Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"The Literary Medievalist"

"Dearest David, we cannot simply continue to exist on a diet of Arms, and Armour."-A reader sent me this little note about a month ago.

     Which has prompted me to change or rather expand the horizons of my blog. I decided right then and there to search out interesting  persons and or personalities to profile on my blog. However on the heels of that particular thought,  another came storming the gates of the castle. Basically it involved publishing a new blog, as the original has its followers and its own culture so to speak. This meant something different had to happen, and it did,-Welcome to the Modern Medievalist Reader!

     I have cornered a new friend named Simon Stirling for a chat. Stirling has published two historical based books thus far. "The King Arthur Conspiracy, how a Scottish Prince Became a Mythical Hero." And his most recent works, for sale in the United States on November 1st, "Who Killed William Shakespeare?: The Murder, The Motive, The Means."

Q: Who is Simon Stirling? Where do you come from?

A: Good question! I was born in Birmingham, England just before the Summer of Love (1967), the very day before Mr John Winston Lennon recorded "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". My parents must have seen it coming because they gave me the initials L.S.D. When I started writing in my early teens, I adopted a pen-name which I have used ever since. Anything I have written (TV, theater, books) has always been as Simon Andrew Stirling

Q: What was it that decided for you, what genre you were going to write?

A: I started (in my teens) with novels, largely inspired by Ian Fleming's Bond books and the stories of Alan Garner (an English writer who invests his landscape with the material of ancient myths). I turned professional as a scriptwriter when I finished drama school in 1990, and after that it was mostly TV drama - some of it quite investigative - although I think I had most fun writing scripts for the Open University (a British institution which allows students to take university degrees at home). I wrote TV and radio scripts for their physics, cosmology and mathematics departments, and loved the combination of drama and education. The decision to write my history books probably grew out of all that. I love research, and has always been fascinated by the historical figures of William Shakespeare (a local boy!) and Arthur (who I always suspected must have been a historical character). When I found that I had enough to go on with both of those subjects, I got down to work on them full time. There was a huge amount of research required for both, largely because I believe that both subjects have been treated very badly by historians

Q: Tell us about your novel: "The King Arthur Conspiracy, How a Scottish Prince Became a Mythic Hero."

A: I'd long been fascinated by Arthur, although most of the legendary versions left me pretty cold. My wife and I were married on the little Scottish island of Iona in 2002. I love that place - I'd been there before and had built up quite a library about it. When we went back up there to celebrate our first anniversary, it struck me that there wasn't a really good guide book to the isle (it's famous for being the royal burial isle of the early Scottish kings, the place where St Columba established his mission, but the history of the island goes back much further than that). I started researching the island in more depth, and when I came across a historical king, who was ordained by St Columba in 574, and who had a son named Artur and a daughter named Muirgein, I got rather excited. There is no literary mention of anyone called "Arthur" before then, and I realised that if Artur mac Aedain was the original Arthur of the later legends, then he was almost certainly buried on Iona. So I set about studying that period in great detail. Of course, because later storytellers had insisted on shifting the stories southwards, there was a lot of demolition work to be done. The truth is that all the earliest references to Arthur come from North Britain. The "King Arthur" of southern Britain is a medieval invention.

Q: How has this book been received by the history reading public?

A: The reactions so far have ranged from hugely enthusiastic to sharply critical. To be honest, I've found that those who came to the book without too many preconceptions have loved it.

Q: Why Shakespeare?

A: I grew up near Stratford-upon-Avon and studied English Literature. I also had a love of acting, and went on to be a drama student before turning professional as a dramatist. So I had many connections with Shakespeare, and I wanted to know more about him - what made him tick, what kind of person he was, and what made him such a great poet and playwright.

Q: Now why such a salacious title?

A: Ha!! Well, I studied Shakespeare for many years (roundabout 25 years, in all) and began to feel that the standard biography was woefully inaccurate. A bit like Arthur, in a way: here you have a remarkable figure from history who has pretty much disappeared beneath layer upon layer of myth-mongering and speculation. None of what the typical biographies tell us explains what made him who he was. That can only really be explained by the times in which he lived - and they were terrible times in England. When I turned my attention to his retirement and death, I found all sorts of loose ends and things which didn't add up. I finally came to the conclusion that Shakespeare's sudden death was no accident. It had taken many years, but I had put together a theory that he was murdered - "stopped", in the parlance of the time. I had more or less figured out how it happened when I discovered that a skull exists which was described by a 19th century clergyman as "the veritable skull of William Shakespeare". Having analysed photos of that skull, alongside other images of Shakespeare, I think it probably is his skull - and the markings on it show us how he died.

Q: Has this cause some controversy amongst the Sir Francis Bacon and Duke of Oxford crowds?

A: I haven't yet heard their take on it. I argue in the book that the "Shakespeare couldn't have been Shakespeare" argument is partly understandable, because historians haven't given us an accurate portrait of Shakespeare: they've created a sort of politically correct version of his life, with no references to the religious conflicts in the country or his Warwickshire background. In those circumstances, it's not too silly to ask yourself, "Could this man really have written such fabulous works?" But I also argue that to go from there to "Somebody else must have written them" is a leap too far. It's not that Shakespeare wasn't capable of writing his tragedies and comedies - it's that who Shakespeare really was has been withheld from us.

DS Baker: Simon I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us today.It has been a real pleasure and I hope that your books flourish in the market place. They have certainly given us several things to think about and reexamine what we think we know.

Simon Stirling: It's been an absolute pleasure! I wish you every success with your blog.

Here are the Amazon Links to Simon Stirling's books:



Simon Stirling also publishes a blog, You can catch up with his posts here at:


Once again I would like to thank Simon Andrew Stirling for his time, and allowing himself and his books to be our opening post!

-DS Baker.


  1. GREAT! Two more books I want to read now. Thanks for the find and info.

  2. Excellent! Now I must make yet more room on my reading list...