Gaye Mack’s Blog

GLASTONBURY ABBEY’S GREAT FIRE OF 1184–WAS PETER D’MARCY AN ARSONIST?

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

The Great Fire of 1184, which all but destroyed Britain’s oldest site of Christianity, Glastonbury Abbey,  is legendary.  For 900 years, myth and speculation have flourished as to the cause of this catastrophic event.  The majority speculation put forth by historians is that unusual winds on the morning of May 25, 1184 were responsible, causing an entry curtain to the ‘Holy of Holies’ in the ‘Ecclesia Vestuta’ (old church) to catch fire from burning candles.  Regardless of the cause, the initial sparks of flame combined with the high winds took the famous abbey to the ground in a matter of hours; it’s precious documents destroyed along with its treasures melted by heat and countless graves of monks, abbots and saints.

 However, when I was researching this event for my historical mystery, “A Conspiracy of Ravens”, I discovered Adam of Damerham.  Adam was a 12th century monk who wrote a history of the abbey and where the Glastonbury fire is concerned, Adam had an entirely different theory as to its cause.   Following the death of the beloved Abbot Robert in 1178, King Henry II assigned the position of ‘Custodian’ to Peter D’Marcy, a Cluniac monk who had some kind of relationship to Henry.  Despite the desires of the Glastonbury monks for Henry to name a proper abbot, the king stalled.  With no abbot in place it gave the wily monarch direct access to Glastonbury’s wealthy treasury, a resource which Henry needed to finance his wars with the French. Thus, as a compromise, he named D’Marcy to oversee the Glastonbury community.

 Unfortunately Peter proved to be very unpopular for a variety of reasons.  He nearly drove the abbey into the ground financially, was relentlessly diabolical in his scheming to manipulate his way to the abbot’s chair, not to mention the  suspicion that Peter  ‘compressed’ (as in eliminated) certain monks who were obstacles to achieving this goal. As an interim solution and effort to appease the monks, Henry then appointed Hugh of Avalon (who would later become Hugh of Lincoln, the most revered saint after Becket) to ‘supervise’ D’Marcy.  Things did not go well with this arrangement either.

 By December of 1183, the hatred of D’Marcy was beyond rampant.  In one final scheme to endear the monks to his cause of obtaining the ‘abbot’s chair’, D’Marcy, his mental state now suspect, planned a ‘faux mass’ on Christmas Eve in the ‘Ecclesia Vestuta.’  This blasphemous act was the last straw with the Glastonbury community and one can only imagine how the monks reacted.   Adam of Damerham speculates that in retaliation,  D’Marcy set fire to the abbey.  Interestingly, historians note that while he survived the fire, shortly afterwards D’Marcy died from ‘unknown causes.’

“A Conspiracy of Ravens” is the second of my planned six book historical mystery series, “Flight Through Time”, which is in production.


WAS ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE A DRAMA QUEEN LEO OR….

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Karmic and Self-Discovery Astrology, Writer's Work Leave a comment

In “Flight Through Time”, my 12th century mystery series, Eleanor of Aquitaine is the queen of the hour.  Historically a fascinating woman, scholars, historical fiction authors… not to mention Hollywood, can’t seem to get enough of her; nor can I.  If someone were to ask, “if you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would you choose?” hands down it would be Eleanor.

 As I was working on a scene for my 3rd book, “A Watch of Nightingales”, the thought crossed my mind… ‘I wonder what Eleanor’s birth chart looks like?’  An hour of searching through various sources resulted in the disappointing realization that most likely we’ll never know.  While in the 12th century the midwife wasn’t noting time of birth according to the birthing suite clock, scholars can’t even agree on the year of Eleanor’s birth and no one of any authority even contemplates a date.  Disappointing news for sure but the thought  becomes an intriguing brain game of speculation.

 Eleanor was a woman  who by all accounts, was highly educated and welcomed travel…and travel she did, throughout her lifetime.  Even when her second husband Henry II  (the rogue!) had her locked up, he would take her on the road with him or more accurately, back and forth across the Channel.  She was a well read woman for her time.  In addition, her biographers (of which there are many) do not indicate that  she found travel extraordinarily distasteful .  Thus, one could suspect that  she might have been a fiery Sagittarius or that she had a strong 9th house (long journeys over water, higher philosophy). “Exploring the world as your oyster” would have been a suitable mantra for Eleanor.   Enduring relationships however, were an entirely different issue…not a strong point for her.   We know her relationships with her children, as well as her marriages, were not evenly balanced (despite the lone and suspect chart I found that places her as a Libra….really?).  She definitely was not a role model for harmony and integration. 

 In the realm of ‘what if’, it’s apparent that Eleanor liked the kind of drama often ascribed to the Leo sun.  No question,y she reveled in it and in her own way,  reveled being on the world stage.  No wall flower was she.  Alison Weir, the highly regarded authority on Eleanor, states that Eleanor’s court (obviously before her incarceration by Henry) was like no other in all of Europe.  She loved and supported the arts.  She had fine clothes and possessions… “gold for plates and goblets…favorite wines from La Rochelle.”  Her decoration was always the latest in fashion including glazed windows, tiled floors and carpets from the orient.  In a phrase this was a woman who was not economical and was all about “how it and she looked.”  Very Leonine. (I admit, she may have also had Venus in Taurus!)

On the other hand, this was a woman who was calculating in a very analytical way.  In all of her efforts to protect land holdings for Richard I, her favorite child, she plotted and schemed with military precision as if she were in a chess game for life against Henry who favored young Henry until his death and then, John.  Unfortunately no one liked the other son, Geoffrey. 

 She plotted with Richard behind the scenes; she plotted with her spies when Henry gave her more freedom around 1180 and onwards.  Bottom line, Eleanor never gave up plotting against Henry until he died at Chinon in 1189.  Now, one could say this is the shadow of Scorpio…and it would be fair.  However, keeping in mind that the Sun in a chart is the spirit, the spark, the vitality of our soul, Eleanor’s penchant for plotting like a military general, the analytical approach in her make-up not to mention her duty and service as Queen to her vast constituency as she moved the chess pieces of life around the board behind the scenes, I think point to a different sign.  While not the best face forward of it, I think she possibly might have been a…..VIRGO.

A final note:  the ‘Flight Through Time’ series is in production and not yet published.


THE MYSTERIES OF OXFORD’S MEDIEVAL GODSTOW NUNNERY-AN IDEAL SETTING FOR “A WATCH OF NIGHTINGALES”

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 2 Comments

A little over two miles northwest of Oxford, the tiny hamlet of Godstow  lies alongside the River Thames.  Bucolic in its landscape, Godstow remains noteworthy for two of its area landmarks, a medieval nunnery and The Trout (Inn, Pub) which 850 years ago(give or take), served as the nunnery’s 12th century hospice.   Sadly the years have not been kind to what was once an extremely wealthy nunnery, as the ruins are now scant.  Nevertheless, Godstow has held a fascination for me since the first time I walked its grounds nearly 35 years ago and why I’ve chosen it for the setting of my next historical mystery which is in the works, “A Watch of Nightingales.”

 One of the better known reasons for the nunnery’s high profile is that Godstow is where Henry II’s famous mistress, the fair Rosamund Clifford was buried upon her death in 1175(1174 or 1176 depending on which ‘authority’ one reads).  While some sources claim the fair Rosamund died of natural causes, there are myths pointing to Henry’s artfully scheming queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, as Rosamund’s murderess…a charge which Eleanor consistently denied…vehemently.

 Leaving Henry, Eleanor and Rosamund aside for the moment, the remaining stones of Godstow surely protect many other secrets, sending the imagination into the realms of ‘what if’?  Scholars cite the existence of ‘outrageous lascivious and licentious behavior’ between the nuns, clerks and scholars of Oxford.  Given that Godstow was built on a marsh island across the river from the Trout, how did they get into town, as it were?  And what sort of intrigues were behind these nocturnal assignations, not to mention that Godstow’s meadow and ditches were and still are, abundant with Birthwort, an herb used in childbirth and…as an abortive.

 In 2006, The Oxford Times ran an article reporting that in 1944, children playing by the Godstow river bank discovered a stone coffin lodged under the tow path, its lid resting about six inches above water level.  Further inspection revealed bones of an adult female.  This coffin was the first of several that have ‘appeared’ over the years, which then disappear into the riverbed, divers unable to locate further evidence of their existence.

Several years ago I discovered a fascinating symbol carved in the remaining stones of Godstow.    Eerily similar to symbolism used by ancient and modern Druids, research efforts to discover its meaning and source over the years remain elusive. Disappointingly, it could very well be the work of 21st century graffiti artists or ritualists.  Nevertheless, I prefer to remain mystified…it makes for good plotting in an historical mystery

Photography©2012 Gaye F. Mack, Inc.


USING HISTORY’S FACTS AND LEGENDS TO SPARK THE STORY

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Karmic and Self-Discovery Astrology, Writer's Work 2 Comments

I often wonder why so many of us are ‘taken’ with fictional stories woven around historical fact and legend.  Perhaps it’s the fantasy of it all, being able to put one’s self in the shoes of the characters or perhaps it’s the opportunity to be an armchair editor with the critical voice that says, ‘don’t do that, it makes no sense whatsoever and it’s not accurate.’  In any case, no matter what the reason, so many of us love to read historical fiction as travelers surreptitiously peeking into the past with our imaginations.  And so many of us, myself included, love to create stories that take place  in the past while the phrase, ‘what if…’ constantly whispers in our head.

