Monday, 30 June 2014

King's Herald Contest I - closed

Hear me, hear me good folk of Henry V Lancaster!

Would you test yourself as the King's herald?

We hope you enjoyed the article about the coat of arms.
For all of you left anxious to read about the proper blazoning of the Neville coat of arms we have good news!

Before you will be able to find the answer in the book we want to give YOU the opportunity to try and construct the correct blazoning as a professional herald would do!
We gave you the clues in the article and you can find more information on blazoning in the vast archives of the web.


All of you who suggest the correct Neville coat of arms blazoning will have a chance to win a copy of the ebook for FREE!
Provide your answer in the comments to this post. First 5 contestants who get it right OR sufficiently close OR particularly creative will get the reward.

a sample answer may look like this:
arms gules two bars ermine
arms argent a chevron between seven martlets gules (4&3)

Prove that you have what it takes to be the King's herald!

The contest results shall be announced on the day of the publication of the book - July 15th 2014

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Gentlemen of Pitchfork - Excerpt I

            In the growing darkness king Henry’s camp boiled with preparations for the attack. Retinues of John Holland and the Baron of Pitchfork took position along the stockade. The eastern part of the camp was obscured by smoke from the heavy bombards and handguns. Before the attack the gunners doubled the efforts to make way for the cramped men-at-arms and archers. The latter were frantically checking up arrow fletchings and putting strings on their yew and ash bowstaves. The soldiers were glancing upon the walls, nervously grasping their halberds, spetums, glaives* and partisans*. The King rode onto the back of the awaiting troops. His suite spread behind him. Mounted on the grand steed, he looked majestic. On the tabard he had arms quarterly: 1 and 4 azure three fleurs de lys or, 2 and 3 gules in pale three lions passant guardant or – the coat of arms of the reigning house.  Henry was sitting straight in his high-bowed saddle. He did not put the helmet on and his noble, proud face was clearly visible in the camp’s lights. A long scar ran across his right cheek – a strong accent in his aristocratic features. It was a souvenir from the battle of Shrewsbury. On the king’s right hand rode Edward, the Duke of York  - Henry’s uncle. On the king’s left hand rode Humfred, the Duke of Gloucester, the youngest son of Henry IV and the elderly, yet highly experienced king’s counsellor – Sir Thomas Erpingham. All of the king’s closest companions wore full plate armour and helmets.
            “Sons of England!” Henry’s words broke through the artillery’s turmoil. “The walls have been crumbled! Harfleur welcomes us! Please accept its hospitality tonight and abandon the comforts of your tents! I invite you to my home, Normandy, as you are now standing on its porch!” The king spoke louder and louder and the warriors’ eager cries echoed him. “You are at home here, you just need to drive away the intruders who invaded your household. Attack in the name of Saint George!”
            A collective cry rose in the air. Sir John Holland shut the visor of his basinet* and twirled his high-raised sword. The English knights, spearmen and archers poured out from behind the stockade. The latter were the most numerous and they were the first to start the bloody craft. The bombards went silent and the night’s sky sizzled only with arrows and bolts.
            Sir Robert ran, leaning slightly, with his visor closed. In front of him he could only see his father’s back covered with a plate. The baron of Pitchfork ran close to him, grasping with both hands his favourite weapon – a poleaxe* over 6 feet long.
            “Gregory, stay close!” Robert yelled to his panting squire. “And I will keep close to my cousin”, he thought.
            The first wave of the attackers reached the rubble. It once was a deep moat, naturally carved out by the river Leur. Holland and his knights started climbing down, accompanied by the clanking of armour. The spearmen clambered after them. The archers were stopping every once in a while trying to spot the defenders on the walls.
            When the first wave descended to the moat, they were showered with bolts and stones.
            “Halt!” cried Sir Ralph.
            The second wave caught up with Holland’s men, who had not yet managed to climb down the rubble.
            “Scatter and take cover until there’s place for us!” Sir Ralph shouted to the cramped knights.
            “Take cover and await the command!”, the Baron of Pitchfork echoed him in a deep voice.
            Robert pushed the squire toward the nearby pile of charred wooden stakes – the remnants of the fortifications. He crouched himself close by. Still not all of Holland’s men managed to get down to the moat. Robert saw his father and his cousin hiding behind a heap of stones. In the background he spotted crossbowmen looming on the walls. Although they were at a considerable distance, he would swore he heard an order in French. An instant later two of Arthur’s men fell to the ground. One, tossed with convulsions, was holding his stomach. The other lied unnaturally still. A trickle of blood flowed from under his kettle hat*.
            “Crossbowmen, behind you!” cried Sir Robert and pointed at the walls.
       Sir Ralph glanced towards the barbican and cursed. With growing anxiety Robert watched the first wave run through the moat. Why are they moving so slowly? He glanced back at the knights surrounding Arthur and Ralph. Just in time to see a bolt hitting the head of Sir Thomas Crawley crouching on the edge of the group. His father’s friend cocked his head and fell dead, face down. Robert felt suddenly that none of this is real. Fear made him stop thinking and start acting upon instincts. He only saw a couple archers come to aid the knights. They covered the French crossbowmen with arrows at an incredible pace. Finally he rose to his feet and rushed through the filled up moat. He did not hear the cries or commands. He just ran and didn’t even notice joining Sir John Holland’s men fighting in the crowd. The few images that he later remembered of the assault was the second wave of men-at-arms breaking through the torn ramparts to meet the wall of French halberds. His last memory was of a muffled clatter, when the mighty strike of a pole-arm knocked him, unconscious, to the ground.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Neville Coat of Arms

'Gentlemen of Pitchfork' tells the story of Sir Robert Neville, a young English knight of a minor noble house. You could have already learned that Sir Robert Neville is also, not but sheer coincidence, the author's alias during knightly tournments. Truth be told Sir Robert Neville is a fictictous character. He is however well situated in the reality of his times.

Are they THOSE Nevilles?

The Nevilles from the book are a minor and fictitious branch of the famous House Neville, the ones that gave England Richard 'The Kingmaker' Neville among many other prominent figures.
Just as any respectable noble house would do, our Nevilles have a coat of arms - depicted above for your entertainment and education.

A bit of theory

Coat of arms was the main element of the sophisticated heraldic system. Its purpose was yet simple. To allow for identifying individuals by means of distinctive hereditary insignia. What's more interesting is that the coat of arms were assumptive i.e. assumed without reference to any higher authority. Anyone who wished to have a coat of arms just invented one. With the exception of people and families already possessing coat of arms who would proudly continue to bear them and protect their unique 'brand' against any 'unfair usage'.

How do I read it?

Each coat of arms is composed according to a strict set of rules and using a defined set of elements. There are colours called 'tinctures', divisions defining the amount and shape of fields on the shield, various types of partition lines and finally 'charges' - devices on the shield. This complex system with wide array of types and elements allowed for nearly unlimited number of combinations. A coat of arms for everyone, on the house!

Great, but HOW do I read it?

Now comes the tricky part. All elements have their special names. Initially they were named in French or Latin, later came the use of local languages but preserving some of the original nomenclature. The art of properly reading out loud a coat of arms was in fact... an art. And it was called 'Blazoning'.
When a knight entered a tournment he was announced by the sounding of a trumpet and the calling out of his coat of arms. Aside from the proper glossary blazoning had to keep a proper order. First came the tincture of the field, then the type of the division. Next, describe the partition lines only if they're not straight. Finally came the charges. That's the basics at least, by no means exhaustive.

arms quarterly 1&4 azure semee de lis or, a bordure compony gules and argent 2&3 sable a lion rampant or armed and langued gules.

Pretty straightforward isn't it? This is a blazon of one of the historical figures that appear in 'Gentlemen of Pitchfork'. Can you guess who that is? Please share it with us in the comments!

Neville coat of arms

The above coat of arms is a classic design that includes basic tinctures, shield division and badges. Claiming kinship with the major House Neville it partly comprises of the official Neville coat of arms that you can find in an English heraldic guide. The whole coat of arms was however created for the purpose of the book.
Would you like to know its proper blazoning?
Look out for posts coming this week!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Friday, 20 June 2014

More about the author

Kamil Gruca was born in Warsaw in 1982 as one of the so-called 'Marshall law children'. It was winter after the general Wojciech Jaruzelski decided exceptional measures were necessary in order to keep the country under control. It was cold and the army patrolled the streets. It was one of the turning points for Polish socialism. Some circumstances to be born in! Still, Kamil claims having no personal memories of that time.

Kamil became passionate about history early on. His interest was as much theoretical as practical and in his teens he joined one of the earliest historical reenactment groups in Poland. Those were the dark ages for the 'Knights Movement'. Nobody had much of an idea how to craft weapons or armour. Not to mention how to sew historical attire. A common sight on a tournment was a knight in linen rags and bucket helm. Obviously, seriuos injuries were a plenty. The positive side of it was that the medieval reenactment groups were made of truly passionate and devoted people. A few of them were seriously interested in reconstructing the nearly lost art of swordfighting, the true one so much unlike the acrobatics we see in the movies. As Kamil honed his sword skills, from a common soldier he grew up to become a knight, winning tournment fights, acquiring a sturdy plate armour and a fine sword. In 2006 consistent training finally resulted in winning the Polish Knights League where participants gather points competing in selected tournments throughout the year. Sample disciplines include group skirmishes, sport duels and freestyle duels. After joining the reenactment group his interest in medieval history focused on the 100 Years War which was the main theme of the group. Thus the seed for the book was planted.

Writing has always been in Kamil's blood. Prior to the 'Gentlemen of Pitchfork' Kamil experimented with fantasy short stories and a philosophical detective story which never saw the light of day but were a good testing ground. After graduating from the Faculty of Philosophy at The Warsaw University Kamil decided to move to France where he focused on developing the book using the rich resources of local libraries and archieves to bring historical depth to the story. Thus the 'Gentlemen of Pitchfork' were born.
Published in 2009 by one of Polish major publishing houses Rebis the book received a warm welcome by critics, readers and fellow writers.
It was soon followed by a sequel 'Baron i Łotr' which brought closure to the plot.
Currently Kamil is working on a series of historical novels focused around one of Poland's most famous knights - Zawisza Czarny - and his numerous, not so famous yet equally interesting brothers.

Beside writing Kamil devotes much of his time to his another passion - programming scripts which he treats as a fine exercise in logics.
Currently Kamil lives in Warsaw with his family.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The making of

The idea for the book appeared around 2006 after Kamil Gruca won the annual Knights League contest. Kamil has been in the reenactors' movement for about 10 years already, learning history not only from the books but also from the routine of a knight's everyday life on a war expedition.
A life filled not only with sword training, wench pinching and deadly combat, but also the monotony of camp life, discomforts of travelling, poor diet and unfavourable weather.
Kamil's period of choice was the 100 Years War and the reality of life of English free companies, archers and knights alike.

One of key points was to ensure the highest level of historical fidelity possible and blend it with an engaging and dynamic plot so as not to write another history grimoire.
Using the already created persona of Sir Robert Neville it quickly became clear to Kamil what kind of story he would want to tell.
Despite some range of source material was available at hand it turned out that in order to dig deeper in the details of the period it was necessary to reach to the very source - French historical documents.
Kamil moved to France for two years to study whatever the French libraries and archives had to offer.

Another key aspect was to portray swordfights in the way they actually happen. Modern films and fantasy book tend to side with the more visual charm of this discipline ignoring practicality and realism. That is understandable. For Kamil however, who is reconstructing the nearly lost art of medieval swordsmanship from lost treatises and chronicles it was and is important to promote the true image of this art. Without lacking on the flash and bang end of course!

This book is a work of love. Love for the art of the sword, love for history and love for a good story above all.
We hope you enjoy it!

The book

Join Sir Robert Neville, a young English knight, on a quest to discover the true nature of chivalry, love and philosophy in the unwelcoming lands of Northern France where he follows Henry V Lancaster on a campaign to reclaim his rightful legacy of the French crown.

 'Gentlemen of Pitchfork' takes place in the turbulent times of the 100 Years War. A war of succession between the English and the French crown. Moreover, due to the poor psychic condition of the French King, the State is torn within by an internal struggle for power between the dukes. 
It is told from the point of view of a young and poor English knight. He will get his first taste of war, sieges, duels, betrayal and intrigue but also love and practical philosophy.

There will be blood. 
There will be romance. 
There will be abductions and pursuits. 
There will be great history that echoed for centuries long after the last screams of the dying at Agincourt could be heard.

 A book like that has never been written before.
Don't miss out on this great adventure.

About the author

Kamil Gruca is an active knight who confirmed his battle prowess by winning the Polish National Knights League in 2006 under the alias of Sir Robert Neville. He has studied medieval swordsmanship for over 15 years hence his novels are full of dynamic and realistic swordplay.

Kamil is currently honing his skills at the Historical Academy of the Sword:

Historical Academy of the Sword

Being an avid reenactor and a passionate history geek the author moved to France to study documents unavailable in other countries that would add to the feel and realism of the book on multiple levels.

We encourage you to visit Kamil's reenactment group:

His first novel “Panowie z Pitchfork” was published in 2009 by a major publishing house Rebis. Receiving a warm welcome from Polish critics, readers and fellow writers, the first part of the adventures of the young and keen Sir Robert was soon followed by a sequel “Baron i Łotr”, published by another publishing house Znak, bringing closure to the major plot.

Now it is time to share the story with readers all around the globe.

Gentlemen of Pitchfork publication date revealed!

'Gentlemen of Pitchfork' shall be available in softcopy on amazon Kindle Store on 15th of July 2014.

Please join us on our Facebook page (see Links section) where you will have a glipse on some excerpts from the book prior to the publication date.