Medieval Spectacles

At the launch of my novel The Reluctant King an actor friend of mine, Justin Aylmer, who was dressed in medieval costume and reading extracts from the book, apologised that he had to wear glasses because they would be somewhat incongruous with his costume.  I was happy to inform him that, contrary to what many people might think, glasses or spectacles are not a modern invention.

The concept of magnification by using a lens is mentioned as far back as the 1st Century A.D.  when Seneca the Younger mentions the magnifying effects of using a  globe to read small text.

Much later, in his seven volume Book of Optics, Alhazan, born in Basra, Iraq in 965, investigated the magnifying power of the lens. Al Hazan was one of the great Arab experimentalists and a pioneer of optical science.

By the 13th Century spectacles were being manufactured in Italy. The invention of spectacles would have been an incredibly significant technological advance because it enabled scholars to continue their studies undimished by the natural deterioration of eyesight with age. Petrach, who was born in 1304 wrote: “I had … a vision that for many years was sharp. (But it failed me unexpectedly when I was over sixty, so that I was forced reluctantly to the use of spectacles.)”

We also have concrete evidence of these early spectacles in medieval paintings. It is interesting to note in these paintings that it is mainly monks and religious who wear spectacles. This is not surprising since reading and writing were almost exclusively within the competence of the church.

Panel from the Wildunger Altarpiece by Konrad von Soest (1365 – 1425) with Glasses Apostle.

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Demetrius Tancredi

 

Demetrius Tancredi, Chancellor of Dredgemarsh

 

“Tancredi relished the political arena, and if, for some reason, Dredgemarsh were free of political intrigue, he, Demetrius Tancredi, would create it. It was the game itself, and not the goal that completely dominated his every waking hour. Now, late into the night, like a grand chess master, he explored the possibilities that that momentous day had brought. He wrote out his priorities for the following day and then turned to his supper of oaten cake and vernage. He took his time eating at a small stone table set in a bay window, which looked out over the northern side of the castle and its surrounding territory. The bright moon etched a stark checkerboard of black shadows across the silver domes, spires and rooftops.”  The Reluctant King Chapter 12

‘Do you think I will allow your daughter to destroy everything I have worked for?’  Chancellor Tancredi was shouting, as he stormed into Arnulf Beaufort’s dining hall
.
‘What? What are you talking about?’  Beaufort, seated alone at his dining table, spluttered, as he tried to swallow a mouthful of doucette, a favourite late afternoon indulgence of his.

‘Have you any control over her or is this a plot against me?’  Tancredi was white-faced.

‘Plot? There is no plot. We have set a day, St. Sigbert’s Day! For the marriage. It is all arranged.’

‘Arranged, ha! Have you any idea of what your daughter is up to?’”
The Reluctant King Chapter 21

At that moment in time, he was once again the wretched child who was forced into slavery in a fuller’s yard after his father and mother died of plague. He felt again the awful shame of his ragged clothes, impregnated with the wash of piss and fuller’s earth. He could hear the jeering of other children; ‘piss pot, piss pot, greasy Tancredi’s a piss pot.’ The muscular spasm under his left eye pulled his face into a grotesque rictus of hatred and he sank to his knees in the foul water.”
The Reluctant King Chapter 21

‘My hour has come, Dredgemarsh’s hour has come,’ he whispered into the night air. ‘He must die, for all our sakes. There is no other way.’ He mounted and turned towards the castle. Over and over he rehearsed the details of the plan he had been incubating all that day. When it all fell into place, he gave a little gasp of delight at his own cleverness. As he approached the portal gate he felt he could sense the very walls, stones and paths of Dredgemarsh welcoming him, their new master.”
The Reluctant King Chapter 22

 

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Francis Burstboil, Scullery Boy

Francis Burstboil - Dredgemarsh Scullery Boy

“Verm Bludvile had tied him to one of the decaying pillars in the storeroom of the Hall of Echoes. The empty crates that once held an abundance of candles were strewn around the floor. Bludvile sat on one of them, directly in front of Burstboil, observing him with unnerving curiosity. The petrified boy could not meet that terrible gaze, and tried to look elsewhere. His stomach churned. There   beside the crate, on which this monster sat, were the grisly remains of Sling, tail and head. The boy spewed. The contents of his bowels turned to liquid and flowed down his trembling shanks.”

The Reluctant King
Chapter 6

“It is impossible to fathom the human spirit; its amazing force, and equally, its amazing weakness and susceptibility. Verm Bludvile epitomised the force, the fanatical focusing of every facet of being on a single purpose, while the bedraggled and terrified scullery boy was, as it were, a blank page, upon which Verm could imprint anything he wished. It was a strange and fortuitous accident for Verm that this pathetic and weak-minded boy should fall into his clutches. It was stranger still that Verm, only recently come to self-awareness himself, could exert so much influence on another  human, even of the calibre of  Burstboil. Yet, that is what happened. Perhaps it was that the boy never got over the fright of that first terrifying encounter. Suffice it to say Verm had found himself a willing disciple and a slave.”

The Reluctant King
Chapter 7

‘Oh Mistress Crumble I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.’ he began to mumble. He wished himself back in the Dredgemarsh kitchens, scrubbing floors and being ordered about by everyone save the kitchen cat. He longed for the reassurance of a stinging slap across the ear from Bella Crumble. The image was bliss and his mind focused and froze on that image. Thus he remained, only dimly conscious of the shadows that pressed and converged in an ever-tightening circle around him. The puny kitchen boy was suspended in a crucible of terror that threatened to shatter his mind like glass. His only means of defence was physical and mental paralysis. Somewhere deep within him, these primitive mechanisms were triggered.

The Reluctant King
Chapter 15

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Verm Bludvile, The Candle Lighter

Verm Bludvile swears vengence on Cesare Greyfell, King of Dredgemarsh

“Verm could not remember why, but he hated “them above”. It was in his blood, some old long-forgotten grievance or dreadful wrong done to him. ‘Degenerates and fornicators,’ his father, old Wat Bludvile, used to fulminate at the mention of the royal household and its staff, never explaining, even on his deathbed, the reason for his obsessive hatred. He had also been the Candle Lighter. Verm knew nothing of his mother, but in his grim world of flickering candlelight, the only kindness he had ever experienced was from old Wat. Now, the passing years had almost extinguished that trembling flame of affection and left in its place an emptiness that, on occasions, even the hard armour of bitterness could not repel. But as long as he had his candles to light, the squalor of Verm Bludvile’s existence could be endured.”
Chapter 4 The Reluctant King

“Now in the autumn of the fifth year of Cesare’s reign, something startling and strange began to happen to Verm. He was beginning to feel some vaguely unsettling emotions. Ideas, totally alien to him, began to hover and flash indiscriminately across his mind. It took him some time to realise that his unease was growing as the stock of candles, in the storeroom below the Great Hall of Echoes, was diminishing. It was unprecedented; the supply of new candles to the storeroom had ceased. These emerging feelings grew, and changed to fear, and finally terror. It was as if the candles were burning away the hours and minutes of his life.”
Chapter 4 The Reluctant King

“… he cursed and howled with rage, until a deadly calm took hold of him and he began to plan his revenge on Cesare Greyfell, the author of his misfortune.”
Chapter 4 The Reluctant King

“Verm could smell the hateful pursuers now, could hear the excited baying of the lymers. He turned sharply right through a small opening in the tunnel wall. There was nowhere else to go. The way forward was blocked by the massive granite blocks of Dredgemarsh’s outer wall. He was trapped at last, in a dismal chamber in the very pit of Dredgemarsh. He crouched down in the furthest corner of the room.

Poor Vermie, poor Vermie. He was experiencing an incredible dislocation in time and place. He was a small petrified boy, trying not to cry, not to give himself away and the terrifying unctuous voice saying, poor Vermie, poor Vermie, I’m coming, coming, won’t hurt Vermie…be nice to your…no harm, no harm at all…our little secret, Vermie. The smells came back, rich perfume, nauseating, the sweet comfits, and the soft white insistent hands. Verm Bludvile wailed in anguish. His pursuers stopped, appalled by the sound. It was not anger or defiance they heard, but a cry of unfathomable desolation and loss. Then the lymers gave voice again and the spell was broken. ”
Chapter 19 The Reluctant King

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The Reluctant King

The Reluctant King - Book One of the Dredgemarsh series.