For me, writing historical fiction is the best of both worlds.  It’s a fascinating journey that can be intensely personal as surprises can take you into the realm of unexplored self-awareness.  Nevertheless, the excitement comes in the magic giving oneself permission and time to research landscapes where there’s the possibility of discovering small treasures that have been hidden away for centuries…treasures that can spark the fire of the story.

Such was the case when I wrote ‘A Murder of Crows’, represented by my agent, Peter Miller, CEO of Global Lion Intellectual Property Management and currently under consideration by several major houses.  When I first thought about the broad story, I knew for various reasons that I wanted it set around 1186 or so in EnglandAlthough I’d decided on one of the story threads, I needed that obscure (or nearly obscure) treasure to add to the mix, something that hadn’t been used or overused by other writers.  So I went on the hunt and happily found it.

In 1184, the astrologers of Toledo Spain discovered the forthcoming and unusual configuration of  planets  for September 15, 1186.  What was so significant about this event was that the astrologers  interpreted the alignment as a sign portending ‘the end of days’.  The alarm was raised through the  legendary “Letter of Toledo”Addressed to the Cardinal who would become Pope Clement III along with many scholars, this letter metaphorically set all of Europe on fire with its prediction of  storms, pestilence, earthquakes, floods…you get the picture.

Aside from the fact that the end of days happily did not occur and that the ‘Letter of Toledo’ resurfaced several times in history after September 1186 (with change of dates predicting the end!), I was thrilled to discover this myth as it provided the  perfect ‘historical’ thread to add to my story.  Writing historical fiction takes perseverance, no question.  You have to dig and dig and even if you find a small treasure, there’s always the possibility that the information is skewed.  Memories fade, accounts are edited for various reasons, access to resources may be difficult, things get lost…not much has changed in 900 years. As the renowned British historical writer, Alison Weir states, ‘you just can’t make stuff up.’

 THE END OF DAYS

SEPTEMBER 15, 1186

 


BLOODY MARY TUDOR…RICK SANTORUM’S IDOL OF WOMANHOOD AND LEADERSHIP-SERIOUSLY?

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

I had intended to blog about something entirely different this morning but have put it aside to post the following news article which actually appears on Susan Higginbotham’s blog.  Susan is an historical fiction author and if you like reading about the Tudor era, I recommend reading her works.

As for Rick Santorum’s remarks when interviewed in Madison…I’m a native of Wisconsin and quite familiar with the very liberal(at least it was when I was going to college) U of Wisconsin, which makes me wonder what the energy was like in the crowd…moreover, if Margaret George was home, I wonder what she thought about his very bizarre remarks regarding Mary…it boggles the mind.  This completely convinces me  the man needs serious therapy to work out his family of origin dysfunctions.

Madison, Wisconsin—She’s known to us today as “Bloody Mary.” But for Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, she is a woman to be esteemed.

Speaking at a campaign stop at the University of Wisconsin, Santorum, when asked by a student questioner whether there was a historical woman he particularly admired, cited the first reigning Tudor queen. “First, she had strong religious principles, and she wasn’t too politically correct to act upon them,” said Santorum. “Second, she got married, unlike her younger sister Elizabeth, who didn’t think she needed a man to help her rule. Mary understood the importance of faith and family in a way that Elizabeth never did.”

Asked his opinion of Mary’s policy of burning Protestants, Santorum said, “You could argue—and I will argue—that Mary’s strong moral convictions were preferable to this wishy-washy notion of tolerance that the left has, where Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, goddess-worship, paganism, and atheism are all of the same value, are all points of view to be allowed. Where has that led us? Into a moral cesspool.”

Santorum, who has said that the notion of separation of church and state makes him want to “throw up,” hastened to add, “That’s not to say that I believe Mary was one hundred percent correct in burning Protestants. There are certainly decent Protestants, then and now, though I can safely say that if Mary had seen the state of the Anglican Church today, and of mainline Protestantism in the United States, she would have probably burned more of them.”

The candidate looked thoughtful when asked by another student whether he would support burning nonbelievers and non-Christians in an effort to purify the condition of religion in the United States. “Besides the obvious spiritual benefits, burning these people at the stake would have the side effect of bringing down the unemployment rate, both by reducing the surplus population and by putting right-thinking Americans to work ferreting out heretics, but as it stands now, it’s probably illegal under the Eighth Amendment. Until we get that amendment and the First Amendment tweaked a bit, we might just have to settle for singeing people.”