Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator"

Battle of Evesham (c) Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator
     I have a friend who lives in Nova Scotia, Canada named Pat, who like me is into all things medieval. Several weeks back he informed me he had a distant cousin living in the UK, who did historical drawing, paintings and illustrations for books. We have been friends for over four years now. I was a bit miffed, he was just now mentioning this to me. However I also believe things happen at their own time and pacing in our lives. So when something is supposed to happen it does. I asked him, who is your distant cousin? Matthew Ryan he replied.

     Well I don't know about the majority of people out there, but I have known of Matthew's talents and his paintings about as long as I have my friend. Do you think he would be interested in doing an interview? I asked. "That could probably be arranged" was the reply I received. The conversation you will see below, is the result of an off hand remark, coinciding with being in the right place at the right time. Thank you Pat for your assistance.

Matthew Ryan, welcome to Modern Medievalist. With your indulgence, I am going to just jump right in and start asking questions.

Q: I recently read where you said it had taken you 35 years to get to this point in your career. Where were you 35 years ago?

A: Ah, that was a little tongue in cheek but also very true.... I am thirty five so meant that every time I complete a piece of work the it has took me my whole life to get to this "new" stage. Knowledge of the subject, ideas and technical development is all of course an ongoing thing and in my mind my best piece of work is always my next. I have always been interested in Art and have for a long time had a fascination and love of history especially medieval. I have only recently been working as an historical illustrator but am fortunate to have already had some very good clients and briefs.

Q: Did you receive formal training to be an Artist?

A: Yes I did a degree in illustration.... must admit over here an illustration degree does not include what people would call technical formal training. I learnt much from the degree however but my work is I would say (if this does not sound to self congratulating) a combination of talent, practice and work. When I took my degree in Illustration it was not historical illustration that I was working on... a tutor at the time I remember was often saying "draw what you know and what you love" this at the age of about twenty went right over my head and I remember thinking I can draw whatever people want me to draw. However years later when I combined my two passions and painted historical themes my work went to a new place and the realization of what he said became very true. This is another reason why I only advertise as an historical illustrator now. Painting what your are interested in and love gives your work more sincerity and the passion you have for the subject can come through in the finished work.
Matthew Ryan working on a composition.

Q: Where do you find your subjects? (I know in the UK you just about can't swing a dead cat around your head without hitting a reenactor of some sort.)

A: Reenactors are visually a key source for me, you can not beat seeing in real life the textures and combinations of how light plays on a surface, things such as steel - polished in the sun or rusted in the rain on a dull autumn morning all these things give the paintings depth and character. I am a big advocate of artists drawing from nature and the world around them. However in saying that that is only one aspect of sources for my work... landscape photography is an important element and something I also enjoy. Setting the soldier in his landscape is as much of an important thing for me as details such as kit and uniform etc. Another and possibly most important part of the process is direct contemporary sources and for the medieval period this mostly leaves us with tomb effigies, manuscript art and some of the later period paintings and written descriptive accounts. I find the access now available on-line with digitized manuscripts invaluable. All these things can be used and cross referenced to try and bring together what I hope is as accurate as I can be with a glimpse, or view to the past.
Q: What did you present for this year (publication and completed work) and what does 2014 hold in store?

A:Some of the work in the past twelve months have been.... Four paintings for the channel 4 series "Walking through History with Tony Robinson" about the 1719 Jacobite uprising. The battle of Bryn Glas for Medieval Warfare Magazine, A painting I made of the 1460 Battle of Northampton based on my friend and historian Mike Ingram's work. This was made to help draw awareness to the battle and help save the site from potential development work. The original I donated to the people of Northampton and it is currently on display at Northampton Museum alongside the recent facial reconstruction of Richard III. Also worked and working on editorial briefs for some Spanish military history Magazines, Desperta Ferro.

-Wow! You have really been busy-

I  have been working on a large canvas of the battle of Bosworth, this is a self made brief and so it has had to be side lined for the moment, but I hope to have time to work on it again soon. My Bosworth piece has been in the planning for a couple of years, with the interest now in King Richard III I am sure it will be a popular image and something I hope to become iconic. I have many possible exciting projects for next year, some of which may be work for the Magna Carta 800 project that I would relish. Also in the cards (and due to my archery I must do this) is paintings to mark the 2015 anniversary of Agincourt!

Q: So you are an Archer then?

A: I am. I have been practicing archery since I was a child. My father had several flat bows, and I started from there. I also became a Fletcher, and have made my own arrows. My practical experience with Archery, Fletching led me to creating some of the illustrations for Mike Loades Osprey book on Archery, and they also used several photographs of arrows I had made. By the way, it was perhaps my love of shooting the English/Welsh Warbows that started me off drawing and painting things medieval.

The Power of the  English/Welsh Warbow.

Q: Can anyone commission your work? Or do you strictly work for Authors, Historical Organizations, or Museums?

