Book Corner: Vikings to Virgin by Trisha Hughes

In Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of Being King Trisha Hughes provides the reader with a pacey introduction to the many pitfalls faced by the ambitious as they climbed the dangerous ladders of royalty. It is easy to think that monarchs are all powerful, but throughout the Dark and Middle Ages it was surprisingly easy to unseat one and assume the crown yourself. But if it was easy to gain … it was just as easy to lose.
From the dawn of the Vikings through to Elizabeth I, Trisha Hughes follows the violent struggles for power and the many brutal methods employed to wrest it and keep hold of it. Murder, deceit, treachery, lust and betrayal were just a few of the methods used to try and win the crown. Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of Being King spans fifteen hundred years and is a highly accessible and enjoyable ride through the dark side of early British monarchy.

Vikings to Virgin Book  1: The Hazards of Being King by Trisha Hughes is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining introduction to English history. Fast-paced and accessible it relates England’s history in a chronological narrative, from the time of the Viking invasions to Elizabeth I, arguably England’s greatest queen.

In England, the story of our kings tells the history of the country and its people. From the likes of  Alfred the Great and Edward the Martyr, through Henry II to Richard III and Queen Elizabeth I herself, the monarchs defined England’s history and the direction that was taken by its people. Trisha Hughes shows us that journey, pointing out where paths deviated, where events overtook the king and the people asserted themselves, such as Magna Carta and what could have been.

A great introduction to the length, depth and breadth of English history. Telling the story of each king in turn, it gives you their highs and lows, what they are famous for and the good, the bad and the despicable of each era. The author’s depth of knowledge of English history allows her to tell us the story of each king in turn, from the Saxons, the Danes, the Normans and Plantagenets, through to the Tudors, giving each monarch her personal attention and a fair appraisal of their achievements, failures and character, but giving no quarter to the ruthless and the weak alike.

By all accounts, Maud was remarkable. She was said to “have the nature of a man in the frame of a woman.” Fierce, proud, hard and cynical, her love of politics overshadowed all other passions. But Maud was with her husband in Anjou when Henry died and Stephen was first on the spot. Stephen also had an advantage – his brother was Bishop of Winchester with a great voice in council and with this backup, the barons stood by him.

The speed with which the aristocracy accepted Stephen was mindboggling and speaks volumes about the rules regarding female queens in the 12th century. The prospect was not a promising one for Maud. There was also the question of who had the most power, and in England at this time in history, succession was still not fully decided by blood alone. If that had been the case, Henry would never have been king in the first place. Henry had snatched the throne from William Rufus, and then stolen the throne from right under his elder brother’s nose while Robert was crusading in Sicily.

It seems that history was repeating itself because Stephen had no real claim since there was an elder brother, Theobald of Blois, whose blood claim was stronger. But Stephen was wealthy, powerful and charming and his wife’s country of Boulogne was important to England.

Trisha Hughes writes as if she is in the room talking to you. Her fun and easy manner makes the book a thoroughly enjoyable read. Her stories are engaging and her knowledge and love of English history shines through in every page. This book gives you the best and worst that English kings had to offer, giving an entertaining commentary and interesting insights into the characters and actions of the various kings and queens. The author’s assessments of the highs and lows of each reign are testament to her love of history and the depth of research she has invested in this marvellous book.

Vikings to Virgin Book  1: The Hazards of Being King can be read and enjoyed by all. It would be incredibly useful to anyone wanting an overview and understanding of the life and times of England’s medieval kings.  Whether reading for fun, or to expand your knowledge, from teenagers to octogenarians, from the amateur history fan to those new to the subject, there is something in this book for everyone.

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About the author: th2Trisha Hughes started her writing career with her autobiography ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ eighteen years ago. The debut novel was first published by Pan Macmillan Australia and became a bestseller in 1997 beating the current Stephen King book to the top 10 bestsellers at the time.  Since then she has discovered a thirst for writing.  She’s written crime novels but her latest book, the first in her ‘V 2 V’ trilogy, ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ is her passion and due for release on 28th February 2017. She is currently working on the second in the series ‘Virgin to Victoria – The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.’

You can connect with Trisha through:  Trisha’s Website: www.trishahughesauthor.com Or: www.vikingstovirgin.com and you can find Trisha on Facebook at Trisha Hughes Author and Twitter at @trishahughes_

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

For a King renowned for his love life, Henry VIII has traditionally been depicted as something of a prude, but the story may have been different for the women who shared his bed. How did they take the leap from courtier to lover, to wife? What was Henry really like as a lover? Henry’s women were uniquely placed to experience the tension between his chivalric ideals and the lusts of the handsome, tall, athletic king; his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, was on one level a fairy-tale romance, but his affairs with Anne Stafford, Elizabeth Carew and Jane Popincourt undermined it early on. Later, his more established mistresses, Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, risked their good names by bearing him illegitimate children. Typical of his time, Henry did not see that casual liaisons might threaten his marriage, until he met the one woman who held him at arm’s length. The arrival of Anne Boleyn changed everything. Her seductive eyes helped rewrite history. After their passionate marriage turned sour, the king rapidly remarried to Jane Seymour. Henry was a man of great appetites, ready to move heaven and earth for a woman he desired; Licence readdresses the experiences of his wives and mistresses in this frank, modern take on the affairs of his heart. What was it really like to be Mrs Henry VIII?

