Book Corner: The Two Eleanors of Henry III by Darren Baker

Eleanor of Provence was born in the province of her name in 1223. She has come to England at the age of twelve to marry the king, Henry III. He’s sixteen years older, but was a boy when he ascended the throne. He’s a kind, sensitive sort whose only personal attachments to women so far have been to his three sisters. The youngest of them is called Eleanor too. She was only nine when, for political reasons, her first marriage took place, but she’s already a chaste twenty-year old widow when the new queen arrives in 1236. In a short time, this Eleanor will marry the rising star of her brother’s court, a French parvenu named Simon de Montfort, thus wedding the fates of these four people together in an England about to undergo some of the most profound changes in its history. It’s a tale that covers three decades at its heart, with loyalty to family and principles at stake, in a land where foreigners are subject to intense scrutiny and jealousy. The relationship between these two sisters-in-law, close but ultimately doomed, will reflect not just the turbulence and tragedy of their times, but also the brilliance and splendour.

Having just reviewed one of the best fiction books of 2019 in Angus Donald’s Blood’s Campaign, it is a pleasure to review one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read this year. Darren Baker’s The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort is a truly engaging book, delving into the lives of two very different women, friends who were on opposing sides during the Second Baron’s War and the rebellion of Simon de Montfort.

Told chronologically, with their lives running in parallel, Darren Baker recreates the experiences of Eleanor of Provence, queen of Henry III, and Eleanor de Montfort, sister of Henry III and wife of his bitter enemy, Simon de Montfort. Sympathetic but not overly sentimental, Darren Baker recreates the political and personal lives of his two protagonists, both on the national and international stage.

The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort is a wonderful analysis of the years between the issuing of Magna Carta and the death of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham, clearly demonstrating the roles played by the wives of the two main protagonists in the ongoing battle between crown and barons. Darren Baker examines the conflict, and motivations behind it, from a new and innovative angle.

It cannot have been easy to write a dual biography about two women who shared a Christian name, but Darren Baker has a remarkable skill in always clearly identifying which Eleanor he is talking about at any particular time, negating any possible confusion for the reader.

As the banquet commences, Eleanor [of Provence] notices a man standing in close proximity to them, holding a basin of water for the king to clean his hands in before, during and after the meal. But e is clearly no servant. Besides wearing stately robes, he walks with Henry with a familiarity that suggests they are friends. More intriguing, his accent is very close to hers. Someone in the party whispers that it is Simon de Montfort, the son of the crusader who set most of their region ablaze three decades earlier. Simon too grew up in the south of France until his father was felled in the conflict. When the crusade was over, he ventured to England to claim the earldom of Leicester through his grandmother’s noble lineage. The earldom came with the office of steward, which is what this tall and handsome knight, then in his late twenties, is doing in attending the king at the feast.

Simon looks at the party from Provence with equal suspicion. He survived a purge of foreign courtiers only a few years before and is worried this new crowd from abroad might re-ignite that peculiar English obsession with aliens. His position seems safe because he is one of Henry’s most trusted confidants. He has recently shown his loyalty to him by proposing marriage to two widowed countesses on the Continent, presumably at the king’s urging. Henry has grand ideas about creating alliances across the Channel as a means of recovering the lands seized by the French from his father. ‘Do that,’ he intimated, ‘and I’ll find you a suitable bride if it doesn’t work out.’ Simon returned empty-handed.

Widows abound in this feudal society and the king gets to decide who marries the rich and powerful ones. None is more desirable than his own sister, who is also named Eleanor. She was younger than her new sister-in-law when she was betrothed to William Marshal II, son of her brother’s first regent. Because of her extreme youth at the time, it was years before she and William began cohabiting. Their marriage waas successfull but childless.

Don’t be fooled by the flowing narrative, The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort is an in-depth analysis, not only of the lives of the two women, but of the events which shaped their world and threatened the very stability of England and the monarchy. Darren Baker delves into the motivations of both women, their loyalty to their husbands and family and examines the lengths that each went to in order to protect their own interests.

The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort is a pleasure to read. It provides great insight into the lives of Eleanor of Provence, Eleanor de Montfort, their husbands and children and the impact that their family feuding had, not only on England, but also on the European stage. The author does not run to judgement and provides a balanced analysis of both sides of the conflict of the Second Barons’ War. He clearly points out the character strengths and flaws of both Eleanors, using chronicles and letters to build clear images of their characters and personalities.

The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort firmly places Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort within the thirteenth century world in which they lived. Darren Baker brings their stories to life, with his passion for his subjects clearly visible in the elegant narrative. This book is a must for anyone interested in medieval women or in the conflict between Henry III and Simon de Montfort. Placing the focus on the two women who saw their husbands and sons drawn into the Second Barons’ War shines a whole new light on the period.

It is an enjoyable and fascinating read!

To buy the Book:

The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort is now available from Amazon UK and is available for pre-order from Amazon US and direct from Pen & Sword.

About the author:

Darren Baker is a translator and historian who took his degree at the University of Connecticut. He currently lives in the Czech Republic.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Blood’s Campaign by Angus Donald

ONE OF THE MOST TURBULENT REIGNS IN HISTORY PAVED THE WAY FOR THE FIRST MODERN REVOLUTION.

AFTER THE TUDORS CAME THE STUARTS . . .

If you enjoy S. J. Parris and Andrew Taylor, then this is the series you need to read next.

August 25, 1689

The English Army is besieging Carrickfergus in Ireland. Brilliant but unusual gunner Holcroft Blood of the Royal Train of Artillery is ready to unleash his cannons on the rebellious forces of deposed Catholic monarch James II. But this is more than war for Captain Blood, a lust for private vengeance burns within him.

French intelligence agent Henri d’Erloncourt has come across the seas to foment rebellion against William of Orange, the newly installed Dutch ruler of England, Scotland and Ireland. But Henri’s true mission is not to aid the suffering of the Irish but to serve the interests of his master, Louis le Grand.

Michael ‘Galloping’ Hogan, brigand, boozer and despoiler of Protestant farms, strives to defend his native land – and make a little profit on the side. But when he takes the Frenchman’s gold, he suspects deep in his freedom-loving heart, that he has merely swapped one foreign overlord for another.

July 1, 1690

On the banks of the River Boyne, on a fateful, scorching hot day, two armies clash in bloody battle – Protestant against Catholic – in an epic struggle for mastery of Ireland. And, when the slaughter is over and the smoke finally clears, for these three men, nothing will ever be the same again . . .

The sign of a really good book is always that you find yourself absorbed in it, desperate to finish it but bereft when you do. Blood’s Campaign is a really, really, really good book!

I was extremely excited to be offered this book to review by NetGalley. The first 2 books in the series, Blood’s Game and Blood’s Revolution, were both fantastic and refreshingly unique stories, introducing a hero who was sympathetic and quirky in a very distinct way.

Blood’s Campaign, the third in the series following the exploits of Holcroft Blood, it takes us to Ireland and the campaign that led to the Battle of the Boyne and the end of James VII and II’s hopes to regain the throne from his daughter and her husband, the joint monarchs, William III and Mary II. Angus Donald combines the story of the campaign with Blood’s own personal mission to find and destroy the French spy, codenamed Narrey – Holcroft’s one-time friend, Henri d’Erloncourt.

In today’s society, Holcroft Blood would be on the Autistic Spectrum. In the 17th Century, there was no such diagnosis. He was simply seen as a peculiar character. Holcroft is well aware of his failings, of his inability to understand jokes and to read some people; this, and his black-and-white outlook on life can lead to distractions which in themselves could lead him into trouble, especially with women. He feels more comfortable when order is enforced, which makes the army the ideal home for Holcroft.

He clambered up the pile of rubble by the corner of the farmhouse and pulled out his telescope. ‘You take over, Enoch,’ he said over his shoulder. ‘Nothing fancy, go for the highest rate of fire. I’ll spot for you from here.’

He trained the telescope on the roof of Joymount House. The twenty-four-pounders were being moved again. No need to aim at the breach any more. Then to his joy he caught a glimpse of Narrey standing alone by the easel, tapping his chin with the wooden end of the paintbrush, on the right-hand roof before he moved out of sight towards the rear.

Please, God, let him stay where he is, please, God, let him remain up there.

He looked behind him to see what stage the reloading process had reached. Nearly there.

‘Tend the match,’ Jackson was saying to the matrosse now holding the linstock. ‘Have a care. Give fire! May the Lord guide our efforts.’

It was a beautiful shot. The mortar coughed, spitting the missile in a high, elegant arc, a parabola, far over the burnt-out farmhouse, soaring over the town walls and dropping down, down until the hollow iron sphere exploded with a colossal bang exactly over the centre of the battery atop Joymount House.

‘Dead on, Enoch,’ shouted Holcroft. ‘Full on target. More of that, please.’At that moment, a musket cracked and a ball pinged from a piece of broken rubble beside his cheek, spattering him painfully with grains of brick dust. The Irish musketeers on the walls had, at last, taken notice of the mortar’s position.

Holcroft Blood’s penchant for mathematics makes him the perfect gunner and he feels at home calculating angles and distances and the flight of a cannonball – the science of gunnery offers him a home in a world that he often finds hard to understand. However, his mathematical mind also means he has a knack for codes – a skill which has drawn him into the world of espionage before, and which he uses again in an attempt to corner his implacable enemy, Narrey.

Holcroft not only has to negotiate the machinations of his enemies, but the enmity of his commanding officer, and his own feelings, in order to track down his enemy and fulfill his duties within the army. The story of the campaign which led to the Battle of the Boyne and beyond is laid out beautifully by Angus Donald – as is the gorgeous Irish landscape.

The author’s research is impeccable and thorough, not only with the battle itself, but also with his knowledge of provisions, troop movements, training and 17th century society in both Ireland and England. His knowledge of the campaign, gunnery and the minutiae of army life help to bring to life the Stuart world in vivid and colourful detail.

Blood’s Campaign is exciting from the first page to the last. A totally absorbing story, it will keep you reading ‘just another chapter’ long into the night. You don’t just read this book – you devour it.

Blood’s Campaign is definitely in my 10 best books of 2019. It takes you on a wonderful adventure and leaves you wanting more!

To buy the Book:

Blood’s Campaign is available from Amazon.

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, followed by Blood’s Revolution and Blood’s Campaign (out November 2019). The author has also written an epic Asian fantasy novel Gates of Stone 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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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: The First Lady and the Queen by Susan Higginbotham

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Author Susan Higginbotham to History … the Interesting Bits with a wonderful article about the correspondence between Mary Lincoln and Queen Victoria.

The First Lady and the Queen

Mary Lincoln in widow’s weeds

Of the black-draped widows of the nineteenth century, surely two of the best known are Queen Victoria, who gave her name to the age, and Mary Lincoln, wife to the martyred American President. Bereaved just a few years apart, they would spend the rest of their lives in mourning.

Queen Victoria’s consort, Albert, died on December 14, 1861, at Windsor Palace. In due time, a formal letter of condolence arrived from the United States, signed by Abraham Lincoln, assuring the queen, “The American People . . . deplore his death and sympathize in Your Majesty’s irreparable bereavement with an unaffected sorrow. This condolence may not be altogether ineffectual, since we are sure it emanates from only virtuous motives and natural affection. I do not dwell upon it, however, because I know that the Divine hand that has wounded, is the only one that can heal.”

Mary Lincoln acknowledged the royal loss in her own way. On February 5, 1862, the Lincolns, at Mary’s suggestion, held a magnificent reception at the White House. The New York Herald reported the next day, “Mrs. Lincoln received the company with gracious courtesy. She was dressed in a magnificent white satin robe, with a black flounce half a yard wide, looped with black and white bows, a low corsage trimmed with black lace, and a bouquet of crepe myrtle on her bosom. Her head-dress was a wreath of black and white flowers, with a bunch of crepe myrtle on the right side. The only ornaments were a necklace, earrings, brooch and bracelets, of pearl. The dress was simple and elegant. The half mourning style was assumed in respect to Queen Victoria . . . whose representative was one of the most distinguished among the guests on this occasion.”

Not all of the press shared the Herald‘s enthusiasm. The country had settled into what would prove to be years of civil war, and the extravagant reception struck some as being in poor taste. The Pittsburgh Gazette of February 8, 1862, titling its short piece “Our Court Gone Into Mourning!” quoted the excerpt above, and then commented succinctly, “Don’t larf.”

Sadly, Mary would soon be wearing full mourning, and not as a courtesy for a distant queen. Her son Willie had fallen ill, and Mary had spent much of the reception going to and from his bedside. Though the prognosis initially appeared hopeful, Willie’s condition soon deteriorated, and he died on February 20, 1862. Mary could not bear to attend his funeral.

Unlike Queen Victoria, who put her entire court into mourning for Albert, Mary had only herself to attend to. (Unlike women, who when grieving for their closest relatives were expected to muffle themselves in deep, lusterless black if their means permitted it, men could get by simply with a black band around a sleeve or a hat–or with no mourning apparel at all.) Still, there was a fashion aspect to mourning, to which entire establishments catered, and Mary did not permit her terrible grief to prevent her from giving precise instructions to Ruth Harris, the hapless milliner who had the task of putting together a bonnet. “I want a very very fine black straw for myself–trimmed with folds of jet fine blk crape,” she instructed on May 17, 1862. Alas, the bonnet did not quite suit, so later that month, Mary explained, “I wished a much finer blk straw bonnet for mourning–without the gloss.”

By April 1865, however, Mary was wearing garments in an array of colors and looking forward to a brighter future. The war was all but won, and although President Lincoln had just begun his second term of office, he was looking forward to doing some traveling once he returned to private life. He hoped to visit Europe, as did Mary.

Abraham Lincoln, of course, never realized this dream, but was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, and died the next morning.

First page of the letter from Queen Victoria to Mary Lincoln

Several weeks later, Mary, who remained at the White House for over a month after her husband’s death, received the following black-bordered letter:

                                                                                      Osborne.

                                                                                      April 29, 1865.

Dear Madam,

Though a stranger to you I cannot remain silent when so terrible a calamity has fallen upon you & your country, & must personally express my deep & heartfelt sympathy with you under the shocking circumstances of your present dreadful misfortune.

No one can better appreciate than I can, who am myself utterly broken-hearted by the loss of my own beloved Husband, who was the Light of my Life, — my Stay — my All, — what your own sufferings must be; and I earnestly pray that you may be supported by Him to whom alone the sorely stricken can look for comfort, in this hour of heavy affliction.

With the renewed expression of true sympathy,

I remain,

dear Madam,

Your sincere friend

Victoria

Mary responded with her own black-bordered letter:

Mary Lincoln’s letter to Queen Victoria

                                                                        Washington

                                                                        May 21st, 1865

Madam:

I have received the letter, which Your Majesty has had the kindness to write, & am deeply grateful for its expressions of tender sympathy, coming as they do, from a heart which from its own sorrow, can appreciate the intense grief I now endure. Accept, Madam, the assurances of my heartfelt thanks &believe me in the deepest sorrow, Your Majesty’s sincere and grateful friend.

Mary Lincoln

On May 23, 1865, Mary Lincoln left the White House, and Washington, at last. Unable to stomach the idea of returning to Springfield, Illinois, where she had met her husband and spent most of her married life, she moved to Chicago, but found little comfort there. Finally, in October 1868, she and her youngest son, Thomas “Tad” Lincoln, sailed for Europe. Although she based herself in Frankfurt, she made an excursion to France. There, at Nice, Mary, traveling incognito, ran across Victoria and Albert’s eldest daughter, Victoria, Princess Royal, Crown Princess of Prussia. As Mary reported to Eliza Slataper on February 17, 1869, “She had alighted from her carriage and was selecting some gorgeous tablecovers–our eyes met & we looked earnestly at each other, yet until she left the store, I did not know, who she was. Of course she will always remain in ignorance, regarding me.”

That summer, Mary visited Scotland. “Beautiful glorious Scotland, has spoilt me for every other Country!” she reported to Eliza on August 21, 1869. Her Scottish tour included a stop at Balmoral Castle. Although Victoria was absent, Mary told her friend Rhoda White in a letter dated August 30, 1869, “I have every assurance, that as sisters in grief a warm welcome would be give me–wherever she is–yet I prefer quiet.”

CDV of Victoria in mourning

Sadly, the sisters in grief were never to meet, although by the fall of 1870 Mary was staying in England, the climate of which disagreed with her and Tad, who was homesick as well. Mother and son returned to the United States in May 1871. Cornered by a “lady reporter” for the New York World, and asked to give her impression of the English people, Mary replied, as reported on May 16, 1871, “We were . . . very pleasantly received there, and enjoyed our stay exceedingly.”

