Today it’s my turn to interview a character in the Historical Writers’ Forum “Interview my Character” blog hop. This event has been going on throughout June and will continue through July. I have the great good fortune to be interviewing Wimer, a real-life character who had an interesting – if turbulent – career during the 12th century. He is the main character in Nicky Moxey’s Sheriff and Priest. You can read my review of the book beneath this interview.
And there’s a giveaway! The author has kindly offered a paperback copy of Sheriff and Priest to a UK winner, or an ebook to a winner elsewhere in the world. To enter, simply leave a comment below this post or on the post about this interview on the Facebook page. The draw will be made on 28th June. Good luck!
And now, having quaffed a cup of ale, I can feel that Wimer is itching to get away to his duties, so we’d better get on with it.
Vanessa: Wimer, I believe you were born to a poor Saxon family almost 70 years after the Norman Conquest of England. What were the implications of being a Saxon in a Norman-dominated country?
Wimer: Well, I think we’re lucky in sleepy little Dodnash; we’re small enough so that no-one could be bothered with us – there’s no point in putting much effort into getting taxes out of the peasant farmers like my brother. Of course, the landowners now are the sons and grandsons of the people who came over with William the Conqueror, but still, they speak French more readily than English, mostly, and they’re not above pushing you into the mud if you dare to share the roadway with them. And for most people, you just have to put up with it; it’s the way things are, we lost the war after all. I used to get the odd look down some pure-blood Norman nose even when I was the Sheriff of all Norfolk and Suffolk – not that anyone tried anything then, of course! But it does mean that the only way to prosper for a bright boy is the route I took, through the church; our Norman overlords have got things pretty well sewn up otherwise.
Vanessa: You were clearly very bright and good at arithmetic. Your elder brother, Hervey, doesn’t seem to have inherited these features, so where did they come from?
Wimer: Do you know, I suspect it was from my mother – and I think she started off my love of it, too. She used to make a lot of pretty braids and belts, by tablet weaving – do you know how that works? You take a number of square tablets, each with several holes that line up, and you thread your differently coloured wool through the holes. You then tie off one end of the threads, and start weaving by putting a shuttle through the gap the tablet stack makes with the tied end. You can make the most amazing patterns by turning a few cards between each pass of the shuttle. My mother used to love working out new patterns, and she used to get me to help her. We used to be the best-dressed family in the village – and I’m sure it helped me to see mathematical patterns, later on at school.
Vanessa: Did you ever regret your decision to become a priest and not a monk? Was going into the church in some way the only option for a boy like you at the time?
Wimer: Well, now I have the best of both worlds, as an Augustinian canon – it means that I can live the contemplative life, whilst at the same time not being cut off from the world. I did spend a lot of time agonising over it, as a young man – being a monk has that austere, clean attraction; spending your life in a cloistered service to God must be very wonderful. But no, I’m glad that I chose to become a Chaplain then a priest; it may not have been as pure a life, but it was certainly more interesting!
If I’d stayed at home instead of entering the church, life would have been very different. My brother’s little farm couldn’t have supported me as well as his family, so I would have been apprenticed out – I might have become a miller, perhaps, or a fishmonger; who knows! I would never have learned to read and write, which I would feel terribly sad about if it was taken away – but I suppose that you can’t miss something you’ve never known. I would have a family of my own, perhaps – but then I would have never met my lady Ida.
The Lord God sends us down the path He sees fit; I have no regrets.
Vanessa: You became something of a confidant to Henry II, perhaps a dangerous role. What did you really think of him?
Wimer: Ah! My friend the King. He was wonderful – larger than life, in everything; his passions ran high. He loved, hated, was driven, more than ordinary men; he certainly had his faults, but he was a generous friend, and I miss him sorely.
Vanessa: You were excommunicated three times. Can you tell my readers why and what effect this had on a person of your times?
Wimer: That was a bad business! And I was just one of many; the Archbishop used that terrible weapon far too freely. My own “error” was to write a letter on the instruction of Earl Hugh, when I was in the Bigod employ; the Archbishop chose to believe that even the messenger-boys who carried the letter – sealed, in their saddlebags – were guilty of the most serious crime against the Church.
If we had died excommunicate we would have gone straight to Hell – that thought still sends a shiver down my spine! And the Archbishop not only confirmed the sentence, but got the Pope to do so too – I spent YEARS under that shadow. And quite apart from the daily fear of hell-fire, there was such a profound practical consequence too! Thank heavens the King supported me and believed in my innocence, but it was still very difficult. I remember going to the inauguration of Abbot Samson, at Bury St Edmunds, and officiating in the ceremony as the Sheriff; but I had to sneak off the side of the stage and out of the church once the religious part of the ceremony had started! So degrading.
I very nearly lost my faith over the whole business. I owe a great debt to Father Adam for guiding me to the light again.
Vanessa: Your personal life was never very happy, since the woman you loved became the king’s mistress. In what other purposes did you seek solace?
Wimer: I think it’s not a rare thing, to love someone who is unobtainable? I did what I guess many others do, throw myself into my work, and live from one glimpse of her to the next. There was never any question of sullying her virtue, or of making my friend the King into a cuckold.
Vanessa: What did your author find out about her own lineage while researching your story?
Wimer: I understand that she has discovered that she and my lady Ida are related in a distant way, which gives me much pleasure. My author often comes and tells me her troubles; it pleases me to think that something of my lady has come down to her through the ages, and that I am able still to offer some comfort.
Vanessa: Without giving too much away, what is your role in your author’s next book?
Wimer: A very minor one. I am more than delighted, though, to have acquired an adopted son in my old age – my friend Jean’s boy; he’s being a great help as we fight off a travesty of a court case brought by the Holy Trinity priory in Ipswich. I find the whole thing very irritating and tiring! I am trying to turn my thoughts to God, to cleanse my sins as best I can; it won’t be long before I meet my Maker. But enough, I grow maudlin – I know that so long as my beloved Priory continues, they will say prayers for my soul.
Vanessa: Thank you for shining a light on 12th-century society for us, Wimer. And good luck with your Priory.
Don’t forget there’s a giveaway: one paperback copy of Sheriff and Priest to a lucky winner in the UK; and one ebook copy to a winner elsewhere in the world. Leave a comment below or comment on the post about this interview on the Facebook page.
About Nicky Moxey
Nicky lives in the middle of rural Suffolk – no distance at all from Dodnash Priory, in fact! She’s an amateur archaeologist as well as an author, and stumbled over the site of Wimer’s Priory (not where it’s marked on the map) by accident. It took about 5 years of research, both in the field and in the Suffolk Record Office (not to mention a lot of brushing-up of schoolgirl Latin!), before she had the history straight in her head; it was going to be just a paper, but then the link between the King’s mistress and Wimer appeared, and it became far too good a story not to write it as a novel!
Nicky also writes children’s historical(ish) fantasy, about a boy named Henry who finds a magic pencil on the way to school one day – his adventures with a Viking, a dinosaur, the jet stream, etc. are great fun to write!
She’s set up her own publishing business – Dodnash Books Ltd, what else! – and coaches clients through the self-publishing and marketing maze, specialising in maximising Amazon sales.
Connect with Nicky
If you’d like a signed copy of the paperback, it’s in many East Anglian bookshops, as well as on Nicky’s Etsy shop.
Vanessa’s Review of Sheriff and Priest
I came across Nicky Moxey’s book as a result of this blog hop, and I’m very glad I did. The author’s archaeological searches led her to her main character, Wimer, who rose through the ranks to become a friend and confidant of Henry II.
Wimer is born to a humble Saxon family in 12th-century East Anglia – not an auspicious start in Norman-ruled England. England is in the throes of the eighteen-year Anarchy, when the succession to the throne was disputed between Henry I’s daughter, the Empress Matilda, and his nephew, Stephen of Blois. Eventually, Stephen recognised Matilda’s son, Henry, who became Henry II, as his heir.
Wimer’s fate is to become a tanner, but his mixture of intelligence, shrewdness and ambition enables him to rise above that. He has a choice between becoming a monk or the more worldly profession of chaplain. He chooses the latter, which sets him on a career that will see him involved in the politics of the realm, falling in love with Henry II’s ward and excommunicated three times. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the story.
The author’s meticulous research shines through on every page and I was thoroughly immersed in Wimer’s England. It’s a page-turning read, and I was rooting for Wimer all the way, but the author also paints a very believable portrait of Henry II. Highly recommended.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview. The next one in the blog hop will be on Wednesday 26th June, when Nancy Jardine interviews Paul van Daan, Lynn Bryant’s gorgeous young officer from The Peninsular War Saga.
Copyright © Vanessa Couchman, Nicky Moxey 2019. All rights reserved.