Guest Post: ‘1215 and all that’ by Nicky Moxey, author of Sheriff and Priest

I’m delighted to welcome Nicky Moxey to What Cathy Read Next today.  A review copy of Nicky’s historical novel, Sheriff and Priest, is sitting in my author review pile.  Unfortunately, it may be there for some time so, in the meantime, I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post from Nicky about the turbulent events of King John’s reign.  It’s also an insight into her research for the sequel to Sheriff and Priest, due out in 2019.

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00032]About the Book

Wimer could have become a monk. Instead, his decision to become a Chaplain – to make his way in the wider world of men – has put his soul in mortal danger.

In 12th Century East Anglia, poor Saxon boys stay poor. It takes an exceptional one to win Henry II’s friendship, and to rise to the job of High Sheriff of all Norfolk and Suffolk. Falling foul of the stormy relationship between Henry and his Archbishop, he is excommunicated three times, twice by Thomas a’Becket, and once by the Pope.

He also falls in love with the King’s Ward, Ida. Before he plucks up the courage to do anything about it, the King takes her as his mistress, and Ida needs Wimer’s support to survive that dangerous liaison.

Although he is eventually reinstated in the Church, his problems with his religious superiors, and his love for Ida, will guarantee him a place in Hell, unless he can find land and resources to do something spectacular in the way of penance…

Format: Paperback, ebook (362 pp.)    Publisher: Dodnash Books
Published: 15th October 2017                Genre: Historical Fiction

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Guest Post: ‘1215 and all that’ by Nicky Moxey, author of Sheriff and Priest

Historical fiction makes me happy. Not so much the reading of it (although I read it voraciously), nor the writing of it (though I’ve had some modest success). No; what I really enjoy is the research.

I write about the little people – I have no huge interest in royalty per se; they tend to be crusted around with other people’s perceptions. Instead, I want to know how the actions of the great and good impact on the people around them.

Of course, this is the writerly equivalent of trying to push water uphill – we know so much about the top of society because they controlled the information flows, or at the very least they were what the historians of the day wanted to write about. So this is where historical fiction wins over historical fact; it’s possible to take a gleam of certainty there, a book illumination here, and meld them together into something that casts light into people’s lives whilst retaining something of the truth.

I’m currently writing about the event-filled years of John’s reign on the people in my favourite setting – Dodnash Priory in Suffolk; one of many hundreds of small religious houses scattered across the UK. This one follows the Augustinian rule, so is not a closed order; the monks serve travellers and the local community, healing, teaching, and spreading the word of God. It was an enormously turbulent period for the country as a whole, but the surviving Dodnash Priory charters tell of local challenges too.

Nicky Moxey Guest Post King JohnKing John was crowned on 2nd May 1199. It took him a while to decide to stop using his father’s coinage – big brother Richard had never taken this step; it was an expensive one. Usually the job was done by issuing a mix of old coins and new silver to the moneyers; but John was perpetually cash-strapped, fighting losing battles to maintain the Plantagenet lands in France. So John decreed that it was going to be against the law to own silver coinage between November 1204 and mid-January 1205; all silver coinage was to be handed in so that it could be melted down and re-issued. The farthing, or four-thing – a silver penny cut into 4 pieces – was the lowest denomination of coinage; there was no copper coinage. A skilled carpenter might earn 4 pence a day, and very few of the common people would have owned gold. A gallon of ale or a couple of dozen eggs would have cost around a penny.

Now having no money would have been an irritation under any circumstance, but it turned out that the winter of 1204/5 was record-breakingly cold. It was one of the years that the Thames froze solid. 1204’s harvest froze and rotted, stores and seed alike; it wasn’t possible in any case to plough until the end of March. The price of oats rose ten times between December and March, and a handful of vegetables was worth a gold coin called a noble – that’s 6 shillings and 8 pence. There is no record of the number of people who starved to death.

The next crisis started in 1206, when Stephen Langdon was made the Archbishop of Canterbury, against John’s wishes. The King’s response was to confiscate all the Cathedral’s property and expel all the monks! On 23rd March 1208, with John refusing to accept Langdon or restore Church property, Pope Innocent put all of England under an interdict. For a mediaeval Roman Catholic population, who firmly believed in Hell, the Interdict must have been truly terrifying – the sentence meant no church services, no confession; no extreme unction; no burial in churchyards, even – people had to bury their dead in woods & ditches. No marriages or baptisms were allowed either. It lasted for 6 years! As an aside, John was personally excommunicated in 1209, but he didn’t seem to care much.

In the autumn of 1213 Archbishop Langdon is said to have described to the barons of England exactly what oath John swore when he was crowned, and which parts of that oath he had already broken. John was making a rod for his own back by increasing taxes by astonishing amounts, and demanding that the barons provide armies for the wars in France. He was also using court fines to increase his coffers, demanding huge fines for any misdemeanour, and charging extortionate amounts to confirm inheritances. The barons were becoming more than restless – and the ones in East Anglia, including the Bigods, Dodnash’s overlords, were leading the pack.

On the 21st April 1214 John got so desperate that he made the Pope the overlord of England and Ireland – an unbelievable step; it meant that the King of England was no longer the sovereign power. As a political move, though, it was a stroke of genius; all of a sudden John could do no wrong so far as the Pope was concerned. The Interdict was lifted, and the Pope started to side with John against the barons. John underlined his blue-eyed boy status by taking the crusader oath at the beginning of March 1215.

Nicky Moxey Guest Post Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle, built by Roger Bigod

John, and the barons, signed the Magna Carta on 15th of June 1215. Roger Bigod, and his son Hugh, were one of 25 barons who were appointed to be sure that John kept his side of the bargain. John kept his word for just long enough to appeal to his overlord the Pope – who annulled the Magna Carta on 24th August. John then fought his way across England, burning and looting the land of the barons who had opposed him. Roger Bigod surrendered Framlingham castle in early March 1216, and his baby grandson was taken as a hostage. John marched through Ipswich and laid siege to Colchester on the 14th March; his army of mercenaries must have passed through or very near Dodnash lands.

On 22nd May the French Dauphin, Prince Louis, invaded England, at the invitation of the barons. ANYONE would be better than John! Louis was successful enough that he was actually crowned King – and for several turbulent months reigned over East Anglia, with his own Sheriff in place hearing court cases – including one crucial to little Dodnash. Who knows what might have happened to the United Kingdom if John hadn’t died of dysentery in mid-October 2016, much to everyone’s relief. Sir William Marshall was persuaded to come out of retirement to be Regent and the country rallied behind John’s baby son, Richard lll. The Dauphin withdrew in short order.

There is a growing trend amongst historians at the moment to say that John wasn’t as bad as his reputation has it. From my point of view, he was truly terrible – because of the suffering he caused the common man, to both body and soul.

In the first book, Sheriff and Priest, Henry II’s reign feels like a comparative oasis of peace. Wimer the Chaplain has plenty of personal struggles, but he is able to take his part in building the stability of the realm, and retire to found Dodnash Priory, without too much interference from the Crown – Thomas a’Becket’s habit of excommunicating everyone in sight is really the only external crisis.  In the sequel – due out in early 2019 – the opposite is true. The people in the Priory are beset in almost every way by John’s actions, and must find a way to live, love, and thrive despite the challenges.

© Nicky Moxey, 2018

NickyMoxeyAbout the Author

Nicky Moxey is an amateur archaeologist and historian who lives in darkest Suffolk and is owned by a slinky black cat. She writes historical fiction, and also has a series of children’s stories about a boy called Henry who finds a magic pencil. She tends to write first drafts with pencil and paper, often out on a field somewhere…

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