Friday, 27 May 2011

Welcome Mary Lancaster!

Our final guest art the historical party is my good friend Mary Lancaster, who writes historical novels with strong romantic elements. And she's talking about researching the legend of the elusive rebel, Hereward the Wake

Making Romance from Legend by Mary Lancaster

Inspiration is a strange thing. Some years ago, I was researching for a historical novel I wanted to write set in eleventh century Scotland, and while reading around the Norman Conquest of Scotland's nearest neighbour, I came across the name of Hereward the Wake. But weirdly, what first caught my attention about this reference was not the heroism or tragedy of his last-ditch resistance to William the Conqueror; it was the description of his eyes being different colours :).

I began to iamgine what he looked like and to read more about him and his turbulent, adventurous life. I began to imagine the kind of man he must have been, and kept reading. Eleventh century Scotland became sidelined as I concentrated on England instead. And the more I read, the bigger Hereward grew in my mind.

Not, I hasten to add, that there was a great deal of fact to read! Although most historians agree that Hereward really existed, most of what's written about him is based on legend. His name is mentioned in the Domesday Book, but not in connection with the estates that legend associates with him, and in fact there's no proof that this Hereward is even the same man.

In some legends, he's the son of Earl Leofric of Mercia and the famous Lady Godiva. In others, he's the son of a lesser man. The legends relate military heroics, the rescue of princesses and killing of mighty beasts. There's witchcraft, and outlawry reminiscent of Robin Hood - and indeed, it's possible the legends of Robin Hood were based at least partly on Hereward. There are certainly plenty of similarities between the best known tales of each character. At the very least, they both drew on a common store of traditional outlaw stories.

So, as far as hard facts went, I had very little to go on. The legends as related by later documents would have suited fantasy rather better than historical romance. But I couldn't leave him alone. His character had already formed in my mind and from there I gave him a family and a past that suited what we do know of him and which could have shaped him for his later life. I didn't discount the legends, since there's nearly always a grain of truth in such stories, some connection, however tenuous, to what really happened, or to what people might have liked to happen. It became a bit of a detective game. Like making a jigsaw out of a couple of pieces and drawing the rest in with a pen to fit.

I see Hereward as a rebel from his boyhood, kicking against tradition and authority. I allow him  those different coloured eyes which helped make him so distinctive, and acknowledge his fight with at least one wild beast. But I don't see him as the son of a great nobleman, fallen from grace; I see him as one of those rare, charismatic figures from history who, despite more ordinary birth and fortune, rise to be natural leaders, accepted even by men of higher worldly rank. Scotland's Willian Wallace was another such figure (with, interestingly enough, his own share of outlaw tales!).

I try to explain what led to his sacking of Peterborough and the siege of Ely, one of the few documented events of Hereward's life, and to imagine what happened after, using a mixture of legend and guess-work.

And of course, such a larger than life figure had to have a great love.

I had a choice of loves for him. Legend gives Hereward two wives: the first Torfrida, a Flemish lady of learning whom he apparently married while serving as a mercenary captain for the Count of Flanders; the second a beautiful Saxon lady for whom he set Torfrida aside. In reality, he may well have had two wives, and, given the standards of the day he was probably faithful to neither!

However, I prefer the Torfrida story for many reasons, not least because she was learned and interesting to me - she read the stars; she married Hereward when he was not a great or honourable man by the world's judgement, merely an exile, a mercenary who fought for money not loyalty. And then the Saxon wife story seemed to me too convenient: as an English hero, he needed to have an English wife in the songs and stories, in order to resonate with the people. Torfrida would have been regarded as French, the "enemy" of the people so recently conquered.

So, although I've brought his English "wife" into the sotry in a different way, I believe Torfrida was his great love, and I believe I worked out a satisfying ending for them that contradicts neither history nor my own, personal, romantic view of them.

Torfrida would have to have been a strong woman to cope with Hereward's turbulent character and so I imagine their relationship was a stormy one. Here's a stormy moment from my imagination, when, after a quarrel Hereward takes a novel revenge :)

An Endless Exile by Mary Lancaster
Print and Ebook from Mushroom Publishing
Available from Amazon.

An Endless Exile tells the stormy love story of the eleventh century hero, Hereward "the Wake”, as seen through the eyes of his beautiful Flemish wife,  Torfrida  - clever, secretive and wise in the lore of the stars.  Estranged from Hereward at the time of his brutal murder, she sets out reluctantly to discover what really happened that night, vividly remembering the past as she goes: from their first childhood meeting, through their passionate courtship and marriage, their life together teemed with adventure, intrigue, tragedy and betrayal.  

And the truth, when Torfrida eventually finds it, only leads her into greater danger, threatening her unexpected new happiness in the very moment of its discovery.

    They were not playing chess.  My father was sitting behind his table, nodding thoughtfully as if to himself.  Hereward stood by the window, all flowing silk and gold arm-bands, and the incongruously clanking belts of weapons at his hip.  Though his fathomless eyes were now on me, I thought he had been watching my father.  Certainly I had heard his voice talking as I approached the door.

   “Ah,” said Hereward blandly, when I went in.  “Ganymede in a frock.”

   My father blinked slightly, though whether at this mode of greeting or at my chosen task I was not perfectly sure.

   “Don’t we have servants any more?” he asked with unusual irritability.

   “Lise,” said Hereward provokingly.  “Pretty brunette.”

   I said calmly, “She had hysterics when I asked her to do it.  She was afraid of ravishment.”   My father choked.  I patted him kindly on the back.  “Let me pour you some wine.”

   Hereward said, “Well, she needn’t fear it of me, not any more.”

   “No?” I said politely.  “You have, perhaps, taken a vow of celibacy?”

   “Almost,” said Hereward surprisingly.  “I have made an offer of marriage.”  He smiled at me, so dazzlingly it could have deprived the unwary of breath.  “For you.”

   The wine slopped over the cup’s edge, onto the silver tray, on to my father’s table.  I stared at it stupidly, till Hereward’s fingers took the cup from me.

   “Let me,” he said, and I backed away from him as if he had offered me violence.

   “Why?” I said.

   “Torfrida!” exclaimed my father.  “Your behaviour gets odder and odder!  What is the matter with you?  Go away and cast his horoscope – we’ll let him dispute it later.”

   “Is that how she does it?” Hereward asked, apparently vastly entertained.  “So it was the stars that did for poor old Asselin?  And Osbern and Bauduin and Albert and all the others?”

   I felt my eyes dilate.  I was actually frightened.  I panted.  “You have been busy!”

   “I told you,” he said carelessly, following me to give me a cup of wine.  “I always out-think the opposition.”

   “I am not playing this game!” I cried wildly.  “Why are you doing this, Hereward?”

   Accusation as well as pleading must have been spitting out of my eyes, but although I held his gaze, I could not even be sure I held his attention, let alone his understanding.  Then he reached out and took my hand, and I wondered desperately if there was hope after all.  In front of my father’s eyes, he raised my fingers to his lips and kissed them, before wrapping them around the cup and holding them there.

   “Why?” he said softly.  “Because the world knows I am at your feet.”

   It was too soft, too bland, and it gave me an instant’s warning.  One eye shut, he leaned just a little closer, and whispered, “And because I want your lands, and your riches, and your beautiful golden dragon.”

   I gasped.  My hand jerked, as if of its own accord, to throw the wine in his face.  But he was prepared for that; it was why he was still holding my fingers around the cup, so steadily that the liquid barely slopped to the brim.

   “Don’t,” he said.  “You’ll shock your father.”

   “I won’t do it, Hereward.”

   “Why not?  You would have done it for Rob.  In the end.”

   “For Robert, yes.  Not for you.  Never for you.”

   He only smiled.  “You say it with too much excitement,” he mocked.  “Remember, unlike Robert, I have held you in my arms.”

   He might as well have been doing so again; God knew he was close enough.

   “That doesn’t matter,” I said wildly, seeking desperately for ammunition.  With a gasp of relief, I found it.  “Go home, Hereward.  Leave me alone and go home.  Because it is not my lands you want, is it?  It’s your own.  Go home; be with your mother; and grieve for your father.”

   His eyes had stopped mocking.  They had gone black.  For a moment he was still, perfectly still.  Then his fingers loosened on mine and the wine slopped after all on the floor.  Because I was trembling.  And sorry.

   “As I do,” I whispered.  “As I do.”

   He swung away from me before I could see anything else.  I had invaded.  I was intolerable.  Well, good; then he would force this no further…

   My father said anxiously, “Has she agreed?”

   There was a pause.  Surely, surely it was going on too long…?

   Then Hereward said lightly, “It doesn’t matter.  You have.”  He picked up the other two cups and gave one to my father before turning and smiling back into my eyes.  “A toast,” he said blandly.  “To our future wealth.  And happiness, of course.”

   And drank.

   He had a way, he always had a way, of depriving one of breath.  When I had got mine back, I walked across the room to the jug, and deliberately poured my wine back into it.

   “On this occasion,” I said to my astounded parent, “I have no need of astrology.  I will not marry Hereward.  No, and no, and no.”

   And I walked out of the room, not even troubling to close the door behind me.

Mary will give away a download of An Endless Exile to one lucky winner. To enter her contest, tell us which historical legend you think makes, or would make, the best historical romance, or comment on Mary's post in some other way. The contest will close at midnsight tonight and the winner will be announced tomorrow on this thread.


  1. This looks wonderful. I dimly remember the name of Hereward the Wake from reading history. Now I can find out more about him.

  2. This sounds like an interesting read and I've never been able to turn down a good historical romance.

    As for a historical legend that might make a good historical romance?

    Well I sort of had this thought and I know it's been done before but I think the Indian princess Pocahontas might make an interesting historical romance, it's been said that she really existed but I don't think anyone is really sure.

    Anyway my thought was to maybe have a descendant maybe her great granddaughter go back and time or something like that. It just sort of popped into my head, so I don't have all the my thoughts put together yet.

  3. Hello all - great to be at the party!

    Thank you, Miriam! I must admit he was just a throw-away name to me too, encountered once in a school history class, but I'm glad I found him again :).

    Hi Gabby - glad you like it! I confess I know nothing about Pocahontas - I thought she was real! I agree she'd make a great story - like where you;re going with it!


  4. Monica/Emma's questions for Mary:

    1) Rouges or Gentlemen which do you have more fun writing about and why?

    2) A woman with a mind of her own or some meek and mild young lady?

  5. Someone for a historical novel: History is full of daughters married off to make alliances. I think this could be interesting. Maybe one married off to a Norweigan?

    a dot charol at yahoo dot ca

  6. The best I have ever read (that I knew for sure was based on real people and legend) was Mary Stewart's Arthurian Series. I have always loved the Merlin stories but that series just wowed me from start to finish. Thanks for the giveaway.

  7. Love the legend ideas!

    OK, Mary's winner is... GABBY!

    Congratulations, Gabby - you win a download of An Endless Exile! Could you please contact me - Marie AT MarieTreanor DOT com - with your email address?

    Thanks, everyone!


  8. Hmm, I answered Monica's questions last night, but my comment doesn't seem to have made it through! I'll try again!

    I suppose I prefer writing about rogues, because they're generally more unpredictable and have that edge of danger, but I like them to have the odd gentlemanly quality too! Also like gentlemen who have occasional roguish lapses :). Variety is good!

    Hi Carol! Good idea - that would be cool...

    Jen, I loved Mary Stewart's Merlin books too! Annoyingly, my copies seem to have gone missing, just as I was going to introduce them to my son :).

    Gabby - congratulations!


  9. Hi Mary,

    I've had the pleasure of reading your books. When are you going to write more???

    in Germany

  10. Hi Valerie - thank you! I have written another, but I'm not quite happy with it yet, and not quite sure where to submit it when I am!