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Authors: Roberta Gellis

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The Sword and The Swan

BOOK: The Sword and The Swan
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Roberta Gellis


Lyle Kenyon Engel


Copyright © 1977 by Roberta Gellis and Lyle Kenyon Engel.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by an electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording means or otherwise without prior written permission of the author.


When Baen approached my agent about the possibility of republishing some of my work in e-format, I was delighted. Although at the moment I do not own an e-reader (I use a netbook for its ability to deal with many formats), I am one of the early addicts of that form of personal library. I owned and used with great pleasure a RocketeBook, and I would still be using it if the company were still in business to make repairs.

Thus I gave considerable thought to which of my out of print works I wanted to be available and I decided that my earliest work, because it held my own fresh wonder of creation, should get precedence.

Early work or late work, all my historical novels are medieval. I have no idea why I was enchanted by the history of the middle ages, but when I was a little girl there was no television. (Yes, I am that old.) What one did for entertainment– at least what my family did for entertainment–was read. My father used to say that Christians went to church on Sunday; Jewish people went to temple on Saturday; and the Jacobs family went to the library on Friday night (which was the night the library was open late).

No one told me what to read, and I sampled everything, I suppose, but it was the books of High Romance that caught my attention. I never cared for the books about my contemporaries. Nancy Drew (even driving her car) or the visiting nurse (who’s name I’m afraid I’ve forgotten) could hold my attention only briefly and I never remembered their stories. It was the tales of knights in shining armor that I read and reread.

The fascination scarcely ebbed as I grew older, although I soon realized Howard Pyle’s books were equivalent to fairy tales (if not so grim). I moved on to more adult versions of medieval myth. But then I began to wonder if, like other myths, there was some basis to the stories. The histories were dry bones, but further research into the period brought me to the chronicles written at the time.

I soon discovered that, although there were indeed knights, their armor didn’t shine and the knights themselves stank to high heaven. But I also learned that the men inside that stinking armor were fascinating individuals and that their real adventures in real history were far more exciting than Howard Pyle’s or other novelists’ stories.

So I hope these books will transmit to their readers my personal delight in the true events of one of the most exciting centuries in history and my new found creative joy in peopling those events with characters that are true to the time in which they lived.


In every social group—insect, animal, or human—a power struggle exists. For the so-called nonintelligent creatures, it is simply a struggle to determine which is the strongest, and, by virtue of that strength, which will lead the group. In
humans, however, matters are not so simple, and the power struggle is complicated by the fact that the clever are often more capable of leadership than the strong, as well as by theories of rulership and of good and evil.

By the 12th Century, every possible permutation and combination of forms of government had been sampled in Europe; at one time or another, for one reason or another, every form had been found wanting. The democracy practiced by the Greeks fell because the citizens did not really want the responsibility of government and would not work at
it, because men placed their own profit above the good of the state in contradiction to the theory of democracy, and because the form of government moved too slowly in times of crisis. The republicanism of the Romans was destroyed by the same causes, and government once again turned to absolutism under the steady hand and relative benevolence of Caesar. Absolutism was no answer; however, for there is a flaw at the very heart of the concept: The absolute ruler, to be successful, must be both more and less than human, and there are very few men, indeed, who can fill the role. With the destruction of the unwieldy and bloated corpse that the Roman Empire had become, the people had a fresh taste of what amounted to anarchy. This plague, however, was worse than either the responsibility that came with self-government or the oppression that came with tyranny.

Slowly Europe began to pick up the pieces of what had been destroyed and thrown away, and experimentation in government started anew. There were small, remote, isolated hamlets and religious houses that practiced perfect democracy. There were the shattered remains of great Roman estates where the descendants of rich or noble families continued to rule as petty but absolute tyrants. Some of the hamlets were not remote enough and were preyed upon by robbers, and some of the petty tyrants either had a lust for greater power or had not enough dependents to work for them. Out of this developed another system, not new (nothing in government can be new), but new to these people, in which the hamlets were protected from marauders by the petty tyrants who were paid for their protection in services. In turn, the petty tyrant sought security by alliance with other petty tyrants, and, as his position became assured, it became necessary to find someone to judge between him and his allies, lest anarchy return.

Thus it was, according to some authorities, that the concept of the feudal king arose. In theory, the feudal king was no more powerful in his own right, no richer in lands or money, than his major barons. He had only one strength that these men did not have, and that was that each of them swore to support him against the other barons. By this arrangement, it was believed, the individual barons could be prevented from preying upon each other—any man who was attacked had a right to appeal for protection to the king, who, in theory, could call up the other barons to help him suppress the attacker—and yet the king himself would be unable to seize absolute power.

In theory, again, this should bring about an excellent form of government. If the barons were united in any cause, the king would be forced to accede to their demands; yet, if any few should become rebellious for their own profit, the king could control them. Unfortunately, like all other theories of government, this one contained the seeds of its own destruction. Men often did not keep their oaths, and the kings, seeking to protect themselves against this human failing, tried to seize more power so that they could enforce the terms of the feudal pact that were not willingly met.

