What a thrill to share with you my review of Take Height, Rutterkin by Millie Thom, historical fiction published in August 2021.
Take Height, Rutterkin by Millie Thom, book review
Based on a true story, the novel depicts the lives of a family of three women, Joan Flower and her two daughters, Phillip and Margaret, whose lives face a sheer drop from the peaceful and idyllic 1611 into the horrors of 1619’s witch hunts.
When life robs the three Flower women of their only source of income, they make ends meet and, for a brief time, life appears to be bearable again. Yet words and actions have consequences, and soon the three Flower women learn that there is a way of life awaiting for them even below sheer poverty.
The everyday joys and struggle of the villagers of Bottesford, Leicestershire, are intertwined and influenced to the point of no return by the rich living at Belvoir Castle. This is going to be experienced first hand by the three women. What else could life possibly throw at them now? A witch trial, and one during which Millie Thom plays her characters like an expert psychological puppeteer.
On reading Take Height, Rutterkin, one is skillfully reminded of the women’s lack of status in society during the Jacobean era, and of the conflict between the Church and the everyday prejudices of the masses.
But with all the sorrow and the challenges the Flower women were faced with, what comes through in this book is their will to stay alive, as it is human nature to survive at all costs. And what a twist Millie Thom has for her readers at the very end!
As for Rutterkin, know that he is a white Tom cat…
Themes present in Take Height, Rutterkin by Millie Thom
Good vs evil, prejudice, individual vs society, witchcraft, magic, women’s rights, second chances.
What I enjoyed the most about Take Height, Rutterkin by Millie Thom
Just like in her Sons of Kings book series, which I read and enjoyed, in Take Height, Rutterkin Milli Thom surprises the reader with a clever plot twist after another. And the sudden changes in the story-line make perfect sense, while still being unexpected. For this, I read Take Height, Rutterkin way past my bedtime for two nights in a row.
I enjoyed how the story came full circle in the end, and the glimmer of hope in humankind that the author gave us in its closing chapter.
Another aspect I enjoyed was the extra chapter providing additional info on the witch hunt that blasted throughout Europe during the 15-18th centuries, the biography used by the writer for this book, as well as the author’s personal view on Bottesford village, where she lived.
Take Height, Rutterkin by Milli Thom is a historical fiction novel that will stay with you after you read it through the sheer will of her main characters, especially Phillipa Flower, but also through its uplifting and whimsical ending.
SAS Red Notice might be full of explosive situations, but the only real fuse burning through its story-line is Sam Heughan ‘s performance.
What is SAS Red Notice about? Spoiler Alert
We jump into action in the Republic of Georgia where a handful of guerrillas nicknamed the Swans “clear” a village whose inhabitants don’t want to sell their land to the investors into a new gas pipeline. Three of the Swans are brought forward, William Lewis, the father (Tom Wilkinson, solid in his role), his daughter Grace (Ruby Rose), and his son, Oliver (Owain Yeoman).
It is the Swans decision, Grace’s to be precise, to “kill the men and the boys. Let the women spread the fear.” But one Georgian girl shoots a video of Grace Lewis on a backdrop of explosions, burned homes, and torched innocent villagers, and the video goes viral, Grace’s image filling the newspapers.
The Swans are now labeled as terrorists and must be arrested for crimes against humanity, everyone points at them, including those who hired them, the British Government. Chased out of their mansion in Hampstead, the Swans take over the Euro train, bringing it to an abrupt halt under the English Channel. Their demands are clear. The UK Prime Minister must acknowledge on Live TV that the British Government is behind the “clearing” in Georgia and has ordered Special Air Services, SAS, to hire the Swans to do their dirty job, as well as to wire 500 million dollars into the Swans bank account OR… Or an incriminating video exposing the chain in command and linking the UK Prime Minister with the Swans will leak on social media platforms.
There is only one man to do the job and he falls into it willy-nilly, Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan).
Tom Buckingham is a SAS operator. We meet him on his breathtaking estate (and it does make you wonder why he is an SAS member since he’s got all those money). But Tom is a softie, or he just looks like one in the beginning. He plans to propose to his girlfriend, Dr. Sophie Hart (Hannah John-Kamen), with his grandmother, his Nana’s ring. It is a special ring, that “great Henry Buckingham chopped from the finger of the Maharajah during the great mutiny,” and then offered it to Nana. (Here I wondered if the ring was special to Tom because it was his Nana’s, or because of its bloody story – which would tell us something about Tom’s character).
Tom and Sophie’s plans to fly to Paris (where he secretly wishes to propose to her) are blown off by his last-minute involvement in the tracking of the terrorists, the Swans. So Tom and Sophie take the train instead, the Eurostar, to Paris. It is the same Eurostar the Swans took to fulfill their plan, force the Prime Minister to pay them the ransom, and clear their name.
After the Swans high jacked the train and passengers got wounded, Dr. Sophie jumped to their aid. Already aware of whom he has to deal with, Tom Buckingham fights the terrorists single-handed, explosions blasting left and right. Eventually, a team of SAS is sent to assist, while more terrorists arrive on sight, in the tunnel.
The UK Government (represented by Sir Charles Whiteside with a personal interest in the British Gas pipeline) agrees to pay the ransom money (but without broadcasting it) and all that’s left to be done is for Grace Lewis to be killed by SAS so that no word ever escapes of the SAS involvement and chain of traitors.
Tom’s only wish is to save his girlfriend and to propose to her, but knowing that she will never leave casualties behind he knows has to save everyone on the train as well. That’s why when Grace Lewis reels him in Tom goes willingly, to save his girlfriend.
It is now that we witness what else the British Government has been hiding in their side of the tunnel, as well as how long the chain of SAS traitors is. And one of them will have to be the UK Government’s scapegoat. But which one?
On the outside, the SAS and the UK Government comply with the terrorists’ plans and it looks as if they will save the passengers, and they will be successful in capturing the terrorists, the Swans.
While from the inside of the tunnel Tom Buckingham realizes that “this isn’t about the money, it’s about revenge,’ and that Grace Lewis will never keep up her word, save the civilians, yet she will never surrender either.
In the end, only Grace Lewis, Dr. Sophie, and Tom Buckingham are left standing, with Tom, wounded and on foot, chasing after Grace through snowed woods. In one last attempt Grace tries to convince Tom and bring him onto her side, turn him into a (black) Swan.
She seems to fail, as Tom finally kills her, but what we are left wondering, well, that you will have to read further.
How Sam Heughan’s performance saved the SAS Red Notice movie. Spoiler Alert
The opening scene warns us that “Psychopaths that can learn to love are even more rare than a black swan.” And this is the premise of the movie SAS Red Notice.
It is clear from the beginning that William Lewis and Grace Lewis, father and daughter, are psychopaths. To finish their mission William Lewis asks Grace to “make a decision. Do it now,’ and she chooses to blow torch innocent people to send a message. In a later scene, William admits that “Grace is special. She’s like me, only better,” namely a psychopath like he is (both William and Grace admit to never having loved anyone else in their lives).
But we learn this from the start, so I asked myself, what was the point of the opening line since we already know who the psychopath is?
We meet Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan) planning to propose to his girlfriend with his Nana’s ring. But the ring has a rather bloody history, and although I found the idea romantic, I shuddered at the thought. And the shudder stayed with me. What kind of a man does something like this? But he’s the good guy, right?
It also caught my eye that Tom is pretty much a loner, he seems to have only his butler in his life (did Andy McNab had a little nod towards Batman here?), oh, and he has one friend in the SAS team.
It is to his friend, Declan Smith (Tom Hopper) that Tom Buckingham admits to loving his girlfriend Sophie (although he never, ever, loved anyone in his entire life) and that he plans to take off to Paris and propose – just like that, after all the killing they just did. And Tom is all smiling about his plans, no pains there for the lives he just took.
Sam Heughan is brilliant here in creating the illusion that this time is different, with Sophie, although he can’ quite explain it in words, not even to his only friend. And he does leave us with the shadow of a thought, could he be a psychopath too? But he’s a good guy, right?
Tom appears to be able to switch himself on and off quite easily; now he visits his girlfriend, now he hunts and kills terrorists, then he’s the perfect boyfriend again. At one stage, when Sophie gets to nurse his wounds, she asks him if it didn’t bother him that he had to kill a woman, and if “everything ever affects you? Ever?’ and he candidly answers ‘no”.
Sam Heughan brings this scene so well together, playing the cool and collected SAS soldier who had learned to lock away his feelings so well that he doesn’t even notice them anymore, to protect himself… or not? He doesn’t seem to understand why Sophie is so upset about, that he isn’t bothered by his job, by the killings it involves.
So I asked myself again, after this scene, who is the psychopath in this movie?
The fact that Tom Buckingham single-handedly took on the terrorists in that tight tunnel was hard to buy, but then so many heroes do it, right? James Bond does it and we kind of expect that from him.
Tom’s character is rounded up by the fact that he can speak French (well, he is SAS after all) to the girl, Emmeline, he rescued from the train, and that he makes her feel secure. I thought that this scene showed some of the character’s soft side, although the girl concludes to Tom that “there are lots of things you can’t explain.
I liked how Sam Heughan made us believe that he bought the “come get me” text message supposedly sent to him by his girlfriend Sophie (but typed by black Swan Grace Lewis), when he knew Sophie too well, knew that she will never choose to save herself and leave casualties behind.
But it was the final scene between Grace Lewis and Tom Buckingham that showed Sam Heughan’s portraying skills. Although it took him a rather long time to knock Grace down (he’s twice her size, but wounded, plus she’s a certified psychopath so this should give her extra physical strength, right?).
After previously telling Tom “we are more alike than you know,” Grace tried again to lure Tom to her side, telling him how he enjoyed the game they played, and how he wouldn’t think twice before killing a human being, just like she.
It is in this scene that Tom realizes that he was acting like a psychopath without being one. And he finds it hard to put it into words. Yet we see that on his face. But the fact that he knows Sophie is on his side saves his life in this scene, for he doesn’t give in, doesn’t fall into Grace’s dark side. We can almost see his skin crawl as he realizes the extent of Grace’s psychopathy. Yet he smiles at her, acknowledging that he is one, a psychopath. Looking as if he setts her a trap.
Yet as he waits for her to die, after sliding her throat, she stares into thin air.
What just happened here? Heughan takes us from one extreme to the next. And I’ve changed my mind again, I still can’t tell whether he’s a psychopath or not.
But we’re soon to find out.
It is the scene when Tom will propose to Sophie, just a little later.
“Will you marry me?” he asks hopefully and then we see on his face how terror sets in for she doesn’t answer. “You’re not meant to be married,” Sophie says. “I thought you understood,” he says and there is so much pain in his eyes that he can barely speak. “I do,” she says, although this is the wrong “I do” and her eyes say something else. They say I do understand that you’re a psychopath. (Oh, no!).
Really? Is this it? – goes through my mind.
Wait, next he staggers backward and he cries. And calls her name.
Brilliant work here, Heughan, showing one single, powerful emotion to let your girl know that you do experience feelings, and you are not the psychopath so many thought you were (and sorry for believing it too).
My thoughts on the SAS Red Notice movie. Spoiler Alert
There were a few clichés and plot ideas I didn’t buy
I thought it was a little bit of a cliché to open up with such a clear image, these are the terrorists, and they are psychopaths too. But it’s an action thriller, right?
We get it early that Grace is a psychopath, and she proves it again when she decides later to shoot one passenger for not handing in his cell phone. Yet why would she choose to save the bystander child, wounded in the arm? I know why; it helped the plot later. But it didn’t fit her character.
Grace seems to be walking around quite a lot with her hands pushed in her pockets. If she does this to show us that she’s a psychopath, I didn’t believe her. I’d imagine a terrorist rather walking as if he’s always ready for action, especially during an attack.
The gas pipeline
I also thought that the image of the poor Georgian village forced to sell its land for a gas pipeline to run through it was a little bit overdone. But the book came out in 2012, so maybe Andy McNab was one of the first to use it. The subsequent idea, that the Brits hid a gas pipeline inside their half of the Eurotunnel, was unexpected.
The involved government people
George Clements (Andy Serkis) I found to be a transparent character. For once, he knew William Lewis since their time together in Rhodesia. Yes, their paths could have split at some time, Clements staying with the good guys, Lewis taking the dark side. But Clements admits to Lewis that he’s still going, and that “politicians come and go, I’m the consistency” and he admits to cleaning Lewis’ mess more than once. So I doubted him from the beginning. Clements is also too visual in showing us how he keeps an eye on Declam Smith, later in the movie.
We also learn quite from the start that the Prime Minister is corrupt; he’s the one who ordered the Swans to clean the village. I would have liked to discover this later, and I would have liked a PM with more power.
I suspected Major Bisset quite early on, his character was rather thin too.
The PM, Major Bisset, and Clements are worried, too worried and that’s most of the time, that Grace Lewis will expose them.
Throughout the movie it felt like the only character developed at all was that of Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan).
There is a lot of blasting and bombing, the special effects were rather entertaining, as was Tom’s and Sophie’s chat through the loo hole…
The poetry of one final scene stood out for me
Sophie Lewis, the Black Swan, runs through a snowed forest, wearing her dark clothing.
Tom Buckingham is chasing after her, in shades of gray, and only his wound, covered in blood, stands out red against the white background.
Like a White Swan chasing the Black Swan.
In this final, snowy scene, for the first time, there is no sound of bullets, of explosions, of commands shouted trough phones, only the eerie sound of falling snowflakes, of snow crushed underfoot as life chases death…
On a final note…
I thought that SAS Red Notice was entertaining, although its main story-line / script was thin and predictable. What stood out for me was the gold thread, the fuse that did blow up in the end, namely Tom Buckingham’s story and Sam Heughan’s performance. SAS Red Notice is worth watching one, for action and special effects, and twice to pay attention to the little clues left by Sam Heughan.
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Early Middle Ages, history tells us, found the rich lands of Transylvania and the Romanian territories south and east of the Carpathians, Muntenia, Oltenia, and Moldavia respectively, as a lively congregation of various cultures and traditions, brought together by the need for trade, the hope for a better life, but mostly by the local’s love and respect for their ancestor’s land.
But what was happening in the western Europe right about now? For no land can ever be isolated from the rest of the world, nor can it be observed on its own. Just as no level of the emerging, yet highly hierarchic feudal system can be understood as an isolated occurrence.
The Early Middle Ages in Europe
The three years of civil war in western Europe conclude with the Treaty of Verdun in the 9th century as the fights between the three grandsons of Charlemagne shattered the flourishing Frankish Empire. Thus, nowadays France, Austria and Germany were born. As new kingdoms formed, the growth of their population pushed to expansion – soon migration – and, quite soon, the Church of the West seized this opportunity and increased its spiritual, economic and military powers. As a result, the Church controlled an emerging educational system as well as the ruling classes.
Before the Magyar (Hungarian) tribes arrived in Transylvania…
The Magyar Tribes’ forced migration
Over in the east, in Asia, the Turk-Mongol tribes started expanding and moving westward, much like a tsunami wave, disturbing, overpowering , uprooting the local, smaller tribes often focused on their livelihood and not on their combat skills. These expanding new kingdoms soon advanced and conquered further western lands, setting a fur-lined boot with upturned toe in Europe’s far east, thus forcing the steppe’s nomad peoples and their light cavalry towards west, and south. These, last mentioned, were the Hungarians or Magyars (as they still refer to themselves), nomads originated east of the Ural Mountains and the Caucasus where they led a life of horsemen and livestock farmers. The Hungarian’s origin is doubtful as their language is Finno-Ugric (like Finnish, Estonian, and others), while their royal family holds Turkish blood. Their name, Hungarian, is thought to be derived from Oghur-Turkic On-Ogur (literally “Ten Arrows” or “Ten Tribes”).
The Magyars settle in Pannonian Basin
The Magyars from Ukraine (Kiev) in the Pannonian Fields are thus obliged by the Turk-Mongol tribes to flee south-west. They tried to cross the Danube in 880 but were stopped by the Bulgars so they adjusted their plans, turned 180 degrees, and invaded the south of the Carpathians, today Romanian plains but back then forested and inhabited by Vlachs, Dacians and Slavs too. And even further north the Hungarians pushed, crossing the Carpathians but mostly from the west, where the path was more accessible. Remember, the Hungarians were not mountain people, like the Vlachs and the Dacians were, but rather used to travel on horseback, over flat, dry steppe. As the Magyars pushed in, the local population, the Vlachs especially, retreated to the mountainous valleys.
The Magyar tribes, the Hungarians, raid Latin Europe
By 890 the Hungarians had moved into the Pannonian Basin, ideal for their herds of horses, and from there they rallied the German and Franc villages located further west… But the Hungarians were soon stopped in their attempts to invade the West (the Latin Europe) by Emperor Otto I at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955. It was hot news by now, and broadcasted at each Royal Court of Western Europe, that the Asiatic danger to the Christian lands and forgotten for a century was back, in the shape of the Hungarian’s savage raids.
The Magyars, Hungarians, settle for Transylvania
The Vlachs in Transylvania, ruled by Gelou, holding their capital at Dăbâca (today Cluj County), lost the battle against the invading Magyars. But the Hungarians who settled in Transylvania were not numerous, and they needed reinforcements, and urgent, to keep the local Vlachs at bay. It took an entire European conjecture, the Crusades, the great ideal of Christendom and an increase in western population until the request of King Geza II of Hungary was fulfilled and priests, peasants and horsemen immigrated to Transylvania, Ţara Barsei and Bistrita – for the promise of free land (outside the one already owned by the Hungarian nobility), and no taxes.
The massive, Middle-Ages immigration to Transylvania
The first to arrive in Transylvania were the border-soldiers. They arrived in the Carpathian space soon after the Hungarians settled and were called Szâkely, secui in Romanian. Their role was to stand against the local tribes of Pechenegs and Cumans (the local, Black Cumans still living here for the past 200 years). It might have even been the Cumans who taught the Vallachians the war art of attacking on horse back – and how handy it came, half a century later, to Vlad Tepes during his famous night attack against the Ottomans led by Mehmed II, at Targoviste, June 17, 1462.
The actual process of colonization of Transylvania and Muntenia (later part of Wallachia) started at the end of the 12th century. First to arrive were the German settlers who left their home lands of north-western Germany, close to the Netherlands, as well as Flanders, Cologne, Aachen, Liège, Lorraine, and Luxembourg. As some arrived from the east, from old Saxony (near the North Sea coast of what is now Germany) the German populations of Transylvania was called the Saxons.
This German population was promised a better life in the hope that it will introduce an advanced agriculture, crafts and good business practices, and that it will to set up cities like the German ones, with reinforcements. Of the cities, burgs, established by the Saxons seven will be more significant, hence the name Siebenbürgen(seven citadels, seven burgs) given by the Germans to Transylvania. Between these seven two stand out for us, Brasov and Sibiu, or Kronstadt and Hermannstadt.
But let’s remember that Sibiu was initially a Daco-Roman urbs named Cedonia and in Brasov area were discovered traces of Dacian citadels.
The story of Pied Piper of Hamelin or Pan Piper
‘Tis about the children of medieval Hamelin, in Lower Saxony, who were led underground by the (now) legendary Pied Piper only to reemerged thousands of miles to the southeast, in the Carpathian Mountains.
There are a few explanations for this fable, from death by natural causes to emigration.
Life in Transylvania during the Middle-Ages
The Transylvanian settlers led a pretty good life. They were held in high regard by the King of Hungary who considering them guests, even allowing them to exploit his forests and lakes, to hunt and fish for their families, a diversion normally reserved for the King.
The first settlers in Sibiu area were appointed “primi hospites regi”(the first royal guests) in the Royal seal of 1206.
On arrival, the Saxons received land and were allowed to held political gatherings, to choose and pay their own priests, thus keeping up with their culture and traditions, their national image (although this concept will only appear several hundred years later).
The settlers were exempted from paying taxes at local markets and the Transylvanian merchants were exempted from taxes when traveling within the borders of the Hungarian Kingdom too. They led a free life in free cities where there was no notable difference between nobles, bourgeois and artisans – at a time when the feudal tradition was well established in the rest of Europe, as was in other parts of Transylvania and Wallachia.
Worth mentioning s that the Saxon’s tax exemption will cause quite an uphill during the times when Vlad the Impaler ruled Wallachia.
A large number of settlers, considering distances and ways of transport, 3000 (around 500 families) arrived first, mostly lead by the hope of a better life, and Transylvania flourished as a good balance between duties and freedom was in place. For example, the agricultural system practiced was called clacă, meaning voluntary collective work performed by peasants to help each other. Also, when a young couple got married the entire village helped to build their new house.
Only if Transylvania joined the Hungarian Kingdom in war were the Saxons ordered to supply 500 soldiers, and in case of an external war 100 armed men, but if the King was not personally participating in the campaign only 50 men. And only 500 silver marks per year were paid to the King of Hungary by all the Transylvanian lands occupied by Saxons.
The first mention of a Voivode of Transylvania is that of Mercurius, a most distinguished Hungarian nobleman who reigned rather shortly, between 1111 and 1113.
During the Second and the Third Crusade more settlers arrived in Transylvania, in search of safety.
In 1190 the Hungarian King Ladislaus build a church in Hermannstadt, Sibiu, thus the city was mentioned for the first time in an official document, and signed by Pope Celestine III. Soon after, a prior and 12 monks arrived from Pontigny, France, at the request of the wife of King Béla III, Agnes of Antioch, and founded Igriş monastery (Egresch – today Arad) near the river Mureş.
When Emperor Heinrich VI called for yet another crusade in 1195, he raised the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem to the rank of knighthood: Teutonic Order. These Teutonic Knights settled in Transylvania in 1211 and built five fortresses such as Feldioara and Cisnădioara.
Finally, when the Roman Empire fell during the Fourth Crusade in April 1204, together with Constantinople, and the “Latini” settled in Constantinople, a nasty drift appeared between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the Great Schism. Over in the Romanian medieval lands Transylvania embraces the Gothic civilization and Catholicism, while Wallachia and Moldavia maintained their Byzantine tradition.
It is during the Third, Fourth and Fifth Crusades that a movement of people and goods to overseas territories, East, is created, either by sea, but also via land, on Transylvanian routes. This way, more traders and crusaders chose to remain on site, in Transylvania, as well as to keep trading with their land of origin as the previous settlers were already doing.
In 1222, the Bulla Aurea of King Andrew II guaranteed the privileges of the Hungarian nobility. Those of the Saxons were secured in 1224 by the Diploma Andreanum. The success of the Flandrenses encouraged the arrival of new settlers and in 1292, the first hospital in a church-asylum (Franciscan) at Hermannstadt, Sibiu, was opened.
In 1241 we find the name Transylvania mentioned again, and identified with “Septem urbicum” after the seven fortified towns of the region. For sure, the trading routes of the Balkans were strongly linked to those of the Faith, and each time a crusade took place, more peasants and tradesmen traveled through and chose to settle in Transylvania and Wallachia, where life flourished and there was – still – peace.
At the end of the 13th century four nations were part of the General Assembly of Transylvania: the Hungarian nobility, the Saxons, the Szecklers (Secui) and the Vlachs although the Secui and the Vlachs had only minor privileges.
The threat of the Mongol Empire
About the same time the threat of the Mongol Empire under Genghis-Han was on the rise from Asia, conquering China and heading East until it reached the eastern parts of Russia. So much so that in 1241 the Mongols advanced in the north of Transylvania and engaged in a fight with the Saxons settled near the Rodna mines. The Mongols even defeated the Hungarian King’s army (King Bela), but retreated suddenly in 1242 when the Great Han died.
However, the Mongols will not withdraw completely from Europe, but establish a state in southeastern Russia on the Lower Volga River, known as the Golden Horde, keeping the Russian principalities as vassals for over 200 years. After assimilating the Cuman population settled here, on the northern shore of the Black Sea, they will be known as Tatar Mongols and will represent a permanent danger especially to Transylvania, Oltenia and Muntenia (the last two will unite in 1330 to form Wallachia). Even from the first decades of the 14th century, we find that the Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian political formations were in relation of vassality towards these Tartar Mongols.
About the same time, in 1247, King Bela IV of Hungary and Duke of Transylvania planed an active expansion over the Carpathians, towards the south-west. His plan was to increase the fortifications and setup a defense alliance against the Bulgarian Empire in the event of a second Tatar-Mongol invasion and to rebuild his devastated country. For this reason he allowed the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitaller, to settle on the newly formed border province, on Banat of Severin, or “Land of Severin” – in the mountainous regions between the Danube and the Jiu Rivers. At the same time the Principalities (Knezdoms, Cnezat, from the Slavonic Knyaz or knez meaning prince, duke or count) of Ioan (on the lower course of Olt River) and of Farcaş (higher, in the Sub-Carpathian area of Oltenia), the Voivodeships of Litovoi (on the middle and lower course of Jiu River) and of Seneslau (on the left-hand side of Olt River), extending in the mountainous and hilly regions of western Wallachia, also developed (let’s keep in mind that these have been established around the 9th century).
Note that the Lands of Litovoi, Farcas and Seneslau held territories north on Carpathians (in Transylvania), and south.
Only a century later, Clara, the daughter of Ion (lanoş in Hungarian), ban of Severin, marries Alexandru-Nicolae, Voievode of Wallachia (and son of Voievod Basarab I and of Lady Margareta). This was another way for Hungarian rulers to set a foot in Wallachia, and for Pope to spread Catholicism in an Orthodox country. And it didn’t stop here, Lady Clara made it her life’s purpose to convince her step-son, Vladislav Voiedod, if she couldn’t influence her husband, to bring a Catholic episcope in Wallachia, to convert the orthodox Vlach population, Vladislav Voievod included. But Vladislav held his ground, and he even built at Severin, on the border with Transylvania so with the Hungarian Kingdom, an Orthodox church.
Let’s not forget that the Knights of St.John were dressed in an armor weighing as much as themselves, riding the heaviest horses in Europe, who were also covered in armor, each knight being accompanied by ten squires. They arrived preceded by a reputation of skilled builders- and this was the reason why they were invited to settle here. On one condition, to not allow any Vlachs migrating from Transylvania to settle in Banat.
Around the middle of the 14th century, 1366, back in Transylvania the Vlachs’ lifestyle deteriorated as they were excluded from the congregations of the Diet for religious reasons related to the Schism. The Hungarians Kings, vassals of the Pope and therefore Catholics, made it their personal crusade to eliminate the Orthodox Vlachs from their kingdom, although they lived on Romanian land. In less than a century the Romanian Vlach nobility living in Transylvania was reduced to the status of a peasant. Without being under the protection of the King of Hungary they were often hunted and expropriated unless they became Hungarians and converted to Catholicism. The vast majority of Orthodox Vlach peasants soon became serfs, iobagi, tied to the feudal land without the right to self-governance as the other three nations living in Transylvania could.
The way to keep your land and status was by converting to Catholicism and adopting the Hungarian lifestyle and even build family ties with the Magyar nobility. For example, the family of Iancu de Hunedoara, Hunyadi, and even 1387-1456 Voivode of Transylvania, chose to become Hungarian. His son, Matthias Corvinus, Matei Corvin, was able to become King of Hungary.
The Land of Severin, placed between the Lower Danube and the Olt River (around the city of Turnu-Severin on the map above, between the territories in mustard and green), was previously populated but countless battles between the Hungarian and Bulgarian kingdoms have forced part of the local population to flee, probably eastward, towards the (then) rich valleys and forested planes of Oltenia and Muntenia, as well as drawn towards the trade at Danube and the Black Sea.
Under the Knights Hospitallers the Land of Severin received a bishop and became a kenezatus (almost a state of its own) ruled by two rulers, cneji, Ioan and Farcaş (a Hungarian translation of Romanian Lupu, wolf), both brought from the north, from Banat (a Romanian territory west of Transylvania and under Hungarian sovereignty). But these administrative structures had their own Romanian organization, and the vassalage relations to the Hungarian Crown did not influence the full right of the Romanian states to their own domestic organization.
The first ruler of Oltenia (later part of Wallachia) held territory in Transylvania too
It is of outermost importance that I mention now the very first ruler of Oltenia, a Romanian Land and territory between the Olt river and the Danube, Litovoi Voievode.
The Diploma of the Joannites even mentions the land of the kenazate of Voivode Litovoi, which the king left to the Vlachs “as they had held it”, and not granted to the Knights Hospitaller. The small print, though, stated that he had to pay tribute to the Hungarian Crown during 25 years, 1247-1272.
At the same time in neighboring Muntenia (Ţara Românească, Terra Blacorum) ruled Voievode Seneslau.
Both Litovoi and Seneslau looked at the promises made by the Hungarian King, that of protection against the Tatar invasions IF only they convert to Catholicism. But they also noticed how weak the Hungarian defense was. So they thought, and thought, and decided that united – and keeping their Christian beliefs -they stood a better chance against the Tatar invasion.
Between 1277 – 1280 Litovoi ruled over land on each side of the Carpathians, namely Retezat Mountains, (including Hațeg Country in Transylvania and the area that is today Oltenia) but was at war with the Hungarians over land that the Crown wanted for itself. Voievode Litovoi fell in a trap and perished in battle.
He was succeeded by his brother, named Bărbat, meaning man in Romanian. Bărbat‘s son in law was Tihomir who held both territories, left and right of Olr River, until 1310, while in 1301 the Arpad dinasty perished with the death of Andrew III. It was a marriage union between Tihomir’s son, Basarab, and countess Margareta (Marghita) that brings to the Romanian territories two lands from Transilvania, Făgăraş amd Almaş.
In 1310 all the Vlach boyars as well as those from Ardeal, chose Basarab I as their ruler, thus founding Wallachia, and sealed through the Battle of Posada in November 1330. Although legend says that it was Radu the Black in 1290… Around 1290 legendary Negru Vodă, Radu the Black, arrived from Făgăraş County and settled in Câmpulung, while his successors moved over to Argeş, from where they extended their authority all the way to Danube. The dynasty thus established had a highland origin, from the mountain (munte). It is from this “Muntenian” origin of the dynasty that the name of Muntenia probably derived, traditionally given to the whole country – a country dominated by plains.
Transylvania under the Mongol and Turkish threat of the Middle Ages
In Transylvania, the city of Sibiu (Hermannsdorf, Hermannstadt) increased its fortifications especially after the 13th century Mongol invasion of Europe. This was possible as the trade of local artisans, mainly Saxons trading in clothing and tools, flourished but all the 19 guilds thrived and this afforded the city to increase its defense system. Soon Sibiu became the most important ethnic German city among the seven cities of Transylvania.
But the flourishing period of Sibiu will soon be overshadowed by the Mongol and the Turkish threats, especially the Turks in 1394, 1432, 1437, 1438, 1442. As a result Sibiu became a defendant outpost of Christendom. In 1438 Sultan Murad II, the predecessor and father of Mehmed II the Conqueror, led an unsuccessful siege on Sibiu and again in 1442 when Sibiu was aided in his defense by the army of Iancu de Hunedoara.
Transylvania and Wallachia under the threat of the Ottoman Empire
The Hungarian King between 1387-1437, King Sigismund of Luxembourg, spent a great amount of time in Transylvania, especially in Hermannstadt, Sibiu, and Kronstadt, Braşov, where he improved the cities’ defenses against this new threat, the Turks.
Sadly, the East–West Schism between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches proved once again what strength the ecclesiastics held during the Middle Ages, for it influenced and sabotaged the communication between the Lords of the West and the old Byzantine Voyevodes – such as Vlad the Impaler.
After the defeat of the Western armies by the Ottomans led by Bayezid I (father of Mehmed I) in the Battle of Nicopolis (25 September 1396), the Crusaders (comprising of Hungarian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Wallachian, French, German, Burgundian, Italian, Portuguese, and Polish troops) were pretty much left on their own, the West powers giving up to the idea of yet another Crusade. This decision left the Wallachian and Moldavian princes to resist on their own against future Ottoman invasions.
It was now that King Sigismund of Luxembourg created the Order of the Dragon, in 1408, and one of its eminent members, Wallachian prince Vlad Dracul (father of Vlad Tepeș, Dracula), got caught in the conflict between Hungary, Poland and the onset of Ottomans in Europe that isolated Transylvania – sealing the lives of many.
Saving not only his own people, his beloved Vlachs, but also the Hungarian and the Polish Kingdoms, and further westwards the other European lands, in 1462 Vlad Tepes, the Impaler, defeated the invading Ottoman troops under Sultan Mehmed II, sending them fleeing southward during the famous Night Attack at Targoviste.
Dracula, as he was nicknames, meaning Son of the Dragon, is still regarded in his homeland as a champion of Christianity.
War threats or not, trade flourished between the three principalities, especially Transylvania and Moldova, although Wallachia, in the south, held the trade monopoly at Danube and the Black Sea. A flourishing trade meant strong defenses built around the cities as well as moats and towers, and fortified churches with rooms for provisions (the harvest was stored there immediately, for sage-keeping), livestock and refuge. In case of a Turkish attack, even if the wooden and thatched farms were burned down all that was kept within these stone walls was safe.
Such is the St. Mihail fortified Church of Cisnădioara / Michelsberg built as a Roman basilica at the end of the 12th century, and fortified a century later.
And where fortifications were not enough, tunnels and underground chambers for food storage or as escape routes were built, such as the ones still present underneath Brasov.
Before its fall in 1453 the great Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was already paying tribute to the Turks. After it fell and Orthodox Greece fell into Ottoman hands Islam moved in front of Christendom and began advancing towards the south-east Europe, towards the great Catholic powers in the west.
The threat lasted until the late-14th and early-15th centuries when new crusades were finally organized by the kingdoms of Hungary (Transylvania included), Poland, Wallachia, and Serbia. These were defensive campaigns intended to prevent further expansion to the west of the Ottoman Empire rather than the traditional expeditions aimed at the recovery of Jerusalem.
One more idea need be explained here, that unlike the west of Europe in the Balkans an ethnic group’s consciousness and main loyalty was to their immediate habitat, be it the clan, the village, the principality, their side of mountain or valley. And, yes, a national concept was found here during the Middle Ages, although such an ideology was only expanded on in Western Europe during the early nineteenth century.
Let’s see how Hope Has Multiple Faces, 100 words story, for each one of the plebeians, the free inhabitants of the (once) vast Roman Empire., after we saw the results on the Roman Empire of Greed, the Roman Kind.
Hope Has Multiple Faces
Life under Roman ruling offered another face to each new civitates.
To Rescuturme, a brave Dac soldier’s widow, it meant marriage to a Roman colonist, new traditions, and peace, finally.
For Comosicus, village priest, a new worship service, sung in Latin.
For Zoutulas, recruited to serve in Egypt, the hope of an adventurous life joining an eternally winning army.
For Agripina, who birthed seven to see two into adulthood, a winter alone. Her youngest, Dadas, had turned, ripping the rewards of a now flourishing wine-trade. Her eldest, Daizus, was lost to the evergreen woods, laying in waiting; the upraising bubbling.
Civitas, plural Civitates, citizenship in ancient Rome.
The plebeians, also called plebs, were, in ancient Rome, the general body of free Roman citizens who were not patricians.
Rescuturme is a Dacian name that translates to ‘brilliant splendor’
Comosicus was a Dacian High Priest and King who lived in the 1st century BC
Zoutula, together with other Dacian names, were recorded in Egyptian ostraca (shards of pottery) after the Roman conquest has recruited many Dac soldiers who were later stationed in East Egypt. Perhaps the ostracon was the very first military dog-tag.
NEW: A – Z, 100-Wors Stories are inspired by Transylvania’s history, from the Paleolithic Period to WW1:
Celebrate with me Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for and its 1 year anniversary from its publishing debut on Amazon. Looking at war from the perspective of all those sucked into it, civilians, soldiers, military working dogs, MWD, and eve belligerents, Silent Heroes is a narrative about the value of life and the necessity of combat; the terror of dying; the ordeal of seeing your loved ones and your platoon-mates killed in front of your eyes; the trauma of taking a human life.
“What I tried to convey through Silent Heroes is that all those impacted by war are, at the end of a fighting day, human being with dreams and families. A war’s consequences, like the shadow of a nightmare, reach far beyond the battlefield. Perhaps being a woman that writes about war I couldn’t ignore my inner voice speaking for the daughter, the wife, and the mother in me.”
On the book itself and on how it came to be, read below.