Watch me on “Private Lives of the Monarchs” – discussing royal secrets

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 11.23.06Back in April 2017, I filmed for a new TV series called Private Lives of the Monarchs investigating the salacious royal secrets of various kings and queens.

The first episode airs in the UK on 20 November 2017 and will look at Queen Victoria featuring a private life that will surprise you.

In Australia, where the series has already started to air on SBS, I believe they have kicked off with a very raunchy look at Charles II, known for good reason as The Merry Monarch.

The series is presented by Tracy Borman – a highly respected author, historian and curator of the Royal Palaces. It’s an enjoyable watch – I think – and your feedback on my on screen performances would be hugely appreciated.

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Ten best medieval TV series

Like most of you – I love watching historical TV series.  Even the ones that are a little suspect from a factual point of view.  Some lists of medieval TV series include stuff I wouldn’t regard as being strictly medieval.  Hope I’m a bit more authentic here.  We’ve been spoilt in the recent past so let’s look at what we’ve been offered.

PILLARS OF THE EARTH

Pillars of the Earth brought us a murderous romp from the civil war that engulfed England under the reign of King Stephen. It was a period called The Great Anarchy that tore families apart and reduced some aristocrats to outlaw status. This was at the beginning of the Templar era and a very violent time for England. I loved this series – absolutely faultless.

THE DEVIL’S CROWN

This was a BBC series about the Plantagenet kings that never got repeated after a controversial airing in the late 70s. It’s quite gory in parts including a very disturbing castration. The style is a bit dated but to get to grips with English history at the time of the Templars, I can’t recommend this enough.

DA VINCI’S DEMONS

Total nonsense about a young Leonardo da Vinci on a quest to find the “book of leaves”. Set at the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance. The series was pulled as it got sillier and sillier. But it’s a decent enough romp through the corruption of Italy at its most artistic and innovative.

GAME OF THRONES

It’s mythical, Tolkein with attitude and full of gory violence – but strangely, it captures the flavour of the Middle Ages quite well.  Full of court intrigue and belief in strange beings that dwell in the forests, what’s not to like as a medievalist? I’m always of the view that the Targaryen family are basically the long reigning Plantagenets of England who went a bit off the rails with Richard II. The dynasty ended with his murder and a usurper Henry taking over. Sounds familiar?

WORLD WITHOUT END

Like Pillars of the Earth, this comes from the pen of Ken Follett – only now we’ve moved about 150 years ahead. This is the reign of Edward III and again, it’s after another civil war. The last king, Edward II, has been killed….or has he?  Edward II, by the way, was the last king to preside over the Knights Templar before they were crushed.

THE WHITE QUEEN

BBC drama series takes us to the War of the Roses – the bloody end to the Middle Ages in England when the aristocracy tore itself to pieces. This focuses on the strong women who emerged in this conflict.

MERLIN

Merlin had a long grey beard when I was a kid but the BBC re-imagined him as a youth for this very dynamic and rather scary kids series.

THIBAUD

This was a 1960s French TV series about a crusader – I just like the theme tune to be honest! It’s a classic depiction of the Templars all neatly laundered white tunics and long flowing hair. Nobody seems to ever get filthy and dirty in the battle scenes.

ARABIAN KNIGHTS

This cartoon series was part of the goofy 1960s/70s kids show Banana Splits – it completely shaped my early view of the saracens.

THE TUDORS

I was brought up to believe that the Middle Ages ended at the Battle of Bosworth and you couldn’t really call the Tudors medieval.  But I think that view might be simplistic. The Tudors were as much medieval as modern and so I’ve included the delightful Henry VIII and his unfortunate wives. Henry is depicted as rather dashing and good looking – which he was to start with – but he never becomes the corpulent ogre that he did in real life in this series.

Many of these TV series exerted a huge influence on the writing of my Templar novel Quest for the True Cross which you can download on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback in the US and UK. See if you can spot the TV historical influences! And watch the book trailer promo video here:

Epiphany – the three kings or Magi

Three_kings.tifSeveral days after Christmas – the day which marks the birth of Christ – comes the Epiphany signifying the arrival of the three wise men at the stable.  Known in England as ‘Twelfth Night’ when players called ‘mummers’ would perform.  Up until the 19th century, Twelfth Night was as magical if not more so than Christmas Day itself.  But given that the reference to the three kings is a passing paragraph in the gospel of Matthew, how did it come to have such a powerful hold on medieval minds?

Well, like many biblical stories, it underwent a certain amount of embroidering at later hands that most Christians today are unaware of and had nothing to do with the original gospel account.  The casting of the three men as kings is largely the work of two early Christian scholars – Tertullian and Origen – whose writings were regarded as a bit suspect by the early church though they were hugely influential.  Tertullian was keen to prove that the Jews were no longer God’s chosen people and the act of obeisance by the kings to Jesus fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy thereby proving he was the Messiah.

The naming of the three kings is not recorded in any document prior to the sixth century AD and first crops up in Alexandria.  The kings were called:

Melchoir – King of Arabia – who brought gold – an old man

Balthasar – King of Ethiopia – who brought frankincense – a middle aged man

Caspar (or Jasper in England) – King of Tarsus – who brought myrrh – a young man

In medieval mystery plays, the story of the three kings got ever more convoluted. Words were put in to their mouths that had never existed in the bible. In the English city of Chester, the mystery plays depicted different parts of the bible and trades guilds would be assigned a particular story to tell.  The drapers and hosiers did the creation of the world, the goldsmiths and masons enacted the slaughter of the innocents and it fell to the mercers and spicers to depict the three kings.

Somehow in the Middle Ages, the story of the Magi became bound up with Saint Helena – the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine who converted to Christianity at the start of the fourth century – starting a process that would take the empire from paganism to a new religion.  Helena, in real life, was from Bithynia in modern Turkey and after her son took control of the empire, she bolstered his new found faith by miraculously discovering the true cross, the nails used in the crucifixion and the robe worn by Christ just before being put to death.

But in England, Helena’s story changed dramatically in the Middle Ages.  She became the daughter of Coel the Old or ‘King Cole’ – first king of the British.  He held court in Colchester where, the legend went, Helena was born….not in Bithynia.  Furthermore, not only did she discover the aforementioned relics, but this British born saint went all the way to India and dug up the bones of the three kings bringing them back to the royal court in Constantinople.  From there they went to Milan and eventually ended up in Cologne cathedral.

So convinced were the medieval English that Helena was a daughter of Colchester that she was venerated in the city with something of a cult developing around her.  The city townsfolk said she was the most beautiful woman who had ever lived and in a well, she found three ‘golden heads’ of the Magi and they told her to look after them.  In return they ensured that she was married to the greatest of kings.

 

Desposyni – the blood line of Jesus

The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most ven...
The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of Orthodox Christian icons of the Virgin Mary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did Jesus have a real flesh and blood family and therefore descendants?

It’s surprising how long this debate has been going for.  Right back in to the early persecuted church during the Roman Empire.  Possibly as far back as the first generation of Christians – especially those who did not fall in to line with Paul.

From the early years, there was a split between Christians who saw the new religion as an extension or fulfillment of Jewish scripture and those who saw it as something distinct from Judaism and universal in application.

The former group, that included sects like the Ebionites, saw Jesus as a Jewish messiah and tended to conceptualize him in human terms.  The latter group, that included groups like the Marcionites, took the view that Christianity could be spread to the gentiles and saw Jesus as a more spiritual, almost disembodied entity.  The latter group even rejected the wrath filled and very Jewish god of the Old Testament.

The former strand of Christianity was capable of holding the notion of a bloodline – indeed, Jesus was believed to have come from a royal Jewish bloodline and his descendants were very real and amongst us.  This was anathema to what became the Catholic church.  Why?  Well, think about it – who’s the real vicar of Christ on earth, the pope in Saint Peter’s or the bodily descendant of the messiah?

Paul wrenched Christianity away from its Jewish roots, though a Jew himself, and took it to the Greeks and Romans.  He set in train a process whereby Christianity was adopted by the very people who had crucified the messiah.

Paul hated any whiff of competition from those in Palestine who had known Jesus – which Paul hadn’t.  So he emphasized the godly and spiritual nature of Jesus, a nature that he could know more about than those pesky disciples in Palestine who had walked with the man himself.  He could even know more about Jesus than the messiah’s very own brother – James – who we believe became a leader of the new sect in Jerusalem after the crucifixion.

Jesus did have brothers and sisters, mentioned in the gospels, but the church soon found a way of downgrading their importance.  Without any grounding in scripture, they inferred through various dogmas and doctrinal statements that these siblings were in fact the children of Joseph and an earlier wife – not the by now virginal Mary.  They might even be cousins, some suggested.

Mary as a perpetual virgin was key to removing the Desposyni – descendants of Jesus – from the Christian equation.  In spite of reports that two Desposyni were brought before the Roman emperor Domitian, the bloodline of Jesus was swept under the theological carpet.