Today I welcome David Pilling for a guest post.
"A Bolton, a Bolton! The White Hawk! God for Lancaster and Saint George!"
England, 1459: the kingdom stands divided and on the brink of civil war. The factions of Lancaster and York vie for control of the King, while their armies stand poised, ready to tear each other to pieces.
The White Hawk follows the fortunes of a family of Lancastrian loyalists, the Boltons, as they attempt to survive and prosper in this world of brutal warfare and shifting alliances. Surrounded by enemies, their loyalties will be tested to the limit in a series of bloody battles and savage twists of fate.
This period, with its murderous dynastic feuding between the rival Houses of York and Lancaster, is perhaps the most fascinating of the entire medieval period inEngland. Having lost the Hundred Years War, the English nobility turned on each other in a bitter struggle for the crown, resulting in a spate of beheadings, battles, murders and Gangland-style politics that lasted some thirty years.
Apart from the savage doings of aristocrats, the wars affected people on the lower rungs of society. One minor gentry family in particular, the Pastons of Norfolk, suffered greatly in their attempts to survive and thrive in the feral environment of the late 15th century. They left an invaluable chronicle in their archive of family correspondence, the famous Paston Letters.
The letters provide us with a snapshot of the trials endured by middle-ranking families like the Pastons, and of the measures they took to defend their property from greedy neighbours. One such extract is a frantic plea from the matriarch of the clan, Margaret Paston, begging her son John to return fromLondon:
“I greet you well, letting you know that your brother and his fellowship stand in great jeopardy at Caister… Daubney and Berney are dead and others badly hurt, and gunpowder and arrows are lacking. The place is badly broken down by the guns of the other party, so that unless they have hasty help, they are likely to lose both their lives and the place, which will be the greatest rebuke to you that ever came to any gentleman. For every man in this country marvels greatly that you suffer them to be for so long in great jeopardy without help or other remedy…”
The Paston Letters, together with my general fascination for the era, were the inspiration for The White Hawk. Planned as a series of three novels, TWH will follow the fortunes of a fictional Staffordshire family, the Boltons, from the beginning to the very end of The Wars of the Roses. Unquenchably loyal to the House of Lancaster, their loyalty will have dire consequences for them as law and order breaks down and the kingdom slides into civil war. The ‘white hawk’ of the title is the sigil of the Boltons, and will fly over many a blood-stained battlefield.
In the following excerpt, the Lancastrian lord “Butcher” Clifford prepares to defend a river crossing against the Yorkist host:
“Lord Clifford sat his horse on the north bank of the River Aire and watched the glittering mass of the Yorkist vanguard march into view from the south.
It was a bitterly cold afternoon, with a hint of ice on the wind. Clifford took no notice. He was the lord of Skipton and Craven inYorkshire, and the atrocious weather and desolate landscape of the north appealed to his stark nature. This was his country.
“The Butcher”, the Yorkists had started to call him, for his cold-blooded killing of Edmund of Rutland after the Battle of Wakefield. Clifford gloried in the name. The more his enemies feared him, the better. He was a hard man, consumed by a lust for revenge since the death of his father at the First Battle of Saint Albans, six years previously.
Clifford had slaked his thirst for Yorkist blood somewhat onRutland, and still felt a tight little shiver of pleasure at the memory of his knife plunging into the boy’s soft white gullet. One death, however, wasn’t enough. Only the bloody annihilation of all the Yorkists inEnglandwould suffice.
“Fauconberg’s men are in the van, as we suspected,” said Lord Neville, his second-in-command, pointing at one of the enormous standards carried at the head of the Yorkist troops, displaying blue and white halves painted with Fauconberg’s distinctive sigil of a sable fish-hook in the top right corner.
Clifford said nothing. He had already repelled an attempt by the Earl of Warwick and Lord Fitzwalter to cross the stone bridge over the Aire, falling on the Yorkist camp at dawn and slaughtering many soldiers in their beds. More had died as they tried to escape across the river, drowned or swept away in the icy waters. Lord Fitzwalter had been mortally wounded, and Warwick himself barely escaped with an arrow in his thigh.
The bridge was the only reliable crossing over the flood-swollen Aire for miles in either direction. The Yorkists had to cross the river to engage the enormous Lancastrian army slowly deploying a mile to the north, between the villages of Towton and Saxton. Sooner or later, Clifford appreciated, they would realise how small the force was that opposed their crossing…”
If this whets your appetite, then please check out the paperback and Kindle versions of Book One below…