Book Corner: On the Trail of the Yorks by Kristie Dean

24th March On the Trail slider 13

Today is the last day of Kristie Dean‘s Blog Tour to celebrate the release of her latest book, On the Trail of the Yorks. Congratulations to Kristie on what has been a wonderful virtual book tour – and ‘thank you’ for asking History…the Interesting Bits to be a part of it.

So, I think, for the last day, it is only fair to give you my review of this remarkable book.

12791083_736187379851237_1299001826319792577_nRichard III is probably the House of York’s best-known figure, but the other members of the family are just as intriguing as the king who fell on Bosworth Field. This book explores the places associated with members of this fascinating family and discovers their stories through the locations they visited and inhabited. It reveals the lives of the Yorks by exploring the cathedrals, castles, battlefields and manor houses that shaped their history. Featuring locations such as Fotheringhay, Baynard’s Castle, Durham Cathedral and the Palace of Westminster, among many others, this book brings each site to life, giving a gripping account of its heritage as well as accurate information for the visitor. Extensive descriptions and an array of illustrations and photographs recreate these poignant and sometimes controversial locations, immersing the reader in the ancient and intriguing world of the Yorks.

Just over a year ago Kristie Dean published her book, The World of Richard III. This was a unique book with its own inimitable style. A combination of history book and travel guide, Ms Dean told the story of Richard III through the geographical locations associated with him. In On the Trail of the Yorks Kristie Dean has extended her research to include the rest of Richard’s family, from his father the Duke of York through his wife and brothers to his niece, Elizabeth of York, queen of Henry VII.

1422626_729589277177714_706482969626694562_nThe book is laid out in an easy-to-follow format, with each main character of the Yorkist dynasty getting their own chapter. The chapters then follow a loosely chronological manner, based on when the locations were used, or visited, by the person in question. Ms Dean always gives a history of the association between the Yorks and the historic site, while also giving a general history of the location. The book acts as a practical guide for each location; giving not only useful contact details, but also travel information and what to look out for while you are there.

The centre of the book has a treasure trove of colourful and black and white images. Including portraits depicting leading members of the House of York and photographs of the places the Yorks and Kristie Dean have visited. The wonderful pictures help to bring the history to life and you find yourself flicking between the descriptions of the various sites and the related pictures.

Kristie Dean also discusses locations which are no longer available to us. Her description of Old St Paul’s Cathedral, which was destroyed during the 1666 Great Fire of London, is so thorough and passionate that it leaves the reader bereft at the thought of what is lost.

Some places are familiar to any fan of the Yorkist dynasty; York, Fotheringhay, Ludlow and, of course, Middleham. While other locations are less-instantly recognisable as having Yorkist connections, but just as interesting; castles such as Conisbrough and the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The book itself takes you from locations in England to Ireland and into France and the Continent, with comprehensive travel information as you go; giving you a tour of some of the best historic sites that Europe has to offer – whilst never moving from your armchair.

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Eltham Palace

No matter how familiar it is to us, each location is given the same level of attention, with detailed descriptions of the site, the things to see – and what not to miss – and the Yorkist story behind  it. Kristie Dean builds up the personal stories of the individual members of the family through the buildings and places particularly associated with them.

On every page Kristie Dean’s passion and enthusiasm for her subject shines through. Here, she writes about Westminster Hall:

Few other places have survived to offer the York enthusiast such a rich tapestry of history; few other places allow one to stand under the same roof where so much history has passed. The atmospheric presence of those long gone can be felt, separated from today’s visitor by only the thin wall of time. You might feel hurried to move on to the next room, but find a corner and stand for a moment to experience the atmosphere…..

This book allows the reader to vicariously visit the locations associated with the family of the House of York, with the history of each site, descriptions of what it would have looked like in the 15th century and descriptions of what is available to visit today.

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Bosworth Battlefield

You can vividly imagine being in Staindrop Church, or the church at Fotheringhay during the re-internment of Richard Duke of York in 1476, or feasting at the castle afterwards. Kristie Dean’s own information and knowledge is enhanced by her use of contemporary quotes, to give past descriptions of the locations and of the events she is describing.

It would be easy for a book of this kind to be confusing and higgledy-piggledy, but the author keeps focussed throughout and makes the book easy to follow, both as a history book and as a guide-book; keeping on topic and explaining any overlaps.

The work is thorough and impressive in the blend of history and geography, allowing you to use the book as a general history and tour guide, while each chapter and location is designed as a standalone guide, allowing you to drop in and out of the book as you please; a useful tool when travelling.

In short, this is a wonderful resource for both the armchair traveller, and the historical tourist, enhanced by photographs of locations and a level of detail that is second-to-none. It is a ‘must have’ on the book shelves for any fan of Richard III, the House of York or the Wars of the Roses in general, in order to enhance our knowledge of the period.

KristieKristie Dean has an MA in History and now enjoys teaching the subject, following a successful career in public relations. Her particular historic interest is the medieval era, specifically the Plantagenets, the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. When not traveling for research, you can find Kristie at home in Tennessee with her husband, three dogs, and two cats. On the Trail of the Yorks is available now from Amazon UK and from Amazon US in May. And The World of Richard III will be released in paperback in May 2016, with its new title ….  On the Trail of Richard III.

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Pictures: Eltham Palace courtesy of Wikipedia; Bosworth ©SharonBennettConnolly 2014

Book Corner: 24 Hours at Agincourt by Michael Jones

24 hrsAgincourt was an astonishing clash of arms, a pivotal moment in the Hundred Years War and the history of warfare in general.

In August 1415, King Henry V claimed the throne of France and landed an army in Normandy. Two months later, outside the small village of Agincourt in Picardy, he was preparing for certain defeat. On 25 October his exhausted, starving and ailing troops faced a far larger French army, whose soldiers were fresh for combat and determined to destroy their opponents. But what was to take place in the following 24 hours, it seemed only the miraculous intervention of God could explain.

Interlacing eyewitness accounts, background chronicle and documentary sources with a new interpretation of the battle’s onset, acclaimed military historian Michael Jones takes the reader into the heart of this extraordinary feat of arms. He brings the longbowmen and knights to life, portrays the dilemmas of the commanders and shows the brutal reality on the ground, as archers seized swords, daggers and even mallets to beat their opponents, and heavily armoured men-at-arms sank into knee-deep mud in a bloody fight that astounded the courts of Europe.

Last October, at the Harrogate History Festival, I watched a panel entitled ‘600 Years of Beating the French’. Although it concentrated on the Battle of Waterloo – which was commemorating its 200th anniversary – there was one lone voice talking about Agincourt.

I have to admit, I’ve never really read much about Agincourt  until last year. I wrote a blog post to commemorate the battle’s 600th anniversary and it piqued my interest. I managed to corner the ‘lone voice’ in the book shop afterwards and told him I had little love for the Lancastrian king and didn’t understand the reverence held for him and his victory at Agincourt.

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Myself and Michael Jones

I asked Dr Jones what was so special about Agincourt and Henry V in particular. Michael Jones was passionate and intensely knowledgeable on the subject and, luckily, was more than happy to try to persuade me of the merits of Henry V.

As a result of the conversation I bought his book (which he very kindly signed), which turned out to be a fascinating read.

24 Hours at Agincourt: 25th October 1415 provides a detailed analysis of the battle, focussing on the immediate pre-battle preparations and on the action itself. The book covers all aspects of the campaign – and of campaigning in the early 15th century in general.

24 Hours at Agincourt is a full and frank account of Henry V’s 1415 campaign. Dr Jones analyses not only the leadership but also the propaganda, business transactions, the men themselves and even the religious undertones of the day. He discusses the requirements for a successful military campaign, such as good supply lines,  leadership and reconnaissance and analyses the effects of what happens when one or more of these goes wrong.

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Morning of the Battle of Agincourt

Michael Jones leads us through the story of Agincourt, from the launch of the campaign in England, through the Siege of Harfleur and the march to Agincourt to the battle itself and the aftermath. He discusses at length the value and quality of both the English and French commanders, and of their decisions of the day, analysing their weapons and tactics – and their overall effectiveness.

Henry’s own battle experience at Shrewsbury in 1405 demonstrated to him the terrible effectiveness of the English longbow, and it is likely that on the Agincourt campaign he wished to forge these bowmen into a formidable fighting force…

The book draws heavily on the primary sources from both sides of the battle. Dr Jones carefully evaluates these sources, analysing them for bias and discussing their proximity to the action. He also uses the examples of earlier battles of the Hundred Years’ War and the wars against Scotland to demonstrate and discuss the development of battle strategies.

The book offers a new interpretation of the battle which attempts to explain some of the confusion and ambiguity in the contemporary sources, providing new insights into the planning and prosecution of the battle. Dr Jones gives credit to Henry V’s impressive group of captains, his ‘Band of Brothers’, discussing the abilities of each and their contributions to the campaign and the battle itself.

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Agincourt

A major strength of the book is that Michael Jones looks at the battle from both sides, analysing the French contribution to its outcome as thoroughly as he does the English. The French tactics are explained and discussed, as are the strength and qualities of France’s allies, and the divisions among the commanders.

24 Hours at Agincourt is a lively, descriptive book which demonstrates Dr Jones’ passion and enthusiasm for his subject. The narrative is engaging and entertaining. Michael Jones is passionate about Henry V and the significance of his victory at Agincourt, and this shines through when talking to him and in his writing. He convincingly argues of Henry V’s qualities as a general and also rehabilitates Edward Duke of York as a key figure at the centre of the battle’s history. He explains how it was these two men, working together, who were pivotal to the success of the campaign.

I have to admit, for anyone interested in knowing more about Agincourt,  I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Dr Jones’ writing style is so easy and engaging – it was an absolute pleasure to read. I have a new-found admiration for Henry V – even if I still don’t like his father.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia; except Michael Jones and myself, ©SharonBennettConnolly2015

 

Eleanor of England, Queen Leonor of Castile

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Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile

On 13th October 1162 (1161 has also been suggested, but most sources agree on 1162) the Queen of England gave birth to a 2nd daughter at Domfront Castle in Normandy, Eleanor. She was the 6th child of Europe’s most glamorous and controversial couple; Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Named after her mother Eleanor was baptised by Cardinal Henry of Pisa, with the chronicler Robert de Torigny standing as her godfather.

Of Eleanor’s 4 older brothers 3 had survived infancy; Henry, the Young King, Richard the Lionheart and Geoffrey – later Duke of Brittany. Geoffrey was nearest to Eleanor in age, but already 4 years old when she was born. Eleanor’s older sister, Matilda, had been born in 1156 and would be married to Henry V ‘the Lion’, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, when Eleanor was just 6 years old. At the age of 3 Eleanor would be joined by a baby sister, Joanna, in the Plantagenet nursery and by a last brother, John, in 1166.

Eleanor’s birth coincided with an awkward period in her parents’ marriage. Eleanor of Aquitaine’s vassals, unhappy with Henry’s rule, were attempting to get her marriage to Henry annulled on the grounds of consanguinity. Although the plot was unsuccessful and the Cardinals were unimpressed with the argument, it cannot have been an easy time for the King and Queen.

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Domfront, Eleanor’s birthplace

Eleanor’s early childhood was quite nomadic. She travelled often with her parents, in her mother’s entourage. Henry had been absent from the country for 5 years when Eleanor 1st came to England with her parents in 1163. The Royal family would spend the Christmas of 1164/5 at Marlborough, while in the midst of the crisis of Henry’s disagreements with his archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket. Eleanor of Aquitaine would then take her children to Winchester, from where they visited Sherborne Castle in Dorset and the Isle of Wight before moving to Westminster.

In February 1165 3-year-old Eleanor was betrothed to the infant son of Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick, in order to cement a treaty with the Emperor. And following the conclusion of the treaty the Archbishop of Cologne was introduced to Eleanor and Matilda (who was to marry Henry the Lion). However, where Matilda departed for her new life in Germany in 1168, Eleanor’s proposed marriage was still in the distant future.

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Alfonso VIII of Castile

Some historians have speculated that Eleanor was educated for some time at Fontevrault Abbey, along with her younger sister Joanna and her baby brother, John, who spent 5 years there after initially being intended for the church. However, by 1168 she was with her mother, who had decided to settle in Aquitaine and was allowed, by Henry II, to have her children with her.

By 1170 Eleanor’s marriage to the Emperor’s son was no longer a part of Henry II’s plans, and he decided to look elsewhere for an alliance. Seeking to extend his influence across the Pyrenees and to prevent a French alliance with Castile, Henry betrothed Eleanor to Alfonso VIII, the 12-year-old king of Castile. Raoul de Faye, Seneschal of Poitou for Eleanor of Aquitaine, was influential in negotiating the marriage; arranging for Eleanor to receive Gascony as her dowry, but only after the death of her mother.

September 1177 saw Eleanor on her way to Castile. A month short of her 15th birthday, some historians suggest she was escorted as far as Bordeaux by her mother, but this is not supported by the contemporary chronicles. However, she would have been given a suitable escort – as the daughter of a king and as a future queen herself – to see her safely to her wedding at Burgos Cathedral.

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Henry I, King of Castile

Eleanor and Alfonso appear to have had a very successful marriage, and a close, trusting relationship. Eleanor is renowned for introducing her mother’s Poitevin culture into the Castilian court. The court encouraged the culture and architecture of Eleanor’s youth, whilst blending it with the luxuries offered by the neighbouring Moorish culture. Castilian poet Ramon Vidal described Eleanor as “Queen Leonore modestly clad in a mantle of rich stuff, red, with a silver border wrought with golden lions.” While the troubadour Pierre Vidal described to Eleanor as elegant and gracious.

Eleanor and Alfonso would have 7 children that survived infancy. Their eldest daughter Berengaria would marry Alfonso IX, King of Leon, and would act as regent in Castile for her younger brother, Henry I, before succeeding him as queen regnant. Berengaria and Alfonso’s marriage was dissolved by the papacy, on the grounds of consanguinity; but their children were declared legitimate. Shortly after succeeding to the throne of Castile, Berengaria abdicated in favour of her son, Ferdinand III, but continued to act as his closest adviser.

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Berengaria, Queen of Castile

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. The abbey’s nuns were drawn from the highest ranks of the Spanish nobility, they belonged to the  Cistercian Order, a closed community mainly cut off from the world.

Alfonso and Eleanor had 2 sons who would survive childhood. The eldest, Ferdinand, predeceased his parents, dying of a fever in 1209 or 1211. Henry I would succeed his father, but died in 1217 when a loose roof tile fell on his head. He was 13 years old.

Two other daughters survived childhood. Eleanor’s 2nd eldest daughter, 14-year-old Urraca, was initially suggested as the bride of the future Louis VIII of France, son of Philip II Augustus. In 1200 the girls’ grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was instrumental in arranging the marriage; her dowry was to be provided from the territories Richard I had won from France at the end of the 12th century.

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Urraca, Queen of Portugal

Eleanor of Aquitaine outlived all but 2 of her children With the deaths of Richard I and his sister Joanna in 1199, only Eleanor in Castile and her baby brother John, now King of England, remained of the once large brood of 4 boys and 3 girls who had survived infancy.

Such recent losses may have helped to persuade the 77-year-old Eleanor of Aquitaine to travel to Castile, in person and in the depths of winter, to collect the granddaughter who would be Louis’ bride. The reunion of the 2 Eleanors would surely have been highly emotional.

She was received at Alfonso’s court with all the pageantry and courtesies appropriate for most remarkable woman of her time. The Dowager Queen of England stayed with her daughter for over 2 months, taking the opportunity to spend some time with her daughter and grandchildren, as the marriage would not be able to take place until after Lent.

In getting to know her granddaughters, Eleanor of Aquitaine seems to have decided that 12-year-old Blanca would make a more suitable bride for Louis. Whether it was because of the girls’ temperaments or simply a matter of names, as some historians have suggested. Urraca was not a name easily translated into French, whereas Blanca, as Blanche, was easily  recognisable.

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Blanche of Castile, Queen of France

It was, therefore, 12-year-old Blanche who travelled back to France with her grandmother to marry the Dauphin, Louis – the same Louis who would be invited to become England’s king by the rebel barons and laid siege to Lincoln Castle in 1216. Blanche and Louis were married in Normandy, as France was under papal interdict at the time; Blanche would be the mother, and lifelong adviser, of Louis IX (St Louis).

In 1206 Urraca married the heir to the throne of Portugal – the future King Alfonso II.

Eleanor of England and Alfonso VIII appear to have had a happy, successful marriage, producing a family of 4 sons and 8 daughters over a 16 year period. Eleanor enhanced the culture of the Castilian court and acted as a diplomatic conduit between her husband and brothers, Richard and John, in order to aid each other and keep the peace – most of the time. However, in 1204, following the death of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Alfonso had to resort to a show of military force in order to successfully claim his wife’s dower rights over Gascony from John.

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Abbey of Las Huelgas

Their happy marriage 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.

Of Eleanor’s grandchildren 2 were to become saints, Louis IX of France and Berengaria’s son Ferdinand III, king of Castile; her great-granddaughter and namesake, Eleanor of Castile (Ferdinand’s daughter), would become Queen of England as the wife of Edward I.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: Brewer’s Royalty by David Williamson; The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett; Eleanor of Aquitaine, by the Wrath of God, Queen of England by Alison Weir; Eleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine by Douglas Boyd; oxforddnb.com.

Book Corner: Interview with Kristie Dean

12791083_736187379851237_1299001826319792577_nThis week I have the great pleasure of starting off Kristie Dean’s Blog Tour, in honour of the launch of her new book, On the Trail of the Yorks.

Just a year ago she published the book, The World of Richard III and on Monday her latest offering, On the Trail of the Yorks goes on sale in the UK. Kristie’s books are a unique and fascinating blend of history and travel writing; they bring to life the castles, palaces and other locations  associated with one of the ,most famous kings – and families – in British history.

Here, she talks to me about her love of history and writing.

What made you become a writer?
When I was a little girl I would spend my time creating stories for the other kids. I also wrote and distributed a neighborhood newspaper. I was always writing – poems, short stories, and even reports. I wrote a research paper for my 7th grade teacher and she later talked to my parents, telling them I was pushing myself too hard. It wasn’t that; I just couldn’t stand a blank page, and so I was always looking for new ways of writing.

With a career as a teacher, how do you discipline yourself to write?
When I am working on a book, writing consumes my life. I come home from work and write for three or four hours plus I write all day Saturday and most of Sunday. If I have a school event or my husband convinces me to go out, I take that evening off. I take a week off every May to take my students to Washington DC, although I do take research materials to read on the bus. I also am a mentor teacher at my school, so that takes a chunk of time. But, just like writing and teaching, it is worthwhile and enjoyable.

How do you organise your writing day?
At 5 p.m., I get home and write until at least 8 p.m. On weekends, I am researching/writing by 9 a.m. and usually going until 5 p.m. If I am writing about a certain location and I am in a ‘zone’ I will often continue until I am done.

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Kristie Dean

How many projects do you have going at once, or do you concentrate on one at a time?
With my time constraints, I usually have one or two in the back of my mind, but I only work on one at a time. I would love to be able to work on two or three projects at a time. Authors who are able to do this amaze me.

Your books are quite unique, a combination of history and historical locations, what made you decide to write them this way?
I traveled to Europe several times and always ended up frustrated with my guidebooks. I ended up making my own guides to each location for myself and fellow travelers to reach deeper in the history. Since I was particularly fascinated with the Plantagenets (especially Richard III) and Anne Boleyn, I was frustrated there weren’t any guides to places associated with them. Then a member of a history group I am in wrote an excellent guide for Anne Boleyn. This helped me to realize that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to explore the history of a location, so I decided to start with the historical figure I was most interested in, which was Richard III.

How long do you spend researching your book before you start writing?
This is a tough one to answer since it varies. I already had a great deal of information on Richard III and the Wars of the Roses, so much of my research involved the locations associated with him. However, I have been researching for a fiction book for years. Whether it ever sees the light of day is a different story.

What do you enjoy most about writing?
I love getting to delve into the lives of historic figures and locations. I also like visiting each place to get a feel for it. I enjoy trying to make history come alive for my readers.

What is the worst thing about writing?
The long hours of solitude. It can get lonely, and when I am up against a deadline I do not have time to go out with friends.

How long does it take to do a project from start to finish?
About a year. It depends on the book and how much research I’ve done prior. It also depends on where the research takes me. I became interested in Margaret of York while writing my latest book and spent several hours researching information that I did not even need for the book.

Have you ever considered writing a novel? What would it be about?
(Laughs) Oh yes, I have. It would be a thriller, I think. I love reading those types of novels. I might eventually do an historic fiction novel, too.

Who are your favourite personalities from history?
Oh my. It would be easier to answer who doesn’t interest me, but I will give it a try. Richard III, obviously. Anne Boleyn, All the Plantagenet queens, St Margaret, Margaret of York, Cecily Neville, Anne Neville, Llywelyn Fawr, and several lesser known women from history. From a more modern time, Winston Churchill intrigues me.

What are your favourite places from history?1422626_729589277177714_706482969626694562_n
All of England, Scotland, and Wales. I feel like the area is a second home for me. I love traveling and exploring each region. Middleham Castle is one of my favourites, as well as Llanrhychwyn Church, which is believed to be the oldest church in Wales. This little church is a gem, said to have been built by Llywelyn Fawr for his wife, Joan. I had a difficult time finding it, but Sharon Kay Penman helped me by putting me in touch with someone who lived in the area. Pam took me straight there, and I was immediately enchanted.

Your last book was The World of Richard III and the new one is On the Trail of the Yorks, what is it that fascinates you about Richard III and the House of York?
I have been fascinated by that time period for a long time. It’s a time of turbulence, a time of changing allies and enemies, and a time of controversy. It just pulls me in. Originally, I was interested in the controversy surrounding Richard III, but now I am captivated by the entire period.
On another note, The World of Richard III is going to undergo a title change to On the Trail of Richard III for the paperback version. This will keep the two books aligned.

Would you ever consider doing a book about the House of Lancaster and the locations associated with it?
I would, but I think many of the locations would be the same. Of course, the difference would be what the Lancastrians would be doing at each location. It is certainly an interesting idea.

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?
Not often. When I do it is a sign that I need a break. So, I get up, play with my three dogs and two cats or take a walk outside. Or I clean the bathroom. I am always excited to get back to writing after that.

Do you find social media – such as Facebook – a benefit or a hindrance?
It’s a benefit, but I confess to not being the best at it. I don’t get around to the various groups as often as I want, so sometimes I am out of the loop. I do have several wonderfulyorks Facebook friends who help me admin my groups and keep me up to date on what’s happening in the other history groups.

What is be your next project?
I have a book about locations associated with some of history’s forgotten women brewing in my head, but it has a serious contender in Margaret, Mary and Arthur Tudor. I am not sure which will win out in the end. I am taking a much-needed break right now to collaborate with some friends on a joint project. I will spend two weeks in East Anglia this summer with them doing research.

I would like to extend a huge ‘thank you’ to Kristie Dean for her wonderful answers and wish her the every success with her latest book. And look out for my review of On the Trail of the Yorks next week!

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Kristie Dean has an MA in History and now enjoys teaching the subject, following a successful career in public relations. Her particular historic interest is the medieval era, specifically the Plantagenets, the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. When not traveling for research, you can find Kristie at home in Tennessee with her husband, three dogs, and two cats. On the Trail of the Yorks is available from Amazon UK from 15th March 2016 and from Amazon US in May. And On the Trail of Richard III is due for release in paperback in May.

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Book Corner: Linda Root’s ‘In the Shadow of the Gallows’

indexMy latest book review, of Linda Root’s wonderful novel, In the Shadow of the Gallows – set in early Stuart England – has gone live over at The Review today!

The great benefit of being book reviewer is that, every now and then, you get to read a wonderful gem of a story that may otherwise have slipped by you. In the Shadow of the Gallows is a first class political thriller which takes the reader on a wild ride through Scotland and England – the intrigues of the Gunpowder Plot. You need to keep your wits about you to successfully navigate the intricate twists and turns of the unfolding plot. But this book is well and truly worth the sleepless nights you will have wondering how the protagonists will get out of their latest jam – and whether they will win in the end.

Our Scottish heroes have to navigate their way through plot, counter-plot and conspiracy in order to survive and get themselves safely home…..

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning one of two e-books in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!

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Book Corner – Red Roses by Amy Licence

51V9Q+iXiyLRed Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort traces the story of the women of the House of Lancaster, from the children borne by Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt, in the fourteenth century, through the turbulent fifteenth century to the advent of Margaret Beaufort’s son in 1485 and the establishment of the Tudor dynasty. From the secret liaisons of Katherine Swynford and Catherine of Valois to the love lives of Mary de Bohun and Jacquetta of Luxembourg, to the queenship of Joan of Navarre and Margaret of Anjou, this book explores their experiences as women. What bound them to their cause? What real influence did they wield?

With this book, historian Amy Licence has excelled herself. Red Roses is a thorough and  comprehensive examination of the lives of the women of the House of Lancaster, from its inception with the marriage of Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt to its crowning glory, with the regency of Margaret Beaufort for her 17-year-old grandson, Henry VIII.

I have waited eagerly for this book, bringing together all the Lancastrian ladies in one volume was an incredible undertaking and has been achieved with great skill and tact. As I have researched several of these ladies myself over the last year I was keen to see if Amy Licence’s own opinions and theories differed greatly from my own. (And I was happy to see I hadn’t made any glaring errors in my own assessments).

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The birth of the Lancastrian dynasty: the marriage of Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt

I was amazed at the detailed research involved in creating this book, and the little extra snippets of information which the author has found, but which had eluded earlier historians. There are several new pieces of information brought to light, which were previously unknown – and I will have to edit some of my own articles, including those on Blanche and Katherine Swynford in light of this new information.

This meticulously research is presented in a largely chronological format, detailing not only the lives of John of Gaunt’s 3 wives and of the major Lancastrian wives who came after, but also of women with less  obvious Lancastrian links, such as Joan Beaufort, queen of James I.

The author takes care to bring to light the struggles of some and the near obscurity of others; demonstrating how some women became the centre of attention, stepping into the limelight, while others remained influential only in the family sphere, bringing into the world the next generation of the dynasty – or dying in the attempt. She considers how some were bargaining tools in international diplomacy, while others were tainted by scandal, how some were countesses while others were queens; but they were all great and interesting ladies worthy of our attention.

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Margaret Beaufort

Amy Licence emphasises the deep sense of family and duty each woman felt towards the Lancastrian dynasty. She skilfully highlights the changes in the actions and responsibilities of the women over time; clearly demonstrating the differences in expectations from the marriage of Blanche of Lancaster to the marriages of Margaret Beaufort.

Ms Licence’s passionate narrative builds on the lives of these women, demonstrating how events impacted on them, and how they influenced those around them, not only in their close family spheres, but also on the international stage. The work analyses the effects on the fortunes of the dynasty and the lives of the women, caused by plague, war and political machinations and discusses the vulnerabilities and risks of being a woman in the later middle ages; from childbirth to accusations of witchcraft.

It appears that the ideal Lancastrian woman of the fourteenth century was essentially well bred and beautiful, an adored wife and mother, pious and dignified, devoted and loyal to the dynasty’s cause. Yet, as the fifteenth century advanced, women marrying Lancastrian husbands increasingly began to step outside this role, to challenge it and redefine concepts of femininity and rule…..

A great strength of the book, which spans a 150-year time period, is the way in which the author successfully maintains, throughout, the links between the various eras in which these women lived. She displays a deep understanding of how traditions and perceptions will have changed over time during the period under investigation. After all, how much has life changed for us since 1866?

The text provides thorough analysis of primary and secondary sources, and even includes assessments of popular fiction classics and arguments put forward by contemporary historians. These assessments are fair, persuasive counter-arguments professed with demonstrative respect for the authors in question. In the end, however, Ms Licence presents her own findings in a clear, convincing manner.

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Margaret of Anjou, the last Lancastrian queen

The only minor bug-bear I have with the book is the title. Blanche of Lancaster was never actually known as Blanche of Gaunt, but I guess it will make the book appear to a wider audience; as so many more people have heard of John of Gaunt than have heard of Blanche.

I love the way Amy Licence clearly explains the relationships between the disparate Lancastrian women, whether it is familial, chronological, or by experience. For example, Katherine Swynford is discussed not only in respect of her relationship with John of Gaunt, but also as governess to his children, companion to his daughter-in-law and as matriarch of the extended Lancastrian family.

This is a comprehensive and thorough analysis of the lives of the Lancastrian women, told in an engaging and entertaining manner. Amy Licence tells the story, not only of the individual women, but also of a dynasty; and how that dynasty was held together by the wives and mothers essential to its survival, continued existence and eventual success. She also takes care to demonstrate how responsibilities and perceptions changed through time, affected by events and changing circumstances.

I have to recommend Red Roses as a thoroughly enjoyable read. The author engages with the reader from the outset, drawing you in to the lives of these varied and remarkable women, demonstrating how they all fit together in the story of the House of Lancaster, like the individual pieces of a jigsaw.

In short, this is a wonderful book, telling the story of a dynasty and, in my opinion, Amy Licence’s best yet.

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10384680_10153841333263942_6977345604197683474_nAmy Licence has been a teacher for over a decade. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles on the Tudors. She is an author and historian of women’s lives in the medieval and Tudor period.

Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort is available on Amazon in the UK from Monday 7th March and in the US from Monday 15th March 2016.

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