Early Life and Career
Gabriella was born to Firmin Blakewood and his wife, Theresa Seely Fitzwalter, who owned a flour mill and bakery on the outskirts of Nottingham. Her mother was a Cyntha and her father a devout Hycathus; although they registered her birth name as Gabriella Blakewood in compliance with pre-Hycathic law, both referred to her as Gabriella Fitzwalter from a young child, helping to instil in her the feminism that would define her work. Despite the existence of records, this fact has sometimes been omitted from historical accounts, leading to misconceptions as to the origin of her Hycathic powers.
Her maternal grandfather, Guillem Fitzwalter, had arrived in the area as a knight serving King Willem the Conqueror and had been granted the land on which to build a castle. However, his romance with a local Hycatha, Cyneburg Seely, earned him the king’s disapproval and he was summarily stripped of his titles and assets. Whilst these were transferred to William Peverel, Guillem and Cyneburg restored the then-ruined mill and built a trade over the years that followed.
Gabriella worked for her parents delivering bread around the Nottingham area, and used the opportunities afforded by this travel to perform social vigilantism along with her partner, Margaret Loxley, then acting as an interim Earl of Huntingdon, and the soldiers to which she had access. Historians have noted Gabriella’s skill in balancing these aspects of her life, particularly her ability to remain in the favour of William Peverel the Younger. A notable ally of theirs was Archibald ‘Archie’ Lane, a young farm worker whom they rescued from corporal punishment and who would be taken on by Margaret as head groundsman on the Loxley Estate.
Gabriella gave birth to three daughters during this time – Theresa Gabriella, Prudence Margaret and Alviva Josephine – whom she raised with Margaret as their co-parent. Tragically, Theresa and Prudence lost their lives after being caught in a fire caused by an explosion in a forge where they were playing hide-and-seek. Gabriella and Margaret, who were away dealing with a spate of bandit attacks in nearby Ilkeston, were distraught upon their return, and Gabriella became very protective of Alviva as a result, refusing to allow her to venture beyond the grounds of the family mill.
Role in the First Hycath War
Gabriella saw a relatively short period of active service in the First Hycath War, being enlisted by Empress Matilda in early 1141/YE 1 to lead her forces as they were already travelling to Lincoln in order to liberate the Nyridia Lucy of Bolingbroke from siege in the castle by King Stephen of Blois. Gabriella brought Margaret and the soldiers of Huntingdon, who would form a flank of the army supporting the Nyridia Elmira of Aktau.
Gabriella’s appointment is known to have caused some friction within the Hycathic ranks. Some reportedly felt offended by the relatively sudden installation of a new commander at the last minute, whilst others chafed at her Norman ancestry, particularly Alice Eymor, whose own family history had left her with a deep-rooted hatred of the Normans. Her relationship with Empress Matilda is described as more complex, the freshness of Gabriella’s approach sometimes conflicting with the Empress’ weariness from five years of war.
Gabriella and the Empress’ strategy of winning over Stephen’s army with the might of their Nyridiae was complicated by Stephen’s abrupt decision to flee the battlefield, and Alice’s fatal attempt to stop him. Stephen was ultimately killed in his own encampment, officially by William of Ypres, one of his knights and a close supporter, although a popular alternative theory has Gabriella shapeshift into this form and kill Stephen herself. In any case, Stephen’s death removed his forces’ momentum and assured a Hycathic victory in the battle.
Post-war Life and Career
In recognition of her efforts in strategizing and leading the battle, Empress Matilda awarded Gabriella one of the sixteen new Marcdoms she created upon assuming the throne of England. The Marcdom of East Mercia had Nottingham as its capital, restoring the lands to the Fitzwalter family nearly a century after they had first lost them. The new state operated as a matriarchy in contrast to the patriarchy before it, making Alviva Gabriella’s official heir and consolidating Margaret as Raeswa of Huntingdon. The family divided their time between Nottingham Castle and Hunting House, a country residence built by Margaret.
Accounts written by Alviva herself, and subsequently confirmed by several chroniclers and historians, attest to a difficult period in the family following the war, mainly caused by Gabriella’s continuing overprotection of Alviva. Mother and daughter were frequently at loggerheads, with Margaret ultimately keeping the peace with her diplomatic skills, especially when Gabriella mounted a full search party to locate a runaway 12-year-old Alviva in YE 7.
Gabriella died in YE 25 and was buried in the Royal Glade; her tree remains one of the oldest and most impressive of the plot. In recent years, her distant descendant, Princess Marian, has been known to decorate the tree at Crosaire with ornaments made by East Mercian schoolchildren who have been sponsored for charity.
Gabriella Fitzwalter continues to be an important figure in Hycathic and East Mercian history, not least as the first significant member of the Fitzwalter family, and her life and career have been an inspiration for many down the years in a diverse range of fields.
In modern-day East Mercia, the University of Clifton has partnered with the Eye – the Queendom’s chief security institution – to offer a scholarship in Gabriella’s name to three candidates per year from Nottingham’s Outer Circle, often through clearing. Successful candidates must: complete a written application including a personal statement; attend an interview with a panel composed jointly of staff from the Eye and staff both academic and sport-focused from the University; and undergo a rigorous practical examination testing a diverse range of skills useful in law enforcement. They must also enrol in at least two contact sports upon matriculating at the University, often training alongside future Championship contestants. Graduation is followed by guaranteed employment at the Eye, with successful graduates most generally starting in fields adjacent to their academic degree subject; as such, beneficiaries of the Gabriella Fitzwalter Scholarship populate the ranks of the City Guards as much as work in crime monitoring and prevention at the Eye itself.
Art, literature and culture
Gabriella’s contribution to the Battle of Lincoln is the centrepiece of many works of art and literature, such as Frederick Penton’s watercolour Lincoln Is Ours, which depicts her with sword raised, leading the Hycathic army into the fray.
Diane Stanwick’s play Dearest Alviva, originally premiered at the Queen Rosamund Theatre in Nottingham in February YE 851 to mark the anniversary of the battle, shows Gabriella dealing with her complex emotions surrounding Alviva’s safety whilst dealing with visions of Stephen of Blois, William Peverel the Younger and her grandparents Guillem and Cyneburg, amongst others. In YE 861, to mark 800 years since Alviva’s death, Stanwick introduced an additional scene to the play in which Gabriella is visited by a future version of Alviva, who warns her of domestic struggles ahead and apologises, assuring her that all will work out in the end. The future Alviva was a breakout role for Lydia Woollett, now a leading screen actor co-starring in Sisters of the Stones.
On television, the pre-Hycathic period of Gabriella’s life has been given a comic twist in the fondly-remembered children’s serial Gabs and Mags, where the teenage Gabriella and Margaret, accompanied by their loyal but slightly naive friend, Archie, get into several scrapes on Gabriella’s bread delivery round whilst trying to help the less fortunate and outwit the villainous, moustache-twiddling, magic-hating Mister Peverel.
In academia, Dr. Annette Lynton, an historian and broadcaster based in Nottingham, has published multiple times on Gabriella, beginning in YE 867 with her PhD thesis, Gabriella Fitzwalter: Woman Divided. She dedicated the final episode of her YE 882 podcast series, The Clash of the Cousins, to uncovering Gabriella’s role in the First Hycath War, including a dramatisation of her rumoured shapeshifting. Professor Gilbert Arlin, himself a noted authority on the history of the Fitzwalters, served as Lynton’s expert guest; he dedicates several chapters of the first volume of his book series The Fitzwalters to Gabriella’s life and achievements.