Thank you for inviting me over to your blog today, Tom.
As I write this, I’m taking a break from writing the fourth novel in my medieval mystery/crime series, The Folville Chronicles. Out in 2020, this new novel will be entitled, Outlaw Justice. It follows hot on the heels of books one-three; The Outlaw’s Ransom, The Winter Outlaw and Edward’s Outlaw.
Behind the plot line of Outlaw Justice – and the whole of The Folville Chronicle series – sits a huge amount of historical research I did over twenty-five years ago. When I was in my early twenties I studied for a PhD in fourteenth century English crime.
The point of my PhD was to discover if the perception that England’s medieval society was a violent and ruthless place – as presented to us via the literature of the day (such as the ballads of Robin Hood) – painted a realistic picture of the criminal activity of the time. Or was it a case that, as with our fiction today, the storytellers were embellishing the facts around them. Was Medieval England really as lawless as the stories of outlaws and heroes would have us believe?
As you can imagine, I spent years reading original court rolls, fine rolls, gaol delivery rolls, as well as many other legal and official documents. It was a fascinating – and demanding – time. I was taught how to read Medieval Latin shorthand so that I could examine more original documents, and spent many happy hours sat in the Public Record Office in London, as well as deeply buried in the basement of the University of Leicester library in the days when it still contained books.
After five years of work, comparing criminal statistics and records with the literature of the age, I can say that – in the East Midlands of England in particular – the balladeers were rather kinder than they might have been. Fourteenth century Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire were violent places indeed, containing many gangs – often of noble birth – who were prepared to do anything to stay ahead of a legal system that couldn’t cope with the level of crime being committed.
Obviously, that is a generalised answer to a complex question, but it did make me think about those criminal gangs. In some cases they were set up in a way very similar to the one we associate with the stories of Robin Hood and his followers today.
It was my research, and the tentative conclusions I reached, that led me to concentrate my work on the Folville family. This family of seven brothers from Ashby Folville in Leicestershire seemed to operate more like the Robin Hood of legend than any of the others. Many of the crimes they are recorded to have committed read like lines from the ballads themselves.
What if…I wondered…the Folville brothers used the Robin Hood ballads as a guidebook from which to run their criminal enterprise?
It was that question that led me to using the Folville family as the focus for what was to become, The Folville Chronicles. With the exception of my protagonist, Mathilda of Twyford, and her friend Sarah, the family housekeeper, you’ll find all the Folville household members and their associates, not just in my novels, but in the historical documents from the 1320s-1330s; when they ruled Leicestershire with a fierce pride.
Each of the four books in the series is based on a real historical event in the Folville’s lives, from their involvement in the murder of the corrupt Baron of the Exchequer Roger Belers, to the kidnap and ransom of Sir Richard Willoughby. I’ll say no more, for fear of ruining the read!
Here’s the blurb of Book One- The Outlaw’s Ransom
When potter’s daughter Mathilda is kidnapped by the notorious Folville brothers as punishment for her father’s debts, she fears for her life. Although of noble birth, the Folvilles are infamous throughout the county for using crime to rule their lands—and for using any means necessary to deliver their distinctive brand of ‘justice’.
Mathilda must prove her worth to the Folvilles in order to win her freedom. To do so, she must go against her instincts and, disguised as the betrothed of Robert de Folville, undertake a mission that will send her to Bakewell in Derbyshire, and the home of Nicholas Coterel, one of the most villainous men in England.
With her life in the hands of more than one dangerous brigand, Mathilda must win the trust of the Folville’s housekeeper, Sarah, and Robert Folville himself if she has any chance of survival.
Never have the teachings gleaned from the tales of Robyn Hode been so useful…
(Although The Folville Chronicles form a series, they can also be enjoyed as standalone reads.)
The Outlaw’s Ransom
The Winter Outlaw
With a background in history and archaeology, Jennifer Ash should really be sat in a dusty university library translating Medieval Latin criminal records, and writing research documents that hardly anyone would want to read. Instead, tucked away in the South West of England, Jennifer writes stories of medieval crime.
Influenced by a lifelong love of Robin Hood and medieval ballad literature, Jennifer wrote the murder mystery/adventure series, The Folville Chronicles, (The Outlaw’s Ransom, The Winter Outlaw and Edward’s Outlaw, Littwitz Press, 2017-2018) The final novel in the series, Outlaw Justice, will be published in 2020.
Jennifer also writes as Jenny Kane. Her work includes the contemporary women’s fiction and romance novels, Romancing Robin Hood (2nd edition, Littwitz Press, 2018), Abi’s Neighbour (HeadlineAccent, 2017), Another Glass of Champagne (HeadlineAccent, 2016), and the bestsellers, Abi’s House (HeadlineAccent, 2015), and Another Cup of Coffee (HeadlineAccent, 2013).
All of Jennifer and Jenny Kane’s news can be found at www.jennykane.co.uk
Jennifer Ash : https://www.facebook.com/jenniferashhistorical/
Jenny Kane https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011235488766