What I’m writing about this week, #6: the two Burgundies

No, I haven’t opened a couple of bottles of a crisp, flinty Puligny-Montrachet at ten in the morning to cope with the stress of the Coronavirus. I’m talking about the Duchy of Burgundy and the County of Burgundy – two separate feuding fiefdoms in the period I’m writing about – the spring of 1192.

As many of you know, I’m in the process of writing and self-publishing a few more Robin Hood novels to fill some holes in the Outlaw Chronicles. So far, I have published Robin Hood and the Caliph’s Gold (see below, available to buy here) and I’m writing a new one – working title Robin Hood and the Castle of Bones – which should be out in late summer or autumn of 2020.

To be honest, I have no idea what the Castle of Bones is, I just think it sounds cool. Could be a fortress constructed out of human bones. But it probably isn’t. As you will have guessed I’m at the very beginning of this process. I know where I want Robin Hood, Alan Dale, Little John and Hanno to be and when – May 1192. And I know they need to be back in England by September – when the next (already published) book King’s Man begins.

Following the route of the Third Crusade

On the way to the Third Crusade with Richard the Lionheart (see Holy Warrior) my heroes travelled across France: they went from Normandy to Tours, then east to the Saone-Rhone valley and down to Lyons, then to the port of Marseilles. I figured that on the way back they’d go the same route.

After some shenanigans in Spain (see The Caliph’s Gold) my guys arrive in France and start travelling north. The book opens when they are in Burgundy – the Duchy of Burgundy, not the County. And this blog is about what I have learnt about this part of what is now eastern France.

Screenshot of my research: this is map of the two Burgundies in the 14th century

I had no idea there were multiple Burgundies, and I was a little shocked by my own ignorance. I’ve been writing about stuff that takes place in medieval France for more than ten years now, and I assumed I had a pretty good handle on it. Evidently not. When I was writing about the journey across France, I glossed over the boring travel bits and concentrated on plot – someone is trying to kill Robin. The heroes travel hundreds of miles in just a line or two of text. My bad. Time to rectify my lack of knowledge.

The Kingdom of Burgundy was founded by the Burgundians in the 4th century in the borderlands between modern-day Switzerland, France and Italy. They were a Germanic tribe who (probably) migrated down from the Baltic region as the Roman Empire was crumbling. They were conquered by the Franks and, by the 9th century, there were actually three Burgundies.

Three Burgundies

These were: Upper Burgundy, which was the region east of the Saone and up around Lake Geneva; Lower Burgundy, which roughly corresponds to the French region of Provence; and the Duchy of Burgundy to the west of the River Saone. Upper and Lower Burgundy were united in 937 as the Kingdom of Arelat (below) and absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire. The Duchy of Burgundy was annexed by the Kingdom of France in 1004.

When my Sherwood men arrive in the region in the spring/summer of 1192 there were two Burgundies side by side, on opposite banks (roughly speaking) of the Saone River. One was French – the Duke of Burgundy was a staunch ally of King Phillip II in his wars against King John of England; the other, the County of Burgundy, was sort-of German-ish, part of the Holy Roman Empire, and ruled by a man called Otto, who was the fourth son of the mighty Emperor Frederick I, aka Barbarossa.

The Saone Valley was a frontier zone between German and French parts of Europe, and accordingly, there was a great deal of fighting there between the two feuding sides and various petty counts and lords who were jostling for power and prestige. Into this bloody arena steps Robin, Earl of Locksley, and his loyal man Alan Dale – and what happens next should be a lot of fun.

Phew! After all that history I might just have that glass of white wine to help with my creative efforts. And I hope you enjoy The Castle of Bones, whatever that turns out to be, when it’s done in a few months’ time. Cheers!

You can buy a copy of Robin Hood and the Caliph’s Gold now from Amazon by clicking this link.

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Nick Brett
Nick Brett
2 years ago

Interesting, I had no idea about the complexities of the region either!

Ps if you are drinking Puligny-Montrachet the last book must have done very well!

Nick Brett
Nick Brett
2 years ago
Reply to  admin

Me too, I was having dinner with one of the famous consulting firms. Went for a pretty low priced average wine and they laughed at me and said they would “sort a proper wine”. Cue £200 bottle of P-M which I then had to pretend to enjoy far more than I did, my taste buds were not up to the standard of the wine! I’m far more tuned in now but I doubt I will ever have a bottle of this quality ever again in my life. Those were the days.

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