How Archival Research Added Texture to My Novel

Mystery Thriller Week 2017 logoThe week of 12–18 February, I’m participating with dozens of crime fiction authors in Mystery Thriller Week (MTW). Click on the logo to the left to check out a full schedule of author interviews, guest posts, and Facebook events during this week. Here’s how the week looks for me:

Monday 13 Feb: I host author Linda Kane for Relevant History.
Tuesday 14 Feb: Catherine Dilts interviews me on her blog.
Tuesday 14 Feb: MTW hosts my guest post about child soldiers.
Thursday 16 Feb: I host a great chat on Facebook with Relevant History veterans Jeri Westerson and I.J. Parker, “Women Historical Mystery Authors Who Write Men Detectives.”
Friday 17 Feb: I host author Jennifer S. Alderson for Relevant History (below).
Saturday 18 Feb: Stephen Bentley interviews me on his blog.

Jennifer Alderson author photoRelevant History welcomes Jennifer S. Alderson, who was born in San Francisco, raised in Seattle, and currently lives in Amsterdam. Her love of travel, art and culture inspired her ongoing series of novels following the adventures of Zelda Richardson around the globe. In Down and Out in Kathmandu, Zelda volunteers in Kathmandu, where she gets entangled with a gang of diamond smugglers. The Lover’s Portrait follows Zelda to Amsterdam, where she discovers a cache of masterpieces missing since World War Two. Her third novel—a mystery centered around Papua New Guinean ‘bis poles’, missionaries and anthropologists—will be released in the summer of 2017. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

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Let me make this clear from the start: I love the smell and feel of archival documents, those yellowing bits of paper and crumbling photographs that rustle ever so slightly when extracted from their manila envelopes. There’s something magical about scouring through meters of racks, drawers and file folders until you find an interesting or odd snippet of information recorded long ago which helps a character or story truly come to life.

While working out the storyline for my second novel, The Lover’s Portrait, I realized early on that the restitution of looted artwork and the treatment of Jewish citizens in the 1930s and 1940s, were going to be central to the plot.

To ensure that any potentially controversial aspects of my art mystery were honestly and accurately described, extensive archival research would be essential. What I didn’t expect is that this same research would add much needed texture and depth to my story, infuse it with universal themes and—according to all the reviewers so far—be what sets it apart.

Diving into the unknown to find the unique
I knew one of the main characters was going to be an art dealer being blackmailed by a Nazi general during the Second World War. I just didn’t know exactly why he would be forced to give up his collection. Restitution of art was a topic already very familiar to me, one I’d learned much about during art history and museum studies lectures at the University of Amsterdam. However the details surrounding important events in Dutch history, and the attitudes held in Europe during that period, were not.

It was crucial for the plot that this art dealer character not be Jewish but did need to be considered a ‘dissident’ or threat to the Nazi regime for another reason. I went to the Amsterdam City Archives with an open mind and list of questions.

I’d thought up all sorts of plot twists which involved other groups targeted by Hitler’s troops—Romas, communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political dissidents and homosexuals—and decided to see what my adopted hometown’s archives could tell me about how they were affected by the war. The documents I found relating to the treatment of homosexuals were the least known, and therefore most interesting, to me.

Before visiting the archives, I’d read several non-fiction books to better understand this turbulent time in European and Dutch history, and seen no mention of how Dutch men could be arrested, castrated and sent off to work camps in Germany based on the mere suspicion that they were homosexual. Or that lesbians were classified as ‘political dissidents’ in work camps.

That’s when I realized I’d found a ‘winner’ qua topic, one which hadn’t already been exhaustively explored in mainstream literature.

The sensitive nature of the themes discussed in this novel warranted that it be historically accurate, yet it was never my intention to write a historical fiction novel, but an art-infused mystery. When my ‘final draft’ clocked in at 110,000 words, I was afraid it was too long or would only appeal to historical fiction buffs, so I slashed many of the chapters which relied heavily on the obscure details I’d worked so hard to find.

The end result was shorter and less historical, but without all those enticing tidbits of information to fill in the characters’ backgrounds or help explain plot developments, the whole story fell flat. It was as if I’d ripped the soul out of my novel.

Little details make the difference
Despite my misgivings about the length, I added everything back in and even wrote three new chapters taking place in wartime Amsterdam to provide more depth and richness to the story, choosing to edit down the present day sections of the book to compensate. Man, am I glad I did! It’s the research that grabs reviewers’ attention, enhances their enjoyment of the story and characters, and seems to be what distinguishes this novel from others in the ‘amateur sleuth’ category.

My research has also paid off in other ways. I recently found out the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam is adding The Lover’s Portrait to their library’s permanent collection because they are thrilled with their prominent role in the book. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has already added it to their library based on the merits of my research into the complexities surrounding the restitution of looted artwork. And a prominent local LGBT organization, Pink Point, is helping me promote the book here in the city because they believe the storyline to be unique.

Yes, I spent many long hours browsing through often useless documents, pamphlets, flyers and photographs in far-flung physical and digital archives. I didn’t have to. But without all of the little details adding texture, depth and layers of meaning, my book wouldn’t have been the same. And frankly, I enjoyed every second of it!

Fellow authors, do you conduct archival research in order to add texture to your fiction? Readers, do you expect fiction to be well-researched, or are you just as happy to step into a completely fictitious world?

*****

A big thanks to Jennifer Alderson. Check out her “Name the Character” contest for the opportunity to win an electronic copy of one of her books. Offer ends 21 February 2017.

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The Winner of The Black Madonna

Vanda has won a copy of The Black Madonna by Linda Kane. Congrats to Vanda!

Thanks to Linda Kane for the scoop on a horrific chapter in the history of the Catholic Church. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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The Massacre at Beziers

Mystery Thriller Week 2017 logoThe week of 12–18 February, I’m participating with dozens of crime fiction authors in Mystery Thriller Week (MTW). Click on the logo to the left to check out a full schedule of author interviews, guest posts, and Facebook events during this week. Here’s how the week looks for me:

Monday 13 Feb: I host author Linda Kane for Relevant History (below).
Tuesday 14 Feb: Catherine Dilts interviews me on her blog.
Tuesday 14 Feb: MTW hosts my guest post about child soldiers.
Thursday 16 Feb: I host a great chat on Facebook with Relevant History veterans Jeri Westerson and I.J. Parker, “Women Historical Mystery Authors Who Write Men Detectives.”
Friday 17 Feb: I host author Jennifer S. Alderson for Relevant History.
Saturday 18 Feb: Stephen Bentley interviews me on his blog.

Linda Kane author photoRelevant History welcomes Linda L. Kane, a school psychologist, and learning disability specialist with an MA in Education. She is the author of The Black Madonna, Witch Number is Which, Icelandia, Katterina Ballerina, Cowboy Jack and Buddy Save Santa, Clyde: Lost and Now Found, and Bottoms Up, A Daisy Murphy Mystery. She lives with her husband, three dogs, and six horses in California. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

*****

The beginnings
The Cathars were a religious group that appeared in Europe in the eleventh century. The religion flourished in the Languedoc area, which is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, the Pyrenees, and the rivers Gronne, Tarn, and Rhone and corresponds to the new French region of Occitanie. The Cathars believed in two principles: a good god creator, and his evil adversary (much like God and Satan of mainstream Christianity). They called themselves Christian. The Catholic Church called them Albigenses. Cathars regarded men and women as equals and had no doctrinal objection to contraception, euthanasia, or suicide.

The Cathar religion became so popular that many Catholics worried that it might replace Catholicism. In 1209, Pope Innocent III called a formal Crusade against the Cathars, appointing a series of military leaders to head his Holy Army. The first was the Abbot of Citeaux, Arnaud Amalric. The second was French nobleman Simon de Montfort.

The war against the Cathars continued for two generations. The first generation it was led by Raymond-Roger Trencavel, who was one of the leaders of the Languedoc. In the later phases, the Kings of France would take over as leaders of the Crusade, which thus became a Royal Crusade. Among the many victims who lost their lives were Peter II, King of Aragon, and Louis VIII, King of France.

The onslaught
A crusader army consisting of knights, professional soldiers, mercenary bands, and pilgrims assembled and departed from Lyon in 1209. Beziers, a stronghold of Catharism, was the first major town the crusaders encountered on their way to Carcassonne. Commanded by Papal legate Arnaud Amalric, the crusader army reached the outskirts of Beziers on 21 July. The Bishop of Beziers tried to avert bloodshed and to negotiate. He came back to Beziers with the message that the town would be spared if the heretics were handed over. The townsfolk—Catholics, Jews, some Waldensians, and of course, Cathars—decided not to comply.

On 22 July, the Crusaders were getting settled and still days away from starting the siege. A group of soldiers from the town tried to exit the gate and harass the mercenaries. A brawl ensued and soon the attackers found themselves outnumbered, and they retreated. The mercenaries took advantage, stormed the town’s wall and entered the city gate, all without orders. The Crusader knights, realizing the mercenaries had broken into the city, joined the battle and overwhelmed the garrison.

Some of the mercenaries admitted that there were Catholics mingled with the heretics. A knight said to the Abbot of Citeaux, “Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics.” The abbot, like the others, was afraid that many, in fear of death, would pretend to be Catholics, and after their departure, would return to their heresy. He replied, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius—Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His.”

Approximately 20,000 men, women, and children in that town were slain. The clergy were spared. The Crusaders allowed the mercenaries to kill without restraint but stepped in when it came to all the money, gold, art, and books.

The mercenaries rampaged through the streets, killing and plundering, while those citizens who could run sought refuge in the churches—the cathedral, the churches of St. Mary Magdalene and St Jude. Yet the churches did not provide safety against the raging mob of invaders. The doors of the churches were broken open and all inside were slaughtered.

Then came the distribution of the city’s spoils. The Crusaders became enraged that the mercenaries had already taken much of the plunder. The knights took control of the situation, chased the mercenaries down from occupied houses, and took their booty away. In turn, the angry and disappointed mercenaries responded by burning down the town. In the engulfing fire, the plunder was lost, and the army left the city with nothing.

Aftermath
The Crusaders had achieved a quick and devastating victory. Horror and terror spread through the land. Many castles and towns submitted without resistance.

Carcassonne fell within a month, and Raymond-Roger Trencavel died in captivity later that year; his lands were given to de Montfort, who later died in battle. However, the Crusaders lost the support of the local Catholic population and thus became a hated occupying force. The French king soon entered the war and took control over the Languedoc (a deal struck between him and the Pope). The Inquisition then hunted down the remaining Cathars in Montségur, where three hundred men, women, and children were chained together and thrown into a pyre.

Three Cathars were supposed to have escaped in the confusion carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

*****

The Black Madonna book coverA big thanks to Linda Kane. She’ll give away copies of The Black Madonna in Kindle electronic format to up to five people who contribute a comment on my blog through Thursday. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.

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The Winner of A Minor Deception

Sandra Cody has won a copy of A Minor Deception by Nupur Tustin. Congrats to Sandra!

Thanks to Nupur for a peek inside a historical culture where music united the rich and the poor. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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The Great Unifier

Nupur Tustin author photoRelevant History welcomes historical mystery author Nupur Tustin, a former journalist who relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her musical works. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook and Goodreads.

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Both rich and poor, Voltaire said in his Discourse on Man “go on equally from sorrow to death.”

In the eighteenth century, when medicine was still in its infancy, this was true enough, of course. But it was not just death and disease that bound together people from all walks of life. Something else, rather more pleasant, was shared by rich and poor, male and female alike in the eighteenth century. Music.

Like religion, it made up the fabric of daily life. In the northern German towns, the town piper with his band of musicians and apprentices provided music every morning and afternoon in the town square. Farmers, we are told, made all kinds of wonderful music on a variety of instruments: zithers, harpsichords, violins, violas, and spinets.

To the south, in the Catholic lands under the Habsburgs, Charles Burney found to his astonishment “children of both sexes,” playing “violins, hautbois, bassoons, and other instruments.”

The Church was quite possibly the largest sponsor of music and the largest employer of musicians. No matter what their differences, Catholics and Lutherans alike found in music a perfect symbol of divine harmony. And despite the Church’s troubled relation with music—some feared its rich contours diverted from the texts it was meant to illuminate—it could not deny the spiritually uplifting effect music had on the soul.

Not everyone could read music. Haydn’s parents most certainly could not. But Mathias Haydn, Joseph’s father, had learned on his travels as a journeyman wheelwright to play the harp. And in the evening when their work was done, he and his wife Anna Maria would sit by the fireplace, singing and playing their favorite folk songs. Joseph, or Sepperl as he was called then, joined in as well, keeping time with two sticks that he pretended were a violin and bow.

Instruction in singing and various instruments was provided to children of parish schools at the end of a long school day that began at seven in the morning and ended at three in the afternoon. Not surprisingly, a thorough education in music frequently paved the way for a rewarding career in the church.

Musical nuns
In the many convents clustered around the Hofburg in Vienna, nuns took pride in their music-making. Many a musical nun kept a Klavier in her cell, an instrument lovingly repaired and tuned at the expense of the convent. Music was required for Sunday worship, feast days, and all the important events in the Church calendar.

Women with excellent singing voices like Haydn’s first love Therese Keller were especially welcome at convents. One can only imagine their delight when a highly trained and skilled composer such as Mariana von Raschenau chose to join their ranks. Her father, who had paid close to 5000 florins on her education in music and the arts, was naturally not too happy with her choice, but Mariana ardently wanted to be a nun.

If music was a symbol of cosmic harmony and order, it was also a symbol of that same order on earth.

Imperial singers
The nobility were as enthusiastic about music as their peasant counterparts, and likely to be even more proficient. Frederick William, King of Prussia and father of Frederick the Great, was the rare exception, despising music as an effeminate activity that had no place in a man’s life. His Calvinist leanings might also have predisposed him against the art.

But music was so greatly prized among the Habsburgs that the Empress Maria Theresa was trained by no less a person than the composer Georg Christoph Wagenseil. By the age of six, she had progressed sufficiently in her training to sing a role in an opera. Her father, the Emperor Charles VI, conducted the orchestra for the performance. Her grandfather and uncle had been composers.

With the advent of the Enlightenment, all of this gradually began to unravel. The divine order and secular authority both came into question, frequently by men of power like Frederick the Great and his much-younger Austrian counterpart Joseph II.

Although both men were musically proficient, in some quarters the logical conclusion of the Enlightenment was that music itself was irrelevant. Its harmony had no place in a world of reason.

In Leipzig, the young rector of St. Thomas’s Parish School, would have preferred to eliminate music from the curriculum altogether, and was only prevented from doing so by the force of the cantor’s personality, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Forty years later in Austria, Joseph II would dissolve all but one convent in Vienna, setting into inevitable motion an unfortunate process that would make music itself at best a pleasant diversion; at worst an irrelevant art with nothing to offer. That view sadly persists to this day.

It’s one of the reasons I enjoy living in Haydn’s world as I research and write the Haydn Mysteries. No one questioned the value of music back then; any more than they questioned the existence of God.

*****

A Minor Deception book coverA big thanks to Nupur Tustin. She’ll give away a paperback copy of her first Joseph Haydn mystery, A Minor Deception, to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.

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The Winner of Murder on the Mullet Express

Julia has won a copy of Murder on the Mullet Express by Gwen Mayo. Congrats to Julia!

Thanks to Gwen Mayo for the boom-to-bust story from Florida’s history. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Why New Homosassa was Destined to Fail

Gwen Mayo author photoRelevant History welcomes back Gwen Mayo, who is passionate about blending her loves of history and mystery fiction. She currently lives and writes in Safety Harbor, Florida, but grew up in a large Irish family in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kentucky, but her most interesting job was as a brakeman and railroad engineer from 1983–1987. She was one of the last engineers to be certified on steam locomotives. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook.

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The Builders
The Florida Land Boom began modestly. World War I made Europe inaccessible for wealthy Americans wanting an escape from cold winter storms. The search for warm weather far from the front lines turned their attention to the American retreats. Luxurious steamer cabins and palatial private railcars made traveling within the states easier than ever. It didn’t take long for New England’s upper crust to discover coastal Florida and dot the beachfront with a few grand resorts where “The Season” could be spent in comfort.

Florida didn’t remain an exclusive winter playground for the rich and famous for long. Post-war prosperity and expanded rail travel made the state attractive to travelers of more modest means. America’s growing middle class wasn’t able to settle in to The Biltmore for the season, but they could afford to purchase a patch of sunshine in one of the future cities being mapped out by developers. Often, they would purchase a plot one year, then sell it the next year, making enough on the deal to pay for the next vacation.

Every year, a few more visitors decided to stay and build a seaside cottage or modest home. Florida might have continued along this path of steady growth had it not been for the grand schemes hatched by land developers and the availability of easy credit. Many development schemes never got off the drawing board. The ones that did leveled forests, drained swamps, and created new dry land by dredging the ocean floor.

The Speculators
With the developers also came a hoard of land speculators looking to strike it rich and a property madness akin to the California gold rush. Property prices skyrocketed as people purchased lots on credit with the sole intent to resell the land at higher prices.

By 1925, when the plans for New Homosassa began advertising, the Florida Land Boom had become a real-estate boondoggle with all the trappings of a circus sideshow. Developers printed a brochure of highly exaggerated claims of how much of the city was actually built. They promised their “Sportsman’s Paradise” would have every modern amenity, movie theaters, two golf courses, a grand arcade, shops, broad thoroughfares, parks, … then, in October of 1925, the big three railroad companies called an embargo permitting only food, fuel, and essential commodities to move within the state.

The West Coast Development company countered by hiring a fleet of Cadillacs to transport their potential customers from Jacksonville to New Homosassa. They also chartered a special train to bring the press from St. Petersburg to cover the grand opening. Free food and all the oranges they could eat were supplied to the buyers. A marching band was brought in to build excitement on opening day. Speculators still clinging to the idea of getting rich in the great boom came to join the party.
What the developers were unable to do was find a way around the embargo on freight. New Homosassa managed to get much needed construction materials to finish most of the hotel an arcade, but could not get building materials in the quantities needed for constructing a city.

The Bust
In January 1926, a second blow to the real estate boom hit. Prinz Valdemar, a former Danish training ship converted to a floating hotel, ran aground in the Miami Harbor, blocking all shipping for nearly a month.

Construction crews at work in New Homosassa [Construction crews at work – Homosassa, Florida. 1926. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.] The crowds of speculators that showed up for New Homosassa’s grand opening would be left holding the bag as the great Florida Land Boom became a huge bust. Two weeks after properties in New Homosassa went on sale, the New York Times reported a lull in Florida’s real estate market. By March, property values were plummeting. Big investors pulled out, but not without taking big losses. Foreclosures snowballed.

A third and final blow made it clear that New Homosassa would never fulfill the grand vision of the West Coast Development Company’s brochure. The wind started to howl through Miami on September seventeenth. It didn’t stop there. The big blow worked its way up the Gulf Coast of Florida, destroying any hope of the real estate market recovering for decades. In its wake came devastation, disease, and economic ruin. Bodies in Miami had to be burned because there was no land for burial. The entire Gulf Coast suffered through one of the worst Atlantic storms to ever make landfall in the United States, and the Boom was over.

*****

Murder on the Mullet Express book coverA big thanks to Gwen Mayo. She’ll give away a paperback copy of Murder on the Mullet Express to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide (wherever there is mail service).

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The Winner of Alvar the Kingmaker

Judi Maxwell has won a copy of Alvar the Kingmaker by Annie Whitehead. Congrats to Judi!

Thanks to Annie Whitehead for showing us a Dark Ages political fiasco fit for Game of Thrones. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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An Early Royal Scandal

Annie Whitehead author photoRelevant History welcomes historian and award-winning novelist Annie Whitehead. Alvar the Kingmaker, a tale of love, politics and murder, begins with the story of the ‘scandal’ of AD955. To Be A Queen tells the story of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great. Annie contributed to 1066 Turned Upside Down, a re-imagining of events leading up to the Norman Conquest. She’s currently working on another anthology, In Bed with the British, which will be published in 2017 by Pen & Sword Books, in which she will investigate the ‘scandal’ in much greater depth, using a range of primary sources. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

*****

It should have been a day for celebration. The archbishop had crowned the new young king, and Abbot Dunstan had watched the ceremony and was looking forward to serving this new monarch as faithfully as he had his predecessors. But at some point during the following feast, someone noticed that the king was missing, and Dunstan was dispatched to find him.

Eadwig RoyalAt this point, in AD955, King Eadwig (Edwy) was possibly around the age of fourteen. It’s safe to assume that Dunstan was not expecting to find the young king in bed with his wife. Much less with her mother.

