Robin Hood and Alan a Dale

There is no mention of Alan a Dale in any of the early ballads of Robin Hood. This character first appears in a seventeenth-century ballad called “Robin Hood and Allin a Dale”.

In the ballad, Alan’s sweetheart is being forced to marry an elderly knight. Robin Hood, who has taken a shine to the lad, attacks the church on the day of the nuptials and obliges the priest to marry Alan to his own true love.

Interestingly, there is a variation of this in the television series “Robin of Sherwood”. The writer Richard Carpenter features Alan in just one episode, a distraught and very bad minstrel Alan (played by Peter Hutchinson) is thwarted in his love for one Mildred, who is to be married (mostly for financial advantage) to the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Unlike other series, this is just a one-off appearance for Alan. We never see him again.

Elsewhere, in films and television, Alan is usually a mainstay character, often portrayed as a minstrel. Sometimes he appears as a bit of a dandy also. Occasionally a wooer of women to boot.

As far as I recall he only appears a few times in the Richard Greene “Adventures of Robin Hood” series of the 1950s, where he’s played by Richard Coleman.

When I was writing my Robin Hood novel “Loxley”, I decided to make Alan a rather more prominent character and give him some real back-story. Who is this minstrel? Where does he come from?

Minstrels in medieval times were interesting characters. Unlike most people they could actually wonder from place to place. Or they might be rooted in one castle. Because of this they were sometimes employed as spies – a concept that I found that I could use in my stories.

And what dale exactly does Alan come from?

On the borders of the present day counties of Cumbria and County Durham, on the lonely moorlands of Stainmore, you may even today seek out a boulder that was supposed to be the trysting place of Alan a Dale and his lover. I haven’t been able to discover how this legend started out.Loxley Cover

And not many miles away, on Orton Scar, is a stone cairn said to be Robin Hood’s Grave (there are a lot of others!) Not that far distant in days gone by, was Inglewood Forest, the haunt of another legendary outlaw – Adam Bell (about whom more soon.)

So when I was writing “Loxley” I gave this background to my Alan a Dale, and I made him a minstrel in Nottingham Castle for good measure. A minstrel and something else besides.

And there’ll be more of him in the next novel.

You can read the first chapter of “Loxley” on the page above. It’s now available in paperback and on Kindle. Just click on the link below to see the reviews or to order a copy:

George Borrow’s Tour of Galloway and the Borders in 1866

“George Borrow’s Tour of Galloway and the Borders 1866”
Edited by Angus Fraser
A Review

The late Sir Angus Fraser devoted much of his life to the careful study of the writer George Borrow, seeking out new sources of information and dismissing many of the myths that had grown up about this much-neglected author since his death in 1881. Borrow had a great moment of fame after his book “The Bible in Spain” became a bestseller, before his star went into its first decline. His autobiographical novels, “Lavengro” and “The Romany Rye” didn’t acquire the popularity of his earlier work until after their author was dead. And then there was a kind of Borrovian renaissance, fuelled no doubt by the desire of so many to explore the British countryside on foot by generations of literary ramblers. This second flowering of Borrow’s reputation lasted roughly until around the 1950s. Since then George Borrow has been neglected again.

Borrow wrote a really great walking book based on his travels, “Wild Wales”. Still to many readers the greatest book about exploring the Principality. But he undertook several other walking tours, and his notebooks suggest that he intended to write these up as similar volumes – sadly, he never did.

But many of his notebooks remain and they give a very good indication of just how he made notes about his various expeditions. Even if you are not a dedicated Borrovian, these are quite fascinating.

Sir Angus Fraser’s examination of the notebooks relating to Borrow’s tour of Galloway and the Scottish Borders, is now available in a splendid and lavishly illustrated limited edition of just 100 copies from The Lavengro Press, with a foreword by Dr Ann M. Ridler. It is sad that Borrow never had the will to create a book based on his travels north of the border. It would have made a significant contribution to Scottish topographical literature – and a waspish one too, for Borrow was not uncritical of some elements of Scottish life and learning. Only Borrow could admire and loathe Sir Walter Scott at the same time! At a time when the Victorians were embracing the cult of Balmorality and all the delights of Scotland – following the example of the Queen, and the huge late popularity of Sir Walter Scott’s romances – Borrow was looking at the same land with a much more jaundiced eye.

Borrow arrived in the Borders on the boat from Belfast to Stranraer. He wandered on through Newton Stewart, Castle Douglas and Dumfries. Then by a circuitous route to Kirk Yetholm, and then into the heart of Scott country, Melrose, Hawick and Abbotsford. On then to Kelso before making for Edinburgh.

The notebook entries reproduced here are quite fascinating. Not just snapshots of Scottish places and their history, but the people encountered. And Borrow is at his very best when describing locals and other travellers. For example, in the inn at Morebattle, he relates that there was ‘strange company’ – “old man master of the House – His sister 85 years of age – the maid – commercial traveller, in the grocery line – the man from (one undeciphered word) all drunk with the exception of the maid…” What grist to any writer’s mill!

Near to Lochmaben: “Evening – the fountain by the lake, the two boys – discourse – 9 lakes in all (?) Gypsies and tinkers occasionally came – worked and then got drunk and fought, a band had been there a week before, and one tried to choke a woman and broke a policeman’s shins; Vandies – a peculiar kind of fish caught in Lochmaben – a club of gentlemen meet every Tuesday during the season to catch them.”

Borrow had a great interest in Gypsies and other travellers, so he included Kirk Yetholm in his itinerary, where dwelt the Gypsy Queen. Being Borrow he tried to catch her out on her knowledge of Romanes. This entertaining encounter did find a place in a chapter on Kirk Yetholm in Borrow’s Gypsy word book “Romano Lavo-Lil”. It is reproduced in this volume.

Borrow was not just a reactive observer on his countryside travels. He very often throws out disputatious comments and often gets back as good as he gives. It was his nature to be challenging if not downright argumentative.

To read Borrow is always entertaining, and there are some quite wonderful encounters in this book. It is in so many ways a tragedy that these brief excerpts of a journey were not worked up into a book on the scale of “Wild Wales”. For in these pencilled notebooks we have the foundations of what might have been a considerable work of travel literature. This reprint comes with some excellent appendices, featuring Borrow’s correspondence relating to his travels, much on Borrow and Gypsies, notes on his earlier Scottish tour, Borrow on Robert Burns, and Borrow in Belfast. An admirable collection not just for the ardent Borrovian, but for anyone interested in Scottish travel and topography.

You can order the limited edition paperback for just £11.50 including postage and packing, or a PDF version for £3, from The Lavengro Press. Look at their website at:

Writing Country Books

Writing Country Books

When we entered the world of independent publishing, it was perhaps inevitable that the first few books were about the British countryside, the outdoors and walking. I had, after all, spent decades as a freelance journalist writing for the outdoor press, and broadcasting on television and radio. Not to mention nine years as the chief executive of a campaigning countryside group.

Over the past couple of decades I’ve written and published some thirty books for commercial publishers.

From childhood I’ve been a great country walker, walking miles across the landscape, exploring the footpaths and bridleways, the moors and mountains, the meadows and coast. As a volunteer for the Ramblers Association I’ve been involved in protecting our rights of way, and taken part in many of the great environmental protests where National Parks have been threatened.

Thirty years ago I spent an entire year living wild in a Dartmoor woodland, bathing every day in the Dart, waking with the dawn and sleeping with the dusk. I found this quite useful when I was writing my Robin Hood novel “Loxley”.

As an inveterate trespasser I’ve long campaigned for better access to the British countryside. I’ve been evicted from country estates, and even been shot by a gamekeeper – an incident I’ve related in my book “The Compleat Trespasser”.

And I’ve long been interested in the enormous influence country walking has had on English literature. My bookshelves positively groan with the weight of volumes brought about just because the authors enjoyed a ramble or a tramp. Many of our greatest novelists were considerable walkers. Charles Dickens was a noted walker, and a great observer, whether in the countryside or the town. The walker sees things that the non-walker can’t even begin to imagine.

With the decline in markets for outdoor writers I decided to use these experiences to pen a few books on the countryside and walking. At first I considered putting these out with commercial publishers. But then I reconsidered. I wanted the absolute freedom to say the things I wanted to say. To take a position on countryside access. To be outspoken. All of those issues that add grey hairs to the heads of publishers’ editors.Rambling-book-cover

The first of the books was the most conventional. “Rambling – the Beginner’s Bible” is a guide to inspire the beginner, though I was pleased to see from the reviews that more experienced walkers have commented kindly on its contents. I hope it is of use if you have never really walked in the countryside, but want a bit of encouragement to find your feet. It assumes no knowledge of rambling at all.

When this was done my mind wandered on to the thorny subject of trespassing and countryside access. I’ve always been interested in the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932, when five ramblers were sent to gaol for daring to walk in their own countryside. Appalled by the political trial they had to face with a loaded jury. But their imprisonment sowed the seeds that led to the creation of Britain’s National Parks and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

The access movement of the 1920s and 1930s was what led to all of this. I found it dreadful that, in some cases, young men who had fought in the trenches in the Great War were being beaten up as they tried to walk across the country they had fought for, and their comrades sacrificed their lives for. Why is it considered okay to die for your country when you are forbidden access to some of its finest acres?CompleatTrespasser Cover

I wanted to write a popular history of land access, a fascinating subject in itself. Here was my subject. My book “The Compleat Trespasser” gives a history of these events from earliest times up to date. I also put in a few chapters about my own trespassing adventures. And for anyone tempted to roam off the highways, I’ve put in a chapter of guidance for would-be trespassers.

My third country book is “Footloose with George Borrow”. This very brief book of essays is my tribute to the nineteenth-century’s most neglected writer. Borrow was a terrific walker and observer. His books resonate with the joy of the open road. Borrow’s Britain is a land of stagecoaches, footpads and highwaymen, Gypsy encampments and thimblerigs. To read George Borrow is to enter an entertaining and strange world that is often neglected these days. Walking in Borrow’s footsteps, either physically or in the imagination is a true delight!George Borrow Cover

And are there more country books to come?

Well, yes, I am working on one at the moment. A book of walking adventures. It might be out next year, though the novels, which are more commercial, have to come first.

And thinking of writing a country book of your own? Please do. There is a market and reading outdoor books is a joy.
You can order the books by clicking on the links below. “Rambling – the Beginner’s Bible” and “The Compleat Trespasser” are available as paperbacks and EBooks (Kindle, Kobo and Nook). At the moment “Footloose with George Borrow” is only available as an EBook.

“Rambling – The Beginner’s Bible”

“The Compleat Trespasser”

“Footloose with George Borrow”

The Strange World of William Quest

This interview with me first appeared on the Gaslight Crime blog at

An interview with John Bainbridge about his new Victorian thriller “The Shadow of William Quest”:

So how did William Quest come about?

I’ve always wanted to write about aspects of the Victorian underworld, but I wanted a setting that was London and Norfolk. For a long time I had this image of a gentleman carrying a swordstick walking along a London alley. I knew straight away that he was on some sort of quest for vengeance. His name, in these preliminary thoughts was Edward Stanton. Then one day the name William Quest flashed into my mind. It seemed to fit. I knew it would open with a killing but had only the vaguest ideas as to where to go from there.
So did you write out any sort of detailed plot plan?

Not really, and I’m glad I didn’t. I scribbled a few pages of very rough ideas in a Moleskine notebook. Many of these got rejected as I went on. I knew that there had to be some sort of back story for Quest. I had thoughts on what that should be. Then I sat down and it really wrote itself.
Did it come easily?

Much easier than anything I’ve ever written before. Whole characters just appeared, complete with names. I had no idea that there would be a character called Jasper Feedle at all. He just appeared one morning with that name. Walked out on to the pages, complete. Wissilcraft, the spy, was someone else who built up his part. He was meant to be a very minor character, just in a couple of scenes. And then there he is, driving the whole plot forwards.

Did you do much research?

I took a minor in nineteenth century social history as an undergraduate at the University of East Anglia. I always had a considerable interest in the Victorian underworld so I had most of that information at my fingertips. I have always had an interest in Victorian London and Norfolk and wanted a contrast between the London rookeries and the lonely countryside of Norfolk. Recent visits back to Norfolk gave me ideas for the scenes there and for the climax.

How do you work?

Mornings only! An early start and then only to lunchtimes, then the brain gives up. I usually write between 850 to 1400 words a day. I try to write every day. I really want to do more words.

Do you have a favourite character?

It has to be Jasper Feedle. Mostly because he saved me a lot of labour and came on like an actor, gave the performance, without any great effort from me.
Why the Victorian period?

When I was younger my period was always the 17th century. My university experiences and reading since diverted me to Victorian times. I think it a fascinating period. People think they know it, but…. And there are several periods within the period. The Regency attitudes linger on for a long time into Victoria’s reign. I found that fascinating and it was one reason why I set Quest as early as 1853. Much of Dickens’ work is driven by those attitudes. Worth remembering that there were thirty years of Victorianism after Dickens died. They were rather different years, much as the 1980s were different from the 1940s.

A good time to be alive?

If you were well off. Most of my ancestors were working class during Victoria’s reign. Many had unpleasant and early deaths. But there were wonderful people fighting for reform as well. I wanted to reflect both aspects in the novel. But at the end of the day it is a thriller and not a social novel. But Victorian values are not something, generally, we should wish back. Like Quest and his friends I would like a fairer and much more compassionate world.

But the relics of Victorian Britain are still there?

They are indeed. In Britain we are fortunate that we can walk down the same streets and see the same buildings as our Victorian ancestors. Walk down many High Streets, look up above modern fascias, and we can still see the buildings they would have seen. A lot of Britons still live in the same houses as the Victorians. Much of our civic architecture is Victorian. We should make sure the planners and developers leave it alone.

Will there be any more William Quest novels?The Shadow Of William Quest Cover

Hope so. I hope to finish another Quest novel by the end of this year, though at present I am working on an espionage novel set in the 1930s.

What advice would you give to anyone writing a Victorian thriller?

Don’t dwell too much on the plot until you have immersed yourself in the period. Sometimes the best ideas come out of that period. Read widely, walk those Victorian streets, look at their art, listen to their music, read their literature. It’s a bit like time travel. You need to be living there in a bit of your mind. Once you can get into that state the ideas should come. Better than trying to force a plot on to the period.

Thank you.

To order “The Shadow of William Quest” please click on the link below.

Writing about Much the Miller’s Son in Robin Hood

Writing about Much, the Miller’s son.
By John Bainbridge

Much, son of the miller, has an important functionary role in many fictional interpretations of the Robin Hood story. It is by freeing Much, who has been caught poaching the king’s deer, that Robin Hood becomes an outlaw in the first place.
I first became aware of the character in my “Robin Hood Annual” when I was aged about eight. It started the story with Robin rescuing Much from Gisborne, just before he was about to kill Much after the poaching incident. Variations on this original theme abound in novels, films and television series.Loxley Cover

Probably none of the merry men have enjoyed so many different interpretations as Much. In some versions he is young, in others quite old, or very often we see him as a middle-aged peasant.

I don’t recall him played younger than in the memorable performance by Peter Llewellyn Williams in that iconic television series of the 1980s “Robin of Sherwood”. Here he is very young indeed. Peter Llewellyn Williams plays him as a simpleton, “a halfwit boy” in the words of one of the opposing characters. This Much is easily frightened, superstitious, loyal, and with, despite all of those problems, a courage that shines through in moments of great danger.

Peter Llewellyn Williams gives a thoroughly convincing performance in what is a very difficult type of part. In “Robin of Sherwood” Much is shown as a kind of brother to Robin, Much’s parents having taken in Robin on the death of Robin’s rebellious father. The series starts with Robin Hood (Michael Praed) trying and failing to rescue Much from Gisborne (Robert Addie).

In the original ballads, Much plays a more menacing role. He is just another outlaw in the pack, and certainly no relation to Robin. (It is interesting that if you look through the ballads, none of Robin’s men appear to have a family; the only relation who rates a mention is the Prioress of Kirklees who we discover is Robin Hood’s cousin.) Only, I believe, in “Robin of Sherwood” do we actually see the miller, the father of Much. Writer Richard Carpenter gave us Much’s mother too!

The Much of the ballads is quite a skilled robber. And more than that, in at least one incident he is a murderer too. This is very true to the period. People driven to becoming medieval wolfsheads probably had to do a great deal to survive. Killing your victims was not so unusual. I hope to look at this aspect of the ballads in a future blog, when I’ll discuss aspects of being outlawed or made wolfshead.

The murder that Much carries out is all the more vicious to the modern reader because he kills a child. In the ballad “Robin Hood and the Monk”, a manuscript version of which still exists, dating from 1450, Robin Hood is captured. He has been recognised by a monk who betrays him to the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Little John and Much, on a rescue mission, encounter the monk and his page boy. To prevent the monk from acting as a witness against Robin, Little John “smotes off the priest’s head”. Much suggests that the monk’s page-boy cannot be allowed to live, in case he turns evidence against them. He then personally beheads the boy. Soon afterwards John and Much enter the dungeon where Robin is being held, murder the gaoler and set Robin free.

The modern reader might be horrified at this sort of action, but it was all grist to the mill to the listeners of the original oral ballads, or those who read the early manuscript and later printed versions. These ballads appeared during bloodthirsty times. These scenes of violence were probably met with whoops of delight! All a very long way from the kinder morality of “Robin of Sherwood”.

When I came to write my own Robin Hood novel “Loxley”, I spent a great deal of time considering how to portray the character of Much. It was hard to keep Peter Llewellyn Williams’ performance out of my mind. I decided therefore to go back to the original idea of an older peasant Much. An outlaw, even before Robin Hood arrives in Sherwood. I wanted a kind of Chaucerian character, not altogether pleasant, a singer of bawdy ballads, and someone who won’t hesitate to kill when it becomes necessary. Something closer to what a real-life medieval wolfshead might have been like. The least glamorous of Robin Hood’s followers.

You can read the first chapter of “Loxley”, which gives the scenes where Robin Hood first encounters Much by clicking on the page above. Or click on the link below to order the book, either in paperback or as an eBook. Loxley Cover

King Edward VIII and the Nazis

Edward VIII and the Nazis – Background to a Novel
It is at first sight the very stuff of romance: the King who gave up his throne for the woman he loved. Growing up in England in the 1960s it was still a tale on the lips of the older generation, the Abdication of Edward VIII in December 1936, so that he might marry the American socialite Mrs Wallis Simpson. Had it not happened we may never have had Edward’s brother King George VI on the English throne during World War Two, or the present Queen reigning to this day.Balmoral-Kindle-Cover-Final

In my youth there was still a feeling of distaste amongst older people that a popular monarch had been forced from the throne by a po-faced Establishment. Although a lot of the people detested Mrs Simpson, they were equally uneasy about the role played by other members of the royal family. I suspect I could have asked at random a number of people who were alive at the time and there would still be a feeling of betrayal. The affair with Mrs Simpson was kept from the British people until the last moment. Although it was widely reported in the American press, the British press barons made a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Buckingham Palace to keep the intrigue under wraps in Britain.

That was the story as I heard it as a child. But it is a mere percentage of the whole truth. Only in recent years has more of the background to the Abdication come out. And a lot more about the character of King Edward VIII, who became the Duke of Windsor after his abdication.

I have recently published an historical thriller, Balmoral Kill, which is set several months after the Abdication. In my book my characters have to deal with the very real crisis that overhung Britain in the period between the Abdication and the outbreak of World War Two in 1939.

The idea for the novel occurred to me several years ago when I saw a television interview with an elderly gentleman who had served as a British army officer in the events leading up to the fall of France in 1940, and the evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk. After arriving safely in England he had been billeted with an aristocratic family in southern England during the period of the Battle of Britain. He had said in the interview that he had been quite shocked when he found out that a number of landowning families thought that Britain should surrender to Hitler so that they might preserve their landholdings.

I was aware, of course, that there was a great deal of sympathy for Hitler in the British Establishment during the 1930s. This was in many cases quite overt. Even mainstream British newspapers such as the Daily Mail regularly heaped paeans of praise on the Third Reich, and published membership forms for Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists so that their readers might have the opportunity to join.

There was also a strong pacifist belief. Britain was still shocked by the slaughter in the trenches of the First World War. Many people thought that almost any accommodation with Nazi Germany was well worthwhile if it prevented another war. These individuals genuinely believed that Hitler would not interfere with Britain and its Empire if he was left alone. So deep was the fear of war that many chose to turn a blind eye to what Hitler as doing in Europe.

And while the majority of the British people were wise enough to have no truck with fascism and Hitlerism, there were elements of the British Establishment who thought that Hitler should be either appeased – the majority – or embraced – a very substantial minority. Indeed, appeasement was the policy of the British government, firstly under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and then his successor Neville Chamberlain. Well-meaning politicians both who simply couldn’t accept that anyone could be as evil and devious as Hitler. Former Prime Minister David Lloyd George visited Hitler in 1936 and was full of praise, considering him the “George Washington of Germany”. Newspaper barons Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothermere, who were to be instrumental in hushing up King Edward’s affair with Wallis Simpson, were lavishly entertained by Hitler and subsequently praised him in their newspapers.

Even as late as May 1940, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, an arch appeaser himself, said that he had been “deluged with letters from a number of the nation’s greatest aristocrats imploring him to propose a policy of surrender and appeasement to Hitler, so that they might keep their great estates.” At the time King George VI favoured Halifax as Prime Minister instead of Churchill.

As a writer, I was interested in just how far people would go to keep Britain out of the war or to try and bring Nazism to Britain. I was fascinated with the notion that Winston Churchill, grandson of a duke, and a fully paid-up member of the British Establishment, was prepared to jeopardise his own political career to put forward a contrary point of view. To warn the British people of the dangers of Hitler right from the beginning. For much of the 1930s Churchill was a voice crying in the wilderness, unheeded and even laughed at. But history was to prove that his minority voice was wiser that of the cacophonous roaring of the appeasers and fellow-travellers of the Nazi regime. Researching further, I was surprised to find just how deep the roots of Nazism went into the very depths of the British Establishment.

Edward and the Nazis

Edward VIII, or the duke of Windsor as he became after the Abdication, does not actually appear at all in my novel Balmoral Kill, though his shadow drifts across, and is the motivation for, much of the plot. His brother and successor George VI does make a brief appearance.

The British royal family had had an uncomfortable twentieth century in many ways. In World War One, following air raids on London, they had been obliged to change their surname from the Germanic Saxe-Coburg -Gotha to Windsor, at a time when shops and businesses with German names were being attacked by mobs in the street. For two hundred years, from the accession of King George I, the family had been essentially German, considering German their first language over English. World War One had brought along the embarrassment of finding their country at war with King George V’s cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II. As the 1930s progressed a number of their other German cousins were very obviously embracing the policies of Hitler’s Third Reich, at least one of their relatives even being an officer in Heinrich Himmler’s dreaded SS.

Given the British government’s policy of appeasing Hitler in the 1930s this didn’t actually present a problem to the royal family. Before the outbreak of World War Two, Nazism was a subject open for discussion – as far as the royal family were concerned. Edward VIII’s brother, the duke of Kent, made many visits to Germany and professed a fascination for all things Nazi. His Nazi relative in Germany, Prince Ludwig von Hessen-Damstadt noted “Duke of Kent. Very German friendly. Clearly against France. Not especially clever, but well informed. Entirely for strengthening German-English ties. His wife is equally anti-French.” (The duke of Kent’s opinion changed when Hitler started dropping bombs on London in 1940.)

All through the 1930s Edward VIII, both as Prince of Wales and King, entertained many Nazis on their visits to Britain, including von Mecklenburg – a notorious member of the SS – in 1933. Edward took great pains to excise any mention of the visit from the official Court Circular. He was on friendly terms with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazi ambassador to London. Wallis Simpson may well have been on even friendlier terms with Ribbentrop. The talk of London was that she was having a sexual relationship with the ambassador at the same time that she was courting King Edward. Ribbentrop sent her seventeen red roses every morning during their time together in the British capital.

Edward hated the very concept of democratic monarchy. He wanted to be a king who ruled as well as reigned. He spoke on many occasions as to his regret that Britain and its people couldn’t be “controlled” by one ruler in the way that Hitler led Nazi Germany. Even in the pro-appeasement British Establishment the alarm bells were beginning to ring.

In December 1936, King Edward VIII, who had reigned for less than a year, abdicated, when the Church of England made it quite clear that no British king could marry a divorcee. It was sold in the newspapers that were sympathetic to him as a touching and very moving love story, the very essence of tragic romance. How far the church and other elements of the establishment were pressured to jettison a king who had become a political liability, using his romance as an excuse, is still open to debate.

But there were elements in British Intelligence, already contemplating the need to fight Hitler, who were thrilled to bits. His successor, his brother Albert, became King George VI. As it happened the new king also favoured a rapprochement with Germany, though not to the pro-Hitler extent that Edward had favoured. But, as far as British Intelligence was concerned, the removal of a solidly pro-Nazi king like Edward was a step in the right direction.

Winston Churchill despaired of Edward, or the duke of Windsor, as I shall call him from now on. He had loathed the very idea of the Abdication and was personally fond of the duke. There is little doubt that he thought that the duke should have kept the throne and, initially, viewed his extreme politics and sympathy with the Third Reich as a fad that he might grow out of. In the years that followed he changed his mind.

In 1937, the duke and duchess of Windsor made a visit to Germany that acquired considerable notoriety. To Churchill’s dismay they sailed to the country on the German liner Bremen, giving the Nazis a propaganda coup. During their time in Germany the pair visited a Nazi training school, inspected the already murderous SS and had tea with Hermann Goering. A few days later they dined with Hitler’s propaganda chief Dr Josef Goebbels. On 22 October 1937, the duke and duchess had a private and reportedly very friendly meeting with Adolf Hitler. On several occasions during the tour, the duke was to be seen making the infamous Nazi salute.

The duke and duchess settled to live in France and stayed there after the outbreak of World War Two. As a serving British army officer, the duke carried out inspections of France’s defensive Maginot Line. The suggestion has been made (see Martin Allen’s book Hidden Agenda) that he sent classified information about France’s defences to the Nazis, care of his friend Charles Bedaux, an American businessman who was spying for Hitler. The truth regarding this alleged treachery may never be known. Bedaux committed suicide in 1944 after being arrested by the FBI.

The Windsors were hastily moved to Lisbon when France fell to the Nazis in 1940. But even in neutral Portugal, the duke of Windsor was thought to be in contact with well-known Nazi officials and the Abwehr, German military intelligence. In despair, the British government decided to ship the couple off to the haven of the Bahamas, a British colony where they could be kept from German influence. At first the duke refused to go. A despairing Churchill reminded the duke that he was a serving British officer and that he would be court martialled if he refused to obey this direct order.

It was around this time that J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, on the direct order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, ordered surveillance on the couple, noting that the duchess in particular, still an American citizen, “was exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections.” FBI files noted a great many links between the couple and the Nazis.

My own researches suggest that there is little doubt that the Third Reich favoured the return of the duke of Windsor to the British throne, almost from the time of the Abdication and his visit to Hitler in 1937. The duke of Windsor himself almost certainly considered such a possibility. How far he would have gone, if the circumstances had allowed it, is debatable. I doubt, for instance, that he would have tolerated the assassination of his brother and successor George VI, though had anything removed King George from the throne in any other way, there is a possibility that he might have returned either as king or regent.

I based the plot of Balmoral Kill, and I must stress that my book is an historical thriller and not a history volume, on the possibility that certain elements of the British Establishment contemplated such a scenario. Although in reality matters never went as far as I have imagined in my pages, there is little doubt that the idea behind it was given much serious consideration amid less patriotic elements of the British elite. It was only after doing further research into the period after I had finished writing that I realised how close I had got to some sort of truth.

Joachim von Ribbentrop certainly proposed that the duke of Windsor should become a puppet king if Britain fell to invasion in 1940, and King George VI and his family fled to Canada. Buckingham Palace was bombed no fewer than nine times during the London blitz. At the Nuremburg Trials, Ribbentrop said that he had personally offered the duke 50 million Swiss francs if he would make a claim on the British throne. The duke of Windsor denied that any such sum had been offered.


King George VI, overcame his shyness and his stammer and became a considerable figurehead for British resistance during World War Two. On his premature death in 1952 his daughter Princess Elizabeth became the present Queen. The duke and duchess of Windsor lived quietly in Paris, the duke dying in 1972 and the duchess in 1986. Their connections with Hitler’s Germany were skated over in their respective memoirs.

But at the end of the war, a military intelligence officer, Anthony Blunt, later Sir Anthony Blunt, subsequently Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, was sent to Germany by officials at Buckingham Palace with the task of seeking out and removing from the Nazi archives any documents that might incriminate members of the royal family. Any papers he found were probably secreted in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle. Many years later, Blunt was discovered to be a spy for Soviet Russia. His only real punishment for treachery was the removal of his knighthood. The British public were amazed at this mild treatment of a traitor. Suggestions were made at the time, and have been since, that he was protected because he knew too much.
If we are ever to know the absolute truth about the relationship between the duke and duchess of Windsor and the Nazis, then the relevant files are probably in the archives of the United States. As late as 1953, Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister for the second time, asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower to suppress any FBI documents that might suggest that the duke and duchess of Windsor were sympathetic – or even worse complicit – in the activities of the Nazi regime.

Sometimes when you write a work of fiction based on real events, you find that the events themselves are more astonishing that anything that could possibly be imagined.

John Bainbridge

John Bainbridge read history and literature at the University of East Anglia. Apart from Balmoral Kill he has written the Victorian thriller The Shadow of William Quest, the historical novel Loxley – The Chronicles of Robin Hood and several books about the British countryside. He has contributed to a great many newspapers and magazines. As a writing team with his wife he writes the Inspector Abbs historical mysteries, so far A Seaside Mourning and A Christmas Malice.

Balmoral Kill is available in paperback and on Kindle, Kobo and Nook eBooks.

Balmoral Kill is at:

Writing a Revenge Thriller

Writing a Revenge Thriller

by John Bainbridge

When you think about it a large proportion of published thrillers are about revenge. It is one of the great sub-genres of fiction. Vengeance is a considerable motivating force. And the quest to mete out vengeance keeps many a reader turning the page.

The need to seek revenge is an unpleasant but undeniable human instinct. Turning the other cheek might be the best real-life policy, but it simply won’t do in a thriller. The Bible tells us that “vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.” Admirable, but not quite what thriller readers want to hear.The-Shadow-Of-William-Quest

I was much amused at a recent Amazon review of my Victorian thriller “The Shadow of William Quest”. The reviewer suggested he had seen it all so many times before. The poor boy making his way in the world and seeking retribution against those who had crossed him. Too right you have, chum! That was the whole point of my Quest novel. I deliberately set out to write a book in this very sub-genre of revenge thrillers. That’s what my William Quest book is really all about. It’s not for nothing my anti-hero is called William Quest. I was gratified that the reviewer saw, and mentioned in his review, that it was Bruce Wayne and Batman territory. A terrific compliment to be mentioned in the same sentence.

Remember Batman? Bruce Wayne, a young lad at the time, sees his parents gunned down in an alley. When he grows up he becomes the caped crusader imposing his own version of justice on sundry villains. In a nutshell there you have the basic plot of a revenge thriller. It might be as blatant as Batman or rather more subtle.

Geoffrey Household’s classic thriller “Rogue Male”, opens with the unnamed hero in pre-war Germany, aiming his rifle at Adolf Hitler. The first-person narrator describes his actions throughout much of the book as a ‘sporting stalk’ – to see if he can get away with it. He even denies ever intending to take the shot. Only later do we discover the revenge thriller aspect. That he had every intention of shooting. And that he has a good reason for doing so. In his later novel “The Watcher in the Shadows”, Household twists the whole premise around by telling the whole tale from the point of view of the victim of the avenger, a novel and very exciting twist. Another neglected novel well worth seeking out.

Even going back to medieval ballads, we have Robin Hood. Why is he in the greenwood as an outlaw? Because the Norman overlords have put him there because of their harsh laws. Much of the rest of the stories of the famous wolfshead are about his quest for vengeance.

The motivations in the modern revenge thriller are manifold. The hero, or very often the anti-hero, might be fighting back for very personal reasons. Someone has wiped out his family, or launched a war of attrition against him personally. Or he might be what I call a second-person revenger, where he seeks vengeance or at least intervention for something that’s happening to somebody else, but where he is emotionally or politically engaged.

My William Quest might take up the armed struggle of vengeance to settle personal scores, but he then goes on to recognise that there are other victims in society who might benefit from having an avenger on their side. One of my American reviewers kindly mentioned Rafael Sabatini’s “Scaramouche” as well as Baroness Orczy’s “Scarlet Pimpernel” novels when trying to describe my Quest novel. I was very flattered at such comparisons.

“Scaramouche” is a wonderful example of the revenge thriller. It might technically be an historical novel, but at its roots it is one hell of a thriller. Set just before the French Revolution Andre-Louis Moreau is set on the path of vengeance by the murder of a friend by a decadent aristocrat who just happens to be the finest swordsman in France. He swears revenge. And then spends much of the book getting himself into a position where he might strike back at his adversary, and solving the knotty problem of just exactly how you teach yourself to cross swords with such a noted duellist. It’s all cracking stuff, a real page-turner by a novelist who is sadly neglected these days. It’s worth reading as it demonstrates quite admirably the plot-structure of the revenge novel, whether you describe it as a thriller or not.

And the avenger can very successfully be a woman, and the plot domestic. A great example is Magdalen Vanstone in Wilkie Collins’ classic novel “No Name”. Here the need for vengeance comes from the the unfair laws on illegitimacy that prevailed at the time. Collins was the master of the Sensation Novel. Thrillers have deep roots in those Victorian Sensation novels.

The Victorian novelist Charles Reade suggested that the great plot-line of most fiction should be along the lines of ‘Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait!’

And if you want a thriller to work you need to build up very slowly to the final vengeance, the bloody denouement. That doesn’t mean that the novel should be devoid of conflict up to that point. There have to be lots of other minor conflicts, near-misses, moments when the tables are turned. Times when those who are targeted by the avenger come close to removing – usually violently – the avenger himself.

In a way I made this easier for myself in “The Shadow of William Quest” by making Quest a kind of social functionary, taking on the evils – and the evil – of society on behalf of a wider and persecuted population. He only gets near to his real quarry at the end of the book. Though there are run-ins long before that. And as my novel is set in the 1850s, we don’t have to bother very much with the constraints of political correctness. This was the age of sword-sticks, lead-weighted life-preservers, bludgeons, coshes, and great hulking walking canes of hard-wood and blackthorn. Society was unsafe. People rarely travelled into the sinister hinterlands of Victorian England without some form of protection. My William Quest has quite an armoury at his disposal. Believe me, he needs every last weapon!

I’m currently writing the second William Quest novel, which will be out later in the year. Having devoted much of the first to the genre of the revenge novel, I’m aiming to go even further in the new one. I always have liked thrillers where the hunter becomes the hunted. Which is all I’ll say about it at the moment.

But to conclude, I would just like to make the case of the revenge thriller being an important sub-genre of the thriller as such. Revenge is a dish best served cold? Maybe, at least for a while in the pages of your novel. The dish best served cold builds up both the tension and the excitement.

So that when the cold revenge become the hot revenge, the thrills burst out of the page.

If you would like to try my “The Shadow of William Quest” please do click on the link. It’s out in paperback and for most eBook readers.

Footloose with George Borrow

My short book of essays Footloose with George Borrow, now available on Amazon Kindle, Kobo and Nook for just 99pence/cents.George Borrow Cover

George Borrow, nineteenth century author of Lavengro, Romany Rye and Wild Wales, is one of the Victorian period’s most neglected authors.

Yet he was one of the best-selling authors of his day, his books alive with travel, adventure, the lonely roads of pre-industrial England, and encounters with Gypsies and vagabonds in the age of stagecoaches and horse-fairs.

In this short book of essays John Bainbridge introduces George Borrow to a new audience, looks at his roving background and relates Borrow’s expeditions in Cornwall and Scotland and his youthful days in Norfolk.

George Borrow, eccentric and footloose wanderer, recorded a side of nineteenth-century life neglected by many writers of the period.

Whether or not you are familiar with George Borrow and his writings, this book gives some pointers on where to start.

Just click on the link to have a look!

The Making of Will Scarlet

The Making of Will Scarlet

by John Bainbridge

Anyone who got into the whole Robin Hood scene after the broadcasting of the television series “Robin of Sherwood” in the 1980s has an immediate image of Will Scarlet as someone who is bolshie, questioning, rebellious – even against Robin Hood when he has a disagreement over tactics – and one hell of a fighter. Often not a very merry man at all. Such is the impression made by Ray Winstone in the part in that series and the scriptwriting of Richard Carpenter. More on Mr Winstone anon.

But Will Scarlet wasn’t always represented in that way. In earlier versions, notably many of the films and the Richard Greene television version in the 1950s, Will is a much milder character. Usually portrayed as a kind of third in command, after Robin himself and Little John. And in some of the earlier versions, our Will is a bit of a dandy, a trifle flash, a gentleman amongst the outlaws. In one portrayal, I forget quite which, he even wears red tights to match his name! Enough said!

Now let’s go back a long way in the history of the legend. Unlike some of the later arrivals, such as Marian, Will Scarlet was right there at the beginning. In the earliest ballad “The Gest of Robin Hood”, Will is there, helping Robin capture Sir Richard at the Lea. In various versions of the tradition, Will has quite a variety of names. Will Scarlock, Scatlock, Scathelock, Scadlock, and several others. To complicate matters Anthony Munday in the 1590s, wrote a play in which there were two brothers, a Scarlet and a Scathelocke. It can all get very confusing!

And to add to the confusion, Robin Hood has another Will in his band, one Stutely. In some versions they get mixed up. When I was writing my Robin Hood novel “Loxley”, I made the two Wills relations by marriage. Having two characters with the same moniker is a pain for all writers. Normally you would never do it. I felt though that Stutely deserved his place in the saga.Loxley Cover

There is also the ballad tradition that Will is somehow related to Robin Hood. In the ballad “Robin Hood and Will Scarlet”, Robin encounters young Will hunting deer in the forest. They have an archery contest and a fight (which Will wins really) before Robin invites him to join the band. His name is given as Will Gamwell, though he is wearing scarlet stockings which gives him the nickname. It is revealed in this ballad that Will is Robin’s nephew, the son of the outlaw chief’s sister. This idea of Scarlet as a relative continued in the Kevin Costner film “Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves” where a very rebellious young Will (played by Christian Slater) is revealed as Robin’s half-brother.

In the Richard Greene TV series, Will Scarlet was played by Ronald Howard and, subsequently, Paul Eddington. Useful sidekicks, but not much rebellion about them as far as I recall.

In the 1938 film “Robin Hood” starring Errol Flynn, Scarlet was played by the English actor Patric Knowles, as very much an obedient follower (David Niven was originally cast in the role but was away and couldn’t do it – it would be fascinating to know how he would have played it). A word too about Owen Teale who was Scarlet to Patrick Bergin’s Robin Hood in the film of the same name of 1991. Teale’s Scarlet is played as Robin’s aide and best friend in all the world. The two have a fine old time seeing off the Normans and, in some ways, the outlaws in Sherwood Forest. Terrific stuff and vastly entertaining. A shame, I feel, that this version was overshadowed by the Costner version.

And so back to Mr Winstone.

Tough, uncompromising, Winstone’s London accent, making him seem even more the outsider from the rest of the merries. The character’s wife murdered by the Normans. Scathlock, but Scarlet inside. Out for vengeance, seeking the blood of his enemies with little compromise. Red (Scarlet) with anger. We subsequently find out that he is a former soldier who has fought in the wars in Normandy. He’s a bruiser too, handy with his fists. You can believe that this Scarlet would really have survived in those troublous times. This Will Scarlet is a barely restrained killer.

He is shown in the first episode to be a better swordsman than Robin. Always seemingly on the edge of boiling over with his overwhelming hatred of his enemies. But though he may frequently be critical of Robin’s leadership, though he may have thoughts of replacing the leader, he shows – often at critical and emotional moments, a very moving loyalty, with a reined-in sense of humour. Winstone gives quite a performance.

And so I come to my own Will Scarlet in my novel “Loxley”. I adopted the tradition that he comes from Derby, which is suggested somewhere in one of the ballads. And, yes, I have given him the rebellious edge of the later Scarlets of film and television. He is the nominal leader of my outlaws until Robin arrives on the scene. He is destined to play a much greater part in the second novel which, will, hopefully be out at Christmas. My Scarlet is a brawler, someone with a cutting tongue too. I’ve made him with someone with an eye for the ladies. More of that in the next three books. There are whole sides to his character yet to be revealed.

My novel “Loxley – The Chronicles of Robin Hood” is now out in paperback and on Kindle. Please do click on the link to have a look.Loxley Cover