By Dominic Fielder
Happy Nivôse Chien! When’s the last time that you wished anyone that? Hopefully, never! In fact, anyone using the French revolutionary calendar, from which these words are taken, wouldn’t have wished anyone this greeting anyway. Nivôse covers the days from 21st December to 21st January, Chien (Dog) the name giving to the 25th. Celebrating Christmas in 1793 France, at the height of the Terror, was a dangerous, counter-revolutionary act.
Much has been written about the power struggle between the Church and the revolutionary governments, between 1789 and until the signing of the Concordat, between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII, which found a way for Church and State to co-exist. Some historians have viewed this agreement with a degree of scepticism, Napoleon having a view to the days ahead, when an imperial coronation at the hands of the Pope would offer him legitimacy, but the Concordat did provide a framework for the future relationship with the Church into the start of the twentieth century.
But those are the days ahead.
In the raw moments of 1793, the year in which both Louis XVI and Marie Antionette are executed, the struggle to control the Church and therefore the souls of France, is very real. The Church had been the significant landowner and a source of great wealth. By 1790, land had been seized and sold to the public and priests subordinated to governmental controls. In August and September 1792, there had been a series of demonstrations across France. Churches had been raided; priests put to death; iconography destroyed; and the tearing down of crosses and bells, clear and potent signs of the ridding of religious control.
How much widespread support this had is again open to question, certainly in the Vendée, religion and support for the Bourbon lineage where the major drivers to the bitter civil war that raged there. Yet in other parts of France too, priests who refused to submit to control from the National Assembly at Paris, continued to offer communion where parishioners demanded it. The price for such rebellion, at the height of the Terror, was an appointment with the guillotine, dubbed the National Razor!
France and the areas that her armies controlled had become a bizarre and bloody Narnia, where it was winter but Christmas never came. Yet all around her borders, like the fur coats in the wardrobe, lay a different world but one that was fraught with danger to reach. At the time of writing this, I’m considering how one of my characters, a French Vivandière, might leave the relative comfort of the winter camp of the army of the North, and risk a journey across the no man’s land between the French and British armies, in order to return to her home in Bruges.
Emmeline Chastain, a seamstress, left Bruges to follow her husband when he enlisted in the Army of the North, when the French swept across Flanders and into the Dutch United Provinces, the previous year. But his revolutionary fervour had bled out of his body on the battlefield of Hondschoote.
A month later, still wrapped in grief and lost in thought, she slips on the edge of a riverbank and falls into the Lys. French and Hanoverian piquets who have both come to the river to draw water, look on in helplessness. Her saviour, Erich von Bomm, is an occasional scoundrel but war has proved him brave too. Their first meeting is all too brief and the second promises to be as lively, but at least in that they will have a chance to exchange a few words and the spark of something will ignite.
In a series that has plenty of characters, introducing another one is always questionable but 1794 isn’t going to be a particularly good year for the King’s Germans. Emmeline will add some light for von Bomm initially, the best late Christmas gift that I could offer to him.
She’s drawn in part from two historical events.
In one, a seamstress, who has obtained tickets to a society ball, is tricked out of her evening of dancing and thrown out onto the streets by a British Guards officer. Another is the story of three women dragged into the streets by the citizens of Bruges, when the French troops capture the city later in 1794. Dealt with much in the style of those who collaborated with the Germans in parts of France, their heads were shaved, before being led to a scaffold and executed. In a city where so many people had lived peaceably alongside British and Hanoverian soldiers, the three seemed to have been offered as tokens of sacrifice in the dying days of the Terror.
I’m not sure that I can bring myself to let that be Emmeline’s fate and I hope that there is a way out. After all, that’s the joy of writing fiction. We all have our dog days, but Emmeline and Erich can enjoy all that Spring offers before the Summer heat threatens both their lives and a future together.
Before then there is much to do, and I must disappear back into that wardrobe to explore the landscape of a nation that has banned Christmas and replaced it with its own dog day. I would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas from myself, Sarah, Neil, Neil, Jennie and Adrian who contribute to make the King’s Germans stories what they are.
See you in 2020..and 1794…
The Black Lions of Flanders
(The King's Germans Book #1)
By Dominic Fielder
In the war of the First Coalition, friend and foe know one simple truth:
trust your ally at your own peril.
Private Sebastian Krombach has joined the army to escape the boredom of life in his father’s fishing fleet. Captain Werner Brandt yearns to leave his post and retire into civilised society and Lieutenant Erich von Bomm wants nothing more than to survive his latest escapade that has provoked yet another duel. Each man is a King’s German; when they are called to war, their lives will become inextricably linked.
The redcoats of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Regiment, must survive the divisions that sweep through their ranks before they are tested in combat. On the border of France, the King’s Germans will face an enemy desperate to keep the Revolution alive: the Black Lions of Flanders.
The King of Dunkirk
The King’s Germans Book #2
By Dominic Fielder
By Dominic Fielder
May 1793: The French border.
Valenciennes, Paris then home! Every common soldier knows the popular
refrain so why can’t the commanders see sense?
The protracted siege of Valenciennes exposes the mistrust between the
allies. National interests triumph over military logic. The King’s Germans
find themselves marching north to the coast, not east to Paris. Dunkirk has
become a royal prize, an open secret smuggled to the French, who set a trap
for the Duke of York’s army.
Lieutenant Erich von Bomm and Captain Werner Brandt find themselves in
the thick of the action as the 14th Nationals, the Black Lions, seek their
revenge. In the chaos of battle, Sebastian Krombach, working alongside
Major Trevethan, the engineer tasked with capturing Dunkirk, must make a
dreadful choice: to guide a battalion of Foot Guards to safety across the
Great Moor or carry a message that might save the life of a friend.
The King’s Germans and the Black Lions do battle to determine who shall
be crowned the King of Dunkirk.
My very own ‘brief encounter’…the first meeting of Emmeline Chastain and Erich von Bomm, from ‘The Queen of the Citadels’, due out in Spring 2020…
The French Vivandière.
Menen: 19th October 1793
The two groups of soldiers eyed one another warily across the narrow expanse of the Lys, slate grey and sluggish. Heavy clouds threatened an abundance of rain but for now, empty canteens and a morning’s thirst needed sating, whatever the colour of uniform.
The grenadiers moved forward warily at first but once the French piquets had stepped away from their side of the bank, the unspoken ritual began.
“Eyes peeled please, Sergeant Keithen. I might attempt a little parlez today.” Von Bomm hoped that his voice betrayed very little emotion but he sensed there was something amiss on the French side of the river, but for now he couldn’t place it.
“Fill mine will you, Pinsk? Try and avoid any yellow-looking water. I’m sure it tasted off, yesterday!” he winked to the tall grenadier, who had become his messenger and kit-man. There was something likeable about Pinsk, country wisdom and caustic wit; a good NCO when the time came.
The Grenadier captain flashed his smile and handed Pinsk his water bottle, then settled back on a long-dead tree trunk to survey the scene.
It differed little from the last three days, when this dance had unfolded. The French scouts who held the far bank had allowed the redcoats to take water from the river. Had either wanted to, a messy musket duel could have broken out, with both sides retreating to the tree-lines along the riverbank, but there were no generals to order such futility.
Instead, a form of peace had broken out.
Soldiers blighted by campaigning into the late autumn had little desire to look for battles, surviving was battle enough.
The French were more numerous than yesterday, certainly the vivandières were, and von Bomm fought his natural inclination to run an appreciative eye over the forms hauling water into buckets that were then fixed onto yokes and carried away to wherever the French were camped.
Pinsk loped back into view and handed the canteen to his officer. Nodding his appreciation, von Bomm tugged at the cork, in readiness to quench his thirst.
“Notice anything different today, Pinsk?”
The grenadier peered through thick spectacles and for a moment, von Bomm wondered whether the boy could see the far bank, let alone shed light on the mystery.
“More French than yesterday sir. Same battalion, I’m sure but a stronger guard. You can’t see them from here but I’m sure I saw men with axes in the tree-line.”
Pinsk jabbed a spindly finger in the direction of a cluster of trees on the opposite bank.
Then it struck von Bomm.
“Pinsk, do you have your pipe and tobacco?”
“Not again, sir?”
“A double return when you get back to camp!”
“You said that yesterday, sir…and the day before.”
“It’s for good King George, Pinsk. Where’s your sense of duty?”
Whatever the grumbled reply, it was lost in the flurry of smoke as Pinsk expertly brought the pipe to life and stole a draw or two before handing it over.
“On my word as an officer and a gentleman!”
Pinsk caste a wry look.
“On my word as an officer then,” von Bomm winked.
“Find Sergeant Keithen, tell him I’m going to parlez and that I want the men to be ready to withdraw should matters turn sour.”
“Would you like me to escort you sir? Do you think there will be trouble?”
“No, I think I can manage to parlez without causing a fracas. But thank you for thinking of my welfare.”
Pinsk itched at his scalp. “Was just thinking about my pipe, sir. And my tobacco.”
The grenadier officer smiled then turned on his heels and waved the pipe above his head, to attract the attention of an officer who he had already spotted on the opposite bank.
The conversation with his French counterpart yielded little, the man spoke no German and von Bomm’s French while adequate, seemed in a different dialect to that of a deeply bronzed officer who clearly hailed from somewhere far to the south of Paris.
Instead, von Bomm turned his mind back to the matter at hand. He stood perched on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the Lys, a no man’s land between the two sides. The soil was sodden, the passage down to the river bank had been one of ample opportunity for misfortune, as von Bomm had felt his boots slide in the thick grass.
Even with the river swollen, crossing to meet the Frenchman had been an easier task than the last two days. There were more stones added to the narrow chain which threaded from one side to the other. Then his eyes spotted them, two giant timber piles driven into the ground, French sentries stood around them, trying to obscure them from view, but the coils of rope made their purpose obvious.
Perhaps the bluecoat was aware that the conversation had lulled, and that von Bomm had made a connection with events on the far side of the river. The Frenchman straightened himself and made to hand back the pipe, keeping the ball of tobacco as a gift to be enjoyed at his leisure, when a brief scream pierced the morning, followed by a splash and the thrashing of a body in distress. One of the vivandières had slipped on the perilously damp grass and fallen head first into the Lys. The heavy winter coat and the ropes from the buckets had become wrapped around her.
A consequence of the French improving the stone walk way across the river was a deep pooling of water into which the woman had fallen, and it was obvious to von Bomm that she would drown in a matter of moments. Without thinking, he unleashed sword belt, tunic and boots and threw himself into the grey mass of river, in the direction of where the woman had disappeared.
The chill of the water was like a succession of punches to the ribs, and von Bomm pushed forward through the burning pain only with the greatest of effort. He had been a strong swimmer in his childhood years, but the warm summer lakes around Hanover were nothing like the river that dragged and pulled at him, blinding him into numb submission. With one last desperate forward stroke, his hand brushed the material of a coat, then he felt the shape of a torso. Fighting with all his might, he tried to propel himself and the woman to the surface, just a foot or so above him. The distance might just as well have been fathoms. Current, and the shocking cold of the Lys consumed his energy.
From the world above, hands reached down and grabbed at von Bomm and the woman, and then he was free of the water, sucking in air which burned his lungs with a pain as intense as that day in Rumes.
A prostrate body was hauled unceremoniously onto the wet grass beside him; the woman looked more dead than alive. The grenadier officer felt his redcoat being placed around his shoulders and a small flask of brandy thrust into his hands, with the instructions to drink. He spluttered as the liquid tempered the burning sensation with a scorching bite of its own.
All the while, fellow vivandières pinched and plucked at the face of their comrade; brandy was poured onto lips that were a deathly blue; and rich red hair saturated to dark auburn, fell about the shoulders of a body, to which a gossamer transparent chemise held no secrets.
Von Bomm heard the French officer call to the women who attempted to crowd around to make way. As the bluecoat waved the women back, the lifeless body jolted; a huge gasp of breath followed with a retching as her face tilted towards von Bomm’s and a stream of water was ejected in a series of deep coughs. All sense of order was lost as the vivandières swarmed around the figure again, returned to them from the dead.
For the briefest moment von Bomm caught her gaze. Eyes as auburn as her soaked hair, met his. There was no recognition, no understanding, but there was a vulnerable beauty.
Then she was gone, carried away by the woman who were more used to carrying away the dead and dying in the army that they followed. Instead there were words of rejoicing and the sound of a battle hymn that von Bomm at heard before, on the field of Hondschoote.
He felt himself being hauled from the floor and the French officer offered a hand and then deciding that such formality was uncalled for, squeezed von Bomm in the tightest of bear hugs.
Others came to offer congratulations and von Bomm found himself staring at one man, a giant sapper with a thick beard, greying at the edges. The soldier’s sleeves were soaked up to his shoulders; von Bomm nodded an acknowledgment and his own thanks.
As the sapper stepped away, other shapes in the treeline became visible, confirming the King’s German’s earlier suspicions.
The French officer realised that the redcoat had seen more than he should. Moments later, his arm was on von Bomm’s shoulder, guiding him back towards the stepping stones. On the far bank, sergeant Keithen and his company were stranded onlookers.
“Mon ami, your bravery does your uniform honour.” The French officer offered his hand, formality having returned to proceedings. The was a pause and the man made to turn away and then stopped. “We have watched one another for the last three days, no? Tomorrow, find another job for your men. Bon chance, captain.”
With that, the Frenchman bowed his head and turned away, barking out orders to his men.
Looking again at the treeline, von Bomm watched him go, then he turned and crossed the stones back to the safety of his side of the riverbank.
“You alright sir?” Sergeant Keithen greeted the sight of his officer, returned from the French side of the bank in a uniform that stuck to his skin, as a great mist of steam rose from von Bomm. “Fine morning for a swim, of course, but we need to get you out of those wet clothes. Can’t have you dying on me, sir. The men wouldn’t like that!”
Von Bomm was too weary to resist as his red coat was pulled from his body and Keithen barked his own orders at men who gawped at their officer being stripped bare.
A fresh shirt was found from a soldier’s pack, along with a pair of white linen trousers. Old socks were donated and Flanders clogs placed on von Bomm’s feet. He looked more peasant than nobleman, but as Keithen rattled off a series of commands, the company began to form up, ready for the order to march, he felt the weariness lift a little from his body.
A tall figure shuffled beside him.
“Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but… can I have my pipe?”
Von Bomm looked up blankly at the figure that towered above him.
“Your pipe?” von Bomm offered the boy his hand and Pinsk hauled his captain to his feet. He checked his pockets and then was faintly aware that he had dropped it in the haste of undressing.
“I’m sorry, Pinsk. I really am, but it’s gone.”
Pinsk nodded slowly and shrugged his shoulders; von Bomm watched the tall redcoat traipse towards the forming column, almost certain that he heard the boy mutter something about ‘bloody officers’.
A sort of normality had returned to the ranks on this side of the river too. Von Bomm called his sergeant to him.
“Back to camp when you are ready, sergeant. We have received a warning from our friend on the far bank. The French have a gun battery in that treeline and I think they plan to cross here tonight or tomorrow. And I owe Mr Pinsk a new pipe and some tobacco. You may decide for yourself which of those pieces of news is the most pressing.”
A minute later, the redcoats were gone. Nothing marked their passing, other than a series of muddied footprints which led back into the trees and towards the safety of their own camp.
The King’s Germans is a project that has been many years in the making. Currently I manage to juggle writing and research around a crowded work and family life. The Black Lions of Flanders (set in 1793) is the first in the King’s Germans’ series, which will follow an array of characters through to the final book in Waterloo. The King of Dunkirk will soon be released and I hope that the response to that is as encouraging as the reviews of Black Lions have been.
While I’m self-published now, I have an excellent support team that help me to produce what I hope is a story with professional feel, and that readers would want to read more than once. My family back-ground is in paperback book sales, so I’m very keen to ensure that the paperback design is something that I would be proud to put on my bookshelf.
I live in just outside of Tavistock, in Devon where I enjoy walking on the moors and the occasional horse-riding excursion as both inspiration and relaxation.