This story is a taster extract from The Abduction of Lady Alice
Copyright © 2017 Christopher Webster
aka Bard of Burgh Conan
All rights reserved.
As a boy, I had a panoramic view of Conisbrough Castle from my bedroom window in our house in Roberts Avenue. Not surprisingly, therefore, I grew up with an interest in its history. I was intrigued to read in the official guidebook (Thompson, M. W., Conisbrough Castle, Ministry of Works, 1959) a brief mentioned that the castle had once been under siege, but no details were given. Recently, I tried to find out more about this siege. My interest had been revived by a recent visit to the castle and the guided tour through the keep which included an audio dramatisation of the events surrounding the siege. Thanks partly to Conisbrough library and partly to the Internet, I was able to piece together a surprisingly detailed account. This account was the basis of a poem entitled, The Bridal of Eubulo le Strange which is published in [+ Conisbrough Tales+]. I went on to do further research, and wrote the novel, [+ The Abduction of Lady Alice+], from which the following is an extract.
THE SIEGE OF CONISBROUGH CASTLE
All the stories they tell about the abduction of Lady Alice are wrong. First of all, it wasn’t an abduction, because she went willingly, nor was it an elopement, because they couldn’t be married, as she was still married to Lancaster. Finally, there was no dramatic chase – like the old poem describes, though it is true that Lancaster was not long in coming after her.
De Warenne and San Martin had been closeted in the Great Chamber for most of the morning. Eubulo and Oswin were summoned for various minor errands, but whenever they entered the room, De Warenne and San Martin stopped talking and looked abstractedly out of the Great Window. It was clear that some secret plan was being hatched.
At noon, De Warenne called for refreshment, and Eubulo and Oswin brought food and drink from the kitchens. Oswin spread the table and Eubulo poured the wine, then assuming that De Warenne and San Martin would wish to continue their private conference while they ate, he bowed and left the room. De Warenne called him back.
“Eubulo, stay and serve, and listen to what we have to say. Tell him, San Martin.”
San Martin put down the wing of chicken that he was eating, and looked at Eubulo. “Well, my boy, tonight we are going to make your dreams come true!”
Eubulo wondered if it had something to do with Alice, but decided not to say anything. San Martin continued: “Sir John has decided to help you in your little love affair…”
Eubulo must have looked shocked, because San Martin said suddenly, “Don’t look so surprised. He knows all about it. I told him everything that happened on our visits to Pomfret.”
“But Lady Alice is…”
“Yes, Lancaster’s wife – but not for much longer if Lancaster gets his way.”
“That would be rich!” said De Warenne, getting up and waling to the window seat. “I’ve tried for years to get a divorce, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his goes through without any problem. The king is afraid of him, and his paid prelates…”
“But why…?” said Eubulo.
De Warenne turned round, and for a moment he was a dark figure silhouetted against the bright midday sunlight that streamed in through the window.
“Let’s say it’s one in the eye for Lancaster. He has thwarted me at every turn. He tried to kill me at the tournament – as you, yourself, saw, and he has used his influence to block my divorce. Well, your little love affair will give him something to think about!”
He came back to the table, poured himself another cup of wine before Eubulo could do it for him, and gulped it down as though it was an antidote to the poison of Lancaster. Then he speared a roasted songbird with his knife, and started to pick at it thoughtfully. “There’s another thing,” he said. “It is not my custom to discuss my private affairs with my squires, but you have seen how it is with me. My marriage is a disaster, but I have a chance of love, and I am trying to grasp it. You also have a chance, and I want to help you.”
“I know what you are going to say. Lancaster will get his divorce – God damn the man! – and then Alice will be free to marry you. All we have to do is to get her out of Lancaster’s clutches.”
“That’s where I come in,” said San Martin. “This afternoon we will go to Pomfret as usual – we have been so often that no-one will take notice, and we will watch for an opportunity to take Lady Alice away.”
“But how?” said Eubulo.
“Don’t worry,” said San Martin. “Leave it to me. I have a plan. All I want you to do is to meet me at the gatehouse in one hour in full armour.”
“Full armour! What, are we going to fight?”
San Martin tapped the side of his nose as if to say that he was giving away no secrets, grinning as he did so. He was obviously enjoying himself hugely. “Oh, and one more thing. “Bring William – but he is to dress in travelling clothes – no armour.”
They arrived at Pomfret as the day began to wane. In those difficult and dangerous times the castle was always well guarded, but the men at arms at the gatehouse recognised San Martin and Eubulo immediately and let them pass without question. A page conducted them into Lancaster’s presence, who welcomed them with scant courtesy. “Here again, San Martin? What is it now?”
“My lord has delegated me to look into the case of David of Doncaster.”
“What, David again! Didn’t I set him free a long time ago?”
San Martin bowed. “Indeed, my lord, but it is the matter of the prize that I come about. The prize was given to Fulk de Burgh, and since the charge against David was proved to be groundless, it should be rightfully his.”
“Well, I will look into it,” said Lancaster, though of course he hadn’t the slightest intention of doing so. Always the consummate politician, he knew it was better to make an empty promise than give a downright refusal. San Martin was satisfied, not because he believed Lancaster, but because that was not the main purpose of his visit.
“Join me in the banqueting hall. It will be plain fare tonight, but wholesome.”
Lancaster’s plain fare would have been a feast to any other man, even a man of noble birth. Every kind of meat was on offer from haunches of venison to dainty songbirds, as well as beer from Pomfret and wine from Aquitaine. San Martin recognised many of Lancaster’s henchmen, among them Lockwood and Quarmby – of the Lady Alice, however, there was no sign.
As a guest, Eubulo was not expected to wait at table, but he and William were sent to the lower tables with Lancaster’s men-at-arms. Here the food was still good, though plain. There was pork instead of venison, and small beer instead of wine.
Eubulo had been here before, but still could not help looking round with admiration. This hall was twice the size of the hall at Coningsburgh. The high, vaulted ceiling was supported by massive round columns with elaborately carved and painted capitals. Lancaster’s coat of arms, brilliant with argent, gules and gold was painted on the wall behind his high seat. The escutcheons of his knights were ranged on either side in a bright array of lions, griffons and dragons, rampant, regardant, couchant, and every other posture allowed by the laws of heraldry. Along the sides of the hall were hung great tapestries blazoned with the deeds of Lancaster’s ancestors; sieges, battles, tournaments so realistic that trumpets seemed to blow and banners seemed to wave – an illusion that was heightened by the slight movements of the tapestries and the flickering of the torches.
When the meal was over, a page showed the visitors to a distant part of the castle where they were to spend the night. It was clear that Lancaster wanted to be left alone to carouse – or plot – with his followers. That suited San Martin admirably, however, as they would be free to find Lady Alice and make preparations for her abduction.
But where was she?
The Great Solar was the obvious place to begin. They climbed the winding staircase, and were admitted by the guard who knew them well. But the room was empty, despite signs of recent occupation. There was a fire burning in the grate, and two goblets of wine on a small table. In the window seat Eubulo noticed her needlework basket and a piece of tapestry cast carelessly aside.
“Where is the Lady Alice?” San Martin asked the guard.
“She left with her companion and her aunt just before you came,” replied the guard, “but I don’t know where they went.”
“Of all the times for a woman to go missing!” hissed San Martin under his breath. “We must find her tonight – but we must be careful not to raise any suspicion.”
They set off along a passageway leading to a corner tower. The passage led to a spiral staircase at second-floor level. The sound of female voices and light laughter could be faintly heard.
“William, take a look up there. Eubulo, go and see what’s at the end of the passage. I’m going to see what’s downstairs. Let’s meet back here in a few minutes. If you bump into anybody asking awkward questions, just say that you are lost.”
At the end of the passage Eubulo came to a large double door. There was no guard outside. He pushed it gingerly and peeped inside. It was a chapel with huge vaulted roof, and high stained-glass windows, though their magnificence could not be fully appreciated as it was dark outside and the candlelight was barely enough to pick out dim colours of the saints and sinners depicted there. At the altar, three women were kneeling in prayer with their backs to him, and at the other side of the altar was a priest. He heard the door creak, and looked up to see whom it was. One of the women, noticing his gaze, turned round. It was Lady Alice. When she saw Eubulo, she got up and rushed into his arms.
“Please, not here,” said the priest. “These violent delights have violent ends!”
“I have come to take you away,” said Eubulo.
“Where to?” she asked.
“Coningsburgh Castle – oh, I wish I was a prince and could take you to a palace – but I am not even a knight!”
“I don’t care!” replied Alice, hugging him again, “anywhere will be better than this hell! – Sorry, Father, I don’t mean your chapel!”
“Hurry up,” said Eubulo. “San Martin is waiting.”
“Wait,” she said, and going back to the priest asked him, as her confessor, not to say anything about what he had seen.
“Very well,” he said, “but I cannot approve, and I cannot give you my blessing. Your love for Le Strange cannot be sanctioned by the church – though perhaps if an annulment is granted…”
“I pray that it will be. Forgive us father, but we must go. Ladies, come!”
Eubulo led them into the passageway and found San Martin waiting. “There was nothing but a guardroom downstairs – and very strange looks the guards gave me, too. They don’t take kindly to people wandering about the castle at this hour. It’s a wonder I wasn’t arrested! Where’s William?”
“I’ve not seen him,” said Eubulo.
“Then he must be still upstairs. Come on!”
“I’d better go with you,” said Alice. “The guards…”
There was one guard on the door, and Alice knew full well that his main job was to stop the occupants of the room getting out rather than the other way round.
The room was luxuriously decorated with pink-painted wainscotting, and numerous hangings in silk and other rich fabrics. William lay on an ottoman at the far end of the room with a beautiful young woman in his arms. Another young woman was refilling his goblet with wine, and a third was strumming a gittern and singing in a high, sweet voice.
“What’s this?” said San Martin in a surprised tone.
“My husband’s seraglio,” sighed Lady Alice, “and I see that they have found an easy victim in your squire.”
“William Webster! Put that young lady down at once, and come here!” cried San Martin in his best war-voice.
William almost jumped out of his skin. He spilt his wine all over the young woman’s generous cleavage. She shrieked with surprise, jumped up and hurriedly rearranged her gown. San Martin laughed. “That’s the prettiest blood smear I’ve seen in a long while!” Of course, he was referring to the wine-stain on her heaving white bosom. “I’ll have some of that!”
The lady gasped, as if for a moment she thought he was referring to her sexual charms, but then she realised he meant the wine, and with a suppressed giggle, filled another goblet and handed it to him. San Martin downed it with one gulp then said, “We’d better get out of here, though I’d dearly love to repay Lancaster by plucking one of his little hens!”
Eubulo smiled at San Martin’s choice of word, ‘plucking’ having a very similar sound to the word that best described what he would like to do.
Meanwhile, Lady Alice looked on with barely suppressed fury. She knew about her husband’s little harem, of course, and about his numerous other affairs, but knowing about them in the abstract was quite different to seeing the flesh and blood article. Not one of three was half as beautiful as she was, but they were not without their own charms, though words like ‘saucy’ and ‘voluptuous’ would best describe them.
William being duly rescued from the three Sirens, they made their way back to the Solar, and it was here that San Martin outlined his plan for the abduction.
It is the middle of the night, but Sir John cannot sleep. He paces the boards of the solar, high in his great keep. The remains of a fire still smouldering in the great, hooded fireplace provide the only light. Every now and then he mounts the steps to the window seat and looks out towards the gatehouse. There, against the blue-black curtain of night, he sees the silhouetted shapes of his guards – more of them than usual, for the guard has been doubled at his order.
Now that the die has been cast, the Earl is having second thoughts. To abduct the wife of a nobleman is no small crime – even though the king connived at it. And not just any nobleman! – the wife in question is Lady Alice de Laci, the Countess of Lancaster – wife of the powerful Earl of Lancaster. Assuming that his plan is successful, retribution will be swift and resolute.
He walks down from the window seat and stands before the fire. A happier thought changes his expression and a smile lights up his features, though there is no-one there to see it, except the servant, Oswin, laying near the door screen, but he is lost in a deep, dreamless sleep – the sleep of the innocent. The Earl is smiling at the cunning with which he laid his plan, making use of his squire’s amour courtois for the Lady Alice. At this very moment, if all had gone well, his three envoys should be galloping through the night towards Coningsburgh.
The sound of voices and the creak of the great portcullis sent Sir John striding towards the window seat. He was just in time to see the gate opening and three knights on horseback ride into the inner bailey. Close behind them was their escort of two men-at-arms. The Constable helped the three leading riders from their mounts, and led them towards the keep.
“Bring light!” said Sir John. “Make up the fire in the Great Chamber!”
Oswin woke up, rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, and hurried to carry out the Earl’s orders. The Earl went out of the solar, and down the winding staircase to the room immediately below; the Great Chamber.
Sir John settled himself down at his round table to wait for his guests. He did not have long to wait. He heard the guards in the guardroom below challenge the visitors, then the clatter of steel sabatons on the great staircase. The Constable showed them into the chamber, and Sir John rose to greet them. The three visitors were clad in full armour, and through their raised visors, the Earl saw one old, gnarled face, and two young fresh ones.
“Bring wine!” he said to Oswin.
The visitors were so thirsty that they drank their wine before they had removed their helmets. The older man, who was now beginning to sweat profusely in the heat of the fire, was the first to do so. It was Sir Richard. He grinned as he took another greedy swig at his wine, the red liquid staining his grey stubble. The grin was for a mission accomplished.
The two youngsters followed suit. First, Eubulo, revealing his clean-shaven features and his fresh, eager expression, and then the third, revealing a shower of golden hair which fell dangling, curled and bright over the grey iron of her breastplate.
Sir John raised his cup and said, “Welcome, Countess Lancaster! That steel harness ill becomes your beauty!”
Lady Alice responded with a frightened smile, then looked for reassurance at her young lover, Eubulo. He responded with a touch – though it was steel gauntlet to steel gauntlet – and a smile. Then he turned to Sir John and said, “Sir John, how can I thank you for realising my dearest dream?”
Sir Richard grinned again as though he knew something he had no intention of saying. Sir John gave a slight nod of his head in acknowledgement.
“I’m afraid my husband will not take it lightly,” said Lady Alice.
“Have no fear, my lady,” said Sir John. “Coningsburgh is strong. It has never been taken in all the centuries since King Arthur built it – and my guards are ready.”
Lady Alice’s eyes widened at the mention of King Arthur. She looked down, and seemed to see the round table for the first time, then she looked at the people sat around it, as if to say, “But where are his knights?”
Sir John read her eyes and replied, “They are guarding the walls. As for you, my lady, I wish I could invite you to doff that steel gown, but I fear that you may need the protection – and the disguise – before the day is through. Nevertheless, I will send for Mildred, my wife’s maidservant, and ask her to make you as comfortable as possible.”
The words had hardly been uttered when a cry rang through the castle: “Coningsburgh, en garde!”
Sir John threw his half-empty wine cup to the floor, muttering, “Lancaster doesn’t waste any time, I’ll give him that,” and strode towards the upper staircase. “Wait here!” he snapped as he disappeared under the archway. He took the stairs two at a time, ran through the solar and then up the final flight of steps to the top of the keep. He hurried around the wall walk, then climbed up to the lookout on the west buttress.
From there he could see the whole panorama of Coningsburgh in the early dawn. In the distance, on rising ground, was the Church of St Peter, surround by the cluster of houses that made up the town of Coningsburgh, but in the valley below, and stretching all the way up the hill to his west wall and the barbican gate was a mass of glittering steel; spear points, helmets, breastplates, barding, and above it all, in the van, Lancaster’s red banner. The army halted at a bowshot from the barbican, and a single horseman rode forward. He came right up to the edge of the dry moat and shouted a message. It was Lancaster’s herald.
Sir John couldn’t hear the words, but he knew that the message would be brought to him, so he hurried back down to his Great Chamber to receive it. He had not been back for more than a few minutes when a squire came into the chamber. Eubulo recognised Myles, and gave him a slight nod of acknowledgement. “A message from the Earl of Lancaster,” Myles rapped out. “He says that you must return the Lady Alice at once, or he will besiege your castle.”
“Sir Richard will reply on my behalf. He knows what to say.”
Sir Richard nodded as if acknowledging some prior agreement, then he rose to go with Myles. They clattered down the stairs on their way to the gates, and for a long while there was silence. “More wine!” called Sir John, to break the tension. But he drank alone. The two young people looked at each other white faced wondering what kind of hell they had called down upon themselves.
It was not long before Sir Richard returned. Sir John looked at him hopefully, but Sir Richard shook his head. “He declines your offer. He demands the return of Lady Alice with no concessions, or he will sack your castle.”
Lady Alice burst into tears, fearing that she would be given up, and Eubulo comforted her, at the same time, listening anxiously for Sir John’s reply.
“We have gone too far in this matter to give up now. In any case – I mean to make him pay!” Sir John thumped the round table to show his determination, and for the first time Eubulo began to wonder if this matter of the abduction went further than the desire to assist his squire in his love affair.
Myles returned to deliver the final message, and Sir John headed for the upper staircase. “I’m going to see what happens,” he said.
“I’ll come with you,” said Sir Richard.
“I must go to the gatehouse,” said the Constable. “I have an able sergeant-at-arms in Greathead, but I like to be where the action is.”
“Very well,” said Sir John. “Eubulo. I leave the Lady Alice in your care.”
By now, it was full daylight and from the west buttress they had a clear view of Lancaster’s manouvres. Teams of men were piling wood into the dry moat, though the archers on the barbican did their best to drive them back. A cry of “fire arrows” was heard, and moments later, streaks of flame shot down into the piles of wood. Lancaster’s men responded by soaking the wood with water.
“What are they doing?” asked Sir John. It was not so many years ago that he had been knighted, and though he had seen action in the king’s wars against the Scots, he had no experience of siege warfare. The grizzled old hunchback, Sir Richard, however, had seen it all.
“They are filling in the ditch. Soon, it will be full of wood and they will charge across with siege ladders.”
“I hope Sergeant Greathead knows what to expect,” said the Earl. “Should we warn him?”
“Don’t worry. He knows. Look. See those fires? He’s boiling oil to pour down on them.”
Lancaster’s trumpets sounded and there was a sudden charge of men carrying long siege ladders.
“It will be hot work for our men in the barbican!” said Sir Richard.
Lancaster’s men ran up the ladders under a rain of missiles from the defenders. Hot oil was poured, and men fell back, screaming, falling on the men below them, and knocking them off. Sometimes long poles were used to push the ladders away, and whole files of men crashed down to the ground. The barbican walls were nowhere near as high as the main walls, so a fall would not kill, but there were many broken bones. However, Lancaster’s men kept on coming, and after a while, a group of them gained a footing on the east wall of the barbican. They held this position, while other men climbed up behind them in relative safety.
Seeing this, Greathead judged that it was time to abandon the barbican, and ordered the herald to sound the retreat, but a few men were enable to get through before the order had to be given to secure the gate. They tried to surrender, but that is not an easy thing to do in the heat of battle, and they were slaughtered where they stood. Now Lancaster’s men swarmed into the barbican, cheering loudly, as though they had breached the castle itself. It was then that they found out what the barbican had been designed to do. The long, narrow walls of the barbican channelled them into a confined space under a length of high wall, and a high tower, the highest of all the towers on the curtain wall, which had been built for just one purpose: to rain hell on any attackers. Now it was the turn of Lancaster’s men to be slaughtered – rocks, boiling oil, arrows, spears, slingshot – the whole armoury of Coningsburgh was rained upon them, and they could move neither forwards, nor sideways to escape the lethal shower. There was only one way they could go, and that was back, through the small gatehouse that they had opened from within. Another trumpet call sounded a retreat. This time it was Lancaster’s.
“I see that Lancaster lacks siege experience as well,” commented Sir Richard. “It is always a waste of time to attack gates. They are the weakest part of any castle, and therefore the most ingeniously defended.”
“Where would you attack?” asked Sir John.
Sir Richard was thoughtful. “I wouldn’t waste men trying to take a fortress like this. I would surround you, and starve you out!”
Sir John smiled, “Then you would lose. Coningsburgh has secrets that even you don’t know – but do you think Lancaster will try that?”
Sir Richard gave a bitter laugh. “Not if I know him. He is too much the young hothead. Arrogant, too. He thinks the whole world would fall before him if he deigned to attack it!”
Below them, in the Great Chamber, Eubulo and Alice had moved to the window seat. The wall of Coningsburgh’s keep is fifteen feet thick, and at this point a square chamber had been let into the wall, with a great double window overlooking the inner bailey. Around the walls of the chamber was a stone bench covered with tapestry and cushions. From this vantage point, they could see everything that was happening in the bailey, but they were not high enough to see over the walls and the army waiting outside. For a moment, Eubulo forgot his immediate problems and thought about his friends Tom, Myles, Gerard, and William. They would be out there, now, ranged along the walls with the men-at-arm, ready to fight – or die. Even so, he wished he was with them. Much as he loved Alice, he felt that, just now, his place was with them at the walls. Alice’s voice interrupted his reverie.
“What do you think will happen?” she asked in a tremulous voice.
“Your husband will attack again – but don’t worry. Coningsburgh will prove too strong for him.”
“Why would Sir John go to so much trouble to help us?” said Alice. “I can understand him arranging our elopement, but now that his castle is threatened… well, it is a large price to pay… what is it to him.”
Eubulo was thoughtful. He had not looked at the matter in that light before, but now that he did, he remembered some things that made him feel uneasy: “What do you think Sir John meant just now when he said, ‘I mean to make him pay’?”
“Something to do with his divorce from Lady Joan, I think. My husband used his influence to block it.”
Eubulo went white as the realisation hit him. “That means that you and I have been nothing but pawns in Sir John’s game!”
“What do you mean?”
“When Sir Richard said, ‘he declines your offer’, he was offering to give you back in return for the divorce. At least, that’s what I think.”
Lady Alice buried her face in Eubulo’s shoulder and sobbed like a child.
“Don’t you see? When he saw how much I loved you he kept sending me to Pomfret as a messenger. Sir Richard always accompanied me and made sure that we spent time together – Sir John used me as bait to lure you away from your husband!”
Alice looked up. “But you truly love me, don’t you?”
Eubulo sighed. “You know I do. I loved you from afar before I ever spoke to you.”
“And I love you too – especially after the way Sir Thomas treated me! You are the only man who has ever treated me with respect… except…”
Alice bit her lip as though she had said too much. Eubulo prompted her to continue.
“Oh, nothing. It was a long time ago…” she said vaguely and started crying again. Eubulo held her tight.
After a moment, wiped away her tears, looked up and gave a little laugh. “I am such a fool! Everything’s all right, after all.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Sir John used us as a pawns in his game of divorce – or rather, he used a pawn – you, to take a queen – me…”
Alice hesitated as she got muddled up in her analogy.
“And – it is he who is in check!”
Eubulo laughed, though the laugh was soon replaced by a frown. “It looks as though that check is soon to become check mate – what will happen then?”
Lady Alice shuddered at the thought and clung even tighter to Eubulo.
Up on the West Buttress, Sir John had noticed a flicker of flame coming from one of the houses near the church. Then there was another and another, and soon the whole village was blazing. Screams and shouts could be heard in the distance.
“What’s happening?” said Sir John.
“He’s trying to lure you out,” explained San Martin. “He hopes you’ll sally forth to protect your people and your possessions.”
“I feel sorry for the people,” said Sir John, “but the place is poor enough. I can rebuild it all for the price of one my jewels.” He held up a hand on which were several large, expensive bejewelled rings. “Nevertheless, I feel sorry for the humble folk. I hope they’ve had the sense to get out of the way.”
After a while, the fires burned out, and no new fires were started. Nothing else seemed to be happening except a desultory exchange of arrows from both sides.
“We may as well eat,” said Sir John, and lead the way back to the Great Chamber.
Food was ordered, and Oswin and two pages brought it in, but the only one who ate heartily was Sir Richard. He had seen battles and sieges without number, and he saw this for what it was, just a petty quarrel between neighbouring landlords. He had every expectation of surviving it with his skin intact, and so had no reason to pass up a good meal.
Myles appeared at the door again, looking somewhat the worse for wear. His jupon was torn, and his mail had been cut at the sleeve, and was stained with blood. The Constable was hard on his heels.
“What is it?” said Sir John, with a note of anxiety.
“Miners at the south wall,” said the Myles.
Sir Richard nodded sagely, “Perhaps Lancaster is not such a novice after all. I see it now – yes. That stretch of wall is the weakest part of the castle. Built on soil, not rock, and only one bastion to support it.”
“As I warned you, Sir John,” said the Constable.
Alice was alarmed by the tension in their voices, but clearly didn’t understand what was happening. Eubulo explained: “Mining is when an enemy digs under a castle wall – of course, you can only do that if the wall is built on earth and not rock – as you remove the foundations, you support the wall with wooden props. Finally, you set fire to the wooden props and…”
“The wall comes tumbling down!” Sir Richard, who had been listening, finished off for him with a grim laugh.
“What can we do?” said Sir John.
“We’re doing everything we can,” said the Constable. “It’s a good job we built those hoardings! We’re raining hell upon them, but they have built a kind of shelter covered with soaked hides.”
“What about a sally?”
“They outnumber us ten to one. We would be playing into Lancaster’s hands.”
“We must prepare to repel them when they bring down the wall.”
There was a shocked silence as the implications of these words sank in. Coningsburgh, the Camelot of King Arthur, the invincible fortress, was about to fall.
“I never thought it would come to this,” said Sir John. “Oh, I expected an attack, but I never thought Lancaster could raise such a large army, or be so determined. I thought he would raise a stir at the gates, shoot a few arrows, and then go his way.”
“Perhaps it would be best if I went back to my husband,” said Lady Alice with frightened tears in her eyes.
“Never!” said Eubulo.
“I agree,” said Sir John. “The wall has not fallen yet.”
“I will order Sergeant Greathead to build a palisade across the weakest point. That should help us resist the onslaught,” said Sir James, and with that, he and Myles hurried from the chamber.
It was a long, sleepless night. Sir John paced up and down the Great Chamber while Sir Richard made the most of the wine. Eubulo and Lady Alice, with the maidservant, Mildred, sat in the window seat conversing in low voices. Every now and then, the Constable or Myles would report matters at the south wall. The mining was going on through the night, and nothing they could throw at them seemed to make any difference.
Lady Alice fell asleep at last in Eubulo’s arms, and before long, he was sleeping too. He was awoken by what seemed to be a glorious golden dawn – but it was still night. He woke Lady Alice, then ran to the window. Sure enough, the wall was ablaze, or rather, the woodwork underneath had been fired, and the flames had caught on the shelter that had protected the miners, and were licking up the walls so that the projecting hoardings also caught fire.
“Come here!” said Sir John peremptorily. “We must have a little council of war – just the four of us – oh, and my Constable – send Oswin for him. Now, Sir Richard, I will tell you about that little secret I mentioned earlier, and explain how it can help us…”
In the bailey, Sergeant Greathead had ordered a retreat from the wall, which he was certain now would be brought down. Every man who could wield a weapon, including cooks and stable boys was lined up behind the wooden palisade that had been hastily erected during the night. Gerard and William waited beside the knights they had been allocated to, and Myles waited beside Sir James, ready to fight with him, or to take messages. They watched in silent awe as the flames reddened the sky, blending their light with the pale grey of dawn. A sound like thunder announced the first collapse. A crack as jagged as lightening snaked from the ground to the wall-walk, and a section of the wall, fell away. Another crack and another section followed it, collapsing with an impact that made the ground shake like an earthquake.
A trumpet blast was followed by a mighty cheer and a massed charge into the breach. Leading the charge was Exley, Lancaster’s finest knight, and he was followed by a band of men wearing the red livery of Lancaster’s bodyguard.
“Hold them!” shouted Greathead, as they crashed into the palisade. The woodwork was breast-high, and provided a short-lived shelter from which the defenders could shoot their arrows and thrust their spears. It held for a few valuable moments before the weight of the attack trampled it down. Then the slaughter began in earnest. About thirty of the defenders were trained men-at-arms, some of whom had seen action against the Scots, another twenty were squires in training, but most of the garrison were quit-rent men, who were only called up in times of emergency, and most of them had never seen action before.
The men-at-arms fought well, holding the attackers to a narrow space just inside the wall, but as their numbers increased, the men-at-arms found themselves outnumbered and outflanked, and the quit-rent men melted away like butter. Exley now sensed that he had the advantage and urged his men forward. They hacked through the inexperienced reserves like scythemen harvesting wheat. Shrieks and groans rent the air and blood turned the grey cobblestones red, until Lancaster’s motto seemed to be coming true: Undique Mors Est – Death is Everywhere! For a little while longer, Sergeant Greathead urged his men to be true to the De Warenne’s motto, Tenebo – I Hold, but it was not long before even he had to acknowledge that defeat was staring him in the face.
Just then, the Constable strode from the keep and shouted to Greathead. Then he raised a white flag and cried, “De Warenne yields! De Warenne yields!”
One by one, the men around him stopped fighting, and backed cautiously away from each other. All but one. Exley, sending yet another man to his death with a thrust to his chest, shouted, “Fight on! Fight on!”
“The white flag!” responded the Constable. “De Warenne yields! Respect the white flag of truce!”
Far from respecting the white flag, Exley charged at the Constable, his blade raised and ready to strike. Quickly, but not quickly enough, the Constable dropped the flag and drew his sword to parry the blow. He was too late, and would have died, had not Gerard dashed between them and turned the stroke aside. A few moments of cut and thrust followed, but the young, and still rather overweight squire was no match for the experienced veteran, who dispatched him with a thrust between his helmet and his gorget. He fell to the ground with a stream of blood pouring from his neck, tried to say something, but retched blood, and then died.
Just then, Lancaster appeared at the breach, higher than the rest of his men on a fragment of the remaining wall, and looking magnificent in his black armour. On either side of him was his shieldbearer and standard bearer.
“Exley, enough!” he commanded. Then, his eyes searching the chaos said, “Who is in command here?”
Sir John Eland stepped forward. “I am,” he said, “and I claim restitution for the man Exley has just slain.”
Lancaster laughed disdainfully. “What! Am I to pay compensation for every man who dies in a fair fight?”
“No,” my lord, “but this man is Gerard Eland, my nephew, and he was killed under a flag of truce.”
Lancaster seemed to take this more seriously, but for the moment, he swept it aside. “We will deal with that later. What is more important is: do you surrender this castle, its keep and all its arms?”
The Constable knew nothing of the private discussions in the Great Chamber. Sir John had asked him to wait outside, and had just one specific instructions to give him, explaining that it would be better for him not to know the rest. That instruction had been to surrender if Lancaster’s men broke through to the inner bailey.
“I do,” he said.
“Very well. All your men must lay down their arms. They are prisoners. Any men of the knightly class will be taken as hostages. Now you must conduct me to your master.”
The Constable led Lancaster up the steps to the keep, and commanded that the small drawbridge be lowered and the door unbarred. Then they ascended the winding staircase to the Great Chamber. It was empty. The Constable was as surprised as anyone else. “Perhaps my lord is in the solar,” he said, and sent a guard to check. The solar was also empty.
Lancaster took charge and barked an order to his own men: “Search the place!”
There are two private rooms in the keep, the Great Chamber and the Solar. On the roof is a small circular guard house, and below the Great Chamber is a guard room and armoury. Below that is a huge, vaulted cellar. Other than that, there are a few small chambers such as the latrines, a chapel, and the window recesses. It did not take long to search them all.
“The Devil take him!” cursed Lancaster. “Somehow he has slipped through my fingers!”
When the siege was at its height, De Warenne decided that it was time to use the secret tunnel. He had known about the tunnel since he was a boy, but had never been in it, and had no idea where it led to. But anywhere would be better than Conisbrough Castle under siege! So he led Lady Alice, Mildred, her maid, his faithful retainer, Sir Richard, young Eubulo and the squire Oswin down into the well of the keep where the entrance to the passage was hidden.
They walked for what seemed a long way in the bowels of the earth until at last they came to a dead end. But a faint light seemed to be penetrating the ground above them.
Sir Richard reached up and pushed. “Help me!” he said, and all the men pushed together. There was a creak and a groan, and then in a shower of earth and small stones they broke into the daylight. The Earl climbed out first, and one glance was enough to tell him where he was. “The Chapel of St Edmund!” he said. “Long deserted, and roofless – luckily for us, or we wouldn’t have seen the light. Now for the next part of my plan. Mildred, unfasten that bundle!”
“Oh yes, the clothes that you told me to bring for my lady.”
“No, for you, Mildred.”
Mildred’s jaw dropped.
“You are going to dress as a rich lady and I am going to commandeer two horses. We will ride from here to Sandal Castle…”
“Ooh,” said Oswin, half to himself. “Is she going to strip off!”
Sir John ignored him and continued, “…meanwhile, Sir Richard, Eubulo and Lady Alice will also acquire some horses – though as you are not Lord of the Manor you will have to pay for them, I’m afraid – and you will make all haste to my Castle in Reigate…”
The three ‘knights’, Sir Richard, Eubulo and Lady Alice, along with their servant, Oswin, followed the River Don to the village of Warmsworth in order to give Coningsburgh and Lancaster’s army a wide berth. Sir Richard said that Lady Alice should travel with her visor closed, though he and Eubulo had them raised, as it would look strange for a knight to suffer the discomfort of a closed visor when there was no immediate threat. At Warmsworth Sir Richard bought three horses and a donkey and led his party down a winding country lane that seemed as though it meandered to nowhere in particular.
“Where are we going?” said Eubulo.
“We are making our way across country to the Old North Road. I’ve campaigned many years around these parts and know the place like the back of my hand.” Eubulo could not help looking at the back of his hand and reflecting that the veinous, scarred skin was not unlike an old map scribed on shrivelled, old parchment. “Of course, it would be easier to go on to Doncaster and pick up the road there, but I think it will better if we avoid major settlements – it’s also quicker this way.”
For a long time they followed the byways and fieldpaths until Eubulo glimpsed a magnificent gothic edifice in the valley below the road. A soaring tower rose above the nearby trees, and a long nave, with a series of high, pointed windows stretched out to one side of it. Behind it flowed a small river, and behind that rose gently wooded ground. In those troubled times, it seemed an image of perfect peace; of heaven on earth.
“That’s Roche Abbey,” said Sir Richard, noticing Eubulo’s admiring gaze, “and it means we have not far to go.”
After another few miles they came to the road known as the Old North Road. It was basically the same road built by the Romans a thousand years before, and though the surface was rough and broken in places, it was still the main high road from London to Scotland – and it was busy. It has probably been busy since the day it was built, and on that particular afternoon, it was full of farmer’s carts, pilgrims, travellers, the occasional monk on an ambling pad, and at rare intervals, a travelling nobleman and his retinue. One of the retinues was particularly noteworthy as it consisted of about a dozen mounted knights followed by about fifty footsoldiers with a train of baggage wagons bringing up the rear. Some of the knights stared at the four travellers with a questioning gaze. It was, after all, unusually to see three fully armoured knights with only one attendant.
When they had passed the last baggage waggon, Sir Richard said to Eubulo, “Did you see the arms they bore? Azure. Six lions rampant. Those are the arms of the Earl of Hereford, who is an ally of Lancaster’s. I’m very much afraid that when Lancaster explains that the bird has flown, they will remember the three unaccompanied knights on the high road. We must turn off.”
“But where to?” said Eubulo.
Just then, they came to a junction in the road. The Old North Road drove on to the south, straight as an arrow, but to the left was a narrow trackway shaded by huge oak trees.
“We will take this road. It goes to Nottingham, but it will take us through the heart of Sherwood.”
Even Eubulo, whose home was in the south, had heard that name, and the legends surrounding it. “Won’t that put us at the mercy of outlaws?”
“Me mam warned me about Robin Hood, the fiercest outlaw of them all,” wailed Oswin.
Sir Richard laughed. “What have three armed knights to fear from a band of ragged ruffians? No. They will leave us well alone when they see our armour and save their strength for easier game.”
“It looks so dark and gloomy!” whispered Alice to Eubulo. “Do we have to go that way?”
“If Sir Richard says so.”
As they rode on the oaks got bigger. Their trunks were twisted and gnarled, and the centuries had made strange shapes in the bark that sometimes resembled faces that seemed to watch them. Their branches were like huge arms that stretched out above them to touch the branches of the trees on the other side of the road and block out the light. They also muffled sound, and all they could hear was the soft pad of their horses’ hooves on the leaf-strewn trackway and the occasional rustle in the undergrowth, but the thing that unnerved Lady Alice the most was that the trackway was deserted.
“You can raise your visor here,” said Sir Richard. “It is not likely that we will pass many travellers.”
“Why not?” she asked.
He answered with a ironic laugh. “They prefer to take the long way round than risk their necks!” but seeing Lady Alice’s alarmed expression, he added: “It’s the merchants who try to avoid the place. The peasants have nothing to lose, and the rich are well protected. I’m sure we will pass somebody soon.”
They had not travelled much further when Sir Richard’s prediction came true and they saw two peasants dressed in drab brown cloaks walking towards them, one of average height, the other much taller. Sir Richard eyed them suspiciously. There was something about them that made him feel uneasy, but before he could make up his made what it was, the two men barred their way, and the shorter of the two said, “Stop! You must pay a toll.”
“Toll!” replied the outraged Sir Richard. “This is the king’s highway! Now stand aside or I’ll…” he choked on his words as half a dozen bowmen emerged from the undergrowth at either side of the trackway with their arrows aimed at their heads.
Sir Richard fumed, but as he had no alternative, he said, “How much?”
“Judging by your arms and armour, I think five pieces of silver will be about right,” said the peasant, though the cultivated tone of his voice suggested that the peasant part of him was no more than a disguise.
“Outrageous!” retorted Sir Richard. Then he untied his purse from his belt and threw it to the man. “Here! You can have this. It’s all I’ve got left!”
“What abart them young knights?” said the taller man, in a voice that was thick with the local dialect – a peasant indeed, and not just in appearance.
Eubulo was quick to answer for both himself and Lady Alice. “Squires,” he corrected, “and as for money, my friend here has none, and I have little enough, save for these few coppers which you are welcome to have.” With that, he also threw down his purse.
“Then you will have to pay the toll in kind. That armour is worth a pretty penny. Now, if you were to give it to me – in payment of the toll – I might be generous enough to return your poor purses, and let you keep your horses. I would not have anyone say that Robin Hood is not a fair man.”
“Robin Hood!” exclaimed Sir Richard.
“Robin Hood!” wailed Oswin.
“At your service,” said Robin, with a bow that would not have not have disgraced a courtier. Then in a sterner tone, he added, “Now, dismount and remove your armour!”
The bows, which had been lowered, were raised again to underline the order, so the three knights climbed reluctantly off their horses, and began to remove their armour, piece by piece. Oswin also dismounted, though the outlaw with the peasant’s accent, said in a comfortable tone, “No need to be afeared, friend. Robin Hood is a good man to the likes of us.”
By then, Eubulo had removed all his armour, but Lady Alice was still clinging to her disguise.
“Come now!” Robin said “Stop fiddling with those straps and remove your helmet.”
Lady Alice looked anxiously at Sir Richard, who nodded his permission. It would come out sooner or later, so they might as well get it over with. She raised her helmet and the shower of golden curls transformed her instantly from a callow young knight into a beautiful woman. The transformation was so marked, that the two outlaws gasped with surprise.
“A woman! How interesting!” said Robin. “Come, tell me who you are and why you are disguised as a knight. No fibs now!”
Sir Richard thought for a moment, then taking a calculated risk, he decided to tell the truth and use it as a bluff: “She is the Lady Alice de Laci, Countess of Lancaster – wife of the Earl of Lancaster, and if you harm her, or us, her escort, it will be the worse for you! Now, if you value your lives, let us be on our way!”
Eubulo saw at once what Sir Richard was trying to do, and he looked at Robin to see what how he reacted. To his surprise, he dealt with it like a consummate politician. He gave his courtly bow again and said, “Forgive me for not recognising you, my lady. It is not often we have pleasure of entertaining such an honoured guest, so I would be delighted if you would join us at our banquet this evening.”
He did not wait for a reply, but at his signal, his men bound the hands of the three men and tied blindfolds around their heads. Lady Alice was also blindfolded, but she was spared the binding.
“Please excuse our rough formalities,” said Robin with the air of a courtier escorting the queen, “but we have to ensure that our palace remains a secret.”
After twenty minutes of following twists and turns through the greenwood, many of them, no doubt, false, the blindfolds were removed. Robin bowed again and said, “Welcome to my palace. The columns are oaks, and the tracery is only branches, but you will find that the food is fit for a king. It is, after all, his own deer!”
His men laughed at Robin’s little joke.
“And my lady will not want for female companionship,” continued Robin. “Lady Alice, may I introduce my wife, The Maid Mary Anne?”
A young woman with fair hair and gentle features stepped from the group of outlaws and made her courtesy.
“Perhaps you would like to take Lady Alice to refresh herself,” said Robin to his wife. “Meanwhile, perhaps you, Sir Richard, and your squire, would like a cup of wine. I can promise you it is the finest vintage, as it was presented to us by the Abbot of Roche Abbey.”
“As a toll, no doubt,” said Sir Richard.
Robin frowned and said, “He lives like a king while his flock can barely feed themselves. Let us say that it was a toll on his wealth. But I want to know more about you.”
At this point, he looked them both up and down, weighing every detail of their appearance, and no doubt noting the many anomalies, for example, that they bore no coat of arms, and carried no shields.
“If that really is Countess Alice de Laci – and Mary Anne is checking that with Alan-a-Dale who comes from Pomfret and has seen her one or twice – you must be Lancaster’s men.”
Sir Richard laughed heartily. “Lancaster! He is the very man we are trying to escape!”
“Then you are not Lancaster’s men?” said Robin.
“No. I am a retainer of Sir John De Warenne, Earl of Surrey, and this is my squire.”
Robin seemed pleased with the information. “The better for you then! You are my friend now, not my foe – I hate that Lancaster! He tried to make me and my men join him to fight the king. The king is a fool, as I’m sure you’ll agree, but we prize loyalty above all else! When we refused to follow him he declared us ‘outlaws’ – he’d hang us if he could! And that’s why we live here in Sherwood Forest.”
“I thought you were a gentleman by your voice and manner,” said Sir Richard.
“I am – was – Lord of Locksley until Lancaster seized my lands. But what about you? What fair or foul wind blows you this way with a countess disguised as a man?”
Sir Richard told Robin the whole story. Before he had done, half the outlaws in Sherwood Forest had gathered around to hear the strange tale.
“…so we escaped the vengeance of Lancaster only to end up a prisoner of the infamous Robin Hood!” Sir Richard, concluded, rounding off his tale with a flourish.
Robin slapped his thighs and laughed heartily. “By Our Lady, that is the best tale I’ve heard since John Little lost a fight to a dwarf!” he said, “and by the way, you are not prisoners, not now, at any rate. You can go whenever you like, and with all your possessions too, but if you’ll take my advice, you’ll stay here for a while.”
“We must get to Reigate,” said Sir Richard.
“Lancaster has no power in the south. Lady Alice will be safe there.”
“But he is strong hereabouts,” said Robin, “and there is a good chance that you’ll be taken before you get south of Nottingham. As soon as he finds out that Lady Alice is not at Sandal – that was a fine trick you played, by the way – he’ll send search parties all over the place.”
“We were making good progress until we met you,” said Sir Richard, ironically.
“Nevertheless, the Lady Alice, will be safe if she stays in our care, and as you have seen, she will not want for female companionship. As for you and Eubulo, why don’t you join my band, we live a fine life here. We rob the rich, give to the poor and dine on the king’s deer!”
“I may end up as an outlaw one day,” said Eubulo, “especially in such uncertain times. But until then, I have my duty to do.”
Meanwhile, at another table, the other outlaw, whose name was John Little, was asking Oswin the same question. Oswin’s mouth was stuffed with venison, and a pot of ale was ready in his had to wash it down, so he couldn’t answer immediately, but when he did, he was enthusiastic.
“It’d suit me fine. At the castle it’s allus, ‘Come here, Oswin’, ‘Go there, Oswin’, ‘Wipe my arse, Oswin’. Nay. I’m only jokin’ about that. The fine folk wipe their own arses – but I have to do everythin’ else for ‘em. Now, just poppin’ out to the high road once a day and saying ‘Stand and deliver!’ seems a fine life by comparison.”
After they had talked and caroused into the early hours of the morning, San Martin decided that it would be safe to trust Robin, who promised that he would escort them as far as Northampton, where they would be safe from Lancaster, and well on their way to Reigate.
Alice de Laci married Lancaster on 28th October 1294 when she was 13. By the terms of their marriage settlement the bulk of her large inheritance was to go to him, but the marriage was not successful, and they lived separate lives. Some accounts say that De Warenne wanted to abduct her because he was in love with her, but closer investigation reveals that she had some kind of relationship with Eubulo le Strange, De Warenne’s squire. This account is probably the most accurate because she eventually married Eubulo sometime before 10th November 1324. After the abduction, Alice was taken to De Warenne’s castle at Reigate in Surrey under the guard of Richard de St Martin, a retainer of De Warenne. Some accounts make St Martin her lover.
The abduction was never really about love, but was part of a much bigger quarrel. De Warenne and Lancaster were involved in the most serious political issue of the time: Edward II’s relationship with his favourite, Piers Gaveston – so perceptively described by Marlowe in his play Edward II. Lancaster raised an army against Gaveston and the king, in May 1312, leading to Gaveston’s eventual killing on 19th June on Blacklow Hill. De Warenne was on Lancaster’s side until then, but revolted by the killing of Gaveston, he changed to the king’s side. This is the main reason for the enmity between the two men.
They quarrelled over several other issues, but the last straw was when Lancaster blocked De Warenne’s divorce from Joan de Barr, who was the daughter of Henry Count de Barr, and granddaughter of King Edward I. De Warenne was married to Joan on May 25th, 1306 when he was 19 years old and she was 10. This was not a happy marriage and there were no children. By 1313 De Warenne was separated from his wife and made a series of efforts to obtain a divorce which were unsuccessful. At last, in 1316, it seemed that the divorce would be allowed, but judgement went against De Warenne because of the intervention of Lancaster.
De Warenne retaliated by arranging for the abduction of Alice de Laci. It is probable that the idea for this way of striking back at Lancaster came when he observed the bond of affection between his squire, Eubulo, and Alice. This was not an uncommon form of relationship as the conventions of amour courtois allowed for a squire or knight to love a married lady ‘from afar’ – though sometimes such relationships broke the rules and became adulterous (the classic literary example is the relationship between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere).
On November 17th 1317, Lancaster retaliated by attacking Conisbrough Castle with a large force of men, gaining entry by scaling the walls. One account says that he found only six men inside, one of whom was the miller of Conisbrough. Three of the other men were Thomas, Henry and William Greathead, men-at-arms. The Conisbrough Court Rolls record that, on December 6th 1317, Lancaster, with his constable, John Lasseles, brought the six men to trial and found them guilty of fighting. They were fined sixpence each. However, this account suggests a relatively easy victory which conflicts with the archaeological evidence (the collapse of the south curtain wall) and the evidence of the Elland Feud.
The archaeological evidence suggests that the curtain wall was undermined at the point where the wall is missing today. A common method was to dig tunnels under the walls under the cover of shields, prop the tunnels with timber and then set fire to the props causing the walls to collapse. The attackers would then scramble over the ruins of the walls and fight the defenders on more equal terms.
That the ensuing battle was vicious is evidenced by the fact that it gave rise to a long-running feud of which documentary evidence survives. One of Lancaster’s knights, Sir Ralph Exley of Exley Hall in Southowram killed the half-nephew of Sir John Elland (The High Steward to De Warenne and High Shire-Reeve of Yorkshire) who was in charge of the castle in De Warenne’s absence. Legal documents show that Exley paid compensation to the Elland family in the form of a piece of land. However, it seems that this was not sufficient compensation, for the feud was to break out again. I have given a simplified version of this feud in my story, mainly by changing the dates to give make a coherent series of events. In fact, the events I describe in chapter 37 of The Abduction of Lady Alice and in the Epilogue happened to the next generation of Elands between 1341 and 1352. The most vivid account of the feud is given in the short story, Revenge upon Revenge, by Phyllis Bentley. I also wrote a novelette version of this feud entitled Blood and Slaughter and Cannel’s Daughter.
Lancaster also laid siege to Sandal Castle which, being mainly of wood, was burnt to the ground. An archaeological excavation revealed a thin layer of black ash beneath a layer of sand and rotted vegetation near the bottom of a barbican garderobe. Maud de Nerford, Warenne’s mistress, was among those ejected from the castle. The chronicles also record the devastation of all De Warenne’s lands north of the River Trent. At this point King Edward II intervened and an uneasy agreement was reached under which Lancaster retained De Warenne’s Yorkshire castles.
In 1852, the Yorkshire historian Joseph Hunter found that a man called Robin Hood was actually a valet to King Edward II in the north of England and assumed that he lay behind some of the story of the A Lyttell Geste of Robyn Hode, the earliest source of stories about him. In my book, The Abduction of Lady Alice, I built on Hunter’s research to include him in my story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bard of Burgh Conan is one of the pen names of Christopher Webster. He was brought up in Conisbrough, went to Station Road School, and has lived at various times on Daylands Avenue, Roberts Avenue and Castle Avenue. The town, with its rich history and magnificent castle, has been an important influence in his life and has inspired some of his best work, hence his pen-name, Bard of Burgh Conan (from a medieval form of the town’s name). He read English at St David’s, Lampeter and Leeds University, and is now a teacher and writer. His first educational publication was Poetry Through Humour and Horror (Cassell, 1987). This was followed by many more educational publications including books for KS3 and GCSE English Language and Literature published by Hodder, and the best-selling 100 Literacy Hours (Scholastic, 1997/2005). He has also published several novels and some volumes of poetry under his own name. His writing about Conisbrough includes [_Crusader, The Abduction of Lady Alice, Richard of Conisbrough, The Poet and the Castle, Conisbrough Tales, Coal Dust Kisses _]and three books of short stories.
A young squire called Eubulo le Strange is sent to Conisbrough Castle to complete his military training in the service of John de Warenne. While he is there he gets caught up in an intricate web of politics, love and war, which leads to his involvement in the abduction of Lady Alice de Laci, wife of the powerful Earl Thomas of Lancaster. Unfortunately, the Earl is not slow to seek revenge, and lays siege to Conisbrough Castle.This story is a taster extract from The Abduction of Lady Alice which gives a detailed account of all the events leading up to the siege, and the love story that follows.