Yolande and the Hope for the Scottish Succession

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Yolande de Dreux

Yolande de Dreux was Scotland’s Queen Consort for only  4 months and 14 days. In that short time, she carried the hope of a nation – and its king – to secure the Scottish succession.

Yolande was born into a cadet branch of the French royal family, probably sometime in the mid-1260s. Her father was Robert IV, Count of Dreux, who died in 1282 and her mother was Beatrice de Montfort, who died  in 1311. Beatrice was the daughter of Count Jean I de Montfort l’Amoury and his wife Jeanne de Chateaudun, Beatrice was therefore a great-granddaughter of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, and heiress to the impressive de Montfort estates. One of 6 children, Yolande had 2 brothers and 3 sisters. Little is known of Yolande’s childhood but we can imagine that as a junior member of the Capetian dynasty, she grew up amidst some privilege and splendour.

Whilst Yolande was growing into adulthood Scotland was experiencing a “golden age”, a period of relative peace and prosperity. Her king, Alexander III was married to Margaret, daughter of Henry III of England and the couple had 3 children survive childhood. Their daughter, Margaret, born at Windsor on 28th February, 1261,  was married to Erik II, king of Norway, in August 1281. Their eldest son, Alexander, was born on 21st January 1264, at Jedburgh. On 15th November 1282 Alexander married Margaret, the daughter of Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders. A younger son, David was born on 20th March 1273.

Queen Margaret died in 1275 and within 8 years all 3 of her children were dead; 8-year-old David died at Stirling Castle at the end of June 1281, Margaret died in childbirth on 9th April 1283 and Alexander died at Lindores Abbey in January 1284, sometime around his 20th birthday. Alexander’s heir was now his infant granddaughter by Margaret and Erik, little Margaret, the Maid of Norway, born shortly before her mother’s death.

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Jedburgh Abbey

With his entire dynasty resting on the life of his toddler granddaughter, Alexander started the search for a new wife. In February 1285 he sent a Scottish embassy to France for this sole purpose. Their successful search saw Yolande arrive in Scotland that same summer, accompanied by her brother John. Alexander and Yolande were married at Jedburgh Abbey, Roxburghshire, on 14th October 1285, the feast of St Calixtus, in front of a large congregation made up of Scottish and French nobles. Yolande was probably no more than 22 years of age, while Alexander was in his 44th year.

The marriage was one of the shortest in British royal history – and the shortest of any English or Scottish king, lasting less than 5 months. Tragedy struck in March of 1286.

Alexander had spent the day attending a council meeting in Edinburgh. When the meeting broke up he set off on horseback to join his wife at Kinghorn Castle in Fife. It was said he wanted to be there to celebrate her birthday and he may also have recently discovered that she was pregnant with the much-desired heir. For whatever the reason, he was eager to get to her and took only a small escort of 3 men and 2 local guides. It seems that, with bad weather closing in and daylight fading, several people counselled against continuing the journey, including the ferryman at the River Forth and the bailie at Inverkeithing, who argued that Alexander should stay the night and continue his journey in the morning as a heavy storm was brewing.

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Alexander III

Only 8 miles from his destination, Alexander would hear none of it and insisted on continuing his journey. He somehow lost his escort in the dark and worsening weather, but continued alone. It was the next morning when his body was found on the foreshore of Pettycur, just a mile from his destination. The most likely explanation was that his horse had stumbled, throwing the king whose neck was broken in the fall, although at least one historical fiction writer has suggested foul play while others have suggested the king was drunk.

There followed months of uncertainty in Scotland. She had lost one of her most successful kings and the succession was in turmoil. Little Margaret, the Maid of Norway, had been recognised by the council as Alexander’s heir, but his queen was pregnant; and if she gave birth to a boy he would be king from his first breath. A regency council was established to rule until the queen gave birth.

In the event, Yolande either suffered a miscarriage, or the child was stillborn. Some sources, the Lanercost Chronicle in particular, have questioned whether Yolande was pregnant at all, suggesting that she was intending to pass off another woman’s baby as her own. The plan thwarted, the chronicle recorded that ‘women’s cunning always turns toward a wretched outcome‘.¹ However, there are major discrepancies in the chronicle’s apparently malicious account and tradition has the baby buried at Cambuskenneth.

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Arthur of Brittany

The throne passed to little Margaret and arrangements began to have her brought to England, with marriage negotiations being opened with Edward I for the little queen to marry his son and heir; the future Edward II. Yolande continued to reside in Scotland for some time, possibly at Stirling Castle, and was confirmed in her dower properties, which included an annual income of £200 from Berwick; she also had estates in the sheriffdom of Stirling and a horse stud at Jedworth.

Margaret’s death at sea in 1290, while on her journey to her new kingdom, threw Scotland into years of turmoil, with 13 nobles advancing their competing claims to the crown and Edward I of England claiming the right to choose Alexander III’s successor, and recognition as Scotland’s overlord. The English king’s imperialist ambitions had thrown Scotland into crisis by 1296.

Luckily for Yolande, she was already far away from Scotland and the brewing wars. In May 1294 Yolande had married for a second time; Arthur of Brittany was a similar age to Yolande and was the son and heir of Jean II, duke of Brittany and earl of Richmond. Yolande was the second wife of Arthur, who already had 3 sons, Jean, Guy and Peter, by his first wife, Marie, Vicomtesse de Limoges.

It is possible that Arthur chose Yolande as a bride due to the impressive de Montfort territories that she stood to inherit from her mother, although there were legal wranglings between Yolande and her younger sister, Jeanne, who also claimed the lands.

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Arms of the counts of Dreux

Yolande and Arthur had 6 children together. Their eldest daughter, Joan was born a year after their marriage and married Robert, Lord of Cassel; she died in 1363. Beatrice was born c.1295 and married Guy, Lord of Laval; she lived until 1384. Their only son, John, was probably born 1295/6 and married Joan of Flanders. Of the 3 youngest daughters: Alice was born in the late 1290s married Bouchard VI, Count of Vendôme and died in 1377; Blanche was born in 1300 and died young; Mary was born in 1302 and became a nun, she died in 1377.

Arthur succeeded his father as Duke of Brittany in 1305 and ruled until his death in 1312. He was succeeded by John III, his eldest son by his first marriage. However, John’s death in 1341 sparked the War of the Breton Succession when Yolande’s son, John de Montfort, claimed the duchy in place of Joan of Penthièvre, daughter of Guy (Arthur’s 2nd son by his 1st wife), who was married to Charles of Blois, nephew of King Philip VI of France. Joan and Charles were therefore backed by the French crown, and Edward III of England supported the claims of John de Montfort; the war eventually became part of the greater conflict, the Hundred Years War. When John fell ill and died in 1345, the war continued in the name of his 6-year-old son and Yolande’s grandson, another John (John IV, duke of Brittany) and finally ended in John’s favour with the treaty of Guérande in April 1365.

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John IV Duke of Brittany

After being widowed for a second time Yolande did not remarry.

During her time in Brittany Yolande continued to administer to her Scottish estates; in October 1323 safe-conduct to Scotland was granted to a French knight  ‘for the dower of the Duchess of Brittany while she was Queen of Scotland‘.² It seems uncertain when Yolande died. Sources vary between 1324 and 1330, although she was still alive on 1st February 1324 when she made provision for the support of her daughter, Marie, who had become a nun.

These arrangements for her daughter are the last mention of Yolande in the historical record, the date of her death as uncertain as that of her birth.

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Footnotes: ¹ Chronique de Lanercost, 118,  quoted by Jessica Nelson in Oxforddnb.com. ²CSP Scot.. 3. no. 829 quoted by Jessica Nelson in Oxforddnb.com.

 

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, except Jedburgh Abbey, which is ©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Sources: Marc Morris Edward I: A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; The History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Scotland, History of a Nation by David Ross; oxforddnb.com; undiscoveredscotland.co.uk; freelancehistorywriter.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.

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

 

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: Catherine of Aragon by Amy Licence

indexCatherine of Aragon continues to fascinate readers 500 years after she became Henry VIII’s first queen. Her life was one of passion and determination, of suffering and hope, but ultimately it is a tragic love story, as circumstances conspired against her. Having lost her first husband, Henry’s elder brother Prince Arthur, she endured years of ill health and penury, to make a dazzling second match in Henry VIII. There is no doubt that she was Henry’s true love, compatible with him in every respect and, for years, she presided over a majestic court as the personification of his ideal woman.

However, Catherine’s body failed her in an age when fertility was a prerequisite of political stability. When it became clear that she could no longer bear children, the king’s attention turned elsewhere, and his once chivalric devotion became resentment. Catherine’s final years were spent in lonely isolation but she never gave up her vision: she was devoted to her faith, her husband and to England, to the extent that she was prepared to be martyred for them. Banished and close to death, she wrote a final letter to her ‘most dear lord and husband’. ‘I pardon you everything… mine eyes desire you above all things.’ The fidelity of this remarkable woman never wavered.

Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence is one of those incredible books that you can’t get away from. Days after you’ve finished it, your mind is still pondering the twists and turns in the incredible story that has unfolded before you. And yet, this is not a gripping novel, it’s a biography … a real-life story of one of England’s most famous queens, told in an expert, accessible fashion by one of today’s most prominent historians of women’s history.

330px-juan_de_flandes_002The level of detail in this book is incredible, Amy Licence has looked into every corner of Catherine’s life-story. It paints a wonderful, vivid picture of the life of a Renaissance princess. From even before her earliest years, the author charts Catherine’s life in its entirety, giving us a complete picture of the world that surrounded the young princess from the moment she was born to the moment of her death.

Plans for Catherine’s marriage started early. As far back as the spring of 1489, Ferdinand and Isabella had received a delegation sent by Henry VII of England, seeking her as a bride for his son. That March the royal family were at the castle of Medina del Campo, a blockish red medieval fortress situated on a mound dominating the town, to hear the culmination of a year’s worth of offers and promises, conditions and stipulations, about the futures of two small children. Catherine was then three years old, a small sturdy princess with auburn hair … Her prospective husband was barely out of the cradle. Henry VII’s eldest son Arthur, was the first-born child of a new dynasty, and nine months Catherine’s junior …

Not only does the author retell the events of the life of Catherine of Aragon, chronologically, but she also highlights the influences that affected her decisions and actions throughout that life. From her parents and the reconquest of Spain, through her marriage to Arthur and the lonely years following Arthur’s death, we see the events that influenced and shaped Catherine’s life as Queen of England and wife of Henry VIII.

Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife discusses the personalities and character of those who had a major effect on Catherine’s life, giving us an unprecedented, detailed view of those who surrounded her at various stages in her career as princess and queen. Catherine’s marriage to Prince Arthur is thoroughly examined, giving an insight into the relationship of this young couple, a relationship that would eventually change the course of English history. We see the good and bad of the men who were to decide Catherine’s fate, in her father, Ferdinand, and father-in-law, Henry VII, and learn of Catherine’s struggles to stay positive in the face of the two kings trying to get the best deal for themselves in Catherine’s marriage. And we see an intriguing biography of Henry VIII as he grows from being Catherine’s saviour and a magnificent Renaissance prince, to being her jailer and tormentor.

330px-catherine_aragonAmy Licence places Catherine’s life firmly within the Europe of the time, displaying a brilliant understanding of the Reformation, and its progress from central Europe to Henry’s court. Moreover, despite the eventual failure of the marriage, Amy Licence paints a glittering picture of the court of Henry and Catherine at its height, when this young, formidable couple were the superstars of Europe.

The most revealing part of the book is in the character of Catherine herself. The author has researched every aspect of Catherine’s life and personality, providing a portrait of a formidable woman navigating her way through a male-dominated world while trying to hold true to her deeply ingrained Catholic principles. And with this comes the realisation that it must have taken an inordinate amount of personal courage to face down Henry and his demands, and the overriding fear for her own personal safety.

Of course, the latter part of the book focuses on the divorce. I am no great fan of Catherine of Aragon and have often wondered at her stubbornness and why she was so unmovable in the face of Henry’s desperate need for an heir. Amy Licence explains Catherine’s viewpoint with absolute clarity; the reasons she stuck to her guns at the risk of her own safety and that of her daughter. The author’s theories and arguments are well though-out and incisive, giving an unprecedented insight into  the mind of this amazing queen and evoking empathy in the least sympathetic of readers, I’m sure.

I have no doubt that Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife will be seen as the definitive biography of Catherine of Aragon. It is an impressive, essential complement to any Tudor library.

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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.

Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife is available on Amazon in the UK from 15th October and in the US from 14th March 2017.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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.

Meet the blogger: “History the Interesting Bits”

Kate Braithwaite

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-11-17-53-amToday I’m beginning a series of interviews with history bloggers – a great source for writers and history lovers in general. I’m delighted to start with Sharon Connolly who writes one of my absolutely favourite history blogs, History The Interesting Bits! Sharon has a great eye for an interesting story and I particularly like her mini biographies.

I’ll let Sharon introduce herself…

sharonI have been fascinated by history for over 30 years now. I have studied history academically and just for fun – I’ve even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. I’m now having great fun, passing on my love of the past to my 11-year-old son, who is a Horrible Histories fanatic. He is a fantastic research assistant and loves exploring historic sites with me. I started writing my blog in January 2015 and in March this year signed a contract with Amberley to write my first…

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William de Warenne, the Conqueror’s Man

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William de Warenne, 1st earl of Surrey

William de Warenne, 1st earl of Surrey, was a younger son of Rodulf de Warenne and his wife Beatrix. It is possible that Beatrix was a niece of Duchess Gunnor of Normandy, making young William a cousin of William the Bastard, duke of Normandy. The family name is probably derived from the hamlet of Varenne, part of the Warenne lands in the department of Seine-Inférieure, Normandy. William’s older brother, Rodulf or Ralph, would inherit the greater part of the Warenne family estates in Normandy.

His birth, as you might expect, is shrouded in the fog of time; a younger son of the minor nobility does not tend to get a mention until he does something remarkable or becomes someone notable. Although still young William was considered a capable and experienced enough soldier to be given joint command of a Norman army, by the mid-1050s. His 1st recorded military action is in the campaign against his own kinsman, Roger (I) de Mortemer of 1054, as one of the commanders of an army which defeated the French.

De Warenne was rewarded with some of the Mortemer lands; some of which he managed to retain even after Mortemer’s restoration to favour, including the castles of Mortemer and Bellencombre. Bellencrombe would become the capital of the de Warenne estates in Normandy. De Warenne received more rewards from the confiscated lands of William, count of Arques in 1053. Duke William’s confidence in de Warenne is demonstrated in the fact he was one of the barons consulted during the planning of the invasion of England in 1066.

In fact, William de Warenne is one of only a handful of Norman barons known to have fought at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October, 1066. De Warenne was rewarded with vast swathes of land throughout the country. According to the Domesday survey his lands extended over 13 counties; stretching from Conisbrough in Yorkshire to Lewes in Sussex. His territories were acquired over the course of the reign of William I and elevated him the highest rank of magnates. By 1086 his riches were only surpassed by the king’s half-brothers and his own kinsman, Roger de Montgomery.

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Battle of Hastings, 1066

Throughout his career, William de Warenne acquired lands in numerous counties, sometimes by nefarious means. Much of the property, such as Conisbrough, had formerly belonged to the late king, Harold. In Norfolk he is said to have asserted lordship over freemen not necessarily assigned to him. He had disputes with neighbouring landowners in Conisbrough, over which properties were sokelands and he is said to have stolen lands from the bishop of Durham and the abbot of Ely. Some acquisitions were obtained peacefully, such as the manor of Whitchurch in Shropshire, which was left to him by his kinsman Roger de Montgomery. William was an energetic and attentive landowner, and improved the economy of most of his estates; more than tripling his sheep flock at Castle Acre and doubling the value of his Yorkshire estates in just 20 years (at a time when the county was devastated by the Harrying of the North.

In 1067 William de Warenne was one of 4 prominent Normans appointed to govern England during William the Conqueror’s absence in Normandy. Following the Conquest, he continued to support the king and – subsequently – his son, William II Rufus – as a military commander for over 20 years. In 1074 he was with is father at  the abbey of Holy Trinity in Rouen and in 1083-85 he fought with the king on campaign in Maine, being wounded at the siege of the castle of Sainte-Suzanne.

In 1075, along with Richard de Clare, his fellow justiciar, he was sent to deal with the rebellion of Earl Ralph de Gael of East Anglia. De Gael had failed to respond to their summons to answer for an act of defiance and so the 2 lords faced and defeated the rebels at Fawdon in Cambridgeshire, mutilating their prisoners afterwards. Ralph withdrew to Norwich Castle; besieged for 3 months he managed to escape his attackers by boat, while the castle surrendered and was occupied by de Warenne.

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Gundrada de Warenne

William de Warenne was married to a Flemish noblewoman, Gundrada; her brother Gerbod was sometime earl of Chester and another brother, Frederic, held lands in Norfolk which eventually passed to Gundrada. There was some debate among historians that Gundrada may have been the daughter of William the Conqueror, but the confusion appears to have come from her being part of the household of William’s wife, Matilda. Gundrada and William were married sometime around the time of the Conquest, possibly shortly before the expedition to conquer England.

They had 3 children together. Their eldest son, William, would succeed his father as Earl of Surrey and de Warenne. He married Isabel de Vermandois, widow of Robert de Beaumont, earl of Leicester; with whom he had, apparently, been having an affair even before the earl’s death. Young William had a chequered career, he supported the claims of Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy, to the English throne against the duke’s younger brother, Henry I. However, duke Robert lost and was captured and imprisoned by Henry. Henry eventually forgave William, who fought for the king at the Battle of Bremule and was with Henry he died in 1135.

A 2nd son, Reynold de Warenne, led the assault on Rouen in 1090, for William II Rufus, in the conflict between the English king and his older brother, Duke Robert. However, by 1105 Reynold was now fighting for the duke against the youngest of the Conqueror’s sons, Henry I, defending the castle of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives for the duke. He was captured by Henry the following year, but had been freed by September 1106. It is possible he died shortly after, but was certainly dead by 1118 when his brother issued a charter, in which he gave 6 churches to Lewes Priory, for the soul of deceased family members, including Reynold.

Gundrada and William also had a daughter, Edith, who married Gerard de Gournay, son of the lord of Gournay-en-Bray. Gerard also supported William II Rufus against Duke Robert and took part in the Crusade of 1096. Edith later accompanied him on pilgrimage back to Jerusalem, sometime after 1104, where he died. Gerard was succeeded by their son, Hugh de Gournay, whose daughter Gundreda would be the mother of Roger de Mowbray. Edith then married Drew de Monchy, with whom she had a son, Drew the Younger.

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Castle Acre Castle, Norfolk

Gundrada died in childbirth at Castle Acre in Norfolk on 27th May 1085. She was buried in the chapter-house of the couple’s own of foundation Lewes Priory.

William’s 2nd wife was a sister of Richard Guet, who was described as ‘frater comitissae Warennae’ when he gave the manor of Cowyck to Bermondsey Abbey in 1098.¹ Guet was a landowner in Perche, Normandy, but his sister’s name has not survived the passage of time. All we know of her is that, a few days after her husband’s death, she attempted to gift 100 shillings to Ely Abbey in restitution for damage caused by William de Warenne. The monks refused the donation, hoping that Warenne’s departing soul had been claimed by demons.²

Despite this reputation at Ely, William de Warenne and his wife, Gundrada, had a reputation for piety. At some point in their marriage, probably 1081-3, they went on pilgrimage to Rome. Due of war in Italy they only got as far as the great abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, where they were received into the fellowship of monks. On their return to England they founded a priory at Lewes, following the Cluniac rule and a prior and 3 monks were sent from Cluny to establish the foundation. It was the 1st Cluniac foundation in England.

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Pevensey Castle

Following the Conqueror’s death, William fought in support of the late king’s 2nd son, William II Rufus against his older brother, Robert Curthose, who had inherited the dukedom of Normandy. He was rewarded in early 1088 with the earldom of Surrey. The new earl fought for William II Rufus during an invasion by Robert’s supporters and was badly wounded at the siege of Pevensey Castle, East Sussex, in the spring of 1088. He was taken to Lewes, where he died of his wounds on 24th June of the same year. Earl Warenne was buried beside his 1st wife, Gundrada, in the chapter-house of Lewes Priory.

Following the dissolution of Lewes Priory in the 16th century, the tombs were moved. The remains of Gundrada and William were discovered in 2 leaden chests in the parish church of St John at Southover in Lewes in 1845 and laid to rest, for a final time, at the Southover church in 1847.

Footnote: ¹ Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; ² ibid

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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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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Pictures: Gundrada and William de Warenne church windows ©lewespriory.org.uk; Bayeux Tapestry, Castle Acre and Pevensey Castle courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sources: Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; William the Conqueror, the Bastard of Normandy by Peter Rex; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; british-history.ac.uk; kristiedean.com; English Heritage Guidebook for Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadrei; oxforddnb.com.

Book Corner:1066 What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway

51dwzulugglMy latest book review, of Glynn Holloway’s epic novel 1066: What Fates Impose has gone live over at The Review today!

Glynn Holloway’s 1066: What Fates Impose is an experience in itself. It takes you on the epic journey of Harold Godwinson, earl of Wessex, and William, duke of Normandy – Harold’s rival for the throne of England – that ends at Senlac Hill, Hastings on 14th October 1066. It is a riveting tale, weaving together the lives, loves and conflicts of those who held the fate of England in their hands. Impossible to put down, 1066: What Fates Impose, gives the reader a panoramic view the events that would change the course of English history forever….

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

Book Corner: Interview with Steven McKay

14527501_1508064435887266_874228221_nToday it is an absolute pleasure to welcome author Steven McKay to the blog. Steven has written the wonderful Forest Lord series, chronicling the adventures of everyone’s favourite legend, Robin Hood. With the final book, Blood of the Wolf, out this month, Steven talked to me about his writing, inspiration and what’s coming next.

Hi Steven, thanks so much for agreeing to be a guest interviewee on my blog, History…the Interesting Bits. So, here’s the questions …

What made you become a writer?

I always wanted to write stories, ever since I was a child. I would write little daft things in my school books and things like that. I think some people are creative and have a need to let their imagination run a bit wild be it through writing or art or music or whatever. I love to create songs on my guitars, and obviously write novels now but, sadly, I’m a terrible painter.

Who are your major writing influences?

Boringly, Bernard Cornwell is number one, just as he probably is for 90% of the people you talk to! The great thing about Cornwell is, he covers so much ground and so many periods. I don’t have any interest in his Sharpe stuff, for example, but his Arthurian and Saxon books are right up my street. And he does it so well that it always gives any writer inspiration and hopes of someday being that damn good!

Apart from that, I love Tolkien’s world-building, Philip K. Dick’s ability to get right inside a reader’s head, and David Gemmell’s great heroes.

How long do you spend researching a novel before you start writing?

Well, I had to do a lot of research for my debut novel, Wolf’s Head, since I wasn’t really very clued-up on the middle-ages OR the Robin Hood legend. So I spent a good year or so, on and off, getting a feel for the period and the characters but, once I had that solid foundation I didn’t really need to do any more research before writing the other books in the series.

Now, though, I’m going to start a brand new series, set in post-Roman Britain, and again, I’m going to have to find out how the people lived and what the whole culture and landscape was like.

Hopefully I can learn quickly…

What comes first, your storyline or your research?

As above, it rather depends on what the book will be about. I just wrote a new short story with my characters from the Robin Hood books and I didn’t have to do any research prior to coming up with the plot. I obviously had to check certain facts once it was done but that happens at the end of every book, when you’re proofreading and editing.1st

For my new series I will need to do some research to figure out what directions the story might go, but I have a vague idea of what’s going to happen in the first book at least.

Do you know how a book is going to end when you start writing, or do your characters ‘surprise’ you?

Generally, yes, I know what will happen. And, of course, with Robin Hood the story is well known and has to be stuck to fairly closely or it’s not Robin Hood any more. So in that respect I’ve always had an idea how each book will pan out, although along the way certain things happen when I’m writing that I didn’t expect. The characters really do come to life and take things in their own direction sometimes, without the writer’s prior knowledge! Friar Tuck always seemed to do that when I was writing his scenes – it was his idea for Robin to travel to London in Rise of the Wolf, the thought had never even crossed my mind originally!

Have you always been interested in Robin Hood?

No, not at all. I’m not really sure why, as I did always love that other great British hero, King Arthur, but Robin Hood never interested me until I decided to write a book about him. I think I never really engaged with the legend because there hadn’t been a great, modern interpretation of it the way there had been with Arthur. Bernard Cornwell had written great books about that as had Stephen Lawhead, and there was the movie Excalibur which I enjoyed, not to mention the whole mythology of Merlin…Robin, on the other hand, wasn’t really so well-known, to me at least. Had I been just a couple of years older I probably would have got into the TV series Robin of Sherwood when it came out in the 80’s and developed an interest from there but nope, I only started watching that as research for my own novel.

Needless to say, the Robin Hood legend is much deeper and more interesting than I first thought!

There are 3 Forest Lord books so far, Wolf’s Head, Rise of the Wolf and The Wolf and The Raven how many more adventures are there to come? Did you know how many books would be in the series when you started writing the story?

The fourth book, Blood of the Wolf, will be published on October 14th 2016 and this will be the last in the series. I planned it to be a trilogy but the second book took itself off in unforeseen directions and I needed to add an extra volume to do everything I wanted with the story. Incidentally, that second book, The Wolf and the Raven, was probably the most fun to write of all of them, perhaps because I let the characters go where they wanted without forcing them to stick to my plan!

What is in store for Robin next?

Nothing, I’m afraid. You’ll need to read Blood of the Wolf to see how things end for him. I do have a brand new short story, “The Stapleford Prisoner” featuring him and Little John but I don’t know when, or how, that will be published. I also plan on doing anothe2r novella, this time starring Will Scaflock but I haven’t started it yet. It will hopefully serve as a stopgap for my readers until I can get the next series underway.

I love the fact the stories are set in the reign of Edward II, rather than the more traditional Richard the Lionheart/King John era. What made you do this?

When I researched the legend the main thing I wanted to do was write about a realistic hero, so I tried to find out if there had been a real Robin Hood. I don’t believe there was one, single outlaw with that name, but there was a decent case for a Robert Hood living in the time of King Edward II having contributed to much of the early stories that became the legend we now all know. It seemed as good a starting point as any and certainly gave things a fresh slant since everyone always sets their Hood tales in a much earlier period.

Your Robin Hood has also moved from Sherwood Forest to Barnsdale Forest, is there are particular reason, or did Robin just fancy a change of scenery?

As above, the earliest ballads about Robin were actually set in Barnsdale and the real Robert Hood I mentioned came from Wakefield in Yorkshire. So again, that gave me a new direction to take the tired old tales and make them a little bit different. That said, much of the action in the books does take place in Nottingham as I believe any outlaw gang would have had to move around from place to place to avoid the law. The sheriff in my books, Sir Henry de Faucumberg was actually the Sheriff of Nottingham and Yorkshire in real life although I did use some artistic license with the dates he served….

A lot of actors have played Robin Hood through the years, do you have a particular image of Robin when you’re writing him?

No, not at all. I mean he’s tall and extremely well-built. Any good medieval longbowman would have been really muscular so that’s obvious but, other than that, I don’t really have a picture of him in my head and I don’t like to describe characters too exactly as I like to let the reader come up with their own image. Making the reader’s imagination fill in some blanks is the best way to draw them into the story I think.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Just the way that I can pour out my imagination and make the stories in my head come to life. I’m constantly making up little stories in my head, imagining dialogue and actions and whatever, even about everyday events. My mind never seems to stop planning things, or imagining how some scene – even a completely mundane one – might pan out.1

Planning and writing books is basically a way of harnessing that energy and making it useful.

What is the worst thing about writing?

Probably waiting to see what readers think of a new book. I can’t tell if a new one is any good or not, it’s impossible, so I have to rely on readers’ opinions. It’s a horrible, nail-biting time waiting on feedback from beta readers and reviewers and hard not to badger them constantly about whether they like it or not.

Apart from that, editing can be a pain – structurally editing a novel I mean. It can be a really daunting thing trying to rearrange certain scenes and events into a cohesive whole and I usually wish it would just happen by magic so I can get on with simply writing again!

How long does it take to do a project from start to finish? Do you write one book at a time, or have several on the go at once?

Well, I’ve been writing for about four years now and in that time I’ve managed to write four novels and a couple of novellas. Basically, I like to do a novel and a novella every year or so. I only concentrate on one thing at a time so I don’t get confused, especially now with this next series being set in a different era altogether. That will require a whole new mindset which is why I haven’t started on it yet, until Blood of the Wolf is done and dusted and out there for people to buy.

Who are your favourite personalities from history? Is there anyone you would particularly like to write about, but haven’t yet?

Jesus! Sorry, that’s not a blasphemous oath, that’s my answer to the question. I’m not a religious person but I think both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible have great stories in them and it would be interesting to write a realistic version of, in particular, Jesus’s life. I did start to research the project years ago but it never came to anything. I’m not sure if it would be a good or a bad thing because there’s so much potential to offend a huge amount of people, but it’s something I would like to do eventually.

Perhaps.

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

No, not really. I don’t sit down to write unless I have something planned. I like to think about what scene I’ll be working on next and have it ready in my head so when I start writing it just flows out.

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

I don’t see how anyone can say they’re a hindrance – they’re basically free adv14527440_1508064235887286_1454685879_nertising and an amazing way to engage with your readers. I try to do my “social media admin” smartly – so if someone retweets me, I’ll reciprocate, but I do it on my phone as it’s much faster and I can do it when I have a spare minute during the day.

Don’t make the mistake of sitting down for an hour every day and interacting with people on a kind of schedule, because it will soon become boring. Fit it around your day, use every tool you have, from phone to tablet and laptop. Free apps like Hootsuite are also a massive help.

What is your next project, once Robin Hood is complete?

The working title for the next book is The Druid. Rather than a large cast of well-known, iconic characters that I was working with in the Hood books, this time I want to create one single warrior druid living in Britain just as the Romans have left. I love this land and it will be great to explore the geography of it through the eyes of a druid. It also has the added bonus that not much is known about the druids so I can have a little more freedom than I did with my Forest Lord series.

I’m really looking forward to writing it!

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

Not at all, thank you for having me! It’s always great to chat about my work to people.

14528431_1508064125887297_483274802_nMore about Steven:

Steven McKay was born in 1977 near Glasgow in Scotland. He live in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children. After obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree with the Open University he decided to follow his life-long ambition and write a historical novel.

He plays guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.

You can check out his website here. Steven also has an Amazon Author page and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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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.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.