Book Corner: the Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick

Her father’s only daughter.
Her country’s only hope.
Ireland, 1152

The King of Leinster, awaiting news of his newborn child, is disappointed to hear he has a daughter. Diarmait MacMurchada wanted another strapping son to shoulder a spear, wield a sword, and protect his kingdom. But the moment Diarmait holds tiny Aoife in his arms, he realised she would be his most precious treasure.

1166

Forced into exile Aoife and her family find themselves at the mercy of Henry II. Aoife – aware of her beauty but not its power – intrigues and beguiles Henry in equal measure. He agrees to help her father, an alliance that leads the MacMurchadas to the charistmatic Richard de Clare, a man dissatisfied with his lot and open to new horizons.

Diarmit promises Richard Aoife’s hand in marriage in return for his aid in Ireland, but Aoife has her own thoughts on the matter. She may be a prize, but she is not a pawn, and she will play the men at their own game. For herself, for her family, and for her country.

From the royal halls of scheming kings, to staunch Welsh border fortresses and the wild green kingdoms of Ireland, The Irish Princess is a sumptuous, journey of ambition and desire, love and loss, heartbreak and survival.

Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Irish Princess is one of the most anticipated historical fiction novels of the year. I was lucky enough to receive and advance copy from NetGalley – and it more than lives up to expectation. Telling the story of the marriage of Richard de Clare (Strongbow) and his Irish princess, Aoife MacMurchada, against the backdrop of the Norman invasion of Ireland it seamlessly weaves together the various strands to make an engaging and utterly engrossing story.

Aoife is a proud and precocious princess who has grown up amid the brutality of the power struggles of the Irish clans. She has seen brothers maimed and murdered, the heads of her father’s enemies decorating her home and had to flee into exile, all before she had left what should have been the innocence of childhood. Her marriage to Richard de Clare, Earl of Striguil, is a political necessity in the strategies of her father, to recover his lost kingdom of Leinster.

Richard de Clare, on the other hand, is a man on the outside; not trusted or employed by King Henry II, he sees helping Aoife’s father as an opportunity to gain a wife and heirs, lands and influence. He still has to play the courtier, however, and has to walk a fine line with Henry, deferring to the king whilst protecting his own interests – not an easy path to walk.

The entrance to the castle was above ground level with steps leading to a doorway decorated with a patterned arch of zig-zags and painted chevrons. A man stepped from the darkness of the arch and came down the steps to greet them. Tall and well proportioned, he moved with confident grace. His tunic was grey, topped by a cloak of a darker, charcoal hue, lined with squirrel fur, creating a strong but subtle contrast. His hair was the same rich auburn as the squirrel pelts.

Welcome to Striguil, sire.’ He bowed his head in courtesy and extended his hand to clasp her father’s. ‘I trust you have journeyed well?’ his voice was light, but the words were clearly spoken and his smile showed a flash of white teeth. he sent a brief glance in her direction, as he encompassed everyone in his greeting.

‘Well enough, my lord,’ her father answered in accented French. ‘But glad to arrive. You have a fine castle.’ His gaze roved the walls.

‘It serves its purpose well,’ de Clare replied, still smiling. ‘Will you come within?’

Diarmait presented Aoife’s mother and her brothers to de Clare, and then spread his arm in a flourish. ‘And this is my daughter Aoife.’

Aoife swallowed and held her ground as she had held it before King Henry. De Clare’s eyes were clear with a glassy mingling of sea-colours, utterly striking against the dark contrast of his pupils. His stare was as intense as Henry’s had been but assessing her rather than predatory.

‘My lady, you are indeed welcome,’ he said, speaking slowly and clearly to help her understand him. ‘Word of your great beauty has carried, and it is not exaggerated.’

Elizabeth Chadwick wonderfully combines the history of the conflict with the private lives and experiences of her leading characters. The personal stories are what make this book truly a incredible read. I wasn’t keen on Aoife at first, but she grows on you as she grows up and is a courageous heroine, who has to use all her attributes as a woman in order to survive and prosper. No shrinking violet and no meek, biddable child, she is well versed in the politics of Ireland and England, but knows her place as a woman of the times; advising and steering policy in private and charming the English king to gain his protection.

From Aoife herself, to her sister-in-law Basilia, from Richard de Clare to King Henry, it is the characters in The Irish Princess that serve as the backbone of the novel. They drive the direction of the story and the empathy and engagement of the reader, even more so than the action and intrigue of the times.

Elizabeth Chadwick, as always, has done extensive research and the historical story comes across in each page, even as she weaves in the recreated words and emotions of the characters, adding a sense of having a fly-on-the-wall view of events as they happened. The sweeping landscapes of Ireland, the bloody battlefields, the warmth and comfort of the lord’s hall and the intimacy of the lady’s private quarters are beautifully recreated and woven into the story to draw the reader into the world of Ireland at the time of the Norman invasion.

And to top it all, a cameo appearance by … (not saying, I don’t want to spoil the surprise!)

Fans of Elizabeth Chadwick – old and new – will not be disappointed by this wonderful novel. The author has lived up to every expectation in this wonderful novel. The story and characters are beautifully crafted to bring the reader an epic tale of love, war betrayal … and family.

The Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick will be released on 12 September 2019 and is available from Amazon UK.

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About the Author:

Myself and Elizabeth Chadwick at the Newark Book Festival, 2018

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick lives in a cottage in the Vale of Belvoir in Nottinghamshire with her husband and their 3 dogs. Her first novel, The Wild Hunt, won a Betty Trask Award and To Defy a King won the RNA’s 2011 Historical Novel Prize. She was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Award in 1998 for The Champion, in 2001 for Lords of the White Castle, in 2002 for The Winter Mantle and in 2003 for The Falcons of Montabard. Her sixteenth novel, The Scarlet Lion, was nominated by Richard Lee, founder of the Historical Novel Society, as one of the top ten historical novels of the last decade. She often lectures at conferences and historical venues, has been consulted for television documentaries and is a member of the Royal Historical Society.

For more details on Elizabeth Chadwick and her books, visit http://www.elizabethchadwick.com, follow her on Twitter, read her blogs or chat to her on Facebook.

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Last of the Romans by Derek Birks

Northern Italy.

Dux Ambrosius Aurelianus has served the Roman Empire with distinction.

His bucellarii, a small band of irregular soldiers, have helped to bring a fragile peace to the beleaguered empire in the west. But, with the empire now at peace, his master, Flavius Aetius, decides to chain up his dogs of war.

Ambrosius and his men are left to idle away their days in a rural backwater, but Ambrosius’ boredom is brutally swept aside when old rivals seize the opportunity to destroy him.

Pursued as a traitor by the imperial guard, Ambrosius takes his loyal band, along with other dissident soldiers and a Saxon girl, Inga, into the mountains.

Since nowhere is safe, Ambrosius travels north, across the crumbling ruins of the empire, to his estranged family in Gaul. But there too, he finds nothing but conflict, for his home town is now besieged by a small army of rebellious Franks.

Freedom and peace seem a world away. 

Whatever course the soldier takes, Ambrosius and his bucellarii will need to muster all their strength and skill to survive.