A: Any one can commission my work, however the magazines, book and TV shows are a great avenue to showcase my work. Also the publishing side of things allows me to have interesting and helpful communications with historians, editors etc within the profession and helps with my constant learning on the subjects. I try and stay fresh with input from reenactors. Without the input of people who have practical application of building a Bow or some other medieval object, then the art would become two dimensional and flat.

Q: What is the latest offering from Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator?

A: Hopefully by the time this article is published I will have a website up and running, where my art can be viewed and limited edition prints of my work can be ordered.

-His website is up, and will be listed in the link section below.-

Thank you Matthew Ryan. It has been a pleasure speaking with you. Considering all of the irons you have in the fire, I truly appreciate the time you took away from your art to speak to me and my readers. All of my best, and I eagerly look forward to viewing your latest projects.

-DS Baker.

Here is Matthew Ryan's Website address:

Here is Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator's page on Facebook:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"National Living History Fayre! & Its Creator David Smith"

    British humor and American humor rarely cross paths with each other understanding what the other just said. Americans have loved just about everything Monty Python has ever produced. Last year on Facebook I began to notice these strange advertisements on the timeline. Pictures of Legolas and Aragorn from Lord of the Rings with these very strange and cryptic messages. Some of them were quite bizarre to this American's reading eye. I hasten to add though, there were very funny, in a dry as a desiccated bone sort of way.

    In America we have gun and knife shows just about every weekend of the year, all year long. It is nothing to have a hunting exposition and a fishing convention to be held at the same time and in the same facility. In certain parts of the upper mid-west and the deep south, you can have half a dozen of such conventions within a three hour driving circle from your home. Putting together a historical fair, where arms and armour, clothing, cooking utensils, fabrics, textiles, shoes... any thing you would need to create a historical persona don't just happen in the UK. There are councils, (Think very small local governments.) to consult. Property Owners, Tax Authorities, Health Officials. There is an enormous mountain of red tape, which has to be cleaved like Alexander slicing through the Gordian Knot. -It is very much a process. Not to mention most of the promoters who put on the various shows, charge money for admission.

     Not everyone wants to go to a market and purchase their "Kit" as they call it, from a medieval style merchant. But if they do, they don't want to be charged for the privilege! To that end my friend and fellow sophisticate David Smith started the National Living History Fair. Here is our interview, perhaps he will shed some light on how things are done in the "Old World."
David Kevin Smith

Q: How long have you been involved in the Living History scene in the UK? And tell us a bit about yourself.

A: Since 2003. So I would guess this is going on 11 years. I left school at 16 and joined the Army, then spend several years working in Hotel Management before going to University and then training to become a Chartered Accountant with Touche Ross & Co in London. Passed my exams and joined one of the companies I had been auditing, spent years counting beans full time before being made redundant in 1993. Since then I've mixed contract work as an accountant with running events, starting with Antique Fairs and ending up with Medieval Festivals.

Q: At what point did you decide to create the Fair?

A: I saw TORM at a venue I was planning to use for an Antiques Fair and thought it was amazing. Then I discovered it was a monopoly and staged just twice a year, and had a waiting list of traders as well as many traders who had fallen out with the management. This was as opposed to competing with 300 other Antiques Fairs every weekend...
Lots of arms and armour from Katso Armour

Q:Explain the significance of this Fair and Why it is so popular?

A: We set out to be friendly and to have fun, and becasue we were the new kid on the block we were quite deliberately going to be more affordable. After a run of disastrous events in 2006 I lost control of the original NLHF, which is now trading as the ILHF at Bruntingthorpe, but several traders asked me in 2012 if I'd re-stage the old NLHF as it used to be - affordable and fun - and so I took another look at it to see if it could be done.

Q:  I know you have exhibitors from all over Europe who attend. Can you tell us from which countries they come from?

A: We won't have quite so many this November as the dates - which are arranged to co-incide with TORM which is just 9 miles up the road - clash with the huge established Medieval market at Pontoise in France. But we are delighted to have Spes Medieval and Lady Malina from Poland, Lixa Bellorum from Germany, Kasto Armoury from the Czech Republic, and Magen from Fairbow Netherland.
Lady Malina Fashions from Poland.

Q: In total how many vendors/exhibitors attend and what services do they offer?

A: Currently we have bookings from 124 traders, who will be exhibiting a vast range of things, from Armour to Beeswax. You can find a complete list on the website, which I try to keep as up to date as possible. Basically, if you're involved with re-enactment you'll find things here they you didn't even know you needed, as well as almost everything you knew about! And we have FREE admission, so you can spend all your hard earned cash on goodies!

Q: This looks to be a new experience for those who are used to the old fair...

A: One of the main issues that folk complained about at the original NLHF was that they couldn't stay over on site. This applied just as much to traders as customers, and although it meant that some local pubs did a roaring trade over the Friday and Saturday of the market, it was a real shame that it wasn't really possible for everyone to get together for a decent social all together.

