Katherine Ashe

The SPBE October 27, 2012 NYC

    Once again this year the SPBE was so informative and helpful to all the self-publishers who attended! I will be blogging about some of the things we learned and some of the people we met. This was our first year as exhibitors and it was well worth our time and money- we met some very important people and we were able to share our vision with so many. We met authors, publishers, editors and others who contribute to making your books a success. W also spoke with other companies in the indie book field such as audio book producers, all of which were very interested in indieBRAG. Many suggested we do joint ventures with them and we will consider this if they are helpful to our authors and readers. We spent a wonderful day with Katherine Ashe the author of the Montfort Series – one of our earliest Honorees. She did a terrific job of helping us spread the word and she gathered a great deal of information that will be helpful to us all. We really appreciate her support and her insights that will move us along in the future We also were able to spend a…

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Montfort The Founder of Parliament – Of Journey and Research

Author Katherine Ashe's four book series depicting Simon de Montfort was completed in print in September of 2011 when Montfort The Angel with the Sword was made available for purchase. This concluded 34 years of research, writing, and travelling to the locales where Simon once lived. The series was written under the "aegis of fiction" owing to gaps and rampant bias in the historical record, but the conclusions Ashe reached follow a logical and well-reasoned strand, making her research take on the flavor of an investigation. Thirty-four years of investigative efforts are extraordinary, and result in some extraordinary and unconventional points of view in her novels. For many years it was considered a hanging offense in England to utter Simon de Montfort's name; thus what accounts there were of him were chiefly negative, which explains why modern authors often condemn him. What drew Ashe's curiosity to Montfort was the fact that he was acknowledged as pivotal in founding modern democratic government, but little about his life was general public knowledge and most of what was written cast him in a traitorous light. Concerning a man at the crux of something so revolutionary and as early as the 13th century, there had to be a reason for why he was so marginalized and maligned. This mystery piqued Ashe's interest. Her investigations began in 1977 as she read through every volume on Montfort available in New York City's public libraries. But these books, with historian after historian contradicting each other, spurred her to dig further, leading her to seek out the actual, original source material at the British Library and the Public Record Office in London and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. In 1978 at the Bibliotheque Nationale the request slip given to the clerk brought forth the Montfort Archive, a boxed volume of original early charters, trial notes of Simon's trial for treason in 1262 and a brief autobiography written by Simon himself in connection with the trial. At the London Public Record Office, the 13th century scrolls used by royal clerks for the purpose of tracking royal expenditures was offered, along with a pair of velvet-covered bricks so the reader, unrolling the scroll from one side and letting it roll up again on the other could brace the opened part, keeping the document from coiling itself shut. In the neat and orderly Latin of the Chancery script Ashe found items that provided new insights. A Pipe Roll entry in November 1238 concerned a payment to a physician who guaranteed that if the Queen and King drank an herbal tisane and prayed at the tomb of Saint Edward the queen's barrenness would be cured. Ashe knew that seven months later the Queen was reported (by Matthew Paris) to have given birth to a remarkably strapping infant, clearly not puny and premature. Christened Edward for the saint who worked this miraculous birth, that child would reign as Edward I, King of England. What was happening concerning this sequence of events? Where was the Queen nine months before the birth? The Royal Charters showed the King and Queen were at Kenilworth, the home of Simon de Montfort -- the same friend who, at the Queen's Churching -- six weeks after the birth and on the occasion of the Queen's first confession since her pregnancy -- would be accused by a distraught King Henry of being a seducer. The breach of friendship with King Henry was so sharp that Simon fled for his life and was in exile for four years. Following that incident, Henry would vacillate between cajoling Simon into serving him militarily and attempting to send him to death for treason. Henry needed a male heir far too much to be able to repudiate Edward, but once he had another son, his behavior toward Edward became treacherous as well, as evidenced by his sending the boy into perilous situations; Henry bestowed the rebellious province of Gascony upon him when he was only fifteen -- the same province where the King's brother Richard, as overlord, had narrowly escaped being murdered. Beginning with the payment to the physician, Ashe pursued a line of investigation that has lead to her highly controversial speculation that Simon de Montfort was the natural father of Edward I. Framing her work as an historical novel, she explores the question, and how and why it could have come about. But the issue of Edward's paternity comprises but a small fraction of the whole of the Montfort series. There are other speculations as well: for example, was Montfort the link between the Emperor Frederic II's use of a cannon at his siege of Milan -- the first known use of the weapon in Europe -- and the description of a cannon in the works of Roger Bacon? Additionally there is a crucial issue, mentioned twice by the thirteenth century chronicler Matthew Paris but ignored by every modern historian. After creating the Provisions of Oxford, which are in effect the constitution that defines the two houses of Parliament, the barons who had done this work abandoned the project. Going off in pursuit of the King's fleeing brothers, they lay siege to the brothers at Winchester, and there they were poisoned, many of them dying, others never recovering their health. The issue here is that Montfort did not go with the barons but stayed behind at Oxford, evidently thinking it was strategically more important to put the Provisions into effect. The logical thread indicates he did not seize power as he is accused, but stepped into the power vacuum resulting from the illness of virtually all of the other active barons. He was not a tyrant seizing power, but a military commander who had a clearer idea of priorities than his fellow lords had. This gives a very different view of Montfort than the power-hungry despot his detractors portray. Again, Ashe's tenacious research has led to an unconventional conclusion as she followed the trails of logic. Eventually Ashe's research was carried on at the Astor Tilden Lenox Library in New York where 19th century reprints of a broad range of 13th century documents widened her understanding of the period, and the prejudices of Montfort's contemporaries both for and against him. In addition to the J.A. Giles translation of Matthew Paris's Chronica Majora, on extended loan to her through the kindness of the librarian at The New York Society Library, she was able to obtain two Stewart era reprints of the work in the original Latin. The Monumenta Franciscana opened for her a view of Simon's friendships, chiefly with his mentor Bishop Robert Grosseteste and Grosseteste's followers, Bishop Walter Cantaloup, Geoffrey de Boscellis and Adam Marsh, all of whom were of the Franciscan order. Not only did she read his friends' letters pertaining to public marital harmony, but, from covering letters that accompanied loaned books, she also discovered Simon's reading list -- as much as was available. Chiefly these were religious tracts such as Saint Gregory's Commentaries on the Book of Job -- which no doubt Simon must have found very heartening during his years of travail as Viceroy in Gascony. Concerning his faith, from the writings of his friends and even his enemies it was clear to Ashe that Simon was a deeply religious, yet a flawed man who found that harsh penance could scarcely atone for his sins. Ashe gives readers an informed look into his spiritual condition which helps explain why his mentor Grosseteste played such a major role in his life. Reading the same books, religious tracts, and biblical commentaries Simon read, afforded Ashe a deeper than usual view into Montfort's spiritual and psychological makeup. In her books Grosseteste's admonitions and encouraging words to Simon, some quoted, some literary invention (which she always grounded on the spirit of Grosseteste's own writings) contain practical, biblical wisdom and underscore why Simon read such spiritual works as the Commentaries with special interest. The Book of Job concerns a timeless message of spiritual resolve during harsh trials – a man alone amid his enemies is symbolized by the lily among the tares (choking weeds.) This is a vivid metaphor that mirrors Montfort's need for endurance during his time in rebel Gascony. And it makes clear why he changed his shield's blazon from his accustomed fork-tailed red lion rampant to a lily. In her second volume, The Viceroy, Ashe uses this research detail in this exchange between Simon and his son Henry: "When we reach La Reole I must have a new shield made," Simon mused. "I'll have it painted with a lily. In white on an azure ground." "Not our red lion?" Henry asked, dismayed. Simon shook his head. "I want the lily that Saint Gregory writes of—that grew among the tares, like Job who lived among the wicked folk of Uz but kept his faith." Scouring the same books Simon read not only enabled bright detail, but it helped explain Simon's transformation from a man given solely to harsh penance into a figure who begins to apply the years of practical wisdom from his mentor Grosseteste. This is not a lapse or an unwonted character swing; it is Ashe's intimate knowledge of de Montfort and his maturation. She has captured the subtle changes in Simon's personal beliefs and passions, based on the books he read and the clues he left behind. Her knowledge and appreciation of de Montfort's reading matter gives readers an unbiased and intimate look into the religious transformations that were slowly growing across Europe during this period, and how individuals such as Simon were drawing upon those changes. There was the entire world in which Montfort lived that needed to be understood. Ashe threaded her way not only through the period's religious views, agriculture, economics, armor and architecture (palatial, military and vernacular.) In her words, "My research has been done almost entirely the old fashioned way -- going to the original sources as much as possible, and reading, and reading, and reading." However, her practical research brought her as far as taking sword lessons and renewing her riding skills. One of the most persistent questions she found, in writing about a time before modern transportation and communications, was how long did it take, normally or at top speed, to get from one place to another? The beginning of her first book describes a joust between a young Simon and a seasoned challenger. By interviewing jousters, she was able to capture Simon's well-schooled, but yet, untried skills and merge those with his documented nearsightedness. However, as with her riding instructors, she found that each jouster had his own style and few agreed with one another. Conversely, replica distributors and manufacturers have now recreated the armor and the high saddles of the period; however, the heavy breeds of horses, though deft and swift, have not yet been recreated. There is only so far that research can go before speculation must fill in the gaps. Ashe visited Simon's manors, not only Leicester and Kenilworth, but Chawton, Hinkley, Asheby de la Zouche, and his wife's castle at Odiham. Other sites, including the battlefield of Evesham, and places relevant to Simon in Paris, Normandy, Poitou and Gascony helped her craft the vivid scenes in the series. In addition, Ashe walked where Simon, his peers and enemies walked, even retracing King Henry's tour of Paris with King Louis. She visited La Reole, Simon's stronghold in Gascony with its grand tower room, the towns where he held court as Viceroy, each of the cities he conquered in England, and the spring that formed at Evesham where he died. The use of primary sources coupled with practical application enabled Ashe to have a keen understanding of the cultural and physical world in which Montfort lived. She took no detail for granted. To further illustrate how Ashe's practical approach buttressed her research: she drew upon her time spent in theater as a playwright, director, and actor. In a stage play everything written must be do-able and there must be continuity. If an actor is instructed to pick something up, he must be told when and where to put it down. Every detail must be very clear in the playwright's, or the director's, mind. Every scene requires to be played out in a logical and well-informed fashion. Historical fiction authors can gain much from Ashe's method of investigation, and readers will appreciate the tenor of her novels. Not a little space is left at the end of each novel where she details the flow of her logic, providing the phrase in question, the source, cultural milieu, and oftentimes the direct reference in her source. Many historical fiction authors devote a page or two devoted to source information or perhaps a paragraph that states that the novel is a fictional work. Ashe clarifies from the outset in her novels that Montfort is written "under the aegis of fiction" because of the gaps in the historical record. She does take liberties that would not be allowed a historian, which is why she novelized this account of Simon de Montfort and calls it "informed speculation." However, the evidence and passages where she used conjecture, which she provides in the notes section illuminates her logic and reasoning when she fills in the historical gaps. Some might call her evidences circumstantial, or say that her cause and effect approach lacks validity. But no historian of so distant a time in the past works with complete evidence. All must speculate, and many repeat others' earlier speculations, making them appear, by repetition, to be "facts." Ashe makes her cases on each point with conviction. Montfort is not a dry work of research, but a fast-paced story of adventure where Ashe's 34 years of investigative research have resulted in sweeping, life-like scenes. She shares with readers the delight she experienced during her journey in a way that connects with her audience. She has critics, but her answers parallel the reasoned approach she takes in her novels; she answers with a dexterity, grace, and polish that few authors could replicate. Many would ask why she would spend 34 years researching such an ambiguous individual and novelizing his life. But her reasons are quite simple: "My intent is not to write a definitive biography, but to rouse public interest in a man whose life truly changed the world — who has affected all of our lives up to the present, and will into the future as long as governments seek their authenticity through people's elected representatives." vist Katherine Ashe at her author's page on amazon.com to experience Simon de Montfort's 13th century world and visit her blog to learn more about Simon de Montfort. Scott Higginbotham

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