Book Corner: Edward IV by David Santiuste

Indisputably the most effective general of the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV died in his bed, undefeated in battle. Yet Edward has not achieved the martial reputation of other warrior kings such as Henry V – perhaps because he fought battles against his own people in a civil war. It has also been suggested that he lacked the personal discipline expected of a truly great commander. But, as David Santiuste shows in this perceptive and highly readable new study, Edward was a formidable military leader whose strengths and subtlety have not been fully recognized. This reassessment of Edward’s military role, and of the Wars of the Roses in which he played such a vital part, gives a fascinating insight into Edward the man and into the politics and the fighting. Based on contemporary sources and the latest scholarly research, Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses brings to life an extraordinary period of English history.

I was very happy to be asked to review Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses by historian David Santiuste. I had dipped in and out of it for my research of various characters of the period, but never had the time to sit down and read it from cover to cover. To read it with a view to review was a prime opportunity. Now, I don’t review books that I didn’t enjoy, so I do only give positive reviews.. However, if a book gets reviewed by me, it means it’s good. And Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses was brilliant. It is a fabulous, in-depth analysis of one of England’s most underrated kings.

Dealing predominantly with the first  part of Edward’s life and reign the book concentrates on his political and military skills. It analyses his personal qualities and skills as a leader and politician, while also looking at the bigger stage of the conflict that became known as the Wars of the Roses. This is not an ‘I love Edward IV’ book, but rather a balanced portrayal of the strengths and weaknesses of the charismatic king, and of the people around him.

… Perhaps surviving portraits do not do Edward justice, although observers were often impressed by his physique as much as his face. When Edward’s coffin was opened in the eighteenth century his skeleton was measured at 6 feet 3½ inches and it was broadly proportioned. Edward had a tremendous presence, of which he was keenly aware. Even later in life, when his looks had faded and he had put on weight, the Italian observer Mancini reports that Edward ‘was wont to show himself to those who wished to watch him, and seized any opportunity occasion offered of revealing his fine stature more protractedly and more evidently to onlookers.’ In 1459 Edward was still untested, but his potential was clear: Yorkist verses from the following year were to describe him as ‘Edward, Earl of March, whose fame the earth shall spread’.

Where this book shines is in the author’s portrayal of the relationship between Edward IV and Richard, Earl of Warwick. David Santiuste makes it clear that the relationship was complex and far from dominated by Warwick. He shows how Edward was able to be his own man and explains clearly how the relationship broke down, with blame on both sides, and how this relationship affected both Edward and his kingship.

Making good use of primary sources and his own vast knowledge of the era, David Santiuste presents his arguments in a clear, concise manner, stating his own opinion and discussing where facts and historians differ in a respectful, engaging style. He handles the significant moments of Edward IV’s career with great empathy and understanding, demonstrating how the king’s life, future and country were changed by his ability to make the most of events – and heavenly phenomena – thrown at him.

The Illustrated Life of Edward IV presents Edward, at the moment the parhelia appear, appealing to God for guidance, just like Paul at Damascus: ‘Lord, what will you have me do?’ Coppini had described Edward as ‘prudent and magnanimous’, but we should remember that Edward was still eighteen years old, The loss of his father and brother must have shaken him to the core. For Edward, then, this was a moment of great personal significance…..

David Santiuste displays an impressive level of understanding of fifteenth century warfare and generalship, and of the political atmosphere of the time. Every page of the book demonstrates the author’s enthusiasm for his subject and for history in general. Easily readable, enjoyable and engaging, the author avoids technical speak and draws the reader in.

This is a must-read for any fan of the Wars of the Roses, or any student of kingship and medieval history. Enjoyable and engaging, it takes the reader to the heart of the civil war which raged across England in the second half of the fifteenth century.


About the author:

David Santiuste teaches history at the Centre for Open Learning, University of Edinburgh. His most recent book is The Hammer of the Scots. His other publications include Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses, as well as various articles.

David’s website can be found at, where he writes an occasional blog. You can follow him on Facebook at David Santiuste Historian or on Twitter @dbsantiuste.

Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses is available from Amazon.


My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Mother’s Day Treat

Sunday 11th March 2018 is Mother’s Day in the UK this year

Mum is everyone’s favourite Heroine, in whatever era, and I could not think of a better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than with a giveaway of a hardback copy of Heroines of the Medieval World.

About Heroines of the Medieval World

Heroines come in many different forms, and it is no less true for medieval heroines. They can be found in all areas of medieval life; from the dutiful wife and daughter to religious devotees, warriors and rulers. What makes them different compared to those of today are the limitations placed on them by those who directed their lives – their fathers, husbands, priests and kings. Women have always been an integral part of history, although when reading through the chronicles of the medieval world, you would be forgiven if you did not know it. We find that the vast majority of written references are focussed on men. The chronicles were written by men and, more often than not, written for men. It was men who ruled countries, fought wars, made laws and treaties, dominated religion and guaranteed – or tried to guarantee – the continued survival of their world. It was usually the men, but not all of them, who could read, who were trained to rule and who were expected to fight, to defend their people and their country…


If you would like to win a signed copy of Heroines of the Medieval World to give to your mum on Mother’s Day, or someone else’s mum – or even as a gift to yourself, simply leave a comment below or on my Facebook page and I will include you in the prize draw.

