Fulk Fitzwarin: Lords of the White Castle by Elizabeth Chadwick

Last year my fiancee and I attended a commemorative series of talks in Hereford on King John's reign and the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. One of the guest speakers was Elizabeth Chadwick and we listened with interest to her lecture on the life of William Marshal. Elizabeth's knowledge of the Plantagenet period is impressive and it is her passion and expertise that has seen her win many literary awards. So I was thrilled to discover among her many successful books, a novel called Lords of the White Castle, about the legendary Fulk Fitzwarin.



Everyone has heard of Robin Hood, but other outlaw heroes from the medieval period are not quite as well known. Tales of Eustace the Monk, Gamelyn and Adam Bell were also popular at the time, but have since faded from memory. There were also ballads about an outlaw baron that rebelled against evil King John - Fulk Fitzwarin.

Fulk Fitzwarin III was born in the late 1170s, and after his father died in 1197 he became lord of the manor of Alveston in Gloucestershire, and continued the ongoing family claim to Whittington Castle in Shropshire. When King John came to the throne in 1199, Fulk bid £100 for his inheritance of the castle. But instead, on the 11th April 1200 John granted Whittington to the rival claimant Maurice of Powis, even though he had only offered 50 marks. 


It is unclear why the monarch made his decision. But for the next three years Fulk and approximately fifty followers, including his three brothers, waged a guerrilla campaign against King John. When Maurice of Powis died four months later, Whittington Castle was granted to his heirs.



King John (1166-1216)

Very little is known about Fulk's life as an outlaw.  Although we do know that the king sent Hubert de Burgh with 100 knights to respond to the threat.

Fulk was eventually pardoned, together with thirty others, by King John in 1203. He was fined 200 marks, but this time Fulk and his heirs finally gained ' right and inheritance' of Whittington Castle. 


Twelve years later Fulk rebelled against John again. This time in support of the rebel barons which would ultimately lead to Magna Carta. He did make peace with John's successor, Henry III in 1217 but even so the later years of his life were filled with disputes and land seizures.



The Arms of Fitzwarin

On Fulk's death in c.1256 he quickly became the focus of many folk-tales and legends. Unfortunately all that survives today is the 'ancestral romance' known as Fouke le Fitz Waryn dating from c.1330 and a sixteenth century summary of a 'Middle English' version. 

Fouke is a long episodic saga that not only contains a weird mixture of magical tales, knightly romance and traditional folk lore, but seemingly accurate information as well.  The basic outline to the story is this: As a young boy Fulk had lived at the court of King Henry II. One day, Fulk and Prince John had a bitter quarrel over a game of chess. John breaks the chess board over Fulk's head and he responds by kicking the prince in the stomach. Somewhat unfairly John was then punished with a whipping and thereafter bore a grudge against Fulk. When Richard died and John became king he granted Fulk's bitter enemy, Maurice of Powis, Whittington Castle. Fulk responded by renouncing his homage to King John.

First, Fulk fled to Brittany but then returned to England and took refuge in 'woods and moors' as an outlaw. From this point we start to see the strong similarities with the Robin Hood legend. Fulk's brother John (like Little John) waylaid merchants and relieved  them of their wealth after dining with Fulk and his men. Fulk was wounded in the knee while being pursued, just as Little John was shot in the knee when he escaped from the sheriff. Both bands of outlaws took refuge with a friendly knight.

Some of Fulk's other adventures are substantially the same as those in the Robin Hood ballads. The monarch decides to deal with both sets of outlaws personally and is lured to their camp by the promise of good hunting. Also Fulk and Robin are eventually reconciled with the king and ask permission to visit a holy site. In Fulk's case it is the priory of 'Our Lady' near Alberbury and Robin wishes to visit the chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene in Barnsdale. Both Fulk and Robin also had something else in common: 'neither Fulk nor any of his men did damage at any time to anyone save our king and his knights,' and Robin 'did poor men much good.'

Elizabeth Chadwick follows the trail of the legend closely. At 678 pages Lords of the White Castle is quite a long read, but her period scholarship and intellect keeps the reader gripped. The novel begins with Fulke's (Elizabeth Chadwick's spelling) early years as a squire in the Plantagenet court of Henry II and the violent quarrel with vindictive Prince John that begins their life-long bitter rivalry. Once John is on the throne he denies the Fitzwarin claim to Whittington Castle and we witness Fulke's turbulent life in exile.


Whittington Castle in Shropshire

The author's imagination fills the gaps in the historical record with a vibrant colourful pageantry. She breaths life into the young Maude Le Vavasour, a tenacious woman and skilled archer who is offered in marriage to Fulke's old mentor, Theobald Walter. Maude  eventually becomes a wealthy widow and is now pursued by King John. But she is in love with Fulke, and so begins a passionate and dangerous love affair. 

Fulke's quest to re-gain back his family home becomes a trail of deceit and shifting alliances that leads to personal tragedy and eventually the Magna Carta rebellion. 



The American cover


This is the most compelling historical novel I have read and I can understand why Elizabeth Chadwick is rated so highly. Each page reflects her extensive knowledge of the thirteenth century, but never overwhelms the reader with information. It seems she just gently wraps you in a richly embroidered medieval blanket that fills your senses and journeys you back to those long lost chivalric days. 

3 comments:

Clement Glen said...


"Fulk Fitzwarin: Lords of the White Castle by Elizabeth Chadwick"

King John


Fulk Fitzwarin

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Wow, Thank you so much Tony. I am so pleased that you enjoyed Lords of the White Castle, and want to say that your lovely review has made my day!
Elizabeth x

Vallypee said...

This sounds totally compelling. I think I shall have to get hold of it somehow!