One of the chief attractions of reading (and writing!) historical fiction is that it is set in a world far different than the world we live in today. That different-ness, however, also poses one of the greatest challenges for historical novelists. We must understand the unique situation faced by the citizens of an older era, and then convey it to our readers in such a way that they can relate to our characters.

The fourteenth century provides the setting for my book I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince. It was a grim time—one of the greatest disasters imaginable overtook the Western world, with nearly half the European population perishing in the Black Plague. It was a bloody time—France and England became locked in the interminable struggle known as the Hundred Years’ War, with the Scots, the Spaniards, and the Germans participating intermittently.

But despite these harsh realities, the fourteenth century was also a seminal time—an era of change, courage, and determination. Strong men and women saw the world they had been given, took it in their hands, and molded it into something new. In religion, literature, societal structure, and warfare, mankind made monumental strides, preparing the way for the more earth-shattering changes that the Renaissance and Reformation would bring.

“It is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” Pope Boniface wrote these words at the dawn of the fourteenth century, increasing papal power as his predecessors had done for nearly a millennium. Anyone who disagreed with the pope was summarily excommunicated and condemned to the eternal lake of fire. Since the pope was the picture of Christ on earth, Christ Himself was perceived as an iron taskmaster. The common people trembled in fear of God’s wrath, making lengthy pilgrimages and performing elaborate penance to avoid the pangs of Purgatory or damnation.

As the fourteenth century wore on, however, many reacted to this stern picture of God. Julian of Norwich, an English mystic who claimed she could converse with God, saw Christ as a caring mother, not a frowning judge. She taught that our sin produced suffering, suffering gave us knowledge, and knowledge brought us nearer to a kind and merciful Father. John Wyclif, also a native of England, challenged the tyrannical claims of the pope, arguing that he did not truly represent Christ. Translating the Bible into the common tongue, Wyclif ensured that the priests would not have a monopoly on God’s Word. Fourteenth century religious thinkers like Julian and John Wyclif sent fissures through the foundation of the Roman church that would split her wide open in the centuries to come.

The world of literature paralleled and aided these developments in the world of religion. Dante and Chaucer used poetry as social criticism. Instead of confining themselves to the scholarly language of Latin, both men put their verse in the common tongue of their people. Dante’s Divine Comedy provided a literary corrective to the Roman church, showing Pope Boniface in hell and lyrically illustrating the goodness of God, the “Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales satirized the greed and hypocrisy of the monks, nuns, pardoners, and friars that filled the Church, commending the charity of the simple parish priest as a model for the rest.

This new spirit of questioning, independence, and change manifested itself in all classes of society. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the system of feudalism had already begun to creak and totter. The Black Plague nearly pushed it over. When half the labor force of Europe disappeared over night, noblemen found their manors shorthanded and their workers short tempered. France erupted with riotous serfs determined to avenge centuries of iniquitous treatment from their masters. England’s unhappy taxpayers had their own Peasants’ Revolt, wringing concessions from a frightened aristocracy.

Yet despite these domestic disturbances, France and England still found time to fight each other. England’s Edward III claimed the throne of France, by right of inheritance through his French mother, and sailed across the Channel to make good his claim. This began an epic conflict, known as the Hundred Years’ War, which spanned five generations. The pitched battles of Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt showed that the old way of warfare was dying out. Mounted knights, the premier fighting unit of the earlier Middle Ages, retreated in fear from armies of infantry and longbowmen. The first rumbles of cannon filled the air at Crecy, ushering in the new age of gunpowder.

Though the age of chivalry was passing away, its spirit still lingered on in the heroes of the fourteenth century battlefield. Edward, the Black Prince, was the pride of England, inspiring a strong national identity as his countrymen reveled in his victories. Sir Geoffroi de Charny, the finest knight in France, penned the Book of Chivalry, striving to instill in the new generation a respect for the evaporating institution of knighthood.

