdom the King wanted. He had an official Rod of office, and would use it on miscreants or people who stepped over the line.
Another duty of his was to keep control of the court prostitutes and make sure they didn’t get out of order and fine those who cause trouble. The Marshal was also responsible for locking up debtors who could not pay their fee at the court Exchequer. So it was a varied and responsible job, although many of the duties were delegated.
Keira: Describe the differences between Aline and Sybilla.
Elizabeth: A Place Beyond Courage, John Marshal has two wives. Aline, his first wife, is innocent, naive, and pious to the point where it damages her ability to make strong relationships with those around her. She is a timid little thing who finds herself in a very difficult marriage to John, who is strong, vibrant and charismatic. Sybilla, John’s second wife, is sparky and outgoing with a warm interest in people. She knows her own worth, and she knows how to get the best out of everyone, including her husband.
I wrote the personalities as I found them. There is not much in the historical record about Aline and Sybilla, but some things can be deduced from the bare facts. Aline bore John two sons in fifteen years of marriage. Sybilla, gave him six children in a similar timespan, including the little boy who was to become the great William Marshal. To get more fully at Aline and Sybilla, I used the Akashic Records – a form of psychic research that if you believe in it, opens up the past so that it can be viewed like a sensory film – and if you don’t, is still a very powerful imaginative tool. There were women like Aline in the 12th century, just as there were women like Sybilla. We are all different in our personalities and attitudes.
Keira: What is your favorite thing about Medieval Fiction?
Elizabeth: I like finding out new things that often buck the trend about what we think we know about the Middle Ages. I love creating stories that use those elements of research and explore them, (such as notions that swords were massive weapons that you needed to be a giant to swing, or that warhorses were enormous beasts, or that Medieval people in the 12th century were small in stature and didn’t wash. I can give you solid refutations on every single one of these so-called ‘facts.’ I also love the detail that well researched Medieval fiction can act as a bridge between the reader and the long ago past.
Keira: What’s next for you?
Elizabeth: In the UK I am under contract to write three major novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine. I have just handed in book one and my editor is reading it at the moment and tells me she LOVES it (her capitals) – so fingers crossed!