Friday, 6 April 2018

Aye. Ken it wis like this....with Laura Vosika

Aye. Ken it wis like this...

is the title of my new Friday theme, and I've some absolutely fabulous authors joining me for this venture over the coming Fridays, during the next quarter of the year. Though it sounds as if it's meant to be a Scottish theme, and I'll be delighted to feature fiction set in Scotland, it's not intended to be exclusively Scottish settings.
Laura Vosika

I've invited authors of historical fiction to join me in giving us an overview of the historical period they have been writing about, with specific references to the novels they have published. To start the theme, I'm delighted to welcome a new visitor to this blog- Laura Vosika. Laura's 'Blue Bells Chronicles' are time travel historical fiction, and I'm always delighted to get to know a fellow author who loves to thoroughly research an era they choose to write about, since I can't seem to stop my own researching! 

Laura has sent along a superb post to get us started on the theme, but I'll let her introduce you to her historical era herself. 

About the Books:
The Blue Bells Chronicles is a tale of time travel, miracles and mysteries,romance and redemption.  It begins in the days just before the Battle of Bannockburn. American readers will best know this as the post-Braveheart years. After William Wallace was executed in 1305, Robert the Bruce became the leader of the fight against England. That fight grew, like the crescendo of Bolero, from Wallace's execution to Scotland's greatest battle, at Bannockburn, in 1314. England that Shawn Kleiner, a modern American musician, falls. Rich, famous, and influential in his own time, a notorious drinker, gambler, and womanizer, he must suddenly navigate a world where men settle differences with steel, a world of faith and values very different from his own, a world at war.
It is into these days of impending battle against the power of

In 1314, he is forced to live as Niall Campbell, the devout Highland warrior who looks just like him. Through their adventures fighting with the Bruce and Bruce's greatest friend and military general, James Douglas, through two years of trying to get Shawn back to his own time--where Shawn hopes to make amends to his girlfriend Amy for the way he treated her, and to finally be a father to the infant son he never met--Shawn and Niall move from despising each other to a deep respect and friendship.

One thing I've enjoyed about writing The Blue Bells Chronicles is the intense study of history.  Truth is stranger than fiction, they say. And it's also more amazing. The Blue Bells Chronicles are as historically accurate as I can make them, with thousands of hours logged in study of Scottish and English medieval history, which forms the backdrop of the story, told through Blue Bells of Scotland, The Minstrel Boy, The Water is Wide, Westering Home, and the conclusion, The Battle is O'er, released on March 23, 2018.

At one point in the story, Shawn fights a battle that leaves him in shock. That battle is the battle of Skaithmuir.

The historical Background...

The first Valentine's Day thoughts, as we know them weren't sent until hundreds of years after the death of the Good Sir James.  Nonetheless, it seemed a good title for a piece on how James spent February 14, 1316.

He spent it fighting what he later called the hardest fight of his life, the battle of Skaithmuir (SKAY-mur), near Coldstream in the Borders region of Scotland.  It becomes a scene in The Minstrel Boy, Book 2 of the Blue Bells Trilogy.
Douglas Shield (public domain)

Setting the stage for Coldstream, we'd have to back up to 1286, the year when Alexander III ended his peaceful reign over what many see as a golden age of Scotland, by dying without a clear heir.  (Ironically, as if an author had foreshadowed James's destiny, James' was that same year.)  Into this void stepped Edward I of England, claiming his right to be overlord of Scotland.  On March 30, 1296, after his failed attempt to rule Scotland through a puppet-king, John Balliol, who didn't dance on his strings quite the way he'd expected, Edward attacked Berwick, thus launching the revolts led by William Wallace.  This fight against the English invasion culminated, or should have culminated, in the great Battle of Bannockburn on June 24, 1314, in which Robert the Bruce's small army routed the much larger might of England. 

It was not the culmination because, although Edward II failed to inherit his father's military skill, he more than made up for it with a double dose of the stubborn gene. Though soundingly and humiliatingly defeated, he refused to give a peace treaty agreeing to Scotland's very mild terms which were, essentially, to acknowledge Scotland as the independent nation it always had been, and Bruce as her rightful king.  In short, a promise to leave Scotland alone.

Thus, the First Wars of Scottish Independence continued.
St. Bride's Church, Douglas, Mausoleum

Scotland, lacking the wealth and large armies of England, chose instead to launch a series of guerilla-style strikes into Northumbria. These raids, led most often by the Good Sir James (or The Black Douglas as the English called him) and Bruce's nephew, Thomas Randolph, the Earl of Moray, served the dual purpose of harrying England into accepting a peace treaty and collecting money to fund the continued fight, which Edward II's refusal to treat made necessary. 

In the winter of 1315-1316, Douglas besieged Berwick, still held by the English.  Heavy rains the previous spring and summer had already led to the beginning of the Great European Famine.  Throw in a little siege, and Maurice de Berkeley, the commander of Berwick, was reduced to begging Edward II for help by October 1315.  Few rations could get through the Scots' blockade, however.
Finally, on February 14, 1316, a company of Gascon soldiers decided they would go get food for themselves.  Under the leadership of a Gascon noble, the knight Sir Edmund Caillhau (or Raymond,  in many sources), this company ventured into the rolling farmland along the River Teviot.  They spread out, looking for cattle. 

One Sir Adam Gordon saw some of them and raced to Douglas to report that there were a few cattle raiders out and about.  Douglas accepted the report and went to intercept them.  Instead of a few cattle raiders, he found a host of well-armed fighting men.
There are relatively few accounts of this battle to be found on the internet.  The most detailed account I have found comes from David R. Ross's wonderful book James the Good: The Black Douglas.  He reports that the incident happened at Skaithmuir (SKAY-mur) a few miles north of Coldstream.  Douglas came upon Caillhau's brigade in the flat, open country of the Merse, perfect for cavalry, but with no natural defenses.  Just the sort of situation James Douglas typically avoided. 

With only seconds to decide whether to retreat or attack, he made the decision he would not run on Scottish soil, on his own marches, of which he was warden.  His men were seasoned fighters, having spent the previous ten years and more fighting the English, and he had great faith in them.  He stationed his men behind a small ford before unfurling his famous white banner with the blue band and three white stars, signaling his intent to fight.

The Gascons charged.  They no doubt expected to easily overcome this small group.  John Barbour, in The Brus, tells about the fight:

The Scotsmen bravely fought them back

There one could see a cruel fight.
And strokes exchanged with all their might
The Douglas there was full hard pressed
But the great valor he possessed
So lent his men courageousness
That no man thought on cowardice.

The BorderMagazine, Volume 12, 1907, adds the picturesque touch that old tales say so much blood was shed in the battle that the river ran red for three days afterward. (The author of the piece seems to doubt it, but it is interesting that such stories would continue for centuries.)

John Barbour, interviewing men who knew Douglas, says Douglas later called it the hardest battle he ever fought.  But, like Bannockburn, it resulted in sound defeat for the larger English force with amazingly few losses at all on the Scots' side.  Douglas himself fought his way to, and killed, Caillhau.  With their leader dead, the Gascons lost heart, and were quickly beaten.  James himself learned a lesson from this, and from that time on, always went for the leader of the opposing armies. 

Most reports on Skaithmuir say there are no records of the size of James Douglas's force, except that it was significantly smaller.  David R. Ross says that Caillhau had 80 to Douglas's 40.   Maurice de Berkeley reported four days after the event that twenty men-at-arms and sixty foot soldiers were missing.
The Good Sir James - Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of Skaithmuir, James Douglas disappeared back into the Ettrick Forest, but afterward, the tale was told by Englishmen of how he fought and won against overwhelming odds, and he was spoken of with awe. 

Happy Valentine's Day, Sir James!

Contact Laura here: 

BUY the
THE BATTLE IS O'ER: Amazon US   Amazon UK 

Thank you so much for starting my theme, Laura, and my very best wishes with your latest addition to the 'Blue Bells Chronicles'.  My kindle will soon have some new additions, and I'll eventually get to  your current launch - Book 5  The Battle is O'er. (I confess, I like to start a series at the beginning).



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