15th Century Hungary: Interview with Katerina Dunne


February 6, 2022

Katarina Dunne shared with me her journey into 15th century Hungary, particularly the border lands in Transylvania. She just launched her first novel, Lord of the Eyrie, on January 31. Published by Historium Press. It is an epic tale of love, war and the price of loyalty. It is the first instalment of an action and drama-filled family saga, set in Hungary during the 1400s, spanning 40 years and two generations.

Originally from Athens, Greece, Katerina has been living in Ireland since 1999. She has a degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Athens, an MA in Film Studies from University College Dublin, and an MPhil in Medieval History from Trinity College Dublin. While she used to write short stories for family and friends in her teenage years, she only took up writing seriously in 2016, when she started work on her first novel. 

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

The story was inspired by the border lords of the fifteenth-century Kingdom of Hungary. Although the main character is fictional, he embodies all those heroic and battle-hardened figures of the Borderland, who defended the kingdom for centuries. Their lives must have been hard: a constant struggle to run their own estates and protect them from the relentless Ottoman raiding as well as from attacks by other local lords while also leaving home for long periods to campaign with the king and his barons.

Q: You grew up in Athens, and then moved to Ireland. How did you become interested in Hungary?

In Athens, I had some teenage friends who were from Hungary. I was very close with one of them in particular. Although I had no family connection to the country, I always wanted to know more about Hungary. It was as if I had lived there before…

I learned the language with my friend’s help and started reading more and more. I visited there many times and I loved the country. Ireland and Hungary are my favourite places.

Then I started studying the history of the country. I was always interested in the medieval history of Europe, mostly England and France. But when I did my Masters thesis in Medieval History, I wrote it on Hungary, examining the internal conflict between 1438-1442.

What struck me at the time was that I found very little in English. There is very little written about medieval Hungary in English.

Q: Where did you find your sources? The University libraries?

No. Actually, a lot of it was my own research. I checked on Amazon and other authors who had written books. You know, if you go to their bibliographies, you can find what sources they have used.

A lot of it was online as well, particularly https://www.academia.edu/  which is an internationally available free site. If you want to pay, you have access to more stuff. With a free membership, you can do a basic search. There’s a lot of articles. All the academics upload their essays there for peer reviews. You can find a lot there.

I spent a lot of money buying books from Amazon and other bookshops because I used them in my thesis and I used them for my novel.

The other sources I used is an online database of charters and letters: The Hungarian National Archives. However, they are mostly in Latin in the manuscript form so they are tough to decipher. They did have a summary in Hungarian on a sidebar, so I could read that.

There are also books online which have a collection of letters from the period. Because these books were done in the 19th century, they are out of copyright and you can download them.

Q: Who did you base your characters on?

As said before, the main character is based on the border lords of the Kingdom of Hungary. The plot is in a way a microcosm of the real situation in Hungary at the time, regarding the struggle of the country against internal and external enemies. Real historical personalities appear in the story, such as János Hunyadi, a military commander who later became the most powerful baron and even the Regent for a few years, and whose son Matthias ascended the throne in 1458. Matthias, the king who brought the Italian Renaissance to Hungary, also appears briefly in the book and will have a bigger role in the sequel.

Q: Which characters are most similar to you, or people you know?

I think my characters are more universal models and encompass qualities and flaws that all humans have: love and loyalty, friendship, righteousness, but also rivalry, ambition, greed and evil. When it comes to my protagonists, I like them to be flawed and vulnerable because these types of characters have the greatest potential for growth and redemption during the story. Also, the antagonists have a backstory that explains the reasons why they have become what they are.

Q: What part of the book was the most fun to write?

Definitely the battle scenes. It is challenging to write action pieces, especially battles where so much is going on. I collected information from various chronicles and scholarly analyses, but altered it slightly to allow the participation of my fictional hero in those events. As such, I tried to give a more personal and intimate view of those events which otherwise would sound cold and distant if you read about them in a history book.

Q: What part was the hardest?

The death scenes and love scenes. The death scenes because of the emotion involved; I am not going to lie, I ended up crying while writing them. The love scenes were tricky. In general, I don’t write them in unless they advance the plot or reveal character. They are usually very brief. There is one very early on in the book, and it is the most important one because it determines the relationship of the main character and his wife. It was hard to write because I felt it needed to be detailed enough to show the connection developing between them but at the same time not too explicit to put readers off. I tried to focus more on the emotion rather than the physical aspect.

Q: What is your interesting writing quirk?

As my story is set in the medieval period, I had to make sure the vocabulary did not sound too modern. So, first I wrote the novel using whatever expressions came to my mind even if they were modern. When I did the re-write, I replaced those modern words and expressions with older ones that had the same meaning. I used online dictionaries, such as Etymonline and dictionary.com, which include the origins of the words.

Q: How would you describe your book’s ideal reader?

I think it would be a person who is interested in medieval history and society, and especially one who loves to learn new things, such as the events in Hungary that are not so well-known. Also, someone who does not shy away from the harsh and raw reality of medieval life. Because this is not an easy read or happy romance, it is tough-going and realistic.

Q: How is the sequel coming? What can we expect?

The sequel is called Return to the Eyrie. Book one ends with a “bang”, upsetting the “status-quo”. Although, there is temporary closure, an unexpected situation has been created, which needs to be resolved at a future stage. In book two the story continues eight years later and focuses on the next generation of the family, while still keeping many of the characters from the first book to maintain continuity. That being said, I will try to make sure that the second book can be read as a standalone novel as well.


Katarina and I discussed a great deal about other related topics, and she provided a number of references and sources. I will post the remainder of the interview in a couple of weeks. You can find her book, Lord of the Eyrie, on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most other outlets. Or, you can order directly from Historium Press https://www.thehistoricalfictioncompany.com/historium-press-katerina-dunne?fbclid=IwAR2QpQnOc6-M9X4JJIE47Fh7lm7qxAZC0OfoTrWwTLyj_3Tzq2_MY03BaYk


German Knighthood Was Different

The Kingdom of Germany, and its dukedoms, counties, and baronies operated differently than the familiar British and French kingdoms. First, the King was elected by a council of dukes, counts, and clergy. Often, the kingdom was passed down to a son or relative of the previous king as he was named during the monarch’s lifetime. In those cases, the “election” was more of a confirmation.

The knightly class, referred to in the primary documents as Ministerales, were unfree warriors attached to a particular duke, count, bishop, or abbot. Their lord provided each knight with a fief to support himself and his family. The knight was not allowed to marry outside his lord’s familiae (retinue of the lord).

Second, while many British and French lords discouraged marriage because the lord would have to provide for the knight’s family, the German lords did encourage their knights to marry within the familiae and have many children. This caused the lord’s retinue to increase, and many lords became powerful in this manner. Support came from each knight’s fief.

Most of the fiefs were only for a lifetime, and reverted back to the lord upon the knight’s death. Some knights gained favor with their lords and acquired additional fiefs as allods, which passed on to their children.

By good stewardship of their fiefs and allods, some knights became wealthy, and were able to purchase additional fiefs and allods for themselves and their children. Men who could not manage their property well were not choice picks for marriage to wealthy, healthy, educated, and beautiful women.

Most of this information is from Benjamin Arnold’s book, German Knighthood 1050-1300. I am still learning about German customs, and look forward to your comments and questions!


Deanna Proach and I met on a Facebook group about the crusades. We are both writing about German politics and society in the Holy Roman Empire and the Outremer in the mid 12th century. Very few authors are interested in this time period and locale, so naturally we were excited to be able to exchange research sources and discuss our obscure little corner of history.

Before we get started, can you tell me a little about yourself?

I am a Canadian, currently living in Dawson Creek, a small town located in northeastern British Columbia.  I graduated with a BA in History from the University of Northern British Columbia.  Aside from my study on the Crusades, I am a certified fitness instructor and I thoroughly enjoy travelling.  I love seeing and experiencing different places and meeting different people and I look forward to when I am able to travel once again.

Deanna, how did you get pulled into this field?

My interest in the Crusades began in my third year of university when I saw the film, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.  I thoroughly enjoyed that movie so much, I was eager to delve into the history of the Crusades and learn more about it.  Since the university I attended didn’t offer any comprehensive courses on the Crusades, I decided to do my own study on the subject matter, but that didn’t happen until 2012.

In October 2012, I launched my blog, Crusades and Crusaders, but after a lengthy break from it (and dare I say, thanks to Covid-19) I decided to delve back into my study on the Crusades. I recently re-launched Crusades and Crusaders with the goal to edit and update all of my content as well as build this blog into a thriving business that brings the History of the Crusades back to life.  

Tell us more about your blog, Crusades and Crusaders.

Crusades and Crusaders is a comprehensive history of the crusades and of the people who played a major role in these wars for the Holy Land.  I do also have plans to write about the Reconquista in Spain as well as other crusades that took place in Europe.

You can find out more about my blog at www.crusadesandcrusaders.com

You are writing a novel, God’s Kingdom, about the crusader states. Where are you at on that project?

My novel, God’s Kingdom, starts in 1154 in Saar, Germany and follows my main characters to the Kingdom of Jerusalem where they defend the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

I’m still in the process of writing this novel.  I have completed about 20 chapters, rough draft.  I am writing this novel longhand.  Yes, I still put pen to paper when it comes to writing as that is my preferred choice.  My creative juices flow much more steadily when I’m looking at paper while soft music plays in the background.

I have organized ‘God’s Kingdom’ into three parts: Part 1 is when Wilfred, one of my main characters, is a child.  Part 2 is when Wilfred is older, in his late teens and Part 3 is when my characters begin a new life in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.  Currently, I’m working on Part 2 and at this stage, my characters are still in Germany, but are preparing for their departure to the Holy Land.

Do you have any other published works?

I did have one book published.  My very first book was titled Day of Revenge and it was set in 1793 during the reign of terror in France.  This book was published ten years ago and I had a measure of success with it; Publishers Weekly gave it a good review and a university in the United States purchased several hundred copies of it.

But after a while, I felt a strong need to get a regular job and my interests shifted over to the history of the Crusades.

You offer a book blog tour service. How does that work?

The book blog tour is catered specifically to other authors of historical fiction and nonfiction.  My preference, of course, is medieval history, though I’m also interested in ancient history as well.  I encourage authors to submit a press release of their book(s) to me and then my goal is to score them interviews and/or reviews on five or ten blogs. More information can be found at www.crusadesandcrusaders.com/work-with-me/ .

I am also planning on setting up a Patreon page for Crusades and Crusaders. More details on that will be released within the next week.

What is your background in marketing?

I don’t have any degrees in marketing. My experience with marketing has purely been one of trial and error.  Some methods I used worked really well while others not so much. I found that the methods of marketing that worked best for me was when I marketed a service that was high in demand: People needed it and there weren’t many other people in the area qualified enough to offer that service.

You also offer a research service. Let’s say I want you to research dairy farming in the middle ages; what happens next?

I would Google the following terms: ‘Dairy Farming in the Middle Ages’, ‘Farming in the Middle Ages’ and/or ‘Medieval Farmers’.  

Books are your best source of information when it comes to historical research, so I would also look up Medieval Farming or Dairy Farming in the Middle Ages on Amazon under the Books category and see what comes up. I would also do the same search on Goodreads and on JSTOR.  JSTOR is an online database for academic journals, primary sources and articles.  

As part of my service as your research assistant, I would find all the resources for you, then I would compile a list of books and articles and email them to you.  Then, you would take it from there!  Once you have all the sources you need on the subject matter you are researching, all you need to do is read and expand your knowledge.

Knightly Customs

Knights were required to provide, of course, military service. That was, after all, their primary vocation. Their oath of fealty to a lord would include a promise to protect their lord’s life, honor, and property.

Besides fighting on horseback during battle, a knight might also do duty at the lord’s garrison, act as an arbiter or even a judge in minor grievances, and proffer advice and counsel to his master on a variety of issues. It was common for knights to be assigned administrative tasks such as garnering supplies.

In return, the lord would defend the knight and his family from their enemies, and avenge wrongs. The lord would grant fiefs of land, access to forests, rents from houses, and income from a plethora of sources such as mills and mines. The fiefs were given to support the knight’s family and military needs such as horses, squires, training, and additional stores.

Usually the fiefs were hereditary, and passed to the knight’s children, but not always. For example, if a knight was assigned as castellan (governor of a castle), the lord could take that fief away, particularly if there was rebellion in the knight’s family.

It was not uncommon for knights to swear fealty to more than one lord, acquiring more fiefs in the process. Many ministerales became wealthy by such devices, and tiptoed around conflicting oaths with difficulty. Lords were not always averse to such practices, as they could turn to their wealthy knights for financial support in waging war or providing ransom for kidnapped familae.

The penalties for breaking the knightly code were severe. Confiscation of fiefs was the customary punishment. Depending on the gravity of the offense, he could lose his wife, his children, and be cast an outlaw, whereby no one was allowed to assist him in any way.

On the other hand, lords who did not fulfill their duty suffered little consequence. If it was an ongoing problem or widespread across all of the lord’s retinue, rebellions did occur. Royal courts might have to be involved and that outcome usually was to neither parties’ benefit, but rather to the royal household itself. Thus, the incentive was to settle matters within the familae and maintain the peace.

Marriage for German Knights

As I explained in my last post, marriage was encouraged by German nobility, as long as it was within the familiae. If the marriage was outside the lord’s retinue, the children of that marriage belonged to the mother’s lord. Therefore, the father’s lord would be gaining nothing by the union.

In some cases, two lords would negotiate a marriage, and divide the children between them. This was particularly true if the knight’s fiefs were allods passed down to his children. Often, daughters were given allods from either their fathers or their mothers, and could be very valuable. Therefore, marriage arrangements became a swapping of people and property, each lord bargaining for the better deal.

Knights could also marry outside the knightly class, by wedding a free woman. In this case, the resulting children were also free. Free persons residing in a lord’s demesne did not have to provide a corvee (service of labor for a specified time), but did have to pay a head tax, similar to our income tax. So, few lords were inclined to approve such a marriage, unless the free woman agreed to relinquish her children’s freedom to the knight’s lord. Another enticement to the lord is that the free woman and her family would pay an agreed sum for the loss of the children.

It was not unusual for free persons to seek marriage into a familiae, to be relieved of the head tax, and to learn the ways of the fighting knightly class. Children of such a union almost always received a fief from the lord, particularly male children who were training to be warriors.

Often, mixed marriages between familiae or free and unfree resulted in later arguments, litigation, and outright kidnappings or violent skirmishes. Only the highest bishopric or ducal courts could make decisions in such cases, and seldom were bothered to do so. The might of the warrior class almost always won with or without the courts.