Beaupoint and Hadrian’s Wall

Once again, I’m sharing some of my medieval research with you for The Hunter & the Heiress. Last week, we talked about the Siege of Caerlaverock and insignia of medieval knights. This week, we’ll cross the Solway Firth to look at the history that inspired the fiction of Elizabeth’s home, the fictional Beaupoint.

One of the most remarkable resources surviving from 14th century England is called Gough’s Map. This map was completed around 1390 and is one of the earliest attempts to document the reality of the land, for navigation and travel. Previously, mapmakers were more interested in showing the relationship between territories and Jerusalem, or the evidence of the divine in the material world. (Check out my previous post Seven Medieval Maps. Gough’s Map is there, too.) Naturally, it has more detail further south and gets a big vague in Scotland, but it’s still a very useful resource. Here’s an image of the whole map from the Bodleian Library’s website:

Gough Map from the Bodleian Library

You’ll notice right away that the orientation isn’t what you might expect. North is to the left, and south to the right. The map is drawn upon two pieces of vellum, which are seamed in Scotland.

The map is owned and maintained by the Bodleian Library (you can see in the image above that it’s stretched out) but they’ve made a digital (and searchable) version available of the map online right here. What’s really cool about this map is that you can search by modern location name, and in the little box at the top right, you can select details to be highlighted. If you choose Settlements, for example, a number of yellow dots appear on the map. When you hover over one, a question mark appears – click it and you’ll get the information from the map about that location. This tells us what settlements were established in the 14th century, which is pretty cool.

If you start at that seam and look to the right, you’ll see an estuary that indents toward 2 o’clock. That’s the Firth of Clyde. Carry on to the right and opposite an island (just past the notch in the bottom edge of the map) is an estuary that goes straight up and forks like a tree. This is the Solway Firth. That big island is the Isle of Mann. I took a detail shot of this area, since it’s where we want to be.

detail image of the Gough Map from the Bodleian Library website

This is Solway Firth. You can see Hadrian’s Wall extending (east) toward 11 o’clock. Two rivers down from that, there’s a small red dot on the peninsula. This is Caerlaverock. Dumfries is the rectangle to the left of it. The church on the opposite side of the firth and slightly west (down) is Workington; at its 1 o’clock is Cockermouth. The big red church above them is Carlisle, and between Workington and Carlisle, there are four settlements marked: west to east (bottom to top) they are Holme Abbey, Kirkbride, Bowness and Burgh-by-Sands. Hermitage, the inspiration for Kilderrick, is also marked on the map – if you start up Hadrian’s wall, there’s a dark stain to the left between the sources of two rivers. The red mark for Hermitage is there. Just FYI, the two marks on the first peninsula on the left/north of the wall are unlabelled on the map. The right one must be Annan, the mote-and-bailey ca. 1160 which was abandoned by this time – because the route of the river changed – and the left one could be Lochmaben Castle, rebuilt by Edward I around 1300.

Hadrian’s Wall was in ruins in many sections by this time, not just having eroded by time and weather, but because stones were taken from it and reused. We know that the wall originally extended along the south side of Solway Firth, via Carlisle, continuing to Bowness, but the Gough Map shows it ending at the firth. This appears to be speculation about Scotland. 🙂

Here’s a screenshot of that section of Hadrian’s Wall, from the interactive map on the National Trails website, on the pages about the Hadrian’s Wall Trail. The trail is turquoise. (You can find that page, with a lot of great information about hiking the trail, right here.)

Hadrian's Wall path near Solway Firth

We can see the wall passing north of the original center of Carlisle, then continuing to Beaumont, Burgh-by-Sands, Drumburgh and finally Bowness on Solway. Across the firth is Annan. The marshes to the north and west of Burgh-by-Sands are shown here, as well—while rivers and their silt deposits change over time, the name of Burgh-by-Sands indicates that there was always a gathering of silt there. The marshes were there in the 14th century, too, because Edward I drowned in the Burgh Marshes in 1307 on his way to fight Robert the Bruce in Scotland. He laid in state in the church at Burgh-by-Sands and his momument is there. (It’s also marked on this map.) The town name also tells us that the church was fortified. There are some pictures of St. Michaels Church in Burgh-by-Sands on the Cumbria tourist site, right here.

But Beaumont is on this map, too, and this is one of our destinations today. On the Gough map, Beaumont would be between Carlisle and the first dot below it, Burgh-by-Sands. It’s not marked as a settlement, probably because it wasn’t one anymore by the 14th century. There had been a Norman motte-and-bailey keep built over a milestone lookout on Hadrian’s Wall, but in the 12th century, St. Mary’s church was built on the site instead. There are pictures of the church on that same Cumbria tourist site, right here, and you can see that it’s on a rise, which offers a view over the firth. The name itself means “beautiful hill” and the Hadrian’s Wall site makes note of the view to both the north and south.

Why was Beaumont changed from a keep to a church? I suspect the holding was simply too small to justify a keep of its own, particularly if the lord had larger holdings. Beaumont was historically held by the Brun family, who were lords of Bowness and also the patrons of St. Mary’s church. I found some geneology records which referred to a Richard le Brun (ca. 1300) holding Drumburgh, Bothel, Beaumont and Bowness. He was made a knight of the shire of Cumberland in 1307 and granted a license to crenulate Drumburgh in 1307. (Here’s an article about the pele tower in Drumburgh dating from 1307, which survives.) That would have been his main holding, then, if he wanted to fortify the structure. Throughout the 13th century, there are scattered earlier records of the family, listed as lord of Bothyl, bailiff of Egremont and steward of Coupland – another was sheriff of Carlisle. This was a powerful and affluent family, although in the fourteenth century, some of their holdings passed to the Dacre family. Drumburgh Castle was rebuilt (after disintegrating into partial ruin) before 1518 by Thomas Dacre.

The importance of Drumburgh lay in its location, near a popular ford over Solway Firth. These fords were called “waths” and were accessible at low tide. There were probably many waths, but this blogger has posted a map showing four: the Sulwath across the river Esk, the Peatwath across the river Eden, the Sandywath from Drumburgh to Dornock, and the Bownesswath, crossing firth from Bowness to Seafield. The waths were a way to get from England to Scotland without detection on the roads. (This explains why King Edward was in the marshes in the first place and why the Romans had so many lookouts on the south coast of the firth.)

Elizabeth’s fictional family holding in The Hunter & the Heiress is called Beaupoint and it was inspired both by Beaumont and Drumburgh. (So was her surname D’Acron.) Beaupoint is the site of a fictional and popular wath, defended on both sides – and her value as heiress of Beaupoint lies in the strategic importance of her family holding, as well as the wealth of her father’s treasury. It’s a keep rich in history, with Roman ruins underfoot. Her family has ties to the English crown, but also has historically switched sides for advantage. You can readily imagine how a woman raised in such privilege might not only insist upon having her own choice, but would be shocked by her situation when everything goes awry.


The Hunter & the Heiress, book two of the Blood Brothers series of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix

Nothing could be further from Amaury de Vries’ expectations than being compelled to join a company of mercenaries in the wilds of Scotland, much less one led by his notorious half-brother. He chafes to return to his former life of privilege and knows a wealthy bride will allow him to regain his stolen legacy. Elizabeth is a prize unexpected—beautiful and an heiress—and when she is abducted by barbarians, Amaury’s path is clear. He may not be the sole contender for the lady’s hand, but he knows himself to be the best one—and he will use whatever means necessary to seal his triumphant claim.

All Elizabeth D’Acron desires is to wed for love, but her inheritance has made her both a pawn and a prize. Caught between warring chieftains, her defiance blossoms—she chooses instead to flee with Amaury and make a marriage of convenience, hoping her trust in the gallant knight is not misplaced. She does not expect the beguiling fire awakened by Amaury’s touch, much less his unexpected conquest of her heart, and she dares to hope that true love has found a way.

