King Eadwig ‘All-Fair’, a ‘Wanton Youth’

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King Eadwig

While researching Edward the Martyr and his stepmother, Ælfthryth, I came across a very interesting character. Eadwig (or Edwy) was young Edward’s uncle; the elder brother of Edward’s father, Edgar the Peaceable. Eadwig has one of the worst reputations of the Anglo-Saxon kings, even though he only reigned for 4 years; he was, supposedly, found in a compromising situation when he was meant to be presiding over his coronation feast.

I just had to know more about this king!

Eadwig was born around 940. He had an impressive royal pedigree, being the eldest surviving son of Edmund I (the Elder) and his 1st wife, Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, who was later known as St Elgiva. Edmund was the son of Edward the Elder and, therefore, the grandson of King Alfred the Great, thus making Eadwig King Alfred’s great-grandson.

Eadwig’s mother Ælfgifu died in 944, and was buried at Shaftesbury Abbey; she left little Eadwig and his baby brother, Edgar, to be raised by their father. Although Edmund married again, he only survived his 1st wife by 2 years; he was stabbed by Leofa, an exiled thief, on 29 May 946, possibly as part of an assassination plot, although later sources suggest Edmund had recognised Leofa in the crowd and was killed while trying to arrest him.

With his eldest son no more than 6 years old, Edmund was succeeded as king by his brother, Eadred (known as Eadred Debilis Pedibus (“Weak-in-the-Feet”). Eadred’s chief supporters included his mother, Queen Eadgifu the 3rd wife of Edward the Elder, Archbishop Oda (or Odo) of Canterbury, Dunstan, abbot of Glastonbury and Æthelstan Half-King ealdorman of East Anglia.

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Edmund I, Eadwig’s father

As Eadred’s health failed, more responsibilities were entrusted to his chief supporters. Dunstan, for instance,  as well as being entrusted with the production of charter in the king’s name he was also given the guardianship of the royal treasures. Æthelstan is said to have been foster-father to Edgar, Eadwig’s younger brother, so it is possible that both boys were raised in his household.

Although we know nothing of Eadwig’s childhood it is assumed he was raised away from court, as his name does not appear on any charters during the reigns of his father or uncle. Eadwig and his brother only start appearing in authentic texts in 955, Eadred’s final year.

Eadred died on 23rd November 955 and was succeeded by 15-year-old Eadwig. A typical teenager, Eadwig immediately set about trying to assert his independence. He made appointments that were calculated to reduce the power and influence of Æthelstan Half-King, and then turned his attention to his grandmother, Queen Eadgifu, depriving her of all her possessions.

The most powerful and influential people in the country were probably pulling their hair out in frustration in no time. However, life carried on and Eadwig’s coronation took place at Kingston-Upon-Thames, probably at the end of January 956. And it was at the feast, to celebrate the coronation, that Eadwig’s reputation took a spectacular nosedive.

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Eadwig defending Aelfgifu to Archbishop Oda

Eadwig seems to have grown bored – or tired – of the celebrations and retired to his own apartments, even though the coronation feast was in full swing. When Archbishop Oda noticed Eadwig’s absence, he sent Abbot Dunstan (the future saint and archbishop of Canterbury) in search of the errant king. Dunstan supposedly found Eadwig enjoying the charms of a young woman, ‘a girl of ripe age’¹ … and her mother. It is said that Dunstan was so furious he physically attacked the 2 women before dragging Eadwig back to the banquet.

The younger lady involved was most likely Ælfgifu, soon to be Eadwig’s wife. The story, however, is related in the life of St Dunstan and could well be an invention or, at the least, an exaggeration designed to highlight the conflict between Eadwig and the church, over his choice of bride. And during the battle of wits between king and church Ælfgifu’s mother, Æthelgifu, pressed Eadwig to have Dunstan deprived of all his possessions and sent into exile.

However, it seems the church held the upper hand; Eadwig and Ælfgifu were separated in 957 or 958 on the orders of Archbishop Oda ‘because they were too closely related’². Research suggests that Ælfgifu was from a junior or dispossessed branch of the royal family, possibly descended from Æthelred I (r. 865-71), brother of Alfred the Great, thus making the young lovers 3rd cousins. Ælfgifu lived on into the reign of king Edgar the Peaceable, but disappears from the historical record after 96.

Eadwig did not remarry.

Other aspects of Eadwig’s life appear to have been just as chaotic; his reign taken up with political disputes and trying to pacify his rebellious nobles. Eadwig’s surviving charters show a favouritism towards laymen, rather than the church, although he is remembered as a benefactor of Abingdon Abbey. Eadwig appointed 3 new ealdordoms during 956 alone, including Æthelwold, son of Æthelstan Half-King and 1st husband of Ælfthryth, the wicked stepmother of Edward the Martyr.

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Coin of King Eadwig

By the summer of 957 the kingdom was divided in 2; the king ‘was wholly deserted by the norther people, being despised because he acted foolishly in the government committed to him, ruining with vain hatred the shrewd and the wise, and admitting with loving zeal the ignorant and those like himself’³. A political settlement was reached, probably aimed at preventing civil war, based on a geographical division of the country, rather than personal loyalties. Eadwig was to rule all the lands south of the River Thames, while his younger brother, Edgar, would rule in the north. Although the fact that it was Eadwig’s coins that were the country’s only currency until 959 suggests that Eadwig maintained overall authority.

This became the status quo until Eadwig’s death on 1st October 959 at Gloucester, when the kingdom was once again united under one ruler, King Edgar. Aged only around 19 when he died, the manner of Eadwig’s death is a mystery; it’s possible he died from some inherited family ailment, or a convenient accident, I suppose we’ll never know…. Eadwig was buried in the New Minster at Winchester, founded by his grandfather, King Edward the Elder.

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Diploma of King Eadwig for Aelfwine

Poor Eadwig’s reputation has suffered at the hands of the biographers of the early church leaders, particularly in the Life of St Dunstan, which depicts Eadwig as a debaucher, a despoiler of the church and an incompetent king. While William of Malmesbury called him a ‘wanton youth’ who ‘misused his personal beauty in lascivious behaviour’ [4], his nickname of ‘All-Fair’ suggests he wasn’t all bad. The chronicler, Æthelweard saying that Eadwig ‘for his great beauty he got the nickname Pancali [‘All-Fair’] from the common people’. [5] According to the chronicler, Eadwig ‘held the kingdom for four years and deserved to be loved.’ [6]

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Footnotes: ¹ quoted by Simon Keynes in oxforddnb.com; ² Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, s.a. 958, text 1; ³ Vita S. Dunstan, ch. 24; [4] quoted by Simon Keynes in oxforddnb.com; [5] Chronicle of Æthelweard, 4.8; [6] ibid.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by JP Kenyon; The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall; Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards by David Hilliam; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; oxforddnb.com.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Guest Post: The Two Women in the life of Harold II by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Today I have a guest article over at Paula Lofting’s blog. Paula’ s novels, Sons of the Wolf and The Wolf Banner, chart the story of Harold II, so I take a look at the 2 women in his life.

The Road to Hastings and other Stories

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Harold Godwinson was born around 1022 and did more in the 44 years he was on this earth, than most people could achieve in 3 lifetimes. He received the earldom of East Anglia in 1044 and, as the son of Godwin, earl of Wessex, he succeeded to his father’s earldom in 1053. His sister was the wife of King Edward the Confessor, his brother was the earl of Northumberland (for a time). Harold was not only one of the king’s foremost earls but also one of his most respected advisors. In short, the Godwinsons were the most powerful family in the kingdom, after the king himself. At one point Harold, along with his father and brothers, had been exiled from England after quarrelling with the king. He is even said to have sworn an oath to back William of Normandy’s claim to the English throne in the likely event that…

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England’s First Queen, the Original Wicked Stepmother

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Queen Ælfthryth and King Edward at Corfe

After writing an article about Edward the Martyr the other week, I thought it only fair to take a look at the other side of the story and write about Ælfthryth, England’s first ever crowned queen and Edward’s stepmother – and possible murderer.

Author Annie Whitehead researched Ælfthryth for her book Alvar the Kingmaker and rather likes her. So she can’t be all bad – can she?

Ælfthryth was probably born around 945; the daughter of Ealdorman Ordgar of Devon and an unknown woman who is said to be descended from the royal family. As you can imagine, after the passage of 1,000 years, nothing is known of her childhood; although she had a least one sibling, a brother, Ordulf, who was founder of Tavistock Abbey. She was married around the age of 11 to Æthelwold, the son of Æthelstan Half-King (I have to do a post about him! What a name!) and ealdorman of East Anglia.

Æthelwold died in 962, probably in a hunting accident, amid rumours of murder on the orders of his wife’s supposed lover, King Edgar. Edgar and Æthelwold would have known each other very well. After being orphaned as a baby, Edgar was raised in Æthelstan’s household alongside his own sons; of whom Æthelwold was one of the youngest.  Some stories have Edgar wielding the dagger himself, while others don’t even mention murder. Whether the suspicion arose at the time of the event, or following Ælfthryth’s marriage to Edgar 2 years later, is also unclear.

Edgar’s marital history was already chequered. Ælfthryth could be Edgar’s 2nd or 3rd wife; she was certainly the 3rd relationship by which children were born. Edgar’s 1st wife, Æthelfled “the Fair”, was the mother of his eldest son, Edward. Following Æthelfled’s death, Edgar had a relationship with Wulfryth from which a daughter, Edith, was born around 963/964. The sources are uncertain as to whether or not Edgar and Wulfryth married, and some even suggest that she was a nun Edgar had seduced; although this may be confusion due to the fact that Wulfryth entered a nunnery shortly after Edith was born. Edith joined her mother in the abbey at Wilton, where Wulfryth eventually became the abbess; in time both women would be venerated locally as saints.

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King Edgar the Peaceable

Ælfthryth and Edgar were married in 964 and were soon the parents of 2 sons; Edmund and Æthelred. Despite having an older half-brother, Edward, it is Edmund who appears as Edgar’s acknowledged heir; his name being above that of Edward’s in a charter of 966, witnessed by both boys, founding the New Minster at Winchester. Poor Ælfthryth must have been distraught when, in 971 and still only a child of about 7, young Edmund died.

The grandson of Edward the Elder, and great-grandson of Alfred the Great, Edgar had been king since 959; however on 11 May 973 he had a coronation, at Bath Abbey. Whether this was his 1st coronation, or a 2nd ceremony seems to be still debated by historians. Edgar was about 30 and the venerated Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury officiated. It is the 1st known coronation of a queen of England, Ælfthryth.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography there is a near contemporary account of the coronation, which depicts her feasting with many abbots and abbesses, wearing a silken gown sewn with pearls and precious stones. The coronation was an important display for Edgar and Ælfthryth, as a way to emphasise the legitimacy of their union, especially given Edgar’s marital history, and the claims of their children as Edgar’s heirs.

Ælfthryth’s security was destroyed just 3 years later, when Edgar died at the young age of 32. With their eldest son dead and the youngest, only 7 years old, the crown went to Edgar’s eldest son, the 12/13-year-old Edward. Edward faced opposition when Ælfthryth pressed Æthelred’s claim, supported by several leading figures, including Bishop Æthelwold of Winchester and her 1st husband’s brother, Æthelwine, ealdorman of East Anglia.

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Corfe Castle, Dorset

However, with the backing of the revered, future saint, Dunstan it was Edward who was crowned. Following his coronation Edward honoured his father’s promises, confirming the gift of jurisdiction over the whole of Dorset as Ælfthryth’s dower. As a consequence, Ælfthryth and her, Æthelred, settled at Corfe, in the Purbeck Hills; it was a large estate surrounding a defensive mound, which would later become the Norman stronghold of Corfe Castle.

And it was at Corfe on 18th March 978 that Ælfthryth’s reputation was irrevocably damaged, following a visit from 16-year-old King Edward. Whether Edward had been out hunting, or was in the area to specifically visit his stepmother and half-brother seems to be uncertain. However, he did send a message that he would be calling on them and Ælfthryth’s retainers were awaiting the young king at the gate, when he arrived with a small retinue. Still sitting in the saddle he was handed a drink; and stabbed. It must have been a horrific sight, as the king’s horse panicked and bolted, racing off with Edward’s foot stuck in the stirrup and the dying king being dragged along behind.

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Æthelred II the Unready

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded:

No worse deed than this was ever done by the English nation since they first sought the land of Britain. Men murdered him, but God hath magnified him. He was in life an earthly king. He is now after death a heavenly saint.¹

Although Edward’s brother, Æthelred, only around 10 years old but now king of England, was above suspicion due to his age, Ælfthryth had no such protection. Some traditions go so far as to accuse Ælfthryth of wielding the dagger herself. However, while most believe she was complicit in the murder, it is by no means certain and it is entirely possible that court malcontents, who had migrated to Æthelred’s corner, were responsible for the murder.

Ælfthryth rode out the ensuing furore and with her son as the new king, Ælfthryth was exonerated of any complicity; amid the necessity of stabilising the country, establishing the new reign and rescuing England’s reputation. Æthelred was crowned at Kingston, Surrey, on 4th May 979, a year after his brother’s death and just a few months after the reburial of Edward’s remains, with great ceremony, at Shaftesbury. A council was established to assist the young king in ruling the country, probably involving Queen Ælfthryth, who may have acted as regent during Æthelred’s minority; it also included the aging Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester, and Ælfhere, ealdorman of Mercia.

As Dowager Queen Ælfthryth’s dower lands in Rutland and east Suffolk help to extend West Saxon rule over East Anglia as a whole.

Even when Æthelred was old enough to rule alone, Ælfthryth didn’t retire entirely. Following her son’s marriage to Ælfgifu of Northumbria, it was Ælfthryth who had the responsibility of raising their first-born son and ætheling, Æthelstan. Æthelstan died aged about 20 in 1014, 2 years before his father. Æthelred and Ælfgifu had over 10 children together, including Æthelred’s eventual successor in 1016, Edmund Ironside, before Ælfgifu died; Æthelred then married Emma of Normandy, mother of England’s future kings, Harthacnut by her 2nd husband, King Cnut, and Edward the Confessor by Æthelred.

As queen Ælfthryth had substantial influence over the nunneries of England; she ousted the abbess of Barking, a cousin of Edgar’s 2nd wife, Wulfthryth.  she endowed convents at Amesbury and Wherwell,; her granddaughter would eventually become abbess of the latter.

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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Peterborough

And it was to Wherwell that the queen did eventually retire from the limelight, sometime before the year 1000, dying there on 17 November in either 999, 1000 or 1001.

Over a thousand years later Ælfthryth actions and reputation are still being debated by historians. While it is not inconceivable that she played a part in Edward the Martyr’s death, we also have to be aware that women of power and influence were much vilified in Medieval times; a strong, independent woman would be blamed for many crimes, simply because she dared to know her own mind….

While I am not entirely convinced of her innocence, neither am I certain of her guilt.

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Footnotes: ¹ Anglo-Saxon Chronicle quoted by Martin Wall in The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by JP Kenyon; The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall; Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards by David Hilliam; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; oxforddnb.com.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: Margaret Pole, the Countess in the Tower by Susan Higginbotham

indexOf the many executions ordered by Henry VIII, surely the most horrifying was that of sixty-seven-year-old Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, hacked to pieces on the scaffold by a blundering headsman.

From the start, Margaret’s life had been marred by tragedy and violence: her father, George, Duke of Clarence, had been executed at the order of his own brother, Edward IV, and her naive young brother, Edward, Earl of Warwick, had spent most of his life in the Tower before being executed on the orders of Henry VII.

Yet Margaret, friend to Katherine of Aragon and the beloved governess of her daughter Mary, had seemed destined for a happier fate until religious upheaval and rebellion caused Margaret and her family to fall from grace. From Margaret’s birth as the daughter of a royal duke to her beatification centuries after her death, Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower tells the story of one of the fortress’s most unlikely prisoners.

Margaret Pole: the Countess in the Tower tells the story of an amazing woman who navigated two eras of history. Born into the Medieval world, during the reign of her uncle, Edward IV, she survived the change of dynasty and prospered during the reign of Henry VII; marrying and starting a dynasty of her own. During the reign of Henry VIII, she was accorded the title of Countess of Salisbury in her own right, and given the charge of her cousin’s most prized possession; his only daughter and heir, Mary Tudor.

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George, Duke of Clarence – Margaret’s father

Susan Higginbotham tells Margaret’s story in great detail. Starting with a childhood marred by  her father’s attainder and execution by his own brother – Edward IV – the reader is drawn into Margaret’s life and family. From the highs of being governess to the princess, through the lows of her years of imprisonment in the Tower, and eventual execution at an age – 67 – when she should have been allowed to spend her days in quiet retirement, surrounded by her grandchildren; Susan Higginbotham tells a fascinating story of family tragedy, national politics and religious upheaval.

What Margaret thought of the death of her uncle Richard III we cannot know, but as she rode south on the orders of the new King Henry, she must have done so with some trepidation. Orphaned, with her closest relative a boy younger than herself, she had no powerful male relations to speak up for her, nor could her female ones be of much help. Her paternal grandmother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, was the mother of a defeated king; her maternal grandmother, Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick, had been stripped of her lands during Edward IV’s reign….Thus, young Margaret’s future rested largely in the hands of a man neither she nor most other people in England had even met.

Engaging and sympathetically told, Susan Higginbotham’s narrative is a joy to read. It draws you in to Margaret’s life, relating her fears and hopes – and a deep and enduring love for her family.

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Cardinal Reginald Pole – Margaret’s most famous son

Susan Higginbotham has undertaken an incredible amount of research for this book, an endeavour which shines through on every page. The author has reconstructed Margaret Pole’s life and death, using every primary source available. Highlighting contradictions and explaining omissions, she takes the countess’s story from her earliest days to her final, dreadful moments… and beyond. Included at the end of the book is an appendix of over 30 pages of written evidence taken in the Exeter Conspiracy; a conspiracy involving at least 2 of her sons, which would see her imprisoned in the Tower for years before she was sent to the executioner’s block. It made for some absorbing reading late into the night.

All the key players in Margaret’s story are discussed, their actions and influence on Margaret’s life analysed and assessed. From Henry VIII to Princess Mary and Margaret’s own children. Susan Higginbotham’s analysis is unrivalled, her words painting vivid portraits of all the main characters who had a part to play Margaret’s life and explaining her relationships in detail.

Moreover, Margaret’s story is firmly placed in the wider context of English and European politics of the time; and in the great upheaval of the Reformation. Where there is contention, the author presents all possible arguments, before giving her own opinion and explaining her reasoning. She makes clear where information is lacking and highlights where she is providing her own theory and opinions.

In my recent interview with her, I asked Susan Higginbotham if she saw Margaret as a victim or a heroine, and she replied:

I would say a heroine, because she had strong beliefs which she maintained in the face of pressure, and she conducted herself with courage and dignity throughout adversity. I don’t think she would like to be remembered as a victim.

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Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

This biography of Margaret reinforces Susan Higginbotham’s statement. Margaret is portrayed as a strong, independent woman, who had raised a large family single-handed, following the death of her husband. Margaret had a strong faith and demonstrated great loyalty to the Tudor dynasty. Her courage and strength of purpose shines through on every page – as does her intelligence. Margaret Pole was no meek and feeble woman, she stood up for her beliefs, herself and her family, while always maintaining her loyalty to the crown.

Susan Higginbotham treats Margaret Pole with great compassion and dignity, telling her story – and that of her family – in such an engaging manner that the book is impossible to put down. Knowing how events will eventually play out makes it no less compelling.

It is a fascinating story and – ultimately – a sad one; however, it’s also a story of faith, courage and perseverance. Margaret Pole: the Countess in the Tower is a wonderful read – shining a light on the life of a woman whose story deserves to be told.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: To Murder a King by James Holdstock

41DpuNqWh7L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_My latest book review, of James Holdstock’s amazing To Murder a King has gone live over at The Review today!

To Murder A King is the first book in James Holdstock’s A Squire’s Tale series. While it is aimed at teenage readers it is a fabulous tale for all ages. A story of murder and intrigue with a little bit of the dark arts thrown in it leaves you gripped from the first pages. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the greatest knight in history, William Marshal, has a leading role!

This novel is a fabulous adventure set in the early days of the reign of King John. Suitable for children from, about 9 and above, it is an enjoyable, entertaining read – even for an adult. It tells the story in such a way that children also learn about medieval life, politics and warfare; and even the prejudices of Normans towards Saxons….

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning a paperback copy in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!
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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

The Short Life and Sad Death of Edward the Martyr

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Edward the Martyr

Poor Edward the Martyr is one of the great ‘what ifs’ of Medieval history. It’s not that he was anything special in the kingly department, it’s simply that he didn’t get the chance to be – or to not be – any kind of king.

Born around 962 he was the eldest son of Edgar the Peaceable, king of England. His mother was Æthelfled “the Fair”, daughter of Ealdorman Ordmaer. There seems to be some confusion as to Æthelfled’s actual status (not surprising given the distance of over 1,000 years, I suppose). Some sources say she and Edgar were married, but later divorced. However, others suggest that young Edward’s legitimacy was in doubt and that his parents never married. This last is compounded by suggestions of ‘youthful indiscretion’ on Edgar’s part.

Nothing is heard of Edward’s mother after his birth, possibly suggesting that she died shortly after. Edgar, however, married again – or at least formed another relationship. His 2nd wife was Wulfthryth, with whom he had a daughter, Edith (Eadgyth). Wulfryth became the abbess of  Wilton and young Edith followed her mother into the convent.

And then Edgar formed a 3rd and final relationship that would have far-reaching consequences for his first-born son, Edward. Edgar married the daughter of Ordgar, a powerful Devon thegn who died in 971. Unlike Edgar’s previous ‘wives’, Ælfryth was crowned and anointed as queen, following her marriage with Edgar, which was officially blessed by the church. Ælfryth gave Edgar 2 sons; Edmund, who died in 971  and Æthelred, born in 968.

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Coin of Edward the Martyr

Both Edward and Edmund appear in a charter of 966, as witnesses to the foundation of the New Minster at Winchester. Curiously, Edward’s name appears below that of his half-brother, suggesting Edmund was regarded as his father’s heir, rather than his older sibling.

Little is known of Edward’s childhood; according to Byrthferth of Ramsey he was fostered for some years by Sideman, bishop of Crediton and protégé of Ælfhere, ealdorman of western Mercia and the most powerful ealdorman in England at the time.

When his father died in 975, Edward, at 13 years of age but with doubtful legitimacy, was one of 2 rival candidates for the crown. Edward was up against his baby brother, Æthelred; undoubtedly legitimate but only 6 or 7 years old. With both too young to make an independent bid for power, each boy was backed by court factions.

Æthelred’s mother, Ælfryth, garnered support for her son from Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester, Byrhtnoth, ealdorman of Essex, and Æthelwine, ealdorman of east Anglia and brother of  Ælfrythf’s 1st husband. However, Edward had the backing of ealdorman  Ælfhere and, possibly, Oswald, archbishop of York. However, the crucial support came from Dunstan, the highly influential and saintly archbishop of Canterbury, who crowned Edward personally.

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Corfe Castle

We know very little of Edward the Martyr, and what we have is contradictory to the extreme. According to Byrthferth, Edward himself was known for having a hot temper; a temper which instilled fear within the people of his own household. However, Osbern maintained that men had a good opinion of Edward.

With Edward too young to rule alone,  Ealdorman Ælfhere held the reins of government. Only 3 charters have survived, 2 of which were issued in Crediton, Edward’s childhood home. The regime’s influence seem to be very limited the further north you look, especially in the Danelaw. In the Five Boroughs region (including Stamford and Lincoln), coinage was below the standard of that of his father, Edgar. The short reign was overshadowed by a backlash to Edgar’s previous ecclesiastical policies, seeing a violent reaction against the expansion of the reformed monasteries; however, Edward retained the support of Dunstan, who did much to influence church policy and direction.

Dunstan’s influence saw  him call a meeting of councillors in Calne in 978. Held in an upper room, the meeting turned into disaster when the floor gave way. Many councillors were killed or injured; however, Dunstan, possibly in his early 70s by then, miraculously survived when the rafter on which he was standing was the only one that didn’t give way.

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Aelfryth presenting Edward with a drink

Edward seems to have been benevolent towards his stepmother, bearing her no ill will following her attempts to claim the throne for her own son. He allowed Ælfryth to claim her part of his father’s dower and thus confirmed her jurisdiction over the whole of Dorset. She and Æthelred settled at Corfe, a castle and large estate in the Purbeck Hills.

Ælfryth, however, seems to have been less forgiven and wasn’t willing to settle for her son being Edward’s heir. When the opportunity presented itself, she jumped at it, with few qualms.

In March 978 Edward had decided to visit his half-brother at Corfe; arriving on the evening of 18th March, with only a small band of men accompanying him. According to  the chronicles, he was met at the gates of Corfe Castle by Ælfryth’s retainers; he had probably sent ahead to warn of his arrival and would have expected a welcome, someone to take his horse and lead him into the castle. Sources vary, some suggesting that he was presented with a cup; so he could quench his thirst after a long ride.

What is certain, is that Edward was pulled from his horse and stabbed – murdered. Following the stabbing, Edward’s horse bolted; with the dying king’s foot caught in the styrrup, he was dragged along the ground for some considerable distance.

He was 16.

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The murder of Edward

He was buried quickly and without ceremony somewhere close by – possibly Wareham. With Æthelred considered too young to be guilty, the finger of accusation pointed straight at his mother, Ælfryth.

An anointed king was seen as God’s representative on earth, with regicide being viewed as a heinous crime. In spite of this, Edward’s killers escaped punishment. Ælfryth was – and still is – the prime suspect. As late as 40 years after the killing, Archbishop Wulfstan of York laid the blame firmly at her door, in the D text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which opined:

No worse deed than this was ever done by the English nation since they first sought the land of Britain. Men murdered him, but God hath magnified him. He was in life an earthly king. He is now after death a heavenly saint.¹

However, given the political reality of her position as mother of the king, it was expedient for her to remain beyond suspicion.

Although the crowned was not conferred on Æthelred straight away, whatever the dowager queen’s actions, at only 9 or 10 years old, her son was now the only candidate for the succession. However, it was only after an interregnum and a period of negotiations that the crown was settled on Æthelred.

Almost a year after Edward’s death, the young king was exhumed by Ealdorman Ælfhere. Edward’s erstwhile supporter stayed a couple of days at Wareham before escorting the body to the nunnery at Shaftesbury. It was only after Edward was safely re-buried with the honour to which he was entitled as king, that Æthelred was crowned by Archbishop Dunstan; on 4th May 979.

Edward was soon venerated as a saint and martyr with Æthelred himself championing his brother’s cult, translating Edward’s bones to a new shrine at Shaftesbury Abbey in 1001. A grant of that year, in favour of Shaftesbury, stated that the gift was being made to God and to

“his saint, my brother Edward, whom drenched with his own blood, the Lord has seen fit to magnify in our time through many miracles.”²

Shaftesbury_Abbey
Shaftesbury Abbey

During the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, Shaftesbury Abbey was destroyed and Edward’s shrine lost. However, in 1931 his grave was discovered and his bones were removed to a bank vault in Croydon, as neither the Churches of England or Rome would take the relics for reburial. Tests on the remains, in 1970, seemed to confirm they were Edward’s, the injuries on the bones being consistent with the wounds Edward is known to have received. The young king’s remains were finally removed from the bank, in September 1984, to be interred in a shrine in the Russian Orthodox Cemetery at Brookwood, Surrey.

And despite the fact Shaftesbury would like to have Edward back, so far as I can discover he remains the only Saxon king to be resting in a Russian Orthodox cemetery.

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Footnotes: ¹ Anglo-Saxon Chronicle quoted by Martin Wall in The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts; ² AS chart., S899 quoted by Cyril Hart in Oxforddnb.com.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir;The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by JP Kenyon; The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall; Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards by David Hilliam; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; oxforddnb.com.

Book Corner: An interview with Susan Higginbotham

indexToday, History…the Interesting Bits is delighted to be the final stop on Susan Higginbotham‘s amazing Blog Tour. Susan’s latest book, Margaret Pole; The Countess in the Tower was released earlier this month. It tells the fascinating story of Margaret, countess of Salisbury, niece of Edward IV and Richard III and cousin of Henry VIII.

The book has just arrived on my doormat, so look out for a review shortly. For now, Susan was kind enough to sit through an interview and answer my grueling (not really, I hope) questions…..

Hi Susan, thank you for joining us today – and welcome to History…the Interesting Bits.

Congratulations on the release of your new book, Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower. I can’t wait to read and review it. In the meantime…

I believe you are a qualified lawyer, what made you become a writer?

I actually became a lawyer late in life–I was in my thirties when I went to law school–but I’ve been writing since I was a child. I piled up a modest stack of rejected contemporary-set novels until around 2005, when I became intrigued with the history of Edward II’s reign and began to read up on the subject. This led me to his niece, Eleanor de Clare, and I decided her life would be a wonderful subject for a historical novel. I ended up self-publishing it as The Traitor’s Wife. Sourcebooks here in the United States picked it up, and I’ve been writing historical fiction for that publisher ever since.

After writing historical fiction for a few years, and researching the Wars of the Roses, I became frustrated that there was no nonfiction book focusing on the Woodville family, except for a self-published book by an author who hated the whole lot of them, so I decided to write one myself. That led me into writing nonfiction for publishers in the U.K.

What made you write about Margaret Pole? What is it about her that fascinates you?

330px-Unknown_woman,_formerly_known_as_Margaret_Pole,_Countess_of_Salisbury_from_NPG_retouched
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

It was actually my publisher that suggested her as a subject, but as I researched her story I found a number of things that intrigued me about her, one of which is the way her story straddles the transition between what we think of as “medieval” and what we think of as “Renaissance.” And her life intersects with that of larger-than-life figures such as Henry VIII, his first and second queens, and Thomas More.

She survived some of the greatest events to shape English history, but eventually lost her life, how do you see her, as a victim or a heroine?

I would say a heroine, because she had strong beliefs which she maintained in the face of pressure, and she conducted herself with courage and dignity throughout adversity. I don’t think she would like to be remembered as a victim.

Margaret Pole’s story happens across two eras – the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors – which is your favourite period of history?

I love them both!

You write both history and historical fiction – which is the easiest and which the most fun?

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Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham

Historical fiction, definitely. I research them both similarly, but the sheer mechanics in writing history–the references, the citations–is daunting. And whereas with history, we often have to say simply “we don’t know” (which readers hate to hear!), with historical fiction we can supply an answer.

Do you feel that, as a historian, you have a duty to get the history right – even in your fiction?

Yes, definitely.  Like it or not, many people get their history exclusively from historical fiction, and bad history has enormous staying power.

What do you enjoy most about writing as a career?

I love it when I’ve touched a reader’s emotions, or given a reader information that has intrigued or excited him or her.

What is the worst thing about writing for a career?

It’s not particularly lucrative except for a few people. Most writers have to either keep a full-time job (as I do) or rely on another source of income to pay the bills.

How do you organise your writing day?

Not very well. I work full-time during the day, so most of my writing is done at night, but it’s hard to keep myself from goofing off after a hard day’s work! Fortunately, I work at home and have flexible hours, so if I’m feeling inspired, I can drop what I’m doing on my work computer and move to my writing computer.

How many projects do you have going at once, or do you concentrate on one at a time?

I’m working on two at the moment–one fiction, one nonfiction.

How long do you spend researching your subject before you start writing? How long does it take to do a project from start to finish?

I tend to do the ground research for a couple of months, then supplement my research as I go along, since questions always arise during the writing process. It usually takes me about a year to do a project.

Who are your favourite personalities from history?

Abraham_Lincoln_O-77_matte_collodion_print
Abraham Lincoln

My historical hero is Abraham Lincoln, and my literary hero is Charles Dickens. Pretty much anyone I’ve written about in the medieval and Tudor eras are among my favorites.

What era that you haven’t yet written about, would you like to get your teeth into?

Maybe revolutionary-era France and revolutionary-era America. The latter especially has interested me more as of late, and I’m getting ready to move to a part of the country that will give me a lot more opportunities to improve my knowledge of the era.

A lot of your work has been about women in history? What attracted you to writing their stories?

I’ve never really made a conscious decision to focus on women instead of men, but I’m attracted to people whose stories are less well-known, and I can’t write battle scenes for squat, so I’ve gravitated more toward women’s stories over the years.

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

I don’t get writer’s block so much as I get just plain lazy or distracted by other things. Having a deadline hanging over my head helps me to get around it.

Do you find social media – such as Facebook – a benefit or a hindrance?

Both, really. I love connecting with people on social media, especially since it’s a chance to discuss topics I don’t get to discuss very often with people face-to-face. But it can be a tremendous distraction from the writing process.

How do you pick your subjects? What is be your next project?

Anne_stanhope
Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset

I look for someone who intrigues me and who hasn’t been done to death–I’ve always been fascinated by Anne Boleyn, for instance, but I really can’t imagine that I would have anything to say about her that hasn’t been said already. My next fictional project will be about Mary Lincoln, wife to the President of the United States, and her half-sister Emilie Helm, married to a Confederate general. My next book for Amberley will be about Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset, a much-maligned lady who lived through the reigns of all of the Tudor monarchs.

Thank you so much for agreeing to an interview, and for taking the time to answer my questions – I hope they weren’t too onerous.

Margaret Pole; The Countess in the Tower is available from Amazon in the UK and US.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Paula Lofting’s The Wolf Banner

51BZa0o3x+L._SY346_My latest book review, of Paula Lofting’s amazing pre-Conquest novel, The Wolf Banner has gone live over at The Review today!

WAR AND BLOODFEUD
1056…England lurches towards war as the rebellious Lord Alfgar plots against the indolent King Edward. Sussex thegn, Wulfhere, must defy both his lord, Harold Godwinson, and his bitter enemy, Helghi, to protect his beloved daughter.
As the shadow of war stretches across the land, a more personal battle rages at home, and when it follows him into battle, he knows he must keep his wits about him more than ever, and COURAGE AND FEAR MUST BECOME HIS ARMOUR…

The Wolf Banner is the second book in Paula Lofting’s marvellous Sons of the Wolf series which tells the story of Saxon England in the years preceding the Norman Conquest. It follows the trials and tribulations of one family; Wulfhere, his wife and children. A thegn sworn to Harold Godwinson, Wulfhere has responsibilities to his king, his lord and his family, while trying to overcome his own fears, temptations and one big problem; his neighbour and sworn enemy, Helghi.
The Wolf Banner builds on the first book, to draw the reader further into Wulfhere’s life, the highs and lows, into battles with swords and words. It is a fabulous adventure, full of family heartache, compromise and love, while never losing sight of the bigger picture; of England and the struggles of Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, both against his enemies and his king….
To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning one of two e-books in the giveaway, plus a copy of the first book in the series, Sons of the Wolf, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!
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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts

51+1qeawUSL._AC_US160_The Anglo-Saxon age was one of great change and unrest. Lasting from the departure of the Romans in approximately AD 400 until the Norman invasion in AD 1066, this era was defined by the continued spread of Christianity, the constant threat of Viking raids and the first stirrings of a nation that would become known as England.

With its strange customs and unfamiliar names, the Anglo-Saxon era became mysterious and misunderstood, ironically by the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons, the English people themselves. Archaeological discoveries have forced us to re-evaluate these ingenious and skilled people, and to acknowledge the debt we owe to them. Martin Wall seeks to ‘de-mystify’ the period, breaking it down into easy-to-read, bitesize chunks, and to show that the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ were by no means backward or inferior. It was a truly heroic age, whose exemplars, such as King Offa, Alfred the Great, Lady Aethelflaed or Athelstan, stand beside the giants of world history. In 100 excerpts from these turbulent, bloody and exciting centuries, a proud, complex, but ultimately doomed civilisation is revealed.

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall is one of those fascinating little books which are such fun to read. It’s 192 pages are packed full of stories from the Anglo-Saxon period which help to trace its history and define the era. Starting from the 5th century AD, the book traces the Anglo-Saxon story  all the way to the Norman Conquest… and beyond.

Æthelflæd_as_depicted_in_the_cartulary_of_Abingdon_Abbey
Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians

In short, bite-sized chapters, The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts, is full of those little bits of history you may have missed, or overlooked. Weaving the stories together to build a beautiful picture of the now-lost Anglo-Saxon world. Not only presenting the great personalities of the era, the book also investigates the influence of the church, literature, politics and the Vikings. It helps to explain the drive behind King Alfred and his desire to unite England as one nation.

The book is written in such an easy-going, conversational manner, you don’t even realise you’re reading – it is as if the author is right there, talking to you.

Welsh malcontents murdered a Mercian abbot, Egbert, who was travelling with his companions in Brycheiniog, a small mountain kingdom in South Wales. Egbert was under the protection of Aethelflaed who was justifiably furious. Within three days she concentrated her army on the Welsh border and invaded the little kingdom, burning and ravaging as she went. Tewdr, the King of Brycheiniog, had no choice but to retreat to his fortified Crannog, a fort on a man-made island in Lake Llasngorse. The indefatigable Mercian queen was not to be denied, however, and the place was stormed and burned and Tewdr’s relatives taken as hostages, including his wife.

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Offa, King of Mercia

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts is a very enjoyable read, full of facts and information, and a little bit of humour. All the main characters of the period are covered – from Offa to Harold II and beyond – and given their place in the larger history of the nation as a whole. Outside threats and influences – such as the church, the Normans and, of course, the dreaded Vikings – are discussed, analysed and assessed.

It’s amazing  how much information one writer can pack into less than 200 pages!

The author knows and loves his Anglo-Saxon history and it shines through on every page. Thoroughly and comprehensively researched, it is a fun read for anyone wanting to know ‘a little bit more’ about the time before the Normans, and the build-up to the Conquest from the Saxon point of view.

I just wanted to read the excerpts about Aethelflaed – for my research – and found myself devouring the entire book.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Days of Sun and Glory by Anna Belfrage

indexAdam de Guirande has barely survived the aftermath of Roger Mortimer’s rebellion in 1321. When Mortimer manages to escape the Tower and flee to France, anyone who has ever served Mortimer becomes a potential traitor – at least in the eyes of King Edward II and his royal chancellor, Hugh Despenser. Adam must conduct a careful balancing act to keep himself and his family alive. Fortunately, he has two formidable allies: Queen Isabella and his wife, Kit. England late in 1323 is a place afflicted by fear…. Tired of being relegated to the background by the king’s grasping favourite, Isabella has decided it is time to act – to safeguard her own position, but also that of her son, Edward of Windsor. As Adam de Guirande has pledged himself to Prince Edward he is automatically drawn into the queen’s plans … Once again, England is plunged into war – and this time it will not end until either Despenser or Mortimer is dead….

Days of Sun and Glory by Anna Belfrage is the 2nd book Anna’s latest series, The King’s Greatest Enemy. In the Shadow of the Storm saw Adam de Guirande, a trusted officer of Roger Mortimer, marry Kit de Monmouth and navigate the political climate of rising opposition to Edward II’s increasing infatuation with Hugh Despenser, while at the same time being 2 strangers negotiating the early tribulations and insecurities of married life. In Days of Sun and Glory the crisis in England is worsening; Mortimer is free and on the continent, leaving his supporters to face the suspicions and antagonisms of the king and Despenser.

Philip_iv_and_family
Isabella with her father, Philip IV, and brothers.

Days of Sun and Glory is a stunning read; full of action, love and suspense, it has the reader on the edge of their seat from the 1st page – and leaves you there right to the last.  This story will have you laughing, crying and biting your finger nails with anticipation throughout. It is a fascinating read that pulls you into the lives of, not only, the central characters, Kit and Adam, but also of the historical characters; Mortimer, Isabella, King Edward and his heir, the future Edward III.

Although we see new enemies the chief antagonist remains the same: Despenser. Anna Belfrage paints a picture of Despenser that makes you cringe every time he appears on the page. He is charmingly polite and clever; while being, at the same time despicable and slimy. He will stoop to anything to keep his position and influence with the king; using any weapon available – including children . This is one man everyone loves to hate – except the king and his wife.

As luck would have it, they ran into Lord  Despenser on their way back to their allotted chamber. Kit didn’t see him at first, she simply felt the muscles in Adam’s arm tense.

“If it isn’t my favourite traitor,” Despenser said with a smirk, stepping out to block their path. Adam bowed, as did Kit – protocol required that they do so, even if Kit would have preferred to spit Despenser in the face. This was the man who had threatened her and abused her, who had tortured her Adam, leaving him permanently crippled.

“No traitor, my lord,” Adam replied in a calm voice. “Despite your repeated attempts to smear me as such, I remain a loyal servant of my master, Edward of Windsor.”

Despenser’s mouth curled into a sneer….

And fighting against his schemes are Adam and Kit. The central characters have a love story to rival the greats. However, Anna Belfrage has cleverly placed them in their time and history. In stark contrast to the rebellious Queen Isabella, Kit is the obedient, dutiful 14th century wife – most of the time; while Adam is torn between duty to lord and obligation to family, constantly forced to balance his priorities and overcome his personal feelings. Their relationship makes the book – their love has overcome petty jealousies, personal tragedy, family feuds and the threats of the dastardly Despenser.

And behind it all lies Adam’s fears of what would happen if he or his family were to fall into Despenser’s clutches.

“It won’t happen,” she said.

“No,”  he [Adam] agreed in a shaky voice. “I’ll leap off a cliff rather than end up in his hands.”

Kit got down on her knees before him and prised his fingers off his face, cupping it and lifting it so that she could see his eyes. “It won’t,” she repeated. “I won’t let it happen.”

That made him smile. “My protective wife.” Adam stroked her cheek.

Kit had risked her life to save him from Despenser once, and she’d do it again if she had to…

Isabela_Karel_Eda
Edward III, as Duke of Aquitaine, paying homage to Charles IV, supported by his mother Queen Isabella

While Kit and Adam are becoming old-hands at the political balancing-act, thrown into the midst of it all is Adam’s new lord, Edward; son and heir of Edward II the 13-year-old prince is torn between his parents. While Adam and Kit see a desperate child forced to choose between love of his mother and duty to his father, each parent  sees that controlling the son as a means to controlling the future. Young Edward becomes a star of the book; likeable, mischievous and old beyond his years, Anna Belfrage hints at the hero-king to come, while ably depicting the fear and confusion of the child he is. Edward steals practically every scene he is written into.

Anna Belfrage has done her research well. From the historical characters to the marvellous castles and palaces in France and England, Anna brings the 14th century to life in vivid, entertaining and exciting language. The best and worst of human strengths and frailties are characterised within the magnificent castles of Vincennes and Windsor, in the sprawling cities of London and Paris; taking the reader on a wild ride through the French and English countrysides, with spies, poisoners and the possibility of ambush just around the corner.

While the reader may know the history, Anna Belfrage tells the story in a manner that will always leave you wondering what happens next. She gets under the skin of her characters, both historical and fictional. Her sympathetic portrayal of the characters and events takes the reader through a whole range of emotions; fear, anger, humour, awe … and love. Tears and laughter are never far from each other as the lives of Kit and Adam are revealed before us.

Engaging and entertaining, Anna Belfrage has created a masterpiece in Days of Sun and Glory, a book which is impossible to put down, but which you do not – ever – want to end.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Anna Belfrage is the author of the extremely popular time-travelling series, The Graham Saga. To find out more about this incredible author and her books, please visit her website.

©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016