New Release! THE KING’S RETRIBUTION

If you read A KING UNDER SIEGE, you might remember that we left off just as Richard declared his majority at age 22. He was able to rise above the humiliation inflicted on him during the Merciless Parliament, but the fear that it could happen again haunted him the rest of his life. Ten years was a long time to wait before taking revenge on your enemies, but King Richard II was a patient man. Hiding his antagonism toward the Lords Appellant, once he felt strong enough to wreak his revenge he was swift and merciless. Alas for Richard, he went too far, and in his eagerness to protect his crown Richard underestimated the very man who would take it from him: Henry Bolingbroke.

Haven’t read A KING UNDER SIEGE yet? Email me for a FREE Audible Promotion Code

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Kings-Retribution-Book-Plantagenet-Legacy-ebook/dp/B085ZGL7SK

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.com/Kings-Retribution-Book-Plantagenet-Legacy-ebook/dp/B085ZGL7SK

Usury in Medieval England: Lending Money to the King

Detail from Death and the Miser by Hieronymus Bosch, National Gallery of Art, Source: Wikipedia

It’s pretty much a given that usury was considered a sin by almost all Christians; even Dante put usurers in the seventh circle of hell. However, the degrees of sinning and the exact definition of usury is debated to this day, so I am merely a novice dipping my big toe into the ocean of discourse. Nonetheless, I always wondered how people got away with it. After all, no one would take the risk of lending money without some sort of recompense, would they?

Since medieval Christians were forbidden to practice usury, it fell upon the Jews to engage in this unsavory profession—as long as they didn’t lend to other Jews. After all, in England Jews were not allowed traditional trades; they were marginalized into socially inferior professions like tax or rent collection or money changing. Unfortunately for them, their practice made the Jewish moneylender the first victim whenever it was convenient for those in authority—or mobs—to rid themselves of their pesky creditors. Again and again we hear tales of their murder, arrest, torture, or expulsion, and I wonder how that behavior could possibly encourage the next generation to continue lending?

But in this article, I’m interested in how the crown got its loans. After all, war was an expensive business and the taxes approved by Parliament took months to collect—and they usually didn’t cover all the bills. In fact, it is widely believed that Edward III was responsible for giving Parliament the idea that they could force their agenda on the king in exchange for the next round of taxes—first one, then the other. My research tells me that the money needed by the king was borrowed in advance, with the provision that the lenders would be paid off with the proceeds from the next tax collection, or sometimes “on the customs of the ports”.

BL Add. 27695, f.8. Cocharelli of Genoa. Bankers in an Italian counting house in the 14th cent. Source: Wikipedia

The first three Edwards borrowed money from Italian banking-houses, but they were notorious for not paying back their loans. At first, the bankers were motivated by profit, but soon they needed to keep lending money to ensure they didn’t lose what they had already invested. The two largest bankers, the Peruzzi and the Bardi, collapsed in the 1340s, and most historians believe that Edward III’s nonpayment of colossal loans was the main contributing factor.

Some of the wealthier magnates, bishops, merchants, or corporations were tapped again and again for royal loans. They were issued tallies by the king’s commissioner that they could later redeem when the exchequer was solvent—in theory. It was more reliable to advance loans to be credited against their own future taxation. Coercion was not unheard of: according to K.B. McFarlane, a contemporary writer told us that in Henry V’s day, “Italian merchants had been given a choice between lending and going to prison and had in some cases preferred prison”. (Richard II wasn’t the only king guilty of “forced loans”! But that’s another story.)

It’s an outside possibility that people lent money to the crown out of the kindness of their hearts—expecting no return—anxious to serve their country. It’s more likely that at the very least, the creditor stood to gain trading concessions or licenses, or some kind of preference. But the most convincing explanation of all, considering everyone wanted to skirt the illegality of usury, was that they were compensated, but in a way that made it difficult to prove. Fortunately, some evidence has survived that has enabled historians to track the clever devices used to conceal usury. For instance, in the case of royal tallies, they were often taken at a large discount: it was recorded that “one Robert Worsley, mercer of London, took two royal tallies for a total of £500 in settlement of a debt of £400 owed him by John, Duke of Bedford”¹. That’s a pretty hefty markup!

The Usurers by Quentin Metsys, Galleria Doria Pamphilj (Rome) Source: Wikipedia

Enter the word chevisance or chevance: essentially a form of disguised usury. This term was used regardless of the size of the loan. Contemporary literature is full of rebukes concerning this damnable practice, which they often referred to as bastard usury. To leave no trace, the sum recorded in the exchequer was the amount that was to be repaid, not what was loaned (the loan was known as mutuum). Often, the money that was loaned did not even go to the treasurer; he was only responsible for paying the debt and nothing more. Rarely was the documentation more precise than that. However, there was one incident that demonstrated how ruinous the rate could be. In 1376, the London merchant Richard Lyons was impeached with the charge that he took a 50% markup against the exchequer. It was said that he lent 20,000 marks and received back £20,000; a mark was 2/3 of a pound (not exactly 50%, but who knows?). John of Gaunt defended him, saying “that the rate was nothing out of the ordinary for a royal loan”.² No wonder the exchequer was always broke! Cardinal Beaufort—one of the wealthiest men of his time—is said to have lent the crown an excess of £200,000 during his career (he survived well in to Henry VI’s reign); there were times he was the only bulwark between the country and bankruptcy. It can only be assumed he didn’t get rich on his benefices alone, and he was accordingly castigated by his detractors.

Although the official ban on usury wasn’t lifted until the eighteenth century, in practice everyone pretty much looked the other way. After all, even the pope needed to borrow money. As long as it was for a good cause, usury could be rationalized…somehow.

 ¹ McFarlane, K.B., Loans to the Lancastrian Kings, the Problem of Inducement, from England in the Fifteenth Century, Collected Essays, The Hambledon Press, 1981, p.72
² ibid, p.77

Review for HEIR TO A PROPHECY by Mary Anne Yarde, The Coffee Pot Book Club

“I’ve come to help avenge Banquo’s death.”
Malcolm smiled sadly. “Then you shall not leave my side until it is done.”

Walter knew nothing of his ancestry, only that he was illegitimate and his grandfather, Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, had cast out his daughter, Walter’s mother, Nesta, and murdered Fleance, Walter’s father. Walter knew nothing of his father’s past until he was visited by three mysterious old women, who spoke of prophecy and destinies and other such dangerous things.

Walter has two choices. He could ignore the old hags and live the life he wanted. Or, he could take heed of their warning and follow the path they laid out before him and become The First Stuart of Scotland.

From a desperate escape from assassins to the crowning of the rightful King of Scotland, Heir to a Prophecy by Mercedes Rochelle is the utterly compelling story of how Banquo’s grandson paved the way for a generation of kings.

Those who have read Shakespeare’s infamous Scottish play will be familiar with brave and valiant Banquo, who like Macbeth failed to understand the cost of the weird women’s prophecy, nor was he prepared for the ugly realisation that if he were indeed the father of kings then Macbeth, his dearest friend, would become a dagger hidden in the shadows of the night. *”Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly,” Banquo cried if you recall, for the instruments of darkness so often tell the truth, and thus Banquo dies. Rochelle has picked up the story from that remarkable play and has taken her readers with good Fleance as he flees for his life. But how did Banquo’s son go on to father the Stuart dynasty? In this remarkable work of Historical Fiction, Rochelle has presented her readers with a plausible answer but without losing the essence, the superstition and the mythical element that is so prevalent in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Rochelle has stuck with tradition and allowed the Three Witches to control the narrative and, of course, toy with the protagonists. By doing this, Rochelle has not only captured the very essence of Shakespeare’s play, but she has given us a story that is rich and vibrant and utterly compelling from start to finish. Heir to a Prophecy is the type of book that one will forego sleep to finish, and it is also one that would be next to impossible to forget.
Read more…

That’s no way to say ‘Goodbye.’ Guest Post by Judith Arnopp

Henry VIII, att. to Joos Van Cleve, Royal Collection. Source: Wikipedia

Although Henry VIII is famous for abandoning, beheading and divorcing his wives it seems he didn’t enjoy ‘goodbyes.’ Each of his marriages ended suddenly, without discussion.  In most instances he simply left the palace, mounted his horse and rode away. End of relationship. End of marriage.

His battle for a divorce from Katherine of Aragon, his wife for more than twenty years, was a protracted affair, ending with Henry breaking his ties with the Pope and the excommunication of England from the Roman Church. By the time he finally removed himself from the marriage, he was already committed to Anne Boleyn. For months the king and his two ‘wives’ had lived in a sort of Ménage à trois with Catherine trailing in the wake of Henry and Anne. But in June 1531 Henry and Anne rode away from Hampton court, leaving the queen behind. For a few weeks the couple visited several hunting lodges with Anne playing the part of consort. It had long been Catherine’s habit to write to Henry every few days when they were apart, enquiring after his health but this time her letters also expressed her regret that he had not bid her farewell when he departed. Henry’s response was pitiless, informing her he ‘cared not for her adieux.’ Catherine’s reply illustrates admirable restraint but Henry didn’t not bother to answer; instead she received a letter from the Council which, for the first time failed to address her as ‘Queen.’ A further order demanded that she remove herself to The More in Hertfordshire, and ordered the Princess Mary to go to Richmond. Henry was not only abandoning Catherine but also their daughter Mary, who was never allowed to see her mother again.

Henry’s marriage to Anne was very different his first. Whereas Catherine had turned a blind eye to the king’s romantic indiscretions, Anne treated the matter very differently. This made his marriage to Anne a roller coaster ride of arguments, fights and reconciliations. There are, and always have been, plenty of marriages like this, so it wasn’t necessarily a sign that they were no longer in love. Since their life together was peppered with disputes, when Anne fell out of favour in May 1536 she had no reason to suspect that it was any more than another tiff. But, after signing the order for her arrest, Henry refused to see or communicate with Anne again. It is tempting to wonder if things would have turned out very differently had she been given the chance to talk her way out of it, as Henry’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, did in the final years of his reign.

Jane Seymour has always been described as the ‘one he loved best’ yet when she died they had not been married long enough for him to tire of her and since she had just provided the longed for heir she was in high favour at the time of her death. He does seem to have grieved longer for Jane than any other of his wives and did not remarry straight away but we don’t really know if that was the case. Henry delayed his planned departure to Esher by several days while Jane lay on her deathbed and Cromwell was told, ‘If she amend (recover), he will go, and if she amend not, he told me this day, he could not find it in his heart to tarry.” (David Starkey in Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII  p. 608) In other words, Jane’s death did not interfere with the king’s itinerary but perhaps it is wrong of us to expect it to have. Jane died at 8pm on the same day this message was written. We do not know if Henry was with her but it is unlikely.
I have always questioned Henry’s love for Jane. We tend to think that because he was still in love with her (or at least had not yet found a replacement) he must have loved her more than the others. But, suppose she had survived, who is to say whether or not he would have tired of her and found an excuse to rid himself of her?

I think we are safe to assume Henry had no love for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Before the marriage had even taken place, Henry wanted an end to it. He raged to his councillors that she did not please him but hampered by the political ties of the union, he was trapped, like a caged lion. The wedding went ahead and the honeymoon night was reputedly a disaster. All over London jousts and celebrations were under way but the king was far from happy. Before the bells had stopped ringing he was already paying court to Catherine Howard at the home of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester in Southwark. ‘Anne herself probably understood little of the political storm which raged round her and of which she was the all-too passive cause. She was shrewd enough, however, to notice the King’s attentions to Catherine Howard, and, on 20th June, complained vigorously about them to the Cleves agent in London, Karl Harst. Two days later, she was in better spirits, because Henry had spoken to her kindly. It was the last time she saw him as her husband.” (Starkey) Ordered to leave the court and take up residence at Richmond Palace, Anne was not made aware of the king’s decision to reconsider the marriage until July. Although she was often at court after the annulment, Anne and Henry did not meet again until after the separation was legally finalized.

Catherine Howard, as we all know, was accused of adultery and treason. As sad as it is, the charges were probably just. The legend of the little queen running screaming for Henry along the corridors of Hampton court sound as if they are straight from the pages of fiction, and they probably are but the image is a powerful one. For Catherine, coming at the end of a long line of dispatched spouses, there can have been little doubt as to her fate. But, if the story is true, it was a futile attempt to reason with the king. Henry had already fled. Hurt and humiliated, the king lost no time in leaving. On the 5th of November, on the pretext of hunting he ‘dined in a little pleasure-house in one of the parks around Hampton Court. Then, under the cover of night, he left secretly for London.’ (Starkey, p. 671) Catherine never saw him again. After her death, the Spanish ambassador described Henry as suffering ‘greater sorrow and regret at her loss than at the faults, loss of divorce of his preceding wives.’ (Starkey. P. 685) The picture of an ageing broken king mourning his faithless bride is touching but it has to be said his sorrow was more likely to have been of the self-pitying kind.

Katherine Parr, Henry’s last queen, was a scholar and a reformer, publishing books and entering the male world of theological debate. This, together with her influence over the ageing king, won her enemies among the conservative faction. Just as with several of her predecessors, moves were made to bring her down. It is possible that Katherine was just too clever, perhaps she irritated Henry with her polished arguments, perhaps she reminded him just a little too much of Anne Boleyn. Whatever the reason, after several years of marriage, Henry came to resent her and this provided her enemies with the opportunity they needed. When Henry complained, in Gardiner’s presence, of the nature of the queen’s conversation Gardiner lost no time in convincing the king to agree to turn against her. Her women were questioned and her books seized, and the queen was to be arrested and sent to the Tower. Luckily for Katherine, a sympathiser got wind of the plan and tipped her off. Katherine went straight to the king but had the sense not to remonstrate with him outright. Instead, when the subject turned to religion, she pretended ignorance, preferring to ‘defer my judgement in this, and all other cases, to our Majesty’s wisdom, as my only anchor Supreme Head and Governor her in earth, next under God.’  (Starkey. P.763) When he questioned her honesty, she went on to claim that she had only ever disputed with Henry to take his mind from his pain, and to try to learn from his own great wisdom. His ego salved and his faith in women restored, Henry and Katherine kissed and made up. Wriothesley came to arrest Katherine while she and Henry were walking in the garden but when he drew out the warrant Henry furiously berated him, calling him a knave and a beast. Wisely, Wriothesley fled the royal presence. On this occasion the queen remained in the King’s favour but as Henry’s health began to deteriorate the couple spent more and more time apart. Henry spent his last Christmas in London, while Katherine was at Greenwich.
He died in January 1547, without saying ‘Goodbye’ to the queen.

 



Judith Arnopp is the author of award winning historical fiction. Her novels are written from the perspective of historical women from all walks of life, prostitutes to Tudor queens. Her non-fiction articles feature in various historical anthologies, magazines and historical blogs.

Connect with Judith:

Webpage: http://www.judithmarnopp.com
Author page: author.to/juditharnoppbooks
Blog: http://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.co.uk/
twitter@juditharnopp

 

The Queen’s Seal: Isabella of Angoulême, Guest Post by Erica Lainé

Isabella had a gold matrix, or seal-die, which was used to make her seal as Queen of England. The seal is the wax impression; the matrix is used over and over again to make the impression. Isabella’s seal is oval as all medieval queen’s seals were, and shows the full length queen standing with her hair flowing, a cross with a bird above it in one hand and a lily in the other. Each of these are symbols of purity and also fertility. At that time, once married, a woman could not be shown with her hair down or indeed uncovered. The other side would have shown her crowned but I have never seen that and suspect it is badly damaged. The wax impression was threaded onto the parchment documents with strips of ribbon or cord. The gold matrix is about 1 1/2 inches long and just under an inch wide and would have been stored in a special pouch or richly embroidered bag. The one illustrated is from 1280 and is the seal bag for Edward 1st, her grandson.

Queens generally did not seal in matters of state but restricted the use of their seals to their own affairs and the disposition of their often considerable wealth. However while Queen of England between 1200-1216, Isabella rarely used her seal and she did not have the wealth usually given to a queen. King John treated her in a mean-spirited way! But when she returned to France she used it always. She also had a smaller, more personal seal that she kept with her at all times. All the records of her using the seal show that it was pressed into green wax, not the red that is so often associated a with wax impression.

The gold matrix is in the archives in Angoulême a tangible connection with Isabella of Angoulême, Queen of England

She stamped the letter with her great seal, and there she is standing, facing front, robed and crowned, her hair falling in ringlets around her face. In her right hand she holds a flower, in her left a bird. Isabella, by the grace of God, Queen of England, Lady of Ireland. Isabella, Duchess of the Normans, of the Men of Aquitaine and of Anjou.

 

Isabella of Angoulême (The Tangled Queen Book 1)

Set in the thirteenth century, the kingdoms of England and France continue to struggle over territory. King John’s widow, Isabella of Angoulême, Queen of England is ignored and unwanted by the English court. She moves back to France to claim her inheritance. The English councillors expect her to be biddable to them and to guard these lands for King Henry III, her nine-year-old son.

But in the Poitou, a region far from Paris and London, local fiefdoms ignore all forms of authority.

The Tangled Queen is the story of Isabella’s determination to forge her own powerful domain. She has to face forceful men who would stop her at every turn. She intrigues and plots to make her dream a reality and she learns to play all sides against each other. Isabella’s second controversial marriage is one full of passion, pride and politics. Treachery becomes second nature as her ambitions soar. She must be unassailable.

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Isabella-Angoulême-Tangled-Queen-Book-ebook/dp/B079NSY9J4

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Isabella-Angoulême-Tangled-Queen-Book-ebook/dp/B079NSY9J4/

 

CONNECT WITH ERICA:

Website: https://ericalainewriter.com/

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Richard II and Edward II

Capture of Edward II, from Froissart Chronicles, BN MS Fr. 2675 Source, Wikipedia

It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to connect the two English usurpations of the fourteenth century—both Plantagenets, both accused of letting their favorites unduly influence them, both probably murdered while in prison. (And both of whose murders are debated to this day.) We can be sure the association was very much on Richard II’s mind, especially during the latter half of his reign. But Edward’s fate was most forcibly shoved in his face during the standoff between him and the “Wonderful” Parliament in 1386. This was when the Commons decided to impeach the chancellor, Michael de la Pole—the first official in English history to be removed by impeachment.

Richard was highly indignant that the Commons dare pass judgment on his great officers. He was quoted as saying, “I will not dismiss so much as a scullion from my kitchen at your request!” And he meant it. Taking his friends and household to Eltham, he removed himself from Parliament, making it impossible for them to get any business done without his presence. But this state of affairs could not last long, and the Lords and Commons sent the Duke of Gloucester and Thomas Arundel, Bishop of Ely to persuade the king to return. Richard hated Gloucester, his youngest uncle, who was overbearing, arrogant, and brutal with his criticism. This day proved no exception. Unbeknownst to Richard, before he left Parliament, Gloucester had sent for the archives to see if he could find a precedent from Edward II’s deposition which he might use against his nephew. He found none, but proceeded to fabricate one anyway, to frighten Richard into cooperating. He told Richard, “If ever the king, through evil counsel or wanton ill will, alienates himself from the people—if he does not wish to be ruled by the laws of the land, then it is lawful for them by common consent to remove that king from the royal throne, and substitute another close relative of the royal line in his place.” It worked. Shocked and intimidated, Richard meekly returned to London and permitted Parliament to impeach Michael.

Medieval Parliament, Royal Collection, RCIN 1047414: Source, Wikipedia

However, Richard was no milksop. He soon learned about Gloucester’s deception and used it against him, precipitating the whole Lords Appellant episode that nearly cost him his throne. Time and again, Gloucester threatened Richard with usurpation like his great-grandfather. The menace never lost its effectiveness. However, the boy king grew up. After he achieved his majority and began reigning in his own name, one of his primary concerns was redeeming Edward II’s reputation and restoring dignity to the crown; it had been badly tarnished by the usurpation and Edward III’s dotage. What would be the best method to redeem Edward II? Why, nothing less than declaring him a saint. Then nobody could cast aspersions on him again.

Richard sent agents to Pope Urban VI, petitioning him to start the canonization process. Needless to say, the pontiff was lukewarm, but he needed the king’s support so his answer was for Richard to gather evidence of miracles. Edward’s tomb was erected in Gloucester Abbey Church, and soon after his death pilgrims visited the site in great numbers, leaving so many offerings that the church was able to complete St. Andrew’s aisle with their contributions. Richard commissioned a book of miracles performed at Edward II’s tomb and it took five years to complete; by then, there was a new pope and the supposed proof was presented to Boniface IX, who was unimpressed. A second embassy in 1397, headed by Richard Scrope, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, fared no better than the first.

Execution of Thomas of Lancaster: Source, Wikipedia

It was certainly not unusual to attempt to confer saintly attributes on high-profile medieval “martyrs”. Thomas of Lancaster, Edward II’s arch enemy—whose decapitated body at Pontefract attracted thousands of pilgrims—was serious competition for Edward II. The chronicler Thomas Walsingham even stated in 1390 that he had been canonized (he had not). They couldn’t both be saints! It seemed that popular candidates for sainthood were usually those who rebelled against the crown, and Lancaster fell squarely into that category. After much consideration, Richard concluded that his best chance to beat Thomas Lancaster’s cult was to reverse the judgments of 1326-27 that had vindicated Thomas (and morally condemned Edward II). This reversal would serve two simultaneous purposes: rehabilitate his great-grandfather, and uphold the forfeiture of the Lancastrian inheritance—thereby returning all the estates to the crown. Naturally, this would disinherit all Lancastrian heirs down to Bolingbroke.

Easier said than done! Ultimately, Richards’s grand schemes blew up in his face and his greatest fear came to pass: Bolingbroke came back from exile to reclaim his inheritance and Richard ended up a dethroned prisoner. Apparently, no one aside from the king was interested in Edward II. As historian Chris Given-Wilson said, “With the King’s downfall in 1399, his great-grandfather’s canonization process stopped dead in its tracks, never to be revived.”*

*C.Given-Wilson’s “Richard II, Edward II, and the Lancastrian Inheritance”, The English Historical Review, Vol. 109, No. 432 (Jun., 1994), pp. 553-571

Interview with Kevin E. Green, Narrator for Heir To A Prophecy

Have you ever wondered what a narrator goes through when recording an audio book? I certainly did, and my narrator, Kevin E. Green has been kind enough to answer a few questions posted by my interviewer Mark Schultz, the WordRefiner who many of you probably know. I added in a few questions, myself!

MERCEDES:

How much time does it take to produce an average hour of audio?

KEVIN:

The first recording can take around twice as long as the finished product, so that’s about 2 hours per hour finished. Then comes editing which takes another two hours, then mastering (getting the levels right for ACX) another 10 minutes, and finally proof listening of the finished file to make sure I’ve not missed anything – extraneous noises, incorrect pauses, so that’s around 5 hours per finished hour, plus the hour I take to read the book first (essential!)

MERCEDES:

How do you make corrections? Do you have to start the whole section over or can you insert short phrases?

KEVIN:

When recording I use what is called ‘punch and roll’ which most narrators use.  It enables me to stop the recording when I make a mistake, roll the cursor back to the phrase/sentence before the mistake and hit record again. This enables me to record the correct version over the top of the mistake.   When editing the finished file, I use a different DAW (digital audio workstation) for editing only.  It’s easier to edit in this one than the recording DAW.  I can re-record any mistakes in a separate file and copy them into the master file.    It can be tricky matching the voice tone though, so it can take several takes before the sound matches the original.  Funnily enough, it’s easier to match an accented character than my main narration voice, as that can change slightly over the course of a chapter (especially if it’s a long chapter).  Very occasionally I can slot a single word into a phrase, depending on pauses within the phrase.

MERCEDES:

What is the ideal chapter length for an audio book?

KEVIN:

I think the ideal chapter length (for me anyway) is around 20-25 minutes.  Any longer than that and my voice can start to go off – especially if there is loud dialogue or heavy accents in the chapter, as that can begin to make my throat sore.  Straight narration with no accents is a lot easier, 40-50 minutes before I start to feel it.  I don’t like taking a rest halfway through as my natural voice can change slightly.

MARK:

Kevin, have you always wanted to do this type of work? How did you get started being a voice actor? What is the term you use if that is not correct?

KEVIN:

Well, I started actually recording audiobooks a few years before I took early retirement from work, but I always loved reading aloud to my two sons when they were young. I read Lord of the Rings in its entirety twice, once for each boy as they were 5 years apart in age, doing all the voices.
I started recording for Librivox, the public domain free site which volunteers record for fun. It’s a great site to learn the craft. Then I moved on to Audible/ACX for Amazon and started making a little money, and I am now on Bee Audio and Findaway Voices books as well. And yes, voice actor is the correct term.

MARK:

Librivox sounds very interesting. What steps should a person take who wants to learn the art of voice acting? What advice would you give to someone who has a desire, but no experience?

KEVIN:

If someone wants to start in narration, they should have some acting experience to start with. After that, a voice coach would be good, and then plenty of practice on Librivox where you can learn a lot about techniques and the technology required to record a good quality recording. There is a website called Gravy for the Brain which is an excellent resource and has a lot of teaching resources for voice over actors, including mentoring. Becoming a good voice actor/narrator is not quick or easy and has a steep learning curve when it comes to the technology, and making a reasonable living at it is a long way down the line.

MARK:

You are on Audible, Bee Audio and Findaway Voices. For an author, what are the primary differences they should be aware of between these platforms? What are the differences for a voice actor?

KEVIN:

Yes I am on all three platforms, but ACX is my main source of work. The difference between them is that ACX offers up titles which any narrator can audition for, whereas the other two rely on the author to select a voice from the various narrators’ voice samples on their websites. The narrator then gets offered the book if selected without having to audition. Unfortunately 95% of their work is in the US, so we in the UK get very little work from them. After a narrator is reasonably well established, there are also repeat books from the same author if the author likes your work. This can bypass the ACX audition system as well, and just goes straight to production.

MARK:

Is it hard to create different voices?
What kind of clues do you look for to guide the creation of a voice?
How do you keep your voices straight?
Do you make yourself an audio cheat sheet?

KEVIN:

Yes it can be tricky to create different voices.
The most problematical is where there are a number of similar characters (gender, age etc) in the same scene, and trying to make each voice distinct from the others – there is only so much one set of vocal chords can do!
I tend to have a stock of around a dozen voices which have evolved over the years and I use those in most books. Other voices I have to make up and try to fit them to the type of person I see in my mind, unless the author has been very generous and described the physicality and geographical origin of the character, and even better how their voice sounds! Females are difficult obviously, but I have a passable low register female voice which I can notch up in tone to give a different character. Books with three sisters are a nightmare!
I keep an audio file of about 10 seconds of each voice which I keep on hand to constantly refer to as characters change in the dialogue. I don’t mark up the scripts with different colors as some narrators do, as I don’t find it a lot of help, and it’s very time consuming. I might just as well use that time to re-record passages if necessary.
Just as an example, Mercedes’ recent book that I recorded ‘A King under Siege’ had 38 main characters, and nearly as many incidental characters who only had a few lines. When you get half a dozen in a council meeting for instance, it takes a long time to keep referring back to the audio file to make sure you’re using the correct voice for each character. ‘Heir to a Prophecy’ wasn’t as bad, as there were only about a dozen main characters, and fortunately a lot of them were either Scottish, Welsh or French as well as English which helps a great deal in using distinctive and identifiable voices..

MARK:

How many hours a day and in one stretch can you do voice acting?

KEVIN:

On a good day, I spend about 4-5 hours in my recording booth. Around half of those will be actual recording. I can manage about 1-1/2 hours solid speaking before my voice starts to go off. A couple of hours rest and I can probably do the same again. Fortunately most chapters aren’t that long, and I take about an hour of recording for a finished half-hour chapter. The rest of the time is spent on editing, mastering and then proof listening to the final file.

MARK:

What kind of equipment do you use for recording?
What equipment should a beginner buy to get started in the business?

KEVIN:

I use an Audiotechnica mic, model 4040, and a Presonus audio interface, a Studio 26. They plug into a standard microsoft PC.
A beginner could get going at a basic level with a laptop and a USB mike, using the free software Audacity. That’s how I started (not a laptop in my case, the PC). It’s pretty much down to budget. A USB mike would cost between £50 and £100 and if you’ve got a laptop or PC that’s all you need. Obviously a quiet space – some people use a cupboard lined with coats or blankets to deaden the sound. As you get better you can upgrade to a more professional setup like mine.

For the full interview with Word Refiner, click HERE

Heir To A Prophecy Sample Audio Link:

 

Macbeth and the Gunpowder Plot

Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, Contemporary engraving, National Portrait Gallery, Source: Wikipedia

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the link between Shakespeare’s famous play and the event that nearly shook England’s ruling class to its knees. The Gunpowder Plot was a carefully planned event with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder stashed under the House of Lords in order to blow King James and his government sky-high. Most fortunately—as the story goes—it was foiled by a last-minute letter to Lord Monteagle warning him not to attend Parliament the next day. A timely search of the basement exposed Guy Fawkes and his stockpile before he had the opportunity to apply the fuse. England celebrated its miraculous escape from disaster, and the king’s men went after the conspiracy with a vengeance.

What did this have to do with Shakespeare? Well, as it turns out, Warwickshire was a hotbed of conspirators, and some properties near Stratford-Upon-Avon had been leased to provide a meeting house for the plotters. Worse than that, the town was full of closet Catholics known as recusants—and Shakespeare may have been one of them. A search of the properties in question revealed a hoard of forbidden Catholic paraphernalia—or “massing relics”, as they were called. William Shakespeare, unfortunately, was distantly related to some of the plotters themselves and had business relationships with others. Talk about guilt by association!

Macbeth consulting the vision of the armed head, by Henry Fuseli. Source: Wikipedia

Since we know next to nothing about Shakespeare, we can only speculate about his motivations. But I suspect appeasing the king might have been on his mind. Not so coincidentally, less than a year after the gunpowder plot we see the first performance of Macbeth, demonstrating the consequences of killing a king. Shakespeare also gives a nod to James’s lineage—Banquo was recognized as the ancestor to the Stewarts—as well as a reference to witches—a theme close to the monarch’s heart. It was commonly thought that diabolical agents were responsible for the most evil of human activities.

But that’s not all. Renowned Shakespearean historian James Shapiro tells us that a discovery during the gunpowder plot investigation introduced a new word to the English lexicon: equivocation. Actually, the word wasn’t new; it was just redefined and “had become a byword that transfixed the nation and suffused the play he was writing”.1 The government badly needed a scapegoat—a leader—and they found him in the guise of Jesuit Superior Henry Garnet, who had written a treatise advising Catholics how to lie under oath during interrogation, while seeming to tell the truth. It was a play on words extraordinaire.

A diligent search of the Inner Temple in London had uncovered this amazing manuscript, with a crossed-out title: “A Treatise of Equivocation” which had been changed to “A Treatise of Lying and Fraudulent Equivocation”. Here, too, the word “of” was crossed out and changed to “against”, but no one was fooled; the authorities had, in their hands, a how-to guide for evading prosecution. For example, “You could deny that you were harboring a priest by saying that the priest ‘lyeth not in my house,’ since he wasn’t telling lies there.”2

Anonymous portrait of Friar Henry Garnet, Source: Wikipedia

Whether the treatise had anything to do with the gunpowder plot was irrelevant; Garnet apparently knew about the conspiracy and kept silent. This was good enough, and so much better than prosecuting a handful of disgruntled Catholic gentry. Now the detested fingers of the Jesuits were all over the plot, and the treatise took on a major role in the legal proceedings. The word equivocation had gone viral, so to speak, and a high-profile trial of Garnet himself ended in the inevitable conviction of treason.

In Macbeth, as Professor Shapiro tells us, “Equivocation permeates the play”.  The witches equivocate when they tell Macbeth he shall be king—not informing him that he will need to kill in order to get the crown. And of course, later on, they equivocate, telling him he should never be vanquished ‘till Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. Macbeth equivocates to his wife, not telling her that Banquo’s heirs will be kings rather than his own. He equivocates when he kills the guards, then again when he hires Banquo’s murderers. Lady Macbeth equivocates when she tells the banquet guests that “my lord is often thus” after they watch him shriek at an empty chair. Even Lady McDuff equivocates, pretending to her son that his absent father is dead. But the most telling aspect of all is the porter scene, in which the word equivocate is used over and over again:

Knock, knock! Who’s there, in th’ other devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.” 

The word is used five times by the porter and later, once by Macbeth. There’s no doubt that equivocation truly is the byword this time around, made even more interesting that it is only used once in all Shakespeare’s plays written before Macbeth.

As he often did, Shakespeare wrote his play in response to concerns pervading London society. A fear of unseen forces was very real to his contemporaries, and Macbeth would have struck a chord in the unsettled atmosphere pervading King James’s court. One wonders what the playgoers might have thought when passing underneath the severed heads of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, while crossing London Bridge from Southwark on their way home.

1  Shapiro, James, THE YEAR OF LEAR, SHAKESPEARE IN 1606, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2015, p.156
2  ibid, p.158

Christmas in the time of the Vikings

Odin the Wanderer, by Georg von Rosen, 1886 from the Swedish Poetic Edda (Source, Wikipedia)

Yule celebrations are Pagan in origin and came from the Germanic countries. They were alive and well in the Nordic lands, and were most likely brought over to Anglo-Saxon England with the Viking settlers. Eventually, the midwinter celebrations merged with the Christian festival of Christmastide, better known as the 12 Days of Christmas. I think we would recognize many of their festivities, although some of them were dedicated to Odin!

Since the Yule (or Jul) took place around the Solstice, the shortest day of the year, there is a certain element of celebrating the return of the light. It is said that the name Yule is derived from the Old Norse HJOL, meaning ‘wheel,’ to identify the moment when the wheel of the year is at its lowest point, ready to rise again. But it was also thought that in this time of year, the spirits of the dead most commonly crossed over into the human realm. It is thought that many of the Yuletide customs were an attempt to protect the household against hostile supernatural influences. On the other hand, it is also said that ancestors came back during this season, and sometimes food was left out for them so they would help promote a good harvest the following year. Some of the spirits were benevolent—but not all.

One night stood out from the others—the 24th of December. This is when the children filled their shoes with straw, carrots and sugar lumps and set them out by the fire to feed Odin’s flying eight-legged horse Sleipnir as the God led the Wild Hunt—the host of the restless dead—through the darkness. In return, Odin would leave the children small gifts and sweets as a reward. He was even known to slide down the chimney! Or fire hole, as the case may be.

The Wild Hunt by Johan Wilhelm Cordes, Museum Behnhaus Drägerhaus, Lubeck, Germany (Source, Wikipedia)

Many tales were told of the Wild Hunt. Because winter nights were often stormy and turbulent, Odin was most likely to be heard then, raging and howling, riding to collect the fallen, whether they be living or recently departed. People—especially children—were warned to stay indoors. It was a terrible thing to witness the Wild Hunt; rumors abounded that people seeing the Wild Hunt might be abducted to the underworld or to the fairy kingdom—or even killed. A gift—or rather, a sacrifice—was advised, to thank Odin for taking care of the family’s recently deceased. In 1673, Johannes Scheffer (The History of Lapland) wrote “All the Bits they have preserved for these two Days, they put in a small Chest made of the Bark of Birch, in the shape of a Boat, with its Sails and Oars; they pour also some of the Fat of the Broth upon it, and thus hang it on a Tree, about a Bow Shot distant from the backside of their Huts”. Perhaps this represented the practice of ship burials, though no one really knows the exact purpose of this ritual.

Yule is a time for feasting, dancing, and family. The traditional food of the Yule was Boar, an animal sacred to Freyr, the Norse God of Yule and fertility. This was probably the origin of the Boar’s Head presented at later Christmas feasts. Then we have the Yule Log. The largest ash—the wood of Yggdrasil—log was brought inside so that ritual runes could be carved onto it, calling on the gods to protect one and all from ill-fortune. Burning the Yule log was thought to give power to the sun and bring warmth again to the land. The carved log was sprinkled with mead and decorated with dry sprigs of pine and cones and as it was lit, musicians plucked the strings of their harps and started the singing. It burned for twelve hours, which brought good fortune for the next twelve months.

Odin riding Sleipnir. From the 18th century Icelandic manuscript. Source, Wikipedia

Outside, evergreens would be decorated with small lanterns and candles, plus crackers, little carved statues of gods, pieces of dried fruit, and even berries strung together. A huge bonfire was lit, reportedly to dispel any evil that was marching abroad. There was dancing around and through the bonfire, especially among the youngsters.

It’s pretty commonly assumed that Odin the Wanderer eventually morphed into our Santa Claus. The old legends came in many forms, one of which was Odin on a chariot pulled by goats (who later became reindeers). Or, possibly, his eight-legged Sleipnir was the precursor to reindeer (naturally, from the North). Odin who was the lord of Alfheim, the home of the elves (Santa’s elves?). The comparisons go on and on. How much of is true?

Book Review: Hotspur by Andrew W. Boardman

This is an extremely well-written book about one of those enigmatic heroes who was so well depicted by Shakespeare that we’ll never entirely shake loose from the vision he gave us. I think the author has done a remarkable job trying to remove fact from fiction, considering that historical Northumberland is pretty much a foreign country to us. We see Hotspur as a personification of the ideal knight as understood by his contemporaries, rather than an anomaly: “Thousands of dead, pillaged lands, war crimes against civilian populations and a number of other ‘unchivalrous’ deeds give us cause to question the medieval knight’s habitual need to prove himself through violent action; but this is exactly what it meant to live and breathe the code in a world where, like today, it was perfectly acceptable to destroy a country’s infrastructure and dismiss civilian deaths as collateral damage. In the medieval world, this WAS chivalry in its purest form…” It was Hotspur’s motivation to be the best, most chivalrous knight in the world and he pushed himself to extremes in order to achieve his goals. Naturally restless, he craved action and preferred dangerous assignments to boring garrison duty. And apparently he was very good at his job, which is why the Scots gave him his nickname.

We get a good feeling for what life was like on the marches between England and Scotland, and how violence and raiding was a part of life they understood all too well. The Percies were a law unto themselves, and ruled the north almost as kings; only a man born and raised in such an environment could control the tempestuous Scots. In this book, plenty of attention was given to Hotspur’s impetuous father, Henry Percy 1st Earl of Northumberland as well as his uncle, Thomas Percy—warrior, diplomat and politician—who served as Richard II’s Steward of the Household before deserting to Bolingbroke. Both men were influential in Hotspur’s life. His father, to all appearances, was autocratic and kept young Hotspur under his thumb for much of his son’s adult life. Chafing under his father’s harsh authority could have been one of the reasons Hotspur broke away on occasion and made his own decisions—often with disastrous results. His uncle Thomas was more puzzling; his decision to rebel against Henry IV at Shrewsbury has never been satisfactorily explained. Even the king was caught by surprise, so successful were his pursuits up to that point. Apparently Thomas was a family man first and foremost and supported Hotspur to the end, even as Earl Henry mysteriously failed to show up at the fatal battle of Shrewsbury. In the end, Hotspur was defined by the predatory age he lived in, “Cradled in war, and trained in all respects to deal with local border raiding, his main obligation was to hold by force that which his ancestors had previously won.” It is a fascinating story about a character out of legend.