But Elizabeth’s legacy is not so readily claimed—when Amaury’s plan is revealed, she is shattered to learn that her chivalrous husband is no different from other men. Recognizing that the true prize is his lady wife, Amaury rejoins the company of mercenaries and leads the battl to ensure Elizabeth’s freedom, whatever the cost to himself. Can these two lovers overcome the wounds of the past to build a future together? Or will the secret behind Elizabeth’s inheritance destroy any such hope forever?

Coming in January 2022!


The Hunter & the Heiress will ba availble in wide distribution for one week after publication, then it will be exclusive to Amazon and enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.


Pre-order available at some portals:


The Hunter & the Heiress, book two of the Blood Brothers series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix, audio edition

The Hunter & the Heiress will also be available in an audio edition, narrated by Tim Campbell.

The Siege of Caerlaverock

At the end of The Wolf & the Witch (and the beginning of The Hunter & the Heiress), Elizabeth has been seized by two men seeking the bounty that will be paid by her betrothed, Calum Moffatt, upon her delivery to him at Caerlaverock castle. Amaury pursues this small party from Kilderrick, with the squire Oliver, intent upon defending Elizabeth. We know that she fled this arranged marriage, but Amaury doesn’t know that part of her story yet.

Today, I thought we’d take a look at Caerlaverock castle, which is built on a site that has been fortified for centuries. There was a Roman fort on Ward Law Hill and a British hill fort around 950 AD. The site allowed a view over Solway Firth. The name Caerlaverock appears in 1160 when the lands were granted to the Cistercian monks of Holm Cultram Abbey in Cumbria (across the firth). They held and rented lands in Galloway and used stone from there to built their abbey, but their grasp on these holdings steadily eroded. Interestingly, they were attacked by Scots, including Robert the Bruce in 1319, despite the fact that his father was buried in the chapel.

Caerlaverock Castle
Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries, Scotland

The lands of Caerlaverock were granted to Sir John Maxwell in 1220 by King Alexander II, sealing its association with the Maxwell clan. Sir John Maxwell began construction on the first castle, which was square in shape with a moat, in the 1220’s. That castle and site was abandoned (possibly incomplete) in favor of a rise some 200 feet to the north, where the triangular moated castle was built by Sir Aylmer Maxwell—it was complete in 1271.

Caerlaverock Castle
Caerlaverock Castle

In this image, you can see the curtain walls that survive from the 14th century and the view over the Solway Firth. It’s likely that the walls were built from the stone excavated to dig the moat. The keep is also surrounded by earthworks. There are 17th century additions inside the walls called the Nithsdale Lodging.

Here’s the website for Caerlaverock Castle from Historic Environment Scotland.

What is interesting for my story is that the castle was besieged in July 1300 by King Edward I of England with an army of knights. Ultimately the castle was compelled to surrender, but there was a poem composed in Old French, called the Siege of Caerlaverock (or the Roll of Caerlaverock) which lists the attending knights, their credentials and standards, as well as describing the battle itself. 87 knights accompanied Edward to this battle, so it’s quite a list.

It starts like this:

In chronicles of great monasteries
It is found that King Edward the Third,[1]
In the year one thousand three hundred
Of grace, on the day of Saint John,
Was at Carlisle, and held a great court,
And commanded that in a short time
All his men should prepare themselves,
To go together with him
Against his enemies the Scots.
Before the appointed day
The whole host summoned was ready;
And the King with his great household
Immediately set forward against the Scots,
Not in coats and surcoats,
But on powerful and costly chargers,
In order that they might not be taken by surprise,
Well and securely armed.
There was many a rich caparison
Embroidered on silks and satins;
Many a beautiful pennon fixed on a lance;
And many a banner displayed.
And afar off was the noise heard
Of the neighing of horses;
Mountains and valleys were everywhere
Covered with sumpter horses and waggons,
With provisions, and the train
Of the tents and pavilions.
And the days were fine and long,
So they proceeded by short journies,
Arranged in four squadrons;
The which I will describe to you,
That I will not pass one over.
First I will tell you of the companions,
All their arms and names,
Especially of the bannerets,
If you will listen how.

Henry the good Earl of Lincoln,
Who embraces and loves valour,
And holds i sovereign in his heart,
Leading the first squadron,
Had a banner of yellow silk
With a purple lion rampant

(That first footnote notes that the chronicler believed Edward I to be the third Edward who had reigned over England, counting Edward the Elder and Edward the Confessor.)

In this era, the use of insignia was comparatively new and unregulated. There were already certain elements associated with royal families – fleur-de-lis for the French king, or on azure, three leopards rampant for the English king, gold on gules, and ermine for the Kings of Brittany – but many knights simply chose their colors. An incident like this one described later in the poem was thus possible:

Brian le Fitz Alan, saw I,
full of courtesy and honour,
barry gold and gules
displaying in a very splendid banner. 
this the same as Hugh Pointz carried —
difference there was none at all —
which was cause of strife between them,
and a marvel to men all.

Oops.

Here‘s the Wikisource of the poem, from which I took the first excerpt as it’s in the public domain. Some of the poem is presented in a side-by-side translation from the Old French to English, and there are some illustrations of the standards.

Here‘s an English translation of the text with illustrations of all the described standards at the Heraldry Society. The second excerpt came from there.

This is a fascinating chronicle for its detail, but also, in terms of story, I’m sure Amaury is familiar with it. He has a love of pageantry and heraldry, given his history of jousting in tournaments. He’s attended royal courts and heard the troubadours sing, and this poem recounting deeds of knightly valor, would certainly be one he’d find appealing. It’s evocative of the life he expected to life, and also the one Elizabeth abandoned for the sake of having her own choice. Amaury had an insignia, but of course, he was disavowed by Gaston de Vries, the man he believed to be his father, at Jean le Beau’s funeral at the beginning of The Wolf & the Witch. He had been hoping to ride to Paris to tourney (check on a stallion and a noble maiden), so I have to think he had all his trappings with him. He would have packed them away, not discarded them, because of their cost. At Caerlaverock, he will have use for them again – which means I had to design his insignia.


The Hunter & the Heiress is the second book in my Blood Brothers series and will be published in January 2022.

The Hunter & the Heiress, book two of the Blood Brothers series of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix

Nothing could be further from Amaury de Vries’ expectations than being compelled to join a company of mercenaries in the wilds of Scotland, much less one led by his notorious half-brother. He chafes to return to his former life of privilege and knows a wealthy bride will allow him to regain his stolen legacy. Elizabeth is a prize unexpected—beautiful and an heiress—and when she is abducted by barbarians, Amaury’s path is clear. He may not be the sole contender for the lady’s hand, but he knows himself to be the best one—and he will use whatever means necessary to seal his triumphant claim.

All Elizabeth D’Acron desires is to wed for love, but her inheritance has made her both a pawn and a prize. Caught between warring chieftains, her defiance blossoms—she chooses instead to flee with Amaury and make a marriage of convenience, hoping her trust in the gallant knight is not misplaced. She does not expect the beguiling fire awakened by Amaury’s touch, much less his unexpected conquest of her heart, and she dares to hope that true love has found a way.

But Elizabeth’s legacy is not so readily claimed—when Amaury’s plan is revealed, she is shattered to learn that her chivalrous husband is no different from other men. Recognizing that the true prize is his lady wife, Amaury rejoins the company of mercenaries and leads the battl to ensure Elizabeth’s freedom, whatever the cost to himself. Can these two lovers overcome the wounds of the past to build a future together? Or will the secret behind Elizabeth’s inheritance destroy any such hope forever?

Coming in January 2022!


The Hunter & the Heiress will ba availble in wide distribution for one week after publication, then it will be exclusive to Amazon and enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.


Pre-order available at some portals:


The Hunter & the Heiress, book two of the Blood Brothers series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix, audio edition

The Hunter & the Heiress will also be available in an audio edition, narrated by Tim Campbell.

Poppy Powder

In The Wolf & the Witch, Maximilian gives Alys “poppy powder” which makes her sleep. This is the powder derived from poppies, specifically from opium poppies native to Asia Minor. The Latin name for the opium poppy is Papaver Somniferum, or sleeping poppy. The medicinal powers of the opium poppy have been known since at least 3000 BC.

The Sumerians called it the “joy” plant, and described how to harvest “poppy tears”, a method that is still used today. To harvest the opium, the seed pod is left to ripen after the plant blooms. After about 10 days, the pod is cut so that the milk oozes from it. That sap is left to dry, then the residue is collected and dried even more. The seed pod is distinctively round.

An opium poppy and seed pod

The ancient Greeks used poppy powder as a sedative, and also combined it with poison hemlock for suicide or euthanasia. It may have had ritual use in Egyptian society as a drug of healing power. The Greek gods Nix, Thanatos and Hypnos were depicted with poppies in Greek art. It was known to be a powerful and effective sedative and traded widely, as we can see by its inclusion in pharmacopiae and herbals from China to Europe. Around 2000 years ago, it was included in the Chinese pharmacopia, the Pen Tsao. It is included in the references to healing and medicine by Galen of Pergamon (a Greek physician who died c. 210 AD) and Pedanius Dioscorides (a Greek physician c. 40 – c. 90 AD.). This is an excerpt from Galen’s Alphabet, translated by Nicholas Everett, following a description of the harvesting process.


“The best opium has an extremely pungent fragrance, is slightly reddish in colour, very quickly dissolves and turns white when in contact with moisture, and when ignited emits a flame that burns for a little while and which when extinguished replenishes its fragrance to the same level of pungency as when fresh…Pure opium can be mixed into eye-salves for drying up teary eyes, or can be smeared on around areas that need cooling. It alleviates earaches, reduces all types of fatigue in the body, and for the same reason we find it also induces sleep.”

Pharmacy from Antiquity to the Middle Ages:The Alphabet of Galen, Nicholas Everett, University of Toronto Press, 2012, 2014, page 297

Even though the alkaloids are derived from the sap of the seed pod, there are no active alkaloids in the seeds once they develop.

The powers of the opium poppy were also referenced by the Persian physicians “Rhazes” (845-930 AD) and “Avicenna” (980 – 1037 AD), and the Andalusian surgeon “Abulcasis” (936–1013 AD). Galen shows that it was known in the Roman Empire, but the author of The Old English Herbarium, an Anglo-Saxon herbal from about 1000 AD, appears to be unfamiliar with the differences between the white poppy that grows in England and the opium poppy – although these two plants share some traits, there is virtually no opium in the English poppy, papaver album.

We can take a little tangent here and talk about the transmission of ancient texts like pharmacopiae and herbals. The Roman Empire was divided into the eastern and the western empire by Constantine (Roman emperor 306 – 337), who named the capital of the eastern empire after himself, Constantinople, later Istanbul, was a large and busy city and a trade hub for centuries. The eastern (or Byzantine) empire also held Ravenna, a city in northern Italy. In 390, Rome was sacks by Goths, and in subsequent centuries, the raids by Vandals, Visigoths, Vikings and others saw many literary sources destroyed in Europe and libraries burned. There were copies of all those books in Constantinople, where they were translated into Arabic by Muslim scholars and studied. When the Umayyad caliphate conquered much of what is now northern Africa and the south of Spain CA. 700 AD, those books made their way to Andalusia. Under the Umayyads, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians (known as dhimmis) were permitted to practice their religion but paid a higher tax. In this culture, those texts were translated from Islam to Latin, often by Jewish scholars, and made their way back into Europe from Spain to be rediscovered. In addition, eastern sources previously unknown in Europe were translated and transmitted. Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine was translated from Arabic into Latin in 1175, for example, and his work became known in Europe after that. This contributed to what medieval scholars call the Twelve Century Renaissance, a period of increased literacy and learning in Europe.

It also coincides with the crusades. Crusaders brought opium back to Europe from the 11th to 13th centuries and it became an imported (and important, because of its efficacy) ingredient for European herbalists who could afford to acquire it. The first stories of opium addiction date from the 14th century, although it was known to be an addictive substance before that.

The active ingredients in herbs and plants vary in their power, based on the plant’s growing conditions, the weather and the means of harvest and refinement. Dosage can be a bit of a guess, and relies heavily upon the herbalist’s experience and knowledge of the plant’s source. Morphine was the first plant alkaloid ever isolated, from opium in 1803, which meant that dosages could be measured with precision for the first time. Heroin, which is synthesized from morphine (and was called diamorphine), wasn’t developed until 1893. In 1895, it was marketed as a cough suppressant. Both of these developments meant that opium-derived alkaloids and synthesized versions of them became much more readily available and that addiction became more prevalent.

Pink poppy

Opium poppies can be grown as an ornamental garden plant. They’re perennials in many climate zones and have spectacular flowers. (Other varieties of poppies are self-seeding annuals and have very little alkaloid in them.) Here’s a lovely pink cultivar at right.

Even the varieties of papaver somniferum available at your local garden center may have been bred to be devoid of latex and alkaloids. These are sometimes called Breadseed Poppies, when the intention is that you harvest the seeds for your bagels. In some places, it is illegal to cultivate them so check before you plant.

As for Maximilian’s use of poppy powder, it makes sense to me that the leader of a free company of mercenaries – who regularly engaged in battle and were therefore injured – would be well aware of a sedative and painkiller, and familiar with its use. He also would have had the opportunity to acquire it on his travels – in major cities – and the funds to acquire it. Alys, having been taught by a healer, might well have been taught about it but never have seen any of it herself – until Maximilian’s arrival. It would have been far less refined and less potent, but they still refer to Eudaline’s expertise in its administration.

King Robert II of Scotland

The Wolf & the Witch, book one of the Blood Brothers trilogy of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix

Robert II, King of Scotland, has a cameo role in The Wolf & the Witch, so I thought we’d talk a bit about him today. He’s an interesting king because he was older when he gained the throne: his sons were adults, and maybe that’s why he was known for being such a delegator.

This is the Author’s Note that appears in The Wolf & the Witch.


This is a work of fiction, but it does include some historical facts and actual figures. Robert II was crowned King of Scotland in 1371 and was the first Stewart king. He had alliances beyond Lothian and is believed to have fostered the increased raiding on the Scottish borders from 1375 – 1377. In 1378, he reclaimed Annandale. I think he would have been very glad to have a mercenary like the Silver Wolf move into that region.


Upon his coronation, Robert granted the earldoms of Fife and Monteith to his son, Robert; the earldoms of Buchan and Ross to his son, Alexander; the earldoms of Strathearn and Caithness to his son David by Euphemia. (Alexander was known as the Wolf of Badenoch for his savagery and cunning.) Robert also wed his daughter Isabella to James, the son of William, Earl of Douglas, as part of a settlement to address William’s protest against Robert taking the crown. Douglas was also name Justiciar south of the Forth as part of that arrangement. Robert’s son-in-laws were James (who became second Earl of Douglas), John Dunbar, Earl of Moray, and John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles.


This last marriage of the Lord of the Isles (also known as John of Islay, Eòin mac Dòmhnuill, and the chief of clan Macdonald) to Robert’s daughter, Margaret, required John to divorce his wife, Amie mac Ruari. John and Amie had three sons—John, Ranald and Godfroy—who also had to be disinherited as part of this arrangement. Upon that divorce, Amie’s dowry of Garmoran (Knoydart, Morar, Moidart, Ardnamarchan and the small isles) had to be relinquished by John, as well. It was returned to the macRuaris and granted to Ranald—after the death of the son, John—and ultimately granted to Godfroy after Ranald’s death. Little is known of the sons other than Ranald, but it seemed likely to me that they might have been dissatisfied with their father’s decision: Alys’ betrothed, Godfroy, is modeled upon him. He was the youngest and I chose to make him an indulged favorite who dealt poorly with rejection.


Kilderrick itself was inspired by the Hermitage, a fortress in Liddesdale (there is a post on my blog about this keep) and Alys’ father, Robert Armstrong, was inspired by Robert de Soulis, who first began to build a keep in the location of the Hermitage. His descendant, William de Soulis, was said to have had a reputation as a sorceror and a redcap as his familiar. Sir Walter Scott recorded a ballad by J. Leyden about him in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders called “Lord Soulis.” The family had a claim to the crown through Margaret, an illegitimate daughter of Alexander II, and that claim prompted William de Soulis to enter a conspiracy against Robert the Bruce. It was foiled in 1320 and his lands were forfeit for treason. He died imprisoned at Dumbarton. In the story, however, he is boiled alive in a cauldron at the Ninestang Ring, a local stone circle, in a revolt by the peasants against his villainy.


Jean le Beau is fictitious but characteristic of mercenaries of the fifteenth century. These warriors joined into armies for hire called free companies (because they were not beholden to any specific king or baron), were sometimes called routiers in the chronicles, and could be of noble background. Scotsmen often traveled to the continent to join these companies in the hope of earning their fortune. One famous free company was called the White Company, led by John Hawkwood and active in the Italian states in the 1360’s, was likely the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure stories of The White Company. The actual company may have been named as much because they wore white tabards in battle. John Hawkwood was an Englishman, who had English archers in his company, and eventually married into the aristocracy. He was not particularly known for his handsome features or his numerous bastard sons, but Jean le Beau, the Silver Wolf’s father, was inspired by him just a bit.


Of course, events of this story did not happen, but I like to tuck my stories into historical events as if they could have happened. I hope you enjoyed The Wolf & the Witch, and will join me for Elizabeth and Amaury’s story, The Hunter & the Heiress.


14th Century Mercenaries

The Wolf & the Witch, book one of the Blood Brothers trilogy of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix

The hero of The Wolf & the Witch, Maximilian de Vries, is a mercenary and formerly the leader of a free company called La Compagnie Rouge. That free company was formed by his father, Jean le Beau, the bastard son of a baron with a reputation for violence. This is fiction, but based on historical fact. Today, I thought we’d talk a bit about those 14th century free companies of mercenaries.

In theory, medieval kings summoned armies from their vassals, who owed military service—or the service of knights sworn to their service—to the monarch on demand. In reality, this didn’t always work out well. Military training was likely to be inconsistent. Knights might not arrive on time or prepared for battle. Mercenaries, which were warriors paid to take any cause, filled the gap. They were professional fighters who could be hired at a price. In the fourteenth century, mercenaries proliferated in Europe and joined together in free companies: “free” because they weren’t bound to any particular monarch or territory. Philippe Contamine (in Wars in the Middle Ages) defines mercenaries as warriors who are 1/ specialists; 2/ stateless; and 3/ paid.

What’s interesting about these men is that even though they contributed to the course of history, often in significant ways, they are seldom named in chronicles. This doesn’t mean that they all had humble roots—remember that being trained for battle was a privilege of aristocratic society. I suspect there were a lot of bastard sons and younger sons without legacies in these companies. As Jean Froissart notes in his Chronicles (a 14th century account of the Hundred Years’ War), Scottish warriors often journeyed to the continent to seek their fortune as paid mercenaries.

Here’s a wonderful excerpt from Medieval Mercenaries by William Urban, for those of you who like words as much as I do:

“Territorial rules wanted warriors who were young, skilful, ready to obey orders…and numerous. Vassals often failed on all four counts, especially the last one. Therefore, rulers turned to mercenaries. A mercenary soldier is obviously one who fights for pay. Strictly speaking, to say mercenary soldier is a redundancy. Mercenary comes from mercer, meaning to buy and sell. Sold is the German word for money; solde in French. Both have their roots in the word for a silver coin, a solidus, which ultimately goes back to the Latin word for salt, which Romans used for paying salaries (“worth his salt”). Consequently, the word soldier implies an individual who hires out his talents, much like a common workman. We only need the two words together now because the evolution of governmental institutions later transformed irregular hired warriors into a professional class. Warriors who fought because of personal obligations, such as knights, were referred to as one’s men or one’s vassals. Today soldiers are committed to serve a nation no matter whether they are volunteers or in a professional army. A soldier no longer changes employers and rarely goes on strike for higher wages.”

The French word for free companies of mercenaries is routiers, which certainly brings to mind the idea of a raiding company roving over the countryside. When free companies were not employed (or not paid), they pillaged. All the same, their numbers grew during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France—because they were so useful. By the middle of th fourteenth century, several companies were sufficiently large and successful to be known by their names and reputation.

The White Company was composed primarily of English warriors who left France after fighting in the Hundred Years’ War, traveling to Italy in 1361. They were hired by the count of Montferrat to battle the Milanese Great Company employed by the duke of Milan—they won. They wore plate armor, highly polished, which might have contributed to their name (or they might have worn white tabards in battle.) They also had many archers with longbows in their company, an effective weapon mastered by the English. In 1364, the Florentines offered the White Company a ransom to leave Tuscany, the money was accepted. Part of the company moved south toward the Papal States, following Albert Sterz and calling themselves the Company of the Star. The remainder of the White Company followed John Hawkwood and remained in Pisa.

John Hawkwood (1323- 1394) was an English mercenary and longbowman who later led the White Company. He was knighted at some point, married twice, and had five legitimate children as well as many illegitimate ones—two of his illegitimate sons are documented. What is striking is the money he earned as leader of the White Company: he was paid in gold florins, and according to L.W. Mazzeno’s John Hawkwood, “In the 30 years that he served as a captain, Hawkwood’s earnings ranged between 6,000 and 80,000 florins annually (in comparison, a skilled Florentine craftsman at the same time earned 30 florins a year).” He was reputed to have been brutal and cunning, as well as loyal, even though the record challenges that last one. John died in Florence and there is a fresco in the Duomo of him on horseback. You can read more about the specifics of his military career in the Wiki about him.

John Hawkwood was not specifically my inspiration for Jean le Beau, Maximilian’s father (I had already chosen his name by the time I dug deeper into the history of free companies) although his story helped me to add details to Jean’s history and to understand better how free companies functioned. Jean le Beau is much nastier piece of work than I believe John was, and is much more enthusiastic about sexual conquests. When I named Jean le Beau, I was thinking of Philip le Bel (Philip IV, King of France 1285-1314) who was notoriously handsome but so inflexible that he was also called the Iron King.

There were more mercenary captains in Italy—called condottieri—including Giovanni de’ Medici (della Bande Nere), and Cesare Borgia—but these tend to be later, in the fifteenth century. If you watch The Borgias, you can see them in action in that era. If you watch The Tudors, you’ll see how reliant Henry VIII became upon mercenary armies in the fifteenth century. Watching either series, you’ll get to enjoy some wonderful eye candy, too.

One of the things that interests me is how a father’s nature will shape the choices and the characters of his sons, legitimate or illegitimate. All four of the heroes in Blood Brothers struggle with the legacy of Jean le Beau, partly based on how well they knew him and how close they were to their mothers. They all despise their father, but that manifests differently for each one—and they all find it particularly troubling to notice any resemblance between themselves and Jean le Beau. That struggle is something we’ll see more of in the rest of the series.