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Thursday, 28 April 2016

‘Behind the Text’ 40. ‘Tudor Turnabout’ / ‘Mutatis Mutandis’


‘Mutatis Mutandis’ was started in 1971 when I abandoned my M. Phil research into religious change in early Tudor London. It was revised, enlarged, acquired extensive end-notes and published in 2009 as a limited edition. A couple of years ago I revised the book again and converted it into an e-book, enabling easy access to the End-Notes – crucial to any reader wanting to learn as well as be entertained. It was published as ‘Tudor Turnabout’.

The book covers the last 20 years of the reign of Henry VIII (1509-47) during which great changes were made to English religion, government and social structure – hence the original Latin title which means (roughly) ‘Necessary Changes Have Been Made’. The present title hopefully is less daunting.

More than 95% of this book is fact – including actions & ambitions revealed in conversations or fictional characters giving life to the experiences of ‘Everyman’. The documents quoted are factual (sources in the End-Notes) and statistics are based on fact. Attitudes and stances of individuals stem from how I judge the factual evidence.

The dominating figure is that of the King himself – deciding what he wanted and driving with all his considerable power to get it. The public usually limit that to marriage and the need for a male heir. So the initial title was ‘The King must have a Wife’ but that was soon abandoned as too trite and too limiting. The King wanted greater power for the Crown (backed by a co-operative Parliament as representing the people’s agreement), a subservient nobility, control over the Church in England and an enormous income to lavish on war, display and sheer pleasure. I must admit my attitude toward the King changed from condemnation re’ the dissolution of his first marriage (and ALL that entailed – e.g. the treatment of Wolsey & More) and yet towards the end, with Henry terrified so much will be undone after his death, I was moved to sympathy. I find Anne Boleyn an enigma, both Wolsey & Cromwell locked into the role-set of ‘King’s Servant’, Catherine Howard and Henry’s children as both used and abused, while Riche, Wriothesley and the like appear ambitious time-servers. I have every sympathy for martyrs on BOTH sides, admiring their courage even though I may question their position. Individuals rise and fall largely due to ’EVENTS’ as Macmillan 50 years ago explained to President Kennedy: Wolsey faced a Papacy dominated by the nephew of the woman he must displace, Cromwell’s plans were spoiled by the collapse of the Protestant cause in Germany, Catherine Parr was saved by the mellowing of her husband while Anne Boleyn perished for failing to provide an heir and becoming an encumbrance to that ambition.

I hope the reader may both be entertained and develop the urge to look more closely at this period.


Bob Hyslop

‘Behind the Text 39. ‘The Wanderer’9 : ‘Meeting Destiny’


This book is the ninth & last in ‘The Wanderer’ saga and was developed  in two stages: Chapter 1 (started 24/11/93) really an overhang from the catastrophic close to the previous book and the rest (started 30/12/02) undertaken as the conclusion of the whole work.

Meeting Destiny’ reaches back through past decisions and reveals their effects. It is set in Syria & Palestine (998-1000)  and is dominated by religion, most fitting as this work concentrates on the belief that the End of the World would come in 1000 with the return of Jesus Christ as prophesied in the Biblical book of ‘Revelation’. Historically there’s no real basis for that idea but it makes a good story! Certainly Ethelwulf had been well schooled in that belief by his fanatical abductor several years before in an attempt to recruit him as an assassin. Now he was drawn to Jerusalem in the belief his life burdened by sin would be purged in the Final Battle.

From the start Ethelwulf is in a bad state – alone, mourning the loss of Morkere and the others who’d accompanied him for years, hunted by imperial agents and bordering on the edge of madness. Then by chance he encounters Lydia, who’ d helped him escape from the fanatic several years before. Neither has anybody else so they join up, marry but again tragedy sends Ethelwulf into a spiral mentally downwards, Eventually he finds shelter in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to await the Second Coming. Although enemies know he’s there, Ethelwulf finds peace through the attention of an Ethiopian monk, Anastasius, overcoming 20 years of hate and rage against so many, especially the murderer of his mother. Still hidden away he’s joined by a distant cousin, Sweyn Haraldsson, and they manage to return to the world outside where they surprisingly encounter a friend from the past. The three plan to leave Palestine, perhaps for a new life far to the West. But the saga of Ethelwulf the Wanderer is doomed not to end in peace.

This book explores the Fatimid control of Jerusalem, threatened by growing unrest when so many differing forms of belief rub shoulders as people expect the End of the World. I trust the reader will feel some sympathy for members of the Dīwān al-Shurţah (Police) such as Arif Mahmud bin Harpoon but surely not for Selim the Beautiful. Ethelwulf  experiences kindness (e.g. from Benedictine pilgrims), treachery (e.g. Nicephorus & Nicias), help from Lydia’s cousin, George, but the saga remorselessly creeps towards disaster.

As stated above the Second Coming expectations have little foundation in fact but fictionally they offer an excellent opportunity to show human nature at its best and worst. Accordingly it brings Ethelwulf at the very end to face the life he’d made for himself.


Bob Hyslop

‘Behind the Text 38. ‘The Wanderer’ 8 : ‘Servants of Miklagard’


This book is the eighth in ‘The Wanderer’ saga and is set in the Byzantine Empire (990-98) – much changed from the relics of ancient Rome and now at its most powerful This book was one of the earlier ones started (on 1 December 1992), although an extra chapter was added in June 1996 and even another one in July 2006. 1 selected from a range of possible storylines before the final scenario determined in 1992 in order to facilitate the printed trilogy in 2008. I chose to write this book early on because, from a lifetime’s love of History, I was more familiar with Byzantium than most of the other stages in the Wanderer’s journey; you may guess that from the detailed End-Notes supplied.

Within weeks Ethelwulf unwittingly arouses the enmity of Alexius Euergetes (aka the Eparchos) in not allowing himself and his men to be sacrificed. The Eparchos, outside the imperial family headed by Basil II(976-1025) (aka the Autokrator), is the most powerful man in the empire. However, Ethelwulf continues to ruin the schemes of the Eparchos, even after he realises what he is doing – he rescues from fire a creditor, doesn’t silence a dangerous Cretan rebel who knows too much, recovers a manuscript which should have stayed lost, escapes a nasty plot by a nymphomaniac princess, returns from abduction by a religious extremist and survives separation from the main army in territory controlled by the Bulgars. In the end Ethelwulf over-reaches himself and brings about disaster – but that’s still not curtain on The Wanderer.

Throughout Ethelwulf & Morkere, despite learning Greek, are at a loss dealing with that bureaucratic maze which produced the adjective ‘Byzantine’. He and his men are early members of the Varangian Guard, and thereby arouse the envious hostility of other corps; they are patronised by the joint-emperor Constantine and so upset others in palace society. Ethelwulf becomes more spiritual after the brainwashing by the Paulician fanatic Epaphroditus. However, due to the exertions involving Bulgar gold and the consequences culminating in the disaster of the Cilician Gates, is plunged into acute depression.

I was fascinated by the clash between the sophisticated Byzantine system and the intruders led by Ethelwulf – did it resemble the crisis faced by John Savage in Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’? Perhaps. Certainly the Ethelwulf who, as a hunted man, staggers into the final stage is by no means the warrior who entered Byzantium – as a hunted man!


Bob Hyslop

‘Behind the Text 37. ‘The Wanderer’ 7 : ‘The Wastes of Gadarike’


This book is the seventh in ‘The Wanderer’ saga and is set in Russia (988-90) – then known as Gadarike (‘the land of fortresses’).Chapter 1 was started in September 1998 but the rest had to wait another 5 years before they written. Why? I wasn’t sure how to continue the tale apart from a broad outline. Religious squabbles play a big role, and the Pechenegs a lesser one than originally intended. This shift in balance was undoubtedly affected by the much earlier completion of the Byzantine and MOST of the Palestine books. If the reader does read Books 8 & 9 in ‘The Wanderer’ they may understand my reasons.

This book starts with Ethelwulf and his followers being on the run and it ends that way too; the bit in-between doesn’t prove much better for our hero. For over a century Vikings (known here as Varangians) mainly from Sweden had used the river system to spread a rather patchy control based on Kiev (aka Holmgard). They became surrounded by a collection of Slavic peoples, often hostile, with their own cultures, religious practices and ambitions..

Into this morass Ethelwulf (sometimes derisively called ‘the Westerner’)steps to find his Christian faith rejected by Orthodox Christians – as well as by Moslems, Jews and pagans.  From the start he’s deceived and even recovering ‘stolen property’ adds to his store of enemies. His judgement is questioned regarding an instance of religious strife, his loyalty doubted when challenged by the vicious governor of Sarkel, Menash Bulan, and his agent, Toghrul Beg; and he’s stalked by the awesome Pechenegs as he and his followers make their escape towards the Crimean area and the Black Sea.

One aspect which dominates the whole book is the sheer size of Gadarike. This is true whether the Wanderer and his men are hunting down Oleg Askoldsson & the runaway Princess, or simply enduring the journey to Khazaria, or attempting the impossible task of limiting Pecheneg raids. The final challenge proves to be the nightmare escape down the Kuban to its marshy delta and personal tragedy.

Not that this book is filled with evil, cruelty and bloodshed but that side of life sometimes threatens to swamp the good – such as the priests, Cyril and Makarios, the former seeking martyrdom and the latter helped by the gentle Elizabeth. Then there are the hopelessly optimistic Ali ibn-Yussuf, the loyal translator, Chorpan, and the doomed youth, Aaron. The key figure, if somewhat distant, remains the Grand Prince of Kiev, Vladimir I who never trusts Ethelwulf, being open to influence from his wife, Anna.

On the Sea of Azov Ethelwulf may well acquire a ship at Tmutorokan but, in Thorgeis Green-Eye he is joined with a fighter who shares too many characteristics with that unremitting enemy, Thorgrim the Short.


Bob Hyslop

‘Behind the Text 36. ‘The Wanderer’ 6 : ‘Swords for Sale’


This book is the sixth in ‘The Wanderer’ saga and is set mainly in Finland (986-88), an area possessing somewhat limited historical evidence as regards the bulk of the population. Originally there had been a  first part (written in 1995) which dealt with werewolves but this was later rejected, partly as being too close to Crichton’s ‘The 13th Warrior’, and replaced by an opening chapter set in Gotland which stands distinct from the rest of the book. It was intruded to allow for later plot development. What remained of the original first part was moved into 6:2 which deals with the Kainuu, a historical group which terrorised the Sami trappers in the far north. This book stresses the contrast between the Vikings and their ‘victims’ for exploitation – the Finns, Karelians and, most of all, the Sami.. In these surroundings Ethelwulf’s character sinks to the bottom: he serves with the Kainuu for several weeks and later leads a raid for slaves.

The breach with Thorfinn Cross-Eyed, the brutal chief of the Kainuu, creates one group of enemies. Rumours about the past history of Ethelwulf & his his men provoke a fight in the hall of Oleg Gunnarsson, Lord of Aldeigjuborg, which is so  destructive that Ethelwulf joins a slaving expedition.. He plays a key role in the defeat of an attack by native forces and then joins an attack on the key native stronghold of Pisamalahti, narrowly escaping death at the hands of a treacherous Thorgrim the Short. Victory brings slaves but it also brings disease. Ethelwulf is struck down and, just as in Jersey (see ‘The Wanderer’2) his cousins save him by drastic measures.

Again there’s a range of characters with Thorgrim the most notable villain, Oleg Gunnarsson the most enigmatic along with the charismatic Karelian, Karvulakki. There are several striking figures – the spy, Asa; the turncoat, Didrik ; the subtle Sami, Jovsset; the host, Egil Blue-Eyes; the vengeful, Blood-Harald; the natural leader, Olaf Tryggvason; and the honourable Jomsviking, Stein Thorgetsson. There’s also a wide range of scenery – from Lake Ladoga to  the river Kemijoki above the Arctic Circle, and even to the White Sea if the reader accepts the tale of Freysteinn  Kárisson (one of the best in the whole saga).

Ethelwulf is hopelessly out of step in this world –whether dealing with traders like Didrik or tyrants like Thorfinn (mis-styled ‘Open-Hand’); environmental challenges in the far north; the vicissitudes of a stronghold experiencing virtually continuous siege; or the problems of huge numbers of captives. Above all, however, it’s shown by what he considers the undeserved lack of trust. Somehow he flounders his way towards safety in Gadarike,


Bob Hyslop

‘Behind the Text 35. ‘The Wanderer’ 5 : ‘Empty Triumphs’


This book is the fifth  in ‘The Wanderer’ saga and is set in the lands surrounding the Baltic Sea(985-86) – an early title was ‘The Swedish Sea’. It actually was the first part tackled – a short story inspired by a dream in the early spring of 1992 when I was recovering from an operation (see the progress of the Sons of Hel along the river Rega for what I dreamed). It was lengthened into a novella but stopped at the close of Part 3. I then turned to England, making that Part 1 of a 9 part saga ( a VERY sketchy overall plan was constructed!) and extensive End-Notes were added and became standard practice. Book 6 was revised to conform to companion sections c. 2000 and all published as a trilogy in 2008 in  Print format.

This book falls mainly into three sections. Ethelwulf the Wanderer, trying to blend in with his companions in the hall of Harald Bluetooth of Denmark volunteers to accompany the giant, Thorgrim the Short, to destroy brigands raiding the Wends living south of the Baltic. Victorious they then have to fight the savages they rescued. Finally they are forced to join an attempt by the Viking Styrbjorn to seize the Swedish throne. Disaster is only lessened by Ethelwulf’s military skills but his desire to ‘desert’ makes him unpopular.

Historical knowledge of the Wends is very limited and I have probably made them more savage than reality – even inventing religious rites to that end. Whereas the Jomsvikings, with an equally obscure history, are displayed as well-organised but arrogant bullies. Styrbjorn’s expedition is ‘historical’ but so murky as to give me ready material for fiction.

In this book women play a minor part – Thorgildis & Gunnhild (sister & wife respectively of Thorgrim) are quickly abandoned and Skuna, despite an affaire with Ethelwulf, is soon forgotten. Some characters( e.g.Krull the priest, Kalle Twistneck the brigand, and King Mistivoj) are pure evil. Others (e.g. Tokl, Styrbjorn and Vagn Aagesson) are more enigmatic and a few are mad (e.g. Thrain Lap-ear). A fine collection of play-mates – enough to make Ethelwulf to sail east in an attempt to escape the Viking world.

Thorgrim the Short changes drastically because I shrank his overall role and superseded him by Gunnar the axeman from Ireland. Whereas Gunnar becomes more companionable, trustworthy as the saga moves forward, Thorgrim slumps into a mood of morbid deceit. He’s a hero in Wendland but by the end of the book a paranoid and, in Book 6 , distinctly more dangerous. He almost appears to shrink in size as the story unfolds.

Book5 is halfway through the saga and, being the first written, perhaps suffers from continuity problems. It has some of the nastier passages in the whole work as well as some of my ‘more imaginative’ passages. It’s up to you as to decide if  the effect is to detract from the book.


Bob Hyslop

‘Behind the Text 34. ‘The Wanderer’ 4 : ‘Blood Feud’


This book is the fourth in ‘The Wanderer’ saga and is set in Iceland (984-85). This meant an abundance of ‘historical’ evidence in the form of the Icelandic Sagas. However, these were written down at least two hundred years after this period and, from my long experience, play down the peaceful aspects of Viking life (e.g. farming) The picture they provide of 10th century Iceland is like the Wild West with gunfights replaced by duels. Perfect for wanderers like Ethelwulf and his followers? Not quite, if, as in the case of Ethelwulf, the exiled Thane of Arne, you tumble into a violent dispute which becomes a blood feud. I should add that I include much procedural detail of how the community was managed – as well as how they celebrated Yuletide and organised the Althing (the earliest Parliament in the world).

I especially enjoyed having Ethelwulf ‘interact with  several of the personalities seen in the ‘Saga of Burnt Njal’ and the ‘Laxdaela Saga’. Of course, he doesn’t get on well with Skarp-Hedin nor Hallgerd, is nonplussed by Njal’s interrogation but irritated by Snorri the Priest and challenged by the Gunnar Hamundarson. Some of the tales appearing in the sagas are repeated here.

I added several characters to this rich mix. Here are some of them: the basic villain is Grim Gillisson who starts the feud by killing Ketil Clubfoot; the obnoxious Kalle Sigurdsson, whose story had to be omitted in the printed trilogy; the witch, Thorkalata, whose predictions haunt the exiles for the rest of the saga and her rival, Thurid, whose pleasant exterior hides a matching evil; and Thorleik the Black, a farmer who dies fighting at Ethelwulf’s side and is buried with a reminder of his killing of Eric Tin. There are several encounters between the few Christians on the island and the pagan bulk of the population. There is no sign that within 20 years Iceland was going to reject paganism in the manner as described in the ‘Saga of Burnt Njal’.

The climax is reached at the Althing where the dispute is not settled by judgement but in blood.   Even so, a key part of the book is played by women. Naturally there’s the rivalry of Hallgerd (Gunnar’s scheming wife) and Bergthora (Njal’s ruthless spouse) which fill several pages in the ‘Saga of Burnt Njal’. I must add Hallgerd, widow of Ketil, who draws Ethelwulf into the feud, the two witches. Thorkalata & Thurid,  Brid, the slave and the gentle Gudrun who, along with husband Hoskuld, are victimised by Kalle Sigurdsson before he comes to a sticky end.

This was written somewhat late (started 17/8/2004)- chiefly due to hesitation about how to best use such source material. However, this proved to be one of my favourite parts of ‘The Wanderer Saga’. I wonder if you can identify some of the reasons.


Bob Hyslop