Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Castle of the Week: Blyth Castle by J Tullos Hennig

'Tis Wednesday! And that means that we have another castle of the week for you here on History Undressed! Today's castle is presented to us by historical author, J Tullos Hennig. Her new book Greenwode looks very interesting!

BLYTH CASTLE: The Perfect Fit
J Tullos Hennig

Needed: a castle for a young, ballad-inspired nobleman in the late 12th century.  A place with just enough recorded history to set its significance in that specific timeframe—while, at the same time, be not so overdrawn and exposed that its history would have to be twisted past all recognition and to the chagrin of historically-minded readers...  (Yes, you know who you are... and I'm one of you.)

Tickhill Castle, also known as Blyth (or Blythe), filled the need.

After all, when you're trying to breath new life into an old warhorse of a myth—the Robin Hood legend—you can't be altogether satisfied with same ol'-same old'.  Familiarity is comforting, but it can certainly breed the proverbial contempt.  So, while choosing the commonly-used 12th century connection was not a difficult call for someone whose favourite movie is The Lion in Winter, there were many other options to explore.  I don't really have a big killer dog in any fight about Who Robyn Actually Was, but I do have a long-held personal conviction that when "Robyn Hode in Grenwode stode", it was likely not just in Sherwood Forest but also in the Peak, in Barnsdale, in Loxley Chase.  Yes, 'my' Robyn is a Yorkshireman.  But not a nobleman.  So why would he need a castle?

Enter another lad, also inspired by legend and one who, unlike Robyn, is unquestionably a nobleman:  Gamelyn Boundys.  For his evolution into Robyn's (and Marion's) friend and, eventually, lover, Gamelyn needed a background against which the conflicts between peasant and noble could be seriously explored.  Moreover, he needed a place to live!

So.  Blyth Castle.  It was well established by the 12th century, erected by one of William the Conqueror's favourites, Roger de Busli.  De Busli did well out of the Norman Conquest.  He was no minor nobleman, holding over 200 manors in not only Yorkshire, but Nottinghamshire.  From his Yorkshire estates--those bordered by the Pennines to the west, the Humber marshes to the east, and Sherwood Forest sprawling south--de Busli raised a keep on one of the only (smallish) hillocks in the area.  It was not a naturally defensible place.  A full two-thirds of the earthen hill upon which the keep would stand had to be brought in, by the cartloads.  (In itself quite a statement of power and wealth, particularly if one knows how much fill dirt can cost even when aided by modern equipment!)  It was platted in the standard of the time, motte and bailey construction; from the air it would have resembled a figure eight, with the motte at its head and the larger loop of the bailey spreading below.  It was, in every sense, a boundary castle.  But it wasn't on a boundary, not really, not like Scotland or Wales or the frontiers of Normandy.  Why go to so much trouble to cobble together a defense between two shires?

Well, that sort of comes back around to those Yorkshire folk.  They were some of the hardest nuts Willy Bastard had to crack.  They were tenacious about their land and their ways; the blood of Vikings and fierce Brigantes ran in their blood.  The Conqueror responded to this with... well... more conquering.  He employed not only scorched earth policies, but encouraged the raising of Norman forts wherever possible to quell rebellion.  So it makes sense that Blyth Castle was likely one of those forts, placed so the Normans could attempt to exert some control over the unruly, stubbornly-independent denizens of Yorkshire.  Being the midpoint in any journey along the Great North Road to York certainly was another advantage for Blyth.  Location, location, location—it was no less important in medieval times than nowadays.

There's also the delicious fact that Blyth itself was the centre of not just one, but several outbreaks of rebellion.  The first of them came when Robert de Belesme, who likely fortified Blyth with her circular foundations, (like to nearby Conisbrough and a change from the squared-off early Norman standard) and held Blyth against Henry I.  It was also a stronghold later in the century for supporters of Prince John's bid for his absent brother's throne.  Those supporters held not only Blyth but also Nottingham against Richard's armies when Richard returned to England, fresh from captivity, to reclaim his kingdom.

Another qualification: Blyth lies within reasonable distance of Loxley (a favoured place for Robyn Hood's birth), about 15 miles.  Near enough for the castle to perhaps wield some authority over the inhabitants, but not so near that the authority was immediate, or that visiting could be done on a whim.  Not only that, but Blyth gets a nod in the Robin Hood legend.  It is actually in A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode, one of the oldest surviving tales.  The first of several mentions is here:

"I graunte," he sayde, "with you to wende,
My bretherne, all in fere;
My purpos was to have dyned to day
At Blith or Dancastere."

Whereas lies another point of interest.  Blyth, much like legendary outlaws, is rather its own conundrum.  The name of Blyth is, without warning and in many older texts, used interchangeably with that of Tickhill.  The towns of Blyth and Tickhill proper are some four miles apart, not a terrible distance by any means, but a small stretch of the legs by medieval standards.  Blyth is a castle.  Or perhaps merely a monastery.  Blyth had a amazing tournament field.  Or perhaps that was Tickhill.  Perhaps the tourney field was between Tickhill and Blyth.  Perhaps it was at Tickhill, also called Blyth.  Tickhill was in Nottinghamshire... or was it?  There is good evidence to suggest that Tickhill bided in Yorkshire at one time.  The shire borders of Norman England were notoriously fluid, depending on what lord decided what land was his at what time.

So, as we all must do when we sift through those biased reports of conquerors also known as History, I improvised.  A depth and understanding of history is very important, even in a Historical Fantasy where pagan magic curls from around the corners, but if documentation bogs down and gets in the way of a good story then no one wins, author or reader.  I sifted through accounts, recent photos and old lithographs (some of which I'll share here), built a history, a family's place and personal markers atop the facts.  There was enough to me that suggested Tickhill was known as Blyth, that Blyth could easily have been the antiquarian term for the castle proper, as well as the surrounding Honour/Manor around a sixty-foot sandstone redoubt known as Tickhill—'t' wick hill', in common parlance.  There were hints, here and there, that the castle had changed guardians more than once after its construction.  Enough to people it with fictional inhabitants and make them—and it—more real to one another.  It was a boundary castle, which neatly fell into the meaning of Gamelyn's last name, Boundys, which by most sources is understood to mean 'boundary lord'.  It would have been a prime assignment to any nobleman, and no little honour for an older man: a well-settled plum of a fiefdom in which he could semi-retire and oversee his sons to defend his holding.

Blyth had by the mid-1100s become a popular stop-off for travellers, which boded well for the ones supporting and supported by the castle, garnering market revenues, trade and news.  When Richard I brought back the tournaments that his father had banned, Blyth was one of the approved sites—indeed, the lands of Blyth and Tickhill were the only tournament grounds allowed for within the whole of England north of the River Trent.  Which meant more visitors, more revenue, more goods traded and sold.

And by the end of the 12th century, Blyth was fated to become a hotbed of siege and intrigue.  Which leaves a rich field yet to be mined.

What's not to like?  Blyth definitely was my castle of choice for a duology of Robyn Hood.

(Some of the most important references consulted for this article were The Castles and Abbeys of Yorkshire, by William Grainge,  Power, Community, & Fortification in Medieval England  by O.H. Creighton, The reign of William Rufus and the accession of Henry I, Vol. 2 by Edward Augustus Freeman.  And, of course, the ballads A Lyttel Geste of Robyn Hode, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne, and A Tale of Gamelyn.)

GREENWODE    by J Tullos Hennig
This new perspective on the legend of Robin Hood  brings a startling new twist to a timeless tale of fantasy, history, and romance, of myth, magic and ancient ballad.

The Hooded One.  The one to breath the dark and light and dusk between...
When an old druid foresees this harbinger of chaos, he also sees whom it will claim:  young Rob of Loxley. Rob and his sister Marion have been raised beneath a solemn duty: to take their parents’ places in the Old Religion, manifestations of the Horned Lord and the Lady Huntress.  But when Gamelyn Boundys, son of a powerful nobleman and devout Catholic, is injured in the forest, he, Rob and Marion begin a friendship that challenges both duty and ideology. The old druid has foreseen that Gamelyn is the one destined as Rob's sworn enemy—to fight in blood sacrifice for the greenwode's Maiden.
In a risky bid for happiness, Rob dares the Horned Lord to reinterpret the ancient rites—allow Rob to take Gamelyn as lover instead of rival. But in the eyes of Gamelyn’s church, lust is a sin—and sodomy is unthinkable.


Author Website: www.jtulloshennig.net

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