04 December 2016

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Elisabeth Hobbes on THE SAXON OUTLAW'S REVENGE

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ELISABETH HOBBES with her latest release,  THE SAXON OUTLAW'S REVENGEBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's  author interview for a chance to win a digital copy of the novel. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

At the mercy of her enemy! 

Abducted by Saxon outlaws, Constance Arnaud comes face-to-face with Aelric, a Saxon boy she once loved. He's now her enemy, but Constance must reach out to this rebel and persuade him to save her life as she once saved his…

Aelric is determined to seek vengeance on the Normans who destroyed his family. Believing Constance deserted him, he can never trust her again. Yet, as they are thrown together and their longing for each other reignites, will Aelric discover that love is stronger than revenge?

**Q&A with Elisabeth Hobbes*

What is the elevator pitch for your latest book?

A Norman/Saxon reunion revenge romance.  Enemies - or those who by rights should be enemies - to lovers is one of my favourite tropes.

Do your characters have any basis in fact?

Constance is fictional but Aelric was based on a number of real life figures including Eadric the Wild and Hereward the Wake.  Both were Anglo Saxon noblemen or thegns who resisted the rule of the Normans, though in different parts of the country to where The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge takes place.  These men were among many who took refuge in the countryside after being displaced by the new rulers.  According to history, both Eadric and Hereward did eventually reach a compromise with the Normans and were pardoned, which at least gives Aelric and Constance the hope of a happy ending.

It wasn’t just the Saxons that newly crowned King William had to contend with, but occasionally his own supporters and Constance is set a task of discovering whether her hated brother-in-law Robert de Coudray is involved in possible rebellious behaviour.

Hugh D’Avranches, Constance’s friend who sets her this task in return for helping her gain admittance to a convent is the only historical person.  He was the Palatine Earl of Chester at the time and says early in the book that he would found a holy order himself if it would please Constance, which of course in actual fact he did.

Your last book, The Blacksmith’s Wife, was set in your hometown.  Is your new book also set there?

The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge is set in the area where I now live which is East Cheshire.  In the Domesday book, it is in the Hundred of Hamestan so this is the name I gave to the village where Aelric’s father had been thegn and which Constance’s brother in law, Robert, was granted after the conquest.  It’s an area with stunning scenery, especially around Alderley Edge with a steep sandstone ridge over what would have been thick forest that looks over the vale.  There is evidence of Bronze Age and Roman mining and it makes a perfect place for Aelric and his group of outlaws to hide.

This book is much darker in tone than your previous ones.  Why is that?

It’s a very dark period in history.  Lives and families were destroyed on a wide scale and the political, social and cultural face of England was changed forever in the aftermath of the conquest.   Without wanting to delve too deeply into it - this is a romance after all not a textbook- I wanted to do that justice and show the impact on the lives of different people including the dispossessed men such as Aelric and his companions and the villagers who remained whether they had been now struggling under new rule.  To write a light-hearted story felt like it would diminish the experiences of the people who lived through it but I think there are enough moments of hope and positivity in it too.

The book is released in December.  Is it a Christmas story?

Not at all!  The first chapter takes place in Autumn and the second, seven years later, moves the story to early Spring.  It completely bypasses the festive period.
Having said that, there is a tradition of Christmas stories being dark but ultimately leading to redemption.

Because of her act of mercy towards Aelric at the start of the story, Constance suffers both physical and mental pain and loss in her brutal marriage.  Aelric has lost everything, his home, family and his belief in his own self-worth.  He is driven by revenge, which rarely ends in anything positive.  They are two damaged people struggling to find themselves and each other.  I wanted to offer the suggestion that through reaching an understanding and embracing what we have in common rather than fixating on what divides us, people can come together to build a future- something that at this moment in time seems more important than ever.  In my mind, there isn’t a more Christmassy message than ‘peace on Earth and goodwill to all’.

What next?

I’m writing the story of Roger Danby, the villain from The Blacksmith’s Wife.  He was a fun character to write and towards the end of that book showed that he was not all bad, but Joanna was completely wrong for him.  I want to see him pitched against a heroine who won’t as much hero-worship him as smack him round the head with a soup bowl and make him shape up!

Get your copy of The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge now at:

Learn more about author ELISABETH HOBBES at her website.

01 December 2016

Excerpt Thursday: THE SAXON OUTLAW'S REVENGE by Elisabeth Hobbes

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ELISABETH HOBBES with her latest release,  THE SAXON OUTLAW'S REVENGE. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the storyBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win a digital copy of the novel. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

At the mercy of her enemy!

Abducted by Saxon outlaws, Constance Arnaud comes face-to-face with Aelric, a Saxon boy she once loved. He's now her enemy, but Constance must reach out to this rebel and persuade him to save her life as she once saved his… 

Aelric is determined to seek vengeance on the Normans who destroyed his family. Believing Constance deserted him, he can never trust her again. Yet, as they are thrown together and their longing for each other reignites, will Aelric discover that love is stronger than revenge?

**An Excerpt from The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge**

Disguised as a serving boy, Constance Arnaud is travelling to the house of her brother-in-law for the first time in seven years when the party is attacked.  The ambush has been masterminded by Aelric, now going by the name of Caddoc.

The air filled with cries of anger and exertion. The guards were pulled from their mounts, but had succeeded in drawing their weapons and began to return the blows they were dealt.
Stomach knotting, Constance staggered back against her horse. Running was futile. She was too slow and where would she go anyway? She crouched on the ground, trying to make herself as unobtrusive as possible against the mare’s legs.
The man from beneath the bridge had been kneeling beside Rollo. Seemingly satisfied that the bodyguard was no threat, he cleared the ground in a handful of strides. The guards would be no match when the odds were four against two.
But four against three...
As the hooded man passed her, Constance hurled her stick at his legs. It caught him a blow on the ankles and he tripped forward. He threw his arms out, recovering his footing almost instantly, and whipped his head round to see who had obstructed him. His hood slipped back and Constance caught a glimpse of his face, or at least the hair that flopped down to his neck and the wild, shaggy beard that covered his jaw. His blue eyes were strikingly bright amid the blond tangle and now they narrowed with fury as they regarded Constance.
‘There’s another over here!’ he shouted.
Cursing her own stupidity Constance pushed herself to her feet. The assailants had been so intent on capturing the guards they had overlooked her presence so to draw attention to it had been the height of foolishness. Now she was most probably going to die alongside the guards. She lurched sideways as her weaker leg sent her off balance, but threw herself in the direction of the woods. She aimed herself blindly at the thick undergrowth, her only hope being to find somewhere to hide. Before she had gone five paces a pair of hands seized her from behind.
‘No, you don’t, lad!’
The man she had tripped wrapped his arms tight around Constance’s waist, pinning her arms to her side. She threw her head back, trying to wrestle free, but his grip was unbreakable. His arms locked around her with a strength she had never before encountered and she felt herself lifted off the ground as easily as a child. She kicked and bucked wildly, but her resistance made no difference and she was carried back to the road.
Her captor threw her to her knees and cuffed her round the ear with the back of his hand. The blow wasn’t very hard, clearly intended as a warning rather than to cause injury, but nevertheless it set her head spinning. Once she had been hardened against such treatment, but now the violence came as a shock. She bit back tears. No man would weep at such a blow.
‘Stay still and you might live, boy,’ he growled, his accent curling oddly in Constance’s ears. Whoever he was his accent did not sound like the men of Cheshire.
The man trained his sword on Constance’s breast, hardly casting a glance at her face. Despite her terror Constance let out a long breath of relief. Her disguise had not been discovered. She tilted her head to try to see what was happening behind her. Her blood chilled. One guard lay dead, the other bravely stood his ground against three men, but even as she watched he was knocked to the ground and pinned on his belly by a foot in the back. The cart driver hauled the monk to kneel beside Constance as the nearest brigand began to hack at the straps holding the pannier containing Constance’s strongbox to the saddle.
‘Get the box quickly, Ulf,’ Constance’s captor said, speaking with an authority that confirmed what she had suspected—he was the leader. ‘I want to be gone before anyone else appears.’
He reached down and seized hold of her by the neck of her cloak, leaning his face into hers. Constance braced herself for discovery of her deception, but a roar of rage made them both start. At the river’s edge Rollo had clambered to his feet and was staggering towards Constance, blood smearing his lips and chin. She sobbed with relief, her terror abating slightly, but her optimism was short lived as her supposed saviour lumbered past them, knocking Constance aside as though she had not existed. He aimed instead for the two men who were freeing the small, iron-hinged box from its leather bindings.
Constance’s mouth fell open in shock and disbelief. The bodyguard was supposed to protect her above all else. Rollo drew his weapon as he ran. Constance’s captor let go of her cloak, closing the distance between himself and Rollo with a bellow of warning, but he was too late. With a cry Rollo thrust his sword straight between the shoulder blades of the nearest man, who buckled at the knees, falling forward. With a speed that stopped the breath in Constance’s throat the hooded man twisted round. He had his weapon raised by the time he completed the turn but before he could reach Rollo the cart driver had pushed the monk aside and planted his own weapon deep in Rollo’s back, twisting viciously.
With a grunt Rollo fell forward, landing almost on top of his victim. The cart driver fell to his knees beside the bodies and gave a keening sob of anguish.
‘Wulf! My son!’
He pushed Rollo’s corpse to the side and rolled the limp body on to its back and cradled it protectively. The hooded man dropped to his knees alongside and put his arm around the older man’s shoulders. He gently pushed the dead man’s hood back and the victim’s head lolled to one side.
He was only a boy. Constance sagged back on to her heels, a burst of compassion punching her in the stomach at the sight of the father’s grief. Her head felt far too light and she feared she might faint, but through her terror it struck her that she was unobserved once more. The two deaths had granted her a reprieve that she would surely not get again. She began slowly to edge towards her horse, never expecting to make it, and surreptitiously releasing her dagger from its sheath as a precaution.
There was a cry, then hands on her shoulder. She twisted around and swiped sideways with the dagger at whoever was behind her. It barely penetrated the leather jerkin of the hooded man and didn’t strike flesh. He seized her wrist, tightening his fingers and digging the nails in until the pain forced her to let go of the weapon with a shrill cry. He kicked it away and pushed her to the ground.
‘I told you not to move. It wouldn’t take much for Gerrod to spear you like a pig ready for the spit and right now I wouldn’t stop him.’
‘Why not let him?’ Constance said. Her throat tightened with terror. Somehow she had had the presence of mind to deepen her voice. ‘You’re going to kill us anyway, aren’t you?’
Did she mean it? Every sense screamed no, she wanted to live, whatever it took.
‘You don’t have to die if you’re sensible,’ the man said. ‘We want what’s in here, not your lives.’ He gestured to Constance’s strongbox.
‘That’s mine!’ she exclaimed angrily.
The man laughed without humour.
‘Is it worth more than your life, lad?’
Constance sat back on her knees, her leg burning with pain. She bowed her head.
‘You’ve got ballock stones to keep trying, I’ll give you that,’ the hooded man said, a touch of admiration creeping into his voice. He snapped his fingers and pointed to Constance. ‘Osgood, search him.’
A short, broad man stalked towards her.
‘Put your hands up,’ he instructed.
She lifted them a little.
‘No. Behind your head.’
Constance did as she was instructed, aware of how the action caused her breasts to lift and jut forward. Osgood’s hands fumbled at her waist.
‘Nothing else, Caddoc.’
He began moving higher up her body. She recoiled in horror as he brushed against the swell of her breasts, then closed his hands over them. He gave a cry of shock and let go as though he had been stung.
‘He’s a woman!’
Constance brought her fist round and smacked Osgood hard across the nose. He cried in pain. As his hands came up protectively she spun away, rising to her feet only to be seized by the neck from behind. She glared up into the blue eyes of the hooded man, Caddoc. He pulled her close to him so their faces were almost touching and examined her intently.
‘Who are you?’ he demanded. He lowered his hood, tilting his head to one side and narrowing his eyes.
Constance’s heart missed a beat as the gesture sent her spinning back through time.
‘I know you!’
‘I don’t think so,’ he said curtly. His gaze moved to Constance’s dagger that was frustratingly just out of her reach. His jaw set. He pulled Constance’s cowl off to reveal the coil of hair she had concealed so carefully.
‘Tell me who you are,’ he repeated. He looked back at her and brushed a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face. A deep white scar ran the length of his neck and his left ear was missing the lobe, coming to an abrupt stop at the cartilage.
Constance’s heart stopped and she blurted out the name without thinking.
His face twisted with shock.
A searing hot flush raced across Constance’s throat and chest, turning to a chill that left her trembling violently from head to foot. Nausea overwhelmed her, tightening her throat and twisting her belly.
‘Help me, Aelric.’
Her voice sounded distant and dreamlike in her ears and her legs began to shake. She felt herself slipping away from the world, floating to the ground. Felt his arms seize her before she hit the track. The last sight she saw was his eyes; wide, disbelieving and filling her vision, before blackness consumed her.

Get your copy of The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge now at:

Harlequin: http://www.harlequin.com/storeitem.html?iid=68296

Learn more about author ELISABETH HOBBES at her website.

30 November 2016

Odd Jobs - Tanning: A Medieval Dirty Job

By Kim Rendfeld

In The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, Hugh, the son of a tanner, eagerly volunteers when King Charles (today called Charlemagne) asks for one man from each free household to serve in the army invading Saxony. When the son of Hugh’s count asks him to join the castle guard, he is overjoyed. He sees a life that’s more privileged and an escape from the tannery. Tanning was a dirty job, even to medieval people accustomed to garbage and dung in the streets.

The tanner first obtained the skins of slaughtered cattle, and the blood, dirt, manure, hooves, and horns that went with them. After trimming the skins, the tanner rinsed the raw material in a local waterway or well. If the former, downstream neighbors might complain about the pollution.

Then, there was the matter of getting rid of the hair all the way down to the roots while maintaining the grain. Tanners would let the hair rot by sprinkling it with urine, folding the skins hair-side in, and piling them up in a warm place. Or they could soak them in an alkaline solution made of wood ash or lime.

When the hairs were loose enough, the tanner spread the hides over wooden beams and used special knives to scrape off the hair on one side and whatever flesh there was on the other. Next came another washing. The tanner could use a solution with pigeon droppings or dog poo, which would remove lime and make the product softer and more flexible. Or the craftsman might use fermented barley or rye, with stale beer or urine as an additive. This could take up to three months.

The hides were washed again in water. (Feel sorry for those downstream, yet?) Then the tanner needed to preserve his work with a solution made with the bark of an oak, spruce fir, or whatever else was available. That was done in two phases. The first pit used a weak solution, probably left over from the second phase (medieval people didn’t let things go to waste). The hides were taken in and out of the first pit until they attained the desired color. Then the tanner placed the hides in a deeper pit and layered them with the bark. Cold water or a weak tanning solution was poured over them. The hides sat, probably for a year. After that, the tanner would sell the hides to other craftsmen, who would provide the finished products.

Disgusting as the process is, tanners fulfilled an important function. They took a byproduct of the cattle slaughter and made it into a material medieval people depended on. Their shoes, saddles, helmets, armor, and many other leather goods were the result of a tanner’s handiwork. But no one wanted them as neighbors. And a young man might welcome a way out of the family business.


English Medieval Industries: Craftsmen, Techniques, Products, edited by John Blair, W. John Blair, Nigel Ramsay

Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia, edited by Thomas F. Glick, Steven Livesey, Faith Wallis

The Regional Diversification of Latin 200 BC - AD 600, by J.N. Adams

Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar and its companion, The Cross and the Dragon, both set in the early years of Charlemagne’s reign. Connect with Kim on her website (kimrendfeld.com), her blog (kimrendfeld.wordpress.com), Facebook (facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld) and Twitter (@kimrendfeld).

28 November 2016

New & Noteworthy: November 2016

Hello readers! This month's news is a bit late due to vacations and holidays, but it's still quite exciting! Here's our news as we enter the winter holiday season:

Lindsay Townsend is part of a new medieval historical romance anthology called ONE WINTER KNIGHT with her story 'Sir Thomas and the Snow Troll'. For details and more stories by Lindsay, visit Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk - and check out reviews of Lindsay's stories on Bookstrand

INSURRECTIO, the fifth in Alison Morton's Roma Nova thriller series, has been awarded the prestigious BRAG Medallion! Alison says, "I am delighted, no, I’m jumping up and down with elation". BRAG stands for Book Reader Appreciation Group and ten readers have to read and approve each applicant book following a set of strict criteria. Only indie books are eligible. Ninety per cent of books don't make the grade... More information here

18 November 2016

Women Praetorians?

The Praetorian Relief, from a triumphal arch.
Creative Commons, Louvre-Lens Museum
Praetorians, the elite Roman soldiers – tough, arrogant, corrupt, overreaching, brutal, loyal, uncompromising, kingmakers, thugs, patriots, a bulwark, a protection squad, the ultimate fighting force.  They’ve been depicted as all of these in the media and literature. And as in any military hierarchy across the ages they are regarded as tough but snotty by all other military units. But soldiers in those regular units have usually aspired to join them...

The term ‘Praetorian’ derives from praetor meaning the residence of the commanding general of a Roman army in the field. In 133 BC, Scipio Aemilianus Africanus, the hero of the Third Punic War, was besieging Numantia in Spain and formed a personal bodyguard that became known as the cohors praetoria. Chosen from the ranks (Roman citizens and Latins only) to form a separate elite force, on an ad hoc basis, it guarded the praetor’s tent and/or person.  

Under Augustus in 27BC, this elite expeditionary force turned into a permanent imperial guard under the command of two Praetorian prefects. Augustus understood perfectly the need to have physical protection as well as a dedicated, loyal unit which could enforce his political wishes; his path to power had been physically and politically dangerous. Originally nine cohorts were formed, consisting each of 500 men, plus a small cavalry contingent. Only three units were on duty at any given time in the capital patrol in the palace and major buildings. The remaining cohorts were stationed in the towns surrounding Rome.

Under his successor, Tiberius, or rather his ambitious Praetorian prefect Sejanus, their numbers increased and they were centralised in Rome in a camp outside the then city wall, the Castra Praetoria.

Creative Commons, R. Ontario Museum
But they were more than a palace guard and political troops. On the death of Augustus in 14 AD, Tiberius, was faced with mutinies among both the Rhine and Pannonian legions. According to Tacitus, the Pannonian forces were dealt with by Tiberius' son Drusus, accompanied by two Praetorian cohorts, the Praetorian cavalry and some of the German bodyguard. The German mutiny was put down by Tiberius' nephew and adopted son Germanicus, his intended heir, who then led the legions and detachments of the Guard in an invasion of Germany over the next two years. The Guard saw much action in the Year of the Four Emperors in 69, fighting effectivelyl for Otho at the first battle of Bedriacum. Under Domitian and Trajan, the guard fought in wars from Dacia to Mesopotamia, and under Marcus Aurelius on the Danubian frontier during the Marcomannic Wars and continued front line service throughout the third century..

Proclaiming Claudius Emperor, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1867
The guard’s political power grew, even to the extent of intervening in the choice of emperor; the most famous example is Claudius. At the end of the second century, Septimus Severus disbanded the old Praetorian Guard and replaced it with ten military cohorts from his Danubian legions. From then on the Praetorians would be drawn from regular legions. Although the guard was finally dissolved by Emperor Constantine I in 312 AD he replaced it with scholae palatinae, crack cavalry units each 500 strong. At the end of the fourth century, there were around a dozen such units.

The idea of ‘Praetorian’ still conveys the idea of a tough, elite force whose role is to protect the ruler and ultimately the state. As Ancient Rome was a patriarchal society, they were of course, like all military, uniquely male. When I started writing thrillers with a heavy dose of espionage and special forces action in a Roman style society, calling them ‘Praetorian’ seemed a natural fit.

The original guard had been finally disbanded nearly a hundred years before the small group of senatorial families were to trek north and found Roma Nova in my books.  Perhaps they felt the negative connotations about Praetorians had faded or perhaps they were desperate to hang on to their deepest traditions ­– Romans were proud of their history and traditional cultural values – but when a bodyguard was formed for the first ruler, Apulius, they called it the cohors praetoria or Praetorian Guard.

Photo courtesy of Britannia
Women became members of the fighting units defending Roma Nova alongside their brothers and fathers. They had no choice; the new settlers were numerically so few that they didn’t have enough male fighters. As the units evolved into legions over the years, women were eligible to transfer from the regular forces into the Praetorian units along with their male colleagues. The requirements for every Praetorian down the ages were (and still are) strength, a very high level of physical fitness, intelligence and skills levels, irrespective of gender.

The Praetorian Guard in my Roma Nova books protect the imperatrix  (ruler) and also form an elite tactical military force as they did in ancient Rome. Today we call them special forces. The modern Roma Novan Praetorians also have an intelligence remit. And this is how Aurelia and Carina Mitela have ended up serving in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces – an ‘odd job’ for women in history, especially when until recently in the real world such a role would normally be associated exclusively with men.


Alison Morton is the author of the acclaimed Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and the latest, INSURRECTIO

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Twitter https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton
Goodreads  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5783095.Alison_Morton

Discover Alison’s latest book, INSURRECTIO

Early 1980s. Caius Tellus, the charismatic leader of a rising nationalist movement threatens to destroy Roma Nova, the last province of the Roman Empire to survive into the 20th century.

Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and imperial councillor, attempts to rally resistance to the growing fear and instability. But it may already be too late to save Roma Nova from meltdown and herself from entrapment and destruction by her lifelong enemy.…

Amazon  iBooks  Kobo  B&N Nook 

Watch the book trailer:  https://youtu.be/eXGslRLjv6g

15 November 2016

Odd Jobs: Clowns, Jesters, and Fools in Medieval and Tudor England

 Even in medieval times, people needed entertainment.  And court entertainers, fools, jesters, jugglers, minstrels, led a life much different from both their royal “employers” and the run of the mill populace.

Of course, to have a position as a court fool was the height of luxury.  There were also freelance entertainers, including fools, who not only provided amusement, they also might do acrobatics and play instruments.  They might be hired by taverns or brothels, by cities for participation in public pageants, or they might be part of a touring company that would travel between noble households, “singing for their supper.”  Indeed, many more were itinerant entertainers than permanent residents.

Indeed, “fol” may not have been a full-time position, as Henry III’s payments to “John the Fol,” named him also a forester and huntsman, but the court fool was a particularly privileged position, for in making fun, he could say things that other people couldn’t.  One of history’s favorite tales is of the defeat of the French fleet by the English fleet at the Battle of Sluys in 1340.  No one could summon the courage to tell the French king, Phillippe VI, the news.  Finally, the court jester told him the English sailors were cowards, because they “don't even have the guts to jump into the water like our brave French.”

This portrait of Henry VIII and his family shows "Jane the Fool" in the archway on the left and "Wil Somer" in the archway on the right, suggesting they were considered members of the family.
Of course, kings were not always so amused when a royal fool overstepped his bounds.  It was reported in a letter from the ambassador to England from the Holy Roman Empire, that Henry VIII had “nearly murdered his own fool, a simple and innocent man.”  The crime?  Speaking well of the king’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and her daughter Mary, while disparaging Anne Boleyn and her “bastard” daughter.

The Tudor and Elizabethan eras were considered a “Golden Age” of folly and most of the Tudor kings and queens record regular payments and expenses for court fools.  By this time, we begin to have more information about these people, partly because having one’s personal fool was no longer limited to royalty.  Several prominent men of the time, such as Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas More also had their own fools.

It does seem as if there were two distinct types of court fools:  the “artificial” fool and the “natural” fool, but the records don’t always allow us to clearly distinguish one from the other.

Richard Tarlton
An artificial fool is what most of us think of when we think of a jester.  This is a person of sharp wit, able to say amusing things on demand.  A medieval standup comedian, if you will.  Like so many things about the world past, we don’t have detailed information so we don’t know much what was so amusing about them.  (No one kept detailed notes on the fool’s scripts.)

A “natural” fool is one that is intellectually or developmentally disabled or even mentally ill.  This person might be dressed up and laughed at, kept somewhat like a pet as a part of the family.  Certainly, this seems like unimaginable cruelty to us today.  But some of the financial records, which indicate payments to a fool’s “keeper,” suggest that they realized these men (or women) were not capable of caring for themselves.  And as members of a royal household, they were fed and clothed, not left to wander the streets alone.

Even distinguishing which fools were natural and which artificial is a challenge.  “Patch,” Cardinal Wolsey’s fool, was so honored that when Cardinal Wolsey fell from Henry VIII’s favor, he gifted the king with his fool, perhaps to be certain that the man was provided for.

The king’s records show that Patch had several “keepers,” and the fact that he could, literally, be given away suggests he might be a “natural” fool, kept like a pet for amusement, but also needing “keepers,” unable to take care of himself.

More famous, however, were the actors who took to the stage.  Richard Tarlton, said to be Queen Elizabeth’s favorite fool, was an actor, a dancer, a fencer, a musician, and a man famous for his witty banter.  He was said to have studied “natural” fools in order to enhance his stage performance.

William Kempe on right, doing a jig.
Many of our impressions of the medieval fool come from Shakespeare, who created memorable characters in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “King Lear,” and other plays.  Two prominent comic actors played many of these signature roles:  William Kempe and Robert Armin.

Kempe played such roles as Dogberry in “Much Ado About Nothing,” Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and he was famous for his “jigs,” a combination of dance and physical comedy, often performed by a troupe of dancers.

Armin succeeded Kempe as a member of the Chamberlain’s Men.  His style was less physical comedy and more comedic wit.  Hence, the roles of Feste in “Twelfth Night,” and Touchstone in “As You Like It” are considered his.  These are more acerbic, philosopher-fools, though as an actor he was not limited to these parts.

Truly by this time, there was money to be made by making people laugh.   

John Southworth’s FOOLS AND JESTERS AT THE ENGLISH COURT, Sutton Publishing, 1998, 2003, was the source of much of the information in this piece.

After many years in public relations, advertising and marketing, Blythe Gifford started writing seriously after a corporate layoff. Ten years and one layoff later, she became an overnight success when she sold her first book to the Harlequin Historical line.  Since then, she has published eleven romances set in England and on the Scottish Borders.  RUMORS AT COURT, a Royal Wedding story, will be released in May, 2017, from the Harlequin Historical line.  For more information, visit www.blythegifford.com


Author photo Jennifer Girard