Book Corner: Widows of the Ice by Anne Fletcher

As Captain Scott lay freezing and starving to death on his return journey from the South Pole, he wrote with a stub of pencil his final words: ‘For God’s sake look after our people.’ Uppermost in his mind were the three women who would now be widows: Kathleen, his own bohemian artist wife; Oriana, the devout wife of the expedition’s chief scientist, Ted Wilson; and Lois, the Welsh working-class wife of Petty Officer Edgar Evans.

When the news came that the men were dead, they became heroes, their story filling column inches in newspapers across the world. Their widows were thrust into the limelight, forced to grieve in public view, keeping a stiff upper lip while the world praised their husbands’ sacrifice. These three women had little in common except that their husbands had died together, but this shared experience was to shape the rest of their lives.

Each experienced their loss differently, their treatment by the press and the public influenced by their class and contemporary notions of both manliness and womanly behaviour. Each had to rebuild their life, fiercely and loyally defending their husbands’ legacies and protecting their fatherless children in the face of financial hardship, public criticism and intense press scrutiny. Widows of the Ice is not the story of famous women but of forgotten wives, whose love and support helped to shape one of the most iconic moments in British history. They have drifted to the outer edges of the Antarctic narrative, and bringing them back gives a new perspective to a story we thought we already knew. It is a story of imperialistic dreams, misogyny and classism, but also of enormous courage, high ideals, duty – and, above all, love.

A few years ago, I went to a talk at the Wakefield Archives, given by Anne Fletcher, about her book, From the Mill to Monte Carlo. As we were chatting afterwards, she told me a bit about her next project, writing about the wives of Scott’s doomed polar exhibition. I remember thinking at the time, ‘I didn’t even know they had wives’, and told Anne I thought it would be a fascinating project. How right I was!

Widows of the Ice tells the story of three remarkable and very different women, who had to stay at home and wait for news for months on end. They came from very different backgrounds and social classes, and their experiences, both in how they were treated and how their husbands were remembered, reflected that. But there was one thing they all had in common; they had lost their husbands in the race to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Kathleen Scott, Lois Evans and Oriana (Ory) Wilson deserve to remembered just as much as their husbands, Robert Falcon Scott, Edgar Evans and Edward (Ted) Wilson. They were the faces the public saw as news of their husband’s tragic deaths unfolded. They had to work through their grief under the gaze of the cameras, with journalists intruding on every aspect of their lives, as people tried to make sense of what had happened. Through their own letters, in their own words, and the national papers, Anne Fletcher has managed to rebuild their stories, to give the reader unparalleled insight into the lives and experiences of these three very different women.

For Kathleen and Ory, the final goodbyes were yet to come. As officers’ wives, they had the option to go to New Zealand with the expedition and both were determined to travel as far as they possibly could. Ory packed up and prepared to accompany Ted, but Kathleen’s position was a little different. She was the mother of a very young child. Sailing with Con [Robert Falcon Scott] would mean leaving nine-month-old Peter for four months. But she felt that she should; she needed to go with Con.

“… looking back over my life I can think of nothing that hurt more hideously than unlocking the sturdy fingers that clung round mine as I left the laughing, tawny-haired baby Hercules … (but) I had chosen, and joy never left me for long. In agonies and ecstasies of reciprocated love I followed my husband.”

Peter was left in the care of his grandmother Hannah Scott at her home in Henley, where three of Con’s sisters lived too. Rose, whose husband had died in 196, leaving her almost penniless, had moved into her mother’s home with her ten-year-old daughter Erica. Katherine had married Harry Lurgar Brownlow, a surgeon, in 1901 and lived in St Andrew’s Road. Grace, the only one of Con’s sisters not to marry, had also set up home in Henley. Peter would have the love and attention of his grandmother, aunts and cousins while his mother was away – but he would never see his father again.

As Ted sailed away from Cardiff’s harbour on board Terra Nova, Ory travelled to Southampton to board the ship that would reunite her with her husband on the other side of the world. She was to travel in greater comfort than he because RSS Saxon was a passenger liner, part of a fleet run by the Union Castle Line, which operated between Europe and South Africa. Ory was not the only Terra Nova wife aboard. Hilda Evans’s husband Teddy was commanding Terra Nova as it sailed to South Africa so she, like Ory, would see her husband again there. Kathleen was on board too, but she was not alone. Con had stayed behind to try to raise more of the funds that the expedition needed, and so she now shared a cabin with him, enjoying the last few precious weeks together.

