Sharon Bennett Connolly writes:
I have been fascinated by history for over 40 years and have recently been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, ‘in recognition of your contribution to historical scholarship.’ I have studied history academically and just for fun – I’ve even worked as a tour guide at historical sites.
I’m now having great fun, passing on my love of the past to my son, who has developed his own passion for history – though I suspect it is thanks to Horrible Histories rather than my own influence. We like nothing better, during the school holidays, than hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses. He is fantastic at identifying bread ovens, spotting fireplaces and the defensive features of most castles.
I have always said I would really like to write about history, but there was always something else that needed doing.
But then, for Christmas 2014, my husband gave me my very own blog – and I haven’t looked back. As I love researching and writing those stories that have made history so exciting to me, the blog has given me the chance to share what I love – the stories themselves, and the places they happened – in the hope that you do too.
And in 2017 things got even more exciting! I completed my first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World, which was published by Amberley on 15th September 2017.
Heroines of the Medieval World examines the lives and actions of medieval women were carefully controlled and 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 who were expected to fight to defend their people and country. Today, it is easy to think that all women from this era were down-beaten, 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 – some well known and some almost forgotten to history – 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 featured you will have heard of, 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, a rebel and regent of England. Then there are those who have been all but forgotten, including Nicholaa de la Haye, the remarkable woman 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 the Magna Carta.
November 15th 2018 saw the release of my second book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, which traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Harold II of England had been with Edith Swan-neck for twenty years but in 1066, in order to strengthen his hold on the throne, he married Ealdgyth, sister of two earls. William of Normandy’s duchess, Matilda of Flanders had, supposedly, only agreed to marry the Duke after he’d pulled her pigtails and thrown her in the mud. Harald Hardrada had two wives – apparently at the same time. Tracing the stories of such women as Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II, Lady Godiva, Edith Swanneck and Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, and Queen of Scotland, the book revisits the famous Norman Conquest with the focus firmly on the women who experienced and influenced the events.
My 3rd book, Ladies of the Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century Europe, was published by Pen & Sword in 2020:
Magna Carta clause 39:
No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.
This clause was included in Magna Carta in response to the appalling imprisonment and starvation of Maud de Braose, the wife of one of King John’s barons. Ladies of Magna Carta looks into the life and death of Maud de Braose, and how it brought about the Magna Carta clause. It will also look at the wives of some of the barons who put their seal to Magna Carta. Ladies of Magna Carta looks into the relationships – through marriage and blood – of the various noble families and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were forged and those that were broken.
Including the royal families of England and Scotland, the Marshals, the Warennes, the Braoses and more, Ladies of Magna Carta focuses on the roles played by the women of the great families whose influences and experiences have reached far beyond the thirteenth century.
And I have just published Book No. 4, Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey
In the reign of Edward I, when asked ‘Quo Warranto’ (by what warrant he held his lands) John de Warenne, the 6th earl of Surrey, is said to have drawn a rusty sword, claiming
“My ancestors came with William the Bastard, and conquered their lands with the sword, and I will defend them with the sword against anyone wishing to seize them”
John’s ancestor, William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He was rewarded with enough land to make him one of the richest men of all time. In his search for a royal bride, the 2nd earl kidnapped the wife of a fellow baron. The 3rd earl died on crusade, fighting for his royal cousin, Louis VII of France…
For three centuries, the Warennes were at the heart of English politics at the highest level, until one unhappy marriage brought an end to the dynasty. The family moved in the highest circles, married into royalty and were not immune to scandal. Defenders of the Norman Crown 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.
I have also written an English language history of Nikolai Tesla for Pearson, to be used in schools in Brazil. My first ‘tv expert’ appearance was on Australian tv’s Who Do You Think You Are? on 7 May 2019. I have written articles for All About History magazine and presented the 2020 David Hey Memorial Lecture for Doncaster Heritage Festival via YouTube. There are at least 4 more books to come: a study of the Women of the Anarchy, the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda; a full-length biography of my favourite Heroine, Nicholaa de la Haye, King John’s Right-Hand Lady: the Story of Nicholaa de la Haye and a book on Scotland’s Medieval Queens: from St Margaret to Margaret of Denmark. I am also working on a sequel to Heroines of the Medieval World, which will be Heroines of the Tudor World.
I will keep you posted on publication dates nearer the time.
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.
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 from Pen & Sword, Amazon 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 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, Book Depository.
Photo credit: Sharon Bennett Connolly taken by Marilyn Roberts.
© Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015. All articles are written and produced by Sharon Bennett Connolly, unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.