There are some amazing castles in the Dordogne region of France and Commarques, is one of the most fascinating. It is tucked away in a forest in the Dordogne, and may the Good Lord have mercy on any tourist bus which tries to negotiate the narrow twisty lanes which lead there. Sited deep within the forest of the Vezere Valley, it lies well off the tourist track. Given the roads there, I was pleased I was driving a Fiat 500 - the tiniest car in Christendom. Abandoned since the sixteenth century, Commarques is being lovingly restored, having been used for years as a stone quarry. The earliest habitation was in the caves of the cliffs both below the present castle and amid the wild daffodils of the valley opposite.
I suspect the valley floor was a good deal more marshy in previous centuries. The earliest defenders merely hauled up the wooden ladder and the sheer six metre limestone cliff was enough to deter the opposition. Mind you, as the fallen block in the first photo below indicates, limestone is not always reliable!
The later castle was built over the top, fortunately not destroying the earliest inhabited parts.
English history waxes lyrical about the Lionheart at the siege of Nottingham, and the remarkable swathe he cut across England, but as soon as he left for Normandy, in 1194, he is quite forgotten. At the King's Pleasure follows him across the Channel and reveals the next six weeks of his arrogant, blood-thirsty life. Dieu et mon Droit. One is inclined to exclaim, 'My God!' To cause the deaths of so many men because one believes that one has the right to rule is hard for me to understand. However, the more I learn about history and listen to the news, the more I realise we are a nasty species and have changed not at all in the last eight hundred years. Fascinating to reflect on the Lionheart's impact on the lives of those close to him. This book follows that thought.
Picture: The Old Priory at Beaumont le Roger
Black Death killed one third of the population of Europe in the mid fourteenth century. I wonder if we will be any more capable of preventing a Ebola pandemic now, even with a fair understanding of the disease.
Why did Richard leave the Holy Land in disguise?
Richard was about to leave the Holy Land in July 1192, but upon hearing of the Fall of Jaffa to Saladin, he took a small force by sea and attacked Saladin's massive army. The element of surprise enabled them to release the crusader prisoners holed up in the citadel. The prisoners swelled their number and, despite the Saracen counter attack, they prevailed. This led to a peace negotiation with Saladin and a truce wherein Christians were once again allowed to visit Jerusalem.
Richard was well aware, by the time he left, that his enemies would be waiting to attack him while he was vulnerable in a small boat, defended by few men. He therefore left in disguise.
Today in 1192 King Richard the Lionheart left Jerusalem in disguise. He would not arrive in England for another two years. Many of his army had already left, and he knew that going home to England would be difficult. For a start the boats were small and open like this one, reconstructed in Southampton. October was beyond the date regarded as safe for sailing the Mediterranean.
For a finish, Richard had fallen out with a number of his fellow Crusaders who had departed for their homelands early. Philippe of France left shortly after Richard arrived, on pretext of a cousin's death. While in Rome, Philippe met Henry V1, the Holy Roman Emperor, and poured a tale into his ear about how Richard had murdered Conrad of Montferrat, the King of Jerusalem. The Emperor's cousin, Leopold of Austria, also had issues with Richard slighting his flags and had left the crusade in a huff at about the same time as Philippe.
This meant that when Richard tried to cross Europe on horseback, having twice survived shipwreck, he had a hostile reception!
About this Blog
My travels through contemporary France in search of Richard the Lionheart and relics of his 12th century kingdom.
Paris, Rouen then the Duchy of Aquitaine, seeking useful detail and atmosphere for the second novel in the Lionheart Chronicles.