5 October 2019

Special Guest Post by Nancy Blanton, Author of The Earl in Black Armor



Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

IRELAND, 1635: When the clan leader sends Faolán Burke to Dublin to spy on Thomas Wentworth, the ruthless Lord Deputy of Ireland, the future of his centuries-old clan rests upon his shoulders. Wentworth is plotting to acquire clan lands of Connacht for an English Protestant plantation, displacing Irish families. To stop him, Faolán must discover misdeeds that could force King Charles to recall Wentworth to England.


Inspiration under Siege

For weeks I’ve struggled with an inner dilemma that not-too-surprisingly corresponded with an outer storm, Hurricane Dorian, that we had to deal with here in Florida.

While Dorian dallied, confused the forecasters, and battered the Bahamas, my husband and I also struggled with indecision. Should we hunker down at home, or should we evacuate? We live on a barrier island that is susceptible to flooding, loss of electricity and significant wind damage in high storm conditions. Evacuation might seem like an obvious choice.

However, the forecasters tend to over-state, and it takes a great deal of effort to evacuate a home even for a few days. The to-do list is three pages long: pack valuables, clothing, food and pets, money; store outside furniture and secure the house; find a decent dog-friendly hotel, inform relatives, etc. My reluctance to leave was high, but for safety’s sake we headed west. Thankfully, Dorian passed causing very little damage to our island.

Likewise, I’ve navigated through my inner storm without too much injury.

Years ago, I set a goal for myself to complete a series of novels that illuminate the history of 17th century Ireland. I’m three books into that goal, covering the years 1634 to 1658. But there’s a gap in there that haunts me, starting with a great Irish rebellion of 1641—a brave stand against the English that started as a bloodless coup and ended in brutality, execution and massacre.

This was a complex and bloody era, without a doubt. It falls in the middle of the early modern period in history, 1534 – 1691—a time known for five major wars between the Irish and English, allegedly resulting in atrocities—rapes, murders, infant killings, massacres, starvation, genocide, and more—terrible acts of cruelty I have no wish to describe. I’ve studied much about the rebellion, including the depositions taken afterward describing crimes so cold and horrendous one must question the existence of God.

Remembering first and foremost that the victors write the history, I know what was recorded as fact during that time was quite often inflated to make more useful propaganda. The English wanted to invade Ireland, and the rebellion simply gave the English Parliament—gorged with power after executing the king’s top advisor—a means by which they might justify and ignite hatred of the Irish and recruit men and support for the military invasion.

Somewhere within or perhaps between those same histories and depositions lies the truth. Modern historians are digging deeper for an honest evaluation of these incidents. Through their work I’ll find a vein of accuracy and follow it with some trepidation, knowing it could verify much of the atrocity. While some authors revel in the opportunity to shock and alarm readers with this dark realm of human history, it’s not my thing. The story must always come first. I know I may be in the minority on this, but I still believe the author’s job is to get the reader to feel and care, not to give them deranged nightmares.

The truth must be told, I agree, often and honestly and in terms vivid enough that it will be remembered. As with the holocaust, such inhumanity must be imprinted at a global level. Memory, such that it is, provides the only insurance we have against such things happening again.

But explicit blood and gore of an incident isn’t necessary to understand unacceptable violence. Morbid detail elevates the violence to a spectacle that usurps the reader’s attention and separates him or her from the emotion driving the act. What are the causes? What’s the effect? How does it propel the story?

And there’s my inner dilemma: how do I write the truth honorably and effectively but not too graphically? The answer comes in the form of scale, the camera-lens ability to zoom in and out at will. Cruelties of man against man can be woven as truthfully as possible into a tapestry backdrop for a profound experience on an individual level.

Now then, what’s the individual experience that will serve, and whose eyes will reveal it?

As the storm raged, my research became both documentation and treasure hunt. I stumbled upon a singular event I will use as foundation for the novel’s structure: a castle siege involving all the right bits of conflict to tell the full story.

Within the castle are the English Protestants, holding out against those wild and savage Irish. Outside the castle walls are the Catholic native Irish, whose castle and lands were stolen by the greedy, invading English. Within that setup lies a love story: forbidden love in war time, the struggle to maintain tradition and lifestyle amid a sea of hatred, the spirit to restore and renew what was lost, and the eternal fight to survive.

There’s quite a bit of violence involved, too, but observing it through the limited perspective of the characters makes it more manageable.

In this period, siege was a fairly common strategy of warfare, and economical for those who lacked cannons and other artillery and could live off the enemy’s captured livestock. Some famous sieges in Ireland include the Siege of Smerwick, 1580; Siege of Kinsale, 1601; Siege of Drogheda, 1649; Siege of Derry, 1689; Siege of Athlone, 1690; and the Siege of Limerick, 1691.

A siege can be much like a hurricane. Had we chosen to stay in our home as Dorian marched toward us, we might have boarded up the windows against our enemy, and hoped we had enough food, water and candles to see us through the few days it would take for the storm to batter our surroundings and then pass us by.

But in a 17th century siege, there might not have been time to secure supplies. The external forces might make a surprise attack. If repelled by the castle forces, they wouldn’t necessarily try to break down the walls—especially not if their goal was to preserve and hold the castle. Instead they would take the grazing sheep and cattle, the corn, hay, and other stores they could find, so that those within the castle could not feed themselves or their livestock. From the outside they might easily contaminate the castle’s water supply as well.

The siege could last much longer than a few days. The inhabitants could hold out for weeks or months, hoping for help to arrive. The longest siege in world history lasted 21 years! But in most cases, without military relief, the only choice was to surrender the castle to the siege force, or die. And things tended to end badly. One inescapable atrocity of the time was that even those who peacefully surrendered were sometimes, as they say, put to the sword.

Nancy Blanton

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About the Author

Nancy Blanton writes award-winning novels based in 17th century Irish history. Her latest, The Earl in Black Armor, tells a relentless story of loyalty, honor and betrayal in the Stuart era prior to the great Irish Rebellion of 1641. The Prince of Glencurragh, her second novel, occurs in 1634 during the English Plantation of Ireland. Her first novel, Sharavogue, is set in Ireland and the West Indies during the time of Oliver Cromwell. In non-fiction, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps is also a medalist, providing a valuable personal branding guide for authors, artists, and business consultants. Her blog, My Lady’s Closet, focuses on writing, books, historical fiction, research and travel. Ms. Blanton is a member of the Historical Novel Society and has worked as a journalist, magazine editor, corporate communications leader and brand manager. Her books celebrate her love of history and her Irish and English heritage. She lives in Florida.Find out more at www.nancyblanton.com and find her on Twitter @nancy_blanton 

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