Today I would like to welcome a guest blogger to Lady Despenser’s Scribery. David Pilling has just written a novel, Folville’s Law (The John Swale Chronicles) set during the tumultous years of the end of Edward II’s reign and just after.
A bit about David: He currently works in the Library and Archive at the Tate Gallery in London. Previous jobs included stints at The Royal Opera House and The School of Oriental and African Studies. He has been writing fiction and non-fiction on a freelance basis for the past three years, and many of his non-fictional articles have appeared in various regional and national UK publications. His fiction is inspired by his love of historical and science fiction and authors such as George McDonald Fraser, George R.R.Martin and Bernard Cornwell.
So, David, welcome! You have the floor…
Lythe and listin, gentilmen,That be of frebore blode;I shall you tel of a gode yeman,His name was Robyn Hode
These are the opening lines of the first verse or ‘fytte’ of the ‘A lytell geste of Robyn Hode’, the fifteenth century compilation of Robin Hood ballads. There were earlier stand-alone ballads, and ‘rhymes of Robyn Hode’ are mentioned in passing in a text from 1377, but the ultimate origins of the legend are unknown.
What has this potted history of Robin Hood got to do with my upcoming novel, Folville’s Law? Well, the germ of inspiration for my story came from my interest in medieval outlaw legends, and the history that lay behind the romance. Robin himself may or may not have been a real person, but what is certain is that the forests of medieval England were stuffed full of real outlaws. They were hard men, these ‘wanderers by night’, and two of the most notorious to stalk the troubled northern parts of England in the early fourteenth century were Eustace Folville and James Coterel.
Eustace and James made for perfect villains, being charismatic, ruthless gangsters who would cheerfully smile at you while sticking a knife under your ribs. And they lived in interesting times. England was a mess, presided over by a catastrophic king, Edward II, and his dreadful favourites, the Despensers. Law and order had broken down, allowing men like Eustace Folville and his gang to run riot, and the country was threatened by invasion from Edward’s estranged Queen, Isabella, and her lover Roger Mortimer. Again, all perfect raw material to stitch a story from.
So much for the historical personalities, what of my fictional hero? Sir John Swale is a ‘knight of Cumberland’, the far north of England, a grim place blasted by decades of ruinous cross-Border warfare. I have tried to portray him as a man of his time, haunted by the slaughter of his family by a band of raiding Scots, and motivated (at least in the beginning) by standard knightly preoccupations i.e. land and money.
The ‘love interest’, so to speak, is supplied by Elizabeth Clinton, a widow and possibly the most modern of the characters, in that she is an independently-minded woman in charge of her own affairs.
Add to this a bucket of blood, intrigue and politics, and you have ‘Folville’s Law’, an effort to portray the drama and brutality of life hundreds of years ago, and tell a good story into the bargain…I hope!
Swale caught the thrust and turned it aside. His opponent was too close to attempt a cut, so he struck out with the cross-guard, feeling the impact as it thumped into the man’s cheek. Howling, the robber stabbed again, missed, and threw his weight against Swale. Strong fingers groped at Swale’s face, trying to gouge his eyes. He caught the robber’s hand, bit his fingers and hacked at his shoulder. The habergeon absorbed the blow, and the robber’s hasty attempt to gut Swale in return failed as his falchion scraped harmlessly against the knight’s breastplate.
Their horses surged apart, whinnying in panic. Swale had the distance now to bring his longer reach into play, and pressed his attack, chopping and slashing with sheer brute strength. His opponent parried, but was tiring, his face wet with sweat and his sword arm shuddering under the impact of each blow. Fierce joy flowed into Swale’s breast as he realised that he was going to win.
Then the shirtless old man appeared from nowhere, lunging and grasping at the robber’s leg with his scrawny dead-white arms. “Strike!” he croaked.
Amazed, Swale’s opponent gaped at the greybeard clinging on to his leg. His guard faltered, and Swale unleashed a vicious backhand cut that bit deep into the robber’s neck, chopping into his throat and half-decapitating him.