The draw will be made on Wednesday 7th March, so you should get the book in time for the day.


The winner is ….. Janet Carter.

The draw is now closed and I would like to thank everyone for taking part.


Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: George, Duke of Clarence and the infamous ‘butt of Malmsey wine’ by Toni Mount

It is a pleasure to welcome Toni Mount to the blog, for Day 5 of her Blog Tour for the launch of The Colour of Murder this month.

The Colour of Murder is the latest whodunit in the popular ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval murder mysteries by author and historian Toni Mount.

George, Duke of Clarence and the infamous ‘butt of Malmsey wine’.

540 years ago, on the 18th February 1478 the Duke of Clarence was, famously, drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. Did he jump or was he pushed? The question has never been answered, so this was an opportunity for the intrepid investigator Seb Foxley – to finally solve the mystery.

On this day, 18th February 1478, news was leaked that the brother of King Edward IV, George, Duke of Clarence, had somehow managed to drown in a butt of malmsey wine. Did he fall or was he pushed? A contemporary chronicler, who otherwise seems very well informed, could only write: ‘… a few days after the execution, whatever its nature may have been, took place … in the Tower of London…’

From the Croyland Chronicle, c. 1486, pp.479-80:

George of Clarence had never been very reliable nor faithful to King Edward, his elder brother. When his beloved wife, Isabella Neville, died soon after giving birth, probably of childbed fever, George was convinced that a lady-in-waiting, Ankarette Twynyho, had poisoned her. He tried Ankarette in a rigged court and arranged her execution. King Edward decided George had gone too far this time, taking the law into his own hands. Then George became involved in a further plot to dethrone Edward. Matters deteriorated when he accused the Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, of witchcraft, saying she was behind the death of his wife. Finally, the king lost patience and George was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the summer of 1477.

Brought to trial before Parliament, only the king gave evidence against George, listing all his earlier mercies to him, how he had pardoned him for previous acts of treachery and showered titles and riches on him, only to receive ingratitude and further treachery in return. Meanwhile George had spread rumours that the king was a bastard with no right to wear the crown, practising necromancy and poisoning those who displeased him.

Parliament sat in embarrassed silence as the king and his brother accused each other, shouting and arguing in a most unseemly and vulgar display. But the eventual outcome was never going to be in doubt: Parliament found in the king’s favour, George was guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. He was returned to the Tower of London while the king wrestled with his conscience over signing his brother’s death warrant until the Speaker of the House intervened, demanding that sentence be carried out. George, Duke of Clarence, was executed privately in the Tower of London, spared the ignominy of a public beheading.

However, an execution behind closed doors soon caused rumours to spread that Clarence had been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. A butt is a large barrel and an imperial measure of one hundred gallons – more than enough to drown in, but the story is almost certainly a later invention. Perhaps George was partial to the sweet white wine, so the tale was an ironic joke. It has been suggested, perhaps not seriously, that George was allowed to choose his manner of death, or even that a ‘well-wisher’, wanting to spare the king the grief of committing fratricide, sent Clarence a gift of wine, laced with poison. We will probably never know the truth.

About  the author

Toni Mount is a popular writer and historian; she is the author of Everyday Life in Medieval London and A Year in the Life of Medieval England (pub Amberley Publishing) and several of the online courses for

Her successful ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval whodunits is published by and the latest book in this series The Colour of Murder is now available as a paperback or on Kindle.

If you would like to follow the rest of Toni’s blog tour, just click on the links below:

26/1/18 – Digitalis & Other Plant Poisons in Medieval Times –  c/o Debra Bayani

3/2/18 Author Interview – The Review – c/o Diana Milne

10/2/18 Royal Witchcraft – c/o Natalie Grueninger –

17/2/18 George Duke of Clarence –  c/o Sharon Bennett Connolly

24/2/18 Bedlam Hospital c/o Claire Ridgeway


My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Cold Light of Dawn by Anna Belfrage


Today I have a special treat for readers. Not only is there a review of a fantastic novel, but there is – for the fist time, ever, on the blog – a giveaway as well! Anna Belfrage has kindly offered an ebook of this fabulous, not-to-be-missed novel to accompany my review.

After Henry of Lancaster’s rebellion has been crushed early in 1329, a restless peace settles over England. However, the young Edward III is no longer content with being his regents’ puppet, no matter that neither Queen Isabella nor Roger Mortimer show any inclination to give up their power. Caught in between is Adam de Guirande, torn between his loyalty to the young king and that to his former lord, Roger Mortimer.

Edward III is growing up fast. No longer a boy to be manipulated, he resents the power of his mother, Queen Isabella, and Mortimer. His regents show little inclination of handing over their power to him, the rightful king, and Edward suspects they never will unless he forces their hand.

Adam de Guirande is first and foremost Edward’s man, and he too is of the opinion that the young king is capable of ruling on his own. But for Adam siding with his king causes heartache, as he still loves Roger Mortimer, the man who shaped him into who he is.

Inevitably, Edward and his regents march towards a final confrontation. And there is nothing Adam can do but pray and hope that somehow things will work out. Unfortunately, prayers don’t always help.

