Book Corner: Femina by Janina Ramirez

The middle ages are seen as a bloodthirsty time of Vikings, saints and kings: a patriarchal society which oppressed and excluded women. But when we dig a little deeper into the truth, we can see that the ‘dark’ ages were anything but.

Oxford and BBC historian Janina Ramirez has uncovered countless influential women’s names struck out of historical records, with the word FEMINA annotated beside them. As gatekeepers of the past ordered books to be burnt, artworks to be destroyed, and new versions of myths, legends and historical documents to be produced, our view of history has been manipulated.

Only now, through a careful examination of the artefacts, writings and possessions they left behind, are the influential and multifaceted lives of women emerging. Femina goes beyond the official records to uncover the true impact of women like Jadwiga, the only female King in Europe, Margery Kempe, who exploited her image and story to ensure her notoriety, and the Loftus Princess, whose existence gives us clues about the beginnings of Christianity in England. See the medieval world with fresh eyes and discover why these remarkable women were removed from our collective memories.

When I wrote Heroines of the Medieval World five years ago, I said at the time that it was a book that needed to be written – I just wasn’t sure if I was the person to write it. If I had been asked who should write it, one of the top names on my list would have been Janina Ramirez. So I was not surprised when I discovered that Janina had written a book on medieval women, Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It.

I admit I was a little worried that Femina would make my Heroines obsolete or redundant, but I probably shouldn’t have been. After all, every writer has their own style and approach and every book – even if on the same topic – is written differently. And while the two books do overlap in places, we do not always reach the same conclusion and they really would complement each other on a book shelf (hint, hint!).

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It looks at some of the most remarkable women of the medieval period, including two women you will be familiar with if you have read Heroines of the Medieval World, Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians and Jadwiga, ‘King’ of Poland. And the chapter on Jadwiga is particularly illuminating as Dr Ramirez applies her background in Art History to the symbolism and significance of Jadwiga’s reign, both on a political and spiritual level.

Janina Ramirez also provides great insight in to Emma of Normandy, who I looked at in detail for my own book, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest. Study is even made of Ӕlfgyva, the mysterious woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, though Janina and I come to very different conclusions – and I would dearly love to have a face-to-face conversation with her to thrash out our theories. That would be fun!

Hild moved from Hartlepool to the site known then as Strenaeshalch and now as Whitby, in AD 657. Here she was granted land to build a double monastery where both men and women could learn the scriptures and dedicate themselves to a monastic life. And engraved stone slab commemorates her successor as abbess, Ælfflæd, and the use of the Latin script and alphabet supports Bede’s suggestion that Whitby was a centre of learning and literacy. But like at Hartlepool, finds from Hild’s abbacy include many luxuries such as decorative hairpins, golden book covers and even a comb with a runic inscription. Runes were the alphabet of the pre-Christian English, but the inscription is clearly Christian: My God. May God Almighty help Cy …’ Again, we find an object which links the Germanic warrior world to the new Christina one. Like Hild herself it straddles ideologies and a time of transition.

Hild was at the top of the tree in terms of influence in seventh-century Northumbria. Bede states that ‘even kings and princes sought and received her counsel’, and she acted as mentor to the daughter of Oswui, King of the Northumbrians from 642-670. What’s more, it was under her rule, in the monastery she founded herself, that the leaders of the English church gathered for the famous Synod of Whitby in AD 664. With Hild in charge of proceedings, the good and the great, representatives of Rome and Ireland, argued which traditions the Northumbrian church should follow. The result went the way of Rome. The variety and uniqueness of Celtic monasteries was lost to the rigour and routine of the Benedictine Rule, and monasticism in the north was transformed forever. For a woman to be involved in such high-level synodal processes is something extraordinary even today. It is also significant that five men who trained under Hild were all made bishops; if there were king-makers in the medieval world, then she was the bishop-maker. Whitby was the training ground for a new, Roman Christian, learned and respected English church. From Hild’s northern headland, educated men and women would stretch out the length and breadth of the country, assuming the very highest positions within churches and monasteries, including the archbishop of York. Hild’s influence would permeate the fabric of Christianity in this part of the world and its effects were felt down the centuries.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It is a fabulous study of a number of medieval women – and medieval woman in general. Dr Ramirez manages to combine what it was like to be a woman in medieval times, including their rights and the dangers they faced, such as childbirth, with the histories of particular women – and not always women you would expect to see in history book. The most fascinating chapter is that which is devoted to the Cathars, a religious sect much misunderstood and persecuted to extinction by the church. Janina Ramirez highlights not only their suffering and personal testimonies, but also the strength and respect that women held within the community. It truly is illuminating.

From warrior Viking women, to the successes of Æthelflæd and the excessive crying of Margery Kempe, Janina Ramirez shines a light on the lives and experiences of a huge variety of medieval women. Archaeological discoveries, religious artefacts and medieval artwork are used to describe and illuminate the world in which these women lived and died.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It is an engaging, entertaining read, with Janina Ramirez’s unique and wonderful take on medieval history. Introducing her vast knowledge of Art History into the mix adds vibrancy to the individual stories and brings these incredible women to life. Dr Ramirez is fabulous writer and communicator and takes the reader on an incredible journey of discovery through the medieval world. Her enthusiasm and fascination for the topic shines through on every page.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It by Janina Ramirez is truly a pleasure to read.

About the author:

Dr Janina Ramirez is a Sunday Times bestselling author, an Oxford lecturer, BBC broadcaster and researcher. She has presented and written over 30 hours of BBC history documentaries and series on TV and radio, and written five books for children and adults.

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.

*

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

Guest Post: First Impressions and their Consequences by Anna Belfrage

It is always a pleasure to welcome my good friend and fellow author, Anna Belfrage, to History…the Interesting Bits. Anna’s fabulous new Castilian Saga is a pleasure to read – and I will be posting a review of the latest instalment, Her Castilian Heart, shortly. But, for now, Anna is here to tell us about how she met the hero and the story that developed…

First impressions and their consequences.

The first time I met Robert FitzStephan, he had his arms full of apple blossom.

“Sorry,” he said, squeezing by me on the narrow stairs, “I have a wife to make amends to.” And off he went, leaving me in the damp gloom with a flaring torch the only source of light. I suppose this is when I should clarify that this was not an IRL (in real life) meeting: no, all of this happened in my roomy brain, an ever-expanding universe in which my characters pop up out of nowhere, demanding I tell their stories.

Robert FitzStepahn left an impression of light eyes and a HUGE nose and. . .

“Not that huge,” he protests, setting a finger to the rather impressive protuberance.

“No, it isn’t,” his wife, Noor says (apparently, the apple blossom did the trick) She gives me a severe look. “And one should not make fun of people because of their looks.”

