Book Corner: The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

For a King renowned for his love life, Henry VIII has traditionally been depicted as something of a prude, but the story may have been different for the women who shared his bed. How did they take the leap from courtier to lover, to wife? What was Henry really like as a lover? Henry’s women were uniquely placed to experience the tension between his chivalric ideals and the lusts of the handsome, tall, athletic king; his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, was on one level a fairy-tale romance, but his affairs with Anne Stafford, Elizabeth Carew and Jane Popincourt undermined it early on. Later, his more established mistresses, Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, risked their good names by bearing him illegitimate children. Typical of his time, Henry did not see that casual liaisons might threaten his marriage, until he met the one woman who held him at arm’s length. The arrival of Anne Boleyn changed everything. Her seductive eyes helped rewrite history. After their passionate marriage turned sour, the king rapidly remarried to Jane Seymour. Henry was a man of great appetites, ready to move heaven and earth for a woman he desired; Licence readdresses the experiences of his wives and mistresses in this frank, modern take on the affairs of his heart. What was it really like to be Mrs Henry VIII?

I love the writing style of Amy Licence, she makes history enjoyable and accessible; so much so that when The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII dropped on my doormat I put down what I was reading and jump straight in. And I was not disappointed. A thoroughly fun and entertaining read, this is a book that examines every aspect of Henry VIII’s love life, with particular focus on the women, rather than the king.

No stone remains unturned in Amy Licence’s hunt for the women in Henry’s life. Each rumour is examined in great detail, with comprehensive arguments for or against their actual relationship with Henry. As you would expect, Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon, and the other 4 wives, all find their place within the pages of this book. Bessie Blount and Mary  Boleyn are also discussed in detail. Amy Licence does not judge, she tells their stories, the highs and lows, with great sympathy and compassion. The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII also brings to the fore the less well-known women who have been linked to this most controversial of kings. Etiennette de la Baume, Jane Popincourt and several other, even more obscure, women have their relationships with Henry examined.

Investigations are also made into the claims of the illegitimate children, not only those of the children of Mary Boleyn, but also those less well-known, such as Thomas Stukley and John Perrot. Amy Licence expertly investigates their claims and convincingly argues the truth – or not – of their parentage.

Workshop_of_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Portrait_of_Henry_VIII_-_Google_Art_Project

The watchwords for Mary’s relationship with the king were secrecy and discretion. Yet history has tarnished her with scandal and rumour, insults and aspersions, leaving her with a reputation worthiest of the greatest whore at Henry’s court. Just like so many of the facts of Mary’s life, her real personality and appearance elude us. Historians and novelists have deduced various things from the known dates of her service in France, particularly her comparative lack of education and the circumstances of her marriage, yet these have often raised more questions than they have answered. Mary is illuminated in history by the light that fell upon her sister and she has suffered from the comparison ever since. Sadly her light will always be dimmer, her biography more nebulous.

Amy Licence has a reputation as an excellent researcher and writer, she shines a light into the deepest, darkest corners of the Tudors and, indeed, history itself. In  The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII she brings women into the limelight whose fifteen minutes of fame have long since been extinguished. And that is what is truly amazing about this book, not only are the famous and infamous discussed, but the author also highlights those women who have become footnotes in Henry’s life. Every woman who has been linked to Henry, before and after his death, is examined, as is the veracity of their interractions with the king. She tells their stories, examines their relationship with Henry, the rumours and the truth to them.

Through looking into the women involved, Amy Licence also paints a picture of Henry that is rarely seen; Henry the man and lover, rather than Henry the king. Her diligent research and well-thought out arguments demonstrate Henry’s continual search, not only  for an heir, but for love itself. We discover a complex man, a king who can have whatever he wants in material possessions, but who is continually searching for the immaterial, a son and true love.

The text is supported by over 30 gorgeous, colourful images, photographs and reproductions of paintings which help give the reader an impression of the life and times in which Henry VIII, and the women associated with him, lived. Written in a relaxed narrative, the book is as easy to read as any novel, and as exciting as enjoyable as the best of them. Accessible, engaging and brimming with original research, it would be difficult for anyone to not learn something new when reading this wonderful book.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is a wonderful, exquisitely written investigation into the lives of the women in Henry VIII’s life.

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Amy 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.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is available on Amazon in the UK and in the US.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can 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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Henry by Tony Riches

Bosworth 1485: After victory against King Richard III, Henry Tudor becomes King of England. Rebels and pretenders plot to seize his throne. The barons resent his plans to curb their power and he wonders who he can trust. He hopes to unite Lancaster and York through marriage to the beautiful Elizabeth of York.

With help from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, he learns to keep a fragile peace. He chooses a Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon, as a wife for his son Prince Arthur. His daughters will marry the King of Scotland and the son of the Emperor of Rome. It seems his prayers are answered, then disaster strikes and Henry must ensure the future of the Tudors.

“A fine end to a superbly researched and well-written trilogy, one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in this period of history.” Best-selling author Terry Tyler.

Henry is the final installment of Tony Riches‘ excellent Tudor Trilogy which has followed the rise of the Tudors from Owen’s relationship with Catherine of Valois, through his son, Jasper, and now to his grandson, Henry, the first Tudor king.

Opening as Henry  is victorious at Bosworth, it follows Henry VII from the moment he becomes king, through the many trials and tribulations of kingship and establishing a new dynasty. This is an enjoyable story of one of England’s least loved and most misunderstood English kings. Tony Riches does an excellent job of giving us an entertaining novel while offering the reader an insight into the life and problems of a man who was not born to be king and who knew little of his subjects after spending his entire adult life in exile in Brittany.

I love the fact that Henry is not the finished product from the very beginning. The author has thought hard about how a man, who suddenly becomes king, may act when feeling his way through the maze of court politics, factions and family divisions, and the actual day-to-day challenges of ruling a country that has suffered 30 years of intermittent warfare and political instability.

Henry paints a portrait of Henry as a man who grew into his role as king, learning from his mistakes and facing up to his insecurities; insecurities arising not from his right to the throne, but from the challenges facing him and not knowing what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Henry Tudor is portrayed as a all-too-human; a man whose decisions about others way on his soul, but are made to ensure the security of himself and his family. He walks a  fine line in an attempt to appease his opponents whilst establishing his authority – and his dynasty.

‘On what grounds do we imprison young Edward Plantagenet?’

Jasper sat in the spare chair and the stubble on his chin as he considered the question. He’d chosen to shave his beard on the journey from Wales. He looked younger clean-shaven, but a beard suited his uncle, and Henry guessed he was already growing it back.

‘King Richard considered the young earl enough of a threat to declare him illegitimate.’

Henry allowed himself a smile. ‘King Richard declared everyone illegitimate, other than himself. Young Edward is a cousin of Princess Elizabeth.’

Jasper returned his smile. ‘Half of England is related to the Woodvilles one way or another.’ His face became serious. ‘We need time, Henry. Time to win over the doubters. We could say it is for young Edward’s own safety?’

Henry picked up his quill and dipped it in Mayor Olney’s inkpot before signing the warrant. ‘We must ensure the boy is well treated – I wish no harm to him.’

Henry is the story of one man’s life and kingship. Moments of crisis and sincerity are interspersed with little moments of tenderness and humour. Tony Riches has taken time to seriously consider the character of his subject, and this comes across in every page of the book. He seems to have spent no less time on the supporting characters. Jasper Tudor and Margaret Beaufort, who have played prominent parts in all 3  book of the Tudor Trilogy are pivotal characters and are well thought out, complex figures. Henry respects them deeply and is well aware of the sacrifices they have made that got him to the throne. Each character in the book is credible, believable, and has his, or her, own unique qualities. The headstrong future king, Henry VIII is wonderfully contrasted with quiet and studious Prince Arthur, while the delightful Mary Tudor steals every scene in which she appears.

thumbnail_Late 16th-century copy of a portrait of Henry VII - Wikimedia Commons
Henry VII

The novel tells the story of Henry and Elizabeth with sensitivity and compassion; charting their life together from the first moments of getting to know each other, through the births and deaths of their children, and the toll that takes on them, not only as individuals, but also as a couple. Indeed, the author seriously considers the effect that being king must have had on Henry’s family life, the compromises he had to make. You get the impression that the poor chap never had enough time in the day to do everything he wanted and that every personal loss takes away a little part of him.

‘I like it here.’ He reached across and took her white-gloved hand in his. ‘We shall make Sheen into a palace fit for a royal family.’

Elizabeth squeezed his hand in agreement. ‘I would like that.’ She gave him a conspiratorial look. This is my most secret place. A sanctuary.’

Henry stared into her bright amber eyes. ‘You spent many months in sanctuary … yet you’ve never spoken of it?’

‘At first I didn’t understand the danger we were in.’ She stared, wide-eyed, into the far distance as she remembered. ‘My mother made a game of it, said it would be a great adventure. Years later she told me my father abandoned us and she thought our enemies might murder us all.’

There are many novels set during the Wars of the Roses. The huge majority revolve around Richard III and the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. If a novel sees Richard III as a hero, then you can practically guarantee that Henry Tudor is the villain. With Henry, you would therefore be forgiven for expecting the opposite; Henry the hero and Richard the villain.  Richard, of course, gets mentioned, but the story does not revolve around the fallen king and his guilt or innocence, rather it puts him firmly where he was when Henry was king – in the past!

As a novel, Tony Riches has created a fast-paced, enjoyable tale that is virtually impossible to put down – at least until your eyelids are so heavy they need matchsticks to hold them up. It also gives you a deeper understanding of the founder of the Tudor dynasty. I defy anyone – except, maybe, the most ardent of Yorkists – to read this book and not develop a deeper understanding of Henry VII, of the challenges he faced and compromises he made in order to secure peace for the realm and the continuation of his dynasty. Henry is a must-read book for anyone who has a love  of medieval history, the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors.

Although part of a series, Henry can definitely be read as a standalone. Entertaining and insightful, it tells a story that has rarely been told – the one from Henry’s own viewpoint. This is the story of the foundation of, arguably, England’s most famous royal house – and is not to be missed!

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Ten Things You Might Not Know About Henry Tudor, by Tony Riches

During the four years of research for my trilogy about the early Tudors, I discovered many little known facts about one of our most overlooked kings, Henry Tudor. Here are a few of my favourites:

  1. Instead of Tudor, Henry could have been called ‘Tidder’ or ‘Tetyr’ or even Tewdwr It seems the name Tudor was a simplification used by scribes in the time of Henry’s grandfather, Owen Tudor.
  2. After his victory at the Battle of Bosworth Henry led a procession through the narrow streets of York, where he was attacked by a man with a dagger. His bodyguards saved him but his reign was nearly over before it began – and he later travelled with some fifty ‘Yeomen of the Guard’ for protection.
  3. Henry didn’t invent the ‘Tudor rose’ – the combined red and white roses had long been known as symbols of the Virgin, representing sacrifice and purity – he simply adopted it as his ‘branding’.
  4. Henry loved gambling with cards and dice and lost huge sums more often than he won. He also kept detailed records of who he’d played against (which included his wife, Elizabeth of York)– and how much he’d lost.
  5. As well as lions and other dangerous animals, which he kept at the Tower of London, Henry kept a pet monkey, thought to be a marmoset, in his private chambers. One day he discovered it had torn up his detailed diary, so there is a gap in his meticulous records.
  6. When the pretender Perkin Warbeck was finally captured, Henry was so enamoured of Warbeck’s wife, Lady Katheryn Gordon, that he kept them both in his household – but wouldn’t let them sleep together. He also bought Lady Katheryn expensive dresses and she became a close companion and confidante, even after Henry had her husband executed.
  7. Henry nearly lost his crown to a mob of Cornish rebels, who marched on London in an armed protest against his tax raising. More men joined them on the way and the rebels reached Blackheath before they could be stopped.
  8. Henry kept various ‘fools’ to entertain his court, including one named ‘Diego the Spaniard’ (possibly as a joke at the expense of Catherine of Aragon’s father, King Ferdinand, who failed to provide the dowry he’d promised.)
  9. At Christmas 1497 Henry and his family were woken in the night by a fire in his private chambers at Sheen Palace. They barely escaped with their lives but the old palace was ruined and Henry had it rebuilt as the Palace of Richmond.
  10. Towards the end of his life Henry suffered from a throat disease referred to as ‘the quinsy’ which his physicians treated (unsuccessfully) with a remedy of celandine, fenugreek and hedgehog fat.

Tony Riches is the author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy as well as other historical fiction set in the medieval era. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sailing and kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and website www.tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.  The Tudor Trilogy is available on Amazon UK  Amazon US and Amazon AU

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can 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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Ela: Heiress, Wife and Abbess

Model of Salisbury Castle

Ela of Salisbury was intended to be one of my Heroines of the Medieval World; however I ran out of words before I could tell her story – I had a word limit of 110,000 and poor Ela was one of the victims of this. So, I decide I would turn her into a blog post instead.

Ela was born at Amesbury in Wiltshire in 1187. She was the only surviving child – and sole heir – of William FitzPatrick, earl of Salisbury, and his wife, Eleanor de Vitré. Her father was a descendant of Walter, an ally of William the Conqueror, who had rewarded his support at Hastings with great estates which eventually passed to Ela. When her father died in 1196, Ela became Countess of Salisbury in her own right, and the most prized heiress in England.

There is a story that little Ela, only 9 years old at the time of her father’s death, was kidnapped by her uncle and hidden away in a castle in Normandy, so that he could gain control of the vast Salisbury inheritance. The tale goes, that an English knight, named William Talbot, toured the Norman castles in search of poor Ela, he would sing ballads beneath castle windows in the hope that the little Countess would hear him and join in with his singing. Whether a romantic legend or a true story, who can tell?

Whether she was rescued, or never kidnapped in the first place, we do not know. However, what we do know is that, on her father’s death, Ela’s wardship passed into the hands of the king himself, Richard I, the Lionheart. The king saw Ela as the opportunity to reward his loyal,  but illegitimate, brother, William Longspée (or Longsword), by offering him her hand in marriage. The Salisbury lands were a suitable reward for a king’s son, especially one born out of wedlock.

Arms of the Longspée earls of Salisbury

William Longspée was the son of Henry II by Ida de Tosney, wife of Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk, from a relationship she had with the king before her marriage. For many years, it was thought that Longspée was the son of a common harlot, called Ikenai, and a full brother of another of Henry’s illegitimate sons, Geoffrey, Archbishop of York. There were also theories that his mother was, Rosamund Clifford, famed in ballads as ‘the Fair Rosamund’. However, it is now considered beyond doubt that his mother was, in fact, Ida de Tosney, with two pieces of evidence supporting this.  There is a charter in the cartulary of Bradenstoke Priory, made by William Longspée, in which he identifies his mother as the Countess Ida. There is also a prisoner roll from after the Battle of Bouvines, in which William Longspée is listed as the brother of Ralph Bigod.

Despite the misunderstandings over his mother, the identity of William Longspée’s father was never in doubt. He was Henry II’s son and served two of his half-brothers; Richard I and King John. At the time of his marriage to Ela, Longspée was in his early-to-mid-2o’s, while his bride was not yet 10 years old, although she would not have been expected to consummate the marriage until she was 14 or 15.

William I Longspée had an impressive career during the reigns of his half-brothers, he served in Normandy with Richard between 1196 and 1198, and took part in John’s coronation in May, 1199. In 1213 he destroyed the French fleet off the Flemish coast. He commanded an army in northern France for John, in 1214 and in July of the same year, he was captured at the Battle of Bouvines, after being clubbed on the head by the Bishop of Beauvais. Longspée briefly turned against his brother and joined Louis, the Dauphin, when he invaded England and took London. However, by the end of the summer of 1214, he was back with the king and stayed loyal to his brother from then on. He was one of the signatories of Magna Carta in 1215.

Following the death of King John in October 1216,  Longspée swore loyalty to his 9-year-old nephew, Henry III in March 1217. He was part of William Marshal’s army at the Battle of Lincoln Fair, when Lincoln Castle and its formidable castellan, Nicholaa de la Haye, were finally relieved from a 3-month siege by the French under the Comte de Perche.

William II Longspée, 4th Earl of Salisbury

Although we know little-to-nothing of their married life, it appears to have been happy. The couple had at least 8 children together, if not more; 4 boys and 4 girls. Of their younger boys, Richard became a canon at the newly built Salisbury Cathedral, while Nicholas eventually rose to be Bishop of Salisbury and Stephen became Senschal of Gascony and Justiciar of Ireland. The oldest son, William II Longspée, 4th Earl of Salisbury, was married to Idonea, granddaughter and sole heiress of the formidable Nicholaa de la Haye, who held Lincoln Castle against the French. Young William and Nicholaa de la Haye would spend several years in legal disputes over the inheritance of Nicholaa’s Lincolnshire holdings; a compromise was finally reached in which Nicholaa retained possession of Lincoln Castle, while William held the city of Lincoln, itself.

William II Longspée went on Crusade with Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in 1240-1 and later led the English contingent in the Seventh Crusade, led by Louis IX of France. His company formed part of the doomed vanguard, which was overwhelmed at Mansourah in Egypt, in on 8th February 1250. William’s body was buried in Acre, but his effigy lies atop an empty tomb in Salisbury Cathedral. His mother is said to experienced a vision of her son’s last moments at the time of his death.

Of the couple’s 4 daughters, Petronilla died unmarried, possibly having become a nun. Isabella married  William de Vescy, Lord of Alnwick and had children before her death in 1244. Named after her mother, Ela married, firstly Thomas de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick and, secondly, Phillip Basset; sadly, she had no children by either husband. A fourth daughter, Ida, married Walter Fitzrobert; her second marriage was to William de Beauchamp, Baron Bedford, by whom she had 6 children.

As a couple, William Longspée and Ela were great patrons of the church, laying the 4th and 5th, respectively, foundation stones for the new Salisbury Cathedral in 1220. In 1225 Longspée was shipwrecked off the coast of Brittany and a rumour spread that he was dead. While he spent months recovering at an island monastery in France Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent and husband of Isabel of Gloucester, proposed a marriage between Ela and his nephew, Reimund. Ela, however, would not even consider it, insisting that she knew William was alive and that, even were he dead, she would never consider marrying below her status. It has been suggested that she used the 8th clause of Magna Carta to support her rejection of the offer; “No widow is to be distrained to marry while she wishes to live without a husband…”

As it turned out, William Longspée was still alive and eventually returned to his wife. However, he never seems to have recovered fully from his injuries and died at the royal castle at Salisbury shortly after his return home, on 7th March 1226. He was buried in a splendid tomb in Salisbury Cathedral.

Ela didn’t marry again. On her husband’s death, she was forced to relinquish her custody of the castle (although she did eventually buy it back), but was allowed to take over her husband’s role as Sheriff of Wiltshire, which he had held 3 times, holding the office continuously from 1213 until his death in 1226. Ela acted as Sheriff until 1228. She was known as a great patron of religious houses; she and her husband had co-founded Salisbury Cathedral and Ela herself founded 2 Augustinian religious houses. She managed to lay the foundation stones of both, at Hinton and Lacock, 16 miles apart, on the same day. The abbey at Hinton, Somerset, was endowed for monks, in memory of her husband, after they had found the original house, founded by Longspée at Hathorp unsuitable.

Lacock Priory was established in 1230 as a house for Augustinian canonesses at the village of Lacock in Wiltshire. Ela herself entered the priory in 1237 and became the first Abbess when it was upgraded to an Abbey in 1239. As Abbess, Ela was able to secure many rights and privileges for the abbey and its village. She obtained a copy of the 1225 issue of Magna Carta, which had been given to her husband for him to distribute around Wiltshire. She remained Abbess for 20 years, resigning in 1259. Ela remained at the abbey, however, and died there on 24th August, 1261.

Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

Ela of Salisbury outlived both her eldest son and grandson. She was succeeded as Countess of Salisbury by her great-granddaughter, Margaret, who was the daughter of William III Longspée. Margaret was married to Henry de Lacey, 3rd Earl of Lincoln, and was the mother of Alice de Lacey, 4th Countess of Lincoln and the unfortunate, unloved wife of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who was killed in rebellion against Edward II, at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322.

The 3rd Countess of Salisbury was described in the Register of St Osmund as “a woman indeed worthy of praise because she was filled with the fear of the Lord.”¹ Ela was not buried alongside her husband in Salisbury Cathedral, but within the Abbey that she had founded and ruled – and had called her home for the last 24 years of her life. Her tombstone demonstrates the high esteem in which she was held and records the words; “Below lie buried the bones of the venerable Ela, who gave this sacred house as a home for the nuns. She also had lived her as holy abbess and Countess of Salisbury, full  of good works.”²

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Footnote: ¹ Ela, suo jure Countess of Salisbury, Jennifer C Ward, Oxforddnb.com, October 2009; ² Ela of Salisbury stanfordmagnacarta.worpress.com

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Brassey’s Battles by John Laffin; 1215 The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger & John Gillingham; The Life and Times of King John by Maurice Ashley; The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; lincolnshirelife.co.uk; catherinehanley.co.uk; magnacarta800th.com; lothene.org; lincolncastle.com; The Sheriff: The Man and His Office by Irene Gladwin; Oxforddnb.com; stanfordmagnacarta.wordpress.com; A Year in the Life of Medieval England by Toni Mount; The Demon’s Brood by Desmond Seward; The Oxford Companion to British History, Edited by John Cannon; The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; chitterne.com

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can 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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Queen of Martyrs, the Story of Mary I by Samantha Wilcoxson

‘God save the Queen! God save our good Queen Mary!’

When these words rang out over England, Mary Tudor thought her troubles were over. She could put her painful past – the loss of her mother and mistreatment at the hands of her father – behind her.

With her accession to the throne, Mary set out to restore Catholicism in England and find the love of a husband that she had long desired. But the tragedies in Mary’s life were far from over. How did a gentle, pious woman become known as ‘Bloody Mary’?

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is the final book in Samantha Wilcoxson’s Plantagenet Embers series. It tells the story, in the third person, from the point of view of Mary I. Mary was the eldest daughter of King Henry I and England’s first ever queen regnant. Although part of a series, the book also works perfectly well as a standalone.

Samantha Wilcoxson has a unique writing style which makes her stand out from other Tudor storytellers. She gets into the mind of her main character and writes Mary’s story as if she’s seeing it through the queen’s own eyes. If Mary did not see something happen, then the reader does not know about it until the queen is informed. This distinctive writing style makes the book a personal journey, both for the subject and the reader.

Mary I

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I tells the story of Mary I, from the time  of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine Parr, to her own death.Telling the story through Mary’s own eyes, we follow her personal and  public relationships, through her brother’s reign and the usurpation of Lady Jane Grey until she is sitting on the throne herself.

The novel demonstrates the human side of Mary I, her fears, insecurities and compassion, and her innate need to be loved; by her sister, her husband and her people. It shows her as a child of the Reformation, just as much as Elizabeth I, but on the opposing side. She is a queen struggling to do the right thing by her conscience and her people.

This compassionate portrayal helps to explain how the descent into the burning of protestants was not a plan, but a consequence of cumulative events and Mary’s own fear of displeasing God. Mary cuts a sad and lonely figure, desperate for love and constantly disappointed; by her father, her sister and, ultimately her husband.

With no children of her own, Mary doted upon Edward and Elizabeth in a way their father never would. She made her way now through the small, crowded room to her father’s other bastardized princess.

Elizabeth performed a perfect curtsy for her sister before letting her guard drop and offering a smile.

“I pray you are well, sister.” Elizabeth said with a sincerity of one unaware of the former bad feelings one has had toward them.

“My thanks to you and to God for seeing that I am indeed restored to health and am able to see a good friend and my dear father united in marriage.” As she said it, Mary was surprised to find that she meant it.

“I wish them great happiness,” Elizabeth agreed without emotion.

“You will find Katryn to be a loving mother, and she may be a calming presence for our father,” Mary encouraged her.

“Undoubtedly, you shall be proven correct.”

Sometimes Elizabeth’s habit of saying only what was expected could annoy, but Mary knew that she was simply doing her best to play her part to perfection. It was an effect of the quick succession of stepmothers and the gruesome connection between marriage and death that the young girl had witnessed.

What I love about this book is that it is Mary’s story. Elizabeth is a peripheral figure, making few appearances and always in her sister’s shadow. Philip of Spain is an unsympathetic character, desperate to get away from a marriage that he doesn’t want. The only character who is symbiotic with Mary is her cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, she sees him as an equal, in faith and outlook and he’s the only one she seems comfortable with.

Brilliantly researched, this is a sympathetic portrayal of a queen, known in many history books as Bloody Mary, who is often vilified and criticised for the burning of Protestants. Samantha Wilcoxson doesn’t just go with the flow, but manages to examine the queen’s life, loves and personal tragedies. In doing so, she shows us why the name of Bloody Mary is too simplistic for this complex woman who went through so much adversity before she ascended the throne.

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is a wonderful, compassionate story of a frequently misunderstood woman. Samantha Wilcoxson’s writing style makes this an intimate portrayal of the Tudor queen, giving the reader a deep, personal relationship with the book and its subject, the queen’s story staying with them long after the last page has been turned.

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Picture of Mary courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley in September and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Under the Approaching Dark by Anna Belfrage

Adam de Guirande has cause to believe the turbulent times are behind him: Hugh Despenser is dead and Edward II is forced to abdicate in favour of his young son. It is time to look forward, to a bright new world in which the young king, guided by his council, heals his kingdom and restores its greatness. But the turmoil is far from over.

England in the early months of 1327 is a country in need of stability, and many turn with hope towards the new young king, Edward III. But Edward is too young to rule, so instead it is his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who do the actual governing, much to the dislike of barons such as Henry of Lancaster.

When it is announced that Edward II has died in September of 1327, what has so far been a grumble grows into voluble protests against Mortimer. Yet again, the spectre of rebellion haunts the land, and things are further complicated by the reappearance of one of Adam’s personal enemies. Soon enough, he and his beloved wife Kit are fighting for their survival – even more so when Adam is given a task that puts them both in the gravest of dangers.

Under the Approaching Dark is the third in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord, his king, and his wife.

Anna Belfrage is a master storyteller. She has the ability to weave a tale that draws the reader in from the very first word. But with Under the Approaching Dark she has surpassed herself. She has created a masterpiece of historical fiction. The story entices the reader in and takes them through the full range of emotions in this marvellous adventure, not letting up for one moment.

Under the Approaching Dark is the 3rd book in her King’s Greatest Enemy series telling the story of Kit and Adam Guirande, and of Roger Mortimer, the man who dethroned a king and became lover of a queen. With Kit as one of the queen’s ladies and Adam as Captain of the future Edward III’s guard, the couple are at the centre of events, juggling their public life with their family life. Kit and Adam are living in some of the most turbulent years of English history; they must stay together to survive against jealous rivals, vengeful enemies and the political machinations of the powerful elite.

This story had everything: love, war, suspense and intrigue – and a few twists along the way. One of my big questions before reading the book was how the fate of Edward II would be decided – and it didn’t disappoint. I won’t spoil it for you, but I love how the story unfolds; it is plausible, thoughtful and intriguing.

Anna Belfrage makes her characters human. They are not perfect, they have the same doubts, insecurities and complicated personalities and relationships as in real life. They develop, adapt and grow as events and the years unfold, their experiences sometimes weighing heavily upon them; their past, their future and their relationships.

The author really gets into the hearts and minds of her characters and takes her readers with her, taking them on a rollercoaster of emotions along the way.  A number of scenes will bring a tear to the eye, while others will have you reaching for your sword. Despite the momentous times in which they are living, the story revolves around Kit and Adam, their relationship and the trials they face, both together and apart. They are an impressive couple, but firmly placed within the boundaries that 14th century society dictate. You won’t see Kit wielding a sword, but, as a result, she has more subtle weapons at her disposal.

With each step, the coil of hair grew heavier, and when one of the older ladies gave her a long look accompanied by a pursed mouth and raised brows, Kit regretted having followed Lady Margaret’s advice. Too late. She swallowed. Adam was saying something but stopped mid-sentence when he saw her, and Kit felt her cheeks heat. Would he deem it inappropriate? Chide her? She made a reverence; his hand shot out to close around her elbow, steadying her as she straightened up.

“Sweeting.” he sounded hoarse.

“I…” She licked her lips. “Do you like it?”

“like it?” He traced the golden net with a finger. “It is becoming.”

Her shoulders relaxed.

“But I’ll not have my wife walk about unveiled,” he continued, guiding her back towards the door.

“But the queen -“

A firm finger on Kit’s mouth hushed her. “The queen is not my wife. You are.” He picked at a tendril of hair, tugging ever so gently. “This is for me to see, my lady. Only for me.”

Anna Belfrage is meticulous in her research and includes many of the often overlooked details of medieval life – such as the prohibitions against marital ‘relations’ during Lent, or the length of time it would take a rider to get from York to London. Her descriptions of the cities visited by characters, such as York and Lincoln, are incredible – you can almost feel yourself transported to Clifford’s Tower or standing in front of Lincoln’s imposing cathedral.

Under the Approaching Dark gets everything right. The interaction between the characters is stunning, each having their own traits and quirks which play out in the dialogue. The love scenes are tender and tasteful and the action scenes are fast, furious and full of tension. You never know what will happen next, or how things will play out; which makes the book a true page-turner right to the very end.

The author’s skills at storytelling are exquisite; she draws you in with her words, transporting you back in time and showing you a world that has long since disappeared, but has been brought back to vivid life by the words and imagination of this amazing author. The story grabs your attention from the very first sentence, and will not leave you, not even after the final page has been read.

The writing is impeccable. The story has everything. Under the Approaching Dark is just perfect in every sense.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Interview with Anna Belfrage

The King’s Greatest Enemy Book 3: Under the Approaching Dark

Today I am honoured to welcome the inimitable Anne Belfrage to History…the Interesting Bits.  Anna’s latest novel, Under the Approaching Dark comes out today. The 3rd instalment in the King’s Greatest Enemy series promises to be as tense, exciting and nail biting as the first two books. Set in the times of Edward II and Queen Isabella, the series follows the fortunes of Kit and Adam de Guirande through one of the most turbulent periods of English history. Look out for my review, which will be live in a couple of days. In the meantime, Anna and I had an interesting little chat….

Hi Anna, thank you so much for talking to me about your fabulous books. Welcome to History…the Interesting Bits.

Thank you so much for inviting me!

Tell me about your latest book, is it going to make me cry?

I hope so 😊 Well, at least a little, although I think it will be more nail-biting than tears.

It is the 3rd in a series of books about Kit and Adam, set in the tumultuous reign of Edward II. What attracted you to that particular period of history?

A fabulously inspiring and passionate history teacher who had two major interests: the Maya Empire and its disappearance, and the convoluted period in English history featuring Edward II (Whom he didn’t rate much) Isabella of France (whom he respected, but didn’t like), Roger Mortimer (Whom he was very ambivalent towards: a capable man corrupted by his own ambition) and the very young Edward III (now here was a great king in the making as per Mr Wilmshurst)

Who is your favourite real historical person? And why?

You expect me to give you ONE name? How cruel of you! Nope, I don’t think I can do that—especially as the more I learn, the more historical people I develop a fondness for. So you get a list, instead, a “flavor of the month” selection, as it is a fluid thing 😊 I am very intrigued by Roger Mortimer, but I also have a thing about Edward I, his wife Eleanor of Castile, Edward III, Philippa of Hainaut (Edward III’s wife), Charles II and Leonor Guzmán (mistress of Alfonso XI of Castile) Oh, and our very own Gustav II Adolf, Queen Kristina and Axel von Fersen (our in this case being “Swedish”)

The King’s Greatest Enemy Book 1: In the Shadow of the Storm

And which historic person do you like least?

Lenin comes VERY high on that list as does Stalin and Hitler. And I’ve never liked Cleopatra, but can’t quite tell you why.

So, do you think Edward II survived his own murder?

Ah, that would be telling wouldn’t it? Besides, shouldn’t you say “his own death”, not “his own murder” as we don’t know if he was helped along, so to say? Rumour has it that he was, but in this age littered with fake news, one should learn to take rumour with a pinch of salt. I like it that there are a lot of uncertainties around Edward II’s demise, thereby giving me as a novelist quite some leeway. And because I like Edward II as a person if not as a king, I sort of hope he didn’t die at Berkeley in 1327.

Is this the end of the series, or are their more stories to come, featuring Kit and Adam?

The series consists of four books, so there’s one more to come (out very early next year). I am playing around with a further book, but more along the lines of a stand-alone mystery story. On the other hand, I have so much other stuff I want to write about, so we’ll see.

What made you create Kit the way she is, a strong woman who is firmly set within the confines of the social rules of fourteenth century England? Were you ever tempted to put a sword in her hand and send her into battle?

No, I never wanted to hand Kit a sword—she just isn’t the type. She has her strong points, and in making her literate and capable of swimming I have already stretched things a bit, so having her also being some sort of medieval ninja jarred. It was important to me to create a credible 14th century woman, and while Adam worships the ground his wife walks on, he never delegates the truly important decisions to her—even if he does discuss them with her. And Kit doesn’t expect him to do so, she is fully aware of her position as wife and helpmeet and the restrictions this comes with.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

The escapism. It is quite wonderful to step into a bubble of my own creation and forget about everyday life for a while.

What is the worst thing about writing?

The not getting it right. I know exactly what I want to convey, but what I write is clunky and imprecise, and I have all these words on the tip of my tongue (or at the tip of my fingers) but they won’t quite come.

How do you organise your writing day?

I work full time as a Financial Director which means my days are organised around work. My writing takes place in the evenings and weekends, and once I start on a new project, I let the story run its course, writing until my fingers bleed (well, figuratively speaking). After that comes the truly fun part: the rewrites. I try to block off time for “pure writing” as opposed to writing blog posts and stuff like that.

The King’s Greatest Enemy Book 2: Days of Sun and Glory

Who have been the big influencers of your writing?

I work hard on developing my own voice, but historical writers I admire are Sharon K Penman, Edith Pargetter, Dorothy Dunnett, Diana Gabaldon, Elizabeth Chadwick and Conn Iggulden to name a few. And then there are all the other writers, such as Stephen Fry, García Marquéz, Strindberg, Nevile Shute, Hemingway…an endless list.

How long have you spent researching your characters?

All in all, several years.

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

I enjoy connecting with other likeminded people, but it is also a time-thief. What frustrates me is not quite knowing what works/doesn’t work when it comes to twitter, for example. One day, a tweet will have fifty-odd RTs, the next time I post the same tweet, it gets 3. Very stochastic, isn’t it?

What is your next project going to be about?

Well, I have a trilogy ready to go set in the present day but featuring Jason and Helle who have lived and died innumerable times since that first time in which they loved, lost and died. Jason desperately wants a second chance, an opportunity to make things up to her. Helle has no idea she is a reincarnated soul, and coming face to face with this man she has these vague dreams about is not an entirely pleasant experience. Plus, of course, there’s another person involved—the man who crushed them last time round and who has every intention of doing so again.

From a historical fiction perspective, I have two projects: one is set in 17th century Sweden, the other in 13th century England featuring a very young woman, Ellie, and her husband, one of Edward I’s loyal men. Plus I have this rather exciting time travel thingy growing like a mushroom in the darker corners of my brain, in which Tewkesbury Abbey plays an important role.

Anna Belfrage

Anna, I wish you every success with the book.

Thank you!

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

It was a pleasure, Sharon – and especially seeing as you so generously expend your time on reading and reviewing my books. Authors like me are very dependent on bloggers like you!

Aw, thank you – it is truly a pleasure to be able to read your fabulous stories, Anna.

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About Anna Belfrage:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time-slip series The Graham Saga, winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015. Her ongoing series is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.

If you would like to find out more about Anna and her books, visit her blog.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can 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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Anna Belfrage

Book Corner: The King’s Jew. Book Two: In the shadow of the king. The middle years. 1265 to 1274

Today over at The Review, you can read my thoughts on Darius Stransky’s latest novel in his The King’s Jew series set in the time of Edward I and his  loyal knight, Cristian Gilleson, The King’s Jew. Book Two: In the Shadow of the King. The Middle Years. 1265 to 1274.

And there’s a fabulous giveaway! With one paperback copy and 3 e-books to be won.

Here’s a taster:

A few years ago I read and devoured The King’s Jew by Darius Stransky, so when I got the opportunity to read and review its sequel, The King’s Jew Book 2: In the shadow of the king. The middle years. 1265 to 1274, I jumped at the chance. It follows the story of Cristian Gilleson, a knight in the service of Henry III’s son and heir, the Lord Edward. Book 1 told the story of Cristian’s early life and his friendship with Edward, ending with the Battle of Evesham and the destruction of the rebel army under Simon de Montfort. Book 2 picks up immediately where the first left off.

The King’s Jew Book 2: In the shadow of the king. The middle years. 1265 to 1274 takes us on a journey that incorporates the aftermath of Evesham, the Crusades and Edward’s accession to the throne itself. Told in flashback, from Westminster Abbey, where Cristian is holding vigil at Edward I’s bier on the night before his funeral, the story unfolds with the sense of danger ever present, both in 1307 and in the preceding years. Cristian’s enemies are determined to see him destroyed, as much for the secrets of his birth as for his actions in support of Edward since they first became friends.

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance in this fantastic giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment.

Good luck!

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Looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, will be published by Amberley later this year and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can 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 2017