So when I was looking for a suitable venue for the re-born NLHF I was determined to find somewhere that had the facility for Camping, ideally sufficient room for all the traders and for all the customers as well who wanted to keep their accommodation and travelling costs to a minimum, brave the terrifying English weather, and have some fun as well as doing a lot of business.
The indoor exhibition space, with wide avenues for shoppers and suppliers. 

Onley Grounds EC offers us 1,000 acres – we’ll have trouble filling that up for a few years! And has a brand new Shower Block, and is used to coping with 15,000 or so happy campers for their big Pony Shows…and it has a rather nice Bar, a great cafe, and a brand new and very well equipped Shower and Toilet Block…

Small swords, perfect for that early 18th Century portrayal
Jacob's Armoury

Sounds like a grand time will be had by all! Thank you David Smith for taking the time to talk about your event good sir!

-DS Baker.

Here is the link on Facebook to the NLHF which should also include driving directions to:

Monday, November 4, 2013

"Sword Wielding Fantasy and Fiction Writer-M. Harold Page!"

"The blade sheared through padding, collar bone, ribs, and came out the other side. Head, arm and shoulder thudded to the ground. The remainder of the corpse still stood, sheared torso like a bucket of steaming offal." -England AD 1454, the chaotic eve of the Wars of the Roses.
Jack Rose would rather be a scholar than a knight. However, when a brutal landowner steals his family estates and plans to evict the tenants, Jack must take up the sword and win back his inheritance by force of arms. As he wades through increasingly lethal encounters, it becomes clear that War is in his blood. Now he must decide who he really is…-An Excerpt from "The Sword is Mightier."

     Recently I came across a person who, with the voice of authority commented on several post at the Facebook home of Modern Medievalist. Which led to several conversations over the following weeks and months. It turns out this person was my future friend M. Harold Page. Known to me as Martin. Apparently there is another writer by the name of Martin Page... I was pleasantly surprised to learn he was into a lot of the things both topical and historical I find fascinating. He is also someone who is hard to nail down long enough to hold a conversation, because it seems he has more than one iron in the fire at any given time. Ony after much persuasion was I able to get him to sit still long enough and have a conversation with me. Enjoy!

Q: Who is M. Harold Page?

A: I'm Scottish-based 40-something swordsman, father and writer. As a youth, I dropped out of an Engineering degree in order to study Classics and Medieval History. I also fronted a rock and roll band and can still hammer out boogie-woogie on the piano. These days, my hobby time goes on teaching and fighting German Longsword at Edinburgh's Dawn Duellist Society.

Q: What part of the world do you live in and how does this affect your writing.

A: Scotland. It's a place where you can not move for History. Seriously, if I climb on the roof of my tenement, I can see two castles, one dating to the 14th century, the other to Roman times. Growing up here gave me a sense of the past and present being real, and that infuses my all my work

Q: What have been the biggest literary influences on your writing? And when did you decide to seriously begin the process of becoming a writer?

A: I grew up reading Rosemary Sutcliffe and a similar but more muscular Young Adult writer called Ronald Welch. Later I discovered Robert E Howard, Leigh Bracket and Edgar Rice Burroughs. However the finishing school for me as a writer was discovering Harold Lamb who really knew how to write a historical adventure. When did I choose? I've always written. However, round about the birth of my son, I realized it was now or never. Time to stop tinkering and get on with it. That was nearly a decade ago.

Q: What was the biggest support mechanism you have developed? Meaning friends, fellow writers and or family?

A: Family is my foundation. However I'm lucky enough to belong to a community of professional writers and creatives based in Edinburgh. Monthly coffee with my peers has kept me from leaning on my family too much.

Q: Research. How important is it to your writing and how much do you do it yourself or do have a loose affiliation of Researchers who gleam the dusty shelves of University Libraries?

A: I've spent most of it my life wallowing in history, and I do my own martial arts historical research (and have the scars to prove it). However, sometimes I come up against the need for "boots on the ground" details to do with customs, laws and mentality. For these I shamelessly tap my living history and academic friends, who I am always careful to credit.

Q: You are a practitioner of medieval sword fighting techniques; which use not just the point and blade but the pommel, grappling and throws.  How has this influenced your description of scenes you write about concerning combat?

A: I've been lucky enough not to see anything like actual combat, and am always aware that this is a different neurochemical and moral experience. That said, being able to handle a longsword, and having some knowledge of other arts lets me write realistic combat scenes. I do not burden my descriptions with technical terms, but most students of the sword would know exactly what was going on.

Q: For Those Who Might want to know, do you own your own suit of armor? (Harness is a better historical term.)

A:  A rather battered Northern European harness languishes in my hall cupboard. We don't fight in armour at my club, and I'm too busy with family to go to re-enactment events at the weekend, though I have fond and formative memories of these.
M. Harold Page at his Club.
(c) Malcolm Matthew.

Q: What has been one of the more interesting or surprising facts from history you have uncovered in your writing?

