Dog Days and The Flanders Seamstress
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’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.