Wednesday, December 26, 2012

GUEST POST: David Pilling on "The White Hawk"

Today I welcome David Pilling to my blog, to tell us about his historical novel about a fascinating chapter in the Wars of the Roses, "The White Hawk".

A Bolton, a Bolton! The White Hawk!

"A Bolton, a Bolton! The White Hawk! God for Lancaster and Saint George!" 

England, 1459: the kingdom stands divided and on the brink of civil war. The factions of Lancaster and York vie for control of the King, while their armies stand poised, ready to tear each other to pieces. 

The White Hawk follows the fortunes of a family of Lancastrian loyalists, the Boltons, as they attempt to survive and prosper in this world of brutal warfare and shifting alliances. Surrounded by enemies, their loyalties will be tested to the limit in a series of bloody battles and savage twists of fate.

This period, with its murderous dynastic feuding between the rival Houses of York and Lancaster, is perhaps the most fascinating of the entire medieval period in England. Having lost the Hundred Years War, the English nobility turned on each other in a bitter struggle for the crown, resulting in a spate of beheadings, battles, murders and Gangland-style politics that lasted some thirty years.

Apart from the savage doings of aristocrats, the wars affected people on the lower rungs of society. One minor gentry family in particular, the Pastons of Norfolk, suffered greatly in their attempts to survive and thrive in the feral environment of the late 15th century. They left an invaluable chronicle in their archive of family correspondence, the famous Paston Letters.

The letters provide us with a snapshot of the trials endured by middle-ranking families like the Pastons, and of the measures they took to defend their property from greedy neighbours. One such extract is a frantic plea from the matriarch of the clan, Margaret Paston, begging her son John to return from London:

"I greet you well, letting you know that your brother and his fellowship stand in great jeopardy at Caister... Daubney and Berney are dead and others badly hurt, and gunpowder and arrows are lacking. The place is badly broken down by the guns of the other party, so that unless they have hasty help, they are likely to lose both their lives and the place, which will be the greatest rebuke to you that ever came to any gentleman. For every man in this country marvels greatly that you suffer them to be for so long in great jeopardy without help or other remedy..."

The Paston Letters, together with my general fascination for the era, were the inspiration for The White Hawk. Planned as a series of three novels, TWH will follow the fortunes of a fictional Staffordshire family, the Boltons, from the beginning to the very end of The Wars of the Roses. Unquenchably loyal to the House of Lancaster, their loyalty will have dire consequences for them as law and order breaks down and the kingdom slides into civil war. The ‘white hawk’ of the title is the sigil of the Boltons, and will fly over many a blood-stained battlefield.
   In the following excerpt, Mary Bolton is forced to defend the family home against a private army:

Someone screamed outside. Tanner ran to drop the heavy bar across the door, but was too slow, and a big soldier wearing the silver star of Ramage on his chest burst in. His face was streaked with gore and dust, and the sword in his hand wet with blood. 
Tanner, the poor fool, grabbed a pole-axe from a rack and threw himself at the soldier, who side-stepped and plunged his sword into the steward’s swollen guts. Tanner fell, squealing like a stuck pig as his entrails slid out of the great hole in his belly.
 By now I had got the match lit, and lifted the gun to sight carefully along the barrel, as Hodson had taught me. I pulled the trigger, there was a bang and a flash, a terrible stink of burning powder in my nostrils, the gun jerked in my hands, and the shot flew straight and true and hit the soldier on the temple, cracking his skull and taking off the top of his head. His face wore a surprised expression as he flew backwards, almost into the arms of his mates who piled through the door in his wake. 
Martin uttered a shrill yell, drew his little knife and ran at the dying man to stab at him as he lay twitching on the flagstones. One of the soldiers caught the boy’s wrist and picked him up by his neck. 
“I’ve caught a rabbit, lads!” he brayed. “Shall we skin and eat him, or sell him at Lichfield market?”
The idiot paid me no heed, which was his undoing as I rushed at him, wielding my gun like a club, and smote him across the jaw with the butt. He fell away, spitting blood and teeth, and dropped Martin to the floor. I took my brother’s hand and turned to flee, God knows where, but strong arms seized and held me fast…

If all this whets your appetite, then please check out the paperback and Kindle versions of Book One below...

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