A: I love finding moments of personal bravery that would make a Frazetta illustration. I was thrilled to read that a single knight held the bridge at Castle Kerak, fending off the Saracens while the garrison got organized. The most surprising; Vikings abandoned trial by combat well before the rest of Europe did.

Q: Your current book is a tie-in, with what universe?

A: The "Sword is Mightier" ties into the game War of the Roses. This is a multi-player online combat game by Paradox Interactive, in which players get to fight on one or the other side in the War of the Roses, with realistic armour and weapons. I had a tremendous creative freedom because War of the Roses itself does not have a story line, so the brief was create an action adventure story set in the Wars of the Roses. I opted for hitting the ground just before it started in the aftermath of the English defeat in the Hundred Years War. I also have a Foreworld SideQuest coming out soon.

On a personal note: I am a life long fan of  sword fighting bloody adventure. I am heartily glad to see the genre very much alive and kicking, screaming, and fighting! Thank you M. Harold Page for your time. I am eagerly awaiting your next set of adventures!

-DS Baker

Here are links, to M. Harold Page's Blogs:

Black Gate SF Magazine:'s authors page:

Paradox Books Author's Page where you can order directly from the publisher:

Paradox Interactive Portal for the War of the Roses Game:


Monday, October 14, 2013

"Sons of the Wolf."-Author Paula Lofting.


     The 100 year time period between 1066 and 1166 was probably one of the more dynamic and brutal in Europe's history. What was old, got thrown out with the bath water and "The New Men" bestrode the world's stage. England was irrevocably changed, along with her neighbor to the north and to the west...

    Today is the 947 anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, for some it was the end of halcyon days, for others the birth of something new and terrible to behold. Regardless these "New Men" or Normans, for better or ill changed the world. Today's interview comes with the echoes of that time ringing loudly in our ears. Author Paula Lofting has become a most unexpected and welcomed friend. Last week we had a long chat, and I thought with the looming anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, her recently published book "Sons of the Wolf" would dovetail nicely with today's significance in history. As her book primarily deals with the English world as it existed right up to the time of Norman Invasion.  I would also like to thank her formally for her friendship, advice, introduction to new friends, and most importantly for the giving of her time and her thoughts.-Cheers!

Q: Who is Paula Lofting? Where are you from?

A: Hi , I was born in Middlesex, England and was raised in Australia from the age of two until 16 when i chose to return to the country of my birth. Currently I live in West Sussex, I am a psychiatric nurse by day and a historical novelist in my spare time. I also blog and help run the Review Group here on Facebook
Battle of Hastings
(c) by Jacques Marechal
The Normans Charge!
(c) by Jacques Marechal

Q: How long have you been interested in Anglo-Norman History? Or maybe another way of putting it, how long have you been involved in history reenactment and what prompted you to take your passion and turn to writing.

A: I've been doing re-enactment for about 6 years now and I took it up after watching a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings take place and was so awed by it that I thought -"I've just got to do this." And as I was thinking of writing a novel, it seemed like a good way of ensuring I got the best possible information to make my book seem authentic. Best thing I ever did

And as for what prompted me to write? I had always wanted to write since I was a little girl, but it wasn't until I was older that I was in the right space to realize my dream.

(It is my opinion unless someone is very gifted, those who have experienced life, make some of the best writers. Which is one of the reasons I was so excited to talk Paula. She knows what a Seax or a Saxon wooden shield feels like hanging on your arm from her reenactment experience.-DS.)
Paula Lofting in her Kit!
(c)-Rich Price.

Q: England is a fantastic place. The very bones of history are found poking up just about every where you look. Why did you choose the XI Century when there are so many eras you could have chosen from?

A: I have been obsessed with different eras throughout my life. The Arthurian period, the early Anglo-Saxons, the War of the Roses. the Tudors and the 18th Century, but after seeing the re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings, I was so struck with what happened that day I just had to know more. why did such a terrible fate befall the English at the hands of the invaders? What made them think they had the right to do that? And what was the background story and what happened after the battle?

Battle of Hastings
(c) by Jacques Marechal.

Q: You Live in Sussex, How many times have you gone down to Hastings? And what does that stretch of rolling hillside mean to you?

A: Lots of times. Well, the battle wasn't actually fought in Hastings itself, it was around 5 or 6 miles outside it in what is now a little town called Battle. At the time there wasn't a settlement but one grew up around the abbey that William built in thanks to God for the victory
I have walked that Battle Abbey field many a time, with the English heritage headphones on as I listen to the narrator telling me what happened where
it gives me goosebumps.
The English receiving the Norman Charge.
Battle of Hastings.
(c) by Jacques Marechal

Q: What made you want to tell this particular story? As an explanation, I have written short stories about an era, where I just felt that there was so much missing from the big picture. And maybe through a piece of fiction I could introduce a bit of history that might have fallen from view.

A: During my research I came a cross a lovely book written by David Howarth called 1066 -The year of the Conquest, and I was so struck with the way that it was written, telling the story from the viewpoint of a Sussex village where the writer lived. It wasn't a novel and it wasn't a heavy dry academic text either

It was easy reading and it inspired me to write the story of the ordinary people of England.  Of a Thegn who owned the land of Horstede, the village in the book. His villagers and his family. What was life like for them back then during this time? How did the events of this time affect them? How could I create a story that would make readers care about the little people?

These are often the things that are missing in a lot of historical books, and I felt it needed to be told. Most books of this time are written with Harold and William as the main characters, in mine they play a role but they are secondary to my other characters. I wanted the story to be different.

Q: Where do you go from here?

A: The sequel for Sons of the Wolf is still in the editing stage. But I have a different publishing team to the one I had for Sons. I am assisted published which means I get all the services of a publishing house but the difference is I am paying someone to do it, so I am the boss.

My current arrangement is awesome because I get to work really closely with my editor and we have formed a real partnership, a mutual understanding of whats acceptable on both sides and we can agree to differ about things without it affecting our working relationship. And Gingernuts books market their authors without adding extra costs!

(How has your book "Sons of the Wolf" been received?)-Trying not to interrupt too much.

I think that my book has been received really well, looking at the reviews and ratings for it people seem to like the story and say that they are looking forward to the sequel. It is the first in a series of novels being written about the Norman Conquest and its second novel "The Wolf Banner" will hopefully be out by the new year. I have to do all the marketing myself but some really lovely people on the internet have really helped me, like IndieBRAG who have awarded their medallion and Stephanie Moore Hopkins of Layered Pages has been amazing in helping me.

Thank you Paula Lofting for this interview and a chance to take a look at a significant portion of history as seen by the people who had to live with its consequences!

Here are several links to Paula Lofting and to her book "Sons of the Wolf."

Amazon page:

The Facebook Page:

Paula Lofting's personal Blogspot page:

The Photography Websites of Jacques Marechal:

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lord Andrew Douglas Alexander Thomas Bruce, 11th Earl of Elgin and 15th Earl of Kincardine, KT, CD, DL, JP

Official Portrait of Lord Elgin as a Knight of
The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle

     Recently I wrote an article called "The Significance of a Battle Lost and Won..."-MM 09/20/2013- Which dealt primarily about the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where the two co-belligerents were King Robert the Bruce of Scotland and King Edward II of England. In that article I discussed the upcoming 700th Anniversary of that Battle, and how the significance of  that day and a half of conflict is still echoing through the corridors of history. As a result of that article, I became interested in the Bruce Family. I began my quest to speak to its head/leader/chief...

     Through some dear friends and their familial connections with whom I could not have written this article, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to Lord Andrew Douglas Alexander Thomas Bruce, the 11th Earl of Elgin and 15th Earl of Kincardine KT.(It should be noted he has several post nominal's attached to his name but for the purpose of this blog, I believe Knight of the Thistle should suffice.)

     I normally conduct my interviews through some form of real time social networking, either through Facebook or Google +. This was my first long distance interview so the format is a bit different than what I normally work with. All of that being said, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to speak to Lord Elgin and to the Bruce Family for their willingness to open their hearts and their lives for this purpose.

Q: You are the direct descendant of King Robert the Bruce. How many generations are you separated from your illustrious ancestor? (I asked this question this way, being unsure how the family tree of the Bruce family is delineated.)

A: First, the root of the Bruce Family Tree has several branches, one of these went to King Robert's son,, King David ll and then died out because he had no male heir. However, he had appointed Thomas Bruce of Clackmannan Tower as his heir and we are all descended from this branch which we are pretty certain comes from King Robert's grandfather's time. I am the 37th generation from Adam de Brus of Normandy.

Q: Of all of the responsibilities that are associated with your Lordship's rank, and title, what is the most medieval in origin?

A: You ask about responsibilities and, of course, it was very much in the Norman way of life that responsibilities were shared in the community, so that the whole would thrive in friendship and understanding. It was based, of course, on ownership of land and this still remains one of the most potent responsibilities. Time has shown that my predecessors, in the main, took great interest in the responsibilities of their titles in attendance at Parliament both in Scotland and in England, although the hereditary responsibilities have been somewhat curtailed in recent years.

Banners of the Knights of the Thistle
St. Giles Cathedral, Thistle Chapel

Q: As the Chief of the Bruce Family, what do you see as the cultural significance of the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn? & Why was the gathering of the Clans and families cancelled for this anniversary?

A: I was recently asked to welcome back the statue of King Robert at Bannockburn and made the point in a few words of the fact that the battlefield may well have been a place of great joy but it was also a place of sadness but, at Bannockburn, in the days that followed, King Robert showed great magnanimity and so, in a way, these two should be blended in memory of so significant an occasion. You ask about the possibility of a Gathering of Families and Clans. It was thought that this might have taken place early in July at Stirling but it would seem that this is not to happen. As far as the Bruce Family is concerned I am asking them to attend a Menzie, as this is the ancient word in Scots to describe a collective occasion.

Q: Your father was one of the motivating forces behind the Standing Council for Scottish Chiefs. Why was this council created? Are there Scottish Families and Clans that lack leadership or do not have a Clan Chief or Chieftains?

A: You ask about the creation of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. It was,my father, as a result of talks which he had had with Admiral Macintosh who had suddenly discovered that his kinsman who lived in Australia was not prepared to take on the responsibilities of Chieftainship and so he asked my father what you did as a Chief and this led to the question of who were, in fact, Chiefs and Heads of Family.

The Lord Lyon became very interested and, amongst other things, ruled that only single name surnames could be considered as Chief and this immediately ruled out two Dukes and a sprinkling of Earls but, in the end, all this was resolved and there were interesting meetings and, as air travel became more available, it inevitably saw the journeys of Chiefs to many parts of the world.

In 1977, the Scottish Tourist Board thought that the season should open with a World Gathering of Scottish Families and Clans but instead of holding it at a time when people might reasonably be expected to visit, they chose the end of April. Although, in fact, the numbers who came were not large, the quality of the individuals was extremely high because, in a way,each one represented not just a Family but also a whole range of Scots related happenings in their own country but, alas, the Scottish press were all for numbers and made somewhat uncomplimentary remarks which, of course, as you point out ignored the Scottish feeling which, in so many countries, has a very important influence.

(I had asked Lord Elgin, about what seemed to be the decline of Scottish Heritage and History in Scotland, and how it had taken firm root in America, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.)

I remember a St. Andrew's meeting near Sydney, New South Wales, which seemed to me to be 50% Scots and 50% every other nationality you could think of and I asked my host why this was the case/ "Quite simple, " he said, "We are the friendly nation and these others like to come and join with us in order to understand their responsibilities as citizens of Australia

Q: 2014 will give Scotland the Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, where your ancestor trounced the English under Edward II. September 18th 2014 will be the day Scotland votes for independence from England. As a Knight of the Most Ancient and Noble Oder of the Thistle, and as former Lord Lieutenant for Fife, does this vote evoke conflicting emotions?

A: You ask about September 18th and indeed there has been and no doubt there will be an increasing surge of conflict and I think personally that I am now too old to have any further discussion.

His closing words to me were the ones he spoke when the statue of Robert the Bruce was welcomed back at Bannockburn, "Battlefields are places of both joy and sorrow. May all those who come here find these two magnanimously blended into a lasting and understanding friendship with Scotland."

Editorial Comment: Lord Elgin's next birthday will see his 90th Orbit around the Sun. I would also like to make another note. Lord Elgin has spent the majority of his life in service to his family, his kinsmen and to the Crown. During WWII he served in the Scot's Guards, and fought in one of the nastier armoured tank vs tank battles in the break out from Normandy. Specifically the Battle for Hill 309 or Quarry Hill. 12 Churchill Tanks were lost in that engagement and Lord Elgin was wounded. I don't believe that  there are too many Chiefs or Chieftains left, who have undergone the rigors and horrors of war. As a personal comment, I am grateful for his service in helping to defeat the forces of global fascism.

-DS Baker

Here are a few interesting links that I think my readers might like to check out.

Wikipedia link to Lord Andrew Bruce 11th Earl of Elgin and 15th Earl of Kincardine:,_11th_Earl_of_Elgin

Family of Bruce:

Wikipedia Page for the Order of the Thistle:

Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs:

YouTube Video link to the restoration of the Statue of King Robert the Bruce:

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Conversation with Debra Brown, Author and Editor.

    "Dearest David, we cannot simply continue to exist on a diet of Arms, and Armour."-A reader sent me this note about a month ago.

     Which has prompted me to change or rather expand the horizons of my blog. I decided right then and there to search out interesting  persons and or personalities to profile on my blog. One of the first persons I met is a lady named Debbie Brown. She is an American author, and like me she has a blog. But unlike me it is not just a single person's view point but an entire community of historical fiction writers and historians!

     Last week I had an opportunity to interview Debbie Brown, and we spoke at some length about her writing and her latest literary efforts. I hope you will enjoy the conversation as much as I did. Thank you very much Debbie for your time. As we both know time is truly the one commodity once given away never returns.-DS Baker.

Q: What started your love of things historical?

A: When I was a child, I had the My Bookhouse Books. They were an amazing 7 volume set of books that a woman put together. The stories were written by famous authors and poets like Shakespeare, Chaucer, Keats, etc. not to mention Hans Christian Andersen. Later editions went up to 12 volumes, the last being a collection of biographies of all the writers.
I loved those books and read them endlessly. They had fabulous art, too, and all of it put together taught me about old England and other places which I came to love.
I became acquainted with older fashion, customs, etc., but didn't really have time to pursue knowledge of history till I was much older.

Q: So where did those books lead you in your love of history as an adult?

A: When I worked on jewelry for some years, I would watch period movies and series. I learned more about past customs from that, and would look things up on the internet if I was confused. Most of my history education is very informal. However, it is a driving force for me as it is for many. I also get library books now that I am not making jewelry. There is plenty to learn.

Q: How long ago did you start actually writing your first story, that you felt like was good enough for someone else to read?

A: Three years ago. It was published a year after I started. That was "The Companion of Lady Holmeshire."

Q: How many times did you edit it, and how many times did your support group of friends or family comb through it?

A: I went over it a dozen times before I sent it to the publisher. Each time, I thought it was the last, but then I would want to give it a last read-through ... repeatedly. Then my family and another author read it and I had more corrections to make. I did not realize that was the normal process at the time - it was done as a hobby.
A year after it was published, I revised it again, having learned more about writing.

Q: Where did the publication of your story take you after that? What sort of connections did you find all of a sudden blossoming in your writing life?

A: I began to blog, as they say one must have a web presence, and an author helped me to learn much about promotion. I also read in online writer's guidance publications, and applied some of what I learned. As time went on, I decided to team up with a group of authors that formed a blog which posted Daily British history, as I thought many people would be like me-hungry for that information. It became a popular blog, English Historical Fiction Authors. We also have a Facebook group by that name.

I also started a Goodreads group named Historical Info for Historical Fiction Readers to provide back up information to the stories we all read. Not being a historian myself, I invited authors to write about the eras their stories are set in. I met many new reader and author friends there.

Q: It sounds like you enrolled yourself into a steep gradient of learning not only how to write, but to edit as well. So tell us about the Anthology that came about as a direct result of your friends and associates

A: After we celebrated the first anniversary of our blog, one of the authors suggested we put selected posts together into a book. It was a wonderful idea, and I jumped right into it. One in our group has a very professional publishing business, and she agreed to publish the book. It was a year's work to get it ready for our second anniversary, and it was released on that day, Sept. 23, 2013.
The title is Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. It is a big, wonderful, and beautiful book.

Q: How does it feel to be the Editor of an Anthology, and more importantly did you think it was going to be as much work as it has turned out to be?

A: It was a surprise to become the editor of an anthology. I am thrilled with the results, though it meant putting the brakes on my own writing project. I am creative at heart, but to see this book in print and to celebrate with the fifty-five contributors has made it well worth while.

Q: What sort of true-tales might we find within its pages?

A: Castles, Customs, and Kings is set out in chronological order for the most part, starting with the Roman occupation. I know your readers are interested in medieval history, and probably some of the Tudor era. These sections take up a good part of the book. Topics that are covered include interesting bits like Harold Godwinson, William Before He was the Conqueror, the Knights Templar, Simon de Montfort, The Religious Hysteria Caused by the Black Death, the "Notorious" Alice Perrers, early Theater, medieval bestiaries, the Tudor Court of Wards, the last Nun, the death of Henry VIII, and many more.The book continues and covers up through World War II.

Q: How have your marketed the book and how has the reception been?

A: I created a blog tour, and my co-editor and I are writing posts for various blogs. We started with a post on our own blog, which included a giveaway and the first spot on a blog hop which included twenty-three blogs. Now we are visiting the various blogs on the tour. Twitter is also a major means of informing the reading public about the book. Because of sales on my first book, Amazon is helping out by notifying my earlier readers. I can't complain about that! Also in the first week we were #4 in the section History > European > England for some days, and #1 in Historical Essays for some. That was exciting!

Thank you Debbie Brown for this interview and more importantly for helping to keep history alive and vibrant! I have included below the various American and UK Amazon Links to Debbie Brown and M.M. Bennetts anthology
US Amazon Link:|
UK Amazon Link:
Also on Kobo:

-DS Baker

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Frederic Piraux-International Jouster & Gentleman At Large."

Frederic Piraux competing at Marle, France '09
(c) Jacques Marechal

     In 2001 I first met Frederic Piraux at Sunset Park , Las Vegas Nevada in October at the annual Renaissance and Medieval Fair.Sadly he had flown in from Canada where he had been a student at a week long school of European Medieval Martial Arts enthusiasts, only to find the person who had been contact with him was unable to make the event. He and his traveling buddy and my family spent most of that Saturday together walking around from one event to the next. At the end of day we exchanged e-mail address and promised to stay in touch. I think to the surprise of both of us, we did stay in touch.

    On the anniversary of our first meeting, I decided to corner my friend, and ask him to give me an interview. Of course being a friend, and knowing I would probably hound him until he did, Fred as I know him, graciously sat down with me via Facebook and granted an interview. What follows is our conversation. Thank you very much my friend.

Editorial Comment: Poor man, I made him answer my questions like everyone else. Modern Medievalist doesn't hold with favorites!

Q: Who are you and where do you come from and or where do you live?

A: Fred (Officially Frédéric) Piraux. Born and raised in Belgium on the summer of '69.
Born in the Flemish part of Belgium but living now in Liège, in the French speaking region.

Q: Where did you start your adventures in the Modern Medieval world?

A: In 1997, I had to stop playing US Football due to knee injury.
A friend of mine was involved into a Belgian federation of armoured combat and he got me into it by making my first suit.
In 2000, another acquaintance who ran a riding school asked me to fill in for an instructor for adults... I introduced them to mounted police (my riding background) manoeuvres and the group Hackamores (name of the riding school) was started.
I met Joram Van Essen and Arne Koets who were organizing their own events in the Netherlands and started riding with them.
Joram proposed to me a spot on his Burgundian jousting team to attend Leeds Royal Armouries competition in 2003... It was the start of it all!

We met in 2001. So this was at the start of your riding and jousting career. Shortly after that or around that time, you began building up Hackamores....
Frederic Piraux and DS Baker
Columbia, SC-'08
(c) Danny Van Hecke

Q: What did Hackamores lead you to. Meaning what did that school become and what associations came as a result of it?

A: Team Hackamores was originally designed as a show troupe operating in Belgium. It is a non profit org that developed around equestrian, armoured combat and pyrotechnic shows.

It quickly developed into a +20 group and we started to travel around Europe.
Quite quickly, we decided that sport competition around "chivalric sports" was to be our drive. And we organized "Hackaland Tournament" from 2001 on. From the second edition, it became a international event growing year after year... up to 14 nations gathered on the field!

Bringing all those people together automatically lead to setting up the EJL (European Jousting League) that was renamed after 3 seasons into IJL (International Jousting League). Team Hackamores has been the Belgian affiliate from the start and has tried to inspire other groups and nations to get started : IJL is now +350 affiliates in more than 20 nations!
Danny Van Hecke handing Frederic Piraux a Lance
2008 Tournament of the Phoenix, Poways San Diego, California
(c) Douglas Herring.

Q: Where has Jousting taken you to? The farthest from Liege and maybe the most interesting person you have met in your travels?

A: My jousting career has taken me around the globe several times and very often... If you consider New Zealand is 12 time zones away... it is not possible to get any further unless you're heading for the moon!!!! US, Canada, UK, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Australia, New Zealand that is a good list, I think. Specially if you consider returning trips! It has really been a fun ride from beginning to end.
I remember my colleague chewing on his sandwich and asking "Where are ya diff wekfend ?"-(Fred works as a Federal Police Instructor at the Liege Police Academy.) and just going "Hm !" When getting Brisbane, Australia" as an answer! It had just become an answer as valid as "Down at the mall!"
So many outstanding people were met over all those years. Incredible characters with their very specifics... boys and girls alike! So many of them that sometimes faces and names get confusing. Still there are a few I will always remember for their bravery and unrivaled support for my hobby : Thorgal, Organdy, Hercules, Marko, Romel, Figaro, Blaze... All four legged friends and nothing but pleasure when thinking of them. Nobility and chivalry is for humans... horses are way above that.
Frederic Piraux at King John III Joust at Gniew Castle, Poland
2012 (c) Studio A Photography.

Q: How are you holding up Physically? I have spoken to several jousters over the past year or so, and the abuse is starting to take its toll on their bodies & what are you doing to counter the effects of getting hit with a lance?

A: Call it luck if you want, but I was never injured while jousting.
Having chosen a re-enactment period where jousting was truly a controlled sport, it sort of prevented me from doing anything really stupid.
Yes, I got hit. Yes I got hit hard! (Thanks Ripper, Graham, Toby!)
But hey! From the start, I liked to quote Vince Lombardi, a great jouster in his heart : " Jousting is not a contact sport, dancing is. Jousting is a collision sport !" Big hits are supposed to happen some times.
The physical wear comes from other activities: police service, quarterbacking behind a weak line and the most vicious wound of them all "that damn aging process".
So, my dear David, if you still don't buy the retirement plan, you're in for disillusionment... It is for real.
I want to do something different with my life from now on. I plan to still be part of the game in some form or another but not the way it used to be

Danny Van Hecke at the King John III Joust held at Gniew Castle, Poland
(c) Studio A Photography.

Q: What are your plans for the future, and what are you going to do with your sidekick? Who incidentally is one of the nicest persons I have met... Are you two going to be partners in your new adventures?

A: Future? Tough one.
I'm not even sure of what I've done with my past!
I have currently examined several options.
As for the jousting thing...
I'm organizing a new style of event in 2014 where jousting will not be the main focus to favor group military manoeuvres.
I'm also offering my services as a "trainer" for whoever thinks he needs my opinion (That should not get me overbooked, I agree !)
Some events organizers also use my experience for selecting competitors fitting their gig.
Outside of medievalism, time will be spent on house renovations, travelling and friends visits.
My favorite furry friend and sidekick, is still very much included in most projects I work on. We are currently taking night school together, learning the Polish language! Great fun, great friendship!

Once again I would like to thank my friends Fred and the ever shy Danny for letting me post your pictures. And for Fred's participation in this interview! Merci beaucoup mes amis!

Frederic Piraux
(c) Danny Van Hecke

Here are a nice selection of Videos from YouTube showing Fred in action!