Monday, 30 June 2014

Meet my Main Character: a Quixotic 16th Century Priest

I am taking a break from my "History of the World" series, because I have been tagged by my fellow author, Jane Bwye, to take part in the "Main Characters" blog hop, the idea being that we each introduce a protagonist from a published or soon to be published novel. I am about to start work on the final editing of my third novel, Omphalos, and, since the novel will comprise six interwoven stories (set, respectively, in the present day, the Second World War, the 18th Century, the 16th Century, the 12th Century and in prehistoric times) and eight protagonists, I had a choice to make. I have decided, therefore, to focus on Richard Mabon, the 16th Century protagonist of my story, "Jerusalem." Each author participating in the blog hop is asked to address seven questions about their chosen protagonist.

A monk, priest, deacon and acolyte. 16th Century woodcut by Tobias Stimmer (image is in the Public Domain).

1. What is the name of your character, and is he or she a fictional or a historical person?

Richard Mabon is a historical character. Born on the island of Jersey, he was ordained as a Catholic Priest, and became Rector of St Martin's Church and subsequently Dean of the island, a post he held several times between 1509 and his death in 1543.

This painting, by Hans Holbein, was once thought to be of Richard Mabon. This turns out, however, to have been a transcription error: the portrait is of Richard Mabott, another churchman of the same era. No portrait of Mabon is known to exist. Image is in the Public Domain.

Saint Martin's Church, Jersey, where Richard Mabon served as Rector. Photo: Danrok (licensed under CCA).

2. When and where is the story set?

The story is set in 1517, and follows Richard Mabon and his (fictional) secretary on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. We know that Mabon did, in fact, make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem at some time between 1515 and 1520, and, by setting it in 1517, I can have him interacting with another historical pilgrim, the Norfolk priest, Richard Torkington, whose account of his pilgrimage I have read in the British Library.

The Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem (image is in the Public Domain).

The Venetian galley owners had an effective monopoly over the pilgrimage from Europe to Jerusalem, so the story begins in Venice, and follows the route of the pilgrimage by sea to Crete and Jaffa, and overland to Jerusalem, with all the dates taken directly from Torkington's account.

The symbolic "marriage" of the Doge with the sea, a ceremony which Mabon may have witnessed in Venice. Anonymous miniature of the 16th Century (image is in the Public Domain).

3. What should we know about the character?

We know, historically, that, on his return from Jerusalem, Mabon made some important modifications to a 12th Century chapel on land that he owned at La Hougue Bie. He demolished much of the eastern wall of the chapel, and inserted a crypt, styled on the Holy Sepulchre which he visited in Jerusalem.

La Hougue Bie, Jersey, showing the Chapel and Mabon's crypt above the entrance to the 6000 year old Neolithic tomb. Photo: Man Vyi (licensed under CCA).

Mabon died in 1543, before the Reformation hit the Channel Islands. Subsequent accounts portray Mabon as a contriver of false miracles (he is said to have placed a mechanically animated statue of the Virgin Mary in the crypt, which raised its arm in benediction whenever alms were presented, and to have placed candles above the statue apparently suspended in mid-air). This may be true, but it reads, to my mind, like Protestant propaganda.

Rather than depicting Mabon as the charlatan that subsequent generations claimed him to be, I thought it would be more interesting to show him as a sort of clerical Don Quixote: a man motivated by genuine piety, but born too late for that piety to be taken seriously by those around him. He is well-intentioned, but na├»ve, and frequently vain and self-important. Omphalos is, in part, a story about people who find themselves on the wrong side of history. My character's eagerness to collect relics, and his belief in his own ability to channel miracles by means of them, attracts suspicion even within the Catholic Church itself (trading in relics was an excommunicable offence by the 16th Century), but he cannot know what we know - that all of the religious certainties that he has taken for granted are about to crumble into dust.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up your character's life?

The real world can never live up to this man's expectations (even he cannot live up to his own expectations of himself). His secretary, Nicholas, is continually getting into scrapes (fighting, gambling, boozing, whoring) and, even as he calls to mind his own sins, Mabon is shocked by those of the people he is called upon to confess. Even from a distance, con men look at him and rub their hands in gleeful expectation. Bishops and priors view him with suspicion, fearing that his exaggerated claims will bring the church into disrepute.

5. What is the personal goal of your character?

Nothing more or less than enrolment in the Communion of Saints, something that we, of course, know he will never achieve.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The title is Omphalos. I have written more about the novel as a whole here, and more about the "Jerusalem" story here.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

The novel is under contract to Crooked Cat Publications, and publication is scheduled for the autumn of 2014.

I am now passing on the baton to two more authors of historical fiction:

Tim Taylor is the author of Zeus of Ithome, a novel set in Greece in the 4th Century BC.

Gaye Mack is the author of the "Flight through Time," series, set in 12th Century England.

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon UK or Amazon USA.

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