I believe there is just one good reason for writing historical fiction - a great urge to tell a story (this part is common for all fiction) which is settled in a specific time. Although this seems trivial, not all the authors follow this simple principle. As a result, they usually overestimate their enthusiasm for an epoch they've picked, or their enthusiasm to tell a story (common for all bad writing). I would like to think I did not err in any of the aforementioned ways.
Gentlemen of Pitchfork are a result of my year lasting study of middle ages and my even longer experience with sword fighting. I’m a Pole, yet I decided to tell a story that takes place in XVth century France. The battle of Agincourt, which is the central historical event in my book, was fought just a few years after a much larger Battle of Grunwald (sometimes known in English literature as Battle of Tannenberg) which happened in Poland. Why wouldn't I write about Grunwald? Being a coward would be the simplest reason. The burden of writing about own nation’s history seemed too heavy for a fiction. I was afraid I would focus too much on the politics. After all I wanted to write an adventure story and not to play the role of a late chronicler.
That said I did put a lot of effort to make Gentlemen of Pitchfork historically accurate. The accent is not on the politics but rather on the material history and daily life. I believe that many readers, even interested in middle ages, will find something in there that they didn't know before reading the book. This may include some details about clothing, equipment, culture or fighting.
Despite the fact that most of the time spent on creating my first book was dedicated to reading history books, I’ve been careful enough not to drawn in the details of middle age life which would have undermined the most important aspect for the fiction - the story.
I would like to finish with a bold statement. I must confess that before writing the Gentlemen of Pitchfork I haven’t seen a convincing sword fight in a movie nor have I read one in a book.
Kamil Gruca is a Polish writer born in 1982 in Warsaw. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Warsaw University.
Kamil is also an active knight who confirmed his battle prowess by winning the Polish National Knights League in 2006 under the alias of Sir Robert Neville. He has studied medieval swordsmanship for over 15 years hence his novels are full of dynamic and realistic swordplay.
Being an avid re-enactor and a passionate history geek Kamil moved to France for two years to study documents unavailable in other countries that would add to the feel and realism of the book on multiple levels.
His first novel “Panowie z Pitchfork” was published in 2009 by a major publishing house Rebis. Receiving a warm welcome from Polish critics, readers and fellow writers, the first part of the adventures of the young and keen Sir Robert was soon followed by a sequel “Baron i Łotr”, published by another publishing house Znak, bringing closure to the major plot.
Currently Kamil lives in Warsaw with his family and is working on another series of historical novels focused around one of Poland’s most famous knights – Zawisza Czarny – and his not so famous yet equally interesting brothers.
About the Book
The year is 1415. France is weakened by the recently ended Civil War between the factions of Burgundians and Armagnacs. The young and belligerent King Henry V Lancaster decides to pay the French a neighbourly visit. With him – the flower of the English knighthood.
Among them – Sir Arthur, the Baron of Pitchfork, an ideal of all chivalric virtues – his uncle, Sir Ralph, a veteran soldier with a taste for women and bitter humour – and his cousin, Sir Robert, a young and romantic would-be scholar who will have his first taste of war, sieges, duels, betrayal and intrigue but also love and practical philosophy.
Together they ride as secret envoys of their King to meet Burgundian emissaries. But the Armagnacs’ spies keep their eyes open for any sign of treason on the part of their political opponents and three powerful French armies are gathering to cross King Henry’s way.
Publication Date: July 13, 2014
Translator: Pawel Brzosko
In the growing darkness king Henry’s camp boiled with preparations for the attack. Retinues of John Holland and the Baron of Pitchfork took position along the stockade. The eastern part of the camp was obscured by smoke from the heavy bombards and handguns. Before the attack the gunners doubled the efforts to make way for the cramped men-at-arms and archers. The latter were frantically checking up arrow fletchings and putting strings on their yew and ash bowstaves. The soldiers were glancing upon the walls, nervously grasping their halberds, spetums, glaives* and partisans*. The King rode onto the back of the awaiting troops. His suite spread behind him. Mounted on the grand steed, he looked majestic. On the tabard he had arms quarterly: 1 and 4 azure three fleurs de lys or, 2 and 3 gules in pale three lions passant guardant or – the coat of arms of the reigning house. Henry was sitting straight in his high-bowed saddle. He did not put the helmet on and his noble, proud face was clearly visible in the camp’s lights. A long scar ran across his right cheek – a strong accent in his aristocratic features. It was a souvenir from the battle of Shrewsbury. On the king’s right hand rode Edward, the Duke of York - Henry’s uncle. On the king’s left hand rode Humfred, the Duke of Gloucester, the youngest son of Henry IV and the elderly, yet highly experienced king’s counsellor – Sir Thomas Erpingham. All of the king’s closest companions wore full plate armour and helmets.
“Sons of England!” Henry’s words broke through the artillery’s turmoil. “The walls have been crumbled! Harfleur welcomes us! Please accept its hospitality tonight and abandon the comforts of your tents! I invite you to my home, Normandy, as you are now standing on its porch!” The king spoke louder and louder and the warriors’ eager cries echoed him. “You are at home here, you just need to drive away the intruders who invaded your household. Attack in the name of Saint George!”
A collective cry rose in the air. Sir John Holland shut the visor of his basinet* and twirled his high-raised sword. The English knights, spearmen and archers poured out from behind the stockade. The latter were the most numerous and they were the first to start the bloody craft. The bombards went silent and the night’s sky sizzled only with arrows and bolts.
Sir Robert ran, leaning slightly, with his visor closed. In front of him he could only see his father’s back covered with a plate. The baron of Pitchfork ran close to him, grasping with both hands his favourite weapon – a poleaxe* over 6 feet long.
“Gregory, stay close!” Robert yelled to his panting squire. “And I will keep close to my cousin”, he thought.
The first wave of the attackers reached the rubble. It once was a deep moat, naturally carved out by the river Leur. Holland and his knights started climbing down, accompanied by the clanking of armour. The spearmen clambered after them. The archers were stopping every once in a while trying to spot the defenders on the walls.
When the first wave descended to the moat, they were showered with bolts and stones.
“Halt!” cried Sir Ralph.
The second wave caught up with Holland’s men, who had not yet managed to climb down the rubble.
“Scatter and take cover until there’s place for us!” Sir Ralph shouted to the cramped knights.
“Take cover and await the command!”, the Baron of Pitchfork echoed him in a deep voice.
Robert pushed the squire toward the nearby pile of charred wooden stakes – the remnants of the fortifications. He crouched himself close by. Still not all of Holland’s men managed to get down to the moat. Robert saw his father and his cousin hiding behind a heap of stones. In the background he spotted crossbowmen looming on the walls. Although they were at a considerable distance, he would swore he heard an order in French. An instant later two of Arthur’s men fell to the ground. One, tossed with convulsions, was holding his stomach. The other lied unnaturally still. A trickle of blood flowed from under his kettle hat*.
“Crossbowmen, behind you!” cried Sir Robert and pointed at the walls.
Sir Ralph glanced towards the barbican and cursed. With growing anxiety Robert watched the first wave run through the moat. Why are they moving so slowly? He glanced back at the knights surrounding Arthur and Ralph. Just in time to see a bolt hitting the head of Sir Thomas Crawley crouching on the edge of the group. His father’s friend cocked his head and fell dead, face down. Robert felt suddenly that none of this is real. Fear made him stop thinking and start acting upon instincts. He only saw a couple archers come to aid the knights. They covered the French crossbowmen with arrows at an incredible pace. Finally he rose to his feet and rushed through the filled up moat. He did not hear the cries or commands. He just ran and didn’t even notice joining Sir John Holland’s men fighting in the crowd. The few images that he later remembered of the assault was the second wave of men-at-arms breaking through the torn ramparts to meet the wall of French halberds. His last memory was of a muffled clatter, when the mighty strike of a pole-arm knocked him, unconscious, to the ground.