“I wasn’t,” I try. After all, Robert is tall and broad and strong and. . .

Noor gives me another glare. “He’s mine!”

Of course. I don’t want a medieval man—I don’t live in that era, no matter that I write about it.

A Courting Man, Codex Manesse

Now, aside from being tall and all that, Robert is a self-made man, a man whose years of loyal service to his king, Edward I, were rewarded when the king gave him Noor—Eleanor d’Outremer—in marriage. With Noor came a fortified manor and some lands—and an indirect blood-tie to Queen Eleanor. Not that being related to the queen is necessarily a boon.

Initially, the Robert and Noor marriage had its bumps—as described in His Castilian Hawk. Like when Robert realised Noor was related to the princes of Gwynedd and that the orphan she’d taken in was the unknown son of the rebellious Dafydd ap Gruffyd, former prince whose head now adorned London Bridge. Should the king find out about the child, he’d lock the toddler up with the child’s unfortunate brothers in Bristol Castle and potentially sever Robert’s head for harbouring him. Our hero was somewhat torn between his loyalties to his liege and those to his wife. . .

“Never,” Robert says. “I am the king’s man, but my wife comes first.”  

Aww. . . Such a nice quality in a man!

Noor’s decision to take in the orphan was to have consequences, especially once Queen Eleanor began suspecting who the child was. Which was how Robert and Noor found themselves unofficially exiled to Aragon and Castile—arriving just in time for Robert to participate in the battle of Col de Panissars, where the king of Aragon defeated the French who’d attempted to invade his country under the of a crusade. Their sojourn on the Iberian Peninsula was fraught with adventure and danger, as described in The Castilian Pomegranate.

In Her Castilian Heart, Robert and Noor are safely back in England. Well, safely may not be the right word, what with Robert’s half-brother wanting to murder him, but still. Plus, the queen remains suspicious of their foundling, and God alone knows what an irate queen may do. This time, the events are woven round King Edward’s attempts to broker peace between the pope, the king of France and the king of Aragon—that failed French effort to invade Aragon, a.k.a. the Aragonese Crusade, has caused quite a political mess.

King Edward’s reasons for involving himself are to some extent personal: one of his daughters is contracted to marry King Alfonso of Aragon, but the pope has threatened him with brimstone and sulphur if he allows his daughter to do so without the pope’s explicit permission. Which isn’t forthcoming, as the pope is seriously ticked off about the fact that Aragon has taken Sicily back from Charles d’Anjou. The pope has a much better relationship with the Angevin than with the king of Aragon—maybe because he excommunicated Alfonso’s father for having supported the Sicilians when they rebelled against years of Angevin oppression (and then consolidated Sicily as part of his kingdom)

Philippe of France wants restitution for the loss of the crown of Aragon—which is rather odd, seeing as Aragon wasn’t his to begin with, but the young French king has not lived down the humiliation of losing to Aragon. Young Alfonso wants peace—but not at the expense of relinquishing Sicily, and no way is he going to compensate the French for invading his kingdom! In fact, they should compensate him!

King Edward I

King Edward is faced with quite the balancing act: how is he to placate the pope, somehow knock some sense into the young hot-headed kings and deliver a treaty that will hold? And on top of all this, King Edward has an ailing wife and the rebellious Welsh to handle! Not that he involves himself in the actual fighting win Wales—he leaves the rekindled Welsh uprising to Robert to handle together with Roger Mortimer.

Her Castilian Heart was originally supposed to be the final book in this series, but as Robert has as yet not shared the reason for having to placate his wife with apple blossom, I still have more stories to tell about Robert, Noor, their foundling Lionel—and the brave and rebellious Welsh. King Edward may think he has the Welsh dragon tamed, but he is wrong—oh, so wrong!

About Her Castilian Heart:

Blood is not always thicker than water…

At times a common bloodline is something of a curse—or so Robert FitzStephan discovers when he realises his half-brother, Eustace de Lamont, wants to kill him.  

A murderous and greedy brother isn’t Robert’s only challenge.  He and his wife, Noor, also have to handle their infected relationship with a mightily displeased Queen Eleanor—all because of their mysterious little foundling whom they refuse to abandon or allow the queen to lock away.

Eustace is persistent. When Robert’s life hangs in the balance, it falls to Noor to do whatever it takes to rip them free from the toothy jaws of fate. Noor may be a woman, but weak she is not, and in her chest beats a heart as brave and ferocious as that of a lioness. But will her courage be enough to see them safe?

To buy the book:

Her Castilian Heart is available now from: http://myBook.to/HEART

About the author:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. No luck there, so instead she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests; history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. Plus she always finds the time to try out new recipes, chase down obscure rose bushes and initiate a home renovation scheme or two.

Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga , set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy.

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty and love set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales in the late 13th century.

Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time , is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands.

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of several Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, www.annabelfrage.com 

Social Media Links:

Website: www.annabelfrage.com; Twitter: https://twitter.com/abelfrageauthor; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/annabelfrageauthor; Instagram: https://instagram.com/annabelfrageauthor; Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/anna-belfrage; Amazon Author Page: http://Author.to/ABG; Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6449528.Anna_Belfrage

*

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.

*

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.

Earl Warenne’s Search for a Royal Bride

As you may know, in medieval times most noble marriages were arranged by parents. They were usually alliances between families whose interests were aligned, and whose assets and connections could be mutually beneficial to each other. Rarely did an earl have to search for his own wife. However, it did happen.

William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Warenne and Surrey

William de Warenne, the second Earl of Warenne and Surrey, was about 20 when he inherited the earldom – and vast tracts of land stretching from the South Coast to Yorkshire – from his father in 1088. His mother, Gundrada de Warenne, had died in childbirth 3 years previously. And his father had spent his final days helping King William II put down a rebellion. The first earl was grievously wounded at the siege of Pevensey and died a few days later. The earldom itself was still in its infancy, having been conferred on the first earl scant months before his demise. With all this going on, therefore, it is no surprise that arranging his son and heir’s marriage had not made it onto the earl’s pressing agenda.

The second earl would have to make his own arrangements. And he set his sights rather high. William was interested in a royal bride. The young woman in question was Matilda of Scotland (at that time, she was known as Edith), daughter of Malcom III Canmor, King of Scots, and his wife, the saintly Queen Margaret. Edith/Matilda not only had the blood of Scottish kings flowing through her veins, but also the blood of England’s Anglo-Saxon kings; her mother Margaret was the daughter of Edward the Exile, a grandson of King Æthelræd II the Unready, and a descendant of Alfred the Great. Born in the early 1080s, Matilda and her sister Mary had been raised and educated by their aunt, Christine, at the abbey of Romsey, though their father had apparently insisted that they were not destined for the religious life. Matilda and her sister had returned to Scotland in 1093, after their father’s falling-out with King William II Rufus, but were brought back south in 1094, by their uncle Edgar, following Malcolm’s death in battle at Alnwick and Queen Margaret’s own sad demise just days later. Mary would eventually be married to Eustace III, Count of Boulogne, and was the mother of Matilda of Boulogne, wife of King Stephen. At some point after Edith/Matilda’s return to England, William de Warenne sought Matilda’s hand in marriage, although he was not the only one. As Orderic Vitalis says:

‘Alain the Red, Count of Brittany, asked William Rufus for permission to marry Matilda, who was first called Edith, but was refused. Afterwards, William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, asked for this princess; but reserved for another by God’s permission, she made a more illustrious marriage. Henry, having ascended the English throne, married Matilda’

Orderic Vitalis
The Warenne coat of arms, adopted by the second earl

Following the rebuff from King William, Earl William seems to have rarely appeared at court. A royal bride would have been a major asset for a man with Earl William’s ambition, but a marriage alliance of the powerful Warennes with a descendant of the Scottish and Anglo-Saxon royal houses could have been perceived as a threat to the ruling Normans. Aware that William de Warenne was disappointed with the loss of his royal bride and then seeing her married to the new king, Henry I attempted to make amends and win the earl’s support by offering one of his illegitimate daughters as an alternative bride. Unfortunately, Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, opposed the marriage on the grounds of consanguinity – the bride and groom were distant cousins – and Earl William was once again disappointed.

William, it seems, was quite bitter at having been thwarted in his plans to marry the Scottish princess, to the extent that he is credited with making up derogatory nicknames for the king and queen. He ridiculed Henry’s studious approach to hunting by calling him ‘stagfoot’; a reference to Henry’s claim that he could tell the number of tines in a stag’s antlers by examining the beast’s hoofprint, although the nickname could also be applied to Henry’s notorious womanising and the numerous illegitimate offspring that resulted. In a dig at both Henry and Queen Matilda, Earl William is believed to have been behind the Anglo-Saxon nicknames ‘Godric and Goda’, used by some of the Norman nobles as an insult and possibly an allusion to Henry’s inclination towards his English subjects at the expense of his Norman ones.

Gundrada de Warenne

In all the years of unrest with Normandy, Earl William de Warenne would remain a bachelor. With peace finally achieved, however, it seems that the earl was at last ready to settle down. Unfortunately, the new object of his affections was Isabel de Vermandois. And she was married.

Also sometimes known as Elisabeth, Isabel had the blood of kings flowing through her veins; her father was Hugh Capet, Count of Vermandois by right of his wife, a younger son of King Henry I of France and Anna of Kyiv. Her mother was Adelaide de Vermandois, a descendant of the ancient Carolingian dynasty. Isabel was one of her parents’ nine surviving children, four boys and five girls. As with many medieval women, there are no images of Isabel, not even a description of her appearance. Her life can be pieced together, somewhat, through her marriages and through her children. From the moment of her birth, as the granddaughter of the King of France, Isabel was a valuable prize on the international marriage market. As a result, her childhood proved to be depressingly short. By 1096 a marriage was mooted between Isabel and Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan and Earl of Leicester, he was 46 years old. Isabel was about 10. Robert de Beaumont was a seasoned warrior and courtier, with lands in both England and Normandy. He had fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and was with William II Rufus when he was killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest. A loyal supporter of Henry I, he would fight for his king at the Battle of Tinchebrai in 1106 and received the earldom of Leicester in 1107.

The marriage was originally opposed by the church. Not only were the prospective couple related within the prohibited degrees, but also, Isabel was not yet 12, the minimum legal age that a girl could marry. Before leaving on the First Crusade, however, Isabel’s father was able to persuade Pope Urban to issue a dispensation and the marriage went ahead in 1096. The fact their first child was not born until 1102 suggests that, despite her father’s haste in arranging Isabel’s marriage, her husband at least gave the young girl time to mature before taking her to his bed. Isabel gave Robert nine children; the first was a daughter, Emma, born in 1102. Twin boys followed in 1104; Waleran and Robert de Beaumont, earls of Worcester and Leicester, respectively. The brothers were active supporters of King Stephen during the conflict with Empress Matilda, popularly known as the Anarchy. Another daughter, Isabel, was a mistress of Henry I before being married to Gilbert de Clare, first Earl of Pembroke. Through her son Richard de Clare, second Earl of Pembroke, she would be the grandmother of Isabel de Clare, wife of the great knight and regent for Henry III, William Marshal.

Waleran de Beaumont

Isabel’s marriage to Robert de Beaumont appears to have ended in scandal and controversy. The chronicler Henry of Huntingdon reported that she was seduced by Earl William de Warenne, saying of Robert that ‘when he was at the height of his fame, it happened that another count stole his wife, by intrigue and violent treachery.’ It is hard to blame a young woman of thirty, in an arranged marriage to a man more than twice her age, for looking elsewhere for love and comfort. Although William de Warenne himself must have been around fifty and still twenty years Isabel’s senior. Huntingdon suggests that Earl William hatched a plot to kidnap Isabel – possibly with her approval – after Robert de Beaumont refused to grant his wife a divorce. It was claimed that the adultery of his wife with the earl had made the end of Robert de Beaumont’s life all-the-more miserable. Beaumont died on 5 June 1118, in England.

Such rumours of adultery, however, may have been little more than gossip, or a later invention, arising from the haste in which Isabel de Vermandois was married to Earl William de Warenne following her husband’s demise. The marriage was arranged, or at least sanctioned, by the king, possibly at the instigation of Earl Warenne, though this is by no means proof of any relationship prior to the marriage. Earl Warenne was badly in need of a wife, having been active on the political stage for thirty years and still with no son to succeed him. Indeed, the death of his brother, Rainald, leaving no heirs, sometime before 1118, may have prompted Earl William to consider the future of the earldom with more of a sense of urgency. It is thought he may have been the father of two illegitimate sons, Rainald blundus and Rainald brunus, who appear as brothers of the third earl in a charter.

Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk, rebuilt on its present site by the second Earl Warenne

Isabel and William appear to have married very soon after Robert de Beaumont’s death, given that their first child, a son also named William, was born in 1119: he would become the third Earl Warenne on his father’s death in 1138. At least four more children followed, including two sons. Ralph de Warenne, does not appear to have married and may have joined his big brother on crusade; nothing is heard of him following his brother’s departure for the Holy Land. A third son, Reginald de Warenne, would marry the heiress to the barony of Wormegay: he was a trusted administrator of the Warenne lands for his brother, the third earl.

William and Isabel also had two daughters. Ada de Warenne fulfilled her father’s royal ambitions when she married Henry of Huntingdon, heir to the Scottish throne. Two of Ada’s sons became kings of Scotland; Malcolm IV and William the Lion. Another daughter, Gundreda, is described as ‘uterine sister’ of Waleran de Beaumont, Isabel de Vermandois’ son by her first marriage. Gundreda is a clear demonstration of how well Countess Isabel’s two families integrated. Gundreda married Roger de Beaumont, a cousin of her Beaumont half-siblings. Roger had become earl of Warwick on his father’s death in 1119 and must have been some years older than his wife, who cannot have been born before 1120. Roger de Beaumont vacillated during the period known as The Anarchy, but finally sided with King Stephen. He was with the royal court when news reached it that his wife, Countess Gundreda, had tricked the garrison of Warwick castle into surrendering to the supporters of Henry of Anjou, the future King Henry II. The earl apparently died from the shock of hearing of his wife’s betrayal on 12 June 1153.

St Pancras Priory, Lewes, where both William and Isabel were laid to rest

On his marriage to Isabel, Earl William adopted the Vermandois coat of arms as his own and the blue and yellow checks became known as the ‘Warenne chequer’, perhaps to highlight his wife’s illustrious ancestry as a member of the French royal family. William and Isabel enjoyed 20 years of married life before the earl died, in his early 70s, and having been one of the leading magnates of England and Normandy for fifty years. William de Warenne, second Earl Warenne died on or around 11 May 1138 and was buried at his father’s feet at St Pancras Priory, Lewes. When he died, he left the earldom with more land than he had inherited and even greater prestige, having married a member of the French royal family. Isabel de Vermandois outlived her husband by almost ten years, dying around 1147 or 1148. She was also buried at Lewes Priory, close to her second husband.

*

Images: Gundrada church window, William de Warenne church window and Warenne coat of arms ©Sharon Bennett Connolly, courtesy of Trinity Church, Southover; St Pancras Priory and Castle Acre Priory ©Sharon Bennett Connolly Waleran de Beaumont courtesy of Wikipedia.

SourcesEarly Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; british-history.ac.uk; kristiedean.com; English Heritage Guidebook for Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadrei; The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle edited and translated by Elisabeth M.C. van Houts and Rosalind C. Love; The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy by Orderic Vitalis oxforddnb.com.

*

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.

*

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.

Book Corner: Tudor Roses by Amy Licence

A dynasty is defined by its men: by their personalities, their wars and reigns, their laws and decisions. Their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are often depicted as mere foils, shadowy figures whose value lies in the inheritance they brought, or the children they produced. Yet the Tudor dynasty is full of women who are fascinating in their own right, like Margaret Beaufort, who finally emerged triumphant after years of turmoil; Elizabeth of York and her steadying influence; Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, whose rivalry was played out against the backdrop of the Reformation; and Mary and Elizabeth, England’s first reigning queens. Then there were all the others: Henry VIII’s fascinating sisters who became queens of France and Scotland, and their offspring, the Brandon and Grey women, Lady Margaret Douglas and her granddaughter Arabella Stuart. Many more women danced the Pavane under Henry’s watchful eye or helped adjust Elizabeth’s ruff. These were strong women, wielding remarkable power, whether that was behind the scenes or on the international stage. Their contribution took England from the medieval era into the modern. It is time for a new narrative of the Tudor women: one that prioritises their experiences and their voices.

Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I by Amy Licence continues the history started with Red Roses, which told the history of the women of the royal house of Lancaster, from Blanche of Lancaster to Margaret Beaufort and the start of the Tudor dynasty. Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I is the fabulous sequel! Amy Licence has put all her considerable knowledge and research into this book to bring you a book on the Tudor period focussed on its incredible women.

Amy Licence brings the women to the fore, telling the stories of the Tudors through the lives and actions of the women who formed such a considerable part of the dynasty. Not only does she retell the lives of these women, but she puts those lives in context, assessing their influence and legacy on one of the most famous English dynasties – and on the European countries that England interacted with.

Amy Licence also draws not only on events of the time, but on the changing world around the dynasty, on the developments in literature, music, the arts and religion to give a rounded picture of the women of 16th century England. This gives the reader a deeper understanding of the rules and restrictions women had to live by at the time. It also demonstrates the areas in which women had liberties and the ability to express their own desires, wants and needs, and how they could assert control over their own lives.

This is Amy Licence at her best!

Excerpt:

It is not difficult to visualise the Tudor princesses sitting at their lessons, or roaming the gardens at Eltham. Surviving accounts give an indication of the adult-style clothing in which the children appeared, as the nursery was also a location for the entertainment of dignitaries and foreign visitors, and the children were a powerful, visible indicator of the dynasty’s future. In November 1495, Henry spent £7 on ‘diverse yerdes of silk’ for Henry and Margaret, while baby Mary the following years was clothed in kirtles of black silk and velvet, edged in ermine and mink. The following year as she was beginning to walk, her dresses were made of baby buckram, a fine cotton, not like the stiff, modern version, and she required linen smocks, three pairs of hose, eight pairs of single-soled shoes and four pairs of double. The children were frequent visitors to Windsor, Westminster, Greenwich, Sheen and Baynard’s Castle, or wherever their parents might be, attending important events and festivities, expected to show themselves to best advantage in front of guests. No doubt the girls were also influenced by Margaret Beaufort’s model of piety and were visible attendees at church on red letter days in the Catholic calendar, but they were also lively, energetic participants. One of Margaret’s most notable public appearances as a small child was her fifth birthday in November 1494, on which occasion her younger brother Henry was elevated to the Dukedom of York. A tournament lasting three days was held at Westminster, after which Margaret handed out the prizes, dressed in a velvet and buckram gown trimmed in gold lace with a white, winged cap in the Dutch style. Afterwards, Margaret and her young brother danced to the delight of the court.

At Eltham, Margaret and Mary were shielded from he dynastic struggles that their parents were experiencing in the 1490s. A second pretender, far more serious than the young Lambert Simnel, had emerged in Europe, and was being feted by enemies of the Tudor regime. Claiming to be Richard of Shrewsbury, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, a young Flemish merchant by the name of Perkin Warbeck arrived at the Burgundian court, swiftly winning over Elizabeth’s aunt Margaret, who schooled him in the details and manners of the Yorkist court and encouraged him to distribute coins minted in his name. Warbeck was initially welcomed at the court of Charles VIII of France, until Charles ejected him under terms of the Treaty of Etaples he signed with England in 1492. The pretender returned to Burgundy, where he was invited to attend the funeral of the Holy Roman Emperor and recognised as Richard IV. However, after a failed attempt to invade England, and a brief flirtation with Ireland, Warbeck went north, towards the Scottish king with whom Henry had hoped to ally his eldest daughter.

Amy Licence is an accomplished writer whose prose flows so freely that you almost feel like you are reading a novel. The narrative flows easily, absorbing the reading from the very first pages. As you may have come to expect from Ms Licence, her research is thorough and second-to-none. She delves into every aspect of the lives of the women and brings the whole era to life for the reader, showing how they interracted with the world around them, with the men in their lives – and with each other.

Her insight into the lives of the Tudor women is unparalleled.

It is always a pleasure to read a non-fiction book by Amy Licence and Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I is no exception. In fact, it is probably one of Ms Licence’s best. For anyone interested in the Tudor period, this book is a must read. An essential addition to any library. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Tudor Roses: From Margaret Beaufort to Elizabeth I is available from Amazon and Amberley Publishing.

About the author:

Amy Licence is an historian of women’s lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also interested in Modernism, specifically Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Post-Impressionism. She has been a teacher for over twenty years and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Amy has written for The Guardian, The TLS, The New Statesman, BBC History, The English Review, The Huffington Post, The London Magazine and contributes regularly to BBC History Magazine. She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman’s Hour, and has appeared in several TV documentaries.

*

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.

*

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 

Guest Post: Failed Spies: Hale and André by Samantha Wilcoxson

Today, is is a pleasure to welcome Samantha Wilcoxson to History … the Interesting Bits, with an article about the research into her latest novel, But One Life, set during the American Revolution.

Failed Spies: Hale and André

Espionage played an important role during the American Revolution, with both sides in the conflict experiencing some victories and tragic defeats in this area. British spymasters had the advantages of experience and expertise, while Americans benefited from working in their native land with a better idea of who could be trusted and who could not. Very early in the conflict, General George Washington stated his desperate need for knowledge of the enemy.

Major John André

‘I do most earnestly entreat you and General Clinton to exert yourselves to accomplish this most desirable end. Leave no stone unturned, nor do not stick at expense, to bring this to pass, as I was never more uneasy than on account of my want of knowledge on this score,’ Washington wrote to General William Heath seventeen days before Captain Nathan Hale was hanged as a rebel spy on 22 September 1776.

Today, Nathan Hale is remembered as the quintessential patriot. He was recently graduated from Yale when he joined the Continental Army with many other young men of his acquaintance. When he learned that a volunteer was needed to discover the information needed by Washington, he did not hesitate, despite the advice of many friends who insisted he was not well-suited to the mission.

It was not only because of his open, honest personality that they attempted to dissuade him. Spywork was considered a low, dishonorable duty. One friend, who tried to talk Hale out of his mission, reported later that Hale had insisted, ‘I wish to be useful, and every kind of service, necessary to the public good, becomes honorable by being necessary.’

Whether due to pride or excessive patriotism, Hale set forth upon a mission to Long Island, New York, his Yale diploma in hand to support his disguise as a Latin tutor. Hale had briefly served as a schoolmaster between graduation and army service, so his ruse should have come naturally to him. However, he was a trusting and friendly man, unlike the clever spy-catchers employed by the British. Within days of leaving his regiment, Hale was captured and executed, possibly with a paraphrase of Cato on his lips that his only regret was that he had but one life to give for his country. His body was left hanging for days to warn other would-be spies.

In the meantime, Major John André was making a name for himself in the British ranks as one who had connections and could get information. He was, like Hale, young, erudite, and eager to serve his country. André believed he had found the key to securing his future when he received correspondence from American General Benedict Arnold. The hero of Saratoga was willing to turn his coat for the right price.

Continental Commission for Nathan Hale

Arnold had married Peggy Shippen a month earlier, and she was friends, or possibly more, with André. Together, they convinced the general that the British would show him greater appreciation and compensation, and they were bound to win the war anyway. In the spring of 1780, Arnold informed André that he was expecting to gain command of West Point, an important series of forts that controlled traffic on the Hudson River. He was willing to turn it over to the British in return for cash and a position in British command.

On 21 September 1780, almost precisely four years after the death of Nathan Hale, John André was captured after a secret meeting with General Benedict Arnold to finalize their plan. He begged that Washington treat him as an officer rather than a spy.

‘Let me hope, Sir, that if aught in my character impresses you with esteem towards me, if aught in my misfortune marks me as the victim of policy and not resentment, I shall experience the operation of these feelings in your breast by being informed that I am not to die on a gibbet.’ Washington refused his request, and André was hanged on 2 October 1780.

Other American espionage efforts were more successful than Hale’s, most notably the Culper Spy Ring, managed by Hale’s good friend and Yale classmate, Benjamin Tallmadge. The names of those involved in this successful ring were not revealed until over a century after the war had ended. Tallmadge also played a part in John André’s capture. One can imagine he had a sense of justice served as Hale’s British counterpart shared his fate.

But One Life by Samantha Wilcoxson is now available from Amazon.

Sources:

Spies, Patriots, and Traitors: American Intelligence in the Revolutionary War by Kenneth A Daigler

Documentary Life of Nathan Hale by George D Seymour

The Life of John André: The Redcoat who Turned Benedict Arnold by DAB Ronald

To Buy the book:

But One Life is now available from Amazon

About the author:

Writer of historical fiction and sufferer of wanderlust, Samantha enjoys exploring the lives of historical figures through research and visiting historic places. Certain that no person is ever purely good or evil, she strives to reveal the deep emotions and motivations of historical figures, enabling readers to connect with them in a unique way. Samantha is an American writer with British roots and proud mother of three amazing young adults. She can frequently be found lakeside with a book in one hand and glass of wine in the other.

Samantha’s next project will take readers into the lives of women of the American Revolution – stay tuned!

*

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.

*

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 Samantha Wilcoxson

Guest Post: The Dark Earth by Gordon Doherty

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Gordon Doherty to History … the Interesting Bits. Gordon’s latest novel The Dark Earth is the 6th book in his Empires of Bronze series. And it is a scorcher! literally! Look out for my review in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, here’s Gordon to tell us about the meaning behind the title.

The Dark Earth

Hattusa

The Dark Earth’? Cool book title… but what does it actually mean?

As a book title, ‘The Dark Earth‘ sounds probably quite ominous and mysterious. But there’s more to it than that.

The book tells the story of the catastrophic change that occurred in the era known as the Bronze Age Collapse – a period of a few decades beginning around 1230 BC, when the mighty empires of the near east world were blasted into oblivion or battered into a pale shadow of their former selves.

The tale is told from the point of view of the Hittite Empire, arguably *the* superpower of the age, having only recently seen off the mighty Pharaoh Ramesses II of Egypt at the epic Battle of Kadesh.

Yet come 1170 BC, the Hittites were gone, their Anatolian heartlands a deserted, windswept, drought-ravaged wasteland, their great cities lying in tumbled heaps, their power but a memory. This was a time of earthquakes, invaders, famine, death and destruction… a veritable end of days.

And that is where the relevance of the title arises: Hittite tradition (interpreted from the tablets excavated from their ruined cities) speaks of an afterlife realm known as – you guessed it – ‘The Dark Earth‘.

This is no paradise-like Elysium or Valhalla. No, this is a sinister and unsettling place, somewhere deep underground where “Bloodless shades wander, not recognising one another. They eat mud and drink muddy water”. It is described as having “Seven ringed walls round the palace of the Goddess of death, and seven gatekeepers at each barrier.”

The Hittites were pantheistic, worshipping mountains, trees, rivers, everything around them. They used to believe that pits, holes and shafts, graves, springs, caves or wells were potential routes into this land of the dead.

Hattusa today

This was perhaps by reinforced by the lore of the Goddess Ishtar’s descent into the underworld. Within the ruins of Hattusa, the massive Hittite capital, there is even a stone-lined stairwell that descends into the hillside upon which the city is built, and this is thought to have been known as ‘The Gateway to the Dark Earth.’

So there you go. The novel tells the story of the death of a mighty empire. But there is so much more to it than that. Every ending is a new beginning, after all…

*

To buy The Dark Earth:

Links: · Amazon: http://getbook.at/eob6 · Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/empires-of-bronze-the-dark-earth-empires-of-bronze-6/id1620805899 · Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=N1ZuEAAAQBAJ · Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/empires-of-bronze-the-dark-earth-empires-of-bronze-6 · SW: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1142101 · BandN: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/empires-of-bronze-gordon-doherty/1141388565?ean=2940165840036

About the Book

Hattusa

The time will come, as all times must, when the world will shake, and fall to dust…

1237 BC: It is an age of panic. The great empires are in disarray – ravaged by endless drought, shaken by ferocious earthquakes and starved of precious tin. Some say the Gods have abandoned mankind.

When Tudha ascends the Hittite throne, the burden of stabilising the realm falls upon his shoulders. Despite his valiant endeavours, things continue to disintegrate; allies become foes, lethal plots arise, and enemy battle horns echo across Hittite lands.

Hattusa

Yet this is nothing compared to the colossal, insidious shadow emerging from the west. Crawling unseen towards Tudha’s collapsing Hittite world comes a force unlike any ever witnessed; an immeasurable swarm of outlanders, driven by the cruel whip of nature, spreading fire and destruction: the Sea Peoples.

Every age must end. The measure of a man is how he chooses to face it.

*

About the author:

Gordon is a Scottish writer, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction. His novels have been Amazon smash-hits, and have gone on to be translated and published in Russia, Italy and Greece.

Gordon Doherty

Gordon’s love of history was first kindled by visits to the misty Roman ruins of Britain and the sun-baked antiquities of Turkey and Greece. His expeditions since have taken him all over the world and back and forth through time (metaphorically, at least), allowing him to write tales of the later Roman Empire, Byzantium, Classical Greece and even the distant Bronze Age.

For exciting news, extracts and exclusive content from Gordon:

Visit http://www.gordondoherty.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @GordonDoherty

Follow his author page on http://www.facebook.com/gordon.doherty

Subscribe to his YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/c/GordonDohertyAuthor

*

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.

*

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 Gordon Doherty

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.

*

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.

*

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

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

*

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.

*

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.”

*

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.

*

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.

*

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

Ӕlfgyva: The Mysterious Woman in the Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry is the famous pictorial depiction of the Norman Conquest of 1066, and of the events of the two years leading up to it. Commissioned in the 1070s, probably by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, rather than a woven tapestry, the work is in fact an embroidery. Started within ten years of the Norman Conquest it is a near-contemporary narrative of the events that changed England forever. It is told from the viewpoint of the victorious Normans, but with a sympathetic view of the English, at times. It begins in 1064 with Harold’s journey to Normandy, his meeting with Duke William and campaigning in Brittany, followed by the controversial oath-swearing; it then follows Harold’s return to England and his coronation following the death of Edward the Confessor, before concentrating on William’s preparations for invasion and the Battle of Hastings itself; the missing end panels may have included King William’s coronation.

As a prime example of how women have been given little or no part in the story of the Norman Conquest, out of 626 human figures, there are only three women who appear in the main narrative of the Bayeux Tapestry. One of these is easily identifiable as Edward the Confessor’s queen, Edith of Wessex, attending her husband on his deathbed. Another scene, as the Normans land on the shores of England, shows a woman and her child fleeing from a burning house, set alight by the invaders – possibly King Harold’s first wife, Edith Swanneck. The most intriguing woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, appears in one scene when Harold is in Normandy in 1064. She is identified as ‘Ӕlfgyva’, the name sewn into the tapestry above her head. However, the scene does not appear to be related in any way to the scenes either before or after and has therefore caused much discussion and theorising among historians.

Ӕlfgyva appears to be in a doorway, possibly as a suggestion that she was indoors, with a priest touching her cheek. Whether the touch is in admonishment or blessing is open to interpretation, some take it is a collaboration of some sort between the two. Written in Latin as ‘Ubi unus clericus et Ӕlfgyva’, the inscription simply reads, ‘Here a certain cleric and Ӕlfgyva’. Incomplete, the phrase fails to identify Ӕlfgyva or the priest, nor the context in which the two are together. In the borders, at Ӕlfgyva’s feet, is a naked man, imitating the stance of the cleric, perhaps placed there to indicate some kind of scandal associated with the lady.

As this is the only scene in the entire Bayeux Tapestry in which the woman is the leading character and considering that she is only one of three women depicted in the whole embroidery, the story which is depicted must be of some significance to the story of the Norman Conquest. But who was the mysterious Ӕlfgyva? Unfortunately, we are not without a substantial number of potential candidates who could be identified as Ӕlfgyva; Ӕlfgyva and its variants, Ӕlfgiva, Ӕlfgyfu, Ӕlfgifu and Elgiva, were popular names in England in the eleventh century. Indeed, Emma of Normandy’s name was changed to Ӕlfgifu on her marriage to King Ӕthelred II (often referred to as ‘the Unready’) and, just to make matters more confusing Ӕthelred’s first wife was also called Ӕlfgifu. Many historians have their own favourite theories for the identity of Ӕlfgyva; the numerous possible candidates include Emma herself, a sister of King Harold and the first, handfast wife of King Cnut. Each possibility comes with her own reasons for being the mysterious Ӕlfgyva, and her own claim for inclusion in the tapestry that tells the story of the Norman Conquest.

Several theories can be easily discounted. In the 18th century, it was suggested that ‘Ӕlfgyva’ translated to mean ‘queen’ and the image was therefore of a clerk informing Queen Matilda that King William had promised one of their daughters as a bride for Harold of Wessex. Of course, in 1064, Matilda was not queen, and so ‘Ӕlfgyva’ would have to translate as ‘duchess’.  In the 19th century, it was suggested that the scene depicted the daughter of Matilda and William being informed of her betrothal. This theory ignores the fact that Matilda and William did not have a daughter with the name Ӕlfgyva. A final, easily discounted theory is that the lady is Ealdgyth, Harold’s future queen, receiving the news of Harold’s rescue, either from the shipwreck or from the clutches of Count Guy of Ponthieu, by Duke William. This is meant to demonstrate Harold’s dishonesty in agreeing to marry a daughter of Duke William while he has a betrothed waiting at home. The fact is that there is no evidence that Harold was betrothed to Ealdgyth any earlier than late 1065 or early 1066. In fact, we do not know when Harold and Ealdgyth were betrothed or married, but it is likely to have happened shortly before, or during, his kingship, when he needed the support of the Earls Edwin and Morcar, Ealdgyth’s brothers. 

Ӕthelred II’s second wife is a candidate who does merit closer investigation. Emma of Normandy was the wife of Ӕthelred from the spring of 1002 until his death in 1016. In 1017, however, she married Ӕthelred’s nemesis and eventual successor, Cnut. Emma had three children by her first husband, Alfred, Edward and Goda, or Godgifu. She had three further children by King Cnut; Harthacnut, Gunhilda and an unnamed daughter who died as a child, aged 8. Emma’s name had been changed to Ӕlfgifu on her marriage to Ӕthelred and she was a prominent figure at the English court, having been crowned and anointed queen after the wedding ceremony. Emma gained even more prominence in the reign of King Cnut, who married her soon after he took the crown. Cnut appears to have trusted Emma a great deal and is known to have left his treasury with her, as did her son, Harthacnut.

As Cnut’s wife, Emma served to provide a link between Ӕthelred’s ancient dynasty of Wessex, dating back to King Alfred and beyond, and the new Danish dynasty of Cnut. As Cnut’s queen, until his death in 1035, her position appeared unassailable. That changed, however, when Cnut died and was succeeded by his sons as co-regents. With Harthacnut fighting in Denmark, Emma was left isolated and Harold I Harefoot moved against her. Emma was banished from England, and Harold seized control of the whole country. Following Harold’s death in 1040, Emma and her son returned unopposed and Harthacnut finally claimed the crown. Her triumph was short-lived, however, as Harthacnut collapsed and died at a wedding in 1042, and was replaced as king by his older, half-brother, Edward. Edward was also a son of Queen Emma, but his relationship with his mother was far less cordial. Having been exiled in Normandy for twenty-five years, while his mother sat beside Cnut on the English throne for much of that time, Edward held a great deal of resentment for his Emma.

Emma’s lands and property were all taken from her. The Dowager Queen’s close friend and advisor, Stigand, newly consecrated as bishop of East Anglia, shared in Emma’s disgrace and was stripped of office and ‘they took all that he had into their hands for the king, because he was nighest the counsel of his mother; and she acted as he advised, as men supposed’. Taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, this shows that Edward thought that Stigand had encouraged Emma in her perceived maltreatment of her only surviving son. It was probably as a result of this incident that various legends arose over Emma’s disgrace.

One story, appearing only two centuries later, suggested that Emma’s relationship with Bishop Stigand was far more than that of a queen and her advisor and that he was, in fact, her lover. The story continues that Emma chose to prove her innocence in a trial by ordeal, and that she walked barefoot over white-hot ploughshares. Even though the tale varies depending on the source, the result is the same; when she completed the ordeal unharmed, and was thus proven guiltless, she was reconciled with her contrite son, Edward. Emma appears to have never recovered fully from the depredations placed on her. Both she and Stigand seem to have been reconciled, to some extent, with Edward’s regime by 1044 but she never again enjoyed the status to which she had become accustomed during the reigns of Cnut and Harthacnut.

If Emma were the Ӕlfgyva/Ӕlfgifu of the Bayeux Tapestry, this story could well explain her inclusion, especially if the touch of the cleric in the Ӕlfgyva scene is that of a tender lover, rather than an admonishing priest. However, there are several reasons for discarding Emma as the candidate. The first instance of the story of Emma and Stigand as lovers appears two or three hundred years after her death, and there is no contemporary evidence of an affair that would have been the scandal of the decade, if not the century. Given that many of the chroniclers of the time were not averse to including such stories, it seems strange that they were all silent on the subject; unless, of course, the whole incident was a 14th century fabrication. Another argument against the theory is that Emma’s affair with Bishop Stigand, even in the unlikely event that it happened, would have had little bearing on the Norman Conquest, and would therefore be unlikely to merit inclusion in the Bayeux Tapestry.

Another leading possibility for the identity of the Ӕlfgyva of the Bayeux Tapestry is Ӕlfgifu of Northampton. Ӕlfgifu was the first wife of King Cnut, whom he had married as a handfast wife, in the Danish fashion rather than in a church. She was born around 990, into a prominent and influential Midlands family. It was possibly as a love-match, but also as part of the policy of Cnut’s father, King Sweyn Forkbeard, to establish himself in the midlands, that Ӕlfgifu was married to Cnut sometime between 1013 and 1016. The couple had two sons, Swein and Harold Harefoot. Swein would later be sent by his father to rule Norway, with his mother as regent, but was driven out by the Norwegians following years of misrule. He died in Denmark and Ӕlfgifu returned to England and her only surviving son, Harold I Harefoot who was crowned as sole king in 1037.

If Ӕlfgifu is the woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, then she is probably there in reference to a scandal that was spoken about even in her lifetime, in that Ӕlfgifu was so desperate to have a son by Cnut that she, with the help of a monk, passed off the new-born son a serving maid as her own child; Swein. Similar was said of Ӕlfgifu’s second son by Cnut, Harold I Harefoot, in the Anglo-Saxon Chonicle, which reported that, ‘some men said of Harold that he was son of King Cnut and Ӕlfgifu, daughter of Ealdorman Ӕlfhelm, but to many men it seemed quite unbelievable’. The scandalous stories arose after Cnut’s death in 1035, when Ӕlfgifu was back in England, working to establish the rule of her son, Harold Harefoot, as king. In another version of the tale, the monk had fathered the children himself. The stories may have been mere propaganda used to discredit Ӕlfgifu and cast doubts on the legitimacy of Harold and, therefore, his right to rule as Cnut’s successor.

The main question arising from the theory that Ӕlfgifu of Northampton is the Ӕlfgyva of the Bayeux Tapestry would be the relevance of a scandal that had arisen more than thirty years earlier. It has been argued that both William and Harold would view the scandal as propaganda, to discredit any claims by the Norwegians, such as Harald Hardrada, to the English throne. The naked men in the margins of the scene, one of whom is swinging an axe, are used as further evidence that it was Ӕlfgifu’s scandalous behavior to which the tapestry is referring. However, the fact that both of Ӕlfgifu’s sons died without heirs and that, therefore, there were no claimants descended from her to contest the throne in 1066, makes Ӕlfgifu’s inclusion – if, indeed it is Ӕlfgifu – rather redundant.  

My own leading candidate for Ӕlfgyva is a woman of a different name, but whose story included a scandal that would have been relevant to Harold of Wessex and his hostages. This lady was Eadgifu, or Eadgyva, who was Abbess of Leominster in 1046. Eadgifu’s story is told in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when she came under the power of Swein Godwinson, oldest son of Earl Godwin and Countess Gytha. Swein, had been given an earldom made up from lands in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Somerset in 1043. In 1046 he had been campaigning in south Wales alongside Gruffydd, King of Gwynedd. The military campaign had ended successfully, with Swein receiving hostages for the good faith of the Welsh. On his return homeward, Swein stopped at Leominster, which was owned by the abbey of Leominster and administered by its abbess, Eadgifu. Swein abducted Eadgifu, probably in order to gain control of Leominster’s vast estates in Herefordshire. However, the king refused to give his permission for Swein and Eadgifu to marry; the pious King Edward the Confessor was understandably horrified at the idea of Swein marrying an abbess, a woman who had dedicated her life to God. Thwarted in his plans, Swein released Eadgifu after he had held her for some considerable time, possibly as long as a year.

As a result of his actions, which were considered not only criminal but sacrilegious in the eyes of the church, Swein was forced to flee England. A few months later, Swein returned to England, but was exiled again for the murder of his cousin, Beorn Estrithson. He was eventually forgiven and allowed to return home. When the feud between Earl Godwin’s family and the king arose in 1051, Earl Godwin and Swein were forced to give up hostages to the king, each handing over a son, Wulfnoth for Godwin and Hakon for Swein. Rather than face the witan, Godwin and his family chose to go into exile at the end on 1051 and only returned to England in the spring of 1052. Swein would never return as he had left on barefoot pilgrimage to Jerusalem and died on his homeward journey. The two hostages, however, were not restored to the family and are thought to have been sent to Normandy, possibly as a way to guarantee the future cooperation of the Godwin family.

It is possible that the union between Eadgifu and Swein resulted in a son, Hakon. It is not entirely certain that Hakon was the son of Eadgifu, but it does seem likely, as no other wife or concubine of Swein’s is mentioned in the chronicles. If he was the son of Eadgifu and Swein, the child would have been five or six years old when he was taken as a hostage to Normandy in 1052. If Eadgifu was the mother of Hakon it would not only explain her presence in the Bayeux Tapestry, but also the inclusion of Ӕlfgyva (Eadgifu) and her cleric in that part of the tapestry. Although there is no direct mention of these hostages in the tapestry, the scene immediately before the Ӕlfgyva scene is that of Harold arriving at Duke William’s court; and one of the possible reasons for Harold’s presence at William’s court was the recovery of the hostages, Eadgifu’s son included. Given the disgrace that Eadgifu must have faced, as an abbess having given birth to an illegitimate child, and the fact the child was only five years old when he was taken to Normandy as a hostage, it is not implausible that his mother accompanied him, and therefore is included in the Bayeux Tapestry as Hakon, no longer a valuable hostage given that his father had been dead for over ten years, was allowed to return to England with Earl Harold.

There is one major flaw in this argument, and that is the confusion of names, Eadgifu and Ӕlfgyva are similar but very different names and it is hard to imagine that someone would make such a big mistake on so important an undertaking as the Bayeux Tapestry; although not implausible, given that Harold’s brother, Leofwine, is identified as Lewine on another portion of the tapestry. We do not know, moreover, that Eadgifu ever accompanied her son to Normandy, or visited him there while he was a hostage. However, Eadgifu’s story, the scandal associated with her abduction by Swein and the presence of her son in Normandy, still makes her a contender. The scene with the cleric could well be him giving her a blessing on her return to England, or an admonition on the fact she had a child out of wedlock – and while she was an abbess who had given her life to God. Despite the disparity in names, the fact that she had links to Normandy through her son, and that her story was associated with Harold’s visit to Normandy and the request for the hostages to be freed, gives her a relevance to the tapestry and makes her one of the most plausible candidates for Ӕlfgyva.

Despite the many possibilities and theories surrounding Ӕlfgyva and her cleric, their identities and the reason for their inclusion in the Bayeux Tapestry, one fact remains; no definitive explanation is forthcoming. It is not beyond reason that the Ӕlfgyva of the Bayeux Tapestry is none of the ladies I have suggested, but someone else entirely who, in the passage of nearly a millennium, has been lost in the fogs of time. The story may well have been a familiar one at the time the tapestry was created, and no explanation beyond ‘Here a certain cleric and Ӕlfgyva’ may have been needed to identify the protagonists to viewers in the eleventh century.

Today, however, the story and the identity of the players continues to elude us…

Historical Writers Forum hosted a fabulous debate on ‘Ӕlfgyva’: The Mysterious Woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, which is available on YouTube. Hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson, it features myself, Pat Bracewell, Carol McGrath and Paula Lofting.

*

Images:

Courtesy of Flickr and Wikipedia

Sources:

A Historical Document Pierre Bouet and François Neveux, bayeuxmuseum.com/en/un_document_historique_en; The Mystery Lady of the Bayeux Tapestry (article) by Paula Lofting, annabelfrage.qordpress.com; Ӕlfgyva: The Mysterious lady of the Bayeux Tapestry (article) by M.W. Campbell, Annales de Normandie; The Bayeux Tapestry, the Life Story of a Masterpiece by Carola Hicks; Æthelred II [Ethelred; known as Ethelred the Unready] (c. 966×8-1016) (article) by Simon Keynes, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, oxforddnb.com; Britain’s Royal Families; the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Queen Emma and the Vikings: The Woman Who Shaped the Events of 1066 by Harriet O’Brien; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by James Ingram; On the Spindle Side: the Kinswomen of Earl Godwin of Wessex by Ann Williams; Swein [Sweyn], earl by Ann Williams, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, oxforddnb.com, 23 September 2004; Ӕlfgifu [Ӕlfgifu of Northampton (fl. 1006-1036) (article) by Pauline Stafford, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, oxforddnb.com; The Chronicle of John of Worcester, translated and edited by Thomas Forester, A.M; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles edited and translated by Michael Swanton.

*

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.

*

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