The Cold Light of Dawn  by Anna Belfrage is the 4th book in ‘The King’s Greatest Enemy series, spanning the final years of the reign of Edward II and the early years of the reign of Edward III. The story of Kit and Adam de Guirande started with Adam serving Roger Mortimer in In the Shadow of the Storm and has followed the young couple through thick and thin in Days of Sun and Glory and danger and adventure, and the fall of a king in Under the Approaching Dark. The series has been stunning from the very beginning, combining suspense, adventure, political intrigue and an old-fashioned love story to draw the reader into the heart of the 14th century.

It will be hard to justice to this fantastic novel in a review. The book not only tells you a story, but awakens your feelings and takes you on an emotional journey as well as a literary one. I enjoy reading – I always have – but I rarely come across a book, or series of books, that bring out all the emotions and will have me laughing and smiling in places, heart in my mouth in other places and leave me with tears streaming down my face at times. The action and excitement are constant, the dangers ever-present.

“What’s she doing here?” she whispered.

Beside her Meg gasped in admiration, eyes riveted to the figure clad in green and blue, the hood of her mantle thrown back to reveal a veil in the sheerest of linen.

“I am sure we will find out.” William set a hand to her back, sufficient support for Kit to stiffen her spine.

“Sister,” Kit offered reluctantly when the neat little mare came to a halt in front of her. Alicia Luytens and she shared a father, but where Alicia had been born in wedlock, Kit was the child of an illicit union, the damage further compounded – at least in Alicia’s eyes – by the fact that Kit’s mother was a salter’s daughter.

Alicia did not reply, narrow face set in an unreadable expression as she gazed at her surroundings. “My father was born here,” she said to her male companion as she dismounted. “Imagine that! Such humble beginnings.” She landed lightly on her feet, made as if to enter the manor house, but Kit blocked her way.

“I do not recall  inviting you,” Kit said

So what is it about Anna Belfrage’s writing that makes her stories so special? I wish I knew! I wish I could bottle it! She is the consummate story teller. She breathes life into her characters, brings the past right to you, and takes you back in time so the 21st century is a distant memory.  In The Cold Light of Dawn the author draws on her vast knowledge of the 14th century in order to transport the reader to the early reign of Edward III.

It is her knowledge and understanding of her characters, both historical and invented, that bring the era to vivid life. Edward III is the teenage king, trying to break the shackles of his mother and her lover, Isabella and Roger Mortimer. Edward and his young wife, Philippa, are depicted as both teenagers and royals – young people, at times, with a power they are unsure how to wield, while at other times chafing under the control of their elders. And they control the lives of Adam and Kit. Adam is the captain of Edward’s guard, while Kit is one of Philippa’s ladies. Both benefit and suffer from the pleasures  of the master and mistress.

Roger Mortimer is a wonderful character; I had never felt sorry for him and the road his life took him, until reading this series. Roger is a larger-than-life character, much as he must have been at the time, knowing the dangers he risks, but acting with a certainty that he is doing his duty, however misguided some of his actions appear to be. And even the minor characters are well researched, including one of my own Heroines, Alice de Lacey, who is sympathetically portrayed, despite the fact she has little more than a walk-on part.

The Cold Light of Dawn takes the story of Adam and Kit through personal challenges and national intrigues, their duties placing them at the heart of matters they don’t always want to have anything to do with, dividing their loyalties and endangering their lives. A fast-paced and thoroughly engrossing read, this is a book that is impossible to put down, continuing a series that has got stronger with every new story.


If you would like to be in with a chance of winning an ebook copy of The Cold Light of Dawn, simply leave a comment below, or on the post on my Facebook page. The winner will be drawn on Friday 23rd February. Good Luck!

About the Author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time-slip series The Graham Saga, winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015. Her ongoing series is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.

If you would like to find out more about Anna and her books, visit her blog.

The Cold Light of Dawn is available from today in paperback or ebook from Amazon in the UK and US.


My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Edward II the Man, A Doomed Inheritance by Stephen Spinks

Edward II is one of the most controversial kings of English history. On numerous occasions he brought England to the brink of civil war.

Author Stephen Spinks argues that Edward and the later murdered Piers Gaveston were lovers, not merely ‘brothers-in-arms’. Influenced by successive royal favourites and with a desire for personal vengeance, his rule became highly polarised and unstable. His own wife took a lover and invaded his kingdom resulting in his forced abdication; the first in British history. Edward’s prevailing legacy remains the warning that all kings can fall from power.

And yet … war, debt and baronial oppression before 1307 ensured that Edward II inherited a toxic legacy that any successor would have found almost impossible to wrestle with. Stephen Spinks explores that legacy using contemporary and later sources. By focusing on Edward’s early years as much as on his reign, and exploring the conflicting influences of those around him, Stephen shows the human side of this tale against a backdrop of political intrigues and betrayals. He peels back the layers to reveal the man who wore the crown. Edward’s belief in his unchallengable right to rule, increasingly at odds with those at his court, and his undeniable thirst for revenge, creates a fourteenth-century tragedy on a grand scale.

I have to say, I had been looking forward to the release of Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance by Stephen Spinks for sometime. It sounded like such an interesting premise for a book, looking at the human side of one of England’s most ineffective kings. And I wasn’t disappointed. This book is a wonderful read, enjoyable from beginning to end.

