The Damask Rose - Carol McGrath - The City of Acre - A Sense of Place #15
Today, I'm delighted to welcome Carol McGrath, with a fascinating guest post about the setting for her new historical novel, The Damask Rose.
Over to you, Carol...
The Damask Rose and Crusading in Acre
by Carol McGrath
I have always been fascinated by the Crusades ever since reading Henry Treece’s The Children’s Crusade as a child. Crusading is not the main focus of my new Historical novel The Damask Rose but it is given some of my personal favourite chapters and, whilst I could not travel to Acre where Eleanor and Edward I set up their household, I enjoyed my armchair time travel back into the medieval Holy Land. If you have not seen The Kingdom of Heaven do look for it. It is just how I imagined the medieval Crusader Kingdom.
The City of Acre sits in a natural harbour in Haifa Bay. It was then a great trading city subject during the medieval period to conquest and reconquest by the Christians. Acre became a centre for the military religious orders of the Templars and the Hospitallers. The Hospitallers, which provide a hero for The Damask Rose, were a military monastic order devoted to the care of the sick and to meeting the needs of pilgrims to the Holy Land. Edward, Eleanor and their households and knights took up residence in the Hospitallers’ palace fortress known as Saint –Jean-d’Acre.
It was a monumental complex built over three floors around a vast courtyard. The courtyard was surrounded by arcades, pleasantly cool in the heat of summer. A staircase on the east side led to the upper storeys. There was an enormous well on the north side with a great pool next to it and again on the south side. There would have been many gardens. I use medieval gardens in The Damask Rose a lot both in England and Acre. Plans are made there and secrets revealed. The three really large buildings belonging to the fortress complex are The Knights’ Halls, St John’s Church and a Hospital. Of course Eleanor and Edward and other important European royals and nobles, including a number of noble women, stayed in gorgeous, airy apartments within the fortress.
The wealthy Hospitallers must have processed sugar because the Sugar Bowl Hall, a three storey building on excavation revealed hundreds of earthenware pottery pieces arranged in twos. They were cone shaped sugar utensils with a drainage hole at the bottom. Archaeologists also found Mulsa jars used at the end of the process of crystalline sugar production.
Cleanliness was exceptionally important. Toilet stalls have been excavated with dozens of drain pipes in walls leading to a sewage conduit.
The Column Hall was an enormous dining room, beautiful in Eleanor’s day with stone-ribbed vaulting, a decoration of Madonna Lilies, and engraved rosettes. I can see her and her ladies in flowing silks presiding over celebrations and feasts where musicians played unfamiliar and familiar instruments and dancers danced exotic dances, acrobats performed and dramatic plays were laid on for the nobility present.
It is unlikely that Eleanor suffered any discomfort during her year and a half in Acre. There was, none the less, plotting and the constant threat of assassins, part of this section of the novel’s plot. On one occasion, Edward narrowly escaped death from an assassin’s dagger. A later scribed story tells us that Eleanor, herself, saved Edward’s life by sucking out the poison from his wound. This is not quite true. The real story is in The Damask Rose. This and much, much more thrilling adventure involving Eleanor and her herbalist, companion Olwen await the reader. Danger was always present, whether on Crusade, in Gascony-Aquitaine or in the wilds of Wales, other wonderful locations in The Damask Rose.
Thank you so much, Carol, for writing such an interesting piece and giving your readers a vivid insight into the city of Acre and the history behind The Damask Rose, a historical novel that I very much enjoyed reading.
The Damask Rose
'You lay hands on a princess of the realm? It is treason.' 'But this princess disobeys her King. Treason indeed.'
1266. Eleanor of Castile, adored wife of the Crown Prince of England, is still only a princess when she is held hostage in the brutal Baron's Rebellion, and her baby daughter dies. Scarred by privation, a bitter Eleanor swears revenge on those who would harm her family - and vows never to let herself be vulnerable again. As she rises to become Queen, Eleanor keeps Olwen - a trusted herbalist, who tried to save her daughter - by her side. But it is dangerous to be friendless in a royal household, and as the court sets out on crusade, Olwen and Eleanor discover that the true battle for Europe may not be a matter of swords and lances, but one fanned by whispers and spies . . .
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Carol McGrath is the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves Trilogy, which began with the hugely successful The Silken Rose and continues with the brand new The Damask Rose. She was born in Northern Ireland, and fell in love with historical fiction at a young age, reading children’s classics and loving historical novels especially Henry Treece, The Children’s Crusade, and, as a teenager, Anya Seton’s Katherine and everything by Jean Plaidy. Visiting the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace aged eleven was thrilling for her. Exploring Irish castles such as Carrickfergus introduced her to wonderful stories. At only nine years old an archaeological dig in Donegal was inspirational. Carol came away with a few ancient mammal teeth. While completing a degree in history, she became fascinated by the strong women who were silenced in records, and was inspired to start exploring their lives. Her first novel, The Handfasted Wife, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards, and Mistress Cromwell was widely praised as a timely feminist retelling of Tudor court life. Her novels are known for their intricacy, depth of research and powerful stories.
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