I love the writing style of Amy Licence, she makes history enjoyable and accessible; so much so that when The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII dropped on my doormat I put down what I was reading and jump straight in. And I was not disappointed. A thoroughly fun and entertaining read, this is a book that examines every aspect of Henry VIII’s love life, with particular focus on the women, rather than the king.

No stone remains unturned in Amy Licence’s hunt for the women in Henry’s life. Each rumour is examined in great detail, with comprehensive arguments for or against their actual relationship with Henry. As you would expect, Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon, and the other 4 wives, all find their place within the pages of this book. Bessie Blount and Mary  Boleyn are also discussed in detail. Amy Licence does not judge, she tells their stories, the highs and lows, with great sympathy and compassion. The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII also brings to the fore the less well-known women who have been linked to this most controversial of kings. Etiennette de la Baume, Jane Popincourt and several other, even more obscure, women have their relationships with Henry examined.

Investigations are also made into the claims of the illegitimate children, not only those of the children of Mary Boleyn, but also those less well-known, such as Thomas Stukley and John Perrot. Amy Licence expertly investigates their claims and convincingly argues the truth – or not – of their parentage.

Workshop_of_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Portrait_of_Henry_VIII_-_Google_Art_Project

The watchwords for Mary’s relationship with the king were secrecy and discretion. Yet history has tarnished her with scandal and rumour, insults and aspersions, leaving her with a reputation worthiest of the greatest whore at Henry’s court. Just like so many of the facts of Mary’s life, her real personality and appearance elude us. Historians and novelists have deduced various things from the known dates of her service in France, particularly her comparative lack of education and the circumstances of her marriage, yet these have often raised more questions than they have answered. Mary is illuminated in history by the light that fell upon her sister and she has suffered from the comparison ever since. Sadly her light will always be dimmer, her biography more nebulous.

Amy Licence has a reputation as an excellent researcher and writer, she shines a light into the deepest, darkest corners of the Tudors and, indeed, history itself. In  The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII she brings women into the limelight whose fifteen minutes of fame have long since been extinguished. And that is what is truly amazing about this book, not only are the famous and infamous discussed, but the author also highlights those women who have become footnotes in Henry’s life. Every woman who has been linked to Henry, before and after his death, is examined, as is the veracity of their interractions with the king. She tells their stories, examines their relationship with Henry, the rumours and the truth to them.

Through looking into the women involved, Amy Licence also paints a picture of Henry that is rarely seen; Henry the man and lover, rather than Henry the king. Her diligent research and well-thought out arguments demonstrate Henry’s continual search, not only  for an heir, but for love itself. We discover a complex man, a king who can have whatever he wants in material possessions, but who is continually searching for the immaterial, a son and true love.

The text is supported by over 30 gorgeous, colourful images, photographs and reproductions of paintings which help give the reader an impression of the life and times in which Henry VIII, and the women associated with him, lived. Written in a relaxed narrative, the book is as easy to read as any novel, and as exciting as enjoyable as the best of them. Accessible, engaging and brimming with original research, it would be difficult for anyone to not learn something new when reading this wonderful book.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is a wonderful, exquisitely written investigation into the lives of the women in Henry VIII’s life.

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Amy Licence has been a teacher for over a decade. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles on the Tudors. She is an author and historian of women’s lives in the medieval and Tudor period.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is available on Amazon in the UK and in the US.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Henry by Tony Riches

Bosworth 1485: After victory against King Richard III, Henry Tudor becomes King of England. Rebels and pretenders plot to seize his throne. The barons resent his plans to curb their power and he wonders who he can trust. He hopes to unite Lancaster and York through marriage to the beautiful Elizabeth of York.

With help from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, he learns to keep a fragile peace. He chooses a Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon, as a wife for his son Prince Arthur. His daughters will marry the King of Scotland and the son of the Emperor of Rome. It seems his prayers are answered, then disaster strikes and Henry must ensure the future of the Tudors.

“A fine end to a superbly researched and well-written trilogy, one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in this period of history.” Best-selling author Terry Tyler.

Henry is the final installment of Tony Riches‘ excellent Tudor Trilogy which has followed the rise of the Tudors from Owen’s relationship with Catherine of Valois, through his son, Jasper, and now to his grandson, Henry, the first Tudor king.

Opening as Henry  is victorious at Bosworth, it follows Henry VII from the moment he becomes king, through the many trials and tribulations of kingship and establishing a new dynasty. This is an enjoyable story of one of England’s least loved and most misunderstood English kings. Tony Riches does an excellent job of giving us an entertaining novel while offering the reader an insight into the life and problems of a man who was not born to be king and who knew little of his subjects after spending his entire adult life in exile in Brittany.

I love the fact that Henry is not the finished product from the very beginning. The author has thought hard about how a man, who suddenly becomes king, may act when feeling his way through the maze of court politics, factions and family divisions, and the actual day-to-day challenges of ruling a country that has suffered 30 years of intermittent warfare and political instability.

Henry paints a portrait of Henry as a man who grew into his role as king, learning from his mistakes and facing up to his insecurities; insecurities arising not from his right to the throne, but from the challenges facing him and not knowing what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Henry Tudor is portrayed as a all-too-human; a man whose decisions about others way on his soul, but are made to ensure the security of himself and his family. He walks a  fine line in an attempt to appease his opponents whilst establishing his authority – and his dynasty.

‘On what grounds do we imprison young Edward Plantagenet?’

Jasper sat in the spare chair and the stubble on his chin as he considered the question. He’d chosen to shave his beard on the journey from Wales. He looked younger clean-shaven, but a beard suited his uncle, and Henry guessed he was already growing it back.

‘King Richard considered the young earl enough of a threat to declare him illegitimate.’

Henry allowed himself a smile. ‘King Richard declared everyone illegitimate, other than himself. Young Edward is a cousin of Princess Elizabeth.’

Jasper returned his smile. ‘Half of England is related to the Woodvilles one way or another.’ His face became serious. ‘We need time, Henry. Time to win over the doubters. We could say it is for young Edward’s own safety?’

Henry picked up his quill and dipped it in Mayor Olney’s inkpot before signing the warrant. ‘We must ensure the boy is well treated – I wish no harm to him.’

Henry is the story of one man’s life and kingship. Moments of crisis and sincerity are interspersed with little moments of tenderness and humour. Tony Riches has taken time to seriously consider the character of his subject, and this comes across in every page of the book. He seems to have spent no less time on the supporting characters. Jasper Tudor and Margaret Beaufort, who have played prominent parts in all 3  book of the Tudor Trilogy are pivotal characters and are well thought out, complex figures. Henry respects them deeply and is well aware of the sacrifices they have made that got him to the throne. Each character in the book is credible, believable, and has his, or her, own unique qualities. The headstrong future king, Henry VIII is wonderfully contrasted with quiet and studious Prince Arthur, while the delightful Mary Tudor steals every scene in which she appears.

thumbnail_Late 16th-century copy of a portrait of Henry VII - Wikimedia Commons
Henry VII

The novel tells the story of Henry and Elizabeth with sensitivity and compassion; charting their life together from the first moments of getting to know each other, through the births and deaths of their children, and the toll that takes on them, not only as individuals, but also as a couple. Indeed, the author seriously considers the effect that being king must have had on Henry’s family life, the compromises he had to make. You get the impression that the poor chap never had enough time in the day to do everything he wanted and that every personal loss takes away a little part of him.

‘I like it here.’ He reached across and took her white-gloved hand in his. ‘We shall make Sheen into a palace fit for a royal family.’

Elizabeth squeezed his hand in agreement. ‘I would like that.’ She gave him a conspiratorial look. This is my most secret place. A sanctuary.’

Henry stared into her bright amber eyes. ‘You spent many months in sanctuary … yet you’ve never spoken of it?’

‘At first I didn’t understand the danger we were in.’ She stared, wide-eyed, into the far distance as she remembered. ‘My mother made a game of it, said it would be a great adventure. Years later she told me my father abandoned us and she thought our enemies might murder us all.’

There are many novels set during the Wars of the Roses. The huge majority revolve around Richard III and the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. If a novel sees Richard III as a hero, then you can practically guarantee that Henry Tudor is the villain. With Henry, you would therefore be forgiven for expecting the opposite; Henry the hero and Richard the villain.  Richard, of course, gets mentioned, but the story does not revolve around the fallen king and his guilt or innocence, rather it puts him firmly where he was when Henry was king – in the past!

As a novel, Tony Riches has created a fast-paced, enjoyable tale that is virtually impossible to put down – at least until your eyelids are so heavy they need matchsticks to hold them up. It also gives you a deeper understanding of the founder of the Tudor dynasty. I defy anyone – except, maybe, the most ardent of Yorkists – to read this book and not develop a deeper understanding of Henry VII, of the challenges he faced and compromises he made in order to secure peace for the realm and the continuation of his dynasty. Henry is a must-read book for anyone who has a love  of medieval history, the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors.

Although part of a series, Henry can definitely be read as a standalone. Entertaining and insightful, it tells a story that has rarely been told – the one from Henry’s own viewpoint. This is the story of the foundation of, arguably, England’s most famous royal house – and is not to be missed!

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Ten Things You Might Not Know About Henry Tudor, by Tony Riches

During the four years of research for my trilogy about the early Tudors, I discovered many little known facts about one of our most overlooked kings, Henry Tudor. Here are a few of my favourites:

  1. Instead of Tudor, Henry could have been called ‘Tidder’ or ‘Tetyr’ or even Tewdwr It seems the name Tudor was a simplification used by scribes in the time of Henry’s grandfather, Owen Tudor.
  2. After his victory at the Battle of Bosworth Henry led a procession through the narrow streets of York, where he was attacked by a man with a dagger. His bodyguards saved him but his reign was nearly over before it began – and he later travelled with some fifty ‘Yeomen of the Guard’ for protection.
  3. Henry didn’t invent the ‘Tudor rose’ – the combined red and white roses had long been known as symbols of the Virgin, representing sacrifice and purity – he simply adopted it as his ‘branding’.
  4. Henry loved gambling with cards and dice and lost huge sums more often than he won. He also kept detailed records of who he’d played against (which included his wife, Elizabeth of York)– and how much he’d lost.
  5. As well as lions and other dangerous animals, which he kept at the Tower of London, Henry kept a pet monkey, thought to be a marmoset, in his private chambers. One day he discovered it had torn up his detailed diary, so there is a gap in his meticulous records.
  6. When the pretender Perkin Warbeck was finally captured, Henry was so enamoured of Warbeck’s wife, Lady Katheryn Gordon, that he kept them both in his household – but wouldn’t let them sleep together. He also bought Lady Katheryn expensive dresses and she became a close companion and confidante, even after Henry had her husband executed.
  7. Henry nearly lost his crown to a mob of Cornish rebels, who marched on London in an armed protest against his tax raising. More men joined them on the way and the rebels reached Blackheath before they could be stopped.
  8. Henry kept various ‘fools’ to entertain his court, including one named ‘Diego the Spaniard’ (possibly as a joke at the expense of Catherine of Aragon’s father, King Ferdinand, who failed to provide the dowry he’d promised.)
  9. At Christmas 1497 Henry and his family were woken in the night by a fire in his private chambers at Sheen Palace. They barely escaped with their lives but the old palace was ruined and Henry had it rebuilt as the Palace of Richmond.
  10. Towards the end of his life Henry suffered from a throat disease referred to as ‘the quinsy’ which his physicians treated (unsuccessfully) with a remedy of celandine, fenugreek and hedgehog fat.

