Heroines of the Medieval World

The day has finally arrived!

Heroines of the Medieval World is available from today.

These are the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. The lives and actions of medieval women were restricted by the men who ruled the homes, countries and world they lived in. It was men who fought wars, made laws and dictated religious doctrine. It was men who were taught to read, trained to rule and expected to fight. Today, it is easy to think that all women from this era were downtrodden, retiring and obedient housewives, whose sole purpose was to give birth to children (preferably boys) and serve their husbands. Heroines of the Medieval World looks at the lives of the women who broke the mould: those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history.

Some of the women are famous, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a duchess in her own right but also Queen Consort of France through her first marriage and Queen Consort of England through her second, in addition to being a crusader and a rebel. Then there are the more obscure but no less remarkable figures such as Nicholaa de la Haye, who defended Lincoln Castle in the name of King John, and Maud de Braose, who spoke out against the same king’s excesses and whose death (or murder) was the inspiration for a clause in Magna Carta.

Women had to walk a fine line in the Middle Ages, but many learned to survive – even flourish – in this male-dominated world. Some led armies, while others made their influence felt in more subtle ways, but all made a contribution to their era and should be remembered for daring to defy and lead in a world that demanded they obey and follow.

Writing Heroines of the Medieval World has been a wonderful experience. I learned as much about myself as I did about these amazing women from history. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to bring them out of the shadows and tell their stories.

Reviews

And the first reviews are already in. Thanks to the Review blog for being quick off the mark with this fabulous, wonderful, amazing review.

Sharon has a wonderful way of writing, it appears effortless, easy and utterly fascinating.” Karrie Stone

And another wonderful review has just gone live:

“The book is written in a friendly, easily readable style that belies the impact and interest of the words, each of which has been carefully considered to ensure that the meaning is clear to any reader of any level and maintain its academic importance and integrity.” Diana Milne

Thank Yous

I also owe a huge thank you to author Tony Riches for his wonderful blog post today, highlighting the release of Heroines. What an incredible surprise!

And grateful thanks to Mary Anne Yarde and Louise Wyatt for their wonderful posts celebrating the release of Heroines of the Medieval World.

Guest blog posts

Annie Whitehead’s Blog: The Indomitable Nicholaa de la Haye 

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.

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Interview with Toby Clements

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Kingdom Come, the final book in Toby ClementsKingmaker series. And Toby very kindly agreed to an interview for History…the Interesting Bits. Here it is:

Hi Toby, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview. The last time we chatted was at the Harrogate History Festival a couple of years ago and you had just released your second novel in the Kingmaker series, Broken Faith. Now you’re about to release the fourth in the series, Kingdom Come.  What an amazing achievement. Congratulations!

And so, I was wondering;

Are you still enjoying the writing process? Do you still get that buzz when you type ‘The End’?

I am, but I am enjoying different aspects of the process. My first book – Winter Pilgrims – was a real labour of love, and the second book involved a painfully steep learning curve, but since then I have settled down a bit and I’ve acquired a bit more ‘craft’, if that makes sense. Moving from scene to scene with a single sentence, and that sort of thing. I’m still pretty pleased to be able to type The End, but I’ve learned there’ll be a hundred thousand really boring fiddly bits to address by the time my editors have been through it, so it is more like welcoming the lull before the storm.

How have you changed your writing routine since publishing your first novel?

Not really. I have to do other bits and bobs to earn a living, so the writing fits in around them. It does mean that when I am writing, I am really writing though. I HIGHLY recommend the Freedom App, by the way, which you can tailor to limit your time on the internet. (https://freedom.to/)

Who are your major writing influences?

They are a right old hotch-potch, I have to say. I steal from just about every writer I ever read, but my aim remains to tell a Bernard Cornwell style story in Hilary Mantel prose. Of course it never turns out that way, and if either knew that was my object they’d ban me from reading their books.

What was it about the Wars of the Roses that drew you in to the period?

I was a warlike child, to begin with, and I went to school near Tewkesbury, which we had to visit every school holiday, and we studied the period leading up to it so we could get some idea what we were looking at, but I think the real thing was the sight of the abbey’s sacristy door, reinforced with strips of plate taken from the battlefield. It is an example of the ingenuity of the times and I think its everyday re-application of something so momentous – plate armour in which someone would probably have met their end – being reused as something so ordinary made a clear link between the now and the then, between something I could understand and something I couldn’t. If that makes sense.

How many more stories of Kit and Thomas can we expect to enjoy?

I’m afraid Kingdom Come is the last! Their joints are creaking now they are in their thirties, and they need to rest in peace.

Do you have a story outline for the whole series of books, or do you just go where the story leads you?

One of the real pleasures of writing historical fiction is that the recorded events of the past provide a line of beacons in the darkness for the writer to aim for – more prosaically a series of pegs from which to hang your story – so you just have to come up with a plausible reason to get your character A to place B to meet person C, and have a personal stake D in what then occurs. Filling in the gaps, is how someone described it.

How meticulously is each book planned before you start writing?

Pretty closely, but a random word here or there can throw up all sorts of surprises, and send you in unexpected ways, so that the plot always seems to become more interesting than the synopsis.

Who is the best character you have created, which are you most proud of?

I liked the Pardoner in Winter Pilgrims, and was sorry he had to go, and Walter, also in Winter Pilgrims, while hardly an original sort, was at least reliable. In Kingdom Come, I very much liked scenes in which Wilkes appeared. It is a pleasure to write about someone who knows what they want, and how to go about getting it. Most of my other characters are ditherers, and reflect their creator.

How do you come up with the ideas for characters?

Are they ever someone you know, or pure imagination? I try to get friends in occasionally, and in Kingdom Come I have included four people drawn from the public arena, shall we say. I’d offer a signed copy to the first person who can identify them if that would be fun?

What is the most significant thing you have learned that made you a better writer?

I have learned to just get on with it, for the love of God.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to write their first novel?

I heard a poet talking on the radio the other day saying he learned to write quickly so that he had plenty of stuff to edit. I thought that was a gem: get a lot of stuff down. It doesn’t matter if it is rubbish because you can go through it all and make it better. Also, I’d say that unless they were really lucky, any would-be author should write down the latest date they’d imagine themselves being published, and add three years to it. It takes a long time. Like childbirth, mostly. And get the Freedom App!

After the Kingmaker series, do you have other projects in the pipeline?

I’ve one or two. One I am hopeful for, the other less so but very keen on, and the third I just can’t make work without it being identical to what I’ve already written.

Is there any historic era or topic that you would dearly love to write about?

The Wars of the Roses will always be my first love, but there are other moments – or characters – I’m interested in, about which I am hoping to write, as in my last answer.

Have you ever thought of writing non-fiction, if so what would you write about?

I’d like to try, I admit. I think it’d be a whole new grammar though, and I’d miss the little flourishes that enliven fiction. Having said that, one of my favourite sentences ever has to come from Edward Gibbon, who wrote in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – incorrectly, I believe, but irresistibly – of Pope John XXIII that the ‘most scandalous charges (against him) were suppressed; the Vicar of Christ was only accused of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy and incest.’ So there is room for a little extra something.

Thank you so much for answering my questions Toby – it’s always great to welcome you to the blog. Good luck with Kingdom Come – I wish you every success.

No! Thank YOU!

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Kingdom Come and the other 3 books in Toby ClementsKingmaker series; Winter Pilgrims, Broken Faith and Divided Souls can all be found on Amazon.

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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 in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be available 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.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Guest Post: The Siege of Rouen by Nathen Amin

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Nathen Amin to the blog. Nathen has stopped by on the last day of his blog tour with an extract from his wonderful new book, House of Beaufort, focusing on the Siege of Rouen which took place between July 1418 and January 1419 as part of Henry V’s attempt to conquer Normandy, and ultimately claim the French throne.

The Siege of Rouen (Extract from House of Beaufort by Nathen Amin)

By the summer of 1418, the king’s army was camped outside the gates of Rouen, the final obstacle in reconquering the duchy. Although the city was the second largest in France, it had suffered from the intermittent civil war between the Armagnac and Burgundian factions and had been brutally occupied by both forces. Now, it was to be harassed once more, this time by the English.

In mid-July, King Henry dispatched his uncle Thomas Beaufort to seek the city’s surrender, accompanied by ‘a fayre manye of men of arms and archers’. The duke of Exeter had spent the first few months of the year in England but on 3 March received a summons from his nephew requesting his services once again in France. By May, the duke was back on Norman soil, attended by a force of 500 men-at-arms and 1,500 archers, and on 1 July was appointed Count of Harcourt after capturing the town’s castle. He was also given custody of Lillebonne Castle, situated halfway between Harfleur and Rouen and timely motivation for the exhausting task that lay ahead.

According to the Brut Chronicle, upon arriving outside Rouen, Exeter set up camp and ‘displayed his banner’ before sending ‘herodes into the toun, and bade them to yeld it’. If they chose not to submit, then the duke promised they would ‘deie an harde and sharped deth, and withoute eny mercy or grace’. A small skirmish occurred when ‘a grete meny of men at arms, both on horsbak and eke on foot’ emerged from the town, although Exeter’s resilient force managed to ‘ovirthew an hep of them’, capturing thirty prisoners in the process . It was clear the Rouennais were not going to yield to the duke, who promptly departed south to Pont-de-l’Arche to inform his king. An unimpressed Henry V swiftly mobilised the remainder of his troops and returned to Rouen alongside his uncle.

The siege began in earnest on 29 July 1418, with the city well defended by large numbers of crossbowmen and artillery weaponry. English siege equipment, which had proved effective throughout the campaign, was rendered useless as Henry’s soldiers could not get within range of the city walls to create any discernible damage. Since brute force was not an option, the king resolved to starve the citizens into surrender. Henry spread his commanders around the city to block any attempts by French relief forces bringing supplies, with himself based in the east and his brother Clarence in the west. Exeter was positioned ‘on the north syde, before the Port Denys’, and the three chief commanders were capably supported by John Mowbray, earl of Norfolk, James Butler, earl of Ormond, the lords Harrington, Talbot, Roos, Willoughby and Fitzhugh, and Sir John Cornwallis.

King Henry V

The English expected the Rouennais to surrender after a token resistance, whilst those within the walls stubbornly awaited the arrival of a French army to come to their rescue. Neither occurred. Although outbreaks of dysentery and disease afflicted both Rouen and the English camp, commanders of both sides refused to back down. At one stage, an Englishman known as Sir John le Blanc, Governor of Harfleur and a member of Exeter’s retinue, challenged a French captain named Langnon, the bastard of D’Arly, to a jousting duel. Langnon agreed to the contest and emerged from the beyond the walls with around thirty companions. Although the intention of both men was to run the joust three times, Langnon ferociously unhorsed his adversary at the first attempt, who was then dragged into the city where he succumbed to his injuries. The Frenchman was urged by the English to return le Blanc’s lifeless body, for which he was begrudgingly paid four hundred nobles, possibly from the purse of a presumably demoralised Exeter himself.

By December, the citizens of Rouen were feeling the effect of the siege, having consumed most of their provisions. By Christmas they had ‘nothir bred, ale, nor wyne’ and were forced to survive on horsemeat and the flesh of dogs, mice, rats and cats. The city’s despairing commanders ordered all women and children, along with any old or sick men, to be evicted from Rouen at once as they were deemed to be of no military value. Considering many of those expelled were related to soldiers left behind, it seems likely the commanders intended for them to be honourably received into English hands as prisoners of war, to be fed and watered until the siege was over. They had not counted on the ruthless disposition of the English king.

Although several of King Henry’s soldiers initially endeavoured to feed the evictees from their own rations, he dispatched orders that no assistance was to be provided to the pleading masses. His command was adhered to, and the beleaguered citizens were left to starve in ditches halfway between the English and the city walls, slowly perishing in full view of both camps. It was an utterly brutal decision and intended to demotivate the watching garrison of Rouen, who could only look on shamefacedly as those they had expelled screamed for help that was not forthcoming.

A chilling insight into the horrors of the siege is found in a lengthy poem written by John Page, an English soldier present during the sustained attack. Page’s compassionate poem barely conceals the anguish he experienced during the winter of 1418, or the significant pity he felt for the innocent women and children of Rouen. In one resonating couplet, Page records how he witnessed a starving, orphaned ‘chylde of two yere or three, go a boute to begge hyt brede, fadyr and modyr bothe were dede’, whilst he also came across ‘women holdyn in hyr armys, dede chyldryn in hyr barmys (bosoms)’. After the citizens were expelled, a despondent Page noted how ‘women with their children in their arms’ were begging the soldiers to ‘have marcy uppon us, ye Englysche men’.

Arms of Thomas Beaufort, 1st Duke of Exeter

There could be no mercy until the English king was placated, and as Rouen could not withstand the tenacious monarch indefinitely, dialogue was finally opened between the two parties after Christmas. The city accepted terms of surrender on 19 January 1419 when, after six months of ‘toilsome siege and many assaults’, Thomas Beaufort was handed the keys to Rouen. The duke galloped into the city, ‘a valiant captain mounted on a goodly courser’, to formally seek the submission of the council. Trumpets, clarions and pipes heralded the duke’s arrival, with his English soldiers, perhaps charged with adrenaline, provocatively shouting ‘St George! St George!’ as they passed through the gates. Page reported the inhabitants were but ‘bonys and skyn’ and beheld their conquerors with great fear, prompting some of the residents to nervously ransom their lives ‘for fifty thousand pounds in gold’. Money was not enough to save a commander named Alain Blanchard; he was promptly executed for having hanged English prisoners from the walls in preceding months.

One can only wonder at the horror which greeted the duke as he rode through the disease-plagued, death-infested streets. Rotting corpses littered the roads, with Page confirming ‘in everyche strete lay dede’ whilst those who had only just survived the ordeal, ‘dyde faster than cartys myght cary away’. The stench alone must have overwhelmed Exeter and his men, forced to navigate their way through grim pandemonium. Even so, Thomas had a duty to perform, and so the duke ‘to the castelle fyrste he roode’ and ‘ryche baners up he set’, including those of St George and the arms of France and England. As the flags fluttered in the wind, their presence above the city represented not only a hard-fought English victory over Rouen, but also the duchy of Normandy.

With Exeter having secured the city, the king followed his uncle into Rouen the following afternoon, and whilst ‘the bells of all the churches were rung’, the surviving ecclesiastical figures emerged to greet the intimidating figure that had reduced their places of worship to rubble. Alongside his commanders, Henry offered thanksgiving in the cathedral before settling into his new lodgings within the castle. His nobles dispersed into the city to find accommodation in any buildings English cannons had failed to destroy.

Exeter finally had the opportunity to rest his weary body, and to reflect on events of previous months, particularly the waste of life that had occurred on both sides of Rouen’s walls. Tragic losses had not been limited to the Normans, for death had also struck at the heart of the Beaufort family. Accompanying his stepfather Clarence on the campaign had been the seventeen-year-old Henry Beaufort, 2nd Earl of Somerset, heir of John Beaufort, and Exeter’s nephew. Information about the youngster’s life is scarce, although his upbringing was overseen by Clarence and partly funded by his namesake uncle, the bishop of Winchester.

Likewise, young Henry’s death is also poorly documented, although later inquisitions in the summer of 1425 place the date of his demise to 25 November 1418, just as the siege of Rouen reached its climax. It’s unclear whether the cause was warfare or disease, or if his uncle Exeter was present at the time having been posted near to the Clarence forces in which the teenage earl served. There is no record of what happened to Henry’s body, whilst his earldom passed to his brother John who became the third Beaufort to hold the Somerset title within a decade. At what point Bishop Beaufort, or the boy’s mother Margaret Holland, became aware of his demise is also uncertain, as is his final resting place. This Henry Beaufort remains an enigma, something of a lost Beaufort, and his death was a sad consequence of the fall of Rouen.

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Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire and has long had an interest in history. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and runs the Henry Tudor Society. He has an active social media presence promoting historical sites in Wales. He now lives in York.

The House of Beaufort is available now from both Amazon and Amberley Publishing.

And here’s the links to catch up with the rest of Nathen’s blog tour.

Day 1: The Medievalist.net; Day2: On the Tudor Trail; Day 3: Lila’s Vintage World; Day 4: kristiedean.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 in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be available 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.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly