Gilman in Gaul


Gilman in Gaul

David Gilman is the author of the gritty Master of War series. Set during the carnage of the 100 years war - the bloodiest conflict in medieval history - a young English Archer confronts his destiny. Here Gilman details a research trip for the latest book in the series, Scourge of Wolves.
Scourge of Wolves
I recently travelled to the south of France researching my next Master of War novel. I was interested to see more of the medieval towns and castles where fighting took place during the Hundred Years’ War. I also wanted to get a sense of how frightening it must have been for the innocent citizens and how difficult it was for the invaders to breach city and castle walls. From what I saw, many of the great fortifications could not have been overwhelmed, so impenetrable were their defences. Remember, most pitched battles or attacks against these places did not involve siege engines. It was a case of sheer guts.  Here’s a photo of Castelnaud. It’s on the banks of the River Dordogne. Its height and scale are impressive and the fact that it changed hands several times during the conflict beggars belief. Imagine approaching this, gazing upwards and seeing what is being asked of you as a common soldier.
 And once you have clambered up such a hillside and reached the base of  the walls built on the rock and have faced the crossbowmen on the walls, an attacker would gaze up at what must have seemed an impossible assault. 
This is a foot soldier’s view of the heights needed  to be scaled. This castle was so high on the river side the walls would have been impossible to scale and as you can see from this  photograph what look like small balconies are defensive posts for hurling down rocks   and boiling oil. The height of a fortress like Castelnaud meant the defenders had a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. 


 Here’s how it looks from one such ‘balcony'. It was this view that  convinced  me that when Thomas Blackstone is obliged to attack a  similar castle in the next book that he would have to find another way to get  inside the walls.
There can be a tendency to think of medieval men and women as being ignorant and unwashed but of course, that’s a misconception. The villeins might have been grime-laden from their back-breaking work in the fields but cleanliness was certainly practised with those who had access to clean water. Streets usually had a gutter running down them to carry away excrement and kitchen slops and, as you can see here from a side street in the medieval city of Sarlat, it would not have been easy to avoid the waste. If soldiers breached the walls, these narrow alleys and streets were easily defended. 
It is testament to ancient skills that so many of these medieval towns and fortresses still exist. The wonderment of standing in a medieval cathedral and seeing a mason’s intricate work, of appreciating their complete understanding of sacred geometry soon dispels any such thoughts. These are the places that Blackstone would have visited or fought through. Towns would teem with traders, hod carriers. A cacophony of raised voices as stallholders shouted out their wares to passers-by, food was cooked on braziers, bakers carried trays of bread. Huge signs denoted tradesman: a barber-surgeon, a blacksmith, saddle maker. Sarlat is one of the best preserved medieval towns in France and, although today’s marketplace does not replicate the wares sold in 1362 when Thomas Blackstone was there, there is an impressive number of artisans and tradesmen and women selling pottery, carvings, clay soap, leather belts, knives and clothing. I doubt Blackstone, Killbere and the rest of his men would have enjoyed such delights as a modern-day French patisserie.
It was during my visit to Sarlat that I came across a Second World War memorial to those in the Resistance who had been killed or deported by the Nazis.
The area I was researching is not that far from the town of Tulle where the 2nd SS Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’ was harassed by French Resistance fighters who killed 40 German soldiers as the division made its way north to the Normandy beaches. The Nazis took their revenge. Ninety-seven men were rounded up in the town and hanged from lampposts; another 321 were deported to forced labour camps in Germany. North of Sarlat is Oradour-sur-Glane – the scene of another massacre by the Das Reich Division. They massacred 642 men, women and children. It was in the general area north of here that I set my latest standalone novel, Night Flight to Paris, which saw the book’s hero, Harry Mitchell parachute in as a reluctant Special Operations Executive agent to unmask a traitor in the Resistance and to try and rescue his family held by the Gestapo in Paris.  While I was in Sarlat, I recorded this brief video clip
Night Flight to Paris is out in Hardback on 9th August and is out now in Ebook.




I've just started reading

I've just started reading "Master of War" and it's a gripping and thrilling read - I'm loving the attention to historical detail. :) WWII is another favourite period - I've been reading a number of autobiographies from those who served, on both sides, so I'm pre-sold on "Night Flight to Paris". :) And as Robert Fabbri is already a favourite author, you've both compelled me to sign up to the Head of Zeus mailing list. :)

Thanks so much for your

Thanks so much for your comment Brian, that's wonderful to hear!

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