Book Corner: Crown of Fear by Derek Birks

England, August 1485.
For almost thirty years, the Elder family has been ravaged by the feud between York and Lancaster. Now exiled John Elder, yearning for an end to the Elders’ troubles, throws his support behind a young, untried pretender, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond.
Henry’s tiny invasion force looks certain to be heavily outnumbered by the massive host that Richard III has summoned. But nothing is certain for some of King Richard’s subjects are wondering if the dire rumours they have heard about him are true.
Since one of Richard’s most powerful nobles, Lord Thomas Stanley is also Henry’s stepfather the king takes Stanley’s son hostage. If Stanley deserts him, the king must rely upon the vast army of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, but the earl has long resented Richard’s power in the north.
King Richard’s chief councillor, Sir William Catesby, keen to protect his king decides to crush the dangerous Elder brood once and for all. So, one by one John’s kinfolk are captured and imprisoned.
On a marshy plain not far from Market Bosworth the fate of the Elders and the kingdom of England will finally be settled.

Well this is bitter-sweet. The final instalment of Derek Birks‘ magnificent Wars of the Roses series is finally here. Nine books have followed 2 generations of the Elder family as they negotiated the highs and lows of one of the most protracted and violent conflicts in English history. And with Crown of Fear not only do we come to the culmination of the series, but to the culmination of the wars themselves, with the Battle of Bosworth and the campaign to put Henry VII on the throne.

The fact the author is not averse to killing off a leading character, or a readers’ favourite, means the reader is constantly on tenterhooks, not knowing what is going to happen. This adds to the tension in the story as you really do not know who is going to survive. It also gives a level of authenticity you do not find in many books; no one during the Wars of the Roses knew whether or not the battle they were fighting was going to be their last. Skill in battle could only get you so far; you also needed a heavy dose of luck. And rank was no protection – look at Richard III at Bosworth! Derek Birks manages to get this fact over to the reader perfectly!

The fictional Elder family have fit neatly into the actual history of the 15th century, acting as witnesses and participants of the great events, and explaining the divided loyalties and constantly moving lines that are drawn during a civil war. The family acts as a wonderful foil to the political leaders of the times, on both sides of the political divide, thus allowing the reader to see all aspects of the Wars of the Roses, from both sides of the battlefield. Crown of Fear also demonstrates that not all battles are fought in open fields, between two armies, but also in the family dynamic, in the corridors of power and in the murky world of espionage, where the rules hold no sway and the boundaries are constantly changing.

“Where are they, Mary?” groaned Eleanor Elder. “Four days! Hal promised me he would be back in four days.”

“I think what Hal said, my lady was that, with luck they’d be back in four days.” said her servant, Mary Ford in a vain attempt to soothe Eleanor’s ragged nerves.

“Luck?” grumbled Eleanor. “The only fortune this family knows is ill fortune.”

“Then … just have a little faith in my Hal, lady,” urged Mary.

“For the love of Christ, Mary, how can you ask me that?” snarled Eleanor. “I put my faith in ‘your’Hal long before you ever set eyes on him! Aye, and sometimes Hal was all that kept me alive. No, I would never doubt your man but I just know that, whenever my nephew John’s involved blood starts to flow like water – and sometimes a great black torrent of it.”

Mary’s lined face creased into a familiar grimace. “Aye well, there are some folk, lady, who might say the same about you!”

Eleanor stood still for a moment, contemplating Mary’s barbed response which was, as ever, not only pithy but disturbingly accurate. Mary might carry out the duties of a servant but she was infinitely more than that to Eleanor. Since the two first met in a wild, rain-sodden Yorkshire dale, Mary had been her constant shadow. When Eleanor was reckless, Mary advised caution; when others deserted her, Mary remained loyal. And, if Eleanor was abusive or ungrateful, Mary responded in kind. She had seen Eleanor Elder at her worst and had come back for more.

“I told John I wanted no part in this … this torment,” cried Eleanor. “I’m just … weary of it.”

Crown of Fear is beautifully written and meticulously researched. The author was once a history teacher, and you can tell that he knows his stuff! From the armour and weapons used, to battle tactics and distances travelled, Derek Birks’ historical knowledge and research add to the authenticity of this impressive novel. As ever, the fight scenes, including the Battle of Bosworth itself, are perfectly choreographed, frenetic and urgent in their action. You only realise you’ve been holding your breath throughout once the fight is over!

With Crown of Fear Derek Birks ably demonstrates that he has become a skillful storyteller by keeping the reader enthralled from the first page to the last. He has dedicated a great deal of time and words to the story of the Elder family and this dedication has paid off in that the reader themselves become totally in vested in the characters, particularly in the unlikely heroine, Eleanor Elder. Poor Eleanor has not had the best of lives, and never comes out of any book unscathed. She has lost loves, family and blood for the Elder cause. And she has become a firm favourite with the fans of the Elder family. My trepidation in reading Crown of Fear was irretrievably linked with my fear for Eleanor’s survival. I won’t tell you what happens to her – you need to read the book yourself. But needless to say, with everything going on in the book, my first concern was for what poor Eleanor would have to endure.

So, what did I think of Crown of Fear? I loved it. I read it in 3 days over the Christmas break, eager to get to the end and find out what happened to Eleanor Elder and the rest of her family (I’m still not telling though). It was as exciting an experience as I had reading Feud so many years ago – and it is a fitting end to what has been a fabulous series. I am bereft, because I know there will be no more. But what an experience it has been. I will never look at the Wars of the Roses in the same way again. If you have not read the series, I really do recommend that you do. You are in for a treat. And if,, like me, you have been ardently following the Elder family since the beginning – you are gonna love it!

Crown of Fear is now available from Amazon.

About the author:

Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. On his return to England, he read history at Reading University and for many years he taught history in a secondary school. Whilst he enjoyed his teaching career and it paid the bills, he found a creative outlet in theatrical activities, stage-managing many plays and outdoor Shakespeare performances. Derek always wanted to write and began, aged 17, writing stories, songs and poetry – in fact virtually anything. Inevitably, work and family life took precedence for a long period of time but in 2010 Derek took early retirement to indulge his passion for history and concentrate on his writing. He is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period.

Derek writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. He also produces podcasts on the Wars of the Roses for those interested in the real historical background to his books. Check them out on his website at: https://www.derekbirks.com/history-podcasts/

His historical fiction works include:

The Wars of the Roses – a 9-book series set during the fifteenth century, which follows a fictional family, the Elders, through their struggle to survive the Wars of the Roses from 1459 to 1485. The final book in the series, Crown of Fear is out on December 22nd.

Derek has recently embarked upon a new Post-Roman series and books 1-3 are out now: The Last of the Romans; Britannia: World’s End; and Land of Fire.

Apart from his writing, he enjoys travelling – sometimes, but not always, to carry out research for his books. He also spends his time walking, swimming and taking part in archaeological digs. He was a regular presence at the Harrogate History Festival, is an active member of the Historical Novel Society and you will also find him each summer talking to readers, signing books – and selling them – at the Chalke Valley History Festival outside Salisbury in Wiltshire.

Derek welcomes feedback from readers and you can order signed paperbacks from his website.

Feel free to get in touch with him at: http://www.derekbirks.com or follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/Feud_writer or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/derek.birks.14

My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Daughters of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine

A 14th-century representation of Henry and Eleanor

In history we tend to focus on the actions of the men in a family. Well, let’s face it, the life of Henry II and his sons is fascinating, full of love, honour, death and betrayal. Who wouldn’t be drawn into that world? But did you know that the women of the family had no less exciting and eventful lives?

With a mother like Eleanor of Aquitaine, you would not expect her daughters to be shrinking violets. And, indeed, they were not. And neither were the girls sent off into the world, never to see their parents again. In what may be a unique occurrence for royal princesses, each of the three daughters of Eleanor and Henry II would get to spend time with their mother later in their lives.

Matilda of England, the eldest daughter and third child of Henry and Eleanor, was born in London in June 1156. As her parents ruled an empire that stretched from the Scottish borders to the Pyrenees, travel was a constant part of Matilda’s childhood. She took her first sea-voyage across the English Channel at just 2 months old, accompanied her big brother, Henry, later to be known as The Young King. Throughout her childhood, Matilda is often seen accompanying her mother and siblings traveling through the vast Angevin domains. By the time she was 8-years-old, negotiations had begun for her marriage to Henry the Lion; her father planning an alliance with the German Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. The marriage was part of her father’s policy to build up opposition to Louis VII of France and the Pope, Alexander III. And in July 1166 her mother accompanied 10-year-old Matilda to Dover, where she embarked on a German ship that would take her to her new life and future husband. Her wedding to Henry V ‘the Lion’, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, finally took place in the cathedral at Minden, Germany, on 1 February 1168. 

Matilda’s dowry and send-off from England cost around £4,500 (about a quarter of England’s annual revenue). The young princess was given a trousseau worth £63, including saddles with gilt fittings, ‘two large silken cloths, and two tapestries and one cloth of samite and twelve sable skins’. Despite the fact Henry the Lion was 27 years Matilda’s senior, the marriage appears to have been a success and produced 10 children, including their eldest daughter, Richenza (her name was later changed to Matilda), born around 1172, and sons Henry, Otto and William. Otto was briefly considered as heir to the English throne by his uncle Richard I, before King John claimed the crown. He would briefly become Holy Roman Emperor as Otto IV in 1209 until his death in 1218.

13th-century depiction of Henry II and his legitimate children

Matilda’s fortunes changed dramatically in 1180 when, following a quarrel with Frederick Barbarossa, who held Henry responsible for the failure of a campaign in Italy, Henry the Lion was deprived of his fiefs and exiled from his lands for 7 years. Henry, Matilda and their children sought refuge with Matilda’s father and, in the Autumn of 1181, Henry II welcomed his daughter, giving her the palace of Argentin as a home for her family. Matilda and her family spent the next two years in the Angevin lands on the Continent; but in 1184 a pregnant Matilda accompanied her father to England, where she gave birth to her son, William, at Winchester. While at her father’s court Matilda petitioned the king to ease the restrictions on her mother’s imprisonment; following her involvement in the failed rebellion of her sons in 1173-4, Eleanor of Aquitaine had spent the last ten years incarcerated in England, at Old Sarum. Although still a prisoner, Eleanor was permitted to stay with Matilda while she was staying in England and when Eleanor was allowed to cross the Channel to take possession of the Vexin Castles, Matilda accompanied her.

Coronation of Henry the Lion and Matilda, from the Gospels of Henry the Lion, c.1188

Matilda and Henry were finally allowed to return to Germany in October 1185, although their children, Otto, William and Matilda remained at Henry’s court, to be raised by their grandfather. Matilda died at Brunswick on 28th June 1189 and was buried there, in the Cathedral of St Blasius, of which she was co-foundress. Her father Henry II died just 8 days later, probably before the news of his daughter’s death could reach him. Matilda’s husband would be buried alongside her, following his death on 6th August 1195.

Matilda’s next youngest sister, Eleanor, was born in October 1162 (1161 has also been suggested, but most sources agree on 1162) at Domfront Castle in Normandy. As with Matilda, Eleanor’s early childhood was quite nomadic. She travelled often with her parents, in her mother’s entourage. In February 1165 3-year-old Eleanor was betrothed to the infant son of Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick, as part of the same negotiations which saw Matilda married to Henry the Lion. However, Eleanor’s proposed marriage would eventually fall by the wayside. By 1170 Henry II was seeking to extend his influence across the Pyrenees and in order to prevent a French alliance with Castile, he betrothed Eleanor to 14-year-old Alfonso VIII, who had been king of Castile since he was just 2 years old. By September 1177, a month short of her 15th birthday, Eleanor was on her way to Castile, with an impressive escort to see her safely to her wedding at Burgos Cathedral.

The betrothal of Alfonso VIII of Castile and Eleanor of England

Eleanor and Alfonso appear to have had a very successful marriage, and a close, trusting relationship. Described as modest, elegant and gracious, Eleanor is renowned for introducing her mother’s Poitevin culture into the Castilian court, blending it with the luxuries offered by neighbouring Moorish cultures. Eleanor also acted as a diplomatic conduit between her husband and brothers, Richard and John, in order to aid each other and keep the peace, although not always successfully.Seven of Eleanor and Alfonso’s children survived infancy. Their eldest daughter Berengaria would eventually act as regent in Castile for her younger brother, Henry I, before succeeding him as queen regnant. One daughter, Eleanor, married James I, king of Aragon, but they divorced in 1229. While another, Constance, was dedicated as a nun and eventually became abbess of the abbey of Las Huelgas, founded by her parents in 1187.

Alfonso and Eleanor also had 2 sons who would survive childhood. The eldest, Ferdinand, died of a fever in 1209 or 1211 while his younger brother, Henry, would succeed his father, but died in a freak accident when a loose roof tile fell on his head. He was 13 years old.

Of their two other daughters, 14-year-old Urraca was initially suggested as the bride of the future Louis VIII of France, son of Philip II Augustus. The girls’ grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was instrumental in arranging the marriage and the 77-year-old queen travelled to Castile, in 1200, in person and in the depths of winter, to collect the granddaughter who would be Louis’ bride. The reunion of mother and daughter would surely have been highly emotional, having not seen each other in 23 years. The elder Eleanor spent two months with her daughter and her family and in getting to know her granddaughters, Eleanor of Aquitaine seems to have decided that the younger Blanca – rather than Urraca – would make a more suitable bride for Louis. The 12-year-old princess travelled back to Normandy with her grandmother where Blanca – or Blanche – and Louis were married.

Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile

The happy marriage of Eleanor and Alfonso came to an end when Alfonso died in Burgos on 6th October 1214. He was buried in the Abbey of Las Huelgas, where their daughter, Constance, was now Abbess, leaving Eleanor as regent for their 10-year-old son, Henry I. Broken-hearted Eleanor, however, only survived her husband by a little over 3 weeks. Overcome with grief she died in Burgos on 31st October 1214, and was laid to rest beside her beloved husband; leaving their daughter Berengaria to take up the regency for Henry. Eleanor was the last surviving daughter of the Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Only her younger brother, King John, remained of the Plantagenet siblings.

The youngest of the trio of Plantagenet sisters, Joanna, was born in October 1165. Ten years younger than her oldest brother, Henry the Young King, she was born at Angers Castle in Anjou, at a time when their parents’ relationship was breaking down; 1165 was the first ever Christmas Henry and Eleanor spent apart. With Henry still in England dealing with a Welsh revolt, he would not meet his new daughter for several months. Although Joanna spent much of her childhood at her mother’s court in Poitiers, she and her younger brother, John, were also educated at the magnificent Abbey of Fontevraud, where she learned the skills needed to run a large, aristocratic household.

Although Eleanor was imprisoned following the failed rebellion of 1173, three years later, she was allowed to travel to Winchester to say ‘goodbye’ to her youngest daughter, who had been betrothed to King William II of Sicily. Provided with an impressive trousseau, Joanna set out from Winchester at the end of August 1176, accompanied by her uncle Hamelin de Warenne Earl of Surrey. Once on the Continent, she was escorted from Barfleur by her brother Henry, the Young King to Poitiers, and from Poitiers, by another brother, Richard, who then escorted his little sister to Toulouse in a leisurely and elegant progress.

Joanna of England

Having finally reached Sicily 12-year-old Joanna was married to 24-year-old William on 13th February 1177, in Palermo Cathedral. The marriage ceremony was followed by her coronation as Queen of Sicily. Joanna must have looked magnificent, her bejewelled dress cost £114 – not a small sum at the time. Joanna and William had no surviving children and when William died without an heir in November 1189, Joanna became a pawn in the race for the succession. William’s sister, Constance was the rightful heir, but she was married to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor and many feared being absorbed into his empire. William II’s illegitimate nephew, Tancred of Lecce, seized the initiative. He claimed the throne and, in need of money, imprisoned Joanna and stole her dowry and the treasures left to her by her husband.

Luckily for Joanna her brother Richard I – the Lionheart – having gained the English throne in 1189, had wasted no time in organising the Third Crusade and arrived at Messina in Sicily in September 1190. Richard demanded Joanna’s release; and fearing the Crusader king’s anger Tancred capitulated and freed Joanna, also paying 40,000 ounces of gold towards the Crusade.

The beautiful and spirited Joanna was briefly reunited with her mother in Lent of 1191 when she arrived in Sicily with Richard’s bride, Berengaria of Navarre. Joanna and Berengaria were to become firm friends and travelled together to the Holy Land, ahead of Richard’s main force. However, during a storm, their ship was onto the shores of Cyprus by a storm and the two women were at risk of becoming hostages of the ruler of Cyprus, Isaac Comnenus. Again, Richard came to the rescue, reduced Cyprus in three weeks and clamped Comnenus in chains (silver ones apparently). Lent being over, Richard and Berengaria were married, with great pomp and celebration, before the whole party continued their journey to the Holy Land, arriving at Acre in June 1191.

Seal of Joanna of England

Joanna’s time in the Holy Land was mainly spent in Acre and Jaffa, accompanying her sister-in-law and following – at a safe distance – behind the Crusading army. In attempts to reach a political settlement with the Muslim leader, Saladin, Richard even offered Joanna as a bride for Saladin’s brother. His plans were scuppered, however, when Joanna refused outright to even consider marrying a Muslim. When a three-year truce was eventually agreed with Saladin, Joanna and Berengaria left the Holy Land ahead of the army, to await Richard in Rome. Richard, however, never made it; falling into the hands of Duke Leopold of Austria, he was handed over to his enemy, the Holy Roman Emperor. He was eventually freed in 1194, following payment of a huge ransom. 

Joanna spent the next few years at the courts of her mother and brother. But at the age of 31 she was proposed as a bride for Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, with the aim of bringing the County of Toulouse into the Plantagenet fold, a long-time dream of Eleanor’s. Raymond had a colourful marital history. He had been excommunicated for marrying his third wife whilst still married to his second; and he now repudiated his third wife in order to marry Joanna, which he did in Rouen in October 1196, with Queen Berengaria in attendance. Although not a happy marriage the couple had two children; with a son Raymond born around 1197 and a daughter, possibly called Mary, in 1198.

Raymond VI, however, was not a popular Count and faced rebellion. Joanna herself had to confront some of her husband’s enemies. She laid siege to a rebel stronghold at Cassee; however, her own traitorous troops set fire to her camp and Joanna barely managed to escape. Injured and pregnant, Joanna was then trying to make her way to her brother Richard when she heard of his death; changing direction, she eventually reached her mother at Niort. With no allowance from her Joanna’s husband, Queen Eleanor managed to persuade John to give his sister an annual pension of 100 marks. Knowing she was dying, Joanna became desperate to be veiled as a nun at Fontevraud; a request normally denied to married women – especially when they were in the late stages of pregnancy. However, seeing how desperate her daughter was, Eleanor asked Hubert Walter, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to intervene.

Tombs of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine at Fontevraud Abbey

The Archbishop tried to dissuade Joanna, but was impressed by her fervour and convened a committee of nuns and clergy; who agreed that Joanna must be ‘inspired by heaven’. In Eleanor’s presence, the Archbishop admitted Joanna to the Order of Fontevraud. Joanna was too weak to stand and died shortly after the ceremony; her son, Richard, was born a few minutes later and lived only long enough to be baptised. She died in September 1199, a month short of her 34th birthday. Joanna and her baby son were interred together at Fontevraud, the funeral cortege having been escorted there by Eleanor of Aquitaine and King John.

There is no record that Matilda, Eleanor and Joanna ever met as adults, and the last time they were together as sisters was most likely shortly before Matilda’s marriage, when Joanna was only 2-years-old. However, although they led very different and adventurous lives, all three daughters of Eleanor of Aquitaine had the unique opportunity, in the medieval era, of spending time with their mother as adults. Given the dangers of travel and the great distances involved, as well as the fickleness of life in general, they may have hoped for a reunion but surely would never have expected it to become a reality.

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An earlier version of this article first appeared on Henry the Young King Blog in 2017.

Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Further reading: 

The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; finerollshenry3.org.ukEleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine by Douglas Boyd; Eleanor of Aquitaine, by the Wrath of God, Queen of England by Alison Weir; oxforddnb.com; bestofsicily.com; britannica.com; geni.com; royalwomenblogspot.co.uk; medievalqueens.com.

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Old Year Out, New Year In

Conisbrough Castle, March 2020

As we have come to the end of 2021 and are on the eve of 2022, so I thought it might be time to look back on last year and look forward to the next. And what a strange year it has been, with us all trying to carry on amidst the worst pandemic in 100 years. There have been highs and lows and I feel for all those who have been affected or lost loved ones to this dreadful disease. In March 2020, as the realisation was dawning of what Covid-19 could be, I remember sitting in the shadow of Conisbrough Castle, the stronghold of the earls of Warenne in South Yorkshire, my ‘local’. I was writing the foreword for Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, and wrote the following lines:

“I must also give a nod to living through history. I started writing this foreword while visiting Conisbrough Castle in March 2020. I finished it at home, during ‘lockdown’ as the dreadful Coronavirus runs its course. I had planned to visit the castle again before completing the book, but that has proved impossible. Though the castle itself stands as a reminder that it has stood through 800 years of history. It has stood witness to the dreadful effects of invasion, war, famine and plague and its survival is, in itself, a promise of better days to come.”

I’m smiling!

I don’t think anyone thought that we would still be tackling Covid almost two years later, but I do hope that there is now a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Still, there have been some highlights for me this year. Defenders of the Norman Crown was released at the end of May with an Online Book Launch, which is now available on YouTube, and it has been getting some great reviews, the latest from authors Caroline Angus and John Paul Davis for Historia, the magazine of the Historical Writers Association. I managed to do a handful of talks, most notably for Lindum Books at The Collection in Lincoln, in June, at the wonderful Newark Book Festival in July, and at the Conisbrough Castle Heritage Day in August. Audiences were limited, but it was nice to be able to introduce them to the wonderful Warenne family. I also had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Jones, about his latest book, Powers and Thrones, for Lindum Books – and it was such fun!

Historical Writers Forum Zoom talks programme

This year, also, as an admin for Historical Writers Forum, we have launched a series of history-related talks featuring both fiction and non-fiction historical authors. So far, there are three talks in the series and we opened with an amazing discussion between myself, Elizabeth Chadwick, Carol McGrath and Samantha Wilcoxson, entitled Writing History in Fiction: Getting the Balance Right. This was followed by A Good Fight: Writing Battles in Historical Fiction, featuring authors SJA Turney, Derek Birks, Lynn Bryant and Paula Lofting. And then we hosted a book launch for Historical Writers’ Forums new anthology of short stories, Hauntings: an Anthology, which includes works from SJA Turney, Samantha Wilcoxson, Paula Lofting, Kate Jewell, KS Barton, Lynn Bryant, Jennifer C. Wilson and introducing Danielle Apple. There’s also a foreword by myself. The Hauntings Book Launch brought all the authors face to face for the first time, if virtually, and gave them the opportunity to discuss the inspirations behind their stories. If you haven’t read the book yet, I recommend you do – it is replete with thoughtful, intelligent historical fiction stories that stretch out the suspense.

Historical Writers Forum is also looking forward to continuing its programme of talks into the New Year, with our next book for 29 January 2022 at 8pm (UK time). Hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson, authors Patricia Bracewell, Sharon Bennett Connolly, Paula Lofting and Carol McGrath will discuss the various candidates for the identity of Aelfgyva: Was she the ravaged nun? The sister of a Norman duke? Daughter of a powerful English earl? Concubine of King Cnut? Or the twice-crowned English queen? It will be up to the audience to decide which panelist has made the best case. To book, click here: Aelfgyva: the Mysterious Woman in the Bayeux Tapestry. If you can’t make it on the evening, don’t worry, the discussion will be uploaded to our YouTube Channel by 31 January.

Podcasts

In 2021 I also made my first forays into podcasts, talking to Khaki Malarkey about the Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England in March and this month I spoke to the Tudors Dynasty podcast about the life of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, the Tudor heiress who was the fourth and last wife of Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon. And I have more podcasts lined up for the New Year, when I will be talking with Zack White about the Ladies of Magna Carta at History Hack and Matthew Lewis about the Warennes for Gone Medieval. I will post the links when I have them…

Forthcoming talks

I already have a number of talks lined up for 2022, and some more awaiting confirmation and one very exciting one, which I won’t tell you about just yet, because I don’t want to jinx it!

Tomb of Nicholaa de la Haye, Swaton

I can tell you about the 2 online talks I will be doing for Heritage Lincolnshire in March, to celebrate Women’s History Month. The first, Lincolnshire’s Medieval Heroines, will include the legendary Lady Godiva, the indomitable Nicholaa de la Haye, heiress Alice de Lacy and Katherine Swynford, the mistress who became a royal duchess. It will be a Zoom talk on 10 March at 7pm. The second talk is, as you may have guessed, on my favourite subject, Nicholaa de la Haye, the Heroine of Lincoln Castle and will by via Zoom on 17 March at 7pm. Tickets for both are available now and are £6 for members and £8 for non-members.

Book news

And last but not least, to book news. My next book, Women of the Anarchy, is with my publisher, Amberley Books. Unfortunately, they have a backlog of books to get out, thanks to the pandemic, and so I don’t yet have a publication date for it, nor even a book cover to show you. But I am hopeful that it will be out sometime in 2022. I am working hard on my Nicholaa de la Haye biography, tentatively titled King John’s Right Hand Lady, which is about half way finished. It is due into my editor at Pen & Sword in May and I should hopefully get it to them on time, with a view to publication in May 2023. I am also working on a ‘sequel’ to Heroines of the Medieval World, Heroines of the Tudor World, which should hit the shops late 2023/early 2024. And I have just been commissioned to contribute the entry on Henry III for a new book, entitled Kings & Queens, which will be published by Hodder & Stoughton in late 2023. Iain Dale, the editor, has some amazing historians, broadcasters and politicians, working on the project, including the likes of Michael Wood, Tom Holland (the historian, not the actor) and Dan Jones – and little old me!

The blog

I will, as ever, continue to write for History…the Interesting Bits. This blog has always been a place for me to flesh out ideas, share those ‘bits’ of history that I think you will like, and an escape. It is now entering its 8th year and has clocked over a million views in that time – something I never could have dreamed of!

I think that is all my news for now, so it just remains for me to thank you all for your continuing support and encouragement. I really would not be able to do this without you! And to wish you all a

Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon, Bookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: John Brown’s Women: A Novel by Susan Higginbotham

As the United States wrestles with its besetting sin-slavery-abolitionist John Brown is growing tired of talk. He takes actions that will propel the nation toward civil war and thrust three courageous women into history.

Wealthy Brown, married to John Brown’s oldest son, eagerly falls in with her husband’s plan to settle in Kansas. Amid clashes between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, Wealthy’s adventure turns into madness, mayhem, and murder.

Fifteen-year-old Annie Brown is thrilled when her father summons her to the farm he has rented in preparation for his raid. There, she guards her father’s secrets while risking her heart.

Mary Brown never expected to be the wife of John Brown, much less the wife of a martyr. When her husband’s daring plan fails, Mary must travel into hostile territory, where she finds the eyes of the nation riveted upon John-and upon her.

Spanning three decades, John Brown’s Women is a tale of love and sacrifice, and of the ongoing struggle for America to achieve its promise of liberty and justice for all.

I have to confess, I knew little about John Brown beyond the song when I started this novel. It demonstrated to me how much my knowledge of American history is seriously lacking. All I knew of John Brown comes from the song about his body ‘a-mouldering in its grave’. I knew he had something to do with abolitionism, but to what extent and what he did to merit the song about him, I was sadly unaware. I had heard of Harper’s Ferry, but hadn’t realised how significant an incident it was,, nor what spark it ignited that would burn into the American Civil War.

John Brown’s Women: A Novel by Susan Higginbotham tells the story of John Brown and his family through the eyes of three women; his second wife, Mary, his daughter-in-law Wealthy and his daughter Annie. Not merely spectators, these three women played active roles in the family’s mixed fortunes and endeavours against slavery. This is the story of a family living in an emerging nation, trying to build a family and farm whilst also fighting against that most abhorrent of practices, slavery. John Brown appears to have been one of those men who was steadfast in his beliefs and managed to draw in those around him.

John’s family, with his first wife and then with Mary, was large and at times disparate, often living in different states, but they were always close. And it is this closeness, often facilitated by Mary, that draws them into the conflicts in Kansas, and later at Harper’s Ferry, that saw the family devastated by loss. John Brown’s Women: A Novel tells their story in a sensitive, thought-provoking manner, that will draw the reader in from the very beginning. Mary’s compassion and John Brown’s quirks provide a fascinating insight into this famous family.

Mary heard someone unbolt a door, then a face appeared, lit by a skylight in the room. It belonged to a girl who was probably about Mary’s age and, to her immense surprise, not all that far off from her color. There were no shackles, and the girl’s calico dress, though too thin for a Pennsylvania winter, was perfectly ordinary, even pretty. “This is Miss Day, ”Johnny said to her. “And this is Josie.”

“Pleased to meet you, ma’am.”

“Johnny said you needed a warmer dress.” Mary displayed the one under her arm. “If you let me try this on you, I can cut it down and have it ready by the morning.”

“That’s kind of you, missus. But ain’t no need for you to do the work. I’ve been sewing since I was a little bit of a thing. Sewed for my mistress, and she was right particular. If you bring me a needle and thread and shears, I’ll whip this out in no time. It’ll pass the time here too.”

“All right.”Mary looked around the room. It was small but adequately ventilated and supplied with a feather bed and heaps of warm blankets. Clearly, this space had been the result of careful planning. “How long have you been  .  .  . escaping?”

“Lord, miss, I’ve lost all track of time. Been a good two months, I guess. Started out in Maryland.”

“What made you decide to run?”

Josie looked in John Jr.’s direction and shook her head.

“John, could you get my sewing things so I don’t have to go up and down this ladder again? You know where I keep them all.” John Jr. obeyed. When she and Mary heard the sound of his feet descending the ladder, Josie said, “Master was looking at me the way he looked at all of us girls when we started getting a shape to us, miss. I knew he’d be doing more than looking soon. So I lit out to a place I’d heard about, and here I am.”

“It must have been hard leaving your family.”

“Ma died years ago.”

“Your father?”

“You might say Master is my father, miss.”

There were so many layers of awfulness here, Mary could hardly unpack them. Josie shrugged. “That’s the way it is, miss. At least in my place. Some masters leave us girls alone, but others don’t. If a girl complains, if she’s fool enough, she gets beaten or sold to someone even worse. Or both.”

Mary tried to imagine what “even worse” might be and decided to stop trying.

Over the next day or so, Mary visited Josie as often as she could without being too conspicuous about it. Josie redid her dress so wonderfully it almost looked pretty—indeed, she put Mary’s sewing to shame—and it was a good thing she was quick about it, for Mr. Brown came home shortly afterward. The next evening, he left on another trip, with Josie—as John Jr. told Mary later—concealed beneath some hay, bound for Ohio. Mary had sent her off with her warmest shawl, knowing she could soon knit herself a new one.

A few days later, Mr. Brown returned from his journey. The morning after his arrival, he caught Mary alone at her spinning wheel. “Miss Day, John told me that you helped with the delivery the other day, and you gave away your shawl and dress.”

Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, John Brown’s Women: A Novel shows America’s struggled with its identity and ethos in the mid- nineteenth century. And the extent of the research undertaken by Susan Higginbotham to produce such a novel is evident in every page. From the methods of farming, to new medical treatments and the historical events themselves, the author’s descriptions are replete with detail and serve to transport the reader back in time.

John Brown’s Women: A Novel is an endearing read, giving the reader an insight into the lives, loves and tragic losses that the family Brown had to endure. Susan Higginbotham allows you be a fly on the wall, watching the tragedies and hardships, that the family had to go through, but also showing you their strength and resilience, and how much of each they took from each other. The strength of John Brown’s convictions resonate throughout the family and its generations.

John Brown’s Women: A Novel by Susan Higginbotham takes you on an emotional rollercoaster – you will need tissues, I can guarantee it. I read the last few chapters through eyes streaming with tears.

For anyone interested in life in 19th century American, whether on a social, political or simply entertaining level, I cannot recommend John Brown’s Women: A Novel highly enough.

To buy the book:

John Brown’s Women: A Novel is available on Amazon in the UK and US.

About the author:

Susan Higginbotham’s meticulously researched historical fiction brought to life by her heartfelt writing delights readers. Higginbotham runs her own historical fiction/history blog, History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham. She has worked as an editor and an attorney and lives in Maryland with her family.

Website: www.susanhigginbotham.com

My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Yorkshire’s Little Prince

Æthelread II (known to history as the Æthelread Unready)

It may come as no surprise that very few royals have been born in Yorkshire over the years. There was Ӕlfgifu of York, the first wife of Ӕthelred II (known to history as Ӕthelred the Unready). Ӕlfgifu was the daughter of the earl of Northumbria and the marriage was intended to strengthen the links between the north and south of England. Ӕlfgifu was the mother of, among others, Edmund II Ironside, and therefore the great-grandmother of Margaret of Wessex, (St Margaret) Queen of Scots as the wife of Malcolm III Canmor. Ӕlfgifu died before April 1002 when Ӕthelred II married his second wife, Emma of Normandy.

Another royal with links to Yorkshire was Henry I. The youngest son of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, Henry was the only king of England born in Yorkshire. Henry was born in Selby in the summer of 1068, whilst his father was in Yorkshire, stamping out rebellion and pursuing his Harrying of the North. He would seize the throne in 1100 following the death of his older brother, William II Rufus, in a hunting accident in the New Forest. In the same year, Henry would marry Edith of Scotland, who changed her name to Matilda on her marriage. As the daughter of Malcolm III and St Margaret, Edith/Matilda was herself a descendant of Ӕthelred II and Ӕlfgifu of York.

There is one other medieval royal born in Yorkshire, a little prince who spent his entire – though tragically short – life in our great county. William of Hatfield.

I read a book recently that mistakenly said William of Hatfield was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. I was amazed that the author wasn’t aware that he was actually born at the royal hunting lodge of Hatfield, near Doncaster. I thought everyone knew this! Then I realised that most people, when talking about royals and Hatfield, would automatically think of the Hertfordshire Hatfield, It was, after all, where Queen Elizabeth I was living when she was told that she was queen of England. It makes sense that most people would think of that Hatfield first. But I’m a Yorkshire lass and, as I say, we don’t get many royals born up our way. So, I suppose, when we do, we know about them.

Monument to William of Hatfield, York Minster

William of Hatfield was the fourth child and second son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. The king and queen were keeping Christmas at the manor of Hatfield, in the old West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1336, when Prince William was born. Hatfield was situated in the midst of the royal hunting grounds of Hatfield Chase and was close to the Earl Warenne’s hunting lodge of Peel Castle, Thorne. The young prince was baptised by William Melton, Archbishop of York, but died soon afterwards. After his death, the little prince’s body was transported a little further north, to York. On 10 February 1337, William was buried in York Minster, the church in which his parents had been married in January 1328. His short life memorialised by an elaborate tomb surmounted with his effigy and located in the north quire aisle of the Minster, though the site of his grave is now lost.

In 1345, the tragic little prince’s story was caught up in the marital affairs of John de Warenne, 7th and last earl of Warenne and Surrey. John had been married to a granddaughter of King Edward I, Joan of Bar, in 1306, when John was 20 years old and Joan a girl of 10. The marriage was a disaster, with John having a number of affairs and spending many years trying to obtain a divorce. In pursuit of this divorce, and in the hope of finally being able to marry his mistress of the time, Isabella Holland, John claimed that he had had an affair before marrying Joan, with his wife’s maternal aunt Mary of Woodstock, when he was 19 and Mary 27 years of age. This was indeed a drastic claim, as Mary had been a nun since she was about 7 years old, and it was probably born out of desperation; John was becoming increasingly infirm and still had no heir to succeed him. It was a last-ditch attempt to marry Isabella and have legitimate children. It failed, though the earl’s confession was presented to Pope Clement VI who,

on 15 May, 1345, issued a mandate to the Bishop of S. Asaph to absolve John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey and Stratherne, Lord of Bromfeld and Yale, from excommunication, which he has incurred by inter-marrying with Joan, daughter of Henry, Count de Barre, whose mother’s sister, Mary, he had carnally known. A penance is to be enjoined; and as to the marriage, canonical action is to be taken.

Calendar of Papal Registers, Papal Letters (p. 116) quoted in Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey’, p. 245
Roche Abbey, South Yorkshire

No further action seems to have been taken with regards to the marriage. John and Joan would remain husband and wife until John’s death at Conisbrough Castle at the end of June, 1347. John’s penance, however, appears to have been the generous donation of the manor of Hatfield to Roche Abbey:

1345. November 22. Westminster. Whereas the King’s kinsman, John de Warenna, Earl of Surrey, holds the manor of Haytfield for life of the grant of Edward II, with successive remainders to Maud de Neyrford for life, to John de Warenna her son, in tail male, to Thomas his brother, in tail male, and to the heirs of the body of the said earl, and reversion to the said King and his heirs, as in the letters patent is more fully contained; the earl has now made petition that – Whereas the said Maud is dead, and John son of Maud and Thomas have taken the religious habit in the Order of the Brethren of the Hospital of S. John of Jerusalem in England, at Clerkenwell, he may have licence to grant for his life to the abbot and convent of Roche, the advowson of the church of Haytfield, held in chief, which church is extended, of the value of 70 marks yearly; and the King has assented to his petition. Also, as a further grace, the King has granted that the abbot and convent shall retain in frankalmoign the said advowson, which should revert to him on the death of the earl; and may appropriate the church whenever they deem it expedient to do so, to find thirteen monks as chaplains to celebrate divine service daily for ever in the abbey for the King, Queen Philippa, and their children, and for the earl; also for the soul of William, the King’s son, who lately died in the said manor; also the souls of the progenitors of the King and of the earl.

Calendar of Papal Registers, Papal Letters (p. 116) quoted in Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey’, p. 246

It is touching that John’s penance also served as a means for the king and queen to remember their infant son, William, who had been born in late 1336 at the manor of Hatfield, Doncaster, and died there in early 1337.

The motte of Peel Castle, Thorne, near Doncaster

William had been born six years after his older brother Edward, known to history as the Black Prince. Edward who was their father Edward III’s heir, until his death in 1376, a year before the king. As a consequence, Edward III was succeeded by the Black Prince’s only surviving son by his wife, Joan of Kent, Richard II. It was the unsurpation of Henry iV, who seized the crown from King Richard in 1399, that caused the fatal rivalry of the royal houses of Lancaster and York. Had William survived to adulthood, the story of England in the 15th century could have been very different; the rival houses of Lancaster and York were both descended from sons of Edward III who were younger than William. Had he lived, the Wars of the Roses may never have happened….

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia, except Peel Castle and Roche Abbey, which are © Sharon Bennett Connolly

Sources: 

The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; oxforddnb.com; royaldescent.net; Fairbank, F. Royston, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of hisPossessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX, (1907), pp. 193–266; Historic England, ‘Peel Hill Motte and Bailey Castle, Thorne’, historicengland.org.uk; ‘Peel Hill Motte’, http://historyofthorne.com/peel_hill.html

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Magna Carta’s Family Ties

Magna Carta

When I am researching into the female personalities in medieval England, I am struck time and again by how closely the nobility of England was related, through blood and marriage. Just look at the women who surround the Magna Carta story. Each of the women I wrote of had at least one familial connection to another great noble family; some had a number of links to several families. It is a tangled and complicated web, but I will try and give you a brief overview here.

As you may have noticed, my favourite medieval woman is Nicholaa de la Haye, castellan of Lincoln Castle; she successfully defended the castle through at least 3 sieges, the last 2 when she was a widow in her 60s. Nicholaa was related to King John’s half-brother, William  Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, through her son, Richard, whose daughter Idonea was married at a young age to William (II), Longespée’s son by his wife, Ela of Salisbury. It was as a result of this connection that William (I) Longespée claimed Lincoln Castle and the shrievalty of Lincolnshire following the Second Battle of Lincoln in May 1217. Longespée claimed that as they were his daughter-in-law’s inheritance, it was his right to administer them. Idonea’s father, Richard, had died sometime in the previous 12 months, leaving Idonea as his sole heir. Longespée appears to have conveniently forgotten – or ignored – the fact that the castle of Lincoln was Nicholaa’s by hereditary right – and Nicholaa was still very much alive!

Coat of arms of William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury

Despite Nicholaa’s stalwart defence of Lincoln Castle during a 10-week siege, Longespée was granted the castle and position of sheriff just 4 days after the battle. Nicholaa’s refusal to accept this saw her presenting herself to the royal court and requesting she be reinstated. A compromise was reached whereby Longespée remained as sheriff of Lincolnshire, but Nicholaa was reinstated as castellan of Lincoln Castle, and given control of the city of Lincoln itself. Longespée was by no means satisfied and continued to scheme to gain control of the castle; Nicholaa doggedly held on and only retired from her position as castellan of Lincoln in 1226, 3 months after Longespée’s death.

Ela of Salisbury provided at least two further familial connections among my Ladies of Magna Carta. Through her grandfather, Patrick of Salisbury, Ela was a cousin of William Marshal and his five daughters. Marshal was the son of Patrick of Salisbury’s sister, Sybilla. Patrick himself had married, as his second wife, Ela de Talvas, who was the widow of William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Warenne and Surrey. From her first marriage, Ela de Talvas was the mother of the heiress, Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey in her own right and wife to, first, William of Blois, youngest son of King Stephen and secondly, Hamelin Plantagenet, illegitimate half-brother of King Henry II. Isabel de Warenne, therefore, was aunt to Ela of Salisbury, Richard the Lionheart and King John.

Arms of the Warenne earls of Surrey

Isabel de Warenne’s own aunt, Ada de Warenne, was married to the son and heir of King David I of Scotland, Henry, Earl of Huntingdon. Ada was the mother of two Scottish kings, Malcom IV the Maiden and William I the Lion. She was, therefore, the grandmother of the Scottish princesses, Margaret and Isabella, the only two women, other than the queen, Isabelle d’Angoulême, who can be clearly identified in a clause of Magna Carta. Margaret and Isabella had been handed over to King John as hostages following the 1209 Treaty of Norham, agreed between their father, William the Lion, and King John. John was supposed to find suitable husbands for the teenage girls; it had been implied that they would be married to John’s sons, Henry and Richard, but no marriages had ever materialised. Clause 59 of Magna Carta stipulated that John would find spouses for the princesses or send them home.

The two girls were eventually wed to English noblemen, though not until the 1220s. In 1221 Margaret married Hubert de Burgh, Henry III’s Justiciar and widower of another of my Ladies of Magna Carta, Isabella of Gloucester, who also had the dubious honour of having been the first wife of King John. Princess Isabella was married, in 1225, to Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who was 14 years her junior. The marriage was not a happy one. A third Scottish princess, Marjorie, who was several years younger than her two sisters and not part of the conditions of the Treaty of Norham, also married into the English nobility. She became the wife of Gilbert Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke, 3rd son of the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent for Henry III.

Hubert de Burgh from Matthew Paris’s Historia Anglorum

Roger Bigod was the son of Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, and Matilda Marshal, eldest daughter of William Marshal. Marshal was the man who had led the army that relieved Nicholaa de la Haye and the siege of Lincoln Castle in May 1220. Matilda married, as her second husband, William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Warenne and Surrey and only son of Isabel and Hamelin, mentioned earlier. Matilda’s sister, Isabel, was married to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester; he was the nephew of the same Isabella of Gloucester who had been wife to King John, Geoffrey de Mandeville and Hubert de Burgh. Isabel Marshal then married, as her second husband, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of Henry III and youngest son of King John. Another sister, Eva, married William (V) de Braose, grandson of William (IV) de Braose and Matilda, the poor woman who was imprisoned by King John and starved to death, alongside her eldest son, in his dungeons in 1210. It was Eva’s husband who was hanged by Llywelyn, Prince of Gwynedd, after he was found in Llywelyn’s bedroom with Llywelyn’s wife, Joan, Lady of Wales and illegitimate daughter of King John.

Which brings us neatly to the royal family. John’s eldest legitimate daughter, also named Joan, was betrothed as a child to Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche. The marriage never materialised, however, as Joan’s mother, Isabelle d’Angoulême, decided to marry Count Hugh in her daughter’s stead, causing a rather juicy scandal in the process! Joan was not without a suitor for long and within a year of her mother’s marriage she was married to Alexander II, King of Scots and brother of those same Scottish princesses who were included in Magna Carta’s clause 59. Of Joan’s sisters, Isabella was married to Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and Eleanor, only a baby at the time of her father’s death, was married to William (II) Marshal, eldest son and heir of the great William Marshal, at the age of 9. Eleanor was a widow before her 16th birthday, dramatically taking a vow of perpetual chastity in front of the Archbishop of Canterbury shortly after her husband’s death.

Arms of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke

As her second husband, Eleanor married Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, despite that pesky vow of chastity, which was to prove costly to Simon when he had to travel to Rome to seek a papal dispensation to have it annulled. Simon de Montfort was to continue the fight for reform that had been enshrined in Magna Carta, but would meet his end at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Simon and Eleanor’s daughter, also named Eleanor, would marry Llywelyn, Prince of Wales, grandson of Llywelyn, Prince of Gwynedd. Eleanor died in childbirth in June 1282, while Llywelyn was defeated and killed by Edward I’s forces in December, the same year. Their only daughter, Gwenllian, was placed in a convent in Lincolnshire before she was 18 months old and would never leave it, dying there in 1337. Another perpetual royal prisoner was Gwenllian’s distant cousin, Eleanor of Brittany, a granddaughter of Henry II, niece of King John and first cousin of Henry III. Her royal blood meant that she would never be afforded the protection enshrined in clause 39 of Magna Carta and inspired by the gruesome death of Matilda de Braose, that:

“No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.”

There are many more familial links between the Ladies of Magna Carta. I could go on…

But I’m guessing that your heads are spinning and this is more than enough … for now.

Sources:

Rich Price, King John’s Letters Facebook group; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made EnglandThe Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of BritainOxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Ralph of Diceto, Images of History; Marc Morris, King John; David Crouch, William Marshal; Crouch and Holden, History of William Marshal; Crouch, David, ‘William Marshal [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c. 1146–1219)’, Oxforddnb.com; Flanagan, M.T., ‘Isabel de Clare, suo jure countess of Pembroke (1171×6–1220)’, Oxforddnb.com; Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight; Chadwick, Elizabeth, ‘Clothing the Bones: Finding Mahelt Marshal’, livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com; Stacey, Robert C., ‘Roger Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk (c. 1212-1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk; Vincent, Nicholas, ‘William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240)’, Oxforddnb.com.

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War by John Paul Davis

In 1204, the great Angevin Empire created by the joining of the dynasties of Henry II of England and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was fragmenting. At its height, the family landholdings had been among the largest the world had ever seen. From the border of England and Scotland in the north to south of the Pyrenees, it seemed there was nowhere in Europe destined to escape Plantagenet control. Yet within five years of his accession, King John’s grip on the family holdings was loosening. Betrayal against his father and brother, the murder of his nephew, and breaking promises made to his supporters were just some of the accusations levelled against him. When Philip II conquered Normandy, the chroniclers believed that an ancient prophecy was fulfilled: that in this year the sword would be separated from the sceptre. For the first time since 1066, England’s rule over the ancestral land was over. For John, troubles on the continent were just the beginning of a series of challenges that would ultimately define his reign. Difficult relations with the papacy and clergy, coupled with rising dissent among his barons ensured conflict would not be limited to the continent. When John died in 1216, more than half of the country was in the hands of the dauphin of France. Never had the future of the Plantagenet dynasty looked more uncertain. As the following pages will show, throughout the first eighteen years of the reign of Henry III, the future direction of England as a political state, the identity of the ruling family and the fate of Henry II’s lost empire were still matters that could have gone either way. For the advisors of the young king, led by the influential regent, William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, the effects of John’s reign would be long and severe. Successful implementation of the failed Magna Carta may have ensured his son’s short-term survival, yet living up to such promises created arguably a more significant challenge. This is the story of how the varying actions of two very different kings both threatened and created the English way of life, and ultimately put England on the path to its Lost Civil War.

What a fascinating book!

King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War by John Paul Davis is a study of the often overlooked civil war that took place between the First and Second Barons’ Wars of the 13th century. Very much overshadowed by King John’s struggles against the imposition of Magna Carta in 1215 and the later rise of Simon de Montfort, who was England’s ruler in all but name in 1264/5, the Marshal War often gets sidelined or ignored. Admittedly not as disruptive or even as violent as its more famous counterparts, the Marshal War was still an important event in the reign of Henry III.

In King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War, John Paul Davis takes the reader on a thorough investigation into the events and politics that caused the Marshal War. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, John Paul Davis examines the reigns of both King John and Henry III in order to explain the context and background to the short-lived rebellion of 1234 of the country’s leading magnates.

A howling gale tore through the streets of Newark on the evening of 18 October 1216. A mid-sized market town located some forty miles inland from the North Sea, it was rare for a storm to give rise to the levels of concern often felt by citizens of its coastal counterparts. Lying on both the Great North Road and the Fosse Way, the area was popular with travellers, especially cloth and wool merchants in town to sell their wares. The early twelfth-century bridge over the Trent had improved the trade links further, and by the reign of Henry II, the market had become well established. Though most of the buildings were of timber construction, even at the height of winter weather damage was often repairable.

This was not the first time the town had been forced to endure such a tempest.

Behind the sturdy stone walls of the nearby Norman castle, the abbot of Croxton had far more troubling issues to address. The south riverside fortress, though by no means immune to regular splashback, was far better prepared for nature’s challenges than the earlier motte-and-bailey that had preceded it. The same lack of worry, however, could not be said of the crisis that had brought him there. Renowned for his medicinal expertise, it didn’t take him long to realise that the patient he had been asked to treat was beyond hope of recovery. Rather than prolong the inevitable, he heard the dying man’s confession and performed the last rites. The storm was over by sunrise.

Blighted by a combination of chronic fatigue, dysentery brought about from years of poor diet and a sudden fever, King John passed away in the early hours of 19 October after more than seventeen years on the throne. His final year had been a black one for England. Accusations of betrayal against his own family and an inability to keep his allies on side had contributed in no small part to humiliating defeat on the Continent. By 1214, the loss of much of his ancestral birthright had been compounded by domestic discord. Loathed in equal measure by natural adversary and should-be follower, John’s life ended ignominiously amid a strange alliance of foreign invader and baronial rebel. Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, it ended through natural causes.

There are several instances where my own research crosses with John Paul Davis’s work and it was interesting to see William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the son of Hamelin and Isabel de Warenne, make an appearance; William played a prominent part in the events surrounding the rebellion. I have to say, also, that King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War would be a perfect accompaniment to my own book Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, which looks at the same years, though with the focus on the women.

The research is impeccable. John Paul Davis and I apparently agree on many aspects of the period, which is encouraging! If you have an interest in 13th century history, this is definitely a book for your library. John Paul Davis fills in many of the gaps between the First and Second Barons’ Wars, an often overlooked period of history.

Written in an engaging, accessible manner, King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War, is a thoroughly entertaining study of the politics, history and personalities involved in the first third of the century, from the devastating reign of King John, through the minority of Henry III and into the early years of Henry’s personal rule.

I can heartily recommend it!

King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War is now available from Amazon and Pen & Sword Books.

About the author:

John Paul Davis is the international bestselling author of eleven thriller novels and four works of historical non-fiction. His debut thriller, The Templar Agenda, was a UK top 20 bestseller; The Cortés Trilogy has also been an international bestseller. As well as being a thriller author, his debut work, Robin Hood: The Unknown Templar, has been the subject of international attention, including articles in The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail, Yorkshire Post and Nottingham Evening Post, mentions in USA Today and The Independent and reviews in the Birmingham Post and Medieval History Journal. His second work, Pity for the Guy, was the first full-length biography of Guy Fawkes and was featured on ITV’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show in November 2011. His most recent work on Henry III, The Gothic King, was released in 2013. His latest work of non-fiction, A Hidden History of the Tower of London, also published by Pen & Sword, was released in February 2020. He was educated at Loughborough University and lives in Warwickshire. His websites are http://www.officiallyjpd.com and http://www.theunknowntemplar.com. Twitter: @unknown_templar.

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Rebel’s Knot by Cryssa Bazos

Ireland 1652: In the desperate, final days of the English invasion . . .

A fey young woman, Áine Callaghan, is the sole survivor of an attack by English marauders. When Irish soldier Niall O’Coneill discovers his own kin slaughtered in the same massacre, he vows to hunt down the men responsible. He takes Áine under his protection and together they reach the safety of an encampment held by the Irish forces in Tipperary.

Hardly a safe haven, the camp is rife with danger and intrigue. Áine is a stranger with the old stories stirring on her tongue and rumours follow her everywhere. The English cut off support to the brigade, and a traitor undermines the Irish cause, turning Niall from hunter to hunted.

When someone from Áine’s past arrives, her secrets boil to the surface—and she must slay her demons once and for all.

As the web of violence and treachery grows, Áine and Niall find solace in each other’s arms—but can their love survive long-buried secrets and the darkness of vengeance?

Thank you so much to Cryssa Bazos for disrupting my work this week! Instead of working for 3 hours and then reading for an hour over lunch, I’ve been working for 1 hour and reading for 3! But it’s ok, I’ve finished Rebel’s Knot now so I can get on with my life. What a bloody amazing book – again!

I do not usually read stories set in the 17th century, they’re a little out of my comfort zone. However, novels by Cryssa Bazos have definitely earned an exemption. This is Cryssa’s third book set in the civil wars that tore Britain apart during the reign of Charles I. The first was set in England whilst the second followed the exploits of those unfortunates who were forced into indentured servitude in the colonies. This third instalment follows the fortunes of the Irish Catholics who continued to hold on to their resistance to Oliver Cromwell an the Parliamentarians.

Pursuing a form of guerrilla warfare against a much stringer and better equipped English army, the Irish brigades sheltered in Ireland’s forests and depended on the goodwill of the Irish people to survive. Rebel’s Knot tells the story of one such brigade, the harsh conditions they were forced to live under and the political divisions that threatened to destroy their cause.

Áine still clutched the poker, her back pressed against the stone fireplace. She had never been more alarmed in her life to see a man materialise in her path. From experience, she gave them all distance. Niall O’Coneill had appeared, sprung from legend—a blazing warrior brandishing a gleaming sword, accompanied by a kingly wolfhound. He looked capable of hewing a giant in half. Were it not for his mud-splattered mantle, stubbled beard and dark shadows beneath his eyes, she’d believe him to be a figment of her fanciful imagination.

And then reality slammed her with the tide of his rage. With a fearsome bellow, he heaved the edge of the worktable, and it crashed onto its side. Áine muffled a scream. Her shoulder scraped against the rough stone—she was pinned between the fireplace and the raging man. The old terror gripped her.

With his back turned to her, his shoulders rose and fell with each breath. Áine marshalled her scattered wits, determined to fly. Now was her chance, while this man and his wolfhound paid her no attention.

But then he faced her. Áine sucked in her breath, her stomach knotting. She was ten feet from the door—from safety—but with every heartbeat of hesitation, that distance stretched to impossible.

He took a step forward, and she flinched, braced for the force of a blow. She squeezed her eyes shut. Please, not fists.

“I’m sorry.”

This hadn’t come from Áine, though those same words had been running through her mind—a reflex she thought she had smothered. No, he had spoken those words.

Áine’s eyes flew open. He stood a few feet away—jaw tense, hands balled into fists. “I’m sorry,”he repeated tersely. “My anger is not with you.”

She released the breath she had been holding and gave him an answering nod. Few had ever apologised to her. A part of her feared it might be a ruse.

The man ran a shaky hand through his dark hair and looked around the kitchen, a frown worrying his brow. “Gather what you will, Áine Callaghan. Supplies, any food. Especially food. We leave shortly.”

“And where are we to be going?” Áine asked sharply.

“Away from here.” He seemed deep in thought, his mind visibly whirring.

The heroes of Rebel’s Knot are a young woman, Aine, who has demons in her own past, and Niall, a born soldier who is driven to his limits when his loyalty is questioned. That Aine and Niall come up against a number of enemies, both known and unknown, leaves the reader on the edge of their seats, never quite knowing who is on the heroes’ side – and who isn’t. To prove his own innocence, he must find the real traitor.

The characters are wonderful, vivid creations who draw you in to their story. Cryssa Bazos recreates rural Ireland in great deal, drawing not only on the landscape, but also on the atmosphere and the beauty that is uniquely Ireland. Allusions to the Irish legends of the past serve to draw the reader in even deeper. What a masterpiece!

Rebel’s Knot is a wonderfully fast-paced novel that draws you in. Cleverly written, it leaves you guessing, almost to the very last page, as to the outcome of all the various strands and intrigues. The love story of Aine and Niall is offset by the violence engendered by war and the distrust borne out of the presence of a traitor.

Well, at least now I’ve finished it I can actually get back to work. I love it when a book grabs you like that! If you’re not reading it, you’re thinking about reading it!

It was a pleasure to read!

Rebel’s Knot by Cryssa Bazos is now available from Amazon.

From the author:

I am a historical fiction writer and 17th Century enthusiast, with a particular interest in the English Civil War (ECW) and romantic fiction. I blog about English history and storytelling at my site, the 17th Century Enthusiast, and I’m involved with the English Historical Fiction Authors blog site and a member of the Romantic Novelist Association (RNA) and the Historical Novel Society (HNS).

My absolute favourite books are romantic adventures, steeped in history, that take me to another time and place. I hope you enjoy my stories.

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Bear of Britain by Steven A. McKay

AD 432. BRITAIN. The winter snows are melting at last, but spring will bring more than just rebirth this year. The Saxons are coming, and that means war.
Bellicus, Duro and Cai have travelled south to join the warlord, Arthur, and his growing army of Britons. New friendships have been made and exciting adventures await the warrior-druid and his companions, but the threat of Hengist and his invaders casts a dark cloud over all. For years, the Saxons have been content to remain mostly confined to the eastern parts of the country, but now they are marching west, and Hengist has amassed the biggest army seen on these shores since the Romans left over twenty years ago.
Arthur – dubbed the Bear of Britain by his advisor, Merlin – has never truly felt he’d earned such a grand title, but now he will have a chance to prove himself. The addition of a new, crack unit to his ranks will, he hopes, be enough to sweep the Saxon threat from Britain once and for all, and herald a generation of peace and prosperity for his people. But nothing in war is straightforward and even their own countrymen can turn violently against them at any moment, as Bellicus discovers to his cost…

The post-Roman landscape of Britain is brought vividly to life in this exciting fourth novel in the Warrior Druid of Britain Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Simon Scarrow, Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden.

At last! Bellicus is back.

And what a thoroughly enjoyable novel it is.

I have developed a soft spot for this druid of the ancient Britons and his adventures. And this time he joins Arthur, the Bear of Britain to fight against Hengist and Horsa. The Bear of Britain truly indulges my love of all things Arthurian, with all the leading characters of the legend, Lancelot, Sir Kay and Merlin himself, joining the story. And what a story. Steven A. McKay has surpassed himself this time (and that is hard to do!). This was a fabulous adventure which I devoured in no time.

The Bear of Britain is a beautifully crafted adventure that sees Bellicus and his friend, the former Roman Centurion, Duro, join Arthur for an offensive against the Saxon brothers, Hengist and Horsa. Both Bellicus and Arthur are tasked with uniting the various British factions to form one coherent fighting force. And it is not that easy when each king thinks he himself should have the authority over Arthur, a man who is not tied to one land, but who has been raised since childhood to be the most formidable warlord and leader of men. Arthur must assert his own authority before he can lead his disparate forces against the Saxon invaders.

The Bear of Britain is a fabulous combination of battles, intrigue and political in-fighting and not everything will go Arthur’s way. However, he is blessed with the guidance of the Merlin and Bellicus, two druids who know how to influence the minds of kings and men. It is a fascinating study, not only of 6th century warfare, but also of what it takes to forge an army and lead it against such a formidable foe.

“I’ll actually be glad once the fighting starts,”the centurion said vehemently. “Since it’ll warm me up a little!”

A rider charged towards the camp from the east, heading towards Arthur’s tent and Bellicus led the way there himself. “That’ll be one of the scouts,”he said. “Bringing word of the Saxons’intended target perhaps.”

“Morning, big man,”a voice called, and they turned to see their young compatriot, and rowdy champion of the Votadini tribe, Eburus, warming himself by a fire. He’d travelled south with them after forming an unlikely friendship with both during the previous year’s battles against the Picts. “What’s happening? Are we moving out?”

“Soon, I’d guess,”Bellicus replied. “We’re just going to see Arthur now. Have our men ready to move, will you?”

Eburus grinned. Like Lancelot he was loud and brash and confident in his own abilities as a warrior. “They’re all ready to go, don’t worry, druid. Some of us have been up for hours you know.”

“Aye, not many can sleep once you start talking, Eburus. You’re a giant pain in the arse, lad.”Duro’s face was serious, but his eyes twinkled and, as he and Bellicus passed the guards and entered Arthur’s tent they chuckled at the foul insult Eburus called after them.

“Ah, you’re awake. Good.”Arthur nodded to them politely although he seemed pensive as he directed them to sit on a couple of stools by the table in the middle of the tent.

Lancelot was there, looking as fresh and clean-cut as he had before the previous night’s raid and Bellicus thought he could even smell lavender from the man, as though he’d washed in scented water recently. Also present were two local chieftains and, of course, the Merlin.

Nemias was his real name, but he was now more widely known as Merlin, the title given to the chief druid of all Britain.

Cai headed straight for the white-bearded old High Druid and allowed his muzzle to be stroked and a kiss to be planted on his head before padding back and flopping onto the floor at Bellicus’s feet.

“I was just saying,” Arthur told the newcomers, “That our scout reports the Saxons are moving south . He believes they’re heading for Waithe . Which means they won’t have as far to travel as I’d hoped. We should get moving now if you’re all ready?” He looked around at the gathered lords who all nodded agreement. “Let’s not waste any more time then. I’ll lead with Lancelot and my personal guard. King Caradoc, these are your lands, you ride with me, if you would ? Bellicus, you bring up the rear with your men, all right?”

Steven A. McKay has been teasing his readers with little glimpses of Arthur throughout the Warrior Druid of Britain series, but in this book the legendary hero gets more of a leading role – though the focus remains firmly on Bellicus’ story. It is wonderful the way the author skillfully weaves Arthur’s story into that of Bellicus, creating a new legend, all of its own. The character of Bellicus has developed wonderfully through the books, so that an avid reader can almost read his mind. He has a wonderful sense of right and wrong, and of destiny, that means the reader knows how Bellicus forms his decisions and ideas. HIs faithful companion, Duro, has his own demons to face in this episode of the story and it is refreshing to see him branch out on his own a little.

The Bear of Britain is a wonderful addition to Bellicus’ story and adds a new dimension to the druid’s life. The fact that he crosses paths with the legendary characters of Arthur and Lancelot adds a spice that the reader can really relish. One can only hope that their paths will continue to cross in later books.

And I do hope that the observant reader notices Steven A. McKay’s subtle nod to the great Bernard Cornwell and his The Last Kingdom series – it certainly made me smile and nod knowingly (but I will say no more and leave that for you to spot).

The Bear of Britain is a wonderful, enjoyable adventure and an excellent sequel to the preceding instalments of the Warrior Druid of Britain series (The Druid, Song of the Centurion and The northern Throne). The depth of research and thought that have gone into these books is astounding. Steven A. McKay has recreated post-Roman Britain in astonishing and vivid detail, no matter what part of Britain his characters find themselves in, both in the landscape and the people who occupied it.

The Bear of Britain is available in ebook and paperback from Amazon. I highly recommend you get yourself a copy – after reading the first 3 books, that is!

From Steven A. McKay:

I was born in Scotland in 1977 and always enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. I decided to write my Forest Lord series after seeing a house called “Sherwood” when I was out at work one day. I’d been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn’t come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well…It felt like a message from the gods and my rebooted Robin Hood was born.

My current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80’s TV show “Knightmare”, and their version of Merlin that got my ideas flowing. Of course, the bearded old wizard had been done to death in fiction, so I decided to make my hero a giant young warrior-druid living in post-Roman Britain and he’s been a great character to write.

I was once in a heavy metal band although I tend to just play guitar in my study these days. I’m sure the neighbours absolutely love me.

Check out my website at stevenamckay.com and sign up for the email list – in return I’ll send you a FREE short story, as well as offering chances to win signed books, free audiobooks and other quite good things!

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Daughters of the Greatest Knight

Arms of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke

It is impossible to talk about anything related to Magna Carta without mentioning the man who has come to be known as ‘the Greatest Knight’: William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, and his family. Marshal was one of the few nobles to stay loyal to King John throughout the Magna Carta crisis. That is not to say that the king and Marshal did not have their differences, nor that their relationship was always smooth sailing. However, William Marshal was famed for his loyalty and integrity and maintained his oaths to King John throughout his reign, regardless of the distrust between the two men.

The children of William and his wife, Isabel de Clare, cannot fail to have benefited from William Marshal’s rise through the ranks from fourth son and humble hearth knight, to earl of Pembroke and, eventually, regent for King Henry III. Their father’s position as a powerful magnate on the Welsh Marches, and the most respected knight in the kingdom, saw William’s daughters make advantageous marriages in the highest echelons of the English nobility.

William and Isabel were the parents of 10 children who survived to adulthood, 5 boys and 5 girls. In a bizarre and sad twist of fate, each of the boys would, in turn, succeed to the earldom, with not one leaving a male heir to continue the Marshal line. Of the girls, the couple’s eldest daughter was Matilda, also known as Maud or Mahelt. Given that her parents married in 1189 and she had two elder brothers, Matilda was probably born in 1193 or 1194. The Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal wrote glowingly of Matilda, saying she had the gifts of

‘wisdom, generosity, beauty, nobility of heart, graciousness, and I can tell you in truth, all the good qualities which a noble lady should possess.’

 Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal 

The Histoire goes on to say;

‘Her worthy father who loved her dearly, married her off, during his lifetime to the best and most handsome party he knew, to Sir Hugh Bigot.’

 Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal 

Unfortunately for Matilda, her husband Hugh, the eldest son of the earl of Norfolk, was among the rebels during the Magna Carta crisis; their eldest son was taken hostage by the king when their castle at Framlingham surrendered to the royal army. It must have been a comfort to Matilda that, on John’s death, her son’s welfare, while still a hostage, would have been supervised by the new regent, the boy’s grandfather. When Hugh died in 1225, Matilda married for a second time just a few months later, to William de Warenne, Earl of Warenne and Surrey, thus uniting the Bigod, Warenne and Marshal families. The marriage appears to have been one of convenience rather than love but produced 2 children, a boy and a girl. Matilda’s son by her second marriage, John de Warenne, joined his 3 older Bigod half-brothers, Roger, Hugh and Ralph as pall bearers for their mother’s coffin at her funeral in 1248, when she was laid to rest beside her mother at Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire.

Seal of Matilda Marshal’s youngest son John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Warenne and Surrey

The next daughter, Isabel, was at least six years younger than Matilda, born in 1200. She was married to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, who was twenty years her senior. Gilbert was the son of Richard de Clare, earl of Hertford, and Amicia, coheiress of William, Earl of Gloucester; through his mother he could trace his ancestry back to King Henry I, albeit through king’s illegitimate eldest son, Robert of Gloucester, the stalwart supporter of his half-sister, Empress Matilda. Gilbert’s aunt, Amicia’s sister, was Isabella of Gloucester, the discarded first wife of King John, who had held the earldom of Gloucester until her death on 14 October 1217, when it passed to Gilbert.

Both Gilbert and his father were named among the twenty-five barons appointed as Enforcers of Magna Carta in 1215; as a consequence, father and son were excommunicated at the beginning of 1216. After the death of King John, Gilbert sided with Prince Louis of France and was only reconciled with the royalist cause after the Battle of Lincoln in May 1217. This was despite having married Isabel, the second daughter of William Marshal, in 1214; Marshal had been regent of England for 9-year-old Henry III since King John’s death in October 1216. Like her older sister, Isabel had found her husband’s family were on the opposing side to her father in the Magna Carta crisis and the civil war that followed. They had 6 children together before Gilbert’s death in October 1230; he died on the return journey from an expedition to Brittany. Isabel was married again, not 6 months later, to the king’s younger brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. The early deaths of at least 2 children put a strain on this marriage and Richard had been seeking a divorce when Isabel found herself pregnant again. She was safely delivered of the longed-for son and heir, Henry of Almain in 1235. Tragically, Isabel herself died in childbirth, in 1240. Her baby son, Nicholas, died the same day.

The next-youngest of the Marshal sisters, Sibyl, was born around 1201: she was married to William de Ferrers, fifth earl of Derby. Unlike her elder sisters, Sibyl and her husband played little part in national affairs. Ferrers had been plagued by gout since his youth and led a largely secluded life. He was regularly transported by litter. Further, he had never fully recovered from an accident that had happened sometime in the 1230s. While crossing a bridge at St Neots in Huntingdonshire, Ferrers was thrown from his litter, into the water. It must have been a terrifying experience. He succeeded to the earldom of Derby on his father’s death in 1247 but died in 1254. During the marriage Sibyl gave birth to 7 children, all daughters: Agnes, Isabel, Maud, Sibyl, Joan, Agatha and Eleanor. Sibyl died sometime before 1247 and was laid to rest at Tintern Abbey, alongside her mother.

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, resting place of several members of the Marshal family

William and Isabel Marshal’s fourth daughter, Eva, was born in about 1203 in Pembroke Castle, and so was only 16 when her father died – and 17 when she lost her mother. As a child, she spent several years with her family in exile in Ireland, only returning to England when her father was finally reconciled with King John in 1212. Sometime before 1221, Eva was married to William (V) de Braose, Lord of Abergavenny, son of Reginald de Braose and grandson of Matilda de Braose, who had died of starvation in King John’s dungeons in 1210. William de Braose was a wealthy Norman baron with estates along the Welsh Marches. He was hated by the Welsh, who had given him the nickname Gwilym Ddu, or Black William, and had been taken prisoner by Llywelyn ap Iorweth – Llywelyn the Great – in 1228.

Although he had been released after paying a ransom, de Braose later returned to Llywelyn’s court to arrange a marriage between his daughter, Isabella, and Llywelyn’s son and heir, Dafydd. During this stay, Eva’s husband was ‘caught in Llywelyn’s chamber with the King of England’s daughter, Llywelyn’s wife’. Whilst Llywelyn’s wife, Joan, Lady of Wales, the illegitimate daughter of King John, was imprisoned for a year, a much worse fate was meted out to William de Braose. He was publicly hanged on Llywelyn’s orders, leaving Eva a widow at the age of 27, with 4 young daughters, all under the age of 10. Despite the discomfort caused by Llywelyn’s execution of Braose, the marriage of Isabella and Dafydd went ahead, following some impressive diplomacy on Llywelyn’s part. Eva never remarried and spent her widowhood managing her own lands. She was caught up the revolt of her brother, Richard, in 1234, and appears to have acted as intermediary between her brother and the king to help resolve the situation. She died in 1246.

The youngest Marshal sister was Joan, who was still only a child when William Marshal died in 1219, being born in 1210. She is mentioned in the Histoire as having been called for by her ailing father, so that she could sing for him. Joan was married, before 1222, to Warin de Munchensi, a landholder and soldier who was born in the mid-1190s. When his father and older brother died in 1204 and 1208 (possibly), respectively, Warin was made a ward of his uncle William d’Aubigny, Earl of Arundel. He was ill-treated by King John, who demanded 2,000 marks in relief and quittance of his father’s Jewish debts on 23 December 1213. He was ordered to pay quickly and pledged his lands as a guarantee of his good behaviour.

Effigy identified as William Marshal, Temple Church, London

This harsh treatment drove him to ally with the rebel barons and he was captured fighting against the royalist forces, and his father-in-law, at the Battle of Lincoln, on 20 May 1217. He was, soon after, reconciled with the crown and served Henry III loyally on almost every military campaign of the next forty years. His marriage to Joan Marshal produced two children; John de Munchensi and a daughter, Joan, who would marry the king’s half-brother, William de Valence, fourth son of Isabelle d’Angoulême and her second husband, Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche. It was through his wife and, more accurately her mother, that William de Valence was allowed to accede to the earldom of Pembroke following the extinction of the Marshal male line. Joan Marshal died in 1234 and so never saw her daughter marry and become countess of Pembroke in 1247.

The various experiences of the 5 Marshal daughters serve as a demonstration of the divisions among the nobility, caused by the Magna Carta crisis, with several of them finding themselves on the opposing side to that of their father. It must have been a source of great anxiety for a family which appears to have been otherwise very close. These 5 young women also provide a snapshot of the fates of women in thirteenth century England, death in childbirth, early widowhood and second marriages arranged for personal security rather than love. What is evident is that, just like their father, these girls were an integral part of the Magna Carta story.

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An earlier version of this article first appeared on Samantha Wilcoxson’s blog.

Sources:

Rich Price, King John’s Letters Facebook group; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made EnglandThe Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of BritainOxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Ralph of Diceto, Images of History; Marc Morris, King John; David Crouch, William Marshal; Crouch and Holden, History of William Marshal; Crouch, David, ‘William Marshal [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c. 1146–1219)’, Oxforddnb.com; Flanagan, M.T., ‘Isabel de Clare, suo jure countess of Pembroke (1171×6–1220)’, Oxforddnb.com; Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight; Chadwick, Elizabeth, ‘Clothing the Bones: Finding Mahelt Marshal’, livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com; Stacey, Robert C., ‘Roger Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk (c. 1212-1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk; Vincent, Nicholas, ‘William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240)’, Oxforddnb.com.

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