Don't you just love Spring? I do, especially at Helmickton when the woods behind us are greening up and loudly tweeting with birdsong, and the garden's in full bloom; on the right you can see our bee-friendly 'nectar bar' looking pretty in the sun with tulips, aquilegia and crab-apple blossom, and wonderfully scented from the profusion of wallflowers. Our Morello cherry and damson are in flower too; raspberries, figs and blueberries coming on well; and a nice crop of assorted salad coming up - so we're all set for another productive year in the garden.
It's being a productive season in other ways, too. Last week, Hubcap and I went out to do one of our double-act costumed presentations on the Battle of Towton for Ackworth Heritage Group, just down the road. This large and lively group has been meeting for the past 15 years - so it was particularly gratifying when a couple of members came up afterwards and told us it was the best talk they'd ever heard there. A lovely compliment - and I'm sure it has a lot to do with the added dimension that period costume and handling items bring to an event. We're looking forward to another joint outing on the same subject at The Crooked Billet later in the year, along with a sale of signed Herstory Publications and Towton Battlefield Society merchandise- see Events for details.
Talking of Herstory, I'm also delighted to announce that at long last, my Lay of Angor fantasy saga is complete, and the third and final volume of the trilogy, Wolfsbane, is away at the printers being made into the paperback version. You can see the cover here on the left - a manipulated image of our friend and Frei Compagnie member Tony Harrison in his Gilbertine friar's habit, sporting a black pointy-eared cowl and silver wolf-mask in the guise of the wicked Archbishop Sigismund Wolfsbane. Meanwhile, if you're keen to read it, it's already out on Kindle and in e-pub on Kobo, for £2.89 - and you can sample the first chapter here.
It feels great to have finally finished the project, which I began way back in 2001 and at times thought I would never, ever complete! But now it's done, and I'm particularly pleased with Wolfsbane, which is far and away my favourite of the three books. If Gondarlan sets the scene and introduces the characters, and Breath of Gaia expands it and develops them, Wolfsbane sees the flowering of all the plot seeds I delighted in sowing in the earlier books - and keeps the story twisting and turning with (I hope) shocks and surprises right up to the last page. I think it's funnier than the first two, and more fluid in style... so if you read it, I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed myself writing it!
And now that's over I'm trying my hand at a psychological crime thriller, although I've also been working on non-fiction - if you check out the Articles page, you'll find my piece on a stunning metal-detector find published in the April issue of Lincolnshire Life; and on Reviews, my take on Fatal Rivalry, the latest book by George Goodwin, which appeared in the Spring 2014 Towton Herald. Busy days!
Had a great Towton Battlefield Society general meeting last night, with Society archaeologist Tim Sutherland giving us an update on his recent work. The first part of his presentation gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the 'Richard III's Lost Chapel' episode for his series Medieval Dead, televised late last year. It was quite a shock to learn that this entire series had been produced for the same cost (c. £250,000) as a single episode of Time Team! And it was fascinating to see images from the five test-pits excavated around Towton Hall, including just outside the front gates and at various points in the front and rear gardens; some had been devoid of finds, while others contained window glass/fragments of leading, plaster, roof slate and high-quality worked ashlar masonry fragments. The latter, indicating the presence of an ecclesiastical building, were made on the side of the house facing Main Street in the vicinity of the mass graves; so King Richard's chapel clearly stood near this spot after the battle of Towton - possibly a building the size of St Mary's chapel at Lead, and possibly roofed but internally unfinished at the time of his death in 1485. So although the Ricardian chapel is still lost to our eyes, thanks to Tim's work we can at least imagine its skeleton, preserved within the walls of the present building.
For the second half of the evening, Tim (who is notorious for busting Towton myths, like the 'Nothing-to-do-with-Ranulph-Lord-Dacre Cross') treated us to a sneak preview of a paper he has just written on the so-called 'Towton Battle Axe' (see photo above left). This 18-inch long weapon is said to have been found in the River Cock and has long been accepted as a genuine battle relic, being frequently referred to in books about Towton; now the property of the Duke of Northumberland, you can see it on display at Alnwick Castle. Tim has subjected this axe to his customary bulldog analysis, and come up with a radical re-interpretation of its nature and origins which certainly had me (and everyone else in the audience, I'm sure) convinced by his reasoning. I can't share his conclusions fully until the paper's published; suffice to say it won't please people who cling to romantic myths and folk-tales (like the one about blood in the battlefield soil causing 'Towton roses' to develop red patches on their petals, which smacks more of the 'Doctrine of Signatures' than dull botanical reality!). But watch this space for further details, and I'll post more as soon as I can.
The Frei Compagnie's summer event season continued on Saturday 17th with our traditional annual appearance at the village gala in Sherburn-in-Elmet. We usually have a perishing cold and/or rainy day there - in fact last year it rained so heavily that I pooped out of the event, and Hubcap found the roads flooding by the time he reached Saxton! But it was a different story this year, as you can see from the pic on the right of our latest recruit, Pete Chesman, in the armoury tent: bright blue skies and brilliant hot sunshine all day. Just as well, really, because it was the maiden outing for the pristine new tent recently acquired by our other Pete, 'One-Man-Event' Lawton - a very impressive ridge-pole pavilion with a large internal display area to show off his magnificent collection of weaponry and medical equipment (see below left and right, with Howard Atkin posing to show the scale, and Pete himself in the middle in full Fauconberg rig).
As usual, a good time was had by all, and the have-a-go archery was characteristically busy - we took £96 in two hours! Then we finished with a bang for our arena show/weapons demonstration, courtesy of narrator Des Thomas, gun crew Hannah, Steve and Pete, and of course the big guns (see below). So now we're all set for our next appearance at Wistow Scarecrow Festival on Saturday 7th June - let's hope the weather is as good, and that we'll see you there.
At last, the results of the judicial review have been announced: Richard III will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral next year - unless of course the Plantagenet Alliance and its hard-core pro-York supporters somehow manage to wangle an appeal and drag the process out for even longer because, as some allege, the wishes of the people in this matter have not been properly taken into account.
I sincerely hope that this won't happen. As one of 'the people', I felt that a judicial review of the original Leicester burial decision adequately addressed the issue and our rights to be heard - and I simply don't buy that there is such widespread outrage about the lack of a wider public enquiry to justify spending any more time or public money. Indeed, I think quite the reverse is true: that the vast majority of people either don't know or don't care where the last Plantagenet king is laid to rest. After all, the Alliance's campaign for a York burial made national news, and the rival petitions for Leicester and York received even more local publicity in Yorkshire and the Midlands - areas containing the major cities of Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield with a combined population of around 3 million, not including all the other towns and villages, and York and Leicester themselves. So plenty of people knew about them; yet nationally, the number who troubled to sign one or other of the petitions was only between 60 and 70,000, with a
Courtesy of Phil Stone/Richard III Society
roughly equal split between the two contenders. The inescapable conclusion is that people to whom Richard III's burial place really matters are a very tiny minority of the population - a perspective it's easy to lose sight of when you're a total anorak about something (and I use that as a term of affection, not abuse; I'm very proud to be a history anorak!). So the furore which immediately kicked off in the press and social media was predictable, if depressing, and couched in all the emotive, inaccurate and in some cases offensive language which have characterised too much of the debate since the discovery of his remains. Naturally, I had to stick my oar in with a blog on http://helenraerants.wordpress.com/ if you'd like to read more of my take on the subject!