Saturday, March 24, 2018

The British Melting Pot

Bayeux Tapestry
America is known as the Melting Pot, for our diverse mixture of races and ethnic groups. But Britain could certainly qualify for that description as well, although in Britain, the process took place over many thousands of years instead of just a couple of centuries. From the time of the Neolithic era after the glaciers retreated, the populations of Europe were constantly shifting. In Britain, the influx of peoples was especially intense from the 6th century to the 14th, the time periods we refer to as the Dark Ages and Medieval era.  

The medieval romance I’m currently writing, Lady of Flame is set in the 13th century on the border of modern Wales and England. My heroine is Welsh, but she wouldn’t have referred to herself that way. The word Wales comes from a Germanic term meaning “foreigner”, and you certainly wouldn’t call yourself a foreigner in your own country. The Welsh (back then and today) refer to themselves as the Cymry and their country as Cymru. Although they lost their political independence, they have kept their language. Many schoolchildren still learn Welsh and all their signage is in both English and Welsh.  

My hero’s ethnicity is also complicated. He was born in England, but as a knight for the ruling class at the time, his father would have been descended from the Norman-French who arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066. William was from Normandy, an area of France where a group of Vikings (also called Norsemen or Normans, hence “Normandy”) settled in the eighth century. So William was actually of Norse blood.
William the Conqueror
After William’s line ended, England was ruled by the House of Anjou, who were from a part of France called Angevin. They ruled England until the mid-1300’s. During this almost three-hundred-year period, the ruling class spoke Norman-French, not English. And almost everything that was written was in either Latin or French, rather than English. The term English comes from the Angles, a Germanic tribe who invaded England in the sixth century, along with the Saxons. 
Royal Arms of England dating to the Angiven era

After a William's arrival, the English resisted for awhile. But even though they didn't win back control of the country, because there were so many more of them than the Norman French, they gradually absorbed the invaders into their culture. In a way, they had the ultimate victory, as the country ended up with their name and speaking their language and a high percentage of English people today have Anglo-Saxon DNA rather than French.

Unlike the English, the Welsh and the highland Scots continued to defy their Norman-French rulers furiously. The Welsh ended up keeping their language. The Scots retained some of their language as well as other aspects of their Celtic culture, like their plaids, their bagpipes and their whiskey.  
Welsh Flag
I recently had my DNA tested, and I have genetic markers associated with the Irish, British, French, German and Scandinavian peoples. So in a sense, my mongrel genes are a mirror of Britain. My Scandinavian DNA could be from the Norse who settled in Scotland or England. My Irish DNA could be from either Ireland or Scotland, since the Irish ruled Scotland for a time period. My German DNA is similar to that of the Angles and Saxons who settled in England. And since I know I am descended from Edward I, who was one of Angevins, my French DNA could have come from his line. Although more likely it came from my more recent family members who carried the name Napier.

I’m not thrilled about being related to Edward I, the brutal king who is the villain in Braveheart. Lady of Flame is set during the time of Edward's grandfather, King John, and John wasn’t a great person either. He longed to control Wales (and Ireland), but was distracted by his struggles in France. His son Henry III was too weak and ineffectual a ruler to conquer his pesky neighbors. But when the English barons rebelled against Henry, it made a lasting impression on his son, Edward I. Edward was determined to be a strong king and he took out much of his anger at his father’s humiliation on the Welsh and the Scots, devoting his life to subjugating and crushing them.
King John
During the time period of Lady of Flame, the conflict between Wales and the English was mostly at a simmer, with sporadic raids by the Welsh on the holdings of the Norman-French lords who controlled the lands in south Wales and along what is now the Welsh-English border. That conflict is mirrored in the contrast between my heroine and hero. Fiery, tempestuous Marared represents the free-spirited Celtic culture of the Cymru while thoughtful, loyal knight Gerard comes from the more regimented and formal world of the Normans. It seems like a terrible mismatch, and they both have much to learn about each other on their thrilling journey to love and happiness.
La Belle San Merci by Frank Dicksee (Perfect image for Marared although the knight is too thin and fair-haired to be Gerard.)
Lady of Flame takes place about ten years after my latest book, Lady of Steel. Lady of Steel is not about a class of cultures or wills, but about two people who meet under horrible circumstances and end up falling in love. But they both struggle to overcome the dark secrets of the past and to learn to trust each other.

Excerpt from Lady of Steel 
      The tower room seemed much too small. It was like being caged with a wild creature. Fawkes left the table and approached. Nicola fought the urge to draw back. He seemed to sense her apprehension, for his fierce expression softened. “I don’t want you to fear me, Nicola. Unlike some men, I don’t believe in striking women. Or children. Or anyone smaller and weaker than myself. If I were ever to feel the need the discipline you, I would choose other, more civilized means.”
Discipline her? What did that mean? His words sounded reasonable and reassuring, but there was an edge of warning there. She must find some way to convince him she wasn’t his enemy. She must make it clear she would never deal with him as she had with Mortimer.
Body rigid, her heart pounding wildly, she said, “Milord, you must understand. Mortimer was a brute. There were many times I feared for my life at his hands. Whatever you may have heard of me…” Her hands trembled as she gestured and this time she was glad he saw. “I did what I had to do to survive.” And for Simon to survive.
His expression softened. His dark eyes again flared with violent emotion. “You forget. I knew Mortimer. He tried more than once to kill me. I have no sympathy for him. None at all.”
She let out her breath. Perhaps now they could begin again, and he would stop playing this game of cat and mouse with her. She nodded. “I’m very grateful you understand. I’d worried you might have heard tales of me, stories meant to portray me as wicked and manipulative.”
He watched her intently. “Aye, I have heard tales. ’Tis good you saw fit to reassure me. Perhaps now, perhaps we can…” He let his words trail off and the atmosphere between them shifted. His dark eyes no longer seemed stern and implacable, but smoldered with frank sexual desire. The tension between them changed, erupting with blazing arousal.
Fire started in her loins and spread outward, making her skin ache for his touch. She tilted her head, awaiting his kiss.
He hesitated, as if even now he feared to take this final step and give into what his body obviously desired. Observing his forbearance, she thought for the dozenth time of how different he was from Mortimer. Mortimer had been a slave to his emotions. This man sought control at all times. 
But at last he brought his lips to hers. The blaze took them both.