It has taken a very long time but finally I have finished  book one of the Dredgemarsh series I have been writing for many years. The title of this first book is The Reluctant King. The story takes place in Dredgemarsh, an imaginary fortress city. The setting is Gothic and the time is late Middle Age.

The Dredgemarsh Series started out as a very short piece of descriptive writing about an imaginary character who spent his whole life keeping the subterannean halls and corridors of Dregemarsh illuminated with candles. He was the Candle Lighter, Verm Bludvile. I then began to expand on this character and other menials and varlets who laboured in the lower reaches of Dredgemarsh began to emerge. I couldn’t stop them.

The cast began to grow with characters like Francis Burstboil, the kitchen boy, Lazarous Clutchboll, the Cook Meister, and his staff Bella Crumble, Leopold Ratchett and Nellie Lowslegg. A quirky Professor Quickstrain and the court scribes Havelock and Dipslick joined the growing throng.

The problem was, what were all these characters going to do  in this great crumbling fortress. I simply had them milling around like characters from a Bruegel painting. What was the story? Well, I can’t remember how it all started but the idea came to me that Verm Bludvile would be very upset if he lost his job as Candle Lighter.

This event inevitably involved the overlords of Dredgemarsh and the story of Cesare Greyfell, King of Dregemarsh, and the beautiful  Lucretia Beaufort emerged accompanied by a very sinister Chacellor Demetrius  Tancredi and a host of good and bad characters whose lives, loves, wars and death revolve around the almost living presence of Dredgemarsh itself.

The story took off from there and now, almost two decades later I have a series of three books set in Dredgemarsh. But books need polishing; a writer owes his readers the courtesy of making his/her story as accessible and enjoyable an experience as possible. It takes time. If you do purchase The Reluctant King I hope you enjoy it. And remember there are two more books to come after a bit of polishing. Book two is called The Lost Prince and will be published in July.

That’s it for now. The labour has been long but the final delivery sweet.

Dredgemarsh : The Reluctant King

Axletree Press will be shortly publishing my first ebook of the Dredgemarsh series called The Reluctant King.  I can’t remember when or why I started this series of three books, but it was at least 12 years ago if not more. Dredgemarsh is a gothic kingdom ruled by the Greyfell dynastey. The first book covers the early history of Cesare Greyfell, the reluctant king, who through inexperience and youthful indifference has jeopardised his life, lost his kingdom and the young woman, Lucretia Beaufort, whom he loves.
His only hope of redemption lies in the most unlikely place and with the most unlikely people: the Dredgemarsh kitchen staff led by Cookmeister Lazarus Clutchbolt.

Below are my drawings of Cesare Greyfell and Lucretia Beaufort. I will be adding to them throughout the coming months.

Cesare Greyfell, King of Dredgemarsh

“ … the real cause of the sadness in his heart flared painfully into consciousness. He could picture her now with startling clarity: Lucretia Beaufort, strolling along the bank of the Yayla river with her companion Celeste, while he, hidden, feeling guilty, but unable to take his eyes off her, watched from Hazel Wood where he rambled each evening with old Thunder. Her laughter, her sweet rippling laughter, tormented him. He pictured again the exquisite curve of her breasts and hips under the clinging samite caftan that she wore with such casual grace. A hot flush suffused his whole body. He felt dizzy and angry; angry that she could make him feel like that, angry at her apparent happiness that had nothing to do with him. He despised himself for that selfish impulse.”
Chapter 1
The Reluctant King

Lucretia Beaufort

“She knew; felt it in the deepest recesses of her heart that Cesare was hurt. She saw frantic membersof the royal party racing across the Vildpline from Grak’s forest. He was not with them. They were waving their arms and calling out long before they reached the castle or could be understood by anyone. Her heart began to beat so fast she thought it might burst. ‘No! … this cannot happen,’ She  was talking out loud without knowing it. Her eyes glistened with the onset of tears and she wished time would stand still, wished that those frantic men would never reach the castle; her mind filling with an unreasonable hate for them because they were  returning and he was not.”
Chapter 10
The Reluctant King