The background to the Anarchy series

Alfraed is not a real person.  He is based upon an amalgam of a number of people, most notably William Marshal. The title of Earl Marshal was a real one. Earl Marshal (alternatively Marschal, Marischal or Marshall) is a hereditary royal officeholder and chivalric title under the sovereign of the United Kingdom used in England. He is the eighth of the Great Officers of State in the United Kingdom, ranking beneath the Lord High Constable and above the Lord High Admiral. The Earl Marshal has among his responsibilities the organisation of major ceremonial state occasions like the monarch’s coronation in Westminster Abbey and state funerals. He is also a leading officer of arms and oversees the College of Arms.

The March of Wales in the Middle Ages
Immediately after the Norman Conquest, King William of England installed three of his most trusted confidants, Hugh d’Avranches, Roger de Montgomerie, and William Fitz Osbern, as Earls of Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford respectively, with responsibilities for containing and subduing the Welsh. The process took a century and was never permanently effective. The term “March of Wales” was first used in the Domesday Book of 1086. Over the next four centuries, Norman lords established mostly small marcher lordships between the Dee and Severn, and further west. Military adventurers went to Wales from Normandy and elsewhere and after raiding an area of Wales, then fortified it and granted land to some of their supporters. One example was Bernard de Neufmarché, responsible for conquering and pacifying the Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog. The precise dates and means of formation of the lordships varied, as did their size.”

Source: Welsh Marches –

Rhys ap Gruffydd or ap Gruffudd (often anglicised to “Griffith”) (1132 – 28 April 1197) was the ruler of the kingdom of Deheubarth in south Wales from 1155 to 1197. Today, he is commonly known as The Lord Rhys, in Welsh Yr Arglwydd Rhys, although this title may have not been used in his lifetime. He usually used the title “Proprietary Prince of Deheubarth” or “Prince of South Wales”, but two documents have been discovered in which he uses the title “Prince of Wales” or “Prince of the Welsh”. Rhys was one of the most successful and powerful Welsh princes, and, after the death of Owain Gwynedd of Gwynedd in 1170, the dominant power in Wales.”

In 1171 Rhys made peace with King Henry II and was confirmed in possession of his recent conquests as well as being named Justiciar of South Wales. He maintained good relations with King Henry until the latter’s death in 1189. Following Henry’s death Rhys revolted against Richard I and attacked the Norman lordships surrounding his territory, capturing a number of castles. In his later years Rhys had trouble keeping control of his sons, particularly Maelgwn and Gruffydd, who maintained a feud with each other. Rhys launched his last campaign against the Normans in 1196 and captured a number of castles. The following year he died unexpectedly and was buried in St David’s Cathedral.

Source: Rhys ap Gruffydd –

Henry and Eleanor had eight children. As they grew up, tensions over the future inheritance of the empire began to emerge, encouraged by Louis and his son King Philip II. In 1173 Henry’s heir apparent, “Young Henry”, rebelled in protest; he was joined by his brothers Richard and Geoffrey and by their mother, Eleanor. France, Scotland, Flanders, and Boulogne allied themselves with the rebels. The Great Revolt was only defeated by Henry’s vigorous military action and talented local commanders, many of them “new men” appointed for their loyalty and administrative skills. Young Henry and Geoffrey revolted again in 1183, resulting in Young Henry’s death. The Norman invasion of Ireland provided lands for his youngest son John, but Henry struggled to find ways to satisfy all his sons’ desires for land and immediate power. Philip successfully played on Richard’s fears that Henry would make John king, and a final rebellion broke out in 1189. Decisively defeated by Philip and Richard and suffering from a bleeding ulcer, Henry retreated to Chinon in Anjou, where he died.

Source: Henry II of England –

The Bretons did ask Henry to choose their next Count and, despite all that he had done to him, Henry chose Geoffrey. He did not rule for long.  He died two years after he was appointed Count. Brittany was then subsumed into Normandy and Anjou. William also died young, at the age of 27 but as his death influenced Henry’s rule I will leave those details for a later book! No plot spoilers.

Sieges at this time relied on starving to death the occupants. Wooden castles, the early motte and bailey, could be fired but a stone one with a good ditch could defeat most enemies.  The ditches they used were copied from the Roman ones. Once an enemy was in a ditch it was almost impossible to retreat.  The trebuchet was in its early stages of development and the onagers and other stone throwers had to be used close enough for them to be subject to archers. Rams were useful but they were not particularly robust and could be set on fire. They also needed a smooth surface.  That was not common in the twelfth century. Chinon was unusual in that it had a ramp. Wooden towers were used at the siege of Ascalon and they were burned.  The resulting inferno caused a breach and the Templars disobeyed the king to attack immediately.  Their heads were displayed on Cairo’s walls. Sometimes the onager was called a mangonel.  I have used the Roman name here.

Source: File: Roman Onager.jpg –

Source: File: Battering ram.jpg –

The rams used at the times would have been lower and covered in hides.  This replica gives a rough idea of the construction.

Especial thanks are due to Rich Sankovich.  He allowed me to use his crossbow. I now understand how hard it is to fire one.  The end is very heavy.  You have to be kneeling or resting to use one. Its accuracy is also not as good as that of a bow despite the mechanical nature of the beast.  Pulling back the cord to fire it is also a challenge.  I would defy anyone to send more than a couple of bolts in a four-minute period. I am also indebted to the Essex re-enactors who told me of a competition held between muskets and war bows. Even tap firing the muskets (apparently an unsafe procedure) the war bow sent more arrows further and at a greater rate than the musket. Wellington, it is alleged, wondered about having a battalion of archers!

I have changed the dates but the events happened roughly at the times I indicated.

An artist’s impression of the Roman Bridge and fort at Newcastle upon Tyne.


Posset- From medieval times to the 19th century, in Britain, it was a hot drink of milk curdled with wine or ale, often spiced, which was popular and used as a cold and flu remedy or as a catch all for being unwell.

William FitzEmpress

Similarly, I have given what I believe is a plausible answer to William FitzEmpress’ early death at the age of 27. History records that he died a year after Becket refused his request to marry Isabel.  William died suddenly shortly thereafter, it was said of a broken heart, and was buried in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Rouen.  I find poison a more realistic fate and, once again, it suits my plot line. His brother Henry blamed Becket for William’s death, and this might well have been the beginning of the great conflict between them. When Becket was murdered 29 December 1170, one of the assailants was Richard le Breton who had been a knight in William’s employ. When Breton delivered his fatal blow he shouted, “Take that, for the love of my lord William, the king’s brother!”

Duchy of Brittany

Henry had appointed Conan as Duke but he was weak.  The Breton leaders did as they liked and so Henry took on the challenge and defeated them.  Henry then forced Conan to abdicate as duke and to give Brittany to his five-year-old daughter, Constance, who was handed over and betrothed to Henry’s son Geoffrey. This arrangement was quite unusual in terms of medieval law, as Conan might have had sons who could have legitimately inherited the duchy. They eventually married in July 1181. For those who have read my Border Knight series, this is the same Constance who is mother of Prince Arthur and Eleanor Fair Maid of Brittany.

Malcolm IV and William (the Lion)

Malcolm was not only King of Scots, but also inherited the Earldom of Northumbria, which his father and grandfather had gained during the wars between Stephen and Empress Matilda. Malcolm granted Northumbria to his brother William, keeping Cumbria for himself. Cumbria was, like the earldoms of Northumbria and Huntingdon, and later Chester, a fief of the English crown. While Malcolm delayed doing homage to Henry II of England for his possessions in Henry’s kingdom, he did so in 1157 at Peveril Castle in Derbyshire and later at Chester. Henry II refused to allow Malcolm to keep Cumbria, or William to keep Northumbria, but instead granted the Earldom of Huntingdon to Malcolm, for which Malcolm did homage.

Malcolm IV died on 9 December 1165 at Jedburgh, aged twenty-four. His premature death may have been hastened by Paget’s disease (a chronic disorder that typically results in enlarged and deformed bones). While his contemporaries were in no doubt that Malcolm had some of the qualities of a great king, later writers were less convinced. The compiler of the Annals of Ulster, writing soon after 1165, praises Malcolm:

‘Máel Coluim Cenn Mór, son of Henry, high king of Scotland, the best Christian that was of the Gaidhil who dwell by the sea on the east for alms, deeds, hospitality and piety, died.’

Likewise, William of Newburgh praises Malcolm, “the most Christian king of the Scots“, highly in his Historia Rerum Anglicarum.

Nonetheless, Malcolm was not well regarded in all quarters. The Gesta Annalia remarks ‘Malcolm quite neglected the care, as well as governance, of his kingdom. Wherefore he was so hated by all the common people that William, the elder of his brothers – who had always been on bad terms with the English, and their lasting foe, forasmuch as they had taken away his patrimony, the earldom of Northumbria, to wit – was by them appointed warden of the whole kingdom, against the king’s will.’

In contrast to his deeply religious, frail brother, William was powerfully built, redheaded, and headstrong. He was an effective monarch whose reign was marred by his ill-fated attempts to regain control of Northumbria from the Normans.

He was not known as “The Lion” during his own lifetime, and the title did not relate to his tenacious character or his military prowess. It was attached to him because of his flag or standard, a red lion rampant with a forked tail on a yellow background. This went on to become the Royal Banner of Scotland, still used today but quartered with those of England and of Ireland. It became attached to him because the chronicler John of Fordun called him the “Lion of Justice”.

William was grandson of David I of Scotland. He also inherited the title of Earl of Northumbria in 1152 from his father, Henry of Scotland. However, he had to give up this title to King Henry II of England in 1157. This caused trouble after William became king, since he spent a lot of effort trying to regain Northumbria.


The wars with the French

The Vexin was the parcel of land controlled by King Henry and close to the French capital. The French wanted it back and it formed the core of many disputes which lasted long after King Henry died. Despite always being defeated the Irish, Welsh and Scots constantly tried to defeat the Anglo-Normans and allied with the French at every opportunity.

Long-running tensions between Henry and Louis VII continued during the 1160s, the French king slowly becoming more vigorous in opposing Henry’s increasing power in Europe. In 1160 Louis strengthened his alliances in central France with the Count of Champagne and Odo II, the Duke of Burgundy. Three years later the new Count of Flanders, Philip, concerned about Henry’s growing power, openly allied himself with the French king.  Louis’ wife Adèle gave birth to a male heir, Philip Augustus, in 1165, and Louis was more confident of his own position than for many years previously. As a result, relations between Henry and Louis deteriorated again in the mid-1160s.

Meanwhile, Henry had begun to alter his policy of indirect rule in Brittany and started to exert more direct control. In 1164 Henry intervened to seize lands along the border of Brittany and Normandy, and in 1166 invaded Brittany to punish the local barons. Henry then forced Conan to abdicate as duke and to give Brittany to his daughter Constance; Constance was handed over and betrothed to Henry’s son Geoffrey. This arrangement was quite unusual in terms of medieval law, as Conan might have had sons who could have legitimately inherited the duchy. Elsewhere in France, Henry attempted to seize the Auvergne, much to the anger of the French king. Further south Henry continued to apply pressure on Raymond of Toulouse: the King campaigned there personally in 1161, sent the Archbishop of Bordeaux against Raymond in 1164 and encouraged Alfonso II of Aragon in his attacks. In 1165 Raymond divorced Louis’s sister and attempted to ally himself with Henry instead.

These growing tensions between Henry and Louis finally spilled over into open war in 1167, triggered by a trivial argument over how money destined for the Crusader states of the Levant should be collected. Louis allied himself with the Welsh, Scots and Bretons, and the French king attacked Normandy. Henry responded by attacking Chaumont-sur-Epte, where Louis kept his main military arsenal, burning the town to the ground and forcing Louis to abandon his allies and make a private truce. Henry was then free to move against the rebel barons in Brittany, where feelings about his seizure of the duchy were still running high.

As the decade progressed, Henry increasingly wanted to resolve the question of the inheritance. He decided that he would divide up his empire after his death, with Young Henry receiving England and Normandy, Richard being given the Duchy of Aquitaine, and Geoffrey acquiring Brittany. This would require the consent of Louis as king of France, and accordingly Henry and Louis held fresh peace talks in 1169 at Montmirail. The talks were wide-ranging, culminating with Henry’s sons giving homage to Louis for their future inheritances in France, and with Richard being betrothed to Louis’ daughter Alice.

If the agreements at Montmirail had been followed up, the acts of homage could potentially have confirmed Louis’ position as king, while undermining the legitimacy of any rebellious barons within Henry’s territories and the potential for an alliance between them and Louis.  In practice, however, Louis perceived himself to have gained a temporary advantage, and immediately after the conference he began to encourage tensions between Henry’s sons.  Meanwhile, Henry’s position in the south of France continued to improve, and by 1173 he had agreed to an alliance with Humbert, the Count of Savoy, which betrothed Henry’s son John and Humbert’s daughter Alicia. Henry’s daughter Eleanor was married to Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1170, enlisting an additional ally in the south.  In February 1173, Raymond finally gave in and publicly gave homage for Toulouse to Henry and his heirs.

Thomas Becket and the Archbishop of York

The incident with William FitzEmpress and Thomas Becket happened the way I wrote it.  The new Archbishop of Canterbury chose to deny William his happiness.  He fled England for France when King Henry brought him to book for his refusal to confirm Henry’s choice of priests. I made up his collusion with France.  However, I am not a fan of Becket.  In my view he was self-serving and sought power.  I have no evidence that he wished to be Pope but it suits my story.

Roger de Pont L’Évêque was probably born around 1115 and was a native of Pont-L’Évêque in Normandy. His only known relative was a nephew, Geoffrey, to whom Roger gave the offices of provost of Beverley Minster and archdeacon of York. Roger was a clerk of Archbishop Theobald’s before being named Archdeacon of Canterbury, some time after March 1148. When Becket joined Theobald’s household, their contemporary William fitzStephen recorded that Roger disliked the new clerk, and twice drove Thomas away before the archbishop’s brother Walter arranged Thomas’ return.

In June 1170, Roger de Pont L’Évêque, the archbishop of York, along with Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon, the Bishop of Salisbury, crowned the heir apparent, Henry the Young King, at York. This was a breach of Canterbury’s privilege of coronation, and in November 1170 Becket excommunicated all three. While the three clergymen fled to the king in Normandy. Becket continued to excommunicate his opponents in the church, the news of which also reached Henry II, Henry the Young King’s father.

Upon hearing reports of Becket’s actions, Henry is said to have uttered words that were interpreted by his men as wishing Becket killed. The king’s exact words are in doubt and several versions have been reported. The most commonly quoted, as handed down by oral tradition, is “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” but according to historian Simon Schama this is incorrect: he accepts the account of the contemporary biographer Edward Grim, writing in Latin, who gives us “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” Many variations have found their way into popular culture.

Whatever Henry said, it was interpreted as a royal command, and four knights, Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton, set out to confront the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On 29 December 1170 they arrived at Canterbury. According to accounts left by the monk Gervase of Canterbury and eyewitness Edward Grim, they placed their weapons under a tree outside the cathedral and hid their mail armour under cloaks before entering to challenge Becket. The knights informed Becket he was to go to Winchester to give an account of his actions, but Becket refused. It was not until Becket refused their demands to submit to the king’s will that they retrieved their weapons and rushed back inside for the killing. Becket, meanwhile, proceeded to the main hall for vespers. The four knights, wielding drawn swords, caught up with him in a spot near a door to the monastic cloister, the stairs into the crypt, and the stairs leading up into the quire of the cathedral, where the monks were chanting vespers.

Several contemporary accounts of what happened next exist; of particular note is that of Edward Grim, who was wounded in the attack. This is part of the account from Edward Grim:

‘The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next, he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.’

After Becket’s death

Following Becket’s death, the monks prepared his body for burial. According to some accounts, it was discovered that Becket had worn a hair shirt under his archbishop’s garments—a sign of penance. Soon after, the faithful throughout Europe began venerating Becket as a martyr, and on 21 February 1173—little more than two years after his death—he was canonised by Pope Alexander III in St Peter’s Church in Segni. In 1173, Becket’s sister Mary was appointed Abbess of Barking as reparation for the murder of her brother. On 12 July 1174, in the midst of the Revolt of 1173–74, Henry humbled himself with public penance at Becket’s tomb as well as at the church of St. Dunstan’s, which became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in England.

Becket’s assassins fled north to Knaresborough Castle, which was held by Hugh de Morville, where they remained for about a year. De Morville held property in Cumbria and this may also have provided a convenient bolt-hole, as the men prepared for a longer stay in the separate kingdom of Scotland. They were not arrested and neither did Henry confiscate their lands, but he failed to help them when they sought his advice in August 1171. Pope Alexander excommunicated all four. Seeking forgiveness, the assassins travelled to Rome and were ordered by the Pope to serve as knights in the Holy Lands for a period of fourteen years.


Bamburgh Castle

I have used this castle in many books from the Saxon ones onward.  I had made up a story about a tunnel from the castle leading to the sea.  Imagine my surprise when, on a visit in 2016 a guide told me that there was such a tunnel which was accessed through the well.  The last person who had been down had gone there 30 years ago. Sadly, the entrance and exit have now been blocked for health and safety. It is a magnificent castle and although it has many later additions the site must have remained the same for millennia. It is well worth a visit and, to my mind, superior to the much more popular Alnwick Castle.

Bamburgh Castle (author’s collection)


Norham Castle

The Great Revolt

The Princes’ rebellion happened almost exactly the way it was written.  Young King Henry fled to Louis’ court followed by his brothers. The Queen tried to flee but was captured and taken to Henry.  King Henry gathered his loyal knights and they defeated first the Flemish then they destroyed Louis and his son’s army.  Finally, they routed the Bretons.  The Earl of Leicester then returned to England to begin a rebellion there while Henry was still in Normandy.  King William of Scotland took advantage of the King’s absence to invade the north. The revolt was futile.  King Henry emerged even stronger.  By the Treaty of Falaise King William acknowledged that King Henry was his liege lord. The King and his sons agreed a peace.  It was an uneasy one and it lasted just a short time.

The rebellion of 1173-74 and the planned attacks.

William of Scotland

William had inherited the title of Earl of Northumbria in 1152. However, he had to give up this title to King Henry II of England in 1157. He spent much of his reign trying to regain his lost territory. In 1173, whilst Henry II was occupied in fighting against his sons in the Revolt of 1173–1174, William saw his opportunity and invaded Northumbria. He advanced on Newcastle but found the partly built stone castle too strong to allow him to take the town. He also attacked Prudhoe Castle but found the defences too strong. Unwilling to undertake a lengthy siege, William returned to Scotland. In 1174, William again invaded Northumbria with an even larger army that included a contingent of Flemish mercenaries. The army was said to have numbered eighty thousand men, but this is almost certainly an exaggeration. This time he avoided Newcastle but attacked Prudhoe Castle again. The castle had been strengthened since the previous year and after a siege of three days William moved north to besiege Alnwick. William divided his army into three columns and one of these, under the command of Duncan, Earl of Fife, attacked Warkworth and set fire to the church of St Lawrence with a large number of refugees inside.

The battle

William made the fatal error of allowing his army to spread out, instead of concentrating them around his base at Alnwick. On the night of 11 July, a party of about four hundred mounted knights, led by Ranulf de Glanvill, set out from Newcastle and headed towards Alnwick. This small fighting force contained several seasoned knights, who had fought against the Scots before. They reached Alnwick shortly after dawn after becoming lost in heavy fog. There they found William’s encampment, where the Scottish king was only protected by a bodyguard of perhaps sixty fighting men. At the sound of alarm, William rushed from his tent and hurriedly prepared to fight. The English force charged and the Scottish king and his bodyguard met the charge head on. The fighting did not last long. William’s horse was killed beneath him and he was captured. Those of his followers who had not been killed surrendered.


William was brought back to Newcastle as a captive. His army found itself leaderless and wandered back to Scotland. William was held at Newcastle for a time but it was not considered strong enough, and he was finally moved to Falaise in Normandy. Whilst he was there, Henry sent an army to occupy part of Scotland, with its five strongest castles: Roxburgh, Berwick, Jedburgh, Edinburgh and Stirling. To obtain his freedom, William was forced to sign the Treaty of Falaise, under which he swore an oath of allegiance to the English king and agreed to the garrisoning of the captured castles by English soldiers at Scottish expense. When William was released, after signing the treaty, he travelled back to Scotland via Newcastle, and was attacked by a mob; such was the antipathy of the local people towards Scottish invaders.

This is a novel and as such fiction. I have condensed the two attacks into one and poor Ranulf de Glanvill has been replaced by Earl William.  Apologies to his descendants.