As it turned out, Tad’s indisposition could not be cured by leaving behind London’s fog, and the youth died of a lung ailment in July 1871, just weeks after his return to America. His death launched Mary into a downward spiral, culminating in her son Robert’s decision to commit her to a private insane asylum in 1875. This at least invigorated Mary, who soon engineered her release. Declared “restored to reason,” Mary returned alone to Europe in 1876. but she seems to have avoided England, and even her beloved Scotland, entirely. In failing health, Mary returned to Springfield and died there on July 15, 1882.

Queen Victoria, however, had many more years to live, and seven years after Mary’s death would greet Abraham and Mary’s only surviving son, Robert, who was appointed minister to the Court of St. James in 1889. On May 25, Robert Lincoln presented his credentials to the queen at Windsor. The Chicago Tribune of May 26, 1889, reported, “Lincoln congratulated the Queen on her 70th birthday, and the Queen said some pleasant words to Mr. Lincoln about his father.”

Mary Lincoln would have been quite pleased. 

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It is always a pleasure to have Susan visit the blog, and I owe her a huge thanks for such an interesting article. I would like to take this opportunity to wish Susan every success with her latest novel, The First Lady and the Rebel. If you’ve never read one of Susan’s books, I highly recommend you take the plunge!

About the Author:

Susan Higginbotham is the author of seven historical novels, including Hanging MaryThe Stolen Crown, and The Queen of Last HopesThe Traitor’s Wife, her first novel, was the winner of ForeWord Magazine’s 2005 Silver Award for historical fiction and was a Gold Medalist, Historical/Military Fiction, 2008 Independent Publisher Book wards. She writes her own historical fiction blog, History Refreshed. Susan has worked as an editor and an attorney, and lives in Maryland with her family. 

From the celebrated author Susan Higginbotham comes the incredible story of Lincoln’s First Lady 

A Union’s First Lady 

As the Civil War cracks the country in two, Mary Lincoln stands beside her husband praying for a swift Northern victory. But as the body count rises, Mary can’t help but fear each bloody gain. Because her beloved sister Emily is across party lines, fighting for the South, and Mary is at risk of losing both her country and her family in the tides of a brutal war. 

A Confederate Rebel’s Wife 

Emily Todd Helm has married the love of her life. But when her husband’s southern ties pull them into a war neither want to join, she must make a choice. Abandon the family she has built in the South or fight against the sister she has always loved best. 

With a country’s legacy at stake, how will two sisters shape history? 

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | CHAPTERS | INDIEBOUND 

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Susan Higginbotham

Book Corner: The Winter Knight by SJA Turney

A murder in a far off castle. A deadly struggle to survive… An intense and gripping Medieval thriller.

In the depths of winter at an ancient German castle, high up in the mountains, a noble is found dead under mysterious circumstances.

Back at Rourell, Arnau is taking on the responsibilities of a full Templar Knight. But when he is tasked with returning Brother Lütolf’s papers to settle a legal dispute between his family and the Order, Arnau is unexpectedly drawn into the killing at the castle. Here he enters a dark game of knives and double-crosses.

Trapped in the ice-bound fortress, mastery of the sword is no longer enough. This is a different kind of war: one of shadows and whispered threats. Arnau must use all the guile he possesses, or risk succumbing to an icy tomb.

The Winter Knight is the fourth adventure of Arnaud Vallbona in SJA Turney‘s wonderful Knights Templar series. Each story in this series is unique and focuses on the experiences or life of the individual brothers of the preceptory at Rourell in Spain. The first book, Daughter of War, dealt with the very survival of the preceptory itself and its indomitable ruler, Ermengarde; a female preceptrix of the Knights Templar. And while the second book, The Last Emir, saw Arnaud hunting for relics, the third sent him east, to Byzantium and the Fourth Crusade.

The Winter Knight once more sends Arnaud on his travels, this time to the home of his former mentor, Brother Lutolf, in Germany. And to an altogether different adventure. Rather than a tale of war and destruction, The Winter Knight is a totally gripping murder mystery set among the chilly atmosphere of a German castle, or schloss, in the depths of winter.

‘”But if thou doest evil, dread thou; for not without cause he beareth the sword, for he is the minister of God, venger into wrath to him that doeth evil.” Romans thirteen. The Lord reminds us that the ministers of God are the agents of his vengeance, bringing the sword to evildoers.’

Felipe frowned. ‘You don’t mean …’

Arnau sighed. ‘It is, in one very important way, none of our business. But as warriors of His Church, it is in another way our business above all others. The word of the Book should always take precedence over temporal matters, Felipe.’

‘Interference might not be popular, Brother Arnau. I do not think they like us.’

‘They do not have to like us. Just to respect our authority within the Church. It might be a matter of duty that we apprehend the evildoer and visit divine judgement upon him.’

Felipe joined in the shivers now. ‘Be careful, Brother Arnau.’ He tapped his precious book of the Rule. ‘”Every brother of the Temple should be believed to the benefit of the Temple and our house, and the brother should be careful what he takes upon himself, for if the thing is not as he says, he should be judged to have committed a fault.” Rule 150.’

Arnau turned back to the window. Beneath that canopy and the ever-present snow, the dark circle of the well seemed to be taunting him, sneering that it had eaten the young lord who was the very reason for their visit. He clenched his teeth. ‘I can live with committing a fault, but whoever cut an innocent man’s throat and attempted to hide the body in such a despicable way? He deserves the vengeance of the Lord.’

His eyes rose to the apartments opposite, just in time to see a hooded figure in one of the windows looking straight across the courtyard at him, then disappearing within and slamming the shutters tight.

SJA Turney fills each page with an atmosphere of suspense and intrigue that is hard to escape, even after the book is finished. The clever plot, beautiful and desolate snowy countryside and wonderful, diverse characters have the reader intrigued from the very first page – the opening scenes being the grisly murder itself!

As I have come to expect with SJA Turney, the research is impeccable. From the Templar Rule, through the German weather and the bleak and imposing castle, down to the language and customs of the time, the author has recreated medieval Germany in great detail, even down to the German mindset, their distrust of foreign military orders and the political machinations of the time.

Arnau de Vallbona is a wonderful lead character, and it has been a pleasure to watch him grow and mature over the 4 books, from an immature novice to a full-fledged knight of the Order, having grown in confidence and ability. However, he is no knightly paragon and it is fascinating to watch his struggles with his Order’s rules, with a little flirtation with Brother Lutolf’s sister, and his responsibilities, in searching for the murderer, supervising his squire and looking after Templar interests in the face of a grieving family.

As a murder mystery, The Winter Knight is impressive. Even looking at it with a critical eye, the plot is cleverly woven into the story, drawing on legend, human emotions and the worst of humanity to leave the reader guessing at the identity of the murder until the full extent of his crimes is revealed to the reader.

Despite being the fourth book in a series, The Winter Knight has a unique quality in that it is entirely readable and entertaining as a standalone. At no point does the reader feel that they are missing a part of the story as a result of not having read the previous 3 books. Although, as someone who has read and devoured them all, I highly recommend the entire series.

With The Winter Knight, SJA Turney has again shown his versatility as a writer in this thoroughly absorbing and entertaining novel. I can’t wait for the next instalment!

About the Author:

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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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Anne FitzHugh Lovell by Michele Schindler

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Francis Lovell’s biographer Michele Schindler to the blog, with an article about Lovell’s wife, Anne FitzHugh Lovelle. Michele’s new book, Lovell Our Dogge, is out now. Over to Michele:

The discovery of Richard III`s remains in a car park in Leicester, seven years ago, has caused a surge of interest not only in the life of this controversial monarch, but also in his contemporaries. A particularly positive trend during these last years has been the interest showed in the women in Richard`s life, in the Wars of the Roses period in general. Whereas most of them have been typecast, if not outright ignored, over the last few centuries, many talented authors have focused on their lives, their influence, their politicial opinions, showing the fully rounded personalities they have been denied for so long.

Minster Lovell

Sadly, however, one influential woman has been strangely excempt from this trend. While her contemporaries have finally been allowed to emerge from the mists of history, Anne Lovell has not been given any attention. Ignored in history books, maligned in fiction, Anne`s importance in life has been all but forgotten.

Her life did not begin in a way that promised anything but rich and comfortable obscurity. Born as the third daughter and fourth child of Henry FitzHugh, 5th Baron FitzHugh, and his wife Alice Neville in 1460, Anne`s future probably seemed predictable, comprising of marriage to a member of the gentry or lower-ranking nobility and motherhood.

At least, this appears to have been what her parents were planning for her. In February 1465, when Anne was not more than barely five years old at the most, they married her to the then eight-year-old Francis Lovell, who had become Baron Lovell only around five weeks earlier after his father`s sudden death. It was a marriage made possible by Anne`s uncle Richard, Earl of Warwick, and would doubtlessly have been seen as a good match for the little girl.

It cannot be said how much Anne and Francis saw of each other in the first years of their marriage. It is known, however, that it was in the summer of 1466 that Anne`s mother-in-law, Joan Beaumont died, leaving Francis and his sisters Joan and Frideswide full orphans. After their mother`s death, it seems the girls were raised together with Anne and her siblings in her parents` household.

It is probable that during this time, Anne knew her sisters-in-law far better than her husband, who did not live in the same household she did. It was only some years later that he seems to have started living in her parents` household,  but it is known that by 10th September 1470, he was definitely there, for he is included, together with Anne, her siblings and his sisters, in a pardon granted to Henry FitzHugh for his rebellion that year. It is one oft her very few early mentions of Anne in the sources, though it does not say anything about her personally. Only ten years old when the pardon was issued, her inclusion being a nominal one, not indicative of any of her actions.

The next mention of Anne found in contemporary sources is from 1473, by which time quite a lot in her life had changed. Now thirteen, she had lost her father the year before and seen her brother Richard become Baron FitzHugh. Though her father`s death meant that she and her siblings were the king`s wards, it seems that their mother Alice, had been allowed to keep custody of them, and in the summer of 1473, she and her children, Anne among them,  joined the prestigious Corpus Christi Guild in York.

FitzHugh Arms

An interesting fact about this is that Anne`s husband, Francis, was present then as well and joined the guild with Anne and her family. This suggests Francis stayed with the FitzHughs regularly until Anne was old enough to be his wife in more than name, perhaps to give Anne the chance to get to know him, but there is no way to be certain. Nor do we know exactly when Anne was considered old enough, though some guesswork can be made. Francis made sure his sisters were not married before they were sixteen. It seems likely that he and Anne therefore also delayed cohabition and consummation until she had reached that age.

There evidence that this was also the age that Anne began living together with Francis, such as a letter written by Elizabeth Stonor in early March 1477. This letter refers to her and Francis, clearly as the Stonors`  Oxfordshire neighbours. The context makes it clear that their relationship, while friendly, was still comparatively new and uncertain, which would fit perfectly with the Lovells, aged 20 and 16, first moving into Francis`s ancestral home of Minster Lovell Hall together around half a year before the letter was written.

The letter also contains an interesting minor mention of Anne, as the recipient of a present, like her husband, to win their good will. This indicates that the Stonors knew, or at least assumed, that Anne held some sway over her husband or meant something to him, as well as that she held some influence of her own, and that her friendship as well as his was worth cultivating.

Sadly, as so much of Anne`s life, evidence about her in the following years is scarce. She often visited her mother, usually together with her husband. Quite possibly, she also often saw her sisters, both of whom named their first daughter after Anne, and her brothers as well.

Even if she did not, she definitely saw her older brother Richard at court on 4th January 1483, as he acted as one of Anne`s husbands sponsors when he was created a viscount and Anne became a viscountess, and event that must have been splendid for her.

It was the beginning of a steep career for her husband and following events would catapult Anne, too, more into the limelight than she had been until that point. Only four months later, King Edward IV died and six months later, Edward`s brother Richard had become king, in a way that remains controversial to this day. Since the new king was her husband`s closest friend, he was favoured a lot, which was to reflect on Anne as well.

It is known that when Richard became king, Anne was present for his coronation. She was in the new queen`s train, like her mother Alice and older sister Elizabeth, and like them and several other ladies of high standing, she was given “a long gown of blue velvet with crimson satin” and “one gown of crimson velvet and white damask” for the festivities.

Unlike her mother and Elizabeth, Anne was not made a lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne, who was her first cousin, and unlike them, she does not seem to have been favoured in any other way by the new queen. In fact, it seems that after the coronation, she was not ever present in her household, which means that her presence at the coronation had been an exception made for the special occasion.

As to why Anne did not join her mother and sister in becoming a favour lady of the queen, we can once more only speculate. It is possible, of course, that the two women simply did not like each other. However, had Anne wished to be a lady-in-waiting, it is almost impossible Queen Anne could have denied her this, as she was the wife of one of the most important men in the government. It is therefore most likely Anne herself decided that she was not interested in the position, though the reasons for this must remain lost to history.

Lovell Our Dogge by Michele Schindler

Anne appears to have chosen to remain close to her husband whenever possible, which would mean she was at court often, and witnessed a lot of the events that remain so controversial to this day. Her opinions on them can never be known, but it seems that at the very least, she did not dislike Richard III.

Richard`s reign, famously, was not to last long, and within only two years of his accession, he was faced with an invasion, by an exiled Lancastrian earl named Henry Tudor. He employed Anne`s husband, among many others, to help him ward off this invasion. Perhaps with the danger of this task in mind, on 10th June 1485 Francis Lovell created an indenture in which he arranged for Anne to receive several manors in the event of his death, not just to keep for the rest of her life, but to own and be able to pass on to her descendants after her death. This was an unusual arrangement, and not at all one he would have needed to make, indicating that Anne was priced by her husband.

The fact that this arrangement would have enabled her to pass these manors on to her descandants also shows up an oddity. It is certain that Anne never had a child by Francis, yet even after what were likely nine years of living as man and wife, he does not seem to have at all blamed her for it, or, as can be seen from the indenture, even doubted she could have children. Since this arrangement could have disadvantaged any children Anne had by him, giving their half-siblings she potentially could have had by another man after Francis`s death a claim to these manors, it seems he thought or knew that their childlessness was his fault, though there is no telling why.

What Anne thought of this is, as always, up for speculation, but it does seem that she did not hold it against her husband. Nor does she seem to have held it against her husband that when Richard III was killed in battle, he chose not to accept the newly made Henry VII`s pardon. It is of course possible that she would have wished for him to do the same her brother Richard FitzHugh did, accept Henry VII, but once Francis`s decision decision was made, she supported it.

In march 1486, less than a year after Henry`s accession, Francis started a rebellion with two supporters, the brothers Humphrey and Thomas Stafford. It was a dangerous but not well thought-out undertaking, probably born more of desperation than any political thought, and not surprisingly, it failed. The brothers Stafford were captured and faced the consequences of their actions, but Francis was never caught, which seems to have been at least partly because Anne helped him. After the failure of the rebellion, the Countess of Oxford relayed information where Francis was hiding, which turned out to be inaccurate. Shortly afterwards, Anne`s brother Richard was stripped of several offices and the whole FitzHugh family, Anne included, watched with suspicion by the new government. Since Countess Margaret was Anne`s aunt and quite close to her mother, it is certainly far from impossible that the faulty intelligence where Francis was hiding came from Anne.

Anne remained under suspicion, and perfectly uncaring of the fact, for at least the next year. Famously, in 1487, with the support of Margaret of York, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy and John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, Francis started another rebellion in 1487, which would go down in history as the Lambert Simnel uprising. It was far better planned than the rebellion of 1486 had been, and once more, Anne appears to have been in contact with her husband and to have supported him.

In a letter to John Paston written on 16th May 1487, Sir Edmund Bedingfeld warned him that there were rumours he had met with “Lady Lovell”, and cautions him that he should act wisely about this rumour. Bedingfield does not spell out why he considers that such a meeting would be unthinkable, apparently certain Paston would know. Since only three months earlier, Paston had been chided by the Earl of Oxford, one of Henry`s closest men, for accidentally passing on wrong information regarding Francis`s whereabouts, it might very well be that Anne was suspected, or even known, to have once more deliberately spread bad intelligence. It can naturally not be proved today, but it certainly is remarkable that two people connected with Anne were provided with wrong information about Francis`s whereabouts at moments crucial for his escape.  

It is obvious that the rebels, while in Ireland and Burgundy, must have had a contact in England, as they when they were landed on Piel Island in June 1487, they were already awaited by supporters. There is some evidence that this supporter in England was in fact Anne, and it seems that after Henry VII`s men had won the battle, she was surreptiously investigated. But whatever she did, it was apparently never proved, for Henry VII`s government enacted no punitive measures against her.

Interestingly, Anne does not seem to have been afraid of being punished, or else her concern for Francis overrode her fear, for in 1488, she was looking for her husband. We know this from another letter to John Paston, this one from Anne`s mother, in which Alice FitzHugh mentions that Anne was looking for Francis, supported by unnamed “benevolers“. For this purpose, she had send one of Francis`s men and fellow rebels, Edward Franke, to look for him, but he had been unsuccessful.

What is especially intriguing about this is that  that Edward Franke was himself a traitor at that point, and knowing of his whereabouts without reporting them was treason in itself. It speaks volumes about Anne`s feelings for her husband that she did not care for the danger to herself when trying to find out what had happened to him. It is also an indication that she was courageous, and determined to find the truth.

The mention of the “benevolers”, whom she seems to have trusted and who seem to have supported her in this risky undertaking, appear to show that she was a well-liked woman who had several close, trusted friends.

We do not know if Anne ever found out what happened to her husband. It seems that sometime before  December 1489, she gave up looking, as we do know that by then, she had taken a religious vow, for when Henry VII`s government granted her an annuity of 20 pounds then, she was called “our sister in God”. It means that at the age of 29 years at the most, Anne was certain she did not want to marry another time. Though of course her marriage prospects were diminished significantly due to her being a traitor`s widow, she could have found someone interested in her family connections, or even married for affection, but chose not to. Again, it can be taken as an indicator of feelings of affection for Francis.

We do not know what sort of vow she took, nor do we know what happened to her after that. The last mention of her in any source is in a second attainder passed against Francis in 1495, at which time she was spoken of as still alive. She might have died in 1498, but was definitely dead by January 1513.

Huge thanks to Michele for such a fabulous post!

About the author:

Michele Schindler is a language teacher, teaching German and English as second languages. Before that, she studied at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, reading history with a focus on mediaeval studies, and English Studies. In addition to English and German, she speaks French, and read Latin.

Links to Michele Schindler’s book, Lovell Our Dogge: Amazon UK; Amazon US.

Links to Michele’s social media:

Facebook; Twitter

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Michele Schindler

Book Corner: Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a man of his word.

An oath bound him to King Alfred. An oath bound him to Æthelflaed. And now an oath will wrench him away from the ancestral home he fought so hard to regain. For Uhtred has sworn that on King Edward’s death, he will kill two men. And now Edward is dying.

A violent attack drives Uhtred south with a small band of warriors, and headlong into the battle for kingship. Plunged into a world of shifting alliances and uncertain loyalties, he will need all his strength and guile to overcome the fiercest warrior of them all.
 
As two opposing Kings gather their armies, fate drags Uhtred to London, and a struggle for control that must leave one King victorious, and one dead. But fate – as Uhtred has learned to his cost – is inexorable. Wyrd bið ful ãræd. And Uhtred’s destiny is to stand at the heart of the shield wall once again…

I have said a few times that I am a big Bernard Cornwell fan. I have been reading his books since I was 14 and the Sharpe series was the inspiration for my dissertation at university. He is the most thoughtful author out there; he publishes a book every year in October, just in time for my birthday (for which the hubby and I are equally grateful!). This year was no exception.

This is the 12th outing for Uhtred of Bebbanburgh and Bernard Cornwell has done it again! Sword of Kings is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure set in 10th century England. Full of action, intrigue, friendship and a little bit of love, the master storyteller has given us yet another book that is impossible to put down.

Uhtred’s penchant for swearing oaths, and for standing by his oaths, once again gets him into trouble. This time he has sworn to help put Athelstan on the throne; the grandson of King Alfred and nephew of Uhtred’s former love, Æthelflaed, he is the eldest son of King Edward the Elder. But there is a question over his legitimacy and other, powerful nobles would see Athelstan’s half-brother, Ælfweard. Luckily for Athelstan, Uhtred has also sworn to kill Ælfweard and his uncle, Æthelhelm. However, fulfilling an oath is not as easy as making it!

So Æthelhelm the Younger had sent his youngest brother to kill me. He had equipped a fleet, and offered gold to the crew, and placed a rancid priest on the ships to inspire Æthelwulf with righteous anger. Æthelhelm knew it would be next to impossible to kill me while I stayed inside the fortress and knew too that he could not send sufficient en to ambush me on my lands without those men being discovered and slaughtered by Northumbria’s warriors, so he had been clever. Her had sent men to ambush me at sea.

Æthelwulf was the fleet’s leader, but Æthelhelm knew that his brother, though imbued with the family’s hatred of me, was not the most ruthless of men, and so he had sent Father Ceolnoth to fill Æthelwulf with holy stupidity, and he also sent the man they called Edgar. Except that was not his real name. Æthelhelm had wanted no one to know of the fleet’s true allegiance, or to connect my death to his orders. He had hoped the blame would be placed on piracy, or on some passing Norse ship, and so he had commanded the leaders to use any name except their own. Æthelwulf had become Wistan, and I learned that Edgar was really Waormund.

I knew Waormund. He was a huge West Saxon, a brutal man, with a slab face scarred from his right eyebrow to his lower left jaw. I remembered his eyes, dead as stone. In battle Waormund was a man you would want standing beside you because he was capable of terrible violence, but he was also a man who revelled in that savagery. A strong man, even taller than me, and implacable. He was a warrior, and, though you might want his help in a battle, no one but a fool would want Waormund as an enemy. ‘Why,’ I asked Æthelwulf the next morning, ‘was Waormund in your smallest ship?’

‘I ordered him into that ship, lord, because I wanted him gone! He is not a Christian.’

‘He’s a pagan?’

‘He’s a beast. It was Waormund who tortured the captives. I tried to stop him.’

But Father Ceolnoth encouraged him?’

‘Yes.’ Æthelwulf nodded miserably. We were walking on Bebbanburg’s ramparts. The sun glittered from an empty sea and a small wind brought the smell of seaweed and salt. ‘I tried to stop Waormund,’ Æthelwulf went on, ‘and he cursed me and he cursed God.’

‘He cursed your god?’ I asked, amused.

As we have come to expect from Bernard Cornwell, the action is non-stop. the writing is up to his usual high standard, keeping the reader enthralled from the first page to the last. Uhtred gets himself into some of the worst scrapes yet, leaving the reader petrified that his luck will finally run out…

Uhtred has always been a sympathetic character to me, ruthless in battle but with a softer side for his lovers and (most of) his children. What shines through in this book, probably more so than in the rest of the series, is his friendship with Finan. These two men have been through Hell together – slavery and countless battles – and their relationship has always remained strong. In Sword of Kings it is this friendship that drives the book; their mutual trust and reliance on each other, in battle and out, is what makes this book so engaging.

Bernard Cornwell is a natural storyteller, one of the best at the craft. Sword of Kings is yet more testament to that fact. You never quite know how it is going to work out for Uhtred – he is not immune to loss and suffering – which is what always makes these books so gripping – you know he is not going to come out of his adventures totally unscathed. The suspense, the drama, the intrigue and action all come together to make yet another perfect chapter in Uhtred’s story.

Uhtred may be fictional, but other characters are real, and as always, there is an author’s note at the end to explain the history behind the story.

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About the Author

Bernard Cornwell was born in London and worked in television until he met his American wife and moved to the US. Denied a work permit, he wrote a novel and has been writing ever since.

A master storyteller with a passion for history, his current bestselling series, THE LAST KINGDOM, is centred around the creation of England. It is also a major TV series on Netflix, with Bernard playing a cameo role in season three. The fourth season is currently being filmed.

He is also the author of THE GRAIL QUEST series, set in the Hundred Years’ War, THE WARLORD chronicles, set in Arthurian Britain, a number of standalone novels, one non-fiction work on Waterloo and the series with which he began, the SHARPE series.

For exciting news, tour and publication details, and exclusive content from Bernard visit http://www.bernardcornwell.net and like his author page on Facebook/Bernard.Cornwel

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: This Blighted Expedition by Lynn Bryant

Ever since I first discovered Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe 30 years ago, I have had a fascination for all-things Napoleonic – the Peninsular War in particular (I even wrote my university dissertation on it!). The Walcheren expedition of 1809 was an extension of this conflict, and a rather disastrous one. Author Lynn Bryant is currently writing a fiction series, The Manxman Series, based on the events of the Walcheren Campaign. Book 2, This Blighted Expedition, is out this week. Today Lynn visits us to talk about the research behind the book.

This Blighted Expedition: a novel of the Walcheren Campaign of 1809 (Book 2 in the Manxman series)

This Blighted Expedition is my eleventh published historical novel, and the second in the Manxman series, which follows the fortunes of the fictional Captain Hugh Kelly of HMS Iris, his wife Roseen and his young first lieutenant Alfred Durrell. This book takes them to the Walcheren campaign of 1809 where a huge joint operation between the army and the navy went disastrously wrong, and led to an ignominious retreat, the deaths of over 4000 men from the deadly Walcheren fever and a Parliamentary inquiry.

Researching Walcheren has been very different to researching the better known campaigns of the wars for my Peninsular War Saga. There is a huge amount of published contemporary material in the form of letters and journals about the Peninsular War. Officers, and in a few cases, their enlisted men, wrote endlessly to their family and friends about their experiences in the war, and modern historians have done a remarkable job of discovering, editing and publishing these accounts. When researching the doings of my fictional regiment at the siege of Badajoz, the problem was having time to sift through all the material and also of knowing when to stop. Writing fiction, as opposed to history, there comes a point when you have to decide how you’re going to write it and then stop researching. You are not trying to give a perfect account of events, you’re trying to give a credible account of events from the point of view of your characters. There’s a big difference.

With Walcheren, I was unusually lucky to have a great deal of help with the sources, in the person of Dr Jacqueline Reiter, who is something of an expert on the campaign. Jacqueline has done an enormous amount of research on Walcheren, and has written an excellent biography of John Pitt, second Earl of Chatham, who commanded the army during the campaign. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Home Popham, the controversial navy officer who played such a large part in the planning and execution of the joint operation at Walcheren. Not only did Jacqueline point me in the direction of the few books written on the subject, but she also generously shared her own notes and sources from many years of research.

With a joint operation, I needed to follow both the army and the navy. As always, my starting point was to read any books on the subject to get a general overview, and I’ve listed them in full below. There aren’t many, but I read Jacqueline’s book on Chatham, and the books by Martin R Howard and Gordon Bond on the campaign. There is a brief account of the campaign in Andrew Limm’s Walcheren to Waterloo and a frustratingly short mention of it in Hugh Popham’s biography of Sir Home Riggs Popham. I was also very grateful to Carl Christie, for sharing his excellent thesis on the campaign with me as well as his list of sources.

There are some accounts by both army and navy officers. Many are very brief, and included in volumes describing their more glorious achievements in later campaigns. One of the most useful sources for the navy was the letters and journals of Edward Codrington, which are available online. I owe the story of the wreck of the Venerable to him and to Dr McGrigor, who was aboard the ship and described it vividly in his autobiography. Jacqueline Reiter generously shared her research notes on the log of the Venerable, which confirmed McGrigor’s account of the army wives aboard the vessel.

Some of my old favourite army writers include an account of Walcheren, including Private Harris and Private Wheeler and it is from them that I have taken my account of the fever, along with several medical men who wrote about it. The Proceedings of the Army give daily accounts of the progress of the siege works, once again shared by Dr Reiter, and offer a marvellous impression of the mind-numbing tedium of the digging of trenches and building of batteries.

I am indebted to Gareth Glover for sending me the account of the campaign by Joseph Barrallier of the 71st who told the story of Pack’s abortive attack on Veere really well. Excerpts of diaries by Captain Bowlby of the 4th foot and General Trench are very short, but give marvellous small details which help to bring a novel to life, such as Trench’s mention of the order of 24th July stating that plundering would be punished by ‘instant death’. Trench is also scathing about Chatham’s abilities as a commander, and writes that: “yesterday about 12 o’clock he got under way being preceded by a column of 8 waggons in the first of which was a life turtle, he had a fresh horse at Schore but did not attempt to go further than Crabbendyke, tho’ Batz was but 7 miles off.” Evidently Chatham’s indolence and slow progress was a source of frustration in his army.

The rather unusual aspect of the Walcheren campaign was the large number of civilians who accompanied the army, including a number of journalists, most of them invited by that relentless self-publicist, Sir Home Popham. Once again, I am indebted to Jacqui Reiter for a lot of information about them, including the diary and letters of young Lord Lowther. Lowther was a gift wrapped in silver paper for a historical novelist, and almost everything I have written about him was true.

In addition to sources which are directly relevant to the campaign, I spent a great deal of time reading online accounts of the Parliamentary inquiry into Walcheren, since I decided that the story of one of my characters, needed to end with his appearance before the House of Commons. This turned out to be one of those impulsive decisions a writer makes, without really thinking about the amount of work involved. I did the same thing at the end of the first book in the series, by choosing to end the novel with a general Court Martial which took hours of research into procedure and rules of evidence. It turns out that a Parliamentary inquiry takes even longer although as a set piece to end the novel, it was very effective.

While most of my research is done sitting at my desk, I was lucky enough to be able to go to Walcheren earlier this year, to visit many of the sites I’ve been writing about. The apartment we stayed in was in one of the many old houses on Korendijk in Middelburg, which would have been there at the time Katja de Groot was living there and I was ridiculously excited when our hostess explained that the old beams in the house are so scarred and in some places burned, because they were all re-used from broken up ships in the Vlissingen and Antwerp dockyards. That kind of on the ground research is priceless and I feel as though I know Katja’s lovely Middelburg home personally.

This Blighted Expedition is available on Kindle and will be available in paperback in a few weeks. In the end, it is always my aim, as a novelist to engage the reader with my characters, both fictional and real. The research is a framework, on which to build a story, and by the end of the book it often feels as though I’ve been playing a game of Jenga with the research, carefully removing as much of it as I can to enable the story to stand up but not taking out so much that the whole thing comes crashing down. I hope I’ve achieved it and that readers enjoy the end result.

As this is a blog post, not a thesis, I’ve provided a short book list but if readers have any further questions about online sources, please contact me on my website, on Facebook or on Twitter and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Bibliography

Bond, Gordon, The Grand Expedition: the British invasion of Holland in 1809 (University of Georgia Press, 1979); Christie, Carl A, The Walcheren Expedition of 1809 (PhD, University of Dundee, 1975); Howard, Martin R,        Walcheren 1809: the scandalous destruction of a British army; Limm, Andrew, Walcheren to Waterloo: the British Army in the Low Countries during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars (Pen and Sword, 2018); Popham, Hugh, A Damned Cunning Fellow: the eventful life of Rear-Admiral Sir Home Popham (The Old Ferry Press, 1991); Reiter, Jacqueline, The Late Lord: the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (Pen and Sword 2017).

About the author:

Lynn Bryant was born and raised in London’s East End. She studied History at University and had dreams of being a writer from a young age. Since this was clearly not something a working class girl made good could aspire to, she had a variety of careers including a librarian, NHS administrator, relationship counsellor and manager of an art gallery before realising that most of these were just as unlikely as being a writer and took the step of publishing her first book.

She now lives in the Isle of Man and is married to a man who understands technology, which saves her a job, and has two grown up children and two Labradors. History is still a passion, with a particular enthusiasm for the Napoleonic era and the sixteenth century. When not writing she waits on the Labradors, reads anything that’s put in front of her and makes periodic and unsuccessful attempts to keep a tidy house.

This Blighted Expedition is available on Amazon kindle here and will be out in paperback by the end of November. To celebrate publication, the first book, An Unwilling Alliance is available from 1st to 5th November 2019 FREE on Amazon here.

In the meantime, I am about to embark on book six of the Peninsular War Saga. It’s called An Unrelenting Enmity and to give myself a kick start with the writing process, I am attempting NaNaWriMo for the first time ever. To follow my progress why not join me on my blog over at Writing with Labradors, or on Facebook or Twitter?

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Commodus by Simon Turney

Worshipped by Rome. Betrayed by love. Stalked by death. Rome is enjoying a period of stability and prosperity. The Empire’s borders are growing, and there are two sons in the imperial succession for the first time in Rome’s history. But all is not as it appears. Cracks are beginning to show. Two decades of war have taken their toll, and there are whispers of a sickness in the East. The Empire stands on the brink of true disaster, an age of gold giving way to one of iron and rust, a time of reason and strength sliding into hunger and pain. The decline may yet be halted, though. One man tries to hold the fracturing empire together. To Rome, he is their emperor, their Hercules, their Commodus. But Commodus is breaking up himself, and when the darkness grips, only one woman can hold him together. To Rome she was nothing. The plaything of the emperor. To Commodus, she was everything. She was Marcia.

Commodus by Simon Turney is the second in his The Damned Emperors series, exploring the lives of those emperors even Rome wanted to erase from history. The first in the series, Caligula was a fabulous and intelligent read that really made you think about the political intrigues of ancient Rome. Commodus is no less thought-provoking.

The thing that struck me after reading both Caligula and Commodus is why on earth would anyone want to be emperor – or even close to the emperor in ancient Rome. Yes, the job came with ‘phenomenal cosmic power’ (as the genie in Aladdin would put it) but you did not expect to die in your bed – unless it was from poison or an assassin in the night.

What makes The Damned Emperors series so unique is that Simon Turney uses the women close to the emperor to tell his story. In Caligula it was his own sister, Livilla, who witnessed her brother’s rise to ‘the purple’ and followed his story to an inevitable violent conclusion. In Commodus the tale is told through Marcia, a childhood friend who rose to be the emperor’s lover and consort, though not his wife and empress. Each woman is able to narrate the emperor’s life and the events which shape his personality and rule. Each book is a standalone.

‘I’m supposed to turn my other cheek to you, ignore your violence and forgive you. And because I want to be a good Christian, I’ll do that. I’ll forgive you but only this once.’

He made .to push me again, but perhaps something in my expression stopped him. Certainly, he stepped back. I was a freedwoman of the emperor Lucius Verus, and he was a slave. I had allowed him to get away with pushing me over in anger, but I had warned him not to do so again. For my part, I meant every word. I would punch him in the eye if he tried again. For his part, I suspect he thought I meant I would report his behaviour to the major-domo, which would have seen him beaten at the very least. Whatever the case, he walked away. As he reached the door, he paused and turned.

‘In the old days, they used to burn your sort.’

And then he was gone. I seethed, shaking, promising myself that one day I would settle that score. I received my second shock in a short space as Commodus emerged from the shadows near another door, confusion creasing his young, innocent face.

‘What’s a Criss-chen?’ he asked, stumbling a little over the unfamiliar word.

Hmm. I thought lessons would be cancelled today, what with Fulvus bedridden, but it seemed I was to teach instead. I thought long and hard on the question as he watched me with those intelligent, searching eyes.

‘We believe in only one God. He is the creator of all things and the world is made according to His plan.’ I shrugged, trotting out the words I’d heard so many times. ‘There’s more to it, but that’s the main thing.’

‘Which god?’

Marcia’s own story is as fascinating as that of the emperor she adores, and serves as an example of how power corrupts not only the leaders, but those around them. Marcia is an interesting character who uses necessity and love to justify actions that many would find questionable, if not downright abhorrent. And yet you can’t help liking and sympathising with a woman who had little real power and influence over her own life, let alone anyone the emperor’s!

Simon Turney is a master of intrigue and has a remarkable ability to get inside the head of the women who lived alongside these emperors. And then into the heads of the emperors themselves. You cannot help but have sympathy for these great men, who rose to such heights that they practically ruled the world, but could trust no one. His knowledge of Roman history is second-to-none and he puts it to good use in depicting not only the Roman psyche, but also the Roman way of life.

Simon Turney vividly recreates the streets of Rome, the buildings, people and events to the extent that you can practically smell the markets, the blood in the arenas and the wondrous aromas of the lavish meals served to the imperial family. As a consequence, you can also feel the despair and despondency of the poor and unrepresented populace – the plebs and the slaves – who are ignored and left to suffer famine and plague by their indifferent rulers.

Commodus is not always an easy read, but it is fascinating. It draws you in from the very first pages, and leads you on a journey of discovery, not only of the emperor himself but of the life of the imperial family. It is eye-opening! Beautifully written and addictive, it is one of those books that you can’t wait to finish – and yet, desperately want it not to end.

To buy the book:

Commodus: The Damned Emperors Book 2 by Simon Turney is available from Amazon in the UK and US.

About the author:

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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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Book Corner: The Legitimacy of Bastards by Helen Matthews

For the nobility and gentry in later medieval England, land was a source of wealth and status. Their marriages were arranged with this in mind, and it is not surprising that so many of them had mistresses and illegitimate children. John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, married at the age of twenty to a ten-year-old granddaughter of Edward I, had at least eight bastards and a complicated love life. In theory, bastards were at a considerable disadvantage. Regarded as filius nullius’ or the son of no one, they were unable to inherit real property and barred from the priesthood. In practice, illegitimacy could be less of a stigma in late medieval England than it became between the sixteenth and late twentieth centuries. There were ways of making provision for illegitimate offspring and some bastards did extremely well: in the church; through marriage; as soldiers; a few even succeeding to the family estates. _The Legitimacy of Bastards_ is the first book to consider the individuals who had illegitimate children, the ways in which they provided for them and attitudes towards both the parents and the bastard children. It also highlights important differences between the views of illegitimacy taken by the Church and by the English law.

I often come across non-fiction books about which I think ‘ooh, this could be handy for research’, but every once in a while I come across a book and I just think ‘wow! This is so useful! Every one needs a copy!’ The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England by Helen Matthews definitely falls in this latter category.

The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England examines the church and lay laws governing illegitimacy in later medieval England, and portrays the reality of bastard children. Based on the author’s own thesis, the book should be the ‘go to’ tool for anyone who needs to study the stigma, status and reality of illegitimacy in medieval England.

Divided into 6 chapters, The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England explores the legal status of illegitimate children and the various types – or categories – of illegitimacy within medieval society; whether they be children of unmarried parents, married parents or of members of the clergy dictated their prospects in life and career opportunities. The book also examines the methods used by parents in order to get around the various limitations placed on illegitimate children, such as legal devices, church careers and, of course, marriage.

One of the challenges of researching illegitimacy in later medieval England is that there is no single source of reliable records of the kind that is available, for example, for some of the Italian city states. It is no accident that the comprehensive study of bastardy in England begins with the sixteenth century and the introduction of parochial registration of births, marriages and deaths in 1538. Even then, the level of detail prior to 1850 is limited. Any attempt to establish the prevalence of illegitimacy in the period before parish registers are available is clearly even more problematic. Illegitimate children cannot be identified by their name alone. Bastards who were recognised by their fathers would very often take their father’s name, though some were known by their mother’s surname. It should be noted that a surname beginning with ‘Fitz-‘ simply means ‘son of’ and does not itself denote illegitimacy, although it became common for royal bastards to have names of this type, for example Henry Fitzroy, the son of Henry VIII (1509-47) and Elizabeth Blount, a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon.

However, some attempt has been made to do so at the level of peasant society by exploiting manorial records, mainly in the context of wider studies of a particular peasant community. As in the Italian city states, it is the existence of financial records that makes this possible. In this case the records concerned are payments of fines. These were either leyrwite, a fine for single women and widows of unfree status who committed fornication, or childwyte, a fine for giving birth to an illegitimate child.

The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England looks into illegitimacy throughout all levels of society, from the royal family to the lowly peasant. Incredibly useful to my own research, Helen Matthews presents the experiences of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, as a case study of the practicalities of illegitimacy. This chapter helps the reader to understand the life and limitations of a child born outside of marriage, as well as the extraordinary lengths that parents were willing to go in order to advance the prospects of their children.

I had no idea how complex the laws surrounding illegitimacy in England, not just on inheritance, but also on marriage prospects, on the difference between church and state and on the difference between clerical and lay requirements for the legitimisation of a child.

An easy book to read, Helen Matthews has made good use of the materials and evidence available to build a picture of the realities of illegitimacy in later medieval England, not just for the child themselves, but for their families and the legitimate heirs. Impeccably researched and rich in detail The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England is a wonderful research tool and an engaging read, with none of the dryness that you often find in books developed from academic theses.

The only downside of The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England is that there are no footnotes, which makes it hard for the researcher to follow up some of the details; however, there is an exhaustive and impressive bibliography and an impressive list of the subjects used in the book for ease of cross-referencing.

The further I read into The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England the more I realised how useful this book will be to any researcher, student of history or casual reader around the subject. The impeccable research and engaging writing style make this a valuable addition to anyone’s medieval library.

I cannot recommend it highly enough!

To buy the book:

The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England is available from Pen & Sword and Amazon in the UK and US.

About the Author:

Helen Matthews studied medieval history at UCL and Royal Holloway. A chance remark in a footnote inspired her to embark on the thesis on medieval bastards, on which this book is based.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Matilda of Flanders, Queen of the Conqueror

Matilda of Flanders

Matilda of Flanders was the consummate duchess and queen. Born in the early to mid-1030s, possibly around 1032, Matilda was the daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders, and his wife Adela of France, a daughter of Robert the Pious, King of France. Matilda had two brothers and each of them became Count of Flanders in his turn; Baldwin of Mons and Robert the Frisian. As is often the case with medieval women, we know very little of Matilda’s early life, though it is likely she was raised alongside her aunt, Judith, her father’s sister who was of a similar age to Matilda, and who would go on to marry Tostig, Earl of Nurthumberland and brother of king Harold II.

The first time Matilda appears on the world stage is when her marriage is being discussed. There is a popular story of how Matilda refused to marry William, Duke of Normandy, stating that she was too highly born to marry a bastard. As the legend goes; on hearing this, William was so infuriated that he rode to Flanders and confronted Matilda. He is said to have thrown her to the ground, before pulling her braids and cutting her with his spurs. Matilda, unlikely as it seems, then accepted his proposal and they were married. Despite the story most likely being a later invention, William was the one to propose the marriage and, although he was a duke, his illegitimacy would have meant making a proposal to a niece of the King of France was audacious, to say the least.

The arrangements for the marriage of Matilda and William probably started in 1048, but it was a long, drawn out matter, marred by papal and political machinations. The Synod of Reims, of 3 and 4 October 1049, issued a decree instructing Count Baldwin not to allow the marriage of his daughter to Duke William. However, despite these papal objections, Matilda and William were married by 1053, at the latest. A penance was later imposed on the couple for their disobedience in marrying against papal prohibition. Each was to found an abbey; William founded the Abbaye-aux-Hommes, or St Stephen’s Abbey, in his Norman capital of Caen, while Matilda founded the Abbaye-aux-Dames, or Holy Trinity Abbey, in the same city. The two abbeys still stand to this day.

William the Conqueror from the Bayeux Tapestry

The marriage between Matilda and William proved to be a strong and trusting relationship; William is one of very few medieval kings believed to have been completely faithful to his wife, no known lovers or illegitimate children have ever been uncovered, although that did not stop the rumours. William of Malmesbury related one such story, of William having a mistress, the daughter of a priest, who Matilda ordered to be hamstrung and disinherited; in punishment, Matilda is said to have been beaten to death by a horse bridle. Malmesbury himself was sceptical of the story and, given that Matilda’s death came after a short illness in 1083, it does seem rather far-fetched.

William trusted Matilda to act as regent in Normandy during his many absences on campaign or in England. Their relationship appears to have been more of a partnership than most marriages of the time; she was witness to thirty-nine pre-conquest and sixty-one post-conquest charters. Matilda supported her husband’s proposed invasion of England; she promised a great ship for William’s personal use, called the Mora. Just before leaving for England in 1066, William accompanied Matilda to the consecration of her foundation, Holy Trinity Abbey – the Abbaye-aux-Dames – in Caen, arranging for his duchess to act as regent in his absence. The Conquest was a close-run thing and it was not until 1068 that William felt secure enough to bring his wife to England for her coronation. Matilda, six months pregnant with her son Henry, who would be born at Selby in September, was crowned Queen of England in Westminster Abbey, by Archbishop Ealdred of Canterbury, at Whitsuntide 1068.

Matilda and William had a large family, with four boys and at least four daughters. Of their sons; the eldest, Robert Curthose, would inherit Normandy, Richard was killed in a hunting accident as a youth, William, known as Rufus, became King William II, and the youngest was the future King Henry I. Of the four or five daughters; Adeliza became a nun following a series of failed marriage plans, Cecilia was given to the convent of Ste Trinité as a child, Constance married Alain Fergant, Duke of Brittany, and Adela married Stephen of Blois and was the mother of King Stephen of England. There are suggestions of two further daughters, Matilda and Agatha, though evidence for their existence is limited. Queen Matilda was very close to her family, especially her eldest son, Robert. William and Robert, father and son, however, were often at loggerheads, with Robert rebelling against his father as a young man. Matilda was constantly trying to play the peacemaker. During a period of exile imposed on Robert, Matilda still supported her son as best she could; she would send him vast amounts of silver and gold through a Breton messenger, Samson.

Although the problems with Robert, their eldest son, caused considerable tensions within the marriage, Matilda and William’s relationship is one of the most successful of the medieval period. Their partnership as rulers, and as husband and wife, was strong and appeared to be one built on mutual respect. One contemporary remarked that ‘The Queen adored the King and the King the Queen.’ [1]

Matilda’s son Henry I, King of England

Matilda’s piety was renowned. Although founding the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen was a penance for her irregular marriage to William, her constant and repeated donations to religious houses demonstrated her dedication to her faith. The nuns of her abbey at Ste Trinité, Caen, received a substantial bequest from Matilda’s will, written the year before her death; as well as her crown and sceptre, they were given a chalice, a chasuble, a mantle of brocade, two golden chains with a cross, a chain decorated with emblems for hanging a lamp in front of the altar, several large candelabras, the draperies for her horse and all the vases ‘which she had not yet handed out during her life’. [2]

Having drawn up her will in 1082, it is possible that Matilda was aware of her illness long before her last summer. The continuing worry over the rift between her husband and beloved son cannot have helped her health, and the arrival of winter saw her gravely ill. Matilda died on 2 November 1083, having ‘confessed her sins with bitter tears and, after fully accomplishing all that Christian custom requires and being fortified by the saving sacrament’. [3] Her husband was with her throughout the final moments of her illness, and he ‘… showed many days of the deepest mourning how much he missed the love of her whom he had lost’. [4] She was buried at Ste Trinité, Caen, following a funeral that lasted two days and that was attended by a host of monks, abbots, bishops and nuns and a host of people came to pay homage. There is no record of which of her children attended the funeral, although her daughter Cecilia was most likely in attendance, being a nun of the abbey. The original tombstone still survives; it has an inscription carved around the edge, emphasising her royal descent on her mother’s side.

Queen Matilda’s Grave, Ste Trinité, Caen

Matilda’s height has been discussed frequently by historians, with some claiming that she was a dwarf. The casket, containing her bones, was opened in 1961 and misreported as revealing a woman of about 4ft 2in tall. However, Professor Dastague, from the Institut D’Anthropologie at Caen, who was present at the original dig confirmed that it had been calculated that Matilda was in fact 152cm, about 5ft, in height. [5] Matilda’s actual height cannot be said with certainty, however, as the skeleton which was examined was incomplete. The queen’s grave had been destroyed in the sixteenth century, during the French Wars of Religion, and much of her remains never recovered.

William the Conqueror followed his wife to the grave four years later, in 1087. In many aspects of her life, Matilda is clearly seen as the ideal medieval wife and mother. Ever supportive of her husband, he relied heavily on her to administer Normandy in his frequent absences. Even when disobeying William, in her support of their eldest son Robert, she was still trying to be the embodiment of the good medieval woman, playing the peacemaker between warring members of her family. Her piety and steadfast support of her husband provided an example for future queens, and noble ladies, to follow.

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This article, first appeared in March 2019, as Matilda of Flanders: The Ideal Medieval Queen, on Mary Anne Yarde’s wonderful blog Myths, Legends, Book and Coffee Pots.

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Footnotes:

[1] Les Oeuvres Poétiques de Baudri de Bourgueil edited by P. Abrahams; [2] Musset, La Reine Mathilde, quoted by Elizabeth van Houts in oxforddnb.com. [3] Matilda by Tracy Borman, [4] Chronicles of the Kings of England, From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen by William of Malmesbury; [5] A Historical Obstetric Enigma: How Tall was Matilda? (article) by J Dewhurst Journal of Obstetriccs and Gynaecology.

Pictures:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources:

England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett; Heroines of the Medieval World by Sharon Bennett Connolly; Chronicles of the Kings of England, From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen by William of Malmesbury; Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest by Sharon Bennett Connolly; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Matilda by Tracy Borman; The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles by Michael Swanton; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle by James Ingram; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; oxforddnb.comQueen Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, was NOT a Dwarf (article) by Marc Morris, marcmorris.org.uk; epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu; womenshistory.about.com; Les Oeuvres Poétiques de Baudri de Bourgueil edited by P. Abrahams

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly