Thomas Blackstone and his men fought in every conflict on the battlefields of France and Italy, and now, once again, they serve the English Crown and ride at the Prince of Wales’ side. The antagonism between the King’s son and Blackstone still rankles even though Blackstone has sworn to defend the heir to the throne.
When Edward III invaded France in October 1359 he did so with a final determination to seize the French Crown that he believed was rightfully his. The Second Treaty of London he had secured from the French King had not been ratified by the interim French government. The French King’s son, Charles, the sickly Prince Regent in Paris declined the treaty. The Dauphin doggedly refused to accept the terms and conditions, perhaps thinking ahead to the day when he would rule because when that day came it was unlikely he would wish to be monarch of a country so reduced in size that it would have appeared little more than a vassal of England.
Despite King John II’s agreement to the treaty the Dauphin’s refusal to implement it left Edward little choice other than to invade. The army that left England on that October day was already a month late from its proposed date of invasion. The logistics of shipping ten thousand men, horses and equipment was an enormous undertaking – and needed 1000 carts and teams to be taken across the Channel in 1100 ships. This vast, impressive undertaking was not paid by the Treasury but by the king himself. King Edward set sail with all his sons. The Prince of Wales was already an experienced fighter and no doubt he thought to have his other sons, Lionel, John and Edmund win their spurs.
And as Thomas Blackstone had taken a vow to fight at the Prince’s side, Blackstone and his men were in the vanguard of battle. France was being devastated. Routiers and Englishman roamed the land stripping whatever the French themselves had not taken or destroyed. When Blackstone and his men set out for the fictional town of Balon to save the life of Killbere, the English army had already gone further south into the abundant landscape of Burgundy. For the large sum of 200,000 moutons, the Duchy bought off the English with the promise of a three year truce from Edward whose army could now fill their bellies.
Rested and fed King Edward’s force turned towards the walls of Paris. But the weather was one of the worst winters for years where rain poured down for weeks on end, turning roads into quagmires. One of the most violent storms of the era broke on the road to Chartres. On Monday 13th April 1360, a massive thunderstorm caught the English army on the open plain without shelter. Enormous hailstones killed thousands of men and horses on what became known as ‘Black Monday’.
This gave the French a breathing space and also allowed the historical figure of Simon Bucy, the French King and Dauphin’s counsellor, to help the Dauphin broker a deal with the Visconti of Milan to raise the monarch’s ransom money still owed to Edward. The Dauphin sold his 11 year old sister, Princess Isabelle, to be married to the 9 year old son of the despot of Milan, Galeazzo II Visconti. It was Blackstone’s action in Gate of the Dead that ironically put the Dauphin in his debt. A way to rid himself of this burden was to use this arranged marriage to entrap Thomas Blackstone behind the walls of Milan and place him in the hands of the most dangerous tyrants of their time.
Viper’s Blood recounts Thomas Blackstone’s journey across France, from the bloody battle at Rheims, the siege of Paris and the perilous trek across the Alps to face the men who were determined to rid the land of Thomas Blackstone once and for all.
It was a suicide mission destined to end in tragedy.
David Gilman enjoyed many careers, including firefighter, soldier and photographer, before turning to writing full time. He is an award-winning author and screenwriter.