And yet this is what happened, according to the scribe who wrote the Life of Dunstan just a few years after Dunstan, by then Archbishop of Canterbury, had died. He recalled that ‘they found the royal crown, which was bound with wondrous metal, gold and silver and gems, and shown with many-coloured lustre, carelessly thrown on the floor, far from his head, and he himself repeatedly wallowing between the two of them in evil fashion, as in a vile sty.’

King Eadwig was dragged back to the feast and a terrible argument erupted between the king and Dunstan, which resulted in the latter being sent into exile.

Another tale of dubious moral standards and the king being answerable only to himself? Well, not quite.

Annulment and aftermath
Eadwig’s marriage was annulled, on the grounds that he was too closely related to his wife—another sin in the eyes of the Church—and it wasn’t long before he had his kingdom taken away from him too.

Eadwig was succeeded by his younger brother, Edgar, whose first act as king was to recall Dunstan. Edgar was remembered as ‘The Peaceable’ who actively supported the tenth-century monastic reformation.

So was the coronation incident of 955 just a tiny incident of scandal, a morsel to tempt the appetites of gossips?

The identity of Eadwig’s wife has not been established beyond all doubt, but it is generally accepted that she was the sister of Aethelweard the Chronicler, and that means that she and Eadwig shared a great-great-grandfather which would not, according to the laws of the time, have made them too closely related. So why the annulment; was it a vengeful response by the Church?

Eadwig came to the throne because his uncle, the previous king, had died childless. Eadwig’s own father had died when Eadwig and his younger brother were very small children, and the young boys were brought up separately.

And here we come to what I think is the crux of the matter. The younger of the two boys, Edgar, had been brought up in the house of the powerful earl of East Anglia, whose family lost power and position when Eadwig became king.

Diploma of King Eadwig for AelfwineEadwig’s reign saw a flurry of land charters, by which Eadwig clearly hoped to buy support from the nobility, but it was a policy which did not work. His younger brother launched a coup in 957, enlisting help from East Anglia, the erstwhile kingdom of Mercia, and most of the rest of the north and east.

For two years, Eadwig continued to rule Wessex, until he died in 959, aged nineteen. According to the chroniclers, there was nothing suspicious about his death, and I have no proof of murder, so let’s just say that the timing of his death was at the very least extremely beneficial to Edgar and his supporters.

Edgar’s Reign
New Minster charter detail EdgarHad Eadwig remained married to the woman who was, like him, related to Alfred the Great, (in her case, having been descended from Alfred’s brother,) their children would have been royal twice over and would have had very strong claims to the throne. It was politic to make sure that these children never arrived, hence the reason for the enforced divorce.

Edgar’s reign proved him to be a formidable king—in 973 he was paid homage by kings of Wales and Scotland—and it was in no small part due to his strength that his reign remained free from Viking invasion. He fared much better than his sons, one of whom was murdered in 978 and the youngest of whom has been remembered throughout history as Aethelred the ‘Unready’.

Edgar did not completely escape scrutiny. There is some debate as to the exact number and status of his wives, but there was a rumour that the mother of at least one of his children was herself promised to the Church and was destined to become a nun before Edgar impregnated her. There were later medieval traditions that Edgar killed the husband of his final wife because he was so besotted with her. This wife, the step-mother of the murdered son, and mother of Aethelred the Unready, was seemingly loathed by Dunstan, so Edgar did not have universal love and approval for his actions. In some ways his personal life was as chaotic and shocking as his teenaged brother’s had been.

There is no doubt in my mind that the ‘scandal’ of 955 was nothing to do with Christian morals, and everything to do with politics, and in that regard, is not so different from the modern world. The Anglo-Saxons lived a very long time ago, but the way they lived their lives is, at times, very recognisable.

*****

Alvar the Kingmaker book coverA big thanks to Annie Whitehead. She’ll give away a paperback copy of Alvar the Kingmaker to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.

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The Winner of Murder Manhattan Style

Jacqueline Seewald has won a copy of Murder Manhattan Style by Warren Bull. Congrats to Jacqueline!

Thanks to Warren Bull for a look at Abraham Lincoln’s slant on Christmas. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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