A Month of Betrayal – Toni Mount on The Privilege of Sanctuary

Today I am absolutely delighted to have Toni Mount, author of the brilliant ‘Sebastian Foxley’ medieval murder mystery series, here on the blog for the next part of her Month of Betrayal Tour. Her new novella, The Colour of Betrayal, is out now.

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The Colour of Betrayal is the latest whodunit in the popular ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval murder mysteries by author and historian Toni Mount. Inspired by a true story from the 13th century, this new story involves the murder of a London goldsmith whilst he was ‘in sanctuary’ at St Mary le Bow church.

The privilege of Sanctuary  

In medieval England, anyone accused of a crime could, in theory at least, go to a church and claim protection from the law so the authorities couldn’t touch him. This action was known as ‘claiming the privilege of sanctuary’ and could be applied by murderers, thieves, those in debt, and, of course, those who were innocent and wrongly accused. The law stated that the privilege could only be used for up to forty days but there were some large sanctuaries able to accommodate hundreds of criminals where they could stay indefinitely. Among the most famous – or notorious – were Westminster Abbey, St Martin le Grand Abbey in London, St John’s at Colchester in Essex and St John’s at Beverley in Yorkshire. At Beverley, the jurisdiction of sanctuary extended over a mile in every direction from the abbey. The trouble was that some criminals continued their nefarious activities from these abbeys, a practice that could hardly be approved by the authorities or the public.

The principle went back to ancient times but, in England, the Anglo-Saxon King of Kent, Ethelbert, drew up the laws regulating sanctuary in his code of 600 AD in the book now known as the Textus Roffensis, kept in Rochester Cathedral, Kent. By Norman times, two kinds of sanctuary were recognised. Firstly, all churches had the basic version which could be claimed by grasping the door knocker [as at Durham Cathedral] or touching the altar or, as at Beverley and Hexham [in Northumberland] sitting on the frith stool. But that did not always offer as much safety as hoped. The accusers could surround the building and blockade it, as happened to Hubert de Burgh who sought sanctuary in Brentwood Church, Essex and was starved into surrender on the orders of King Henry III.

Secondly, only the churches licensed by the king had full rights which applied to the churchyard and glebe [church] land around. The fugitive had to come unarmed and must not commit sacrilege. For example, a thief in Buckinghamshire fled into a church and stole the vestry keys to try to escape. For this sacrilegious theft, he was dragged out and rightfully killed on the spot. Some re-offenders were denied sanctuary but, generally, they had forty days of grace. The locals were expected to feed the fugitive at their own expense and make sure he didn’t escape but sometimes it was the cheaper option to let him sneak away. Once the forty days were over, he had to leave and, if he refused to come out, it was now an offence to aid him, such that anyone communicating with him could be hanged, so he would likely die of thirst or hunger. If he did now leave, he could be executed immediately. More usually though, the fugitive confessed to the crime and was then required to ‘abjure the realm’. This meant he had to swear upon the Gospels to:

…leave the realm of England and never return without the express permission of my Lord the King or his heirs. I will hasten by the direct road to the port allotted to me and not leave the King’s highway under pain of arrest or execution. I will not stay at one place more than one night and will seek diligently for a passage across the sea as soon as I arrive, delaying only one tide if possible. If I cannot secure such passage, I will walk into the sea up to my knees every day as a token of my desire to cross. And if I fail in all this, then peril shall be my lot.

After the oath was sworn, it was the king’s coroner who had to make arrangements for his departure from a port but sometimes it seems the official would make the journey to the port of embarkation a punishment in itself. Some coroners in Yorkshire made the criminal walk south to Dover in Kent, giving them a matter of days to walk the distance of over two hundred miles. In 1313, a Kentish coroner sent a man to Portsmouth in Hampshire, even though Dover was only a few miles away. Any port could be chosen but Dover was closest to the continent and so most often used but ports as far apart as Berwick and Bristol could be stipulated. Since the law specified that the felon must abjure the realm of England, some were sent to Wales, Scotland or Ireland. Quite a few crossed into Scotland and Scottish raiders regularly used sanctuary as a means of avoiding hanging. They would cross the border, steal cattle and, if they were caught, they’d simply claim sanctuary, abjure and get sent home!

However, if abjuring was done properly, the felon had to remove his clothes which were sold off and wear a sackcloth garment instead. Bareheaded, he was to walk, carrying a wooden cross that he’d made himself, and tell everyone he met along the way who he was. He had to keep to the highway and could only rest one night at each place. If he did otherwise, that made him an outlaw to be treated as a wolf. This meant anyone could slay him, remove his head and take the gruesome prize to the authorities and claim a reward. The same would apply if he ever returned to England.

The problem of sacred buildings with full privileges of sanctuary could prove a difficulty for kings. After his victory at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, the Yorkist King Edward IV found that his defeated Lancastrian enemies had fled into sanctuary at the nearby abbey. Declaring that Tewkesbury Abbey didn’t have his license, which wouldn’t apply to those guilty of treason, even if it had, Edward marched into the church, fully armed, and had the Lancastrians dragged out, killing some in the process. This ‘pollution’ as they called it required the abbey to be reconsecrated a month later before it could be used again for divine service.

In the reign of the first Tudor, Henry VII, it was the Yorkists who discovered sanctuary was not as safe as they hoped. After their king, Richard III, had been slain at Bosworth in 1485, three Yorkist survivors of the battle, Francis, Viscount Lovell, and the brothers Sir Thomas and Sir Humphrey Stafford, took sanctuary at Colchester Abbey in Essex and began inciting rebellion against Henry. In April 1486, all their efforts had come to nothing and Lovell fled to Burgundy. However, the Staffords tried again to claim sanctuary, this time at Culham Abbey, near Henley-upon-Thames. King Henry had them forcibly removed and tried for treason before the Court of King’s Bench, the justices concluding that sanctuary didn’t apply in cases of treason, just as Edward IV had said. Although both brothers were convicted, only Sir Humphrey was executed. Henry’s son, Henry VIII, abolished almost all sanctuaries and removed the possibility of using the privilege for almost all crimes. The practice wasn’t finally ended until a statute of 1624, in the reign of James VI/I, which stated ‘no sanctuary or privilege of sanctuary to be hereafter admitted or allowed in any case’.

Toni Head Shot 1Toni Mount is a popular writer and historian; she is the author of Everyday Life in Medieval London and A Year in the Life of Medieval England (pub Amberley Publishing)  and several of the online courses for www.medievalCourses.com

Her successful ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval whodunits is published by MadeGlobal.com and the latest book in this series The Colour of Betrayal is now available as a paperback or on Kindle. myBook.to/Col_Betrayal

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Winchester History Weekend – 7th October 2017

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On Saturday just gone, my partner and I took the short train journey to spend an evening in the beautiful city of Winchester. I’d booked tickets a while back for the BBC History Weekend, particularly to hear Ian Mortimer and Janina Ramirez – we don’t talk about how I missed out for tickets to see Dan Jones, it’s still a bit of a sore point how quickly it sold out. At any rate, we arrived with just enough time to have a spot of dinner – the place we wanted to go didn’t start serving food until later so we decided on an Italian…an Italian that served me with a fish bowl of wine and plate of incredibly spicy pasta arabbiata.

The first talk, held within the Great Hall of what was once Winchester Castle, started at 6pm and was headed by Dr. Ian Mortimer, author of the fantastic “Time Travellers Guide” series of books. This talk concentrated on his latest book about Restoration England. Mortimer gave an A-Z of Restoration life, a step by step guide as it were as to what you could expect if you were to find yourself living in Charles II’s England. And it was brilliantly done. We learned to take long johns with us because of the freakishly cold weather, toothpaste because rotten teeth could lead to death (!) and to take plenty of antibiotics! As well as that Mortimer told us of death rates, what you could expect to eat and drink, the cost of tea and the promiscuity of…well, everyone.

As I’ve long had a soft spot for the Seventeenth Century (thank you battlefield archaeology of the English Civil War), I found Mortimer’s talk to be both interesting and enlightening. He was an absolute pleasure to listen to, really bringing to life just what you could expect if you woke up one morning in 1660.

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After Mortimer has finished speaking I went and had my copy of “The Time Travellers Guide to Restoration England” signed, a brief chat with him and a picture before finding a seat at the front ready for Janina Ramirez’s talk. With an hour and a quarter to kill, I had a bit of a wander around the Great Hall before settling down to wait.

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The small stage upon which the speakers gave their talks was set in front of the iconic Round Table. The HUGE round table dates to the mid thirteenth century although the paint work that covers it today was a later Tudor edition and depicts Henry VIII in the seat of King Arthur. Whilst I was at University in Winchester I did a project on this fascinating table – would you believe that during the English Civil War, Parliamentarian soldiers used it as target practice?!

Dr Janina Ramirez took to the stage at 8.15pm and I have to admit I was SERIOUSLY looking forward to hearing her speak. Ramirez has long been an inspiration of mine and I knew that her talk on “Reformation or Revolution – The Death of the Medieval World?” would be utterly brilliant. From the moment Ramirez started to speak she exuded complete enthusiasm for her subject, holding the attention of her audience through every second of her lecture. This is the mark of a brilliant historian and public speaker – pulling your audience in and holding their interest throughout is absolutely key. And the subject of her lecture was much closer to my current interests and specialisms – as you all know, my latest book is a brief history of Savonarola and it is my viewpoint that he was one of the key players in Church reform. And his works influenced Martin Luther who was one of the key players in the Protestant Reformation. So it’s all linked together.

What I found particularly uplifting was hearing Ramirez tell the crowd that there was more to the English Reformation than just Anne Boleyn. It was SO nice to hear when so many people are still of the opinion that Anne Boleyn was the driving force behind it all. She wasn’t. There was a myriad of factors including the spread of reformist ideas from Europe, corruption, the belief that monks were taking liberties….the list goes on and on and on. What we have to remember as well is that although Henry VIII and his advisors began the English Reformation, Henry VIII died a Catholic. He wasn’t protestant. Indeed, the idea that monarchs should only be protestant only really came into play after James I. It was all very interesting stuff and certainly eye-opening, especially when you realise just how much the monasteries did for the communities they were in before they were dissolved.

I’d brought a copy of Ramirez’s book on Julian of Norwich with me and following her talk I went up to get it signed. One of the first things she said to me was that she loved my tattoos and when I pointed out that the newest one was the Borgia coat of arms, she said “That’s what I was getting at when I mentioned about powerful Popes!” I also gave her a copy of my new book which, I have to admit, was one hell of a moment for me – she flicked through it and said she was really looking forward to reading it. We had a lovely chat, briefly talking about Savonarola before we had to get away for our train home – that and I was feeling slightly guilty about keeping the line held up for so long!

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All in all, a lovely evening was had all around and I was very impressed with BBC History for putting on this brilliant event. The tickets were excellent value for money and I shall certainly be looking to go again next year.

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[Review] The Templars: The Rise and Fall of God’s Holy Warriors by Dan Jones

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The Knights Templar were the wealthiest, most powerful – and most secretive – of the military orders that flourished in the crusading era. Their story – encompassing as it does the greatest international conflict of the Middle Ages, a network of international finance, a swift rise in wealth and influence followed by a bloody and humiliating fall – has left a comet’s tail of mystery that continues to fascinate and inspire historians, novelists and conspiracy theorists.

The Crusades and in particular, the Templars, are subjects that have long fascinated me however are not subjects that I have ever really invested all that much time into reading about. I’ve read a few books here and there, have visited Templar sites both here in England and over in Portugal – but when I found out that Dan Jones was writing a book on the powerful Templar order, I got ever so excited. Having read Jones’ previous work on The Plantagenets and Wars of the Roses, I opened this book knowing that he is an exceptional historian, able to grip his reader from the first word right through to the last.  It’s rare these days that I will find a popular historian whose words will capture me from the get go, especially on a subject that I have little knowledge on. However, Jones’ work did not disappoint – I went in with high hopes and came out wanting to share this book with everyone who has even a tiny interest in history.

Jones tells the story of the Templars from their humble beginnings in the early 1100’s through to their dramatic downfall in 1314. At first glance the book can be quite off putting simply due to its size – and there is a hell of a lot of information in those pages. However Jones’ narrative takes the huge amount of information and makes it simple, telling the story of this military order in a way that will grip those who already have knowledge of this period and those who, like me, go in with very little knowledge. It truly is an excellent achievement on Jones’ part – there aren’t many historians who can present such a complicated history and make it 100% accessible.

I found it particularly interesting to see how the Templars and their influence spread. They started out as a poor brotherhood of bodyguards, protecting pilgrims as they made their way to sites in the Holy Land. We then see how they turned into an elite fighting force in an effort to take the Holy Land back from the ‘infidel’ – they spread into Spain, Portugal, England etc. In short, the Templars were practically everywhere. Having been to Templar sites in Portugal, I gave a little squeak when I saw a particular Portuguese castle mentioned – but then there are sites in England, Spain etc which just goes to show how wide-spread this military order actually was. It was also interesting to see how the Templars became prominent bankers – this was something I had absolutely no idea about. They were, in short, the first global bank even before the establishment of banks by families such as the Medici over in Italy.

The downfall of this order came swiftly and Jones presents their end in a manner that had me feeling rather emotional. On Friday 13th October 1307 hundreds of Templars were arrested on the order of King Phillip IV – they were accused of practically every crime under the sun including heresy and sodomy. Brothers were tortured and false confessions were extracted from the brothers. It was all false but Philip wanted the Templars gone and it was his machinations that brought about their awful end. Some brothers were allowed free after their admissions, others were allowed into other military orders whilst a few faced the stake and were burned to death for their ‘heresy’. Their end came because of a King who wanted everything that the Templars had and he forced the Pope to do his bidding. As you read the chapters about these events you can’t help but despise the King and the Pope, especially when you read about the death of the very last Master of the Temple Jacques de Molay (spelt James of Molay in the book). The aging Master was kept prisoner for years, forced to confess to something that wasn’t true and continuously questioned when it was obvious that the poor man was losing his mind. In the end when he went back on his confession and raved about his innocence, he was sentenced as a relapsed heretic and burned at the stake on a little island in the middle of the River Seine. Just before the flames took over his body and ended his life, Molay cursed those who had destroyed the Templar order stating “God will avenge our death”

This book was an absolute joy to read and, in my opinion, is the best of Jones’ work to date – a detailed work that tells the full story of an order who have gone down in history as both an elite fighting force of noble knights AND evil heretics. I highly recommend this work to anyone with even the smallest interest in Crusader and Templar history. One thing’s for sure, it’s made me want to read more.

Check out my interview with Dan Jones.

The Templars is available on Amazon.

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“There’s just something cool about knowing that you’re standing on the bones of the man you’re portraying” – An Interview with Mark Ryder

Today I am absolutely honoured to have Mark Ryder, who played Cesare Borgia on Canal +’s ‘Borgia’, join me on the blog for an interview. We talk through his thoughts on getting the role, his experiences in Viana and how he got into the mindset of Cesare Borgia. Mark was kind enough to answer my questions with audio clips, so I have posted those as well as a transcript.

Sam Morris: What was it that attracted to you to role of Cesare Borgia?

Mark Ryder: Okay so I got the part when I was 20 and I had to do three auditions before getting the part. And I think I’d read the scenes that we shot in the audition room and I had researched a little bit about Cesare just on Wikipedia and the Internet. So I didn’t know that much but I say what attracted me, I think you can very quickly tell if a character is like, one-dimensional or is an actual human being. And I think Cesare’s conflict, inner conflict and his kind of desire to…well he just had desire to be and do everything and conquer everything and he had big dreams. And I think he was being held back by being in the priesthood, and he was conflicted with whether or not he believed in God. And I think also I could get all that from the scenes that we did just in the audition room and so I liked…I liked that this guy was a real human being and I like that it was this historical show but I didn’t know too much about Cesare when I actually got offered the part.

SM: On the DVD extras we see you taking a trip to Viana, the site of Cesare’s death and burial. What was it like to stand at the tomb of a man whose shoes you had walked in?

MR: That whole trip was amazing and weirdly emotional. Not like tears emotional but there’s just something cool about knowing that you’re standing on the bones of the man you’re portraying. I don’t know, it was kind of like he was in the air. I don’t really believe in that kind of thing but it’s just like there was something kind of…special, a special feeling, that Tom and I both had on that trip. And it was cool to actually see the burial site and I’d heard the quote that he’d been buried under a road so he can be trodden on by man and beast for all eternity. But to go to the actual site and see that he had been moved inside the confines of the Church courtyard, so he wasn’t on the road anymore they’d kind of pardoned him enough to move him into the courtyard. But yeah that was quite an adventure and I’m so glad we did it because I think it just deepened my understanding of the character. I don’t know, maybe just to be around Viana and see where he rode off into the distance and knowing that he was walking around those streets…that’s awesome.

SM: In season 3 we see Cesare both taking and holding the Romagna. What are your views on the way he dealt with those who opposed him (Ramiro de Lorqua etc)? Was he too harsh, or did he do what was needed?

MR: I think that Cesare, when he took a town or a city, my understanding is that city began to prosper. Like he had the interests of the people in mind, like he wanted them to thrive. I think he was quite a good ruler, well certainly that’s what Tom had told me about it. You know he encouraged the building of universities and like most of those towns and cities up in the Romagna were being held by men who were just filling their bank accounts with money and were poor rulers so I think Cesare was sort of, of the opinion “let’s get them out” and “I’m a far superior leader and ruler”. And with the example of Ramiro de Lorqua certainly in our version of the story, I think it was in Season 3, where he (Cesare) puts de Lorqua in charge of one of the cities and comes back to find that Ramiro is a terrible ruler and is not treating the people fairly and so he gets rid of him. And so I think just…he didn’t act too harshly, he had an idea of how he wanted these cities to be run and it wasn’t…if people weren’t in line with that then he dealt with them so I understand why he did what he did.

SM: What research did you do when you found out you got the role of Cesare? Were there any particular books that you read?

MR: The one book that sticks out in my mind is “The Artist, the Philosopher & the Warrior” by Paul Strathern. That was probably the only book that I read, like really studied and the rest would be just chapters in books and passages that Tom would send me – Tom Fontana, the writer. And then a lot was also conversations with Tom because ultimately it was his vision of the Borgias and his interpretation and that’s going to differ from other ones. So I kind of wanted to depict the Cesare that he wanted to depict.

SM: What do you think is the most brutal thing that Cesare did?

MR: In Season 3 of Borgia Cesare massacred the entire population of the town of Capua – all men, women and children…fairly extreme! I don’t know if that actually happened in the history, so I don’t know. Like, you’ll know, but that was the interpretation. I think if it happened then it’s fairly brutal and that’s what I would say was one of the only things where I would think well “why did Cesare do that?” – like I understood all of his decision-making, I agreed with his decision making when I was in the mind of the character. But I don’t understand why he would completely wipe out an entire town so I’d say that was probably his most brutal thing. (SM – It was actually the German and Gascon infantry, under the command of the French, that sacked the town, of which Cesare has been blamed thanks to chronicles blaming him – the French officers who commanded the troops were keen to have someone else take the blame.)

SM: The Borgia family have been vilified for centuries and Cesare was accused of committing incest with his sister. Do you think the rumours were true or was their close relationship taken out of context and twisted by their enemies?

MR: I definitely think it was taken out of context and twisted. There’s no doubt that Della Rovere, one of the Popes following the Borgias, he really wanted to destroy the Borgia name. And I think he did fairly successfully. I mean, Pope Alexander is not a Saint and all the other Popes of around that time, well the majority of them are now Saints. And yeah, so I think the accusations of incest and anything to do with bestiality and these giant prostitute orgies, like I don’t know…I think they’re probably written by people who want to give the Borgias a bad name. I think Cesare and Lucrezia had a very close relationship. Do I think it was a sexual one? No I don’t – I don’t think so. But, you know, who knows?

SM: What was the hardest part of playing Cesare?

MR: I remember, thinking back to it now, I had a lot of trouble…well, I was worried that I wouldn’t, that I would never be strong enough as Cesare because I was twenty-one, twenty-two at the time of shooting and most of my twenty-one year old friends were at university or starting jobs and partying quite a lot and they don’t have many responsibilities (SM – those were the days!!!) and Cesare was leading armies and ruling cities and ruling them well and respected and feared by all men. He was a great warrior, even at a young age. And so I was like “how can someone that young have such power, such presence?” and I was genuinely worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Particularly as he began to get older in the third season and I was playing him at thirty years old and I was twenty-three at the time. But I think we got there. And I think we got there because I went through Cesare’s journey episode by episode and every time I would think “oh, I’m not going to be able to get to this” we ended up just gradually getting there and moving on to the next one and then Cesare kind of aged and grew over the course of the seasons. But yeah, certainly, identifying as a boy I didn’t feel like I was a man and I could very much see that Cesare was a man and so I didn’t want to pretend and do all sorts of manly stuff. I wanted to be the real deal. So that was the hardest part, I think, for me.

SM: Where were you when you got the call saying that you had the role of Cesare? What went through your mind at that moment?

MR: You know, I was on my lunch break. I was working in a veterinary clinic as a receptionist and I was on my lunch break and I got a call from my agent and they said ‘you’ve got the part’ and I was like ‘Whaaattt?!’, called everyone immediately because up to that point I’d had jobs here and there but nothing of this size and I was just like ‘what?!’, you know? You know your life is going to change in a big way. I think I had a little party that night. You think when you get news like that, just like, life is going to be different and you’re going to walk down corridors made of gold or something. But you very quickly realise that life just continues and your shit still stinks. But it was obviously amazing, I was really happy and I was due to go back to university, I’d just done a year and all my plans had to change and I had to head over to Prague for 7 or 8 months. So it was really exciting.

SM: Having played one of the most notorious character of the Italian Renaissance, are there any other historical characters that you would like to portray?

MR: The one that jumps to mind was, I wanted to play King David from the Bible. I think that story is brilliant and I think that if it was done well it could be incredible right through from David and Goliath to when he was a King and just, there’s so many great stories. But actually, I came close to playing him but it didn’t materialise and I’m glad I didn’t because the show ended up not being very good. But yeah, King David and I don’t know, I kind of have a historically face really, don’t I? So I imagine I’ll be doing some more history style things. Anything with a sword would be great.

SM: What methods did you use to get into Cesare’s mindset?

MR: Well actually what happened is, it happened during the second season for me, is that you begin to have the characters thoughts. Like there becomes this blending, blurring, of you and the character. And when it happens it’s kind of scary because you just…I’d heard people talk about it, and I thought it was pretentious crap. But it makes sense, if you’re spending that much time in your characters head that there’s going to be some crossover and it happened to both myself and Isolda in the second season – Isolda played Lucrezia. So yeah, then you’re just kind of in the mind-set all the time and then by the third season I was kind of able to control it and drop in and out of it whenever I wanted. But there’s definitely a period during the second season where there is some confusion – I was like ‘why am I thinking like this, I can’t really drop Cesare’ which is awesome and I see why actors immerse themselves in the characters world. Like obviously the extreme version of it is Daniel Day-Lewis who completely embodies the character 24/7. But it just has you constantly thinking and in that characters mind and that’s only going to be helpful when you’re in front of the camera because then the usual crap of ‘oh did I do a good job?’ or ‘does this director like me?’, that doesn’t come as much if you’re just in the characters mind.

SM: Had Pope Alexander not died in 1503, do you think that Cesare would have been able to see through his wish to become the most powerful man in Italy?

MR: Yes I do. I think he was driven enough, had the resources, he was a step ahead of his rivals. And he would have united Italy and I think he had the support of a lot of people at that time and if his father hadn’t have died he kept going he would have got it done. I think even he may have got it done if he had not got sick at the same time as his father got sick cause his father died and Cesare had the same illness and was in a very weak position for a while. And then during that time I think his enemies were able to get their act together and get strong. So that’s our interpretation of it in the show, I don’t know the exact history but I think there is a line that Cesare says “I prepared for every eventuality except one” and it’s that he would be weak at the same time as his father died. So yeah, I don’t think there was a character like Cesare for hundreds of years until Italy was unified.

SM: Rumour surfaced in 1498 (Venice) that Cesare murdered his brother. Who do you think committed the crime?

MR: I think Cesare probably did it…I don’t know. You know the history on this one, I don’t know it. He had this big rivalry and I’m sure his brother was a big obstacle and so I can see him definitely getting rid of him. He had it in him and I think it was probably Chez. Who else could it have been? I don’t know…yeah, Cesare did it.

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I’d like to extend a massive thank you to Mark for agreeing to do this interview. Borgia is available on Netflix, and available to buy on Amazon.

 

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An Interview with Dan Jones

Today I am honoured to have Dan Jones on the blog for an interview. Dan Jones is a well-known and highly respected historian who has written books on the Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses and the Magna Carta. He has also presented television documentaries on British Castles, the Wars of the Roses and the Great Fire of London.

Sam Morris: Firstly, thank you very much for agreeing to this little interview. I know my readers will be really excited to see you on the blog! First question then – Growing up, what was it that initially sparked your interest in history?

Dan Jones: I started vibing history in school, relatively late, I guess. You may think I was inspecting battlements as a six-year old or being chaperoned around monuments before I could talk, but put that thought out of your mind. I was about the age of 15 when I ran into a teacher at school who made history burst into life. His name was Robin Green and he taught Tudor history like a demon dog, got me hooked on it and helped push me towards studying it at Cambridge.

SM: You’ve written a range of books with topics from the Tudors through to the Templars – which era of history is your particular favourite and why?

DJ: Well, evidently I have something of a yen for the European middle ages, and particularly for the history of England between about 1150 and 1500. But I couldn’t say for certain that I have a clear favourite. I tend to pick subjects I either know or imagine I will enjoy spending three years wrestling into submission, and I work to a plan. So the Templars was a subject that had some very flimsy overlap in terms of subject matter with my earlier books on Plantagenet England – but it was also a way of easing myself into the history of the crusades, which is an area I intend to stick with for the next few years.

SM: Regarding your upcoming book on the Templars, I myself have visited Templar castles over in Portugal – the Convento de Cristo in Tomar is a personal favourite. Is there a particular place associated with the Templars that made you think “hang on a minute, I’d love to write about these guys?”

DJ: Not really – I just had this instinctive sense that the Templars was a subject that would draw in regular people who don’t read a lot of history, get them intrigued and have them clamouring for more of the same. As regards Templars locations, I have spent a lot of time in the Temple Church in London, which is a true gem on the outskirts of the City, now surrounded by barristers’ chambers, so a hub in the middle of lawyer-town. William Marshal’s tomb is there.

SM: You are regarded as a young and ‘hip’ historian – what advice would you give someone wanting to break into the field of history? (This is something I could have done with before writing my first book!)

DJ: Work hard, read a lot, write a lot, and know exactly what you want to write about. I have had such a weird career that I don’t think I can offer it up as a model pathway – but I don’t think the basics are hard. Graft. Meet people. Specialise. Enjoy.

SM: You studied at university under the eminent David Starkey. What was it like to be taught by someone so respected in the field?

DJ: Well, it’s a long time ago now, but I remember turning up to David’s lectures in my first year at Cambridge, despite not having signed up for a Tudor history paper. I just knew that I wanted to be around someone so manifestly brilliant and (at that time) impossibly famous. I buttonholed David after a lecture one day and demanded that he supervise me (i.e. that he spend one academic term teaching me one-to-one for a single hour, once a week – this is the structural basis for all undergraduate history teaching at Cambridge, or was when I was up at least). He said yes, and then duly came up from London once a week to do the job – a task for which I now realise he was not paid or thanked or rewarded in any meaningful way, and which I basically took for granted at the time. He was a superb teacher, who besides sharing his knowledge of sixteenth century England also took it upon himself to teach me how to write decent prose. I owe him a huge, huge debt of gratitude.

SM: What are your interests outside of history?

DJ: Sport: I write a sports column for the London Evening Standard. Also, I was for a while in my twenties one half of a fairly dreadful DJ combo. Our biggest gig was Ministry of Sound… on an under-sixteens night. We had the knack of emptying any dance floor within three songs.

SM: Following on from your book on the Templars, have you got any other projects in the pipeline?

DJ: I’m working on a lot of TV stuff, as usual. But my next book will be a collaboration with the brilliant digital recolourist Marina Amaral (marinamaral.com), who colours in old black and white photos – to astonishing effect. We are doing a book called The Colours of Time – a new history of the world from 1850 to 1950 and I am loving every second of it.

SM: For a little bit of fun – who should win the Iron Throne?

DJ: Oh, give it to someone who doesn’t want it. Pod, maybe. Or Grey Worm. I am finding the endgame of Thrones rather less enjoyable than the first six seasons.

SM: Whilst writing my books, I found it incredibly easy to get distracted and also found myself hating my subject quite a lot. When you’re writing, do you find yourself getting put off and how do you go about getting your head back in the game?

DJ: Put your cell phone in another room. Turn wi-fi off on your computer. Stop reading this interview and do some goddamn work. Discipline… there are no tricks except for controlling your own environment and practicing self-denial with focus and intent.

Dan’s new book, “The Templars” is out on 7th September and available on Amazon.

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