And so the power struggle began anew. A strong king beat his barons into relative submission, generally after a period of civil war. A weak king was at the mercy of his own baronial factions and usually had to watch his country being torn apart by internecine strife that he was powerless to prevent.

In England, after the Norman Conquest, this power struggle and its results were remarkably clear. William the Bastard conquered the country by force of arms and ground the barons' faces into the dirt under his mighty heel. Some obeyed and some died, but where they obeyed, the land was at peace. William Rufus could not maintain his father's iron grip on the throats of his men. There were already rumblings of rebellion when a hunting arrow—whether deliberately or accidentally is uncertain to this day—put an end to his life. Henry I, a younger son of William the Bastard, inherited from his brother. He went slowly and softly, but slowly and softly toward only one end. By the time the lords of the land realized what he had done, he had them in an even more inexorable grip than that of his father. Under William the Bastard the land had lain still and groaned; under Henry I it did not even dare to groan.

Had Henry's plans come to fruition, the history of England might well have been different. Man proposes, however, and God disposes. Henry's only legitimate son was drowned at sea, and in desperation, Henry tried to force his daughter Matilda upon the barons as their queen. During his lifetime, even when he was old and sick, they dared not oppose him and he made them swear that they would accept her.

With the death of Henry I, however, the chains were broken, and the barons united to set aside the oath given under duress and appoint a king more to their liking. This man was Stephen of Blois, a grandson of William the Bastard; Matilda was William's granddaughter. Perhaps the barons hoped that Stephen would be the perfect feudal king, uniting mildness of temper with a strong fighting arm; perhaps they knew that he was weak and lazy and they only desired freedom. Certainly they obtained their freedom; but with that too-great freedom came anarchy again. By this time there was another claimant to the throne of England in Henry of Anjou, Matilda's son, who gave every sign of combining his grandfather's talent for governing and lust for power with a great deal of good humor and military skill.

This novel concerns the last power struggle between Stephen of Blois, a weak feudal king, and Henry of Anjou, who finally became Henry II of England, a strong feudal king. Unfortunately, the discussion offered above is a great oversimplification of the situation, and the line of demarcation between the opposing forces is far from clear.

Ranged on Henry's side were not only the barons who desired a stronger king to keep peace among them, but also those who were attached to his cause by the memory of the oath given to Matilda. Roger of Hereford's father had given such an oath and the son, for that reason as well as for reasons of personal liking and loyalty to Henry, was a rebel against the king of his country. There were also men who cared for neither cause but used the instability of a nation in the throes of a civil war for their own profit, raiding their neighbor's property and seizing his goods under the guise of supporting one side or the other.

The supporters of Stephen's cause had similarly diverse reasons for their actions. Some, like Northampton and Warwick, were truly honorable men who believed that an oath given under duress was not valid and that, therefore, the homage they had done Stephen was the oath that was binding upon their honor. Some merely had a hearty distaste for absolute monarchy and feared, with a great deal of justice, that Henry would try to bring absolutism back. Still others clung to Stephen simply because he was the king, and out of a weak and generous king there was profit to be made.

The hero of this novel is a totally fictional character, as are his wife and family. Fictional also are all conversations, all records of political maneuvering, and all influence the hero has on the events that take place. The events themselves, however, are strictly historical, and are taken largely from the
Gesta Stephani
(edited by K. R. Potter, London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., 1955), the best chronicle of the events of Stephen's reign. Other medieval chronicles and modern texts have been used as necessary to fill in characters or events and the surrounding milieu.

Even with the best of intentions, though, it is often impossible to be perfectly accurate in all things because of lack of information about many common matters: For this reason descriptions of housing, styles of armor and clothing, types of food and eating utensils, and even the exact wording of challenges and oaths—particularly since French was the language used by all the upper classes at this time—are only valid within about one hundred years.

Finally the author must admit one great liberty taken with history. Nowhere is there any historical indication whatsoever that the death of Stephen's eldest son, Eustace, was anything but natural. Eustace did die very suddenly after a bitter quarrel with his father and the majority of the barons, but people died suddenly in the Middle Ages because of lack of sanitation and medical knowledge.

The author offers, in amelioration of the liberty taken, the license allowed in a work of fiction to produce an effect (when it does not actually alter an event in history) and the fact that the cause of Eustace's death was not the usual "fever" that carried off so many medieval people. In
fact, two different causes are offered. Roger of Hoveden and William of Newburgh say that Stephen's son strangled on a dish of eels. Gervase of Canterbury states, "But when he sat down at table to eat, as we read in writings, at the first taste of food he fell into a miserable madness, and because of the arrogance he had shown to the Martyrs he underwent the dire pains of death." It is possible that Eustace suffered either a heart attack or apoplexy, although he was a young man who had undergone the exertions of many battles without deleterious effect. It is also barely possible that one of the causes suggested by the medieval chroniclers actually did terminate Eustace's life. Considering, however, how much Eustace was hated by both sides in the power struggle, the author feels justified in suggesting that Eustace was poisoned.


"Is this your thanks to me? Is this your gratitude for your son's life and freedom, for the crown upon your head?"

BOOK: The Sword and The Swan
10.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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