MY BOOK ADDICTION AND MORE PRESENTS….
AUTHOR,of “MONTFONT”, KATHERINE ASHE!!!
Good morning Katherine and welcome to My Book Addiction and More today….
MBA&M: Tell our readers a little about yourself?
KATHERINE: Hmm. About myself… I was born in Hollywood, where my father was a staff writer for Cecil B. de Mille, I grew up loving the stories from the movies’ researches, things that never got onto the screen. Real history seemed so much more interesting than fictions. The screenwriters were not so entranced with the research assistance the often had. I recall that the Indian advisor on the film “Unconquered”, whose name was Chief Rain-in-the-Face, they referred to as Chief Stick-in-the-Mud.”
MBA&M: Where did the idea of “Montfort” come from?
KATHERINE: Actually, I was escaping from the demise of my fine art print publishing company by writing about fairies in a garden in Salisbury Cathedral Close. I kept coming to the year 1258 and thought I really ought to know something of what was happening in England then. So I hauled out my old Encyclopedia Britannica, and there was an article on “the Barons War” led by Simon de Montfort. I looked up Simon, and found an article that seemed peculiarly negative. Perplexed by my reaction to the article, since I knew nothing of this person and who was I to judge the Britannica, the matter lingered in my mind.
About a week later, attending the reopening of my local public library, the Ottendorfer, on New York’s Second Avenue, I noticed, at a distance from me, a set of books in green bindings. Going to them and taking one at random from the shelf, I let it fall open. The book opened to a page describing Simon’s death at the battle of Evesham — from the point of
view of someone who thought very highly of him. I decided the next thing I would do was research the life of this man who was not well known but could evoke such opposite responses.
MBA&M: What do you feel the appeal of “Simon de Montfort” is to your readers?
KATHERINE: It’s an extraordinary, real story of adventure. Simon’s life was a series of dramatic reversals in the extreme, riddled with battles — he once led 100 English knights against his best friend Saint Louis’ army of 30,000 and won the battle. Another time he engaged a whole army single-handed because he was a mile ahead of the troops he was leading — they were still on the far side of a hill. You don’t get action much better than that.
And there is intrigue, complex relationships that fester over years in the bottled-up society of a royal court. In a work this long — Montfort is four volumes and a total of 1,585 pages, you get something of the effect of a series where the audience knows the characters so well that nuances become potent.
But on a deeper level, this is the story of how modern democracy first came into being, and an interpretation of the life of the man who made it happen.
I say interpretation because, while I’ve been at pains to follow what my research into the original 13th century documents record, those documents, like any eyewitness reports, can be at odds with one another. One must chose what to follow, consider it in light of the culture of the period and the people’s past behavior, and choose the meanings that seem most consistent and sensible for each event. This is not material that offers simple “facts” but that, for the most part, reflects the views of partisans who loved or hated Montfort.
MBA&M: I see “Montfort” is a series. Tell our readers how many books are in the series and a little about them?
KATHERINE: There are four volumes — of what is actually a single book.
The first volume, Montfort The Early Years 1229 to 1243, deals with Simon’s arrival in England from France (he arrived as a French youth with an old Norman claim on the earldom of Leicester.) He is befriended by King Henry III and begins a stunning military career by fighting the Welsh. Romance is a major issue, ultimately causing Simon to flee England with his pregnant wife and young baby, and go into exile, then on crusade. It is in Palestine that his military fame becomes so great that Henry must forgive him what he suspects is the most treasonous of crimes in order to gain his service in fighting France.
I differ most from other writers in this book, but I always base my views on an in-depth consideration of the documents of the period — rather than the works of modern historians. To aid the reader, each book is supplied with a thorough, scholarly bibliography and an Historical Context section that amounts to footnotes with source references and also small articles that might be of background help, such as the history of the city of Leicester prior to Simon’s arrival.
When I embarked on researching and writing Montfort, I sought the help of my history professor, Dr. Henry Pachter, and then the guidance of Dr. Madeleine Cosman, founder of The Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the City University of New York. I traveled to all the places Simon went (except those in Palestine) and studied the original documents in the Bibliotheque Nationale and London’s Public Record Office and British Library.
The second volume, Montfort The Viceroy 1243 to 1253, deals with the period when Simon was forced by King Henry to bring the barons of England’s French duchy of Gascony back into submission. Developing the knowledge of how to dominate a country with only a small force at his disposal, Simon learns the skills that later will enable him to conquer England for the Parliament. But that is a future unforeseeable as yet, as the Gascons entangle him, and persuade King Henry to accuse his own Viceroy of treason. Battles, connivings and courtroom drama galore.
In the third volume, Montfort, The Revolutionary 1253 to 1260, Simon has managed to survive Henry’s ill will again, but has been sent out of the way as England’s ambassador to the Court in Paris. He’s quite content, life in his home environs is good — until Prince Edward, the heir to England’s throne (and perhaps Simon’s natural son), commits an atrocity and Henry sends the boy and his friends, ill armed and bereft of adequate military training, to fight the battle-hardened Welsh. Raising a mercenary army of his own in France, Simon goes to the boys’ rescue.
In England again, Simon is drawn into a determined effort by a small group of lords to resist the king’s rule. Vowing to support one another, they force King Henry to permit a meeting of the lords and clergy at Oxford, where they will be free from Henry’s ruthless pressuring. The idea is that there they will come up with the taxes Henry demands, but instead they frame The Provisions of Oxford, a document that outlines the form of the first modern democracy, including representatives elected by the common, and with power over the Crown. Simon, as the one man responsible for putting this new government into effect, exposes himself to charges of treason again.
Volume IV, Montfort The Angel with the Sword 1260 to 1265, begins with Simon’s second trial for treason — this time held in France and judged by Queen Margaret. He succeeds, with amazing sange froid and Gallic humor (I use the actual trial notes for the dialogue) in turning the king’s accusations to comedy and Henry is forced to withdraw the issue.
But an odd thing has been happening. The common people in England have come to believe that the creation of the Provisions of Oxford and the establishment of a democratic Parliament (which King henry has succeeded in suppressing) mark the beginning of a new thousand-year World Era: the Age of the Holy Ghost, when kingship, nations and the Church will dissolve into a single world society, led by a government elected by the common people. And the people believe Simon to be the Angel with the Sword heralding this Apocalypse.
Simon, considering these ideas heresy, is eager to return to Palestine, but he is persuaded to go to England secretly and see the forces gathering to reestablish the Parliament. At Oxford he’s drawn in by the earnest commitment of the Parliament’s partisans and agrees to lead them. “It’s as well to die here fighting faithless Englishmen, as to die in Palestine for Holy Church.” (actual quote.)
Miraculous victories follow; all England and the royal family are in Simon’s hands as he re-establishes elective government and tries to regain peace from the turmoil of peasant insurrections. But the lords are jealous of his power.
Banding together against the very government they helped to create through the Provisions, and led by Prince Edward — who fears to commit the sin of Absalom by raising his hand against his father, King Henry — they recapture the king and defeat Montfort’s modest guard at the battle of Evesham. Simon is killed, his body desecrated, but where his torso is found by the monks of Evesham Abbey, a new spring flows with miraculous healing waters. (The spring can still be found on Evesham’s field, in a spot not unlikely to be where Simon died.)
A cult arises that worships Simon as the Angel with the Sword, or perhaps the Risen Christ. To suppress it and it revolutionary doctrine, King Henry makes it a hanging crime to speak the name Simon de Montfort.
MBA&M: When you started researching “Simon de Montfort”, what attracted you to his story and why?
KATHERINE: What attracted me was that the story of this man, so key in the development of the form of government shared by most of the world today, was so unknown, and that in the few modern sources I could find he was usually abused. I began my research in 1977 and have spent 34 years at it.
MBA&M: Who do you feel is the greatest hero, other than Simon de Montfort? Why?
KATHERINE: Greatest hero in general? Well, since I’m fairly committed to Western culture I have to say Jan Sobieski for the battle of Vienna and/or John of Austria for the battle of Lepanto. Had they not won those battles, Islam would probably have prevailed over Europe. But, then, Admiral Ho is pretty interesting too, for sailing his armada of massive junks up the Red Sea and opening the Arab-Chinese trade.
MBA&M: Who is your greatest hero, be it person, character or animal? Why?
KATHERINE: Of course I have to say Simon de Montfort — for giving us the template for an actual, working democracy.
MBA&M: Which character in “Montfort” do you most identify with and why?
KATHERINE: I don’t think I identify with any of them. Exploring the personality of an intelligent, highly educated man who also kills people in hand-to-hand combat, someone whose life and expectations are so very different from my own, has been fascinating — and has held my attention for 34 years,.
MBA&M: Can you tell our readers what scene in “Montfort” most stands out to you and why?
KATHERINE: That changes with my mood from day to day. Right now it’s the scene in Montfort The Viceroy when Simon and his wife attend the wedding party of Prince Richard. Customarily a traveling lordly household took their furniture along with them, and in this scene a number of grand, curtained beds, containing some of the most powerful lords of England and their wives, are set up in one room with ribald conversation resulting.
But of course, the scene of the Battle of Evesham was the greatest challenge. We know exactly what happened and when, and that there was a terrific rainstorm throughout much of it. Capturing the full horror of the day in words — for that matter even facing up to having to write the scene after so many years spent with Simon — was so stressful that I pounded on my laptop’s keys so hard I mashed the motherboard. My computer got through the scene and saved it but never functioned again.
MBA&M: What’s next for Katherine Ashe?
KATHERINE: A book titled The Fairy Garden that I was writing when I discovered Simon — that book associated with the garden at Salisbury Cathedral that sent my on my first inquiries into the 13th century. I’m in process of doing a final edit. Then, after it’s in print, perhaps a book on Simon’s son Guy and Prince Edward.
MBA&M: Katherine, please tell our readers where to find you and where “Montfort” is available?
My personal website is www.katherineashe.com
Incidentally, I’m not to be confused with KathArine Ashe, the writer of romances!
There’s the book’s website at www.simon-demontfort.com.
There’s my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/katherine.ashe.author
And Simon’s Facebook page, where his documents, in their original old French and Latin are posted along with photos of places he knew: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Simon-de-Montfort/188918727811272
And the books are available from Amazon:
Montfort The Angel with the Sword: http://www.amazon.com/Montfort-Angel-Sword-1260-1265/dp/1452844232/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1330469638&sr=8-6
Katherine, do you have anything to add today?
Thank you for having me here! Your questions have been fun. And I hope your readers find their way to Montfort and enjoy it.
Thank you Katherine for visiting with My Book Addiction and More today…
*Sponsored by the author*
We are offering 2 lucky commenter an e-book copy of Volume III of “Montfort The Revolutionary: 1253-1260” by Katherine Ashe. Yes, that is 1 copy to 2 different commenters. Giveaway to run from today March 12 until March 19,2012.
GOOD LUCK EVERYONE AND HAPPY READING!!
Visit www.mybookaddictionreviews.wordpress.com for our “Thoughts” on all 4 volumes of “MONTFONT”