At the twilight of the empire, they may be the Last of the Romans…

I have to admit that I loved Derek Birks‘ books on the Wars of the Roses, but was a little dubious about this excursion into the late Roman era. I enjoy reading some Roman novelists, such as SJA Turney and Gordon Doherty, but I do prefer the medieval and I was concerned that I might not enjoy The Last of the Romans as much as other Roman stories or, indeed, Derek’s Wars of the Roses series. I needn’t have worried.

The Last of the Romans opens as the Roman Empire is falling apart and follows one man, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and his small band of soldiers as they try to escape the clutches of vengeful assassins. We follow the small cohort of soldiers as the escape northern Italy across France, with the constant threat of attack nagging their every step. The reader is drawn into their desperate fight to survive and escape, the bucellarii’s loyalty to their dux tested to the limit.

Ambrosius Aurelianus has always been a personal favourite of mine – he has links to my ‘local’ – Conisbrough Castle – and is a contender for the legendary King Arthur. The Last of the Romans tells the story of Ambrosius’ career in the Roman army, before his arrival in Britain. The book draws a portrait of the man as a great warrior and leader, driven by a need to survive and protect those who follow him and trust him.

For the past three years Rome’s supreme military commander, the Magister Utriusque Militiae, Flavius Aetius, had sent Ambrosius wherever trouble erupted across the failing empire. Wherever an army was too many, or an assassin too few, he and his band of disparate bucellarii were despatched – and death went along for the ride. They slew every zealot, every ambitious politician, every fool and murderer, across the empire from the west coast of Galicia to eastern Thrace. In truth, Ambrosius and his comrades did little else but send men to an early grave.

Since he was recruited in Gallia, he reflected that his own fortunes had become inextricably harnessed to those of Magister Aetius. He could not resist a grim smile of admiration for the man who, against all the odds, still held the fate of the western empire in his firm grip. Without him, Ambrosius would still be a renegade bandit living among the Franks in north-western Gallia. Instead he was the commander of an elite band of mounted warmongers and carried the rank of dux. He was both feared and despised by his enemies – and very likely by some of the imperial guard as well.

Thus, Ambrosius slept alone; yet, there she lay… half-covered by the coarse blanket. So, yes, he was getting soft. But then, after the sudden demise of the Hun king, Attila, everything had changed. Peace had come to Rome – albeit a fragile peace brokered by exhausted combatants, but a peace all the same. And, in the wake of peace, it seemed that the wolf must remain caged. So, Ambrosius found himself marooned in this shabby caupona on the shores of a lake far from the imperial court. While he preferred to remain at the inn, most of his bucellarii made frequent visits to nearby Verona where they were no doubt even now exhausting whatever coin they had left.

“Even you need to stop killing eventually,” Aetius had told him. “Believe me, you need a rest from it; I know that better than anyone: killing eats into your soul…”

The Last of the Romans is a departure from Derek Birks’ usual era, the Wars of the Roses. And as a consequence, he has moved away from a period of history that is constantly discussed and analysed, to one where the sources are few and far between. He has had to reconstruct a world that has not existed for 1,500 years. the landscape and architecture of late-Roman era France is described in fabulous detail, transporting the reader to the time and place where Roman law was breaking down, and native leaders were battling – against each other and the Roman regional commanders – to fill the void.

As you would expect from Derek Birks, the action is never-ending. The story moves at a fantastic pace, leaving the reader little time to catch their breath. The battles are meticulously choreographed, while appearing totally chaotic; the battle to survive only rivaled by the relentless pursuit of their enemies. The Last of the Romans brings the fall of the Roman Empire into vivid, colourful perspective.

What makes this book impossible to put down are the characters, the heroic Aurelius Ambrosius, loyal Marcellus and Inga, the freed slave whose bravery earns her a special place in the heart of the bucellarii. There is love, loss, confusion, courage and hatred. Through Ambrosius Aurelianus and his small band of men, we see the individual struggle to survive amidst the greater catastrophe and upheaval that always accompanies the end of a civilisation.

The Last of the Romans is a gripping adventure. Exciting, enthralling and fast-paced it is an amazing novel for the author’s first excursion into the era. It works perfectly as a standalone novel, but I truly hope Derek Birks decides to continue the story – I am desperate to know where Ambrosius and his bucellarii go next!

The Last of the Romans is now available on Kindle from Amazon and will be released in paperback shortly.

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About the author:

Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. 

On his return to England, he read history at Reading University and for many years he taught history in a secondary school. Whilst he enjoyed his teaching career and it paid the bills, he found a creative outlet in theatrical activities, stage-managing many plays and outdoor Shakespeare performances.
Derek always wanted to write and began, aged 17, writing stories, songs and poetry – in fact virtually anything. Inevitably, work and family life took precedence for a long period of time but in 2010 Derek took early retirement to indulge his passion for history and concentrate on his writing. He is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. 

Derek writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. He also produces podcasts on the Wars of the Roses for those interested in the real historical background to his books. Check them out on his website at: https://www.derekbirks.com/history-podcasts/

His historical fiction works include: 
Rebels & Brothers – a 4-book series set during the fifteenth century, which follows a fictional family, the Elders, through their struggle to survive the Wars of the Roses up to 1471.  The Craft of Kings – a sequel series which finds the Elder family ten years later in 1481. The latest book in this series is book 3, Echoes of Treason, which is set during the short and turbulent reign of Richard III.

He has recently embarked upon a new Post-Roman series and the first book is out now: The Last of the Romans

Apart from his writing, he enjoys travelling – sometimes, but not always, to carry out research for his books. He also spends his time walking, swimming and taking part in archaeological digs.

He was a regular presence at the Harrogate History Festival, is an active member of the Historical Novel Society and you will also find him each summer signing books – and selling them – at the Chalke Valley History Festival outside Salisbury in Wiltshire.

His books are available on Amazon in the UK and US.
You can find Derek at;
Amazon
Blog
Facebook
Twitter 

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from 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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Book Corner: Joanna of Flanders, Heroine and Exile by Julie Sarpy

The new research in this biography solves the riddle of the disappearance of Joanna of Flanders early in the Hundred Years’ War, a leader described by David Hume as ‘the most extraordinary woman of the age’.

Joanna of Flanders, Countess de Montfort and Duchess of Brittany, vanished from public life after 1343 amid the Breton Wars of Succession during the Hundred Years’ War. As wife of the late Duke John de Montfort, Joanna’s rightful place was in Brittany as regent of the duchy for their five-year-old son and heir, John of Brittany. Famed for the defence of Hennebont in 1342 during her husband’s imprisonment, she, along with her children, had accompanied Edward III to England in February 1343 and never departed. She resided in comfortable obscurity at Tickhill Castle, Yorkshire, until her death around 1374.

What happened to her and why? Her extended absence should have provoked more suspicion, but it did not. Edward III certainly orchestrated her relocation from London to Yorkshire and sanctioned her indefinite detention.

Delving deeper into her story the answers to those two questions explore the complexities of medieval social structures, notably in the care of the vulnerable and the custody of women. The 19th-century Breton historian de la Borderie asked if Joanna’s ‘many tests had reversed her intelligence and thrown her into the abyss of madness’, a position accepted by many modern historians – but not by Julie Sarpy.

When my publishers, Amberley, asked if I would like to review Julie Sarpy’s Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile I jumped at the chance. I first came across Joanna of Flanders when writing an article about her son, John V, Duke of Brittany; and I remember thinking, ‘I must look into this woman’. I have not yet had the opportunity (though I will write a blog post if I ever get the time). So, although I was aware of Joanna, I know only the bare bones of her story. Which is why this book intrigued me so much!

Julie Sarpy has done an incredible job of researching the story of Joanna of Flanders. Her investigation has uncovered some remarkable facts about Joanna’s life, the times she lived through and the treatment she received at the hands of her supposed ally, Edward III. This is a balanced, in-depth study of a woman who deserves her time in the limelight. Joanna of Flanders is, in short, an amazing woman, whose story deserves to be known by a much wider audience.

I have to admit to a personal interest in the tale, in grew up not far from Tickhill Castle, South Yorkshire, the site of Joanna’s imprisonment. And though everyone in the area knows about the castle’s connections to King John, to the de Warennes and to the dukes of Lancaster (it is now owned by the duchy of Lancaster), no one seems to know of its role as the prison of poor Joanna.

Joanna of Flanders’ life has not been given its full measure. One wonders how such a remarkable woman has been lost to the ages and ostensibly marginalised. For Joanna of Flanders, Countess of Montfort and Richmond, Duchess of Brittany, was, in her time, the heroine of Hennebont, the pivotal siege during the first half of the Breton Civil War (1341-1365) that prevented the French from taking over Brittany and routing the English early in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). That was no small feat for anyone, especially a fourteenth-century woman. In fact, she seems to have been exceptional in many ways. Medieval French chronicler and contemporary Jean Froissart professed Joanna of Flanders ‘to possess the courage of a man and the heart of a lion.’ Breton historian Dom Lobineau said of the Countess of Montfort, ‘no adversity could crush her. her consistency in the most desperate circumstances always reassured those who attached [themselves] to her.’ She marshalled men and resources, unlike her rival the Breton-French Jeanne de Penthievre’s husband. Joanna of Flanders rallied her husband’s supporters, the pro-English Montfortist faction, in his absence during the Siege of Hennebont and then secured the safety of his heirs in England, with the aid of Edward III.

Julie Sarpy’s investigation into the life and imprisonment of Joann of Flanders is a fascinating study. The author follows the evidence from the records and chronicles of the time and reconstructs Joanna’s story, dispelling the false stories of her madness and clearly presenting Joanna of Flanders as a political prisoner; a remarkable woman whose imprisonment was essential to furthering the ambitions of her ally, Edward III.

Well written, entertaining and informative, this is an engaging and enjoyable book that should attract any history fan who wants to learn more about Joanna’s life and the wider story of the the Breton Civil War. From the first page, the author draws you in with the mystery of Joanna’ imprisonment and the teaser of who may benefit from having her out of the way. Julie Sarpy then takes you through the complexities of the Breton ducal family, the background and prosecution of the war before concentrating on Joanna’s imprisonment, the reasons behind it and the legal implications.

This is a thorough and absorbing study of a woman who has been largely neglected by history. It’s a story that deserves to be heard and that has been told, in Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile, with remarkable skill and judgement – and a little sympathy for the heroine. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About the author:

Originally from Louisiana, Julia Sarpy is a subject specialist librarian and adjunct faculty at Nova Southeastern University. She received her doctorate in European History from the University of Houston. A UCLA alum, she also hold master’s degrees from University of North Texas and Southern Methodist University.

Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile is now available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon in the UK and will be released on 1 October 2019 in the US; it is available for pre-order on Amazon US.

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from 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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill

Not all enemies are visible.

Sometimes the most defiant ones exist only in the heart and mind.

The Defiler of Prilleand his hound are dead. With my marriage to the daughter of Bedic Sajen, our houses are united. After the birth of our daughter and heir to the throne, peace settles over Agrius once more.

But it’s a fragile peace.

As I work to restore the former glory of my inheritance, rumors of betrayal and treachery reach the throne, threatening to shatter everything I have worked hard to achieve.

When old enemies surface, the rumors become real. Disaster strikes, plunging me into a darkness I fear I cannot escape.

Many advisors step forward to help, but it’s never easy to determine friend from foe when it comes to the powers swirling around the throne.

Faced with the decision to stay true to my honor or to become like my father, a man I despised, the bonds of unity with forged with family and friends are tested. 

To the point of breaking.

What compromises will I make to secure the future of my family and my kingdom?

Will I lose both myself and the ones I love in the process?

Follow my journey into darkness.

The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill is the third book in her wonderful historical fantasy series, Crowns of Destiny. Stephanie Churchill weaves a wonderful fantasy tale in an atmospheric, historic setting that beautifully draws the two genres together. The first two books in the series, The Scribe’s Daughter and The King’s Daughter told the stories of Kassia and Irisa. The Scribe’s Daughter, the first book in the series, was one of my Top Ten novels of 2017.

The premise of the whole series, as a historical fantasy, is innovative, to say the least. It draws on the greatest stories in medieval history to build a world and a storyline that is refreshingly new and gripping from the very first word to the very last. The characters are wonderfully vivid, brought to life by an author who has an obvious knack for drawing on the deepest emotions to recreate unique and fascinating characters.

I tightened my hold on his tunic and twisted. His eyes widened in fear, his youth showing in the whites of them.

“Was it your job to get me away from the palace so I would not be here to protect her?” I felt a fleck of spittle land on my chin. Wimarc swallowed, shook his head then opened his mouth as if to speak, but I shouted, “Don’t even think about lying to me!”

“No! I knew nothing of what happened, I swear to you on my inheritance, may it rot in my father’s coffers if I do not tell the truth!”

I was about to respond when a shadow fell over us, and a hand pressed my shoulder. I gave a violent shrug, swinging around on the newcomer who jumped back, holding up his hands.

“Whoa! stay your hand! Casimir, it’s me, Wolf.”

A dim light of clarity broke through the mist of fury fogging my vision, and I hissed a breath between my teeth before bringing up a hand to rub my eyes. I kept my other hand twisted in Wimarc’s tunic.

“Just now, yes. And none too soon, it seems.” Wolf eyed Wimarc briefly before returning his attention to me. “How has this man displeased his king so that it requires summary judgement and execution?”

Wolf offered a mischievous smile, and I could not help but return my own, even if it lacked force.

Wimarc sensed the shift in the mood and jumped in. “Your Grace, I swear again that I knew nothing of the plan to take your daughter. I only wanted you to meet Jachamin. There was nothing sinister in my mind.”

….

With The King’s Furies Stephanie Churchill has brought the story in a full circle; while the first book concentrated on Kassia’s story and the second on Irisia’s, this book draws the two sisters back together to continue the story. This is an unparalleled adventure! The two sisters and their families have to face treachery and intrigue in order to find Irisa and Casimir’s missing daughter.

Stephanie Churchill masterfully recreates a medieval world in which kings and lords rule lands and their people. Betrayal is always just round the corner; as is death and destruction if the heroes fail. The lands recreated are described in vivid detail, from the landscapes to the people who occupy them, with their own peculiarities. The sights, sounds and smells draw the reader into the story as much as the characters and the plot lines.

The suspense is palpable as the lead protagonists come up with challenges few could overcome. The tension keeps the reader intrigued to the very end. The King’s Furies has all the elements of a gripping story; a great plot, sympathetic heroes and dastardly bad guys. And it is all beautifully executed to bring you a novel which is truly a pleasure to read.

And impossible to put down!

The King’s Furies is available on Amazon in the UK and the US from today.

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From the author:

I grew up in the American Midwest, and after attending college in Iowa, moved to Washington, D.C. to work as an antitrust paralegal. When my husband and I got married, I moved to the Minneapolis metro area and found work as a corporate paralegal. While I enjoyed reading, writing was never anything that even crossed my mind. I enjoyed reading, but writing? That’s what authors did, and I wasn’t an author.

One day while on my lunch break, I visited the neighboring Barnes & Noble and happened upon a book by author Sharon Kay Penman. I’d never heard of her before, but it looked interested, and I bought the book. Immediately I become a rabid fan of her work.

In 2007, when Facebook was very quickly becoming “a thing”, I discovered that Ms. Penman had fan club and that she happened to interact there frequently. As a result of a casual comment she made about how writers generally don’t get detailed feedback from readers, I wrote her an embarrassingly long review of her latest book, Lionheart. As a result of that review, she asked me what would become the most life-changing question: “Have you ever thought about writing?” And The Scribe’s Daughter was born.

When I’m not writing or taxiing my two children to school or other activities, I’m likely walking Cozmo, our dog, or reading. The rest of my time is spent trying to survive the murderous intentions of Minnesota’s weather.

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from 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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: the Lost Outlaw by Paul Fraser Collard

In the midst of civil war, America stands divided. Jack Lark has faced both armies first hand, but will no longer fight for a cause that isn’t his.†

1863, Louisiana. Jack may have left the battlefield behind, but his gun is never far from reach, especially on the long and lonely road to nowhere. Soon, his skill lands him a job, and a new purpose.

Navy Colt in hand, Jack embarks on the dangerous task of escorting a valuable wagon train of cotton down through Texas to Mexico. Working for another man, let alone a man like the volatile Brannigan, isn’t going to be easy. With the cargo under constant attack, and the Deep South’s most infamous outlaws hot on their trail, Jack knows he is living on borrowed time.

And, as they cross the border, Jack soon discovers that the usual rules of war don’t apply. He will have to fight to survive, and this time the battle might prove one he could lose.

The Lost Outlaw by Paul Fraser Collard is book number 8 in Jack Lark’s incredible adventures.

I have been reading the Jack Lark books from the very first, The Scarlet Thief, and it is not wrong to say that each book is better than the last. Paul Fraser Colard’s writing gets stronger and better every time. And given that The Scarlet Thief was a thoroughly enjoyable book, I have to say that The Lost Outlaw is truly special and a spectacular sequel to Paul Fraser Collard’s last novel, The Rebel Killer.

In The Lost Outlaw our hero finds himself working alongside some of the most ruthless characters ever created in historical fiction, they will stop at nothing to get what they want – including betraying the people closest to them. Jack Lark is an outsider, a loner and a man who, borne of experience, does not give his trust lightly – a trait which he will need if he is going to survive. For Jack, looking for a connection – any connection – riding along with these unsavoury characters is little more than having something to do.

However, it helps him to reawaken his own fighting skills, and his knack for uncovering layers of conspiracy and deceit – and discovering more about himself. The Jack Lark books have always been filled with action, adventure and enough suspense to keep any reader gripped; but the new layers that the lead protagonists, the depths of his own abilities and issues, add a deeper perspective and go further to defining the motives behind Jack’s actions and adventures.

He was spared finding a reply by the sound of voices. He braced himself, sure that what was to follow would set down a marker for the weeks and perhaps months to come.

The men he had heard arrived on a wave of noise, one that got louder as they swaggered into the cottage, every man sure of his place and his right to be there. To Jack, it seemed that they were all talking at once, their voices brash and overly loud, as if they were well aware of the display they made and were proud of it.

One went straight to the wooden dresser and grabbed two bottles of whiskey, then swept up as many glasses as he could hold in a single hand. He dumped them carelessly on the simple table and began to fill each glass in turn, without bothering to lift the bottle, so that a river of spilled whiskey ran across the wood. Eager hands grabbed glasses, the contents tossed quickly down throats before the now empty vessels were slammed back on to the plank of wood for an immediate refill.

Jack watched the men carefully. All were older than him, with grey in both their beards and their hair – if they had any, that was. None looked friendly. They all noted his presence, but not one of them acknowledged him or changed their manner. A few greeted Kat with a curt nod or a smile, but there was nothing more, no leers or propositions or ribald comments. Their reaction made it clear that she was part of the gang, yet there was something more in the guarded expressions being sent her way, as if she were somehow a danger, too.

In previous books, Jack Lark has come across as an opportunist, an impostor, pretending to be someone else to get what he wants. In The Lost Outlaw he is finally beginning to peel away the years of deception to find out for himself who he is. That is not to say that such deep reflection leaves the reader with a melodrama or a slower-paced book than Jack Lark’s previous adventures. No. Jack is learning about his own morals, standards and faults amidst an eventful wagon train to the Mexican border and encounters with the most ruthless outlaws anyone is likely to come across.

Jack Lark is thrown into a little known part of history, a subplot of the American Civil War which was all knew to me and which held a fascination all of its own. It was fascinating to learn of the outlaw, profiteering bands of those areas of America that were truly inhospitable – and where most people would avoid like the plague.

The Lost Outlaw is – as with every book I’ve read by Paul Fraser Collard – impossible to put down. It is a story full of action and intrigue that leaves the reader thirsty for more. The author recreates the atmosphere of the desert – the dust, the desolation and the desperate characters that inhabit it – with a skill few authors can match.

This is truly his best book, yet.

Can’t wait for the next instalment of Jack Lark’s adventures.

The Lost Outlaw is available from Amazon in the UK from 25 July 2019.

About the Author:

Paul’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. This fascination led to a desire to write and his series of novels featuring the brutally courageous Victorian rogue and imposter Jack Lark burst into life in 2013. Since then Paul has continued to write, developing the Jack Lark series to great acclaim. To find out more about Paul and his novels visit http://www.paulfrasercollard.com or find him on twitter @pfcollard.

My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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, on Kindle and in hardback, from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.


Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Book Corner: All Things Georgian by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Take a romp through the long eighteenth-century in this collection of 25 short tales. Marvel at the Queen s Ass, gaze at the celestial heavens through the eyes of the past and be amazed by the equestrian feats of the Norwich Nymph. Journey to the debauched French court at Versailles, travel to Covent Garden and take your seat in a box at the theatre and, afterwards, join the mile-high club in a new-fangled hot air balloon. Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals as we travel through the Georgian era in all its glorious and gruesome glory. In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1830 and set within the framework of the main events of the era, these tales are accompanied by over 100 stunning colour illustrations.

I have to say that All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Crammed full of glossy, colourful paintings and photographs, it is impossible for the reader not to appreciate how aesthetically pleasing this book is. It is a pleasure to browse through, just to appreciate the gorgeous images scattered throughout the book.

Having said that, the images are not all this book has to offer. All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is co-written by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden and is replete with some of the best stories from the eighteenth century; scandals, love stories and mysteries fill the pages. The most amazing characters of the Georgian era complement the colourful photos; from Marie Antoinette to ‘Crazy Sally’, from coffee shop rivalries, to smuggling, female jockeys and intrepid balloon rides.

This book has stories to entertain everyone.

On the evening of 20 June 1791, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France, together with their children and a handful of trusted attendants, made an ill-fated attempt to escape the revolutionary forces who were keeping them closely watched. The plan had taken many weeks to bring to fruition and the French queen, to whom it was inconceivable that she should survive without the everyday luxuries with which she was surrounded, had been engaged in smuggling various items to the safety of her sister in Brussels. AN infamous Scottish courtesan played a key role in one of these transactions, risking her life in Marie Antoinette’s service.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott, tall, willowy and stunningly beautiful, had gained her notoriety following a very public Criminal Conversation trial and divorce from her portly little husband, Dr (later Sir) John Eliot; Grace had been discovered in a Berkeley Row bagnio with her lover, the worthless Viscount Valentia who soon after discarded his mistress. The handsome Earl of Cholmondeley became her protector; tall and athletic, he was the perfect match for Grace, and the two made an attractive if slightly disreputable couple but, when a countess’s coronet was not forthcoming, Grace left for France and the arms of Louis XVI’s cousin, Louis Philippe Joseph, Duke d’ Orléans (later known as Philippe Egalité). A brief interlude back in London followed where grace bagged the affections of the young Prince of Wales and gained a permanent memento of her royal dalliance in the person of her daughter, Georgiana, who the future monarch privately – if not publicly – acknowledged as his child. The Earl of Cholmondeley became the child’s guardian and Grace, with an annuity from the royal purse, returned to her French duke, only to become trapped in Paris during the French Revolution. …

Sarah Murden and Joanne Major have done a wonderful job of recreating the Georgian world. The language is beautiful, the stories both exciting and entertaining; and scattered with just the right amount of famous and infamous people to make the reader go ‘ooh!’. The two authors are so in sync that it is impossible to discern which story is told by one of the writers and which by the other.

I usually read through books as quickly as possible, devouring them, so-to-speak. However, with All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century I have taken my time, read only one or two of the fabulous stories at a time. Reading this book is a truly pleasurable experience, and I wanted to take my time and savour every moment.

All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden is a wonderful little treasure trove of stories and facts, brought to life in beautiful prose and accompanied by glorious images. Well researched and beautifully presented, it would be a stunning addition to any library – it even smells special!

All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is available from Amazon UK and US.

About the authors:

Joanne Major and Sarah Murden are supersleuthing historians who enjoy bringing the Georgian era to life. Their lives were changed forever when they (metaphorically) met an eighteenth-century courtesan, and this is now their fourth book together. Along with their respective families, they live in Lincolnshire.

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from 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.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly



Book Corner: The Devil’s Slave by Tracy Borman

Frances Gorges has already survived the accusation of witchcraft.

But if her torturers at the court of King James knew of her love for Tom Wintour, one of the executed members of the gunpowder plot, it would mean certain death.

Pregnant with Tom’s child, hiding under the reluctant protection of her spiteful and ambitious brother, Frances lives in fear – until she is offered the chance to make a respectable – if loveless – marriage and return to court.

She will not be expected to sleep with her husband. The only price she must pay for safety is to give up the cause for which her lover died.

But old loyalties are hard to deny, and soon Frances is drawn back into the snake-pit scheming of the factions trying to take the throne.

Everywhere she turns, it seems that someone has the power to force her deeper into danger until, all too late, Frances hears the warnings of her own heart.

Compelling, sensual, suspenseful, The Devil’s Slave is a standalone sequel to The King’s Witch and further evidence that one of our finest historians is also a brilliant novelist.

Another stunning instalment of the Frances Gorges story from Tracy Borman. The young woman who barely escaped the fallout of the Gunpowder Plot with her life is once again drawn into the intrigues of the fledgling Stuart court. Skilled with herbs and a secret Catholic make her twice the target for the staunchly protestant witch-hunter King James and his minister, Robert Cecil. Frances’s return to court with her husband and son sees her trying to negotiate her way through the various Catholic plots that surround the crown and court.

Tracy Borman weaves a tale that is fraught with tension, with danger lurking around every corner, or behind every rose bush. At times, it seems that everyone is a chameleon – and no one is as they seem. And, just like the heroine, the reader is drawn into the plots and intrigues of the court. This engaging, entertaining story will keep the reader enthralled until the very last page.

The history and story are effortlessly woven together.

She looked down at her hands as she struggled to maintain her composure. Dorothy reached forward and took them in her own. ‘I understand your fears, Frances,’ she said softly. ‘These are dangerous times for those of us who share the true faith. I know that you wish to protect your son, as I do mine. But you cannot condemn him – and yourself – to life of falsehood, of heresy. To do so would be to damn him in the next life, as well as this one. You cannot think that is what Tom would have wished for his son.’

‘Tom would have wished him to stay alive!’ Frances cried, the tears now streaming down her cheeks. ‘What would you have me do? Parade him as the son of a condemned traitor? Forfeit his safety, his happiness, his life? And all for what? A cause that died with Tom and the rest?’

Dorothy fell silent, but her grip on Frances’s hands tightened. ‘It did not die, Fraces,’ she said. ‘It is stronger now than ever. The death of Tom and his companions has intensified people’s hatred of this heretic king and drawn thousands more to our cause. I don not speak out of blind faith,’ she continued, as if reading Frances’s thoughts. ‘We have learned from the lessons of the past. Cecil’s spies are now outnumbered by those of our cause. How do you suppose I was able to find out about my nephew? The time is almost ripe to act. We have powerful supporters at court, and the King of Spain stands in readiness with a huge army.’

Frances’s mind was reeling…

Tracy Borman’s vast knowledge of the Stuart court and the various royal palaces in which The Devil’s Slave is set, serve to add a level of authenticity into the story that is rarely seen in a novel, whilst the subtlety in delivering the facts avoids giving the reader a lecture in Stuart history. The blend of fact and fiction is indistinguishable, leaving the reader with many avenues of research to pursue later, if they are so inclined.

The locations of lavish palaces, manor houses and the Tower of London are recreated in great detail. Tracy Borman uses her extensive knowledge to rebuild the Stuart world for the modern reader. The prose is a pleasure to read and devour, while the plot delves deep into the dark corners of Stuart history.

However, her greatest creations in the book are the characters, whether real or imagined. The personalities of Sir Walter Raleigh and Arbella Stuart, alongside the various members of the royal family, are wonderfully deep, complex individuals who serve to add spice and colour to an already fabulous story. The heroine, Frances Gorges, is a woman with whom many can feel empathy. Drawn into the various intrigues much against her inclination, but with a desire to protect her family, she is forced to navigate her way through the various dangers, always with the knowledge of what faces her should she fail.

The Devil’s Slave, as with The King’s Witch, is a story that is not to be missed. For the reader, it provides a truly enjoyable sojourn in the realm of early Stuart England and must appeal to all with an interest in history, intrigue and adventure. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

The Devil’s Slave by Tracy Borman is available from Amazon.

About the Author:

Tracy Borman is joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces and Chief Executive of the Heritage Education Trust. She studied and taught history at the University of Hull and was awarded a PhD in 1997. 

Tracy is the author of a number of highly acclaimed books, including Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant, Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England, Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen and Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction. Tracy is also a regular broadcaster and public speaker, giving talks on her books across the UK and abroad. She lives in Surrey with her daughter.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from 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.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Odin’s Game by Tim Hodkinson

Orkney, 931: A young woman flees her home to secure a life for her unborn child. Eighteen years later, a witch foretells that she must lose him once more.

The subject of a Viking prophecy, it is Einar’s destiny to leave Iceland and fight his father – of whom only only one will survive.

As the clouds of war gather, he will fight unimaginable foes, forge new friendships, and discover what it truly means to be a warrior.

Not everyone will survive, but who will conquer all?

Odin’s Game by Tim Hodkinson is a wonderful, involved story, weaving a tale from the icy chill of Iceland to the dramatic landscape of Ireland, with a sojourn on the Orkneys in between. It tells the story of a young man’s journey to become a warrior, whilst uncovering the secrets of his parentage. It is not a straight forward journey. Fraught with danger, and the clash of two worlds and two religions, the Christian and the Norse gods, young Einar must fight for survival.

The characters are believable and wholly original. The reader is drawn into their troubles and finds themselves cheering on the ragtag crew that the hero, Einar, has found himself attached to. These are violent times, with war and intrigue being practically the norm. Betrayal is only ever just around the corner and it is a testament to the strength of the story in the the novel that the reader never quite knows from where the betrayal will come – nor from where the hero, Einar, will get his strength and support. Einar has to face a steep learning curve if he is to survive and prosper.

‘My mother’s Irish,’ Einar said. ‘When I was young, she used to tell me stories about it. I suppose ever since then I’ve had this notion of going there. She never talks about it now.’

Asmundarsson stopped his horse. Einar reined his own to a halt to avoid riding into the back of him. They had reached a wider part of the path where a long, flat rock stretched out, overhanging the precipice that dropped down to the icy waters of the tumbling river below.

‘Irish?’ The merchant whipped his head round and fixed Einar with a glare, his eyes narrowed. Einar was taken aback by this sudden change in demeanour. ‘I was told there’s a farm here run by an Irishwoman who works it all by herself.’

‘That’s my mother, Unn Kjartinsdottir,’ Einar said, his feelings of pride mixing with confusion and unease at the intensity with which the merchant was looking at him. ‘I help her, of course.’

To his further surprise, Asmundarsson’s expression changed again. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped open, making his mouth gape amid the grey hairs of his plaited beard.

‘It’s you …’ the merchant breathed.

As if from nowhere, mean appeared all round them. They scrambled up from behind rocks above the path. Several more jumped up on the path ahead. They wore iron helmets and their faces were masked behind helmet visors, they crouched behind the cover of round iron-bound shields. They bore spears.

Einar felt as if he was frozen. Fear and shock locked him to the saddle. His chest was so tight he could not breathe in.

‘It’s trouble, lad!’ Asmundarsson shouted, wheeling his horse to ride back the way they had come. There were other men close behind them and Einar realised they must have been waiting, hidden, for them to pass by then jumped out onto the path to block their escape. Asmundarsson could go nowhere.

The little details demonstrate the extent to which the author has obviously researched the history and customs of the Norsemen. Weapons and fighting techniques are as accurate as any I have read; as are the finer details of clothing, customs and the relationships between the Norwegians, Irish and the Icelanders. The result for the reader is a total immersion into the unfolding story. The landscape is just as absorbing as the characters in the novel. You can practically feel the cold seeping into your bones in Iceland; or the damp, harsh conditions of Ireland.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable story that will draw the reader in from the opening pages. One of the most unpredictable stories I have read in recent times, it will keep you on your toes, wondering what will happen next and whether any will get out alive. The tension is palpable!

If you enjoy a good, original story, full of action and intrigue, and a bag full of tension – this is the book for you!

Odin’s Game is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, twisting and turning in unexpected ways as the story unfolds. And, like all good stories, the ending does not exactly turn out as the reader would guess, leaving you wanting more. I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of a wonderful series of adventures fro Einar and his companions. It was a delight to read every page.

About the Author

Tim Hodkinson grew up in Northern Ireland where the rugged coast and call of the Atlantic ocean led to a lifelong fascination with vikings and a degree in Medieval English and Old Norse Literature. Apart from Old Norse sagas, Tim’s more recent writing heroes include Ben Kane, Giles Kristian, Bernard Cornwell, George RR Martin and Lee Child. After several years New Hampshire, USA, Tim has returned to Northern Ireland, where he lives with his wife and children.

Follow Tim:

Twitter: @TimHodkinson

Pre-order links:

Amazon; iBooks; Kobo; Google Play.

Follow Aria

Website: www.ariafiction.com; Twitter: @aria_fiction; Facebook: @ariafiction; Instagram: @ariafiction

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from 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.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Echoes of Treason by Derek Birks

It is autumn 1483 and Richard III is king of England, but rumours about the fate of his nephews are rife and dissent is beginning to grow. Waiting in Brittany, is the exiled Lancastrian heir to the throne, Henry Tudor, who senses that his moment has come. Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Stanley, plots to restore her son’s fortunes with a series of revolts against King Richard.
After the disastrous events of the summer, the embattled Elder family is scattered and in hiding. The outlawed head of the family, John, has escaped to Flanders along with a few loyal comrades, his sister, Meg, and his lover, Isabel. But the Elders will not be left to lick their wounds for long, because William Catesby, influential servant of King Richard, has made it his mission to destroy them.
When Lady Stanley tries to draw the Elders into the Tudor rebellion, John must decide whether he can cast aside his long-held Yorkist loyalties. Should he join Henry Tudor under the banner of St. George and the dragon of Wales?
It is the devil’s choice: poverty and a life in exile, or the slim chance of returning home by the fickle path of treason.

The first thing I have to say about Echoes of Treason by Derek Birks is wow! Not just for the story, but for such a stunning book cover!

I have been a fan of Derek Birks’ work since his first book, Feud, introduced us to the Elder family in 2013. The first 4-book series, Rebel and Brothers was a refreshing new take on the Wars of the Roses era, combining national politics and war with the Elder family’s own challenges and enemies.

Echoes of Treason is the 3rd book in Derek Birks’ wonderful new series, The Craft of Kings, set during the reign of King Richard III, and following the younger generation of the Elder family, once again caught up in England’s drama. As with all Derek’s books, Echoes of Treason takes you on a fast-paced journey through medieval history, every page crammed with action and intrigue. This time we journey from Flanders to Brittany and on to England, coming face to face with enemies both old and new.

With her attention on the stall, Meg barely noticed the young woman who suddenly lurched forward and stumbled heavily into Isabel, knocking her to the ground. Torn between helping Isabel up and berating the clumsy woman who had come to rest at the feet of Thomas, Meg hesitated. Her eyes were drawn to the poor woman’s bloodstained kirtle and shift which had been torn open at the front to reveal more than a glimpse of two full, bare breasts.

Before Meg could move, however, a firm hand was clamped upon her mouth and she was lifted off her feet. Cursing her own folly, Meg was borne away, squirming, into one of the many small alleys leading away from the market. Too much time talking and not enough watching those around her! God’s teeth, she was usually so careful! She should have seen her attacker coming, love-besotted fool that she now was!

Her captor slammed her against a wall which ran alongside the alley, his hand still over her mouth. First things first, thought Meg, biting one of his fingers as hard as she could. While he was yelping in pain, she twisted half out of his grasp and reached down to her boot. But he recovered swiftly and they grappled with each other in a whirling flurry of arms until his greater strength enabled him to pin her to the wall once more with his hand around her neck. With his other hand he held a knife at her breast but she simply glared back at him, two sapphire eyes boring into his.

To her surprise, he sought to reassure her. “Don’t be alarmed, girl; you’ve no need to be frightened; I’ll not hurt you.”

But far from being afraid, Meg was just warming to her work. “Put up your blade,” she warned.

he gave a shake of the head until she pressed the point of the knife she had retrieved from her boot against his neck. Now, for the first time, she had his full attention.

“By Christ, little girl!” he cried. “Have a care with that knife!”

Echoes of Treason follows the Elder family into exile, following on from The Blood of Princes and John Elder’s attempts to rescue the Prince in the Tower. From the first pages, in exile in Bruges, to a dramatic return to England’s shores, the action is fast-paced, on land and sea. The author shows his wide breadth of knowledge of the era by incorporating actual events and characters who played leading roles in the history. There is a fabulous interview with Henry Tudor that leaves you smiling for days!

The tension is palpable on every page and builds to a crescendo as the story drives inexorably to the last, desperate fight. The plot, moreover, is as well thought out as the action and drags the Elder family into the intrigues and machinations of those fighting for the crown itself, and their scheming lackeys!

My favourite character in any Derek Birks book is Lady Eleanor Elder. Eleanor has become a bit of a heroine of mine; she is no weak-willed woman and fights with her wits and whatever weapon is to hand, whenever she is backed into a corner. It is a credit to the author that he has let this amazing woman take on a life of her own in the story, despite not being the lead character. She deserves a story of her own (hint, hint!)

I loved this book from the first page to the last. My only complaint is that I found it harder to write my own whilst I was reading it – I found myself drifting off into the Wars of the Roses and wondering how the Elders would get themselves out of the impossible predicament Derek Birks had sent them into. It is only when the last page has been turned that you can breathe a sigh of relief and one of regret, that the book finished too soon!

About the author:

Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand where he still has strong family ties.
For many years he taught history in a secondary school in Berkshire but took early retirement several years ago to concentrate on his writing.
Apart from writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.

Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the later Medieval period. He aims to write action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. His debut historical novel, Feud, is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a four-book series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family.
The other books of the series are (in order): A Traitor’s Fate, Kingdom of Rebels and The Last Shroud.

The first book of a brand new series, Scars From the Past, is now out in both kindle and paperback.
His books are available on Amazon in the UK and US.
You can find Derek at;
Amazon
Blog
Facebook
Twitter 

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from 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.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Toni Mount to History … the Interesting Bits with a fascinating guest article based on her new novel The Colour of Lies.

Silk-women, femmes soles and Ellen Langwith

In my latest Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Lies, set in London in the 1470s, the adventure involves Seb’s wife, Emily, and her fellow silk-women. We meet Dame Ellen Langton once more – she has appeared in most of the novels in The Colour of … series – a character closely based on a real life London silk-woman of the period: Ellen Langwith. In this article, we will look at the lives of Ellen and other silk-women of London, what their work required and how they organised their business.

Silk manufacture has always involved a sequence of skilled processes. Firstly, the silk filaments had to be wound off the cocoons by heating the cocoons in water to loosen the natural glue (sericin) which holds the silk together. Then, as the loosened ends floated free, the raw silk could be unravelled and wound on to spools. The fineness of the silk depended on how many filaments were wound together, a single filament being too fine to work with; four was usual. This part of the process was done at source – southern Spain, the Middle East or even farther afield – because the cocoons were too fragile to transport, so it was traded as these reels of raw silk. During the medieval period, England didn’t weave her own silk textiles: these luxurious cloths always had to be imported, but London did have its own thriving industry run by silk-women. They converted the raw silk into yarn, a process called ‘throwing’, then wove the thrown threads into ribbons, laces and girdles, making up hairnets, decorative fringes and tassels. To learn the craft of silk weaving, a young woman had to serve a long apprenticeship – usually seven years. Some London silk-women ran extensive workshops, taking apprentices from as far away as Yorkshire.

It would seem from the statutes of the City of London for the 1450s that silk working was strictly a woman’s business, unlike embroidery, knitting or even laundering, because the statutes say:

…Many a worshipful woman within the city has lived full honourably and therewith many good households kept, and many gentlewomen and others, more than a thousand, have been apprenticed under them in learning the same craft of silk making.

The language of the statutes implies that this craft was carried out by the most respectable women and was seen as a suitable occupation for ladies of gentility, as well as bringing in sufficient profits that ‘many good households’ depended upon it for their livelihood. Since it was so important, it is surprising the craft never formed its own formal guild, probably because men weren’t involved in the work. Instead, the silk-women regulated and co-operated among themselves, very much as guild members would have done, but unofficially. Having completed her apprenticeship, instead of being admitted to a company of fellow artisans, the young woman would remain with her mistress until she was able to marry and set up her own shop and, maybe, take on apprentices of her own, to pass on her skills.

The London silk-women carried out each skilled process of their craft and trade. As throwsters, they turned raw silk into yarn; as weavers, they produced ribbons, laces, and other small silk goods; as craftworkers, they made up silk laces and other trappings; and as traders in silk, they undertook large and lucrative contracts. This work wasn’t a mere sideline to domestic duties, something a wife pursued in moments free from housework, child care and labour in her husband’s workshop. Wives often continued to work in silk, no matter what the occupations of their husbands. It was a craft with secrets of production and trade passed on from mistress to apprentice. The women ran workshops, invested large amounts of money in purchases of raw materials and trading ventures, often continuing throughout their working lives. They also banded together for mutual aid. On six occasions between 1368 and 1504, the London silk-women sought protection for their craft through petitions (presented to either Parliament or the Lord Mayor of London), and many of their requests were granted.

Most working women were regarded, by law, as being ‘covered’ by their husbands and, therefore, in records of court cases, business contracts and debt collection, the activities of these women are, literally, concealed from view under their husbands’ names. The legal term is femmes couvertes and such women only appear in the records once they are ‘uncovered’ on becoming widows. But some women preferred to run their businesses in their own right, as femmes soles, even when their husbands were still alive, particularly in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – perhaps this has some connection to the advent of the plague, when so many social changes were underway. In this case, the women were responsible for their own debts and could be sued through the courts. On the positive side, any profits made were theirs, not their husbands’, and they could sue others if money was owed to them or a contract was reneged upon to their loss. Silk-women were among those who opted to be femmes soles – with their husbands’ permission, of course. Often their husbands were merchants, especially mercers, who brought in the reels of raw silk for their wives along with other textiles imported from abroad.

Ellen Langwith – we don’t know her maiden name – probably came from Beckenham in Kent to London, to serve an apprenticeship as a silk-woman, sometime in the early fifteenth century. Her first husband, Philip Waltham, was a cutler who also owned a brewhouse: ‘Le Hertishorne’, just outside Newgate. But Ellen was already a successful silk-woman. In his will of 1425, Philip named his three apprentices: Agnes Walshale, Agnes Sampson and Alice Dunnowe, leaving them 6s 8d each on the condition that they behaved courteously, in both word and deed, towards his wife Ellen, their mistress, at whose discretion the money was to be given. From the wording of the will, it is impossible to say whether the three girls were apprenticed as cutlers or silk-women. Perhaps they were making high fashion silk scabbards for the knives Philip manufactured. Ellen was a widow by May 1426, the main executor of her husband’s will, sole owner of all his movable goods and the Hartshorn brewery.

By 1437, she had married again. Her second husband was John Langwith, a well-established London tailor who had become a freeman of the city in 1418 and took on his first apprentices in 1425. Since masters were required to have wives to care for the apprentices, it seems probable that John had been married previously, before he wed Ellen since, at this date, she was still Philip Waltham’s wife. John was elected Master of the Tailors’ Company in 1444 and, in the summer of 1445, he led the company in the elaborate processions to welcome Margaret of Anjou to London as the bride of Henry VI. The tailors spent £3 on blue livery gowns for the Master and Wardens to look their impressive best for the occasion. Did Ellen supply any silken trimmings for the robes? We don’t know, but that year she was admitted, free of charge, to the Tailors’ Fraternity of St John the Baptist. It was in the chapel of St John the Baptist, in their parish church of St Mary Abcurch, that both John and, later, Ellen would be buried. The Langwiths lived in a tenement on the north side of Candlewick Street, one of a group of properties, owned by John, which shared a courtyard.

After marrying John, in 1439, Ellen was one of a group of London silk-women who bought £30 worth of silk from Venetian merchants visiting the capital. In February 1443, she purchased a fardell (a bundle) of silk for herself at the incredible cost of £60 11s 8d, showing how her business had grown. Ellen certainly had apprentices but may also have distributed work to others, to do at home. At this time, another silk-woman, Katherine Dore, was putting out work to women living in Soper Lane. While John was training lads as apprentice tailors, one indenture for a girl survives: Elizabeth Eland was taken on in July 1454 by both John and Ellen, to train as a silk-woman. She may have joined other girls under Ellen’s tutelage; if so, their indentures haven’t survived. We don’t know whether Elizabeth completed her apprenticeship or what happened to her. She isn’t mentioned in Ellen’s will but that’s not surprising since it wasn’t drawn up until 1481, twenty-one years after Elizabeth should have finished her training.

In 1465, Ellen gained royal patronage when she was commissioned to supply silk banners and trappings for the saddle and pillion for Edward IV’s queen, for her coronation. Ellen had to deliver the goods ‘into the hands of Thomas Vaughn one of the esquires of our [the king’s] body to the use of our most dear and entirely beloved Queen…’ and was paid £27 10s. John Langwith died in July 1467 and, like Philip Waltham before him, made Ellen his executrix, leaving her responsible for an ‘estate of lands’ at Beckenham in Kent which may have been her own inheritance. Ellen was now a very wealthy widow without an heir so she too drew up a will, though she would outlive John by over thirteen years. Her will was artfully worded: she left much of her property to the Tailors’ Company with the proviso that if they failed in its adequate administration, all would be forfeit to the Cutlers. In this way, she was well favoured by both companies, invited to their feasts on special occasions and sent gifts of food and wine to keep them in mind. In 1476, the tailors spent 2s on a pike and wine for Mistress Ellen Langwith, while the less wealthy cutlers sent her a rabbit and a hen costing 8d.

In her will, Ellen left 10s to pay for her funeral in St Mary Abchurch which included money to the parish clerk to ring the bells. There were alms to the poor and the Tailors’ Company was to use money from the rents paid to them from the Langwith properties, to buy 26 quarters of coal for thirteen poor men and women of the parish, on the anniversary of Ellen’s death. Before she died – sometime between January and June 1481 – she left an additional, modest will, leaving most of her household goods to her current apprentice, John Brown (presumably an apprentice tailor). She leaves a bequest of 40s to Richard Wiott, the son of a shearman, when he should come of age, and money and goods to her servants, John England and Emmott Bynchester. Otherwise, all her bequests are made to women: Margaret, wife of John Wareng, one of her two executors, is to have a gold ring set with a diamond and an image of Our Lady from Ellen’s chamber; Mary, wife of John Jakes the draper, the second executor, is to have her blue silk girdle with silver gilt decorations. Katherine, wife of Hugh Pemberton, the overseer of Ellen’s will, is to receive a gold ring set with turquoise. A gown of black medley (a wool mixture?), trimmed with white lamb, was left to her cousin Mistress Bowyer of Northampton, and her best blue gown, trimmed with marten fur, was bequeathed to another cousin, Mistress Bounesley of Nottingham. Her personal belongings and considerable household goods and furnishings, mentioned in her will, suggest Ellen was a prosperous and dignified elderly woman who had had a very successful career, whether as the wife of a cutler and a tailor, or as a craftswoman in her own right.

In my new novel, The Colour of Lies, Emily and the other silk-women set up a profitable stall at St Bartholomew’s Fair and Dame Ellen Langton is going to name one of them as her successor in taking on her business. All is going well for them until an accident occurs… It’s down to Emily’s husband, Seb, to solve the mystery and get the silk-women out of trouble.

If readers would like to know more about silk-women and many other craftsmen, traders and life in medieval England in general, there is a series of online courses available from medievalcourses.com which includes The Roles of Medieval and Tudor Women and Everyday Lives of Medieval Folk. There are also my books, both published by Amberley, Everyday Life in Medieval London, which was chosen as ‘the best factual history book of 2014’ by GoodReads, and A Year in the Life of Medieval England, among other titles. All are available from Amazon as both Kindle, hardback and paperback editions.

About the Author

Toni Mount MA

Toni is a history teacher, a writer, and an experienced public speaker – and describes herself as an enthusiastic life-long-learner; she is a member of the Richard III Society Research Committee and a library volunteer, where she leads the creative writing group.

Toni attended Gravesend Grammar School and originally studied chemistry at college. She worked as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry before stopping work to have her family. Inspired by Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour Toni decided she too wanted to write a Richard III novel, which she did, but back in the 1980s was told there was no market for more historic novels and it remains unpublished.

Having enjoyed history as a child she joined an adult history class and ultimately started teaching classes herself. Her BA (with First-class Honours), her Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. Toni’s Certificate in Education (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich. She earned her Masters degree from the University of Kent in 2009 by the study of a medieval medical manuscript at the Wellcome Library.

After submitting an idea for her first book, about the lives of ordinary people in the middle-ages, Everyday Life in Medieval London was published in 2014 by Amberley Publishing – the first print run sold out quickly and it was voted ‘Best history book of the year’ at Christmas 2014 on Goodreads.com. The Medieval Housewife was published in November 2014 and Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark, the mysteries of medieval medicine (later renamed in paperback as Medieval Medicine it mysteries and science) was first released in May 2015. A Year in The life of Medieval England, a diary of everyday incidents through an entire year, was published in 2016.

Having taught history to adults madeglobal.com recruited her to create a range of online history courses for medievalcourses.com, but she still wanted to write a medieval novel: The Colour of Poison the first Sebastian Foxley murder mystery was the result, published by madeglobal in 2016. Shortly before publication Tim at madeglobal asked if this was going to be a series – although nothing else was planned, Toni said “yes” and now The Colour of Lies (published in April 2019) is the seventh book in that series.

Toni is married with two grown up children and lives with her husband in Kent, England. When she is not writing, teaching or speaking to history groups – or volunteering – she reads endlessly, with several books on the go at any one time. She is currently working on The Colour of Shadows the next Sebastian Foxley murder mystery and The World of Isaac Newton, her next non-fiction.

Her websites include: http://www.ToniMount.com http://www.SebastianFoxley.com http://www.ToniTalks.co.uk

You can follow Toni on social media at: http://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10 http://www.facebook.com/sebfoxley/ http://www.facebook.com/medievalengland/ http://www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Toni Mount