The novel chronicles the period of civil unrest in Flanders between the court and the citizens of Ghent. Based upon Jean Froissart's CHRONICLES, it documents in painstaking, meticulous detail the strife between the Earl of Flanders (Lewis de Male) and the rebel citizens of Ghent known as The White Hoods, represented by the honorable Philip Von Artaveld and the conniving and treacherous Peter Du Bois.
THE WHITE HOODS opens with the malevolent John Lyon rushing to the house of burgomaster Simon de Bete with the devasting news of his, (Lyon's), replacement as deacon of the pilots by the deceitful Gilbert Matthews, due to the recent tax increases on river navigation. After protesting the increase on behalf of his pilots, Lyon was replaced, on order of the Earl. Lyon suspects treachery: there had been enmity between them ever since Matthews was rejected by Lyon as the suitor of his lovely daughter Anna.
During a scuffle later that day, John Lyon accidentally shoves a kinsman of Matthews' down the stairs. When the man dies, Lyon flees to Peter Du Bois' home for asylum, while Sir Simon is apprehended, arrested, and thrown into prison for murder. Lyon sends a letter to Anna, ordering her to follow a messenger to the house of Du Bois, where he is in hiding from the law, under threat of death; there, she is conducted into the catacombs where her father is hidden. Du Bois and Lyon manipulate her into seeking a pardon for the murder by subjecting herself once again to the Earl of Flanders' affections, another suitor she finds objectionable.
With her father's safety in mind, Anna throws herself at the Earl's feet, only to meet with a chilly reception. Why should he spare Lyon's life, the Earl wonders, for 'how can I save a man who has injured me in the tenderest point; who has withdrawn from my court, and secreted from my view, the treasure, the joy, of my life--yourself, Anna? (75).
Unbeknownst to the Earl, Anna wishes to marry Henry de Cassel, who is really the Earl's nephew, Walter d'Anghien, in disguise. However, in order to receive a pardon for her father, Anna reluctantly agrees to the Earl's demand to wear a necklace as a love token; as the Earl admonishes, 'Wear that token, and as long as it hangs about your neck, I will continue to hope for the future; it shall be the sign of a compact between us; and I will grant the pardon (78)'. In spite of her misgivings, Anna nonetheless throws the gold chain about her neck. As a result, her father is pardoned.
On the way home, Anna runs into a mob and seeks refuge at the home of Bianca, who was spurned by the Earl when he caught sight of the lovely Anna. Bianca sees the love token dangling around Anna's neck and seeks revenge by going to Ursula, the evil witch, who finds nothing so amusing as setting people against each other. Bianca is the mistress of the noble Philip Von Artaveld, and Ursula persuades Bianca that the best way to seek vengeance against the Earl is to persuade Von Artaveld to incite the citizens of Ghent to civil unrest. During an archery match, Bianca persuades Philip to do so, and he is elected captain of what come to be known as The White Hoods of Ghent, since they wear white hoods provided by Ursula.
Civil war results. The citizens march to Bruges, where the unprepared town quietly surrenders without incident. John Lyon is poisoned during a banquet by Gilbert Matthews and the Earl's mother, the Countess of Artois. Anna's life is spared just in time by a quick warning from her lover de Cassel. The White Hoods go home to bury Lyon, and then return to Bruges and take the town by force. Sir Walter (Henry de Cassel) had spirited Anna away earlier to safekeeping with the Earl, who became enraged when he discovered that they are lovers; now, with the town taken, he finds himself relying upon Anna in order to escape safely. Anna disguises him as a peasant and leads him to safety, much as she had previously enabled her lover to escape when he was a prisoner in Philip Von Artaveld's house. Anna, the Earl, and Sir Walter (whose real identity is now known to Anna) flee to Lille, where they stay at an inn frequented by Ursula, Arnoul le Clerc, a vicious rebel leader, and his cohort including Oxhead the Butcher, among others. Anna overhears a plot to assassinate the Earl and hides herself in the room, rushing out at the right moment to strike the arm of Arnoul le Clerc 'with so much firmness, that, unprepared for such an attack he winds up stabbing himself with the poisoned blade' (280).
The novel ends with Charles the Sixth of France joining forces with the Earl. Due to Sir Walter's bravery, the Earl is victorious on the field of battle. Recognizing the debt he owes to the heroic Anna and his loyal and brave nephew, the Earl relents, and Anna and Sir Walter are united in marriage.
© 2000 Debra L. Cumberland, Univ of Nebraska-Lincoln / Sheffield Hallam University