The fourteenth century was a hard time and it was a tumultuous time. It was a threshold, a lynchpin, a crucible. The difficulties these people faced wore different guises than the troubles that beset a twenty-first century reader, and it is the historical novelist's duty (and pleasure!) to depict these differences in all their gritty splendor.

But in the end, it is not the differences but the similarities that will engage, encourage, and inspire. Men and women of faith, honor, and courage took the opportunity to think, to object, to write, to lead, to change. That is the story of the fourteenth century, a story that the twenty-first century has the opportunity to claim as well.
Rosanne E. Lortz

Rosanne E. Lortz is the author of I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince, a historical adventure/romance set during the Hundred Years' War, and Road from theWest: Book I of the Chronicles of Tancred, the beginning of a trilogy which takes place during the First Crusade.

You can learn more about Rosanne's books on her Facebook Page or at her Official Author Website where she also blogs about writing, mothering, and things historical. 

Leave your comment + your e-mail address to get a chance to win Rosanne E. Lortz's book, I SERVE. There's a paperback copy for you and the contest is open internationally! Deadline 10th September. Good luck!


Linda said...

I have read other historical fiction novels in which The Black Prince is one of the characters, but never a book about him. I would love to win this novel. Thanks for the giveaway.

bcrocks said...

I have read Rosannes book Road from the West: Book 1 of the Chronicles of Tancred. It was awesome..so winning I Serve would be awesome!! bcrocks_ca@hotmail.com

lunarossa said...

Very interesting. I read a lot of history books and historical fiction but I do not know anything at all about the Black Prince. Would like to find out. Ciao. A.xx agramolasands6@hotmail.com

Psyche said...

Interesting read. I would love to get my hands on this book.


Vera Cruz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie said...

Looks like a fascinating book set in a fascinating time. katie[dot]anderson2[at]uky[dot]edu

Holly Bryan said...

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres!!! I have read SO MUCH of it but not yet anything about the Black Prince. I have been wanting to read this book from Roseanne for a while. I had not yet heard of her other one you mention, I'm hopping over to Amazon to look it up and put it on my wish list immediately!

Thanks for the giveaway :)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the giveaway! I read Road From the West, by the same author, and enjoyed it. here is my review: http://wordsandpeace.com/2011/10/13/75-review-road-from-the-west/
so I would love winning this one!
Emma @ Words And Peace
ehc16e at yahoo dot com

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the giveaway! I read Road From the West, by the same author, and enjoyed it. here is my review: http://wordsandpeace.com/2011/10/13/75-review-road-from-the-west/
so I would love winning this one!
Emma @ Words And Peace
ehc16e at yahoo dot com

oloore said...

Thank you for such wonderful giveaway! I love historical fiction which helps to enjoy different age while filling the gaps of history knowledge:)
oloore at gmail dot com

ArtemisG said...

I love historical fiction and this sounds very interesting, thank you for the giveaway!

artgiote at gmail dot com

BeckyC said...

Sounds interestng. I love reading historical fiction and would love a chance to win. Thank you for the giveaway!
cherringtonmb at sbcglobal dot net

Anna said...

I love historical fiction and I am interested in the Hundred Years War. Would love a chance to win


Anonymous said...

im not used to read historical romance i usually read the modern romance from mills and boons
given a chance i would love to try start reading historical fiction
thxs for the giveaway

swt_diish at yahoo dot com

Leocadia said...

I love Historical fiction, and I read a lot of it but I have never read a book about the Black Prince. I would love to win it !
Thanks for this wonderful giveaway.


Jesse Kimmel-Freeman said...

Sounds really cool!

Brandy C said...

Looks so awesome!!

brandyj1121 @ hotmail Dot Com

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I would love to read this book! and a free copy of it would just be the icing on my cupcake :)


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Maria Grazia and Rosanne, for the giveaway and the very interesting post. The Black Prince seems to be strangely neglected in historical fiction - I've read about his father, his son, even his brother, and would love to read about him!
Best regards, Julie