Widows of the Ice was an emotional rollercoaster. It is not often that I find myself crying at a non-fiction book, but Widows of the Ice did it to me more than once. It is a heroic story, not just of the doomed polar explorers, but of their stalwart wives. In an age of instant communication and 24-hour news channels, it is hard to imagine the long months of waiting for news, hoping your husbands are alive, but knowing that they could have perished long ago. 

It is hard to imagine the thoughts that must have gone through these women’s minds, knowing that they had been widows for a year, all the time looking forward to a reunion that would never happen. The letters they wrote in this time are heart breaking, so full of a hope that you know is going to be dashed in the cruellest of ways. And then having to live out the grief in the glare of the public eye!

Widows of the Ice is a true story, beautifully told with sympathy and empathy, and always with an eye to the tragedy you are watching unfold. These women were so much more than wives and widows – their strength, their passion and their sacrifices are demonstrated on every page.

My congratulations to Anne Fletcher for writing such a unique, illuminating and heart wrenching book, for bringing the stories of these incredible women to life. If there is only one non-fiction book you read this year, read Widows of the Ice, you won’t regret it.

To buy the book:

Widows of the Ice is now available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK.

About the author:

Anne Fletcher is an historian and writer. She has a successful career in heritage and has worked at some of the most exciting historic sites in the country including Hampton Court Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Bletchley Park and Tower Bridge. She is the great-great-great niece of Joseph Hobson Jagger, ‘the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo’ and he is the subject of her book ‘From the Mill to Monte Carlo’ published by Amberley Publishing 2018. Her search for his story started with only a photograph, a newspaper article and the lyrics of the famous song. The story was featured in national newspapers.

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Researching the Life of Sir Walter Raleigh by Tony Riches

It is a pleasure to welcome author Tony Riches to History…the Interesting Bits today. Tony is a fabulous storyteller who has just released the final book in his Tudor Adventurers series.

We have had Sir Francis Drake, the Earl of Essex and now we have the remarkable story of Sir Walter Raleigh. Tony is here to tell us a little bit about his research in Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer.

Researching the life of Sir Walter Raleigh

Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh has been called the last true Elizabethan.

My books aim to be as factually accurate as possible, with the creative use of fiction reserved for breathing life into my characters, and adding a sense of the places where they lived. I like to spend the summer months visiting actual locations and tracking down primary sources. In the research for my new book, Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer, I also studied Raleigh’s surviving letters and papers.

Public Domain letter from Sir Walter Raleigh to Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Raleigh,
endorsed: “Sir W. Rawley to his wiefe.”

Raleigh was a prodigious letter writer, but his personal archive was scattered widely, with many of his papers thought to be lost. Fortunately, the late Tudor historians, Joyce Youings and Agnes Latham discovered over two hundred of Raleigh’s letters, and Agnes Latham also collected Raleigh’s poetry, adding her invaluable commentary.

As well as offering me an authentic sense of Raleigh’s ‘voice’, these letters were a great help in sorting out the often confusing timeline of events. I was of aware of Raleigh’s tendency to exaggerate, flatter and posture in his writing, but there is no better way to develop an understanding of his motives. Here is an example of a surviving letter from Raleigh to his wife, Bess, which shows how difficult they can be to transcribe.

The next main source of information on Raleigh’s life was the fascinating Folgerpedia resource, ‘The Elizabethan Court Day by Day,’ created by Marion E. Colthorpe. This searchable archive provided me with access to a wealth of invaluable details, and clues for deeper research. The archive began as an investigation into the people and places visited by Queen Elizabeth I on her ‘progresses’, and the entertainments presented before her. It gradually expanded to trace the whereabouts of the queen on every day throughout her long reign, what she was doing, often what she was saying, and who her companions were.

Raleigh’s cell in the Tower of London (author’s photo)

Finally, my travels have taken me to rural Devon and Dorset, and in Raleigh’s footsteps across the sea to Ireland, where I visited the city of Cork and the harbour of Youghal, where he was briefly Mayor and had a house named ‘Myrtle Grove. I also visited the Tower of London and the cell where Raleigh was imprisoned.

My research has revealed Sir Walter Raleigh’s strengths and weaknesses, as a courtier and failed politician, soldier and poet, a man ready to speak up for the poor and to honour his debts. My hope is that my new book, Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer, will help readers see beyond the myths and half-truths, and have a better understanding of the man who has been called the last true Elizabethan.

Reference:

‘The Elizabethan Court Day by Day,’ by Marion E. Colthorpe, is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license,m and can be found at https://folgerpedia.folger.edu/The_Elizabethan_Court_Day_by_Day

Book Links:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09Z98J183

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09Z98J183

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B09Z98J183

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B09Z98J183

About the author:

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of Tudor historical fiction. He lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the early Tudors. As well as his new Elizabethan series, Tony’s historical fiction novels include the best-selling Tudor trilogy and his Brandon trilogy, (about Charles Brandon and his wives). For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Tony Riches

Guest Post: Playing the Lute by Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian and novelist Toni Mount to my blog, to talk about the latest instalment in her fabulous Seb Foxley mysteries, The Colour of Rubies. Which is released today. Toni is here to tell us all about her research into the lute. Over to Toni….

In my tenth and latest Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Rubies, the hero needs to get to know his fellow clerks in the King’s Scriptorium at Westminster Palace for one of them may be a murderer!

Queen Elizabeth I playing a lute, c.1580
A miniature by Nicholas Hilliard (c.1547 – 1619)
Trustee of the Will of the 8th Earl of Berkeley
Digital picture kindly supplied by Martin Shepherd

In the case of the Chief Clerk, Hal Sowbury, who plays the lute, Seb has his colleague give him a few basic beginner’s lessons on the instrument. Since I have no knowledge whatsoever of lutes, except that they’re stringed instruments something like a guitar, this aspect of the novel required some research. I discovered the most useful website was https://www.wikihow.com/Play-the-Lute because it comes with diagrams and written instructions. The YouTube videos were good but I couldn’t keep up, making notes, but they did show how the lute should be held correctly.

I learned the correct terminology: they’re not called ‘strings’, they’re ‘courses’ and come in pairs except for the single course at the bottom, known as the ‘chanterelle’, yes, just like the mushroom. Basic lutes have 6 or sometimes 8 courses but some can have quite a few more, may be up to 12. For Seb, I thought 6 was enough. The main body of the lute, the sound-box, is known as the ‘bowl’ and it should rest on your right thigh. The bowl has a central cut-out design, the ‘rose’, to let the sound out and this can be ornate and beautiful. The thin part is the ‘neck’ with frets for fingering, ending in the ‘peg-box’ with pegs to tune the courses.

This miniature of Queen Elizabeth I playing the lute is dated to exactly a century later than Seb’s lessons and, apparently, the sloping shoulders of the bowl and the long neck make this an English lute, not a Genoese instrument like Hal Sowbury’s which would have a more rounded bowl and shorter neck. There is much expert discussion about the lute in this image, whether there is French influence in the design and how accurate is the artist’s depiction of it. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth really could play the lute – and the virginals though, to her disgust, Mary, Queen of Scots, was said to be far more accomplished on this keyboard instrument – but it’s thought the processes and circumstances of the portrait make it unlikely that it was painted on an actual occasion of royal music-making. It’s more likely to be symbolic, suggesting the harmony of the English body politic [definitely a fiction in the 1580s] and a reference to the musical interests of the Carey family who commissioned it.

But for Seb’s lessons, like a modern guitarist, he has to learn the fingering of the basic chords with his left hand and how to play the courses with his right. Interestingly, one YouTube video stressed that the thumb must stroke downwards quite gently, brushing the courses, while the index finger plucks upwards. I hope that’s correct because that’s what Hal instructs Seb to do in his first attempt at making music on the lute.

The anatomy of a lute [https://sunnylazic.com/shawm/]

Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately for me with my meagre knowledge – Seb has the opportunity for only a couple of lessons with Hal before his employment in Westminster’s scriptorium comes to an end but, who knows, maybe one day he will have another chance to learn to play the lute. We are already familiar with Seb’s love of singing and choral talent, so he must have a musician’s ear and probably the gift of perfect pitch. With an artist’s dexterity, I’m sure his nimble fingers will soon master their positions on the frets and the brushing and plucking of the courses to make beautiful music.

So music gives a lighter side to the action in my new novel but if you want to join Seb, his family and friends on their exploits in medieval London and Westminster, stealing down dark alleyways, waiting nervously in opulent chambers and freezing their fingers off in the icy scriptorium where a murderer lurks, the spying and other dirty deeds aplenty, I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book: The Colour of Rubies, by Toni Mount, published 5th May 2022.

Follow the blog tour:

About the book:

Murder lurks at the heart of the royal court in the rabbit warren of the Palace of Westminster. The year is 1480. Treason is afoot amongst the squalid grandeur and opulent filth of this medieval world of contrasts. Even the Office of the King’s Secretary hides a dangerous secret.

Meeting with lords and lackeys, clerks, courtiers and the mighty King Edward himself, can Seb Foxley decipher the encoded messages and name the spy?

Will Seb be able to prevent the murder of the most important heir in England?

All will be revealed as we join Seb Foxley and his abrasive brother Jude in the latest intriguing adventure amid the sordid shadows of fifteenth-century London.

Praise for Toni Mount’s The Colour of Rubies

Tony Riches, author of The Tudor Trilogy “An evocative masterclass in storytelling.” Carol McGrath, author of the She-wolves trilogy “I was utterly transported – It’s superb”. “What a plot. What characters. Perfect pitch”.

“I loved the relationship between Seb and Jude”.

“The Colour of Rubies is a totally immersive experience as richly stitched as one of King Edward IV’s gorgeous tapestries. This cleverly plotted novel with its twists and turns will keep a reader page turning late into the night until the book’s final scenes. Sebastian and Jude are wonderfully realised personalities with similar emotions, concerns, fears and hopes we have have today. Their medieval London felt real and intriguing to me with unexpected dangers lurking in alleyways. I felt as if I was walking in Sebastian’s footsteps. With this thrilling novel Toni Mount has shown herself a master of medieval suspense. More please”.

Praise for Toni Mount’s Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Series

Tracy Borman, historian and broadcaster “An atmospheric and compelling thriller that takes the reader to the dark heart of medieval London.”

Matthew Lewis author of Richard III Loyalty Binds Me “Toni Mount continues to delight with the superbly crafted Seb Foxley mysteries. Impeccable research and sculpted characters combine with an engaging narrative to create another irresistible story. This series goes from strength to strength, and I’m already looking forward to the next instalment”

J.P. Reedman, author of the I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET series: “Sebastian Foxley is the Cadfael of the 15th century”.

“The Sebastian Foxley Medieval Mystery Series by Toni Mount is not only filled by dastardly murders and gripping intrigue but contains many well-researched historical facts from the Wars of the Roses era”

Samantha Willcoxson, author & historian “Toni Mount is simply brilliant”.

“If you love CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake (and I do) you will love Toni’s Sebastian Foxley”.

“From learning how a 15th century scrivener created illuminated manuscripts to venturing within the dank tunnels beneath the Tower of London, Toni is an artist who completely immerses the reader in another time and place and always leaves one eager for the next book.”

Stephanie Churchill, author of historical fiction and epic fantasy “Leave it to Seb to unravel another international spiderweb of intrigue, betrayal, murder, and deceit. Our flawed, loveable hero has done it again. And at the end of it all, his future is looking brighter than ever. I cannot wait to find out what happens to him next!”

Sharon Bennet Connolly, author and medieval historian “A beautifully crafted mystery that brings the dark, dangerous streets of medieval London to life. Toni Mount is a magician with words, weaving a captivating story in wonderful prose. The Colour of Evil is, to put it simply, a pleasure to read.”

Rosalie Gilbert, medieval historian and author “The author’s knowledge of medieval history shines through the narrative in the small details which enhance the story woven into it. The details about the inside workings of medieval trade practices lent themselves perfectly for a background to murder and deceit”.

“Recommended for lovers of historic fiction.”

Joanne R Larner author of Richard Liveth Yet trilogy: “I always look forward to a new ‘Colour of…’ book. I can’t wait to see what escapades Seb Foxley and his brother, Jude, get up to next. They, and all the characters, are endearing and colourful. The books are always well written, conjuring 15th century London into the reader’s mind and the plots are excellent!’

Mel Starr bestselling author of the Hugh de Singleton chronicles: “If I believed in reincarnation I would be willing to think that Toni Mount lived a previous life in 15th century London. The scents, the sights, the tastes of the late Middle Ages are superbly rendered.”

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About the Author:

Toni Mount is the author of several successful non-fiction books including How to Survive in Medieval England and the number one best-seller, Everyday Life in Medieval England. Her speciality is the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages and her enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her medieval mysteries. Her main character, Sebastian Foxley is a humble but talented medieval artist and was created as a project as part of her university diploma in creative writing. Toni earned her history BA from The Open University and her Master’s Degree from the University of Kent by completing original research into a unique 15th century medical manuscript.

Toni writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, and is a popular speaker to groups and societies.

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly