Book Corner: Interview with Karen Clark, author of The Nevills Of Middleham

51i0f-eet8l-_sy346_Hi Karen, congratulations on the release of your book, The Nevills of Middleham: England’s Most Powerful Family in the Wars of the Roses and thank you so much for agreeing to an interview. Welcome to History…the Interesting Bits.

Tell me about your book – how did it come about?

My name was very kindly passed to History Press by my friend, Amy Licence, when they first came up with the idea of a book about the Nevills. Of course, despite doubts and nerves, I jumped at the chance.

Chronicling an entire family is a huge undertaking, what made you write about the Nevills? What is it about them that fascinates you?

“Warwick rose toweringly. His rose-dappled mantle swirled; black hair curled on his brow. Everything of him was puissant and challenging and might have said: Behold us! We of the blood royal, of Edward the Third.”*

I read that paragraph when I was about fifteen and was intrigued. I wanted to know more. Who was this guy? I’ve spent years – decades – since then trying to find out! It hasn’t always been easy. Before the internet, books weren’t always easy to come by and primary sources next to impossible. The whole family fascinates me, as you say. I think any 15th century family has the potential to fascinate and intrigue but it was the Nevills who claimed me.

*Hawley Jarman, Rosemary, 1973, The King’s Grey Mare, Collins, London, p53

Who is your favourite Nevill? And why?

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Middleham’s keep

Well, that changes depending on my mood! They all have something to recommend them. The one I’ve got to know best over the last few years is Thomas so he might be my current favourite. I’ve also got a huge soft spot for Alice and her husband, Henry Fitzhugh. I have no idea why! The Fitzhughs didn’t live that far from Middleham and Alice and Henry would have grown up together, though I’d hesitate to even suggest the ‘childhood sweethearts’ thing. They knew each other all their lives and while her sisters all married men who lived far away, Alice remained close to her old family home until Henry’s death.

And which Nevill do you like least?

There isn’t one!

The Nevills were involved in some of the greatest events to shape English history, but eventually lost everything, do you see them as heroes or villains?

Neither. Both. Sometimes one and sometimes the other but mostly, I think, they inhabited the shadowy in-between of moral ambiguity. Enlightened self-interest is one of the more interesting driving forces of change, and Warwick certainly operated from that principle when pushing for reform and regime change, but he could also be unconscionably self-interested in a most unenlightened way. To use a rather tired phrase often trotted out to cover a multitude of sins, they were of their time. But, at times, Warwick could be far more ruthless than that. The executions in Calais in 1460, the extra-legal killings of earl Rivers and the Herberts, the bloodbath after the battle of Hexham (which wasn’t Warwick’s responsibility alone, his brother John and Edward IV were also behind this orgy of executions that lasted days and stretched from Hexham to York) all point to a man with scant ability to forgive. Handing out second chances was not something Warwick tended to do. I think those people who wandered into Warwick’s unreality field certainly saw him as a hero. To the people of Burgundy, he has gone down in history as one of the vilest villains of all time. Like a lot of things, it depends where you stand.

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Middleham’s great hall

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

Non-fiction is easier to write. While you can speculate some – indeed, you kind of have to from time to time – you don’t have to dream up motivations and relationships. If you don’t know where someone was for six months, you just make a note of that and move on. There’s no gap filling to be done. But it’s that very difficulty that makes writing historical fiction so stimulating. You can’t (always) just leave a six month gap, you have to find somewhere for them to be and something for them to do, you have to establish how they felt about the various other people in the story, you have to give them a voice. I think the exercise of researching more rigorously and writing non-fiction will make me a better writer of fiction but the proof of that will be in the pudding.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

It’s a bit like breathing. I’ve never stopped to ask why I do it. I just have to. Thinking about it now… when everything’s flowing and the words are just pouring out (good or bad), when every sentence sparks the next, when fictional characters pick up their story and take off with it, when a sudden realisation hits you that this is why someone did something, or that is what drives them… those are the best bits.

What is the worst thing about writing?

The loneliness.

How do you organise your writing day?

I don’t! I get up, sit down at my desk and maybe I start work. Or I get up again and do something else. Or I put on some music, crank it up and dance until my dog tells me to stop. Organising isn’t my strongest suit. It’s probably why it’s taken as long as it has before I’ve got serious about writing. I’ve been writing all my life. I couldn’t wait to start school coz they were going to teach me how to write and that would mean all the little stories that were locked in my head could be set free. But I had to work for a living for years and that became my focus and my priority, along with growing my children up. Since making the decision that, if I didn’t get something happening soon, it was never going to, I have the freedom just to let it all flow. I can write for hours one day and faff around for hours the next. No self-discipline, that’s my problem! Writing The Nevills changed that to a large degree, as I had a deadline imposed from without. That meant more days writing and fewer faffing.

How long have you spent researching the Nevills?

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Inside the bailey at Middleham

Years! Decades! For a long time, it was pretty desultory. I bought books when I could, though they weren’t always easy to come by. For the longest time, I didn’t even know what was available. Then along came the internet! The decline of bricks and mortar bookshops is lamented by many but I can’t quite feel the same hostility towards Amazon (and the like) I know others do. Living where I do, a long way from bookshops of any kind, online book stores have been an unalloyed blessing. And there’s so much primary source material on the internet! I’ve spent hours and hours tracking down a reference to some obscure text and, nine times out of then, I’ve found it. So, in the last few years, particularly since I started writing The Nevills, the research has got more intense and deeper.

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

Oh, definitely a benefit! The support I’ve had from friends is incalculable. Discussions and debates, someone pointing out a source I hadn’t come across before, the flourishing of ideas… it’s been great! If I hadn’t stumbled across Susan Higginbotham’s blog several years ago now I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing, a book about the Nevills would probably have been written but not by me. I cannot stress enough how much facebook friends like Susan, Amy and you, Sharon, have helped me on this journey.

What is your next project?

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The village of Middleham

I really want to get the first Nevill novel finished. It’s nearly done but I think my imminent trip to the UK will feed into that beautifully. Apart from that, I have a zillion ideas waiting to be explored – a fantasy series I’m about halfway through writing, a science fiction idea that refuses to go away, a crime novel with a BDSM theme, a book I’ve been working on for decades that needs either to be dusted off and looked at again or shelved permanently, the rest of the Nevill fiction… then, the other night, a news story about North Korea sparked yet another idea. I either need a guaranteed next life or a dedicated team of offsiders!

A huge ‘THANK YOU‘ to Karen for taking the time to chat and answer my questions. I wish her every success with the book.

About Karen’s Book

51i0f-eet8l-_sy346_The Nevills of Middleham: England’s Most Powerful Family in the Wars of the Roses: In 1465, the Nevills must have thought they’d reached the pinnacle of power and influence in England. Richard Nevill was the king’s right-hand man and married to the richest woman in the kingdom; John Nevill was an accomplished soldier who’d done much to stabilise the new dynasty; and George Nevill was not only chancellor but newly enthroned as Archbishop of York.

The Nevill women were as active as their male counterparts. As sisters and wives, daughters and daughters-in-laws, they had the ears of the elite in England and were not afraid of wielding their influence. And they were not always on the same side.

Cracks in the stability of the most powerful family in England began to show. Rivalries led to serious conflict that worsened when King Edward IV impulsively married Elizabeth Wydeville, a choice of bride that did not please everyone. The Nevills had already lost a great deal for the Yorkist cause. Within six years, as the Wars of the Roses turned into one of the bloodiest periods of English history, they’d lose even more for the Lancastrians.

The Nevills of Middleham is available now from the History Press.

About Karen

K.L. CLARK’s research of the Nevill family and the Wars of the Roses spans over a decade and she is currently working on a series of novels about the Nevills. She has presented two papers on the Wars of the Roses to the Richard III Society, writes the popular blog A Nevill Feast and is an active member of the Facebook history community. She lives in Australia with her family. http://www.nevillfeast.wordpress.com.

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

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

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

 

 

King Eadwig ‘All-Fair’ and the Coronation Scandal

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King Eadwig

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

I just had to know more about this king!

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

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

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

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Edmund I, Eadwig’s father

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

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

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

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

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Eadwig defending Aelfgifu to Archbishop Oda

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

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

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

Eadwig did not remarry.

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

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Coin of King Eadwig

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

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

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Diploma of King Eadwig for Aelfwine

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

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

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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

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

 

Sharons book cover

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

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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

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

The Road to Hastings and other Stories

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

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England’s First Queen, the Original Wicked Stepmother?

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Queen Ælfthryth and King Edward at Corfe

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

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

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

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

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

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King Edgar the Peaceable

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

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

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

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

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Corfe Castle, Dorset

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

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

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Æthelred II the Unready

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Peterborough

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

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

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

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

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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

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

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

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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

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

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

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

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

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George, Duke of Clarence – Margaret’s father

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

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

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

Cardinal_Reginald_Pole
Cardinal Reginald Pole – Margaret’s most famous son

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

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

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

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

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

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Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

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

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

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

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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

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

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: To Murder a King by James Holdstock

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

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

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

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning a paperback copy in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!
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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016