Is The Wicked and the Just a true story?
Yes and no.
The Principality of North Wales was real. It was set up by King Edward I after the collapse of native rule in Wales in 1282-3. Caernarvon was real. It was governed by a select group of English people for the benefit of the burgesses that lived there and the Crown as a whole. The rebellion of 1294-5 was real. It was a bread riot that turned into a tax riot that turned into a draft riot.
The events and situations in W/J are based on real-life conditions in the walled towns in north Wales in the late thirteenth century. The burgesses really did go to great lengths to insure that their privileges remained solely the domain of English settlers, and the burden of taxation really did fall on the Welsh who lived in the countryside. It really was illegal to grind your grain somewhere other than the Crown-sanctioned mills and trade anywhere other than the Crown-sanctioned market.
And while Cecily and Gwenhwyfar and Gruffydd are not real, historical people, they very much could have been.
In the story, the town the characters live in is spelled “Caernarvon”, but it’s supposed to be “Caernarfon.” What gives?
Short answer: Whoever governs the place gets to decide how it’s spelled.
Long answer: Click here!
What inspired you to write W/J?
Medieval Wales doesn’t get a lot of attention despite the fact that it was a complicated, dynamic place. The native rulers managed to resist outright conquest by their English neighbors until 1283, but then the victorious English fast-tracked a series of castles and walled towns to maintain control of the area and the people.
What interested me was this question: Even when granted a lot of special privileges – including significant tax breaks – how did English settlers live in a place where they were outnumbered twenty to one by a hostile, recently-subjugated population, and how did the Welsh live so close to people who’d done the subjugating, especially given the burdens placed on them by their new masters?
What kind of research did you do for W/J?
Lots! And not necessarily the research you’d expect, either. Sure, I had to find out big-picture things like “Were the walls of Caernarvon finished in 1293?” and “How many people lived there?” But there were also little things to track down, like “What’s the layout of a typical thirteenth-century townhouse?” and “Did men typically have facial hair?” These things may seem unimportant, but details matter. Details reflect the real lived experiences of human beings. I have the choice of getting them right or not, and I’d rather get them right if at all possible.
What fascinates you most about the middle ages?
How foreign medieval people feel sometimes, and yet how familiar. Medieval people believed some weird stuff and their worldviews were shaped by the circumstances in which they lived, but not to the point that it altered their humanity. Not to the point where the nuts and bolts of their everyday lives – love and work and worry – placed them beyond our understanding as people, even if their actions make no sense to us sometimes.
Plus, I love how raunchy medieval people were. They had a deep and abiding love of poop and fart jokes, and they adored what we would call slapstick humor. If people were getting hurt, they thought it was hilarious. Medieval people were also fans of wordplay, especially the double-entendre. They could make dirty puns like you wouldn’t believe.