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As gatekeepers of the past ordered books to be burnt, artworks to be destroyed, and new versions of myths, legends and historical documents to be produced, our view of history has been manipulated.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.

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©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.

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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.

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My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: A Night of Flames by Matthew Harffy

In the wild lands of Norway, Hunlaf must quell a vicious slave uprising in Matthew Harffy’s new historical adventure.

A wild land. A lethal fanatic. A violent revolt.

Northumbria, AD 794. Those who rule the seas, rule the land. None know the truth of this more than the Vikings. To compete with the seafaring raiders, the king of Northumbria orders the construction of his own longships under the command of oath-sworn Norseman, Runolf.

When the Vikings attack again, the king sends cleric turned warrior, Hunlaf, on a mission to persuade the king of Rogaland into an alliance. But Hunlaf and Runolf have other plans; kin to seek out, old scores to settle, and a heretical tome to find in the wild lands of the Norse.

Their voyage takes them into the centre of a violent uprising. A slave has broken free of his captors and, with religious fervour, is leading his fanatical followers on a rampage – burning all in his path. Hunlaf must brave the Norse wilderness, and overcome deadly foes, to stop this madman. Can he prevent a night of flames and slaughter?

News of a new Matthew Harffy novel has become one of the highlights of my year. Luckily, Harffy is quite a prolific writer, so I never have to wait too long for such news. A Night of Flames is Matthew Harffy’s 11th book in 6 years – that’s quite an achievement!

Especially as his storytelling keeps getting better and better.

The sequel to A Time for Swords, the story begins where the last book left off, with Hunlaf of Ubbanford having forsaken the monk’s cowl for the sword and determined to go in search of his cousin, Aelfwyn, carried off during the raid on Lindisfarne that heralded the Viking era in England. The erstwhile monk comes up with a plan to rescue his cousin and retrieve the highly influential and heretical book, The Treasure of Life, which will lead himself and his friends into the heart of Norway and a heretical band of marauders, made up of former slaves, fanatical warriors and women and children who are killing and spreading devastation wherever they go.

The story has all the ingredients for an exciting adventure. And I have to say, I loved the references to Matthew Harffy’s other series, The Bernicia Chronicles, and the story of Beobrand, with mention of a ballad to Beobrand and his love, Sunniva, or the fact that young Hunlaf was raised in Beobrand’s settlement of Ubbanford, thus interlinking the two very different series with a shared origin.

“I do not wish to slay you,” I hissed at him. “Drop your weapon. End this.”

“There is only one way to end this now,” he yelled. His face was pallid, his eyes glimmering in the bright early morning sun.

Unless he turned away from this course, he was right. I could not defend against him indefinitely. If I waited too long, his brawn and rage would overcome me at last. He was unarmoured, so I had not donned my byrnie. One strike from Wistan could easily prove fatal.

Springing at me again, he attempted a feint, but he signalled his intention with his eyes and his footwork, so my shield was there to parry the attack. This time, I flicked out my sword and opened up a gash on his side, beneath his shield. I skipped away, seeing the pain reach his eyes.

Behind him, Runolf met my gaze. The huge Norseman was grinning, clearly enjoying the excitement of a duel, or hólmgang, as he called it. He had paced out and marked the fighting area with hazel stakes, smiling wolfishly all the while at the prospect of a fight. Beside Runolf, the shorter Gwawrddur was sombre. At my look, he shook his head. I saw the disappointment on the Welshman’s features. There was no honour in defeating a foe who is not able to defend himself. The night before, Gwawrddur had told me to do all in my power to dissuade Wistan from fighting.

“I cannot flee, if he wants to fight,” I had said.

“No, you cannot,” he’d replied. His eyes were sad as he sipped his ale. “But when you laid with his girl, you surely knew this could happen.”

I nodded. I had been flattered by Cwenswith’s attentions, and of course I had enjoyed our fumbling, panting trysts in the store hut, but I had never thought our actions could lead to someone’s death, and certainly not at my hand.

“What if he refuses to step aside?”

“Then you must answer for your actions, just as Wistan must answer for his.”

Wistan now stood breathless before me. He looked down and seemed shocked to see the blood soaking through his kirtle. I had not cut him deeply, hoping the stinging pain would bring him to his senses.

At the sight of blood, someone in the crowd gasped.

Cwenswith screamed, “Finish him!”

Wistan’s eyes narrowed at the shrill sound of her voice. His shoulders tensed and I knew he was preparing to attack once more.

“Don’t,” I said, but too late.

He ran at me, and I retreated. He beat his sword against my shield over and over until the hide covering was tatters and the linden wood splintered.

With a growl, I pushed him back. There was nothing for it. I could not dissuade him, and if I waited any longer, I would be the one to lose my life that day. I sprang forward, holding his blows away from me on my splintering shield and lunging beneath his guard. I felt my sword blade make contact. Wistan grunted and staggered. The morning air was filled with the sudden screaming of women. The men quickly added their voices to the din. I recognised Runolf’s booming voice over the clamour of the crowd, but I could not make out his words.

A Night of Flames is another fabulous rip-roaring adventure from Matthew Harffy, where not everything goes as planned for the heroes and the fight comes close to disaster. It is edge-of-the-seat drama that will keep the reader engrossed late into the night. The battles are vicious, the losses devastating and the outcome uncertain – this is Matthew Harffy at his best.

As has come to be expected with a Matthew Harffy book, the historical research is impeccable; the author’s knowledge of weapons, battle tactics and even sailing the whaleroad is woven into the story so that it is impossible to know where facts end and the author’s imagination begins. The extent of Matthew Harffy’s knowledge and research helps to draw the reader in and makes for a thoroughly engaging book.

The best bit, however – as always with Matthew Harffy – is the story! A Night of Flames is a fascinating, thrilling adventure.

If you like to lose yourself in a book, A Night of Flames by Matthew Harffy is perfect for you!

About the author

Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Pre-order links

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3sOTmAe

Follow Matthew

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Website: www.matthewharffy.com

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

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My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Bear of Britain by Steven A. McKay

AD 432. BRITAIN. The winter snows are melting at last, but spring will bring more than just rebirth this year. The Saxons are coming, and that means war.
Bellicus, Duro and Cai have travelled south to join the warlord, Arthur, and his growing army of Britons. New friendships have been made and exciting adventures await the warrior-druid and his companions, but the threat of Hengist and his invaders casts a dark cloud over all. For years, the Saxons have been content to remain mostly confined to the eastern parts of the country, but now they are marching west, and Hengist has amassed the biggest army seen on these shores since the Romans left over twenty years ago.
Arthur – dubbed the Bear of Britain by his advisor, Merlin – has never truly felt he’d earned such a grand title, but now he will have a chance to prove himself. The addition of a new, crack unit to his ranks will, he hopes, be enough to sweep the Saxon threat from Britain once and for all, and herald a generation of peace and prosperity for his people. But nothing in war is straightforward and even their own countrymen can turn violently against them at any moment, as Bellicus discovers to his cost…

The post-Roman landscape of Britain is brought vividly to life in this exciting fourth novel in the Warrior Druid of Britain Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Simon Scarrow, Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden.

At last! Bellicus is back.

And what a thoroughly enjoyable novel it is.

I have developed a soft spot for this druid of the ancient Britons and his adventures. And this time he joins Arthur, the Bear of Britain to fight against Hengist and Horsa. The Bear of Britain truly indulges my love of all things Arthurian, with all the leading characters of the legend, Lancelot, Sir Kay and Merlin himself, joining the story. And what a story. Steven A. McKay has surpassed himself this time (and that is hard to do!). This was a fabulous adventure which I devoured in no time.

The Bear of Britain is a beautifully crafted adventure that sees Bellicus and his friend, the former Roman Centurion, Duro, join Arthur for an offensive against the Saxon brothers, Hengist and Horsa. Both Bellicus and Arthur are tasked with uniting the various British factions to form one coherent fighting force. And it is not that easy when each king thinks he himself should have the authority over Arthur, a man who is not tied to one land, but who has been raised since childhood to be the most formidable warlord and leader of men. Arthur must assert his own authority before he can lead his disparate forces against the Saxon invaders.

The Bear of Britain is a fabulous combination of battles, intrigue and political in-fighting and not everything will go Arthur’s way. However, he is blessed with the guidance of the Merlin and Bellicus, two druids who know how to influence the minds of kings and men. It is a fascinating study, not only of 6th century warfare, but also of what it takes to forge an army and lead it against such a formidable foe.

“I’ll actually be glad once the fighting starts,”the centurion said vehemently. “Since it’ll warm me up a little!”

A rider charged towards the camp from the east, heading towards Arthur’s tent and Bellicus led the way there himself. “That’ll be one of the scouts,”he said. “Bringing word of the Saxons’intended target perhaps.”

“Morning, big man,”a voice called, and they turned to see their young compatriot, and rowdy champion of the Votadini tribe, Eburus, warming himself by a fire. He’d travelled south with them after forming an unlikely friendship with both during the previous year’s battles against the Picts. “What’s happening? Are we moving out?”

“Soon, I’d guess,”Bellicus replied. “We’re just going to see Arthur now. Have our men ready to move, will you?”

Eburus grinned. Like Lancelot he was loud and brash and confident in his own abilities as a warrior. “They’re all ready to go, don’t worry, druid. Some of us have been up for hours you know.”

“Aye, not many can sleep once you start talking, Eburus. You’re a giant pain in the arse, lad.”Duro’s face was serious, but his eyes twinkled and, as he and Bellicus passed the guards and entered Arthur’s tent they chuckled at the foul insult Eburus called after them.

“Ah, you’re awake. Good.”Arthur nodded to them politely although he seemed pensive as he directed them to sit on a couple of stools by the table in the middle of the tent.

Lancelot was there, looking as fresh and clean-cut as he had before the previous night’s raid and Bellicus thought he could even smell lavender from the man, as though he’d washed in scented water recently. Also present were two local chieftains and, of course, the Merlin.

Nemias was his real name, but he was now more widely known as Merlin, the title given to the chief druid of all Britain.

Cai headed straight for the white-bearded old High Druid and allowed his muzzle to be stroked and a kiss to be planted on his head before padding back and flopping onto the floor at Bellicus’s feet.

“I was just saying,” Arthur told the newcomers, “That our scout reports the Saxons are moving south . He believes they’re heading for Waithe . Which means they won’t have as far to travel as I’d hoped. We should get moving now if you’re all ready?” He looked around at the gathered lords who all nodded agreement. “Let’s not waste any more time then. I’ll lead with Lancelot and my personal guard. King Caradoc, these are your lands, you ride with me, if you would ? Bellicus, you bring up the rear with your men, all right?”

Steven A. McKay has been teasing his readers with little glimpses of Arthur throughout the Warrior Druid of Britain series, but in this book the legendary hero gets more of a leading role – though the focus remains firmly on Bellicus’ story. It is wonderful the way the author skillfully weaves Arthur’s story into that of Bellicus, creating a new legend, all of its own. The character of Bellicus has developed wonderfully through the books, so that an avid reader can almost read his mind. He has a wonderful sense of right and wrong, and of destiny, that means the reader knows how Bellicus forms his decisions and ideas. HIs faithful companion, Duro, has his own demons to face in this episode of the story and it is refreshing to see him branch out on his own a little.

The Bear of Britain is a wonderful addition to Bellicus’ story and adds a new dimension to the druid’s life. The fact that he crosses paths with the legendary characters of Arthur and Lancelot adds a spice that the reader can really relish. One can only hope that their paths will continue to cross in later books.

And I do hope that the observant reader notices Steven A. McKay’s subtle nod to the great Bernard Cornwell and his The Last Kingdom series – it certainly made me smile and nod knowingly (but I will say no more and leave that for you to spot).

The Bear of Britain is a wonderful, enjoyable adventure and an excellent sequel to the preceding instalments of the Warrior Druid of Britain series (The Druid, Song of the Centurion and The northern Throne). The depth of research and thought that have gone into these books is astounding. Steven A. McKay has recreated post-Roman Britain in astonishing and vivid detail, no matter what part of Britain his characters find themselves in, both in the landscape and the people who occupied it.

The Bear of Britain is available in ebook and paperback from Amazon. I highly recommend you get yourself a copy – after reading the first 3 books, that is!

From Steven A. McKay:

I was born in Scotland in 1977 and always enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. I decided to write my Forest Lord series after seeing a house called “Sherwood” when I was out at work one day. I’d been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn’t come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well…It felt like a message from the gods and my rebooted Robin Hood was born.

My current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80’s TV show “Knightmare”, and their version of Merlin that got my ideas flowing. Of course, the bearded old wizard had been done to death in fiction, so I decided to make my hero a giant young warrior-druid living in post-Roman Britain and he’s been a great character to write.

I was once in a heavy metal band although I tend to just play guitar in my study these days. I’m sure the neighbours absolutely love me.

Check out my website at stevenamckay.com and sign up for the email list – in return I’ll send you a FREE short story, as well as offering chances to win signed books, free audiobooks and other quite good things!

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My Books

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

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

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

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

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

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Inspiration for Hauntings by Samantha Wilcoxson

Inspiration for Among the Lost

By Samantha Wilcoxson

My family and I took a trip to Traverse City, Michigan last autumn. While this trip had nothing to do with anything I was writing, my youngest son would be quick to tell you that I always find some sort of historic site to visit anywhere we go. In Traverse City, that place ended up being the former Northern Michigan Asylum, now reinvented as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

The Northern Michigan Asylum was built in 1883-1885, including Building 50, the main structure which is almost a quarter of a mile long. More buildings were added over the years to serve patients that were sent from around the state of Michigan. Men, women, and children were segregated in addition to patients being separated according to condition. ‘Beauty is therapy’ was a famous slogan, referring to founding Medical Superintendent Dr James Munson’s belief that the gorgeous natural surroundings of the area would help the patients heal.

Traverse City is gorgeous with the beautiful blue waters of the bay in the summer and an extraordinary kaleidoscope of trees in the autumn. Certainly, some did find healing in the natural surroundings. The buildings of the asylum were carefully crafted with high ceilings, transom windows, and rounded corners to create a bright, safe atmosphere. The grounds include a grove of trees where no two are alike. The variety was collected by Dr James Munson during his travels. One can envision what the place was like when it was new and filled with hopeful nurses and their charges.

However, as we toured the abandoned, dilapidated structures, it was just as easy to imagine that darker things had taken place as well. Old lead paint is peeling from the walls, and the lack of electricity forced us to light our way with flashlights. Shattered windows and graffiti brought to mind broken souls and nefarious deeds that might have taken place within those walls.

I had not planned on writing anything about the asylum, but when the suggestion of an anthology of historical ghost stories was put forward, I knew just where mine would take place. The mysterious steam tunnels and creamy stone structures topped by red spires suddenly seemed the perfect setting for a young nurse to encounter strange happenings. A ghost may not be the worst being she discovers.

Hauntings

FEAR IS AS OLD AS TIME ITSELF
Chilling Tales that will take you through a labyrinth of historical horror.
You will encounter a tormented Roman general.
A Norse woman who must confront her terrifying destiny.
Meet a troubled Saxon brother, searching for his twin’s murderer.
A young nurse tries to solve the mysteries of an asylum for the insane.Down the passages of time, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn wander through a haunted garden and elsewhere,
a lost slave girl is the soul survivor of a mass slaughter.

These are just a few of the eerie tales which ensure that Hauntings is not for the faint-hearted.

Hauntings is an anthology of stories that span 2,000 years of history. Featuring short stories by S.J.A. Turney, D. Apple, Judith Arnopp, K.S. Barton, Lynn Bryant, Paula Lofting, Stephanie Churchill, Samantha Wilcoxson, Jennifer C. Wilson and Kate Jewell, and with a foreword by yours truly!

now available as an ebook from Amazon in the UK and the US and will be available in paperback shortly.

Hauntings Launch Party!

And we’re having a launch party over Zoom.

Meet the authors and hear the stories behind the stories. It’s free. Come and join us!

It’s on Saturday 23 October at 7pm (UK time) – 2 pm if you’re in New York! Book here!

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 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,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Launch: Hauntings, An Anthology

FEAR IS AS OLD AS TIME ITSELF
Chilling Tales that will take you through a labyrinth of historical horror.
You will encounter a tormented Roman general.
A Norse woman who must confront her terrifying destiny.
Meet a troubled Saxon brother, searching for his twin’s murderer.
A young nurse tries to solve the mysteries of an asylum for the insane.

Down the passages of time, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn wander through a haunted garden and elsewhere,
a lost slave girl is the soul survivor of a mass slaughter.

These are just a few of the eerie tales which ensure that Hauntings is not for the faint-hearted.

Hauntings, an Anthology

Since time immemorial, people have sat around the hearth, in the dark of night with storms raging outside, telling each other ghost stories. Even the fairy tales told to children over the centuries have bordered on horror stories, with a wicked stepmother here, an evil witch there and the candy-selling man who turned out to be a child-catcher; all just waiting to scare and horrify the unsuspecting. Many were moralising tales, told to scare children into being good. But the effects linger. As children become teenagers, they tell scarier stories, staying up late into the night on sleepovers and camping expeditions. The aim has always been to frighten and entertain with ever greater levels of horror, often shining torches into their faces at odd angles to create special effects.

The enduring need to push our fear to the limits has been with us since childhood.

Such camp-fire tales belie the fact that horror and ghost stories have a place deep in the culture of society. They have always been a way to explain the unexplainable.

We have all had that moment, that sense of being watched. But when we turn around, there is no one there…

Or seen that movement out of the corner of our eye…

The room suddenly turning cold for no reason…

The most famous incident of this kind gave birth to not only the vampire but also what is probably the most famous horror story of all time. And it started, as it always does, with a gathering of friends, in their late teens and early 20s, trying to shock and scare each other as a storm raged outside.

Europe had just emerged from its own horror story. Over twenty-five years of warfare had ignited with the French Revolution in 1789 and ended on the battlefield of Waterloo in June 1815, raging across Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula to frozen Russia and even venturing into Africa. A generation had grown up with the shadow of war looming over them. This man-made tragedy had been exacerbated by volcanic eruptions, famine and epidemics; the volcanic ash would cause 3 years of darkness, crop failure and cholera outbreaks. It was a time ripe for dark and desperate literary endeavours.

In the aftermath of Waterloo, a young couple, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, travelled to Lake Geneva in May 1816, ostensibly looking for rest and relaxation. Their party included their four-month-old baby and Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont. At the time, Claire was pregnant with a child by Lord Byron, the ground-breaking poet whose personal affairs and love life had proved too scandalous for England. Most recently he had divorced his wife, abandoning his young daughter, Ada Lovelace, and, so rumour had it, pursued an affair with his own half-sister. Plagued by gossip and debt, he had left England for Europe. Claire, it seems, had decided to surprise her lover by following him.

Mary had fallen in love with Percy in 1814; the couple had run away together, despite Percy already being married, and travelled around Europe for the next 2 years. After Byron left England, a distraught Claire convinced Mary and Percy to travel to Geneva with her. A few days later, Byron—clearly unaware that Claire would be there—arrived in town. Mary, whose own love life not without controversy, sympathized with the scandalous poet.

With Percy and Lord Byron soon forming an intense friendship, the small party abandoned their various travel plans and rented properties close to each other along Lake Geneva. They would gather together in the long, dark, cold evening at the Villa Diodati, the stately mansion Byron had rented for his stay along with John Polidori, his doctor. They read poetry, argued, and talked late into the night. After three nights of the party being trapped inside by the raging storm, tensions were running high. Byron was annoyed by Claire’s obsessive attentions, Mary likewise had to fend off the unwanted attentions of the equally obsessive Doctor Polidori.

They spent their evenings reading horror stories and ghostly poems to each other until one night, they were given a challenge. Byron proposed they each write a ghost story that was better than the ones they had just read. Inspired by a tale of Byron’s, Polidori produced his novella “The Vampyre,” which would be published in 1819. It is the first work of fiction to include a blood-sucking hero—which may have been modelled on Byron himself. Mary took a little longer to settle on the subject of her story but after a long, sleepless night she produced her offering, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Considering what happens when men play gods, and perhaps with the upheaval of the last three decades in her mind, she would later call the story her “hideous progeny”.

Frankenstein would be Mary Shelley’s enduring legacy and the inspiration for so many hopeful writers.

Fast forward a little over 200 hundred years. The year was 2020, the world was in the midst of a pandemic of horrifying proportions. Travel to the neighbouring town was frowned upon, you were allowed out for exercise once a day, families were forced apart, the schools closed and writers the world over were sat in their studies, or at their kitchen tables, tapping away on keyboards, alone, solitary…

Well, not quite…

We now have the internet, so when you are alone, you are still not totally alone. Once again, with the storm raging outside, a group of writers have come together, not in a luxury Swiss mansion, but via the miracle that is the internet. Despite the miles and oceans apart, and across the continents, these ten historical fiction authors were given a challenge: to write a ghost story, to regale each other with terrifying stories of ghosts and ghoulies. Through history and legend, from the legions of Rome to a spooky hotel, from Tudor England to an asylum for the insane, those who have suffered injustice may finally be laid to rest, those who have sought loved ones across the centuries may finally be reunited and those who have borne nightmares for past deeds may finally find peace.

A year after the idea first formed, those stories are set to be unleashed on the world.

Dare you read them?

Hauntings, an Anthology is dedicated to the memory of Sharon Penman, an amazing historical fiction writer, author of The Sunne in Splendour, who inspired so many of us to become writers ourselves.

Hauntings, an Anthology is an anthology of stories that span 2,000 years of history. Featuring short stories by S.J.A. Turney, D. Apple, Judith Arnopp, K.S. Barton, Lynn Bryant, Paula Lofting, Stephanie Churchill, Samantha Wilcoxson, Jennifer C. Wilson and Kate Jewell, and with a foreword by yours truly!

Hauntings, an Anthology is now available as an ebook from Amazon in the UK and the US and will be available in paperback shortly.

Hauntings Launch Party

And we’re having a launch party over Zoom.

Meet the authors and hear the stories behind the stories. It’s free. Come and join us!

It’s on Saturday 23 October at 7pm (UK time) – 2 pm if you’re in New York! Book here!

*

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 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,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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

*

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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: For Lord and Land by Matthew Harffy

Greed and ambition threaten to tear the north apart.

War rages between the two kingdoms of Northumbria. Kin is pitted against kin and friend becomes foe as ambitious kings vie for supremacy.

When Beobrand travels south into East Angeln to rescue a friend, he unwittingly tilts the balance of power in the north, setting in motion events that will lead to a climactic confrontation between Oswiu of Bernicia and Oswine of Deira.

While the lord of Ubbanford is entangled in the clash of kings, his most trusted warrior, Cynan, finds himself on his own quest, called to the aid of someone he thought never to see again. Riding into the mountainous region of Rheged, Cynan faces implacable enemies who would do anything to further their own ends.

Forced to confront their pasts, and with death and betrayal at every turn, both Beobrand and Cynan have their loyalties tested to breaking point.

Who will survive the battle for a united Northumbria, and who will pay the ultimate price for lord and land?

Beobrand is back!

For Lord and Land is book no. 8 of Matthew Harffy’s excellent Bernicia Chronicles. I have read each of these books as soon as they have come out, and I have never been disappointed. And For Lord and Land is no exception! This was another one of those books that makes you read late into the night, saying ‘just one more chapter’.

A slight change in style from the last book, with two stories running side by side for most of the book, For Lord and Land is a fabulous, engaging, entertaining, engrossing (and all the other ‘en’s) read. Matthew Harffy has surpassed himself yet again, combining a fast paced narrative with an intricately-woven storyline that, inevitably, leaves the reader wanting more as the last page is turned.

Matthew Harffy skilfully recreates the world of 7th century Northumbria, bringing the landscape, the politics and the people to life in the reader’s mind. he really is a master storyteller. He fits his stories into the known history, which is, as ever, thoroughly researched. The mixing of historical and fictional characters melds together to bring the 7th century to life.

With practised ease, Beobrand wriggled into his byrnie and quickly tightened his sword belt about his waist to take some of the armour’s familiar weight from his shoulders. Placing the helm on his head, he looked back at his men. They were grim-faced and sombre now, ready for what they must do. Only Cuthbert was smiling, though Beobrand noticed that the colour had drained from his face as his excitement changed to the uncertainty of growing anticipation.

“Get your shield,” murmured Beobrand. Cuthbert started, then rushed to retrieve his newly painted linden board and the bright-bladed spear that, like its owner, was untested in combat.

“You think there will be a fight, lord?” Cuthbert asked breathlessly.

Beobrand sighed and scanned the mass of black-shielded warriors in the belly of the ship. They had all bee ready for battle for some time. Were they merely cautious or had they travelled with him for so long that they had foreseen how this day would end? He knew not, but there were no finer warriors in all of Albion. As ever, the sight of them filled him with pride.

The ship cut through the waves, flinging spray into the faces of the men as they all turned towards the approaching sand.

“Come, my gesithas!” bellowed Beobrand, pulling Naegling from its scabbard so that the fine patterend blade caught the lowering sun. “It seems there is killing to be done today after all!”

As you may have come to expect from Matthew Harffy, the battle scenes are beautifully choreographed, highlighting the actions of the individuals, especially of Beobrand and his men, whilst never losing sight of the big picture. The instances of combat are ferocious and deadly, with the reader waiting with bated breath to see who would survive, and who would die. It is heart in the mouth time every time, with Harffy drawing out the tension until the reader finds it almost unbearable.

Besides the gripping action and engaging storylines, the character development has always set Matthew Harffy apart from many authors. Beobrand, the eponymous hero, has been through an awful lot in 8 books. The reader doesn’t forget that – and neither does the author – and Beobrand’s scars, both mentally and physically, serve to create a deeper personality, and a more in-depth story with every book. And it is not just Beobrand. Harffy gives depth and vitality to every character in the book, no matter whether they are in there for a chapter, for the whole book, or for the last 6 books.

For Lord and Land goes a step further than the usual book in the Bernicia Chronicles with a dual storyline in which Beobrand shares the stage with Cynan. Cynan has grown immensely in the last couple of books, becoming a character demanding attention in his own right, and probably developing a fan-base of his own. And no wonder! He has become one of Beobrand’s most trusted warriors, despite being a former slave. He is devoted to Beobrand but has a mind and responsibilities of his own and in For Lord and Land he comes into his own. His storyline draws from the past to remind the reader of how far both he and Beobrand have come, and of how far trust can be stretched – and how easily it can be broken. But I’ve already said too much….

You will have to read the book to know more. All I can say is that For Lord and Land is well worth the read – and the late nights!

About the Author:

Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD.

Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

For all the latest news and exclusive competitions, join Matthew online:
http://www.matthewharffy.com
twitter.com/@MatthewHarffy
http://www.facebook.com/MatthewHarffyAuthor

Retail links

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3e45G97

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction; Facebook: Aries Fiction; Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

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My Books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

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

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 and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Serpent King by Tim Hodkinson

The fight for vengeance has no victors…

AD 936

The great warrior, Einar Unnsson, wants revenge. His mother’s assassin has stolen her severed head and Einar is hungry for his blood. Only one thing holds him back. He is a newly sworn in Wolf Coat, and must accompany them on their latest quest.

The Wolf Coats are a band of fearsome bloodthirsty warriors, who roam the seas, killing any enemies who get in their way. Now they’re determined to destroy their biggest enemy, King Eirik, as he attempts to take the throne of Norway.

Yet, for Einar, the urge to return to Iceland is growing every day. Only there, in his homeland, can he avenge his mother and salve his grief. But what Einar doesn’t know is that this is where an old enemy lurks, and his thirst for vengeance equals Einar’s…

I have followed Einar’s adventures since the very first book, Odin’s Game, two years ago; and each book gets better and better. The Serpent King is the fourth and latest book in the Whale Road Chronicles and, most definitely, the best story in the series so far. We follow the adventures of Einar and his friends, the Wolf Coats, from Norway to Orkney, with a few stops in between, on a dual mission of rescue and revenge.

The Serpent King is set in the mid-10th century, when Aethelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, is attempting to unite England and extend his borders north into Scotland. He has made allies with the Norwegian Christian, Hakon, formerly king of York and now questing to dethrone his brother, King Eirik Bloody Axe of Norway. Einar and the band of Wolf Coats are drawn into the political in-fighting and rivalries, despite their attempts to stay aloof from the machinations of the ambitious rulers around them. Einar has his own quest, for revenge against his father for the murder of his mother. The hatred between father and son is visceral and the backbone behind this series of books. Einar and his father, Thorfinn, Jarl of Orkney, are on a collision course to a day of reckoning.

The Serpent King is a fast-paced, wonderfully visual adventure, set in a time when a man could make or break his fortune simply by the decision of who to back in the constant power struggle between England, Norway and Ireland. Tim Hodkinson weaves a tale that will have you hooked from the beginning, its many twists and turns leaving you mesmerised and reading ‘just one more chapter’ until the early hours.

As Einar watched, another man came out the door. He too was swathed in a heavy cloak. The metal of a helmet visor was visible under the cloak’s hood and he bore a spear in his right hand.

‘Thor blast Halfdan with Mjolnir,’ the second warrior said. ‘I don’t see him taking his turn to stand guard on the palisade on a filthy night like this.’

‘Well I don’t want to be the one missing if he shows up to check the guard tonight,’ the first man said. ‘Which he’s bound to do. Get a move on.’

A crash of thunder rocked the sky. As if in response the already lashing rain got even heavier. It hissed down all around into the already sodden muddy ground.

‘Look at this storm.’ Thorleif said, ducking his head as the rain pounded down on him. ‘No one will attack us on a night like this!’

Einar, watching from the shadows, could not help but smile.

The two warriors began splashing their way through the mud towards him. Einar tried to make himself as flat as possible against the wall. Wrapped up in their cloaks and hurrying through the rain, there was every chance they would not see him and go right past him without realising he was there.

What then, though? When they arrived at the gate they would find Surt and Wulfhelm have the time and luck to silence them first?

Then Einar heard the sound of another pair of sloshing footsteps approaching, this time from the direction he had come.

Tim Hodkinson is fabulous at building the tension in a story and keeping it going to the very end of the book. There are so many twists and turns that the reader is kept on their toes. Just when you think Einar and his companions are going to come out on top, another spanner is thrown in the works! So to speak. The tension is palpable – to the very end.

The characters, both the heroes and their enemies, are wonderfully colourful and have developed over the past two years. Einar and his companions have become a fighting team that relies on each other, not just in battle, but in the friendships and trust that has developed through their adventures. Where they were once a disparate group of individuals, they are now a coherent fighting team, able to rely on each others’ skills and judgements to get them through the various battle and plots they are faced with.

The Serpent King is full of clashes – of swords, personalities and even the gods. The battle scenes are wonderfully frenetic, with the reader feeling every sword thrust or the impact of axe on shield. If you have a love of Viking adventures, the clash of cultures and political machinations that accompanied the changing alliances as England, Norway, Ireland and Scotland were developing their identities during the 10th century, this is definitely a series for you to sink your teeth into.

This is a fabulous adventure, from the first page to the last, and not to be missed!

You can follow Einar’s adventures through The Serpent King blog tour, over the next 9 days:

About the author

Tim Hodkinson was born in 1971 in Northern Ireland. He studied Medieval English and Old Norse Literature at University with a subsidiary in Medieval European History. He has been writing all his life and has a strong interest in the historical, the mystical and the mysterious. After spending several happy years living in New Hampshire, USA, he has now returned to life in Northern Ireland with his wife Trudy and three lovely daughters in a village called Moira.

Tim is currently working on a series of viking novels for Ares Fiction, an imprint of Head of Zeus.

Buy links:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3oNubLI; Kobo: https://bit.ly/3wKzs9Z; Google Play: https://bit.ly/34edsYu; iBooks: https://apple.co/3ukCyzy

Follow Tim:

Twitter: @TimHodkinson

Follow Aries:

Twitter: @AriesFiction; Facebook: @AriesFiction; Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

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My Books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Last Berserker by Angus Donald

The greatest warriors are forged in the flames

Two pagan fighters

771AD, Northern Europe. Bjarki Bloodhand and Tor Hildarsdottir are journeying south into Saxony. Their destination is the Irminsul, the One Tree that links the Nine Worlds of the Middle-Realm. In this most holy place, they hope to learn how to summon their animal spirits so they can enter the ranks of the legendary berserkir: the elite frenzied fighters of the North.

One Christian king

Karolus, newly crowned King of the Franks, has a thorn in his side: the warlike Saxon tribes on his northern borders who shun the teachings of the Church, blasphemously continuing to worship their pagan gods.

An epic battle for the soul of the North

The West’s greatest warlord vows to stamp out his neighbours’ superstitions and bring the light of the True Faith to the Northmen – at the point of a sword. It will fall to Bjarki, Tor and the men and women of Saxony to resist him in a struggle for the fate of all Europe.

I have read Angus Donald’s books since the first of his Robin Hood series, Outlaw, came out many moons ago. And I absolutely adored his series set around the 1688 Glorious Revolution with unlikely hero Holcroft Blood. But there is always a risk when an author starts a new series; will it live up to previous stories?

Well, with The Last Berserker there is no need to worry. From the first few lines you are reassured that Angus Donald starts as he means to go on; with an action-filled storyline that will take the reader on a breathtaking journey through the turbulent years of the 8th century. It is quite the adventure!

The story derives from the many tales of the berserkers, men who went wild in battle, killing dozens at a time. Angus Donald has created a world in which the berserkers were not just mad men, but legendary fighters who honed their skills through belief, training and discipline. They were heroes who used their unique talents to lead men into battle and deliver victory after victory. Set in the time when the great Charlemagne was waging his campaign of conquest against the German tribes, The Last Berserker tells the story of Bjarki Bloodhand, who joins the fight to defend his homelands.

‘How about you, son? You look like a strapping fellow. Care to try your strength? Bjarki realised the tall blond man was speaking to him.

He shook his head.

‘No need to be afraid. I’ll tell Black Svein to go easy on you.’

‘I’m not afraid,’ Bjarki said.

‘Then come inside the hazel square and prove it.’

Bjarki shook his head. He smiled.

The straw-haired man turned away. ‘There must be one or two here today who are not snivelling cowards,’ he said, his back turned to Bjarki.

Bjarki stopped smiling. He felt suddenly cold. He took a step forward.

‘He’s not a coward,’ said a voice at his elbow, a cool hand there, too, restraining him. ‘He just doesn’t want to fight your friend today. And calling him one won’t change his mind.’

The straw-haired man turned back and looked at Bjarki – and Tor, who was now standing beside him.

‘You his girl then?’ he said. Then to Bjarki: ‘Aren’t you a one – getting your little girlie to speak for you. I see now why you won’t fight.’

‘He won’t fight your friend,’ said Tor, ‘but I will. You said you had quarterstaffs? Yes? All right then, I accept your challenge.’

The straw-haired man was nonplussed. This scrawny young woman, with arms like kindling sticks, was about half of the weight of Black Svein – and a head shorter than him too. It was a ridiculous match.

‘You can’t fight him,’ he said.

‘Oh yes? Why is that? Is he afraid of me?’

That started a howl of laughter from the crowd, which had thickened considerably by now. The straw-haired man flushed pink with irritation.

‘You cannot fight him, girlie. It would not be a fair contest.’

‘What if I go really easy on him?’ said Tor. ‘I promise I won’t hurt him all that much – hardly at all. I’ll be as gentle as a lamb with the poor idiot.’

Angus Donald weaves together, myth, legend and history to recreate a world where the berserker not only flourished, but was revered as a great warrior.

As an author, Donald is very adept at creating unique, interesting protagonists. Holcroft Blood was an autistic officer who had a knack for uncovering spies and a skill in artillery that was unrivalled. Robin Hood was a vicious killer, not the cuddly Robin Hood from legend. And with Bjarki Bloodhand, we have another individual who is not, at first sight, your typical hero. He is a rather dull, awkward boy; quite unassuming in fact. He comes across as naive, a little too trusting and not overly ambitious. He is, however, loyal to ahis friends, a good fighter and as brave as they come. He doesn’t shirk from a fight, but doesn’t necessarily seek it out. And he is incredibly likeable.

Bjarki’s sidekick, for want of a better word, is Tor, a slip of a girl with an attitude that belies her size. A born fighter, she is always looking to prove herself. Tor is a fascinating character who has secrets of her own to hide and ‘issues’ to work through. The two make an unlikely pairing but a firm friendship that helps them through their many trials.

Angus Donald wonderfully recreates the world of 8th century central Europe, from the landscape and the natural borders that separate the various nations, to the contrasting religious beliefs – both Christian and pagan – that lie at the centre of the conflict. A natural storyteller when it comes to warfare, Donald vividly evokes the song of battle, with seax, sword, axe and shield. The frenetic energy of the battle scenes leave the reader breathless and eager for more. The intricacies of the story, with its various twists and turns, some rather surprising, keep the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.

The Last Berserker is a truly enthralling story, not easy to put down – and a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. It is one book that is not to be missed!

The Last Berserker by Angus Donald is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.

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About the Author:

Angus Donald is the author of the bestselling Outlaw Chronicles, a series of ten novels set in the 12th/13th centuries and featuring a gangster-ish Robin Hood. Angus has also published the Holcroft Blood trilogy about a mildly autistic 17th-century English artillery officer, son of notorious Crown Jewels thief Colonel Thomas Blood. Before becoming an author, Angus worked as a fruit-picker in Greece, a waiter in New York City and as an anthropologist studying magic and witchcraft in Indonesia. For fifteen years he was a journalist working in Hong Kong, India, Afghanistan and London. He now writes full time from a medieval farmhouse in Kent.

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: A Time for Swords by Matthew Harffy

When the Vikings attack, a novice monk’s life is changed forever in Matthew Harffy’s new historical adventure.

Lindisfarne, AD793.

There had been portents – famine, whirlwinds, lightning from clear skies, serpents seen flying through the air. But when the raiders came, no one was prepared.

They came from the North, their dragon-prowed longships gliding out of the dawn mist as they descended on the kingdom’s most sacred site.

It is 8th June AD793, and with the pillage of the monastery on Lindisfarne, the Viking Age has begun.

While his fellow monks flee before the Norse onslaught, one young novice stands his ground. He has been taught to turn the other cheek, but faced with the slaughter of his brothers and the pagan desecration of his church, forgiveness is impossible.

Hunlaf soon learns that there is a time for faith and prayer . . . and there is a time for swords.

It is my pleasure to be a part of Matthew Harffy’s blog tour for the release of the first book in what will be a new series, A Time for Swords.

It is always a worry when one of your favourite authors starts a new series – for author and reader, alike – that you may not like it, that the new hero doesn’t live up to the promise of the last hero – or even that the new hero is too similar to the last and the book appears formulaic.

Well, with Matthew Harffy, you needn’t worry about that. He seems to be able to create distinct characters and storylines at the drop of a hat. To be fair to Matthew, I am sure that it is not that easy – though he does make it look so! With Wolf of Wessex, his first foray away from the heroic Beobrand, Matthew Harffy proved his ability at storytelling did not just lay in one direction, and that he did have so much more in his repertoire.

With A Time for Swords, he has done it again!

Recreating the world of 8th century Northumbria, Matthew Harffy has left the 7th century behind to document the arrival of the Vikings on Britain’s shores, with the raid on Lindisfarne – Holy Island. A Time for Swords takes this raid as its starting point and pursues the likely reactions on the people of Northumbria following this unexpected explosion of violence on the peaceful island monastery. As we have come to expect from Matthew Harffy, the action starts on the very first page and doesn’t let the reader stop for breath until the very last.

My feet pounded the soft earth as I sped back towards the dwellings of the ceorls. A green plover, startled by my passing, burst from the long grass that brushed against my bare legs as I ran. I stumbled in shock and surprise at the bird’s screeching call, so like that of the screams of the people dying in the minster and the huts of the villagers. I rushed on, my lungs burning and the thickening smoke stinging my eyes.

I came up over the low rise from the beach to a scene of chaos. When I had left the minster at dawn, its buildings had rested peacefully, close to the natural harbour and overlooked by the mound of rock at the island’s tip. A few small fishing boats had been canted in the shallows of low tide, and teh morning had been still and quiet. Now the brightening day was filled with noise, fire and smoke.

And death.

In the harbour were three huge ships, sleek and menacing with terrifying carven serpent head prows. Around the ships were congregated several men. The land all around was full of movement. Dozens of armed warriors had poured from the ships and had made their way into the grounds of the minster. Three of the monastery buildings were burning, great pillars of flame and smoke smudging the sky. My heart lurched as I realised one of the fires was the scriptorium. I imagined the gold cover of The Treasure of Life melting, the parchment leaves curling, smouldering and then bursting into flames. Leofstan and I would never unpick the secrets within its pages now. I felt tears prickle my eyes as I thought of so many books being consumed, just like in my nightmare of Alexandria. Countless days of painstaking work and skill gone in an instant. So much knowledge snuffed out and lost. I was a long way off, but as I crested the rise I could feel the heat from the fires on my face.

The lead character, Hunlaf, is a monk who has discovered a skill with the sword, and who wants nothing more than to protect his brethren at the monastery at Werceworthe (Warkworth) from the attack that he knows is coming. The intrepid warrior monk manages to attract a small but fierce group of fighters to his cause, including Runolf, a Viking left behind in the raid on Lindisfarne, who has his own motives for confronting the Norse raiders.

Hunlaf is a likeable character, torn between his love of the church and the draw of the sword and the comradeship of warriors. He is a young, gifted fighter with an eagerness to learn and a desire to protect that means he will find it hard to back down from a fight. Each of the characters surrounding Hunlaf have their own stories and reasons for joining the fight, from the monk, Leofstan, with a warrior past of his own, to Runolf the Norseman fighting his own kind, to a Welshman always in need of proving himself and a young, fiery Irishman, Cormac, seeking vengeance for the fate of his family.

The storyline of A Time for Swords draws the reader in from the outset, taking you on a journey from the ruined Lindisfarne to York and on to the monastery at Warkworth. Matthew Harffy demonstrates his knowledge of the area, the people and the landscape, in Hunlaf’s travels. Harffy skillfully combines impeccable historical research with his wonderful storytelling, to create a novel that has a sense of authenticity about it. While the raid on Lindisfarne is historical fact, the subsequent events that young Hunlaf gets involved in are a creation of the author. However, Matthew Harffy supplements the fictional fighting by using the original landscape, the weapons used, fighting tactics and the very real threat of the Viking raiders, to add a sense of realism,

As you may have come to expect with Matthew Harffy, the fight scenes are where he is in his element. Beautifully choreographed, they are frenetic and vividly described with a passion unique to the author. and there is no guarantee that your favourite character will survive…

In short, A Time for Swords is one of those books which is not to be missed. Entertaining, exciting and totally gripping, the novel reaffirms, once more – if more affirmation is needed – Matthew Harffy’s status as one of the best authors of historical fiction around.

Read it – I promise, you will not be disappointed!

About the Author:

Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Pre-order links:

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/39T3MqJ

Follow Matthew:

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Website: www.matthewharffy.com

Follow Aries:

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly