Hey everyone! Today I have a special guest Evan Ostryzniuk the author of Of Faith and Fidelity and he is here today to talk to us about writing historical novels when there's major gaps in the historical records. At the end of his post you will have a chance to win a copy of his book and it's open to both the US and Canada.
Dealing with Gaps in the Historical Record
By Evan Ostryzniuk
By Evan Ostryzniuk
The portrayal of real-life events and people in historical fiction is a very delicate thing because the author not only has to give an honest account of times past, but also convincingly integrate those events and people into the imagined narrative and make them entertaining. This is all very well when the historical record is overflowing with facts and figures, diaries and documents, which the author can rely on and draw from to populate the plot, create a historical context or support personal motivations. However, what is the author to do when the historical record is fragmentary, or when the witnesses to the age are unreliable? Locating reliable sources is a major problem when considering the Middle Ages because those centuries are so less well documented that those that came before or after them. This was the problem I faced when researching for the English Free Company series and especially when I was writing Of Faith and Fidelity: Geoffrey Hotspur and the War for St. Peter’s Throne.
Near the beginning of my novel, Pope Boniface instructs his brother, who is running the papal campaign in the Patrimony of St. Peter, not to be haughty when negotiating with the lords and captains under his command – witnesses attest that he murdered an especially popular one in 1392! There is no surviving record of such a conversation ever taking place; however, the composite historical record does suggest that a shift in strategy occurred between the papal campaigns of 1392 and 1394, and that the family of Boniface was close, so they would have talked on a regular basis. They might have written letters to one another, of course, but it was a far more interesting narrative decision to have a face-to-face confrontation between the brothers. That way, not only was I able to dramatize the tension of this particular issue, I was also able to use the personal interaction as means to further reveal their respective characters.
People did not spend a whole lot of time talking about themselves in the Middle Ages. Therefore, in order to understand the impact of the Western Schism on individuals I was obliged to study the place of the Church in medieval society as a whole and heavily rely on secondary sources that speculated on the popular view. What is clear is that many decisions were motivated by fears about personal salvation, which was facilitated by the priests ordained by the Church, whose senior officer was the pope. When two popes were elected in 1378, each by a qualified conclave, I had to assume that most believers would be worried about whether their priest would be excommunicated for backing the wrong side, especially since I found precious few contemporary accounts about such worries. I had to make similar assumptions about those who were directly involved in the schism war. While all of the captains hired by one pope to make war on the other pope were believers, judging by their actions, which included switching sides for lack of payment and seizing papal cities without permission, I had to assume that their views of the Church and its leader was complex. Of course, they could also have been just amoral bandits with a badge. Nonetheless, once I put all the disparate pieces of evidence together, it became clear that the picture was far more muddled than I had expected.
Another means of filling the gaps in the historical record is introducing your own characters into it. If it was good enough for Shakespeare… As in the process of creating convincing fictional individuals, the characters have to bear some of the traits that the author has to judge were typical for the age. This much is obvious, but part of the trick is integrating these fictional characters with the genuine ones in order to advance the plot, expose a prejudice or reveal an intention that affected the true historical events considered in the novel. Geoffrey Hotspur is a man of his times, but he is also exceptional. He might be just a squire of the Duke of Lancaster, Sir John of Gaunt, in my novel, but his grace did have a stable of squires dispersed around his many lands in England in France, some of whom became knights and fought in the great conflicts of the age.
Biography of Author Evan Ostryzniuk
Evan Ostryzniuk was born and raised on the prairies of western Canada, where he also attended the University of Saskatchewan. After graduating with a B.A. in History and Modern Languages and an M.A. in Modern History, Evan crossed the ocean to do post-graduate work at the University of Cambridge, concluding five years of research with a doctoral thesis on the Russian Revolution. He eventually found his way to eastern Europe, where he took up positions as a magazine editor, university lecturer and analyst in the financial services sector before finally settling on writing as a career. Evan Ostryzniuk currently resides in Kyiv, Ukraine. Of Faith and Fidelity: Geoffrey Hotspur and the War for St. Peter’s Throne is his first novel. It will be published on June 9, 2011 by Knox Robinson Publishing.
Of Faith and Fidelity: Geoffrey Hotspur and the War for St. Peter’s Throne is the first book in the English Free Company series set in the late Middle Ages. The English Free Company is led by Geoffrey Hotspur, an orphan-squire and ward of the mighty Duke of Lancaster, whose driving ambition is to become a knight and serve a great lord. Of Faith and Fidelity takes place in 1394, at the height of the schism of the Western Church when the throne of St. Peter was contested by rival claimants in Rome and Avignon. Unable to settle the dispute peacefully, both sides resorted to war, and the key to winning the throne of St. Peter was control of the Patrimony, a band of territory stretching the breadth of Italy that owes fealty to whichever pope who can rule it. Before Henry V won his miraculous victory at Agincourt, before the Borgias had done their infamous deeds, there was Geoffrey Hotspur, a man as tall as Charlemagne and armed with a sword that rivals Excalibur. Thrown off the established path to knighthood, the ambitious and hot-tempered Geoffrey finds himself caught up in the war between the two popes, where he must adapt his beliefs and apply his training as a squire in order to survive.
Of Faith and Fidelity: Geoffrey Hotspur and the War for St. Peter’s Throne takes place in 1394, at the height of the schism of the Western Church when the throne of St. Peter was contested by rival claimants in Rome and Avignon. For nearly sixteen years the papacy was been divided between claimants in Rome and Avignon. Unable to settle the dispute peacefully, both sides resorted to war. The key to winning the throne of St. Peter was always control of the Patrimony, a band of territory stretching the breadth of Italy that owes fealty to whichever pope who can rule it. From Scandinavia to Sicily, there is great anticipation that the campaign of 1394 will culminate in a battle that will secure the Patrimony of St. Peter for one man.
Before Henry V won his miraculous victory at Agincourt, before the Borgias had done their infamous deeds, there was Geoffrey Hotspur, a man as tall as and armed with a sword that rivals Excalibur. Thrown off the established path to knighthood, the ambitious and hot-tempered Geoffrey finds himself caught up in the war between the two popes, where he must adapt his beliefs and apply his training as a squire in order to survive. To this end, Geoffrey founds the English Free Company and fights in the battles between the armies of the two popes. With little money, fewer friends and no name, yet with his faith in chivalry firmly set, Geoffrey Hotspur possesses the confidence that what he does is right for him and for those he had sworn to serve.
Helping and hindering Geoffrey Hotspur in equal measure in his quest for knighthood is a gallery of characters with their own agendas, from professional debt collector Jean Lagoustine, to the Chancellor of Florence Coluccio Salutati, to a mysterious astrologer named Catherine, who seems to have a suspiciously impressive set of connections in the world of Italian politics.
A thrilling start to the story of Geoffrey Hotspur and his English Free Company, Of Faith and Fidelity is at heart a squire’s tale of hope, adventure and ambition during a time of great uncertainty.
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