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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gold and Treasure: a blog for Valentine's Day

As my final Valentine's blog today I’m talking a bit about the release of my third ‘knight’ book, A Knight’s Enchantment, plus some lost medieval treasures that I would love to find.

Every girl and boy in England knows that King John was forced by his barons to sign the Magna Carta, limiting his powers, and that he lost the crown jewels in the Wash, the wide inlet of the North Sea to the north of East Anglia, while travelling north from Norfolk into Lincolnshire. Apparently John was ill and took a long route, while sending the baggage on a short cut across the estuary of one of the rivers emptying into the Wash. The baggage train, slow and lumbering, was overwhelmed by the tide, and in 2008 two geologists suggested that there might have been a local tsunami, possibly caused in turn by an underwater landslide.

There is a legend that a monk called Brother Simon made off with the jewels, selling them round Europe to add riches to the Templar order. There is also a claim that the wily King John arranged for the jewels to 'disappear'. If he did, he didn't live to benefit from it - a few nights after that unfortunate crossing, he died of his illness. He was buried at Worcester, without any crowns.

What would these missing jewels have looked like? Were they even crowns? We know that King John loved collecting jewels and that he owned silver and gold plate. He also had the regalia he'd inherited from the Empress Maud. This regalia is missing from an inventory used by John's son Henry at his coronation as Henry III in 1220, so it would seem they were lost. However Roger de Wendover’s Flores Historiarum (Flowers of History), written around 1230, says that the lost treasure was ‘precious vessels, and all the other things which he cherished with special care’. Ralph of Coggeshall’s Chronicon Anglicanum says it was ‘his chapel with its relics … and diverse household effects’. None of these items sound like crowns or regalia.

There are surviving crowns from later periods, especially from the time of King Richard II. In his reign he ordered that a treasure roll be drawn up, inventorying the crowns and jewels in his household. There are crowns (eleven of them), chaplets, brooches, circlets, small jewels, cups and ewers. The only surviving crown, sent to Bavaria for the marriage of Henry IV's daughter Blanche, is certainly very beautiful. Given the skill of goldsmiths throughout the ages, from Sutton Hoo, the Staffordshire Hoard and onwards, I imagine the jewels John lost were spectacular. If I could somehow dig down over twenty feet of silt (knowing first where to dig!), I would love to rediscover them.

People have always hidden and lost treasure. In my novel, 'A Knight's Enchantment,' - which takes place during the reign of the unfortunate King John - the heroine Joanna discovers a hoard of hidden gold hidden by a Viking adventurer. Here’s the excerpt. Joanna and Hugh have been forced to spend the night together, out of doors in a small cave. This action takes place the following morning:


Hugh tethered and tended Lucifer, roughed a little with Beowulf, cut reeds for bedding, collected firewood and kept a sharp eye on Joanna. She made no move to flee from the cave, which surprised him, and met him at the cave mouth with his armload of reeds, which astonished him.

"What is it?" he asked. Her eyes were wide and her color high, lighting up her tanned face, making her very pretty. This would be how she would look in love-making, he realized, and felt a mingled twist of desire and jealousy. "Well?" he demanded, now using a hated phrase of his father's, "Must I wait for doomsday before you speak?"

"I know what the runes say, and we must dig." She was clearly too excited to notice his rudeness. "There is treasure here! Viking gold! Look -"

She caught his hand in hers and fairly dragged him back with her, careless of whether he smacked his head on the low cave roof. Crook-backed, he let her guide him, enjoying the feel of her small fingers round his palm.

"Look!" She dropped to her knees beside the maze of marks he had found at the back of the cave years earlier. The setting sun blazed into the small dry space - had it always been this small? - turning rock and stone golden. The runes on one darker-hued stone close to the cave floor seemed faded to Hugh's eyes, but his eager companion read them easily.

"Orri's horde is here. A mighty gift." She pointed to an X shaped rune. "This rune, Gebo, means gift." She touched three straight lines with her foot. "Three, then dig, it goes on."

She stepped three paces from the cave wall and began to hack at the earth floor with her knife.

"Wait!" She was wilder than he was, in a fight, Hugh thought, astonished by this whirl of activity. "You will blunt your blade. I have something better."

He looked amongst his things and found the small hammer he used to drive in tent and baggage pegs and the metal file he used to sharpen his sword. He set to work, driving the file into the hard-packed soil where Joanna was laboring, and in a few moments struck something that rang out like a broken bell.

"Let me -" Joanna had her fingers probing and tearing at the loosened earth and now she sat back on her heels, a great smile of pleasure breaking on her face. "We have it!"

Down by her knees was a torn bag, gray-black and half-rotten, no more than wisps of cloth. But through the tangle of fraying threads he saw the unmistakable gleam of gold.

"Orri's hoard," Joanna said softly. "He must have left it here for safety and never come back."

She moved but Hugh was swifter, scooping the coins and rings out of the dirt and onto his cloak.


Fairness made him look at her and offer her a ring: a pretty one, he thought. "Thank you," he said. "That will be most useful."

Joanna stared at the ring without taking it. "You do not think we should share?"

He smiled at the question. "What use would you have for old coins? Your lord gives you all you need, but I must make my own way."

Her eyes narrowed. "You do not think I have expenses? Debts?"

"Take the ring, and this golden chain," he urged, shrugging off her questions, dismissing them as girlish folly. "Both would look well on you, I think. Were I your bishop, it would give me pleasure to see you wearing them."

'Thank you, my lord." She took them, almost a snatch, and retreated to the very back of the cave, leaving him to make up their rough reed mattresses, and a fire.

"Will you leave scrabbling for more messages and condescend to help me a little?" he demanded, some time later, as the fire began to smoke. "Feed this while I find food to feed us."

"I thought you preferred to do all things yourself," she retorted. "Besides, you do not have enough kindling."

"If you can do better, do so." Hugh left her sulking over the crackling flames and stamped off outside again. When he returned, Joanna was nowhere to be seen and the fire was a glowing, growing mass of orange. Even as he stared in amazement, the whole mass exploded into more flames and gushed a fog-bank of purple smoke.

More details here:



Maria Zannini said...

How exciting! You can't go wrong with buried treasure. No matter what happens, you're going to get adventure.

Virginia said...

Great excerpt, hunting for treasure is a great concept for a book. It would keep you on your toes.


desitheblonde said...

the treasure! that would make me want to read more if you were the queen what would you were .

Maria said...

I love this period in history- did my bachelor's thesis on King Richard 1. I just recently purchased "A Knight's Enchantment" and am really looking forward to reading it and yes, I do like stories with buried treasure!


Linda Banche said...

I love this excerpt. Good for Joanna for not letting Hugh get away with cheating her.

heavy hedonist said...

Interesting story there, and an interesting quest you're on-- finding lost treasure. Good luck!

Cindy L said...

I would love to find buried treasure! How great would it be to uncover something that hadn't been seen for centuries!


Di said...

I love a story about a knight. Beautiful pictures.

sallans d at yahoo dot com

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks everyone! I'd delighted you enjoyed it and found it interesting - I love buried treasure, too.
Happy Valentine's Day!