Meticulously researched and eloquently argued, this book presents Edward II as a man, a king, a friend and a lover. Stephen Spinks uses all the sources available to examine every aspect of Edward’s life – the public and the private – giving us a deep insight into the character of the man and the king. Stephen Spinks presents Edward in all his facets, as a king, father, friend and enemy. He examines those who surround Edward at different stages in his life, discussing how they variously influence or infuriate him.

Entertaining anecdotes help to decipher the character of a king who often made the wrong choice when faced with a decision.

While Edward was working with those around him to seek a political compromise, he heard in late June that the son of a tanner, John Powderham, had arrived in Oxford declaring himself to be the one true king of England. He alleged that he and Edward had been switched at birth. Two days later the arrested Powderham found himself in the presence of the king, who with his characteristic humour, greeted the imposter as ‘brother’. When Edward asked him if such claims were true, not remotely intimidated by his royal audience, simply repeated his claim. What happened next says something about Edward’s character. Whereas most kings would have been apoplectic with rage, the king, still in a playful mood, laughed and suggested John be given a ‘bauble’ and allowed to go around the country as a fool…. Isabella was angry over the whole affair; she rightly saw such claims as a dangerous affront to Edward’s dignity. Powderham was hanged on 23 July…


Written in chronological order, Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance discusses the influences that shaped Edward’s character and kingship, highlighting his personal bravery, political judgements and misjudgments, and the way he was influenced by personal favourites, including Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger. Analysing all the major events of Edward’s reign, such as Bannockburn, the death of Gaveston and Isabella’s betrayal, Stephen Spinks manages to bring to life this complex enigma of a medieval king.

As you would expect with any biography of Edward II, the king’s mysterious death is covered in detail, presenting the facts and offering credible theories. The author also makes an eloquent, persuasive, argument for the survival of Edward II after 1327, building a believable timetable of events from the sources available. Although I am still not totally convinced….

Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance is a colourful, full-of-life biography of the controversial king. It is a fabulous book if you want to learn about Edward II, or examine deeper the events and influences on his life. Enjoyable, entertaining and informative, it is a pleasure to read and easy to devour.


About the Author

Stephen Spinks wrote his dissertation on Edward II while studying at King’s College, London. He works for the National Trust and manages three Medieval heritage sites with 900 volunteers and 150 staff. He is a columnist for ‘Midlands Zone’ magazine, in which he writes a very well received exploration of life as a gay man today, partly political, partly personal. He has given many interviews on radio and in his capacity at the National Trust, to ‘BBC’s Escape to the Country’ and the ‘Antiques Road Show’. He has been studying the primary sources (and locations) for this book over the past 15 years.

Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance is available from Amazon and Amberley Publishing.


My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Guest Post: Mary – Tudor Princess by Tony Riches

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Tony Riches to History … the Interesting Bits to talk about his latest book, Mary – Tudor Princess.

Guest Post: Mary – Tudor Princess, by Tony Riches

Book Cover of Mary ~ Tudor Princess

I chose to write about Mary because I’d researched her birth and early life for my last book, Henry – Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy. In the trilogy I’d moved forward one generation with each book, so it appealed to me to write a ‘sequel’ which did the same. I’d become intrigued with Mary’s story of how she risked everything to defy her brother when he became King Henry VIII.

When I began the Tudor trilogy, I had little factual information about Owen Tudor, Mary’s great-grandfather. The amount of information increased exponentially by the time I reached the story of Mary’s father, Henry Tudor, as he kept detailed ledgers of his finances. Some of Henry’s letters also survive, including some to his mother, but they were all rather formal.

This time, I had the advantage of a fascinating book The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe (Queenship and Power) by Erin Sadlack, which includes all Mary’s surviving letters, many with replies, as well as an insightful analysis of her state of mind at the time.

This is of course no substitute for primary research, and the great thing about living in the UK is how easily I can visit actual locations and study contemporary accounts. I found these surviving letters offer an evocative ‘voice’ for Mary, as well as revealing how she felt about people and events.

I also wanted to explore Mary’s vulnerability as well as her strengths, and I was assisted in this by her brother, who broke off her engagement to young Prince Charles, future Emperor of Rome, to marry her off to the fifty-two-year-old King Louis XII of France. Although Mary was barely eighteen at the time, Henry saw his younger sister as a small price to pay for a treaty with France.

I enjoyed untangling the many myths about what happened next, from causing the death of King Louis with her ‘passionate exertions’ to her dying of ‘grief at her brother’s divorce from her friend Catherine of Aragon.’ I also had the benefit of knowing a great deal about the people and places of Mary’s world.  I’m now writing about the amazing life of Mary’s second husband, Charles Brandon, and beginning to think about how different the same events might have seemed from his perspective.

Mary – Tudor Princess is now available on Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon AU in eBook and paperback. An audiobook edition will be available later in the year.


Tony Riches



About the Author

Tony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.


My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly & Tony Riches

Guest Post: Catrin ferch Owain Glyn Dwr by David Santiuste

Guest post from David Santiuste

It is with great pleasure that I welcome historian David Santiuste to History … The Interesting Bits, with an article about Owain Glyn Dwr’s daughter, Catrin. Over to David.

Catrin ferch Owain Glyn Dŵr

The remains of Owain Glyn Dŵr’s house at Sycharth

I was very pleased to be invited to write something for History… The Interesting Bits – a blog I have followed for some time. Above all, I have appreciated Sharon’s efforts to raise awareness of some fascinating medieval women, whose stories are too often neglected. Another such woman is Catrin, a daughter of the Welsh hero Owain Glyn Dŵr, who ultimately paid a heavy price for her father’s ambitions.

Catrin was born after 1383, when Owain, then in his late twenties, married her mother, Margaret Hamner. Catrin was almost certainly one of his oldest legitimate children, although in time she would become part of a large family. Owain and Margaret had eleven children who survived infancy, in addition to Owain’s sons and daughters who were born outside marriage (probably when he was still a bachelor).

Catrin’s early years were presumably spent at her father’s house at Sycharth (near Oswestry). It was described by the bard Iolo Goch as a beautiful and lively place – ‘the fairest timber hall’ – where Owain offered lavish hospitality. Nevertheless, while he had evidently established himself as a man of some status, much of his early career was typical of the minor aristocracy. Through Owain, Catrin could claim descent from Welsh royalty, but her upbringing was surely intended to prepare her for an adult life within the same kind of setting – probably as the wife of a local gentleman who had connections with her family.

Naturally Catrin’s life changed in 1400, when her father launched a ferocious rebellion against King Henry IV of England. Sycharth was no longer safe – it was later destroyed by the English – although Catrin would soon find herself in much grander surroundings, as the rebels took control of many of Wales’s castles. Owain was acclaimed by his supporters as Prince of Wales, and for a time it must have seemed that Welsh independence had finally arrived.

In June 1402 Owain won a significant victory at the Battle of Bryn Glas, and the English commander, Edmund Mortimer, was taken prisoner. Edmund was treated with respect, and he became incensed when King Henry refused to pay his ransom – possibly because he was afraid of the Mortimers, whose strong claim to the throne had been passed over in his own favour. Edmund therefore decided to join Owain, who agreed to help him assert his nephew’s ‘right’ in England. The alliance was sealed in the time-honoured fashion, and Catrin became Edmund’s wife.

Catrin and Edmund had four children – a boy, Lionel, and three girls – although little else is known about their life together. However, their circumstances must have changed from 1405 onwards, as the English began to gain the upper hand in Wales. Owain avoided capture (his last recorded appearance was in 1412), but ultimately some of his family, including Catrin and Edmund, were pinned down at Harlech Castle. From this imposing fortress the Welsh continued to defy the English – and Edmund’s own exploits were celebrated by the bards – but the defenders were eventually starved into submission. The castle was surrendered in February 1409, by which point Edmund had already died.

Harlech Castle

After the fall of Harlech, Catrin and her surviving children were taken into custody, as was her mother, and they were later held in the Tower of London. They were all still there in June 1413, shortly after Henry V assumed the English throne, but Catrin passed away before the end of the year. The accounts of the Exchequer include a payment in December for her burial in St Swithin’s Church (which, intriguingly, is some distance from the Tower), together with her daughters.

Several historians, such as Terry Breverton, have suggested that Catrin and the others were put to death on the new king’s orders. This is partly based on the assumption that young Lionel was imprisoned with Catrin and subsequently disappeared; it is fair to say that Lionel, with his mixture of English and Welsh royal blood, might have posed a considerable threat to Henry if he had lived. Nevertheless, the evidence is ambiguous, as it is by no means clear that Lionel was taken at Harlech. It seems equally possible that he had already died, like his father – and that he was never in the Tower at all.

The fate of Catrin’s mother is also very uncertain, and one of Catrin’s daughters appears, in fact, to have outlived her; this is explicitly mentioned by the chronicler Adam of Usk, who was often well-informed. Besides, while Henry V could sometimes be a ruthless man, the notion that he ordered the murder of Catrin, and at least some of her children, does not sit well with the leniency he offered to other members of the Mortimer family (and even to Owain’s eldest son). Perhaps the conditions of Catrin’s imprisonment might have played a part, but it seems most likely that her death was due to natural causes.

Catrin was not entirely forgotten. She makes an interesting appearance, for example, in the first part of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Edmund tells her fondly that ‘I understand thy kisses and thou mine’, but Catrin and her husband remain hampered by the language barrier between them. There is also tension between Catrin and her father, as they exchange words in Welsh, and one begins to suspect that Owain is not always a faithful translator. At last she tells her father that she will sing. Somewhat mollified, Owain instructs Edmund to rest his head in Catrin’s lap: so that she can ‘sing the song that pleaseth you, and on your eyelids crown the god of sleep.’

It is no longer clear what Shakespeare intended: the direction simply states that ‘here the lady sings a Welsh song’. Owain hopes, it would seem, that his daughter will provide a moment of calm before the storms ahead, and in many productions this is the effect achieved. She has been presented rather differently, however, in one recent American production. While her exhausted husband does rest his head in her lap, in this case Catrin’s song is no lullaby. Instead she offers a powerful lament, regretting man’s propensity for self-defeating war.

The memorial statue near the site of Catrin’s grave

In keeping with her father’s reputed gifts as a soothsayer, there is also an element of prophecy in the song, as Catrin rightly fears for the future of her ‘home’ (which is surely meant in a broader sense here). The text is adapted from a poem by Hedd Wyn a Welshman who was killed during the First World War, yet even those who cannot understand the words can still appreciate the sense of urgency and pathos. Previously denied the chance to speak directly to the audience, Catrin eventually finds a way to make her message plain.

Another writer to give Catrin a voice is Menna Elfyn, who has imagined her experience of captivity in a moving series of poems. At first Catrin is imprisoned with her children, but then her ‘chicks’ are taken from her: ‘without a farewell kiss, without wrapping them warmly’. ‘They were born to a traitor’, spits out one man, brusquely, although their fate remains uncertain (both for the reader and for Catrin). She pleads with the guards – ‘Take me too. There’s a knife in my heart’ – but she is left in her cell to meet a lonely end.

The medieval church of St Swithin’s was destroyed in the seventeenth century, during the Great Fire of London, and with it Catrin’s tomb. However, she is now represented by a modern statue, which can be found in a garden on the site of the church. The sculpture is intended not only as a commemoration of Catrin’s life, but also as a memorial to all the women and children who have suffered in war.


Terry Breverton, Owain Glyndŵr: The Story of the Last Prince of Wales (Stroud, 2009).

Chris Given-Wilson (ed.), The Chronicle of Adam of Usk, 1377-1421 (Oxford, 1997).

J.E. Lloyd, Owen Glendower (Owain Glyn Dŵr) (Oxford, 1931).

Menna Elfyn, Murmur (Tarset, 2012).

I would also like to thank Sara Hanna-Black for her help and encouragement.

All images from Wikipedia

About the Author

David Santiuste teaches history at the Centre for Open Learning, University of Edinburgh. His most recent book is The Hammer of the Scots. His other publications include Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses, as well as various articles.

David’s website can be found at [insert link:], where he writes an occasional blog. You can follow him on Facebook at David Santiuste Historian or on Twitter @dbsantiuste.

The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
Scotland, with registration number SC005336.



My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered worldwide from Book Depository.


You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Book Corner: The King’s Pearl by Melita Thomas

Mary Tudor has always been known as ‘Bloody Mary’, the name given to her by later Protestant chroniclers who vilified her for attempting to re-impose Roman Catholicism in England. Although a more nuanced picture of the first queen regnant has since emerged, she is still stereotyped, depicted as a tragic and lonely figure, personally and politically isolated after the annulment of her parents’ marriage and rescued from obscurity only through the good offices of Katherine Parr.

Although Henry doted on Mary as a child and called her his ‘pearl of the world’, her determination to side with her mother over the annulment both hurt him as a father and damaged perceptions of him as a monarch commanding unhesitating obedience. However, once Mary had finally been pressured into compliance, Henry reverted to being a loving father and Mary played an important role in court life.

As Melita Thomas points out, Mary was a gambler – and not just with cards. Later, she would risk all, including her life, to gain the throne. As a young girl of just seventeen she made the first throw of the dice, defiantly maintaining her claim to be Henry’s legitimate daughter against the determined attempts of Anne Boleyn and the king to break her spirit.

Following the 500th anniversary of Mary’s birth, The King’s Pearl re-examines Mary’s life during the reign of Henry VIII and her complex, dramatic relationship with her father.


The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his Daughter Mary by Melita Thomas is an in-depth look into the life of Mary I, in her formative years. It tells the story of England’s first queen regnant, during the life and reign of her father, Henry VIII.

This is a wonderful book, giving an insight into the years of Mary’s life which are rarely considered, when she went from being a pampered princess of two adoring parents to an adolescent declared a bastard by her own father. The author paints the picture of a young woman who had gone through more trials and emotions imposed by her father than any daughter should have to bear. The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his Daughter Mary evokes sympathy and understanding for the extremes of life experiences that Mary I had to endure, once her parents’ marriage had broken down. From being denied the company of her mother, the attention of her father to being bullied and belittled, in fear of imprisonment, and worse.

Mary at the time of her engagement to Charles V. She is wearing a rectangular brooch inscribed with “The Emperour”

On St George’s Day 1527, the French ambassadors went to see Mary at Greenwich. After dinner, Henry led them into a hall in which Mary, Katharine and the French queen were present, with a large comapny of ladies and gentlemen. The proud father told the ambassadors to speak to his daughter in Latin, French and Italian, and she was able to respond in all three languages. She also wrote in French for them, before performing on the spinet. The ambassadors agreed the young lady was very accomplished for her age, which was eleven years and two months. Contrary to the previous description of her as tall, Turenne thought although she was very pretty, she was so ‘thin, spare, and small’, that she could not possibly be married for another three years. From the opposing descriptions of her, we can perhaps infer that none of them is terribly accurate – those who wanted her to be considered ready for marriage described her as tall and robust, while those who wished to delay matters spoke of her as small.

Every aspect of Mary’s early life is examined in detail, from her pampered childhood, surrounded by courtiers and loving parents, to the loneliness of an out-of-favour, illegitimate daughter. Her various marriage prospects are a constant theme throughout the book, demonstrating how Mary was used as a bargaining chip in Henry VIII’s constant diplomatic wranglings between Francis I of France and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

Melita Thomas’ research is impeccable, her arguments and theories are backed up by primary sources, including memoirs, letters and treaties. The focus is entirely on Mary, her relationships with her family and courtiers and the way her father’s policies and marriages affected her life. It examines every aspect of Mary’s life in impeccable detail; her education, court life, her relationships, health and daily routine. It is a sad tale, of a father who demanded absolute obedience, and never  considered the consequences of his actions on the mental well-being of his children.

Well-written and beautifully presented, The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his Daughter Mary, is a perfect  and essential addition to any Tudor library.


About the author

Melita Thomas is a co-founder and editor of Tudor Times, a website devoted to Tudor and Stewart history. Her articles have appeared in BBC History Extra an Britain magazine. The King’s Pearl is available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. and will be available from Amazon US from 1st June 2018.

My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Maria de Salinas, the Loyal Lady Willoughby

Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire

Maria de Salinas was lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon, and one of her closest confidantes. Although we know little of her origins, she was the daughter of Juan de Salinas, secretary to Katherine’s eldest sister, Isabella, and Josepha Gonzales de Salas. Despite the fact that she was not on the original list of ladies, drawn up in 1500, chosen to accompany Katherine of Aragon to England for her marriage to Prince Arthur, it seems likely that she, and her sister Inez, did come to England with the Spanish princess. She may have been added to the princess’s staff when her mother, Isabella of Castile, increased the size of Katherine’s entourage in March 1501.

Maria was one of the ladies who stayed with Katherine after her household was reduced and many returned to Spain, following the death of Katherine’s young husband, Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1502. She stayed with the Spanish princess throughout the years of penury and uncertainty, when Katherine was used as a pawn by both her father, Ferdinand, and father-in-law, Henry VII, in negotiations for her marriage to Prince Henry, the future Henry VIII; a marriage which was one of Henry’s first acts on his accession to the throne. Maria is included in the list of Katherine’s attendants who were given an allowance of black cloth for mantles and kerchiefs, following the death of Henry VII in 1509; she was then given a new gown for Katherine’s coronation, which was held jointly with King Henry in June of the same year.

In 1511 Maria stood as godmother to Mary Brandon, daughter of Charles Brandon – one of the new king, Henry VIII’s closest companions and her future son-in-law – and his first wife, Ann Browne. Katherine of Aragon and Maria were very close; in fact, by 1514 Ambassador Caroz de Villagarut, appointed by Katherine’s father, Ferdinand of Aragon, was complaining of Maria’s influence over the queen. He accused Maria of conspiring with her kinsman, Juan Adursa – a merchant in Flanders with hopes of becoming treasurer to Philip, prince of Castile –  to persuade Katherine not to cooperate with the ambassador. The ambassador complained: ‘The few Spaniards who are still  in her household prefer to be friends of the English, and neglect their duties as subjects of the King of Spain. The worst influence on the queen is exercised by Dona Maria de Salinas, whom she loves more than any other mortal.’¹

Maria was naturalised on 29th May, 1516, and just a week later, on 5th June she married the largest landowner in Lincolnshire, William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby. William Willoughby was the son of Sir Christopher Willoughby, who had died c.1498, and Margaret, or Marjery, Jenney of Knodishall in Suffolk. He had been married previously, to Mary Hussey, daughter of Sir William Hussey, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. The King and Queen paid for the wedding, which took place at Greenwich, the Queen even provided Maria with a dowry of 1100 marks. They were given Grimsthorpe Castle, and other Lincolnshire manors which had formerly belonged to Francis Lovel (friend of Richard III), as a wedding gift. Henry VIII even named one of his new ships the Mary Willoughby in Maria’s honour.

Maria remained at court for some years after her wedding, and attended Katherine at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Henry VIII was godfather to Maria and William’s oldest son, Henry, who died in infancy. Another son, Francis, also died young and their daughter Katherine, born in 1519, would be the only surviving child of the marriage. Lord Willoughby died in 1526, and for several years afterwards Maria was embroiled in a legal dispute with her brother-in-law, Sir Christopher Willoughby, over the inheritance of the Willoughby lands. Sir Christopher claimed that William had settled some lands on Maria which were entailed to Sir Christopher. The dispute went to the Star Chamber and caused Sir Thomas More, the king’s chancellor and a prominent lawyer, to make an initial redistribution of some of the disputed lands.

Miniature Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, by Hans Holbein the Younger

This must have been a hard fight for the newly widowed Maria, and the dispute threatened the stability of Lincolnshire itself, given the extensive lands involved. However, Maria attracted a powerful ally in Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and brother-in-law of the King, who called on the assistance of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry’s first minister at the time, in the hope of resolving the situation. Suffolk had managed to obtain the wardship of Katherine Willoughby in 1528, intending her to marry his eldest son and heir Henry, Earl of Lincoln, and so had a vested interest in a favourable settlement for Maria. This interest became even greater following the death of Mary Tudor, Suffolk’s wife, in September 1533, when only three months later the fifty-year-old Duke of Suffolk married fourteen-year-old Katherine, himself.

Although Suffolk pursued the legal case with more vigour after the wedding, a final settlement was not reached until the reign of Elizabeth I. Suffolk eventually became the greatest landowner in Lincolnshire and, despite the age difference, the marriage does appear to have been successful. Katherine served at court, in the household of Henry VIII’s sixth and last queen, Katherine Parr. She was widowed in 1545 and lost her two sons – and heirs – by the Duke, Henry and Charles, to the sweating sickness, within hours of each other in 1551. Katherine was a stalwart of the Protestant learning and even invited Hugh Latimer to preach at Grimsthorpe Castle. It was she and Sir William Cecil who persuaded Katherine Parr to publish her book, The Lamentacion of a Sinner in 1547, demonstrating her continuing links with the court despite her first husband’s death. Following the death of her sons by Suffolk, Katherine no longer had a financial interest in the Suffolk estates, and in order to safeguard her Willoughby estates, Katherine married her gentleman usher, Richard Bertie.

The couple had a difficult time navigating the religious tensions of the age and even went into exile on the Continent during the reign of the Catholic Queen, Mary I, only returning on Elizabeth’s accession. Katherine resumed her position in Tudor society; her relations with the court, however, were strained by her tendency towards Puritan learning. The records of Katherine’s Lincolnshire household show that she employed Miles Coverdale – a prominent critic of the Elizabethan church – as tutor to her two children by Bertie, Susan and Peregrine. Unfortunately, Katherine died after a long illness, on 19th September 1580 and was buried in her native Lincolnshire, in Spilsby Church.

Catherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte

A widow since 1526, Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby, kept a tight rein on the Willoughby lands,proving to be an efficient landlady. Unfortunately, the fact she took advantage of the dissolution of the monasteries in order to lease monastic land; a business arrangement, rather than political or religious, but it still made her a target of discontent during the Lincolnshire Rising.

Maria had remained as a Lady-in-Waiting to Katherine. She was known to dislike Anne Boleyn and, as Henry’s attitude towards Katherine hardened during his attempts to divorce her, in 1532 Maria was ordered to leave Katehrine’s household and not contact her again. By 1534, as Emperor Charles V’s ambassador, Chapuys, described it; Katherine was ‘more a prisoner than before, for not only is she deprived of her goods, but even a Spanish lady who has remained with her all her life, and has served her at her own expense, is forbidden to see her.’²

When Katherine was reported to be dying at Kimbolton Castle, in December 1535, Maria applied for a license to visit her ailing mistress. She wrote to  Sir Thomas Cromwell, the King’s chief minister at the time, saying ‘for I heard that my mistress is very sore sick again. I pray you remember me, for you promised to labour with the king to get me licence to go to her before God send for her, as there is no  other likelihood.’² Permission was refused, but despite this setback, Maria set out from London to visit Katherine at Kimbolton Castle, arriving on the evening of New Years’ Day, 1536 and contrived to get herself admitted by Sir Edmund Bedingfield by claiming a fall from her horse meant she could travel no further. According to Sarah Morris and Nathalie Grueninger, Katherine and Maria spent hours talking in their native Castilian; the former queen died in Maria’s arms on 7th January 1536.³ Katherine of Aragon was buried in Peterborough Cathedral on 29th January, with Maria and her daughter, Katherine, in attendance.

Maria herself died in May 1539, keeping control of her estates to the very last. She signed a copy of the court roll around 7th May, but was dead by the 20th, when Suffolk was negotiating for livery of her lands. Her extensive Lincolnshire estates, including Grimsthorpe and Eresby, passed to her only surviving child, Katherine and her husband, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Maria’s burial-place is unknown, though there is a legend that she was buried in Peterborough Cathedral, close to her beloved Queen Katherine.


Footnotes: ¹Henry VIII’s Last Love by David Baldwin; ²Catherine of Aragon by Amy Licence; ³In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger

Picture credits: Grimsthorpe Castle ©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly; all other pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

Bibliography: Bibliography: Catherine of Aragon by Amy Licence; Henry VIII’s Last Love by David Baldwin; Charles Brandon: Henry VIII’s Closest Friend by Steven Gunn; Accounts of the Chamber and Great Wardrobe Public Record Office; Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, edited by E. Jones (1964); John Leland Leland’s itinerary in England and Wales 1535-43 edited by L Toulmin Smith (1906-10); Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII 1509-47 edited by JS Brewer, James Gairdner and RH Brodie, HMSO London 1862-1932; Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry VIII from November MDXIX to December MDXXXII edited by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas 1827; Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 1980 & 1982; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; Henry VIII: King and Court by Alison Weir; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Earlier Tudors 1485-1558 by JD Mackie; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence;;


My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Sifting through history for interesting ladies!

Earlier this week, it was a pleasure to drop by Anna Belfrage‘s blog and have a chat about Heroines of the Medieval World and my love of history in general.

Anna posed some very interesting, thoughtful questions and finished off with a wonderful review of ‘Heroines’ – for which I am still smiling.

Here’s a taster of the interview:

Why this passion for history?

I honestly don’t know. I have always loved history – I just can’t get enough of it. The stories and the mysteries are so compelling. I love the ‘what ifs’. And it is something that is everywhere – you can go to Scotland, France, Russia, Canada and there is history.

Have you ever wished you could travel back in time to say hello to some of your favourite medieval heroines?

I would love to – so long as I can come back, I wouldn’t want to live in the past. I like my creature comforts too much. But it would be nice to sit at a table with Agnes of Dunbar and Nicholaa de la Haye and find out what made them so formidable. Or Eleanor of Aquitaine’s daughters and ask them what they really thought of their mum and dad – oh, that would be so interesting.

If you would like to read the entire interview and review, simply click here.


My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly