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Johnson, Mary Ellen - Knights of England

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England's golden age: but what happens when the gold turns to dross?

KNIGHTS OF ENGLAND begins with the deposition and murder of Edward II and ends with the ascension of his great-grandson, Henry Bolingbroke, to the throne, following the   deposition and murder of that most tyrannical of kings, Richard II.  In between England endures the Black Death, its offshoot  The Peasant's Revolt of 1381,  and the bloody  battle of Shrewsbury, which lays the ground work for the Wars of the Roses. That most magnificent of medieval kings, Edward III, enjoys glorious martial victories against the French spearheaded by Edward III's legendary son, Edward the Black Prince.  Before it all turns sour... Against this historical backdrop, my knights  live, love and fight their ways across England and the continent, while the women they bed and sometimes wed  persevere, against great odds, to survive in a society that considers all women to be daughters of Eve, and thus responsible for  the sins of the world!


Why would anyone want to read about the Middle Ages? Just watch the movies. Everyone is dirty, the women wear funny pointed hats, they have terrible table manners, they believe the earth is flat, and, if we're watching an old  Robin Hood flick  well, his men are always laughing like lunatics.  Oh, yes, and then we have BRAVEHEART,  about which I will only comment that Scots did NOT wear kilts during the real William Wallace's time.

And yet the Medieval Period has branded itself upon Western consciousness.  Even in our historically challenged age, I can't imagine anyone who has never heard  of King Arthur , Camelot,  Excalibur, the Knights of the Round Table, Lancelot and Guinevere, as well as Robin Hood--whether with merry men or otherwise. (If the aforementioned actually existed, they did not in the form we know and love.)  As far as actual historical characters, we have Richard the Lionheart, the Black Prince, Thomas Becket, Joan of  Arc, Saladin...and many others.  And of course there are the Crusades. And the Templars. And the Holy Grail.  And the series, such as GAME OF THRONES  and LORD OF THE RINGS, that are all based on legends or the feudal structure, mores and customs of the time period. 

Not to mention that most of us women are still seeking our own knight in shining armor. 

I love the fourteenth century, at least in England, because in so many ways it feels so similar to our age.  After England had endured the deposition and murder of a bad king, Edward II, it entered into a golden age under that most magnificent of  medieval monarchs, Edward III. (Short history lesson: Crecy, Poitiers, beginnings of Hundred Years' War, Order of the Garter, Black Death.) But like some of the rest  of us, Edward III lived too long and by the end of his reign England's  golden age had turned to dross.  Difficult times are no fun for those living through them but they are a lot of fun for writers like me who glory in battles and describing plagues and of course the Peasants Revolt of 1381. (A CHILD UPON THE THRONE.  ) In my fifth, LORDS AMONG THE RUINS,  Richard II grows up and as he becomes increasingly tyrannical, his magnates struggle with how to cope with such a  megalomaniacal (not a word in medieval days) sovereign. And when they do rise up, depose (and murder) Richard--in an eerie echo of his great-grandfather's fate--well, can we say "Wars of the Roses?" 

I'm the first to say I'm not a scholar, but I try very hard to give a truthful flavor of the times, at least from my research. I'm always trying to figure out the way the medieval mind works, and share beliefs and behaviors that are interesting and sometimes bizarre. (Women  covered their ears because theologians considered  ears to be sexual objects. Of course they were because that's how the Virgin Mary conceived Jesus.) I try to make sure my women aren't feminists, my men are not metrosexuals, and to stay away from words  like "okay" and "hunky dory," or "homosexual." (Words like fuck and cunt were around then, though  not used as pejoratives.) I find everything, from the politics to the geography to the superstitions to the daily minutiae and of course their glorious castles, endlessly fascinating and hope I sketch them well enough to fascinate you too. 

Some of the questions I address are my 21st century ones dressed up in  surcoats and kirtles.

*What does romantic love actually mean? How is it executed? How does love change over the course of a lifetime?

*What happens when a person's raison d'etre, all his assumptions about life, are proven to be false?

*How did knights cope  who were suffering  from what we call PTSD?

*What are the limits of loyalty?

*How can a woman successfully make her way in a society where she has very few rights?

*What happens when the common folk, taxed in order to sustain wars they are no longer winning and to finance the profligacy of their rulers, finally say, "Enough!"? Can numbers overcome weapons and centuries of a particular belief system?

And finally, beyond the questions, is  the persistent theme that runs through my entire series, "Life though pleasant is transitory, even as is the Cherry Fair. "

                                 TRAVELS ACROSS TIME
When writing my medievals, I tried to make my characters reflect the times, rather than anachronistically be horrified by, say, the Divine Right of Kings or the plight of women.  Which is why  I'm enjoying placing a contemporary heroine in a bygone era where she will  have to wrestle  with an alien culture.  And no, she won't  introduce  modern medicine to thirteenth-century Ireland,  lead an army into battle  or best a knight at swordplay.  She will, however, retain a 21st century sensibility  throughout her adventures, which, for me as a writer,  is a lot of fun!

*BEFORE I WAKE:  My fictional memoir--if i were married five times and miraculously transported back to  thirteenth-century England  where I  meet the man  of my dreams--or at least my past life regression.  When my husband was a thirteenth-century knight named  Ranulf Navarre and I  his Lady Jane. 
   After novelist Magdalena Moore finds herself  at Tintagel Castle,  inhabiting the body of Lady Jane, she discovers that her beloved knight bears NO resemblance to the man of her dreams.  Why is Ranulf so cold? Janey so erratic?  When England is plunged into civil war, Ranulf backs Simon de Montfort, the rebel baron whose forces will be annihilated at the Battle of Evensham. How can Janey save Ranulf from certain death without reveealing how she knows Montfort's fate?  And Ranulf? What secret is he hiding? 

*ETERNAL BELOVED:  Frustrated historical novelist, Clarabel "Bel" Lucy , finds success as  the  head of  Bella Publishing, pubisher of steamy romances.  To celebrate  a decade of  success,  Bel throws a  conference at Ireland's Castle by the Sea,  which has intrigued her since childhood. Or at least its ghosts, "A Knight and his Lady", have.  Once there, Bel wanders into a bailey  teeming with hairy, disreputable looking men who she initally mistakes as medieval reenactors.   Bel soon discovers she's stuck in fourteenth-century Ireland  during a time of famine and civil war.  Nearly as distressing is the lord of Castle by the Sea,  who proves himself to be the very opposite of one of Bella Publishing's romantic heroes.  
*ROADHOUSE: Can we cheat death? My grandfather had a very popular tavern on Colorado's eastern plains which will be the fictional setting for my heroine, who from earliest childhood,   sees a soldier in WWII uniform walking along  a dusty road...before simply disappearing . After figuring out the key to his world,  which is tied to the Roadhouse, she meets him at various times throughout  her life,  where she  repeatedly tries to  to prevent his brutal murder. 

*LABOR WARS: Modern woman, irritated by her blue collar family, is engaged to a Colorado state legislator, whose politics are antithetical to everything her  union siblings and father believe in.  On a trip to Cripple Creek-Victor, my heroine  finds herself back in the turn of the century mining towns and smack in the middle of Colorado's labor wars. 


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