Clashes in Clatteringshaws

‘The Abbey in the Oakwood’ by Caspar David Friedrich

No royalist me, I nevertheless post this discussion of fictional royalty as a counterblast to yesterday’s anachronistic and pompous pageant. Yes, I was personally  present on the Mall near Buckingham Palace in 1953, a confused toddler among the cheering crowds as the golden coach past to and fro, but seven-tenths of a century have now passed and the world has changed: did we really need this nonsense, this Clobberation?

It’s been a while since I last posted about the final instalment in Joan Aiken‘s long-running series which began with the modern classic The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962). In 2022 it celebrated its 60th anniversary; 2024 will mark the centenary of the author’s birth, on the 4th September 1924.

It’s high time, then – following on from a review here – that I got on with discussion posts on The Witch of Clatteringshaws (2005), including this, the second instalment of my introduction to the characters who appear in this slim volume (just 150 pages in the Red Fox paperback).

What follows is a list designed perhaps for completists, but also for those who delight in the quirky names borne by equally quirky characters. It also helps to know that this all takes place during the timeline of an alternative history, at a date which the author’s daughter Lizza estimates to be 1840 but which I calculate could be as late as 1845 or 1846. The action primarily takes place in Scotland (here called Caledonia) and in London (which, because never referred to as being in England, we may imagine as being the capital of Albion).

Sketchmap for the Wolves Chronicles, with some key places marked and indications of how railways developed piecemeal in Britain. © C A Lovegrove

“Aiken always had an extraordinary prescience, an ability to imagine changes in the world before they happened. This time she saw the world going backwards – her England at the end of her alternative historical sequence, has reverted from the mock Victorian century begun in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase to parallel Saxon times in the last two books of the series – almost to the pre-historic age with the inclusion of some strange and magical creatures – the mysterious Hobyahs, and the flying Tatzelwurm.”

‘Joan Aiken: Stories without a Tell By Date’Lizza Aiken

In this last of the Wolves Chronicles Aiken exhibits her capacity for poking gentle fun at sympathetic characters while still critiquing inane, ignorant and cruel behaviour from others who are deeply unsympathetic. Previously I’d looked in depth at the aforesaid witch of Clatteringshaws, Malise, and at our long-term protagonists, Dido Twite and Simon Battersea (the latter a reluctant king). Now I list the rest of the dramatis personae. Some individuals also appear in the Who’s Who I listed for Midwinter Nightingale here and here and here.

St James’s Palace and environs from Hughson’s Walks through London. The Queen’s Palace is now known as Buckingham Palace (credit:

At the court of St James, London The official royal residence in London in the Wolves Chronicles, St James’s Palace (built in the 16th century) served that purpose in real life until 1837 when Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace, formerly Buckingham House and then the Queen’s Palace.

Sir Angus McGrind, Marshal of the King’s Wardrobe and Equerry of State for Domestic Affairs, and Sir Fosby Killick, the King’s physician, both treacherous courtiers at the Court of St James, London. • With these two villains the choice of humorous names referencing their job descriptions is typical of Aiken’s mischievous nature: the grind of monarchs wearing sumptuous robes and a doctor who may well kill their patient.
Jocandra. Finnish princess expected to marry King Simon, but betrothal to this eight-foot tall troll is apparently a non-starter.
Piers Ivanhoe le Guichet Crackenthorpe (18). Dido’s friend, previously known as ‘Woodlouse’ in Midwinter Nightingale (2003), now in line for the throne.
Lady Titania, King Richard IV’s great-aunt, deceased in Midwinter Nightingale.

The Firebrace family
An old English family name, derived from Old French and meaning “iron-arm” or “fierce-arm or “proud-arm”

Sir Jonathan Firebrace, the late grandfather to Malise, Hild, Sam and Rodney. Father Sam explains: “We all had the same grandfather. Sir Jonathan Firebrace. He had three sons, and we are the children of those sons. Malise and I went to divinity school together. She became a witch, I became a friar.”
Rodney Firebrace, jester, geologist, graduate of St Vigean’s University; Malise’s cousin. His African Grey parrot is called Wiggonholt. • The West Sussex village of Wiggonholt is in the county the author retired to, and was home to John Broadwood, a folksong collector – as Aiken doubtless knew – though it’s not known if he ever collected the songs Dido’s dreadful father composed.
Stan Hugglepuck. Landlord of the Duke’s Arms, later Provost, father of Hild. • Stan’s surname seems to be an Aiken invention, perhaps from “huggle” (to cuddle) + “puck” (sprite or goblin).
Hild. Younger half-sister of Malise the District Witch of Clatteringshaws, and daughter of Stan Hugglepuck. • Along with Queen Ethelfled, Hild finds herself in the midst of a battle; naturally enough her name derives from the Norse word ‘hildr’ meaning a battle. The name was borne, either alone or in combination with other words (as in Brünhilde), by Valkyries.
Father Sam, a priest whom we met in Midwinter Nightingale, now an Archbishop of Canterbury. Malise’s pet name for him was Smouel, a variant of Samuel, or Sammyvel. • Like Samuel in the Old Testament who anointed Saul and David as the first kings of Israel, Father Sam will have crowned Simon and his successor.

A Saracen knight in the Carolingian romances, Fierabras or Fier-à-bras.

Inhabitants of Clatteringshaws

Reverend Knockwinnock, kirk minister, Clatteringshaws. • Aiken seems to have taken the surname from Knockwinnock Castle, a place mentioned in one of Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, ‘The Antiquarian’ (1816).
Angus McClan, acting sexton of Clatteringshaws cemetery, married to Euphemia Glamis McClan, owner of The Eagles guest house; their son Desmond (14) turns out to be a bully.
Fergie McDune, gig or cab driver.

Other nobility

Ethelfleda of Lower Saxony. Queen, wife to King Malcolm of Caledonia and mother to ‘Fred‘. • Æthelflæd or Ethelfled was the daughter of Alfred the Great. In keeping with some other characters Aiken has been inspired by names from the first millennium of the Common Era. 
Aelfric Bloodarrow of Bernicia and Lady Titania’s cousin. Aelfric says he’s descended from Canute and Alfred the Graet [sic]. • Historically Cnut was King of England from 1016 until his death in 1035, as well as King of Denmark from 1018, and King of Norway from 1028; an Aelfric of Northumbria actually lived before Cnut, dying in 910.
Albert the Bear, King of the Wends in Lusatia, East Saxony. • Albert the Bear, or Albrecht der Bär, was in reality the first margrave of Brandenburg in the 12th century. Aiken’s Albert declares, ‘I am Albert the Bear, Count of Ballenstedt, founder of the Ascanian line, Margrave of Brandenburg and heir of Pribislav,’ a speech that is close to the historical reality of less than a millennium before.
Wolf Thundergripper, adviser to Albert. • Wolf’s name is perhaps a final nod towards the wolves that appear sporadically throughout the sequence. Thundergripper sounds like a closet reference to the god Thor.

Young Joan Aiken (photo:

You can see that, even if some of the connections I make here are more apparent than real, the names Joan Aiken chose for her characters in the last of her writings are rich, significant and selected with care. Even if you never read any of the Wolves Chronicles you might still appreciate the fun (and tragedy) she brings to her fictional folk.

Following this latest post on people in The Witch of Clatteringshaws I shall be looking at places, timelines and themes; and then there may ultimately be some summative posts about the sequence as a whole.

Joan Aiken titles, Waterstone’s, Piccadilly (credit: Lizza Aiken)

A post for #WyrdAndWonder

@WyrdAndWonder Flying witch artwork by astromoali, magic portal artwork by Tithi Luadthong

6 thoughts on “Clashes in Clatteringshaws

  1. In relation to the anachronistic ceremony many have enjoyed, I read that Charles received an allowance from the Queen of £20 million pounds a year and brother Andrew was given only £278,000 a year. Poor darling. No wonder he went off the rails.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A little over a quarter of a mill is a pitiful amount to live on; I’m not surprised his late mother reportedly paid for the settlement agreed with her favourite son’s accuser because, if she hadn’t, his reputation would’ve been in tatters. Oh wait –

      Needless to say, although I had watched the late Queen’s funeral procession on TV – quite moving, I thought – I unsurprisingly had better things to do with my time yesterday, things like reading a book and exulting in the drubbing of a corrupt party in power in local government elections. The pity is that they will cling to power for another 18 months, trashing the country and its reputation even further.

      Enough of ranting, sorry. Better to read Joan Aiken’s The Cuckoo Tree with its wonderful description of a coronation in St Paul’s Cathedral in which the building is stopped from sliding into the Thames on giant rollers by an elephant…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That map is excellent! I remember trying to make something similar for Mysteries of Udolpho, but someone had posted a whole fictional & much better looking one online anyway 🙂 And “you might still appreciate the fun (and tragedy) she brings to her fictional folk” made me think how true that is – I remember her Castle Barebane and definitely that darkness was there even under all that fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, though it’s only a working sketch as I intend to do a halfway decent map eventually. I like that you tried your own map for the Ratcliffe mystery, as it’s something I tend to do to orientate myself anyway.

      And I need to get through the last couple of posts about Dido as there are so many other Aiken titles I’ve got waiting on my shelves (though not Castle Barebane – at least, not yet!).


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