Tony Riches is the author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy as well as other historical fiction set in the medieval era. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sailing and kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and website www.tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.  The Tudor Trilogy is available on Amazon UK  Amazon US and Amazon AU

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Queen of Martyrs, the Story of Mary I by Samantha Wilcoxson

‘God save the Queen! God save our good Queen Mary!’

When these words rang out over England, Mary Tudor thought her troubles were over. She could put her painful past – the loss of her mother and mistreatment at the hands of her father – behind her.

With her accession to the throne, Mary set out to restore Catholicism in England and find the love of a husband that she had long desired. But the tragedies in Mary’s life were far from over. How did a gentle, pious woman become known as ‘Bloody Mary’?

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is the final book in Samantha Wilcoxson’s Plantagenet Embers series. It tells the story, in the third person, from the point of view of Mary I. Mary was the eldest daughter of King Henry I and England’s first ever queen regnant. Although part of a series, the book also works perfectly well as a standalone.

Samantha Wilcoxson has a unique writing style which makes her stand out from other Tudor storytellers. She gets into the mind of her main character and writes Mary’s story as if she’s seeing it through the queen’s own eyes. If Mary did not see something happen, then the reader does not know about it until the queen is informed. This distinctive writing style makes the book a personal journey, both for the subject and the reader.

Mary I

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I tells the story of Mary I, from the time  of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine Parr, to her own death.Telling the story through Mary’s own eyes, we follow her personal and  public relationships, through her brother’s reign and the usurpation of Lady Jane Grey until she is sitting on the throne herself.

The novel demonstrates the human side of Mary I, her fears, insecurities and compassion, and her innate need to be loved; by her sister, her husband and her people. It shows her as a child of the Reformation, just as much as Elizabeth I, but on the opposing side. She is a queen struggling to do the right thing by her conscience and her people.

This compassionate portrayal helps to explain how the descent into the burning of protestants was not a plan, but a consequence of cumulative events and Mary’s own fear of displeasing God. Mary cuts a sad and lonely figure, desperate for love and constantly disappointed; by her father, her sister and, ultimately her husband.

With no children of her own, Mary doted upon Edward and Elizabeth in a way their father never would. She made her way now through the small, crowded room to her father’s other bastardized princess.

Elizabeth performed a perfect curtsy for her sister before letting her guard drop and offering a smile.

“I pray you are well, sister.” Elizabeth said with a sincerity of one unaware of the former bad feelings one has had toward them.

“My thanks to you and to God for seeing that I am indeed restored to health and am able to see a good friend and my dear father united in marriage.” As she said it, Mary was surprised to find that she meant it.

“I wish them great happiness,” Elizabeth agreed without emotion.

“You will find Katryn to be a loving mother, and she may be a calming presence for our father,” Mary encouraged her.

“Undoubtedly, you shall be proven correct.”

Sometimes Elizabeth’s habit of saying only what was expected could annoy, but Mary knew that she was simply doing her best to play her part to perfection. It was an effect of the quick succession of stepmothers and the gruesome connection between marriage and death that the young girl had witnessed.

What I love about this book is that it is Mary’s story. Elizabeth is a peripheral figure, making few appearances and always in her sister’s shadow. Philip of Spain is an unsympathetic character, desperate to get away from a marriage that he doesn’t want. The only character who is symbiotic with Mary is her cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, she sees him as an equal, in faith and outlook and he’s the only one she seems comfortable with.

Brilliantly researched, this is a sympathetic portrayal of a queen, known in many history books as Bloody Mary, who is often vilified and criticised for the burning of Protestants. Samantha Wilcoxson doesn’t just go with the flow, but manages to examine the queen’s life, loves and personal tragedies. In doing so, she shows us why the name of Bloody Mary is too simplistic for this complex woman who went through so much adversity before she ascended the throne.

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is a wonderful, compassionate story of a frequently misunderstood woman. Samantha Wilcoxson’s writing style makes this an intimate portrayal of the Tudor queen, giving the reader a deep, personal relationship with the book and its subject, the queen’s story staying with them long after the last page has been turned.

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Picture of Mary courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley in September and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Under the Approaching Dark by Anna Belfrage

Adam de Guirande has cause to believe the turbulent times are behind him: Hugh Despenser is dead and Edward II is forced to abdicate in favour of his young son. It is time to look forward, to a bright new world in which the young king, guided by his council, heals his kingdom and restores its greatness. But the turmoil is far from over.

England in the early months of 1327 is a country in need of stability, and many turn with hope towards the new young king, Edward III. But Edward is too young to rule, so instead it is his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who do the actual governing, much to the dislike of barons such as Henry of Lancaster.

When it is announced that Edward II has died in September of 1327, what has so far been a grumble grows into voluble protests against Mortimer. Yet again, the spectre of rebellion haunts the land, and things are further complicated by the reappearance of one of Adam’s personal enemies. Soon enough, he and his beloved wife Kit are fighting for their survival – even more so when Adam is given a task that puts them both in the gravest of dangers.

Under the Approaching Dark is the third in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord, his king, and his wife.

Anna Belfrage is a master storyteller. She has the ability to weave a tale that draws the reader in from the very first word. But with Under the Approaching Dark she has surpassed herself. She has created a masterpiece of historical fiction. The story entices the reader in and takes them through the full range of emotions in this marvellous adventure, not letting up for one moment.

Under the Approaching Dark is the 3rd book in her King’s Greatest Enemy series telling the story of Kit and Adam Guirande, and of Roger Mortimer, the man who dethroned a king and became lover of a queen. With Kit as one of the queen’s ladies and Adam as Captain of the future Edward III’s guard, the couple are at the centre of events, juggling their public life with their family life. Kit and Adam are living in some of the most turbulent years of English history; they must stay together to survive against jealous rivals, vengeful enemies and the political machinations of the powerful elite.

This story had everything: love, war, suspense and intrigue – and a few twists along the way. One of my big questions before reading the book was how the fate of Edward II would be decided – and it didn’t disappoint. I won’t spoil it for you, but I love how the story unfolds; it is plausible, thoughtful and intriguing.

Anna Belfrage makes her characters human. They are not perfect, they have the same doubts, insecurities and complicated personalities and relationships as in real life. They develop, adapt and grow as events and the years unfold, their experiences sometimes weighing heavily upon them; their past, their future and their relationships.

The author really gets into the hearts and minds of her characters and takes her readers with her, taking them on a rollercoaster of emotions along the way.  A number of scenes will bring a tear to the eye, while others will have you reaching for your sword. Despite the momentous times in which they are living, the story revolves around Kit and Adam, their relationship and the trials they face, both together and apart. They are an impressive couple, but firmly placed within the boundaries that 14th century society dictate. You won’t see Kit wielding a sword, but, as a result, she has more subtle weapons at her disposal.

With each step, the coil of hair grew heavier, and when one of the older ladies gave her a long look accompanied by a pursed mouth and raised brows, Kit regretted having followed Lady Margaret’s advice. Too late. She swallowed. Adam was saying something but stopped mid-sentence when he saw her, and Kit felt her cheeks heat. Would he deem it inappropriate? Chide her? She made a reverence; his hand shot out to close around her elbow, steadying her as she straightened up.

“Sweeting.” he sounded hoarse.

“I…” She licked her lips. “Do you like it?”

“like it?” He traced the golden net with a finger. “It is becoming.”

Her shoulders relaxed.

“But I’ll not have my wife walk about unveiled,” he continued, guiding her back towards the door.

“But the queen -“

A firm finger on Kit’s mouth hushed her. “The queen is not my wife. You are.” He picked at a tendril of hair, tugging ever so gently. “This is for me to see, my lady. Only for me.”

Anna Belfrage is meticulous in her research and includes many of the often overlooked details of medieval life – such as the prohibitions against marital ‘relations’ during Lent, or the length of time it would take a rider to get from York to London. Her descriptions of the cities visited by characters, such as York and Lincoln, are incredible – you can almost feel yourself transported to Clifford’s Tower or standing in front of Lincoln’s imposing cathedral.

Under the Approaching Dark gets everything right. The interaction between the characters is stunning, each having their own traits and quirks which play out in the dialogue. The love scenes are tender and tasteful and the action scenes are fast, furious and full of tension. You never know what will happen next, or how things will play out; which makes the book a true page-turner right to the very end.

The author’s skills at storytelling are exquisite; she draws you in with her words, transporting you back in time and showing you a world that has long since disappeared, but has been brought back to vivid life by the words and imagination of this amazing author. The story grabs your attention from the very first sentence, and will not leave you, not even after the final page has been read.

The writing is impeccable. The story has everything. Under the Approaching Dark is just perfect in every sense.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Seymours of Wolf Hall by David Loades

Although the Seymours arrived with the Normans, it is with Jane, Henry VIII’s third queen, and her brothers – Edward, Duke of Somerset, and Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley – that they became prominent.

Jane bore Henry his longed-for son, Edward VI, and both her brothers achieved prominence through her. Her brother Edward was central to Henry’s activities in Scotland and became Lord Protector for the young king, his nephew, a hugely powerful position. Thomas married Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, and after her death in 1548 aimed to marry Princess Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth I), with whom he had flirted when she was in Catherine’s care, and for this he was executed for high treason. Edward fell foul of his fellow councillors and was also executed. Edward’s son was restored to the title of Lord Hertford by Elizabeth I, but was sent to the Tower when it emerged that he had secretly married Jane Grey’s sister, Catherine, who was Elizabeth’s protestant heir. Both her marriage and pregnancy were an affront to the queen.

This is the epic rise and fall of the family at the heart of the Tudor court and of Henry VIII’s own heart; he described Jane as ‘my first true wife’ and left express orders to be buried next to her tomb at Windsor Castle. The family seat of Wolfhall or ‘Wolf Hall’ in Wiltshire is long gone, but it lives on as an icon of the Tudor age.

The Seymours of Wolf Hall, A Tudor Family Story by Professor David Loades is the factual story of the family that achieved the height of power with the reign of Edward VI. Professor Loades traces the family’s story from their Norman origins, through Jane Seymour and her son, all the way to the current Seymour Duke of Somerset. It is the remarkable story of one family’s rise from minor gentry to sitting on the throne of England itself. Had Edward VI had children, we could have had Seymours on the throne for generations.

Edward VI

But it wasn’t to be and Professor Loades does not end the story there. He follows the fortunes of the family for centuries afterwards,  as they fell in and out of favour with subsequent monarchs, such as Elizabeth I and James I; usually for their disastrous marriage choices.

The height of Seymour influence was during the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) and Professor Loades highlights the lives of the king’s uncles, Edward, Earl of Hertford and later Duke of Somerset, and Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, as the central part of the book. The Seymours of Wolf Hall, A Tudor Family Story provides excellent analysis of the lives and actions of the two most famous Seymour brothers, dissecting their political and private influences on the young king and the nation at large.

So what sort of man was he, this Protector, the Earl of Hertford, shortly to become Duke of Somerset? He was soon to be known as the ‘good duke’ because of his alleged sympathy with the insurgents of 1549, and to be classed as a tolerant liberal by some twentieth-century historians. However, liberal in the twentieth-century sense he certainly was not, nor would he have understood what that meant. He was a man of action, particularly military action. knighted in the field in 1523, he had been largely responsible for the successful actions in Scotland after the victory at Pinkie Cleugh in 1547. Nor was he as interested in education as had been alleged. He had no intellectual training himself, and owned few books. Most of the dedications which he received owed more to his position as Protector than any known  sympathy with the causes maintained by the works concerned.

Jean Seymour

A fascinating part of the book comes when Professor Loades focuses on Edward VI himself, giving perceptive insight into this least known of the Tudor monarchs. He paints a wonderful portrait of this boy king who never got the chance to reach his potential, describing a boy whose emotions were well concealed but who had a calm and collected temperament – much like his mother, Jane Seymour.

Every family story is examined, such as the marriage of Seymour’s son to Catherine Grey, a claimant to the crown under Elizabeth I, which led to stays in the Tower of London for the happy couple. We also learn of the scandalous marriage of another Seymour, with Arbella Stewart, which led, again, to the Tower of London – and the couple being forced apart

The Seymours of Wolf Hall, A Tudor Family Story provides a fascinating, insightful look into the Tudor court from the point of view of one of its most prominent families. They are not studied in isolation, however, but also within the story of Tudor history as a whole, from the life of Henry VIII through the Reformation, the birth of Edward VI and beyond, with the family’s fortunes changing with each monarch.

Thoroughly enjoyable and a delight to read, this book is a must for any lover of English Tudor history, full to the brim with information about Henry VIII, his most-beloved queen, Jane Seymour, and a family who reached the highest echelons of politics and society through the birth of Henry’s long-awaited son and heir, Edward VI. Eminently readable and thoroughly researched, Professor Loades follows the family’s fortunes from its Norman roots, through its highs and lows, to the pinnacle of power to imprisonment and disgrace, leaving the reader breathless with their rise to power and subsequent fall from grace.

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Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley in September and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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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Pictures of Edward VI and Jane Seymour courtesy of Wikipedia.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2017

Book Corner: To Be A Queen by Annie Whitehead

Today over at The Review, you can read my thoughts on Anni Whitehead’s wonderful novel of Æthelflæd, Lady of Mercia, in To Be A Queen.

And there’s a signed copy as a giveaway!

Here’s a taster:

Written by Annie Whitehead, To Be A Queen, is the fascinating story of the most remarkable of Saxon women, Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians and daughter of Alfred the Great. The novel leads us through Aethelflaed’s personal journey, from a sheltered childhood in the heart of Wessex to marriage, motherhood, and a remarkable partnership with her brother Edward, who succeeded their father as King of Wessex. Aethelflaed and Edward spearhead the fight against the Danes and the struggle to unite England under one ruler.

A thoroughly enjoyable book, To Be A Queen, draws the reader in from the very first sentence,  recounting the story of Aethelflaed’s life while telling you the bigger story that is the making of England. Many readers may be familiar with Aethelflaed from the Bernard Cornwell The Last Kingdom series, but Annie Whitehead develops the Lady of Mercia to even greater depths, getting under the skin and into the heart of this amazing woman.

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning one of two e-book copies in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment.

Good luck!

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Looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, will be published by Amberley later this year and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2017

Book Corner: Blood and Blade by Matthew Harffy

thumbnail_blood-blade-blog-tour-bannerThis week I am delighted to be a part of Matthew Harffy‘s blog tour, celebrating the release of his latest novel in the Bernicia Chronicles, Blood and Blade.

635AD. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and third instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Oswald is now King of Northumbria. However, his plans for further alliances and conquests are quickly thrown into disarray when his wedding to a princess of Wessex is interrupted by news of a Pictish uprising.

Rushing north, Oswald leaves Beobrand to escort the young queen to her new home. Their path is fraught with danger and uncertainty, Beobrand must try to unravel secrets and lies if they are to survive.

Meanwhile, old enemies are closing in, seeking brutal revenge. Beobrand will give his blood and blade in service to his king, but will that be enough to avert disaster and save his kith and kin from the evil forces that surround them?

Beobrand Half-Hand is fast becoming one of my favourite Saxon heroes. Starting with The Serpent Sword, continuing with  The Cross and the Curse and now in Blood and Blade his story has told with passion and excitement by Matthew Harffy, with an eye to the great adventure. The author has honed his story-tellling skills to perfection in this 3rd novel of the series. The action continues unabated; from the first words of the opening chapter, Beobrand is in the thick of the fight, both politically and physically.

In Blood and Blade Matthew Harffy manages to transport the reader back to 7th century Britain, enveloping you in the Anglo-Saxon era. His knowledge and love of the time and its people shines through on every page and gives the whole book – indeed, the series – a deep impression of authenticity. You are taken on a journey,  which encompasses the length and breadth of England, from Hadrian’s Wall to the royal court of Wessex, we follow Beobrand’s journey as a warrior for his king, and courtier to his new queen. The landscape and people of Britain are vividly brought to life.

The fight scenes are wonderfully choreographed, enthusiastic and enjoyable. You can almost hear the clash of sword on shield, the screams of the wounded and howls of the warriors – I think I even,  physically, flinched in places!

For a heartbeat Beobrand saw the firelight glisten on the wicked iron point of the arrow. Torran aimed and held the arrow there momentarily. They were still too far away to attack. With every step though, his chance of missing, or of their byrnies protecting them, lessened.

“If you are not afraid, then lower your child’s toy and face me with sword and spear.”

Torran did not answer. His right hand let loose the bowstring and the arrow thrummed towards Beobrand. it flew straight and true. Beobrand watched its flight, a blur of white in the dawn. He saw the arrow come but did not react. He closed his eyes and accepted his wyrd.thumbnail_aria_harffy_blood-and-blade_e

There was a crash and a clatter, but no impact. No searing pain as the arrow split through metal rings and the soft flesh beneath.

Beobrand opened his eyes. For a moment the scene was confusing in the dawn-shadow of the hill. Someone was sprawled on the earth before him. Was it Acennan? No, the short warrior was still at his side. Then the figure groaned and rose up. Teeth flashed in the dark as the face broke into a savage grin. It was Attor. He held a shield in his left hand. From its hide-covered boards protruded that arrow that had been meant for Beobrand.

“Seemed you needed saving, lord,” he said, the glee of battle lending his tone a shrill edge.

Matthew Harffy has taken great care in developing his characters. Beobrand has grown older and wiser through his experiences. His battle skills are as keen as ever, while his political acumen and tactical wizardry is proving invaluable to his king, Oswald. His confidence has grown through his success, but the faith of his men and their willingness to follow him wherever he may lead – even if it is into an enemy shield wall.

And we learn more about his men. As Beobrand matures, he realises that it is not enough to have men fight for him; he has to learn about their pasts, their lives and their weaknesses. this is the book in which the lives of his friends and followers, such as Acennan, are given more depth and history, making their characters more realistic and human.

New characters are also introduced’ some friends, some enemies; they change the dynamic and bring in the promise of some great stories to come. As ever, Beobrand’s enemies are truly despicable, and will stop at nothing to bring the hero down, whether it is with arrow, sword or some more personal weapon. Beobrand has to use all his physical and mental strength to win through.

It is hard not to compare Matthew Harffy’s books with those of Bernard Cornwell. Much of the story is set around Bebbanburg (Bamburgh Castle), where Cornwell’s Last Kingdom stories began; but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Both authors have their own unique styles, but a sense of adventure that will take their heroes on spectacular journeys. Any fan of Bernard Cornwell will find another favourite writer in Matthew Harffy.  However, Beobrand’s story is set a couple of centuries earlier and is a truly unique story. The hero of the Bernicia Chronicles will stand up against any Bernard Cornwell could produce.

thumbnail_harffy_matthewMatthew Harffy is the author of the Bernicia Chronicles, a series of novels set in seventh century Britain. The first of the series, The Serpent Sword, was published by Aria/Head of Zeus on 1st June 2016. The sequel, The Cross and The Curse was released on 1st August 2016. Book three, Blood and Blade, was released on 1st December 2016.

Book info and links:

The Serpent Sword, The Cross and the Curse and Blood and Blade are available on Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, and all good online bookstores. Killer of Kings and Kin of Cain are available for pre-order on Amazon and all good online bookstores.

Contact links:

Website: www.matthewharffy.com

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Facebook: MatthewHarffyAuthor

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Looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, will be published by Amberley later this year and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: The Book of the Grail Edited by E.C. Coleman

51veexrtwel‘This is the history of that most sacred vessel that is named by men the Holy Grail, wherein the precious blood of Our Saviour was received on the day that He was crucified that He might redeem His followers from the pains of Hell.’

It is not known when The Book of the Grail was first written, or by whom. In this version of Percival’s quest for the Holy Grail, the world of Arthurian legend is brought alive. Predating the popular tales of Mallory and Tennyson, this forgotten account – revived by E. C. Coleman from its Middle English translation – presents us with a vivid story full of the moral import and sacred wisdom of its time of telling.

Following Chrétien de Troyes’ earlier poem, Perceval, le Conte du Graal, many surprises and deviations lie in store for those familiar with Arthurian lore. The test of the Sword in the Stone has now become a sword and an arrow, drawn from stone columns; Sir Kay is not the good knight of the other versions; Merlin makes only a brief appearance; and Queen Guinevere suffers a tragedy rather than experiencing a love affair with Lancelot. In this complete and uncorrupted version, the darkness and fears of the thirteenth century are illuminated by moments of chivalry, adventure and religious piety.

Reading E.C. Coleman’s new adaptation of the The Book of the Holy Grail by Josephus is just not enough. This book has to be devoured in its entirety. The author has taken great care in translating the story from Middle English, keeping the original atmosphere of the book while making it accessible to the modern reader. The book is pure pleasure for any lover of the Arthurian legends. All the heroes are present, battling lions, evil knights and trying always to prove their worth and follow the codes of chivalry.

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King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

The story differs in places from the more-familiar versions of the legend. Merlin only plays a minor role and the story focuses mainly on the adventures of Gawain, Lancelot and Percival. Although the main tenet of the story is the knights’ quest to find the Holy Grail, they are faced with many challenges and smaller quests throughout their journeys.

In The Book of the Holy Grail by Josephus our heroes face some fantastical beasts, such as lions, griffons and dragons. The bad guys are knights of pure evil, who have turned from God and war upon the innocent and women and children, throwing them from their homes and castles. The evil knights live in creepy castles, ruled by cruel men and protected by strange beasts; while the good, virtuous knights are sent out into the world by King Arthur, to bring his lands back to God and to recover the Holy Grail.

The story moves at an incredible pace, with a new adventure on nearly every page. The heroes are strong, brave and wonderful fighters, always looking to prove their worth in a valiant joust. Strange damsels hold the story together, explaining events and appearing whenever the heroes need a new direction, or a new quest. The story is full of kings and lords with strange names; such as the King of Castle Mortal, the King Hermit, Clamados of the Forest of Shadows. The ladies are often given designations, rather than names, such as the Widow Lady. There are damsels who have no hair or are forced to walk everywhere, who will only be restored once the Holy Grail has been recovered.

On the morrow, when he had heard Mass, Gawain departed and rode to the fairest land he had ever beheld. The meadows were many coloured with flowers, the rivers flowed clear and full with wholesome fishes, and the forest aboundeth with wild deer and hermitages. One night he came upon a hermitage wherein the good man had not gone forth for forty years. When he seeth Gawain the hermit looked forth from the window and sayeth, ‘A good welcome to you, Sire.’

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

‘And may God give you joy.’ sayeth Gawain. ‘Will you give me lodging this night?’

‘I cannot, Sire, for none hath entered herein for forty years but myself and I have sworn to allow none other in but God. But, Sire, if you continue but a little further you will see a castle wherein all good knights are lodged.’

‘What is the name of this castle?’

‘It is the castle of the goof Fisher King and is surrounded by plentiful waters and is of the fairest setting under God. But they will only lodge good knights.’

‘May God grant that I may be amongst that company. Before I go thither good hermit, will you hear my confession for I must be cleansed of all sin?’

‘Gladly,’ sayeth the hermit and heard him of Gawain’s true repenting.

The hermit the continued to say, ‘Sire, if God is willing, do not forget to ask that which the other knight forgot. Be not afraid at what you see at the entrance to the chapel and ride on without fear. Worship at the holy chapel within the castle for there is where the flame of the Holy Spirit comes down each day for the most Holy Grail and the point of the lance that is presented there.’

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Percival

The flowery language adds to the atmosphere of the book and helps to recreate the Arthurian world. Gawain, Lancelot and Percival are the knights of legend we all know from Mallory; honourable, noble and great warriors. I love the way the book has them fighting their own quests, narrowly missing each other, or one not recognising the other because he has changed his shield; but once in a while, they join together to complete a greater quest, or give aid where one is wounded. The camaraderie and mutual respect of the Grail Knights and the Knights of the Round Table help to make this an amazing book.

This is the ultimate adventure story, from where all other adventure stories, stories of war and valour and of good versus evil find their origins; and this fact shines through on every page. Its a fabulous book to read – and devour – for any fan of the Arthurian Legends.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Wynfield’s Kingdom, by MJ Neary

51si0e8ddl-_sx331_bo1204203200_My latest book review, of MJ Neary’s latest novel, Wynfield’s Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums, the first novel of his stunning new series, set in Victorian South London, has gone live over at The Review today!

Wynfield’s Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums is one of those amazing books which makes you feel like you’ve discovered something really special. Set mainly in the slums of Bermondsey and Southwark in South London, it paints an image of Victorian London which will stay with you for days – and nights – afterwards. The novel is an amazing story of human existence and endurance, with so many twists and turns that it will not fail to surprise and mesmerise you. The fact you never quite know what the next chapter will bring keeps you hooked and curious to the very end.

Tom did not trust Diana. She might have been helpless but certainly not harmless. Feebleness and innocence are not synonyms. She was dangerous precisely because of her physical weakness. One could expect anything from her. Tom feared that she would torch the tavern out of sheer spite.

“She’s your burden now,” he told Wynfield. “I wash my hands. You brought her here, so you watch over her now. If she starts making trouble, I’ll kick both of you out on the streets. I won’t have any nonsense in my house. You both came here as patients. I allowed you to stay here and that alone was unwise on my part.”

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning an e-book in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!

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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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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016