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When the Middle Ages and Modernity collide



Today I'm joined by Thaddeus White, one of my favourite indie writers. His new book, Traitor's Prize, a sequel to Kingdom Asunder came out this week. It's his fourth novel in that world, mixing the fantastical and a realistic version of a medieval world, guided but not constrained by history. Even then, there are some conflicts between what most people think today (or how they perceive the medieval world) and what actually happened and this blog is an interesting one, exploring that. 

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Mercy and brutality is a difficult area to try and grasp. We live in a very civilised world (not perfect by any means, but compare it to a time when beating a pig to death was considered a fun game and it’s not hard to appreciate the difference). There were often strong reasons to exercise mercy or be brutal in medieval warfare. The former could encourage people to switch sides, knowing they’d get a warm embrace and not a noose. The latter could terrify towns into immediate surrender, fearing total devastation if they resisted and failed. But these things could work in reverse, too. Get a reputation for brutality, and it could spur a town to resist at all costs, as the Black Prince discovered in Gascony. Accept turncoats, and you may weaken the fealty of your own men, because they know if they rebel and fail they might still survive.

Sieges and battles were less common than chevauchées. Essentially, these were glorified cavalry raids that involved burning crops, killing (and raping) commoners and generally doing both economic harm to an opponent and making them appear too weak to protect their subjects.

This was especially unpleasant because chivalry, which did exist and was a very powerful social force, particularly in the 12th and 13th centuries, only applied to the upper class. An English or French knight captured by his social peer on the other side would almost always be well-treated, and ransomed back. If that same knight were caught by peasant soldiers, they might sell him on to a knight/noble (who had the clout to negotiate a full ransom) or just hack him to pieces.

However, chivalry wasn’t universal. At the Battle of Evesham, the future Edward I (then a prince) ordered no quarter given or prisoners taken, and a large number of nobles were slaughtered. Similarly, as king campaigning in Scotland, Edward ordered a pair of noble female captives to be kept in wooden cages on public display.

On a more practical note, plate armour is a lot more effective than is commonly portrayed. Arrows usually bounce off, cutting through it is nigh on impossible and beneath is mail and then a gambeson (quilted jacket). Hence the part of the plot upon which the cover is based, with a dagger through the eye slits of a certain someone. At Agincourt, conditions were terrible. Rain had turned the field to sludge, and many French knights fell and either drowned in mud or were on their backs and couldn’t get up. English archers (peasants, and, as noted above, outside the rules of chivalry) did in many a French knight by stabbing through the eye holes or wrenching off helmets to slit throats. An inglorious end, but had the archers been caught by the knights they would also have met ill treatment.

Magic aside, Traitor’s Prize follows the first book in the trilogy (Kingdom Asunder) by taking its lead from medieval history. Sometimes this can mean harsh measures, but it can also lead to surprising mercy. Just as we face modern dilemmas in warfare/security when it comes to rules about drone strikes, how to combat terrorism, and other matters, so did medieval leaders.




Traitor’s Prize is the second book in The Bloody Crown Trilogy and is currently discounted at £2.32.

Kingdom Asunder, the first book, can be found at:

Thaddeus

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