Historical Background

Accuracy

The characters in Mirrored Sword are modern people in medieval costume, and Allan makes no apology for this. If you want to experience the real thoughts, feelings and behaviours of Mr and Mrs Average Medieval, go build yourself a time machine that actually works. Some attitudes and beliefs, typical of the period, are merely worn like masks, for the appearance of authenticity.

Nevertheless, the story is based on historical facts, including established events, dates, names, fashions and technologies. Mistakes, in so far as they exist (in so far as Allan is aware of them), are mistakes in emphasis. For example, readers are going to find more mirrors and glass windows in this book than were typical of the period. Conversely, there are relatively few devout Christians . This change in emphasis is deliberate: life indoors without plenty of light, warmth and reflections is difficult to comprehend these days, and so is the devout life of the medieval Christian. If you find any obvious historical clangers, Allan asks that you let him know so that he can record his corrections and his regrets here. Otherwise he pleads artistic license: the book is a work of fiction, with some comic themes, so let’s not get too serious.

The Political Setting

Henry VI (1421-1471), the Lancastrian king

“Hey Allan, what were the Wars of the Roses?”

I am glad you ask, because now I can tell everyone about the historical events leading up to Mirrored Sword. It is a story, not a history lesson, and this is the right place for me to play teacher. Wars of the Roses sounds like a horticultural competition turned nasty, doesn’t it! In fact it was a dynastic feud in medieval England, involving the House of Lancaster and House of York. Those were alliances between many of the leading families, often symbolised by the red and white rose respectively, yet it was only later, in the Tudor period, that the red rose began to be mentioned in this context.

Red and white makes me think of lots of Englishman dying on a battlefield, with blood and gore everywhere.”

There is a bit of that in the story but maybe you should think of a chess board instead. Kings were at the centre of all the rivalry, just as in chess, and their capture or protection involved the capture and protection of many lesser figures, with lots of manoeuvring, scheming, lightning attacks, strategic withdrawals–

“Stop it! I hate chess. My head is spinning already.”

Actually it was even more complex than chess. Individuals could change sides to please themselves, and treachery, while it might have been considered unsporting, was pretty common. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there was also a lot of chivalry, and courtly romance, and many displays of good manners and piety, but deep inside all that elegance and charm, like a wad of gunpowder, lay the restless ambitions of the nobles and their hired supporters, called affinities (a more volatile bunch than the old-fashioned, feudal retainers .)

“Now I really am getting confused – roses, chess, gunpowder! Can’t you keep it simple? So tell me: who are the villains in this story, and who are the good guys?”

It’s unfair to finger anyone as the cause of all the trouble but let’s be unfair. The cause of all the trouble was a good guy, King Henry VI. Gentle and deeply religious, poor Henry was way too sensitive to manage the strains of high office. A nervous breakdown left him a king in name only and thus the pawn of others. His queen, Margaret of Anjou, got first use of him, by right of marriage, but she was an unpopular Frenchwoman and a lot of things went wrong under her watch. Opposition gathered around the banner of the king’s cousin, the Duke of (you guessed it) York, and he grabbed control of the mad king at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. Unfortunately for the duke, his celebrations were as short-lived as himself, because the queen beheaded him and reclaimed her husband before year’s end, thanks to a colossal, Lancastrian victory at the Battle of Wakefield. These were topsy turvy times, though, and the Yorkists snatched a colossal victory of their own the following year, at the Battle of Towton, due largely to the inspired leadership of the deceased duke’s eighteen year old son, Edward. This daring young man not only pocketed the royal pawn, Henry VI, but also had himself crowned King Edward IV.

Edward IV (1442-1483), the Yorkist king.

“Wow, he sounds like a real dude!”

You sound as if you are only twelve years old. Are you sure you are able to read my book? But it’s a book for all ages, I like to think, so why not! Edward’s virtues and faults were those of a good natured young man enjoying life to the full. He was tall, well-built, handsome, loaded with charm, a real dude, but a king shouldn’t bed his female subjects just for fun, at least not as often as he did, and he even ended up marrying one of them: Elizabeth Woodville. She was gentry, a class beneath the aristocrats. It was considered a low match by many Englishmen, and it even alienated some of Edward’s closest supporters, including his own brother, the duke of Clarence, and their scheming older cousin, the earl of Warwick, whose Machiavellian intrigues later earned him the title Kingmaker. (Machiavellian, in case you don’t know, means treacherous and cunning.)

“Stop patronising me and get to the point.”

So let’s cut to the year 1469, when history served up a real imbroglio (mess), just before my book starts. That was the year the Duke of Clarence married the earl of Warwick’s daughter – against King Edward’s own wishes! You could call it tit-for-tat: one inconvenient marriage deserves another. In fact it was a treacherous and cunning move. Edward was dealing with a small rebellion in the north at that time, and news of the marriage reached him only a little before Clarence and Warwick arrived at the head of their own army, in support of the rebels. The king was trapped – or, to return to the chess analogy, check! England now had two kings in captivity, Henry VI and Edward IV, and a possible third, Clarence, now waited to occupy the throne, if his luck held good.

“It’s getting to be like Chinese Checkers.”

Yes so of course all these shenanigans were more than England and her neighbours could stomach. Invasion loomed large along the borders, and chaos erupted inside them. England badly needed a king to settle everything back down again, and the choice was Warwick’s to make. He chose Edward, but first he made a point of beheading some of the king’s Woodville in-laws – out of spite, and because somebody had to take the blame for causing all the trouble, and why not a bunch of upstarts!

“That Warwick sounds like a real villain.”

He isn’t one of the characters in Mirrored Sword, though he gets mentioned quite a bit. There isn’t space for him: the story only covers thirty-one days in the following year, 1470, and there is so much else to squeeze in! Edward is on the throne again, Henry VI is locked in the Tower, Clarence is still hoping for a turn as king, Warwick is manoeuvring behind the scenes, and the queen’s family is now hot for revenge.

“It won’t be much be much fun without the main villain, but what happens next?”

Read the book and find out.

Bibliography

Black M., The Medieval Cookbook (New York 1992)

Brooke, I., English Costume: from the Early Middle Ages Through the Sixteenth Century (New York 2000)

Cosman, M. P., Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony (New York 1976)

Denton, W., England in the Fifteenth Century (London 1888), reproduced Bibliolife

Green, A. S., Town Life in the Fifteenth Century (London 1984) reproduced Elibron Classics

Horrox, R., Fifteenth Century Attitudes: Perceptions of society in late medieval England (Cambridge 1994)

Houston, M. G., Medieval Costume in England and France: the 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries(New York 1996)

Mortimer, I., The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England (London 2009)

Norris, H., Medieval Costume and Fashion (New York 1999)

Ross, C., Edward IV (London 1983)

Thrupp, S. L., The Merchant Class of Medieval London (Michigan 1976)