Book Corner: The Scandal of George III’s Court by Catherine Curzon

From Windsor to Weymouth, the shadow of scandal was never too far from the walls of the House of Hanover. Did a fearsome duke really commit murder or a royal mistress sell commissions to the highest bidders, and what was the truth behind George III’s supposed secret marriage to a pretty Quaker? With everything from illegitimate children to illegal marriages, dead valets and equerries sneaking about the palace by candlelight, these eyebrow-raising tales from the reign of George III prove that the highest of births is no guarantee of good behaviour. Prepare to meet some shocking ladies, some shameless gentlemen and some politicians who really should know better. So tighten your stays, hoist up your breeches and prepare for a gallop through some of the most shocking royal scandals from the court of George III’s court. You’ll never look at a king in the same way again…

I have been taking a break from the medieval era this month to visit the court of King George III, reading the fabulous non-fiction book, The Scandal of  George III’s Court by Catherine Curzon. And what a thoroughly delightful read!

Anyone who has studied the Georgian era to some extent will be familiar with some of these scandals, but to have them all presented on one book is a real treat. Catherine Curzon loves her subject – and her subjects – and this shines through on every page. This is not some onerous read, listing scandal after scandal, but an in-depth look at some of the most devastating and salacious scandals that rocked the Georgian court – and obviously tried the precarious mental state of the king to its very limits.

My favourite is the retelling of a story which I have known for some time, but have never looked into in the depth that Catherine Curzon delves. The story of Caroline Matilda, Queen of Denmark, her mentally unbalanced husband and her lover, Struensee, is one that everyone should know, and ultimately a tragedy for all involved.;

Christian’s mental health had by now deteriorated drastically and when Struensee was promoted again, this time to Councillor of Conference and the queen’s ‘very’ Private Secretary, there could be no doubt how the wind was blowing. Struensee warned Caroline Matilda that her husband would soon be incapable of ruling and someone else would need to steer the ship of state. If Caroline Matilda didn’t seize the day, then Julianna Maria certainly would. That was all it took, and soon Denmark’s newest power couple began positioning themselves to take the reins of the kingdom.

Oddly, almost as soon as the affair began, Christian warmed to his wife, and began to hold her in a higher regard. Together, the trio of king, queen and doctor seemed to get along in a way that Caroline Matilda and Christian never had before. Though this was no ménage both husband and wife seemed far more at ease, and at 18, Caroline Matilda was finally flourishing, no longer the unhappy young woman she had once been.

She donned male attire to ride astride through the towns and countryside of Denmark and even took part in archery contests, scandalising the public and court alike. Her inseparable shadow, Struensee, was in the ascendant. He and Caroline Matilda’s passion blazed and with it, his influence only increased. By now virtually insane, Christian looked to his wife and doctor for guidance in all things yet Stuensee knew that if he wanted real power, he needed real office.

He wanted to be Prime minister.

Not all the scandals involve love affairs – although the majority do (that’s the Georgians for you!). Catherine Curzon also tells us the story of the Duke of York and the scandalous sale of army commissions – when he was Commander-in-Chief of the army – by his girlfriend! There is also the attempted assassination of the Duke of Cumberland, which left the poor prince with some horrific head injuries. The Scandal of King George III’s Court does not just tell us the stories, but analyses their nuances, the veracity of the facts and tries to get to the bottom of exactly what happened and why.

The book also emphasises the great interest by the Georgian public, in scandals involving the royal family, how they hung on every word of scandal they could read about – and how George III and Queen Charlotte tried to protect the dignity of the crown amidst the numerous dalliances of the king’s own brothers and the royal offspring.

I loved Catherine Curzon’s writing style! Such a fun read!

The strength of this book lies with the author. Catherine Curzon has a talent for telling stories – especially scandalous ones, apparently. She draws the reader in with an easy -going, conversational style, presenting the facts with her own colourful observations, making the reader feel a part of the scandalous liaisons and conspiracies that make up this book. The Scandal of King George III’s Court is a pleasure to read, and probably the greatest escapism you will ever experience from a non-fiction book. 

The Scandal of King George III’s Court is available from Amazon UK and Pen & Sword Books.

About the author:

Catherine Curzon is an author and royal historian of the 18th century.

She has written extensively for publications including HistoryExtra.com, the official website of BBC History Magazine, Who Do You Think You Are?, Your Family History, Real Crime, Explore History, All About History, History of Royals and Jane Austen’s Regency World. Catherine has spoken at venues and events including the Stamford Georgian Festival, the Bath Jane Austen Festival, Lichfield Guildhall, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, Dr Johnson’s House, Kenwood House, the Hurlingham Club, Godmersham Park, and the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. She has provided additional research for An Evening with Jane Austen, starring Adrian Lukis, and has introduced the performance at venues across the UK.

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine can often be found cheering for the mighty Huddersfield Town. She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill with a rakish colonial gentleman, a long-suffering cat and a lively dog.

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Out Now!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Coming out in Paperback on 15 March:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and in the US on 1 June 2019. It is available for pre-order from both Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Brandon – Tudor Knight by Tony Riches

Handsome, charismatic and a champion jouster, Sir Charles Brandon is the epitome of a Tudor Knight. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Brandon has a secret. He has fallen in love with Henry’s sister, Mary Tudor, the beautiful widowed Queen of France, and risks everything to marry her without the king’s consent.

Brandon becomes Duke of Suffolk, but his loyalty is tested fighting Henry’s wars in France. Mary’s public support for Queen Catherine of Aragon brings Brandon into dangerous conflict with the ambitious Boleyn family and the king’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell.

Torn between duty to his family and loyalty to the king, Brandon faces an impossible decision: can he accept Anne Boleyn as his new queen?

 

I have had the privilege of reading several historical fiction biographies by Tony Riches and in each one the author manages to get ‘under the skin’ of his subject. With Brandon – A Tudor Knight he seems to have gone one step further. Tony Riches ‘gets’ Charles Brandon, Henry VIII’s best friend and brother-in-law. He makes no excuses for Brandon’s often-dubious marital choices, but portrays a man of his time, an ambitious Tudor knight, in need of money and position, but always aware of how far a man can fall, having seen Henry VIII’s most trusted advisers lose their heads.

The ‘sister’ book to Mary, Tudor Princess, Brandon – A Tudor Knight shows the other side to the story of the marriage between Henry VIII’s sister and his best friend. It is interesting to read about the two sides of the one marriage and seeing how events are perceived differently by the individual characters. That is not to say that Brandon – A Tudor Knight is merely an extension of Mary, Tudor PrincessBy no means! This novel tells Brandon’s story, and portrays and ambitious man whose desire to gain financial independence has led him to the wrong marriage bed, at least once.

However, he is also a loyal and loving husband and a man who achieved something that was almost impossible – surviving the reign of Henry VIII as his constant friend and despite marrying the king’s sister behind his back. Brandon is the epitome of the Tudor knight, a man experienced more in diplomacy than in warfare, and always subject to the mercurial whims of his prince. Brandon – A Tudor Knight is a fascinating look into the heart of the Tudor court, life in Tudor England and the marriage of a knight and his princess.

“Thomas Wolsey, a round-faced cleric who’d become Henry’s trusted secretary, greeted Brandon warmly yet studied him with sharp eyes. ‘I believe I owe you thanks, Master Brandon. I hear you’ve defended my name.’

‘It was nothing, Master Wolsey. You must know there are those at court who resent your access to the king.’ Brandon returned the smile. ‘It bothers them that you come from humble stock.’

Wolsey raised his eyebrows. ‘My late father, may God rest his soul, was a respected landowner and innkeeper in Suffolk. He worked hard ta pay for me to be educated at Oxford, yet all they remember is that he once worked as a butcher.’

‘They call me a stable boy behind my back, because I serve Sir Henry Bourchier as his Master of the Horse.’ Brandon grinned. ‘I don’t let it trouble me.’

‘It seems we have much in common.’ Wolsey gave him a wry look. ‘We serve the same master and ambitions – and share a common adversary.’

‘Sir Thomas Howard?’ Brandon saw the scowl of distaste on Wolsey’s face and knew he’d guessed correctly. ‘I suspect he makes trouble for us both when he can.’

Wolsey’s tone became conspiratorial. ‘Thomas Howard defends the privileges of nobility. The king rewards him well, but his day of reckoning will come.’

Brandon understood the implied threat and made a mental note never to cross Thomas Wolsey. He needed the cleric to help him understand the politics of court and council, but intuitively knew Wolsey could bear a grudge and make a dangerous enemy.”

 

The story is fast-paced and wonderfully woven so that the fact and fiction meld into a perfect narrative. Tony Riches is the consummate storyteller. He explores all aspects of Brandon’s life, including his insecurities and relationships with other members of the Tudor court. Charles Brandon is a ‘new man’ and feels the animosity of the ‘old guard’, descended from the medieval aristocracy. The exploration of these relationships provide a wonderful diversion into court rivalries, especially given Brandon’s unique position as the king’s brother-in-law.

Tony Riches’ research is impeccable and impressive; and his books stick close to the historical narrative, enriching known events with the emotions and conversations of those involved. If you are a fan of Tudor history, you will love theses stories.

Brandon – A Tudor Knight is a pleasure to read.

 

About the author:

Tony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website tonyriches.comand his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

You can find all of Tony’s books, including Brandon – A Tudor Knight and Mary Tudor Princess, on Amazon in the UK and US.

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Out Now!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is still available in hardback in the UK from both Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amberley Publishing  and Amazon.

*Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebookpage or joining me on Twitter.

©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou by Amy Licence

He became king before his first birthday, inheriting a vast empire from his military hero father; she was the daughter of a king without power, who made an unexpected marriage at the age of fifteen. Almost completely opposite in character, together they formed an unlikely but complimentary partnership. Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou have become famous as the Lancastrian king and queen who were deposed during the Wars of the Roses but there is so much more to their story. The political narrative of their years together is a tale of twists and turns, encompassing incredible highs, when they came close to fulfilling their desires, and terrible, heart-breaking lows. Personally, their story is an intriguing one that raises may questions. Henry was a complex, misunderstood man, enlightened and unsuited to his times and the pressures of kingship. In the end, overcome by fortune and the sheer determination of their enemies, their alliance collapsed. England simply wasn’t ready for a gentle king like Henry, or woman like Margaret who defied contemporary stereotypes of gender and queenship. History has been a harsh judge to this royal couple. In this discerning dual biography, Amy Licence leads the way in a long-overdue re-evaluation of their characters and contributions during a tumultuous and defining period of British history.

I have to confess that I do tend to read about the Wars of the Roses from the Yorkist side, so it was quite refreshing to read a book that delves into the lives of the leaders of the Lancastrian faction of the era. Henry VI & Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals is an illuminating and entertaining read.

And it was quite an education. Amy Licence is one of those authors who manages to look at her subjects with a great degree of equanimity. There appears to be no actual bias for or against the objects of her study. This was proven in her biographies of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn; each book looked at the protagonist with a distinct lack of pre-conceptions and judgement, presenting a clear and unbiased analysis on each queen as a unique individual. And she has managed to achieve the same balance in this book.

Amy Licence has turned her talent and passion for history to an analytical assessment of the two figures who led the Lancastrian faction during the Wars of the Roses. The author assesses each character – Henry VI and his queen Margaret of Anjou – as individuals and as a couple, analysing the challenges they faced, the decisions they made, and how Henry’s mental health affected their abilities to rule the kingdom effectively.

The fragile peace of March 1458 did not last. The combatants who had walked hand-in-hand from St Paul’s were soon plotting against each other’s lives, lying in wait in dark corners of the city with swords drawn. Responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities in 1459 has often been placed firmly by historians with Queen Margaret and her band of followers, but it was not this simple. The Pro-Yorkist ‘English Chronicle’ related how she now ‘ruled the roost as she like’ and Benet records that she was the instigator of the Coventry parliament that June, during which York and his allies were declared to be traitors, stripped of their assets and attainted. It was the unavoidable fate of the last Lancastrian family that their immediate successors would judge them harshly. Being on the losing side, on the wrong side of history, they are represented in the surviving chronicles as being deeply flawed; Henry weak and ineffectual and Margaret ambitious and warlike, while their son has been reduced to a blood-thirsty stereotype. Thank goodness, breathed the writers of the York-ruled 1460s and 70s, that the Lancastrians had been prevented from dominating England and establishing their line. It was not until the advent of the Tudors and the reign of Henry’s half-nephew, Henry VII, that a reappraisal of Henry VI began, but Margaret would have to wait significantly longer. As a woman taking an active part in a bloody conflict that threatened the throne of her husband and son, Margaret was a convenient scapegoat of contemporary, and subsequent, chroniclers who did not want to place blame for the next phase of war directly on the shoulders of an annointed king.

 

Henry VI & Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals looks not only at the king and queen but also at those who shared their life and times, their son, their allies and those who sought to bring them down. The author looks into their actions and personalities, their presence on the international stage, and how the acted and interracted with the factions at court and the people of England itself. Every reader will come away with a greater understanding of the conflict which dominated England for over thirty years, now known as the Wars of the Roses, and of Henry’s and Margaret’s roles in the causes and course of the war.

Amy Licence’s unique and individual writing style is both easy and entertaining. It flows so well that it feels more like you’re reading a novel than a factual historical text. However, the impeccable research and intuitive analysis means that this book is accessible to both the casual reader, amateur historian and expert, alike. Ms Licence does not go easy on her subjects and is not afraid to say when they got things wrong. However, she is also fair and points out when history has been harsh and unforgiven, both on the couple – both together and as individuals – their friends and their enemies.

On the whole, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, which focused on the less popular Lancastrian side of the argument and, as a a result, fills a void in the study of the era. If you want a greater understanding of the effects on history of the marriage of Henry and Margaret, of Henry’s illness, and of Margaret’s attempts to control her own life and the destinies of her husband and son, this is the perfect book.

Henry VI & Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals is an engaging and entertaining book which will add depth to any history library and is a must-read tome for anyone fascinated by the Wars of the Roses. I highly recommend it.

About the Author:

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

Amy has written for The Guardian, The TLS, The New Statesman, BBC History, The English Review, The Huffington Post, The London Magazine and other places. She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman’s Hour, and made her TV debut in “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” documentary, for BBC2, in 2013. She also writes historical and literary fiction and has been shortlisted twice for the Asham Award.

Her website can be found at amylicence.weebly.com

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Out Now!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

 

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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 Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebookpage or joining me on Twitter.

©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Last Emir by SJA Turney

51oYQKZfjYLRisk everything; fight to the last: a taut and intense historical thriller from master author S.J.A. Turney

The relics of Christendom have been plundered during the long Moorish conquest of the Iberian peninsula. Newly minted Templar Sergeant Arnau de Vallbona must recover one of the most elusive to save his priory at Rourell in Spain.

Travelling to Majorca on a stealth mission to retrieve the bones of St Stephen, Arnau soon discovers the raid is more complex than it first appears: the mighty Almohad dynasty has laid claim to the island, and will fight them every step of the way.

Along with his companion, the aged warrior Balthesar, Arnau is in desperate straits. Surrounded on all sides by hostile forces, it will take all their cunning and strength to escape with their prize – and their lives….

A thrilling and unexplored account of the Knights Templar, grounded in extraordinary research, The Last Emir is perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, K.M. Ashman and C.F. Iggulden.

The Last Emir is the second book in S.J.A. Turney’s fabulous series recounting the exploits of the Knights Templars in Spain during the Moorish Conquest of the country. The first book in the series, Daughter of War was a gripping drama which followed the struggles of Titborga and Arnau as the found sanctuary and a purpose in the Templar preceptory at Rourell, run by the incredible preceptrix, Ermengarda, as they battled an unscrupulous Spanish nobleman intent on getting his hands on Titborga’s lands – at any cost. It was a wonderful, gritty story with every page filled to the brim with action.

And The Last Emir is no less immersive. The second book takes Arnau on a quest to Majorca, in search of a Holy relic, but finding only trouble and a dispute between rival Moorish factions. The story is skillfully told, weaving a tale of intrigue and betrayal, and blurring the lines between the rival factions. S.J.A. Turney paints a wonderful image of the island of medieval Majorca, taking the reader on a journey across the island, re imagining the amazing landscape, the loud, busy markets and the sumptuous palaces with such precision that you can almost see, hear and smell the bazaar, the preserved manuscripts in the library … and the blood and passion of battle.

‘I’m sorry.’

Balthesar threw him a withering  look that made his cheeks burn hotter. ‘Later,’ was all the older man said.

Peril, though, was following them that day, for as Arnau began to feel that perhaps they were almost safe, two mounted figures in black and white emerged from a side street ahead of them.

‘What now?’ gasped Arnau.

‘We have no choice. We’re trapped. Go back and we’re entering the noose you created for us. We have to cross the bridge, even if we have to kill those horsemen to do it. With luck the guards at the bridge have not heard about us yet.’

It appeared that kill the horsemen was precisely what they would have to do. the Two Almohad warriors spotted their quarry and, realising that they had ensnared them, roared victorious-sounding cries, then ripped their blades free of their scabbards and put heel to flank, charging towards the two Templars.

Arnau had time, as he drew his own sword, to register the shock of the two local guards at the bridge. They were arguing urgently and dithering, perhaps unsure whether to intervene or to remain at their assigned place by the bridge.

Beside Arnau, Balthesar also drew his blade. ‘Keep your mouth shut,’ he commanded, ‘if we are to get out of Al-Bulãnsa alive.’

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The only downside of this book is that not all the characters we met in Daughter of War appear in this story. Arnau and Balthesar are far away from their familiar surroundings, having to rely on their wits and their own abilities in order to survive and win their way back home. Arnau, in particular, is on a journey of discovery, of his own strengths and weaknesses, the differences between Islam and Christianity and of his companion in arms. Through his own trials, he has to learn that not everything is black-and-white, lines blur and whether a person is good or evil is not necessarily defined by their religion. He has already learned the brutality of war, but in The Last Emir, he also has to learn about the subtleties of war.

This is a fabulous novel, which takes a reader away from the preconceptions and mysticism of the Knights Templar and presents the Templars as they were, and as they were created; warrior monks fighting for Christianity and what is right.

Well researched, not only in the customs of medieval Spain, both Christian and Moor, but also in the rich history of the country, and of individual events of the time, S.J.A. turney’s attention to the historic detail infuses the story with anthenticity. The author has created a marvellous, gripping story. The narrative is wonderfully written with every page pleasure to read – long into the night. Arnau and his Templar colleagues are the best kind of heroes – those the readers can invest themselves in and always want to read more.

Waiting for Book 3 is already proving a challenge…

 

About the Author:

Sja

Simon lives with his wife, children and dogs in rural North Yorkshire. Having spent much of his childhood visiting historic sites with his grandfather, a local photographer, Simon fell in love with the Roman heritage of the region, beginning with the world famous Hadrian’s Wall. His fascination with the ancient world snowballed from there with great interest in Egypt, Greece and Byzantium, though his focus has always been Rome. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of country, history and architecture, Simon spends most of his rare free time travelling the world visiting historic sites, writing, researching the ancient world and reading voraciously.

Simon’s early career meandered along an arcane and eclectic path of everything from the Ministry of Agriculture to computer network management before finally settling back into the ancient world. During those varied years, Simon returned to university study to complete an honours degree in classical history through the Open University. With what spare time he had available and a rekindled love of all things Roman, he set off on an epic journey to turn Caesar’s Gallic War diaries into a novel accessible to all. The first volume of Marius’ Mules was completed in 2003 and has garnered international success, bestseller status and rave reviews, spawning numerous sequels. Marius’ Mules is still one of Simon’s core series and although Roman fiction features highly he now has Byzantine, Fantasy and Medieval series, too, as well as several collaborations and short stories in other genres.

Now, with in excess of 25 novels available and 5 awaiting release, Simon is a prolific writer, spanning genres and eras and releasing novels both independently and through renowned publishers including Canelo and Orion. Simon writes full time and is represented by MMB Creative literary agents.

Look out for Roman military novels featuring Caesar’s Gallic Wars in the form of the bestselling Marius’ Mules series, Roman thrillers in the Praetorian series, set during the troubled reign of Commodus, adventures around the 15th century Mediterranean world in the Ottoman Cycle, and a series of Historical Fantasy novels with a Roman flavour called the Tales of the Empire.

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Out Now!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

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Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebookpage or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Silk and the Sword by Sharon Bennett Connolly

What a fabulous review of Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest from author S.J.A. Turney

S.J.A. Turney's Books & More

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Almost a year ago, I read and reviewed one of the most innovative and refreshing historical texts I have ever come across, that being Heroines of the Medieval World by Sharon Bennett Connolly (my review can be found here).

Imagine my glee in being able to dive in to Sharon’s second treatment of historical women, then. Silk and the Sword: the women of the Norman conquest is released in just three days’ time (15th of November). You can pre-order it here.

In ‘Heroines…’ Sharon gave us a very detailed, thought provoking, and fascinating view into an aspect of history that is rarely covered in academia: the feminine perspective. She explored what it meant to be a woman in the Medieval era, illustrating her narrative  by telling us the tales of some of the most interesting women ever to grace the pages of history.

Silk and the Sword is…

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Book Corner: Athena’s Champion by David Hair and Cath Mayo

The first in a thrilling new historical fantasy series; Odysseus must embrace his secret heritage and outwit the vengeful gods who would control or destroy him…

Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death.

Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.

When one of Athena’s schemes goes drastically wrong, and the young Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Odysseus must journey past the gates of Hades to save her. Falling in love with a Trojan princess, a bewitching woman who poses a deadly threat to both his homeland and Athena, won’t make his task any easier…

Drawing from classic Greek mythology, Athena’s Champion, first in the epic Olympus Trilogy, is perfect for fans of Madeline Miller and David Gemmell.

It is a distinct pleasure to have been able to review Athena’s Champion by David Hair and Cath Mayo as part of the blog tour celebrating the release of this wonderful novel.

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the Greek legends. I try to read everything associated with the Greek myths, and the Trojan Wars in particular. David Gemmell and Glyn Iliffe have been my go-to authors for a long time. However, with Athena’s Champion there is an excellent new series to get my teeth into. Written as a collaboration between David Hair and Cath Mayo, Athena’s Champion is the first in their Olympus Trilogy, a series which promises to bring the Greek myths to vivid life.

Athena’s Champion follows the adventures of Odysseus before he finds fame on the battlefields of Troy. It portrays the Greek hero as he learns his trade as a leader and a warrior, and as an instrument of the Gods. Several of the characters – Gods and heroes – who shape the Trojan Wars are introduced to us as the story weaves its way through ancient Greece and the depths of Hades itself.

An outcast from his home on Ithaca, Odysseus has to find his own place in the world while serving the ambitions and plans of his goddess, Athena. He is helped and guided by an immortal named Bria, who serves Athena and inhabits the bodies of mortals.

After a while, my brains clears a little, though I’m left with a thunderous headache, and I’m able to observe her more closely. She’s clad in a short brown tunic, man’s garb, her bony legs deeply tanned and her hair hacked short. The smell of stale perspiration and smoke clings to her, the dust on her face is being sweated off in shiny streaks, and a copper bracelet of strange design has been pushed up her forearm until it’s tight to her skin, the only unusual thing about her.

‘Was that … beast … Was it Molebus?’ I ask, curious to see how she responds, despite my pain and exhaustion.

She gives me an interested look. ‘Mmm,’ she says. ‘The Pythia’s going to be pissed off.’

‘Is he…? Did he…?’

‘He’s in a hole,’ she drawls, her manner more thirty than thirteen.

She killed a man… if that’s what he was! From her manner, I doubt it’s the first time.

‘How did I get here?’ I ask.

‘I dragged you,’ the girl says. ‘Lucky you’re a short-arse, otherwise I’d not have managed.’

I look down at my leg, wrapped tightly in a bloodied swathe of my own cloak, and shudder as I remember seeing my thigh bone amidst the torn meat and pumping blood. I grope at the bandages, my chest constricting in fear.

‘Don’t touch!’ the girl snaps. ‘Athena stopped the blood and closed the wound. That saved your life, but there’s still much healing to be done. You interfere with it, you’ll mess it up.’

Athena … Molebus … The Pythia … There has to be a rational explanation for all of this. But right now I can’t fond one – all I’m doing is making my head throb even worse than it was before. ‘I suppose I’m in your hands,’ I manage to murmur. ‘Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome, O Prince of Ithaca.’

‘You know who I am?’

She snickers. ‘Yes – we had that conversation some hours ago, during one of your semi-lucid moments – though not lucid enough for you to remember, clearly.’

‘If you say so.’

Odysseus is not the confident trickster we know for the traditional Trojan stories. He is learning his trade, though his quick intelligence and obvious courage. The enemies are not always obvious and not always tangible – Odysseus has to fight with his conscience as well as his physical opponents. The way he faces his trials head-on, and takes responsibility for  his mistakes makes him a sympathetic hero and one who draws the reader to his side from the very first pages.

Ancient Greece and the realms of the gods and Hades are wonderfully recreated in all their majestic and terrifying glory. Hades, in particular, is a marvelous, wondrous world in which the reader can get lost as easily as the souls trapped within.

The book is written by co-authors David Hair and Cath Mayo and it is a testimony to their writing skills that the story is seamless – it is impossible to tell which parts were written by which author. In fact, if I hadn’t known there were two writers, I would never have guessed. They have managed to recreate ancient Greece, combining the mystical and magical with the history and legends to produce a story that is at once in the greatest tradition of Homer whilst offering a refreshing and unique vision of these timeless stories.

I can highly recommend this fascinating, engaging novel to anyone who loves the greatest traditions of the Greek myths.

 

 

To Buy the Book:

Athena’s Champion can be bought from: Amazon (UK); Kobo (UK); Google Books (UK); Apple Books (UK)

Athena's Champion blog tour banner (2)

About the authors:

David Hair is an award-winning New Zealand YA and Adult fantasy writer, and the author of sixteen novels. He’s joined his considerable skill and expertise with Cath Mayo to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods. @DHairauthor

Cath Mayo is a New Zealand YA, Children and Adult fiction author. Her two published YA historical novels are both set in Ancient Greece and her first novel received a Storylines Notable Book Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2014. She’s joined her considerable skill and expertise with David Hair to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods. @cathmayoauthor

 

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Coming November 2018

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

 

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on 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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Druid by Steven A. McKay

Northern Britain, AD430

A land in turmoil. A village ablaze. A king’s daughter abducted.

In the aftermath of a surprise attack Dun Buic lies in smoking ruins and many innocent villagers are dead. As the survivors try to make sense of the night’s events the giant warrior-druid, Bellicus, is tasked with hunting down the raiders and thwarting their dark purpose.

With years of training in the old ways, two war-dogs at his side, and unsurpassed skill with a longsword, Bellicus’s quest will take him on a perilous journey through lands still struggling to cope with the departure of the Roman legions.

Meanwhile, amongst her brutal captors the little princess Catia finds an unlikely ally, but even he may not be able to avert the terrible fate King Hengist has in store for her.

This, the first volume in a stunning new series from the bestselling author of Wolf’s Head, explores the rich folklore and culture of post-Roman Britain, where blood-sacrifice, superstition and warfare were as much a part of everyday life as love, laughter and song.

As Saxon invaders and the new Christian religion seek to mould the country for their own ends one man will change the course of Britain’s history forever. . .

. . . THE DRUID.

“Steven A. McKay’s archetypal villains and heroes step vividly onto the page from a mist-veiled past of legend to battle for the life of a princess and the fate of Britain.
Dark age adventure at its gripping best.” – MATTHEW HARFFY, author of The Bernicia Chronicles

 

I have to say that the first thing that attracted me to this book was the awesome cover – it is one of the best and most original that I have seen in a long time. It offers the promise of an amazing story and does not disappoint.

Steven A. McKay is an excellent storyteller, who brings the legends of the past to life, with a new and unique perspective. His Robin Hood series was one of the best I’ve read, moving the events into Barnsdale Forest, he gave a refreshing revamp to the age-old tales and made them his own. He has now gone further back in time, to the dawn of the Anglo-Saxon occupation of Britain, when the departure of the Roman legions was still within living memory and the Britons were trying to resist the incursions of the Angles Saxons and Jutes, who had established bridgeheads on the Saxon shore – the east and south coasts of Britain.

The author sets the scene wonderfully for the events that will take the reader on a breathtaking journey from Scotland to the most sacred site in England, following the druid Bellicus as he hunts the Saxon raiders who had kidnapped a young princess, Catia. A vision of the landscape is beautifully woven into the reader’s mind, with the challenges the moutainous terrain, and the security offered to the northern tribes by Hadrian’s wall all making their own impact on the story. The distances walked or ridden lend credence to  the length of the journey undertaken by the Saxons in their journey back to their master, and by Bellicus in his dogged pursuit of the little princess’s kidnappers.

Yet here they were, with a settlement ravaged by fire and Alt Clota’s princess abducted by Saxon raiders.

“Sometimes I wish the Romans had never left,” Coroticus growled, then nodded his thanks as Nectovelius’s wife placed a steaming bowl of broth on the table before him, closely followed by three more for the other men.

Bellicus understood his king’s feelings at that moment but he couldn’t share them. The Romans might have put a stop to the raids by the people that surrounded Alt Clota, but they’d also tried to destroy the native way of life, including their religion.

The druids had been almost wiped out in the lands south of the Antonine Wall although the “civilising” influence of the Roman overlords had not penetrated much further north. The harsh land there offered sanctuary to those druids who managed to evade their persecutors and Bellicus had learned at the feet of some of them.

No, the giant druid was glad the Romans had gone. Now that they’d finally returned to their own lands the old ways were making a resurgence in Britain and the gods were once again enjoying the reverence they deserved. News had even reached Bellicus of a warlord in the south who aimed to unite the native peoples against the invading Saxon hordes. His closest advisor was a druid steeped in the old traditions, highest of their brotherhood and known as the Merlin.

“What are we going to do?” Gavo’s blunt question broke Bellicus’s reverie.

“We must go after them,” Coroticus responded, his tone making it clear there would be no argument.

Bellicus was always one to speak his mind though, even if kings didn’t like what they heard.

“Aye, certainly we must follow them and rescue the princess,” he agreed. “But you, my lord king, must remain here in Alt Clota.”

He held up a hand, forestalling the expected outburst.

….

As anyone who has read Steven A. MacKay’s work before has come to expect, the large-as-life characters make this story. Bellicus is a truly tenacious and singular druid, he exudes the mystery and magic of his people, confident in his knowledge of the old ways, and in his fighting abilities, the man is not just a giant in height, but also in his power and personality. He instills fear, trust and dedication in those he comes into contact with, and his own dedication to duty is an inspiration to those he comes into contact with.

Bellicus is human, however, and proves susceptible to the odd misdirection, but manages to overcome such setbacks with admirable courage and tenacity. He is a hero it is easy to like, and to whom the reader can easily relate. The supporting characters in the tale demonstrate clearly the conflict which England is about to be torn by, the Britons fighting for survival against the invading German tribes. The lines are drawn, but not always clear.

There are some wonderfully surprising elements to the story, and some cameo appearances that will bring a smile to the reader’s face. The adventure is fun and edge-of-the-seat stuff, from the pursuit to the frequent clashes of arms, the reader barely gets a moment to take a breath before the next part of the action unfolds.

The Druid tells a story as stunning as the cover art suggests and, as the first of a new series, promises drama and excitement for many books to come.

About the author:

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, “Wolf’s Head”, came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. “Blood of the Wolf” is the fourth and final book in the Forest Lord series which has over 100,000 sales so far.

Steven’s next book, “The Druid” is the first in a brand new series set in post-Roman Britain and will be published on November 1st 2018.

He plays guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up (which isn’t often these days to be honest).

Check out his website at https://stevenamckay.com/ and sign up for the email list – in return we’ll send you a FREE short story which is not available anywhere else, as well as offering chances to win signed books and other goodies!

The Druid goes on sale on 1st November 2018 and can be found on Steven A. McKay’s Amazon page.

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Coming in November!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.


Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on 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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Book Corner: Blood’s Revolution by Angus Donald

Newly returned from years of secret work in Paris, Lieutenant Holcroft Blood, a brilliant but unusual gunnery officer in His Majesty’s Ordnance, must now face King James II’s enemies on the gore-drenched battlefields of the British Isles.

But after the victory at Sedgemoor – and its cruel aftermath, the Bloody Assizes, in which the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion was ruthlessly crushed – many powerful men have grown tired of Catholic James’s brutal, autocratic rule and seek to invite William, the Protestant Prince of Orange, to seize the thrones of the Three Kingdoms.

While revolution brews in the gentlemen’s clubs of London, Holcroft discovers that a sinister French agent, known only by his code name Narrey, has followed him across the Channel and intends to murder him. Worse, Holcroft must decide whether to join the conspirators, including his old friend Jack Churchill, now Lord Marlborough, and support Dutch William’s invasion – or remain loyal to his unpopular king.

Holcroft Blood is my hero!

What a fabulous character Angus Donald has created in this fabulous new series set during the Stuart era. Holcroft is not your typical swashbuckling hero, he is a young man who struggles with personal connections and the nuances of human traits. He is more comfortable with mathematics and his cannons, but he has a remarkable knack for sniffing out trouble and unravelling conspiracies. In Blood’s Game, the first book in this new series, Holcroft was a young boy thrown into the heart of the court as a page to the Duke of Buckingham. Now he is an officer in the Royal Ordnance of the Stuart army and in Blood’s Revolution, his loyalty to his king is tested as the country and society turn against the Catholic king James II (VII in Scotland).

Blood’s Revolution is set some 15 years after the conclusion of the first book, Blood’s Game, which means it can easily be read as a standalone – though for anyone who hasn’t read Blood’s Game I can heartily recommend it!

Opening with Monmouth’s rebellion and the Battle of Sedgemoor, the early action sets the pace for the rest of the book, barely leaving the reader any opportunity to breathe, as Holcroft attempts to unravel the plots against the King and expose the plotters – and the French masterspy backing them. And at the same time, Holcroft has his own personal life to deal with; changing friendships, marriage and an errant brother all serve to upset the young man’s well-ordered life.

Matthew was standing now, red-faced, shaking with anger. ‘I will speak no more to you about Father Palmer nor about any other matter. I would rather hang!’

Holcroft lowered his head, he looked at his big hands, ignoring the threat of the angry boy standing over him and listening only to his words. He was not naturally skilled at this – the passion and poetry that resided in other men’s hearts had always been  something of a mystery to him. Yet he knew of his shortcomings and had trained himself, as far as it was possible, to listen to what men said and to test their words for truth or falsehood. To his ear, this was the voice of truth. The outrage was not false, so far as he could tell. This boy believed the Jesuit priest was innocent.

Holcroft looked up.

‘Sit down, and calm yourself. Or I will see that you do hang. I have one more question for you before I go. Sit down, be quiet and listen to me.’ Holcroft waited. Eventually, Matthews subsided and sat back down on the bed.

‘Tell me, John, why did you attempt to steal the keg of gunpowder from the magazine? Tell me truly and I will leave you here in peace, and do all I can for you with Lord Dartmouth at the court martial, as I have sworn on my honour to do.’

The fiction is seeded with real historical characters, ranging from Holcroft’s friend John Churchill – the future Duke of Marlborough – to the doomed Duke of Monmouth himself. Holcroft’s story itself is woven within the historical narrative, so that it is hard to tell where the facts end and fiction takes over; always a sign of a good book – and an opportunity for research that is hard to ignore. And the author’s note at the end also helps to distinguish between the fact and the fiction.

Angus Donald is a superb storyteller, drawing the reader in to the wonderfully wicked world he has recreated for Holcroft Blood to navigate his way through. It is hard to find a negative. The story is clever, imaginative and addictive. The characters are fascinating, full of life and vigour. The locations, especially 17th century London, are painstakingly recreated and brought to bustling life, the smells, sounds and atmosphere of a London, that is almost-recognisable to the 21st century reader, enhancing the story further.

It is going to be hard for the author to top this story with the next book in the series, but I cannot wait to find out what happens to Holcroft next…..

And at least I now know what to get my dad for Christmas – he’s gonna love this!

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Blood’s Revolution is available from Amazon in the UK from 18 October 2018.

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About the Author:

Angus Donald was educated at Marlborough College and Edinburgh University. He has worked as a fruit-picker in Greece, a waiter in New York and as an anthropologist studying magic and witchcraft in Indonesia. For many years he was a journalist in Hong Kong, India, Afghanistan and London. He is married to Mary, with whom he has two children, and he now writes full time from a medieval farmhouse in Kent.

He is the author of the bestselling Outlaw Chronicles, a series of eight books set in the 12th/13th centuries and featuring a gangster-ish Robin Hood and his loyal lieutenant Sir Alan Dale. His new Holcroft Blood series stars a mildly autistic artillery officer who was the son of notorious 17th-century Crown Jewel thief Colonel Thomas Blood. The series begins with Blood’s Game and continues with Blood’s Revolution (to be published in October 2018) and Blood’s Campaign (out October 2019). The author has also written an epic Asian fantasy novel Gates of Stone (out February 2019) under the pseudonym Angus Macallan. He is always happy to chat to readers on Facebook, Twitter and via his website http://www.angusdonaldbooks.com

 

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Coming in November!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on 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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Mercia, the Rise and Fall of a Kingdom by Annie Whitehead

Many people know about Wessex, the ‘Last Kingdom’ of the Anglo-Saxons to fall to the Northmen, but another kingdom, Mercia, once enjoyed supremacy over not only Wessex, but all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. At its zenith Mercia controlled what is now Birmingham and London ‒ and the political, commercial paramountcy of the two today finds echoes in the past.

Those interested in the period will surely have heard of Penda, Offa, and Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians ‒ but remarkably there is no single book that tells their story in its entirety, the story of the great kingdom of the midlands.

Historically, the records are in two halves, pre- and post-Viking, in the way they have been preserved. Pre-Viking, virtually all the source material was written by the victims, or perceived victims, of Mercian aggression and expansion. Post-Viking, the surviving documents tend to hail from places which were not sacked or burned by the Northmen, particularly from Wessex, the traditional enemy of Mercia. The inclusion of those records here allows for the exploration of Mercia post-924.

Mercia ceased to be a kingdom when Alfred the Great came to power, but its history did not end there. Examining the roles of the great ealdormen in the anti-monastic reaction of the tenth century, through the treachery of Eadric Streona in the eleventh, and the last, brave young earls who made a stand against William the Conqueror, this book shows the important role the Mercians played in the forging of the English nation.

 

I have been waiting eagerly for Annie Whitehead’s Mercia: the Rise and Fall of  a Kingdom ever since I knew she was writing it. Luckily, I got an advanced copy from the publisher – but it was well worth the wait! In her introduction Annie Whitehead promises:

This is the story of the Mercians, the kings, the queens, saints, sinners, earls and warrior women who governed the kingdom and shaped its history.

 

And she does not disappoint!

Mercia: the Rise and Fall of  a Kingdom covers the story of the English midlands kingdom from its pagan origins, in the 7th century, to its absorption into the kingdom of England; a process started in the reign of King Alfred but not completed until after the Norman Conquest. Annie Whitehead traced the fortunes of Mercia from Penda, a king we know little enough about – and that from his enemies. As the author tells us, the problems with knowing anything about early Mercian history spring from the fact Mercia was a pagan land; they therefore had no monastic tradition of writing everything down. In which case, their history is taken from such as the Venerable Bede, who lived in the land of Mercia’s enemies, Northumbria.

As a result, Annie Whitehead’s first task was to assess the bias of her sources, all of whom had their own hostile vision of Mercia. She uses sources from varied fields, including charter and archaeological evidence, in order to reconstruct early Mercian society and tell the story of the land itself, and its relations to its neighbours, such as Northumbria, Wessex and East Anglia. Using primary sources wherever possible, Mercia: the Rise and Fall of  a Kingdom brings the people of this ancient kingdom to vivid life. The author also uses alliterative analysis, to suggest familial links between such rulers as Coenred and Ceolred, for example. Although this is not an exact science, it does help to give the reader some perspective on the personal and familial relationships between the major players in the region.

Throughout the book, Annie Whitehead retells the story from the available sources, taking great care to avoid filling in the gaps with invention and clearly offering theories and analysis to explain the direction in which the narrative proceeded. She provides an ongoing assessment of sources, discussing their validity, honesty and integrity; clearly stating where charters are thought to be spurious or of dubious provenance.

The story portrayed is one of conflict, from within and without the region, marriage alliances, murder and betrayal and the shifting political tensions of the various kingdoms within England. The history, inevitably, draws on the history of Wessex, Northumbria, Kent and Wales. However, Annie Whitehead constantly retains the focus firmly on Mercia, while clearly demonstrating the shifting political alliances and the internal and external forces which decided the direction in which Mercian – and English history as a whole – would eventual be drawn.

It is difficult to piece together the circumstances of Æthelbald’s exile. It doesn’t appear that Ceolred was a strong enough king to stave off contenders, particularly ones of the calibre Æthelbald would prove to be. Perhaps, then, he had been in exile since the time of Æthelred, yet he did not emerge until after Ceolred’s death. Were there other contenders to the throne? Had he been chased out of Mercia because the kings there were strong, or because he was, and thus he was  a threat? Dynastic disputes would become a feature of Mercian politics, particularly in the next century.

There is, in fact, a hint that the takeover was not so peaceful, provided by a reference in one source to a Ceolwald reigning between Ceolred and Æthelbald. This man, briefly mentioned in Chapter Three, could, if he existed at all, have been the brother of Ceolred. If so, and if he became king, he did not reign for long, for Æthelbald became king in the same year in which Coelred died. Perhaps there was a coup? If only we knew; but as we have seen, particularly when it comes to Mercian history, absence of evidence is most assuredly not evidence of absence, and we can only speculate when we come across these tantalising nuggets of information.

Æthelflæd, Lady of Mercia

Annie Whitehead provides a thorough and in-depth analysis of Mercia, its history and its people. Where there is uncertainty or conflicting evidence , she carefully sets out the opposing theories, providing her own thoughts and analysis, while making it clear what alternative reasoning there is available. The text is supplemented by some wonderful illustrations, colourful photographs of locations and buildings closely associated with Mercia’s history, from the well-known statue of Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great and Lady of Mercia, to Repton in Derbyshire, burial site of a number of Mercian kings.

On a personal level, it is fascinating to read another author’s interpretation of subjects I have researched myself. Annie Whitehead dedicates (and rightfully so) an entire chapter to the Lady Æthelflæd and her husband Æthelred. And it is good to know that her version of Æthelflæd does not contradict the lady I found when researching Heroines of the Medieval World. The same also happened with her depiction of Lady Godiva. Godiva appears in my next book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest; she was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and grandmother of the last Anglo-Saxon Earl of Mercia, Edwin, who was killed in 1071 after fighting against the Normans.

Mercia: the Rise and Fall of  a Kingdom  is written in an engaging and conversational manner, leaving the reader both entertained and informed. It is impossible to read this book without being made aware of the depth of research that has gone into producing such an authoritative depiction of Mercia. the

Rich in detail, this is a must-have book for anyone interested in the English midlands, and Anglo-Saxon history. Annie Whitehead delves into all the corners of Mercia, her history and conflicts and relates the story of not just the land, but of the generations of people who occupied it.

About the author:

Annie Whitehead graduated in history having specialised in the ‘Dark Ages’ and is a member of the Royal Historical Society. She’s written three books about early medieval Mercia, the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the Midlands. The first, To Be a Queen, tells the story of Alfred the Great’s daughter, and was long-listed for the Historical Novelist Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, and was an IAN (Independent Author Network) Finalist in 2017, while the second, Alvar the Kingmaker, is the story of Aelfhere, Earl of Mercia in the 10th century. The third, Cometh the Hour, is the first of two volumes set in seventh-century Mercia. She was a contributor to the anthology 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternative short stories. She writes magazine articles and has had pieces printed in diverse publications, including Cumbria Magazine and This England. She has twice been a prize winner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing Competition, and won First Prize in the 2012 New Writer Magazine’s Prose and Poetry Competition. She was a finalist in the 2015 Tom Howard Prize for nonfiction, and is also a contributor and editor for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, as well as blogging for her own site – Casting Light upon the Shadow. In 2017 she won the inaugural HWA/Dorothy Dunnett Society Short Story Prize. Her first full-length nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, is published by Amberley and available from Amazon UK.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmazon USAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The King’s Witch by Tracy Borman

As she helps to nurse the dying Queen Elizabeth, Frances Gorges longs for the fields and ancient woods of her parents’ Hampshire estate, where she has learned to use the flowers and herbs to become a much-loved healer.

Frances is happy to stay in her beloved countryside when the new King arrives from Scotland, bringing change, fear and suspicion. His court may be shockingly decadent, but James’s religion is Puritan, intolerant of all the old ways; he has already put to death many men for treason and women for witchcraft.

So when her ambitious uncle forcibly brings Frances to court, she is trapped in a claustrophobic world of intrigue and betrayal – and a ready target for the twisted scheming of Lord Cecil, the King’s first minister. Surrounded by mortal dangers, Frances finds happiness only with the precocious young Princess Elizabeth, and Tom Wintour, the one courtier she can trust.

Or can she?

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Tracy Borman’s first novel, The King’s Witch through NetGalley.

I have often read and enjoyed Tracy Borman’s non-fiction works. Indeed, her book on Matilda of Flanders, queen of William the Conqueror, was very helpful in my research for my own books, Heroines of the Medieval World and Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest. However, there is a great difference in writing non-fiction and fiction and not every author can make the jump. As a result I was unsure what tot expect from The King’s Witch  but discovered that Tracy Borman has managed to create a masterpiece of literary fiction at the first attempt.

Set in the court of James VI and I shortly after his arrival in England, The King’s Witch weaves a wonderful tale of love, intrigue, betrayal and suspense, set against the backdrop of the king’s obsession with eradicating witchcraft within his realm and the persecution of catholics. The officers of the old regime of Elizabeth I are trying to curry favour with the new king by taking on his obsessions and making them their own, so that those out of favour are hunted on every side.

As curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, Tracy Borman uses the wealth of inside  knowledge and information she has acquired to vividly recreate the world of early Stuart Britain in vibrant detail. She breathes life into her characters, both historical and invented, so that it is impossible to tell where the fact ends and the fiction begins. Her expertise is demonstrated not only in court etiquette, dress and manners, but also in the seedier side of Stuart Britain, in the treatment and punishment of prisoners, the oppression of catholic families and priests. The extent of research the author pursued in the writing of the book is demonstrated in the knowledge of herbs and their healing qualities, and how a girl may gain and use the knowledge to help others, if not always successfully.

There was silence for a few moments, then Helena bade her daughter sit with her again, and clasped both of Frances’s hands in her own.

‘My daughter.’ She pronounced the word as ‘dotter’, a rare hint of her native tongue. ‘You are my precious jewel. If only I could keep you as safe as these trifles -‘ she gestured to the coffers surrounding them, each secured with a brightly polished lock, the keys to which were only entrusted to her highest-ranking attendant.

Frances looked up into her mother’s dark brown eyes. She had long since seen her fiftieth year, but with her pale skin, high cheekbones, and small rosebud mouth, she was still beautiful.

‘Lady Mother?’

‘Frances, you must know that the court – the kingdom – is greatly changed,’ Helena began, her voice low. ‘King James has no patience with the traditions upheld by the late queen. Already the court is beset with scandal and vice. It will bring shame upon the kingdom.’ A scornful look crossed her face.  ‘Yet neither does he respect our former mistress’s moderation in matters of religion, but insists upon the strict observance of the Protestant faith. He seems determined to bend his subjects to his will.

Helena looked down at her hands for a moment, and when she raised her eyes to Frances again they were clouded with anxiety.

‘He has declared a war on witches, Frances. He says that they are a canker in our midst, and that God has appointed him to destroy them all. He will not leave a stone unturned in his search for the “whores of Satan”, as he calls them. Already Cecil is drafting a new Act against witchcraft. Any practice that is deemed to be sorcery will be punishable by death.’ She paused, eyeing Frances closely. ‘Even the arts of healing are under suspicion. There is to be no mercy.’

Frances looked doubtful. ‘Surely the king does not mean to hunt down the wise women and cunning folk? His officials would have to scour every village in the kingdom, and to what purpose? Their skills have always been used for good, not evil.’

 

The heroine of the story, Frances Gorges, as lady-in-waiting to King James’ pampered daughter, Elizabeth, has to navigate the Stuart court, despite being suspected as a witch by the king’s chief adviser, Robert Cecil. A skilled healer, Frances’ kind and trusting nature is tested to the extremes. While her skill with herbs and healing leads her into a dark place, her love for one of the men of the court leads her into the heart of a dangerous conspiracy and she doesn’t know who to trust. As the story unfolds, the reader is taken on a journey into the heart of a plot could change the course of history….

Tracy Borman has succeeded wonderfully in attaining that often difficult balance with historical fiction, of keeping to the historical fact while weaving an enchanting story which will keep the reader gripped to the very last page. Her obvious expertise in the era means that she is able to get into the heads of the characters she is depicting, thus relating their thoughts feelings and motivations with an uncanny accuracy which serves to transport the reader back in time, to the court and country of James VI and I. The author accurately depicts the sense of unease and apprehension at the change in regime from Elizabethan to Jacobean, demonstrating the distrust and unfamiliarity that accompanies the Scottish king to his new court; and conflict between those who find favour with the new king and those who hanker after the times and tolerance of the old queen, Elizabeth I.

Tracy Borman’s heroine, Frances Gorges, must traverse this difficult terrain of shifting allegiances and changing favourites, searching for a way to survive the plots and machinations of those who would see her fall. The King’s Witch is an exquisitely crafted novel, recreating the essence of Stuart Britain in wonderful detail.

The King’s Witch is available from Amazon.

About the author

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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

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

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. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmazon USAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly