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!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Are you a Blue or a Green?"

     "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."-George Santayana
Horses from the Hippodrome of Constantinople
Wikipedia Commons
Photo by Tteske.

     I woke up this morning to find the scent of burned Hickory wood on the breeze and airships made of Oak leaves floating by as if they were in some regatta sponsored by the Most Serene Republic of Venice. My morning thoughts are often travelers who upon having an unfortunate accident somewhere out at sea, find themselves washed upon some unknown shore. This morning they washed up on the shores of historic Constantinople...

     This is my blog. I try to write of things medieval in nature. However there are times when the story to be told goes much deeper into the timeline than what one would or could call medieval. I have a friend we will call John for this article. John is a pragmatic modernist, who believes that anyone or everyone who lived before the American Civil war belong to a large mouth category he calls "Ignorant, muck raking savages, living in their own filth and squalor."

     "It was only with the discovery of the modern medicine and the maturation of the industrial revolution did we evolve as a species. Before that it was only half seen glimpses of light amongst savagery.Only when that world died did we then become truly modern and civilized"-John the Modernist

     My last heated exchange with John came burbling up this morning as I thought about what he had said. We have had many conversations about what constitutes a civilization,-educational enlightenment, art and culture, science, the ability to disseminate knowledge . All basic building blocks of developing or creating a bright future full of possibilities. John's opinion is that the generation born right after WWI ended, had won the historic lottery.-The golden ticket from Willy Wonka fame as it were.

     Right on the heels of those thoughts came a history lesson I learned as a precious child, involving the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Empress Theodora and the Charioteers. Chariot racing had always been popular with the Greeks.-Four horses pulling a man on a small light cart around a race track at high rates of speed was the ancient version of NASCAR. It was terribly exciting. As in NASCAR when a team of horses and their charioteer crashed there was blood and death. If you have ever watched the movie Ben-Hur, you have a fair grasp of what a race at the Hippodrome looked like. As with many things of a Greek origin, the Romans absconded with the idea and promoted wildly. By the time, the Greek, ahem... errr.... Roman Empire in the East came into being, it had all but replaced the Gladiatorial games as the most popular sport in the empire.

     I can even imagine Greek Polis Rednecks in the audience talking to each other, "Yeah Niko, if dem der boys from Alexandria aint bumpin' den it aint racing! Know what I mean?"

     Like a lot of sports, it had its fanatical adherents, and soon associations were formed. Imagine football hooligans armed with swords and knives. The two largest groups were simply called the Blues and the Greens. These "associations" became so large, that they became political. Soon the senatorial class, was being courted and wooed by the various fractions, and shortly thereafter the leadership of these groups had been suborned by the very people they had thought to control.-The Senators.

    The end of  531 AD saw Emperor Justinian in a tight spot. He was in the process of negotiating a peace treaty with the Persian, and having to raise taxes at the same time. The proposed peace treaty was not altogether popular amongst the Polis (people) and the raising of taxes was hitting the aristocracy pretty hard, not to mention they were being marginalized by the Emperor. This situation had simmered for most of the year.

    On January 13 532 AD  Justinian opened up the Hippodrome for racing. The Hippodrome was attached to the Royal Palace and the Emperor had a secure passageway to his box where he could oversee the racing. As the races kicked off, a riot broke out between the Blues and the Greens. The Blues were quasi allies supported by the Emperor, so long as their goals and political aspirations were seen to, and the Greens were in the pockets of the Senators. The Green party quickly gained the upper hand over the Blues.  They then held forth a new Emperor, the nephew of the old Emperor Anastasius I  a simpleton named Hypatius. The Greens then began an assault upon the royal palace which lasted for five days.

     The mob of militant charioteer fans, spurred on by their Senatorial masters all but won the day. At one point it looked like the mob was going to actually break in and kill the Emperor and his Empress. Justinian urged his wife to take safe passage out of the palace and cross the Golden Horn to safety in Asia. She replied, by quoting an ancient Roman saying, "Royalty makes a fine burial shroud."

     Through treachery, adroit political maneuvering and the liberal application of bribes the Emperor Justinian was able to convince the Blues, to fight their way clear of the Greens and leave the Hippodrome; where both fractions had been using it as a sort of base of operations. As they did, the Army led by General Belasarius, entered. It was estimated that in the end, 30,000 Green supporters along with Hypatius and a large number of Senators were slaughtered. It took several weeks to drag the bodies out and dispose of them.

    The modern day lesson... Our country is prostate and weak. Our mobs, have been suborned by the very people they hoped to influence. I am thinking of the Occupy folks having lost their will and having their messages scattered to the winds, or to mangle William Shakespeare, "A tale told by idiots full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." And the total suborning of the Tea Party by the monied elite, who pursue their divisive tactics of using racist attacks and the fear of a white minority loosing their grip on political power.

     America has been easily divided by the colors Red and Blue. Or maybe it is Blue and Green? In either case, It is interesting to think on my friend John's argument over how civilized we are. My question for my American readers is: Are you a Blue, Green? Or are you able to transcend the mob mentality, think for yourself and decide you are an American first?

-DS Baker