Life in the time of Richard the Lionheart
By Mary Gillgannon
The plot of my romance Lady of Steel hinges on two important realities of the medieval era: the impact of the Crusades and the lowly status of women.
The book takes place during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. As far as medieval monarchs go, Richard appears almost admirable. He’s not an out-and-out sociopath like his younger brother John, who most historians agree murdered his nephew Arthur to prevent him from being a threat to his taking the throne. Nor does Richard have the reputation for genocide his grandnephew Edward I does. Edward is the brutal king from Braveheart who did his best to grind both the Scots and the Welsh into abject submission.
|Richard the Lionheart.|
Richard was handsome, with reddish blond hair and a tall, robust stature that represented the best of his parent’s Norse and Gallic bloodlines. He was also utterly fearless and absolutely devoted to his goal of freeing Jerusalem from the Saracens. But he was far from the wise, generous and lordly king he is often portrayed to be in movies.
Although Richard was king of England, he spent almost no time at all in the country, appearing there only long enough to be crowned and to raise funds for the Third Crusade. Then he was off to the Holy Land, pausing briefly to wed Berengaria of Navarre. Although he took Berengaria with him on Crusade, he spent almost no time with his wife and their relationship was so distant there is some doubt that the marriage was ever consummated. This led to rumors that Richard was gay, but most likely his all-consuming passion for war simply took precedence over his role as husband.
The Crusades were portrayed at the time (and sometimes still are) as a campaign by the noble European Christians seeking to liberate the Holy Lands from the heathen Saracens. In fact, the Muslim Arabs of the Middle Ages were far more civilized and erudite than the Crusaders. They were years ahead of the Europeans in mathematics, astronomy and medicine, and also much more sophisticated in terms of art and history.
Evidence of Richard’s raw brutality is revealed when he finally gains control of the city of Acre. He demands a ransom from the sultan Saladin for the 3,000 Arab prisoners he has taken. When he doesn’t get it, Richard orders the prisoners slaughtered—men, women and children. It’s said that the knights engaged in the killing ended up knee-deep in blood.
|The slaughter of Acre.|
The hero of Lady of Steel, Fawkes de Cressy, earns his wealth and acquires his army because of his service to King Richard, but his experience on Crusade scars him. When he returns to Valmar Castle to rescue Lady Nicola, for whom he has carried a torch for nearly four years, he is not the idealistic young man who fell hopelessly in love after an hour in her bed. He is wary and suspicious, especially when he hears the sinister rumors surrounding Nicola.
As for Nicola, she has spent the last four years trying to protect herself and those she cares about from her cruel husband. Females in the Middle Ages, even noblewomen, had little control over their lives and were virtual property of first their fathers and then their husbands. Daughters were married off in the most advantageous marriage possible, and their feelings had no bearing on the matter. Once wed, it was perfectly acceptable for their husbands to rape them (at least that’s what we would consider it) or beat them. The rule of thumb refers the English common law where a man could only beat his wife with a stick as big around as his thumb.
A medieval woman’s lack of autonomy over her own life is vividly illustrated by the circumstances of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart’s mother. When she aided her son Henry in a revolt against her husband, King Henry II, the king retaliated by imprisoning her. She was confined in various locations in England for sixteen years, and only freed when her son Henry died and Richard became king. Eleanor had as much power as any woman in Europe at that time, but she was still totally subject to the will of her husband.
|Eleanor of Aquitaine|
Although I love the pageantry, passion and high-stakes drama of the Middle Ages, as a woman, I’m not sure I would have truly enjoyed living in the time period. Although I can dream I would end up wed to a heroic knight like Fawkes de Cressy, who would not only adore me, but admire my strength and resourcefulness, as he does Lady Nicola.
Lady of Steel
By Mary Gillgannon
One rapturous hour sparks unforgettable passion between Lady Nicola and Fawkes de Cressy. The memory of their time together enables Fawkes to survive the perils of the Crusades and gives Nicola the hope and strength to endure a brutal marriage. But when Fawkes returns three years later, he finds Nicola enmeshed in a dark web of castle intrigue. Fawkes has also been altered by the hardships and cruelties of war, and Nicola fears to trust him with her secrets or her heart. Surrounded by enemies, the battle-hardened knight and the aloof, wary woman must rebuild the bond between them. Only if they dare let the soul-stirring magic their bodies share grow into love can they escape the sinister plot that threatens to destroy them both.
What was that terrible racket? Nicola rushed out of the weaving shed and looked around, trying to decide where the noise was coming from. Shouts and whistles echoed in the distance, and the castle yard was near deserted.
She hurried to the gate and shouted up to the guard in the tower. “What is it? Are we being attacked?”
“It’s Lord Fawkes and his captain putting on a display.”
“On the practice field.”
Nicola hurried across the bailey and climbed the stairs to the ramparts. She made her way around the wall to the rear of the castle and looked out. On the worn, rutted practice field, two knights garbed in full armor rode toward each other carrying heavy lances. Along the edge of the field, several dozen men were lined up, watching.
Nicola held her breath as the two horses raced forward. Before they met, the men’s lances collided. It made a thunderous sound, but neither man was unhorsed. They pulled in their mounts and circled around for another go at each other.
“Are they mad?” Nicola muttered to herself.
She focused on the knight on the chestnut charger, who was clearly Fawkes. His horse’s hooves dug into the ground, scattering clots of earth and grass. Beneath the glossy brown coat, the animal’s muscles bunched and stretched in sleek rhythm. Fawkes’s mail glinted in the sunlight and his lance thrust forward like a streak of light. Horse and man and weapon moved in perfect deadly harmony, Nicola felt a surge of exhilaration.
Her elation turned to apprehension as the two knights neared each other. A moment before they met, Fawkes leaned in hard and his lance struck Reynard’s lance from the side. Reynard’s weapon flew from his hand and he tumbled from his horse.
Fawkes circled around, as if he meant to charge. Reynard scrambled to his feet and drew his sword. Nicola watched disbelieving as Fawkes raced his mount directly at Reynard. At the last moment he turned and the lance pierced empty air instead of solid flesh.
Nicola let out a gasp of relief. She hadn’t really believed Fawkes would run down his own man. But he’d come so close. What an incredible display of skill and strength and lightning quick reflexes. It took her breath away.
Fawkes circled around to where Reynard stood. He dismounted and a squire rushed up to take the reins of his lathered destrier. Both men pulled off their helmets and cradled them under their arms as they walked toward the line of spectators. The men milled around, cheering. Fawkes raised his hand and silenced them, then spoke.
Nicola couldn’t hear what he was saying, but from his gestures he appeared to be explaining details of the jousting match. Nicola watched him, her chest tight with longing. He cut such a striking figure, with his raven-black hair and tall, broad-shouldered physique. Her husband was a heroic figure, a knight among knights. The awareness tormented her. Would he ever return to her bed? Or now, having done his duty, would he seek satisfaction elsewhere, in order to scorn and punish her?
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Lady of Steel
Mary Gillgannon is the author of seventeen novels, including romances set in the dark age, medieval and Regency time periods. She’s married and has two children. Now that they’re grown, she indulges her nurturing tendencies on four very spoiled cats and a moderately spoiled dog. When not writing or working—she’s been employed at the local public library for twenty-five years—she enjoys gardening, reading and travel.