Historically inspired – The Winter Outlaw, or: Who were the Folvilles?
Today, Jennifer Ash talks about which real historical events and characters are behind her historical crime/romance The Winter Outlaw – Enjoy!
Behind the plot line for The Winter Outlaw – and the entire The Folville Chronicle series – sits five years worth of historical research I did between 1994 and 1999. This studying, which I carried out in my early twenties, ultimately led to a PhD in fourteenth century English crime.
The point of my PhD was to discover if the perception that England’s medieval society was a violent and ruthless place- as presented to us via the literature of the day (such as the ballads of Robin Hood) – painted a realistic picture of the criminal activity of the time. Or was it a case that, as with our fiction today, the storytellers were embellishing the facts around them. Was Medieval England really as lawless as the stories of outlaws and heroes would have us believe?
As you can imagine, I spent years reading original court rolls, fine rolls, goal delivery rolls, as well as many other legal and official documents. It was a fascinating- and demanding – time. I was taught how to read Medieval Latin shorthand so that I could examine more original documents, and spent many happy hours sat in the Public Record Office in London, as well as deeply buried in the basement of the University of Leicester library in the days when it still contained books.
After five years of work, comparing criminal statistics and records with the literature of the age, I can say that- in the East Midlands of England in particular- the balladeers were rather kinder than they might have been. Fourteenth century Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire were violent places indeed- containing many gangs- often of noble birth- who were prepared to do anything to stay ahead of a legal system that couldn’t cope with the level of crime being committed.
Obviously, that is a generalised answer to a complex question- but it did make me think about those criminal gangs. In some cases they were set up in a way very similar to the one we associate with the stories of Robin Hood and his Merry Men today.
It was my research, and the tentative conclusions I reached, that led me to concentrate my work on the Folville family. This family of seven brothers from Ashby Folville in Leicestershire seemed to operate more like the Robin Hood of legend than any of the others. Many of the crimes they are recorded to have committed read like lines from the ballads themselves.
What if…I wondered…the Folvilles used the Robin Hood ballads as a guidebook from which to run their criminal enterprise?
It was that question that led me to using the Folville family as the focus for, what was to become, The Folville Chronicles. With the exception of my protagonist, Mathilda of Twyford, and her friend Sarah, the family housekeeper, you’ll find all the Folville household members and their associates, not just in my novels, but in the historical documents from the 1320’s-1330’s; when they ruled Leicestershire with a fierce pride.
Many thanks for inviting me to pop by today.
1329: It is the dead of winter. The notorious Folville brothers are on edge. There are rumours of an unknown outlaw terrorising the Leicestershire countryside—a man who has designs on the Folville family’s criminal connections.
Determined to stop this usurper in his tracks, Robert Folville unearths a man hiding in one of Ashby-Folville’s sheep shelters. A steward from far-off West Markham in Nottinghamshire, the cold, hungry Adam Calvin claims he knows nothing of any threat to the Folville family. He has troubles of his own, for he is being pursued by vengeful sheriff, Edmund de Cressy, for a crime he did not commit.
Mathilda of Twyford, newly betrothed to Robert de Folville, believes Adam’s story, but with rumours about a vendetta against the family growing, the Folville brothers are suspicious of every stranger.
After an attack on the household’s trusted housekeeper, it falls to Mathilda to work out who can be trusted and who can’t… With the Folvilles’ past about to trip them up, it’s going to take a level head and extreme bravery if Mathilda and Robert are ever going to make it to their Winter Solstice wedding.
The Winter Outlaw is the sequel to The Outlaw’s Ransom
(You don’t need to read The Outlaw’s Ransom to enjoy The Winter Outlaw)
Here’s an extract from The Winter Outlaw…
The wound to Sarah’s arm had only just stopped weeping blood.
It was two days since Allward, the kitchen boy, had discovered the housekeeper sprawled unconscious on the pathway, badly beaten, only a few moments walk from the entrance to the Folvilles’ home. Found in a pool of blood, the gash to Sarah’s left arm had been short but deep. A bruise on the left side of her face had already turned purple and was now heading towards a dull green. Her right eye was puffed up to twice the size it should have been.
‘You’re supposed to be resting.’ Mathilda wasn’t at all surprised to find Sarah in the kitchen before her, despite the dew of dawn still being crisp upon the winter earth outside.
‘And let them win? Not likely.’ Sarah held her head high as she winced during the simple act of chopping an apple.
‘You’ve only just regained your wits.’ Mathilda sat next to her friend. ‘Whoever they are, they’ll not win. Damaging your arm further by using it before it’s mended won’t help track them down.’
Sarah put aside her knife. ‘You sounded just like my Lord Robert then.’
‘Is that a compliment?’
The housekeeper raised a half-smile. ‘I’m not at all sure.’ A sigh overtook her as she rubbed her elbow just below the wound. ‘How am I going to make your wedding gown now?’
‘Don’t worry, I can do it.’
‘Yes, but…’ Sarah looked more stricken than Mathilda had ever seen her. For the first time since they’d met, Mathilda saw Sarah’s forty-plus years shining through her usually youthful countenance.
Mathilda laid a gentle hand on her friend’s shoulder, ‘I know you wanted to make it, and you shall. By the time I’ve cut the cloth to your precise requirements, and tacked it into shape, you’ll be healed enough to take over ‑ or at least order the exact placing of my every stitch!’
‘Are you saying I’m so bossy that I’d peer at your every needle-swipe?’
‘I most certainly am!’ Mathilda swept the apples, knife and bowl nearer, and began to peel them herself. ‘Anyway, we have plenty of time until the ceremony. Perhaps it’s as well we’ve had to wait so long for all of the brothers to be available to attend.
‘Apart from the odious Richard.’
‘The Rector of Teigh will not be missed.’ Mathilda shivered. ‘To think he tried to frame me and Robert for murder! Anyway, he’s in France, fighting for the king.’
‘And the treacherous French are welcome to him.’
Mathilda returned the conversation to more pleasurable things; scowling as memories of the reverend Folville’s disloyalty made Sarah’s beaten face crease with anxiety. ‘Preparations are well in hand, so just concentrate on getting better. I’m sure Allward and I can keep everyone fed on our own for a few more days.’
Banging her good hand down on the table in frustration, Sarah whispered her embarrassment to Mathilda. ‘I feel so useless. If only I’d been paying attention. I’m such a fool!’
‘You are no such thing, Sarah, and never have been.’
The door to the kitchen opened and the speaker, Robert de Folville, dipped his head in acknowledgement to Mathilda as she rose to fetch her future husband some ale. ‘If you were even remotely foolish Sarah, my brother the Lord John would never allow Mathilda to reside here prior to our wedding. My brothers trust you with her virtue.’
Mathilda laughed. ‘I remain insulted that they believe me incapable of doing that all by myself!’
‘They don’t know you as well as I do, clearly.’ Robert winked in a moment of levity before anger reclaimed him. Hurling himself onto the bench, he crashed his beaker onto the table with such a thud that the women both jumped.
Mathilda spoke calmly. ‘If you keep doing that we’ll have to ask my father to make us some new drinking cups.’
‘Your father’s potted vessels are sturdy enough to withstand my anger.’
‘Which is just as well!’ Mathilda pushed some bread towards Robert, knowing his ire would calm quicker once his belly was full.
Robert nodded his gratitude, ‘How does your arm fare this morning, Sarah? I can see your face heals in an interestingly colourful fashion.’
‘It heals, but too slowly for my liking.’
Harrumphing into his ale, Robert briefly considered admitting he’d been expecting something like this for a while but changed his mind. Despite everything, he hadn’t predicted an attack so close to home. If he had, he’d never have let his brother Eustace borrow his small armed guard for his latest escapade.
Rumours had been running wild for some time about an outlaw in the area, but Robert wasn’t convinced a lone outlaw was behind this attack. Anyone desperate enough to strike down a woman on the doorstep of the most notorious criminal families in the county would have stolen the food from Sarah’s basket. They may even have taken the cloth to trade for food and drink.
Keeping his suspicions to himself, Robert asked Sarah yet again, ‘Are you sure you can’t recall anything about your attackers?’
Seeing the pain cross the housekeeper’s face, Mathilda interceded. ‘You know she doesn’t, Robert. No amount of wishing is going to change that.’
‘When the news of Sarah’s assault reaches my brothers’ ears in Huntingdon, there’s going to be trouble. I wouldn’t want to be whoever was responsible once Eustace, John and Walter, not to mention Thomas and Laurence, get hold of them.’
Ripping his bread in half, spraying crumbs across the table, Robert growled, ‘Inches from my gateway. Inches! How dare he?’
‘They,’ corrected Mathilda. ‘There had to be at least two of them.’
‘Yes.’ Robert concurred, ‘At least two men. What gall brings outlaws so close to the gates of a Folville home?’
‘I can’t answer that, I wish I could.’ Mathilda took a deep breath. ‘There’s something I need to tell you. I don’t think it’s connected, but…’
Mathilda got no further, for Allward was on the kitchen doorstep, his face flushed with anxiety. ‘A messenger has ridden into the courtyard, my Lord. I would describe him as unafraid…’
With a background in history and archaeology, Jennifer Ash should really be sat in a dusty university library translating Medieval Latin criminal records, and writing research documents that hardly anyone would want to read. Instead, tucked away in the South West of England, Jennifer writes stories of medieval crime, steeped in mystery, with a side order of romance.
Influenced by a lifelong love of Robin Hood and medieval ballad literature, Jennifer has written the first two novels in The Folville Chronicles series.
The Outlaw’s Ransom – Book One in The Folville Chronicles (pub. 2018, Littwitz Press) – is a short novel, which first saw the light of day within the novel Romancing Robin Hood (written under the name Jenny Kane; Pub. Littwitz Press, 2018).
The Winter Outlaw – Book Two of The Folville Chronicles (pub. 2018, LittwitzPress) – in a full length novel continuing the adventures of Mathilda of Twyford.
Edward’s Outlaw – Book Three of The Folville Chronicles – will be released this coming winter.
All of Jennifer Ash’s and Jenny Kane’s news can be found at www.jennykane.co.uk
Jennifer Ash https://www.facebook.com/jenniferashhistorical
Jenny Kane https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011235488766
Jenny also teaches creative writing at www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk
Thanks a lot, Jennifer, I can’t wait to read this exciting, Robin Hood- and history-inspired story … and man, do I love the cover?!
Happy reading & writing