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Masterworks: Legacy - Samantha Wilcoxson - Interview

  Today is the last of a series on nine interviews I'm sharing on the Crowvus Book Blog. These are from the authors of the short stories included in the  Masterworks  anthology by the  Historical Writers Forum . We're running through chronologically, some are video interviews, others are written. I am delighted to welcome the fantastic Samantha Wilcoxson, who is sharing the artist inspiration for her short story Legacy , as well as the appeal of James A. Hamilton, and the delights of researching. First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself, what you write (besides Masterworks!), and what inspired you to begin writing. I was inspired to write by my love of reading. After watching me read, write reviews, and keep journals for twenty years, my husband asked me why I didn’t try writing, so I did! Without really planning on it, I ended up writing historical biographical fiction. I’m drawn to a tragic tale but also to lesser known historical figures with emotive stories to tell

#HistFicThursdays - Harald Maddadsson - A Man Without Morals?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about drawing inspiration from your local area. Two years on and here I am with a blog post about my latest published story, Proof of the Old Faith, which is one of the short stories in the Masterworks antholgy (which you can get here!). The story is based around the creation of the Maeshowe Dragon, a work of viking grafitti in Orkney, and it is one of the reliably documented outings of Harald Maddadsson [assuming the dragon dates from the second set of runes].

In Proof of the Old Faith, Harald in portrayed as a fearsome figure who the main character believes is the embodiment of the dragon Níðhöggr. In truth, Harald was certainly as frightening as a dragon, with the same fiery temper, and an equal tendency towards destruction.

The Maeshowe Dragon

Harald had a mixed lineage, both Norse and Gaelic, and it was his mother's involvement with politics in Orkney which led him to claim a right to the jarldom. He had the longest tenure as Jarl of Orkney, and this is probably where his rather unimaginitive title "the Old" came from. During his 68 years in that position, he became good at making enemies and far less adept at forming alliances. He did, however, remain true to most of his family, and appears to have put all his focus in later years into preparing his sons for their roles. Sadly, they were to be the last Jarls in the Norse tradition, and the post was passed into Gaelic hands.

But, as well as being the Jarl of Orkney, Harald also had control of governing Caithness. This was a contentious area of land as, since it was joined on to the mainland, the Scottish king believed it should be under his control. And, it was on Caithnessian soil that Harald's most notorious deed was done, when he had the Bishop of Caithness' tongue and eyes removd simply because Bishop John argued against the collection of a Papal tax. Harald had a tumultuous relationship with the Catholic Church and this action only threw into a greater doubt what his personal beliefs might have been. Although this happened in 1201 (quite a long time after Proof of the Old Faith is set), it confirmed his lack of morals and scruples in light of religion.  In fact, it seems quite likely that Harald believed himself to be God's equal.

[Bishop John's successor had far less qualms about taxing people, and ultimately Harald's son would be blamed for the murder of Bishop Adam when a group of yeomen boiled him in oil. Caithness has not had its own resident bishop since then.]

The Harold's Tower Folly

Harald's life came to an end in 1206 from natural causes. He was pretty old by the standards of the day and he had certainly had an eventful life. But, although his life ended then, his story contninued. In the 1770s, an old direlict ruin of a chapel was ear-marked as the site of a new folly at Thurso East by the Earl of Caithness. A local minister and antiquarian, Alexander Pope, heard of this, and wrote to the landowner, cautioning him against dismanteling the chapel since it hald the remains of Jarl Harald. Dismissing the superstition, slightly spooked, but nonetheless determined to go ahead with his plans, the earl decided to style the folly as a mausoleum, no doubt theorising that this would give him the folly he wanted without disturbing the local population. A sign was placed on the building which read: 


but the earl himself was buring in Edinburgh, and there is no record of any of the Sinclairs being buried there. Why, then, was a report issued in the 20th century, almost 800 years after Harald's death, about a vault being broken into and "coffins displaced". Perhaps Rev Pope was right and Harald was there. But, with the supposed bodies gone, there could be no testing to find out who they had been.

So, for now, Harald's burial place and remains are still hidden. Perhaps that is the price he pays in death for his infamy in life.


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