So who is Lord Cristian Gilleson – Born Friday June Seventeenth 1239 – Died ?

We first meet Cristian Gilleson in Chapter One of “The King’s Jew” – as a famous knight, companion to a dead King (Edward the First) and aged 68 – a good age for a medieval warrior who has lived in dangerous times, fought many battles and now must last one more night in Westminster Abbey. But what made him the man he is? What exactly set him apart from the men who ruled and lorded it over the masses in thirteenth century England?

Cosmati floor in Westminster Abbey upon which Cristian walked

Cosmati floor in Westminster Abbey upon which Cristian walked

The next time he appears is in the arms of his dead mother as a new-born mewling baby in chapter eleven.

How did he get his name?

Well Alain, the monk / scribe to the Lord of Longhurst saw to it that he was baptised and gave him the name Cristian so as to ensure he was just that – a Christian – in the hope that the crime perpetrated by Cristian’s father could be washed away by dedicating another soul to his Christian God.

Medieval interior of peasant's dwelling

Medieval interior of peasant’s dwelling

Was Cristian a bad child?

Remember these events took place over seven hundred years ago and there was a totally different concept of the word ‘child’ in those days. Children were chattels; an addition to the workforce if you were of peasant stock and a trainee man of violence if you were in the knightly class and in those early days Cristian was a peasant.

Yet the first time he meets the future King Edward, when they are both just six, Cristian is embroiled in a fight with the local village bully and his friends. Knives are drawn – yes at that age! – and Cristian, with the help of young Edward, prevails.

Medieval children playing 'piggy back'

Medieval children playing ‘piggy back’

How did Cristian cope with the transition from the village of Longhurst to being at the court of King Henry III and companion to young Edward?

Cristian had always been a thoughtful child. Constantly seeking answers to questions that assailed his young mind. Because the local priest had tutored him in reading and writing he was actually better at it than Prince Edward. Indeed at one stage Cristian writes a fairer hand than the Prince but Edward counters this by saying that a future King has no need to write as he will have people to do that for him! – In which he was quite right by-the way (and a future king doesn’t want inky fingers does he?)

Cristian not only learned etiquette but also the art of war and defence from the incomparable Bartholomew Pecche who tutored both boys in the use of arms. This culminated in Edward and Cristian’s journey to take part in the crusades.

The crusades

The crusades

So what does Cristian Gilleson look like?

I’m sure you, dear reader, are aware that King Edward the First was also known as ‘Longshanks’(long  legged – hence the term ‘shank’s pony’ to walk) as he was over six foot tall. Cristian and Edward were not only born on the same day but were also the same size so Cristian’s public persona was one of power and strength. Add to that the black hair and dark complexion of his mother (you’ll have to read the book for if I tell you more it may spoil the tale) and you’d know not to get on the wrong side of Gilleson.

What differentiated Cristian from his peers?

Mainly the accident of his birth (can’t say any more about that here) and his sense of ‘fair play’ and desire for learning about other cultures and ideas. He always champions the underdog. He has a questing mind (hence his ground-breaking conversations with the Jew, Yehuda ben Moshe) and a love of knowledge, yet cross Cristian and you will make an implacable enemy!

OK, the main reason he has enemies is because of his care and concern for the Jewish community. The Jews suffered greatly in medieval England and were constantly being taxed and persecuted.

Both King Henry III and his son Edward raised money from the Jews (indeed the Jew belonged to the Royal Family. Even though Cristian was companion and friend to Edward he tried to curtail some of Edward’s harsher edicts and he had to do this in a very roundabout way or lose the ear of the king. As it was, many other highborn people sensed Cristian’s agenda and whispered invective in Edward’s ear. Fortunately Edward regarded Cristian as his one true and loyal servant and (in many ways) ignored the rumours from his other courtiers.

Medieval Jews being attacked - note the yellow badges they had to wear

Medieval Jews being attacked – note the yellow badges they had to wear

Which historical person hated Cristian with a vengeance?

I’m not giving too much away here – but the culprit was Gilbert de Clare. Their paths first crossed when Cristian was fifteen and Gilbert just twelve. This meeting, which was to have such far-reaching consequences, took place in Bordeaux when Cristian caught Gilbert beating up a young Jewish boy (I’d better not say any more – for the boy is pivotal to the plot). I don’t like Gilbert the Seventh Earl of Gloucester for he was a duplicitous person who thought only of himself. Suffice to say that’s enough on the subject of Gilbert here.

Stained glass image of Gilbert

Stained glass image of Gilbert

Can a medieval fighting man ever find true love?

For those who have read “The King’s Jew” you already have the answer and know how Cristian met a precocious girl child who vowed to marry him one day. Naturally, Cristian being a male of the species, it took him a while to realise what love was all about but once the lady had made her mind up he was reeled in like a lamb to the slaughter. Indeed, King Edward who married a thirteen year old girl when he was just fifteen was also in love and it broke his heart when his Queen Eleanor died. The results of which can be seen to this day in the form of the surviving Eleanor Crosses in England

Cristian's true love?

Cristian’s true love?

A man of his time?

Most definitely but I would say Cristian was more a man ‘ahead of his time’. It was only after finishing the books that I realised Cristian was almost a medieval Oscar Schindler in that he tried to save people from annihilation and walked the dangerous line between two implacable forces that opposed him (the church and his enemies).

Why the question mark at the end of the opening line?

You’ll maybe find the answer to this at the end of book three. After all, I’ve told you just a few snippets about the famous Lord Cristian Gilleson except the date of his death. Did he escape his enemies and spend the rest of his life with a certain lady? Or was he cut down in a bloody battle inside Westminster Abbey?  The final book three should be available at the end of this year.

WANT THE BOOK?

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Other links – Yehuda ben Moshe – you can check on Yehuda at this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yehuda_ben_Moshe

Gilbert de Clare – learn more about Gilbert here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_de_Clare,_7th_Earl_of_Gloucester

Eleanor Crosses – learn more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_cross

Medieval Dodge City – the ‘Badlands’’ of the English / Welsh border.

The ‘lost’ town of Kenfig.

Kenfig is here

Kenfig is here

Over 800 years ago Kenfig was a successful port founded by the Anglo-Norman’s on the Welsh coast to establish a dominant economic and military stronghold.

One of the main characters in ‘The King’s Jew’ (book one) first appears in the novel in chapter 55 – see below –and it is then that ‘Kenfig’ is first mentioned.  LINK http://bit.ly/1yop3AK

Extract from Chapter fifty-five of “The King’s Jew” – Book One. The first time ‘Kenfig’ is mentioned.

Saturday February 24th 1263.

Feast day of St Mathew (Matthias)

Hebrew: 13th Adar 5023.

Afternoon. Longhurst Castle.

….

A command rang out and the men under the blackbird banner halted.

The tall man on the huge horse rode slowly forward and stopped before Mathew asking, “Cristian of Longhurst?”

Mathew laughed and indicating Cristian replied, “This is Lord Cristian of Longhurst and I am the man who guards his back so state your business to my master.”

Though the stranger was tall he was also young, not much older than Cristian. He looked weary and his clothing was worn and ripped in places. Even the cloak around his shoulders seemed threadbare but the sword and scabbard shone bright and the silver accoutrements on his horse gleamed softly in the winter sun.

‘This is a man of action not fashion,’ thought Cristian and took an instant liking to the fellow.

“Lord Cristian,” the man inclined his head, “I come from Prince Edward with letters for you.”

“Is Edward still in France?” asked Cristian.

“No, lord, his ships and men docked in the port of Dover earlier today. My craft arrived at Lymington this morning and after disembarking I came straight to find you. Prince Edward commends himself to you and asks that I and my companions may serve you.”

Cristian was aghast. How could he afford to pay this man and his men in addition to his other commitments?

“This is all rather sudden and just who are you anyway?”

“I am a landless knight. My name is Sir William of Kenfig. My father was a knight. He died by the hand of Hywel ap Meredith twenty years ago when the Welsh attacked Kenfig Castle. I like not the Welsh, duplicitous bastards that they are. I have spent the last few years tourneying abroad and it was there I met your Lord Edward.”

As Cristian talked with Sir William, Mathew signalled his outriders to draw closer to the visitors. None of the newcomers seemed hostile as they quietly sat their horses waiting for their leader to conclude his business.

Extract ends.

Writers are often asked – “Which came first – the research or the story?” Well in this case Kenfig came before the character of William. I came across Kenfig whilst researching the medieval Welsh borderland and (fortunately for me) William of Kenfig came into my mind as the book progressed. But what of Kenfig eh?

Kenfig now

Kenfig now

The founding of Kenfig is obviously shrouded in the mists of time but it appears to have been founded around 1140 by Robert, Earl of Gloucester. At that time the Norman conquest of England was more or less complete, but the Normans were meeting stiff resistance in Wales. Earl Robert was the illegitimate son of King Henry I. Among his possessions he held the Lordship of Glamorgan. The castle and town of Kenfig were therefore founded in order to establish greater control over the local people and in particular to secure the crossing of the River Kenfig. The town began as a small community within the outer defences of the castle, but soon developed towards the south west in the direction of the sea.

The isolated remains of Kenfig castle

The isolated remains of Kenfig castle

Kenfig was attacked many times. In 1167, much of the town outside the castle walls was destroyed by fire. Further incidents occurred over the next twenty years. Indeed there is a statement in the Annals of Margam Abbey asserting that the town was burnt in 1185, but “had not been burned for a year or more”.

In 1232 the people of Kenfig had to sustain a major assault by a neighbouring Welsh leader, Morgan Gam, and there were further attacks in 1242 and 1243 led by Morgan’s cousin, Hywel ap Meredith.

Kenfig castle 2

Kenfig castle 2

In 1232 the chronicler of Margam Abbey noted that at Easter the people of Kenfig received warning of an impending attack and so they were able to lead their cattle to a place of safety. Morgan Gam’s men rushed into the town and attacked the donjon. They met with stiff resistance and a bloody battle ensued. The men within the donjon defended bravely and Morgan was compelled to retreat and return to the mountains.

Remains of Margam Abbey

Remains of Margam Abbey

It is easy to think that such attacks were inspired by the idea of Welsh nationalism but the reality of the situation was that many of these attacks were motivated by the most basic of needs: food, clothing, weapons and livestock.  Relatively speaking, the burgesses in the town led comfortable lives while the people outside – the people of the ‘Welshry’ – were largely impoverished; they were literally fighting for their lives and the safety of their families.

castle_354x266

Thus in 1243, the town was burned again, this time by Howell ap Meredith. In 1295 a rebellion touched much of Wales and that rebellion reached Kenfig culminating in the destruction of the town.

Another view of Kenfig castle

Another view of Kenfig castle

For two hundred years between the middle of the twelfth century and the middle of the fourteenth century the town of Kenfig was a thriving community although subject to the violence of the times. Then the sand started to arrive and within another one hundred years Kenfig became a ghost town.

In those days a community could only survive if their fields were productive and able to sustain livestock – once the insidious sand took hold it was uneconomic to remain in the area. People moved away so the income from taxes and tithes diminished and we are now left with an area totally covered in sand dunes.

Even this representation has been covered by the sand

Even this representation has been covered by the sand

Kenfig is now a special site and visited by many yet none of the visitors have seen the ghost of William of Kenfig or the burial place of his father. At least William lives on in ‘The King’s Jew’  which can be viewed here

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